“It’s Friday in Rome, shouldn’t there be fish?”

78355731-552b-4e71-8274-0d57e337020a
Piazza Navona

When my friend Elena took a contract with the Eternal Word TV Network in Rome, I knew a visit was in order. It’s been a decade since my friend Kate and I last visited the Eternal City. Across from the Pantheon, a restaurant advertises “gluten-free pasta or pizza”. Smart cars are still parked willy-nilly; half on, half off sidewalks. The Colosseum is as epic as ever, especially at sunset. The food is still unbeatable. So when we had a Friday off for International Women’s Day, I hopped a plane.

img_6266
Sunrise over Rome as seen from Elena’s porch

International Women’s Day is celebrated in many countries throughout Europe. Created to honor women who lost their lives in NYC in a textile factory fire in 1908 (prior to the more widely known Triangle Shirtwaist Fire), the day was adopted by many socialist and communist countries and then recognized by many feminist organizations worldwide. The UN began celebrating the day in 1975.

From fresh pasta to artichoke, Rome knows good eats. As I sat on fountain steps on my first morning in town, I watched a man wheel stacks of groceries through the square – cloves upon cloves of garlic.

Tradition runs deep in these parts. Food is serious business. Food is also the spice of life. Cappuccino: you stand, they deliver. Aperitivo, you sit. Pizza, stand. Gelato, stand or sit (seriously delicious either way). To say we ate our way across Rome that weekend would be accurate.

There are somethings I just love about Italian life. Charmingly (perhaps tellingly), every single public clock in the city but one proved incorrect. Work starts at 10am, casually wraps up at 6pm. Everyone and their mother is out in the square at night; drinking, playing, telling tales of the day. And the art. Ohhhh the art.

img_6275
Same piazza, different fountain. Yeesh.

Having seen David at the Accademia, I opted to forgo the usual tourist haunts. Upon Elena’s recommendation, I had booked an advanced timed ticket to the Galleria Borghese. Do not miss this one, folks. A stunner of a villa, this lesser-know palace has frescos that rival those of the Vatican. It was there I learned that Octavian’s sister (Octavia) was married to Mark Antony, of Caesar fame. Antony and Octavian were major rivals. This was all before Cleopatra came on the scene. The more you know. Anyways, the marble sculpture of Octavia as Ophelia with the apple is a stunner.

img_6297

IMG_6300

In the Park Borghese I sat and sketched. A saxophone played nearby. The guy refused the coins I tried to give in appreciation but then relented after our funny exchange. As I walked deeper into the park, I found landscapes which looked ripped from canvases at the Louvre – too soft in focus to be real.

img_6319

The Villa Medici bookended the park with stunning views spanning the entire city below. I toured the grounds under the tutelage of a startlingly expressionless yet deeply devoted French guide named Blanche.

img_6358

img_6345

The Villa has been under French ownership since Napoleon gained possession of the place in late 1800s. The Academy now sponsors dozens of fellows (known as “pensionnaires”) who will live and work on the extensive grounds. All artists who can speak French are welcome to apply. Upon hearing I was from Boston, my guide enthusiastically (her demeanor warmed considerably as the tour went on) shared that a former pensionnaire is now an art professor at Boston University. Go Terriers 🙂

img_6363
The Medici Garden pavilion frescos – c.1580. And this is just the guesthouse.

Perhaps the highlight of the weekend for Elena and I was our street art tour in the neighborhood of Ostiense. Never ones to skip a meal, we made our way to the Mercato di Testaccio. Once inside, we made a beeline for Mordi & Vio and their heavenly panino picchiapo. Little known fact – panini is plural, panino indicates just one sandwich. Wandering the stalls before our tour, I couldn’t get over the fresh produce. The beans were huge! After another shot of espresso, we set off to meet our tour guide, a local architecture student.

Our guide began by defining street art as public art with a message. In Rome, street artists do this work for free, for a cause, and (typically) with permission from both government and site owner. We wandered through neighborhoods for nearly two and a half hours, learning about artists such as Roa (Belgium), Axel Void (Haitian-American), and Clemens Behr (Germany). I was impressed to know that some street artists like Andreco and Iena Cruz (below, right) are using air-cleaning paints in an attempt to stymie the effects of pollution upon the city and inhabitants.

All too quickly, my long weekend came to an end. On my final day in Rome, Elena took me to see the Pope give his Sunday Angelus. Privy to the text of his speech prior to the address, she translated the message for me as we watched flag-waving pilgrims fill the square. When the moment was right, a maroon rug was unfurled and Pope Francis appeared at a window above the square. It was pretty wild to see him with my own eyes and to be part of the masses gathered on a Sunday in Rome. After receiving his blessing, we enjoyed a final meal together and I headed to the airport with a suitcase packed with pasta and limoncello.

17b2f420-c019-47ab-ad4c-607a91a1a5a4
The top window, second from the right is where the Pope appears every Sunday at noon.

Like time spent with all of my friends from TASIS, it seemed like no time had passed. That weekend away was a game-changer for me, warm weather and all! Back to “spring” in Moscow which brings longer daylight and, hopefully soon, temperatures in the 50s. Addio a tutti!

img_6526
The Rome haul.
Advertisements

Prague

Life has been a little busy but in February, my mom and I were able to meet up for a week in the gorgeous city of Prague. Touted as one of Europe’s most enchanting cities, Prague’s position as the capital of Bohemia invites the folklore and mystique for which this city is known. From Art Nouveau architecture to a skyline dotted with church spires, it is easy to see why people from all corners of the globe fall in love so quickly.

img_5838
Deep blue skies and daily sunshine spoiled us during our week in town.
Prague has no shortage of gorgeous doors
Prague’s Jewish Quarter (also known as Josefov) dates back to the early 20th century when the area was remodeled to resemble Paris. The streets are quiet after lunch as people shutter their shops to head home for a rest.

Prague is a walkable city, with trams running up and down all major avenues. The metro system is fantastic – you can take it end-to-end for under $1. Before Mom arrived, I took a morning wandering the streets, checking out sights such as the kinetic head of Franz Kafta, as seen below (if only he knew).

 

Perhaps the most enchanting (and touristed) part of the city is the Old Town Square. Mom and I spent time over a few days here, admiring the astronomical clock, the amazing friezes on the buildings.

fullsizeoutput_486f
Old Town Square

The food scene in Prague is fantastic. I would highly encourage visitors to Prague check out Sansho, featured in The Bib Gourmand – a Michelin Guide for the common (wo)man. Though I stumbled upon it by happenstance, I was treated to a meal that I would consider one of the best I’ve ever had. The exceptionally welcoming chef really made the whole experience and I cannot recommend the restaurant more. Do make a reservation!

img_5825
The gorgeous blue velvet night sky above Prague.
I also took Mom to Field, a Michelin rated farm-to-table restaurant in the Jewish Quarter. Dry ice poured from below this delicious dessert.

The best way to see Prague is by pounding the pavement. Taking in the Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge, and the Old Town was a thorough full day adventure.

A view of the city from the Charles Bridge.
The John Lennon Wall, a constantly evolving work of street art and graffiti which welcomes anyone to partake.

We capped off our first big day out in the city with an evening boat tour on the Vltava River. The sun slipped down behind Prague Castle as we got underway, making a rainbow as it mixed with the river below. A warm glow arose from the city lit by street lamps which mirrored dancing bits of marigold light onto the water’s surface.

Another must-do in Prague has to be the Mucha Museum. Featuring the work of Renaissance man (in ideals, not decades) Alphonse Mucha, the museum narrates Mucha’s incredible contributions to art history. A friend of Gauguin and Rodin, Mucha created art during the Belle Époque, Europe’s “Golden Age”. Born in what was then the Austrian Empire, Mucha studied art in Vienna and Munich before setting up shop in Paris where he became famous for his posters touting the actress Sarah Bernhardt. Delving into lithography and screen printing, Mucha participated in the 1900 World’s Fair and even screen the first films by the Lumiere Brothers in his Paris studio.

Considered the “Father of the Arc”, Mucha is today known as the most famous painter of the Art Nouveau, however it was his undying patriotism for his country of Czechoslovakia which struck me most. After returning from a tour of America in 1910, Mucha began his Slav Epic. The project, which would grow to amass 20 huge canvases over an 18 year period, would become his love letter to his land. His daughter Jaroslava served as a model with Mucha pioneering the use of photography and artistic direction in capturing the epic scenes. When the country attained freedom in 1918, Mucha designed the stamps and banknotes. Alphonse believed that education was the way to raise the ethical standard of a nation and he championed freedom for education throughout his later years.

Alongside Princess Hyacinth, completed by Alphonse Mucha in 1911.

Mom and I also managed to take a day trip to Český Krumlov, a magical town approximately 3 hours driving from Prague. On the recommendation of my friend Katerina (who played travel agent and local guide for this journey), we booked the RegioJet intercity bus, leaving while the fog was still rising. Our journey took us past fields of poppy seeds and deer farms, across the gorgeous Czech landscape.

Once there, we walked the castle walls, taking in the views of the fairytale town below. Enjoy a good Czech pilsner on a picture-perfect sunny Czech day was a highlight of the whole trip for me and we took a few hours to wander the adorable town together.

Back in Prague, we took in more of the city sights. It was lovely to stay in one place for so long with no pressure to see everything. We also took an amazing tour of the city which highlighted the Velvet Revolution of 1989. The tour was given by a wonderful local with a passion for history and his 60-year-old Trabant, a car which made its way to Prague in 1989 as its owners fled East Germany. To read more about that moment in history – which is so wild that it can’t possibly have been made up – check out this New York Times article from that time.

Prague such an exceptional city, filled to the brim with art and culture. My mom and I took in concerts, enjoy the local fare, and explore antique stores while wandering along the city’s cobblestone streets. Among the gems, I spotted this gorgeous Art Deco piece from the 1920s, which Mom purchased for me as a reminder of our trip together. Here, it sits upon my windowsill in Moscow, capturing the colors and angles of that beautiful Bohemian city to which I hope to return.