5,022 miles: Italy, old and new (part III)

(warning: photo heavy essay follows!)

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When you’re visiting a city that was built in the 8th century B.C., you’re going to see a lot of really old stuff. That’s why when you stumble across some type of modern structure, it really stands out. More on that in a bit.

Monday, we headed out to pass through our second Holy Door at The Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls which is–just as its name implies–outside the walls of Rome. What this translates to for travelers is, of course, “off the beaten path.” In fact, it’s so off the beaten path that it wasn’t even on any map of Rome I had. I knew its general direction, though, and had written it in with an arrow pointing south. The family was a little concerned to say the least.

Our taxi driver, however, knew exactly what I was talking about, and on our ride out to the Basilica, we passed several of the places I had on tap for us to visit that day–which helped to gauge the distance back.

The Basilica was unbelievable.

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Not surprisingly, there were very few visitors other than us. We passed through the Holy Door and into the nave which had a breathtaking ceiling covered in gold.

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the Holy Door of the Basilica di San Paolo Fiuri le Mura, opened for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, 2016

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Everything inside this Basilica, built in the late 300’s over the tomb of St. Paul, was stunning.

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While the majority of the original Basilica burned down in 1823, the apse mosaic survived. It was created in the year 1220.

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After pulling Russ and Theo out of a group picture (we were not traveling with another group; I had to convince them that photo bombing probably wasn’t the best thing to do in a Holy place), we hailed another taxi for a destination that could hardly be more opposite than this beautiful Basilica:  the glass and steel monstrosity that is Eataly.

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I’d read about Eataly on Elizabeth Minchilli’s wonderful blog, Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome (I also read her latest book, Eating Rome, prior to our trip. I highly recommend it if you are like me and read cookbooks as if they were novels.) We found Eataly to be fascinating. After riding up its 4 skywalk-type flat escalators to the very top level, we slowly made our way back down, trying to decide where to have lunch.

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Eataly was a unique experience in the grand scheme of things, and we enjoyed it very much. If you’re a fan of farmer’s markets, upscale cooking stores, people watching, and gourmet food, be sure to visit.

Next stop, the  Pyramid of Caius Cestius, which was just a short walk away.

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The pyramid is a tomb built for a very pompous Roman who died around 12 B.C. Its presence in Rome is almost as out of place as Eataly’s.

From here, we headed towards the Protestant Cemetery, which is actually just right across the street from the pyramid, but due to a display of rookie level cartography skills on my part, we took the scenic route. The very scenic route.

The English teacher in me wanted to see the graves of Keats and Shelley. Normally cemeteries creep me out, but this one was green and bright and lush and not eerie at all. Thank goodness.

Keats’ grave was easy to find (down the path towards the left), but Shelley’s took a little more time (his is straight up the hill from the gate towards the very back of the cemetery). My whole family humored me as I dragged them around.

What followed after our cemetery visit qualifies as the only bad moment for us on the trip. We stepped across the street from the Pyramid to hail a taxi to take us up the hill to Santa Maria del Priorito di Malta. None of the chain smoking throng of taxi drivers seemed eager to take us; finally, one fairly young hipster stubbed out his cigarette and said we could fit in his taxi if one of the boys rode in the very back.

He opened the door, and Theo climbed in and over the back seat to a tiny seat in the very rear of the car. The rest of us piled in, with me in the front seat. The driver proceeded to race like a maniac up the Aventine Hill, zigging and zagging and revving his engine. He stopped short of our destination and said to get out because he wouldn’t go any farther. We were confused, but figured when in Rome and all. Total fare, according to the meter, was 5 euros. We climbed out, and Russ handed him the fare, but the driver started yelling that it was 20 euros instead. We countered by pointing to the meter. He yelled some more in Italian. We handed him the 5 euro bill and started to walk away, and he went completely bananas, screaming that “the boy ruined the fresh seat.” Apparently, Theo was supposed to climb into the very back of the cab without stepping on the seat at all. (And for the record, the fresh seat was not even the least bit dirty afterwards.) We haggled him down to 7 euros and chalked it up to a driver with a serious OCD issue.

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probably not supposed to pick oranges from the garden of a convent

We were here to look through the keyhole at the Priorata di Malta, which gives you a view across 3 countries–Malta, Italy, and the Vatican City–straight to the dome of St. Peter’s. (Interesting fact for you geography junkies: Malta has 2 sovereign locations outside the boundaries of the actual physical country that fall under its rule–sort of like satellite offices–and the Priorata di Malta is one of them.)

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tough photo to get for many reasons…this one certainly doesn’t do the Keyhole of the Knights of Malta justice

Opting to avoid ruining more fresh seats, we walked down the Aventine Hill to the Circus Maximus on our way to Santa Maria in Cosmedin.

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This home to ancient Roman chariot races is huge and was a great place for the boys to run around and be a little wild.

 

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The Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin was built in the 800’s and contains the most famous manhole cover in the world:  the Bocca della Verita.

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We refueled with some gelato (boys) and wine (grown ups) and began to make our way back to the apartment.

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the Roman bird nest in full effect…

On the way, we climbed the gazillion steps up the back of the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II and looked out over the Roman Forum, which was our only interaction with these 2 huge, important places. Again, we owe it another trip.

After a long day, we headed back to the apartment for a rest and then walked to Alla Rampa, a great little restaurant walking distance from our place and tucked behind and below Santa Trinita dei Monti. The outdoor seating was warm and cozy, and the cacio e pepe was out of this world.

All said, we walked 9.23 miles this day, checked off one solid quadrant of our map of Rome,  and earned ourselves some must deserved rest.

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Tucker peeking out of our apartment window, top left

 

 

 

 

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