Tag Archives: Rome

More Rome

18 Feb

My last two days in Rome brought some incredible experiences. I spent Tuesday with Roman locals, the parents of a friend from Austin. Giovanna picked me up Tuesday morning and we did a whirlwind tour around Rome. We began the day at The Church of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill in Rome, the oldest surviving Roman basilica.



It is famous for its cypress doors, which may date to the early 5th century when the church was built, and are said to contain the first depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus.


From there we drove to the Villa del Priorato di Malta, home to the Grand Priory in Rome of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which remains a sovereign entity. IMG_1528

The Villa may be best known for a keyhole in the door


through which you can clearly see Saint Peter’s Basilica, far across the city. The first photo is from my phone; the second shows exactly what you see through the keyhole.



wiki photo

From there, we saw part of the original Roman Wall called the Servian Wall, sections of which are still visible in various locations around Rome. The Servian Wall was a defensive barrier constructed around the city of Rome  in the early 4th century BC.


Next on to lunch at my “guide’s” home. What a thrill it is for me to be invited into the home of local Romans and share in their passion for all things Italian. I was introduced to Giovanna’s husband and together we shared wonderful conversation and the most delicious lunch, beginning with Champaign in the drawing-room.


From there, we moved to the dining room and were treated to Spaghetti con vongole



Sicilian artichokes and a rolled meat and cheese dish (sorry I don’t know the name!)


IMG_1542A beautiful vegetable terrine


Fennel saladIMG_1544

and homemade apple torta!



We conversed easily in both Italian and English and spent a great deal of time talking about places and treasures to visit in Italy.

After lunch, more of my tour. First up was a ride along Appia Antica, or as you may know it, the Appian Way. IMG_1550


From there we drove to the Pyramid of Cestius, built around 18BC-12BC as a tomb for magistrate Gaius Cestius. At the time it was built, it lay in the open countryside as tombs were not permitted within the city walls.

IMG_1557The pyramid was incorporated into the Aurelian Walls, close to Porta San Paolo.


Up next, La Bocca della Verità, aka The Mouth of Truth. This ancient Roman marble disc displays a carving of a man-like face and is thought to have been part of a first century fountain or even a manhole cover. Legend has it that if you tell a lie, and put your hand in the mouth, it will be bitten off. So be warned! During the 17th century, it was placed in the portico of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, the church which is home to relics of St. Valentine.


And finally, on to ancient temples before heading home.IMG_1563


What an amazing day I had, with my ever hospitable and knowledgeable private tour guide and now new friend.

And to think we did all that in this:


Giovanna, grazie per una giornata meravigliosa e una ricorderò sempre!

That was Tuesday, and I still had one day left in Rome. What better thing to do than attend a Papal audience.  So that I did, Wednesday morning, along with about 12,000 others, but who’s counting!





Arrivederci Roma once again. You never fail to amaze. Till next time.



Through His Words: Day Seven

4 Feb

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect

Day Seven:

Friday, July 22, 1938  
On board ship        
Chapter 7

Today has been a little lazy, took a shower, getting warmer as we follow the coast of Africa. We will soon pass the coast of the southern tip of the Island of Sardinia and then tomorrow the paradise of Joe Montenegro, Napoli.

Joe Montenegro, as you might remember, was Alex’s dear friend who was to have been with him on this trip, but Joe became ill and was unable to travel. The Montenegro family still had a home in Naples.

I am going to his [Joe’s family’s] apartment in Naples and will leave one of my bags there which I will pick up later.

At the age of 43, Alex was about to step foot in the country where he was born and for the first time since his parents took him to America when he was just five years old.

Have done pretty well with my laundry, soiled only 3 shirts, a few handkerchiefs, and a couple of sox. Will leave them in Naples to have them cleaned. We stop at Naples for about 5 hours and then proceed to Cannes, France, where I get off. Will stay at Cannes, Nice and Monte Carlo for 1.5 days, then go to Marseilles and Paris.

De Rosa has helped me with my itinerary and I am going to follow it as close as I can. 


Alex’s itinerary, July 24-August 23, 1938

Alex then gives Maude directions to write him via the American Express Co. at Venice, and lets her know he will inquire for mail at each office along the way. He realizes, however, that her letters may not catch up to him until he reaches Firenze. He is so anxious for word from her about the family.

After that, you can address me at the Flora Hotel in Roma where I expect to stay according to the itinerary. After you receive this, please write often as I want to hear all about you, the three rascals, Ruth and Pa, and any scandal back home.

Hotel Flora peaked my interest. Is it still there? Can I go visit it?


Rome Marriott Grand Hotel Flora
Via Vittorio Veneto 191

The answer is YES! Coincidently, as Alex reaches Italy tomorrow, so too will I, (God willing, as Nana would say), as I am going to visit Benita in Rome. (Just keeping up the family tradition as my parents visited me when I studied in Rome. Unfortunately, Len can’t join us.) Alex’s trip took seven days at sea. 75 years later, mine will be an overnight flight.

According to its website, here’s some history about the Grand Hotel Flora:

While conserving the atmosphere of the Belle Epoque, the hotel today is a top-class structure with services on a par with international luxury hotels. Construction started on the Flora Hotel in 1905 and its harmonious Art Nouveau style was the work of the architect Andrea Busiri Vici…

Work on the hotel was completed in 1907 and it quickly became a refined residence which attracted an international clientele. In 1930, Paul Valery, in a letter to a friend written from the Flora Hotel said, “it has a special atmosphere you can’t find anywhere else,” and Ada Negri writing to the Countess Anna Maria di Broglio described the hotel as her “Roman home”.

In more recent times, but still the last century, the Grand Hotel Flora became a home away from home for celebrities in the Sixties, the years of Rome’s “Dolce Vita.” It was here, in the Villa Borghese, in the Casina Valadier and in Rome’s famous cafes that the rich and famous met. In the concierge’s guest book you can see the names of Prince Maximilian of Bavaria, Richard Nixon, Paul Getty, Christian Barnard, Joan Crawford, Cassius Clay and Federico Fellini.

I wonder if the guest book goes all the way back to 1938? I’ll have to check it out!

PS. Have just landed and went to Joe Montenegro apt.  Ferme met me and we are having lunch together at the Vesuvio Hotel.

You guessed it, another beauty, this one overlooking the sea.

Might this have been their view at lunch?

It’s hard to imagine just how excited Alex was as he stepped off the ship. Wow.

Regards, Al

To be continued.


Rome: More Then and Now

23 Jan

9° in Chicago – today’s high. Why not head to Rome where the temperature today reached a balmy 53° ? And to say nothing of seeing the eternal city with few crowds!

This picture is of me (left side), perhaps in January of 1972, in front of the Vatican. Sun shining, few people, and no snow! Pope Paul VI was in residence.

Judy at the Vatican, 71-72

Judy at the Vatican, 1972

This picture is of Benita, same study abroad program, some 40 years later! A clear evening, few people, and no snow! And of course, Pope Francis is in residence, though not the traditional one of his predecessors.

Although I took hundreds of slides while studying abroad, they are sitting in storage with few words or descriptions to jog my memory. Benita, on the other hand, has the opportunity to create a dynamic journal of her study abroad experience, both in words and pictures, and share it in real-time.  Just incredible!

To see some amazing photos of Rome at night in winter, like the one below,



or wherever her journey takes her, click http://romeisalwaysagoodidea.wordpress.com .

I agree, Benita, Rome is always a good idea!

What better excuse to travel…see you there soon!


Judy (Mom)

Happy New Year – Buon Anno!

31 Dec

A warm thank you to all who have found and followed Blogginginitaly.com, which had over 10,000 views from 83 countries in 2013. When I began writing in 2011, little did I realize the joy this blog would bring me. It is such fun for me to share my thoughts and experiences and know others enjoy reading about them as well.

A few things in store for Blogginginitaly 2014…

A winter visit to Rome… (haven’t done that since I was a student!)


as well as Cortona, which I’ve never been to in winter!


Much more about Alex and his travels to Italy


and a summer journey for Len and me to Alex’s birthplace, Pietrabbondante.


Pietrabbondante (Photo credit: diffendale)

As we anticipate our summer return to Cortona, we know it will be filled with wonderful new and familiar experiences, great food and wine, the tranquillity of piazza life, and so many roads less travelled to discover and share with you. But best of all, we know we will be spending time with dear friends we have made through our travels.

May your new year be filled with health and time spent with loved ones, and may you find  time to enjoy a sunset, wherever your roads lead you.


Happy New Year and Buon Anno 2014!



Zampognari…Italian Bagpipers!

23 Dec

Zampognari Keep Alive the Tradition of Festive Bagpipe Playing

Although we often associate bagpipers with the English and Scots, did you know that bagpipers are an important part of Christmastime tradition in Italy? Read on to discover the history.

Article reprinted from Italy Magazine, Barry Lillie | Monday, December 23, 2013 – 10:00

No Italian Christmas would be complete without the sound of bagpipes. Everywhere from the piazzas of Rome to remote hillside villages, the Zampognari (pipers) continue the tradition of festive bagpipe playing that dates back to ancient Roman times.

Traditionally, the pipers were shepherds who, in a bid to earn an extra income, would travel down from their mountain homes at Christmas time to perform for the townsfolk in their markets squares. The regions where you’re most likely to see a piper are Abruzzo, Basilicata, Campania, Calabria, Molise, Puglia and Lazio.

The traditional dress of the piper is made of short breeches with criss-crossed leather leggings, sheepskin vests with a woollen cloak and peaked cap; there are regional changes such as velvet jackets or neckerchiefs, but the look of the piper remains mostly the same it has for centuries.

Legend tells us that of the shepherds who visited the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, after gazing upon the baby Jesus, some took out their bagpipes and played. In keeping with the legend, the pipers will stop at public Nativity scenes for a few minutes of quiet contemplation.

Historically, the piper is accompanied by a shawm, a medieval woodwind instrument; however, today’s pipers are usually accompanied by an oboe player. They play traditional music, with a popular song being the Christmas hymn, Tu scendi dalle stelle (You come down from the stars), written by Saint Alphonsus Maria de ‘ Liguori, the bishop of Sant’Agata de’ Goti.

Watch the zampognari play “Tu scendi dalle stelle”:


Makes me wonder if my paternal grandfather’s ancestors played the bagpipes as Alex’s family was from Abruzzo. Perhaps someday I’ll find a photo.



In the News in Rome

18 Oct

The Conflict

A few weeks ago, in an open letter published in Corriere della Sera, famed Italian literary critic and biographer Pietro Citati recounted his last visit to the Sistine Chapel after not visiting it for several years. In the letter, Citati essentially told the Vatican that it needed to severely limit the number of annual visitors to the Sistine Chapel. During his visit last year, Citati was appalled by what he encountered. A translation of his words shows his disgust:

“It was an unimaginable disaster. The great hall was filled with many hundreds of people: heavy jackets, coats, hats, hoods, raincoats, and umbrellas. Breaths from visitors formed halos, vapors and mists that hung at the ceiling around the Last Judgment, the Creation of Adam and the Sibyls. I believe that in a short time, it will be necessary to restore the Sistine Chapel again, and then, without some limits, gradually the heavy human breath will again fill the vast ceiling of the chapel.”

He also criticized the clapping and loud interruptions from the guards admonishing all to be silent, further inhibiting one’s ability to contemplate the majestic surroundings. Citati compared the visitors to “drunken herds” who end up confused and ultimately see nothing.

The Response

The Vatican’s response, as reported in L’Osservatore Romano, noted that five million people visit the Sistine Chapel each year to admire Michelangelo’s 16th century frescoes.  “We are now in the epoch of mass tourism, millions of people want to enjoy the culture of the past; it is a phenomenon of which we are perfectly aware and which must be faced…” The manager of the Vatican museums added “for the past two years, a study has been under way for the renewal of the ventilation system and damp control. But restricted entry is unthinkable. The Sistine is not only a place of art; it is also a consecrated chapel, a compendium of theology, and a true and proper catechism in pictures.”

A Personal Story

When I was a student in Rome in 1971-2, and my parents came to visit, they had scheduled a tour of the Sistine Chapel through a priest at our home parish.  Back then, there were significantly fewer tourists, so tours of this nature were not so unusual.  Note the daytime picture below of me standing outside the Vatican…it’s NEVER this empty anymore!

Judy (left) at the Vatican

As I recall, we didn’t walk through miles of halls en route to the Chapel, but entered fairly close to the Chapel itself. As our priest guide was explaining various details about paintings in the great halls to my parents, I wandered off alone and through a doorway into another room. Stunned, I looked around, then up at the ceiling…the fingers almost touching…The Creation of Adam….I was in the Sistine Chapel…alone. Truly, honestly, alone, with Michelangelo and his incredible years of work. I will never forget that moment or that sight.

Shortly after, I heard my parents’ slight gasps as they too entered this magnificent room. We stood in awe, mouths open, unable to speak. Together with our guide, we lingered with great astonishment and incredible admiration.

I have visited the Sistine Chapel several times over the last dozen years. Each time, however, the visit grew more and more crowded, noisy and frustrating, so I fully understand Pietro Citati’s concern and dismay. Noisy and sweaty tourists on smart phones stand shoulder to shoulder, often ignoring the ban on flash photography or the request for silence. And yet, limiting entry to the one of the greatest artistic creations of all time is, in the words of the museum director, unthinkable. “The time when only Russian grand dukes, English lords or experts … had access to the great masterpieces of art is definitely over.”

How does the Vatican save yet share, preserve yet provide? Somewhere between the two ends of the spectrum lies the answer. I wonder what Michelangelo would suggest.



%d bloggers like this: