Thursday, October 22
After the previous exhausting day, we slept in late and woke up to a pretty cloudy, overcast morning. We had nowhere to be until 11am, when we had tickets to visit Galleria Borghese. Closed for many years for restoration, the Galleria is now open to the public but reservations are a must, and entry in timed, limited, 2-hour intervals. Tour books will tell you to make sure to show up a half-hour early but they don’t explain why: as the museum is set up in a former palazzo, it’s not really designed for mass crowds of tourists. The entry/security/ticketing area is crammed into the lower level of the building leading to a mass of three hundred or so people all showing up at once to get inside, and having to stand in three separate “lines” (in loosely defined Italian fashion). First you must pick up your ticket (which takes forever when people don’t believe the signs and ticket-counter people refusing them entry if they haven’t reserved); then you must check all your bags & belongings in at the coat desk; then you have to stand in line once more to actually visit the Gallery. I’d actually recommend giving yourself closer to an hour to get through all of this if you want to avoid anxiety and frustration.
Still, we got in at 11 and again followed our tour book’s recommendation to shoot up to the second floor to visit the painting collection first, which most people wait until the end of their 2 hours to do. The Galleria has one of the largest collections of Caravaggio paintings around, so we spent a great deal of time with those works. Also especially notable, though bypassed by many who don’t understand its importance, is Messina’s Portrait of a Man. Messina was the one to first introduce oil painting to Italy, making his work revolutionary, if rarely suitably appreciated because of his Sicilian roots. We also spent significant time studying Raphael’s Deposition and Titian’s complex Sacred and Profane Love.
From there we headed downstairs to marvel at the sculpture collection, featuring most notably Bernini’s Apollo and Daphe and Pluto and Prosperina. The two-hour visit window ended up being just about right, as we had time to go back to the painting gallery at the end and revisit some of our favorite pieces before leaving.
We stepped outside to find that the weather had only gone from bad to worse, the morning’s light drizzle turning into steady, cold rain. Normally the Borghese Gardens would be a wonderful place to visit and explore, but given it was past lunchtime and we were getting wetter by the moment, this did not seem like a great idea. We left the gardens and started looking for a place to eat, but after wandering about in the rain for a while found we were in one of those darned parts of town that seemed utterly devoid of even simple, basic cafes!
Eventually we at least found a taxi stand and managed to get a cab to take us down to Piazza Venezia, thinking we’d surely find something around there and we wanted to hit some other sites in the area that afternoon anyway. It was a long ride through rainy-day traffic, and then our driver had no change from my 20 Euro bill on a 10 Euro fair. GRRR. Thus I had to dash in the rain to a little cafe and order a quick cafe just to get some change (and now the fair was higher, of course, from the wait time.)
Whatever. It was still raining and despite our umbrellas we were getting drenched. We were also not finding anything that was really appealing quickly, until we dashed in a little place not too far from the Pantheon but off the main track. It was nearly 2pm now so the place was quiet, and we were desperate to eat, so plans for a light pizza quickly turned into a full-blown meal.
And what a great meal it was! We had our first genuine carciofi alla guida, which was divine, served with a pizza-sized, oven-charred matzoh. Fennel salad sliced paper-thin and marinated in lemon and oil. Pizza con Lardo, now that vespa was hooked on lardo, and also Spaghetti with an artichoke, tomato and squid sauce that was amazing. As soon as I can find the receipt, I’ll update this post with the restaurant name as I’d highly recommend it. All that food and wine was a well-spent about 70 Euros.
By the time we finished, the rain had finally broken up. It was still cloudy and potentially threatening, so we went to the nearby Galleria Doria Pamphilj, another palazzo-turned-museum. This place was insane, with just about every corner of wall space, floor to ceiling, covered in classical artwork. Not always the best painters nor their best works, admittedly, but the overall collection is still highly impressive. I took a couple pictures of the rooms before spotting the no photography sign. Oh well.
And then, much to our surprise, I noticed (and vespa nearly walked by) a painting by Niccolo Frangipane! Vespa has been on a quest to see and learn more about Frangipane’s works after acquiring one himself earlier this year. Since we had never seen nor heard of this painting before, it was time for some more covert photography, just for our own records and comparison as the painting and figures bear a strong resemblance to vespa’s own. I wouldn’t be surprised if it features the same models being used.
From there, we headed back to Piazza Navona to visit a few churches which had been closed when we’d been by the day before. We stopped in Sant’Agnese in Agone, which is most notable for its sculptural and stucco work. We then took a leisurely stroll down Via d. Coronari, a street lined with art galleries and antique boutiques, marveling at the work for sale and resisting some significant temptation.
It was getting close to 6 or 7 o’clock and we weren’t in any way really ready for dinner, but we found the cutest little corner cafe to sit and enjoy some drinks and light bar snacks. Cured olives, chips, and canapes were generously brought out by our dancing, grinning, singing host and it was a lovely spot away from the tourists to just sit and relax and soak up the atmosphere.
Well rested, from there it wasn’t too bad of a walk to the Trevi Fountain so we could enjoy it all lit up for the nighttime. We sat for some time enjoying the atmosphere and watching the tourists coming and going, along with the guys trying to con them out of a few Euros by offering to take their photos. vespa probably didn’t make any friends with those guys as he started offering his photography services for free to a couple families struggling to get a good shot together.
It was still reasonably early, but we were feeling pretty worn down from a day full of art and spent largely wet and cold. So we ended the night with some gelato on the stroll back to our apartment. We had two more days left to fill and not many specific plans in mind…but planning would wait until the morning.