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Italy Odyssey of History & Cuisine

Dr.Vinisha D’Cruz e Peres Tuesday, December 26, 2023
Italy Odyssey of History & Cuisine

“One of the great joys of traveling through Italy is discovering firsthand that it is, indeed, a dream destination.” – Debra Levinson

Italy was one of the countries I visited on my first trip abroad in 2010. It was also the first time I flew…nooo… not that I drank red bull and got wings, but I flew in an airplane. Oh! what excitement indeed! I was told to toss a coin over my shoulder into the Trevi Fountain and one day I would return. Fast-forward and it’s June 2023, here I was back again roaming in Rome. This time it was with my husband.

ROME

We arrived at Fiumicino Airport, collected our bag, and walked down to the kiosks to book our tickets to catch an airport train that goes directly to Rome Termini. The ticket costs €14 per person. Voila! the Leonardo Express stood there like a beauty- shiny and glimmery but… was under maintenance. Well, even a beauty like Cinderella might have occasionally been down with a seasonal flu so why should trains be an exception! A kind station representative informed us to take the local train which stood on the adjacent platform. After arriving at Termini Station, we bought the ROMA48 pass - Cost €12.50 per person – which is valid for 48 hours on all forms of transportation from the moment it’s validated. We had booked a City Center free walking tour with ‘New Rome free tour’ for a duration of 2 hours. It covered the Spanish Steps, Pantheon, Piazza Navona and Trevi Fountain. Our guide Stephano gave us an insight into the history, and it helped us to get our bearings straight regarding the location, streets etc. We had lunch at ‘Pane-e-Salame’ (2 mins from Trevi Fountain) renowned for its sandwich and to satisfy our sweet tooth we went to ‘Pompi Trevi’ famous for its divine Tiramisu. Now, even though Stephano gave us information about the Spanish steps, climbing it was incomplete. After a long flight and lots of walking we clambered up the 135 Spanish steps. At the end of it, our red sore feet and achy legs were a sign to call it a day and head back to the hotel.

DAY 2

It was a sunny day, and we were oblivious to what was in store for us. We booked our Vatican Museum entrance tickets for the 9.30am slot and like early birds we were at the gate at 8am. We were a bit too early, so they sent us back and told us to return at 9.30am at our designated time. No flies to swat and plenty of time to kill…What can one do in Rome other than sightseeing? Ahh, you are right ‘Eat’. Few minutes away was a famous bakery called Forno Feliziani famous for Moritozzo.

After spending 4 hours at the Vatican Museum and another 2 hours at the Basilica we ambled down to ‘Alice Pizza Via delle Grazie’. We had a few slices of pizza and we tried out some delicious pasta at ‘Pastasciutta’. Good food must end with dessert, so we walked towards ‘Giolitti’ famous for its gelato. Content after having our fill of the famous Italian gelato it was back to some exercise. Suddenly, there was a cover of dark clouds taking over the sky while we climbed up the second floor of Victor Emmanuel II with the sole intention of seeing Rome. I must say little did we expect that all we would see after that was…. light drizzle, followed by a downpour of rain! We were stranded on the second floor, but we also had to reach the famous ‘Mouth of Truth’ also known as Bocca della Verita which was around 10-15 mins walking distance as per “Google”. Yikesss! I glanced at my watch, it was 5.40pm and it closes at 5.50pm. We ran…oh yes…it was walk…sprint...walk…sprint…trying not to slip on the wet cobbled stones. Somehow, I haven’t lost a few skills that I acquired during my career. Like an invigilator in an exam hall, I kept updating my husband...10 mins left... 5 mins left...2 mins left and both of us went zooming inside the entrance gate of the site. We made it and the gate closed….bham!! What a narrow escape! I must tell you... it was worth it. This Roman landmark got its recognition in the movie ‘Roman Holiday’ starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.

After all that running, we walked to Circo Massimo which reminds you of movies like Ben Hur. We passed by Palatine Hill, Roman Forum and we kept walking to reach the Arch of Constantine (Arco De Costantino). We clicked some pictures in front of the Colosseum in the garden area called Meta Sudans. Now it was time to head for dinner to Nonna Betta renowned for its delicacies, to name a few- carciofi alla giudia (fried artichoke), Filetto de baccalà (fried fish), Fiore de zucca (zucchini flower) and torta boccione (cherry pie). We accomplished more than we imagined. We walked around 17-18 kms ….pheww!! That too in a day! But as Alberto Sordi rightly said “Rome is not like any other city. It’s a big museum, a living room that shall be crossed on one’s toes.”

DAY 3

FLORENCE

Florence, founded by Julius Caesar was named Florentina. It is also widely known as Firenze, the birthplace of the Renaissance. Boarding an early morning train from Rome we arrived in Florence (Main Station is known as- Santa Maria Novella Station). Here we were, surrounded by history, museums, and architecture. Generally, all monuments and structures are standing strong and tall. Have you heard of the one which is said to be leaning? I had heard of ‘out-standing’, but this was ‘out-leaning’.

After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, we boarded the train from Florence and reached Pisa Centrale in an hour. To save time, we took a taxi from the station to the monument. There we were standing in front of ‘The Leaning Tower of Pisa’. We visited the Cathedral, Baptistery and clicked a few hilarious pictures in front of the tower.

We headed back to Florence and walked towards Piazza del Duomo. I stood there gazing at the fine Italian architecture and design. After spending some time at the Duomo, we walked around following one of our five senses.

Smell! A true Florentine smell. Inhale, my dear. Deeper! Every city, let me tell you, has its own smell. – E.M. Forster.

We smelt something… hmmm… gelato! During my research on Florence, I came across something very interesting. I had heard of lavender perfume, lavender powder, lavender lotion, lavender oil…uhhhhh…. lavender gelato?? That would be interesting to try out! It’s available at ‘La Strega Nocciola Gelateria’. All excited and pumped up we entered, I scanned around reading all the flavors, but I couldn’t see Lavender. I asked the gentleman at the counter, “Do you have Lavender?” And guess what he replied, “We do, but right now we don’t”. I was shattered, heartbroken and disappointed when suddenly a girl behind the counter said, “We might have it inside”. I sounded like one of those kids in the movie ‘Despicable Me’ but looked like a full grown-up version saying, “Please, please, could you take it out for us? I am leaving tomorrow, and I have come all the way to try it out.” I guess he felt sorry for me. Being a kind soul, he said calmly, “Ok…Lavender for both of you and which other flavor?” Oh...the excitement, my heart leaped with joy. You could hear my squeaky voice saying, “Thank you so much…Thank you! Thank you!”. In my mind I updated my bucket list- eat lavender gelato- done.

All cheerful and happy with the gelato in my hand, we continued strolling around while the world stood still. Early next morning we packed some Cantucci (almond biscuits) from Panificio-Pasticceria Lanotte and eagerly waited to reach our next destination- ‘Venice’.

DAY 4
VENICE
"In memory Venice is always magic."– Barbara Grizzuti Harrison
There I was sitting in the train, gazing out the window and munching the almond biscuits. Our train was about to arrive at Venice. I was contemplating about how often I had seen Venice in James Bond movies and the villain jumping onto a boat. Ah, the adrenaline rush! Suddenly, I turned my head left and right like one of those yoga neck exercises and all I could see was the blue calm waters of Venice. My dream was about to turn into reality. Oh! how desperately I waited to see this beautiful side of Italy which I had imagined in my mind while reading the Merchant of Venice as a kid. Don’t you remember – Antonio, Shylock and Portia? Indeed, it is a work of Literature but down the years as a lawyer I tried analyzing the legal side. Getting back to my story, like Maria in ‘The Sound of Music’ who marched herself towards the residence of the Von Trapp family, here we were with our bags on our shoulder marching towards the exit of the railway station. There we stood still, gazing at the sight. Magnificent!

We had to start moving, we had one day in Venice…it was time to run! Isn’t it surprising that the only mode of transportation in Venice is boats, your two feet... oh and your two hands in case you want to swim across! The main stop to board a boat is ‘Ferrovia’ outside the railway station. Check out the map and you will see different routes- each boat assigned a number going to a specific destination via a designated route and making stops along the way. We bought our 24hr pass for 25 Euros per person for unlimited travel. Standing in the queue which looked small, turned out to be a long and never-ending serpent. We were so close and yet so far! We hopped onto the boat and headed for our main stop - S Marco San Zaccaria F closest to St Marks Square. We arrived at St Marks Basilica, we saw the clock tower and then went to see the Doge’s palace also known as Palazzo Ducale. ‘Doge’ means the ruler of Venice. Here we were standing in awe looking at this beautiful piece of architecture. It used to be the residence and the seat of Venetian government. So much depth, so much meaning in every single room, filled with a purpose and objective in mind. Percy Shelley described Venice beautifully, “Venice, it’s temples and palaces did seem like fabrics of enchantment piled to heaven”. I don’t have enough words to express myself, but this is one of the most beautiful palaces I have ever seen in my life. The prison is known as ‘The Leads’ since the cells had lead slab covered roof (sheets of lead). We walked on the Bridge of Sighs and going down that path gave me goosebumps. Seeing the prison cells reminded me of the famous Venetian – Giacomo Casanova. He was imprisoned for 5 years. It is said that he was the only person who managed to escape from the prisons of the Doge’s Palace…interesting… right!
I was famished and since my grey cells were satiated with knowledge it was time to keep the tummy happy. You will be shocked to know how we hopped, skipped, and jumped from one restaurant to another just to try out Venetian cuisine. I know you must be wondering how one can accommodate so much in so little time. It is simple, the key is to try out every single dish by ordering small quantities. Italy is famous for Tiramisu and even though I avoid coffee who can say “No” to the ‘World’s Best Tiramisu’ which happens to be in- Venice! Do you want to know “Where?” It is at ‘I Tre Mercanti’ and it closes at 7pm.

We enjoyed every bit of it and next on the list of ‘must eat’ was Cicchetti. I stopped in front of a small restaurant…poked my head inside, saw Cicchetti and ordered a plate. Next stop on the list was ‘Acqua e Mais’ famous for Fritto Misto (fried fish), Baccala mantecato and Polpette. We tried their Baccala mantecato (cod fish) and headed for an early dinner to ‘Trattoria Al Gazzettino’. We ordered the grilled seabass, and guess what we got…. complimentary dessert! Now who doesn’t like anything for ‘Free’. In fact, sometimes the dish you get for free tastes even better than the stuff you paid for! Finally, we were done with our dinner, and it was time to…. no… no…not eat…it was time to walk, exercise and burn those calories. We walked and kept on walking, roaming around, up and down the Rialto Bridge, just randomly taking any street and then we realized that there were high chances of us getting lost at night in those dark narrow lanes of Venice…booooh…spooky! Hopping onto a boat we went sailing back to our end destination- the hotel. We got off and instead of going to the hotel we turned towards a ‘Gelateria’. With two scoops of this and two scoops of that, we ended our trip with two cones in hand!
As I wind up my story, I am left with fond memories of the cobbled stones, Roman history, architecture in Florence and the stories of Venice. Our trip to Italy was enriching and heartwarming for our mind, body, and soul. Never stop travelling my friend! To inspire you, I leave you with a famous Italian quote by Omar Khayyam, “la vita è un viaggio, chi viaggia vive due volte.” which translates to- ‘Life is a voyage! Those who travel live twice!


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