I had an unexpected free day on Friday (if I juggled my workload a bit), so I decided to take a mystery train trip. It was only a mystery between home and Florence's Santa Maria Novella railway station, because I chose my destination from the departures board when I arrived. I had just enough time to get a piadine (a pita bread pocket with prosciutto, mozzarella and salad), a bottle of water, and a ticket to … Rome! I’d thrown some basic toiletries and a clean top in my shoulder bag just in case my mystery trip turned into an overnighter. I didn’t buy a return ticket.
It’s easy to forget that Rome is only an hour and 40 minutes or so from Florence by fast train. I was last there in 2007, during a seven-week trip from Oz that preceded my becoming a full-time bag lady.
The weather was perfect for being a tourist: warm and sunny. There were lots of street performers about. A very cheerful sort of day.
I ended up walking all over the city for about seven hours, revisiting all the popular tourist spots. Lunch was pizza and water “with gas” in a cobbled lane near the Trevi Fountain.
Just off Piazza Navona I went to a Brueghel/Flemish Art exhibition (Peter the Elder, Peter the Younger, Jan the Younger, etc.).
At St Peter’s I climbed to the top of the basilica for views down over the piazza, and across all of Rome in front and the Vatican gardens behind. The wonderful basilica inside the Pantheon, on the other side of the river, is open to the sky and is just stunning.
Late in the afternoon I walked back along the river for quite some way before heading vaguely in the direction of the railway station and looking for a cab. In the taxi, we passed the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, where a huge banner hanging out the front announced a major Helmut Newton photography exhibition. “Stop the cab!” I screeched, and jumped out.
I didn’t know the timetable for trains back to Florence, but this was an opportunity not to be missed.
I spent over an hour checking out the three bodies of work: “White Women”, “Sleepless Nights” and “Big Nudes”. Fabulous. It included some works mentioned by name in a book I’ve been reading about Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld in the 1970s and 1980s, and photographs of some of the people mentioned there: Loulou de la Falaise, Paloma Picasso, Lagerfeld and others. A nice way to finish off the book, too, which I’ve really been enjoying.
The station was within walking distance, and I had just a 20-minute wait before the next high-speed train left for Milano via Firenze. Perfect.