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

Musee des Beaux Arts in Strasbourg and Lunch at Le Kyoto

Musee des Beaux Arts in Strasbourg and Lunch at Le Kyoto

Tuesday in Strasbourg meant for me another day to explore on my own, while poor Therese continued the workshop with her customer (admittedly, that workshop was what brought us to France, so I can’t complain too loudly about it, although Therese definitely got the worst end of the deal).  This day I decided to begin with once again exploring the area around Strasbourg’s Cathedral – in this case, their Musee des Beaux Arts, which is one of three museums housed in the Palais Rohan.

Once you enter the building, you have to climb a majestic staircase with a beautiful wrought iron balustrade to get to the museum’s galleries.  The galleries of the permanent collection are laid out in chronological order.  Entering the first of these galleries, you are confronted in the middle of the room by perhaps the most extraordinary painting in the entire collection, Hans Memling’s Triptych of Earthly Vanity and Divine Salvation.  It consists of three panels which of course are painted on both sides, so that depending on how the panels are situated, you see a very different story – either the deadly costs of depravity or the promise of eternal life.

If you take my opening gambit, it is all down hill from that first room.  But never fear, there are many wonderful pieces to capture the imagination.  Representing the height of the Renaissance period, for example, are two wonderful portraits by Raphael and El Greco.  The latter’s Mater Dolorosa may be my most favorite painting in the museum.  The subject’s emotions are so palpable in looking into her sad eyes.

After a rich assortment of high Renaissance works, the collection to my mind gets a bit stagnant when it gets into its early Baroque collection.  Too many Dutch landscapes and Vanity settings for my taste.  The latter is a subject that is well-known to me – a musical group I belonged to in New York spent a year exploring the musical settings that focused on the seventeenth century preoccupation with the fleeting nature of earthly joys and the foreboding presence of death all around us.  Two or three paintings on this subject would be illuminating – 20 is tiresome.

Luckily, this section of the museum is rescued to my mind by the portraits there, in particular another of the highlights of the entire museum, “La Belle Strasbourgeoise” by Nicholas de Largilliere.  This well-to-do woman in her traditional Strasbourg-ian costume, including the magnificent wide hat, appears quite wonderful.

The final section of the permanent collection includes many first-rate nineteenth century portraits focused on women.  Chasseriau’s salacious Interior of a Harem brought a smile to my face.  And Comerre’s Portrait of his wife undoubtedly was a way of apologizing for all the hours he spent painting the portraits of pretty much every other attractive woman in the vicinity.

The permanent collection was just the right amount of art for my morning’s adventure.  After wandering through the galleries for a couple of hours, I came out onto the same landing where I had begun, and felt myself quite ready to enjoy some lunch.

I had picked out a possible lunch spot just a 10 minute or so walk from the museum.  So many of our meals in Strasbourg, I knew, would be centered on Alsatian cuisine, with sausages and sauerkraut; therefore, for this lunch I decided to go in another direction, and eat some Japanese food.

The funny thing is that, when I got to the restaurant where I thought I would eat, I discovered that it only sold take out meals.  Since it was beginning to rain, I didn’t think this would work for me.  Luckily, not far away, there was another Japanese restaurant, Le Kyoto, that not only had inside seating, but was also fairly empty.

I found a familiar option for my lunch, a salmon Chirashi entree.  This dish of thin slices of salmon over sticky seasoned rice, preceded by house miso soup and salad that fully resembled cole slaw, was just right.

The rain had left the air feeling rather sticky, and it was actually feeling rather close in the restaurant.  But after enjoying my meal, I was happy to discover that the weather had turned a bit cool and sunny, a perfect setting to enjoy the afternoon.

Posted in Countries, Dairy Free, Food, France, Japanese Food, Lunch, Museums, Restaurants, Strasbourg, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Colosseum and San Pietro in Vincoli on Sunday in Rome

The Colosseum and San Pietro in Vincoli on Sunday in Rome

Normally, when I am traveling, I tend to avoid the obvious draws.  For example, when I went to the Louvre in 2010, I walked right by the Mona Lisa.  And on this trip to Rome, I knew I was not going to spend any time of consequence at the Trevi Fountain.  I just feel that, while I may be a tourist, I don’t have to be a lemming and do all the things tourists do just to check off the box.

However, I did make a couple exceptions to that usual tendency on this trip.  In this case, I planned to go to the Colosseum.  Why? Two reasons.  One: so that Therese could relive a bit of the trip that she took to Rome back in the 1970s.  Two: because I just thought we might enjoy it.  To try to make this visit a bit more palatable – to avoid some of the inevitable crowds so that it would not take an entire day out of our trip – I bought tickets ahead of time.

To be more specific, I bought a combo ticket from the Hop On Hop Off website.  The good thing about this is it gives you two days to use the Colosseum ticket.  So we rode the bus on Saturday, the day we arrived in Rome, and then we planned to visit the Colosseum the next day, Sunday.

The bad thing was that from the Hop On Hop Off people, all you get is a voucher.  To visit the Colosseum, you still have to exchange that voucher for a timed ticket for the Colosseum.  I won’t get into how confusing it was to find the office where we could make the exchange – suffice it to say, that we spent a couple of hours sorting that out.  I will just explain to you (in case you find yourself in our shoes) how to find that office, which is the Forum Ticket Office.

So there is a long street called Fori Imperiali (Imperial Forum), with the Colosseum at the south-eastern end of it, and the Piazza Venezia at the north-western end.  If you start from the Colosseum and begin walking toward the Piazza Venezia, about halfway along it, you will encounter a traffic light.  To your right is the beginning of the street Via Cavour.  To your left, you will see ahead of you a long line of people (most likely) queuing up to enter the Forum.  The kiosk they are lining up in front of is the Forum Ticket Office.

Do not get in that line.  Those people are buying tickets.  With your voucher, walk around the kiosk to the right – in the back is the window where you can exchange for your ticket(s), which will look like this (no matter how many people are on your voucher, you just get one ticket):

The ticket will indicate your entry time.  In our case, it was around 11:30 when we got our tickets, but our entry time was 2:30pm.  The natural thing to do is to spend your free time exploring the forum.  But that was another thing I didn’t have any interest in.  So we decided to see the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, home to Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses.  One of the ways to get to the church is to walk a bit down Via Cavour, and then up two incredibly steep staircases.

That was pretty much our workout for the day.  And then we discovered that, like many smaller churches in Rome, it was closed for lunch, until 3pm I believe.  So on to plan B – how about some lunch?

Lunch at Bar & Grill on Via Cavour in Rome

Back on Via Cavour, we found a pretty pedestrian looking restaurant, with tables right on the sidewalk, called (I am not kidding) Bar & Grill.  The menu was minimalist.  The waiter said “what would you like to eat?” – I said chicken, and I got a plate of a chicken leg and fried potatoes and undressed salad (mostly radicchio, which was featured prominently in every salad I saw in Italy).  Enough to keep us occupied and fill our bellies a bit (Therese said she wanted fish and got basically the same thing as me, only with a breaded filet of fish).

So then it was maybe 1:30, and I said, why not get in line?  And sure enough, the line for the 2:30 entrance was already getting pretty long.  Ugh, what a zoo.  Uh, I mean, how amazing!?…  Well, at least we got to see Giuseppe Carta’s fascinating “Germinazione” sculpture of a ripe pomegranate (I hear it was a temporary installation, only on display for a couple more weeks after we saw it).

Anyway, we entered, and it is incredibly old, and pretty impressive when you get a good view of the middle of it.

My favorite part was on the second floor, where there were displays of Medieval illustrations of Rome with the Colosseum drawn in various fanciful ways.  Also on the second floor was a large wooden model of what it looked like when it was in use.

When we were done at the Colosseum, we went back to San Pietro in Vincoli.  But we did not return to the Via Cavour way of getting to it, with the incredibly steep staircases.  Instead, we took a street jutting north from the Colosseum called “Via Terme di Tito,” passed the ruins of the Domus Aurea, and arrived at the church without breaking a sweat.

I have been a huge fan of Michelangelo’s work since I read Irving Stone’s “The Agony and the Ecstasy”, the popular fictional biography of Michelangelo, as a teenager (I proceeded to read the book maybe 4 times, I enjoyed it so much).  So it was a dream come true to be able to see Moses fairly up close (of course I had to squeeze through a crowd of people to get as close as I did).  Otherwise, for me the church is fairly forgettable.  It is supposed to house the chains in which St. Peter was bound as a prisoner in Jerusalem.  The altar area retains its Medieval character, while the rest of the church is from the Baroque period, including a typical ceiling painting.  But again, for me, Moses was the story.

The afternoon was on the wane, but there was one other church I thought we might visit, the Basilica of San Clemente in Laterano (or just “San Clemente”).  Unfortunately, one of the things for which this church is famous, its incredible Medieval mosaics over the altar, were under renovation, and therefore, not available for viewing.  However, I bought a ticket to see the two floors below the modern church, where an earlier basilica lies, and then the Roman streets and houses upon which the basilica was built.  You are forbidden to take pictures anywhere in the church; but I found myself in one of the rooms of the Roman era structures, with some incredible graffiti on the wall, all alone, so I snapped one picture to commemorate the visit.  And I thought the cloister beyond the side of the church, where the residents of the abbey connected with church live, was quite lovely.

Therese was nice enough to wait in the church as I explored the lower ancient levels.  She looked up the mosaics that were not on view, and found some pictures of them on the Internet and agreed that they were spectacular.  With that, our afternoon was spent.  It was time to get back on Tram number 3 and take it back to our hotel (another of the very useful public transportation lines with a stop right near the hotel).

And I have to say – while there was some aggravation involved with getting the tickets for the Colosseum, overall, it was a very successful day, our first full one in Rome.

Therese waiting for Tram 3 home to our hotel

Posted in Churches, Countries, Dairy Free, Food, Italy, Lunch, Monuments, Rome, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hop-on Hop-off Bus Highlights First Day in Rome Italy

Hop-on Hop-off Bus Highlights First Day in Rome

You could call me anti-tourist, as ironic as it would be for me to be that way (considering how much traveling I do), and you wouldn’t be far from the truth.  So when Therese and I decided to do one of the most tourist-like things we could do on our first day in Rome – to ride the Hop-on Hop-off bus – I did feel just a bit like I was betraying my usual traveling impulses.

But it made good sense to climb aboard the bus along with a hundred or more of my closest traveling buddies (not) and spend two hours riding around Rome’s biggest tourist draws.  First, we would have been traveling for half a day by the time we arrived at our hotel in Rome, and the idea of then having to “drive” our own exploration of the city didn’t sound so appealing.  Second, I did not anticipate spending our time in Rome at the huge tourist draws (Trevi Fountain – shudder!), but I thought, never having been to Rome before, it wouldn’t hurt to at least get a glimpse of these attractions.

Hilton Garden Inn Claridge

So once we had checked in at our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn Claridge (which is in a residential part of the city, northeast of the city center), the next question was, how to get to one of the Hop-on Hop-off stops.  Thankfully, the hotel’s desk person/concierge was very helpful.  While the Hilton Garden Inn is not close to any of the city’s attractions, there are trams and buses that run up and down its street that will take you to all of those places.

The concierge apologized that she had run out of bus tickets, but I could buy either tickets or a metro pass around the corner at the Tabbachi.  Yes, these are stores where you can buy cigarettes and such, but they also sell lots of useful things, like bus tickets.  However, I made the mistake of buying a multiple day pass – and for the amount of trips we made, it didn’t make sense money-wise.  But – we did have a pass to ride public transportation for the next few days, not a bad thing.

So we hopped on the bus number 53, as instructed by the concierge, and about 15 minutes later, we arrived at Piazza Barberini (the picture above is of Therese standing in front of the fountain in the Piazza).  And sure enough, in one corner of the piazza, there was the stop for the bus.  I handed a woman inside the bus the voucher I had printed out, and she punched a code into a handheld machine, and a receipt came out.  She handed me that and lots of other paper (maps and such) and we were off!

The first place we stopped was actually the train station, called “Termini” (to distinguish it from another train station in Rome) – very unimpressive.  But then next we passed by the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, an incredible sacred space – I had already decided we would visit there, but seeing it up close made me more determined to do so.

Circus Maximus

Next we passed by the Circus Maximus, where the chariot races took place in classical Rome.  I am a huge fan of the movie Ben Hur – the Charlton Heston version, not the more recent travesty – and of course the chariot race in that movie, which is supposed to take place in the Circus Maximus, is pivotal, and just breathtaking.  The real thing today looks like a huge oval of dirt and a little grass, not that impressive, but oh if that sand could talk…

Next up was the Colosseum, one of the most famous of Rome’s monuments.  Now you may notice I was not taking many photos that day – I was tired from traveling, and just letting it all wash over me, positioned in my seat on the top of the bus.  So I didn’t get a picture of the Colosseum, but I did manage to snap a selfie with the Arch of Constantine, right next to the Colosseum.  We would see the Colosseum the next day – I bought a combo ticket of the bus ride an entree to the Colosseum (more on that in the next post) – so I wasn’t too worried about missing a photo op at that point.

Arch of Constantine Selfie

There were several more stops after that – the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain, some others – but I was dozing and just drinking it all in (the warm sun felt good).  I was struck by the fact that many of the stops are not right next to the attraction for which they are named.  For example, to see the Trevi Fountain, you would have to get off the bus and walk a block.  The same holds true for the Vatican.  Oh well, I didn’t care.  I had a comfortable seat.

Eventually, we were back at Piazza Barberini.  The fountain, designed by Gian-Lorenzo Bernini, is awesome.  Remind me to tell you about Bernini.  We ate a simple lunch at a cafe right on the piazza, and then we waited for the 53 back to our hotel. But for reasons we couldn’t figure out, the bus never came.  Eventually, we flagged down a taxi, and headed back to the hotel for a well-deserved nap.

Fontana del Tritone in Piazza Barberini

After a nap and a shower, we were ready for our first full meal in Rome.  We asked our concierge, and they suggested we try Zero Restaurant, across the street from the hotel.  We had no reservation of course, but the host at the restaurant told us there was a table free – as long as we could finish eating within an hour.  We agreed, and enjoyed a lovely dinner.

And honestly, we were still there an hour later, and no one complained (I guess they found another table for the people with the reservation).

Posted in Buses, Countries, Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, Guided Tours, Italian food, Italy, Monuments, Rome, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival at Brooklyn Botanical Garden

Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival at Brooklyn Botanical Garden

Before moving from New York City to Charleston, it was my hope to do some of the things I had never done before in New York.  Attending the Cherry Blossom Festival, in Japanese “Sakura Matsuri“, at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, was an occasion where I got to fulfill that wish.

From the first moment we entered the grounds of the garden, we were surrounded by natural beauty as well as signs of the festival (man, I wish they had an inflatable chair large enough for me!).

On our way from the entrance to the main area of the festival, the Cherry Esplanade, we passed by their collection of Lilac trees.  I have always loved lilac trees, going back to the 1980s when I lived in a Victorian house that had a large such tree in the front yard.  But I have never seen lilac flowers in so many colors before!

And then we arrived at the Cherry Esplanade, where a huge number of people had already gathered, to enjoy the canopy of the cherry trees in bloom.

Not far from the Cherry Esplanade is the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden.  We wandered over there to see it, but we did not try to enter the house on the edge of the pond – it was crammed full of people already!

Back at the Cherry Esplanade, they had set up a stage on the south end, with a full slate of acts throughout the day.  We were thrilled to see and hear the Daiko drumming – the drummers seem to have so much fun as they drum in a team effort.  And man, they have lots of energy – they keep it going for several minutes at a time.

Just off that square in another direction is the garden’s collection of rose bushes.

At the north end of the square was the food tent.  Therese found us a good spot near a tree (the day threatened rain, although as I recall it never did actually rain), while I went and waited in line to buy us lunch.  The menu included some very intriguing Japanese options; however, by the time I got in line to order, most of them were already sold out!  Poor planning if you ask me – I mean, this was only midday, with lots more hours of the festival to go.  Oh well.  I ordered Chicken Teriyaki for Therese, and got a chicken sausage and peppers on a roll for myself.

Warm Intemperate Pavilion at Steinhardt Conservatory

After listening to some more daiko acts and eating our lunch, we headed over to the indoor areas of the garden to see the things on display there.  We started with the Steinhardt Conservatory.  The Warm Intemperate Pavilion had many fascinating plants on display, as well as a huge collection of wooden root systems hanging from the ceiling that was very fun.  There was a hot house room to one side, but we were feeling plenty clammy already, so we decided instead to get in line for the Bonsai Museum to the other side.

This is probably one of the largest collections of Bonsai trees anywhere.  Certainly, it is the largest one in New York City.  And while I usually associate bonsai trees with evergreens – and there are plenty of examples of those in this collection – there were also bonsai Camelias and Wisteria and Rhododendrons, and even a Japanese Maple bonsai.  Very cool.

When I think of typical Japanese art forms, the one that probably fascinates me the most is the art of folding paper, Origami.  In the garden’s rotunda, an artist from Taro’s Origami Studio was creating large form origami – the piece of paper he was working on was probably about 20 feet long – while on tables set around the room were examples of smaller pieces finished earlier.  The animals were my favorite, especially the dragons and the eagle.

We finished our afternoon at the Sakura Matsuri by attending a Japanese Tea Ceremony given in the auditorium.  We observed as several members of the audience were brought up on stage to participate in the ceremony.  The ceremony included elements that we experienced throughout the day in everything we experienced – simplicity, balance and the harmony of being one with nature.  Thus it was the perfect way to end our day at the cherry blossom festival and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.


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