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 Travelistic.com. A website you might enjoy!