BLOG 2: Diary of the Sisterhood Travels – April 14
We departed from Istanbul in daylight so we could land in Rome before sunset. The 2 hour flight with Turkish Airlines was extremely pleasant, contrary to my anxiety about flying the national Turk carrier (I am totally an airline snob). Ironically, the stewardess handed out Turkish Delight before landing – it was then I decided on the name of my blog post for Turkey.
The inspiration to visit Rome came from one source only – Angels & Demons, Dan Brown. Robert Langdon’s thrilling adventure across Rome and Vatican City was sufficient for its inclusion in the travel plans. Finally, we would be physically exploring the birthplace of the renaissance.
The airport is far from heart of Rome, it took us nearly 45 minutes to get to the city, but as girls do, we had a good chat with the polite Italian driver who tried his level best to converse in English and pointed out (with translation of course) some of the main areas of interest. As we came closer to the city, the lush green fields transitioned to pages from a book of historical monuments. Everywhere corner you look, history exuberated.
For the next three days our abode was a cute little studio in via Vittoria, smack bang in the middle of all major monuments on our list. Once again, our luck continued its magic with accommodation. A leather jacket clad, scooter riding petite ‘Valentina’ was our pretty Italian host. We noticed a lot of scooters & bikes in Rome – I guess it makes sense due to the narrow, nearly claustrophobic streets. Valentina gave us some great tips & information about the locality and I wondered if she ever gets bored repeating the same info over and over to each new visitor. We decided to walk to the local grocery store and stock up on breakfast staples before bedtime – the plan was that my sis will cook a hearty breakfast before we embark on walking exploration of Roma – I wish we had planned for a fitbit or pedometer – we walked a fair distance!
Day 1: Piazza Di Spagna, Fontana Di Trevi, Colosseum & Pantheon
We started the day bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to walk off that amazing omelette my sister whipped up. My heart desired a skinny mocha and immediately my eyes started searching for coffee. The walk from our studio to Spanish Steps was about 5 minutes amidst a string of Italian boutiques which we admired along the way (especially the shoes). There were plenty of cafes around but damned if anyone understood my request for a freaking Mocha! The barista looked at me as if I had horns sticking out of my forehead. It took me a few moments to determine between his general Italian demeanour (mostly comes across as rude) and if he was actually thinking I was a crazy woman requesting coffee to be adulterated! A crime in his eyes – I darted as soon as I realised we was worked up at my (unusual for Italy) request. I didn’t look for a skinny mocha again in Rome…
The Piazza Di Spagna was full of life, bustling with tourists and street vendors. I was surprised at the volume of street hawkers, one would spring up every 10 steps or so, selling anything from roses to handbags. Their persistence annoyed me. We worried about our belongings – Rome is famous for pick pockets. On the other hand, the vendors were well behaved, minding their own business, trying to sell as many statues of David and Vatican replicas as possible!
There was maintenance being conducted at the Fontana della Barcaccia – a shame we didn’t get to see the fountain of the ugly boats. The 135 Spanish steps were easy enough to climb to the Trinità dei Monti church. I would’ve enjoyed the atmosphere more if it was less crowded; deciding immediately to return at night considering our studio was only 5 minutes away.
Fontana Di Trevi was next on our list – it was on the way to the Colosseum – so we manoeuvred through narrow cobblestone streets, navigating our way on the map at the same time dodging the persistent hawkers and keeping a consistently sharp eye on our backpacks! The fountain appeared out of nowhere – For some reason I had imagined it to be a lot bigger, regardless, it was a sculpted masterpiece, even though the area was packed with tourists, the fountain continued to portray its glory. The entire backdrop of Palazzo Poli was magnificent, the statue of Ocean in the middle, the dissimilar moods of the two horses all added to its beauty. It was decided. We were returning at night to add to the Trevi coin collection.
Continuing our trek to the Colosseum, we passed several enigmatic characters on the street opposite Trajan’s Forum. There was a slight drizzle and sure enough, this time the street hawkers were coaxing to sell us umbrella’s, to which my sister politely responded, ‘We already have one’, in Bengali – there was a second of silence and then the look of sheer shock on their faces, they were at loss for words after that, wondering which part of Bangladesh we were from, or was it India? They tried to converse with us in many different dialects, but all we gave back was a smile – it was enough for them to leave us alone, even on our walk back – they wouldn’t dare dodge a potential country(wo)men.
The funny thing about Rome, was the number of Bangladeshi’s on the streets speaking fluent Italian! The Italians are really strict when it comes to their national language it seems. Bengali and Italian couldn’t be farther apart, but, not only are the Bengali’s speaking their language, they are also cooking their food! If you are eating at an Italian Pizzeria or Trattorria, there is a 90% chance your pizza or pasta has been cooked by someone from Bangladesh. Go Figure.
Standing right across the Arch of Constantine, there was no missing the iconic symbol of Rome, the Flavian Amphitheatre famously known as Colosseum (minus Russell Crowe ofcourse). Its exactly as all the pictures depict from the outside – illustrious. It wasn’t until we got inside that I realised the extent of ruins – the weight of so many centuries has certainly given this monument a beating. The physical strains are visible, but when you walk the floors, for a fraction of a second you may feel the ghosts of old Rome floating above your heads.
Just as soon as you’ve recovered from the goosebumps of walking the grounds and feeling the ghosts, outside you will be met with shonky gladiators ready to take a selfie with you for 5 Euros 🙂 We decided to skip that and look for lunch!
On the way back, I was curious about the Arch of Constantine, wondering about Constantine’s timeline between Constantinople (Istanbul) & Rome. Having just visited Istanbul and reviewing his remnants like Hippodrome of Constantinople and Column of Constantine, this history was even more fascinating. Would love to travel back in time to unravel the reasons behind why Constantine inaugurated Istanbul as the Roman capital as opposed to Rome – was it purely because of Istanbul’s strategic location or something more?
The Pantheon was captivating inside and out, a brilliantly well preserved piece of pagan architecture. One can wonder about the stunning Roman architecture for hours – the design is deceiving, it appears to be rectangular, but mathematics & geometry is at play. If you ever visit, inspect around the the Pantheon from the outside. The inside is another visual enchantment, especially the oculus, as it is another architectural marvel – you can see the intricate designs of the pagans and subsequently the mark of the Renaissance’s artists – its not a surprise since Raphael is buried in the Pantheon!
The Pantheon now serves as a church and has been for many centuries post the pagans. We sat outside the Pantheon staring in awe while enjoying our first Italian gelato from an ice creamery opposite the Pantheon – it was chocolate heaven and well deserved treat!
We decided to conclude our day after this – to say we were exhausted is an understatement. Our legs were aching and our minds were buzzing with information and imagery. We had to soak in all the history our brains consumed, rest, recoup and start planning for our much anticipated visit to the Vatican City!