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A Roman Affair

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A Roman Affair

Self-proclaimed Italophile Vissa Venkata Sundar surrenders to the unique flows and rhythms of the eternal city, and discovers delights at every turn — be it art, the ancient ruins, or great food — as he roams the streets of Rome

As a self-avowed Italophile, I never realised when this strange infatuation and yearning started. It was heartbreaking to have planned the trip twice, only to then cancel it. It was a gradual revolt by the heart and mind against me that lead to a resolve to visit Italy. Being a tourist is a sort of inner quest; to understand, seek, and embrace the rich cultural experiences that the world has to offer. Travel bestows a new vigor to the mind, body, and soul. And sure, Italy doesn’t disappoint you on any of these counts.

Italy can be very expensive, but a nifty search on various options can save you a lot of money. Rome extends its courtesy to the traveller in more ways than one. The flight via Doha to Rome was an enjoyable one. Armed to the teeth with research and information, and exhaustive reading of the voluminous guide books, an overpowering sense of anticipation and alacrity surrounded me and I couldn’t wait for the touchdown.

Spontaneity is so undervalued. We seldom visit places with a studied mindfulness and indulgence. Most often, we are caught up rushing, busy ticking the ‘places-I-visited’ boxes. Isn’t it liberating to experience the places by surrendering to their own unique flow and rhythms?

A gloriously sunny afternoon greeted us as the aircraft landed at Fiumicino Airport (located 30 km to the southwest of Rome). The airport is efficient and you are out with your baggage within no time. Taking a shuttle bus instead of an Express train to reach Roma Termini, the city centre, turned out to be a better idea. It is utterly thrilling to sit by the window of a bus and see the city life gently unfold layer by layer in front of your eyes.

Rome is where time surrenders itself. Rather, the concept of time collapses entirely. Unlike other places, Rome sees history not in the rear-view mirror but squarely in front of it every single day, for the past 2,500 years. Setting foot in Rome —  which was established around 753 BC — seemed to have an electrifying effect. Disregarding the tiredness after a long flight, I sprinted out to roam the streets of ancient Rome, armed with a camera. By now, night had set in.

Rome glows in the night. Walking past the cobbled streets of downtown ancient Rome, you witness the magnificent Colosseum, an iconic Roman architecture and awe-inspiring amphitheater built in AD 80 by emperor Vespasian for staging deadly gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights for public viewing. It could easily hold 55,000 people at a time, who would be seated as per their social rank. A deft restoration work is underway here.

Towards the right, an imposing Arch of Constantine stands between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill. It is the last remaining arch in Rome from the ancient period. An inscription bears the words “Inspired by the divine”.

Rome is remarkably walkable, with history being the main protagonist and countless monuments, piazzas, fountains, and town squares acting as its central props. A few yards away, the Roman Forum delicately soars above in the night sky. It was the centre of ancient Romans’ daily life. Today, what you would see are the ruins and fragments of the architectural past, nonetheless an imposing and evocative sight.

Headed next to the supremely artistic spectacle called Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain), Rome’s largest and most famous fountain. The visual assault that ensues numbs one’s senses. For once, a thought crosses the mind: If it is ever possible to create such masterpieces by sheer human imagination and craftsmanship? You can just gaze at the beauty of it for hours and hours, sit and relax and enjoy amidst pouring tourists, trying for their best selfies or Instagram one perfect bragworthy photo.

As the night descends, you can enjoy the wonderful pockets of calm and stroll past the ancient Roman streets, while enjoying a delicious pressed sandwich of spicy grilled eggplant with fresh mozzarella and basil or a splendid gelato. Food is cheap and you find many restaurants in the business districts that cater to low and high end of food connoisseurs. Budget travellers should try and avoid shops at the elegant neighbourhoods and hunt for more bargain-friendly shops slightly away from the touristy zones.

The amazing thing is that just like its innumerable water fountains, that are “free” and “fit” to drink from, much of the priceless ancient history in Rome also comes free, of course, barring a few exceptions, like Colosseum, Sistine Chapel, and The Pantheon being a recent addition to the list.

An impulsive night-time stroll around Rome finally turned out to be a magical one. Day two, walking past the streets of Rome, every street turns out to be a treasure trove of history of some sort. The task of conservation and restoration is a mammoth one here and must be quite a painstaking effort too for the Government officials, who seem to be performing it quite judiciously.

Rome has some of the greatest feats of urban engineering. The Pantheon, believed to be built in the 1st century AD, is the single largest span dome in the world located at the heart of the Rome’s business district, at Piazza Navona. It is a masterpiece of perfect proportions, is extraordinary, and perhaps the best preserved monument. An engineering marvel, the concrete used by Romans to build this has remained a puzzle to this day. It is incredible to see how much was accomplished in the 2nd century without any material and technical advances.

A few streets away, you reach Altaredella Patria, an unmissable white marble memorial to the first king of Italy, Vittorio Emmanuele II.

Rome is remarkably walkable, with delights — art, ancient ruins, and great food — at every turn. Spend the day with a bit more of aimless wandering and you will discover masterpieces of every architectural era — from Etruscan to Classical Rome, from Renaissance to Baroque — as you walk through the streets.

The hard, uneven cobblestones of ancient Roman streets would gradually start to take a toll; your legs could go sore and heels may ache. To ensure that a walking trip in Rome is an enjoyable one, you must carry some good comfy shoes.

Sweeping vistas of Villa Borghese Park can provide a soothing effect to the frayed nerves. It’s a beautiful garden of 80 hectares, built by Cardinal Scipione Borghese for his estate. The park was the first-of-its-kind in Rome, its formal gardens divided by avenues and graced with statues. The best way to explore the Borghese Gardens is to walk or you could even rent a bike for the day.

Visitors to Rome can sample both traditional and creative cuisines, classic architecture, avant-garde galleries, and endless nightlife options.

The food exemplifies the tastes of the people in that place, their tradition and culture. No wonder that people will walk a kilometre to reach their favourite gelato shop! Roman restaurants favour noise and light, a touch of chaos, and bold, lively flavours.

The city reminds visitors that there are more than 2,500 years of history all intertwined. Do yourself a favour and visit this eternal city of Rome; you will be back for more in no time!

The writer is a communications professional and an avid traveller, who enjoys exploring places, meeting new people, and immersing in new cultures. E-mail: vissa.sundar@gmail.com




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