A ROMAN HOLIDAY – CELESTIAL TO EARTHY

All roads lead to Rome

In August it seems like not only the roads but all the jet routes do as well.

Packed.

The queues for St Peters and the Sistine were the longest we have seen. Red faces, distressed children, crying babies, shuffling for hours in the 40 degree heat. A devotional journey, certainly not a Roman holiday.

Heading back to our hotel one day I managed to steer us off course by a couple of streets, not hard to do in the twisty narrowness of Rome, and we emerged into the square of the Trevi Fountain. Not a spare standing space. Wall to wall. Edge to edge.

We had to squeeze our way through, scusi scusi scusi, with much contact between bodies. Many stares. How could we not be stopping and pushing forward for our coin toss?

The (slightly more) peaceful other side

We stayed at small hotel in Trastevere and spent most of our time that side of the Tiber. Certainly not empty but comfortably negotiable. Ample abundance of walks, corner bars and osterias.

Roman Holiday This Magnificent Life
The view from our room. Not your grand international hotel

Roman Holiday This Magnificent Life

The hotel is Le Clarisse, which suited this low-key Roman holiday perfectly. An old convent wrapped around a tiny courtyard. Modestly but immaculately appointed, with quietly friendly staff.

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Some local craftsmanship on view. The ceiling in our room at Le Clarisse

Check out how pretty it is here 

We had one must-do foray to the Pantheon setting off early in the morning. This is our favourite building of all. Even if you are only marginally interested in architecture you should read its story and the Roman mastery of concrete. Concrete? Yes they specified different weights and grades for that mighty roof with its winking-to-the-sky oculus. Nearly 1900 years old it is still the largest unsupported, unreinforced dome in the world.

Roman Holiday This Magnificent Life
A lesser seen view of the Pantheon. A few years work for the bricklayers

Ah yes, we did venture out again.

Is that St Peter under there?

We took the guided tour under the great basilica of St Peter. It was thought that possibly three ‘churches’ had previously been built on the site culminating in the magnificent structure the people of world now visits in hundreds of thousands each year.

Roman Holiday This Magnificent LifeWorkman excavating in secret during the Second World War found a narrow street some ten metres underground filled with rubble. You walk carefully through what they unearthed. … many private family mausoleums dating from the 2nd and 3rd centuries with wonderful paintings and mosaics. Finally deep underneath today’s great altar they found a patch of rough wall known as the graffiti wall where they could read the scratched words petros eni” in old Greek meaning Peter is here.

Bones found there have since been tested as those of 60-70 old man. In 1968 Pope Paul VI announced the bones had been to his conviction identified as those of St Peter. On this tour you have two chances to viewfrom a small distance, the spot where these relics lay for nearly 2000 years.

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In St Peters, Bernini’s last commission, the tomb of Pope Alexander VII from 1678. A swirl of red jasper you’d swear was satin

We’d booked months ahead. There were only a dozen of us, ably led by a very personable and knowledgeable American who has been studying in the Vatican for ten years. The passageways are cramped and in some parts claustrophobic but the tour is well organised and well explained. You also have the advantage of coming up through the cellars of the great cathedral with its tombs of many popes and then into the Basilica itself. No matter how many times you walk through, each step inside is truly awe inspiring for believers and non-believers.

Find out more here

From the sublime to the delicious

Subdued by a head full of recently glimpsed images we head for home. We walk through the heat scarcely relenting even though the day was moving on. One of our favourite little wine bars, Mr Wine, was closed for the day. So on we trudge, tongues if not hanging out, at least licking lips.We weave through many tiny lanes, glimpsing to each side and above the many ancient structures that constitute the Eternal City, until we cross the river into our own ‘hood.

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A lifesaver in 40 degree heat. The local beer on tap

“I’d kill for a beer” seems a not unreasonable sentiment at the time.

We round a corner and there is the fairytale presentation of a trattoria. Tables on the footpath, lambrettas clattering by, red and white check cloths, waiters in black waistcoats. A million dollars would not have tempted us past it.

Aperol spritz for her, (the most generous slug of Aperol all trip), 500ml of Peroni al spina for him.

Food? No not at the moment. But several minutes pass when a second half litre is needed because the first didn’t touch the sides.

Roman Holiday This Magnificent Life
Frascati from the surrounding hills, the natural partner to pizza

We accept a presented menu. Keep it simple. Wine of the district, food of the fields. Tomato caprese. Pizza, margarita tickled with anchovies. Simple pasta with garlic and pepe. Bottle of Frascati from the hills around here. Not a Michelin star within cooee. But god it was good.

Roman Holiday This Magnificent Life
Couldn’t resist a close-up of those magnificent tomatoes

Finer menus were to come but what a starter in Rome!

Roman Holiday Part 2 coming soon.

 

 

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Ian MacTavish

Mr MacTavish is a celebrated writer and one of Australia's more respected Wine reviewers, appearing regularly in national magazines, in print and on line. So far, he has never been heard to say 'no' to a wee dram.

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