europe,  italy,  travel

Gazing up at the gods of old – Day 8


Our only major plans for the day were to visit the Galleria Borghese and the surrounding park area. We made our way to catch the metro and managed to catch a train just as it was leaving. It was a bit bizarre getting on, as there were a group of people standing right in the doorway that didn’t move at all, so we had to push our way in. At first, we thought it was just rudeness but continued commotion revealed that there may have just been an attempted pickpocketing. An older Italian lady was speaking passionately to a pair of tourists, who were looking through their wallets and expressing their thanks (suggesting that they still had their money). It seemed as if she was indicating that they should have grabbed the pick-pockets or something, though none of it was clear. It was all very intense, and Angela and I left clutching our purses just a little more tightly. 

We exited the metro station, following signs for the Villa Borghese, and found ourselves walking through a bizarre little park/parking lot area. The skies were overcast though it was bright out, casting an odd light for our walk. We conferred with our map and determined roughly what direction we should be going. We strolled through the park area, which was far less manicured and groomed than I had thought it would be. It was mostly trees and grassy areas, dotted by the occasional fountain and statue. We finally found ourselves in sight of the Galleria Borghese, walking along to the strains of a virtuoso accordionist. For this particular gallery, you have to reserve in advance for a specific 2-hour time slot. Ours was for 1 pm to 3 pm, but they mentioned arriving up to an hour early to avoid lines for picking up the tickets. We had a little bit of time to kill, so we walked around the park some more, passing one of the more impressive zoo entrances (complete with carved lions and elephants) and grabbing a drink.

When noon rolled around, we picked our tickets with no wait and thus had about 40 minutes to kill. We decided to foray into the city while we waited and wandered over to a villa that looked to be quite impressive on the map. However, it wasn’t open to the public, so we moved on. We found ourselves walking along a massive, old wall that looked to be an old city wall. In heading back to the gallery, we had a bit of a bizarre encounter with a homeless person. I happened to have my camera out, hanging around my shoulder, and he was sitting next to a building fairly innocuously. He then came lunging out at me, sort of pushing me away or grabbing at my camera–it was difficult to tell. He was shouting in Italian, and we obviously protested the intrusion and moved out into the street to get around him. I had first thought he was trying to steal my camera, which would’ve been particularly brazen given that there were two of us. Angela suspected that his protestations were because he didn’t want us to take photos of him. In any case, it was a somewhat unsettling encounter for a weird day.

We headed back to the gallery and checked our bags and cameras, as they unfortunately didn’t allow any photos in the gallery. This was particularly disappointing because the rooms were incredible. Again, beautifully ornate ceilings, but what was particularly interesting is that they depicted figures from Greek and Roman mythology (e.g. the pantheon of gods, the judgment of Paris, Apollo and Daphne). Rooms were thematic, such that the ceiling paintings and statues that populated a given room were often focused on one particular mythological figure or events. The space was also a gallery, and there was an interesting mix of religious and mythological paintings. I particularly enjoyed it because I am much more familiar with Greek and Roman mythology, and so I was more readily able to identify famous figures and scenes. Since they didn’t allow photos, we headed to the gift shop in search of a few keepsakes. I wanted to find a book with photos of the rooms, but unfortunately they didn’t have anything, just books of the artwork and statues. Not that those weren’t also amazing, as the collection included the likes of Caravaggio, Raphael and Bernini, but the space that the art was actually in was also amazing.

Satisfied with our last cultural outing in Rome, Angela and I walked down to the area around the Spanish Steps to grab some lunch. We had a couple recommended places earmarked and opted for the closer one, Antica Enoteca. Despite the skies threatening rain, we grabbed a table outside. I ordered a glass of bubbles, which was delicious, as was the bruschetta and my ricotta-filled ravioli in a 4-cheese sauce. The pasta dishes I’ve had so far have all had a great depth of flavour. We managed to pay just as the rain started up, though it was really a sprinkle. We popped into a supermarket to buy bottles of limoncello as souvenirs. Angela had a couple shops she’d noted down, so we went on a little scavenger hunt in search of them. One of them was supposed to be a stationery store, but largely sold leather accoutrements of stationery. The leather was quite fine, so I picked up a tiny bright pink leather change purse as a souvenir. We were both pretty tired, so we decided to swing by a gelato shop in the area that had been recommended. It had interesting flavours such as honey and pine nut (which Angela went with) and figs. I opted for milk chocolate with hazelnuts. Yum!

We headed back to the apartment for the evening to pack our bags and get everything in order. We had a lovely little light dinner of tomatoes and mozzarella with balsamic and a platter of cheese and crackers with salami. Rome, I bid you farewell. You’ve been wonderful.

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