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Robbed in Rome!

Getting out of the Termini station at Rome, I had an uneasy feeling. Something about the place. I am not sure what it is. I can’t actually say it’s this particular thing or that. It’s just a feeling, a feeling that senses danger. The feeling that one has in the capital city of a country. Have you ever felt that way?

Beware of cab drivers! You are in Rome!

Hauling a taxi, we headed to the hotel. The taxi driver, an immigrant pointed out important sights on the way making the long trip to the hotel, interesting and just as I had begun to change my opinion and shrug off the the initial feeling I had, we reached the hotel and he said the taxi charge was a whopping 80 Euros! The hotel had said it would be 30 Euros, we argued confidently and he reduced the charge to 40.  We were so proud of ourselves only to be told the next day by our guide, that wherever you go in Rome, it cannot be more than 20 Euros! That’s Rome for the unknowing tourist.

Spanish steps and Trevi Fountain
A map in hand, the hotel’s shuttle service took us to Piazza Di Cavaro, from where we had to cross the bridge over the river Tibrè and walk down to Piazza Spagna to see the “Spanish Steps”.

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Bridge over River Tibre’

 

The road from the bridge to the Spanish Steps seemed like an ordinary road but housed huge fashion names- Christian Dior, Gucci, Trusardi and others . At the end of the shopping street were the steps. A thousand people  were  in the area around the steps and on the steps. I felt fear!  It was the 4th of April, the day before Easter, there were just too many people, too many police patrolling the place – especially in the aftermath of what happened in France, a few days ago- 20th March 2012, when a Jihadist gunman opened fire killing 7 people. It was all too fresh in the mind to  forget and lots of people, festival, celebration were the perfect factors for destruction equation. Today, as I write this blog, I feel I have changed over the last 4 years. You can’t be scared. You can’t live in fear all the time. You have to simply live knowing that some things are destined to happen. Because being afraid is exhausting.

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The Spanish Steps

Walking up the steps, straight down the road, a left and then a right we reached Trevi Fountain. It’s a 2 km walk that is pure bliss, away from the crowd. Belief has it that if you put a coin in the Trevi Fountain, you will return to Rome. The Fountain, sadly, was under restoration (Fashion House Fendi was sponsoring $2.9 million for the restoration), so basically there was no fountain, yet people threw their coins into the floor of the fountain and they fell with a “clang” sound. We did too!  The floor of the Trevi Fountain glimmered with gold colored coins. It isn’t surprising that there have been news of thefts of coins in the dark since the restoration started.

Call it blind faith but every person irrespective of nationality and religion did exactly that. Everybody wanted to return to Italy 🙂 .

After spending some time around the fountain and shopping in a Benetton store in front, we decided to head back to the bridge to catch the bus to the hotel. That’s when we realized we had lost our map- the one on which the hotel had written the bus number. It was getting dark and we had absolutely no idea how to get to the hotel. Using the compass in the brain, we retraced our steps to the Spanish Steps, down the steps and Lo and behold! There was our map lying on the road where it had dropped off , stepped by a thousand people, yet intact. And there in blue on the map, was the bus number- bus 990!

A Pilgrimage

The next day was a hectic trip to the Vatican- a country within a country. The trip began at 8.15 a.m. from Café Vaticano. Our guide, Barbara, led us to the Vatican Museum after we finished passing through Security control and Immigration. The world’s smallest, sovereign state, situated on the Vatican hill and the capital of the Catholic world.

Wealth is what one sees when walks through the Vatican museums, founded in the 16th Century by Pope Julius II- a treasure chest of the most beautiful paintings from 3rd century B.C, tapestries with scenes from the Bible, marble sculptures, Egyptian mummies and the very famous Sistine Chapel.

The Sistine Chapel has the world’s most famous works of art- Michelangelo’s  painting of the Last Judgement. It’s the place where the conclave meets to elect the new pope.

St. Peter’s Basilica- Italy’s largest, richest and most spectacular church where St. Peter is said to have been buried around AD 64.

Being  the day before Easter, preparations in full swing in St. Peter’s square.

The visit to the Vatican included a visit to 3 churches outside the Vatican , but owned by the Vatican- St. Paul’s church, St. Mary Maggiore, The Holy Steps and San Giovanni Litario which used to be the main residence of the Pope until Emperor Nero (37 AD- 68AD) decided to attack the Pope there. It was then that the Pope escaped to the Vatican with the help of Swiss guards. Thereafter, Vatican became the home of the Pope and Swiss guards became a tradition which is upheld until date. Till today, when a person is nominated to be Pope, the person remains an Archbishop until he visits San Giovani (the earlier residence) and sits on the Purple Chair there. Only then does he get the title of Pope. Kylie, our Australian guide was extremely informative, managing to keep my otherwise distracted children totally engaged.

Apparently, Santa Maria Maggiore was built on the last edict passed by the Roman church that Mother Mary was the eternal Mother and not just the Mother of Jesus- which meant she was the Mother of God as well. The orthodox Greek community got created then as they did not believe in this edict.

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St. Mary Maggiore- 11 apostles seen on the roof of the church

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The 3rd Holy Door

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The pulpit

The Holy Steps were the steps on which Jesus climbed with the Cross before being crucified.  The Holy Steps had been brought by Helen- Constantin’s mother, from Jerusalem. The original steps are covered to avoid rotting. There are 28 steps and pilgrims had to go up the steps on their knees. It is said that one can see the blood of the Lord through the cracks in the steps. The Vatican trip was our pilgrimage.

We got caught in the rain at the end of the Vatican trip and had to but the raincoats being sold outside the Holy Steps for Euro 2 each. They are definitely worth it even if they are just a “throw” without sleeves.

A visit to the Colosseum- The Flavian Ampitheatre on Easter Sunday

The next day we were supposed to head to Sorrento, Naples. Our train to Sorrento was in the afternoon but we checked out of our hotel in the morning. This time the cab driver was a decent chap and charged us 20 Euros. We had 3 hours waiting time at the station.

No trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the Colosseum. Leaving our luggage in the cloak room, we took a train to see the Roman Forum, Palatino and the Colosseum. It’s in ruins now and somehow that’s what adds to the magic. Going in, it’s easy to be transported to the past when gladiators fought,  onlookers cheered as they watched the fight between man and beast with glee. The scenes of Julius Caeser, the Shakespeare written play, that we studied 25 years ago, in grade 10, came rushing back. Hadn’t imagined then, that I would one day be standing here.

A Taste of Real Rome!

The train from the Colosseum to Termini Station from where we had tickets to Naples was to arrive at 3.00 p.m. and it was 1.30 p.m. The train at the Colosseum arrived in time. The crowd rushed to catch the train, I held my younger daughter’s hand and entered the train and turned around to check if my husband and my older daughter had entered. They had. But in a split second while making their way in, some young girls had stolen my husband’s wallet from his zipped pocket in his jacket. What happened after that, was pure drama. Someone pulled the chain, the train that had started moving out of the station came to a halt, people were screaming at 2 girls in the next compartment, saying they had stolen it, the police arrived, got the girls to get off the train, 2 others on the station sweared they were the girls, the police carried out a search, asking my husband what happened, how it happened, my husband saying he did not know who took it but remembered they were teenage girls and chaos. We were getting nowhere, and in a sudden bright moment, I realized what was going on. The wallet had been stolen, was already probably out of the station and the credit cards would anytime be swiped. Quickly, taking out my diary in which the card numbers were written, we asked the police to let the girls go, let the train go and requested the police to go. Then, we called up 3 banks from whom we had credit cards and blocked all the cards without any further delay. We lost just 30 Euros fortunately, the remaining cash in the wallet, as we had spent the cash to buy tickets to the Colosseum and for the guide.We were now left with just 300 Euros in cash  which we had stowed away in another bag and our tickets to Naples had already been paid for but we had no cards to withdraw any cash for the remaining 4 days of our vacation. In other words, we were stranded in Rome, with 300 Euros! Thankfully, we were to spend the last 4 days of our trip in Naples at the same hotel so we had a little time on our hands to find a solution.

Origin of Rome

We were seasoned travelers and were well aware of pick-pockets but were lucky enough not to experience it. In fact, I believed that people who got robbed were not careful enough but now I can vouch for their skill. These people are good at what they do.

To me, Rome had proved it’s roots!

Rome and it’s roots

Rome had been found by 2 brothers – Romulus and Remus. Legend has it that when they founded the city, they had an argument and Romulus killed Remus, so the city took the name “Rome”.

To populate it, he created a refuge, to which a ragtag population of criminals, ex-slaves and outlaws soon decamped. However, the city still needed women. So Romulus invited everyone in the surrounding country to celebrate the festival of Consus on August 21st. As spectators watched the festival games, Romulus and his men pounced and abducted the women, an act that went down in History as the Rape of the Sabine Women- a sculpture to depict this is found in Florence beside the Uffizzi.

Lessons learnt

  • Keep cash and credit cards in different bags
  • keep your wallet in the inside pocket of your jacket
  • Keep a record of your credit card numbers and the bank’s phone number and block your cards immediately. You can fret and wonder why it happened later.

Lost our heart and our wallet in the Roman Empire

Rome had stolen our heart and our wallet. For want of time, we were not able to see all of Rome. But that’s ok because we will be going back again- remember we threw a coin in the  Trevi fountain!

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