Rome: Churches, and a circumnavigation of Vatican City

photo: because every bridge should look like this

four people with a kids stroller pass beneath an enormous sculpture on a bridge

I had breakfast at "Spaghetti," the place I had that great Carbonara for dinner a couple nights ago. I'd noticed they did breakfasts for foreigners (looks like they were targeting Americans and Germans specifically), and I was getting tired of the breakfast at my B&B. The omelette wasn't quite North American standard, but if anything it benefited from the addition of a touch of Italian herbs. And for the first time in over a week I had something that tasted like brewed coffee (everything in Rome comes out of an espresso machine and is made with espresso beans, and I've always preferred brewed). The toast came dry with olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the side, so they haven't quite got that down yet. It was a nice change.

I had a chat with the manager at the B&B - I was curious what gave me away as a tourist (on the rare occasions I don't have my camera out I'm usually addressed in English anyway). I thought it was the baseball hat, usually found only on Americans (and Canadians). ("Wait, what?" A couple of you are wondering about my new head gear. I don't like baseball hats, but in Korea I discovered my hair is thinning when I burned the top of my head badly on a long sunny day - and baseball hats are cheap and easy.) While few Romans wear them, "young people wear these." But apparently the messenger bag is a give-away, not done here. "And you don't look Italian." I find that hilarious: it may well be true, but the opposite is also true: Italians look Canadian. Toronto was practically founded by Italians ...

I went to Biblioteca Vallicelliana, another one of the old libraries I've been working my way through. Sadly, while the library itself was open (and is old and pretty), the reading room, which is the show piece, is closed Monday.

Then I went to Campo dei Fiori, one of the many squares in Rome, but this one hosts a vegetable market every morning until about 1400. Given its central location, people trying to sell specifically to tourists seem to have taken over about half the market. But there are still a number of vegetable stalls, a couple cheese places, and one or two cured meat places: as with the market building near the B&B, this is always something I enjoy seeing.

photo: Campo dei Fiori market

A basket full of small and pointy vivid red peppers

My next stop was Basilica Sant'Andrea Della Valle, a Baroque church with a really spectacular ceiling. Not tromp l'oeil, but gold-bedecked, detailed, and covered in epic paintings. Many photos were taken. Then just a short distance down the road to Chiesa del Gesù, my favourite overflowing ceiling in the entire city. I stayed there taking photographs until we were kicked out at 1230(?) (too bad I didn't think about why that was ...).

I seem to have lost some time between then and ending up at Chiesa di San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (or perhaps I got kicked out of Gesù later than I thought): I had failed to check if they were open, and like most churches in the city, they were closed from 1200 to 1500 - and I was there at 1400. This was near Barberini station, but it's one of the stations that's closed. So I loitered in Palazzo Barberini's courtyard for twenty minutes (like most museums, they're closed on Mondays - not a good day to have no plan), got cold (it was about 15C, great for walking but not so good for sitting), walked to Termini, and headed back to the B&B. One good thing did come of this misadventure: I relocated my favourite door-knocker in the entire world.

Happily I didn't make it back to the B&B: I stopped at Be.Re. for a trapezzino (I had eggplant-parmesan this time) and some very rich stout. And then, for lack of anything better to do, I walked around the wall of Vatican City. I wouldn't recommend this: it was educational, but not particularly pleasing. For most of the distance you have an eight metre brick wall on one side of you and a busy road on the other side. However, had I stopped to think about it, I would have remembered that almost every church everywhere is built on a hill and St. Peters was certainly not going to be the exception. The small apartment buildings that are on the other side of the road are, shall we say, well-to-do. They have security walls with powered gates facing the road, and on the other side of the buildings you can occasionally catch glimpses of the large (sometimes very large) balconies hanging over a very fine view of Rome. Prati is a well-off neighbourhood: this would appear to be where the most well-off live. As I was getting back closer to St. Peter's Square, the wall got down to about four metres - that's where I would suggest planning an attack. That eight metre wall may not have been meant for military use, but it would be incredibly easy to defend - in fact, it even has the star points and firing lines of a medieval fortress as you go around (take a look at Google Maps). What exactly does this say about the Roman Catholic church? At the centre of this enclave we have the open hands of St. Peter's Square, come to us by the anointed channel my children ... but thou shalt not approach us by any other path, that is forbidden.

I realize that Castel Sant'Angelo a few blocks away by the river was built to protect the Pope if the city was sacked: but it all only emphasizes the fact that the church doesn't share the fate of the people.

On the way to La Pratolina for dinner I encountered what's probably the best mid- to high-end liquor store I've ever seen. I admit that the impression is aided by the appearance of the store, which looks more like an old apothecary with the bottles packed into high boxed wooden shelves. But I like to think I know a bit about alcohol, and their selection was excellent. I was amused to find when I emerged that their name is "Del Frate" - the store is attached to the wine bar I didn't go to last night because it was the only night of the week it was closed. If their knowledge of wine is as good as it is for hard liquor, that's the place to be ...

La Pratolina has a lovely touch, a tiny prosecco to start the meal. The pizza crust is thicker, more Toronto-like than the usually thin Roman crust. The pizza is a rounded rectangle with a matching shaped plate. I had the Delizio: mozzarella, tomato, wild fennel (green puree blobs, salty, tasty, but doesn't taste like cultivated fennel at all?), and sausage. While it was a good pizza, it wasn't significantly better than I can get in Toronto, so that's off the list for a repeat performance.

photo: Nuns are tourists too (St. Peter's Square)

two nuns checking a cellphone as they stand before the columns of St. Peter's Square