Paris je t’aime and ti amo Roma

Sounds like a movie mashup, doesn’t it? Speaking of which

I hereby declare that this post is my own and autonomous work. It is a simple and humorous overview for informative and I hope enjoyable purposes (pro bono publico). Heretofore and pro tempore (for the time being), I’ve not pinched anyone else’s work and have no plans to alter this status quo in the foreseeable future (ad infinitum?). Let’s keep the spirit light and the humour strong, shall we?

Ironclad ain’t it? I reckon I’ve safeguarded myself legally better than any lawyer could. Hear that Johnny Cochran?

PS: Maybe I can make this a standard header for my posts.

Considering that I found a life of piracy enchanting in my youth but now in my twilight years (that’s 29 for all you unaware folks) I often find myself being more wary, canny and careful… (baby you’re on the brink!) With all the noise about piracy, copyrights and infringement issues and the alarming fact that I’m resorting to affixing a permanent header to anything I write to avoid the very notion of future legal entanglement, I’ve regretfully taken Captain Jack Swallow (read Johnny Depp) off my contacts list.

PS: Or hang on… wait…maybe I’ll just call him Jack Sparrow and spare myself the legal brouhaha… (FYI, smartness runs in the family).

This title is just meant to convey my feelings towards the two places I visited recently (i.e., more than 7 months ago). ‘Why haven’t I got around to writing about them then?’ would naturally be your next question. So, then my response would be to direct your attention to article 2, line 4, subsection 3, clause 1 of my blog (thebroadmindedtraditionalist.com).

“Someone at some point in time needs to say it. Out loud. Vacations are not fun for everyone. There. I said it. Now, no matter what happens to me, I can rest assured that I’ve put it out there in cyber space. For eternity…”

So…Well…Ahem…You can appreciate my dilemma I’m sure. After having categorically stated my caustic feelings on this subject, having to renege on my former stance didn’t sit or stand well with me. I consider it a blot on my honour, a dot in my otherwise pristine record. Nevertheless, I owe my readers the truth and that is finally what drives me to write this post. History will know me as a brave crusader and speaker of the truth… (Provided that sufficient time has elapsed between the two conflicting statements of course. You know the drill…)

It is at this point that I casually remind you to familiarize yourself with my bibliography vis-à-vis this blog. (By which I mean my vast and entire repertoire of 3 posts. And again, no I’m not offended at all… Maybe it’s a good idea to add this to my header as well). Without further ado, let’s dive right in.

Paris: 

The country of France spread out before me like a green carpet. My first vision of the city when we landed at Charles de Gaulle was the spectacular greenery. Miles and miles of misty beautiful greenery. A different green from that of India which is kind of an army green. This was more of a vibrant, cool toned green. More surreal and yet very real at the same time. And then the cleanliness hit me like a wave. By clean, I don’t mean sterile or clinically acerbic in anyway but just that it had a polished appearance, as if elves would magically appear at night and wipe down the entire city without stripping it of its charm at the same time. And then, being a woman myself, I naturally noticed how chic the women were. Not in terms of the branded clothes they wore or the shiny accessories they carried but that they simply wore even the simplest of garments and carried the most worn and used looking accessories with a style and elegance that cannot quite be matched by anyone else. Being a man, my husband was more interested in cars. It appeared that every second car was a Mercedes and for everyone else without the gift of luxury, Audi seemed to be the poor man’s choice of vehicle (Suffice to say, we consoled ourselves by stuffing our faces with crêpes and gazing mistily at the passing cars). We stayed at an apartment between Liberté and Porte de Charenton metro stations.

We got around the entire place using the metro. The metro of course didn’t quite have the same polish as everything above ground but it was fairly clean, cheap, fast and most importantly it was the only way to get around for an Amaxophobic like me (FYI that’s a phobia of cars but I think it sounds a more professional and stylish problem when put this way, if you ask me. People tend to look at you with more respect when you casually bring out amaxophobia as opposed to ‘I puke in cars’ in a conversation). Take me near a car and you know I’m not a happy camper. Ergo, metros were the most convenient and quickest means of getting from Point A to Point B.

PS: Is it weird that I kind of enjoyed repeating the French station names after the announcer?

Naturally we visited the Eiffel tower (prepare to hangout in a queue for at least 3 hours no matter when you go. You can amuse yourself by playing hide and seek with the varicose veins that you develop standing there.) The view is incredible and worth the green stockings you’ll be buying for the rest of your life though! You realize after staring at the breath-taking panoramic views for about an hour, that you’ve come dressed in clothes you wouldn’t dream of wearing back home and you get busy making the best of the backdrop clicking selfies with your husband. We hung out at Champ de Mars and took in one of the best views of the Eiffel tower. We scaled the Montparnasse building (by lift of course, do you even have to ask?) to look loftily down at the Eiffel Tower. The Sacré-Cœur basilica and Sainte Chapelle were enchanting with their jewel-like stained glass windows and the being inside the Notre-Dame took me to a place of quiet reflection and calmness that very few places can bring. The lofty ceilings, and sculptures invoke a sense of awe and wonderment and also serve to remind you of what a small cog you are in the history of this world. The Arc de Triomphe was the first tourist spot we visited and I still remember being awestruck at the sheer size of the monument. The view point at the top was also great! (or so my husband tells me). If you are like me, you can choose to stroll down Champs-Élysées after which to compensate for the damage to your self-esteem and your wallet’s self-esteem, take refuge in the Louvre or Musée d’Orsay where the Great Masters will smile benevolently upon you. The art scene is something you should definitely experience at least once in your lifetime. The rich colours glowing from within each frame, the incredibly life-like sculptures guiding your path to each new discovery and you find yourself moving around in a trance, feeling that each piece is possibly the best only to discover that the next one surprises you. One of the most sought-after women in the world, the Mona Lisa gives you that knowing, cat-like smile and you’re so smitten that despite the thronging crowd on every side, you uncharacteristically find yourself elbowing everyone out of the way to click a picture with her. You stand in wonder at the effort and skill of artists who’ve managed to paint on canvases the size of your apartment. When you’re on a budget make sure you station yourself next to an unsuspecting tour guide giving an earnest lecture to the tax paying citizens of his/her group (That’s how I learnt that I mirrored not one but several traits of Napoléon Bonaparte).

But I didn’t truly come to life until we made the trip to Versailles bright and early the next morning. I hope that when I finally make it to heaven (a girl can always dream) it has a garden like the one in Versailles. Acres and acres of trees, plants, flowers in every colour and shape. I’m probably the only person in the world who marvelled at the garden more than the palace. The palace was beautiful of course with a lot of ornate furniture, gilded ceilings and the crown jewels on display. But after about two-thirds of the tour I started yearning for the outside. Strangely enough, I understood that one can get tired of too much of artificial beauty. Everything was expensive, ornately carved and gilded and obviously made by master craftsmen, but in my opinion, there was quite simply too much of it. Stepping out into the gardens felt like a breath of fresh air, literally. We strolled around the gardens for the rest of the day and when evening rolled around, I was seriously considering a groundskeeper’s job. The swans and ducks swimming in the lake, the quietly magical lawns and copses and the fresh orange juice sold by vendors in carts all around the grounds did nothing to allay my dilemma. I wanted to happily live there the rest of my life.

Strolling down des rues (streets) of France is a pleasure every tourist must experience. The streets are packed with quaint little shops and high fashion houses alike. Boulangeries and patisseries are abundant and you can definitely find at least one in every street. Needless to say, no conscious individual can simply pass a French bakery by unless he/she is a masochist of the highest order. You will find that your legs simply change course of their own accord and like Jerry in the Tom and Jerry cartoon you simply float in with the smells wafting from inside and come out with an assortment of goodies like piping hot chocolate croissants (that’s pain au chocolat for the French speaking wannabes), baguettes still warm from the oven and layer upon layer of puff pastries and choux pastries. If that isn’t enough, crêpe shops spring up like mushrooms all over the place and one look at a sizzling crêpe on a pan and you know you’ve fallen in love. Even the most hardcore diet freaks (yours truly included) will decide to adopt the attitude of gratitude – ‘just for today…’(FYI, I have no shame in admitting that both me and my husband buckled about two minutes into the airport when we landed in the country and incidentally his French accent while ordering a chocolate croissant had the waitress asking him if he wanted to use the toilette. My high school French enabled me to utter the necessary expression but it upped and quit right there).

My husband surprised me on the last day by taking me to the flea market which is supposed to be one of the biggest in the world. The locality was not very clean by the Parisian standards I’d come to expect and I’d never been to a flea market before so I didn’t quite know what to expect, but it was delightful, full of quaint shops with antique furniture, watches and so on which appealed to the decor junkie in me. Of course, I didn’t let the fact of a sweet little old gnome of a man swindling me on a swatch get to me, nor did I let the day long continuous drizzle dampen my spirits. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. The rest of the day was spent at the beautiful Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg gardens) where the temperature dropped to 9 degrees and I stole my husband’s only remaining jacket and in about five minutes baldly declared to my freezing husband who was determinedly ploughing on despite the cold, that the five layers of clothing I was wearing were not keeping the cold out and that I wanted to get back (I think he grimaced but that may have been the cold freezing his jaw semi permanently. I’m nothing if not understanding, so I let that one go.)

With that we bid adieu to Paris and I couldn’t help but hope it was au revoir instead…

Rome:

Roma, Roma where do I start? We both left Paris with a heavy heart and no idea of what to expect next and Roma bless her heart, embraced us with open arms. The train ride was a delight and the sweeping countryside that sped past on either side gladdened our hearts and warmed our souls. Where Paris had been coldly beautiful rather like a high-born princess, Roma had all the warmth and allure of a charming and vibrant village belle wreathed in smiles, an earthy beauty. Where Paris had been a misty cool green, Roma was a fiery red, starkly beautiful in a blaze of colour. She stood proud yet welcoming, the old ruins still majestic against the bustling ordinariness of today.  If Paris was Snow White, Roma could only be Rose Red. Both so beautiful, yet so different.

We had booked our stay in Appartamento del Boschetto, Italy for the first few days and it was quite near the metro at Cavour so we set off with our bags, on a walk to try and find the building. Almost immediately my husband came to a stop in front of a tiny door with the name Gelato over it. One of man’s best inventions, we couldn’t decide on whether chocolate croissants were better than this piece of heaven. A few blissful mouthfuls later we ventured out again only to discover that the charm of the cobbled roads is only when you aren’t dragging around 50 pieces of luggage. We sounded like a steam engine on steroids, as the entire street turned to witness our ungainly procession down the road. I’m sure our hostess heard us from five minutes away because she almost immediately buzzed us into our charming apartment decorated with framed Picasso prints and other little wooden antiques and a brightly coloured bedspread.

We visited the Colosseum, huge and imposing, not aesthetically pleasing but arresting all the same. When you step inside, you can’t help but imagine the plight that befell all those who had to fight for their lives till they perished just to serve as entertainment for everyone else and you can’t help but thank your lucky stars that you are born in a time when the very notion seems monstrous. The Roman Forum is right opposite the Colosseum and your first impression of the site against the backdrop of a cobalt blue sky and tall stone pines is stunning. We wandered through the meandering ruins stopping periodically in an attempt to capture some of the magic on frame. It struck me that people don’t really see things anymore. More often than not, the pupils of one’s eyes are stubbornly fixed on the little electronic box that seems welded to every hand, so focused on recording a pale imitation of the beauty that no high-resolution camera can capture as beautifully as the eyes can. My brain, unused to such depths of philosophical exploration was growing exhausted. I started seeing Jason Momoa in the distance (some people would call this a hallucination but I know he was there) and I knew I had to eat something before I warranted a restraining order. My husband hurriedly frogmarched me to the nearest restaurant, which unfortunately for him, wasn’t the cheapest. But given the circumstances, he contented himself with a raised eyebrow and a lot of inaudible muttering. To top it all off, I insisted on having a glass of Rosé to go with my pizza and spent the next couple of hours alternately singing and tripping over my inebriated self as we made our way back, while my husband was left to ponder on whether a restraining order was really worse than this. In the evening, the hotel downstairs became a lively place with a mariachi band playing music well into the night. With that sound pleasantly drumming in our ears we slipped into a blissful sleep the first day.

The best way to explore Roma is by foot. The cobbled and winding footpaths make wonderful walkways as you set out to explore the city. A dog lover, I was enthralled by the vision of people walking dogs the likes of which I had never seen before. Tall ones, short ones, fat ones, thin ones, hairy ones and bald ones in every colour, shape and size captivated my attention, as I kept pointing at each to my husband, whose eyes were slowly glazing over. At length he steered me towards the market of Campo del Fiori which was so colourful and exciting that it made me forget the dogs for a minute. It is amazing how when you keep walking down a particular road you suddenly happen upon a piazza. The road suddenly widens and there you are at a famous square milling with tourists. We visited the Spanish steps and the Trevi Fountain which is a beautiful piece of architecture you can stare at for hours and not tire of, ever. I flicked a coin into the fountain and wished for more days in Rome.

If you are an avid reader of Dan Brown you know you are in for a treat. Both me and my husband had a wonderful time playing Robert Langdon, trying to identify and exclaim at as many places as we could remember from his books. We gasped at the towering Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in the Piazza Navona and scanned the skyline for angels and demons to point our way.

The fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo was another site we ticked off on our list before we made our way to the beautiful spread of land in Circo Massimo flecked with myriad colours depending on the season. We actually crossed the stadium and walked all the way back to the Roman Forum before realising that this was what we had come to see. An enquiry to a friendly neighbourhood restaurateur sent us hurrying back to the site. By then we were both famished and the smells wafting from a restaurant nearby were irresistible. That was where we sampled our first spinach and ricotta cannelloni and till date that happens to be my husband’s most favourite dish on earth. Like the one in Paris we also visited the Pantheon in Italy and it was easily the most crowded tourist site (unless you count the Trevi Fountain or the Spanish steps or the Colosseum… Oh alright! It was crowded, OK?). We smiled in delight as we saw an old man who apparently came everyday to Piazza del Popolo to blow huge bubbles to amuse and entertain children for free.

The Baths of Caracalla housed an unimaginable number of strange looking birds nesting in its ruins, which kept up a raucous cawing throughout. The basement still cool and damp was now playing host to contemporary artists who were hosting art shows with pieces that seemed strangely anachronistic to my untrained eye. Palatine Hill was the next stop at which point my legs gave out. I sat on a slab of stone and refused to move another inch. My husband finally gave up and made his way to the top while I cocked my ear and learnt all about the interesting history of the site from an unwitting tour guide who was doing her best to keep her batch entertained. Next my husband tried to drag me to the Villa Borghese gardens for which a series of very slippery steps need to be mounted. Or so they seemed to me. I moved like Bambi on ice for a few steps after which I hung on to the balustrade like a limpet refusing to move, while I balefully watched old women over seventy skip up and down the steps at double speed. You can imagine the ending to that field trip well enough.

We saved the best for the last as we made our way to the most anticipated site of our visit – The Vatican. The Holy See deserves an entire series of articles dedicated to its beauty and grandeur, so amazing was its architecture. Because we had booked our tickets online, we were able to skip the waiting queue that spanned several kilometres outside the site. The sculptures and artwork in the Vatican Museum were enough to visually stun even the most critical gaze. The Great Masters like Raphael Santi, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Michaelangelo and countless others captivated and enthralled us every step of the way as we listened to Rick Steve (audio tour guide) talk about the history of each piece of art. The Sistine Chapel held us spellbound for several minutes before we reluctantly made our way out. St. Peter’s Basilica’s grandeur was mesmerizing and we remembered to snap pictures of the papal enclave before we finally finished our tour.

A quattro formaggi pizza and ravioli later we bundled up and headed over to Rest in Fiera B&B in the city’s outskirts where we were to spend our last evening before flying back home. The apartment was at the top of a hill overlooking a beautiful valley. Our hostess was charming, the accommodations splendid and the view had us wishing we had stayed there the entire length of the trip. Unable to stop myself, I blurted out to her that Roma was beautiful, which seemed to surprise and please her at the same time as she laughingly remarked that it was strange to hear a foreigner say ‘Roma’. I was astonished to find that our hostess collected antiques as she showed me a beautiful horsehair piano and a coffee table made from the fossil of a 3000-year-old tree trunk. The next morning when it was time to leave, she packed up a basket of goodies for us and drove us to the airport, welcoming us to visit the next summer when the valley below the hill top would be filled with thousands of sunflowers. Remembering my wish from the Trevi fountain, I nodded as my husband and I turned homeward.    

PS: All those pictures I snapped turned out so blurred, no one’s ever going to believe I visited Europe.

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