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The Italian Scramble

June 09, 2020
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Easily one of my favorite countries in Europe, Italy is as diverse as India. It has all types of landscapes - stunning yet secluded beaches, rolling hills, deep azure blue lakes, snow-clad mountains, the canals, the vineyards, craggy islands, ancient ruins, beautiful villages, yet it is the people, the food and the culture which attracts the traveler to this land. Having traveled a few times to this country, I am now looking forward to visiting the attractive island of Sicily which I am told is the heart & soul of Italy. The people are so passionate about their food and culture that I have been looking for an opportunity to go there.

I must admit that I personally have done the journey in two different vacations but am giving it together so that any potential traveler can easily plan their journey by eliminating areas which does not interest them (believe me you don’t want to do that!). Each city and area is different from the other and so frankly if you have the time & inclination visit as many destinations within the country as your time allows. I have never subscribed to the typically Indian travel thought process of packing in as many countries in Europe in a single visit. Even you can learn more about the top travel destinations at TBO Academy.

The South Seduce

My affair with Italy started right from the ride into Rome from the airport. Gazing from the window we passed the Coliseum – and if I could I would have jumped out right then. We reached the hotel where, after checking in, I did an about-turn for that iconic building. Easily one of the most recognizable buildings in the world, the Coliseum is really massive and one can only grasp the enormity once you go inside.

Rome is clearly marked into two - the old town and The Vatican.  Both these parts warrant a day at the least. Though Rome is chaotic and disorganized, with a bit of research and planning you can make the most of your trip. Frankly it is best to take a coach tour as most of these places have long queues but have something called “skip the line” tickets. These tour companies have quotas and one gets to sail through. Some of the important places you should do by these tours are the Castel St. Angelo (a beautiful castle on the banks of the Tiber which is actually a part of The Vatican), The Capitoline Museums (home to some of the most beautiful statutes the world has known), and The Galleria Borghese (a must see if you are an art lover). However the best of Rome is outdoors and what Rome is actually famous for the Basilica of San Giovanni, Abbey of the Three Fountains, The Victory monument (Vittoriano monument is the big white monument where you can see the most of Rome and juxtaposes the ancient & new Roman empire), The Pantheon (another well-preserved ancient building), and of course the most romantic part of old city with the Trevi fountain at its heart. It seems like a lot but none of this is something which you can miss.

Though The Vatican is a separate country, it is land-locked and is for all practical purposes part of Rome. 

The St. Peter’s Square and Cathedral are the central landmarks which dominate. A secret - though well-known - is that one should try and schedule a visit on a Sunday as the Holiness the Pope gives an audience from his papal apartments at noon. Just by sheer coincidence we went on a Sunday and were surprised to see the St. Peter’s square full of people from all over Europe - some in traditional dresses and babbling away excitedly  in different languages. It was then we learnt that on most Sundays (if His Holiness is in town) he addresses the crowd. There was pin-drop silence in the 400,000 people thronging the square when He emerged from one of the windows and blessed the crowd in several languages. People were so emotional yet it was very orderly and at no stage did we feel insecure in such a large gathering. The Square itself has so many beautiful statutes of the Saints above the colonnades, but it is the Obelisk in the middle which draws attention. The St. Peter’s Basilica is dominating and the largest Church in the world. With great architects like Bernini, Michelangelo, Raphael, Bramante, this houses many treasures and masterpieces. For me the piece-de-resistance was the Pieta!!! I could have spent hours just gazing at the soulful Virgin Mary holding lifeless Jesus in her arms.

I am sure everyone is fond of Italian food. Trasvestre is great area for an evening walk and has excellent restaurants and cafes. Another great area to meet up locals is the Campo Di Fiori and so make the best of your evenings in Rome. 

As in most parts of Europe, travel by train is very fast, efficient, very comfortable and comparatively economical. Italy is no exception and I highly recommend TrenItalia which has three types of trains – The Frecciarossa is the super fast one with speeds of over 300 – 400 kms/hour and mainly connecting the larger towns. Then you have Frecciargento which run to smaller towns but are also very fast and finally the Frecciabianca which connect to villages and are mostly day trains. What is common is that they are all extremely comfortable, fares are lower and also offer very economical rail passes. Now with these available over the internet and through a bevy of agents you can plan each day well in advance. 

Leaving Italy is never easy as it gets into your blood and the urge to return again and again is very strong

Ruby Walia