Off the beaten path in Rome

Thursday, May 22, 2014



This is Part 3 of a five-part look at Rome from, the writer hopes, an angle that is different from that usually given in such pieces.

What can you see if you choose to stay in downtown Rome? Well, all the sights, of course, the usual sight suspects if you will, but I will give you two “sights” that the guide books don’t mention, one of which we went to deliberately, the other of which we found accidentally after successfully completing our quest for the Trinity College pub:

The de Chirico Museum, which we sought, and the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, which we didn’t seek but were delighted to have found.

The de Chirco is at the bottom of the Spanish steps, a bit to the right as you face them, but good luck finding it. It is 31 Piazza di Spagna and the building is easy enough to find, but there is no sign and when you walk into the lobby, there is nothing to indicate that it is a museum or that it has anything to do with the great artist Giorgio di Chirico, just a set of steps leading up to … a beauty salon.

You can ask for the museum at the beauty salon and they will tell you they’ve never heard of it, but there is another set up steps leading up one more floor and you can go up and find the door locked, at which point you can start back down in frustration.

Or you can do what we did: Pass by a group of, apparently, German tourists with a guide that is going to that upper floor and simply join the group. For them, the locked door is opened and we all went through and, oh, my was it worth it.

I knew nothing of his work, although my wife did, but I was fascinated, not by the pieces that look like those of Salvador Dali, but by the portraits of a woman I believe was his wife, several portraits, all vastly different, all just brilliant. Here is how he is described: De Chirico strongly influenced the Surrealist movement. Surrealists who acknowledged De Chirico’s influence include Max Ernst, Salvador Dali and René Magritte.

The Doria we found walking back to our hotel from the Piazza Venezia. Suddenly it was there, a large, lovely courtyard and a ticket booth. And inside was some wonderful art, including several Carravagios. Unfortunately, I have no idea how we found it, we were wandering a bit by then, but were I to return to Rome, I would find it again, somehow.

We were staying in the center of Rome, the second of three hotels at which we’d planned to stay, this one the Daphne, a bed and breakfast in the heart of the city, near the Triton Fountain and within walking distance of such touristy things as the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, all very nice, of course.

But from the Daphne, it’s easy to get to the Villa Borghese gardens where running is easy and fun and where there are no cobblestones to trip you up. You run past musicians, a museum, a small zoo, lots of open space and lots of people, some of them also running.

The odd thing about local runners in Rome is that they seem incredibly overdressed. I went out one morning in shorts and a T-shirt and passed runners, male and female, wearing windbreakers zippered to the throat and, in some cases, sweat pants. It really wasn’t cold.

Dressing that warmly was nothing unusual in Rome, though, where everyone, except the idiot Americans (me and Kathy) was always wearing a coat and, very often, a scarf. No hats, though, for the very stylish women. But many of the men wore caps and I wanted one, too, but they were 35 euros so, forget about it.

And a good thing I did: Several weeks after we returned home, I visited my relatives in New Jersey and my cousin, Katie, a yard sale maven, presented me with a cap that looked exactly like the ones I’d seen in Rome. She found it for $1.

We stayed at two Daphnes, owned by the American Elyssa, and her Roman husband, Allesandro. Lovely people and very nice hotels.

The best part of the Daphne experience was the staff. They were incredibly helpful. The day we checked in, one of the staff, a young woman named Ash, shut down her office and guided us across the street to the nearest ATM, then back to the hotel.

She also helped us get into the Vatican without standing on the 90-minute (maybe a slight exaggeration) line by booking us tickets online. Yes, we beat the line but it cost an extra $30 and in my estimation, wasn’t worth it. I would never go to the Vatican again (about which I’ll tell you more in the next part of this series.).

What I liked best about downtown Rome was the chance to take the metro, which is really easy, and is really the best way to get to the Vatican. Oh, you could walk, but it’s a bit of a hike and the metro is fun and not expensive. I didn’t have time to figure out the buses, although there are a lot of them and it would be fun, were I to return, to just spend a day busing about the city.

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