Italian Diaries: Sneak Peek of Rome

Rome

European cities are beautiful. A fantastic public transport, friendly people and an unrushed life makes for some great tourist destinations. But Europe is on  edge after the recent terror attacks in Belgium and Paris as is apparent from the large army presence at almost all monuments, railway stations and airports. There is also a raging debate about the refugee crisis as thousands of Syrians, Iraqis and others head to Europe every single day. We saw a bunch of Syrians begging on the streets of Paris so that felt real.  Yes as people go about their normal days and tourists strike happy poses around monuments, there is an undercurrent of apprehension, of doubt over an uncertain future behind the friendly smiles. The ‘terrorist’ jokes notwithstanding we are all on the edge for sure and the detailed security checks at the airports only make us more aware of the dangerous times we live in.

That said, it has been a dream for me to visit Italy. I personally love Italian cuisine and Italy being home to so much history and culture, it has held special appeal to me to visit. This summer after a truckload of planning and execution, my family headed for our Italian sojourn. Excited about visiting some of the most beautiful cities in the world and partaking of history was something we looked forward to. And our first stop was Rome – the city of history, culture and romance where modern lifestyle blends comfortably with the heritage of the past.

We landed in Rome on a beautiful, sunny evening after having travelled the entire day. One great part about visiting Europe in May, the sun only sets after 9 pm giving you extended hours to stay out and enjoy the various sights and sounds. For a small fee, our young Italian host picked us up in his car. A 20-minute ride with him and we did some getting to know each other. He had never been to India, had not heard of Bangalore. 🙂 He gave us a bunch of tips about which bus to take to the popular tourist spots and how to take good public transport. He also pointed us to some groceries and showed us some non-tourist eateries. We had booked this Apartment through booking.com and it was quite spacious with two large rooms to fit our family and a well-stocked kitchen and washer/dryer. I was planning on cooking with the local produce so that worked perfectly for me. After all Roma tomatoes, artichokes, broccoli and pasta, my heart was doing happy pirouettes.

 

artichokes romeromanesco rome

He left us a bottle of wine and had helpfully shopped for eggs and bread for our breakfast the next day. The Apartment was in a great location being very close to the Vatican and well connected to all the places we wanted to see. It was chilly in the night and the Italians being very conscious of their energy consumption, the heating in the Apartment and all across Rome had been turned off mid April. But, it was cozy with blankets and we slept restfully.

The next day, we woke up bright and early and headed to one of the Bars (neighbourhood milk and sandwich joint) as they call them to get some milk for our coffee. The air was crisp; very few people were out and about.

Moka Pot Rome

We discovered the Moka Pot, the Italian way of having coffee that I fell in love with instantly. I later went and bought one to carry home to India. Some things that instantly struck me was that a common Italian in the grocery store or on the streets (except the tourist places) had very limited fluency of English. So with gestures and some googled Italian we managed to buy some milk — latte. Ciao and Grazie (thank you) work well. 🙂

The Italians drive very fast so unless you give Usain Bolt a run for his money, only cross the road at zebra crossings when the pedestrian sign is green. Dogs are welcome everywhere and strangely no one picks after their pet. Watch the sidewalks for dog poop. Makes an Indian feel right at home. 🙂 Love for dogs makes me fall in love with any country. On the bus, in the train and everywhere on the streets were these beautiful dogs, elegantly sashaying with their owners, very friendly with strangers and very well-mannered as well.

dog bus Rome

We saw some exotic breeds like this toy greyhound whose owner allowed us to pet him and shared some fun facts about his pet with us.

dog Rome

We also saw a number of desis (people from the Indian subcontinent) running groceries, selling selfie sticks etc. We later found out that they were Bangladeshi (mostly trafficked or illegal who had since been naturalized). Of course when you chat them up they call themselves Indian pretending to be Bengalis. Understandable because a common Italian hardly knows India let alone Bangladesh.

The Italians talk loudly and almost completely in Italian and where they speak English, it is in a charming accent. Oh, and they talk a lot, yapping on and on, very similar to Indians. Mostly when we asked for help, we found them friendly and eager to help. I can’t forget the grocery store owner who got up from his place despite a long line to personally get us washing machine detergent that we were struggling to find.

If you take buses, you mostly end up standing all the way unless you climb in at the stop of origin. You cannot buy tickets on the bus and have to buy them in advance from the tobacconists or the Bars earlier mentioned. You have to manually validate your ticket on the bus. And often the validation machine does not work. Rome has a large population of older people or perhaps they were more visible. And one annoying habit is that they smoke. Incessantly. Everywhere. It hurts you especially when you are a non-smoker and when your children gag constantly. There are tobacconists on every street corner who also sell bus and Metro tickets and some sell SIM cards too. When we were looking for a local SIM card, we chanced upon another desi who spoke to us in Urdu. A Pakistani and very friendly and helpful one at that. I have met the best of Pakistanis abroad, very warm and almost cherishing the chance to speak in Hindi/Urdu. Makes one wish that we had more contact between our nations.

I also loved it that they have a lot of dustbins. Such a practical design too and large garbage bins everywhere.

dustbins rome

One major grouse is that there are hardly any public toilets. And one has to end up buying a lot of bottled water. At some of the tourist spots there were water fountains. Also be ready to walk a lot. But the most fun part, you will have the most wow moments as you experience amazing architecture at every street corner.

rome street

Don’t forget to get your daily dose of gelato. We had them everyday and could not get enough of their fabulous taste. And yes, don’t forget wine. It is really cheap and delicious. When in Italy, one just tends to have wine with every meal. 🙂 Their cheeses are to die for and olives come in all variety, so very delicious as well. Cheese-tomato sandwiches were our constant companions on our sightseeing tours!

Despite being so touristy, people don’t haggle. They explain their stuff (restaurant menu, guided tour) and then wish you a good day with a smile when you decline. So nice, right?

gelato rome

I leave you with this sneak peek of Italy. The next post will explore some of the tourist hot spots of Roma as it is called in Italian and some fun tidbits as well.

44 thoughts on “Italian Diaries: Sneak Peek of Rome

  1. What a wonderful experience for you to share, Rachna! Indeed, everyone who visits Europe – especially Paris and Italy – ends up feeling romantic and euphoric.

    It sounds like you were transported to a different world altogether. Can’t wait to read your next posts.

    P.S. I can’t believe you offered us gelato. Whatever happened to wine? :O

    • True, Vishal. I have lived in Europe earlier though not in these countries and l completely love that continent. Glad you liked the post and hope you enjoy others as well. Your P.S. made me quickly rectify my mistake. 🙂

  2. I’ve been waiting to read this ever since I saw the pictures on Facebook! Certainly seems to have been an eventful trip right from the dogs to the architecture! I love Italian food too, so I need to add this to my list of places to visit soon.

    So glad you got some time to spend with the family and enjoy this summer.

    • Oh yes, we did. And since we like to love more like the locals instead of tourists, it is even more fun. Oh you must visit. And you will be glad to know that veg food is easy to find right from pastas, pizzas to paninis. 🙂 Yeah, l guess we really needed this time together. The kids thoroughly enjoyed this vacation and we bonded so much more.

  3. Oh this was a lovely post. Rome is beautiful. It’s the only foreign city I would like to revisit someday. It reminds me a little of historical Indian cities like Delhi that have a monumnet at every curb. The cobbled roads are so quaint. Isn’t it? I’d like a closeup view of the city like yours. We only did the touristy stuff. I cannot believe you actually cooked and shopped for milk :-). That’s cute. Will bug you for details when we decide to go.

    • Thank you, Tulika. Rome is beautiful and so is the rest of ltaly. I can totally see myself revisiting some day in the future. I loved to explore the city like a traveler, doing things that locals do, chatting with some and trying to get a real feel of living there. Like l said l love ltalian food and could not resist coming pasta, artichokes and making their fantastic coffee. Cheese and olive with wine, super yum. And cooking with olive oil in its birthplace or having the finest ltalian wine completely enhanced our experience. Sure, feel free to bug. 😉

  4. Anita says:

    This leaves me drooling at the mouth. Loved it. It is interesting that you booked an apartment and did your own cooking. Am sure it worked out cheaper. Perhaps, you could do another post on the bookings and logistics too, that would be useful with some great tips.

    • Yes, l plan to do one post like that Anita that will help other travelers to plan their trip. The Apartment was slightly cheaper than the hotel. More importantly it was more spacious. We carried fewer clothes and we prepared our own breakfast and sometimes a meal working out more economical but also because l really wanted to cook with authentic Italian ingredients.

  5. Rickie says:

    I’d say this was much more than a sneak peek. Nicely detailed with interesting facts and tidbits. Yes, you should try to make this into a series of travelogue.
    Which city did you like more between Rome and Paris?

    • Yes it is. Just kept on writing till it went over 1K words. 🙂 Yep planning to do a series.

      Tough question: l loved both of them. Solely for food, I’d say Rome. I prefer ltalian over French cuisine. 🙂

  6. Well, it should suffice to say that I will eagerly (and rather enviously) await the next part.
    Lovely pics and finally, glad to know you had a great time.

  7. sunlight till 9!! wow that’s perfect… you would have covered so much. That broccoli looks like an alien vegetable though 😀 so fascinating …. Loved reading about your journey 😀

  8. I loved the post, a wonderful, informative one. Now I want to visit. 😀
    I liked booking ,com too. I have booked through them once and were very good. Thanks for all the tips and great pictures.

  9. This is almost like living there. You have captured all details both from tourist point of view and also to set up a home there. 🙂 Your post brought back fond memories of my visit there. Great pics.

  10. We’ve been planning since so long to visit Italy. Thanks for sharing such detailed information. I would definitely come back to read more 🙂

  11. Rachna, an informative post with some unique captures. Seems you had a great trip. I guess, a lot more is coming on Italy trip, regarding opera and many more….But, I’m curious to know about the apartment you got on rent there. Was it easy? I mean amidst these terrorists tensions…..

    • Thank you, Ravish. Actually this apartment was just like paying for a hotel. We did the booking through booking.com and in other places through Airbnb. I guess perhaps lndians are still considered safe by Europeans. Many people picked us put as lndians and we did not encounter any animosity at all.

  12. Wonderful sneak peak, Rachna, with many details and fine observations! Happy to read that you had such a great time there. Look forward to reading more about your visit.

  13. Hello Rachna! Long time!
    Such a wonderful post. So informative and the pics are lovely too. I love how you have explained everything in detail. 🙂
    I have been off social media for some time now. I am pregnant (yay :D) and work is also keeping me busy. Glad you had such an awesome holiday. Hopping over to the next in the series and looking forward to the rest of it.

  14. The joy shines through the words. Wonderful to know that you had a great time. Especially after all that harrowing time last year when you had to cancel the trip. Look forward to more! And that gelato had me drooling 🙂

  15. Wow ! That sounds like an awesome trip. Italy must have been fab. They sound a lot like Indians though 🙂 And while you were there, did you taste the authentic Italian pastas and pizzas ? Were they different from what we have here ?

    • Yes, they are uncannily like Indians, dark haired too. 🙂 Very good looking men for sure and it was assuring to see how women had frizzy hair and were not overly groomed, felt comforting for some reason. Oh yes, we ate the authentic pizzas and pastas and could not have enough of them. The olive oil and the delectable cheese made their pizzas so delicious and of course all of them were thin crust so you could wolf down large quantities. Their pastas have less spices and rely on their ingredients like fresh tomatoes, basil, cheese, pasta and olive oil to shine. 🙂 We do get Italian pasta brands like Barilla here but the variety is mind boggling there. We even bought ready to cook gnocchi and other fresh pastas which you hardly find here. And pasta is cheap there of course compared to here. Same applies to olive oil and wine. 🙂 Yummy food if you enjoy Italian. Their paninis or sandwiches are really tasty as well. And it is easier to find veg options as well. Food heaven!

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