KU basketball coach Bill Self likes what he has seen so far of the Eternal City: “We drove around the most famous city square and saw supposedly where ‘Ben Hur’ was filmed,” he said, just after a relaxing 10-hour flight from Chicago to Rome, where his Jayhawks won the first game in its exhibition tour on Wednesday. “We didn’t really get a chance to see the Colosseum or the Vatican yet. … But it’s unbelievable. It’s unbelievable how much history and how old everything is.”
He also told The Star that “food’s high on the list” of how he wants to spend his few off-hours in one of the world’s foodiest towns. And as for the sights, “I think seeing the Vatican and the Colosseum, to me, is what I’m probably thinking are two of the coolest things we do.”
Roger that. With two games in Rome and two in Milan this week, time will be short, we know, but here are just a few more stops it would be a sin to miss:
1. Maybe you’re not a big art guy, but Rome was built on it, literally, with, yes, more fountains than Kansas City and more granite than in your kitchen back in Lawrence. In response to the Reformation, the Roman Catholic HQ hit back with a PR strategy any coach would envy, via the Baroque of Bernini and Borromini.
Three-quarters of the world’s art treasures are in Italy, and many masterpieces are tucked away in empty, dimly lighted churches. So with no lines, no fuss and perhaps no other humans, spend a few life-changing (or at least refreshing) minutes with Caravaggio’s “Madonna di Loreto” in Sant’Agostino or Bernini’s Beata Ludovica Albertoni in Ecstasy at San Francesco a Ripa, where St. Francis once stayed.
2. Thirsty, are we? At Shamrock Irish Pub, the sports bar that’s a favorite of Roman soccer fans in the Celio neighborhood right behind the Colosseum, the locals would love to talk “basket” with you. (The place is also a hangout for the guys who dress up like gladiators and pose with tourists for a price. Maybe they’ll pay you.)
3. Food, you said? You can hardly go wrong, but if you don’t have the Carciofi alla Guidia, or fried artichokes, at Giggetto’s in the old Jewish Ghetto, well, you’re not the leader we think you are.
4. The game is over, and you’re still wired? You’re just in time for a summer concert in the courtyard of Borromino’s Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, one of the most beautiful and intimate churches (and outdoor concert venues) in Rome.
5. In the Domus Aurea, Nero’s “Golden House,” a 120-foot statue of the emperor once stood, and in the various dining rooms, there were panels of mother-of-pearl that when turned just so released flower petals from the ceiling. (You know how this story ends, right?) So yeah, not so much a monument to excess as a warning against it. You know, for any player in need of that sort of corrective.