Pining for those Pines

When ‘Liberty of the Seas’ docked at ‘Civita Vecchia’, our excitement leapt unbound. Rows of buses lined & ready to transport us into town. Details of that drive are blurred, not the moment of entry, first glimpse & impression. Watching knee deep crowds from a high seater bus, a Romanesque extravaganza unfold, made me want to jump out in frustration. All I did was gawk at the grandeur that was Rome. The guide drew attention to the unending line of monuments on either side of the moving bus. Not knowing whether to look right or left. Or in front. Whichever way one turned one would miss something or the other. An architectural trove. An open air museum. Was it for real?

A first visit, seeing Rome this way was heartbreaking. I could have killed myself.

The second time, five years later, was a definite plus. A month long solo trip that involved a lot of research & planning. Wanting to pack-in as much as possible I over stretched to include Florence, Pisa, (Tuscany/Chianti countryside), Cinque Terre, Venice, Naples, Pompeii, Salerno & Amalfi along with Capri. Which in effect left just four – five days in Rome.

Difficult choices. What’s to do?

*Onboard Apertivo. A boat ride down the Tiber past Romes’ only island – Tiberina. Under ancient bridges offering splendid Vatican views.

A midnight walking tour especially enjoyable without daytime hordes that practically take over the city.

Double flavour gelatos (past midnight) around Trevi, the fountain lit up fairy – like.

The metro to the Colosseum, a walk around & the tram to Trastevere.

Caffe & trattorias for the Carbonara Rome’s known for.

And a last ride on ‘Leonardo’ – to the airport, going back home.

Got a sense & feel of the city that left me asking for more.

Soon it was time to leave.

Arrivederci Roma.

Another five years & I was back with a clearer idea of what I desired. I wanted to roam around at random. Care-free, unmindful. To experience the city first hand. With a plan & a will it was doable. Only 4 days once again. Even so.

Aided by self guided walking tours were curated.

Jewish Ghetto Tour. I got pickpocketed aboard Bus 64 going to Largo Torre Argentina. It was bound to happen. What’s Rome’s without hiccups. Jokes apart, I should have known better than board a crowded bus.

Piazza ‘Largo Argentina’s an archaeological site not many visit or know about. Hollowed out ground off the main street, it has ruins of four Republican era temples. Overlooking it is Teatro Argentina, a modern state-of -the -art theatre built on the remains of another – Pompey’s – ancient one. Home to a large colony of cats, one can hardly believe it was once the seat of the Roman Senate. The spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed – 23 times (44 bc) – The Ides of March. “Et Tu Brutus !”

A busy transport junction it has cafés, parks, bars & restaurants. A cool place to hang around.

I begin walking from Torre Argentina – ‘via Arenula’ to reach the Tiber, turning left to walk along the river front – ‘lungotevere,’ – the Vatican & Sant’Angelo across the river to the right. At Ponte Fabricio, the oldest Roman era bridge (62 bc) still in use, one could take a right to go to Trastevere & the Vatican or simply cross the road taking a left for the Jewish Quarter. A Catholic Church at the corner the landmark, onwards to the Synagogue, museum, theatre Marcello, Portico Octavia & Piazza Mattei. The last with its absolutely must – see Turtle fountain: Fontana Tartarughe

Old cobblestone streets, buildings in rich ochre-orange tones, the Jewish Quarter is fascinating. Largely traffic free, vibrant & alive it is best to walk it’s maze of lanes & by lanes, soaking in the atmosphere. With stone benches to sit & people watch & outdoor eateries that provide the best Jewish traditional. All Kosher of course. Even coffee & sushi – whatever – The deep fried zucchini flowers were best.

The main attraction is the Synagogue & Museum. A pleasant way to while away the afternoon, the place has history. And, it makes a statement. Portico Octavia’s where a thousand plus Jews were rounded up for deportation. On Oct 15, 1943. Never to return. Along the walk one stumbles upon brass plaques embedded on cobblestones. Called ‘tripping’ stones for you to slow down & ponder. They bear names/dates of victims, stirring both remembrance & feeling. A short walk distance-wise, one ends up spending hours. Such is its charm.

Rome Jewish Ghetto Tour
The Tiber
Ponte Cesare
Entrance to the Jewish Quarter
Portico Octavia
Turtle Fountain
Jewish Quarter

Tour 2 Via Napoli – via Nazionale – via Fontane, across back streets to the ever popular Fontana Trevi. The crowds seen to be believed. But crowds can sometimes be fun. I plonked myself on the steps of an adjacent church and sat down to watch & enjoy. (One of the many advantages of travelling solo)

When I’d had my fill of crowds, time again to strike out alone. On to via Condotti, Romes’ upscale shopping street, to the Spanish Steps and ……… more crowds. How does Rome cope, I wonder.

Been here, seen that. The sights – piazza, church, obelisk, monument & fountain. Each clicked & written over a thousand times. I’ve come looking for the Keats- Shelley House however. ‘Casarina Rosa’ as the locals call it. A memorial to Romantics it was for me a place of pilgrimage. A bright red banner proclaims its presence on the second floor of the building to the east of the Steps. Alas, for a yet to be recognised poet to die at twenty five. Keats spent his last days here, with a clear view of the Steps, the Square & Bernini’s boat shaped fountain. I looked around the museum, watched a documentary on his life & left – for Piazza del Popolo. Walking all the way back to the hotel having clocked over twenty thousand steps, hurray!!

Largo Torre Argentina
Keats – Shelley House
Keats House Interiors
From Capitoline Hill
Spanish Steps
Around Bernini’s Boat Fountain
Via Condotti
Piazza Popolo

Tour 3 What could be nicer than walking the streets accompanied by a local? One born & bred here. Who better than my one time language teacher (Italian)? Architect by profession, Carlo loves the city. We spent the day walking & chatting – history, culture, arts – step by measured step, stopping by places, breaking for lunch. Pizza-beer at an ‘antica trattoria’.

Food’s no trifling matter, going by the category of eateries. A ‘trattoria’ for instance is not as formal or high end as ‘ristorante’ but it’s a notch superior to ‘osteria’. A ‘Pescaria’ serves fish based cuisine & the difference between ‘caffe’ & ‘bistro is small but significant. If you wish to sit & eat out in the open you must go to an ‘Al Fresco’. And if it’s fast food you crave there’s ‘Tavola Calda’. A ‘Pizzeria’ is simply what the name states. And ‘Enoteca ? – the closest to a tavern, pub, bar.

Grazie Signor, that was quite an education.

A mild October sun radiating warmth & joy we started near Piazza Cinquecento, crossing streets & back streets between via Nazionale & Piazza Venezia. Right across stood the building from where Duce Mussolini had addressed crowds, giving fascist speeches from the second floor balcony. To its right was the Tomb of the Unknown soldier, a monument many years in the making. One every Italian loves to hate. Some call it the wedding cake, others the typewriter. Not surprising in a country with fastidious taste. Foreign tourists flock to it however. Its humongous size the attraction perhaps.

Crisscrossing streets & alleys we arrive at Piazza Navona & Bernini’s ‘Fountain of Four Rivers’ – a remarkable piece of baroque. From there to Capitoline hill for an uncommon view of the Roman Forum.

Despite belonging to different periods of history a noticeable feature of the architecture is that it comes across as a harmonious whole. The modern alongside the ancient & renaissance, medieval, baroque, all juxtaposed side by side. Friendly & approachable and without arrogance. These monuments were never meant to intimidate. They exist for everyone’s pleasure. Walk you must. The only way to truly enjoy the city.

City of palaces & squares, fountains, gardens & springs. Everything on a grand scale, everything captured & documented a zillion times. The little things too draw attention.

Never before had I seen construction sites camouflaged so aesthetically. Giant posters with post completion images cover entire walls. Even before completion. To enable passersby I was told, to familiarise themselves with street/ corner/ place & not feel disoriented on coming upon it suddenly.

Practically every road had a sunny & shady side, giving pedestrians the choice of walking whichever side they preferred. A practical lesson in urban design – planning.

Anyone visiting Rome would have noticed the Stone Pines. Those beautiful, stunted, umbrella like trees that standout amidst a sea of ochre. The pines seemed taller than before. Had they really grown or was it my imagination.

Back home in India the trademark pines are the first thing I sometimes see on waking up each morning. Stark – dark & strangely alluring. Some kind of a karmic connect surely.

The infamous balcony (view blocked unfortunately) & the Wedding cake
Under construction Site with Advt et al.