Sicily Tour 2016

Day 2 Sunday November 20, 2016

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At 1 a.m. I was awakened by thunder. This was an extremely unusual occurrence for someone who has been known to sleep through storms that shook the furniture. Sue, who usually tells me about nighttime thunderstorms, was oblivious to this one.

The breathtaking view from room 428: left ...

... down ...

... right.

I wondered at first if the hotel was empty, ...

... but quite a few people came in while we were eating breakfast.

I got out of bed at 2:30 to check the score of the Michigan game on the Internet. I knew that the starting quarterback for the Wolverines, Wilton Speight, had been unable to play on Saturday. Michigan had actually played the entire game with a one-dimensional offense. The passing attack was almost nonexistent. Nevertheless, Michigan prevailed 20-10. So, both Michigan and Ohio State would bring 10-1 records into the showdown in Columbus on the following Saturday while we were in Sicily.

The exterior of the Borghese palazzo was quite impressive in the morning sunlight.

There was more thunder, but I went back to sleep and arose for good at 6. I boiled some water using the hotel's spiffy electric pot and made a cup of English Breakfast tea. It was very good, and the water in the pot was boiling in no time. Why do we not have these devices in the U.S.?

The benches were still wet from the thunderstorm, but this cardboard kept our pants dry.

As I prepared for our first full day in Rome I realized that I had forgotten to pack my other pair of shoes. This would not be a disaster unless the pair that I was wearing—a new pair of black Reeboks—were unusable for some reason. That did not seem too likely. However, I am very susceptible to leg cramps and shin splints at night, and I have found that I have fewer problems when I alternate my shoes. I don't know why.

This youngster got away from her parents long enough to find refuge under a bench.

Our plan for the day was to visit the famous Galleria Borghese at 11. Since it was not very close to any Metro stop, we had decided to have the hotel arrange for a cab to pick us up. However, the desk clerk advised Sue that it would be cheaper to walk up to Termini, where there would be dozens of cabs lined up.

A tee shirt was enough for him, but she needed her faux fur. Before leaving she put it on over her jacket.

Sue and I went down to the third floor[1] for breakfast at about 7:45. The breakfast room was almost empty when we arrived. I loaded up on peaches and juice. I also made myself an open-faced sandwich of salami and cheese.

Sue took advantage of our free time to make a sketch of the palazzo.

A large flat-screen television had been added to the room since last we saw it in 2011. A strange show was playing on it. It was hosted by a man and a woman. The screen consistently displayed the hashtag #Nonstopnews in the lower right corner, but the program primarily consisted of music videos. I recognized one of the songs from my Italian tapes.

Another new feature of the breakfast room was a very fancy coffee machine. I made myself a cappuccino. It was so delicious that I went back for seconds.

By the time that we finished eating, the breakfast area was nearly filled with people. We were by far the oldest.

A headless statue is a magnet for pigeons.

Back in the room I went on the Internet and made reservations for Monday at 11:00 for admission to the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo. I forwarded the confirmation e-mail to the desk so that they could print it. I had learned that the train was scheduled to leave Termini at 9:21, and it took 41 minutes to reach Castel Gandolfo. That allowed us almost an hour to reach the residence. Even at Sue's pace we should certainly be able to make that. If not, we could perhaps get a cab at the train station.

A favorite means of transportation in the Villa Borghese is to rent a pedal-powered cart.

One thing that I was worried about was whether I could take photos at the Galleria Borghese. On the TripAdvisor Forum many people indicated that cameras were permitted even though the Galleria's website indicated that no photography was allowed.[2]

It was a beautiful day. I wore a sweater, but there was no need for a jacket. Sue and I walked up to Termini and quickly engaged a cab. The trip cost €8. It seemed as if the driver got there very quickly. Rick Steves Rome said that cabs let passenger off at the street, 100 meters away from the building, but ours drove us right to the door. After he let us off he picked up another couple who had evidently finished their tour.

This family managed to fit six people from three generations in one cart.

We were not allowed to enter the Galleria until 11:00, which gave us almost an hour to kill. The Galleria is cleared every two hours, and a completely new group is allowed in. I don't know what they would do if someone refused to leave. It would probably be a rare occurrence; for most people two hours would be enough to see everything.

Show me where it says that cameras are not allowed in the Galleria Borghese.

The wait was not unpleasant. There was a nice gift store and plenty of benches on which to sit outside. The Galleria is part of Villa Borghese, which is now a large public park. We had spent a good deal of time here one day on our first trip to Italy in 2003 when we were trying to find the zoo.

The statues of Gian Lorenzo Bernini were full of action: David ....

The sun was strong enough that it was more comfortable to sit in the shade, but most of the shady benches were covered with a film of water from the thunderstorm of the previous night. Sue found a large piece of cardboard that kept our rear ends dry. I stayed outside, read about Sicily, watched the people, and took a few photos.

... Apollo and Daphne ...

At about 10:30 I went in and redeemed our affidavit for a couple of tickets. I also checked my backpack but not my camera. Above the counter was a very large sign that displayed all of the items that were prohibited. I checked it carefully; cameras were not on the list.

Sue and I got in line. When, after about ten minutes of jostling, we reached the front of the line, the man taking tickets there told me that cameras were not allowed. I had to fight my way like a salmon swimming upstream back to the desk so that I could check my camera. I was steamed. Why could they not put up a sign? Why could the guy at the desk not warn me that cameras were not allowed? Sometimes Italy can be extremely annoying. This kind of thing does not happen in the U.S. Furthermore, what harm is done by taking photos without a flash? The only possible answer is that they think that it would impact book or poster sales at the gift shop.

... the Rape of Proserpina.

I rejoined Sue eventually, and we entered the Galleria together. In order to avoid most of the crowds we started on the second floor, which was quite a ways up. I found the picture gallery on that floor uninspiring.[3] The two Caravaggios that were on exhibit were early works that were definitely not as striking as others that I had seen. Unfortunately the one of St. Jerome was out on loan. If I had gotten to see it, my mood would probably have improved.

Sue had to use the restroom, which was somehow on a landing between the floors. After she finished it took us quite a while to find one another. The upper floor is something of a maze.

The sculpture gallery was much more to my taste. The Bernini and Canova sculptures were as good as any that I have ever seen. The two famous Berninis are of Apollo and Daphne and the Rape of Proserpina, but I actually liked the David the best. It is much different from Michelangelo's approach. All three of these Berninis were commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the nephew of Pope Paul V, the last pope to place a city or nation (Venice) under interdict.

I also enjoyed the special exhibit that addressed the question of whether Caravaggio could have been the “Master of Hartford” to whom is attributed a number of still-life paintings. I could not understand all of the reasoning, but it was still interesting to learn how the experts go about determining who might have produced art of dubious provenance. The best article about this that I could find on the Internet is here.

Two Caravaggio paintings in which Caravaggio showed fruit with noticeable flaws: Sick Little Bacchus.

Boy with a Basket of Fruit.

By contrast, all the paintings by the Master of Hartford showed fruits and vegetables that were bright and flawless.

If the walk through the park was too much for you, you could rent a Segway ...

The biggest problem with this exhibit is that it was in the Main Entry Hall. The display totally destroyed the effect of the hall, which was, according to Rick Steves Rome, “a multimedia and multi-era extravaganza of art treasures. Baroque frescoes on the ceiling, Greek statues along the walls, and ancient Roman mosaics on the floor capture the essence of the collection—a gathering of beautiful objects from every age and culture inside a lavish 17th-century villa.” Sitting in the middle of this hall, I tried to envision what it would have been like without the exhibit. It was very difficult to imagine.

... or even a golf cart.

There were many wonderful paintings in the gallery, and the busts by Bernini were beyond compare. However, not being able to photograph any of them soured my experience there at least a little.

Sue and I had decided to eat lunch at a Calabrian restaurant that had been recommended by Tom Corcoran's daughter Casey. We decided to walk there. It was mostly downhill, and half of it was through the lovely Villa Borghese. Sue is not much of a walker—she has two artificial knees—but she thought that she could make it. It was quite a hike, and the restaurant, Ristorante Pizzeria Sacro e Profano, was not easy to find. We did locate it, but, ahime! Only one word was on the sign: “Chiuso.” The restaurant was closed. Nothing indicated whether it was closed for the day, for the week, for the season, or forever. It did not matter to us. This was the only day that we had available for lunch in Rome.

A man with an accordion provided musical accompaniment in the park.

The gentleman on the horse was King Umberto I, who was assassinated by an anarchist in 1900.

Sue bought the bottle of water in the foreground at the gelato truck in the background.

We walked out of the park, through the arches in the ancient wall, and down to Sacro e Profano ...

... only to find that it was closed.

We were both tired, but we were also hungry. We tried to find a suitable place nearby, but we had no luck. We decided to take the Metro back to Termini and eat at a nearby restaurant that was recommended by the hotel. That required us to walk to the Barberini station. Unfortunately this time the hike was uphill, and it was wearing Sue out fast. We were within a block or so of the Barberini station. I just wanted some pizza and a beer. Fortunately just at that moment we came across Enoteca Barberini. We stepped inside.

The Enoteca Barberini provided a suitable substitute.

I ordered a Pizza Napoletana, which meant anchovies, and a Moretti from the tap. The pizza was below average, but the Moretti was wet and cold. I was not disappointed. After all, who is stupid enough to order pizza at a wine bar? Sue and I enjoyed the lunch, not because the food was excellent, but because we both were happy that we found a decent place without having to take another step.

Beer and a pizza hit the spot.

The Metro was absolutely packed. A girl perhaps half my size boarded in front of me. People were pushing me from behind, and so I had to push her. She dug in her heels and pushed back into me, but the force of several people moved her forward. As the train neared the next stop she pushed her way toward the door without saying a word. I was, of course standing directly in her way. She did not push hard enough to knock me over, but she did rip the leather case containing my sunglasses off of my belt as she wriggled past me. Fortunately someone else grabbed the case before it could be kicked onto the platform. So, I was fortunate not to lose my sunglasses in the process.

The next stop was Termini, and hundreds of people exited the train with us. Our first task there was at one of the TrenItalia ticket machines, where we successfully used a credit card to purchase tickets for Castel Gandolfo. I had read that it was a good idea to get round-trip tickets, and that is what we did.

The belt strap on the case for my glasses was a casualty of the Metro ride.

The next order of business was to get some more cash. I found a bancomat for the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the bank that sponsored my favorite (now defunct) soccer team.[4] Unfortunately it would not accept my debit card. I finally found a “cash machine.” The rate was not attractive, but I thought that I should get as much cash as I could, and it seemed propitious to do it immediately. There was no guarantee that we would be able to get any cash in Castel Gandolfo, and I had agreed to pay cash for our room in Rome.

We picked up the printed copy of our voucher for the Castel Gandolfo tickets at the hotel's reception desk. We then went up to our room, and I lay down for a nap at about 5. An hour later I was awakened by a cacophony of car horns from the street. Someone must have really done something obnoxious. Double-parking and other such venial sins are part of the quotidian driving experience in Rome.

The clerks selling train tickets have largely been replaced by rows of these easy-to-use machines.

I checked my e-mail. I had received photos from a few bridge players. I replied that I would post them when I returned in early December.

We elected to skip supper. Sue let me eat a piece of her mushroom pizza from lunch. She also had leftovers from Saturday night's supper, but, unbelievably, she had not brought any utensils with her, and there was no KFC nearby from which we could purloin a spork. She contacted the desk. The man that she talked with said that his shift was nearly over. Sue's understanding was that he would bring her a fork in a few minutes. His understanding was that his replacement would do it. Neither did. Sue went down and persuaded the new clerk to bring her a spoon from the breakfast area. We drank some of the small bottles of wine that Sue had brought.

The steep footpath named Via della Stazione is visible on the online Michelin map.

I found a website that estimated that the walk from the train station in Castel Gandolfo to the palazzo pontificio took twenty minutes. I figured that we would be going at half that pace. Even so, we should have enough time. The Michelin website showed the path that led up to the town. It had a few switchbacks.

Fashion notes: I saw a girl wearing a pair of sneakers with plastic tops that looked like brown wingtips. We also saw in windows a disturbing number of pairs of sneakers that appeared to be covered with glitter. The Italians must have a real fetish about shoes. The number of shoe stores is incredible, and nearly every store that sells clothes also sells shoes.

I really like the Hotel Selene. Having said that, I have two gripes about the bathroom: 1) The stopper in the sink did not work. That was no surprise; in my experience the stoppers in 90% of hotel rooms are seriously flawed. 2) The toilet paper was absolutely ridiculous. The dispenser gives toilet paper one sheet at a time. There is no roll, just individual sheets, like Kleenexes! This obvious flaw seemed to be unique to this hotel. I complained about it on TripAdvisor in 2011, and the owner's reply implied that some people like it better. I hereby challenge him to produce someone who actually used the toilet paper (there is also a bidet) and preferred it to using a roll.

[1]  It really was the fourth floor. Italians do not count the first floor, which is called pianoterra or pianterreno (ground floor).

[2]  The Forum was out of date. I wish that TripAdvisor would delete closed forums after a time. Obsolete information is worse than no information.

[3]  I later learned that many of the paintings were acquired by Pope Paul V as collateral payment for overdue taxes.

[4]  It is also the oldest surviving bank in the world, but it may not survive much longer. The bank failed its “stress test” in July of 2016.