EXCLUSIVE | Three Gay Days: Rome Part Three

5.13.2008

By Joe Okonkwo | AN OUTTRAVELER.COM EXCLUSIVE

DAY 2: IF IT AIN'T BAROQUE?
Hold off on the caff? and cornetto until you've made it to Piazza Navona and savor your morning fix there, soaking in the Baroque splendor of Bernini's Fontana dei Fiumi. By afternoon, it's too crowded here to appreciate.

A short wander over, Campo de'Fiori houses a bustling morning produce and flower market. In the winding streets nearby, intrepid walkers can find craftsmen restoring one-of-a-kind antique furniture or carving architectural details. Not far away, Via Giulia displays its own 16th-century architectural beauty.

Among the best and oldest enoteca or wine bar in Rome is Cul de Sac (Piazza Pasquino, 73; +39-06-688-01094; 10-20 EUR), near Piazza Navona. The wines here fill up a tome and are stacked precariously above patrons' heads. Thoughtfully, there's a safety net. Snag a table early -- or late -- as the p?t?s and palette-cleansing antipasti draw quite a following.

Just north is the refreshingly manageable Borghese Gallery (Piazzale del Museo Borghese 5; +39-06-32810), a small but stunning collection of masterpieces bought, stolen, and otherwise obtained in the early 17th century by Cardinal Scipione Borghese. Reservations are required.

From the gallery, it's a pleasant stroll through the leafy Villa Borghese to Rome's meeting place, the top of the Spanish Steps. Descend with care and take a quick jaunt to the impressively baroque Trevi Fountain (Piazza di Trevi). Tossing a coin in ensures a return to Rome and helps maintain a supermarket for Rome's needy.

Circle back toward the Piazza Navona vicinity around dinner and try Bramante (Via della Pace, 25; +39-06-688-03916; 12-15 EUR), a very gay-and lesbian-friendly bar and restaurant with a gorgeous staff and fantastical d?cor that includes frosted laurel leaves and Christmas lights.

Near the Colosseum is the Hangar. (Via In Selci 69/a; +39-06-488-13971; closed Tues.; ArciGay Membership card required), a perennially packed staple of gay Roman nightlife. Covered in neon cityscape murals, the black-lit bar segues into an equally spacious dark room.

Spacious and Romanesque, L'Alibi (Via di Monte Testaccio 40-44; +39-06-574-3448; closed Mon.) is full of arches, frescoes, and dancing queens, especially during summer when the outdoor roof patio opens. Two metro stops south of the Colosseum, this is the gay club for many Romans.

DAY 3: GODLINESS IS NEXT TO ?SHOPPING!
Splurge a little on your last day with a frothy cappuccino and a cannolo siciliano and get thee directly to the Vatican Museums (Viale Vaticano 13).

Though overflowing with Renaissance painting and sculpture -- gems include Bramante's baroque stairway and the Apollo Belvedere -- the Museums' pi?ce de resistance is Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. Testament to the great, artistic contributions of queer folks throughout history, significant restoration of the masterful chapel has also revealed its unexpectedly vivid colors. If you have binoculars, you can see some dizzyingly modern details, like blond-dreadlocked angels, naked teenagers with gorgeous chestnut curls (ignudi), and God's booming rear-end. Also in the neighborhood is the awe-inspiring house that Catholicism built, St. Peter's Basilica (Piazza San Pietro, Vatican City).

For a different kind of religious experience, take a walk up the chi-chi Via Cola di Rienza, which heads northeast from Vatican City. More and even chic-er boutiques can be found across the river around the Spanish Steps, especially Via Condotti, Via Borgognona, Via della Croce, and Via Babuino (in Tridente). Via Del Corso and its side streets hold great casual items -- shoes, jackets, and leather goods.

Near the southern end of Via del Corso lies Rome's old Jewish Ghetto and Piperno (Via Monte de' Cenci 9; +39-06-688-06629; closed Mon.; 20+ EUR), one of the city's finest Jewish restaurants since 1860. Formal service and decor appropriately match the most heavenly traditional Roman cuisine imaginable.

Just east, back by the Colosseum, Side Meeting Point (Via Labicana 50; +39-348-692-9472) attracts a restless crowd of punks and indie-types. The eclectic space is marked by a rainbow flag and a hodgepodge of sidewalk furniture. Nearby, Coming Out (Via San Giovanni in Laterano 8; +39-06-700-9871) is a colorfully painted cafe by day and mixed gay and lesbian bar by night.

DAY TRIPS
Rome can seem like its own country, but surprisingly close by lie some very different impressions of Italy.

Half an hour northeast via the Roma Termini train station, Tivoli holds two spectacular, sprawling villas. The hilltop Villa Adriana, to which Emperor Hadrian periodically retreated in the second century, combines Greek, Roman, and Egyptian architecture in its temples, gardens, and palaces. Recently, the estate inspired heaven in Tony Kushner's Angels in America and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Villa d'Este (Villa d'Este, Tivoli; +39-04-24-600-460), Tivoli's other estate and UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a many-fountained, splendidly regal reminder of the worldly riches Cardinals once enjoyed. Isabella d'Este, the family's rebellious daughter, known as "The First Lady of the Renaissance," was enviously well-connected and rumored to be a lesbian.

An hour south of Rome, the twin towns of Anzio (+39-06-984-5147) and Nettuno are popular beachside breaks for local city-dwellers.

Another hour and change by boat from Anzio lands you on Ponza, the largest -- at 2.8 square miles -- of the volcanic Pontine Islands (Via del Porto Innocenziano 40, Anzio; +39-06-984-5083). Blanketed in craggy coves and hidden inlets, many of the islands are national parks and all invite hiking, diving, and long walks on the beach.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

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