Getting out of the Termini station at Rome, I had the most uneasy feeling. Something about the place did not feel right. I am not sure what it was. I can’t actually say it was this particular thing or that. It was just a feeling, a feeling that senses danger. The feeling that one has in the capital city of a country. I say capital city because I’ve felt the same way in Delhi (India), the same way in Bangkok (Thailand) and in Paris (France).Have you ever felt that way?
Beware of cab drivers! You are in Rome!
Our first experience of the city was with the cab driver. Hauling a taxi, we headed to the hotel. The driver, an immigrant pointed out the important sights on the way making the extremely long trip to the hotel interesting and just as I had begun to change my opinion and shrug off the the initial feeling I had of the city, we reached the hotel and the driver said the fare was a whopping 80 Euros! We were shocked as the hotel had said it would be 30 Euros. Since we were in front of the hotel, we argued confidently; telling him that we would ask someone from the hotel to speak to him. The result was that the fare as reduced to 40 Euros. Getting out of the taxi, we were so proud of ourselves; only to be told the next day by our guide, that wherever you go in Rome, the fare cannot be more than 20 Euros! That’s Rome for the unknowing tourist.
The Spanish steps and The Trevi Fountain
Armed with a map in hand on which the receptionist at the hotel had very neatly written down the bus number and circled the place we were supposed to get off at, the hotel’s shuttle service took us to Piazza Di Cavaro. From here we had to cross the bridge over the river Tibrè and walk down to Piazza Spagna to see “The Spanish Steps”.
The road from the bridge to the Spanish Steps seemed like an ordinary crowded shopping street with vendors selling roasted chestnuts and other tit-bits that one could munch on. The difference between this street and any other that I had seen was that it housed some really huge fashion names- Christian Dior, Gucci, Trusardi etc . At the end of the shopping street were The Steps. There must have been a thousand people on and around the steps. I instinctively felt fear! It was the 3rd of April, two days before Easter. There were just too many people, too many police patrolling the area and my head had still not got over France. 20th March 2014, France, when a Jihadist gunman opened fire killing 7 people. It was all too fresh in the mind to forget. Lots of people, festival season, celebrations were the perfect recipe for spelling destruction. That’s what I felt and wanted to get away from the steps as soon as my feet would take me.
However, today, as I write this blog, I feel I have changed over the last 2 years. I’ve realized you can’t be scared. You can’t live in fear all the time. You have to simply live knowing that some things are destined to happen. Because being afraid is exhausting.
Up the steps, straight down the road, first a left, then a right and we reached Trevi Fountain. It’s a 2 km walk that is pure bliss, a quiet street with stone buildings, trees on either side and away from the crowd.
Belief has it that if you put a coin in the Trevi Fountain, you will return to Rome. The Fountain, sadly, was under restoration (Fashion House Fendi was sponsoring $2.9 million for the restoration), so basically there was no fountain, yet people threw their coins into the floor of the fountain. They fell with a “clang”. The floor of the Trevi Fountain glimmered with gold colored coins. It wasn’t surprising that there had been thefts since the restoration started. A number of poor had been caught stealing the coins in the dark. However, like everybody else, we dropped a coin too! And it hit the floor with a “clang”!
Call it blind faith but every person irrespective of nationality and religion did exactly that. Everybody wanted to return to Italy 🙂 .
After spending some time around the fountain and shopping in a Benetton store in front, we decided to head back to the bridge to catch the bus to the hotel. That got us searching for the map- the map on which the bus number was written. It did not take long to realize that I had probably dropped it in my rush to get away from The Spanish Steps. We managed to retrace our steps to the Spanish Steps. Down the steps, across the road, Lo and behold! There was our map lying on the road exactly where it had dropped off ; stepped by a thousand people, tattered yet in one piece. And there in blue on the map, was the bus number- bus 990! A 20 minute journey by bus took us back to our hotel and boy! were we relieved to be back in our room.
4th March-A Pilgrimage
The next day was a hectic trip to the Vatican- a country within a country. The trip began at 8.15 a.m. from Café Vaticano. Our guide, Barbara, led us to the Vatican Museum after we finished passing through Security control and Immigration. The world’s smallest, sovereign state, situated on the Vatican hill and the capital of the Catholic world.
Wealth is what one sees when walks through the Vatican museums, founded in the 16th Century by Pope Julius II- a treasure chest of the most beautiful paintings from 3rd century B.C, tapestries with scenes from the Bible, marble sculptures, Egyptian mummies and the very famous Sistine Chapel. The richness of it all takes one’s breath away.
The Sistine Chapel has the world’s most famous works of art- Michelangelo’s painting of the Last Judgement. It’s the place where the conclave meets to elect the new pope.
St. Peter’s Basilica- Italy’s largest, richest and most spectacular church where St. Peter is said to have been buried around AD 64.
Being the day before Easter, preparations in full swing in St. Peter’s square.
The visit to the Vatican included a visit to 3 churches outside the Vatican , but owned by the Vatican- St. Paul’s church, St. Mary Maggiore, The Holy Steps and San Giovanni Litario which used to be the main residence of the Pope until Emperor Nero (37 AD- 68AD) decided to attack the Pope there. It was then that the Pope escaped to the Vatican with the help of Swiss guards. Thereafter, Vatican became the home of the Pope and Swiss guards became a tradition which is upheld until date. Till today, when a person is nominated to be Pope, the person remains an Archbishop until he visits San Giovani (the earlier residence) and sits on the Purple Chair there. Only then does he get the title of Pope. Kylie, our Australian guide was extremely informative, managing to keep my otherwise distracted children totally engaged to the extent that they actually asked questions :).
Apparently, Santa Maria Maggiore was built on the last edict passed by the Roman church that Mother Mary was the eternal Mother and not just the Mother of Jesus- which meant she was the Mother of God as well. The orthodox Greek community got created then as they did not believe in this edict.
The Holy Steps were the steps on which Jesus climbed with the Cross before being crucified. The Holy Steps had been brought by Helen- Constantin’s mother, from Jerusalem. The original steps are covered to avoid rotting. There are 28 steps and pilgrims had to go up the steps on their knees. It is said that one can see the blood of the Lord through the cracks in the steps. The Vatican trip was our pilgrimage.
We got caught in the rain at the end of the Vatican trip and had to but the raincoats being sold outside the Holy Steps for Euro 2 each. They are definitely worth it even if they are just a “throw” without sleeves.
A visit to the Colosseum- The Flavian Ampitheatre on Easter Sunday
The next day we were supposed to head to Sorrento, Naples. Our train to Sorrento was in the afternoon but we checked out of our hotel in the morning. This time the cab driver was a decent chap and charged us 20 Euros. We had 3 hours waiting time at the station.
No trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the Colosseum. Leaving our luggage in the cloak room, we took a train to see the Roman Forum, Palatino and the Colosseum. It’s in ruins now and somehow that’s what adds to the magic. Going in, it’s easy to be transported to the past when gladiators fought, onlookers cheered as they watched the fight between man and beast with glee. The scenes of Julius Caeser, the Shakespeare written play, that we studied 25 years ago, in grade 10, came rushing back. Hadn’t imagined then, that I would one day be standing here.
A Taste of Real Rome!
The train from the Colosseum to Termini Station from where we had tickets to Naples was to arrive at 3.00 p.m. and it was 1.30 p.m. The station wasn’t too crowded. The train was fortunately in time. All of a sudden there was a huge crowd that rushed in to catch the train. Holding my younger daughter’s hand with a iron fist, I quickly stepped into the compartment and turned around to find my husband looking distraught. In the split second while I had my back turned and my elder daughter and husband had made their way in, someone had stolen my husband’s wallet from his zipped jacket pocket. What happened after that, was pure drama. Someone pulled the chain, the train that had started moving out of the station came to a halt, some people were screaming at 2 girls in black trousers in the next compartment saying they were the ones who had stolen it, my husband couldn’t identify them. I looked helplessly at the station to see if there was somebody who could help, the police arrived at the scene, got the girls to get off the train, 2 people sitting on the station bench sweared they had seen them stealing, the police carried out a search, asking my husband what happened, how it happened, my husband saying he did not know who took it but remembered they were teenage girls and chaos and the girls telling me that they hadn’t done it. The policeman searching the girls’ was disgusting. So I asked them to stop immediately. We were getting nowhere. Then in one bright spark, I realized what was going on… the wallet had been stolen, was already probably out of the station and the credit cards would be swiped anytime. Quickly, taking out my diary in which the card numbers were written, we asked the police to let the girls go, let the train go and requested the police themselves to leave. Then, we called up 3 banks from whom we had credit cards and asked them blocked all the cards without any further delay. The good thing was the cards had not been swiped. We lost just 30 Euros! Fortunately, that was the remaining cash in the wallet, as we had spent it earlier to buy tickets to the Colosseum and for the guide.We were now left with just 300 Euros in cash (of which 200 had to be kept aside as we had booked a trip to the Amalfi coast the next day and cancellation was not an option) which we had stowed away in another bag and tickets to Naples but we had no cards to withdraw any cash for the remaining 4 days of our vacation. In other words, we were stranded in Rome, with 100 Euros!
The silver lining, was that it was the last leg of the holiday and we were to spend the last 4 days of our trip in Naples, at the same hotel. That meant we had some time on our hands to find a solution.
Origin of Rome
We were seasoned travelers and were well aware of pick-pockets but were lucky enough not to experience it. In fact, I believed that people who got robbed were not careful enough but now I can vouch for their skill. These people are good at what they do.
To me, Rome had proved it’s roots!
Rome and it’s roots
Rome had been found by 2 brothers – Romulus and Remus. Legend has it that when they founded the city, they had an argument and Romulus killed Remus, so the city took the name “Rome”.
To populate it, he created a refuge, to which a ragtag population of criminals, ex-slaves and outlaws soon decamped. However, the city still needed women. So Romulus invited everyone in the surrounding country to celebrate the festival of Consus on August 21st. As spectators watched the festival games, Romulus and his men pounced and abducted the women, an act that went down in History as the Rape of the Sabine Women- a sculpture to depict this is found in Florence beside the Uffizzi.
- Keep cash and credit cards in different bags
- keep your wallet in the inside pocket of your jacket
- Keep a record of your credit card numbers and the bank’s phone number and block your cards immediately. You can fret and wonder why and how you got robbed later.
Lost our heart and our wallet in the Roman Empire
Rome had stolen our heart and our wallet. For want of time, we were not able to see all of Rome. But that’s o.k. because we will be going back again- remember we threw a coin in the Trevi fountain!
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