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Ventana - An Enchanting Resort in BIg Sur

Summary: I love Ventana. I highly recommend visiting  and exploring the landscape at Lime Kiln and Andrew Molera State Park which I've blogged about here. Please note this is #notsponsored . Yes, that means we paid our own bill! Lots of details in the following review. including a Post Ranch vs Ventana comparison.  Can you tell there's something exciting beyond this beautiful gate? There's something special about Big Sur, a magic in the light, the presence of the Pacific, the cliffs, beaches, redwood forests and the murmur of the surf. It's one of my favorite places in California. I couldn't think of anywhere else I wanted to be to celebrate turning fifty, because it's a place where there's a sense of nature, space and light and a wide horizon. We've been to Big Sur many times and for a celebration there are two fantastic hotels vying for your attention. The exclusive, modern and very private, cliff top Post Ranch Inn and on the other side of the road the …

Three Beautifull Weeks in Rome

This Trip Report was originally written for the Fodor's Travel Forum.

We've rented out our house for another three months and have hit the road. We're currently in Rome for three weeks, but this is part of a far longer trip that is taking us on, you guessed it, "A Mad Dash Across Too Much". In January we'll be heading to Sri Lanka, Burma and other point east. Anyway, to the matter at hand, Roma. In case you saw our trip to Paris earlier in the year you'll know the format, this will be an ongoing trip report with some details and links to my blog where I post pictures of walks, restaurants and museums, along with some opinion/discussion. 


I love Rome, it has long been my favorite capital in Europe but after our four month stay in Paris my hierarchy is under reconsideration. So I have three weeks to catch up on loving La Dolce Vita! I really appreciated the recent thread on sites in Rome that are slightly off the beaten track and I've already followed some of your helpful advice.


We've been to Rome many times over the last fifteen plus years but have never stayed for more than five days. This time our goal is to orient ourselves in the center and to see some areas a little further out. Essentially we want to develop a better sense of the city and what it has to offer beyond what we've enjoyed before. We've rented a flat in Parione not far from both the Campo die Fiori and the Pantheon. We're close to the Torre Argentina which is great as we want to use the buses and perhaps the tram too. I love waiting for the bus right next to Roman Ruins, it never gets old. 

The flat worked out because it was in between rentals, however if we were staying longer I would probably have opted for somewhere like Monti or Testaccio. However we're happily ensconced here and thrilled to be staying only a few doors from Roscioli (the bakery) which I'm loving. In their deli around the corner they have fabulous wines, burrata, cheeses and cured meats too.

A couple of recommendations just off the bat. I'm finding Elizabeth Minchilli's Eating Rome App to be excellent and I highly recommend it. I also downloaded Katie Parla's App, the content is great but I find it harder to use, the interface isn't very user friendly to me which is a pity. 

The bus and metro are 1:50 euro, you can buy the ticket at any tabacchi, don't forget to validate your ticket when you get on. It's valid for 100 minutes on any public transportation within the city but remember this includes only one metro ride.

I was a bit busy before we came so I didn't spend as much time planning as I normally do, however once we got here I made a reservation for the Palazzo Farnese tour which is offered in English once a week, currently on a Wednesday at 5pm. It was booked about ten days in advance and I believe in a busier time of year you'll need to make your reservations further ahead of time. The building houses the French Embassy and I've long wanted to see it, so I'll let you know what the tour is like. 
Here are the details for booking if anyone is interested.

I'm a great fan of walking everywhere and I brought along four walking tour books which we've already taken out and used. Because we've been to Rome before we're less interested in reprising the Forum, Vatican or the Colosseum so walking tour books are a great way to find an itinerary that contains something new and something we may have seen before. Usually we don't remember we've seen it until we get there!

On our first day we took a walking tour of various Palazzi which took us in a meandering path over and back Via Corso. There were lists of churches and palaces and you can see pictures of them on my blog which incidentally is completely non-commercial. I particularly liked the Chamber of Commerce Building which was previously Hadrian's Temple. As usual we made the newbies mistake of departing just when all the churches close in the afternoon, why do we do this every time?!! Then we were distracted by food which is another repetitive move!

My Thoughts on the Four Walking Guides


If you like a lots of history and following a narrative ( no maps or diagrams) you'll like  the out of print Rome Walks by Anya Shetterly. Maybe it sounds odd to recommend a book that hasn''t been published in twenty years but the historic sites haven't changed. There are only five walks in a 300 page book so you get an idea of the detail. For me this is a great book when you are walking on your own because you have the time to read all the detail. I used this for a awl around the Campo die Fiori and for a walk around the ghetto. 

National Geographic's Walking Rome is really like a guide book and walking tour book rolled into one for example it has lots of general information an details/maps on public transport. Its written by Katie Parla who also has a food blog so there are good recommendations on where to stop and eat or have a cafe and it's up to date. There's something for everyone and lots of photos. It covers a lot, there are a lot of great places listedt but it's both a strength and weakness, For me its a good visual guide to help you work out what you might want to see, perhaps before you go. 

Frommer's 24 Great Walks in Rome was useful. Its very thematic and included a walk through EUR which was interesting to us. Its more a walking book than a more general guide. 

Rome Walks by Fort and Piercey is something different again. A very slim volume that's easy to carry it has three d maps and great illustrations. We did a tour of the Palazzi which I liked and theres a little more detail, particularly about the architecture but nothing like the narration of the first option.

We took the recommendation  to go out to see EUR (below) which Mussolini built between 1938 -1942 in anticipation of the 1942 World's Fair which didn't take place because of the intervening war. It really is an extraordinary place and an absolute must for any architecture fans. We were stunned by the buildings which have stood the test of time, they are neoclassical but also deeply modern. Ultimately it was utilized for the 1960 Olympic and is used as an out of town business park though the city has now grown out to meet it. I took us back to our trip to Brasilia which has the same modern planned community feel about it, albeit without the Fascist overtones. Here's a link to my  blog post on EUR.I took a lot of photos so it may take me a while to put the walk up on the blog but I'll add a link here when I do.

I may be heading back out to EUR as there's an interesting Ethnographic Museum out there too. Incidentally iIt was easy to get to on the number 30 express bus from Largo Argentina around the corner from our flat. It takes you out via Testaccio. We took the Metro back which was easy and fast.

If you're interested in our full itinerary or how to build a crazy route round Asia on frequent flyer miles I have a post, "The Anatomy of A Mad Dash" on my blog

This link should take you to all the Rome content when it's posted!

It was another gloriously sunny winter day here in Rome and I headed over to the Galleria Spada in the Palazzo Spada just off the Campo die Fiori. It was market day so I took a look around the market because it was hopping on a Saturday. 

The Palazzo Spada is one of my favorite building in this area (just off the Piazza Farnese) and is wonderfully decorative. The small gallery has only a few room but it give one a sense of the sumptuous decoration of the period. In addition you can see Borromini's faux colonnade which was built to make the gardens look larger than they are. It fools the eye with a sloping floor and ceiling. It's a good place to visit if you have plenty of time and are in the area, I enjoyed my visit but it isn't something you'd want to go far out of your way for.

After a glass of wine at the congenial wine bar L'Angolo Divino (off the Campo die Fiori) we walked across town to the Palazzo Barberini to visit the Capuchin Crypt. It's a fascinating sight a series of small chapels decorated entirely with human bones. The decoration is Baroque in style but the overall feeling is of course gothic horror. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Marquis de Sade are the two people quoted on the wall as you come in. There's also a small museum on the history of the Capuchin order. It's an extraordinary site and quite moving/disturbing in its own way. Don't come here if you've been through a recent bereavement.

We dropped by the Bernini Bristol hotel, which is located very near by, hoping to have a drink at the lovely roof bar which has a great view but it was closed for a wedding party. We wandered back in a circuitous route stopping in a churches along the way which is half the charm of being here.

That's all for today, we intended to go out this evening but had walked ourselves out so we scavenged through goodies from the deli at Roscioli which was no hardship!

TOURS AND FOOD IN TESTACCIO AND THE GHETTO

Last week we took a food tour of Testaccio with Eating Italy and I've finally managed to put a whole report up on the blog. If you want to see the details along with pictures and discussion of several other tours here is the direct link.

We very much enjoyed the tour which takes you through Testaccion to the market, Volpetti, the Protestant cemetery and to various other restaurant and food venders. It was a mountain of food and I learnt a lot. There are so many things you pass when you don't speak the language and it was a great opportunity to ask lots of questions, for example what was it they were preparing in the market? It turned out to be Puntarelle a bitter salad green eaten at this time of the year. It's delicious with an anchovy vinaigrette and we've ordered it several times in the week since we went on the tour.


Yesterday we went back to Testaccio and ate suppli (fried rice balls larger but similar to arancini) at Pizza 00100, then we had pizza at De Remo which was very good and gelato at the small Gilotti Cafe with cream - fabulous!

As you can tell we've been eating like kings, today we did a walking tour of the Ghetto which was fascinating. If you haven't been I highly recommend visiting the museum and synagogue which is fascinating (we did it on another trip). The museum also offers an English language walking tour. Of course we were immediately sidetracked by food and dropped into Sora Margherita where we had incredible grid artichokes, polpette and the fresh pasta they are famous for though I found the Cacio e Pepe con Ricotta too rich. This is a bare bones place filled with locals and foodie tourists. It's packed to the gills. We'd read that you have to wait but there was one table at 2:15pm, again the advantage of traveling in December. The service is brusque but friendly and I'd recommend it if you can walk in, I wouldn't wait in line because I hate to wait in line anywhere.I find waiting tends to breed anticipation and disappointment, though sometimes hunger trumps disappointment!

It was interesting to learn about the Ghetto and the history of the Jewish community in Rome, which helps you learn a lot about the geography of the city and the transformation of the areas around the Tiber and the swamp areas were drained. There's also a fair but of Roman history in this area.

After the walk there was of course more food! My husband is a biscuit fiend (in fact he comes from and entire lineage of biscuit lovers) and we stopped to refuel at the end of our walk at Mondi di Laura right on the main drag and stopped for a cup of tea nearby watching all the children leaving school along with the heavy security you see in the area following a deadly bombing in 1982 . 

On the walk home we stopped at Bepe e i suoi Formaaggi for supplies. This is a lovely cheese shop and we sampled and then bought some lovely cheeses and a fabulous bottle of wine. The French woman we helped us was charming and they gave us a lovely glass of mulled wine which was very seasonal, I'm looking forward to going back.

We are just back from a visit to the Palazzo Farnese, also known as the French Embassy! It ia a magnificent building and they now have three tours a week including one on Wed at 5pm in English. You need to make reservations in advance but the cost is very reasonable at 5 euro and it's a fascinating opportunity to see the building. The decorations are extraordinary and I was pleased to see the small garden too. It's a quick tour as you're seeing only the public rooms and the main staircase, but it's very much worth it if you're keen on architecture and have seen much of the other things on offer in a Rome.

Tickets are book able thro a third party
http://www.inventerrome.com/index.php/en/visiting-the-palazzo-farnese

We're hoping to make it to the country house the Villa Farnesina across the river, to see both Farnese homes before we leave.

We've had a couple of very busy days and I'll need to catch up on my blog, first Ostia Antica which we loved- why has it taken us so long to make it here? Then today we went out to San Lorenzo which is an up and coming area north of Termini near Sapieza University. This is an area that's both grimy and somewhat trendy. 
We went there to check the neighborhood out, see some street art and visit a renovated chocolate factory called S.A.I.D. Which was fabulous, anyway more about that later when I get around to the blog. we also ended up checking out the large cemetery nearby which was fascinating and leapt on a tram with little idea where it was going. We re loving the fact that a bus ticket gives you 100 minutes to cruise around. Finally we're liberating ourselves from the historic center.
When we should have just gone home to collapse instead we headed to the Palazzo Altemps near Piazza Navona. Part of the National Museums this is a lovely sculpture collection in a stunning palazzo. I enjoyed both the art and the interiors. Once again we found the museum was almost empty which we have found everywhere in Rome. It seems most people spend only a few days here and with the exception of the Vatican Museum most other museums seem underutilized, but maybe it's the time of year.

I've just posted something new on the blog, a walk around Montiwhich is a very nice district on the other side of the Colosseum. We also ate at the very enjoyable Trattoria Montiwhere we had a splendid lunch. Lots of pictures and more details here.

We've been busy here in Rome revisiting some favorites and seeing some new things too. We had a great visit to the main museum the Palazzo Massimo Terme. I just love the top floor here which has incredible Roman frescoes and mosaics. This is a must for me when visiting Rome. The reconstructed dining room from Livia's palace is probably my favorite museum room in the world. It's just so extraordinary to sit in a room that is still in such incredible shape and to appreciate the same aesthetic over 2000 years. The naturalistic images of birds, flower and trees would look great in any of our dining rooms today. Once again the museum was empty which we've found all across town. I waited a short while and had the room all to myself. In a way it reminded me of the Monets at the L'Oragerie in Paris where the art surrounds you on all sides.

We went across the street (across from termini) to the Diocletian Baths and cloister by Michelangelo. It was interesting to see but wouldn't be on my must see list. 

Among a large number of churches we've visited we returned to Santa Prassede (in Monti) which is just incredible. It's a jewel of a place with wonderful mosaics and it takes my breath every time. I love these small churches which have an intimacy about them. On this visit we went to a couple of the very large churches here in Rome including St. John Lateran and St Paul's outside the walls. I was happy to see them but I probably won't return to either. I find these very large pilgrimage churches far less moving in the haughty grandeur.

I have a lot of posts to catch up on for my blog but here's a new one on Italian pastries!


Today I hit several house museums which I will be blogging about, heads up I highly recommend the Mario Praz Museum if you are a design, interiors or neoclassical fan. The Chiroco Foundations house museum is also fascinating for art lovers and a wonderful way to see an apartment at the Spanish Steps. I found either of these far more interesting than the Keats-Shelley House which was of limited interest as there is very little to see. Though I would recommend going out to the Protestant cemetery to see Keats and Shelley's graves which are very atmospheric.

I've posted another walk on my blog so if you fancy a stroll around the Campo die Fiori click here... Is anyone still following along?

At the Chiricco you will need to make a reservation, it's easy to do online, they offer three tours a day and you pay when you arrive. We made the reservation the day before and ended up with a private tour which was fantastic. The Mario Praz has tours on the hour during the morning and once an hour on the half hour in the afternoon. I arrived a few minutes past 3:30 ( I had no clue when they did tours). I wasn't keen to wait for an hour and was worried I may have missed the last tour so I called the number on the sign. Anyway, the chap was so kind and hadn't started the tour so came down to collect me, rather like a package. They are very keen to have more visitors. I have posted a longer review of the Mario Praz with pictures here.

We intended to make it to the Baracco but ran out of time, there were also several museums of interest in EUR that we'll go to next time. But this time the weather was so good we did fewer museums and more walking. There were also some good exhibitions on including one on Augustus and another on Modigliani, but we didn't make any of them.

I did make it to the Palazzo Colonna which is very much worth visiting though criminally expensive at 25 euro for the main rooms plus the downstairs apartments. They are amazing interiors, very lavish with room after room of pictures, frescoes etc. it's only open on a Saturday morning till 1pm with an English tour at noon, which I enjoyed. Clearly they open for as short a time as they can to get the tax break and enough funds to keep the pile going. 

Overall we found the museums very quiet in Rome, perhaps the weather or Christmas shopping people outside but it isnt a museum city like Paris.

Next time we'll focus on some of the modern art galleries and perhaps places like the Montemartini which we missed again.

in case you are interested or would like a pictorial guide here are some links.

We loved Ostia which is just a fabulous, easy and cheap day out from Rome. In December it's also empty which was great though some of the murals were covered, presumably to protect them from the rain- though we saw little rain in the three weeks in Rome! This was one of our favorites days out, for details see this post.

There was too much to cover so I wrote a separate post on the synagogue at Ostia which we enjoyed visiting.


We really wanted to walk through lots of different neighborhoods and we really enjoyed going on our own food tour of Prati, we went to artisanal pizza, an historic coffee house and several amazing shops. You can find all the details, addresses and photos here


I mentioned above how much we loved the tour of the Villa Farnese, unfortunately they do not let you take photos so I've written a blog post combining our visits to the Villa Farnese and the Villa Farnesina across the river where I took lots of snaps.


Anyway, just to let you know I've added a couple more posts, the most recent on the Villa Giulia, the Etruscan Museum. It is a fascinating place and we were mesmerized, I can't believe we'd never made it here before. In terms of visitors it was empty but full of so many gems, it will take many visits to get to know the collection because there is just so much stuff, highly recommended for those of you who want more the Romans and the Renaissance.

You'll also find a post on the Via Appia. We saw a shepard driving his sheep down the road which was like walking back in time but overall it was a hassle to get out there and crowded with tourists until you walk further out, I can't imagine how packed it is in better weather, so far I'm not really a fan. Also the scavi tour at the Vatican has ruined me for the catacombs which wet far less interesting.You can read my full take on it, plus photos here...
Hope you enjoy the links and that they're helpful to anyone planning a trip, or at least fun to look at for any armchair travelers. 

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