6 Top Tips -Rome

Travelling to Rome? Here are some notes from our travel during Christmas Season last year.

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We found this welcome sign outside our window as we woke up the first morning in Rome
 
1) Don’t cut it short

No matter what anyone tells you, don’t cut your trip to Rome short. All of the major attractions in Rome can be “glanced” at in under a day (we did this, twice over) however if you really want to even scratch the surface of the history of this metropolis, consider staying on atleast 5 days. Read as much as you can process about the architecture, art and sculpture so you can appreciate the most treasured ruins of the world. But be forewarned that truly understanding Rome is a different feat altogether. I had my head spinning from reading the various guidebooks and texts to place everything in context. The entire city is an archaeological goldmine and every year newer sites are discovered dating back 1000 years while life above ground continues business as usual. As our tour guide explained, Everything you see in Rome is the past, present and the future – all at once. 

Some of the material that helped us with the research were the Metropolis series on Netflix, Rick Steves Rome on YouTube, The Blue Guide Rome among others. 

2) You can walk everywhere

If you stay in the centre of Rome (which you must), everything you must see is at a walkable distance. It is also highly recommended that you walk this city to fully experience its surprises and also because public transport within the centre is not very reliable. We stayed in a neighborhood near the Colosseum and were able to walk to the Vatican across the Tiber in under an hour. This was end of December, so walking in summer might be a breeze in comparison! Just carry a comfortable pair of shoes, a map and an appetite to sample all the good stuff you see along the way! 

3) Stay with locals

Ditch the hotels and stay with an Italian family in a bed and breakfast instead. Though this is a useful tip for most places, it makes most sense to do this in Italy as Italians like Indians live in big joint families in traditional compounds. We stayed in one such ethereal Air B&B property around Via Delle sette sale with a piece of history attached to its inception. Sharing walls with the compound of San Pietro in Vincoli which is home to Michelangelo’s Moses. Our hosts gave us excellent insight into the local life with their recommendations and tips and the icing on the cake for us was a home style three-course Christmas dinner prepared by them in our B&B kitchen(We still have dreams about that mean amatriciana sauce!) It was one of our favourite meals on the trip! 

We still salivate to the memory of our home-style meal at the B&B
 
4) Consider traveling Off-season
Never again were Spanish Steps seen so empty after Christmas

Rome is infamous for being too touristy and for good reason. Almost everyone we have ever talked to has always been put off by the hordes of tourists in this “eternal” city which made it impossible for them to truly appreciate its offerings. Fortunately, we arrived in Rome a day before Christmas Eve, and contrary to what you may think, Christmas in Rome is a closed family affair. Which meant that we got to experience Rome sans the crowds for 2 full days before they  descended in the city post Christmas. We could marvel at a near empty Piazza Navona on Christmas Eve, walk to St. Peter’s square at the Vatican and attend midnight mass at Santa Maria Maggiore – it was magical. Thus we highly recommend travelling in quieter seasons so you can really experience the elusive romance with Rome. 

One thing to keep in mind while travelling during Christmas though is that a lot of major attractions are shut down or have altered timings, so plan accordingly. 

5) Don’t forget the coffee  

Our Host said Panela had “the best coffee in Rome”. We agreed many times over!

It’s a no brainer – you never leave Italy without getting enough caffeine in your blood stream. But really, those tiny cappuccinos are to die for and can make you crave them for several months after you leave and they are bloody cheap! Ditch the tourist coffee shops and head to someplace that the locals swear by. Our host gave us several recommendations at La Merulana and we found ourselves alternating between cappuccinos and gelato at Panella and Ornelli respectively. If you want to pack this caffeinated nostalgia as you leave to cherish later, buy yourself one of those Italian coffee pot and a few packs of Lavazza. 

Bring a piece of Italy with you – make coffee the Italian way
 
6. Pre-book everything 
Seeing this piece by Caravaggio was the highlight of our churches trail day!
 

Remember when I told you about the insane swarms of tourists in Rome – don’t underestimate the lines at any of the Rome’s popular sights by any means. We had heard legends about the tickets/entry lines at these attractions and they were all absolutely true. Use your time wisely and book everything online in advance – the Colosseum, the Vatican Museums-Sistine chapel, Forum-Capitoline-palatine hill etc. Other attraction like the Pantheon, the various fountains have no entry fee so it becomes imperative that you visit these early morning to avoid the madness. Some of the most beautiful pieces of art, sculpture and architecture in Rome are free and reside inside churches. Zero on the artists you are interested and then figure out a church-trail that covers them. We did something similar and saw some spectacular works by Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Bernini and such. 
Have you been to the eternal city yet? What are some of your travel hacks for the city? 

Made of stars


We were made of stars, they of dust thought I 

Our love the warm glow of the winter sun, surreal like a fantasy 

While they lived in the shadow of winter, their love tainted by reality.

Ours shone bright through the day and come dark we became fireflies.

While they I thought could barely whisper at twilight.

And while their’s ebbs and floods through seasons,

Ours was a perennial river 

The depth of our connection, impregnable, invincible,

I believed we were eternity. 

And for years the webs of half truth spun around us, concealed from us our fragility.

But time has its tricks so fate gets to play its hand, to shatter naivety 

I slowly learned how we were part dust too, 

That winter does dawn on all

And no love flows perennially, for it grows and ebbs and dissolves even

That we were ordinary and extraordinary all at once,

Living our fantasy and reality, dreams and resentments 

That we could be fireflies in a moment, and yet be engulfed in darkness the next,

That love is faithful only to this moment and makes no promises to eternity.

Linger at Balur Estate – all about delicious idleness

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Linger

  • stay in a place longer than necessary because of reluctance to leave; spend a long time over something; be slow to disappear or die

Our experience at the 163 year old Balur Estate  part of Linger – do nothing vacations, was out to prove all the above three definitions correct. As you get closer to the estate you begin to cut off all strings of your city dweller’s life. First the traffic thins out, then the foliage gets denser and by the time you’ve entered through the gates of the 400 acre estate your phone network is completely dead.

These rustic bungalows with their white plastered walls and terracotta-tiled roofs welcome you to a world of blissful wilderness. Overlooking the picturesque coffee plantations (along with pepper, betel nut and cardamom) the bungalows sit at its pinnacle amidst varying hues of green. If it wasn’t for the enamel painted metal  of the coffee processing equipment and the greys of the concrete drying terraces, you would fail to identify any traces of human intervention in what is a scenery painted by nature.

The bungalows themselves are as much a part of this natural story telling as the 50-ft tall silver oak trees. The wooden rafters of the roof and the earthy fireplace in the middle of the living room remind ones of Balur Estates’s century old heritage. The elaborate spread cooked by care-takers in a homely kitchen reminds you of a time when happy guests were a matter of pride not pounds. The smiling face of that picture crazy child, whose spent most of his growing up picking coffee fruit at the estate reminds of the purity of a time that came much before (and went by far too quickly) today’s selfie syndrome.

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He loved touring the tea estate, but couldn’t wait to get back to our salon for a quick nap  before our elaborate dinner. It is hard to argue with that logic. Continue reading “Linger at Balur Estate – all about delicious idleness”

ABOUT THINGS

It remains a mystery to me,

How the mundane arranges itself around us,

To reside in nooks and crannies we overlook for years together

Tiny scraps of paper, immaterial objects we once fancied,

Half-squeezed tubes for ailments long healed, memorabilia from people long gone

Talismans and chains, beads from broken jewelry, and books buried under dust and negligence

A Coaster you picked on a trip a decade ago, wires to electronics you no longer remember,

the train tickets from a ride last summer, still stare back at you from the pile on your desk.

And a childhood photograph that has not found space on your wall

The lamp that needed repair some fortnights before your last birthday,

And drawers that are too little to hold the things you don’t need

The notebooks and pens that have remained hopeful of your return

Miniature idols of gods that your mother refuses to throw away,

And a chair that seats no one but your discarded clothes from each weary day

How much of it do we really love? How much of it would we ever need? How much of what you own is really you? And how much of it would you get to keep?

 

 

Europe Ministory Series: Germany – Then and Now (By Sarit Sethi) #ministory2

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Stasi Records Agency that preserves and protects the archives and investigates the past actions of the former Stasi, which served as the secret police and foreign intelligence organization of the communist German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

Our Indian readers must have seen the Lufthansa tele ad where a grandfather and his grandson are travelling to New York on a Lufthansa flight. The grandfather goes on to prepare his grandson about ‘the German airline’ by telling him how Germans are not like Indians in their hospitality and their food. Once in the flight the child is so pleased with the homely treatment that he almost thinks they’ve boarded a wrong flight.

Continue reading “Europe Ministory Series: Germany – Then and Now (By Sarit Sethi) #ministory2”

Europe Ministory Series: Berlin Remembers #ministory1

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Memorial to the Book Burning at Bebenplatz

“That was only a prelude, there
where they burn books,
they burn in the end people.”
Heinrich Heine 1820

6 years ago as a student of architecture visiting Berlin for the first time, I found the city overwhelming to say the least. It shattered my naïve, romantic ideas of Europe that had been planted and nurtured on earlier trips to Western Europe, offering instead a 3-D textbook of history, full of blatant confessions of its unpleasant past. I remember being sucked into the profundity of Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum, where recreated experiences from the holocaust can draw the most casual of museum visitors into moments of silence.

Continue reading “Europe Ministory Series: Berlin Remembers #ministory1”