You don't have to visit Rome to fall in love with it. Truly you don't. Hollywood movies, history books, travel web sites, tourist brochures, postcards from friends—all make sure of it. You simply fall in love, more truly, deeply, madly, once you visit Rome.
The hubby and I were determined to cover all the touristy destinations, before discovering the little known gems of the city. Naturally, the Colosseum (locally known as the Colosseo), the veritable icon of Rome, beckoned. As the crumbling half-moon of this architectural marvel came into sight, my pulse quickened. Even in ruins, the giant amphitheatre, the scene of many a gladiatorial battle, looked as regal as ever. I could imagine braveheart knights, soaked in blood and sweat, battling it out here—the roar of a 50,000-strong crowd cheering them on. I overheard the guide tell an American group that the arena wasn't just used for entertainment purposes. Over the years, it served as a temple, a fort, a quarry, and for residential purposes, too. Talk about a multipurpose, open air hall, the hubby chuckled wryly.
Where to, next? The lucky fountain, of course. Legend has it that throwing a coin in the fountain, known as the Fontana de Trevis, ensures another visit to Rome. The hubby protested as I dragged him there. The fountain was breathtakingly beautiful. Tall arches, magnificently-carved marble statues that represented the wrath and tranquility of the sea and gurgling sapphire water made for a gorgeous picture. I turned my back to it, squeezed my eyes shut, sent a silent prayer upwards, and tossed a coin over my shoulder. That felt so good. Ever since I'd seen Roman Holiday I'd been waiting to do that. We hung around the fountain, soaking in the festive ambience, the hustle and bustle of the scene before heading out to the next stop—Piazza Della Rotunda.
Ah, what is Rome without its piazzas! Lively at any given time of the day, these piazzas or squares are frequented by locals and tourists alike. Lined with quaint cafes, a busker here, a street performer there, piazzas are leitmotif of the blockbuster that is Rome.
At Piazza Della Rotunda, the pride of the place is occupied by the Pantheon. The very same open domed church popularised by the runaway bestseller Da Vinci Code. I gaped at the Fountain of Pantheon, topped as it was by a majestic obelisk and wondered what mysteries it held. The domed church was no less intriguing. Built centuries ago, it'd held on in the face of earthquakes, fires, and other natural catastrophes, to introduce us to the sheer brilliance of ancient Roman minds. Our guide announced that though rainwater crept in so often, thanks to the open dome, waterlogging was never a problem. Cleverly constructed underground drains took care of the problem. If only someone had thought of it during monsoons in Chennai as well, I lamented.
A little distance away was another must-see sight. The Spanish Steps. These seemingly ordinary-looking steps are, in fact, the widest in Europe, and rise to a steep slope overlooking two piazzas.
Built by a French diplomat in the mid eighteenth century, this set of 138 steps attracts hordes of tourists throughout the year. We plonked ourselves on the steps, perfectly watching the world go by.
We rounded off the day with a superb Italian meal. They serve pizza by the slice, I chirped, as I selected about four huge slices. That'd make two pizzas, observed the hubby sagely before proceeding to devour his chicken penne in cream sauce. I drizzled generous amounts of freshly grated cheese on my pizza slices, and cast dieting to the Roman god of wind.
Also on the itinerary was the all-important pilgrimage. A visit to the Vatican City or Citta del Vaticano. I ran into trouble the moment we set foot in the city—sleeveless tops and shorts above the knees are not allowed.
The hubby and I glanced at each other, and then, at our attire. Luckily for the hubby, the length of his khaki shorts passed muster. I hurried to purchase a scarf to cover my shoulders. The hubby couldn't say a word. It was a shopping bonus, granted by God Himself.
What can one say about the beauty of Vatican City? The residence of the Pope, the smallest country (yes, country) in the world, and home to over one thousand people, the Vatican draws hordes of believers, pilgrims, tourists, and architectural students and lovers, from across the world. The sprawling Vatican Square with its towering pillars sweeps the visitors in. Then the magic of the Basilica of Saint Pietro (better known as Saint Peter's Basilica) takes over. From the deceptively comical-looking Swiss guards at the entrance (they happen to be among the fiercest in the world) to the flanking gardens to the multitude of tombs and museums, the Vatican is a sight to behold. There were several blocked passages that piqued my curiosity and took me flying back to my Da Vinci Code and ‘conspiracy theory' days. And though the Pope was not in, I looked up at the balcony made famous by movies and TV clips, and wondered how it'd feel to catch sight of the Pontiff from my vantage point below. Divine indeed.
And it's something that can be said for all of Rome.