Archive for August, 2010

Soon as we arrived at Villa Urbani, we dumped our stuff in our room and performed the barest of ablutions. Then we willed our tired, sleep deprived bodies to forsake the air-conditioned comfort of our digs in favour of a twenty minute walk to the city centre in 35°C. After all we had to optimise our three days in Roma. Plus, it was two o’clock local time and my blood alcohol was dangerously low. The last beer (birra from now on) I had was the flight and at ten o’clock local time.

So, armed with a map, thoughtfully provided by Laura, we started out, soaking up the atmosphere and getting into the Roman state of mind. En route, I came to a screeching halt outside a bar-slash-cafe advertising happy hours near Ponte Sisto, the pedestrian bridge over the Tiber. Sucker that I am for happy hours, in we went with the intention of buying our drinks and drinking them in the charming piazza outside.

To our puzzlement, when we went up to the barman, he asked us if we wanted to sit inside or outside? Inside, by the window or by the wall? I ran an eye around and saw that the bar was mostly empty, inside and outside. “Does it matter?”

“Different charges for different tables,” he said.

And that is how we were introduced to the peculiar Italian system of differential pricing. Anyway, we bought the cheapest table – we had gone in for happy hours after all ­– and OMG, was it a dump! It happened to be a tiny two-seater along the only walled portion of the bar.  The rest of the tables inside were by the window overlooking the magnificent Tiber. And by wall I mean a vertical, flat column coated with stubborn dirt and grime and some orangeish streaks reminiscent of stains left by projectile paan-spit. Shudder.

So we sat there in that dump, all strait-jacketed on our stools, mindful of not touching anything but our glasses. I had a standard 330 ml (33 cl as all liquids are in centilitres in Italy) or a small ‘piccolo’ birra, which cost me €2.50 whereas MH had a standard Jack Daniels (60 ml or an Indian large peg measure as it happens) for the same amount. The alcohol assimilated quickly, strategically downed as it was speedily, and on an empty stomach.

From then on the walk was more pleasant and the miles simply vaporised. We walked to the nearest phone shop, bought a local SIM card from with a ‘special rate of 3 cents a minute for calls to India.’ From then it was on to the Pantheon, Piazza Novona…what, did you think I was going to describe the monuments? Well, this isn’t that kind of a blog, simply b’cos I’m not the sightseeing kinda person. I’m not averse to seeing monuments or anything – I’ll see a monument if it’s on my way – I’m just more interested in art galleries and worthy museums.

We spent a couple of hours wandering around aimlessly and snapping pictures. We also sat in an open air cafe in Piazza Novona and had a drink. I asked for a birra but promptly changed my order to house wine when I discovered I could get an entire half litre carafe of vino della casa for the price of one. And it was very good, too, worth every cent of its €3 price tag. Besides, comparing apples to apples, it was 5% alcohol vs 40%, so it was a win-win situation all around.

We’d already decided that we’d dine at Trastevere and sample the fabled nightlife so, at about 7 p.m., we decide to start walking back. We had noticed, while walking to the Pantheon, both banks of the Tiber, on either side of Ponte Sisto consisted of restaurants and bars. At the time it was relatively early in the day and everything was shut. Now, as we were walking back, things were beginning to come to life. Mind you, they weren’t swinging yet – Italians, like the Spanish, eat relatively late  – but you could get a drink.

We chose a bar near a makeshift stage that seemed to be a beehive of activity and settled down with our drinks. Judging by the plethora of musical instruments and the neo-gothic looks sported by most young people around the stage was being set for a rock music performance. We lingered over our drinks, hoping that we’d get to see a sound check-slash-rehearsal, but the band showed us no love. We could have hung around some more but the sky, which had become overcast during the afternoon, started looking positively gloomy. We didn’t mind getting wet, but we had an expensive Nikon that begged consideration.

But, Nikon or not, we still had to eat. So we decided that we’d begin the hike back to Villa Urbani and just stop at a restaurant on the way. It was while we were executing our ingenious plan that we came across the most cheerful looking pizza parlour with a display that was a veritable Holi battleground. This was somewhat serendipitous because I spotted the pizzeria at the same time the swollen clouds above emptied their bellies in a hydrous deluge. So, construing this to be a nudge from the Gods above, we sauntered in.

And by God was it a good decision! I had two slices – one with a zucchini topping and one with a Rucola (Rocket) topping. And those two slices were, as I drunkenly blubbered to the pizza lady, “the best pizza I’ve eaten. Ever.” And to think there was no cheese involved, only olive oil. The base was thin and crisp, the sauce was delicately flavoured and it was baked to perfection.

Afterwards, since it was still raining, we sat around – surprise, surprise – drinking some more. I asked the pizza lady to recommend a gelateria and she mentioned Checco’s (pronounced Keiko) in Trastevere. We left that for another night, wrapped our precious Nikon in plastic and dashed the uno kilometre or so to Villa Urbani.

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I’m back after a holiday (yes, another one) which saw me travelling through the length and breadth of Italy. The reason for this extravagance was my approaching birthday and my hubby’s (hereafter referred to as MH) desire to make it special. Otherwise three holidays in a year in quick succession is bit much even for a sybarite like myself.

We arrived upon Italy as the destination based upon several considerations. One, it is in Europe and I absolutely adore Europe and two, we hadn’t been to Italy. The most compelling considerations for us cheap Indians however, was that fact Italy being a part of PIIGS, and reeling under the severest of recessions should be cheaper. Perhaps the stable and ever appreciating Euro (a veritable mystery) should’ve have alerted us otherwise, in any case, the notion was soon dispelled. At an average room rate of € 100 per day, where the fuck was the recession?

After a whole lot of research a tentative itinerary was chalked out. Starting out in Rome, our travels were to take us through Tuscany, to Siena, Volterra, Lucca and Florence and end in Vicenza, a modest-sized industrial town in northern Italy.

July 30

We left Mumbai on July 30 and flew Lufthansa into Frankfurt which is also where we cleared immigration. Apparently, to get a Schengen via the Italian Embassy is a royal pain in the ass and so we got ours from the Swiss Embassy. The flight itself was uneventful as all my flights are. I think it’s my good karma to which MH retorts, “Only if the spirits you imbibe in copious amounts are called good karma.”

We landed at Fiumicino Airport, Rome, or as the locals indignantly point out, “Roma! There’s no such place as Rome,” at twelve thirty on July 30. As promised by Laura, the hostess of our B&B, there was a car waiting for us. It was weird to see a man, spiffier than the relationship manager at my bank drag my strolley to the car. I struggled with the urge to grab my stuff back and had to constantly remind myself that he was the driver and that I was paying him to do that. And, at €30, handsomely too.

Initially when Laura offered to arrange a pick up or us, I thought the price tag of €30 a little pricey. However, a quick glance at the rates on romashuttle.com – FYI, there was nothing available for less than €45 – and I accepted with alacrity. 

In Roma, we stayed at a charming B&B called Villa Urbani, a five-seven minute walk from Trastevere. Many tourists prefer staying in the centre of Rome, near Termini station, in and around post code 184 area. While that is certainly close to the sights, the happening area is Trastevere, literally translated as ‘across the Tiber.’ This area is full of bars and restaurants and buzzing with activity till the wee hours of the morning. And if that isn’t enough to convince anyone, this is where Romans like to hang out.

We were lucky to find Villa Urbani too. The rooms and bathrooms are huge, clean and bright and the air conditioning works. If you think the last bit about the aircon is weird, read some reviews on Tripadvisor. Most bad reviews are about over booking and faulty air conditioning. I reckon we could have found something closer, for the same price (€100 per day), something in the heart of Trastevere but the room quality (more importantly, the bathroom quality) would’ve been dodgy at best. Anyone who’s ever travelled in Europe will tell you that rooms tend to be poky at the best of hotels.

Besides did we really want to be in the heart of Trastevere? A few years ago, maybe. Now, I’m sufficiently advanced in age to appreciate quiet, restful sleep at night and Villa Urbani was far enough to guarantee just that.

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