La Dolce Vita

The Summer of 2011 will be memorable for me in more ways than one! 

The trip to Italy was originally a Euro Trip, a Grand Tour of Europe. But due to unforeseen circumstances [read injured ankle ligaments… No Al.. I will never let this go.. ;)] it turned into a purely Italian Avventura. Even though, we were rushing in and out of train stations for half a day, everywhere, it was worth the effort.
The beautiful architecture, the rich history… and the famed gallantry of Italian men were the essence of Italia. So we started off in Milano, the fashion capital of the world. From the time we stepped into the Milano Centrale railway station, we were in awe. [Although, I would admit that we were more excited about the sing-song tone in which the announcer said `Milaaaaano Chentraaaaley` J]. We pranced through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele Li Milan, with its splendid high-end Fashion brand outlets, the Duomo [also called the Milan Cathedral, which took a jaw dropping Five Centuries to complete construction], the Piazza del Duomo and all its life and energy… and of course… the McDonalds [that refuge of the ever-so-hungry travellers]. The Piazza is a sight to behold. The gothic façade of the Duomo on one side, the Magnificent and Glamorous Galleria on the other, and the Royal Palace surrounding it, the essence of Milan could be narrowed down to the Piazza del Duomo.

There is hardly a street in central Milan where you won't see a tram crossing in front of you at an intersection, hardly a street without a maze of intertwined wires above. And the bright orange trams curving and clanging, passing each other on parallel tracks or backing up behind one another... a marvellous sight, indeed. Our first tram ride in Milan evoked sense of a bygone era, with its shapely wooden benches, brass handrails and tiny light fixtures hanging from the ceiling.

We travelled all around the city, passing places of interest like the Peace Arch [also called Arco Sempione] erected by Napolean, and the Sempione Park and the Opera House, finally reaching the Castello Sforzesco. This Castle was a major disappointment for us Indians… why? Because every aspect of it reminded us of some or the other monument in India, including the Agra Fort, the Red Fort and the Padmanabhapuram Palace. I guess we were a little too homesick towards the end of our stay in Europe, but the fact remains that the Castle failed to impress us. What did impress us though, was the beautiful fountain right outside the Castello. The best part about any public fountain in Europe is that they are Accessible, meaning you can just go in and put your feet in the water… and Relax. We ended up going to the fountain twice, and scandalizing everyone there by being our usual loud, energetic, effervescent self [Yes, I would like to believe that].
Having had a taste of their Sangrias and crepe`s and brioche and croissants and Paninis, we headed to Venice, the Famed City of Romance. Did we enjoy it? Well one fifths of us Loved it... but the charm of the city wasn’t lost on us. Given that it was unkempt and crowded, we still managed to squeeze in a lot of beautiful memories of the city, with the sunset across the canals, the Adriatic Sea, the Seagulls and the old world façade. Spending the whole day just floating on the water [on a boat of course. Yours truly is deathly afraid of water bodies… of any size or shape] and being fortunate enough to see the city under colourful illumination at twilight was an unmatched experience.
We stayed the night at a camp in Venice, Camping Jolly. This was also part fulfilment of our Harry Potter Fantasy, at least for two of us… the other three couldn’t care less about Pottermania. We were given site maps of the camp and keys to our own tents. The Camp Manager marked the important landmarks for us on that map. Now You tell me if this wasn’t straight out of the Quidditch World Cup settingJ. We had a much craved for cup of Italian Hot Chocolate and sat up way past midnight eating pizzas with crazy eggplant and cucumber topping. That’s the thing with Italia, they have such crazy options of Pizza toppings, and it’s unbelievable.
After having met a couple of Indians, south Indians really, who were keen on chatting us up, we set our sights on the next destination… Firenze. Now Firenze, or Florence as it is more popularly called, is the Italy that we were looking for. Even the names of its places were seeped in the sheer beauty of the Italian language. Palazzo Pitti, Santa Maria Novella, Palazzo Medici and Fiesole, all situated on either side of the scenic Arno River would take your breath away. The view of the Florence Cathedral from atop Fiesole {which is an impressive ten kms above Florence} is to die for. The Tuscan country had a lot to offer in terms of culture, science [most of Galileo’s works are housed here in Florence] and art. I would never forget the Night of the Fiesta in Florence. This was organized at the Palazzo Vecchio [the Old Palace]. We roamed all around, enjoying the festivities, and ended up eating at an Indian Joint… relishing some Dal-chawal and roti-sabji after what seemed like ages. But the high-point of the evening has to be the Paella, on which we unknowingly spent a freakish Thirteen Euros. But then again, how many times do you get to do such crazy stuff in Europe, huh? J. Getting stranded at one am in the morning in Florence was an experience to remember for us. We were running after every single bus that came into the Santa Maria Station but the ride back to the hostel was memorable.

And so, we were on our way to the last stop in this Italian Fantasy, the most awaited one too… Rome. Roma is simply Majestic. No wonder it wasn’t built in a day! Every monument makes you feel small and inconsequential. The imposing grandeur of the city is something that you can only feel when you are In that city. We started off at the Vatican. There are no words to express how humbled, metaphysically and otherwise, you feel when you walk into St. Peters Square. It just forces you into the ²Angels and Demons² mode. We ran all around the Square and other accessible parts of the city, trying to figure out the four Illuminati Markers J. And I would like to make a special mention of the extremely good looking [pardon the blasphemous thought, if at all] Swiss guards at the St. Peters Basilica. They were drool-worthy.

 Rome is a lot like Delhi… it has a very rich architectural history and yet it blends well with the modern façade. You turn a corner of relatively Modern looking structures and establishments and you are suddenly faced with a centuries old monument. The Pantheon, Piazza di Spagna, Column of Marcus, Piazza del Popolo, Trevi Fountain and The Colosseum… every structure more grand than the other, and teeming with stories of their own.
Rome was a befitting finale to the adventure that five perky, enthusiastic girls embarked on.


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