Here’s how to have a beautiful time in Rome

I’m posting some recommendations I wrote in Rome last year for the tumblr blog where I get a lot of travel advice questions.

I am currently on the island of Capri so I am writing this by memory and pasting on my iPad – so bear with any mistakes or typos.

I am in Italy for the 11th time, my last visit was also Capri and Naples, four months ago in May. I was last in Rome a year ago but I have spent more time in Rome than anywhere else in Italy over the years.

Sadly, I return home on Tuesday, flying from Naples to Dublin to Boston. But it is Friday night, I had a magical afternoon swimming in the sparkling Tyrrhenian Sea, I am completely knackered and holed up in my hotel room praying it doesn’t rain all weekend as it is supposed to do, thunderstorms and all.

From my entry: champagne.tumblr.com/travel (updated and expanded tonight)

I get tumblr asks and emails, sometimes daily, on some of my favorite recommendations in Rome.

This is advice and Rome recommendations I wrote a year ago.

 

I’ll throw out some names and recommend some books:

Villa Sciarra and the Monteverde neighborhood. 

If you are going to visit the very off the beaten path Monteverde area, you may as well start at the Giancolo (Janiculum Hill) for the panorama view, which is nice, and the interesting area around it.

Then walk down the hill to the Monteverde neighborhood. It’s a long walk. Via Dandolo area.

You can hit Trastevere after the Villa Sciarra park. It’s an even longer walk.

Buses run all over too. And taxis.

Trastevere (church, food, la Renelle bakery, the Almost Corner Bookshop, graffiti, passersby).

The Aventine. (the Knights of Malta keyhole)!

Testaccio (the Protestant Cemetery!!

It’s peaceful, away from it all, gorgeous, Keats is buried there, Shelley has ashes, all the greats have visited, I am in love with the spot), mount Testaccio, the pyramid of Cestius.

Villa Aldobrandini (I have managed to miss this every time but the book Quiet Corners of Rome has breathtaking shots of it and it’s been recommended to me by travelers online so I am going to visit it next visit! It’s in the great Monti area (quiet, off the busy coliseum, Via Mazzarino 11.

The romantic renaissance walk on Via Giulia in the heart of Rome.

Boutique villa art museums. Spada, Doria Pamphlij, Galleria Borghese, Villa Farnesina, etc!

Lunch and outdoor market shopping at Campo dei Fiori!

See the Roman Forum, the Coliseum and the ruins in the daytime AND by moonlight when the world looks ancient and is silent.

Picnic on Palatine Hill.

Climb the steps to Capitoline Hill, designed by Michaelangelo!!!

Walk on Sunday on the Appian Way and pass through the ancient portico by the Aurelian Wall!!!

Have a coffee by the Pantheon at night.

Stroll through the Piazza Navona.

Fountain hop several piazzas every night!!!

Have a drink at five different cafe bars on the same evening.

Try something local, in season and daring!

Get a little lost.

Cross the bridge of angels at sunset or even better, sunrise to get to the Vatican along side the Tiber.
http://wantedinrome.com/ (exhibitions and strikes info)

http://thepinesofrome.blogspot.com/ (exhibitions and reviews)!

10 off the beaten path places in Rome (esp 2 & 7-10)!

http://www.revealedrome.com/2012/04/off-the-beaten-path-in-rome.html

A good site in general: http://www.revealedrome.com/ Summer in Rome tips and tricks!

RECOMMENDED BOOKS!!!

City Secrets Rome by Robert Kahn (2011 edition) (incredible!!)

Quiet Corners of Rome by David Downie and Alison Harris (a MUST)

Frommer’s Rome (The one classic guide I’ve learned the most from, consistent tips, great walks and itineraries, clear directions, the most practical info)

HV Morton’s (1950s classic!!!) A Traveller In Rome (love him)!!!

Secret Rome (Local Guides by Local People) – Jonglez 

(INVALUABLE BOOK)!!

The Secrets Of Rome – Love and Death in the Eternal City by Corrado Augias (incredible well written history of Rome – ancient to modern – one of my all time favorite books ever)!!!

Rome in the morning, Rome in the afternoon, Rome at sunset, Rome in the evening – are almost like different cities.

Have dinner one place, a spumante somewhere else, an espresso some where else, a gelato somewhere else.

Enjoy the stroll, see the Caravaggios, embrace the green parks, look for the views, get lost and go for a ramble.

And fall for Artemisia Gentileschi and John Keats, like I did a long time ago.

VILLA BORGHESE AREA



(1). Arrive an hour or two before sunset. Start near the bottom of Via Veneto, there’s a train stop there, around the Harry’s Bar area. That’s La Dolce Vita, 1960s, Rome. Cross through the Aurelian walls and into the Villa Borghese Park. Pause at the Lord Byron statue. Find your way on Viale dell Magnoile (ask for directions if lost).

Follow it through the park, by the cyclists and the children playing, past young lovers kissing on the grass or eating picnics on makeshift blankets. When you see a long line of white faded busts you’re approaching the pincian hill (pincio).

Wander around there a bit but don’t get too sidetracked. Eventually you’ll come to a fountain with a goddess (I’ve featured her on the blog).

In the distance ahead is the beginning of the most perfect view in the world.

The sun should be a little low slung by now, the colors softening, the golden hour already descending with deepening shades of orange, peach and purple in the sky.

You’ll see a palm tree up ahead.

Keep walking to where others are probably gathering at this point.

As you approach the marble fencing you’ll catch your breath at the shock of how close the cupolas seem contrasted to the distant and lovely vatican.

Rome from this angle is layered and rich to me, it’s up close and personal view is worth the plane ticket.

Far down below to the right of the pinccio is the impressive piazza del poppolo.

You’ll want to venture there too, but first watch the sun set over Rome from the best spot in the city, possibly the best spot in the world.

You see it’s really the kind of thing you can do in one day but preferably you can visit the area at least twice on your trip.

Because earlier in the afternoon I highly recommend (to the far left of the Pincio) walking down past Villa Medici and down the Spanish Steps. (I know, the crowds are deafening, the guys selling plastic junk are pushy, watch out for the harmless but sometimes annoying panhandlers (referred to as gypsies by some although I am told that is a derogatory label).

Walk down the nicely designed stairs (don’t forget to pop into the French church at the top of the stairs first) then walk down them (sidestepping American (and European) teenagers absentmindedly texting their friends with blasé looks on their faces and trying to be noticed).

Admire the Bernini (padre) fountain.

On your left is the Keats Shelley (Byron) House, an almost spiritual place for me.

The house Keats died in, a museum dedicated to English Romantic Poets and writers.

To your right is the classic more British than England tea house, Babington’s Tea Rooms (I take tea in there often. It’s a wonderful experience, the tea is exceptional, the scones are Scottish and delicious, the food is very good. It’s deadly expensive but worth the oasis from the noise and crowds and the afternoon tea is served in silver pots and in china cups. They also have drinks).

Back outside, you walk past the Bernini fountain and you go down the street a bit and on your right is Caffe Greco. Keats, Shelley, Byron, Gogol, Wilde, countless other poets, artists, writers, you name it, drank here!

The decor is still 18th/19th century marble top tables, red lush decor, decadent pastries, strong espresso, tea, champagne, aperitifs. It’s worth a drink and a meander. Local artists and writers gather there. Look out for the “caffe greco” sketch artist, he sits at a table and chats with the waiters, sketching people in the cafe for his own collection.

I have managed a few shots of him over the years. He’s been written up in magazines and guidebooks.

My latest visit to Rome was about the hidden spots, little not often visited places I’d never seen before and finding the best views.

I had nearly two weeks and I didn’t get through half my list!

But you see where the day takes you, what you are in the mood for and you see a few rare places and it is a pleasure. Then you hope to return one day and continue.

I love trying to get to know the city in pieces and nooks and crannies, rather than trying to conquer the whole thing in a superficial, not so grand tour.

I like to read and ponder and fall deeply into the art and architecture and the history of the centuries of the city.

Some times I just fall into the sensuality of the Italian sun, the verdant greenery, people watching, eating and drinking and walking.

This last visit I slipped on discreet earphones and listened to the voices of British men recite Keats poetry and I wandered the streets. Absolute heaven.

I listened to the Rome soundtrack on the busy Corso and through the Forum.

 

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Boston a week after the bombs.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHI was born in Boston and lived there until I was six. We moved a lot, sometimes every six months and I lived in a series of small coastal towns on the south shore of Massachusetts, lining the seascape and woodsy old New England towns from the edge of the city to Cape Cod. I spent a lot of time in the city and its influence never really left me even when I was shuffled about the little beach communities. I moved back to Boston for high school and college and I’ve lived and worked there or nearby ever since, barring travel and living for a little bit in Los Angeles, Seattle and New Orleans. I have loved my city my whole life. It’s a different city for different Bostonians and it certainly has changed for me over the years. In the most compelling ways its been a city of art and books and learning (and difficult weather) and funny accents. It’s a college town, it’s a historical city, it’s mixture of working class and tony neighborhoods and has great hospitals and art museums and concert halls. It has a rich literary past. It’s full of Irish pubs, seafood restaurants and is home to one of my favorite Italian neighborhoods in the US. It’s a tough city at times and it’s a pretty one too. It has its own troubles but ultimately I found opportunity and inspiration here. I rode its trains and wrote about Boston life in the aughties. I photographed it in the last few years. And like most other Bostonians I was hit hard by the terrorist attacks at the 2013 Boston Marathon. About a week after the attacks I took my film camera and some art film and shot the makeshift street tributes and some of the scenes of the attacks. I also shot some of Cambridge (MIT – another scene of the attacks and Harvard Square and Tory Row/Brattle area) and other spots of Boston. I wasn’t surprised by strength of the city and its people in the face of the manhunt and the aftershock of violence which was palpably felt in every square mile. What struck me most was how much Bostonians were trying to be normal and live their lives and pick up the pieces on a beautiful spring day. The killers had not yet been caught. The aftermath was laid out in the closed off city blocks and there was an air of somberness in the heart of the city; at famous Copley Square, on posh Newbury Street, on beautiful, brownstone-lined Comm Ave, at the Public Garden and on Boston Common, in Back Bay and the South End. But it was also a sumptuously lit afternoon, the birds were finally out, the blossoms were opening on the cherry trees, the swan boats emerged, children ran about in the park, tourists walked with their maps and Colonial attired guides and there was a wedding in the gardens. We were still alive. We had to be. We were Bostonians. Life goes on on a lovely spring day despite ourselves. In spite of it all. Because we want to live. We have to.

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My art deco building – I lived here in the dormitory for Emerson College. The location was incredible. Now they are luxury apartments.

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if you find yourself in naples…

When you go to Naples, go to the top of a beautiful hill and enter the serene parco Capidimonte and stroll through large hedgerow pathways. You’ll find a glorious fountain covered in thick hanging moss and mariner figures. There is a lovely view of the hills of Naples nearby. The fountain is decaying, partly buried under the thick growth of moss and greenery. I couldn’t possibly love it more. After you wander around and linger on the grounds, go into the museum. See wonderful pantings and sculpture. Go to the second floor for the three Artemisia Gentileschis currently available for public viewing. Dream of returning before you’ve even left. Fall in love with beauty all over again.

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Charles III of Bourbon era fountain detail, Capidimonte Park, Napoli, Italy, autumn 2012 (digital)

sunset on the tyrrhenian sea

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On a little boat floating around the island of Capri we gazed up at the rocks and watched as the sun slipped slowly down behind the cliffs.

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Old barricades, canon heavy forts by the English and later the French, ancient walk ways of Romans and shepards, medieval paths with goats grazing on them, modern swimming clubs and fashion designer villas now sprinkle the soaring cliffs of Capri.

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The sea is calm for a moment, the south wind changes, the sun slinks further down and there is an upheaval in the waves.

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The boat rounds the entrance to another hidden grotto.

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The famed Faraglioni rocks, with a boat passing under it’s arch. We are about to enter it ourselves.

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Another boat races us to get there first. And yet we are all at a leisurely pace here. We are on “Capri time” as the locals say.

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The shadows and light meet and turn the shimmering sea dark and the rock impenetrable.

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It still amazes me how green things can grow out of prehistoric rock.

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The shining sea, the endless sky, the stone as familiar as an old friend’s face you still remember instantly after a long absence.

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In the rocks are countless animals and plant life, fishermen and birds of every color and song. In the water sea life and shells as exotic as halfway around the world.

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The views some people have. The lives they lead. The quiet stories never known to outsiders.

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Another Madonna of the Rocks, another Madonna of the Fishermen, of the sea. The Blue Grotto.

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To think this island was settled thousands of years ago and that people thought they could climb these hills and mountains to make new lives.

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The sunset kept receding and then bursting forth again as we sailed around the bends. The sun played a game with us.

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On Capri, the clouds touch the rocks and one can lose them selves in the mist. The challenge is not falling off a cliff like an unlucky Roman.

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Saying good-bye to Capri is never an option. It always calls you back, if, like me, you fall in love with it.

all photographs shot on fuji velvia 100 film slides by rebecca price butler – alovelettertorome.com 

Chandeliers in Roman Churches; on being and nothingness

When I was last in Rome, in October, I spied the most beautiful chandeliers hanging from very old church ceilings throughout the city. The churches were built upon layers of history, starting from the ruins of pagan temples thousands of years ago, with places of worship erected piece by piece like a mosaic throughout the first whispers of a Christian Rome through the middle ages to the Renaissance. The  Santa Maria in Ara coeli is on the capitoline hill in a foreboding, plain edifice hiding treasures of lights, stonework, faded marble, pillars from various eras, countless sarcophagi and dazzling chandeliers. The Santi Giovanni e Paolo is built on the ruins of the Roman saints John and Paul’s houses… and their remains, martyred in the 4th century. It boasts Byzantine flourishes, a coffered ceiling, gorgeous frescoes and a hushed, ancient stillness that hangs in the air. It was the first church to be built in Rome and has seen many facelifts and stylistic touches over a millennia.

Pillars from different centuries in Santa Maria in Ara coeli

Coffered ceiling and ornate interior in Santi Giovanni e Paolo

The imposing, numerous chandeliers of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Altar of HeavenBasilica di Santa Maria in Ara coeli al Campidoglio.

Bright frescoes and peeling paint over faded stone and wood in Santi Giovanni e Paolo. The chandeliers appear even more elegant against a faded backdrop. 

The churches are particularly breathtaking in person. They remind me of the somber prayers and cries heard in these walls over centuries of visiting pilgrims and faithful Romans alike. The splendor of the chandeliers and the art work only add to the sense of contemplation I feel wash over me whenever I enter their doors. I am an outsider on the one hand and a product of Judeo-Christian thought on the other by my very life in the western world. In America. Because of my Catholic and Protestant émigré forbears.

As the daughter of lapsed catholics, I was not raised with church but with the talk of God and conversely, the discussion of “no god” growing up. There were stories of gods and theories of prime movers or nature or the impersonal universe as the sources of mankind. There was the appeal of  ens causa sui, being one’s own cause. There was also the fear of that idea. So many ideas whirled around me in the conversations of adults. Nothing was ever formed, nothing was concrete. Life was fluid. Beliefs were temporary lapses of judgement. The mystery of the unknown barred an anchor, yet my openness to all possibilities was also a kind of freedom.

What a delicate balance in life we all lead.    

I still don’t know the answer to any of these big questions, or the Big Question, but I feel a subtle change, a quiet shift take over within me, in the quiet corners of Rome. In the buildings made of stone and marble, under the statues and paintings. When I enter into the symbolism of the stories, when I breathe in the heavy air of history, something fills my imagination whilst I am there and it’s hard to move away from it. It never really leaves me. Old chapel or cathedral, broken temple, an all but vanished sacra, an altar of astronomy and science or art – they are all my churches.

Memories of Capri


 

I saw this gorgeous photo shoot which reminded me of my week on Capri in 2006. Next month we are returning for a week on the beautiful island. In anticipation of this holiday I went through a few old shots of the island I took with my broken camera!

photo bu Leah Kua
photo by Leah Kua

The photographer is Leah Kua, photo courtesy of greylikesweddings.com

This photoshoot reminds me of a day in 2006 floating around Capri in the same style boat! Except somehow we didn’t come off as glamorous and dreamy. I didn’t feel that way anyway! When we stopped outside Tiberius’ Cave and jumped off the boat and swam into the mysterious Blue Grotto I got a weird rash from touching the algae or something. Then when I inelegantly hauled myself back up the boat ladder in my red faced 20th try, my hair dried plastered to my head, tangled and frizzy. We forgot to bring pellegrino and glasses or a picnic and got sunburns. (We were still incredibly enchanted and happy the entire boat trip – it was wonderful and dreamy to behold – but no-one would accuse us of being an effortlessly glamorous, photogenic couple like the one featured)! Hey they may look 1,000 times more fabulous but were have the bohemian chic schtick down pat. I mean, matching khakis couple? Just no. I joke… sort of.

So I poured over some old shots taken of my week in Capri in 2006 (taken with my old broken camera).

walking up the garden at the beautiful villa san michele

the blue grotto café near the docks

taken from a little boat floating around the island

a view from the room in 2006 (these shots were taken from my old broken camera and the photoshopping was harsh back then too)

a view from the room in 2006 (these shots were taken from my old broken camera and the photoshopping was harsh back then too)

ana capri and villa san michele

a beautiful mist rolled into view one morning as we wandered around capri and ana capri. the architecture is white, blue and gold and elegantly beautiful. the pool was an interior ‘ancient roman’ style hand painted tile pool from our hotel the villa tiberius.

naples’ children

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It’s simply impossible for me to tire of the dark, craggy, cramped, decaying alleyways of Napoli. Because I find them so beautiful. What is that expression? Life in the streets. But that’s not subtle enough. That has no emotion. No color. No fragrance. I’m just an American who falls in love with corners of places. Pages in books. The picture I see in everything. What do I know about it? Not much. But I love it all the same.

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Napoli gang of 11-13 year old boys smoking on the beach for the first time after they robbed a sweets cart.

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The unofficial leader of the gang, a tall blond boy, teaches the other boys how to smoke after they bummed cigarettes off kissing teenagers and robbed a food cart and cafe of crisps and chocolates.

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photographs copyright Rebecca Price Butler

art in rome in may

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I have thousands of photographs (digital images and film shots on digital files) I am pouring over for this blog and the strictly photo tumblr connected to A Love Letter To Rome. I found this shot of the ruins and cupolas bathed in pink and gold to be a temporary antidote to living in a snow-covered, rainy, icy, slushy, terminally grey winter which is stretching itself past the first rite of spring tomorrow.  Since I have so many shots on multiple hard drives, it’s taking me a while to sort them and organize them for posts. My main vision for this blog is moments in Italy, a walk, drinks at a cafe, a neighborhood, a painting, a quote, a sunset – some long and detailed, some short and simple.

 

For my upcoming return to Napoli in May I am compiling arts and culture listings for museum exhibitions in Italy for day trips.

 

Here are some links from great Rome blogs on current art exhibitions:

In Rome Now good info

Revealed Rome good reviews! great articles!

The Pines of Rome “Exhibits on Now” – great blog!!

The Titian exhibit at the Quirinale looks great. I’ve seen nearly all those works at one time or another, but not housed together under one roof.