Solo in Rome
I actually felt like Christopher Columbus embarking on his epic voyage as I wheeled my trolley into Mumbai’s Chattrapati International Airport. Getting into Munich the flight was empty and after a relaxing half hour at Mumbai Airport’s Clipper lounge (run by the Oberoi’s) I was looking forward to a good night’s rest on the plane. Unfortunately this was not really possible because the passenger in the seat in front tilted his seat back into my nose so that I had to slip in and out with a 45 degree back bend each time I visited the toilet. This inconvenience and the bad food, awful in flight entertainment and the general fear of the unknown that seemed to loom larger and larger with each passing mile, made the 7 1/2 hour flight intolerable and I was glad when the plane landed at Munich half an hour earlier than scheduled.
I made a quick dash through Passport Control and after a hurried pit stop ran to the boarding gate only to find that my flight was three hours later!! So I sat at a Breakfast bar and nibbled on some sandwiches and coffee only because I wanted to charge my mobile phone which needed to be fully ready to take on the new SIM card which I had to load the moment I arrived in Roma.
Each experience makes you wiser and from my last experience I not only became wiser but poorer as well as I had to pay a whopping bill as I had activated my International Data Roaming. This I realised was a complete con game and a major source of revenue for the service providers because even though my phone use was minimal, my phone bill was astronomical because the applications that ran in the background kept downloading or looking for data to download whether I wanted it or not! So this time round, much much wiser, I decided to use a local SIM.
The onward flight to Rome was thankfully uneventful and I was glad I had re-fuelled at the Airport since the snack we got looked suspiciously like regurgitated porridge as it was a Yoghurt Muesli with pear and apple bits.
I wanted to travel into Roma by the superfast Leonardo Express and couldn’t help grinning as I crossed the first hurdle of operating a self service kiosk and getting into a train full of passengers with luggage.
Though we reached Roma Termini 8 minutes later than scheduled, there was enough time for me to get to my hotel, dump my bag and visit the Vatican. So like every other tourist I got off the train and began dragging my strolley down the cobbled street. The hotel was not really far from the station but as I had to read street names, follow the map, look over my shoulder for potential thieves and thugs,
it took longer than I expected and I was shocked to find myself in front of an imposing wooden door with a knocker as big as my face. I looked up and found a sign which said I had to ring the bell to go to the hotel. I rang the bell not once but twice, and even spoke to the door which didn’t speak back till I realised that when I rang the bell, there was a slight click of the door opening…. So I pushed it open and found myself inside a passageway which led to a run down staircase and a lift which announced that it could only be used by one person taking up one bag at a time! The hotel, if it could be called that, was a bit of a let down considering that it had won an award on Trip Advisor. But its location was excellent and its staff could speak English. They also were extremely helpful in terms of travel tips.
But the Giuliana is not an establishment I would really recommend especially since Anna Shetty had stayed at a spotlessly clean equally well located place for half the price even in high tourist season.
In search of the Vatican City
Rome is truly the eternal city for it is inundated with tourists all the year round as I found during my visit to the Vatican. Even though October is not high season, there were tourists surging around. Luckily, I had pre-booked my visit to the Vatican and could avoid the long queues and go straight inside.
Since the underground is the fastest way to get anywhere, I took the Metro from Republicca and got off at Cipro, the stop closest to the Vatican Museum. Once there, I realised that ground reality is quite different from map reading and with no idea at all of how the land lies, I landed up walking much more than I’d bargained for. Inside the Vatican Museum though, things were better organised. But I’d recommend a guided tour to get because I got quite lost with all the exhibits. I ended up going down endless corridors and staircases in search of the Capella Sistine which was at the end of a labyrinthian queue.
There were hundreds and thousands of people walking slowly shoulder to shoulder, a stream of humanity going through a clogged pipe line. Some were pure tourists, some art afficionados and some ardent devotees. There were old people shuffling, some muttering prayers others slowly taking in all the beauty that abounded , transported to another plane of spiritual ecstasy as we passed painting after painting of religious significance. While the Sistine Chapel was glorious and magnificent it seemed disappointingly small and what really took my breath away was the Basilica of St. Peter across the courtyard. Now that was truly breathtaking and simply fabulous.
Getting back to the Hotel via underground ( this time catching the train at Ottavio) was another crazy maze of wrong turns and my feet were ready to fall off when I got off at Roma Termini.
A Pizza in Rome
Ideally I would have loved to go back to the hotel and sleep but not before I had an operational SIM card and since Anna Shetty had specifically warned me to get one from WIND , I had to make sure it was WIND only that I fitted onto my phone. When I finally got the card I went down to a local pizzeria just across the street from the Hotel. This tiny hole in the wall also sported a Trip Advisor recommendation. However, what really drew me to the place was the fact that only locals patronised it, unlike the other pizzerias which have a distinct ” Tourists only” vibe. I couldn’t hoist myself on the tall stools at the counters but munched away on the yummiest pizza ever ……..
And so on Day 1 I made several discoveries:
– Trip Advisor recommendations are not always reliable
– always take a guided tour of the Vatican to truly appreciate all the masterpieces that abound. Rick Steves does not always work.
– only eat at a local pizzeria if you can sit on the stools
– travelling by Metro is easy but be prepared to walk lots