when in rome

Working with the city of Rome, the Vatican Secret Archives – how’s that for an unprepossessing name? – is celebrating its 400th anniversary with an exhibit designed to shed light not only on its vast holdings but on some of the myth and mystery surrounding the collection, which was the subject of Dan Brown’s post-Da Vinci Code blockbuster Angels and Demons. “Lux in Arcana: The Vatican Secret Archives Reveals Itself” is at the Capitoline Museum until Sept. 9.

The secret – or, more accurately, “private” – archives were founded by Pope Paul V in 1612. Since 1881, they have been open only to scholars conducting research. Officials at the Archives point out that many of the original manuscripts, codices, and ancient parchments on display are outside the walls of the Vatican for the first time in history. Highlights include documents that describe the inquisition of Galileo Galilei, the case against the Knights Templar, and the order for Martin Luther’s excommunication. Also featured is a parchment in Latin with the seal of 83 English Lords seeking to annul the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. (His failure to obtain Papal approval ultimately led to the Reformation in Britain.)

As always when in Rome, do as the Romans do and avoid the crowds. A private tour of the exhibit can be tailor-made in conjunction with a stay at Rocco Forte’s fashionable Hotel de Russie, just off the Spanish Steps. Or get preferential access with the hotel’s Lux in Arcana package, which includes exhibition tickets, an overnight stay and the power to jump the line – Papal dispensation not required .


holiday ho-ho-hotel deals

Since I just had two pretty fantastic – and unexpected – hotel experiences in both Rome and Costa Rica, I thought I would share some details on a few money-saving deals they have going on.  Just in case anyone’s got a spare bit of  dosh over the holidays and needs a splurge!

Rome Cavalieri Planetarium suite terrace

Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts has a winter escape offer valid now through March 31st which includes daily breakfast, and a $50 activity credit per consecutive two-night stay. For example, stay for two nights and get a $50 credit, stay four nights and receive a $100 credit, and so on. The credit can be used towards resort activities, spa treatments, and select dining venues within the hotel. Rates at Rome’s Cavalieri begin at 350 Euro, per room, per night, based on availability.  Or pony up for one of the Imperial floor rooms which start at 420 a night – it comes with access to the Imperial lounge, which has free computer access, a dedicated concierge, and a copious all-day spread of complimentary food and beverage that can more than make up for the  price increase. Plus, you can use that $50 credit towards any of the one-off experiences the hotel can arrange, like tooling around the city in your own Ferrari, a private visit to the Sistine Chapel, or even gladiator training. To book at the Rome Cavalieri, visit http://www.hiltonluxury.com/worldwide.


Starting January 3rd and valid through April 30th, 2010, Paradisus Playa Conchal is offering a 4 night/5 day Spa Getaway Package which includes an in-room welcome gift, a 30-minute facial treatment per person, a private yoga class for two, and an 80-minute signature Shell Massage for each, plus free use of the wet areas and 15% any additional therapies at Ahuia Spa. I can’t recommend the Shell Massage enough:  Tiger Clams are filled with local beach sand, then warmed and used in the same way as hot stones.  The texture of the clamshell is slick however, so there’s no drag against your skin – making the massage that much more relaxing.  Prices per person, per night include all food and beverage as well as most activities, starting at $318 for a Junior Suite.  Opt for a Royal Service Suite – from $398 – and you get a butler, concierge, private pool, and a lounge with computer access and drinks & nibbles throughout the day.  Royal Service also gets you preferential seatings at the hotel’s restaurants, which always comes in handy.  Book the Getaway by calling the hotel directly at (506) 2654 4123 or by emailing resconchal@paradisusplayaconchal.com.


bucket list: 2009 edition – November



GUANACASTE:  Since I have already posted a number of entries on Costa Rica, I thought I would try something different and find a photo that encapsulated some of the spirit of my recent trip.  The country is so “green” – so conscious of how important its natural resources are to the people and the economy – that nearly a quarter of the country is protected by either the government or private concessions.  One of the upshots of such studied conservation is that wildlife is not only abundant but also part of the experience of daily life.  To wit:  a random walk one afternoon brought me face to face with this giant iguana, soaking up the sun in the crook of a low-lying palm on the side of the road.

Gladiator training

ROME:  I’ve already live-blogged extensively about my return to Rome a few weeks ago, so indulge me as I post this photo once again and relive the fantasy of being a well-muscled warrior in the service of Caesar Augustus.  This is, after all, a bucket list!


live blog: arrivederci roma

arrivederchiIt’s hard to say goodbye.  It’s even more difficult to be cavalier about leaving the cushy confines of the Rome Cavalieri.  Yet my time in Rome has come to an end.  As promised, I’ve eaten my body weight in pasta, consumed enough wine to float my way through the holidays, and am feeling like an extra out of 8 1/2.

More significantly though, I’ve had the chance to reconnect – albeit briefly – with the curious seventeen year old who long ago wandered the city’s maze of streets in awe of this world and the world inside him waiting to be born.  I may be filling my suitcase with pasta and coffee to take back home, but sitting here on my balcony and taking in the birds-eye view of St. Peter’s and the city spread out before me like a sumptuous buffet, I’m thinking I’ve already got myself the best of souvenirs.


live blog: we who are about to die salute you

beforeWhile there is some dispute as to its veracity, today’s headline is said to be the phrase with which gladiators heralded the emperor before engaging in battle.  What is not in dispute, however, is the authenticity accorded to the life and times of the gladiators by Gruppo Storico Romano.

Warrioris Toolsswords

The Scuola Gladiatori Roma  – an arm of the Gruppo Storico – teaches you how to fight with the same weapons handled by the gladiators of ancient Rome.  Kitted out in sandals, a tunic, and the appropriate armor, you learn how to use the gladius, or typical battlesword. (the word gladiator is itself derived from the word “gladius”.)

But first things first:  let’s warm up with a few cigarettes and cups of espresso.

trainingFirst things First

Then it’s on to training.  Mixing culture and sport you’re trained by doctores (the gladiators’ trainers) before crossing swords in mock battle, trying the deceptive nets and tridents, and studying the methodology of hits and movements in what is a really intense discipline.

Mock battle

Mopck Battles

There’s a reason those gladiators were so ripped:  this stuff is heavy. The best benefit of a few hours thrusting and sweating in the sun with fifty-plus pounds of armor on your back is the guilt-free amount of pasta you can consume later.

we who are about to die

Though I have to confess the Latin geek in me got the biggest rush out of being presented with a certificate granting me the  citizenship accorded to a free man of the Roman Empire – the traditional just reward given to a gladiator victorious in battle.  Veni, vidi, vici!



live blog: to die for

P1010451Rome’s Capitoline Museum is a classicist’s nirvana.  Spread across three buildings in a piazza designed by Michelangelo atop the Capitoline Hill , it abuts the Imperial forum of ancient Rome and in one fell swoop binds the Renaissance to its forbears in antiquity.  Recent excavations under the hill have revealed the foundations of the precursor to what stands there now and the preserved balcony provides a view over the forum that’s worthy of an emporer.

The museum houses a bucket list of classical sculpture – along with a few mediocre paintings that are best avoided – and as a self-confessed Latin geek, it was easy for me to spend the better part of an afternoon here thoroughly enrapt.  Three pieces in particular have haunted me for many years for many different reasons:  The Dying Gaul, Cupid & Psyche, and an unknown warrior falling in battle.  Click the images for greater detail.

the dying gaulthe dying gaul - rear

cupid n psyche

torqued warrior


live blog: non rompere le palle!

Gladiator training

Just a little teaser today.  Come back over the weekend for my adventures at Gruppo Storico Romano.


live blog: tea with tiepolo

teaAfternoon tea is one of those fabulous traditions more closely associated with Great Britain than Italy, yet at the Rome Cavilieri they do a gold-plated high tea against a spectacular backdrop:  a triptych of Tiepolos.

The three large Renaissance panels by Giambatista Tiepolo were bought by the owner of the Cavilieri at an auction of the contents from the Venetian Palazza Sandi.  The Sandi family commissioned Tiepolo back in 1723 and the panels had been hanging in the family home ever since.

Tea with Tiepolo2Under the hammer at Sotheby’s the triptych – Hercules suffocating Anteo, Ulysses discovering Achilles among the daughters of Lycomedes, and Apollo skinning Marsia – set an auction record for a painting in Italy:  7 million euro.  As cultural patrimony they’re considered priceless and recognized as one of only fifty Italian works of art unable to leave the country without approval from the government.

Twenty euro for a proper tea is a steal anyway, but getting a private audience with your own Renaissance masterpieces is priceless.  Dressing like the Doge, alas, is optional.


live blog: ara pacis

ara pacisMy favorite monument of classical Rome is without question the Ara Pacis.  It is a humble piece of architecture but to me it represents the height of what Roman civilization was able to achieve under Caesar Augustus, aka Octavius.  Just imagine:  an altar dedicated to peace.  For an empire that had been continuously at war for hundreds of years, the concept of a public temple – for that was what the Ara Pacis ultimately was – dedicated to the peace and stability of a flowering empire was unprecedented.  Even today, the idea of any government paying lip service to – let along dedicating a monument to – peace is unimaginable.  It showed the citizens of Rome that a) Augustus was so powerful a leader that he could actually bring about a lasting peace that for once closed the doors to the temple of Janus, and b) that with peace across the Empire, a civilization could germinate: philosophy could reason, science enlighten and art reveal the people to themselves.  Without fear, society could flourish.  These are lessons learned over 2,000 years ago, yet still we struggle with such simple self-evident truths.

ara pacis exteriorAmerican architect Richard Meier’s travertine housing for the Ara Pacis has been as controversial as Mussolini’s decision to move the altar from it’s original location in the 1930’s.  Yet despite the contremps, Meier’s glass box is as refined as Pei’s Louvre pyramids; respecting the altar and the juxtaposition against Augustus’ neighboring mausoleum while contributing a breath of modernity into a city too often mired in its historical fantasy.


live blog: let the food porn begin!

In anticipation of this trip I haven’t had a carbohydrate in over a week, so let the food porn begin!

Lunch today at L’Uliveto was a simple, intoxicating three-hour affair deserving of a siesta afterward.  Prepare to drool.

tuna tartare

Red tuna tartare with quail egg in an olive crust – scotch egg anyone? – and sweet potato foam.


Cappellacci pasta filled with eggplant smoked cheese and king prawns.

sea bass

Wild sea bass with cuttlefish ink and basmati rice on green tomato cream.

mille feuille

Meringue mille-feuille with raspberries and white chocolate.


live blog: ritorno di roma

lagerfeldReturning to Rome is a little bit like visiting the woman who took my virginity so very long ago.  Mamma Roma was my first European trip away from home; and like all formative firsts, these things have a way of staying with you.  As a student eager to disprove the axiom that every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world, the Eternal City expanded my heart and horizons in way I couldn’t have foreseen.

So it seems strangely appropriate that this morning I was collected at Fiumicino by the beautiful woman above: Marialauro, posing here at the hotel on a settee designed by Lagerfeld, immediately reminded me of a young Anna Magnani.  Coincidence?  I guess we’ll see soon enough.


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