Friday, December 19, 2008

Some Ramblings on my Italian Experience: Rome (Part I)




The three cities we managed to explore in the limited time that we had. Rome is rich with history; Florence with art; and Venice, heritage. All in all, Italy is as renaissance as it is baroque! We chose to fly into Italy (via Rome) from Granada in Spain, because rail travel would have consumed a lot of time; time which we didn't want wasted.

The Roma Fiumicino Airport was a good 45 minutes to an hour's train ride from the central Termini station, and initial exposes of the city were drastic and depressing. It seemed as though the slums just wouldn't end. The views from that train ride refused to get better. I suppose that partly owes itself to the preservation of Roman history. Modern trains whizzing through the city would never do justice to its grandiosity, culture and architecture. And that is one major reason why the Romans have not been able to develop a good underground network. Everytime they try to dig through, to expand the system, they hit one artefact or the other, and that means, red lights because excavators take over immediately and it becomes a restricted area.

I had booked our Bed and Breakfast close to the Termini station, for convenient access to the transport system. The city's main bus station hugs the main train station, which came as a pleasant surprise. The area itself seemed to be a rather neglected part of the city. Maybe because there were more desi faces around - Bengalis, Indians and Pakistanis - than the locals. However, the bright side of it all was that I had the best chicken biryani there, and I've lived all my life in the sub-continent! Bengali cooks are known in the world for their culinary skills, and while I haven't travelled to Bangladesh ever, it took me a flight to Rome to be a witness to their art of cooking. For Muslims, good food is a major issue when travelling in the West. Except for sea-food, all meat needs to be either halal or kosher, so this Bengali restaurant was an amazing find. We had three dinners, and I think a couple of lunches there, without a moment's hesitation. It was as if we had struck gold.

Err...not exactly a befitting travelogue on Rome, right? Okay, so here goes. The city's treasures never end: historic sites, churches, fountains, squares... Our first stop was the obvious. The Colosseum or The Colosseo. There is a lot of car traffic around it, but that fails to steal from the splendour of the ruins.

Next. We stumbled upon the Basilica de San Giovanni, the official ecclesiastical seat of the Pope. Be prepared to stumble upon a million points of interest in Rome. There is history and heritage everywhere you look. These are memories I am beginning to treasure only now, because when I was in the city, I complained constantly. Bad, hot weather. Stuffy, congested buses (we actually missed a few bus stops we needed to get off on, because we couldn't make our way to the doors of the vehicle!). Dingy, smelly tube stations. Bad publicity for Rome? No, the net-verdict of all memories is sheer fondness and the will to return some day. Culture encapsulates. I often wonder why people love coming to Lahore again and again. Its got the same problems of weather, transport and dirt, minus the tubes. Yes, no underground networks in the country. No public transport worthy of a traveller, except for taxis. But I suppose, it is the culture and the history which leave an imprint on the mind.

Next. The Fontana de Trevi. My favourite 'pit stop' in all of Rome. We had a fun time walking through the streets of the city, a map in our hands, like thirsty nomads in search of cool, crisp water. As we seemed to be closing in on our destination, I saw images of the fountain that I had earlier picked up on the net, resonating in my head. I had memories of a considerably big structure with tons of tourists thronging it, some relaxing, some enjoying Gelatos and yet others, throwing coins, in the hope of returning to the site some day. The streets we were treading were, however, narrow and closely-knit. Confusing. And then, as if from no where, crowds began to come into view, the sound of cold water, gushing and splashing against the pool, and snap, we were there. We did it all. Sat. Relaxed. Watched people around. Saw two newly-wed couples come down from nearby churches to have their photoshoots, people cheering them on. Had gelato. But we refrained from devoting precious euro coins to the calling. The Pakistani rupee exchange rate made sure we were stingy when it came these frivolities.

Next. The Piazza de Spagna to witness Rome's famous flirting ground, the Spanish steps. For Indian cine-goers, this is the place where Raj was recently ordered, "I'm bored. Dance for me!". The Spanish Steps were plenty, but if you've done the Batu Caves in Malaysia, this shouldn't be any cause for concern. I think we were quite tired of all the walking, earlier on in the day, so we felt heavily taxed. On the top deck, sits the Trinita dei Monti, a twin-towered church, which gives a reasonable aerial view of parts of the city.

More on Rome later...

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

NB: Alex, the link to The Colosseum will take you to A website you might enjoy!


Id it is said...

That's a real tribute to this historic city! The fact that you think back on it with a 'fondness' and a desire that you will one day go back to revisit.

So were you there recently?

Saadia said...

It really is a tribute. I remember complaining over the phone to my dad about the congestion and weather in the city, and he kept telling me to hold on - that I would look back with deep fondness. And for sure. And full credit to my husband too, who kept looking past these negative experiences.

Most of the European excursion I'll be talking about on this blog (Amsterdam and Rome, so far) are a follow-up to our 'European Summers 08'. We toured 12 European cities in all. An experience of a lifetime, especially considering how difficult and expensive travelling is for people in this part of the world.

Id it is said...

Expensive perhaps (even that is debatable with the current state of the economy in the west), but why is it any more difficult for you than it is for me to travel in Asia or Africa?
12 cities! Must have been quite a hectic tour! How long was your stay in Europe?

Id it is said...

...errrrr pardon my ignorance here, but what does 'ROFL' stand for...

Saadia said...

Financially, the difficulty is because income levels are generally lower, and the exchange rates don't work in our favour.

Then, we do not get special or budget deals/packages here. Local flights are more expensive in Pakistan than international flights in Europe on budget airlines.

There is always a big 'if', during the planning phase itself: whether or not we'll get a visa! American or British passport-holders normally don't need to worry about that. Am I right?

It was a 3-week Eurail trip.

Id it is said...

As an American, the exchange rate doesn't work in our favor anymore when going to Europe. In fact this last year we have been flooded with European tourists like never before thanks to the Euro having become stronger.

The cost of inland flights vary depending on the destination. If it is a city that is a hub for an airline then usually the tickets are very cheap especially if you buy them in advance; for instance the 'red eye' that comes from California to NYC could cost you as less as $150/- round trip if bought in advance.

You're right about US citizens not needing a VISA when traveling in Europe. But then we have our set of problems when traveling to Asia and the Middle East; now the State Department also sets down some safety measures to be followed when going to Asia, and they can be quite annoying and cumbersome. Besides there is also the issue about our poor immunities that force us to take umpteen shots before we travel to certain destinations! So...I guess we are even, hehe

Saadia said...

Want to trade travellers' shoes? ;-) But you're right about the strengthening of the Euro.

Umpteen shots - funny! Are those a requirement too?

Id it is said...

The Hepatitis B is but the others are recommended. However, I think Americans are paranoid about falling sick, so we usually go the far end on the immunizations!

Saadia said...

That's okay! The British require us to be tested for tuberculosis if we intend to make our stay there, longer than 6 months. We are a scary people in many more ways than the obvious, it seems!

Onkar said...

you brought back memories of Rome which I visited a few years back.

Saadia said...

Oh nice. Have you written anything about your Roman Holiday?

Tazeen said...

Loved reading this ... i did Rome in a day (kept the other day for Vatican) and just couldn't get enough of the place.

You are so right about the slums, I was coming down from Venice in a train and was quite sleepy but was jolted when i saw urdu Punjabi galiyan graffitied.

I saw the filmi video and was shocked. Spanish steps would prolly be that vacant in early morning.

Saadia said...

Urdu/Punjabi galiyan? Haha, didn't see those but wow! What did you like best about Rome though?

Alex @ The Travel Blurb said...

Nice post. Brought back memories from my visit. I recall doing lots of walking between St. Peters and the ancient half and really struggling to find a shop selling bottles of water greater than 300ml.

As you said the Trevi fountain does just seem to appear. Looking at the video in your post it did start me thinking that it is in a strange position with buildings so close round.

I really enjoyed the Italian restaurants and cafes too. Give me a pizza and a Peroni beer and I will stay happy for a long time.

I may have to write a post on Rome. You have inspired me.