To avoid the risk of missing bus times this morning, we opted for a cab and directed the driver to our last cultural stop in Rome, the Villa Borghese Museum. I had a slight obsession with this stop, mainly because I didn’t know where to store our luggage. We just needed a closet for a few hours. After that, we’d walk the few blocks to pick up our rental car.
I couldn’t find a decent answer online whether the museum would keep our suitcases for a bit, so we simply hoped for the best and asked at the bag check counter (you had to check anything larger than a camera before walking into the museum). Sure enough, they had large cages where we placed our suitcases, and toot sweet, they locked them up for us. (Of course, afterward, all we did was point at the bags without a claim check and they unlocked the cage for us; it was the best of feel good, lax security.)
Suzanne quite enjoyed the museum, so much so that she’ll now take over as special guest blog contributor:
Unlike other museums in Italy, the Galleria Borghese really limits its visitors. And they MEAN IT! Thanks to Molly Davis for the tip to get tickets ahead of time, and since we were securing tickets, we thought we may as well sign up for the guided tour. Great decision, because then we met Felix, our guide. And unlike other places, you could really slow down and reflect and discuss the art before you instead of bring corralled like cattle in a Wildorado pen.
Side note: to this day the kids give me a hard time about my love for our guide on a family trip to Brussels, Mick from Ireland, who delighted me with his his passion for all stories Brussels. He spun a story about Manneken-Pis that will have you weeping into your Tripel beer.
Felix had similarities to Mick in that he was tiny (maybe 5’ and 90 pounds), and told stories in such a sly and impassioned manner about the art. We started with the statue The Rape of Proserpina by Bernini in 1621-1622. While masterful in execution, it’s a bit tough to appreciate the subject in the age of #metoo. As Felix commented: don’t try this at home. This commentary on an artist’s rendering combined with one-liners tossed off, had Mark and me (and for some reason only us) snickering throughout the entire two-hour visit. Oh Felix, with your canvas shoes (in boys size 5) with tiny lobsters stitched on them, you are the epitome of guiding weary, crabby tourists through the most magnificent pieces in western civilization!
Now, back to Mark:
We had a few hours after our tour before we could pick up the rental car, so we had a tasty lunch of a volcanic calzone and salad and then strolled through the Borghese gardens, eating gelato, and never - not once, no way - nodded off on a bench as we sat there in exhausted silence.
The rental car we initially booked ended up looking exactly like the picture on the internet. I mean, it was exactly the same size: a tiny thing that could easily fit on my laptop’s screen. I think it was called the Fiat Molecule. The rental agent stared at the car parked on the street, looked at our two suitcases, looked back at the car, and then looked at our suitcases again.
“You no have room,” she said dismissively - and correctly. So I agreed to upgrade, crossing my fingers for something a little zippier such as, oh, a Ferrari.
We ended up with a Fiat Punto. Wikipedia calls this a supermini car. Super!
The thing about driving in Rome is this: don’t do it. I get to say this because I did it. It’s absolute chaos. It makes “Mad Max” look like a high school driver’s ed training video.
Here’s the secret: just go and hope the manslaughter charges won’t stick. Closing your eyes helps navigate the traffic.
At one point, I was on a roll after dodging pedestrians, cars, trucks, those tiny one-seater delivery carts that makes the driver appear to have a massive head, motorcycles, and scooters. The scooters! That’s the true sound of Rome. Scooters revving and attacking from every direction, like a swarm of angry, helmeted mosquitoes.
I successfully navigated a roundabout (after roundabouting that circle a few times), saw the street I wanted, and cut through traffic, and burst right in, dodging the front of an oncoming bus by a few feet. The driver actually honked at me! (Yes, I deserved it, of course, because of my drunken Kung Fu master pinball driving, but honking just doesn’t happen in Rome. It unlike New York where laying on the horn is just another function of a driver’s autonomic nervous system. In Rome you have to work for it. You need to earn that honk.)
With Suzanne’s deft navigating and my incomparable ability of stalling out in the exact center of significant intersections (the clutch suffered greatly under the smashing of my clownish left foot), we finally made it out of the city and onto the highway. We stopped a bit afterward at an Autogrill, which is a food area off the highway, so Suzanne could drive and experience the .003 horsepower Punta engine and I could finally stop my uncontrollable shaking.
Tonight we began a two-night stay in Siena and after we checked into our comfy and beautiful villa outside town, we drove into Siena proper to explore and have dinner.
We sat at a cafe overlooking the Piazza del Campo, the main square in Siena. In the middle of our meal, we heard the rat-a-tat of a snare drum coming from a narrow street to our left. It became louder and louder, the drummer finally entering the square with a parade of singing people following him.
This was part of the Palio de Siena or a celebration of a horse race that happens in Siena twice a year. The people behind the drummer kept singing, sometimes only the men, sometimes the women. As much as I would like to take credit for picking the right dinner cafe at the right time, really, like most amazing things, we had simply stumbled upon it. So we tried to act like non-tourists and be cool about it, nonchalant, very modern and European. It’s a shame the video I was taking gave me away.
We walked through the town after dinner, climbing the narrow streets and ending at the main church where a little girl was twirling around and a newlywed couple were posing for the wedding pictures. Nearby, a few aloof Siena townspeople, wine in hand and legs crossed, shrugged.
Next: Let’s get medieval on this village.