We covered a lot of ground on Saturday, including some we hadn’t planned on. Previously, Mom & I had gone to specific sites that were close together, so everything was easy to navigate. On this day, we visited several locations within walking distance of each other – but only via the twisting, poorly marked, random street layout of Rome.
It started off easy, with a visit to the crypts of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. From the outside, the church is pretty nondescript, but once you get inside, it’s among the strangest “tourist attractions” in the city. At some point in its history, the church’s Capuchin friars decided to start arranging the bones of their dead brethren into elaborate works of art. We weren’t allowed to take photos, but there are some online here, here & here.
Being our morbid selves, we assumed this would be dark and creepy, but it wasn’t. It was beautiful. There was something so peaceful and spiritual about it, we were both taken off guard. That was one of the more pleasant surprises of our trip.
From there, we got sidetracked by the shops as we headed toward Trevi Fountain. You have to go to Venice to see Murano glass items being made, but you can buy them cheap all over Rome (and we did). We also found lots of cool souvenirs and a woodcarver’s shop where you could watch a guy make little Pinocchio dolls. We bought one for my nephew, straight off the workbench.
The fountain was just around the corner, and it’s another one of those remarkable, giant structures that just appears out of nowhere as you walk through Rome. It was crowded with tourists, but we were able to get near the water pretty quickly. We threw our coins in to guarantee a return visit, per tradition, then got out of the way so someone else could do the same. Then we just stared at it for a while.
We walked down the very ritzy Via Veneto, with its expensive designer stores, to the Spanish Steps. Sitting on the steps is another odd little Italian tradition, and one of those things you just have to do (despite no one seeming to know why). As we headed away from the piazza, we stopped to listen to a street performer playing what appeared to be a modified steel drum. It definitely added to the ambiance of the place.
Pictured: Everybody in Rome that weekend
From there, we headed to the Piazza del Popolo, a crowded plaza with the usual bustle of activity. Our real destination was the nearby Villa Borghese, home of the Villa Giulia, home of the National Etruscan Museum. We didn’t have time to take day trips to the Etruscan archeological sites north of the city, so this was the next best thing.
You have to be a huge history nerd to walk through an entire building full of Greek and Etruscan art, so…..hi, nice to meet you! Mom was interested, but I think she was also humoring me. We didn’t take photos, but the museum link above has some nice ones.
My favorite piece from the collection is this:
It’s a scene from the “Seven Against Thebes” myth, and yes, that guy at the bottom is trying to eat the other guy’s brains. The figure on the far left, with the WTF?! expression, is Athena. Even the goddess of war thought this was a bit much, and she withdrew a previous offer of immortality from the cranium-muncher. Of all the crazy stuff depicted in Greco-Etruscan art, this may well be the most awesome.
By the time we left the museum, it was dark, and we realized we no longer had our street map. No telling where it ended up, but thankfully, there was a big “you are here” map nearby. Thanks to Mom’s human-compass sense of direction and my photographic memory, we were able to get to the right cross street.
We were also hungry, so we stopped at a little neighborhood pizza place, where the phrasebook Italian came in handy. In the touristy areas, most people speak at least a little English, but once you get into the “real” Rome, the locals’ English is about as good as my Italian. We managed to order, eat, and pay successfully, and I got (and understood!) directions to the nearby subway station. I even got a “Brava!” from the lady at the counter when I understood her instructions for finding the restroom. That felt good.
So did finally getting home that night. And buying a new map.