Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Living within ancient walls : Borromini Monastery in Trastevere


Designed by Baroque architect Borromini, the Donna Camilla Savelli is a former monastery in Rome's popular Trastevere area. It offers a garden, elegant and sober rooms, and free Wi-Fi in the lobby.


This is the website description of  a 4 star hotel located at the foot of  the Janiculum hill in Rome’s Trastevere area . 

For many lucky American students studying in Rome during the 1980s   it was  home  during their semester  study  abroad program.  
Borromini designed the facade of the monastery 
The female students were “cloistered” on the first floor while the men were relegated to the second floor corridor. There were communal bathrooms back then and the  ancient heating system was seldom  lukewarm. To survive the chill, the students bundled up with thick sweaters or  sat in the sunshine of the courtyard garden where roses bloomed  even in December.

The  atmosphere at the convent was often similar to  a Fellini film set : Gina, the  grumpy portinaia,  elderly nuns gliding  silently along white and black marble hallways,  meals served in the frescoed  refectory, cavernous kitchens hung with bright copper pots  and  sitting rooms furnished  with antiques including  Pope Pius IX’s  armchair.
copper pots in the  convent kitchen 

marble fountain
near the refectory 

The sisters of the religious order were grateful for the money which arrived from America and used it to  repair  parts of the roof. 

the convent today - an expensive  4 star hotel
Here are some  of the original  letters with the price list  for bed and breakfast....a far cry from what today's clients pay to stay in the luxurious modern rooms of the former monastery. 

   
How times have changed!  Notice that IVA tax  was only 9 or 10%. 

What could you buy for the equivalent of   26 or 28,000 lire today? (approximately  14-16 euro) 


 



The convent  was founded  by Donna Camilla  Savelli (related to the Ruspoli-Marescotti family)  and  has had an interesting history culminating in its new use as a luxury hotel. 


During World War II many  Roman Jewish families found refuge here and the sisters distributed  bread  and food to the local population from the monastery kitchens.   

Please  leave a comment about your living experiences in Rome  as a student . 
What  were your  accomodations like ? 

Check out  the antiques gallery  on my website.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Secrets of Sorrento: the beach, the lift, shopping and cool spots


Arriving to Sorrento on Azamara Quest
 Sorrento  is usually the first stop on cruises beginning at Rome's port of Civitavecchia and while first time visitors  are whisked off  to  Pompeii, Capri and the Amalfi Coast, those who already know the area can enjoy a leisurely  visit  in town or  a swim  and lazy lunch at one of the many beach places along the waterfront. 
Azamara's tender  to Sorrento 
These  latter  options are much  appreciated during the humid days of August. 

This year we discovered an alternative to the uncomfortable  bus ride up from the port: a short walk along  the  beachfront leads  to the  entrance of a modern elevator/lift carved out of  Sorrento’s  cliff.

picking basil 
beach cabins, loungers and umbrellas  rented for the day
the beach at  Sorrento 


the free beach at noon 

As we made our way to the lift the beach concessions/stabilimenti were just opening for the day: the day’s menu (fish, salad, tomatos) was  being trundled in for the trattoria kitchens and teenagers were  staking out places on the free beach with their towels.

lower entrance to lift 
entrance to lift


waiting for the lift

Passing the turnstile (entrance 1,20 euro) we were whisked up through the hillside to the Sorrento plateau and  exited at  the  cliff top gardens (Giardino Comunale) close to  San Francesco church and cloister, a favorite venue for English couples  who marry in Italy.

in the cloister with the couple from Casablanca who  followed us 

The shopkeepers we spoke with complained that  business this summer is not as good as it was 2 years ago: they had fewer  clients with less spending power. 

modern art exhibit  in a Baroque church 
 

tired shoppers  with  Azamara Quest  in background

some hardy souls walking down the cliff 


The mid-summer sales were enticing but the heat and humidity made  shopping a hard task, and our priority was to seek refuge from the blazing sun.

Antica Sartoria: wonderful selection, good prices
Besides the  many air conditioned shops along Corso Italia and Via San Cesareo, Sorrento  is full of cool, airy palazzi and churches offering  benches for resting and art in many forms including presepe scenes the area is famous for. 

a cool hall in Sorrento's Comune  
Duomo's  holy water font & John Paul II's coat of arms  
in the Duomo, Sorrento 
benches in Duomo
  
Other  tips for cruising the Mediterranean can be found here  and    here : or use the Search bar to find more information on the blog.

 Don't forget  to check out the hundreds of articles about travel in Italy on my website  and click here to see more about  the ship we sailed on.  

Please leave a comment  if you  learned  something from  this  story, and feel free to share with friends on Twitter, Facebook or email.  Just use the icons  at the bottom of the page. 


Christmas Presepe scene, Duomo



(P.S. It is such a pleasure to read genuine  comments, for lately  there has been so much  spamming. )

Saturday, August 9, 2014

On Vacation in Italy


Everyone knows that  Italian beaches  are very popular, in fact the most read article   on my blog  is  about them.

But not all Italians spend their vacations  browning on  the beach  and not all of Italy closes down in August. Most of the people you will find walking around in Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan in these days are  probably  tourists, for residents try to escape the heat by getting out of the city. For this reason  the small towns  fill up. Here the homes stay cool  for thanks to the metre-thick stone walls we have natural  air conditioning ! 

Here are just a few of the alternative vacations you can enjoy in Italy, without going to the beach.
  
 


Music-the Tuscia Opera Festival and Baroque music festival are very popular in Viterbo. 
House concerts  take place in Vetralla, thanks to Opera Extravaganza. 
Here is  20 year old  Russian violinist Sarkis  who spent some of his summer taking a Master Class in Cremona, the violin capital of the world. 

enjoying the concert 
Art – many artists from all over the world  come to Etruria and there are summer programs in Viterbo and Civita Castellana that draw  painters from around the world  to  enjoy the magical light  found only in Italy. 

You might want to join  a group of artists like this summer painting group next year .

  Catalin, a Moldavian painter who works in Munich, came  back to Italy for a short  holiday.
prize winning painting at the Accademia di Belle Arti 

Sagre and Festivals  - most local towns celebrate local  food  with communal dinners eaten in the main piazzas and film festivals brightened up the nights in  Montefiascone  and  Viterbo.

 Theme Parks –kids love the  amusement parks that dot Italy: the best are  Mirabilandia and Italia in Miniatura, both in Romagna, near Rimini
Italia in Miniatura 

photos from the Mirabilandia website 

Massimo enjoyed the scary rides and shows like this one  at Mirabilandia 

Travel- many families take  the kids to see another part of Italy,  or maybe a different country, like San Marino.
Bianca and Mauro visited the castle in Senigallia with their parents


Relax with family and friends- long days and warm nights are perfect for getting together, catching up  with old friends, and making some new ones. 
checking out the olive grove 

making new friends  is easy in summer  

For ways to stay cool in summer in Italy....just use the search box at the top and type in  "cool places ".

How are you spending  your mid summer  vacation ? Leave a comment in the  box below and share  with friends using the Facebook and Twitter icons.

Whatever  you are doing, have a wonderful  mid-summer holiday ! 


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Living in a Renaissance Palazzo in Italy: Viterbo



Palazzo Chigi's tower
In central Italy  it is not  so unusual to live  surrounded by affreschi  of Renaissance masters.  The other day we were invited to visit  Serena Filoscia and her uncle Luciano who live in one of Viterbo’s most imposing buildings: Palazzo Chigi.
stairway to piano nobile

 Located in the very center of Viterbo, adjacent to City Hall
 (Palazzo dei Priori), over the ages the austere building has been home to numerous  powerful local families:  Caetani, Chigi , Montoro, Patrizi and  Crescenti.

For the past  few generations   the Egidi family  have called  it home and have done major  restorations, including that of the palazzo’s  tiny  private chapel.

loggia of Palazzo Chigi 

“The roof is so huge that it seems we are always repairing  it”, confided Serena as she greeted us at the front entrance doorway.   She and various other family members   live in apartments located  on the  main floor,  il piano nobile, where the ceilings  rise up  to an enormous height.  

Entering the  portone one catches a glimpse of  a beautiful fresco  by  Antonio del Massaro   (known as Pastura)  hidden behind a car and a dusty  Vespa.
Madonna attributed to Pastura 

 On the upper levels  frescoes greet  visitors at every turn: at the  top of the steep staircase, on the  loggia and throughout the reception rooms.

The windows  of the main salone  face an  imposing stone fireplace and give sunlight to the   numerous plants.  To one side, an  early piano-like instrument  ( un clavicembalo)   awaits  restoration.  

Renaissance  fireplace 
Uncle Luciano leads us into a smaller living room with  silk covered walls and family portraits. In one corner a 1980s  music center  and a piano  show that this was the room the family used for parties. 


A curtain is pulled up with a cord to reveal another room, the family chapel. Luciano shows us the chest of drawers in a niche that serves as sacristry.


 It must have been constructed on site, since it is  too large to have gone through the doorway.




sacristry of the  chapel 






The frescoes of Palazzo Chigi  have been the object of a university  thesis  and I understand why when we are shown a further, smaller  room completely  covered  with frescoes of gods, landscapes and hunting scenes  by Antonio Tempesta. 



At eye level there is a  parrot which gave  the room its name, Stanza del Pappagallo.


How does  this  Renaissance scenario and lifestyle  fit  in with today’s  world ?

 Just a short  walk from the historic  palazzo,  in Piazza S. Maria Nuova, you can visit the shop  GustoSi Senza Glutine where   Serena’s companion  has just opened  the area’s first laboratory  preparing  gluten free bread, pasta, pizza and sweets.  It is located  across  from the  outdoor  pulpit where St. Thomas Aquinas used to preach to the crowds in  the open air, many centuries ago. 

You will find many more stories of life in the Tuscia/Etruria  area in  my books which can be ordered directly from the website. 
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