NYC in Italy: Day 4 and 5, A Roman Holiday (from Orvieto)

Piazza Navona

Day 4, Tuesday, and we were off to Roma. We met Linda’s awesome friend Laura, an American married to an Italian academic. (It’s amazing the number of American women here who are married to uomini Italiani—that’s one guaranteed way to live in Italia!) It was fascinating to listen to Laura and another friend talk about the school system in Italy. Her son is in a public school that was “occupato,” or occupied, by the students. Apparently it’s a regular occurrence: The students get so fed up with the school system’s problems that they take over the school in protest. And yet nothing ever changes. Linda, too, is not a fan of the Italian schools, and yet I looked through her daughter Giulia’s notebook for art history and found sections on cathedrals, sculpture, painting, even the Orvieto Duomo, which the students can walk by on their way to school—all facets of art history that I never studied in my public American school at age 12, that’s for sure.

Making up for my lack of education, I spent the next two days exploring Roman art and archaeology at four museums (I’m not a masochist, but a 10€ ticket gets you into all four). They are all a part of the National Roman Museum and so interesting.

Palazzo Massimo

At the Palazzo Massimo, near Termini station, I learned that in ancient Rome, the hairstyle made the woman. For an in-depth tour of Roman hairstyles from my visit to the museums, click here (it’s really fun, I swear!).

The museum also has an incredible collection of ancient Roman coins through the ages.
For lunch, I indulged my inner tourist at the Piazza di Spagna, crowded as usual.

Piazza di Spagna from the bottom

Piazza di Spagna from the top

I also learned of a performance of La Traviata happening that night at a little tourist theater near the piazza. So I decided to extend my Roman holiday and check it out. Yes, it was touristy, with horrible wigs on the singers and the women’s costumes looked like bad bridesmaid dresses, but the voices weren’t bad and the theater is adorable—and you can bring a glass of prosecco to your seat.

Teatro Salone Margherita, Via dei due Machelli

I spent the night in my friends’ little hotel, the Beehive, Via Marghera 8, near Termini. They’re worth a blog entry all on their own but it’s probably better for you to check out their website and hear Linda and Steve’s story directly from them. We’ve been friends for nearly 20 years, and I’m so proud of them for building up their business, which I’ve been privileged to see at various stages: When they were a hostel with a few bunk beds, after they bought some property and were beginning to expand (and offer yoga classes and massage), and now…

They have 20 rooms, a vegetarian cafe, and a booking service they call, Cross-Pollinate, so that if they’re full, they can book you into any number of other rooms or hotels, or book you a place in any of eight other cities including, Florence, Venice, Paris, Barcelona, London, Lisbon and Istanbul.

I stayed in their latest renovated rooms.

Beehive, room 5

Steve and Linda in reception—although this is Steve with much shorter hair than he has now!

Steve, and one of their chefs, Aimee, who cooked up an amazing vegan feast the night I was there.

The garden of the Beehive, where you can enjoy a café or a glass of vino in the warmer months. Ahhh.

The next morning, after having breakfast with a Beehive guest from Kathmandu, Nepal—now I’ve added that to my list of future destinations to hit—I explored the other three museums my ticket was good for.

The Crypta Balbi is located right on an archeological site so you can see how the building has been excavated. And there’s a large exhibit of how Rome developed on top of its own ancient remains over the years. There were a lot of pots to look at, and near as I could tell the most durable item was an oil lamp—the museum has hundreds of them. The Terme di Diocleziano’s most intriguing offering is a large cloister designed by Michelangelo. It’s gorgeous.

Michelangelo’s cloister

View of one side of the cloister

Lunch at the Piazza Navona (doesn’t get more touristy than that!)

Finally, I made it to the Palazzo Altemps, which houses the amazing Ludovisi collection of sculpture, among others. It’s easier to just show you some of the highlights:

Altemps room

Aphrodite: Is it me, or does she have man hands?

Psyche and Cupid

This one’s an odd one: During restoration in the 17th century, the restorer used various parts from other excavated statues to essentially fashion his own creation of the pair. So, Psyche, on the left, got a new head, perhaps from an Apollo statue. And her bust also once belonged to a male statue, they just added a breast. (And check out her guns!). The lower part of Psyche was made new in the 17th century. Cupid got a new head also, a female from ancient Rome, known as a “Sappho type” because of the hair drawn back into a chignon. Apparently the goal was to inspire admiration through the ambiguity of the use of both male and female parts. Those crazy Baroque kids!

Satyr carved by Bernini

One of my very favorites is a satyr carved (they think) by a young Gian Lorenzo Bernini. He often used himself as an inspiration for his statues (no ego there!), and he seemed to have good material to work with. Ciao, Gian, I’ll revisit you at the Galleria Borghese!

At that point, i miei piedi erano distrutti! (My feet were dead) And I had to catch a train back to Orvieto. But it was due giorni fantastici a Roma!

NYC in Italy: Day 3 Orvieto

Today I explored Orvieto, the Umbrian town I’m staying in with my friends Linda and Steve. And it gave me some idea of what it might be like to live here.

First, I met a new friend, Toni DeBella, at the I Heart IT School in the Piazza della Republica, where she introduced me to her Italiano teacher, Eva. Eva and her three partners, all women, started the school about a year ago and teach all levels of Italian, along with some fun-sounding extras to help students learn Italian in ways that interest them: through cooking, film, art, opera or fashion.

While Toni went back to her lesson, I wandered down the Corso Cavour, Orvieto’s main drag, to the Torre del Moro, a 13th-century clock tower in the center of town. Standing 47 meters high (that’s 237 steps up if you’re climbing, which I did)…

Inside the torre

On the way up you pass the actual clock face, and the mechanical workings, which were installed in 1875.

The top of the tower offers a 360-degree view of Orvieto and the surrounding countryside.

Top of the TorreView from the top of the Torre del Moro

top of the torre/Duomo

Every quarter-hour the tower’s bells chime, ringing out over the town.

For lunch, I met Toni at La Palomba Trattoria for a dish of homemade pasta: Umbrichelli al Tartufo, and the truffles, which are in season, were grated onto the pasta table-side. Yum!

Umbrichelli al Tartufo

OK, it kinda looks like worms but it tasted great! I’m not sure I’d ever had fresh truffles like that before.

Toni DeBella is a writer and blogger who recently moved to Orvieto from San Francisco—you can check out her story on her blog, Orvieto or Bust. Lucky for her, her family is Italian so she has citizenship and can work in the country (if she can find a job). She’s having mixed feelings about finally making the move to Italy after years of spending time here off-and-on. She sold all her stuff back home, packed her things in two suitcases and made the leap. Now she’s grappling with finding her new life in Orvieto. So we had lots to talk about since that’s exactly what I’m debating doing. Era un pranzo divertente!

Toni DeBella

Following lunch, I decided to check out the Duomo and the Museo dell Opera del Duomo. And as I wandered the cobblestone streets, the gray day began to clear.

Orvieto street

I’m not very religious, but even I could appreciate that as soon as I walked into the Piazza del Duomo, the sun burst through, glinting off the gold mosaics on the façade. It was beautiful.

The Duomo in Orvieto

The iron doors, with their carefully sculptured handles were also a sight to behold.

Doors of the Duomo

The Duomo itself is vast inside but no photos are allowed, and it’s empty and open—Linda tells me they do events and concerts inside, in addition to Sunday mass. I also passed through the museo attached to the church where there were some amazing frescoes and religious paintings by renaissance artists from Orvieto that had been restored to their full, colorful glory.

The most beautiful one, and the image the museo uses on its promo material, is a painting of Magdalene by Luca Signorelli, originally painted for the altar dedicated to the saint in the chapel of San Brizio. Again, photos were vietate, so you can see a lesser version of the image, here.

The museo is dedicated to restoring the valuable paintings and sculptures by Italian artists. Inside, I saw a woman working in one of the galleries, dabbing gold leaf carefully on a triptych she was working on. And outside, workers were moving some of the sculptures from inside the Duomo—perhaps for more restoration. It certainly isn’t a sight you see every day in New York!

Icons ready for transport

A domani, amici!

NYC in Italy: Day 2 The Dying City

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My friends Linda and Steve suggested we take a drive to Civita di Bagnoregio this afternoon. Said Steve, “It’ll blow your mind.” Sarcasm. That’s what comes of living in Rome and Orvieto for 14 years: You get jaded about living 20 minutes from a 2700-year-old town perched above a green Italian valley known as “The Dying City.” But I’m una turista so it actually did blow my mind a little.

It’s called the Dying City because of all the erosion, which really kicked in after a major earthquake hit in the 17th century. Over the next 200 years, the erosion increased to such an extent that the city became almost an island to itself, accessible only by a steep wooden bridge.

Now, not many people live there—only about 20 year-round—but thanks to a gushing nod from Rick Steves, it’s a tourist destination, particularly in the summer months.

After walking across the long bridge—the old wooden bridge has been replaced by a more modern concrete one, and climbing the steep path to enter the town, we strolled though the cobblestone streets to the main piazza. Just beyond, for €1, we descended into the ancient caves where olive oil was once pressed. It didn’t look like the most hospitable accommodations but people did live—and cook—here.

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But they had a pretty nice view.

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And wine was plentiful.

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Olio, vino e una buona vista…not a bad life.

NYC in Italy: Day 1

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Sono qui! I arrived in Rome today at noon after a quick and easy flight on Alitalia. The quickest way into the city from Fiumicino aeroporto is the Leonardo Express train, for €14, which takes about 30 minutes.

My friend Linda met me at Termini, and after dropping my bags off at her family’s hotel, The Beehive (more on that in another post), we hopped a metro to the Piramide stop and had a delish lunch at Flavio al Velavevodetto (say that three times fast!). It’s an atmospheric ristorante built into Monte Testaccio, a big hill that grew over years when people in more ancient times threw out the old clay pots used for transporting oil, wine and other items.

Inside the restaurant, you can see the strata of pots of the mountain. Yes, it’s a mountain of trash! Only in Rome could a garbage dump become a tourist attraction worth photographing–and dining on!

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All the pasta at Velavevodetto was homemade and scrumptious. I had Ravioli Velavevodetto, with spinach and ricotta and topped with cherry tomatoes. Yum!

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After a quick stroll by the Colosseo at sunset…

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…we returned to Termini for the hour ride to Orvieto, where Linda and her family live. It was late and I was a jet-lagged zombie, but not so out of it I couldn’t appreciate the Duomo at night. Ciao a tutti!

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JFK Caesar salad

I don’t know why I thought the international terminal at JFK would have better food. But after a fruitless search down two corridors I ended up at the Medalist Bar having a Caesar salad. I have a feeling the real Caesar salads I’m about to eat for the next three weeks would laugh.

Now it turns out they’re out of the Caesars! And the southwest chicken salad. And Miller Light!

No wonder I first read the sign here as Mentalist Bar!

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