Monday October 22, 2012
When in Rome
SAMBAL ON THE SIDE By BRENDA BENEDICT
In an attempt to thwart autumn’s approach, our columnist fled south to Rome and returned, entranced by the Eternal City.
I’VE returned from Rome resembling a panda – in terms of girth and eye rings. I blame it on their oh-so-irresistible gelati and the odd gentlemen who think nothing of releasing their inner Pavarotti at ungodly hours. But I’m most certainly going back – even if I didn’t do that obligatory, touristy, backwards fling of a coin into the Trevi Fountain that apparently ensures your return here.
As with most holidays, the plan to go to Rome was hatched one dreary winter’s day back in March this year as a girlfriend and I sat pondering the long year ahead.
On a whim, we decided to embark on a girls-only trip to Rome. In hindsight, it paid off rather handsomely as I was able to shop with wild abandon without having to field that typical husband question, “Do you really need another pair of shoes?”
While we were originally booked to go in June, the plan fell through due to assorted reasons. She got saddled with a business trip abroad; I moved house.
Hence, we opted for the early half of October instead. That was perhaps a blessing in disguise, given the multitudes of tourists who thronged the Eternal City despite this time of the year being often described as “non-peak.” Consequently, I cannot imagine Rome in summer.
I’ve decided not to write about the city’s famed attractions, as all guidebooks and Google already do a noteworthy job of it. Suffice it to say, all the good things said are true, although there weren’t as many kitties lolling about the Colosseum as I was led to believe.
I will instead share some of the lay-tourist wisdom gleaned from my one-week’s stay there.
First off, pack comfy shoes. Rome’s many cobblestoned streets can make walking rather painful if you’re wrongly shod, because it’s like getting non-stop foot reflexology.
Furthermore, since many attractions are not located close to the Metro stations, you have to factor in not only the walk within these places, but also to and from them.
Do not let the traffic intimidate you. I must say that my sojourn in Hanoi came in handy because most drivers here also assume that the black and white stripes across certain parts of the road are merely decorative.
Accustomed to having drivers screech to a halt in Germany when they spot pedestrians at a crossing, we spent our first day waiting expectantly for someone to stop, only to find ourselves blatantly ignored. We learnt quickly, however, that you just have to purposefully strut across the street while maintaining eye contact with the drivers and Vespa riders until you safely reach the other side.
Bring painkillers if you suffer back and neck aches. You will be spending much time staring upwards at the architectural wonders that Rome houses.
A visit to the Vatican Museums alone warrants a full-body massage after you’ve been there from 9 am to 4 pm and realise that you’ve only covered three out of its multifarious museums.
One thing is certain – you will definitely not be able to cover everything in one visit. Pick your museums and head directly there despite the temptation to gaze in awe at the wondrous works surrounding you.
Make a beeline for every free stool you spot while admiring the artwork because you won’t feel your feet by the end of your visit. This is especially helpful when viewing Michelangelo’s masterpieces in the Sistine Chapel.
Bring earplugs. Rome is not a quiet city. Cars honk, bikes rev and sometimes people test their vocal chords at odd hours of the night. If your B&B has non-soundproof windows and if you’re a light sleeper like me, you will also need to pack a jumbo tube of concealer to hide those dark rings under your eyes. One must after all keep up with the effortlessly chic Roman women.
Do not count calories. The food is too good to be passed over for fear of blocked arteries. While I cannot look at pizza and pasta for the next couple of months, they were absolutely scrumptious. And try every flavour of Italian ice cream while you’re at it because nothing else comes close to their gelati.
And finally, pack very light. There is only so much resistance one can have towards the exquisite and varied clothes, shoes and bags. After that, you can only justify your purchases by telling yourself that life is too short.
Now, please excuse me while I go assemble my outfit for tomorrow.
■ Brenda Benedict is a Malaysian living in Frankfurt. She couldn’t help replying dialogues from Gladiator in her head while touring the Colosseum.