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All Roads Lead to Rome!!

Abhishek Kar

Do they? Do all roads really lead to Rome? Which road were we on? OH! Another turn? Will both the roads end up in Rome? The question nearly deafened our poor Italian driver Alfredo, driving a big bunch of tired and hungry Indian tourists all the way from Florence to Rome. He answered every query with just a smile! We sympathized with him and understood his pressure, as our guide explained that traffic in Rome is “horrendous” and it would take quite a bit of time to counter the ring roads and then finally enter the city limits. Good Lord! When we entered Rome in the late hours of the day, we just stared in utter surprise. Where was the dreaded traffic? The cars were moving in multiple parallel queues like disciplined school children, no loud honking, no jumping the line, no bumper to bumper ….nothing at all. “Horrendous traffic”? Someone in our group chuckled, “Let loose a couple of auto rickshaws from Mumbai and Kolkata and they will make all the difference!” Alfredo’s response got lost in the peal of laughter that erupted in our bus.

First stop - dinner. It was the Ristorante Indiano Maharajah. Situated in a busy district of the city, it was going to offer Indian cuisine to our group. Our Indian waiter Alex made all of us feel very comfortable and the food tasted really good. However, I prefer tasting the cuisine of the country that I am visiting rather than just munching the only too-well-known Indian delicacies in foreign lands. Well, after finishing up, I decided to take a stroll outside the restaurant. And that’s when I saw it.

Photo Credits: Colosseum: Select City
Photo Credits: Forum: Planet Ware

It has stood through ages and is both timeless and classic. And today, in the middle of the night, amidst all the light, it looked even more majestic. It was the world famous Colosseum, in all its ruined glory, right at the end of the street where our restaurant was. I wanted to go and visit the same but our guide had better ideas. He announced that the whole group would be going for a night-out in Rome. Although an orientation tour of the city was on the cards the following day and some of the tourists in the group whined about bringing the day to an end, our bus rolled down the well-lit roads of the Italian capital.

Watching the city’s highlights under the electric bulbs turned out to be an exciting experience and even the most exhausted member of the group did not doze off. As we drove by a very grand hotel and wondered who could afford to stay there, our guide informed that whenever Sylvester Stallone is in Rome, he stays in its presidential suite!! What were the charges like, I asked. Our guide answered. At this point, poor Mr. Gupta remarked,” that’s not a big deal” and then suddenly widened his eyes and cried, “Oh My God”- clearly having miscalculated the room rent in our very own INR. He had dropped two zeros!

Hotel Flaminius was the one where our group would tuck in for the night. We all walked via a long, arched passageway, past a bust of Julius Caesar. It was quite chilly that night and we entered our ice-cold room, only to realize that our AC had no regulator. I even called the Manager, but to our surprise, he was absolutely clueless and muttered helplessly that there was no electrician around. So, we slipped under layers of blankets and still shivered all night long.

Photo Credits: Victor Emmanuel II Monument: Awesome Stories
Photo Credits: Trevi Fountain:YouTube

Well, no harm done that night and the sun shone once again the next morning and post breakfast we went out for an orientation tour of “Roma”. The city, built on seven hills, has the river Tiber running through it. We were to be escorted by a local guide named Sylvia, who had quite a peculiar accent. We visited the famous ruins of the old Rome i.e. the Forum, Victor Emmanuel II Monument at the Piazza Venezia, Trevi Fountain and other places of importance. Unfortunately, very little time was allocated for us to get down from the bus and take snaps of the area which housed the famous Circus Maximus along with the Palatine Hill in its background. At several important junctures stood actors dressed up as old Roman soldiers / legionaries but with a modern addition. They happily posed for selfies with photo-hungry tourists.

Photo Credits: Emperor Hadrian's Mausoleum:www.Bluffton.edu
Photo Credits: Trajan's Column

As our Mercedes Benz coach went along the streets of Rome, we were introduced to other monuments like Emperor Hadrian’s Mausoleum (more famously known as the Castel Sant’Angelo), Trajan’s Column and obviously, the Colosseum. I had been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Hadrian’s Wall in the British Isles, but was even luckier to see his monument, a glistening, enormous white structure standing proudly in the center of the Italian capital.

Photo Credits: The Pontifical Swiss Guards: Spec Ops Magazine
Photo Credits: St. Peter's Church: Select Italy

There was something very interesting in the itinerary. It was housed inside Rome but was not exactly Rome. Once we reached our destination, our Guide cried out, “Welcome to Vatican City”. We were inside the Papal HQ, an independent city state by itself. The Pontifical Swiss Guards, placed at the main gates, reminded me of the English Royal Guards outside the Buckingham Palace. It is said that the present uniform of these guards were designed by Michelangelo himself. After getting over the excitement of being in the Vatican, we walked towards St. Peter’s Church, the largest of its kind in the world and the star attraction of this tiny country.

Photo Credits: Maderno's Fountain: Photo Shelter
Photo Credits: Obelisk: Archeology Travel

Bernini’s colonnade, Maderno’s fountain and Caligula’s Obelisk stand majestically for all to see and admire. The place arouses a sense of serenity and calm in any visitor who walks in through its massive doors. The intricate designs on the walls and ceilings tell a story of their own. Equally impressive are the altar, the tomb of St. Peter, the magnificent dome and the statues. Inside this massive structure, one gets to feel the pulse of the Catholic world. People were praying in the open and no one did anything to disturb them in any way. In the midst of all activities, the silence was indeed amazing.

Photo Credits: La Pieta: YouTube
Photo Credits: Sistine Chapel: Lonely Planet

Tourists from different countries were walking in, some were lying flat on their backs to photograph the magnificent ceiling while scores stood before La Pieta gazing with admiration. Some of the other attractions around were the Apostolic Palace and Sistine Chapel. It was really wonderful to see what we had read about.

Unfortunately, we human beings are sometimes quite unaffected by peace and tranquility. One of our co-passengers, an elderly gentleman had this peculiar habit of taking his own pictures leaning against fancy cars parked in parking lots. We all had seen him do the same a number of times during our trip. Vatican taught him a lesson!

St. Peter’s forgotten, he rushed in one direction, bent a bit and touched the handle of a parked Ferrari. With a wide grin on his face, he posed and his wife got ready to take the ‘all-important snap’ and then suddenly froze. “What do you think you are doing….you…”. It was a bearded seven footer, hands on hips, booming, “It’s my car…how dare …”! Uncle’s face was a picture. None of us saw him posing any more with cars even once during the rest of the trip. He, I am sure, will remember his Vatican experience and was perhaps the only one happy to leave the place.

We were sad to drive away but were excited too as Pisa was our next stop. It is said that you can drop a coin in the Trevi Fountain, make a wish and sure enough you will one day come back to Rome. Well I had done the same but am still waiting for the day to come. Will it or have I just wasted 10 Euro cents!

Photo Credits − Banner Left: Voyage Tips; Banner Center: Lonely Planet; Banner Right: Travel Passionate

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