Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

23 July 2017

Seven Hills--And There Are More!

You have no doubt heard that Rome is built on seven hills.  Trust me:  It isn't hype.  You become very, very aware of that fact when you cycle in this city!

I can now honestly claim that I've climbed all seven by bicyce.  Yesterday I climbed the  with Roberto:  the Aventine, Capitoline, Caelian and Esquiline.  I climbed them all again today, on a bike I rented from Bici & Baci.  I also pedaled up the Palatine, which I have to ascend, at least most of the way, to reach my hotel:  Today I scaled it bike. And I got to the Quirinal and Viminal.  

A view from Janiculum Hill.  Yes, I pedaled to see it!

Oh--the hills on which the Vatican is located, as well as the Janiculum and Pincium hills, are not counted among the seven because they are on the right bank of the Tiber, which, at the time Rome was founded, was inhabited by the Etruscans .  The "seven hills" all lie within the area that was surrounded by the Servian Wall, which enclosed the original settlement founded, according to tradition, by Romulus.

Anyway, today I rode mainly for the sake of riding and seeing more of Rome's streets and alleyways close-up. I did stop at the Castel Sant'Angelo and the Vatican, though I didn't wait on the long line to go into the museum.  I will do that later this week, when the weekday crowds--I assume--should be at least somewhat smaller than they were today.

I have to admit that the hills aren't the only challenge of cycling in Rome.  (There are other, smaller, ones in addition to the famous ones I've mentioned.)  Everything you've heard about Roman drivers is true though, to be fair, a few stopped or slowed down to let me go by.  And Roman traffic circles make their Parisian counterparts seem like elements of a Mondrian painting.  

And then there is the heat and sun.  The former, at least, is not accompanied by humidity.  So, by the end of the day, the T-shirt I wore looked like it was covered with white tie-dye swirls from the sweat that evaporated from it.  When I returned my bike, I saw Roberto again.  He, who rides in Rome every day, told me that on days like today, he can "drink five liters of water, easy."  I probably drank at least as much--at least some of it "like a Roman", as he taught me yesterday.  

But I didn't expect the sun to be as intense as it was, given that Rome lies at roughly the same latitude as New York.  (The part of Florida where my parents live lies about a dozen degrees closer to the Equator.)  Perhaps the dry air made it feel so.  Whatever the cause, I don't think I ever before used as much sunscreen as I used today!

I'll be taking a side trip tomorrow and will be back in Rome on Tuesday night.  Then I'll rent the bike again and check out the Pantheon as well as a few other places.

22 July 2017

Tours That Brought Me Back

So, again....Why Rome?

I thought it would have remained a rhetorical question after I missed breakfast at the hotel this morning.  It seems that I took in more sun than I'd realized and stayed up later, so I slept until 9:30--something I don't normally do during a trip.

So I went for a walk.  I figured that I needed to get beyond the neighborhood where I'm staying, as much as I like it. The hotel is most of the way up a hill, and the Forum, which I visited yesterday morning, is at the bottom of it:  about a five-minute walk.  And the Colosseum is only about the same distance in another direction.  Although I walked a lot yesterday among the ruins (they cover a lot of ground), I hadn't ventured much beyond my "base", if you will.

Today I started by walking in the other direction, past Termini--the main rail and bus station--and kept going.  I honestly had no idea of where I was, but I knew I was moving away from the tourists.  Finally, after about an hour and a half, I stopped at a cafe for a coffee--an espresso, to be exact.  

Then I did something that, I think, took the baristo by surprise:  I ordered another.  It was that good:  Caffeine jitters be damned, I told myself.  But I didn't experience them, though I was almost giddy for a moment.

Anyway, I continued to walk, guided by the navigational skills of no less than Signoro Colombo, and climbed the hill to the Villa Medici.  It now houses the Academie Francaise of Rome, but the real reason you go that way is for the gardens adjacent to it--and for the views.  In particular, it's at the top of the hill you reach when you climb the Spanish Steps--which I descended.

Even though it seems like half of the human race is in La Piazza Spagna on days like this, it's difficult not to like:  When a staircase is built with such artistry and function and connects two places with different kinds of beauty, well, it's not difficult to see why it would draw all sorts of people.  

By this time, I was feeling better about having come to Rome, but something still felt a bit off.  Then I realized I hadn't taken a pill I normally take in the morning. (It's not psychtropic, at least not technically!)  So I went back to my hotel room--as it turned out, five stops on the Rome Metro A line--and downed it with a bottle of San Benedetto water.

Actually, that trip back to the hotel room wasn't a diversion.  I had scheduled a bike tour for 3 pm, and the shop at which I booked it--one of the three branches of Bici & Baci--is located most of the way down that hill from my hotel to the Forum, near the end of la via Cavour.  

Bici & Baci is an interesting place.  Although they rent bicycles and conduct bicycle tours, their main focus is on Vespas.  In fact, the shop's basement hosts the Vespa Museum.  Perhaps if I really wanted to "do as the Romans do", I would ride one.  But I wanted to stick to pedals, if for no other reason that I haven't driven any sort of motorized vehicle in a long time. 

They couldn't have given me a better guide than Roberto.  He asked what I'd already seen.  When I told him, he said, "OK, we will not do the 'highlights' tour--unless you want that."

Instead, he offered to show me "Rome as a Roman."  Of course!   That meant, among other things, this:

Hundreds of fountains like these are located all over the city.  The water is indeed potable, and people often fill their bottles under them.  But that's something a Roman wouldn't do, Roberto told me. Oddly, most people don't seem to notice the hole at the top of the pipe on all of those  fountains:  To prove his point, we stopped at three, all of which had that feature.  

I wonder whether the Roman water authorities designed them that way and didn't bother to tell the rest of the world. Or, perhaps, that hole serves some other purpose (aeration?)  and someone discovered the easy way to drink from them.

Anyway, on our route, I learned entertaining stories like the one about the fountain the Borgheses supposedly built in one night to show that, although they'd fallen on hard time, they had the financial wherewithal for such things. Why?  Well, a Borghese daughter wanted to marry the son of the family that owned the land on which the fountain was built--the Matteis, who were rich and influential.  But they were reluctant to let him take her hand because they'd heard about their financial straits.  According to legend, the next morning, the Mattei patriarch woke and, much to his surprise, saw the fountain on his land, amidst the houses that ringed the palazzo.

Interestingly, although the Matteis were Roman Catholic--as were nearly all members of noble families at their time--they lived right in the middle of the Ghetto (yes, the original one), the traditional Jewish quarter of the city.  Literally steps away from that fountain, one can find momentos like these:

Although a higher percentage of the Jewish population survived in Rome and in Italy than in other European cities and countries, many Italian Jews ended up in Auschwitz once Mussolini was deposed and the Nazis invaded. Although the Italian Jewish community is smaller, especially in Rome and the North, than it was before the war, it has had a lot of influence in Italian and the world's culture. And, as Roberto--interestingly--pointed out, much of the Roman kitchen (cuisine) in fact originated with the city's Jews.

Back to the Matteis:  They were patrons of the arts.  Among the painters they sponsored was the one who gave us this:

Madonna dei Pellegrini (Sant'Agostino in Campo Marzio) September 2015-1.jpg
Madonna dei Pellegrini, by Caravaggio

It adorns a portico of the Sant'Agostino chruch, the last stop of our tour.  Roberto made a point of stopping there because he loves that painting, and Caravaggio generally.  So do I.  

Finally, in keeping with Roberto's promise to show me what a Roman knows about his city, he took me up the Aventine hill, which has a garden with the most unique view:

You might think it's just another way of seeing the Vatican. But the park and garden were designed so that the closer to the edge of the hill--and to the dome of the Vatican--you walk (You can't ride in the park.), the smaller it seems.  That is because the approach brings other tall structures into view, which diminishes the perspective of the dome.

Nearby is another interesting view, which I tried to capture:

I wasn't peeping.  I swear!

This peephole is on the gate of the Villa del Priorato di Malta, which--like the Vatican--has extraterratorial status in Rome.  I tried to capture the view of the Vatican which, as Roberto pointed out, makes the gate one of the few places in the world where you can look at three countries (or, at any rate, sovereign territories)--i.e., Italy, Malta and the Vatican--at the same time.

Now tell me:  What else could I have asked for on a day in Rome?

Note: As you can probably tell, I am feeling much better about this city and country than I did yesterday.  Still, I have one complaint:  I am on the slowest internet connection I've experienced in at least 15 years.  My photos are taking forever to upload! So, you won't see as many of them in upcoming posts.  But I'll share some more, if you'd like, after I return home!

21 July 2017

I Am Not Her, But I Am Here

OK, I have to admit:  Yesterday's post wasn't quite fair.  I asked you to guess where I am, and the clue was the photo I included.  Its subject is an attractive, stylish woman on a bicycle.  You can find others like her in lots of places in this world--and there are more than a few blogs dedicated to them.  

Behind the woman in that photo are two girls dressed in a way that almost nobody would be at this time of year in this place.  Ever since I arrived yesterday, the weather has been very hot.  I am not surprised, as I had been here before in the summer and experienced similar weather.

No, I'm not in Florida with my parents.  From the background, I think you figured as much.  Also, I don't know of anyone in the Sunshine State who dresses like that woman.

If you figured that I'm in a European capital that's not Amsterdam, you're on the right track.

I was here this morning:

And this is where I spent most of my afternoon:

So now I have something in common with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.  Yes, I am in Rome.

So "Why Rome?," you ask. Funny that you should:  One of my history professors asked that same question. In fact, that query was his entire final exam, and we had three hours to answer it. 

But as to why I am here now:  I kinda sorta thought I should come to Italy again.  Until yesterday, I hadn't been anywhere in this country since 2001, and I last set foot in this city five years before that.  The later visit was part of a bike tour that started in Lyon, France and took me through parts of the French, Italian and Swiss Alps.  Some would argue that it's not "really" Italy, but it is in its own way.  

Now, as for that 1996 trip, I'm going to tell you something I don't often talk about.  I had an Italian girlfriend whom I'd met in the US, when she was living and working here.  Then she had to go back and, practically from the moment she stepped off the plane in Fiumicino, was urging me to come over.  So I went the first chance I got--which, since I was teaching, meant summer.

Anyway, our relationship ended during that trip.  I am long past that:  I know that even if I hadn't undergone my life transitions, our relationship had a limited shelf life.  Still, having crossed the ocean to experience it is not a pleasant memory, to say the least.

I guess it's ironic, in a way, that a relationship should end that way (or in any way at all) in the "Eternal City"--one with the Forum and Colosseum, where I spent my morning and afternoon.  

Of course I loved seeing them again, and learning some things I never before knew (or, perhaps, had forgotten) about them.  Hey, I even saw a guy give the ring to the young lady with whom he wants to spend the rest of his days.  Still, I have felt sad:  I should love this city and this country but I don't.  Sometimes I feel as if I'm the only person in this world who doesn't.  Maybe I just don't identify with my heritage enough.  

Tomorrow I'm going to go on a bike tour of the city.  I would have gone today, but the English-speaking guide wasn't in.  And, after that, I'll rent a bike.  Maybe I'll feel better about this place then.