Roma, Ancora

I was back in Rome for a short trip a couple of weeks ago for the second time since I started blogging, hence the post title. Because this was my fourth trip to Rome overall, I’d already seen most of the major sites (though I still haven’t actually been inside the Colosseum…), so I was quite happy to just eat, stroll around, take in a bit of culture, and then eat some more. We also only really had less than two full days there, so we just didn’t have time to do very much (not even eat as much gelato as I’d hoped). So rather than break up the trip into multiple posts, I’ll just do this one big one.

 

We arrived quite late in Rome on the first day (due to our decision to take a bus from the airport. It’s cheap for a reason), when all the museums were already shut, so we just went to grab a pizza and gelato (gelato pic from second day, as I looked too hideous in the ones from day one), which wasn’t really a problem as those were my top concerns anyway. Roman pizza is super thin and pretty much the best (except for maybe New York pizza), though I am the sort of person who likes to eat dinner promptly at 5, so got very impatient and hungry waiting for the pizzerias to open for dinner at 7.

 

Day two was meant to be the nicest weather of our trip by far (though still quite windy; Italy was going through an unseasonable cold spell whilst we were there), so we took advantage by heading out to see the Non-Catholic Cemetery where Keats and Shelley are buried, which is located right by the Piramide Cestia (built in 18-12 BC for a Roman magistrate, and based on the pyramids in Egypt, albeit on a much smaller scale). The grounds of the pyramid are only open a couple Saturdays a month, so we couldn’t go in, but we could enter the cemetery, which is free with a recommended €3 donation.

 

I would have happily paid that anyway for upkeep, but even more happily paid when I realised the cemetery also cares for at least four delightfully grumpy feral cats, who freely wander doing their cat thing. The cemetery is often thought of as the Protestant Cemetery, but actually people from all non-Catholic religions (or no religion at all) are interred here. There are some vague arrows pointing to Keats’ and Shelley’s graves, but what you need to know is that Keats is in the grassy annex next to the main cemetery, right by a bench on the left wall with a plaque of Keats’s head above it, and Shelley is in the main part of the cemetery – from where you enter, go straight up to the top, and proceed left along the back wall. He’s quite near to Goethe’s son, who is also here.

Shelley is buried next to Edward Trelawney, who paid for his grave, and who I’ve always thought of as kind of a hanger-on (he basically fanboyed around with all the Romantic poets), and Keats is similarly buried next to Joseph Severn, who arranged this well after Keats’ death and without consulting him, though I don’t think quite as poorly of Severn, maybe because he drew some great portraits and nursed Keats in his final hours. And the non-famous graves in here are pretty great too – I may have changed my mind about looking sassy on my grave like Ady, and instead go for reclining with a favourite book and beloved pet, like the excellently named Devereux Plantagenet Cockburn, above right. I just need to acquire a pet at some point before I die. It’s a wonderful cemetery, and much bigger than it looks at first glance – go, you’ll enjoy it!

We subsequently headed over to see the Mouth of Truth, to test whether it deemed us liars and bit our hands off (I wasn’t actually worried, since if anything, I’m too honest). I had never actually been here before, and was a bit dismayed about the line, but it moved very quickly, thanks in large part to a man working there who hustled everyone along. He’d grab your camera, take a couple of photos of you, and then BOOM, move you along out the side door so the next person could step up. A good system that more popular attractions could benefit from! It’s next to a church that contains the alleged head of St. Valentine – make sure your knees and shoulders are covered if you want to come here, since they do enforce “modesty standards”.

After having a delicious lunch of a whole fried artichoke and cacio e pepe served in a bowl made of cheese, we headed over to see the Medical History Museum at Sapienza University, which I had skipped on previous visits since it didn’t look like anything special, but given my love of medical history, I thought it was probably time I checked it out anyway. Also, I was intrigued by the re-construction of an alchemist’s lab that was meant to be in the basement. This turned out to be less exciting than hoped-for, as you can see above (I had to find light switches to even see anything, as all the lights were turned off down there. I suspect we were the only visitors that day), but the museum did have some fantastic stained glass windows depicting medieval medicine (I love the panel with the dog, but knowing what I know about medieval medical practices, I suspect no good can come of it for either the dog or the patient).

 

The rest of the museum was bigger than I was expecting (on three floors counting the basement), but I was correct in initially thinking it wasn’t really anything special. It contained a very generic overview of the history of medicine, with a few specimens and medical instruments, but nothing terribly unique or interesting outside of Garibaldi’s crutch. Also, the main signage in each room was in English, but none of the object labels were; apparently there are audio guides available, but I didn’t see anyone working there during my visit who I could have asked for one. I think I would have preferred the Anatomical Museum, also on campus, but that was open by appointment only, and I feel a bit weird about being shown around somewhere, especially if I don’t speak the language. It was free, so I didn’t lose anything by going, but there are definitely lots and lots of attractions to see in Rome before trying this one. At least it was quiet!

Our last day in Rome dawned cold and rainy, just really unpleasant weather (I was not a happy camper, as you can see, and my mood was not improved by street vendors constantly trying to stick umbrellas in my face. Couldn’t they see I already had one?), but we braved it to head over to the Capuchin Crypt, which I had first visited about 9 years before. Needless to say, things have changed a lot since my first visit. I remember just walking into the crypt, after dropping a few euro into a donation basket, and it only took maybe ten minutes to see. They have now turned it into a whole little complex with a museum about the Capuchin Order, which costs €8.50 to enter (including crypt and museum). Unfortunately, you weren’t allowed to take pictures anywhere inside, not even the museum, but there were a lot of gems here, and just about everything had an English translation (and they even had a public toilet, though it was one of those horrible seatless ones). I learned an awful lot about famous Capuchin monks, and there were a lot of relics, creepy dolls, and even a wooden statue of a dog with a bread roll in his mouth, which I am sorry I can’t show you. The crypts themselves seem more or less unchanged, and involve fabulous tableaux of bones and mummified monks in a series of rooms (like a whole room lined with pelvises, and chandeliers made from human bones that hang inches from your head) that were started in the 17th century and added to up until the 19th century (the Marquis de Sade visited here and helped to popularise it). It is all excellently gothic, and I love it. Definitely visit if you’re anything like me, though again, be sure you are clad “modestly” (not a challenge on a day as cold as the one we visited on).

 

Unfortunately, because I wasn’t expecting there to be a museum, the visit took much longer than anticipated, and we had to head for the airport right after (a fiasco that involved missing a train because the platform was seriously like a mile away from the barriers and having to take the same bus back to the airport that we were trying to avoid after the journey there, but at least we made our flight in the end), so I didn’t even get to eat any gelato that day! Fewer than 48 hours is certainly not enough time to do Rome properly, but if I’d been able to get some food on the last day, I think I’d have been satisfied enough with what we did considering it was my fourth time there. The weather was disappointing, and we didn’t get to see the Galleria Borghese, which a friend had recommended, because it was booked up, but it was overall a decent trip, if not quite as fruitful in terms of gelato as my last one.

 

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15 comments

  1. That pizza looks wonderful. I’ve only been to Rome once, and I didn’t really take to it (weird, I know) but it was in the summer and too hot and busy. I might be better going in cooler weather. The only thing in your post that we did is the mouth of truth. And the pizza of course!

    1. The pizza was wonderful! I’ll be honest, I don’t much like Rome either – the food is the only reason I keep going back! It is much too touristy and I can’t stand having street vendors trying to push crap in my face everywhere I go.

    1. I’ve been all over Italy, but the problem I find with some of the smaller towns is that unless you know the right places to go, you can end up eating some terrible food! Not that Rome doesn’t have bad food as well, but because so many people go there, it’s easier to find places with good reviews. I realise not all travel has to be about food, but that is generally my top priority in Italy!

      1. I get what you mean about the food. In our one trip there, we had some really bad to bland food experiences. But we also had some unexpected amazing ones, too. Real hit or miss.

  2. Aw, grumpy Italian cemetery cats – mamma mia! (Sorry.) Feral or not, I’d probably have tried to snuggle one.
    Devereux Plantagenet Cockburn IS a tremendous name. And what a lovely monument. You could always have your own done up reclining with your stuffed alligator. I think that would actually beat out Cockburn’s for coolness.
    I know it’s silly, but I think I’d hate putting my hand in the Mouth of Truth. Always gives me a clammy feeling when Gregory Peck does it in Roman Holiday. This conflicts with the warm feeling Gregory Peck generally gives me.
    That medieval stained glass panel with the dog is wonderful. I’m going to pretend they’ve just brought him his dog to comfort him while he’s unwell.

    1. That’s true, I could have Prunella Scales with me. Good idea! I’d still have to pick a book though, or a stack of them. How do you choose?
      The Mouth of Truth isn’t so bad (you can touch the wall behind it fairly easily, so it’s not like you’re reaching into a gaping pit), but I am brutally honest, so I wasn’t concerned about it. I’m kind of on the fence about Gregory Peck. A young Peck is certainly not without his charms (and I love Roman Holiday), but he seems to have advanced into that Fred Mertz tie-swallowing high trousers phase really really quickly. On the whole I’m much more of a Cary Grant woman, though I’m sure he was much too cool for the likes of me.

      1. Yeah, no one beats Cary Grant – I’d take him any old day, at pretty much any age. Though I admit I’m partial to the Arsenic and Old Lace-Grant. Your “tie-swallowing high trouser” comment made me laugh – funny but, sadly, so true.

      2. I love Arsenic and Old Lace too, but I am a sucker for his round nerd glasses in Bringing Up Baby, and when he shows off his tumbling skills in Holiday. Really all of the 30s and 40s are peak Grant.

  3. I think Rome is one of those cities like London where there is always something interesting to explore – no matter how many times you visit. Definitely noisy, hectic and (often) rude, but after 2 visits I still have a bunch of places on my “to do” list (and a few new ones, thanks to your post). Plus, just the idea of a cheese bowl makes me want to book a flight right now!

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