My Journal: Rome Day 1 – The Vatican, Gelato, Innamorati, Punto et al

Roam with me… In Rome…

Roaming is exactly how one must experience Rome. Apart from the much trodden touristy paths that constitute the Vatican, the Colosseum and the Fontana di Trevi there is so much more to this historic city than meets the eye and can be discovered only when you aimlessly wander the lanes and by-lanes of this beautiful city.

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Exploring Rome on Foot

We arrived in Rome pretty late in the evening and by the time we grasped the ticketing system at the metro station, got used to not being able to easily communicate in English and navigated our way on foot to our AirBnB accommodation, it was almost midnight and we were exhausted. Read all about it in my previous post.

Excitement and exhaustion is a lethal combination that is detrimental to your sleep and my sister and I lay in bed discussing about what our first stop in Rome should be! We zero-ed onto the Vatican and decided to spend the whole day roaming the “streets” of the world’s smallest country…

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Our AirBnB room in Rome!

The sleep finally drifted in…

Next morning, armed with the Rome City Map that our AirBnB host had kindly helped us with, we went down the elevator, exited our apartment and went in search for a place to have our first Italian breakfast… According to Google Maps, the closest cafe was just around the corner, 100 metres away…

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We walked into the small, family run cafe that had a delicious aroma of freshly brewed coffee and bread wafting through the air. Wishing the pretty girl at the counter a Buongiorrno I asked for a cup of cappuccino and a Nutella filled Cornetto (cliche I know!) while my sister browsed through the menu on the wall and decided to settle for a cafe ginseng and a slice of fruit cake.

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My First Cup of Cappuccino in Italy

Caffe Ginseng was something that she decided to go for on the spur of the moment on day 1 of our Italian holiday and that is one beverage that she ordered *always* for the rest of our vacation! It was the hippest new coffee concoction in Italy especially in bigger cities like Rome, Milan and Florence while it is available in only those smaller cities and towns that see a lot of tourist footprint! It tastes nothing like coffee though its supposed to be a mix of coffee beans and ginseng root. It tastes nutty, is milky and very very sweet. Even with all that sweetness and the absence of the quintessential caffeine flavor, caffe ginseng is surprisingly delicious…

The cafe rules in Italy is that in an establishment that provides tables for customers have a 2 tiered pricing system. If you consume your coffee and your breakfast pastry standing at the counter your bill will (generally) not exceed 3 Euros (1 or 1.5 Euros for the coffee and 1.25 to 1.5 Euros for the pastry). However, the prices are different if you choose to sit at a table. Though this was something that we experienced in not all coffee shops across Italy but in many! We took our Italian breakfast standing at the counter like *all* the other Italian customers and we were done in a matter of 10 mins!

Next we walked around the block, shivering slightly at 17 degrees Celcius (surprisingly in the beginning of May), taking in the bustling city scene that was still not fully up and finally making it to the Manzoni Metro Station. Walking in Rome is a delight because the city never lets you forget about its ancient history and its rich culture. The streets are lined with gorgeous colonial styled houses, dotted with tombs, always a ruin in the horizon and large, green parks… Rome is special and I fell in love.

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Streets of Rome

We took a metro to Ottaviano, the metro station closest to the Vatican City and that officially marked the beginning of our Italian getaway! The entrance to the Vatican itself is a decent walk from the metro station. There are two entrances to the Vatican (open to the public), one is via the Vatican Museums and the other via the St Peter’s Basilica. We had our online tickets done for the museums already and hence we took the northern entrance that requires you to walk a little more when you are approaching the Vatican from the metro station. The walk is glorious, full of tourists, little roadside caffes and bars and a number of guides and touts. The latter don’t bother you if you are from this side of the globe mostly because they are looking to serve American, Western European and Scandinavian tourists. Indians and other South Asians don’t interest them while the East Asian tourists are generally always in a big group and have official guides with them.

The Vatican Museum
The Vatican Museum

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The Vatican Museum is beautiful and the art inside is mozaffiato (breathtaking)… They have been preserved beautifully and it is a delight to continuously look above to the royally adorned ceilings. The rich hues and the plush settings transport you to a past world and you catch yourself wondering what life during the era would have been like.

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A word of caution, if you are not an art enthusiast you would tend to get a little bored of all of it in a little while and that happened to us. My sister and I started getting a little itchy to move ahead and see other sights and hence when we reached a long corridor that had stalls of souvenirs lining each side, we immediately started picking things up for friends and family back home!

After exiting from the Vatican Museum, my sister and I left the Vatican City and walked around looking for something to eat. The cute ristoranti, cafes and bar lining the streets looked very tempting but were bustling with other tourists and since we were looking for something more “local” we went on walking “away” from the Vatican and towards the city of Rome… We walked perhaps a kilometer or so when we chanced upon a quaint little ristorante at the corner of a block lined with well worn cane furniture on the footpath… It looked kind of deserted save for an elderly Italian gentleman puffing away a cigarette and sipping what looked like wine, a young couple with eyes only for themselves eating what looked like pasta dish and a trio of adolescent girls chattering away non-stop at the top of their voices punctuated with bouts of uncontrollable giggling making their way through a giant pizza…

My sister and I looked at each other and we grabbed a corner table patiently waiting for someone to come and serve us… The cute little old man who served us was extremely friendly and barraged us with a steady stream of Italian only to realize after a good 5 minutes that we didn’t understand a single word he said! He simply shrugged, gave us the menu and left us on our own… I don’t really remember what my sister ordered but I remember I ordered a quato litre of Vino Di Casa and a tuna pizza called Innamorati translating to “Lover’s Pizza” ♥

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Lunch – Innamorati Pizza

Pizza’s in Italy are not what the Americans lead us to believe…

The pizza’s are not pre-cut or pre-sliced and they are very well not to be cut into triangles… Pizzas are served like how one would serve a pancake in the US or a Uttapam in South India or Spanish Omlette – flat and with loads of toppings… It’s generally one large thin crust pizza per person and you are expected to knife and fork your way through it…

I never diet when I travel…

And hence I needed to finish my meal with an ice-cream and I asked for a Coco Ice cream. The gentleman serving us asked me something in Italian and then gestured with his hands making a round shape… I looked confused to say the least and so he grabbed me by my arm and took me inside the restaurant. He then led me to the freezer that had a glass pane and showed me that the Coco Ice cream that I so wanted was actually white in color instead of brown… I mistook it for white chocolate and I said Bianca chocolate… He vigorously shook his head and said coco, cioccolato and he kept repeating the two words on and on… It dawned on me that Coco was Coconut and not chocolate!

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After our hearty lunch we decided to walk back to the Vatican but from the other side. So we consulted our maps again and headed towards the direction of the St Peter’s Basilica… As you enter the gates you are hit my the enormity of the enclave and the famous Catholic Church looms in the horizon. My first reaction was to exhale since I realised that I was holding my breath and staring at the beautiful cathedral in awe… As the moment passed I took in the enormous throngs of people milling around and the multiple serpentine queues that were formed with people waiting to enter the holy shrine. My sister and I were not too keen to spend the next couple of hours in a queue and hence we skipped the idea of visiting the church. Instead, we simply quenched our thirst at the public fountain, clicked some “touristy” pictures and headed out…

The Vatican City
The Vatican City

The first thing I noticed when we exited the Basilica enclave was a Fiat Punto! To justify my joy, I own a Fiat Punto in India and to meet its cousin all the over in Italy (Fiat’s Mother ship if I may!) simply got me excitement. The fact the Punto is used by the Carabinieri (Italian Military Police) was like the cherry on the cake!

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By the time it was 4:00 pm we were starting to tire out and were really hot and grimy and all we could think of was cooling down with a cone of Gelato. Now, the Gelatos that we get in India is pretty close to the real deal (I swear!) but the variety of flavors here hold no candle to the kind of flavors you get in the land of Gelato! The Limone flavor for example is not something I have seen here and it is now one of my favorites… It is sour and extremely tangy and trust me when I say that it is not for the faint hearted!

Uno Piccolo Cono Limone Gelato
Uno Piccolo Cono Limone Gelato

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Content and cooled with a cone of Limone Gelato we headed towards the Ottaviano metro station trying to make up our mind about what next we wanted to see in this beautiful Roman capital…

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