Sunday Herald 

A Roman Odyssey

Rome isn’t just the Vatican City. Sheila Kumar travels across the heart of the city and still has energy left over to gasp in awe and delight. 

Our hotel is just across the magnificent Collosseum. Rome that morning, is a balmy 18 degrees Celsius, brilliant sunshine, fluffy white clouds scudding  across blue skies, islands of flowers everywhere. We had on stout walking  shoes. Pretty much all set, you would say….

Except, I have a Cassandra with me, in the form of my sister. “Rome,” she pronounces in the manner of a  minor oracle, a pessimistic oracle, “was not built in a day. So how can  we see it in a day?”

A bit daunting, that, but feigning deafness, I stride out of the hotel and cross the road towards the Collosseum. My companion falls into reluctant step. This year, Rome celebrates 2,578 years of its existence. Luckily for us, tourists have yet to take over the town, so ticket queues  aren’t intimidatingly long.

The Collosseum, built in 72 AD, is absolutely the heartbeat of Rome, that semi-circular amphitheatre part intact, part  crumbling, all of it so familiar from so many photographs  and movies. Renovations are on in parts of the building;  inside, we gaze upon the serrated and cut up arena and try to conjure up gladiatorial scenes. To one side of the Collosseum stands Constantine’s ornate victory gate.

We walk up a nearby hill for a guided tour of Emperor Nero’s high-roofed, vaulted and cold-as-ice palace, the  Domus Aurea. Once covered entirely in gold, mother- of-pearl and frescoes, now there remain just bricks and  stone! Next, we walk up a hill and into the Church of St Peter in Chains, to gawk at Michelangelo’s magnificently  fierce statue of Moses inside.

Then we walk on along the Via Dei Fora Imperiali, pastthe Roman Forum, past the ruins of the Senate, pastthe statues of the Caesars of Rome, towards the stunning Vittorio Emannuele monument in Piazza Venezia. Vittorio Emmanuel II was the first king of unified Italy and hismemorial is larger than life, a white marble-and-limestone edifice with pillared collonades, statues of the King, ofthe goddess Roma, of Neptune, and the Tomb ofthe Unknown Soldier.

Lunch is mushroom pasta and seafood risotto, washed down with some local table wine, in an outdoor cafeteria. Dessert is gelati, sharply-flavoured lemon and mint ice cream further up the road.Then it’s on to the amazing Trevi Fountain, where Neptune’s gigantic statue stands, controlling the calm and the stormy seas. The water is a pale green and people aren’t just following the tradition of tossing coins in, they are also drinking the liquid, which is said to possess magical qualities. The atmosphere is electric… lovers nuzzling, people posing, vendors selling single rose blooms.

Our next stop is due southwest, at the Pantheon, the ancient temple of the pagan gods. Raphael’s tomb is inside the building which has the largest dome ever built but is alas, under scaffolding.

We continue walking westward, to the Piazza Navona, that wonderful Baroque square filled with people, stalls selling all manner of trinkets, artists ready to do instant line drawings of you.

We head to a gelateria and down a heavenly concoction called the tartuffo which has ice cream, chocolate cake, nuts, cherries….bliss. Piazza Navona has Bernini’s famous ‘Four Rivers’ fountain depicting the ‘Ganges’ (male, in Bernini’s vision), Rio del Plata, Danube and the Nile. The piazza also has another famous fountain, Bernini’s Neptune.

We walk on through the vias, map open in hand, heading for the Tiber. The river is emerald green today, coursing gently through Rome. A gentle breeze rustles the sycamores that line the streets by the river. We stop at the Ponte Emmanuelle II to gape at the wonderful statuary that stand on both sides of the bridge.

It’s a long walk north-east, the Via del Corso, where we turn right and get onto the most fashionable street in all of Rome, the Via Condotti, past the big name boutiques, Prada, Gucci, YSL, D&G, Valentino, past hoardings with Aishwarya Rai for L’Oreal, looking gorgeous, right to the Spanish Steps.

The Spanish Steps are everything we imagined it to be. The waters of the boat-shaped fountain run clear, like milk poured over turquoise, with people queuing up to drink and fill their bottles. The steps have a wealth of fuschia-coloured flowers on every step leading up to the twin- towered church. We sit there for ages, drinking in the atmosphere and people- watching, munching on panini, sandwiches. The Museo Keats and Shelley, a nother major attraction at the Piazza di Spagna, is alas, shut.

Night falls, soft as silk. Dinner is wafer- thin slices of pizza, with tiramisu for dessert, at a trattoria on a via beside the Tiber, with Murano lamps and a tenor serenading diners. How did we get there, you ask? We cheated, took a cab.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” pronounces Cassandra a.k.a sister. “But,” she continues, “We managed to see quite a bit of Rome in a day, mmm?” I sip my wine and smile. It is a smile of triumph, of contentment.

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