The Baroque Triangle: Sicily’s trail of the Renaissance’s gift to architecture

My girlfriend, the uber-talented photographer Marina Pascucci, and I continued my 60th birthday celebration on the trail of what is known as the Baroque Triangle. It’s a series of small towns dripping with Baroque architecture. Baroque style was born in Renaissance Italy during the late 16th century and designed to show off the wealth and power of the rapidly expanding Catholic Church. Baroque churches are extravagant, abnormal, garish and, depending on your taste, either ostentatious or jaw-dropping gorgeous.
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Turning 60 in Sicily: Growing old can be beautiful and delicious

You want to know how to feel 20 years younger when you turn a year older, even at 60? Go to a beautiful place with a beautiful woman. I spent four days in Syracuse — the one in Sicily, not upstate New York. How an industrialized city in a North American icebox could be named after a beautiful, sun-splashed town on the banks of the Ionian Sea is like calling your pet iguana Beyonce. In Italian it’s called Siracusa. Maybe Italians have been to New York and tweaked the name.
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AcquaMadre’s thermal baths a true taste of La Dolce Vita from Ancient Rome

I’m in AquaMadre, a thermal bath in the heart of modern Rome. It is only 10 years old but once you walk past the modern lobby and descend into the soothing pools below, you’re transported into the depths of Roman history.
Two millenniums ago, when Rome was the most powerful empire that would ever exist, these types of baths covered the city. They were called “thermae” or “hammam” and were the direct descendents of our modern spas. Most of the citizenry cleaned themselves in places like this. The wealthy Romans, the landowners, the rulers, the ex-generals, had their own bath houses on their estates. I once took a bike ride up Appia Antica, one of the original roads that led from Rome to the Adriatic Sea. To this day, you can see remains of ancient baths on estates long turned into ruins.
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Jog around Circo Massimo more history lesson than calorie burner

I live about three-quarters of a mile south of one of the three largest sports stadium ever created. It was where wild horses tore passed more than 150,000 spectators, carrying brave Roman men hanging on for their dear lives. It was where bodies were dragged off the track after getting horribly disfigured and where some of the biggest religious festivals in the Roman Empire were held.
Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus in Latin) is still around.
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Ex-drug dealer talks of life in the violent streets of Tor Bella Monaca, maybe Rome’s scariest neighborhood

I met De Santis while hanging out in Bar Pasticceria where owner Rocco Sansotta educated me about the life and times of Tor Bella Monaca [LINK] in Part II. My good Australian-Italian friend, Robert Della Vedova, lived here for six months and remembered De Santis as one of the regulars. He remembered he had a good story to tell.

Did he ever. It’s one of poverty and drugs, false hope and fleeting wealth, of painful crashes and shaky rebounds. It’s of violence, of betrayal, of prison.
It’s of Tor Bella Monaca.
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Tor Bella Monaca bar owner has seen it all in his 20 years

Via dell’Archeologia stretches along five of the most dangerous blocks in Rome. On one side is a series of drab, gray, seven-story apartment houses. On the other are 15-story apartment towers, yellowing like last year’s newspaper. The buildings could be in any lower middle-class neighborhood in the world, except for one element.

You’ll find it in the back of the buildings. Or it’ll be below. It’s away from foot and car traffic, away from eyes that, in this neighborhood called Tor Bella Monaca, are usually averted.

“NOOOOO! I don’t go behind there,” says Rocco Sansotta who owns a bar in Tor Bella Monaca. “It’s like the Bronx. They say, ‘You don’t go there.’ I don’t go there. They say, ‘You don’t go back there. You don’t go underneath the garages.’

“I hear stories.”
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Tor Bella Monaca: The Black Hole of Rome is city’s dark underbelly of drugs and violence

What we’re doing is touring Tor Bella Monaca at night. Travel guides list a few things you don’t do in Rome: Don’t take photos inside art galleries. Don’t order a cappuccino in the afternoon. Don’t drink in excess. It says nothing about touring arguably Rome’s most dangerous neighborhood after sunset, an area simply known as the Black Hole of Rome. When I told my Roman friends my plan, they all said I needed counseling. I knew exactly what I was doing. And it wasn’t thrill seeking. I wanted to write about crime in one of the world’s most glamorous, most beautiful tourist cities in the world. I wanted to dive head first into the dark underbelly of Rome, a part of the Eternal City that outsiders never see nor know about. I also wanted to show how crime in Rome doesn’t compare to crime in American cities.
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FC Trastevere shows grass is often greener in Italian soccer’s bush leagues

This lower level of Italian soccer is where I’m finding new joy. I’ve peeled away the sterile veneer of Serie A, Italy’s top classification, and uncovered an all new level of culture. It’s kind of like cooking in Italy. The longer you’re here, the more different pastas you discover and cheeses you can try. Some are better than others but they’re all good. It’s at this level, these Italian bush leagues, where I found myself enjoying a very different Sunday afternoon in Rome.

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Puglia wine tasting brings back memories of long coastlines and purple-red wines

Wine Tastings of Rome, a terrific Meetup group that could only have a more attractive name if Beyonce held its sign, brought in wine makers from around Puglia to one room at the Hotel Imperiale. Built in 1895, the Hotel Imperiale is as elegant as it sounds. It’s a gold palace with small balconies overlooking tree-lined Via Veneto, perhaps Rome’s most glamorous street where its rich and famous once preened for panting fans and fought with prying paparazzi. Walking into the snow-white interior, I felt thankful I wore a sportcoat as “retired journalist” and “elegant” aren’t usually found in the same sentence. The Hotel Imperiale makes you at least try to look the part.
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London theater beats Broadway but plays about one-legged sodomites do not

Theater in London is on every visitor’s to-do list. But here’s a tip: First check out the plays in the “fringe” theaters. They are London’s equivalent of off-Broadway. They’re only about 20 pounds ($29) and if they’re good they move to the West End. On the West End tickets are so expensive, theaters should have bankers out front negotiating loans. Tickets for “Mr. Foote” were 90 pounds ($130). However, my friend went to the theater desk in the Piccadilly Circus station that afternoon and bought them discounted that day for 35 pounds ($50).
Considering what we watched, it was like getting a discount on a colonoscopy.
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