Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Viva Italia!" - Piazzas and New Friends

"After a day's walk everything has twice its usual value."  (George Macauley Trevelyan)

Our Walks In Rome
Walking, walking, walking... Deborah and I were determined to walk as much as we could while on our trip.  Walk to explore - walk for the exercise - walk to be by ourselves - walk to simply experience the Italian people and culture.  Luckily, our hotel in Rome put us in a perfect spot to do that each day.  Within a 30 minute radius, we could hike to many beautiful piazzas and "touristy" sites, and dozens of restaurants, gelateri (an Italian word for "ice cream paradise"!), and shopping, shopping, shopping!  And so we did.

What were some of our most favorite walks and destinations?  Funny how when I think back on these, they were more enjoyable to me than all the Roman ruins and Papal splendors that we would see later!

The Piazza del Popolo
We loved walking to this giant public square, just across the Tiber River, 20 minutes from our hotel.  We first walked to it on Saturday afternoon.  It was vast and beautiful:  Rome's tallest obelisk in the center; surrounded by churches; filled with tourists taking pictures, and enterprising vendors "giving away" roses to "the pretty lady" (then peskily following us around until I gave them a euro and shooed them away!).  Three avenues radiated out from the square:  one leading to the famous Spanish Steps, and one, the Via del Corso, leading into one of Rome's most fashionable shopping districts.  The streets were bustling and crowded; the sidewalks narrow.  Our heads were constantly swiveling as we window-shopped and ducked in and out of the crowds.  People, people everywhere! 

Two pictures:  The Spanish Steps and Strolling down the Via del Corso

But the best memory I have of our walks here was the one we took Sunday morning.  It was quiet when we entered the Piazza del Popolo - the sun was gently shining on us and a troop of joggers circling through the square.  And then the church bells began to ring.  The beauty of the morning and of the chimes brought tears to Deborah's eyes, and made me smile.  "Bellisimo"!

Piazza Navona
The Piazza Navona was another memorable destination for our walks in Rome. Piazza Navona was once the site of a Roman stadium, built for games and contests - but now is the home of three beautiful Baroque fountains, sidewalk cafes, and a bustling vendors' market.  It was here at "Moretti's Bar" that I found my first friendly Italian waiter, who patiently allowed me to practice some mangled Italian while ordering - and it was here that we ate our first heavenly piece of pizza, and THE BEST chocolate gelato in the world!

We will also always remember the Piazza Navona because it was here that we bought some art to bring back home with us - what better way to remember Italy!  The square was full of artists, all offering water colors, charcoal drawings, oil paintings, and "instant portraits".  Deborah spotted a beautiful oil painting of flowers in a window box in the Piazza (kind of like this photo)

And after some haggling and bargaining with Piero Pugnalini (the earnest artist), we bought it (Prices were often "soft" when shopping in Italian squares - especially when the shopper was a bright, beautiful blonde Italian herself!)

I also convinced Deborah to sit for an "instant portrait".  She was at first reluctant, but then agreed to sit for the grizzled artist.  I strolled away and let him work quietly, sketching away with his charcoal, as he gazed at my wife.  When I returned and peeked over his shoulder, what he had drawn brought tears to my eyes.  Such a regal, proud, and beautiful image - a true Italian princess!  I snapped a picture of him finishing.

I know I will treasure this portrait, and this moment. :-)

Finding Some New Friends
Unlike the tour I went on 7 years ago to France, there never was a formal "meet and greet" introduction of all the tour members to each other (too bad!).  Our group was large (40 people); almost everyone was from the East coast, and Italian in descent (with last names like "Crusco", "Delia Fratto", "Ciliberti", "Materasso", and "D'Amico"!  I was glad to be traveling with a "DeMattia", so this German could blend in a little!).  So, when we all sat down for our first formal dinner together, I was curious (kind of like the first day of school):  Who would we meet?  Would they be "nice"?  Would we "get along" and "have fun"?  There were three empty seats at our table, and by chance, a group of three sat down across from Deborah and I.  Lo, and behold, it was three "westerners" (Texans):  Mary McGrew Cunningham, her 85 year old father Lloyd, and her best friend, Diana Baker Freeman.  What an amazing seating "assignment", divinely provided!  Mary, Lloyd, and Diana and us had a wonderful evening, laughing and getting to know each other!  Mary and Deborah acted like they had known each other all their lives; Lloyd with his patience, quiet stoicism, but surprising wit, always made me smile; and Diana, full of life and stories and big laughs - all made for the perfect dinner partners and travel companions.  We also loved meeting Angela Delia Fratto, who joined us the next night, and added even more laughter and fun to our merry table. We would enjoy their company every night, and are happy to continue to be in touch with them as new friends!

Our fun dinner table group (Angela, Lloyd, Mary, Diana, Deborah, and me)

Time to end this chapter.  I found this quote from a famous Italian actress that made me smile.

"Everything you see (about me) I owe to spaghetti." (Sophia Loren)

Italian food definitely made me "more beautiful" too :-)... Ciao!

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