After our "Heart of Rome" walk, we continued on from the Spanish Steps to the Villa Borghese Gardens, Rome's answer to Central Park.
The park is home to Galleria Borghese, an art museum in a 16th-century palace built by Cardinal Scipione Borghese. Reservations are essential, as they only admit 360 people at a time, with a strict two-hour time limit for your visit. We intended to call as soon as we arrived in country on Monday morning, but we kept forgetting--so we were thankful that we finally remembered just in time to grab one of the last available slots for Wednesday afternoon.
Once again we found Rick Steves' advice helpful: he suggested heading straight upstairs to the Pinacoteca (painting gallery) rather than following the crowd through the first floor, and that strategy proved exactly right.
The extravagance of the villa was unreal. We were so busy looking at the sculptures and paintings that we kept forgetting to look up--but every ceiling was covered in frescoes, like these that look unbelievably three-dimensional:
It's not all paintings upstairs, despite the name. One of the pieces that impressed me most was this sculpture by Bernini, The Rape of Proserpine. The subject is tragic and deeply disturbing (this picture doesn't show the three-headed dog at her feet). But the skill and artistry are undeniable. Look at the way his fingers are digging into her flesh. HOW did Bernini and his peers accomplish this kind of thing with marble?
The Rick Steves pocket travel guide was especially helpful here, since we have very little understanding of art history and could not possibly see everything in just two hours. Steves drew our attention to the highlights, with interesting bits of trivia about the various pieces or particular features to look for. In general, I was most enamored with the sculptures--like this one, Pauline Bonaparte as Venus by Canova, with its contrasting textures.
I also liked Bernini's David--again, the details and the different textures he was able to produce from one slab of marble just astound me.
Bernini's Apollo and Daphne is also incredible for its "white space"--the sculptor removed more than half the block of marble:
After our time was up, we rented an electric rickshaw and pedaled around the park for a while. After two and a half days of city life, it was nice to get away and enjoy some peaceful time in green space. Extra nice since the rickshaw was electric and we didn't have to rely on our (exhausted) legs to pedal uphill :)
Once we left the Villa Borghese gardens, we wanted to check out the passeggiata--we had heard that the Via del Corso, Rome's main north-south street, closes down to car traffic every evening. It's a place to "see and be seen" during an evening stroll before dinner (which the Italians don't eat until about 9:00PM--have I mentioned that?). So, we eagerly made our way to the Via del Corso to take part in this classically Italian phenomenon...only to find that it wasn't a thing. We were there smack in the middle of when Rick Steves said things typically closed down, but it looked just the same as when we'd walked along it earlier in the day. Still cars everywhere. Bummer.
So we walked back to Piazza Venezia and past the Vittorio Emanuele monument--the modern (by Italian standards--late 1800s) monument the locals supposedly love to hate.
Around the back side of the monument was supposed to be a great place to watch the sunset.We were a bit dismayed to see yet another huge set of stairs to climb, but once we reached the top, it was a nice spot to sit and rest and enjoy the view.
You can see the dome of St. Peter's Basilica way off in the distance, on the right side:
After sunset, we looked for a place to grab dinner, as I still hadn't tried spaghetti alla carbonara and was determined to do so before we left Rome. The place we hoped to eat was inexplicably closed, so we settled for something else nearby. Il Pastarito was unfortunately underwhelming. Most restaurants didn't really pick up until 9, as I said, so we weren't fazed when we walked in and the place was almost empty--but it never did fill up. Steve's salad was delicious (vegetables were so lacking in the restaurants, it seemed) but my carbonara wasn't fantastic and the bruschetta was positively anemic. We did, however, get to try tartufo for dessert, which was yummy.
And then, alas, it was time to say goodbye to Rome. On to Napoli!