Today we walked. A lot.
Lacking a specific goal, we thought it might be nice to visit Rome’s magnificent Villa Borghese, not so much for the art gallery as just a stroll in the park. It’s a long haul across town but long hauls are what we live for so off we went, starting first in Plaza Navona for coffee and croissant. For some reason our regular place was closed, and we walked back and forth in front of where it should have been before realizing it simply wasn’t there. That’s the funny thing about these piazza cafes – take away the chairs and the umbrellas and railings and it’s as though they never existed. Just an empty spot on the sidewalk, leaving you to try and figure out if they were ever there.
After securing out daily International New York Times, we took a table in the first café we passed, asking for croissants and Americanos. No croissants, “We just ran out a minute ago, how about dessert, how about a nice profiterole?”
On to the café next door and success.
Today is by far the hottest and sunniest day yet. It was surprisingly warm when we left the Vatican yesterday, but not as hot as today was, even at this earlier hour. As we made our way across town we stuck to the shady sides of the streets, even stopping and appreciating the cold generating power of the marble inside a couple of old churches.
Eventually we found our way to Piazza del Popolo and a heavy army presence. We’d heard so much about the impending protests that I think we expected to see something. Anything. But nothing more than a helicopter that had been hovering over the city for most of the morning.
As we climbed up the hill to the park the panorama of Rome opened off to our side. St’ Peter’s on the far right, the Victor Emmanuel memorial on the distant left. A pale haze obscured the vivid orange and red details of the roofs, dotted here and there with the dome on an anonymous church and the emerging green of spring time trees.
The park was formally developed starting in 1605 by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V and a patron to Bernini. The site of Borghese’s vineyards and originally the Gardens of Lucullus in the Roman era, which were among the most famous gardens in the history of landscape architecture. The park was acquired by the commune of Rome and made into a public space in 1903. The third largest today in Rome, they are home to the famous Galleria Borghese and the Rome Zoo.
We always make it a point to visit parks like this when we can, and on average this one was pretty much like all the others. Except quite crowded, this being Saturday. We rested for a bit on a shady bench and then headed back down the hill for the long walk home, choosing specifically to travel down Via Babuino through the couture district and past the Spanish Steps. On the way down I couldn’t quite believe my eyes, the street was little with those little green elm pods that we hope to miss by traveling each April. Sure enough, these trees were the same Elms that we have at home, apparently planted by the Italian farmers that came to Corrales in the late 1800’s. No doubt they were trying to have a bit of home halfway around the world and in doing so, creating an epidemic of Elm tree pods for all eternity.
The Spanish Steps were built in 1725 with funds bequeathed by a French diplomat. They link the former Bourbon Spanish Embassy and the Trinita dei Monti Church (above) with the Holy See, originally located in a palace below. Today they serve as an entrance to the Villa Borghese Gardens and as a place for tens of thousands of tourists to sit around. Much like the Trevi Fountain in the latter regard. The Steps are another one of those places that you make a point to go and see and check off whatever list you happen to be keeping.
That done, we started in the direction home down Via dei Condotti a continuation of the shopping district we’d been strolling through. This street has all the major names – Gucci, Dolce e Gabbana, Tiffany, Jimmy Choo – and plenty of odd stuff to peruse. Or in other words, all the producers of items that beg the question, “Does anyone actually wear this stuff.”
From there, back across to Plaza Navona and an encounter that left me chuckling.
The street side restaurants all put out examples of their wares, made to look freshly prepared and sitting on display in the hot sun with the intention of drawing in customers. I’ve always wondered if the food was real, because leaving real food unprotected and outside might not be the best idea in a crowded city. Well, today my question was answered – a wonderful Rock Dove grazing on a freshly baked Margherita Pizza while diners sat nearby, blissfully ignorant of their companion.