Villa Grazioli

One of the things I enjoy most about traveling is finding a bargain. Villa Grazioli was that and much more. Located on a Tuscolo hill near Frascati, the hotel has a very illustrious history. Built in the 16th Century by a Cardinal Carafa, the villa was a masterpiece boasting frescoes by G.P. Panini. The villa was handed down to various families over the years until it finally fell into disrepair. Abandoned, it was used as a shelter during WWII and in some rooms, there is still evidence of cooking fires and soot. Serious effort is being put into restoring the glorious frescoes but the dilapidation, in my opinion, only serves to deepen the character of this place.

It is situated in a splendid position with cool breezes in the summer and a majestic view of Rome and Castelli Romani. We loved the fact that we had the Villa to ourselves. Walking its magnificent galleries we were transported to a different time; a magical place. One of our favorite frescoed rooms had comfy couches and tall windows that looked out to the countryside. Surrounded by smiling, carousing satyrs we relaxed with a good book and enjoyed the solitude. I would have been happy had I paid $300 a night for this place but at $150 I thought it was the bargain of the century.

We had been to Rome and wanted to explore neighboring countryside estates, villas and off the beaten path kind of places. Villa Grazioli was the perfect starting point and ending point of our adventure. Breakfast was a lavish feast, service was immaculate and aside from the much too expensive dinner menu, the experience was sublime. Highly recommended.

 

Assisi

 

The peace and tranquility of Assisi is difficult to describe. There is a stillness in the air that soothes the soul. Tiny streets wind up and down the hillside town, fountains bubble and eager birds fly overhead. The atmosphere is jovial in the summer heat but also there is a sense of the sacred. Monks wearing the brown robes walk among the pilgrims and somewhere in the piazza there is a game of soccer. In spite of the droves of tourists and pilgrims that descend on this tiny corner of the world, somehow, by some miracle, Assisi retains its peace. Pace e Bene, certainly pertains to this lovely place. I was glad to return and feel its wonderful energy again.

 

SERMON TO THE BIRDS

My little sisters, the birds, much bounden are ye unto God, your Creator, and always in every place ought ye to praise Him, for that He hath given you liberty to fly about everywhere, and hath also given you double and triple rainment; moreover He preserved your seed in the ark of Noah, that your race might not perish out of the world; still more are ye beholden to Him for the element of the air which He hath appointed for you; beyond all this, ye sow not, neither do you reap; and God feedeth you, and giveth you the streams and fountains for your drink; the mountains and valleys for your refuge and the high trees whereon to make your nests; and because ye know not how to spin or sow, God clotheth you, you and your children; wherefore your Creator loveth you much, seeing that He hath bestowed on you so many benefits; and therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praises unto God.

Saint Francis of Assisi – c1220

 

 

 

[learn_more caption=”Canticle of the Creatures”] The Canticle of All Creatures

Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honour and all blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.

Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.

Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.

Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,
Mother Earth who sustains and governs us,
producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.
Praise be You my Lord through those who grant pardon
for love of You and bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace,
By You Most High, they will be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Blessed are they She finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm.

Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks,
And serve Him with great humility.

Prayer

Heavenly Father,
You gave Your servant Francis
great love for each of Your creatures.
Teach us to see Your design in all of creation.
We ask this in Jesus’ Name. Amen.[/learn_more]

Campo Cestio, Rome

Etching of the Pyramid of Cestius in Rome

We stumbled upon Campo Cestio by chance. As we were looking for “the pyramid” of Porta San Paolo we wandered down a quiet street that was flanked by a very tall wall. It’s sort of an unwritten rule that tall walls hold either prisons or very wealthy mansions, museums or something else requiring privacy. We meandered down the road trying to peak in when we arrived at an amazing gate that took my breath away. Beyond was a sprawling cemetery filled with graves belonging to foreigners and some of my favorite literary figures like Shelley and Keats. There were a surprising number of authors buried here and a whole lot of cats wandering around which of course made our day. We do miss the cat when we travel. If you are curious about who lies interred you can find a grave here!

The pyramid was interesting in and of itself and has been a Roman landmark since 18 BC! It’s hard to imagine a place with more history stacked one layer upon the other. It absolutely sparks the imagination. Here are some pictures of the cemetery, pyramid, cats and the area around Porta San Paolo. Enjoy.


 

Day 1: Rome

Rome: Terrace Roof of Hotel Abitart near Ostiense Railway Station, 7PM

This morning I was out the door by 8:30 and headed to the gym to meet my personal trainer. They say that you are supposed to have more energy in the morning to workout but certainly this is not the case for me. I am not a morning person, in fact I am sluggish and tired in the morning. After forty minutes of some intense boxing and calisthenics I drove home, feeling sore all over. I’ve gotten used to the perennial muscle soreness. It doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it used to as it reminds me I’m pushing myself and building muscle.

It was 10:30 AM by the time I got home and I hadn’t packed a thing. Most people would have been frantic, but not me. I can pack a bag for two weeks in give or take forty minutes. I don’t stress and I don’t fuss. If it’s not in the bag, or if I can’t remember to put it in the bag I probably don’t need it. In the rare cases where I’ve really needed something, guess what, I have cash. Bag was packed and by 11:30 I had cleared the fridge of stuff that would go bad, taken out the garbage, watered the plants and cleaned the kitchen and the living room. I am very efficient under pressure.

My dad showed up to take us to the airport at 12:30 and after taking out a few key things from our bags we were at exactly 50lbs each. Win.

As expected, the Alitalia counter was interesting. When I booked the tickets back in May, I had to do so through their call center because their website was down. The customer service rep misspelled both our names and it was a huge 4 hour ordeal on the phone as she repeatedly canceled and rebooked our flights using pretty much any and all credit cards I owned. When she finally did issue the tickets, Rob’s name was STILL spelled wrong. In the proceeding weeks we tried to call and got transferred to a closet. We were told someone would call us back or write us back and indeed no one did. We came to loathe Alitalia customer service and honestly have vowed not to ever try to book through their call center again.

At the airport counter they were able to easily find my reservation but when it came to Rob’s the agent looked us in the face and said, “Sorry this reservation does not exist and the flight is full.” This was the moment we were waiting for. Luckily I had emails, receipts and all kinds of instant data at my fingertips. Sometimes technology and smart phones do come through. Back into the system he went, punching numbers and trying to figure out what happened to our reservation. We were getting to Rome somehow.

After a long wait he finally did return and gave us that smile that said everything was fine. The booking system and the reservation system are separate and we were on one but not the other under two different numbers. Luckily I didn’t have to get Cuban on his ass and cause a scene. There was no way after all this trouble that I was paying them for the mistake to alter the tickets – hell they should pay me for all of the trouble.

Thing about travel is, you must remain FLEXIBLE. Inflexible people do very poorly when things go awry. Knowing when to relax and go with the flow is very important to enjoying yourself. Nothing ever goes as expected but that, at least for me, is where the interesting anecdotes happen. These snags is what makes life interesting.

During security check I opted for the pat down. This x ray machine thing is simply a huge infringement on privacy and I hate this idea. Yes, I would rather have a human being touch me than go through this thing. It just annoys me.

The flight was actually not bad save for a screamer who sat a few rows behind us. Every so often we were woken up by that screech that made our hair stand on end. Babies and planes DO NOT MIX. It had been a while since I had been on an international flight to Europe. My favorite moment always comes when you’ve settled to sleep a little (cause it’s like midnight) and lo and behold the lights come back ON and the sun is rising outside. It’s when your brain goes, NO!!! That is just not right!

I got through a good chunk of my book on the Holographic nature of the universe and Rob embarked on Marcus Aurelius’s famous Meditations–a good start I think to this semi-metaphysical journey with Dr. Wayne Dyer. I think we are both searching for something–meaning perhaps–like the next person. This year has been so incredibly profound for me. I feel as if I’ve really grown spiritually and this trip, supported heavily by lectures from this incredibly inspirational man, is just another building block to expanding our consciousness.

So yes, this brings me to this very quirky place. I am sitting on the rooftop garden of Hotel Abitart, near Ostiense. If you have ever looked at a map of Rome, Ostiense is really on the edge of town and the area is very, very run down. The hotel is like a tiny slice of heaven in the middle of graffitied streets, vagrants, clothes lines and, what I would imagine compares to say…Spanish Harlem in New York City. We chose this place because of the proximity to Ostiense which is where our tour begins. We are staying in the Keith Herring Suite and for Europe, this room is like a mansion. It’s huge, colorful, comfortable and filled to the brim with art. We love it!

We slept till 3PM local time then went out for a walk. The neighborhood is really bad though and we didn’t want to chance walking back at night. It is really, really run down. Instead, we opted to stop at a local gelato place and were shocked when we had the absolute best ice cream of our lives. Nocciola and Exstasy del Demonio! The ecstasy of the demon chocolate ice cream was to die for!

Tomorrow we depart for a three hour ride to Assisi to walk along the footsteps of St. Francis. I have been to Assisi in the past but for Rob it is the first time.

More on that tomorrow but for now we’re going to enjoy some really good Italian food. Ciao