Next stop: Rome

Day 1

We’re a bit tired now. Sudden, huge helpings of Culture can be a little heavy to digest, and tend to take a toll on the feet. But the Colosseum beckoned and we paid homage.

Thanks to movies like the Gladiator and Ben Hur, we could well imagine snarling lions rushing out of the underground tunnels, black slaves straining to hold the others back till it was their turn.

Unfortunately our guide sucked. A useful little tip is to never hire a guide from the Colosseum, as there were plenty of other fellows who seemed to be doing a better job. One brown-as-a-berry guide held a group of about 20 people mesmerised as he described the games, even as they stood under the hot, burning sun at three ‘o’ clock in the afternoon.

I am ashamed to admit I eavesdropped for as long as I could bear to stand there pretending to do nothing (10 minutes) – after all, how can you not want to hear about how the Romans staged Greek stories of revenge and drama, with the help of unwilling prisoners of course, whose stomachs were wrenched open so that birds and other animals may feed off of him, until the poor man gave up and decided to die?

Right next to the Colosseum are the ruins of the Roman square, palaces and temples. Again, a guide here would be nice as the place is a great big mass of pillars, broken boulders and stones, and you need some help to bring it alive.

The Colosseum. The entrances were numbered, so you just looked at the number on your ticket and got in (and out) in no time. They were able to empty the stadium - seating about 70,ooo spectators - in 10 minutes.

The ruins lie beyond the arch, a short walk from the Colosseum, and are a pleasant way to spend an hour or two.

Up till now we haven’t been big on guides in general. But then you need to read up about the places you’re going to visit, to do them justice. And considering the subject matter, two small kids and a workaholic husband, it was just easier to hire someone who could explain it all to us.

We spent the evening at Piazza di Spagna, a picturesque square that leads off to streets selling Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Versace (eechetera, eechetera, as the locals say). It is pleasantly packed with happy people shopping, taking photos or just lolling around on a flight of stairs that is characteristic of this square (they lead to a church), even as they eat Italy’s most beloved invention – gelatos.

You get these marvelous creatures in all kinds of flavours (my favourite is the yoghurt) and the scoops are huge and balance precariously off tiny little cones – edible architectural marvels – daring you to lick them into submission.

Which is why you see people of all ages tucking into gelatos at every corner: men in suits on their way to work, pretty girls in short skirts and never-ending legs, butch Italian men who forget about looking cool for a while as they concentrate on finishing their ice-cream. How could we resist? And anyway, when in Rome do as the Roman’s do, right?

Day 2

The family came in today. Was a good excuse for Rohaan and me to get some downtime and settle into the beautiful service apartment we had rented from the charming Marco, an Italian profesori who rents out this spacious and well-equipped flat, for a great price, to all those lucky enough to know him.

Ishaan and I read a lovely little guide book about the Roman ruins and the Colosseum. It’s a lift-the-flap kind of book that shows you how the monument would have looked originally, and then you turn the page to see the ruins as they stand now. Quite exciting.

I made him read a few pages of Horrid Henry as well and then let him loose on the gameboy. Laila has gone off with the others to the supermarket and to get a look at the streets of Rome. The sun only sets by half eight, so it makes sense to be out as long as possible. Especially if you’re a three-year old who has just been travelling for the last 16 hours.

Day 3

We began the day with St. Peter’s Basilica, a church built to mark the site where Peter the Apostle was crucified and buried and where a number of other Popes are buried as well. Michelangelo’s Pieta – grief seeped in marble – is on display here. It is so beautiful and touching, that even Ishaan and Laila couldn’t get over it  – they kept pointing it out when ever they spotted it in the souvenier shops.

Being a Sunday, St Peter's Basilica was houseful...

making us lucky enough to see Mass happening in full swing.

It's huge. Every inch is ornate, frescoed, sculpted. It's over-the-top, and quite appropriately, simply divine.

The Pieta now resides behind bullet-proof glass, after some madman tried to smash it to pieces with a sledgehammer in '72.

After St. Peter’s we had planned to head out to Fontana Trevi, Piazza di Spagna and maybe even the Colosseum (this time with the kids). The weather put an end to all of that. It began to rain steadily and turned very cold and as none of us were dressed appropriately we decided to head home.

Ishaan had been whining about his legs aching, moments after we had set out that morning. He normally starts his ‘my legs are paining’ routine a little later in the holiday, so even by his standards this was a bit early.

Then Mr Fabregas came to the rescue, as Ishaan’s mama had a moment of inspiration, and informed him that this was exactly the weather his hero used to play football in. Every day. Fabregas is Spanish (a little fact I luckily didn’t know at the time), as this info worked like a charm. Soon Ishaan was prancing about and acting cool, even insisting that he didn’t need to cover his head with the jacket’s hood. If only all of motherhood was so sweet.

Mercifully the rain cleared up by around five and we were off again. Fontana Trevi lived up to our expectations (made famous by Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday) and we dutifully threw our coins in – Laila didn’t know what to wish for; Ishaan made a fourth and fifth wish… a jacket for me and a t-shirt for his beloved aunt!  We took a million pictures and then had a lovely meal at one of the little restaurants that dot the cobbled streets everywhere you look.

Fontana Trevi attracts all sorts - teens, tourists, newly married couples in their wedding outfits - all wishing for a little extra good-luck

Hoping those wishes will come true...

We finished off at the Fontana dei Quattro Fumi or the Fountain of the Four Rivers, by which time we were all quite knocked out and freezing, though the atmosphere there was like one big party. It was almost eleven.

But Rome is like a drug. You can’t get enough of it, even though you know it’s going to make you feel lousy next morning.

Day 4

The Sistine Chapel was a bit of a disappointment. There, I said it. Maybe it’s because we expected something more massive, along the line’s of St. Peter’s Basilica, forgetting that this was a chapel and would be smaller.

Though who can look at Michelangelo’s work and come away unimpressed? Scenes from the life of Jesus Christ, the prophets and the famous Creation of Adam (finger of god) make you want to crane your neck into impossible angles. It’s also packed tight with people, so leisurely admiring anything is a bit difficult.

Creation-of-Adam-by-Michelangelo (source: public-domain-images.blogspot.com). Btw taking pictures is prohibited.

This painting of the prophet Jeremiah brooding about death was supposed to be a self-potrait of Michelangelo, who was painting the sistine chapel against his will and was fed up of it all. However another story says it's probable that he used his father as a model, as his father would have been the right age, as Michelangelo was only 37 at that time. (Source of pic: Wikipedia.org)

The museums at the Vatican have massive Greek, Roman and Egyptian exhibits, and they even have a real-life mummy! It has shriveled up over the centuries and looks rather like a brown monkey, but the pose – arms elegantly crossed over as if in deep sleep – is very human. How we wished Ishaan could have seen this, especially as there were all these school kids there on a visit. You should have seen their faces – they just couldn’t tear themselves away. This must have been the only exhibit that the kids visited, where there was pin drop silence.

And as one can’t talk of a visit to the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel without harping on about the long, long queues – here it is. If you don’t book in advance, you will have to wait in line for at least an hour and a half. As for guided tours, I wouldn’t recommend it as you can rent an audio guide that you switch on for the exhibits that really interest you, as each exhibit (helpfully) has it’s own serial number.

Inside the Vatican Museum. You should keep at least a day to do full justice to this lovely little country - for that's what Vatican City is, all of the o.2 square miles of it!

My first mummy (at least of the Egyptian variety)

The Map Room has a brilliantly frescoed ceiling competing for attention with various maps of Italy painted along the walls in the late 16th century.

We did the Colosseum with the kids that evening. We got there fairly late (after finishing the above visit at breakneck speed), but it turned out to be a boon as there weren’t the usual mobs, and the peace and quiet was a welcome change. Laila was more interested in the pigeons, but Ishaan was mighty impressed with the bloodthirstiness of it all.

The Colosseum. Our guide insisted that no Christians were persecuted here (contrary to popular belief) - only condemned men, slaves or professional gladiators could fight. Something tells me the Romans wouldn't have been so politically correct.

The passages underground were lit with torches - not a happy place to be if a fire broke out, as the platform above was made of wood (visible in the background of this picture). This area would also be flooded for water battles, staged around once a year as it was a very expensive proposition - even for the Romans!

All this of course led to some very deep thought...

Amongst a million other details, the Colosseum had separate seating for different classes of society – the senators up close, the merchants and other classes in between and the plebs in the highest stands (really far up) – much like how our stadiums seat people today.  Though of course the Romans didn’t charge their citizens anything. Entry was free. Probably why they are making up for it now, my mother-in-law remarked, as we even had to pay for the kids to enter.

Ishaan in the meantime was pointing out to Laila where the ‘beggars’ would have sat, and then promptly wanted to know where we would have sat. The merchants stand, I told him. He didn’t ask too many questions after that.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. And it definitely can’t be seen in four. But we have no complaints. After all, they do say that all roads lead to Rome (sorry, but I can’t resist), and so, we too shall be back one day.

Arrivederci Rome. Ciao.

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