Italy and England 

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There’s old Winston Churchill watching Big Ben, in Westminster, London, in March 2014.

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An anglophile’s dream: the omnipresent iconic red telephone box.

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Wandering around Portobello Road, in the Notting Hill neighborhood.

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The street art / grafitti is like The Sex Pistols and the Bbc all rolled into one.

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Tea at Sherlock Holmes and Watson’s house was quite amusing.

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Enjoyed searching for british china tea cups and white darjeeling on a half deserted faire.

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After wandering the many lovely garden parks of london wound up at  Buckingham’s Gate.tumblr_n2din7vCpZ1qznevxo4_1280

Making the pilgrimage to John Keats house at Hampstead Heath, London, after years of visiting the flat he died in, and laying flowers at his grave, in Rome.

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A room with a view…over the Thames, I was always excited to wake up to (and to raise my glass to) Big Ben.

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Saw the beautiful La Boheme set in 1940s Paris at the Royal Albert Hall.

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From the window of “221 b Baker Street, London

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From the beautiful garden of John Keats home, where he fell in love with Fanny Brawne and wrote some of his greatest poems.

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From the cloisters of Westminster Abbey. I do love a cloister.

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You have no idea how deep my anglophilia goes because I am always going on about Italy but these signs gave me a profound joy.

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This sign is so British it hurts.

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One of those moments in London an American or most foreigners savor.

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Always, a pilgrimage, a  beauty, a joy. John Keats forever. English Romanticism forever. B3-yzpZIAAIuVOk.jpg-large

Down the cloistered hall… like a dream of English classics, literary characters dancing in my head, London, a city looming in my brain of larger than life characters and eccentric, wonderful stories and frightful tales.

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The heartbreakingly beautiful dream of Italy view from my dreamy Sorrento hotel room terrazzo.

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Walking along the Appian Way on a quiet, car-free Sunday in Rome or along the Renaissance Via Guilia, I am forever excited and in awe over the small beauties and signs of the ancient world in this magical, mysterious city open-armed to the world.

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The architecture and cafes are familiar but I feel and live Rome anew each visit. There’s always something new to discover or a passion to stumble onto. Life is in the moment. It is heavy with the past, it is so alive it smacks of the future, but it is so wildly, lightly felt in the now, in the moment, Rome is like dreaming awake, feeling everything. Everything!

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Finding new off the beaten path cafes was a big favorite of mine in Italy this year. Always in search of the quiet moments and the hidden corners of Rome. This cafe was in Trastevere where you can sit and sip espresso and gaze at a Baroque Madonna painted onto a church exterior wall.

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I love the Eternal City because it has so many layers of history and love and unknown stories and marks of time and beauty in decay and new life bursting forth in a macabre, colored, brilliant celebration in Roman life today.

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Took a boat around my favorite island and swam in the Tyrrhenian sea on Capri, a place which invokes everything beautiful, lush and ancient about Southern Italy. There’s nothing quite like it.

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Returned to a lot of the same pleasures of the past, freshly squeezed oranges and lemons, under the Italian sun, by a Neapolitan woman who sings all day as she flitters around her Kiosk on the gorgeous Via Tragara.

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A return to Pompeii, the fascinating buried city with Vesuvius watchful in the distance.

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Meeting new friends abroad 🙂

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Long walks soaking in the sun and the past.

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Architectural details in half-obscured gardens of small villa art museums (full of amazing Renaissance, ancient and baroque Italian art)!

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Being the foreigner in a city you fall into like a comfortable affair.

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The moments you can’t anticipate but happen upon in the most beautiful of happenstances.

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My favorite spot on earth for the golden hour, on the Pincian Hill in Rome. This is before the view of the Popolo.

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A typical Roman street, wrapped into the mystery of fragments and pieces of history.

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The beauty of being overwhelmed in Rome.

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Cafe life in Italy, a class of wine or a coffee, a little treat, there is nothing like it. Another layered moment captured, to be savored and remembered palpably.

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On every wall there is a reminder of death and a reminder of love, the eternal kind, of love that lasts, and of life in the hand too.

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Rome, a city to return to, one that keeps its shutters open to the world, long enough for an unforgettable peek.

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Since that first moment I arrived there, now, and always, for Roma.

For traveling, for seeing the world, for meeting new people, and for being at home in the world.

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Here’s to 2014… and here is a cheers to 2015 and a new year of adventure and experience and chasing beauty!

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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.

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(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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shadows and light in the gardens of san michele on anacapri

At the edge of the garden at the Villa San Michele on Anacapri there are beautiful architectural details and greco roman fragments displayed among the trees and flowers.

“My house must be open to the sun, to the wind, and the voice of the sea, just like a Greek temple, and light, light, light everywhere!” – Axel Munthe

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I find the ramble through the gardens of Anacapri (especially the Villa San Michele one) to be a bit fairytale-like, a bit dreamy. The dark, lush, green paths over stone and fragments of ancient Roman columns and statues; the intoxicating scent of flowers and herbs; the layered calls of forty different species of birds – all hold one’s attention. When the garden is not crowded one can find themselves utterly alone, with the run of the place. There’s a sense of timelessness walking the stone paths and climbing stairs which boast unreal views of rugged coastline and layers of rocky, verdant cliffs.

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A nonchalant rustic garden with the aesthetics of a museum, an olive jar, shadows between the sunlight and a verdant spread accompanying a stroll. The stairs beckon and frighten a little when alone.

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The gorgeous cloak of wisteria entwining the columns and topiaries. Mighty cypresses soaring like some needly skyscrapers. The hint of other villas and other stories are tucked neatly into the mountain.

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Bright yellow flowers grow in impossible places, their faces outstretched toward the sun.

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The heady flowering of spring, clean white blossoms breaking up the velvet thick gloss of leaves and tangled old branches, is in every turn.

“The sacred mountain above San Michele is full of birds on their way home to mate and rear their young. What a joy to me that they can rest there in peace! Yesterday I picked up a poor little skylark, so exhausted from his long journey across the sea that he didn’t even at- tempt to fly away, he sat quite still in the palm of my hand as if he understood it was the hand of a friend, perhaps a compatriot I asked him if he wouldn’t sing me a song before he went off again, there was no bird-song I liked better than his; but he said he had no time to spare, he had to hurry home to Sweden to sing the summer in. For more than a week the flute-like notes of a golden oriole have been sounding in my garden. The other day I caught sight of his bride hiding in a laurel bush. To-day I have seen their nest, a marvel of bird-architecture. There is also much fluttering of wings and a soft murmur of bird-voices in the thicket of rosemary by the chapel.” The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

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On the old stairs a soft moss lies on the stone, suggesting an endless year of spring and life growing in the garden.

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Far below a tiny shock of blue sits in between the fields and the bay of Naples; while all those lives play out from an Emperor’s ancient vantage point.

“The whole bay of Naples lies shining like a mirror below my feet, the columns on the pergola, the loggias and the chapel are all ablaze with light…” The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

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The best view is a private spot of solace, a corner to stop in your tracks and allow the view to overtake your senses. A sip of the island’s limoncello, the scent of flowers and the sea, the sound of the birds and the south wind, the feel of the stone along your hands and under your feet – all senses are occupied with Capri from here.

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On certain days when the weather is perfect it feels as if one could see the whole world from here.

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Some of the paths are winding, some are hidden until you come upon then suddenly, some form straight lines with edges and niches laid out for yards.

“The pergola was already covered with young vines; roses, honeysuckle and Epomea were clustering round the long row of white columns. Among the cypresses in the little cloister court stood the Dancing Faun on his column of cipollino, in the centre of the big loggia sat the bronze Hermes from Herculaneum.” – The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

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Follow the ivy climbing over the columns and stone walls as you explore the garden, every corner is a delight.

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At the top of the steps are uniformed pots of green plants and spring buds, standing at attention for your wander about.

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On one path a sign leads to the café, a welcome distraction after all that beauty. Doesn’t everyone at a museum always love a café? This one is a rooftop one in the garden.

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Gnarled vines from long dead plants wind themselves around majestic trees along a columned loggia.

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The exotic and native flowers in every hue are marked and greet thousands of visitors each year.

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A stone water fountain which looks completely natural bubbles forth in between ivy, basil and shiny leaves. There’s mint and rosemary and too many herbs to count.

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A few Egyptian looking palm trees and several umbrella pines recall Capri’s ancient Roman days when the island played host to emperors and sirens.

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This is one of my favorite spots…I feel a sense of happiness and pleasure whenever I pass under the leafy canopy and approach the café. This is my dream garden.

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Whenever I see a Bird of Paradise I think warmly of my mother and her love for them. This was the most perfect one I’ve ever noticed.

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The Loggia has many windows to the sea and other curves of the garden. They are filled with manicured folder pots and Greco Roman statues. Roses climb the walls in every soft color.

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Some of the architecture reminds me of a Spanish style church, some is a bit Occidental, some a little Roman and the rest an eclectic mix of early 20th century and Capri-style.

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Each path ends with a different corner of the grounds, each turn is so inviting it’s difficult to choose one lane over another for the promise of their beauty.

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Where ever you end up in the next step, it’s easy (and enjoyable) to get lost. You always wind up at the heart of the garden and of Capri herself. If you remain quiet and strain your ear just a little bit and listen past the songs of birds, you may still hear the faint call of the sirens on the rocks below you.

“Like children in the trackless forest we grope our way through our lives in blissful ignorance of what is going to happen to us from one day to another, what hardships we may have to face, what more or less thrilling adventures we may encounter before the great adventure, the most thrilling of all, the Adventure of Death. Now and then in our perplexity we venture to put a timid question to our destiny, but we get no answer for the stars are too far away. The sooner we realize that our fate lies in ourselves and not in the stars, so much the better for us. Happiness we can only find in ourselves, it is a waste of time to seek for it from others, few have any to spare.” The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

Interesting perusal in relation to Anacapri and Capri:

The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe (Full text)

Elsyium Press, Capri publications, Rare photographs and lithographs, Norman Douglas.

This is part three in a series of photo essays on the Island of Capri’s museum The Villa San Michele. All photographs copyright Rebecca Price Butler at alovelettertorome.com