I realize that I keep repeating the same point, but I really have been completely amazed at how few crowds I'm finding in Rome these days. I was warned/advised about this by other Slow Travellers, such as Mary (aka RomeAddict), who encouraged me to travel this time of year. And, of course, Stella and many others also told me that winter can be a wonderful time in Rome. They have been proven so right!
I mean, the weather isn't ideal. There has been a fair amount of rain in the last few days; I don't dare go out without an umbrella -- but also sunglasses, and a water bottle, because it can be quite warm in the sun, yet showers and even heavy rain will suddenly blow up. Still, I haven't once worn the wool coat I brought, nor my boots, and even my gloves have been proven too warm (although they look quite chic!)
A light raincoat has been all that I need. And I don't think that's hormonal. I've seen only a few Roman women in their chic fur coats, very, very few. And the kids are wearing their cool toques, but I think that's for fashion. Not a mitt in sight.
This morning, I was doing some shopping for gifts to bring home. Okay, these were mostly gifts for me. But I really like lemon-flavoured honey, and limoncello and I couldn't resist some kind of limoni preserves which cost me 8 euro at Roscioli's food emporium. I bought this last item mostly because it had the most cunning little slice of sugared lemon laid flat across the top of the lid. Hopefully, it's made of plastic, or it's going to start turning brown and curling up on the edges. But no matter.
My point (and I do have one) is that as I was strolling around the Campo dei Fiori, I was getting much too warm in my wool scarf and my light rain coat. And even when the rain showers began, it was quite warm, no wind.
And no crowds, at least until I tried to go back into the Forno, or bakery, on the edge of the Campo and the site of Sunday's cage match with the elderly. And it all started again. As I arrived, a sizeable crowd of extremely short, elderly ladies swept in and I was suddenly pressed up against the cooler near the door, far away from the bakery's display cases. Curse this old-lady gang -- are they following me? Could the Furies be this short? And if it is the Furies, why are they seeking vengeance on me? What have I done and how can I undo it? I suppose that I could have fought back, but I've read Virgil and I know that's hopeless.
I backed out and slunk away with my loot from Roscioli. It was time to drop everything off at the apartment anyway, and to head to the Vatican for my Context Rome tour. I had spent an entire day last week at the Vatican, climbing the dome, visiting the museums and generally fumbling around on my own. And I have visited St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museums several times in the past, usually on my own and once in a very good private tour with Tony of Three Millennia. But that tour was really for my Mom, and on this trip I wanted to try a concentrated art briefing that might put a bit of meat on the bare bones of my understanding of art and architecture.
The four-hour tour was really great. This was my second Context Rome tour during this trip, and although the company's prices are on the upper limits of my budget, I've really felt that I have gotten excellent value for my money. Our docent on Tuesday was Giovanna, who was extremely knowledgeable and flexible with our small group of six women (one woman from Houston greeted me when I joined the group, by grasping my arm and saying: "Oh my god, I'm having such a hot flash!" I immediately asked her: "Are you on Slow Travel?" That's because we've just been having a warm discussion about menopause on one of the SlowTrav boards)
We started our tour in the Pinacoteca of the Vatican Museums, which I think is often overlooked. Giovanna used the Raphael room of the picture gallery as a kind of frame of reference for much of the great art that was to follow. Since we began at 1:30, much of the museum was very quiet as we passed through. But the Sistine Chapel was a particular revelation -- even one week earlier, it was more bustling than this!
When we arrived in the Sistine at about 4 p.m., there were, at most, 50 other visitors. Half of the seats along the walls were empty. I didn't once hear a guard shout for silence, or yell at tourists to stop taking photos. It really was remarkable and almost spooky in its intimacy. Even Giovanna had to marvel.
And the happy news just kept coming. I had complained just that morning to Natalia, my amazing landlady and new best friend, that I hadn't been able to get a ticket to the opera in my price range. I had had my heart set on seeing Tosca, which is being performed at the Teatro dell'Opera here in Rome. I love the opera and really wanted to see Tosca in the city where it is set. I had ordered a cheap ticket (35 euros) months earlier from Select Italy. However, Select Italy couldn't confirm my seat until a few days before the performance, which is quite normal practice. Alas, when I arrived last week, Select told me they had tried hard, but no tickets were left -- except in the 150 euro range.
Ouch! It seemed that this was an especially hot ticket right now, because 2008 marks the 150th anniversary of the year that Giacomo Puccini, who wrote the opera, was born. It was also in January 1900 that Tosca was premiered, here in Rome at the Teatro dell'Opera. So, this season's performance is very timely. According to InRomeNow, the theatre's is marking the occasion with a very gala production. It reports that Franco Zeferelli directed and designed the sets, with costumes by Anna Biagiotti.
I had lost all hope of getting a ticket I could afford, until I mentioned my disappointment to Natalia. She immediately set to work calling contacts and within a few hours, announced she had an excellent seat for me at half price -- 75 euros -- for Wednesday night if I wanted it. Did I ever! So tonight, in a money-saving move, I'm drinking wine in the apartment and cooking some fresh ravioli from the grocery store around the corner. At least that's the plan; the package says the pasta needs just one minute to boil. One minute? I hope I'm reading that correctly, or my next post won't be from the opera but from a hospital bed!