Friday, 28 December 2007

Roman Holiday

Long back I saw a movie in which a princess visiting a Mediterranean city gets fed up with daily princely duties, steps out one night in to the streets. She is joined by an American journalist and both explore the city and fall in love along the way. It was a mushy movie
and still one of my favourites (yes...I like mushy movies....don't you look like that!!!).

What impressed me was the city which came to life on the black and white film. It was so attractive, that I decided to see it. I mean the movie again and not the city, as I never thought I would get a chance to do that. But as with everything in my life, the power above takes a great pride in proving me wrong and decided me to offer a chance to visit the Caput mundi ("capital of the world"), la Città Eterna ("the Eternal City") .

Remember the princess from the movie?....My life too had become something like hers. Before your imagination begins to work overtime, conjuring images of me wearing gowns and going about waving to people, let me clarify, I too had got fed up of the monotonous work, clients, meetings and not to forget the lousy weather of London. Roomies came up with an offer that I could not refuse and we decided to spend the Christmas weekend in the
land of young cattle .

As part of our 5 day trip across Italy , Rome was our first destination.As the flight landed in the Rome Ciampino Airport, I hopped down eagerly to bask in the sunshine and forget the cold of London. But it turned out that lousy climate - like odour from unwashed socks - had followed me and Rome was laden with clouds and it was cold.

After a short bus (supposedly a 15 min journey, but was a 60 min one in actual) and a train journey we reached the city centre. The next step was to locate our hotel. After looking for it in all directions except the right direction, we reached the hotel. We dumped our bags in the room and headed out to see what Rome had in store for us.

Colosseum was our first stop. Its basically a huge arena where traditional gladiatorial games were held, many other public spectacles were held there, such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. Its immense and the ruins now stand as witness to ancient Roman technology and at the same time reminds us the brutal games which were held here involving the gladiators, beasts and prisoners.One of my friend told that since those roman senators did not have an Xbox or a PlayStation during those times, they had to build this big gaming arena, where they could enjoy people being mauled by wild animals, gladiators killing each other (kind of 'Unreal Tournament' in real life)
After the Colosseum, we walked towards Piazza Venezia which houses the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II , the first king of unified Italy. The monument is magnificent and again classic Roman architecture. There is the Musei Capitolini just after the monument. These museums house a large number of ancient Roman statues, inscriptions, and other artifacts; a collection of medieval and Renaissance art; and collections of jewels, coins, and other items.
The museum also offers a spectacular view of the ruins of Rome.

Also in the museum I found the reason for the fall of Roman Empire. See the picture , which is from an election campaign poster for the Roman Senate and advertises the candidature of a person belonging to one Congressum (R) party. The books available in the secert archives of Vatican talks about a lady leading the party to victory in elections. But this became the start of the fall of the Roman civilisation. Leading archealogists believe that this election was a turning point in Roman History. (sounds like the plot for next Dan Brown novel isnt it?....Well I too have got the talent you know....)

Brimming with confidence after our early successes in roaming Rome (pun intended), armed with just a map and a Italian vocabulary of words which primarily consisted of 'grazie' and 'ciao'(I knew a few more from the mafiosi novels that I have read, but using them would have probably resulted in me becoming a part of Roman history) , we decided to visit the 'Travestere' region of Rome, which is supposed to be famous for its nightlife, restaurants and cafes. We climbed in to one of the city service buses and with a combination of words which mainly involved grazie and ciao we conveyed the driver to drop us at this place. When the driver did drop us at a big square, we hopped down to experience the nightlife of Rome, only to realise that we have travelled exactly in the opposite direction and landed at the other end of the city.

We being what we are, immediately arrived at a consensus that this place is far more better than 'Travesterewhatsitsname' and plunged in to the nightlife, which involved walking through roads where no one else were there and looking at the windows of closed shops. From what I saw the mannequins and the dolls in the shops were having great time.Some of them were having too much fun and were in various phases of disrobement, which would have made the moral police of our country see red and wield saffron flags.

After so much fun and frolicking, we decided to call it a night and headed towards our hotel.The hotel owner must have seen our happy faces and surmised that if we can have so much fun outside in freezing cold and rain, there is no need for any heater in the room. So he had turned off the heater and room was as cold as the outdoors.He also reasoned that it would help to keep our momentum going in to the next day as the forecast for the next day too promised rain and cold. What a kind hearted man !!!. We targeted to leave at 7:30 in the morning for Vatican.

As you people know, I am very lousy at targets and my friends too were not far behind me. So our target was off by 2 hours(we had valid reasons you know. The room was cold and the bed was warm, Although the alarm in my mobile woke me up just enough for me to shut it off, it was not loud enough to make me get up and get ready.All these external conditions made us late and it wasn't our fault)and we made our way towards Vatican at 9:30.

Vatican City is the base of Christainism and Basilica di San Pietro is one of the most important buildings. Here the Pope gives his Christmas message. Without getting in to the religious aspect (which I can neither understand nor want to dwell upon it) and only from a architectural point of view, the basilica is a wonder. My words cannot do justice to what I have seen and I'll just say that you have to see it to experience it and shut up. We went to the top of the dome which offered a breath taking view of Rome (not to mention the fact that we were already out of breath due to climbing all those steps to the top).

The places I really wanted to see were the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican museums (yeah yeah, Dan Brown syndrome, which makes people to see what was described in his books and pose in front of it) were closed and made me ask the most philosophical question which I ask when something unlucky happens. 'Why it happens only to me?'.... I havent had the answer for that still, but only feel that God has a wonderful sense of humour .

We then proceeded to visit many landmarks. Since this place is so steeped in history and the people had such a penchant for creating big buildings, there was one in every alternative road and we repeated the same set of emotions ("ahh ! look at that !!, its so beautiful !!, f*** maan!!!, lets take photos..."), which we had adopted since we landed in Rome. We visited the Fontana di Trevi, the Pantheon, the piazza di Novana, the Castel Sant'Angelo, the Republicca and as was the norm, were dumbfounded by the work of Roman architects and sculptors.

On the way dropped in to the Ferrari shop,spending sometime gazing at the merchandise on display and dreaming of buying them one day.There was this other shop which sold toys and trinkets made of wood. It was so good that I wanted to buy each and every thing they sold. In the end I had to satisfy myself with some small things which would fit in my bag (the airlines and their one bag per person rule basically ruled out any shopping, unless you wanted to spend more on baggage fine than what you have shopped).

Two days in Rome is not enough to cover all the places, museums and landmarks. We made the most of it with whatever time we had. By the end of the second day, we had become the masters of Rome's underground rail services. But we never dared to get on a bus again,after our initial debacle. The next day we left to see Torre pendente di Pisa.....

PS:'The chronicles of an intrepid traveller' will continue in the next part....wait for it....

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