Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Chennai-Denmark 4: A Roman Holiday

On our way to Billund
It was still dark when I woke up to the warm, comforting smells of lemon-flavored rice and its accompaniment, potatoes roasted red in oil and chilly powder. Smiling at what lay ahead of the day, I woke up K and R and went into the kitchen. Sumi had already made everything ready for the day ahead. Packing all of the food into assorted plastic boxes and getting into fresh clothes, we made our way to the bus stop when a slight drizzle began. Each raindrop stung like a pinprick, but we continued our trudging up and down the roads around Aarhus to reach the bus stop. A 2-hour bus trip stood between us and the Billund airport, from where we would catch a flight to the papal land. The bus shelter resembled the lobby of a 3-star hotel in Chennai; it had clean, neat rows of furniture for people sit with their children, read books, or even look out the clean glass windows at the far off harbor, where ferries and ships played hide and seek.
K enjoying the sights

We made ourselves comfortable with a piping hot black coffee and went through their various brochures advertising the available bus journeys. As luck would have it our bus would take us to the airport almost in time for the flight. And that would leave us hardly anytime for food or even a relaxed check-in. But super smart family that we were managed everything—check-in of 3 large suitcases, a stroller, lunch with two toddlers, and a long-drawn security check complete with confiscation of my conditioner, face cream, and my child’s water bottle—under an hour. All 6 of us were running across the length and breadth of the airport, almost breathless and
Us, getting ready for Italy
the last of us, R, just about managed to pole vault into the aircraft when they moved the passenger stairs away. The aircraft started on the runaway as we scrambled for our seats, dumped our hand luggage into whichever cabin was free, and finally sat and put on our belts. I let out a loud sigh of relief when K decided to throw a fit for there was no in-flight entertainment. I could have clawed out that expression, but what the heck we were on our way to Italy. I simply tickled him and told him enjoy the view and get some sleep.

Off we go
In less than 2 hours, we stepped into the land of Pizzas. Our jackets were off in no time; the weather was a balmy 20 degrees. The sun was shinning beautifully in the beautiful city of Pisa. Until then my only association with Pisa had been as a quick answer to name one of the ancient wonders in Italy.  It was now time to actually see it for real, in brick and stone. G had decided that we’ll see Italy by car, and we got a nice, black SUV with just the right amount space for 4 adults and 2 kids. Chattering happily we started our journey across Pisa.

Hello, Pisa
 Potholes and broken roads reminded us of home. The traffic of course didn’t remind us of home. Jammed with vehicles of all hue the roads seemed to be bursting at the seams. Greenery lined both sides of the roads. I kept wondering what trees they were. The leaves were opposite and resembled our own Nochi plants. I kept wondering what they were when my eyes fell on the unmistakable little fruits at the end of the thorny branches; they were olive trees. My jaw dropped. Finally, olives, in flesh and oil. After having grown up with so much of Christian imagery, which is centered on olives, it was a moment for me with the olives. I wanted to touch them, feel them, and hold them close. I was looking for the little olive shoots around the trees, per the Psalmist’s description, but couldn’t find any.

Can you spot the tower?
It was almost late evening as we found our destination, Hotel Roma. This exotically named hotel had just one person at the reception, who was probably the owner, the bell boy, the accountant, and probably even the chef! We quickly took the elevator to our room on the 3rd floor and opened the tiny balcony to catch the most amazing view of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. And, whoa! What a sight it was. I must’ve seen at least a dozen images of the tower, but seeing it for real was completely something else. Tilted at an awkward angle, the tower was a magnet for tourists who couldn’t wait to pose like they were balancing the tower somehow. Dinner was pure Italian fare with Lassagnes and Pizzas and amazing beer. Street-side musicians made the early dinner even more enjoyable.
The wayside dinner
The next morning greeted us with light showers and clear skies. We were headed to Rome. The four-hour journey was punctuated with pitstops for food and gasping at the mountainscape framed with low-hanging dark, rain clouds. The architecture of the houses was similar to the ones in Pondichery with roof tiles and cemented exteriors. Soon, we entered our destination; Rome.

My favorite pic of the boys

And, that's Sistine Chapel

It was well-past 5:30 when we finally reached the Colosseum. A massive amphitheatre built out of stone and concrete stood at a height of 620 feet with a capacity of almost 50,000 people. We decided to take a tour of the nearby areas in a house-drawn carriage, complete with a running commentary by the coachman. He showed us some interesting sites, such as the Janus temple (bringing back fond memories of Medulla from my Gulmohar textbooks way back in school), the place of Ceaser’s assassination, the Italian parliament, and so much more. We then went to our nice, cozy two-bedroom apartment for dinner.

The Italian Parliament
St. Peter's Basilica
Deciding to Romans in Rome, Sumi and I took off to a nearby supermarket and bought some veggies and rustled up some dinner for all us. We polished all the food in no time and slept like logs. The next day was a whirlwind of Vatican, Peter’s Basilica, and the Sistine Chapel. Thanks to the traffic and the crowds we just about caught a glimpse of the architectural prowess of these Romans even millennia ago. Well, that meant we were to return to Rome very soon. Perhaps take a week-long break and stay right in Rome and catch everything around it. All around the city ran these ancient aqua-ducts, a tiered bridge like structure, that brought water to the city from distant sources. And, this much before electricity. They’d just tricked gravity to do all their bidding. What ingenuity is that. I began to wonder if ancient Rome wasn’t all that patriarchal, as in, did it have women builders and engineers who worked in so much practical and common sense into the everyday.
The mountainscape
That's Venice
The evening saw us packed into a 4-hour train ride through the heart of Italy to Venice. We had a waterfront apartment. Since we had had a feel of our own Alapuzha, a floating town didn’t come as a big surprise. But, Venice has the unenviable distinction of being the only city where I experienced harassment in our entire trip across Europe. So, here I was guarding the bags when the rest of the family went to scout for a water taxi. It must have been late evening, and I was looking around and taking in the sights of the tourists, women, and children. Suddenly, out of nowhere came these bunch of leather jackets with cigarettes and looked me in the eye. Trained in India to rebuff any such unwanted attention, I simply looked away. In no time one of them had come fairly close and brushed against me. That was when I realized I was in danger land. But fear refused to make its appearance. Instead it was pure anger and annoyance. I must have let out a growl or something. The until-then spread out leather jackets huddled together and retreated. I decided to move all the bags myself, two a time, when a bunch of lovely Italian women offered to help me and helped move all the bags. They even stopped to hug and remarked how difficult it’s for women across the world. I couldn’t agree more.
See you, Venice, soon!

The next day, R and I took a nice stroll around the apartment and even shopped for some fish. The air around us tasty salty. The street was peppered with little eateries that looked like our very own tea kadais, only that they were booze kadais. Somebody would just walk by, ask for a drink, take a swig, and they'd be on their way. It was all very simple, easy, and very importantly, decent!

A night and day at Venice’s waterfront was just what all of us wanted to bring the Italian rendezvous to a happy closure. We had had tons of fun, laughter, dreams, and even made great plans for a much-longer, more funner European adventure.

The next day evening we bid GSG farewell and headed out to Paris, R’s dream destination.  


Destination Sikkim - Till we meet again

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