Saturday, August 22, 2015

Second Stop in Our Italian Vacation- ROME

Next Stop - Rome, the capital city of Italy.

We arrived at the bustling Roma termini station and boarded the taxi to our hotel. As we navigated through the city, we could clearly sense the rich history amidst this busy modern city. We came across beautiful churches, magnificent buildings, immense traffic and tourists galore.

We soon arrived at our hotel- Hotel Navona Colours in the Pantheon/ Piazza Navona neighbourhood. A lovely modern boutique hotel with all necessary amenities such as air conditioning, wifi, complimentary breakfast and located in the heart of the city, an ideal location I thought.

For our first night in the capital, we had signed up for a food tour and it truly was the best way to experience the culture and the food of this great city. It was that good that I had to dedicate one sole post to it and you can read about it here.

Next morning, we had charted out a visit to the Colosseum along with the side sights such as the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. It was a bright, sunny, hot day. We quickly purchased our combined tickets at the nearby Forum rather than the Colosseum, a smart idea from the Rick Steves guide book and first visited the ruins with the help of the audio guide again from Rick Steves (No, I am not his brand ambassador, incase you were thinking :)  )

The whole experience of visiting the spectacular structures from more than 2000 years ago and imagining the city in its full grandeur picturing the great Roman emperors such as Nero, Julius Caesar walking through the city was truly enriching. We also saw the spot where Julius Caesar was cremated among several other sights. Unfortunately the maze like pathways and the heat played spoilsport and we decided to visit the Colosseum the following day, considering the tickets were valid for two days.

We then boarded the efficient but crowded metro to the Vatican and headed straight to a pizzeria suggested by our guide from the food tour- Alice. It was a small cafeteria like restaurant serving around 15 types of pizzas with various toppings and all priced al taglio (by weight). We chose the classic Neapolitan , 4 cheese-mushroom, Ham-broccoli and a potato pizza. The Neapolitan pizza was surely the best I had eaten during the trip with the super crunchy crust and the fresh tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. It looked so beautiful and tasted even better. We were surely in food heaven. But due to lack of time for our Vatican guided tour, our hunger and the heat, we did not manage to click any photographs.

Next stop, the Vatican, which is the world’s smallest country with a mere area of 110 acres.

The Vatican museums housing some of the largest art collection in the world are further divided into 54 museums of which in 4 hours, we managed to visit hardly a few.

The art and sculpture found in each of these museums was impressive such as the Gallery of Tapestries, Gallery of Maps and a special mention has to be made to the notable painting known as School of Athens by Raphael in which were depicted practically almost great philosophers known till date such as Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Pythagoras and even self-portaits of Raphael and Michelangelo.

Ceilings inside the Vatican museums
School of Athens
Then at the end was the Sistine Chapel, which was undoubtedly Michelangelo’s magnum opus. We were given a brief description of the implication of this art work by our guide and about the labour, effort and time involved in creating this great piece of art. We were not allowed to take any photographs due to some copyright regulations.

We finished our Vatican visit at the St Peter’s Basilica, the largest Catholic church in the world where we also saw the Pieta by Michelangelo. What impressed me was that inspite of it being overly touristed, the Basilica invoked in me a devotion probably realizing the fact that I was standing in one of the greatest shrines of the Christian world.

Pieta by Michelangelo
Inside St. Peter's Basilica
On completing our Vatican tour, when we tried taking a taxi to our hotel, the taxi drivers quoted us double/triple the normal rates going on to explain that this was Vatican and Roman taxi rules did not apply here ! So much about being a Holy City.

We spent our last night in Rome by just walking around the Vittorio Immanuele monument and witnessed the Colosseum at night. 

Vittorio Immanule monument

The yellow lighting across the city was what made it and the surrounding sights even more glorious during the dark. I read somewhere that this warm lighting was deliberately decided upon by the city administration to display the city in a whole new mood by sunset.  

We also strolled across many piazzas and several narrow streets attempting to do a bit of shopping and finished off with ice-creams from Lindt, which was pure chocolate decadence and worth every bit of its calories.

Next morning before we left to the south of Italy, we decided to make one more attempt to visit the Colosseum, considering we already held valid tickets from the previous day. Ironically, the queue for visitors with pre-purchased tickets were longer than that for the non-ticket holders. Nevertheless, we entered this great monument in about half hour and rented an audio guide for 6 euros each which I found to be quite fact-filled and informative. Known as the Flavian amphitheatre, this massive structure built more than 2000 years ago is truly an architectural marvel of not just the erstwhile ages but even today.

The work could be noticed to be extremely meticulous with the seat numbers, numbering on the entry gates and separate arenas for the masses and nobility. No wonder, this was unanimously accepted as the Symbol of Italy.

Inside the Colosseum
To conclude, I have to admit that I was very skeptical and a teeny bit paranoid while visiting Rome as we were thoroughly warned about the pick-pocketing and petty crime scene by almost every source. But in the end, I felt widely welcomed into this eternal city and left with only fond memories with a desire to return soon.

PS: Do not forget to use your money belt, which we religiously used across Rome.

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