If you are one of those CBSE kids who had to enact the play of Julius Caesar in their 10th Grade, memorizing “Et tu Brute” over and over again, or being Mark Antony and shedding bitter tears of sorrow till your audience’s eyes glistened too, if you are a Shakespeare fan or a fan even of love, romanticizing your own life while reading that of Juliet Capulet and Romeo, or even if you are simply an ardent admirer of history, of the tales of glory of the larger than life Roman Empire and the Roman Republic before that, of the stories told and retold of the Gladiators wrestling men and animals alike before a roaring crowd of sixty thousand spectators, of the Roman & Julian calendars, or if you were glued to the TV as a child each time Disney’s Hercules aired…..If you are any of that, you would probably be able to imagine. To comprehend the palpable excitement brewing in my heart as I stepped back in time and into the gargantuan world that is – R.O.M.E.
Day 1 – The Arrival:
The nearly 1.5 hour long BA flight (that cost us around £60 each) from Gatwick, landed in the Leonardo Da Vinci Airport, Roma around 10:30 AM Saturday Morning with a temperature of nearly 15 C. It felt like a treat having left behind the freezing climates of the UK. Italy is 1 hour ahead of UK, so it is GMT + 1 or IST – 4:30. The first thing I noticed when we got out of the airport – Italy is not the UK. The second – Italy is a lot like India – in the warmth & chaos you can find there. I already felt at home!! We were met with a milieu of travel agents each trying to persuade the visibly confused tourists to pick their mode of transport to reach their hotels the fastest. Our accommodation was in the Cola Di Rienzo, which was actually in the heart of Vatican City. We had the options of the taking the metro (multiple stops, walks & changes) or the bus (taking atleast an hour and a half, and a walk from the stop to the hotel). The problem was, we had booked our tickets at the Vatican Museums for 1:00 PM. We went for a shared taxi (yeah, yeah, we got persuaded 😉) with 3 couples. It took a decent £35 and dropped us right at the door of the hotel in around 45 mins(a drive in Rome is VERY different from the UK, and with the driver’s uncontrollable swerves, I again got reminded of the traffic back home 😝 !!). We had booked the Cola Di Rienzo Luxury Penthouse (and all other accommodation in Rome for that matter) based on the 3 criteria I had set : Good Reviews, A Hearty Breakfast Included and A Not-so-Extravagant price. What we hadn’t realized until after we reached there (OR you could do good research before you reach, unlike some weirdos like me), that Cola Di Rienzo is one of the central shopping areas in Rome!! We arrived into a busy street full of people thronging the many boutiques with the huge Black Friday discount offers splashed on their windows. Needless to say, my husband broke into a sweat, and as the days to come would prove, very rightly so! The Hotel itself was magnificent. It was actually a guest house on the 6th floor of the building but it fascinated me to no end. The door to the building was massive – nearly 20-25 feet high and when we reached the lift (you have to take the lift to the 5th floor and the stairs after), it actually looked like something Da Vinci would have designed and travelled in many years back! My fascination knew no bounds!!! The Hotel itself was with beautiful and warm interiors, clean rooms, a very helpful receptionist Fulvia (I think!) and a lovely continental breakfast every morning. We paid £80 a night and it definitely seemed worth it.
Day 1 – Vatican City:
Post our trip to Paris (coming soon), we have learnt our lesson and would strongly advise to book tickets to all tourist attractions well in advance and avoid the queues. It makes absolutely no sense wasting hours of precious vacation time in queues!! Our hotel was a 5- minute walk away from the Vatican Museums in the Apostolic Palace (where the Pope resides). We skipped the queues and entered into the all-encompassing world of artists across the world! While I wouldn’t rate this museum higher than the Louvre, it also depends on what you are interested in and to my untrained eye, these museums, while magnificent in all their grandeur, didn’t hold the charm of the Louvre. But, once you finish with the Vatican Museums, there is a spectacle awaiting you that is so magnificent, it reduces you to a mere nothing. Yes, I am talking of the Sistine Chapel. The sheer expanse of Michelangelo’s works on the ceiling, leaves you awestruck. The paintings were all related to the journey of Christianity which I am not extremely familiar with and I silently berated myself that day for not knowing more, I missed a wonderful opportunity to truly understand the extravagant sight before my eyes. Photos are not allowed inside since it is even today a practicing chapel, but you can sit for however long you wish to.
Once done with the Vatican Museums, we headed to Saint Peters Square, which is actually right behind the museums but needs you to walk around it. A quick mention here to the desires that were evoked within me as I made this journey. Right outside the Museum was a Gelato stand, which I managed to evade and kept for later. A few steps down the road, sat two men selling hand painted sights from around Rome. Yes, very clichéd, but this I could not stop myself for and ended up buying for £15 ( you can imagine my husband’s complete disinterest and building unrest standing beside me!!), a little later we came across a man roasting something brown and covered in a shell. My interest was instantly piqued and although I was worried it would be clams or something, it turned out to be the innocent but extremely addictive & super-tasty Chestnuts! To me it was the perfect baby of the Sweet Potato and the Groundnut and I couldn’t stop eating them! We finally reached the Saint Peters Basilica and there are no words to describe the view there.
I realized then, that I had to stop getting astounded at the magnanimity of the things I saw in Italy, else I would be spending the whole week being awe struck!
The basilica was HUGE and a breathtaking spectacle to behold. There was a very long queue – This is one of the most important places of worship for most Christians and its significance was visible right there. We came away with heavy hearts….unwilling to let the beauty of the place disappear from our sights and our minds! That night we had a fulfilling dinner of Fried Zucchini Flowers, Crispy fried veggies, Salt-and-pepper cheese spaghetti, Tiramisu and a Chianti wine (the best we had in Italy) in the Alla Rampa Dei Gracchi restaurant, just a block away from our hotel.
Day 2 : Rome
After a heavy breakfast of scrambled eggs, croissants, cakes, coffee, sausages and sandwiches at the hotel, we headed to the Plinio Bus Stop to finally begin our venture into the city of Roma. One word of caution here if you choose to take the metro in Rome. It is notorious for a group for 15-16 yo young girls who pick your pockets and bags, robbing you of all your valuables in a jiffy. Please be extremely alert on the metro! Tickets for the buses can be bought at any Tobacco Store (or Tabacchi) or at the metro stations. When you enter the bus, look for a tiny machine to stamp tickets. Insert your ticket into it and get it back stamped, the ticket lasts for around an hour and 45 minutes (I think). It is a visual treat going around Rome by bus and I recommend it to everyone!! Every little corner and square has a life-like statue spouting water in a fountain and every now and then a majestic building springs up before your eyes taking your breath away. As we made our way to the Colosseum, we passed by the Piazza Venezia, the Circus Maximus (an ancient Roman Chariot Racing Stadium where thousands gathered!! How cool is that!!) and the vast ruins of the Palatine Hill palace.
I was falling in love with a place. I never knew that could happen and I didn’t know how to stop it!!
Everywhere I looked I was taken back by thousands of years, I could see Julius Ceasar and his generals in their white robes addressing crowds, I could see men and women from ages back walking down the roads doing their daily chores.
That’s Rome. It draws you into it and before you know it you are in and out of a time machine and into the world of the ancient Romans.
And then we reached the Colosseum and I went crazy. I was at THE Colosseum. THE COLLOSEUM!!
I saw it from outside and thought, Now I’ve seen it all! Looking at the queues, we decided to go with a guide. It cost us around 50 euros a person for the Colosseum, Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. Skeptical at first, I wondered what was the point of spending so much for something we had already seen from the outside, I found my breath taken away when I saw the inside of the gigantic structure. Have you ever stood at a Football or Cricket Stadium and lost yourself in the chaotic yet almost chant like noise there? That’s what I could hear in my head, as I stood there looking at the stands where sixty thousand people stood cheering for the bloody murder of man against man or man against animal, the victorious slaves (or gladiators as we know them) emerging as unanimously chosen heroes! The guide gives you wonderful little details, like the entrance gate that was reserved for the King, the marble seats meant for the VIPs, every wall adorned with posters and forms or art,
the grandeur of a structure that today, while stripped bare to the stones it was built with, still retains its splendor.
I could have stayed there forever, basking in the sounds and feels from the lives of men two thousand years ago, but…all things must come to an end. And we left. Due to the lack of time, we decided to go ahead with the Roman Forum and Palatine hill, which are basically right next to the Colosseum, by ourselves. The Palatine Hill is the etymological source of the word Palace! Emperor Nero’s huge landscaped palace, the Domus Aurea, still stands there, if only in ruins.
It was time to leave the past for some relatively newer sights around the city. We took the bus back from the exit gate of the Palatine Gate towards the Trevi Fountain. A little after the Via Del Corso, we alighted the bus and started walking towards the Fountain. Google Maps had gone a little crazy during our stay in Italy and we basically went back and forth the narrow lanes looking for what we expected to be a regular fountain. And then all of a sudden, I could hear what can only be described as the gushing water of a waterfall! The Trevi Fountain is huge (I should have guessed by now, right? It’s Rome!!). While the water source is one of the oldest the Rome, the fountain itself was only created around the 1629. But what it lacks in years compared to its sightseeing counterparts, it more than makes up for in grandeur! While you are there, don’t forget to throw a little coin with your right hand over your left shoulder with your back towards the fountain. Legend has it, this will ensure your return to Rome some day. And you end up helping the charity all the coins are donated to every night!
The Via Del Corso which is very close to the Trevi Fountain and right in front of the Pizza Venezia is another very famous shopping street in Rome. After spending an hour there, we decided we were too tired for the Pantheon, but you must visit if you can. A quick (and late) lunch at a local café of Linguine Pesto Pasta & a Panini of Sundried Tomatoes and Mozarella later, we headed to the Spanish Steps. Probably the only tourist spot that failed to impress, the Spanish steps are basically a boon for shoppers who could drop dead after shopping in the exclusive designer stores in the streets around it! Versace, Louis Vuitton, Giorgio Armani, Hugo Boss, Cavalli, Burberry, Dolce e Gabbana – you can find it all there!! But if you do not have plans to shop here, do not waste your time heading to the Spanish steps!
Finally, with our feet killing us, we headed back to our hotel. We had completed the check out formalities since we were leaving for Florence early next morning. The receptionist was thoughtful enough to have left a tray of pastries, curds, croissants and juices for our breakfast next morning! After a quick rest, we went back down for some wonderful shopping at the boutiques nearby and had dinner at the 3 Quarti restaurant 2 blocks away. The Aubergine in cheese fondue & 3 quarti buns with tomatoes were delectable, but no match to the food and wine from the night before.
The next morning we almost missed our train to Florence due to a booked cab, that never came, and a cab operator who only spoke Italian on the phone, and I reminded myself that this wasn’t the UK and I should have made backup arrangements!! But a God-sent cab driver dropped us there on time and off we went on the next sojourn of our Italy Trip (That you can read about Here )!!
Beautiful Rome will be forever etched in my heart and mind as the place I would like to return to in the sunset of my life!!