Category: Exploring (page 2 of 4)


Notre Dame

The second half of spring break my friend and I were in Paris. We flew from Prague very early in the morning on Thursday (March 18), and arrived into the city a little after 8am at Gare du Nord (North Station), a few blocks east of our hostel, located probably a mile or two north of the river and the center of the city. After finding the hostel we took the Metro “downtown” near most of the major museums, sites and tourist attractions Paris has to offer.

First impression of Paris – it is enormous and a little disorienting if you don’t have a solid sense of direction where you are. Not really what I had been expecting, the different sites seem much more disjointed. Unlike Rome where the central ancient city is a deceivingly small area, Paris is just the opposite with everything further apart than one might expect from a map view. The overall scale of buildings and blocks in Paris are of course much larger than in Rome. Certainly more orderly (considering sventramento, the later slicing through of wide avenues through the city), but more difficult to comprehend at a human scale due to its urban massiveness. There seems to be less hierarchy between major and minor streets, so it is not as easy to orient oneself to a particular prominent thoroughfare. An aspect of Rome I may have criticized before, the juxtaposition of ancient and newer neighborhoods of contrasting scales and configurations, is actually quite useful for someone unfamiliar to be able to tell distinctly when moving between different portions of the city.

On our first day in Paris we went to a few of the major sites: Notre Dame, the Pantheon, and of course the Eiffel Tower. The spatial quality around the Eiffel Tower was not what I expected. It seemed much less grand on the ground than I had imagined. We walked up to the second level (not the very top) which still provided a great view of the city in all directions.

Versailles       Hall of Mirrors

Friday morning we met up with my friend and classmate Jackson who was also visiting Paris that week and actually staying in the same hostel. We took a regional train out to visit the Palace of Versailes. The gardens were massive but unfortunately not in bloom yet as we visited in mid March. I enjoyed the Hall of Mirrors. After a few hours Spencer and I returned into the city for lunch and a visit to the Louvre. The museum was enormous, but we actually didn’t stay there very long. We then took a long Metro ride out to see Parc de La Villette that I wanted to check out. It is a large contemporary park (1980s) designed by Bernard Tschumi, with 35 “follies” – large red cubes placed on a grid throughout the park that are all deconstructed into various forms and functions. Like most places, it was not quite as I had imagined, but it was certainly interesting to experience.

On our last day Saturday we visited the Pompidou Centre. I enjoyed the contemporary exhibits much more than those in the Louvre. For lunch we ate at a cafe nearby. On our way to the bus stop to the airport, we stopped at La Défense. We flew out of Paris Beauvais, a very small rural airport, and got back to Rome around midnight.

I’m glad I made it to Paris. Given our short time there and the massive size of Paris, we mostly had to stick to sightseeing and didn’t really get to explore much of the city as a whole. Knowing very little French and being generally fatigued after a week and a half of traveling were also factors. Overall it was a good week though and we were able to see a lot of interesting and significant places. See all my Paris photos here.


Black Madonna House

Spring break was three weeks ago now, following a week-long class trip to the Veneto region of Italy. My friend Spencer came to visit and we traveled to Prague and Paris during the week with a couple days in Rome at both ends.

We flew from Rome to Prague Monday afternoon (March 15) and were there through early Thursday morning. Despite colder temps and cloudy skies, first impressions of Prague were good. The Prague Airport is nice and new and transportation into the city was easy and inexpensive. A 26 CZK (about $1.50) transit ticket got us a city bus ride and Metro trip to the city center where we were staying. Prague is a transit-intensive city with several metro lines, bus routes and surface tram lines. Like everywhere else I’ve visited in Europe, the bus and tram systems use the honor system where passengers must validate a transit ticket when they board, but oddly the subway metro system also uses this form of payment, instead of a typical access-controlled system with turnstiles or automatic gates. It was quite unusual to be able to just walk freely into the metro. Similar to Rome, a standard ticket permits 75 minutes of unlimited travel.

Tram in PragueOn Tuesday we walked around the city center hitting most of the significant places and sites. The city is large but the old center is quite compact with everything being pretty walkable. Except near the train terminal, everywhere we went was well-maintained and clean. Streets were mostly asphalt or cobblestone with sidewalks paved in decorative cube stones. The urban layout is much more consistent and contingent than in Rome where medieval streets mesh with modern wide thoroughfares and areas are disjointed by ancient ruins. Prague’s architecture is definitely distinct from Rome and more quintessential European. The majority of building facades are painted and pastel tones, making for a very colorful city.

Worth mentioning – the Czech Cubism Museum, housed in the House of the Black Madonna (top photo), the first and most prominent example of cubist architecture in Prague, built in 1912. The exhibit included cubist paintings, sculpture, furniture, and architectural drawings. Very interesting to learn more about an architectural and art movement so specific to Czech, and Prague in particular.

Another major site was the Prague Castle, an enormous, eclectic compound looking over the city of Prague. Dating back to the 9th century AD, several additions of the centuries has made it one of the largest castles in the world, including the Gothic cathedral, St. Vitus. We walked up to the castle, which permits fantastic views of the city, and walk through the outside, not actually going in. We did stop in the cathedral, which was my first Gothic cathedral to experience in person. The space was incredible. The interior height is emphasized by the structural expression of the Gothic style.

For dinner we had some typical Czech fare – dumplings, pork, sauerkraut, and the pub’s beer sampler. We ended up sitting at the end of a table shared with two other men. Evidently most dinning out in Prague is done by reservation.

Tesco / shopping centerWednesday, among exploring the city center more on foot, we took the metro to the Žižkov Television Tower, to take in the 360 view from the observation level. Additionally we stopped back at the Nový Smíchov shopping center just a few blocks south of our hotel in the middle of a busy, redeveloped neighborhood called Anděl. The three level shopping center was comparable to American malls on the inside, but the exterior was tastefully hidden behind a long street facade of existing four-five story buildings, with a contemporary glass entrance opening up at one end to a street space surrounded by several other modern glass buildings and a busy tram stop. Nový Smíchov included a movie ciniplex and a full-sized Tesco store, a UK-based big box retailer similar to Walmart.

That evening we ate at a pretty good Thai restaurant and returned to the hotel pretty early because our early flight to Paris in the morning. We had to get around 3:30 to catch a night bus back to the Prague airport. It was very convenient, going right by our hotel. Prague was a very nice city to visit, modest and well-maintained. Architecturally it is a historic city that does not resist contemporary interventions.

See all my photos from Prague here.

Trip to Veneto Region

Three weeks ago (March 8-13) we took a class trip to the Veneto region (province) in northern Italy. The studio was split into two groups, the other going south to Sicily. Ours was a bit smaller with only 21 students, so it was pretty relaxing and generally laid back. The weather was colder than the previous week including some snow, but our first day on Monday (March 8 ) was actually quite nice, clear and sunny.

We arrived at Venice Marco Polo Airport midmorning and met our bus. We stopped at an Autogrill for a quick breakfast and proceeded to our first stop at Carlo Scarpa‘s Brion Cemetery. Scarpa designed an L-shape addition that surrounds the existing rural cemetery for Giuseppe Brion and his wife. A nice old Italian man was there to show us in. The predominant material used was concrete, along with metal, wood, and mosaic highlights in a specific place. The cemetery was a beautiful and intriguing place. In a rural location sitting below hills of the Alps, the setting was serene on a gorgeous day.

Brion Cemetery

At lunch time we stopped in a town called Bassano del Grappa, that sits at the foot of the Alps. We walked from a main road into the old city center that had more than one town square before reaching the Ponte Degli Alpini, a covered wooden bridge design by Andrea Palladio in 1569. Bassano del Grappa was the first town we stopped at in Veneto, and the northern influences from Austria and Germany were evident in the architecture, culture and restaurants. My friend and I ate at a German restaurant.

Later that day we stopped at Villa Emo, by architect Andrea Palladio, built in 1559. Interestingly this villa was for agricultural purposes, so in place of elaborate gardens were instead farm fields. The villa itself is very long and slim. The back is left unfinished (just basic brick and stone) facing the fields. The interior and front loggia were decorated in frescoes. I enjoyed walking behind the villa and seeing the agriculture fields beyond, still in use.

One of Scarpa's interventionFor the first two nights we stayed at a nice hotel in the city center of Verona, a good sized city. Tuesday morning we visited Museo di Castelvecchio, a castle built in the 1350s by the Della Scala family for defense against invasion and outside rebellion. It had various uses over the centuries as Verona had a number of different occupations – under Napoleon radical changes took place including the construction of army barracks. In 1925 it became a museum. In 1958, a new organization of the entire building was planned and undertaken by Carlo Scarpa. His interventions helped unify the different additions and improve navigation through the complex. The attention to detail, tectonics and material connections that Scarpa is known for clearly stood out. We spent about two hours here exploring the museum and sketching.

We had a little under two hours to explore the city of Verona and grab lunch before regrouping to go to Mantua. This day was much colder than Monday. In Mantua we visited Palazzo Te, a Manarist palace from the 1530s with fantastic frescos. Following we walked into the city stopping at Alberti’s Basilica di Sant’Andrea, currently under heavy renovation. Then we continued to Palazzo Ducale, an enormous complex that is now a museum. While there the snow fall began to really pick up so we returned to Verona for the night.

Wednesday was characterized by snow. We left Verona in the morning heading toward the city of Vicenza. It was a nice longer bus ride through the Berici Hills en route to our first stop at Villa da Schio. This was a much more “hands on” tour, given by a descendent of the Trento family, for which the palazzo is still in hands. Significant about it is the natural air conditioning installed using the cool air from deep quaries in the hills nearby. The caves recently have been used for growing mushrooms and making wine. We had wine tasting there with our packed lunch.

Villa RotundaWe continued to Villa Rotunda, a 16th century Renaissance summer residence designed by Palladio. Used as a party villa, the building has a centralized plan with four identical porticos. Situated 45 degrees off the north-south axis on a plateau above the surrounding land, direct light is able to reach each facade at some point during the day. While we were there the snow continued to fall and accumulate, which was actually quite a unique experience to see it with snow. Inside there were some corner side rooms, but otherwise we were only in the central rotunda space that occupied most of the building. Once outside we walked around all sides and a light-hearted snow ball fight inevitably broke out. Who else can say they’ve done that at Villa Rotunda? : ) With cold wet feet we went to Vicenza and checked into the hotel, where most people, including myself, took a nap before dinner.

Thursday morning we walked in to the old city to see a number of buildings by Palladio. Of note the Basilica Palladiana, a market building constructed in the 15th century as the seat of government (called Palazzo delle Ragione) and reconstructed in the 16th century by Palladio. He added a new outer shell with a classical loggia of marble, obscuring the original Gothic architecture. Adding a new outer layer presented spatial challenges at the corners, requiring the end arches to actually be smaller. Also the new shell came extremely close to other adjacent buildings.

Also in Vecenza we visited the Teatro Olimpico, the oldest surviving enclosed theater in the world. Designed by Palladio in the 1580s to fit inside an existing old, irregularly shaped fortress. Completed by Vincentzo Scamozzi after Palladio’s death, it was based on his sketches. Included were seven permanent false perspective stage scenes (see photo) that still remain today. We stayed to sketch the theater while a tour group came through for an impressive audio-visual lighting show highlighting the various artifacts and features of the theatre.

We then took a bus to the city of Padua where we visited their Palazzo della Ragione, a civic basilica built in 1218. Claimed to have the largest roof unsupported by columns in Europe, the upper level was a massive open space now used for exhibits. Ground level is still occupied by several small market buildings and now other restaurants and businesses as well. The remainder of the day was free to explore the city. I stopped in a few different churches that were much different than the churches I’ve seen in Rome. The northern European and Venetian influence was quite noticeable.

Friday morning we took a brief train ride to Venice. We spent a few hours at the Punta della Dogana museum, which is housed in the former customs house, renovations designed by Tadao Ando. The building is triangular ending at its narrowest end with a belvedere tour at the end of the pier. Inside was divided in linear rows which you wind through and around to explore the gallery. With a second level throughout much of the building, there is no prescribed linear pathway through the exhibits. Instead visitors choose their own way through. The second level was open to below in many areas so visually the entire museum was quite connected, but actually getting between levels and different exhibit areas was not as simple. At the narrowest section before the tower is the museum store with a modest cafe. The exhibits on display were pretty interesting, some particularly graphic but indeed intriguing. We had a brief discussion as a group afterwords not only about the building but the exhibits as well. See my sketch to the right.

At lunch time I made my way over to Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square – left photo below), the dominant square in Venice where St Mark’s Basilica and its associated campanile are located. About a thousand years old now, the basilica is one of the most famous examples of Byzantine architecture. I was looking forward to seeing it, being one of the select churches I specifically remembered from arch history, now four years ago. The scale of the church and certainly the piazza was much larger than I had imagined. Construction work was being done at the base of the campenile and parts of the building facades bounding the piazza were covered in scaffolding. The basilica was beautiful, but its current situation was pretty tacky with crowd barriers everywhere and a makeshift souvenier shop set up at the entrance.

St Marks' Basilica       Scarpa entrance to architecture university

After regrouping briefly with the whole class we went to see a modest bridge designed by Carlo Scarpa. Then a small group of us took an obligatory, but nonetheless enjoyable gondola ride around the canals. Besides general exploring, a friend and I also checked out the Faculty of Architecture campus of the Universitá luav di Venezia, not far from our hotel with a Scarpa designed entrance (above right photo). We ended up walking around inside and in the library where students were working. It was interesting to see the facilities and to an extent, the work style of architecture education in Italy.

To end the trip, that evening we had a group dinner at a seafood restaurant. It was much less elaborate than the larger group dinner in Perugia, but still good. On the walk back we stopped for gelato, but it was not the best. In the morning we left early to fly back and returned to Rome by noon. It was an intense trip and we got to see a lot of different sites and visited a number of cities.

See my trip photos here.

Velkommen to Norway


For a long week end two weeks ago (Feb 6-8), three others and I had a delightful time visiting Norway. Overall impressions from our brief visit were extremely positive, despite being very cold compared to Rome. After returning from Perugia Friday night, we headed back out of Rome early Saturday morning on a 6:30 flight to Oslo.

_DSC0005.JPGOnce we got into the city we checked into our hostel, just blocks from the bus and train stations in the city center. In search of lunch we walked down Karl Johans Gate, the “main street” of downtown Oslo running between the rail station on the east and the Royal Palace at the west end. A number of the blocks on the easter end have been turned into a pedestrian mall with a very trendy retail scene. Further west the street opens back up to traffic near the Stortinget (Parliament of Norway), the beginning of a park that runs the rest of the way to the Royal Palace grounds. The park includes a plaza in front o the Storinget, a large fountain turned skating rink in the winter, and the National Theatre building. This seems to be the real heart of Oslo. Several buildings on the south edge of the park, some modern, but most more traditional had electronic advertisements and signs atop, like it was Norway’s version of Times Square.

Just a block or so south of the park is Oslo Rådhus (City Hall), a monumental brick building facing the Oslo Fjord. Next to this area is Aker Brygge, an old shipyard that was redeveloped into offices and shopping starting in the 1980s. This small area had an incredible collection of new architecture with creative facades and use of different materials. It was almost overwhelming to take it all in with so many intriguing buildings. One area where a street opens up, two small sittable spaces are created by the pavement mounding up to create an artificial brick berm. A small child was playing on one. I can only imagine how popular these are when it is warmer.

We then headed over to the Oslo Opera House as the sun was beginning to set (around 3:30pm), with a quick stop at the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design that we spotted on the way. The Opera House was simply amazing. We walked up the sloped roof and had a delightful time trekking all around on top. The accessible roof connects the physically-isolated opera house with the rest of downtown by providing fantastic views of the city. The architecture is engaging and interactive for everyone, not just those going to a performance. It becomes much more than a cultural asset, but has social and urban virtues as well.

_DSC0160.JPG   Oslo Opera House

When we explored the lobby we decided to get tickets for that evening’s National Opera orchestra concert. Cheap seats were for 100 Kroner (around $17) so not bad at all. The concert started at 7:30, featuring music from Strauss and Beethoven. The performance was enjoyable and nice to hear some recognizable pieces, not to mention experiencing the event in a world-renowned venue. Inside the performance hall was clad in variations of horizontal and vertical wood lines that I particularly liked. (Anyone who’s been in studio with me knows I have a thing for parallel [wood] lines in architecture, so you can imagine what a grand time I was having in Norway.)

After the show we asked our usher, who seemed to be about our age, where a good place would be to go out nearby since we hadn’t eaten yet. Her friend suggested a place a few blocks north around Youngstorget Square. We found it and discovered it was only a bar and we still needed to eat. Being used to the late dinning custom in Italy (and not exactly familiar with that in Norway) we found ourselves almost out of luck besides perhaps McDonald’s. We stopped back at our hostel, not far to ask the clerk where we could find something to eat. He directed us to the Cathedral Cafe on Karl Johans Gate, serving local Norwegian food we were in search of. I got a Norwegian Ringnes beer and a dish of salmon with hallandale sauce and boiled potatoes (not sure what the dish name was). After eating it was nearing midnight so we all turned in for the evening with another early morning ahead of us.


In the morning we walked to the train station a few blocks away to catch our NSB Bergen Railway train, departing a little after 8:00. This was my first trip by train in Europe so was pretty excited for it. We boarded and found our seats; the train was quite empty to start. The cars were modern and comfortable. Despite being one of the more memorable parts of the trip, it is hard to describe in depth through words. The route weaved in and around snow covered mountain peaks, alongside fiords and small towns. Initially it was interesting to watch as we left Oslo and how the city transitioned into rural. Housing types were actually quite similar to the United States. The train ride was a little over seven hours, running a bit late toward the end. The scenery just kept getting better and better as we approached Bergen.

Once we arrived in Bergen we walked a few blocks to our hostel. This one was not quite as accommodating as the one in Oslo, but it was good enough for the night. Since we only had a short amount of daylight left we were swift to drop off our things and head out exploring. We walked a few blocks to Bryggen (see photo at top), a series of Hanseatic commercial buildings along the fjord. This is the oldest part of the city, dating back to 1070, but due to various fires the oldest buildings only date back to the 1700s.

Soon Jamin and I split from the other two and took the Fløibanen cable railway to the top of the hill. From there was a spectacular view of the entire city, clarifying to us how large Bergen actually was. From the small area near the train station and our hostel, we perceived the city much smaller than it is and didn’t get to many areas with taller, more contemporary buildings. The top was busy today not only with sightseers, but also skiiers with a cross country ski trail running right by. A restaurant and a gift shop were also at the top. We stopped in the gift shop for a while to warm up, waiting for the sun to set a little to get photos of the city below. I bought a Kvikk Lunsj (quick lunch) bar that was extremely similar to a Kit-Kat. But don’t tell them that! (according to Wikipedia)


We went back down and regrouped with the other two around 6:30. We walked around the city center a bit more and around the University of Bergen campus nearby. Then we had similar issues finding dinner as we did in Oslo, despite going much earlier this time. Many restaurants seemed to be closed or not serving food (because it was Sunday perhaps?). We went into an Irish pub that looked good just to find out the kitchen was closed because the chef was sick. Aaron and Chester settled on an Indian restaurant we had walked by, while Jamin and I opted for the less expensive choice across the street at a small gyro / pizza place.

This was the first place we encountered that didn’t speak any English – the guy working appeared to be an immigrant so he only knew some Norwegian. I was looking for a pizza with onions so we were able to ask what was on one particular kind, so he pointed to the ingredients, one that looked kind of like onions. As he was putting it together I noticed a different container over by the gyros that clearly was onion, and realized we had ordered a pepperoni, pineapple and paprika pizza. (Pineapple not my fave) The pizza was good anyway and came with cucumber sauce for dipping. It was also really inexpensive (by Norwegian standards) at only 149 NOK for the large pizza and two drinks. We headed back to the hostel for another early night to bed, followed by another early morning.

The morning (Monday) came very soon. We left the hostel by 5:45 to make it to the bus station to catch the 6:30 Flybuss to the airport. We had an 8:10 flight out of Bergen to Rygge Airport, another airport by Oslo. We took another bus back into the city center of Oslo, but only had about two and a half hours until we had to catch another bus back to Torp Airport to make our return flight again. The bus transport between airports and the city ended up taking longer than expect and due to the scheduling, we had a lot less time back in Oslo than originally expected.

On a mission to get some photos and a souvenir knit hat, I walked down Karl Johans Gate to near the Royal Palace before swinging down to the shop near the Rådhus. On the way Jamin and I stopped at a bakery along the Storinget park for coffee and a cinnamon roll. I went down the building’s lower level where a sporting goods store was to find a restroom. While browsing their hats a store clerk approached me and asked if I needed anything in Norwegian. As I responded in English he realized I wasn’t Norwegian, smiled and apologized with a friendly pat on the back. Not to overgeneralize an entire population, but everyone here was extremely friendly and helpful. This was only one example.

The visit to Norway was very enjoyable. It was great to see the beautiful countryside and experience the quaintness of Bergen and neat urbanism in Oslo. The contemporary architecture of Norway is handsome and sophisticated, but not overly conservative or boring. Oslo has a delightful combination of old and new, existing more or less harmoniously together. It was a very nice change of scenery from Rome where there are very few examples of really attractive contemporary architecture.

See all my Norway photos here.

Umbria Trip

Hillside dwellings

Last weekend was full of travel. Last Thursday to Friday (Feb 4-5) we had a short overnight class trip to Perugia, Umbria, followed by a three day weekend for travel on our own. I headed up to Norway with three others and it was a blast, but I’ll talk about that in my next post.

We left Rome around 8am on Thursday aboard a double decker charter bus, which was kind of fun. It was my first time out of the city since arriving about a month ago, so I was looking forward to seeing the countryside and just somewhere else besides Rome.

Palazzo Farnese in CaprarolaOn the way to Perugia we made a few side stops along the way. First in the small hill town of Bagnaia to visit Villa Lanta (16th century) with an elaborate formal garden with fountain and water features flowing down the hill above the town. We stayed there for a little over an hour to explore and do some sketching. Our second stop was at Palazzo Farnese (photo to left), an enormous 16th century mansion in a very rural town Caprarola. Similar to Villa Lanta, it sat above overlooking much of the small town. On the short walk from the bus we had majestic views of the deep valleys and hillside dwellings (photo at top). We only went through one floor of the Palazzo, which were all elaborately decorated with frescos painted on just about every wall and ceiling surface. Then we made a quick stop nearby for food tasting of a few different local foods, wines, and naturally carbonated water.

The next leg of the bus trip was longer, going through very hilly and forested areas. The road had very sharp turns, switching back and forth up and down terrain. The countryside was beautiful and a nice change of scenery from the dense grittiness of Rome. Despite winter, much of the ground was still mostly green.

_DSC0123.JPGWe arrived in Perugia around 5:30pm, just as it was getting dark. Outside of town there were occasional small industrial buildings along the highway. Entering the city was actually quite sudden. I was surprised by the size and modernity of the newer areas, with more towers, glass and steel than can be found in Rome. But this certainly did not characterize all of Perugia, which originated as a medieval fortress atop a hill. The old historic center remains a vibrant place, connected to the newer city below by MiniMetro, an automated people mover system, as well as an extensive escalator corridor going up the hill.

A wide pedestrian street Corso Vannucci at the top is flanked by several tiny “streets” that crawl up and down the terrain, winding around agglomerations of buildings. Unlike most of the medieval streets in Rome, the majority of these were completely inaccessible except on foot, many only a meter or so wide. A lot were also built over, either partially or completely, making the typical meaning of street even more inapplicable. They were very foreign, especially since they are all still functioning, providing access to operating businesses and residences. The multidimensional, multilayered urbanism here simply cannot be found in America.

StreetHilltop Perugia was very posh with several stylish outlets along Corso Vannucci. It was very clean compared to Rome and the small side streets were very well lit. The paving material was also a lighter stone and brick compared to the standard dark gray cobblestone used most everywhere in Rome.

Our hotel (Hotel Priori) was just off Corso Vannucci on one of these side streets. That evening we had a group dinner with all students and professors at All Mangiar bene (translates: “All Eating Well”) located down one of the side vias. It was a multi course Italian dinner with two appetizers, soup, spaghetti, salad, turkey dish, pork chops and sausage; followed by dessert, coffee, and a lemon liquor. Needless to say, it was intense and very filling. A brick arched ceiling characterized the dinning room, with only a few small windows at one end, giving it a very medieval, almost dungeon-like vibe.

The following day on Friday was left for exploration and sketching. I walked down the hill first to find the train station with a few friends who needed to catch a bus there later to get to their own weekend travels. I then wandered around the modern city around and took the MiniMetro back up to the top. It was drizzly, gloomy and cold that day so everyone was pretty much ready to leave when we the bus came back around 3pm. The bus trip back to Rome was pretty uneventful with one quick stop at an AutoGrill truck stop. Back in Rome it was pouring rain, not making for a fun way back to the apartment. We were dropped back off at the Piramide Metro station where we had met the bus on Thursday, despite driving right by the apartment where the majority of us live. Waiting ten minutes in the pouring rain for a local bus to come was no fun at all, but hey, its Rome.

Perugia was a nice short trip outside of Rome and neat to see a smaller Italian city. See photos here.

History of Contemporary Rome

Today we had another intriguing lecture for ARCH 528 as well as a walking tour discussing the contemporary history of Rome in connection with the modern republic of Italy. Rome became the capital of the unified Italy on December 20, 1870, likely chosen for its symbolic history as a center of power and government. At the time Rome was not much larger than the original ancient city and had somewhat of an agrarian economy. Expansion and transformation from a sleepy town to once again major urban center occurred very rapidly. Modernization had to be quick so many existing buildings were taken over for government use and to house various ministries.

The biggest issue was housing to accommodate the extraordinary growth. Rome was a city of employees, not industry, but construction of course boomed. Surrounding landowners – monasteries and aristocrats – were now developers and there was a building fever. New buildings were eclectic with historical references on facades. A typical new building – becoming common across Europe – was four or five stories tall with all commercial space at ground level. Above on the first floor were located larger, luxurious apartments for the wealthy, and the upper floors became shorter and smaller for the lower classes. This is very interesting, seeming to be the beginning of planned large-scale mixed-use buildings. In general the ancient part of the city was and is still mixed with residential and commerce, but it was much more organic and reactionary.

So much of the city of Rome is not of ancient or even medieval times, but of the 19th and even early 20th centuries. To accommodate automobiles, some new arteries were cut through historic areas. Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle II was cut through the dense Field of Mars area (in the thick of ancient Rome). Unlike new straight arteries, this one winds through to minimize destruction and curve around the most important buildings. Otherwise many building facades were cut back. This is still not a particularly wide street by any means, but is certainly an important traffic corridor through the middle of the city. To the east it connects to a new street, Via Nazione which was modeled after radical new radial avenues in Paris that accommodated not only traffic, but various infrastructures as well.

And finally, close to home (studio) in the Jewish Ghetto, major changes also occurred. With striking parallels to the United States’ urban renewal of the 1960s and 70s, whole areas were deemed unfit and demolished to build brand new. A large part of the ghetto, which had been extraordinarily dense was removed and laid over with a modern grid – including the new synagog. The whole area replaces resulted in only four blocks so the juxtaposition against the remaining ancient urban fabric is quite unusual. (See blue blocks on map above.) At one place you can stand in between the ancient ruins of the Portico d’Ottavia, tiny medieval buildings, and large scale block-sized buildings in simplified Renaissance style facades.

While walking around we used Nolli‘s 1748 figure ground map laid over what exists today to understand the great extent to which some places have been altered. Above the map diagram shows the Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle II artery cutting through the center of Rome (horizontal red line) as well as Via Arenula (north-south) which turns into Via di Trastevere south of the river crossing. It of course terminates at Vittorio, but there was a plan to extend it even further north and split along either side of the Pantheon (located just a few blocks north, off the map). In that proposal, the Pantheon was deemed important enough to preserve, but of course dozens of buildings around it did not have that esteem. Thankfully this extension did not occur.

Additionally on our walking tour, we visited the Palazzo D’Esposizione museum, located on Via Nazione, completed in 1882, so the new state could show its interest in art and culture. There was a new, essentially all glass addition on the back containing a cafe and restaurant. We stopped here first before visiting the gallery, which was seemingly entirely separated (we actually had to go outside and reenter the front of the building). Currently there is a large exhibit with the works of Alexander Calder, who is best known for his mobiles and large (often red) stainless steel sculptures. A group of school children tried to make one of the large mobiles move by blowing at it from afar. How fun.

Beyond Trastevere


Yesterday evening (Friday, Jan 15) I decided to explore beyond my neighborhood of Trastevere (photo above) in a direction I hadn’t gone very far yet. I had purchased five single ride bus tickets (BIT) earlier at the tabacchi so decided to ride the tram line 8 out to the endpoint at Cosatello and go from there. Throughout my explorations I discovered some more neat pedestrian-friendly and happening streets outside of the central city antiquity, and also picked up a few things about the transit system.

The tram ride to Cosatello took about ten minutes or so. As visible on the map, once away from the heart of Trastevere near the river, the urban pattern becomes much more gridded and regular. The area is of course much newer than central Rome but besides a few main thoroughfares, the streets maintain a human scale and the buildings are mixed-use, in many cases more visibly active than many buildings in the older parts of the city. Typical apartment buildings there are five to six stories and stucco with muted colors. Facades are generally plane, but made lively by inhabitants. Autos are much more dominant on the streets, which are certainly more “friendly” to cars. The tram past a Ford dealership, though still extremely tiny by American standards and fully contained within a building. Car lots are non existent here. There were also some larger gas stations along the main roads as well. A lot of places, especially closer to the center of the city, tiny filling stations are located along the side of the roadway and cars simply pull over. I’ve noticed all of them seem to have attendants so perhaps self service is either not customary or legal.

Once I reached the tram endpoint I backtracked a few blocks until I came to Via Edoardo Jenner, a pleasant street characterized by apartment blocks with specialty shops at sidewalk level. I stopped at one complex of four apartment buildings that had a nice entry courtyard in the middle to sketch. As I continued further down the street it turned into a much more active retail district. After a number of blocks the concentration of retail terminated at a piazza so I turned the corner and went a few blocks to another major thoroughfare Viale dei Colli Portuensi.

This street was much wider than the one with the tram, with several lanes and generous setbacks. The scale of buildings were similar, but most were not attached to each other on the sides. In one sense it felt very suburban, but at the same time most ground floors of buildings were active by shops, restaurants, and commercial entities. Aside from the architecture, it somewhat reminded me of the wide avenues in some newer areas in the District of Columbia. In fact I notice a lot of parallels in different parts of Rome to certain attributes of various American cities I’ve visited.

View ROME 5 – Beyond Trastevere in a larger map

Navigating Bus Stops
I originally did not intend to venture to far away from the tram and until one point, even when I had gone quite far, was planning to simply turn around and return along the same route. But once I had been walking quite a distance I decided to simply follow the major thoroughfares I came upon and make a big loop back to tram. You can see my large loop on the map. My turn on to Via Portuense was by a narrow sidewalk along an off ramp. When I reached the next major intersection I began second guessing my direction. However after pondering a map at a bus stop sign for a moment and looking at the route information provided on the sign, I was able to use the bus stop signs to confirm I was heading in the right direction.

For each route serving a particular bus stop, the sign lists every street it goes on and how many stops on that particular street. I noticed the majority of routes at the stops I was passing had final destinations at Stazione Trastevere. At one point I walked too far past a street I needed to turn on, but realized about a block past when there were no more routes listed for Trastevere. Eventually I simply stopped at waited for one of the Trastevere buses – took route 774 – to get back to the tram. Of course once I got on the bus I discovered the tram was only about a block further away.

It was an enjoyable exploration outside of central Rome, but nonetheless a bit tiring. By using the bus stops to confirm my direction, I was able to better understand all the information on the sides and now the system seems much more legible to me. For someone with a broad knowledge of street names in Rome, it’d be quite easy navigating the system simply using the information provided at stops. Unfortunately the Roma ATAC website is not quite as thorough, particularly for buses, which is why it was less clear to me at first. Of course, knowing where you want to go is critical for getting around by transit, which was my main inhibition at first – simply not knowing anywhere to go outside of central Rome. I look forward to exploring more of the Rome metro via transit.

> Photos: (005) Beyond Trastevere
> Photos: (004) Friday urban history walk at Forum and Colosseum.

Musings in Roma

Palazzo Cenci, Roma

It’s been a week since I arrived in Rome now. The past few days since classes began have been fairly routine. We’ve been drawing a couple hours each day – a quick review of the basics of blind contour, negative space and figure drawing – which has actually been quite delightful. My studio meets in a small room in the back of the studio at Palazzo Cenci (photo above) with access to a small terrace. The desk I sit at looks out a side window facing another building facade with many layers of time, materials, and levels. Occasionally pigeons touch down on decorative ledge in the brickwork. Next week we begin drawing out in the city at various sites.

Yesterday (Wednesday) we had an introductory lecture to a weekly seminar course on Italian design spanning art, architecture, and urban – very intriguing. That afternoon we also had an introductory lecture of Roman urban history by Jan Gadeyne, an accomplished historian, who will be giving the first three lectures. In addition to this course will be weekly Friday walks in the city, first of which will be tomorrow.

Today I had a few hours free between drawing in the morning and Italian in the afternoon; I took a walk north of studio past the Pantheon destined for Richard Meier’s very contemporary Ara Pacis Museum. On the way I seemed to discover a large, trendy retail district with several upscale stores as well as recognizable chains …even a Disney Store. The scale of most specialty stores here is so different than in America, several being no larger than a few hundred square feet. During the month of January (Gennaio) every store has large sales (saldi) so one of my tasks this weekend is to do some shopping. See new photos from today’s exploration here.

This evening I went up to Viale di Trastevere (the tram street) to buy a sketchbook for tomorrow’s history walk. I decided to walk further down the street. After a few blocks there was a noticeable shift from more traditional Roman architecture to a good mix with larger scale early 20th century modernism. This made sense as much of Trastevere sits outside the two original city wall boundaries, making this area relatively new for the city of Rome. It was interesting to see how these modern designs have aged and been adapted.

Most were apartment buildings with commercial spaces along the sidewalk. Aesthetically I can’t say any of them were particularly attractive, they are still occupied and respectable locations. Some of the drab, redundant facades have been enhanced with shrubbery and plantings at windows and along balconies. The juxtaposition of these large scale exhibits of modernist residential architecture in the ancient city of Rome is fascinating. Entirely different scales and styles, though likely similar densities. This is something I would like to study more during my time living in Rome.

That is all for tonight. Tomorrow’s history walk includes the ancient Forum, Palatine, and Colosseum. I’m staying in the city for the weekend and looking forward to more exploring. The Pope is evidently coming to the synagog (a block from Palazzo Cenci – our studio) on Sunday so the are is buzzing to get ready for the big event and security is beginning to be increased as well. It should be quite the spectacle.

Also my friend Dana started blogging tonight about Rome as well. He has a good first post concerning the scale of Rome streets and blocks that can be very deceiving when looking at on a map. It is worth a read here.

Sabato a Roma

Jan. 9 – Saturday in Rome, today was mostly rainy. I went out first with one other to find pizza and an umbrella for him. The rain had let up and we were only going nearby to Viale di Trastevere so I left my own umbrella at the apartment – which turned out to be a poor decision. We walked a few blocks down Trastevere and went into a department clothing store. This time of year all stores in Italy have sales (saldi so prices were extremely reasonable. We discovered a Standa supermarket in the lower level, where my friend bought a few groceries. On our way back it began to rain so he attempted to share his umbrella with me that he purchased from a street vendor. It’s amazing how easy it is to find someone selling umbrellas on the street once it starts to rain. We stopped at a small pizzeria along Trastevere for lunch. It was not as impressive as what I had yesterday and was more expensive – €6.50 for “pizza” and a can of Coca Cola.

Back to the apartment I played cards with some roomates to pass the time while more rain fell. Later in the afternoon I returned to the household goods store (from yesterday that had no towels) with the same guy from morning to find blankets. He took them back and I continued walking. I headed eastward through winding alleyway streets in search of the Piazza del Campidoglio, or captiol hill. This was one of the few places in Rome I remember from arch history at NDSU so was excited to see it. In the 16th century, Michelangelo was commissioned to design a renovated piazza space. I will elaborate on this is a later post for the sake of getting to sleep earlier tonight.

The church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli is adjacent to the square. From the its stairs I could easily see the dome of St. Peters in the Vatican. On the other side the Colosseum appeared just down the road. One thing about Rome is that everything is much closer together than you expect from looking at a map – which is a good thing a suppose.

I continued back toward the river on my way back and walked further south along its banks. The next bridge was at Via Marmorata, which I intended to cross and cut back over the Trastevere. Instead I decided to go the other direction (not cross the river) as it appeared to be another fairly vibrant district with restaurants and shops. Indeed it was, I passed several clothing, shoe, and furniture stores. Most were very tiny and compact. Several tabacchis (tobacco / “convenient stores”) were in the area and I eventually found a Tuodi supermarket where I picked up a few thinks to make lasagna for dinner. As I walked back I passed through Giardino Famiglia di Consiglio (see here) – a small park with a playground for children.

When I returned I discovered our apartments were not furnished with any sort of baking dishes, among other things, so I instead shared pasta and bruschetta with a few other friends for dinner. Tomorrow I plan to go to an English-speaking church with a friend and more exploring of the city. After a few days here the area is becoming much more comfortable and familiar. Hopefully I will have some photos of the apartment and some city shots up in the next day.

Roma Giorno Due

Post for Friday, Jan. 8, second day in Rome. It was cloudy in the morning and lasted the entire day before a hard, but relatively brief rain. I have not really taken any photos yet due to the potential for rain today, and not wanting to look like a total tourist as I still try to orient myself in the maze of inner Rome. I started my day later than usual and went we a half a dozen others to get cellphones. At the TIM store we met several other students from America, some from Dartmouth and some from Cornell University. For lunch we ate at a pizza place nearby. They have a variety of kinds of pizza, smaller in size, and cut off the amount you request. The cost is determined by weight. I had half a pizza, about the size of a very large slice, for €3 and a bottle of Nestea for €2.

To get to the cellphone store we crossed the Tiber River to the north through a fine shopping district to a major road called Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. (I haven’t even began to try to remember street names.) There were several shops and restaurants in this area. In front of a McDonald’s (the only recognizable chain anything I’ve seen so far) there were some young boys smoking. On our way back through the narrow vias we stopped at a household goods store for towels (salviette). No luck so we returned to the apartment. At this point it was near 5:30pm or so. Crossing the bridge we ran into two others, who I continued on with to a supermarket.

The supermarket, Panella is on our side of the river on Via Natale Del Grande (street). To get there we walk from our apartment along Via dei Genovesi, another very narrow alley street, about a five block distance till we hit the major road Viale di Trastevere, that crosses the river and has a tramline running down the center. From there we cross and walk down about two blocks until Via Natale Del Grande, which is opposite from a piazza. The first block of Via Natale Del Grande is wider and limited to pedestrians and is tree lined on both sides. There is an art supply shop along this block. The next block with Panella is much narrower and open to cars. Of course the street is used for much more than that. The sides are full of parked scooters, compact cars, and several portions are built out with patios for restaurant dining space.

The supermarket was very subtle from the outside, as most shops seem to be. The front is very small and contains only a few checkout lanes. Like a supermarket we stopped at earlier near Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, it was made up of several smaller rooms and spaces connected to each other, but probably nearly twice as large. I bought some bread, prosciutto, cheese, some generic Italian cereal, and a liter-and-a-half bottle of Ben Cola for a little over €8. My first “self-prepared meal” here was a sandwhich and cola.

Later this evening a friend Jamin and I went out exploring in the general direction of the Colosseum, not too far from our apartment across the river. We did not take the most direct route, but as always interesting. It was not quite as large as I had imagined, but certainly impressive. Our roundabout exploration ended up being a little under 4.5 miles, or a little over 7 km. (see route here.

There’s so much of Rome I have yet to see and many famous sites I haven’t even thought of yet. Tomorrow is Saturday or Sabato and I look forward to spending another day exploring, maybe even take some photos. I’d like to do some map sketching and some digital diagrams, but likely won’t get to that in the next few days. I believe mapping and spatial drawing will be a major focus of our first few weeks of study, which begins Monday. Rome is certainly a city where maps are critical.

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