Saturday, 2 November 2013

Our European Adventure - Days 30 and 31 - Rome, Italy

We took the train for the hour and a half trip to Rome, opting for business class to have a bit more leg room and comfort in the seats and cleaner washrooms. Whatever the class, I enjoy the trains of Italy. They are dependable, on time, and easy to manage. The only tricky part is being on the right track ready to move quickly when your train arrives. The turn-around time is scarily brief. And of course if you have much luggage, just getting it on and off can be a serious deterrent. The trick is to travel light. I keep telling myself this every year and I keep traveling with way too many clothes. Someday I’m going to travel with only the clothes on my back. When they become unbearable I’ll buy new ones and throw the old ones away. Italian fashions are lovely. (However, I’ve just been unkindly reminded by my traveling companion of what I might look like in those Italian mini-skirts!)
Hotel Albergo Cesari, Rome
Hotel Albergo Cesari

Our hotel here, the Albergo Ces├íri, is an inn that’s been around since 1787. Our room on the second floor is very pleasant and a very good breakfast is served on the rooftop terrace, where we get to sit in the sunshine and listen to church bells as we have our cappuccinos and cornetti. 

 Once settled in we headed for the Piazza Navona so I could visit one of my favorite fountains, Bernini’s Four Rivers. The last time we were in Rome, it was all boarded up for renovation. It was wonderful to see this masterpiece open, with all the four great rivers of Bernini’s time, the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube, and Plata, flowing. It’s a magnificent work, although this time, it wasn’t boards and scaffolding that made it difficult to see, it was a wall of people. We’ve landed in Rome on the week of All Saints’ Day. In North America, about the only celebration remaining of All-Saint’s Day is Halloween (literally, the evening before the sacred or “hallowed” day—Halloween), but it’s a high holi day here. I think every Italian in Italy comes to Rome for All Saints’ Day. 

We wormed our way through the crush around Bernini’s fountain sufficiently to get a few pictures before we headed for lunch in one of the cafes lining the piazza. 

Bernini's Four Rivers Fountain, Piazza Navona, Rome Italy
Bernini's Four Rivers Fountain, Piazza Navona
On our way back to the hotel JP noticed a poster advertising a performance of the Mozart Requiem  in the Church of S. Paolo, Contra la Mura (literally, St. Paul’s Between the Walls). This is not a church on the usual tourist circuit. It is in fact so far off the tourist circuit that our cab driver got completely lost. He was heading for a much larger and much more distant S. Paolo. When the confusion was cleared up, we were about to give up and go have dinner, when JP saw it right in front of us. We had meanwhile had a prolonged tour of the city, by way of the city gates and the Colosseum.  We were late and the tickets were sold out, but a kindly custodian said we should wait, he would find us two chairs. He arrived a couple of minutes later with what looked like plastic garden chairs and we were in time for the beginning of the mass. It was a very fine performance, as good as I’ve heard, with baroque orchestra and large choir and good soloists. Appropriate for All-Saints’ Day and an inspirational way to begin our six days in Rome.

Of course when the concert was over we were faced with the task of finding our way back to our hotel. In Rome you don’t hail a taxi. Or if you do hail a taxi he will ignore you even if he’s empty. No. You must find a “Taxi Stand”, where there are dozens of cabs lined up waiting for people to come get them. We headed in what we hoped was the generally right direction and came across a most elegant hotel, one of those super deluxe affairs where the nightly rate would feed a small country for a week. The doorman called us a cab. As simple as that.

Twin Baroque Churches, Piazza del Popolo, Rome, Italy
Twin Baroque Churches, Piazza del Popolo
The next morning, we headed for the Piazza del Popolo. Somehow in all my visits to Rome I’ve never been there. It’s the square where the Popes used to execute people with whom they had a difference of opinion. It’s in a word, fabulous, one of the largest and most ornate of the many piazzas in Rome. Three of the city’s major thoroughfares meet here, with twin baroque churches set where they converge. The original Aurelian Walls date from the third century, but the huge gates to
Piazza del Popolo
the city were rebuilt by the Medici Pope, Pius IV, in the 16th century, to create a more impressive entry into the city for visiting dignitaries. On one side of the Piazza is an architecturally interesting zigzag, up a high hill to the Borghese Gardens. An ancient Egyptian obelisk stands the center of the square, surrounded by lions spouting water. Children were playing at sitting on the lions backs as we watched. 

But the jewel of the Piazza Del Popolo is the Santa Maria del Popolo. This relatively small (by Roman standards) church houses two masterpieces by the great early Renaissance painter, Caravaggio, The Conversion of St. Paul and The Martyrdom of St. Peter. Caravaggio was a non-conformist in his time. When everyone else was painting pasty faced anemic looking saints with their eyes rolling heaven-ward, Caravaggio took people off the streets for his models. They look live enough to step off the
Porto del Popolo
Porto del Popolo
canvas. For a painting of the Virgin Mary he is said to have used a prostitute for a model. He used the same model for his Mary Magdalene. It was only a matter of time before he was run out of town, with a price on his head. The fact that he killed his tennis partner over a small bet may have had something to do with it. He died in exile, longing for Rome, never knowing the Pope had pardoned him.

I’m on a Caravaggio hunt this trip, so you will be reading more about the works I see by this genius.


Following are my published novels. Go to my Goodreads page, to find more info and reviews.  

To purchase one of these books, just click on the book link below and select the vendor of your choice.

The Memory of Roses, Blair McDowell
 • The Memory of Roses ~ The story of a secret and how it impacts two generations of the McQuaid family.  It unfolds on the beautiful Greek Island of Corfu and is a tale complete with beautiful and passionate women, handsome and fiery men, and an intriguing mystery.

"The Memory of Roses by Blair McDowell is simply an incredibly lovely story. It’s also a love story, and a story about finding yourself, and about closure. The theme running through the book is “all’s well that ends well.”  --  Marlene, Reading Reality


Delighting In Your Company, Blair McDowell
 • Delighting In Your Company ~ Delighting In Your Company is a paranormal romance set on an exotic Caribbean island, featuring a handsome ghost and an adventurous heroine who travels back in time to solve a mystery!

"Delighting In Your Company is a unique paranormal romance that brings together island folklore, history, and mystery with an unlikely romance between the past and present that had me going through a torrent of emotions and made it impossible to put down." -- The Romance Reviews


Sonata, Blair McDowell
 • Sonata ~ Sayuri McAllister has just arrived home to Vancouver to find some shocking situations 
~ A robbery has taken place at her family home, and it is being investigated by her old flame;
~ Alyssa James who she barely knows, is about to become her new stepmother; 
~ and Alyssa’s brother, Hugh James, is a charming Irishman who is intent on bedding and wedding the rich and beautiful Sayuri. 

It’s a confusing and difficult time for Sayuri, especially when dangerous accidents happen to her father and herself – or are they accidents?

“I found Sonata to be a charming novel that left me laughing out loud in parts and gnawing nails in others. It was a delight to read.” – Night Owl Reviews


Abigail's Christmas, Blair McDowell
 • Abigail's Christmas (short story) ~ An enchanting tale of love and romance, with a magical touch of fantasy.
Abigail's Christmas is a holiday story about Abigail who goes looking for a tree on Christmas Eve, and ends up with the man of her dreams in a sleigh in the Rockies --- with a wedding in the offing! Is it real?  Is she dreaming?  Or is it just Christmas magic?

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Blair McDowell