Friday, 7 January 2011

Rome: Part 8 - Fontana de Trevi

The Fontana de Trevi (Fountain of Trevi) was the basin for the aqueduct that was commissioned by Caesar Octavian Augustus and was built by his son-in-law Marcus Visapnius Agrippa, in 19 B.C., for the purpose of bringing water to the thermal baths in Rome. There is a long history about this fountain being built, falling into disrepair, being rebuilt and renovated, including the involvement of several popes who took interest in them from 1433 to 1730, for self aggrandisement.

Pope Clemens XII, the last pope to take on this project, had a design competition for the new design of this fountain, in 1730. Nicola Salvi garnered the top price, for the reason that his was the most economical. In 1732, the project began. It was funded by proceeds from the Italian lottery. Although the fountain was not yet completed, Pope Clemens XII inaugurated it in 1735. This project took about 30 years to complete. It went from Clemens XII to Benedict XIV, and finally completed under Pope Clemens XIII.
In 1759-1762 Pietri Bracci carved the "Ocean of Triumph" in marble, as designed by Salvi, who had passed away in 1751. Bernini got involved, to resite the fountain to face the Quirinal.  Giuseppi Panini took over the project upon Salvi's death and finished the fountain in 1762.

On May 22, 1762, Pope Clemens XIII inaugurated the fountain which remains as it is, up to today. At the top of the attic, is the papal crest of the pope who restored the fountain.
The palazzo behind the fountain makes for a good back drop for this fountain. It was bought by the city in 1885, and it now houses the National Institute of Graphic Arts.
The main feature of the marble "monument is a chariot in the shape of a shell, drawn by seahorses with Triton as their guide." The central figure is "Oceanus." On the left is the statue of "Abundance" and to the right is "Health."All around the fountain's boarders are "representations of rocks and petrified vegetation...which represent the sea." 

Whether you come in the daytime or in the nighttime, this Baroque fountain is just as beautiful and impressive. In the nighttime, the lights give it a dramatic effect with the play of light and shadow and the glistening, running water.
This beautiful fountain has been immortalized in such movies as "Three Coins in a Fountain" and "La Dolce Vita" by Fellini.

The practice of throwing coins by the Romans in the fountains, rivers, and lakes started in the ancient days, to win the favor of the gods of water for a safe journey and a safe return. Now, the tradition continues to maintain the fountain. About 3,000 euros in coins are collected each day.  

They say that if you throw a coin in the fountain, you will return to Rome. I threw my first coin in 1971, and it worked! If you want to go to the Trevi Fountain, right now, click on the hyperlink and take this virtual tour. Arrivederci

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Rome: Part 7 - "Scalinata di Spagna" (The Spanish Steps)

One of the most popular places to meet in Rome is by the Piazza di Spagna, where you will find the Spanish Steps. Known as the Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti or simply Scalinata di Spagna, it consists of 138 steps designed to link the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See, located in Palazzo Monaldeschi in the piazza below, leading up to the  French church  Trinita dei Monti, which was under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France. The steps were built under the auspices of a French diplomat from 1723-1725.
On the avenue at the top of the steps, Viale della Trinita dei Monti, to the right is the VIlla Medici - considered as one of Rome's best pieces of real state with one of the best views of the city. The palazzo was built for Cardinal Ricci da Montepulciano in 1540. It's ownership was transferred to Ferdinando dei Medici when he bought it n 1576, and in 1801 Napoleon acquired it for the French Academy. 

The French Academy was founded in 1666 to provide a place of learning for the talented French artists, writers and musicians, to afford them an opportunity to be exposed to the classical heritage that Rome had to offer.
To the left of the avenue from the church, is a series of luxury, five-star hotels, such as The Hassler Villa Medici, where you can have a fine-dining experience while enjoying the magnificent, panoramic view of Rome, at their top-floor restaurant.
In the 18th century, this was an artist's haven. The most beautiful Italian women and men gathered here in the hopes of being chosen as artist's models. Today, the steps may look like a good place to sit and eat. Sorry, eating is not allowed.

The steps have also been used as the setting for concerts

At Christmas time, a 19th century crib is displayed on the first landing of the staircase. On new year's eve, this is the place to be for the countdown. In the month of May, part of the steps are covered by blooming azalea plants.
There is an early Baroque boat-shaped fountain in the center of the piazza,  Fontana della Barcaccia ("Fountain of the Old Boat"), built in 1627-29. It is believed to be the work of Pietro Bernini. 

At the base of the steps, to the right, is a house where the englis poet, John Keats, lived and died. It is now a museum dedicated to his memory.
One of the streets leading up to the piazza is Via Condotti, a shopping delight with boutiques of famous,  big-name Italian Fashion houses - Valentino, Versace, Armani, Fendi, Cavalli, as well as other international fashion brands.
After window-shopping on Via Condotti, having some roasted chestnuts in the piazza, we made it to the top of the steps, to visit the church.

When you come to Rome, don't miss visiting the Piazza di Spagna, where people watching can be quite an interesting experience, and shopping of course! To me, the construction of the Spanish Steps was a very ingenious idea of connecting the high grounds to the low grounds, by Francesco De Sanctis. 

One of the streets leading up to the piazza is Via Condotti, a shopping delight with boutiques of famous,   big-name Italian Fashion houses - Valentino, Versace, Armani, Fendi, Cavalli, as well as other international fashion brands.

As the Christmas season comes to a close, may I wish you all Happy Three Kings. If you can't make it to Rome, take a virtual tour on this site

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Rome: Part 6 - Hotel de Russie

For us, going anywhere is about location, location, location! The first thought that comes to mind in choosing a hotel in Rome is to find one somewhere around the vicinity of the Spanish Steps.  That is where all the action is. This holiday season, the last-minute arrangements we made landed us in Hotel de Russie,.

The family members began to arrive, coming from different places. My daughter and I landed in Ciampino Airport. We queued for a taxi knowing that it was a fixed rate at 30 Euros to get to Rome. By some instinct, my daughter verified the rate in Italian, with the taxi driver before boarding. Her accent was a dead give-away. We were tourists! He wanted 50 Euros. That was a "no go" for us.

Considering the time, since rush hour was coming up in another two hours, we decided to catch the airport bus to the city's train station,...

and hopped onto the metro. We exited at the "Spagna" stop. We were quite satisfied that we got to the center of Rome, all for less than 10 euros, and we did not have to deal with the traffic! But, we had to patiently figure out the directions to take while inside the train/metro stations, without hesitating to ask questions when we felt lost.

We were famished by the time we walked out of the station and the first place we saw was a little pizza place. Those gigantic pizzas sure looked so good.

We ordered a vegetarian one with potatoes, zucchini, broccoli, and onions. When it was handed to us, it was folded like a sandwich...hmmm, I learned something new: that was a practical way to eat it.

We made it to the Piazza Spagna, and began  looking for...

 Via del Babuino (Baboon), to get to our hotel.

Here we are! Hotel de Russie, on Via del Babuino 9 00187 Roma.

It is a luxury five-star hotel located between the Spanish Steps and the Piazza del Popolo. This turned out to be a good location for us. It was within walking distance of of the other attractions we wanted to walk to: the fashionable Via Condotti, Piazza Navona, Fontana de Trevi, and the Vatican City.

This was our room, with a view of the terrace garden and the courtyard,...

where you can dine in open-air at Le Jardin de Russie. During the spring and summer seasons, the Stravinskij Bar opens up and extends its boundaries into the garden.

The following morning, I woke up at 5 a.m. I got dressed and got directions to go to church to hear mass. To my delight, the church was just 2 minutes away, in the Piazza del Popolo (People's Square).

Fontana del Nettuno...Historically, the piazza was originally named after the poplar trees in that area. It was designed in neoclassical style by Giuseppe Valadier, between 1811  and 1822.

This is the piazza's northern gate, which used to be the starting point of routes to the north. This was also, for  the travelers who came by foot or other means of transportation, their first view of Rome. 

From this angle, il tridente (trident) is formed with three streets originating from the piazza: Via del Babuino, Via del Corso, and Via di Ripetta. An Egyptian obelisk of Sety, and later erected by Rameses II, is at the center of the square. For centuries, public executions were held here, until 1826

Taking a closer look, these are known as the twin churches, Santa Maria in Montesanto (1679) to the left, and Santa Maria dei Miracoli (1681) to the right. Via del Corso is the street that passes between the two of them. Although the building structures look symmetrical, there are  varying details between the two of them, in Baroque style.

I went to the church on the right, Santa Maria dei Miracoli. As I entered at about 6:30 a.m. I soon realized that they gave me the wrong mass information at the hotel lobby. Mass was going to be celebrated at 7:30 and not at 7:00 a.m. By the time mass was about to begin, the church filled up with men and women who were dressed up to go to work.

 I passed by the side aisle to get a glimpse of the nativity scene. It warmed my heart.

The church's main altar...I lingered around to see the side chapels and the captions that told of stories about the faith, the martyred saints, the relics, and more interesting details about the interior furnishings and personalities who were involved with this church at some point or other in her history.

The sun was out when I left the church.

It was breakfast time at the hotel. This was not the typical intercontinental breakfast included in most hotel packages. It was quite a spread.

This was the healthy table, with sliced fresh fruit and juices, mineral water, and a variety of yogurts.

If you like dried cured-meats, smoked salmon, and Italian cheeses, this  would have been the table of your choice.

This was the high-carb table: breads, cakes, tarts, cereals and nuts. I went for the nuts. 

After a power breakfast, we were on our way to sight-see.

We could not leave Rome without having our gelato fix. We found a gelateria on Via di Ripetta. The cold weather could not keep us from enjoying a cupful of these!

After three days and two nights, it was time to leave. Our stay at Hotel de Russie was quite pleasant and their staff was hospitable. Arrivedeci Roma!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Angelina Paris: House of Thick Chocolate and Mont Blanc

Have you ever tried hot, thick chocolate with a serving of mont blanc? The Angelina Tearoom and Café in Paris is the place to go.

I refer to this place as a tourist destination and take all my visiting guests here, just so they can experience what real, good hot-chocolate is like.

There is a bit of history to this place. It used to be called "Rumpelmayers" when it was first established in 1903, and was once a favorite hangout place of the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Coco Chanel.

Located in the arcades of the rue de Rivoli, behind the Jardin des Tuileries in the 1st Arrondissement of Paris, it is a convenient food stop before going to or coming from an exhibition at Musée du Louvre. They serve breakfasts, lunches and desserts. You can order salads and quiches plus light dinners, all served in old-world elegant setting.

But the chocolate lovers who come, regularly, know exactly what to order: their signature hot chocolate called chocolat L'Africain with the incredible mont blanc gateau.

The chocolate order is good for 2 half cup servings, with cream on the side. This cup is good to go.

Angelina's was taken over by the Groupe Bertrand in 2005 and has since undergone renovations. A shop was put up next to the entry, so one can buy all their favorite pastries and chocolate drink in dry form.

You can purchase a tin of chocolat L'Africain to take home, so you can make your own Angelina chocolate by simply using a one to one ratio: 1/2 c. of chocolate to 1/2 c. of water or milk. Place these 2 ingredients in a small saucepan, simmer until little bubbles appear.

The mont blanc pastry has a meringue base, a whipped creme center, and puréed chestnuts.

When in Paris, do drop by and experience chocolate heaven:
Angelina Tearoom and Café
226 Rue de Rivoli 75001 Paris France
Telephone: 1 42 60 82 00; Fax: 1 42 86 98 97
The closest Metro stations are the Concorde or the Tuileries

As I happened to be a chocoholic once upon a time, I made this thick-chocolate drink at home, with my own choiced ingredients:
I use all organic ingredients...
a chocolate bar and some milk.

1. Break up the chocolate bar into squares.
I this case, I ran the pieces through my manual-vegetable grinder, then cut up the bigger pieces by hand. On second thought, I could have chopped up the chocolate pieces. I am using a 100gm. chocolate bar which is equal to 1/2 cup.

2. In a saucepan, add half a cup of milk (or water) and add the chocolate pieces. Cook in low heat until the milk begins to simmer and the chocolate pieces melt into one homogenous mixture, while stirring constantly.

3. This quantity is normally good for two-cup servings. I, instead, used three cups to cut down on calorie intake.

4. As it is typically served in Angelina, this cup has been topped with a dairy whipped cream, bought from the super market.

5. For another serving, I have opted to replace the mont blanc pastry with fresh, organic strawberries...

and use my chocolate drink for dunking them in. This was so incredibly good, especially, on a cold day like today!

Calorie wise, each cup had,  from the chocolate alone, 190 calories; plus some from the milk, that's not too bad for something that looks and tastes decadent. Using a 70% dark-chocolate bar will be healthier as the sugar content will be lower.

If you can't make it to Angelina Paris, go ahead and make your hot-chocolate-drink treat at home!

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Around Paris: Discovering Montmartre

Montmartre was our destination last weekend. With my daughter as my tour guide, I was about to discover much more about this area.

First stop: La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre, or simply referred to as the Sacré-Coeur, to celebrate the feast day of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

The Sacré-Coeur basilica ( Basilica of the Sacred Heart) was built at the end of the 19th century at the highest point on Montmartre, Paris. "Montmartre" means " mount of martyrs." Tradition has it that this is the place of the martydom of Saint Denis, the first bishop of Paris (late 3rd century) along with his companions.

The building of the basilica came about as Alexandre Legentil and Hubert Rohault de Fleury vowed to build a church consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Christ, in reparation for the sins committed. When France faced defeat in the war with Germany in 1870, a part of her was occupied by German troops. As far as these 2 gentlemen were concerned, the country's problems stemmed more from spiritual rather than from political causes. 
To get there, we took Metro Line 2 from the Etoile station and we exited on "Anvers," then walked up to catch the funiculaire. It was nice to have this group performing at the street corner, playing New Orleans Jazz music while we waited.

Sacré-Coeur, with its famous white wedding-cake like architecture, spectacularly stands out in the city-skyline of Paris. It is a sight that welcomes you as you ride into the city, after landing at Charles de Gaulle airport.

As soon as we got through the doors beneath the cornice, the policy on "no picture-taking" went into effect. It was a solemn mass - meaning that the parts of the mass were sang, with very high attendance. During the homily, the priest referred to Mary as "a woman of prayer and deep faith." Soon after, tourists and churchgoers filed out to explore the rest of Montmartre.

From the church's steps, we could see a panoramic view of Paris. There were all sorts of entertainers and hawkers below, probably just like when Jesus went to the temple, and it upset him that it had been converted into a market place.

Its village like streets, its cafés and restaurants, its painters on Place du Tertre attract many tourists, especially on the weekends.

Performing all her French-hit songs, this performer was a crowd pleaser and gatherer. Her CDs were selling fast after every mini performance. She accompanied herself with an old-fashioned music maker, that uses perforated song sheets to create the background music.

Located on the north side of the Sacré-Coeur, the section where the Eglise Saint-Pierre de Montmartre, survived the French Revolution. The facade dates back to the 17th century and the bronze doors from 1980, by T. Gismondi.

Church interior - the church is built on a traditional Latin-cross plan, and is a mix of medieval and later styles. The nave is Romanesque, but is detailed with a 15th-century vault, flanked by aisles added in 1765 (north) and c.1838 (south).
The the choir ( not seen in this picture) has one of the earliest ribbed vaults in Paris (c.1147).

From the 12th century apse is this 20th century trio of stain glass, behind the main altar. Behind the altar is the tomb of Adelaide de Savioe, the nunnery's foundress and the mother of King Louis VI.
Among the themes on the stain glass windows...the cross and the Virgin Mary. 

As we walked a few meters away from the tourist area, going down little cobble-stoned streets, we discovered more churches, boulangeries (bakeries) and patisseries (pastry shops), café's, quaint shops, and other charming spots. This is really a lovely section of town with much to see and experience.

We stopped by for some macaroons. We rated them "very good!" If you want to try this place, come to 24 rue des Abesse 75018 Paris.

Because this church stood out, a different architectural style in the setting that it was in, we changed directions and went in for a visit. This is Eglise Saint Jean de Montmartre, situated at the foot of Montmartre. It is located at 19 rue des Abbesse 75018 Paris.

It was the first example of reinforced cement in church construction, built from 1894 through 1904. Architect Anatole de Baudot, a student of Viollet-le-Duc and Henri Labrouste, designed the church. "The brick and ceramic tile-faced structure exhibits features of Art Nouveau design while exploiting the superior structural qualities of reinforced concrete with lightness and transparency."

The Art-Nouveau stain glass was executed by Jac Galland according to the design of Pascal Blanchard.

When it comes to food, my daughter seems to be an expert. She said it was "a must to line up" at Le Grenier à Pain, because it was judged as the number 1 boulangerie for the best baguette! It is located at 38, rue des Abbesse 75018 Paris.

What to choose from this array of baked goodies was problematical. I went with the bread filled with apricots and goat cheese...loved it!

Here are the other bread products they make, aside from their famous baguette.

We stopped by here, too, on 40 rue Lepic 75018 Paris. Their vanilla, red-berries, cotton-candy flavored macarons were out of this world!

It had been a couple of hours since we got to Montmartre to hear mass and galavant around. Overfed and tired, it was time to rest our weary feet. But, we'll be back soon as there are more things to explore and to do here.


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