When we created the rough itinerary for this trip, I knew we would be in Rome, with my mother and aunt, for my birthday. I thought a lot about what I would want to do on this day, and finally settled on something that I had missed when I visited a few years back–the Borghese Gallery.
Reservations are required (I made them a few weeks ago) and guests are admitted for only a specific two-hour block. We had tickets for 1 pm, but decided to head over early and “picnic” in the surrounding gardens. Although skeptical, we decided to follow the advice of the young woman at the tourist information office, who told us it was a “5-minute walk” from the Flaminio Metro station. Um, no. It was at least 30 minutes and included rough surfaces (dirt, cobbles,etc.) This was less than ideal for Mom and Janet’s first day of touring while still recovering from the transatlantic flight.
On the hike:
After the hike, I picked up our pre-reserved tickets, then we found a place to eat our lunch. We saw many rental pedal carriages and some random parrots while we ate. Before entering the gallery, you also need to check ALL your bags and rent an audioguide (ID and another 5€ each required). Then you go upstairs, outside, and wait. I’m not sure what people do if it’s raining, or when it’s hot–as it is pretty much every day during the main tourist season. Perhaps the gatekeepers relent and let people into what the audioguide describes as the waiting area inside.
Ultimately, they can get away with making everything pretty difficult because they have an amazing art collection. The main floor contains fantastic sculpture in every room. Particularly spectacular were two Bernini pieces–Apollo and Daphne and The Rape of Proserpina. It’s hard to believe that those leaves are made from marble!
The building itself is quite ostentatious. The rooms are floor to ceiling marble, some of which was apparently scavenged from older statues to satisfy the appetites of the Borgheses for grandeur. The second floor, reached by way of the basement and a long, steep staircase (logical) contains paintings by many Italian masters. You’re only allowed 30 minutes in the Picture Gallery, but they do not monitor this. We were art-saturated before our two hour window expired.
After seeing my mom and aunt into a taxi back to the flat, Maureen and I set off to acquire our tickets for the Wednesday Papal Audience. I had reserved tickets through Santa Susanna, the American Catholic Church in Rome, which needed to be retrieved between 4:30 and 6:15 pm. Once we walked across the northern part of the center to the church, it was about 3:45. The area near the church was strangely lacking in cafés, but we found an English pub and had a beverage while we waited. Ticket pickup was simple and almost line-free.
We “needed” to see one more Bernini, so we popped into the church across the street (Santa Maria della Vittoria) to see the statue of St. Theresa in Ecstasy. It was evocative, but unfortunately not well lit.
One of the things that amazes me about Rome is that there is a church on almost every corner that would be a great attraction on its own if it were located anywhere else in the world. We learned Friday night that in Rome a square cannot be called a piazza unless it has a church on it. There are MANY piazzas in Rome.
The day was capped by a lovely dinner out at Tre Pupazzi near the Vatican wall (recommended by Rick Steves). I saw gnocchi with clams on the daily specials and really couldn’t consider anything else on the menu. I was glad I did not opt for scampi (which means shrimp, by the way, so the common American menu item shrimp scampi is actually shrimp shrimp), as they were the large prawns that I don’t enjoy as much. (Beware of this possibility when ordering shrimp pasta dishes in Greece and Rome.) We enjoyed a bottle of local wine (Frascati) and finished with some delightful tiramisu, which I think was actually better than any of the gelato I’d had at that point.