Villa Farnesina, Santa Maria in Trastevere and Hotel Forum Restaurant

Villa Farnesina, Santa Maria in Trastevere and Hotel Forum Restaurant

With just a couple of days left in our week in Rome, Thursday found us visiting a somewhat out-of-the-way neighborhood, that is, Trastevere, on the west side of the Tiber River.  We would visit one of the private-home art museums, Villa Farnesina, in search of its frescoes by Raphael of Cupid and Psyche, and the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, one of the oldest churches in Rome.  From there, we would finish the day by traveling to the Capitoline Museums for a recreating of a photo from a trip to Rome long ago, and then have dinner at a restaurant Therese also visited several decades earlier.

And oh, before we move on to the narrative of the day’s events, what exactly is going on with the photo above?  Truly, I have no idea.  But it was posted outside a restaurant we passed, and I would guess that they are simply saying that they are against war, AND against catering to tourists.  To which I say “power to you!” – I personally like eating food of a style and in the manner of the city/country I am visiting.  No one needs to design menus to make me feel comfortable.  Moving on…

Villa Farnesina Sign

So we took two buses, and arrived right in front of the sign just above.  I thought, yay, we’re here.  But then I discovered there was no entrance on that street, Lungotevere Farnesina (shouldn’t there be an entrance on a street named after the museum?).  Oh well, we walked around the corner, and even saw a sign with an arrow.  But still, we walked and walked down the street and no villa.  No further sign.  So when we saw a grand building on our left that was obviously a museum, I figured, this must be it, and we bought a ticket and entered.

And sure enough, there was an incredible art collection in this building, and the building itself was elaborately decorated.  But slowly it dawned on me that we were not in the right place.  Still, as long as we were there – and “there” turned out to be the Palazzo Corsini – I thought it made sense to see what there was, before retracing our steps in search of Villa Farnesina.

Taking our time in Palazzo Corsini wouldn’t have been an issue, were it not for the fact that we had gotten a late start (I think we left our hotel a little before noon), and I knew that the Villa Farnesina was only open until 2pm.  Well, Palazzo Corsini had a fairly small collection, just filling several rooms on one floor, so once we were done there, we asked someone for directions to Villa Farnesina.  Sure enough, it was right across the street!

But now it was about 1:30, and the people who worked at Villa Farnesina, as we entered, were very clear in letting us know that they intended to get us out of there before 2, so that they could actually close the building and leave at 2.  I skedaddled, trying to take in as much as I could in just a few minutes.

Somehow, I was expecting a much more elaborate layout, something more like the Borghese Museum, I guess.  But here, there are just a couple of rooms within the building, covered with Renaissance frescoes, and that is the extent of the attraction.  There were like maybe two rooms on the top floor, which is where I went first, and then I think just one large room on the main or lower floor.

Of course, the question in my mind was “where are the Raphaels?”  And on the top floor the style didn’t really look like Raphael, BUT I did see up high on one wall a painting of what I took for Cupid and his mother, Venus.  Close, but no cigar.

So I headed back to the first floor, and after staring at the ceiling for a while, I finally found Cupid and Psyche.  Beautiful frescoes, but I think we saw all there was in fifteen minutes.

By now we were starving for lunch, and I had picked out a terrace where we could sit outside (the weather was gorgeous) and have lunch, at Tonnarello, which was on the way to Santa Maria in Trastevere.

The waiter motioned over to a table.  As usual, things looked a little cramped, so I started to move the table and a chair to give us more room, and another waiter loudly came over to us to tell us not to do that.  I guess regulations require that they keep their terrace within certain square footage.  Anyway, I explained I was only giving us room so we could shoehorn ourselves into the little chairs.  After that, all was well.

Simple fresh ingredients treated with care can make the difference between a pedestrian eating experience and a memorable one.  My lunch of a prosciutto and melon appetizer and handmade pasta with onions and eggplant was lovely, because everything looked and tasted like it was handled with love.  The melon was ripe and full of flavor, contrasting nicely with the salty ham.  And the eggplant was creamy and smoky, and the pasta had just the right amount of tooth to it.  Good meal.

Just around the corner was the piazza where the Basilica stands.  I first got a glimpse of the large fountain – the previous day we had explored many fountains, especially those created by Bernini, and while this one was redesigned at one time by Bernini, it has also been worked on by several other artists, so it is hard to say how much Bernini is left at this point.

The Fountain in Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere

Santa Maria in Trastevere is under renovation, so the exterior was mostly covered.  However, inside was glorious.  The 13th century mosaics are bright and fantastic.  I love the floor tiles with their design that looks to me more classical Roman than Christian.  And the ceiling, which is from much later, the early 17th century I believe (and I am guessing was made using gold brought back from the New World explorations), gives it the feeling of a fortress of a very wealthy family.  In total, a splendid church.

A few block’s walk from the church, we encountered the tram stop that would get us back across the Tiber to the staircase that would take us to the Capitoline Museums.  It was just a short ride to Piazza Venezia where we got off.  This was our third time passing through this square – while nothing there was especially of import to us, it just seems to be strategically located where without meaning to, you can find yourself passing through it with some regularity.

Piazza Venezia

To the west of the huge commemoration of Italy’s king, Vittorio Emmanuel, is a staircase that takes you up, not that far, to Piazza del Campidoglio.  The story is that in the early 16th century, this square was a shambles, so that the Pope asked Michelangelo to design a new square.  The geometric pattern of the flooring and the equestrian statue in the center make it very attractive, although as Roman piazzas go, this feels like a rather small one.

Anyway, on either side of the square are buildings that contain the Capitoline Museum collections.  We entered the main one, on the east side of the square I guess, checking our jackets and bags in at a desk before receiving our audio guides and tickets.

Rome has so much incredible art, covering pretty much every period of Western history.  So I shouldn’t have been surprised I guess to see the works contained in this museum going back all the way to classical Rome.  Still, it was pretty stunning to think that works of such incredible beauty were created so long ago – and to be reminded that the artists of the Renaissance, when they created their sculptures, for example, by whose wonders we define the Renaissance period, were actually trying to COPY the art that had been created so many centuries earlier.

In addition to exploring the museum, we had a mission in mind: to find the great marble foot of Constantine next to which Therese had had her picture taken when she was in Rome with her family in 1973.  An internet search had told us it was at this museum.  It is part of a massive statue of the first Christian emperor that was created in the Middle Ages, but now only several pieces of it remain (in addition to the foot, the head and one hand and maybe a forearm are all that’s left on display now).  Our museum map directed us to a courtyard on the first floor, and when we walked through the doorway, there it was.

After that, I felt like we had seen enough.  But we did have some time, more than an hour as I recall, before we needed to head to dinner (the Capitoline Museums are open until 7pm I believe, which make them a great afternoon destination).  So we looked over some of the other incredible ancient art there, like the bronze sculpture of the wolf nursing Romulus and Remus that nobody knows exactly how old it is.

Our dinner restaurant was another part of our trying to recapture Therese’s memories of her visit in the 1970’s.  I didn’t have much interest in exploring Rome’s ancient Forum (readers may recall that when we visited the Colosseum, we had the chance to also visit the Forum and I did not hesitate to pass that up), but the Hotel Forum that overlooks the ancient grounds at the center of the city had a rooftop restaurant with great views, and I thought we should definitely go there.

We had a reservation, and the table that might have been the actual table where Therese and her family had eaten all those years ago seemed to be available.  But then the host tried to seat us a table far from there, claiming that all the tables near the edge with the great view were reserved for a party or something.  Being a superior negotiator, Therese talked to the host, and before long, he changed his mind and put at that perfectly-located table.

What followed was a very special dinner.  It wasn’t so much the food – while very good, it didn’t blow me away necessarily.  It was just the whole thing of being there, reliving maybe the dinner Therese had enjoyed so many decades earlier.  And it was being able to bring that to life for both of us.

And while the hotel is in the same spot it was all those decades ago, things are different for sure.  There is glass enclosing the restaurant, protecting the diners from wind and whatever else.  And there has been some renovation.  But it was close enough.

We would have just one more full day in Rome at this point.  And two weeks in Venice would follow.  But it was somewhere along the week – maybe it was during this day in Trastevere – that I marveled at all we had done, all we had seen, in Rome already.  The amount of mind-blowingly impressive art and monuments and so on is just astonishing.  I have seen many of Europe’s greatest cities, but I have to say, in terms of the wealth of art and ancient splendidly adorned churches, all contained within a completely modern city, Rome is in a category all its own.  Now, does Venice equal it in splendor and quantity of cultural riches?  That is a question we will have to consider as I immerse myself in the posts about that city to come.

For now, on that day, I felt so privileged to enjoy that visit to Italy’s capital, and so happy to be revisiting Therese’s earlier visit from another lifetime.


Posted in Art galleries, Churches, Countries, Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, Italian food, Italy, Lunch, Museums, Pasta, Restaurants, Rome, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gare Centrale, Petite France and l’Artichaut in Strasbourg

Gare Centrale, Petite France and l’Artichaut in Strasbourg

Thursday of our week in Strasbourg, France was a mixed bag – part practical, part leisurely, part on my own, and part with Therese.  As for that last one, I hoped that Therese would spend the entire afternoon with me; but that was a matter of how quickly her business with her client (in nearby Haguenau).  We would keep in touch by text during the afternoon to figure out when and where we would meet.

Ah yes, roaming.  On many trips, I don’t activate my phone at all, but for this one, I decided that, since the two of us would be in different places, it would be important to both be in touch; therefore, I contacted Verizon and had them put me on a long distance plan.  It cost me $10 a day for every day I used it – they have other plans available, but this one sounded the best for me.

I began the day by taking the tram to our usual stop in the middle of the city, Homme de Fer, and then walking a few blocks northwest to the train station, or Gare Centrale.  I wanted to buy some tickets for the next day’s trip to the city of Colmar – there are lots of trains every day there, but I just wanted to be careful, to make sure we had a reserved seat and so forth.  I was delighted to make the trip, since the train station building is very interesting.  The inside is an old building, with stained glass windows, etc.; but the exterior is all polished glass and metal, very modern looking.

With tickets in hand, I proceeded to the leisurely balance of the day.  I began by exploring an area of Strasbourg known as Petite France (the reason why it is called that are complicated, but have something to do with the area once being occupied by a hospice).  It is a neighborhood that features some of the most medieval-looking half-timbered houses in Strasbourg, and also is known for its channels (with beautiful tall defensive towers) and bridges.

After spending a good deal walking through the Petite France area, drinking in the quaint atmosphere and admiring the views, I headed a bit northeast to see a small church, Eglise Saint-Jean de Strasbourg.  This one wasn’t on my list, but it came up on Google as a church that was near me, so I thought, why not?

The church is rather plain, but its white interior with minimal decoration and stained glass windows is rather charming.  One of the first things I saw when I walked in the door was a small window that depicts how the church was destroyed by bombing during World War II.  I gather that, while it took a couple decades for the church to be rebuilt, it has been recreated exactly as it was.

By now I was getting hungry, and the previous day’s walking had told me that there were many good food options on the Grand’Rue, so I went back there to find some lunch.  The first place to catch my eye was l’Artichaut, a cafe and bar that has an extensive beer list.  I ordered a lunch special of linguine bolognese which came with a free tea.  And the tea (I asked for mint, which they had) was accompanied by a complimentary Speculoos cookie, one of my favorites, so that was a fitting conclusion to a satisfying meal.

At this point, having enjoyed a lovely morning and a good lunch, I was hoping to meet Therese soon.  But in exchanging texts, I discovered that she was still tied up with her job, so I would have to entertain myself for a while yet.  In the next post I will tell you all about how the day concluded.  For now, I will leave you with a couple of wood carvings from the delightful half-timbered houses in Petite France, Strasbourg.

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Pane e Salame and Mastro Ciccia Frame Bernini Day in Rome

Pane e Salami and Mastro Ciccia Frame Bernini Day in Rome

You might say it was a risk entrusting me to plan our trip to Rome (and then on to Venice).  I had been to Venice for one day, and Rome never – and Therese had visited Venice many times and Rome at least twice. Luckily, I did have an inspiration for our visit to Rome.  Several years ago, when Therese’s mom Eileen visited us in New York City at Thanksgiving, we took her to an exhibit in the Metropolitan Museum that displayed drawings sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini made in preparation for public fountains he installed in Rome.  Seeing those drawings made me want to visit Rome and see the fountains Bernini created.

A guidebook I purchased, namely the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Rome (Amazon link) had some excellent ideas for self-guided walking tours (always a favorite of mine), including one for a walk around “Bernini’s Rome” – just what I was looking for, and I determined we should spend a day on this walking tour.  Our Wednesday in Rome was that day.

In my view the walk started at the top and coasted from there.  Which is to say that our first stop was the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria – the one in-door venue we would visit that day, where Bernini’s celebrated sculpture “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa” is installed in one of the chapels.

The sculpture itself is justly famous – the folds of the saint’s fabric, the intense expression (and body position) of the saint, and the odd cupid-like angel (complete with arrow) all create a piece of art that has made more than one religious person’s jaw drop over the years, I am sure.  I love the theatrical setting, with the two galleries of old men gawking at the saint’s very private moment – just bizarre.

I do think that the notoriety of that sculpture overshadows another wonderful sculpture installed in this church, that of “The Dream of Joseph” by Domenico Guidi.  Very much worth spending some time on, in my view.

Fontana del Tritone Rome

A short walk found us somewhere we had already been – at Piazza Barberini, where we had started our bus ride on the first day in Rome.  Here Therese was decidedly underwhelmed – why would we waste our time on something we had already seen, just because it was on the tour?  Aha, I explained, while we had seen the Fontana del Tritone already, we had not focused on its neighbor just across the piazza, the delightful Fontana delle Api.

Fontana delle Api

Just a couple blocks from Piazza Barberini is one of the more curious intersections in the city, where the four corners of the city block contain Le Quattro Fontane, four fountains created around the theme of bodies of water.

It is difficult to appreciate these fountains and their sculptures, since cars are constantly driving through this busy intersection.  Therese wondered aloud why they don’t make this corner into a pedestrian-only zone.

Just a few blocks down the Via del Quirinale was the first of several obelisks/columns combined with a fountain we would see that day, the Fontana dei Dioscuri.

Fontana dei Dioscuri

The plaza in which this fountain resides has a winding road around it that descends rapidly – when you get to the end of it, you are right near, you guessed it, the Trevi Fountain.  I did my best to avoid it, but since it was along our route, we spent a minute peeking at it.  The mass of humanity trying to get close to it was utterly ridiculous.

Trevi Fountain

I did stop for just a second to get one photo of it – and then we were off to our lunch stop, Pane a Salame.

Nothing terribly fancy here – just fabulous fresh-baked crusty bread and excellent cured meats, just like the name suggests.  And it is a hold-in-the-wall sort of place, so you might have to wait a minute for a table, but we thought it was worth it (we didn’t personally have to wait more than a minute).

Our next stop sculpture-wise was at the Column of Marcus Aurelius.  I know this column has tons of amazing stone carving all over it, but we didn’t get close enough to see those.  There was some sort of protest going on nearby, so I just snapped a pic from across the street and moved on.

Column of Marcus Aurelius

We next visited the piazza in front of the Pantheon, a Roman temple converted to a church.  The Fontana del Pantheon has some lovely dolphins, but it also looks like it could use a good scrubbing.  At this point I was starting to feel a bit weary – I had come down with a cold the day before, and the effects were feeling their worst that day.

Fontana del Pantheon

We decided to abandon the Bernini tour for a bit and just follow our noses.  Just a block or so from the Pantheon was a paper store, Il Papiro, where Therese bought a lovely portfolio and I got a book with covers decorated with Florentine print.  Therese thought it might be the very same store she had visited on a trip to Rome when she was a teenager, but it wasn’t.  From there we walked a little further and ran into a neighborhood that seemed to be where the French culture in Rome resides, highlighted by the Chiesa San Luigi dei Francesi.

As Therese always says, the harder you work, the luckier you get.  This church has a chapel decorated with paintings by Caravaggio.  I enjoyed these paintings much more than the ones we had seen at the Borghese Gallery the day before.

From there we walked a little further, searching out another art store that might be the one Therese remembered.  Before arriving there, we passed the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, with the curious Elephant and Obelisk next to it.

Just on the next corner was the store, Ditta G. Poggi.  This one turned out not to be the one Therese remembered either.  Oh well!

Ditta G. Possi

By now Therese could tell that I needed a break.  She hunted for vegan desserts in the area, and found a very interesting place called Bibliothé.  It is a kind of Ayurvedic center that apparently has classes in one room, while the second room is a cafe.  We had a spiced tea that seemed to restore me quite a bit, and the vegan lemon tart I ate was very yummy, infused with a flavor I couldn’t quite identify.

Leaving there, I felt much better, at least for a while.  It was just a few blocks to our last fountain of the day, in Piazza Navona.  The Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi is one of Bernini’s most famous, and a second fountain in the piazza, the Fontana del Moro, has a central figure contributed by Bernini as well.

But for Therese, the main joy of being here was that this was a place where she had been with her family – her parents, brother and grandmother – in 1974.  I did my best, looking at a photo from then, to take a new photo from the same vantage point.  A police barrier and some unknowing tourists got in our way a bit, but this is what I came up with:

The more I explored Rome, the more I discovered how true the idea that, while a big city, everything seems to be pretty close together in Rome.  Case in point: just to the south of Piazza Navona was the little street we had explored two days earlier where we had amazing sorbetto at Frigidarium.  There were also a couple of intriguing restaurants there, and we decided to visit one of them for dinner on this night: Mastro Ciccia.

The food here was just good – not amazing, but it offered sustenance and some good taste.  I had two courses – first, some shrimp with pasta, then grilled squid and sauteed broccoli rabe.  A nice end to a long day of walking and exploring.  And I had gotten what inspired me to want to visit Rome several years earlier – to get to know the Bernini fountains that give Rome so much of its beauty.

Posted in Countries, Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, Fountains, Italian food, Italy, Lunch, Monuments, Restaurants, Rome, Sculpture, Seafood, Travel, Walking tours | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

MACRO, Galleria Borghese and Ristorante Il Viaggio in Rome

MACRO, Galleria Borghese and Ristorante Il Viaggio in Rome

Over our first three days in Rome, we covered all the ultra-touristy attractions: we rode the Hop-on, Hop-off bus, and saw the Colosseum and the Sistine Chapel (and the Vatican Museums).  With that under our belt, it was time to explore further afield, and maybe visit some attractions that were not quite as popular, but nevertheless equally worth seeing.

My first thought in this direction was that, while Rome is so well-known for its antiquity, and its wealth of art and culture going back through the Baroque and Renaissance periods all the way to the days of the Roman Empire, it would be fun to see some contemporary art.  And luckily, not far from our hotel, just three stops on the Tram #3 and then a couple block’s walk, was MACRO, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome.

The current exhibit was of street art, and we very much enjoyed seeing the galleries of this often irreverent and iconoclastic paintings and sculpture.  For example, the sculptures by Ron English of Charlie Brown with his skull showing through his smile and Ronald McDonald looking like he had eaten way too many hamburgers were by turns hilarious and disturbing.

Upstairs in the museum was a special exhibit called “Cross the Street” which focused on graffiti – particularly, how subway trains in New York City and elsewhere were covered with layers of graffiti over the decades.  A short film focused on how the look of the same subway car could evolve over time, as earlier spray-painted names and logos might fade and then be supplanted by newer more colorful ones, in rather a fascinating way.

In the middle of our exploration of the museum, we paused for a light lunch in the cafe.  We each ate over-sized triangle sandwiches of tuna fish and mayonnaise washed down with orange Fanta sodas.

After concluding our walk through the museum, we walked 10 minutes northeast to our next destination, the Borghese Gallery and its surrounding park, the Villa Borghese Gardens.  Regarding the former, I was warned by my nephew, artist Neil Bender, that you have to buy timed tickets at least a week ahead of time to insure that you can get in to the see the collection, which includes some very famous sculptures of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, that giant of Roman art and architecture and probably the greatest Italian artist after Michelangelo.  Tickets are offered in 2-hour intervals, and we had reserved ours for 5pm.  When we arrived, we were about an hour early, so we spent some time exploring the gardens.

We got into line to enter the Gallery/Museum about a quarter to the hour, and we were let in probably a few minutes before the hour – the whole thing seems rather flexible.  We climbed the twisting staircase to the second floor and began our exploration of the Gallery’s collection with the room centered around Bernini’s extraordinary Abduction of Proserpine (the Italian title for this sculpture translates into an ugly word that I have chosen to avoid).

The next Bernini sculpture displayed is the earliest one the sculptor created for his patron Cardinal Scipione Borghese, a group sculpture of Aeneas carrying his father Anchises with his son Ascanius alongside him as the three escape from Troy.

A room that featured some beautiful Roman floor mosaics followed – I particularly enjoyed the one depicting Neptune’s head.

Following that is the room displaying a number of paintings, including several by the artist Caravaggio.  I am not a huge fan of this artist – while his talent is evident in his paintings, there is a rather sinister, clinical aspect to his art in my view.  Look for example at this Self-portrait as the God Bacchus, where Caravaggio leers at us from his painting.

Caravaggio’s Self-Portrait as Bacchus

Focusing on the many incredible pieces of art in the middle of the rooms through which we walked (and on the walls), it was easy to overlook how gorgeous the rooms themselves are.  Here, for example, are two of the ceilings.

The next Bernini we viewed was his David.  I was fascinated by the string of his slingshot – how can you cut marble that thin?  Or is that made out of some other material and made to look like marble?  I also love the way he is biting his lip as he carefully aims his shot for Goliath’s head (presumably).

I lingered in David’s gallery just an extra second, knowing that the luminescent sculpture in the next room was already drawing my attention.  Everyone talks about Apollo and Daphne, and with good reason – it is just amazingly beautiful.  Us mere mortals can only gaze in jealousy, knowing that we could never match the glorious perfection that these two immortals depicted represent.

The large gallery next houses a mixture of paintings and sculpture – the most noteworthy of the latter probably being Bernini’s early sculpture the Goat Amalthea with the Infant Jupiter and a Faun.  When we arrived in Venice later in our trip, we would be deluged with many fabulous paintings by Giovanni Bellini – his Madonna and Child in this room gave us a taste of what we would encounter in a handful of days (the Virgin and Child tondo by Botticelli in this room was also quite wonderful).

On our way from MACRO to the Borghese Gallery, we had passed a couple of promising restaurants that we assumed would be open for dinner by the time we returned.  So upon leaving the Borghese, we walked back the way we had come.  The most promising of the restaurants we passed was called Il Viaggio (coincidental it seemed to me, since we had just been to Libreria Il Viaggiatore the day before) – promising I say, because they proudly announced on their sign that they specialized in gluten free menu items.  I thought, where gluten free leads, dairy free may be sure to follow.

We were a bit early – their dinner service began at 7pm, and it was only like 6:30 at that point – but their host saw us lingering outside, and waved that we should come in and warm up (it wasn’t that chilly, probably high 50s fahrenheit, but with evening approaching, the temperature was only going to continue to drop).

What followed was one of our most original and satisfying meals in Italy.  It all began with an Amuse Bouche of yellow tomato soup.  Then I had an antipasto of breaded fried calamari and vegetables – not amazing, but still a good way to begin.  Then came the star of my dinner, homemade pasta with mushrooms and shaved white truffles.  The truffles were so delicate and subtle, rather different than the usual pungent flavor all the ubiquitous truffle oils provide.  Finally, my main course of veal and ratatouille was very nice – although it was a bit of an afterthought, following the wonderful truffled pasta dish.

Our waitress spoke a decent amount of English, and was receptive to my entreaties regarding my allergy.  But like many, I think she confused my allergy for lactose intolerance.  For dessert, Therese opted to take a slice of cake back with her.  The waitress assured me that their flourless chocolate cake was safe for me – but I think it probably had butter in it (which of course is lactose free, thus her misunderstanding again).  So I took the safe course and went home dessertless.

Therese and the Trumpet Lily Tree

From there, we had only to walk about 5 blocks, and we were back to the tram stop, from where we would get home in less than 10 minutes.  Such a perfect day that was!  I will leave you with just one more delight we encountered along the way, a huge pair of Trumpet Lily Trees we passed on our walk.

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Sistine Chapel, Libreria del Viaggiatore and Frigidarium Gelateria

Sistine Chapel, Libreria del Viaggiatore and Frigidarium Gelateria

I’d like you to believe that this is a photo I took during our visit to the Sistine Chapel.  But anyone who has visited there knows that such photo taking is strictly forbidden.  No, this and other photos I have of the chapel vault are photos of incredible photos displayed in the Up Close exhibit which Therese and I saw in New York City back over the Fourth of July weekend (another story as they say).

But, we did, yes, visit the Sistine Chapel.  We reserved the Dark Rome early access tour, where we awoke long before sunrise, rode the bus in the dark to the San Pietro-Rosorgimento stop just southeast of the entrance to the Vatican Museums, and met our group across the street from the museums entrance.

Therese in the Vatican

Before walking through the museums to the chapel, we stopped for an early morning photo-op of St. Peter’s Basilica.  Then we passed through the long string of hallways, each glorious in their own right – for example, the Map Gallery, which includes painted maps of the world’s most important cities at the time (seventeen century? not sure when it was painted).

And then, along with a bunch of other tours, we entered the glorious chapel.  We did not, as the tour description seemed to suggest, have the chapel all to ourselves – there were probably a couple hundred people there.  But it was quiet, you could steal a seat along the edge of the chapel, and use your binoculars (we brought ours with us just for this occasion) to ogle the extraordinary frescoes painted by Michelangelo and his crack team of frescoists.  Again, from the Up Close exhibit, here are some of the panels we saw.

We stayed for a good 45 minutes I would say, knowing that the horde of general public tour groups and such would not be allowed in for a while yet.  Fantastic, iconic, one-of-a-kind.  If like me you want to know everything about how it was created, etc., you must read Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King (Amazon link).  I had it in paperback, read it about ten years ago, got rid of my paperback, and bought it again in electronic (Kindle) version so I could read it again.  It is a fantastic book.

So when we we done basking in the great Florentine painter’s masterpiece, we headed back through the many passageways to the Cortile della Pigna, not far from the museum entrance.  In that courtyard is a terrace restaurant – nothing special, but we were able to get some breakfast there, a buffet for an earlier breakfast/chapel combo you can buy still available (just barely).  I mean, don’t expect great food in the Vatican – it just doesn’t exist – and expect to pay unreasonably high prices for what you do get.

Cortile della Pigna

Anyway, after breakfast, the question in our minds was, what else should we see, if anything?  By now, we knew, the great massive hordes of people were all around us, and any museum we visited was bound to be slow-moving and claustrophobic.  I thought we should try to see the rooms painted by Raphael.  Well, that was kind of a bad idea.  First, the crowd was so thick it was hard to really see anything.  Second, walking through those rooms leads you once again through the Sistine Chapel.

The one saving grace of our strategy was that we unknowingly were headed through the Vatican’s Collection of Contemporary Art.  Wow, great stuff.  Included in this collection are Matisse’s preparatory full-scale drawings/paintings for his Chapel in Vence.  Amazing stuff.  There were also pieces by Chagall and Klee and by African artist El Anatsui, among other people represented.

Then we suffered through being herded through the Sistine Chapel once more – now crowded beyond belief, noisy – and we hurried through there as best we could.  Then we walked back through those long passages (the Map gallery, etc.) one more time and left the Vatican.  We had had enough.  We found somewhere to go to clear our minds of the insane crowds, but unfortunately, to get there, we would have to walk halfway around the outside of  Vatican City.  A long walk, let me tell you.  We did get a glimpse of St. Peter’s again (no, I was not tempted to get in line to go into the Basilica).

St Peter’s Basilica

I know Therese did not really believe that we would find that bus, but find it we did, and it took us south to the very interesting Traveler’s Bookstore (Libreria del Viaggiatore).  But oh no!  when we got there, the shopkeeper had stepped out.

So we went to plan B – gelato (or sorbetto in my case).  A quite excellent gelateria called Frigidarium was not far away, so we went there and cleared our minds further on frozen dessert.  Ah, the mania of the Vatican was finally being leached from our veins!

After that, we wandered back to the bookstore, and by then, it was open.  We bought a map of London (our destination summer of 2018) and a few other things.  Then we ordered some takeaway from the Abbey Theatre Irish Pub and returned by taxi to our hotel.  It was a long day that thankfully started and ended on good notes.  As for the middle part full of tour groups and crowds, I will say no more.

Posted in Bookstores, Bookstores, Countries, Dairy Free, Dessert, Food, Italy, Museums, Rome, Sorbet, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Glazed Gourmet Doughnuts and Cupcake DownSouth Charleston Vegan Sweets

Glazed Gourmet Doughnuts and Cupcake DownSouth Charleston Vegan Sweets

Since I first started coming to Charleston, one of the continuing questions in my mind is where to find good vegan desserts in the city.  There is Black Bean Co. on King Street that reliably carries vegan and gluten free cookies and little loaves of banana bread and such that are baked in house – reliable, but maybe a bit on the boring side.  And then there was Diggity (later Nana’s) Doughnuts, that while a bit far to north, carried some fine varieties of vegan doughnuts; but sadly, they have now closed.

My spirits on this subject have lifted recently, as I have discovered that two other dessert cafes on King Street also carry some very fine vegan desserts.  First, I found out that the location of Cupcake DownSouth on the west side of King between Warren and Radcliffe Streets sells a vegan variety of cupcake on Wednesdays, Fridays and now Saturdays as well.

The flavors of their vegan cupcake change from day to day.  My first time trying them it was lemon cake and icing – not a bad one, but the next one I had, chocolate cake with salted caramel icing, was several notches higher in quality.  I have also had chocolate/chocolate and white chocolate/raspberry, also quite good.

Even more recently, just a couple weeks ago in fact, I was excited to learn that Glazed Gourmet Doughnuts, on on the west side of King between Radcliffe and Morris Streets, always carries one vegan variety every day.  On Saturdays, I believe, they do two varieties.  The trick is to keep in mind their hours – most days of the week they open early and close at 3 in the afternoon.  The first time I stopped by to try one of their doughnuts, I arrived at 3:02 and found them closed!

Today I finally broke the cycle and went there just shortly after noon.  If you check their Facebook page, every morning they post a photo of their chalkboard menu so you can find out what varieties of doughnuts they are making that day.  Today the vegan option was a gingerbread with tangy cranberry icing.

Make no mistake, this is a cake doughnut, of a different texture from your garden variety Dunkin Donuts or Krispy Kreme.  But I loved it – I found the cake moist and not heavy, and the icing was melt in your mouth smooth, tangy as I said, and sweet but not so much as to make your teeth ache.

I am sure I could be very happy alternating between these two dessert shops to make my sweet tooth happy.  But then of course I would never get to do any baking of my own, which would make me rather sad.  So I will be contented making Cupcake DownSouth and Glazed Gourmet Doughnuts a regular place to stop, but keep my visits far enough apart as to keep it a special treat.  I am not suggesting you do the same – when you are in Charleston, have as many cupcakes and doughnuts as you like, and tell them the Dairy Free Traveler sent you!

Posted in Cafes, Charleston, Countries, Dairy Free, Dessert, Doughnuts, Food, Restaurants, South Carolina, United States, Vegan food | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Eglise Saint-Thomas Strasbourg and Shnockeloch Restaurant

Eglise Saint-Thomas Strasbourg and Shnockeloch Restaurant

My mission during the days I spent in Strasbourg was two-fold.  On the one hand, I was exploring the city, experiencing its cultural and historic richness.  On the other hand, since I was doing this on my own, while Therese was engaged for the next couple of days with her business customer, I was keeping my eyes open to things that Therese might want to see when she was free later in the week.  This Wednesday afternoon in Strasbourg, I was able to keep both these aims in mind, viewing two incredible churches and some absolutely charming atmospheric streets, while also making note of shops on those streets to which Therese and I might return.

I had begun that Wednesday with a visit to the city’s impressive Fine Arts Museum and lunch at a Japanese restaurant.  When I finished my lunch, I headed just a tiny bit south to find one of Strasbourg’s historic Lutheran sacred buildings, Eglise Saint-Thomas.  Although I was raised a Lutheran myself, there are many holes in my knowledge of Lutheran history; however, from our time in Strasbourg, I gleaned that the city was on the front lines of the Protestant Reformation.  There were Catholic churches that became Lutheran; there were also Lutheran churches that later were converted back to Catholicism.

Eglise Saint-Thomas falls into the former category.  And while it was converted to Lutheranism (presumably in the sixteenth century), from the church’s physical beauty, I would say there was a certain amount of flexibility or openness to the building’s former faith.

I say that because Eglise Saint-Thomas still has a rose window, a beautiful baptismal font, and a good deal of other signs of enrichment – even the altar is beautifully carved with angels.  I make note of this, and again, I am no expert on European Lutheranism – but if the early Lutherans in Strasbourg had been reactionary, as some in the United States have historically been, they would have stripped this church down of all its finery and left it looking much more plain and austere.  Luckily for us, they left it looking, perhaps, quite Catholic.  In any case, it is a beautiful church – and I gather it is the city’s Lutheran cathedral, i.e., the seat of the bishop, so that may be part of the reason behind its looking richer that other Lutheran churches might be.

Plaisir d’Alsace Craft Shop Strasbourg

Not far from this church, I ran into the very charming Rue des Dentelles, filled with lovely little shops and pubs.  One shop called Plaisirs d’Alsace looked very promising for shopping later in the week, so I took a photo of it, so that I wouldn’t forget what it was called or where it was!

Ice Cream on Rue des Dentelles’ List of Sorbets

Just next door to Plaisirs d’Alsace was a dessert shop specializing in ice cream that is called – I kid you not – Ice Cream.  It has basically no Internet presence, not unusual for an ice cream shop; but it does have an impressive array of dairy free options – sorbets – and again, I squirreled this information away for another visit later in the week.

Returning just a block north to the Grand Rue, the main east to west street in this southwestern corner of the Grande Ile, I was thrilled to encounter Latheral Chocolate and Tea Shop, which is an authorized carrier of Michel Cluizel chocolates.  More than 20 years ago, I first encountered Cluizel chocolate bars in a Dean and Deluca in New York City, and they remain one of my favorite brands of fine chocolate.  So I made sure to buy a couple of bars to enjoy when we returned home.

Walking west on Grand Rue, you see the tower of another of the city’s churches, Saint-Pierre-Le-Vieux (Old Saint Peter’s), on the right.  I didn’t know about this church at the time, but I discovered later that this one falls into the category of churches that became Lutheran and then reverted to Catholicism, but the story is actually more complicated than that.

Actually, France’s King Louis XIV ordered that the church become Catholic again, but somehow only part of the building was returned to the Catholic church, while the rest remained Lutheran.  Then eventually, the Lutheran section of the building was extended, presumably to allow for it to function fully as an independent church.  Nevertheless, you have two churches of the same name but different denominations sharing the same building.  And just to show you what an odd arrangement it is, only 5 (yes, five!) years ago, they finally built a door that allows passage from one building to the other (presumably until then, if you wanted to pass between them, you had to leave one, walk around the block and then enter the other.

Anyway, as I said, at the time I was unaware of all this.  So I entered the Catholic portion of the building, where a Vespers service was taking place.  A dozen or so ladies sat in stalls at the front of the church and chanted psalms, accompanied by a priest.  Occasionally, they would break into two or three parts.  It was lovely, but I thought it was a bit weird, even unfair, that the priest wore a microphone, which artificially made his voice louder than the other singers.

I continued walking, my goal being to get back to the tram stop in the center of town from which I had begun my wanderings that morning.  I passed by the Place du Vieux Marché aux Vins, which has a charming little park with the lovely Fontaine Stoeber in the middle of it.

I began to tire, so I decided to take the tram one stop to the middle of Strasbourg and then kill some time until Therese might be free to meet me for lunch.  But I had just gotten myself situated next to a fountain in the Place Kléber, when the skies opened up.  Like many people, I headed for cover to wait out the storm.  Long story short, the storm persisted, so eventually I got back on the tram and went all the way back to the hotel, so I could change into some dry clothes for dinner.

Therese was heading back to the hotel anyway – some of her colleagues were staying there, so all of them drove back there – so meeting her there was the most convenient thing.  She had made some hotel reservations for us earlier in the week, and so we took a taxi to the one that was picked out for that night, Schnockeloch.

Our dinner was quite lovely.  I ordered spare ribs with frites and salad, which was served on a board, and Therese ordered a set menu, which included half a tarte flambee (a sort of Alsatian pizza with meat) and some sort of typical entree (I have forgotten which) – it ended up being too much meat for her.  The building, on the corner of a square next to the river, was a half-circle, which made its design really interesting.  And I loved the humorous sign outside the bathrooms, which you can see above.

I was happy to spend time with Therese, wishing she had been with me to share my adventure that day.  But at least we got to eat dinner together.  The plan was that hopefully, there would only be another half-day of her workshops to go, and then we would be free to be tourists together for the rest of our stay.

Posted in Alsatian Food, Churches, Countries, Dairy Free, Dessert, Dinner, Eglise Saint-Thomas Strasbourg, Food, France, Restaurants, Sorbet, Strasbourg, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment