In Rome, one of the most popular day trips out of town is the short trek to Lido di Ostia, the small beach town south of Rome, easily accessible by regional rail, and only about a 30 minute ride from the Piramide Metro stop. The beach at Ostia is somewhat disappointing, and with a little extra effort you can reach Sperlonga, a gorgeous beach town on the Tyrrhenian Sea midway between Rome and Naples.

Apparently, the town can be reached on a regional COTRAL bus, but when we went we took the train. The trip from Termini station to Fondi-Sperlonga was 6.20 euro each way, and took about an hour and fifteen minutes. From the Fondi-Sperlonga station there is a local bus (1 euro each way) that runs from the station to the beach. It was a bit confusing, as the bus times were not posted, but we asked workers at a local market and they were able to tell us where to catch the bus back to the station. The buses don’t run very often, and so we were worried we might be stranded for the night… but the bus came eventually and we made it back to Rome fairly easily. However, when I go back I’ll be sure to check the schedule carefully ahead of time.

The beach at Sperlonga is really amazing. There are two main stretches of beach, divided in the middle by a large rocky projection capped by a small tower. From what I could tell, both sides were equally appealing, though there seemed to be more free public areas on the south side of the tower. There were numerous beach clubs and restaurants, but being on a budget we simply bought supplies for sandwiches at a local market, and had a picnic lunch in one of the parks overlooking the beach.

One of Sperlonga’s main attractions is the Grotto of Tiberius, a natural cave at the southern end of the beach, and the ruins of the villa the Emperor Tiberius built there during his reign (from A.D. 14 to A.D. 37). The complex is unfortunately fenced off from the beach, and to access the ruins and the museum (containing artifacts found on site and large plaster casts of the statuary that used to stand in the grotto) if from a small road half a mile inland. While the grotto and museum were interesting, I would recommend skipping them both for more time at the beach, or to wander through the streets of the small hill town, something I didn’t get the chance to do.

In the end, definitely a worthwhile trip, and a relatively cheap one if you’re willing to use the free areas of the beach, and assemble your own lunch. I’ll definitely be going back as soon as the weather’s warm enough for a swim.

Sperlonga [Map]

To find a route from Sperlonga from Rome, search for Fondi-Sperlonga on the Trenitalia website.

Times: New, Roman

[Let’s call it “The Flavian Amphitheatre”]
I’ve been living in Rome since July 22nd. Is it too late for first impressions? When I first arrived, I booked a week in a hostel near Termini Station, planning to use their free WiFi to find an apartment. It worked like a charm (thanks craigslist!) and I found a decent place almost immediately. I needed something relatively cheap, and I wanted something close to my workplace (near Campo di Fiori), and I was lucky to find something that met both requirements, off Piazza Trilussa in Trastevere, for 500 euro per month.

[This is the door to my apartment ]
Everyone tells me I’ve gotten a good deal, and I really can’t complain. Quarters are cramped compared to sprawling American apartments, but it’s only a little smaller than my old apartment in Basel, Switzerland, and I relish the challenge of living in a smaller space. I only packed one suitcase when I moved here (a function of the preceding OSU trip through Europe, I suppose, where I had to haul my luggage to a new hotel nearly every night), and I’m making a conscious effort to avoid accumulating more *stuff* while I’m here… though books may be inevitable.
A few days before embarking on the study abroad trip in June, I received work from my future employer that they wanted me to start on September 1st, rather than August 1st as we had previously discussed. I decided that rather than waste money on a flight back to the States, I would simply get to Rome early, and use the time to work on learning Italian, doing graphic design for a book project I’m working on, editing and uploading photos, and most importantly, just relaxing after the hectic pace of the OSU trip (and before the inevitably long work hours at a world-renowned architecture firm).
While I’m a bit disappointed in myself for not pushing harder on my Italian lessons, the month of August was productive in another way: it allowed me to get a real sense of the city, gave me time to contemplate what I’m even doing here, and finally, taught me why Italians all take the month off.
[Ponte Sisto]
Having traveled extensively through Europe, and having lived in Switzerland, I knew what to expect in the way of business operating hours, weird toilets, tipping conventions, public transport, etc, so there was really no “culture shock” to speak of, though it did take me a while to figure out where to find cheap socks (MAS, Piazza V. Emanuele). The most shocking thing about Rome in August is the heat. It’s the peak of tourist season, yet most Italians vacate the city. It’s an odd situation where almost the entire population of the town is replaced…. yet, despite the tourists on summer vacation, the town is quiet, the traffic is slower, few shops are open, and those people that remain tend to move slowly, and I found myself mirroring them, taking my time to explore the city, or (after a cafe or two) running quickly between shady patches of sidewalk.
The heat, in fact, was so intense that it largely determined my explorations. I would sleep late, often past noon, then venture out to the city center to sightsee in the mid-afternoon, returning at dusk to Trastevere to see the nightlife. I was lucky to have an enabler in this regard, my temporary roommate who’s since moved back to Bologna.
Since I had been to Rome several times before, I felt no need to see all the ruins and museums, so during August I mostly wandered, getting lost in the urban fabric, and finding my way back home. I think this is absolutely the best way to get a sense of the place, even if you never can remember exactly where you were….
Anyway, not much to report for August ’09 besides heat and relaxation. After starting work in September, my time somehow seemed more precious, and I started taking day trips out of town on the weekends. In the next few posts, I’ll chronicle a few of those, making a point to include directions and relevant information, so expect this to morph into a kind of travel guide for the next few updates…..
But if you simply can’t wait, check my continuously-updated Flickr sets, where I’ve organized Rome by era….
stay tuned for Sperlonga, Tivoli, Frascati day trips, followed by some commentary on Modern Architecture in Rome………..

London ’09: Lloyds & Leadenhall

On one of my rambling walks through London (following the lead of KSA Professor Doug Graf), I came, unexpectedly, upon Richard Rogers’ 1986 “masterpiece” — Lloyds of London. Like the Pompidou Center of 10 years earlier (by Rogers in collaboration with Renzo Piano), the building services are all expressed on the exterior. I say “expressed” because I doubt that all these tubes are functional, but the intent is unmistakable: here’s a building whose public face is its internal systems. While at the Pompidou center, the building services are pushed to the exterior to allow open-plan gallery spaces within, here at Lloyds it seems to simply be a bold celebration of technology, and possibly the best example to date of “high tech” architecture.
Unfortunately, the place is heavily guarded, and there’s no chance to get inside as an archi-tourist. A shame, because – as wikipedia states – the interior contains an 18th century dining room reconstructed piece-by-piece within this futuristic monstrosity, in a curious act of preservation.
The concrete structure is sometimes detailed as if it were built from a system of standardized metal parts, a design decision that leads me to believe that the concept behind this building is not one based in pure material honesty and technological expression. Rogers’ attitude seems almost postmodern, using the detailing of the concrete formwork to evoke a structural frame of metal tubes screwed into place.
Leadenhall Market just down the street (whose iron and glass roof structure was added in 1881) is an even greater celebration of technology than Rogers’ tower. The existing buildings were covered by the canopy, exterior space was turned inward, and the building facades were made interior walls, all through the technology of wrought iron.

Laban Dance Center [Herzog & de Meuron]

[Norman Foster’s Millenium Bridge, and Herzog & de Meuron’s Tate Modern]
After the KSA’s study abroad trip concluded in Munich, I flew to London to see some old friends (had it been 8 years? or only 6?) and tour around the town with a KSA professor and a few of my classmates. I had planned on traveling to Mumbai for the month of August (before starting work in Rome in September), but I ran into visa problems, and stayed in London for about a week, twice as long as I had planned.

In the end, it is probably a good thing I didn’t fly to India. After the rapid-fire architecture marathon that is the KSA’s study abroad program a relaxing week in London was just what I needed (even if I did spend several days running around looking at brutalist housing projects).
I had studied in Brighton in 2001, and had visited London a few times back then, but I’d never really been as an architecture student, and it was interesting to return. In 2001 I was amazed by the recently-opened Tate Modern (and struck by one piece in particular: Michael Craig-Martin’s An Oak Tree), but I never would have guessed that I’d return 8 years later, having worked for the architects.

[Herzog & de Meuron – Laban Dance Center]

Speaking of the architects, I was excited to finally visit their Laban Dance Center, as I feel it’s one of their best recent projects, along with the Schaulager in Basel. The exterior walls are all clad in translucent polycarbonate panels, and while the colors already look a little faded, this only adds to the ethereal quality of the facade, on the overcast day I visited, from certain vantage points the building seemed to vanish, blending with the clouds. The facade is treated as a graphic surface, and the detailing around the windows and doors suggests that they both belong to the same system. OSU Professor Jeff Kipnis theorizes that this is a way of bypassing the unsolved modernist challenge of entry: rather than erasing the necessarily-hierarchical point of entry, the architects simply pull it into the graphic language of the facade.
The gap where the building meets the ground furthers the reading of the facade as a graphic surface, but this combines with the vertically-striated polycarbonate panels to produce another reading: that of a curtain. This subtle reference is reinforced by the landscaping, where triangular mounds of earth are arranged in such a way to produce an outdoor arena theater, with the building’s front facade/curtain as backdrop.

Unfortunately, only the lobby and cafe are accessible to visitors, but even here it’s apparent that the architects are not simply concerned with facade treatments, but are expert manipulators of interior space. From the entryway, one can see the rake of an auditorium above, dropping below the lobby ceiling plane, and a pathway to the loading dock slices through the floor. The floor and ceiling are pinned together by a large sculptural spiral stair.

Well worth the visit if you’re ever in London. More photos in my Laban set on Flickr.

Laban Dance Center [2002] Architects: Herzog & de Meuron
Creekside, London, United Kingdom [Map]