Saturday, April 28, 2012

Roman Holiday

Travellers' Choice 2012, an annual rating by millions of travelers on TripAdvisor, recently rated Rome higher than Paris as a tourist destination.  While I may not rate these two fabulous cities in quite that order, I can see why Rome has continued to fascinate so many travelers through the ages.

Pantheon Rome We had rented an apartment on Via die Serpenti, a quaint little street that sloped gently down from the towering ramparts of the Colosseum, lined with tiny shops and graffiti-adorned wooden doors.  An old fountain gurgled in the middle of a small cobble-stoned piazza.  Wrought-iron chairs and checkered table-cloths spilled out of trattorias around the piazza.  Micro-cars, scooters and bikes lined both sides of the tiny streets.  The late-April morning in Rome was refreshing cold as I looked out of my window, a full ten degrees lower than the hot Pune summer I had left behind!

Trattoria on via dei Serpenti Rome

The ancient city and all the important tourist spots in Rome are within a few miles of each other.  Walking through the city is therefore the best way to explore this historical city - particularly easy for me since our apartment was centrally located.  Walking about 5 to 7 km also allowed us to build up big appetites and we gorged on the most delectable three-course lunches every day.

Roman Forum

The ruins of the Colosseum, Roman Forums and Palentine Hill are clustered together.  A single ticket usually covers all these attractions and is valid for two consecutive days.  We realized you can save a lot of time by buying tickets at the Roman Forums (instead of the Colosseum, which is far more crowded).  I recommend renting an audio guide too, since the remains aren’t labelled.

Collosium Rome

Collosium Rome

For history buffs like me, it was an erie feeling walking the cobbled streets of the ruins of the Roman Forum. Several centuries back, these streets had resounded with the sounds of an triumphant Roman army as Caesar returned after another hard-fought victory.  And a few years later awash with blood as he was murdered in the Senate building - now reduced to a mound of stones, a few inscriptions and a few pillars that refuse to fall.

Capitoline Rome

Rome is a city that has so many layers of history.  It seems you will uncover some ancient wonder every time you take a shovel to the ground here.  The ruins in the ancient city are several feet below the level of current streets and buildings.  Old and new merge seamlessly as you walk though the streets.  You may suddenly come upon an ancient fresco peeking through a broken wall or an ancient bronze statue of a mighty Roman emperor that has survived the ravages of time.

Roman Holiday

We had reached Rome on the day of its 2765th birthday.  The origins of Rome are shrouded in myth.  As the story goes, two brothers Remus and Romulus had been abandoned to die on the banks of the river Tiber.  A she-wolf found and suckled them to life after which they went on to found a city which was named after Romulus.  The statue of the she-wolf sucking the two infants is a popular tourist attraction on top of Capitoline Hill.

Romulus and Reamus Capitoline Hill Rome

Finally, Vatican City.  You have to keep aside a full day to do justice to the treasures on display in its museums.  This was the only time we took a metro to get somewhere in this city.  Unlike London or Paris, Rome isn’t very well connected by the metro.  However, if you do need to buy tickets, they are usually available at cafes and bars.

Vatican Museum Rome

It was spellbinding to be standing in front of original works of such greats as Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Raphael and Michelangelo.  The highlights for me were the Sistine Chapel and its famous frescos, the impressive Gallery of Maps and the Sala degli Animali.

Vatican Frescos Rome

Pizzeria near Vatican City Rome

After every long tour of the ruins or the Vatican, we would inevitably catch our breath with a delectable pizza, a tall glass of beer and at least two flavors of gelato. :)

Next in this series:  Trattorie of Trastavere

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