April 22, 2013

To Rome With Love

Woody Allen's portrayal of a city is always mesmerizing and magical. Paris has never looked so dreamy and gorgeous like it did in Midnight in Paris. Every time I watch that movie (and I've seen it a few times because they keep showing it here on TV and because it's PARIS!), I feel like running back to Paris. Ever since I've watched Allen's Vicky Christina Barcelona, I've been wishing to take a stroll around the streets of Barcelona. 

So when I watched To Rome With Love, of course I had the biggest urge to just be in Rome. And I'm so glad to be able to do that. Rome is beautiful, charming, historic, gritty. A fountain here and a century old statue there. Vespas galore. Steps on narrow streets. Ancient ruins on the side of the roads. Pizzerias one after another. Gelato everywhere.

Rome is captivating. And every corner of Rome has something worth your time. Something about walking around a city that is some 2,000+ years old, and one of the oldest cities/civilizations in the world, can't quite describe it. 

So here are some of my favourite pictures that we took on our trip to Rome.

Piazzas (squares) are present in every corner of Rome. There are so many, I've lost count. Of course, some are more picturesque than others. The above pictures are of Piazza Navona. I personally love that there's so many piazzas because Rome is huge, and we walked around mostly on foot. But it never seemed like a long walk because every 10-15 minutes or so, we would find ourselves in a piazza. So you sit around, take a break, admire the atmosphere and walk on. 

Piazza Spagna with the famous Spanish Steps

I think my favourite area in Rome was Trastevere. It is a maze of narrow cobbled streets, all lined with coloured homes. So gritty yet charming! In the evening, this place is abuzz with natives and tourists chatting away at the many bars and restaurants. The pictures below are of streets in Trastevere.

Loved the door! In Trastevere.
I've always had a fascination for cute doors and windows. The fascination has increased ever since I moved to Europe because no one does doors and windows better than Europe! Nope! And speaking of windows...

Cute! This was on the street our hotel was on. And speaking of streets...

Random steps in random streets!

Of course when you're in Rome, you go see the Colosseum. This giant amphitheatre sits in the middle of the city with all its glory and grandeur telling the tale of Ancient Rome. 

It's such a marvelous tell-tale of the Roman architecture and engineering. It is partly damaged, but still is just so captivating. And once you're inside, to imagine 50,000 people cheering for gladiators, or watching animal hunt shows, bloodshed and death in the name of entertainment, it gives you somewhat of a  sense of the mindset of ancient people. As I was standing inside looking around the seated areas, I couldn't help but think what it was like back in the day...and couldn't help but feel a chill go down my spine thinking about the gladiator combats or the animal hunts. This was the place where thousands of years ago gladiators would prepare for their battle; nervous, fearful? Not knowing whether they would live or die? Have their fate be watched by 50,000 people. It was surreal because it was such an ancient place, and queasy because of its significance to many in the ancient times. But still so mesmerizing and captivating. 

Arch of Constantine, with Colosseum looking miniscule in the back!

Around the Roman Forum - the place that was once the center of the powerful empire.

Near the Colosseum is the Roman Forum where the earliest Roman city started. This dates back to something like 7th century BC!! It's crazy when you think about just how ancient the place really is. And more crazy when you start realizing that you are now walking the streets Julius Caesar once walked on! Okay, I'll admit, I don't care much for Julius or Brutus. In fact, I would be very bored during my grade 10 English class when we would read Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Come to think of it, I'm SO glad high school is done and over with - it was painful sitting through Shakespeare readings and not understanding a word! I did enjoy his Macbeth though. 

But back to Mr. Caesar. And his temple. And his apartments. Yes it is all in the Roman Forum! And my visit to Rome has made me realize that history isn't boring. You just need to travel to study it, not just read about it ;).  

Inside St. Peter's Basilica.

The Vatican is also a must stopover when you are in Rome. St. Peter's basilica is so rich and huge! But the highlight of the Vatican for me was the Sistine Chapel.

The Sistine Chapel is a masterpiece and I was so in awe of it. Michelangelo's neck must have hurt like crazy after being done with the ceiling! I can't even begin to imagine the kind of effort that must have gone into the Sistine Chapel - all I can do is admire it and marvel at the beauty of it. Pictures were not allowed so I got none but I'm sure tons of images will show up on google.

The famous Trevi Fountain!

This is the city that offers everything - beautiful sights, amazing food, brilliant architecture, rich in art and history; a city that is glamorous, chic and at the same time gritty. Rome, the Eternal City. 

April 17, 2013

The bookworm inside me....

“This is why dreams can be such dangerous things: they smolder on like a fire does, and sometimes they consume us completely.”

I think I haven't read as much in the last year as I'd like to. In Toronto, I'd read daily on the train while commuting  to and from work. Here, it's not happening daily. In the last 10 months, I've only finished...3.5 books. Tsk tsk, bad Naima! Just to give a sense of how much I used to read - Last year between January and April, I had already read 4 books! Here, some days I do snuggle up on my couch or go to a cafe and read...but most of the reading happens while traveling. I finished up a crazy thriller while on the many trains we took during our Italy trip. 

Anyway, the above quote is from the book Memoirs of a Geisha. It's one of my favourite
books. I read it 2 years ago, but recently felt like re-reading it and since I left my book in Toronto, I ended up watching bits and pieces of the movie. Of course, just like other book-turned-movies, this one doesn't do full justice to the book either. It's still good. Slow, but the book itself is slow.

The book follows the life of a girl during pre and post-WW2 Japan, who is sold to the life of a geisha. Geisha are women in Japan who are trained in arts - music, dance, performances at tea ceremonies; and their job is to entertain the wealthy men who come to their tea houses. Sayuri, who's sold to one of these tea house owners when she's a little girl, grows to learn all the skills required to become a geisha. She has to struggle, and face animosity from rivals, but makes it to becoming a high class geisha. Only to lose it all because of the outbreak of the war. Poor girl can't catch a break. 

The book is so well written, and gives a little peak into the Japanese culture. It also gives you an insight on the lives of geisha and shows us that geisha are not really prostitutes, which is the common perception.  They are more of a companion/entertainer for men. It is a full fledged career where you have special schools and lessons to train these little girls to become a geisha. 

The narrative is captivating, characters nicely developed, story well told. The title can be misleading, it still is a work of fiction. But such a poetic work of fiction. The analogies/idioms are well used. I cried sad and happy tears for Sayuri through her journey. 

The book is slow paced in the beginning, picks up pace in the middle and drags again towards the end. However, it still is one of my favourite books!


On another note, this week has been so summery with temperature ranging between 20 and 24 degrees celsius! So gorgeous, not even a spring jacket needed, I'm lovin' it! And of course good weather means ice cream walks that I mentioned earlier are to be resumed! Except yesterday was more of an ice cream run. Umair and I went running last evening, and I was able to keep up with him! It isn't easy keeping up with a marathon man, you know. So to reward myself we both went to my favourite ice cream place after our run. I had forgotten how amazing their mango ice cream was! I've tried mango in quite a few places and no one else does it like them. So, so good! My mango ice cream, I've missed you! 

April 10, 2013

Ti Amo, Italia!

We were in Italy last week and it was absolutely amazing! Other than a couple crappy rainy days, it was a lovely trip where we walked the same streets as Julius Caesar and Michelangelo!! I kept telling Umair when we first got to Rome that we're walking the same streets Julius and Brutus probably did. How cool is that?! I've never been a history person but I remember back in Grade 6 or 7 when I was in Qatar, we studied about Ancient Egypt, Greeks and Romans....and I loved it as a child and really wanted to visit these places. Egypt I still gotta go but Rome is off the list! Although I wouldn't mind going back. And just an fyi - we did walk the streets of Julius Caesar and even saw his ancient ruins of an apartment!

I will probably do a series of blog posts about the various places we visited in Italy because there's A LOT that we saw. Our itinerary was something like: Rome - South Italy (Sorrento, Amalfi Coast, Capri Island, Pompeii and Herculaneum Ruins) - More Rome - Florence - Venice.

Yes. All of that crammed in one week. Which meant our legs were dead by the end of everyday. We walked and we walked and we walked. And we took down 800 ancient steps. And we climbed up cliffs. But I do believe that a city is best felt and seen on foot. We've mostly walked all the cities we've done, even big ones like Paris, London. 

Apart from all the walking, I also fell in love. With Italy. In the past year, I think I've fallen in love at least a dozen times. First with Edinburgh. Then Vienna. Then Prague...Paris, Bruges & Ghent, Zurich, Mauritius...I don't even remember anymore. All I know is that I've become a love faller. Is that even a word? Well it should be. 

There's so much to do and see in Italy. Our trip included gorgeous scenic coastlines, ancient ruins with lots of history, a peep into Renaissance art, charming canals and gondolas and much more.

A sneak peek for now, and detailed posts later:

Trastevere neighbourhood of Rome

Colosseum - it's so much more magnificent in person, I couldn't take my eyes off it.

Inside the Vatican Museums 

Venice is so picturesque

Amalfi coast
Herculaneum ruins - Inside a house. these ruins are so well preserved, and so insightful into the lives of the ancients.

Michelangelo's David - or well, the fake one! Shot between a lion's legs. The real one is a masterpiece.
(all photos by me)