People often use 'soulful' to describe food, music or even movies. However, 'soulful' for me is an experience I had, an emotion I felt, a feeling I embraced. Soulful was Rome. My name is Glory and this blogpost is about my first international girls’ trip with my best friend and brainchild behind Girl Meets Globe, Tandrani.
I’ve never been much of a traveller, at least, not to the extent that Tandrani is. But I’ve always dreamt of visiting certain locations across the world, that have been in my bucket list for the longest time; and Rome happened to be one of those places.
Who here hasn’t watched a bunch of movies (Hallmark, here’s looking at you!) based in Rome, with picturesque landscapes, breathtaking architecture, lip-smacking food and the quintessential dreamboat Italian man, who would show you what life could be, instead of your conventionally boring reality! Of course, as I grew into an adult, these cliché reasons changed into wondering more about the history of Rome, the inspiration behind the awe-inspiring architecture and sculptures, appreciating great Italian cooking, and investing in classic Italian fashion pieces. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to explore Rome with all the above reasons and more, leaving me with a gleeful feeling of having spent time in a destination that my best friend and I appreciated to the fullest.
The minute we landed in Rome, we were treated to a delightful conversation with one of the funniest cabbies we’ve come across. Uberto regaled us with anecdotes about his wife, his marriage, his life and of course the terrible traffic in Rome (something that seems to be a common bond between Bangaloreans and Romans). However, there was one statement that left Tandrani and I in splits the minute Uberto uttered it – Italian women great at everything, they’re beautiful, amazing partners and mothers, we would do anything for them…but they’re terrible drivers. Never let Italian woman drive. While this sexist statement should’ve put us at unease, it was the nonchalance and lack of mean-ness that had us laughing the entire 45-minute drive. Once Uberto dropped us off, we were greeted by one of the best AirBnB’s either one of us has ever stayed at. Albeit on the pricier side, it was the best decision, as we were bang in the center of Rome, with access to Colosseum within a 10-minute walk and other city center attractions within 15-20 minute walk.
Having a best friend who likes to plan experiences is a boon when travelling (although, she would eventually push me out of my comfort zone to become a traveller like her, which I’m absolutely thankful for), as her research skills on experiencing a destination to the fullest will leave you with a wholesome feeling. As soon as we reached our AirBnb, we had to leave our luggage and rush off to the ‘Walking Food Tour by Night’ experience at Campo de Feuri (flower square), which Tandrani and I had planned a month prior to our departure. And let me tell you one thing, it was the best decision ever! Not only did we get to enjoy the gastronomical haven that is Italian cooking - the best pizza you will ever eat (we were in the land of pizza makers), the most delicious gelato you will ever indulge in and the tastiest wine that won’t leave you with a headache; but we also learnt a great deal about Roman history and architecture, especially when we got to walk the streets of Rome at night. We even managed to meet a wonderful couple from the UK (who were a part of our group) who indulged us in some really funny conversations, as well! Simple pleasures for your first night in Rome? Check! Our guide during the tour was a sweet but timid Italian man who took us through historical alleyways, old Roman cobblestone passageways and some of his favourite spots in the city. All in all, if you ever visit Rome, you must indulge in the Walking Food Tour by Night, it’s absolutely worth the experience.
Day 2 started on an early note, as we had booked a guided tour of the Colosseum, courtesy of Roman Vacation, and honestly, it was absolutely worth the money. Our guide was a young Italian man who was not only well-versed with the history of Roman empire and architecture, but was also extremely funny and intelligent with his humour. He kept us entertained, informed and made the tour a friendly conversation rather than being a typical ‘guided tour’. Interestingly enough, his mother used to be a guide for the Colosseum tours as well; which is where he says, it piqued his interest to become one himself. We learnt so much about gladiators – their everyday lives, the brutal trainings, the food habits and most of all, the fate they had signed their lives to. Our guide told us a story about how a mate of his and him tried the gladiator-style diet for a day and couldn’t fathom how the gladiators managed to maintain this regimental diet since an early age, only to become fodder themselves for vicious animals during fight days. He suggested, we try this at our own discretion (it didn’t sound very thrilling as a diet, look it up). I was truly awed by the smart sanitation system the Romans had built within the Colosseum, the intelligent stone and structural work, and overall mammoth task of building one of the Wonders of the World. Keeping all these facts aside, there’s one thought that struck me the most, something the former US president Obama uttered as well, when he visited the Colosseum – it is smaller than one expects it to be.
Post this educational journey, we stepped out, onto the cobblestone streets of Rome in search of authentic Italian luncheon…we were famished! And this is where we had one of the best lunches throughout our stay in Rome – La Nuova Piazzetta. Trust me when I say this, Tandrani and I didn’t, for a moment, stop moaning over each bite we took of the pizza, the spaghetti and the tiramisu. This place is as authentic as it can get. The servers were charming and the place in itself was a quaint little nook in the corner of an alleyway, with fairy lights and creepers adorning the outside seating area. It truly felt like a magical moment from one of those Hallmark rom-coms I mentioned at the beginning (we’re allowed to indulge in our fairytale clichés every once in a while). We continued our walk through the city to make it for the sundowner view of the Trevi Fountain. I’m not going lie, this place was PACKED! There were tourists from across the world who were trying to get their Insta-worthy shot, while doing their best not to push one another. Tandrani and I quietly found an opening during one of these ‘photoshoots’, quickly snapped a few pictures of our own and settled at the steps in a corner, while enjoying our gelato and the spectacularly magnificent view of the Trevi. Honestly, how talented does one have to be, to be able to carve such incredibly detailed sculptures, that seem like works of godly creatures! This was one of those moments that made us realise, Rome truly is beauty to behold.
After such an informative and adventurous day, we decided to get back to our AirBnB for some R&R! And for dinner, we took a walk down our street to have a simple meal, at a nearby Irish pub (interesting choice, I know, but the food was delicious).
Now day 3 is where we had a bit of a rushed situation. This was the day dedicated to visiting the Vatican City. We’re in Rome, of course we would visit the Vatican (this also helped boost my non-existent relationship with my very Catholic mother). We were super thrilled for this day; however, the previous night we received an update saying our bookings had been cancelled. This left us with barely a few hours the previous night, to make another booking for the next morning. Mind you, we had to leave in the early hours to make it to the meeting point, from where our guide would take us to the Vatican. Like the rom-com movies, our plans seemed to have worked out for us miraculously, we managed to fit ourselves into one of the tours and happily made our way to the meeting point. While the overall experience of the Vatican, along with learning more about the Catholic history was something that captivated me thoroughly, our guide for the most part was a bit robotic. She wasn’t in anyway uneducated about the tour, in fact, she had all the answers to any question we would pose. However, she was a tad bit boring compared to the nice gentleman we were spoiled with during our Colosseum tour. Do bear this in mind when booking your tour at the Vatican – read the reviews and make an informed decision.
The highlight however, for us, was when we saw the most calming sunset from the top of the St. Peters Basilica dome. It’s quite a ‘trek’, up the rows of extremely claustrophobic stairs leading to the top of the dome, but once you’re there, it’s absolutely magical. You get the complete bird’s eye view of the Vatican and the sunset is one for the books. This will truly go down in my travel journal as one of the most exciting and peaceful experiences of my life. Just standing so high up, looking over Rome, you realise the vastness of space and how beautiful we can choose to make our little lives, on this revolving mass of gas we call home.
Once we were done with taking in all that Vatican had to offer (I would’ve loved to head down to the crypt, however, we were running out of time), we walked down the city streets to come across the luxury fashion shopping district. For a self-proclaimed fashion enthusiast such as myself, this was my Mecca. We simply walked the streets lined with designer brands, housing some of the latest collections and we couldn’t stop ‘aww-ing’ at everything we came across. Rome truly is best experienced by walk. This was also the time we were ‘admired’ for our exotic brown skin by extremely chatty and flirtatious Italian men, who handed out roses to us in order to gain our attention. As flattering as it seemed, we graciously declined their advances, as hunger took precedence.
For our last dinner in Rome, we decided to head to a quaint little place within a city square. But before we stuffed our faces with more pizza and pasta, we continued our walk through the city, when we came across a talented opera singer who belted some melodious classical musical tracks, some of which happened to be my favourites (think basic Chopin and Tchaikovsky). I remember feeling so elated listening to her sing, that I simply started to dance around Tandrani, right there on the streets, while she, of course, stayed embarrassed about my all too public behaviour. Once again, I was too busy living my rom-com cliché life to give into her amused stares.
Once I was done living my ‘India’s Got Talent’ performance, we headed to Piazza Navona – the famous square in Rome with 3 fountains. Here’s where we truly lived the Hallmark life. A musician singing ‘America Top 40s’ in the most beautifully Italian way, serenaded us right on the street, while we sipped on Prosecco and munched on more pizza and pasta. Ahh, the bliss we felt. This was the perfect end, to a perfect trip, with perfect company – my best friend.
For someone who’s not extensively travelled to a lot international destinations (read 4-5 places around the world), this was an eye-opening experience, where every leg of the journey made me feel things I hadn’t felt before. I felt elated, joyful and just happy being in a place where there was so much culture to absorb! The people, the place, the food, the fashion…everything seemed to fit perfectly in this tiny little city called Rome and I’m glad to have experienced this ‘soulful’ journey with Tandrani. If you’ve a best friend, who loves to explore new places as much as you do, seize the opportunity…trust me, it’s worth it. These are memories you’ll hold onto, it adds a different meaning to the word ‘love’, simply because it fills your heart with so much joy, you can’t contain it.