Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Italy by Road- Part 1

              Saturday, 13th Nov, we packed our bags, stocked our car with food and started off from Brindisi on our 10 day trip- The Great Italian Road trip.  We made a route map to travel to Rome, Florence, Pisa and Venice. A 2500 km drive across Italy and back to Brindisi along the Adriatic coastline. 

The first stop, Rome, is 550 kms from Brindisi. Midway we decided to visit Pompeii. Pompeii is the dream destination of archaeologists. This city, almost 2000 years back, was covered by lava after a volcanic eruption. Pompeii was among the flourishing cities of that time. It was a much planned city and had a lot of rich merchants. As fate would have it, in around 79 AD, the mountain of Vesuvius erupted. It covered the city in 3 mts of ash . The inhabitants of the city died of suffocation. The second day the lava was thrown out, covering the entire city in its path.  After a few days there was an earthquake. Talk about bad luck!
 The city now lays frozen in time. The lava preserved the bodies of the people and the animals. You can see people in the position they died, crouching, laying down…. a fatal and unimagined end to an entire city. It is quite depressing, but for anthropologists this place is a key to the times then. We had just 3 hrs to spend there, so couldn’t cover even half of the ‘City of Ruins’.

                     We were warned in advance about thefts in Rome, but no one really took it seriously. I mean, we have traveled all over India and faced down the worst of pick-pockets, how bad can it get? One incident burst our innocent bubble. On the express highway, when we reached our first toll, near the ticket counter a chewing gum chewing dude came to collect the money. My dad without thinking handed over 50 Euros. This guy performed the vanishing act in the pretense of getting change. We waited there till the cars behind us started honking and finally an old man came up to us and confirmed what we knew all along-we had been duped. We realized that it was an automated toll machine. We were all struck, this was daylight robbery! But this may have been a blessing in disguise, for from that moment we were really alert and on our guard. So maybe it saved us from a greater misfortune.

First stop- Rome (Roma)
                  Apparently all roads don’t lead to Rome; we had to hugely depend on our GPS navigator to reach the place. Without it I wonder where we would have reached. We checked into a hotel run by a Bangladeshi friend of ours. Now if you want to see Bangladeshis, you should come to Italy. You'll see them here as managers, shopkeepers, roadside vendors, chefs; any job you mention you can find a Bangladeshi doing it.
                   The next day we were charged up. We were in Rome!! The city had a lot to offer and we had just 3 days. We took daily transport passes, which let us travel by metros, trams and buses in the city. Our first stop was the Colosseum (Colosseo) . Now we have studied all about the Roman Civilization. I remember looking at the pictures of it in my history text books. But nothing really prepares you for the actual sight. It’s magnificent! Yes, it is in ruins, but one can’t help but marvel the architectural genius displayed by those men 2000 yrs back. With no modern construction equipments those people managed to build such a magnificent structure. The Colosseum was built by the kings to provide entertainment to their subjects. Now this is not some movie theater where we can sit back munching popcorn. It was a battle ground where fiery gladiators fought bloody duels with each other and with animals. Sometimes slaves were allowed to fight to earn their freedom. Thousands of spectators would turn up to witness and cheer the fights. The result was always the same- one of them dies. And the participants couldn’t fake dying; to check whether the defeated gladiators are really dead, they were poked with a red hot iron rod. The ruthlessness of it all chilled me, especially the fact that thousands of people would come to witness this barbaric sport.
        I couldn’t help but imagine the lives of those gladiators. They start training for it as young boys. As gladiators they earn huge money, but very few of them live beyond 30 to enjoy the wealth they amass.
Opposite to the Colosseum there are ruins of some of the old Roman structures. There are old gardens, stables, palaces- all in ruins, but still standing testimony to the grandeur of that time.
Outside the Colosseum the scene is lively. Lots of groups were walking around in huddles wearing neon jackets and caps so as not to be lost. You have Americans, British, Arabs, and Asians all with their guides clicking away on their cameras. There were also a lot of souvenir shops selling Colosseum key chains, magnets, T-shirts. And, most of them were manned by Bangladeshis. The best part was that we could finally bargain without miming! There were men dressed up as gladiators whom we could pay and take pictures with it. In short the place was buzzing with things to make you part with your money.

            The Colosseum took half of our day and most of our energy. We trudged to the nearest Pizzeria and had a meal of fungi (pronounced as ‘FOOng-I’ here) and Margherita Pizza. The rest of the day was spent walking along the streets of Rome, which in itself was a nice experience. I love the sights and smells of Rome. Walking along a typical street there, you’ll come across people lounging in open air cafes, you can smell the coffee brewing inside, numerous Pizzerias with portly bakers standing near their ovens making Pizzas, Pastry shops (Pasticceria) displaying all sorts of delicious treats. Some streets had florists selling fragrant and exotic flowers. The streets are never quiet, there is always that sound of life. I love those streets and can spend hours just describing them.

              The second day we took a train to the Vatican city. We reached St. Peters’ Basilica and were impressed with the architecture and grandeur of the church. Due to time constraints we had to skip the Vatican Museum which is one of the biggest museums in the world. As per a British guide, who had a long conversation with us, if we spent 30 secs in front of each artifact there, it would take us up to 13 yrs to complete the entire museum. We decided we didn’t have that much time.
From Vatican we went to Flaminco to see the famous Piazza del Popolo. From there to the Trevi Fountain. It is the most beautiful fountain I have ever seen. There are beautiful marble sculptures around the huge fountain. The place was crowded with people clicking pictures. All had the same pose- throwing cents into the wishing well. I too did the same : D.
The rest of the day was spent roaming the streets of Rome. On every other street there is a church. We entered a few of them and were impressed with the exquisite paintings and sculptures inside. These works of art were commissioned by the Church during the Renaissance to artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo etc .
             By the end of the day we were famished, we went to an Indian restaurant by the name ‘Sitar’. It warmed our hearts when we found out that the place had mallu waiters. My parents gladly used this opportunity to speak Malayalam. After all, how often does one meet a fellow mal in Rome.  After quizzing the waiter on his whereabouts in Kerala, and more or less his entire history, we finally ordered food. Let’s say we were not disappointed.

              Our last day in Rome was the day of Eid. We prayed Eid prayer at the Grand Mosque there. It was a wonderful experience, praying with people from different nations- Italy, Morocco, Philippines, Somalia, India, Pakistan etc….It was a memorable Eid
Our time at Rome had come to an end. Our next stop- Florence. I will be writing about it in my next post, so do visit this page again!



  1. Excellent Travelogue Nazreen..reading through your narration was like being with you all and felt very lively with the snaps tied in well with your post..good keep up the good work..

  2. Hi Nazreen,
    Your blog is so full of life. Felt as though I was actually touring the places you so vividly describe. Looking forward to more of your notes.....keep writing ! Your are a natural !
    Best wishes, Archana (Pranav's mom)

  3. Hey Aunty!
    Thanks a lot for the comment, it boosted my confidence. Trust me, I am floating a feet above the ground! :D
    I plan to continue writing, and in the process, grow as a writer :)

  4. Totally professional.Congrats for an excellent commentary.
    Wg Cdr Ratnakar

  5. Hi Nazreen,

    That's a real good description of the fun you all had. Your travelogue will help us when we prepare for our trip sometime in future. We spoke to your Dad today and went back to the Hindon and Jalahali days. Hope to catch up with you all sometime, at least through Skype in the near future.

    George Uncle, Mini Aunty & Richie (Eric)