The cobblestone road that let millions walk on its uneven, hand-laid stones for centuries also allowed us to tread on them. The feeling was surreal. Michelangelo, Casanova, Bernini, the Popes, prisoners, lovers, criminals and sages had left invisible footprints on them.
Inhaling deeply and feeling the charisma of old world charm around us, we walked in a narrow alley close to the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Out of nowhere came an SUV, speeding towards us. Our first thought was that someone had made a mistake and was driving where driving wasn’t allowed. We quickly aligned ourselves with the stone walls to avoid being hit, but to our dismay a Vespa came from the opposite direction and both the vehicles crossed each other simultaneously and managed to not even touch us. We were relieved and fascinated. Struck by the smallness of the alley, the carefree attitude of the drivers and our own acceptance of the whole scenario, we walked on. We were loving the MAYHEM.
Amid the fumes of the vehicles, the chatter of the tourists and the insistent calls of the vendors, we sat down for our first meal in Italy, on tables that spilled into the narrow alleys. We were surprised as to how little space do we actually need and how we are used to spreading out in the US. When our meal came, we noticed the difference in portion sizes. Are we served like we are giants back home? The portions were small but when we were done, we felt they were just enough for us. Not a morsel wasted or stuffed. Food was flavorful and did not come with any sides. Adequate seemed to be the norm. Another norm was bottled water. “Still or sparkling,” we were asked everywhere. Tap water wasn’t a choice.
Also noticeable was the presence of fear of the boss. The man at the reception in the Venice hotel was scared to death to call the hotel manager when we asked to change our rooms. Our dissatisfaction and his reluctance reached a point where we asked to call the police. Back here, the hotels (as expensive as the Venice one), would want to take care of their guests and the
reputation of the hotel. Over there, we were told to —-off! Yes! That exact phrase. We had paid in full months ago so we could not go elsewhere. Besides it was ten in the night and we were hungry and the manager, who finally came cursing, blamed us for making her miss a dinner with her friends. Customer service wasn’t exactly what we are used to.
There is not much fear of getting sued I think, as a result, not a cone in the bathroom of the Vatican Museum where the cleaner poured mugs and mugs of water from a bucket on the floor to clean while we were waiting in line. We used one stall while she cleaned the other one.
The best was being used to people bumping into us and us into them. But Hey! There are throngs of people visiting the city at any given time and this is bound to happen. It is okay and in fact we were relieved to know that people didn’t mind it as much as they do here. After all, it is not easy to peel one’s eyes away from such astounding architecture.
The most memorable things about the city – the architecture, the paintings, the murals and the frescos, were not necessarily kept under closed windows. We noticed open windows in museums and palaces to let in fresh air. Very few historical buildings were air conditioned. Sound pollution, dust and normal wear and tear due to weather related conditions probably are not given so much attention as we do here. Of course, the authorities know best but we couldn’t help wondering.
It was quite refreshing to visit a place where not everything is governed by extraneous laws, unnecessary polish and a helluva lot of unneeded space. What did come as a blow was the rudeness of a few. But a few things can’t ruin the everlasting beauty and grandeur of the place.