By Kasturi Patra
As our plane was about to touch the ground in Rome, my in-flight entertainment played the song ‘Hungry Eyes’. Though I didn’t realize it then, but that phrase defined the theme of our stay in Venice and Rome. There was so much to see and absorb that our eyes remained perpetually hungry, seeking to take in more before our return to India. Yet, the time constraints and the physical lethargy of walking for almost the entire day everyday in uncomfortable shoes (note to self: do not bring almost new, barely worn shoes for a long trip that requires a lot of walking) satiated only a part of that hunger.
Cleanliness And The Stone Pines
We stayed overnight in our first hotel in Rome before we took the early morning train to Venice on the following day. The moment we got out of the airport (which was much smaller compared to Delhi Airport and far less impressive) the thing that struck me was the cleanliness of the streets and the symmetrical shape of the leaves crowning the roadside trees. The leaves in our trees are like uncombed tresses, growing and falling on whichever side they wish to or according to the whims of the wind. The trees in Rome looked like they’ve all been clipped to a certain shape. Later, a Google check showed that these trees are called stone pines and because of the nature of their leaves they looked so neatly trimmed. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love the free flowing looks of our trees but this was something new and I loved those trees too.
( Via dei Fori Imperiali, Rome. Image Source: Author’s Own.)
Cheap Does Not Mean Shabby
My husband had earlier told me that our first hotel would be a small one and hence not to expect a very nice place. I braced myself up for one of those dirty mattressed, stained walled hotels that we encountered in Manali, Himachal Pradesh for a night stay (we eventually left that evening itself to avoid staying there). Instead, I found something quite the opposite. Yes, the place was quite small but it was cute and clean as hell! Not a single speck of dirt anywhere. It was then that I realized that even if they have small businesses they maintain it with love and care. This was an old house turned into a small hotel by an elderly gentleman but that didn’t compromise the way it was maintained.
Later on, I experienced the same thing even in the hole in the wall sandwich shops across the city. No matter how small their businesses, those didn’t lack in upkeep and no service was provided without an exchange of smiles and pleasantries. Till then, I’ve only heard about how in the West people didn’t consider any job to be small enough and I got real life proof of how true this was. The contrast seemed so striking when we landed back in India and the first vendor we asked for a bottle of water charged double the printed price (which is illegal according to the Indian Government, by the way).
Heartwarming Level Of Gender Diversity
Anyway, this post is not meant to criticize India, but just to show how much we can learn and improve upon certain things. Another thing which I found quite empowering in both Rome and Venice was the presence of so many female employees in jobs that are mostly done by males in our country. Starting from taxi-drivers, to the train’s ticket checker, from fast food workers to receptionists at hotels, from security personnels in museums and metros to police and army officers, there was a striking dominance of women. Their diversity in the workplace was something I absolutely admired and hoped that we become like this, one day. Of course, the safety issue is one of the biggest factor that needs to be worked upon before this can be a reality in India. Consider this, women can wear anything they want and be outside almost the whole night without any fear. For someone residing in India, this is still stuff of fantastical dreams.
However, Though Pizza Is Great But Indian Food Zindabad!
Now, I come to their food and you might hate me for these controversial statements. I’m a desi at heart when it comes to food. Give me my dal and rice and I’d happily eat it up day in day out (with an occasional biriyani in between, maybe :P). Give me those cheese-laden pizzas and sandwiches (though they may be some of the best I have ever tasted), the sugary croissants, and even the awesome wine, and the delectable desserts (like Tiramisu), after a while I shall crave for my dal rice. I know, I know, but seriously dude who can have so much of cheese/milk-based products on a regular basis? And how do those people stay in such good shape after such a diet??
Also, the most controversial statement that I’ll make is this one: I felt their gelato is overrated. Okay, fine. You can curse me as much as you want to, but in my defence I’m not a big fan of ice creams (I know I’m weird, stop judging!). No doubt gelatos were good but frankly, I have had better ice-creams from brands such as Haagen-Dazs and Movenpick. It really didn’t live up to the great expectations that people have set for me. So, yeah food wise it was a bit tough to sustain on Italian food after a few days. They do have Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants but sadly, the places where we lived didn’t have any. On the positive side, this time around neither of us encountered a stomach upset which has been our constant companion on ALL our trips so far. So, I must admit that the quality of ingredients was great even in their smaller fast food joints.
These are some of the things I felt about Rome and Venice. In my later pieces, I’ll talk about things like how Venice reminded me of Kolkata, or why we feared we might be spending my birthday in a Police Station in Venice, or why I felt like staying back in Rome for good. But for now, ciao!
(The view from in front of our hotel in Venice. Image Source: Author’s Own.)