Monday, July 30, 2007


On Sunday we took a trip about an hour outside of Rome into the mountains to see the town of Subiaco, where the famous first monastery of St. Benedict is. On our way there, we passed by the volcanic lake of Nemi. Lake Nemi is famous for is blue water, beautiful scenery, but also possesses quite a bit of history. The Roman emperors Caligula and Tiberius frequented its shores quite often, and even built floating temples to various goddesses, including Diana. These ships were later found at the bottom of the lake, and excavated, but sadly were destroyed by the retreating Germans in 1944.

A little further on we came upon the maximum-security prison of Paliano, where approximately 25 high-profile Mafia characters are incarcerated.

Subiaco has a very interesting history from whence it derives its name. The area is one through which flows the Aniene River. The emperor Nero used to come to this area, and dammed the river in three places, creating three artificial lakes. It was on these three lakes that he built a magnificent villa, and other complexes. A town soon sprung up further down the mountain that was given the Latin name "sublaqueum" which means "under the lake". From this was derived the name Subiaco. Pictured below are two shots of all that remains of Nero's villa.

As we rounded a bend in the mountains we came upon the sight of Subiaco growing out of the rock of the mountain. When St. Benedict left Rome, he came to Subiaco where he lived as a hermit for three years before eventually starting his first monasteries.

Parking our car at the bottom of the hill we had a longish although breezy walk to the summit. Augustin found plenty of time to go "off-roading" and climb.

Once we reached the top, we got this view, so I took a shot of mom standing in front of the mountains.

A shot of me passing under a bridge, with the same mountains in the background. Pictured also is Pietro, who came along.

When you enter the monastery you first enter a series of chapels and vaults hewn out of the rock and richly frescoed by artists from Sienna and Umbria.

Descending the stairs in the photo above, you will come to the grotto where St. Benedict lived by himself for 3 years. There is a statue commemorating the Saint, as well as one showing the basket by which food was lowered to him every day.

This is the altar in one of the chapels, with some lovely Cosmati mosaic work.

A picture of Alex, Dad and Pietro in one of the upper chapels.

The frescoes in the chapels were amazing, showing all the famous events of St. Benedict's life. Here is one depicting the last meal he ate with his sister St. Scholastica.

We exited the chapels and came upon this courtyard which leads to the living quarters of the monks (we weren't allowed to enter). To the left is the library.

A picture of mom enjoying the breeze in the courtyard.

To be honest, I'm not exactly sure what this little chapel was, but it made for a nice picture.

We descended into the town, heading for the monastery of St. Scholastica, and paused for this picture of mom and dad on this overpass.

Our next stop was the monastery of St. Scholastica, St. Benedict's (often thought twin) sister. As you can see, it was a simple, but imposing building.

The monks there run a guesthouse, pictured below, so if you're ever in the area and need a place to stay...based on the looks I'd heartily recommend it!

There are three cloisters in the monastery of St. Scholastica, including this most recent one.

Before moving on, a shot of the Gothic belltower.
I must confess that I was a bit in error when I stated that the photo above was all that remained of Nero's villa. Not quite so. Much of the marble was taken from the ruins of his villa and used to construct THIS cloister within the monastery. All the white marble you see first was put in place during the time of Nero.
Here you can see that pieces were selected from the villa, marked, and brought to the monastery. Note the III chiseled into this column. Fascinating that it's in Roman numerals!
Unfortunately they only were able to find one of this type of column, so instead of having a mate, it marches by itself in its procession around the cloister.
In the cloister is a well, which has an interesting feature. The column I'm leaning on actually leads straight down into the kitchen. The monk that drew water from the well could just pour it down the column, and not have to carry it down into the kitchen.

In the third and last cloister we came across this well, which has an interesting story also. The columns as you can see are quite old, and were also brought from the villa of Nero.
Dad standing next to a statue of St. Benedict at the entrance to the monastery.
After we had seen the monastery we went out for some gelato.
On the way back we passed by this olive grove of trees which look quite old to me.
The olives themselves are quite young however. These little green nubs will ripen soon and be ready to pick. Look at how many of them there are!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Dinner and crazy entertainment in Trastevere

If you're ever in Rome, you've got to take the metro to Piramide, walk around the big Pyramid, cross the street, and take bus 75 to Trastevere, and spend the evening there. That's just what we did yesterday. Here's a picture of mom and dad before we all headed out into town.

Here is a picture of perhaps my favorite minor fountain in Rome, the fountain of the barrel. Its water is always cold, and I love the way it's sculpted.

We stopped at a restaurant just around the corner from the fountain called "Cave Canem". Alex and I had eaten pizza there twice before but this was the first time we'd actually had a sit-down meal there. Everything was excellent though, as you can judge looking at these appetizers. All their food is cooked in a wood-oven, even their stuffed potatoes, baked pasta dishes, breads, and pizzas. Despite the authenticity, prices are below reasonable, which makes this a restaurant we'll definitely be returning to in the future.

Here's mom with a plate of spicy penne all'arrabiata. All their pasta is made in the restaurant fresh too. They have a big plastic bin of fresh pasta, coated in flour, and before they cook it they grab a handful, put it in a colander and rinse the flour off. Then it's fresh cooked, and delivered to the table.

Augustin got a pizza. Look at that crust! Those big bubbles are what happens when a pizza is slid onto bricks that are 850 degrees. The cheese and sauce resembled molten lava they were so hot.

At night, Trastevere begins to liven up. It's one of the most popular night-life sections of town, and there are always street artists performing, vendors selling stuff, and some sort of music going. This was the first act we saw, a fellow named Cote' who did all sorts of tricks on his bicycle and unicycle.

Another shot of Cote' and look, dad's in there too!

The next act was a fellow we actually know, named Bank. Bank's from Thailand, and does a great routine of fire-dancing. He has balls on chains, whips, and bars that he lights up and spins and dances with. Here you can see some of the patterns he swings them in.

Another street performer we know is Pablo, from Venezuela. Here is a picture of me and Alex with him.

Pablo had some clubs, so he and I tinkered around a bit passing 5 and 6 clubs. We were just starting to get the hang of it as you can see from this picture, so I'm going to go meet up with him again and juggle with him some more.

That concluded our night in Trastevere. For all of you coming over, make sure you ask us to take you there!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Short time in Florence

Yesterday we went up just for the day to Florence. Florence is about 3 hours from Rome, and the scenery as you drive is really nice. We had a beautiful day for the trip, as you can see from these pictures. I'll be adding more info and pictures when we go back for a longer period of time. Until then, enjoy this sneak peak!

Here's a shot of the distinctive green and white striped Duomo of Florence.

Another shot of the bell tower and part of the facade.

Here we have the facade, and the great rose window.

And these are the doors to the baptistry, made of bronze, recently cleaned, and crafted by Ghiberti.

A close-up picture of the alternating bands of green, white, and red marble.

Next we walked down to Piazza della Signoria, the government offices of the Uffizi and Medici families.

This is a statue of Cosimo Medici in the Piazza.

We stopped for lunch at a Kebab place, which is kind of like an Italian/Turkish version of a gyro.

This is a picture of our friend Marco who lives in Florence. He met us for the day and showed us around.

We walked along the Lungarni to the Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge in Florence not destroyed by the Germans in WWII. In the foreground is the famous Arno river.

The Ponte Vecchio is famous for its shops selling every conceivable style of jewelry.

On the Ponte Vecchio, looking down the Arno.

Mmmmm, Florentine gelato!

This is a picture of Andrew standing next to this tiny three-wheeled electric car.

The bronze statue of the boar in Mercato Nuovo. It is said to bring you good luck if you rub its nose, hence the shiny gleam of its nose compared with the dull tarnish of the rest of its body.

This is the Mercato Nuovo, which sells many handmade leather items. Mom picked up a purse and wallet there. They have lovely leather bound books, journals, and other items, at considerably cheaper prices than you can find them for in Rome.

On the street they had two artists using pastels to recreate famous paintings on the road.

When mom and dad lived here 27 years ago, they used to go to this exact same bread store which is still open.

The last thing we saw at the end of the day was a policeman chasing away a bunch of street vendors. They ran away so fast they left behind their cardboard stands. We all look forward to returning to Florence and you can definitely expect a more indepth post when we do so. Until then, I hope this has whetted your appetite!