Throw your guidebooks to the side (after you’ve seen the major sights) and get a little lost for an afternoon in Rome.
Side step vespas and taxis and pilgrims and other tourists behind maps, and get lost for a while.
Do as the Romans do.
Bow in and out of the slants of sunlight and vespas, use sounds of water fountains and laughter as your navigation.
An off the beaten path is not merely a passage but a rite and a full circle.
When walking in Rome you are witness to the many passions of people in a cacophony of color and sound and motion.
Roma begins to makes sense to you as you feel follow its rhythm; it is foreign and antique and familiar all at once.
Rome is history in the bones of the city stirring the blood.
Roma changes you.
What could I suggest to you but to drink in the sublime here?
See the city for the thousands of layers rather than one wild jumble.
Beauty is on display, oh yes, —but so is reflection of the human and the divine in every corner.
The celebration of the individual is found even in the smallest of details in Rome.
Art is a living thing.
The story of mankind is in a treasured relic, and in a sip of espresso, and in a stolen kiss.
Life is found in another language where the words are less important than the feelings they conjur in us all in the moment.
Rome is the tug of a heartbeat in a pulse before the veil falls over you.
Rome is a reminder of death that is very much a reminder to live! To live now!!
Notes on a little about my photographic process. I’ve been asked about this and it’s mostly the use of fine art films and my analog camera, but it’s also my digital camera and my iPhone too, that I shoot images with.
vintage sky blue vespa in napoli, italy, portra 800, october 2013
Yesterday I picked up my 35mm film photographs of Capri, Ana Capri, Sorrento and Napoli – shot in portra 160, 400 and 800, kodak pro h, and a few spare vintage-style rolls of color film, the names of which escape me at the moment. I shot some velvia slide film, which was developed into individual slides and I poured through each slide on a light table with a magnifying glass and chose the best ones (and the lab will scan them onto cd so I can post them here and in some articles and guides on Italy for other publications – AND which cost me $5 per slide)!!!
A roll of art film can be $15-$75 just for 35 mm film… 120 film (medium format/ large format) can be even more. Some times one can luck out with a five pack for $55, depending on the film. The film slide film is usally $25+ per roll and there is some incredibly beautiful discontinued slide film is now $75-$125 per roll with an expiration date! My fridge doors are not packed with cheese or juice or butter but with endless rolls of film, the cheap stuff, the mid range and the criminally expensive. It’s vitally important to buy your film from credible sources. That’s why I tend to buy the film in person, from a few credible photography shops in the Boston area, who properly store their unexpired film in a film fridge.
So for this trip, the 11th to Italy (ahh, makes me think of Doctor Who!) – I spent a couple hundred dollars on the film, a couple hundred to develop the rolls and a few hundred more once they scan the velvia film slides onto CD.
I shot about a hundred pictures on digital but focused mainly on analog because I prefer the dreamlike, tonal quality and the color and beauty of these special films. It’s sad how incredibly costly it is to shoot with fine art film; it’s truly a dying art form. But there is still the drugstore deals on fujifilm and kodak (buy one 5 pack, get one free, etc) I collect in bulk because that film is great for every day shots and practice. But for Italy and for shoots where I’m looking to tell a story, I still rely on those rare gems: portra, velvia, etc.
neapolitans in spaccanapoli, portra 800, october 2013
As I return to writing and shooting and editing I’m thinking of arranging this into a book or extended project of my version of Off The Beaten Path Italy so I’m thinking of the tremendous cost as an investment. We’ll see.
I have a busy weekend but I’m going to get some pieces together soon and post some of the photographs here. I do post some of the stand alone shots on tumblr here.
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!
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.
I’ve gotten to know the ancient island of Capri and ana Capri fairly well over the last ten or so years and love still getting a bit lost when I go off the beaten path.
A quiet, labyrinthine neighborhood, Via li Campi, away from the crowds of Capri Town.
I wandered without a map past schoolchildren as they walked home from school. I wanted to find a local place not marked by tourists.
This was probably one of my favorite afternoons. I like to get a little bit lost in old neighborhoods.
Every corner held a new surprise… usually just another curvy turn but still, it was a surprise.
This was a tiny apartment courtyard . I would love to know the history of these walls and stairs.
I could walk this path all day. There’s a quiet in the shadows I long for.
So many colors and hues over decades.
Further into the maze of private pedestrian streets.
One can hear the call of birds and the echo of footsteps on the rock.
Here the gardens are on the rooftops or behind high walls in private courtyards.
Ana Capri is a great place to buy the artisan handmade tiles. I brought a few back home myself.
I’m working on a piece I did on my favorite tile shop, an interview with the owners and a photographic tour of the shop. I should be publishing it in the next few days.
A Greco Roman bust outside the chapel in the Italiani Giardini. The white tile stairs lead up to the former bird conservatory.
The winged Egyptian bust overlooking the Marina Grande with Ischia faintly shimmering in the background through the low clouds.
The sphinx watching over the sea, an ancient siren calling wanderlust to travelers.
The bird’s eye view.
The beautiful sweeping coastline of Capri.
The tiny chapel in the garden.
Cypress trees and gorgeous pillars on the terrace overlooking the sea.
There are a series of stairs leading to sumptuous turns of the garden and pathways further up the hill.
Although the villa is high up on Anacapri, there are soaring rocky cliffs surrounding the grounds. One rock was the the fort overtaken by the pirate Redbeard, which was later owned by Axel Munthe and donated back to the island (but owned by) his Swedish foundation.
The veranda, home to the sphinx, is inviting in white tile and stone, with benches to rest on and views everywhere you look.
The charming path way walks are lined with greenery, flowers and fountains.
Every turn on the grounds is more and more enchanting. I cannot recommend enough an hour’s visit to the Villa for it’s peacefulness and beauty. On hot days it’s a cool and shady refuge.
Olive jars, more cypresses and Roman Umbrella pines!
A side view of the Egyptian winged pegasus-like female sphinx.
The exterior of Axel Munthe’s chapel.
Potted urns along the walk.
Herbal garden, leaves and trees.
Hedges and shrubbery grown over decades forming fences.
Another angle of the sphinx’s view.
A tiny boat leaving the shore.
The clouds and mist find each other.
Because of Axel Munthe’s tireless advocation for the exotic array of birds who migrate to the island each year, Capri is now one giant bird sanctuary. Bird hunting is outlawed. The beautiful song of many different birds can be heard from morning to night, when the nightingales come out. It is then when I can feel Keats poem, Ode To A Nightingale, alive in the air.
I worry some of the pictures are a bit repetitious but they were all beautiful reminders of being there. Even a subtle angle change is reminiscent of walking through the grounds and seeing the beauty unfold a step at a time. And believe it or not I am actually restraining myself.
A semi hidden niche at the end of Villa San Michele’s labyrinthine gardens and loggias.
This was part one of the Villa San Michele series shot on portra 35mm film, velvia film slides and vintage kodak. The history of San Michele, more garden rambles, the cafe and interior of the villa, the flora and fauna of the grounds and excerpts from Axel Munthe’s book on his Villa to come in following posts. For visitor information visit: villasanmichele.eu . If you find yourself on Capri, even for a day, you must take a convertible taxi or the bus up to Anacapri (because it’s less crowded, lovely and full of hand painted tile, jewelry and sandal artisans) and it is the home of the Villa San Michele! You won’t regret it!
More to follow! These photographs and travel essays are copyright Rebecca Price Butler, alovelettertorome.com
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
This small church, also known as Santa Barbara alla Regola, after the district in which it is situated, was founded, in the 11th century, in the ruins of the Theatre of Pompey. (It was in an annex in the gardens of the Theatre of Pompey that Julius Caesar was assassinated).
Saint Barbara of the Books, Rome, Italy. 186 Largo dei Librai
The church is just off Via dei Giubbonari between Campo de’Fiori and Piazza Cairoli.
This is a small but absolutely stunning church. It’s definitely an off the beaten path small church. One minute you are walking through a charming neighborhood, the next moment your turn the corner and are stopped in your tracks by this glorious architecture. It looks surreal – a tiny church stuck between houses and a yogurt gelato shop. It’s worth a stop, a snapshot and a walk up past the perfect olive trees into the doorway for a look around the interior. The video below is a literal film walk through the church. Armchair travel at it’s finest.
//photographs copyright rebecca price butler …