Dated – September, 2011
This was the end. The last city on our itinerary. I always had a thing for happy endings. Rome was like that. You almost feel like you are in India. A little like Bombay. A little like Delhi. Crowded trains. People warning you of pick-pockets. Too many people just about everywhere. So many that sometimes you’ve got to just stop and let them walk by! And the city is all about history and food. Needless to say, I absolutely loved Rome.
Rome is confusions galore. The airports don’t make sense. You get a day pass for trains, not at the station, but at the newspaper stand! You can’t buy a ticket in a bus. The city is all muddled up. And you’ll love this city in spite of all this. Or maybe because of all this. We stayed at the Alessandro Hostel, five minutes from the main station Termini. I know I keep saying I loved European hostels, but this one was a stunner. Old palace turned into an ultra modern hostel with a super bar and a roof top restaurant. Rooms were huge and so very comfy! No reason why anyone should spend a ton and stay in a hotel. I did say this was a happy ending right?
Day one was solely dedicated to the Vatican City. A dot of a country with more muscles than Washington, apparently. We took a guided tour of the Vatican, because we were three very clueless people and Vatican is pretty huge and complex to decipher on your own. We started with the Vatican Museum. The place is full of superb statues and wall paintings – each with a story of its own. The Belvedere torso had S grinning from ear to ear! It is a statue with no heads, arms or legs and is supposedly the perfectly sculpted torso. So much so that Michelangelo had refused to finish it, stating that he can’t finish something as perfect as this. Later on, he used it as a model for painting Christ in the Sistine Chapel. There were quite a few optical illusions all over the place. Ceilings after ceilings were intricately painted. It is an absolute visual treat.
But the biggest treat is the Sistine Chapel! What a beauty! Michelangelo took four years to paint it. For four years, he sat up there and painted the ceiling. Damaged his eyesight too. And the outcome is just brilliant. Frescoes weaving into each other, telling stories of Christ and Virgin Mary. Michelangelo painted the Last Judgement a few years later. Each fresco is a defined chain of events and I can’t do justice by telling you about them. It is one of those things that you’ve got to experience. No words come close (and clicking photographs are not allowed there). This is also the place where Pope is elected. White smoke from the chimney means pope elected and black means otherwise. All I could think of was the Pink Panther! 😛 We spent the rest of the day roaming around in Vatican. Saw St. Peter’s Basilica, which is one of the three places in the world where a church is built on the tomb of one of Jesus’ 12 apostles (Note – Santhome church in Chennai is one of the three!). Thoroughly drained, we went back to the hostel in the evening. We were famished and the Vatican surprisingly has no visible food options. There was a restaurant right outside our hostel where we had the best sea food risotto in the whole wide world that night! We still haven’t gotten over it. Delectable plate of heaven it was! That’s all I remember of that day. Then we sank into the luxurious beds and drifted off.
Next day was dedicated to the Colosseum. The moment you see it, you are in awe of it. In spite of the fact that it is half broken and weathered down. The place is absolutely huge and the stories are many. The one I still remember was that once a whale washed ashore. So, they built this huge whale shaped structure, and the gladiators and animals came out of its mouth! Grandeur was the order of the day then. Elaborate stages were constructed for these gladiatorial fights. Important tips – Buy the ticket online to avoid the queue there. The audio guides are worth the money too!
When you’re in Rome, do not miss the free walking tours the city offers. It starts from the Spanish Steps and the guides are full of trivia that you won’t find in travel books. Among the three of us, only Robin had enough enthusiasm to join this tour. S and I had a leisurely lunch near Trevis Fountain and then spent a lot of quality time at an excellent wine & liqueur shop. Most of our souvenirs were from that shop! We joined Robin and the walking tour group at the Pantheon after a while. And from there, walked on to the Spanish Steps. Everywhere we went, it was insanely crowded. The crowd, all the walking and a long day later, we finally gave up. Picked up beers, sat under a very holy statue and drank. The guy who sold us beers actually talked in Bengali. It was so unexpected that I simply gaped at him!
We had made grand plans of going to the other side of town to check out the night life. Age won over optimism, as we settled for the bar at the hostel. 😛 Allison and Bao had reached Rome and that last evening in Rome turned out to be memorable. A bottle of wine, some remnants of the souvenirs we picked from Amsterdam (if you know what I mean) and so much of heady laughter that our sides ached! To top it all, the bar manager played Chammak Chhallo! 😀 It all resulted in an amazing evening. One of the best we spent in Europe. This was it. The trip that we had obsessively pined for, was over. 17 days of pure unadulterated fun. Friends old and new, new places, incessant walking, compulsive clicking, all the smiles and all the good times. All we were left with were around 4000 pictures and memories of a lifetime! As we boarded the flight to India, I think we had already started planning our next trip! 🙂