Roma, Martedi: Villa d’Este

There are no Starbucks in Italy. This doesn’t have much to do with the day’s activities other than it seems that coffee drinks in Rome are better and much cheaper than at Starbucks in the States. It’s just one of those things that you notice, as you travel, as being different. Not that we go to Starbucks much in the States, anyway. Still, the Starbucks stores are so ubiquitous everywhere you go, abroad or in the States, that their absence is palpable. The only impact for us is that reliable, predictable internet access is not on every other street corner. For the coffee, we are better off with the choices Rome has to offer.

Even with the absence of Starbucks, we had plenty more sights to see in Rome, but Tuesday was our day to head out into the countryside. Our destination for the day was the small town of Tivoli and the gardens of Villa d’Este, another UNESCO World Heritage site. We purchased a Roma & Piu Pass for 25 euros each at the train station which covered the travel and entry fees for the trip and more. There are more details at the end of this section about the Pass. It turns out that this pass, unlike some of the other city passes we have purchased as we travel, is very much worth the cost and was convenient and hassle-free to use.

To get to Tivoli, we took the Metro line B to the train stop at the Tiburtina Station and connected to the train for the trip out to the countryside. To us, we will always think of this train as “The Vomit Comet” as one of the patrons aboard was looking pretty queasy from what likely was a hard night out and the predictable happened. I don’t want to relive the Technicolor details for this account, but I will say that the other passengers in the car left rather quickly and that there was significant collateral damage in a manner that evokes Linda Blair in The Exorcist. More joys of public transportation.

On reaching Tivoli, we worked our way up the hill with some directions from the locals and the TomTom. Maybe we look like dorks (or look dorkier, if that’s a word) with the GPS in hand, but it definitely does help. Villa d’Este is not particularly far from the train station, but the route is not well marked. The hike up the hill to the Villa gave us a chance to see a bit of Tivoli, a small town perched in the saddle of a ridge through which a river flows.

We reached Villa d’Este and entered for free using the Roma & Piu Pass. The tour of the Villa was interesting, but the real purpose for the visit, beyond the standard purpose of having yet another beer, was the extensive water gardens below the building.

Developed under Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, the amazing water gardens of Villa d’Este date from the 16th century and provided the inspiration for many water gardens that followed later. The water for the elaborate collection of fountains and water works comes from the nearby river, some of whose waters are channeled onto the estate. Amongst the fountains, pools, and streams were an operative water powered organ and other, innovative features. You can get a better idea of what Villa d’Este is like from the pictures. But, for the full effect, with the sound and the cooling effect of the waters, you have to experience it in person. It is a very peaceful place.

At the base of the town, the water flows from the river and from the estate over a large water fall, the Grande Cascata. We walked to the top of the tunnel from which the water emerges just prior to dropping the 525 feet to the valley floor over the hard edge of the waterfall. From this perspective on the top of the tunnel, you could see that steps had been built into the water in the pool immediately above the edge of the falls. Going down these steps would let you get to the edge of the falls for what had to be quite an intimidating viewpoint. The access to the steps was now fenced off, not surprisingly, but the presence of the steps was surprising nonetheless.

Though we were careful to check which car on the train we took back to Rome (and where we stepped), the ride was uneventful. We made it back in time for a late but good meal at a nearby restaurant.

By: Dave Oare

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