This was a trip we took in October of 2004. We had just finished reading Dan Brown’s “Angels and Demons” and were fascinated by his description of Roman history and architecture. Added to that, I am a sucker for cobble stone streets, narrow alleys, cafes, open piazzas and Italian food. So we decided to go to Italy.
We landed in Rome on a bright sunny morning. We took the airport train to Roma Termini, the central station and transferred to the Metro line to get to our hotel. We had excellent directions to walk from the metro station to our bed and breakfast. Needless to say, we got lost. My friends do not call me ‘geographically-challenged’ for nothing. We asked several people for directions, none of who spoke English. The locals were extremely friendly and eager to help even though they had no clue what we were trying to say:)
We arrived at our apartment, which was across the street from the Vatican City wall. Our room was decently big with huge windows opening to the street side. The fun part of the apartment was the bathroom. It was a narrow room. It was so narrow that if you sat straight on the commode, your legs hit the opposite wall. If you sat at an angle your position was off! After a few trials, Saru announced that the most comfortable position was to sit perpendicular to the pot! Now about the shower stall, the less said the better. It was a tiny square stall. There was a small entrance. You had go in sideways (Saru had to hold his breath), and once you were in you could only stretch upwards. The soapbox had to be perched precariously over one corner. Every time you turned in the stall, you would hit yourself against the wall and the soapbox would fall off. Taking a shower there was a big project involving careful maneuvering!
After shower we went downstairs to a sidewalk cafe to get some lunch. Saru had a mixed vegetable pizza and I had a red pepper pizza. Pizza here was thin crust and absolutely delicious. As we were eating, there were street performers walking around and playing musical instruments. We were trying to ignore them, when one pair walked to our table and started playing a familiar tune. Before we recognized the tune, they broke into the Hindi song Churaliya hai tumne jo dilko" We started laughing and gave them a tip.
The first place we wanted to visit in Rome was the Pantheon. We found out from the locals what bus to take and went to the bus station. In Rome, like most European countries, Public transportation is the best way to get around and is very inexpensive too. For 1 Euro, we could take the train or the bus to any place within the city.
The Pantheon, built in the 1st century, is considered the best-preserved building of ancient Rome. The most amazing part of this building is its dome, which happens to be the largest concrete dome ever built. Five concentric circles lead to the opening or the Oculus in the ceiling. We sat near the obelisk in front of the pantheon in the Piazza della Rotunda until sunset. The Pantheon looked even more beautiful after the sunset.
We were strolling around and came upon a church, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. This church is the only Gothic church in all of Rome and is decorated by frescos, paintings and a statue of Christ by Michelangelo. It was breathtaking. Saru took about 20 minutes to compose and take this picture.
We then walked towards the famous Piazza Novona. This place is famous for its Fountain of Quattro Fiumi, by the famous artist, Bernini. The fountain has statues of four river gods - the Tiber, Ganges, Danube and Nile the only four rivers known at that time. As the sun set, the place seemed to get busier with tourists, locals, entertainers and artists. The piazza was surrounded with excellent cafes and ice-cream shops. . We picked a small trattoria on a side street to have dinner. We had spinach ravioli in cream sauce and shrimp pasta and ended with a scrumptious tiramisu.
We wanted to take the bus back to the hotel, but realized that we didn't have tickets. In Italy, you buy bus tickets in newspaper or tobacco stands and validate them when you enter the bus. It was after 11:00pm and newspaper stands were shutting down. We walked around and found one open store and bought tickets. Instead of taking bus 81, I suggested that we take 64, which was going towards our hotel. That turned out to be a big mistake! The bus ended up going to the middle of nowhere and of course the driver spoke no English. Luckily there was a Bangladeshi in the bus, who helped us and asked the driver to drop us someplace where we could walk to the hotel.
As we walked, we came upon a magnificent square with pillars on both sides and a grand church on one side. It took us a minute to recognize that we were right in St. Peters Square! It was unbelievable. It was late in the night. It was cold. There was not a soul in sight. We took this night shot and walked back to the hotel.
Coming in Part 2
- Vatican Museum / Sistine Chapel
- Saru's odd packing habits
- Italian Food