Smitten With Rome !
Seemingly random things can inspire dreams! Relishing all the delectable Italian pizzas, raviolis and pastas since childhood, and reading all those Keats and Shelly as a student, had always made me want to visit Italy, and Rome in particular. So, as an ardent lover of literature and food, I bided my time to see for myself the beautiful country. My ardour finally took shape when AY (my life-partner and the best travel companion I could have asked for) and I planned a 16 days trip to Italy in October, 2015.
Immediately upon disembarking at the Airport in Rome, we felt a dream turning into a reality. Booking a train ticket to our destination from the Airport was quite seamless. There were options to use cash, debit/ credit card or the ForEx card on the ticket vending machines – the process is Traveller-friendly. The trains themselves were spacious, with sufficient seating and baggage hold area. We were both tired and excited, and the train journey felt surreal. As the beautiful Italy sped past our windows, we were spellbound, and even a little overwhelmed.
Stoked beyond words, we got off at Roma Termini (the main station for buses, trains and the metro to discover the city). Roma Termini has several eateries and take away options, shopping and telecom stores – one stop shop for all our travel needs! Also, this is the area where most budget-accommodation options are. We opted for a cosy Bed and Breakfast which was around 400 meters away from here. The owner of the B&B was a warm guy named Tony, and after a comfortable check-in, we were in our room in no time.
Tired from the long flight, we slept like babies throughout the afternoon, and only ventured out in the evening to discover a bit of this historic city for the first time. Like in other European cities, we put on our walking shoes and planned to explore major parts of the city on foot as well as we could, using buses and metros to get to the further off places. On Tony’s recommendation, we bought all the Bus Tickets while we were in Rome from Tobacco stores or Metro Stations though the tickets can be bought in the bus too, but that needed us to provide the exact change.
Rome, the eternal city, was surely not built in a day! Its presence goes back to the very early days of civilization. No points for guessing that there is A LOT of see and do here.
Hand in hand and with a twinkle in our eyes, we took a bus to Spanish Steps (also known to the locals as Piazza di Spagna, who did not understand us when we said we wanted to get to Spanish Steps). Piazza is an Italian word which means a public square or a marketplace.
We were welcomed by a street with numerous cafes and restaurants. Being foodies that we were, we decided to delight in the Italian gastronomical offerings before the historic ones. After walking around for a bit to make up our minds, we entered one of the (what looked like an elegant) restaurants and were immediately proven successful! We were completely impressed by the scrumptious freshly made veggie pizza and a savour-worthy Brunello (a classic red wine, a speciality of Italy) to wash it down! Soon after, our full stomachs and happy faces were greeted by an overwhelming tsunami of tourists at Spanish Steps, which left us completely exasperated. Thankfully, Keats-Shelly’s residence (now a Memorial museum) is at the foot of Spanish Steps and is little known. The crowd just streams past this site without even giving it a glance! Voila! The best place to shut out the madness and get swayed in the writings of these classical Romantic poets. The entry fee is € 5 and the experience is totally worth it! (“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced”. After dreaming of this since childhood, the “experience” took on a vivid quality for me).
Next, we went to a famous chocolate and gelato shop, Venchi, at Via Della Croce for a really great gelato experience! We savoured these almost every time we were in the neighbourhood, which we found excuses to be in the next 3 days!!
Roaming the beautiful street of Rome in a surprisingly cool weather, we wandered around in the by-lanes of the mysterious city, soaking in the exquisite sights and appreciating the immaculately dressed and well behaved Italians in the vicinity! We munched on some hot, roasted chestnuts while we walked, which we had bought from one of the many roadside vendors in the area.
We wandered with our mouths agape in the city centre. City centre in Rome is breathtakingly gorgeous, from the hills to the piazzas. Every corner in Rome depicts their larger than life history and renaissance art, along with some hoity-toity designer stores and the most opulent restaurants and hotels. Tired but invigorated at the same time, we finally took a metro back to our hotel and slept that night with our minds full of the Roman extravaganza which surrounded us.
The next morning, we started early in order to beat the crowd. But the thing is that when you visit Rome and want to explore a famous historic sight, YOU CAN NEVER BEAT THE CROWD. Thankfully, we had bought our combined tickets for Colosseum, Roman Forum and Paletine Hill for € 12 online which helped us skip the never ending queues. The Colosseum was an ancient amphitheatre, dating back to more than 1900 years ago, and it still remains the biggest amphitheatre in the world, with a capacity of 80,000 spectators. We had an audio guide elucidating all the important milestones that the Colosseum has seen. It was amazing to see how Colosseum’s grandeur is still intact and how SO many people can easily walk on its floors even after more than 1900 years! It is worth all the hype! We gave the basement of Colosseum a miss because the tickets to that part can only be bought at the venue and we didn’t want to spend our precious little time lining up in queues!
Food options around the famous areas are quite expensive. Hence, we carried our little picnic packs of sandwiches, rolls, wafers and even some chocolates from a store near our Bed and Breakfast, along with some water to keep ourselves happily full and hydrated. A full stomach makes a happy heart (especially for a gastronome like me!)
We then proceeded towards the fascinating Roman Forum (Forum Romanum in Italian) which is beautifully nestled between Palatine Hill and Capitoline Hill. We could imagine just how gorgeous this centre of Roman Public life would have been in its heyday. Observing the Arc of Settimio Severo closely made us realize how utterly beautiful and intricate the art work is. The stories of treachery, love, power and betrayal transported us to a time in Rome we had only seen in movies and read about in books. We also caught a glimpse of the stunning views of Roman Forum from the Palatine Hill which left us speechless. AY and I spent a couple of hours walking around these historic ruins and our rented audio guides (Just for € 5) enhanced our experience a thousand-fold.
Next stop for the day, after a whole lot of walking, was the over-crowded, larger than life Pantheon, which is a remarkably well preserved ancient Roman building. It is now a Church and the entry to it is free (Yay!). The dome of Pantheon, even thouh about 2000 years old, remains the single largest, unreinforced concrete dome in the whole world. Pantheon and Piazza della Rotonda have seen throngs of crowds coming here to worship since time immemorial. It also (along with Spanish Steps) witnessed the picturization of a few important scenes from the famous Audery Hepburn-Gregory Peck movie – The Roman Holiday.
We heard a musician playing the violin right outside Pantheon at the Piazza della Rotonda. The beautiful church in the background, the lure of the childhood dreamland that was Italy, the slightly chilly weather, arms in arms with the love of my life, and the stunning music serenading us – there was something completely magical about that moment. Experiences like these make travel worthwhile.
Later in the evening, completely smitten with Rome, we were strolling around and reached the lively and vibrant Piazza Navona. Out of several restaurants, we chose to dine at Tucci, and were completely bowled over by their service, food and the sangrias! The sangria deserves a very special mention since the ones served at Tucci are second to none! We then paid homage to Grom at Piazza Navona for a gelato with panna – freshly whipped cream, for a perfect end to the lovely evening. The whole experience, from the historic sites to the romance in the air to the brilliant food and even better sangria, was idyllic, and will remain with us for a long, long time!
Exhausted, we took a metro back to our Bed and Breakfast and called it a night!
It is amazing how people create routines for themselves even in foreign lands, and in such a short span of time. Maybe it has got something to do with the familiarity bringing comfort, or just that the simple rhythm of repeated things makes us less of a stranger in a strange land. Every morning in Rome, we would go to this cute little café in our neighbourhood for breakfast and the lovely lady at the counter, Margerie, made sure that every day we tried something different – several kinds of bread, pancakes etc. But one thing that wouldn’t change was the uber thick and piping hot chocolate (divine!) – Because, hey, all happiness and walking depends on a leisurely breakfast!
On our third day in Rome, we were quite well acquainted with the bus and metro routes. While walking, we weren’t referring as much to the city map that Tony had shared with us.
Rome has several layers of culture spread across every lane and by-lane. We took a tram while strolling around and found ourselves discovering the Quartiere Coppede, an off-the-beaten-path kind of an area, admiring its quirky architectural beauty. Nestled between Piazza Buenos Aires and Via Tagliamento, it is a series of buildings designed by Gino Coppede. Do you want to know best part of Coppede? It’s not crowded and hence instantly became a favourite.;) But apart from the lack of thronging crowds, the best kept secret of Rome is amazingly beautiful. With different architectures of Rome mish-mashing seamlessly, the area is a treat to the senses. The various historic styles like Art Nouveau, medieval, Baroque and ancient Greek all come together to create a whimsical and dramatic effect.
Traversing through several neighbourhoods that day, we reached the banks of River Tiber. Walking by the riverside and realizing how important Tiber would have been in the ancient times and how it has lost its lustre now, took us back in history. It was, nevertheless, still exceedingly beautiful, with greenery and comfortable walking paths surrounding the river. We had heard about the legend of the founders of Rome, two infants called Romulus and Remus, who were thrown into the waters of the river by their greedy and vindictive uncle, but were saved by the river God. So much of Rome is shrouded in mythology, and it feels magical and surreal to hear all these stories.
Next to River Tiber lies a very cosy and pretty neighbourhood called Trastevere. Like pretty much every important street in Rome, it offers numerous options of eateries, pretty boutique stores and a few budget hotels. Rewarding ourselves after some insane amount of walking, we went on a restaurant crawl and had a big delicious meal and a couple of bottles of the sweet strawberry wine to complete the meal. The magic was still in the air as we made our way back to the B&B, to our last night in this surreal city. This time, we took a bus instead of a metro to get there, to see more of the city, from a different vantage. With the wine swirling in our bellies, both of us wore happy smiles on our faces as we saw the sights of Rome go past us. We even got off one stop before our designated stop, just so that we could walk one last time, talking in the serene beauty that descended upon this magnificent city in the night. We chatted a little with Tony when we got back, glowing from head to toe, telling him about our incredible stay. It was with contentment that we put our heads to pillow that night, sleeping peacefully.
One last breakfast in the morning with Margery, and we were off, saying goodbye to this iconic city, already nostalgic.
Our tryst with Rome was a rewarding experience. The crowd might have driven us nuts, but Rome wove its magic. We were drunk on the culture and the beauty, the myths and the history, and all my dreams of visiting this intoxicating city were finally satiated.