Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Began the day appropriately with window shopping which soon degenerated into real shopping. Not really Milan's fault... more to do with my teaming up with shopaholic friend from schooldays and the fact that we're wearing too little to enter the Duomo or other Christian sightseeing! I simply can't fathom the fuss in Italy's churches about showing knees and shoulders given how busts and pelvises loom all over the place!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sunny Tuscany

Florence is where every two steps lead to a roadside Romeo, every four steps end at a museum, and every ten steps deposit you beyond its historic city-centre. There are, as in the rest of Italy, remarkable sculptures. But I'm burnt out! and my ability to pretend artistic perspicacity at its squares and museums is exhausted! So I finally embarked upon what I should have the very first day - its glorious countryside. Tuscany comes more alive in its olives and wine than in its marbles.

Went on a biking trip to the Chianti Valley with Bicycle Tuscany. The schedule was after my own heart - started off with wine tasting, followed by a three-course lunch with wine and coffee, and only after I had tanked up enough energy to cycle uphill and imbibed enough wine to believe it would be easy, did we start pedaling.

The Tuscan countryside is absolutely as romantic and picturesque as the movies show it to be. Cypress tress climb neat, conical, shapely heights; grapes branch out in school assembly rows; hills slope up and down as gently as they can - all of nature seems to be well-manneredly smoothing the course for trespassers like us!

Of course, the going was tough, especially as my cycling days belonged to memories of a decade ago, but the scenery and the calorie-burn was worth every wheeze.

But the biggest bonus for me was meeting interesting strangers in this journey, especially after the quiet days and quieter nights I've spent on this trip till now. Three of us in the group were solo traveling women and we reconvened at a bar abashedly named 'Pop Cafe', where the drinks were drinkable and all food you can eat free!

Florence is beautiful at night. Its Duomo may be ugly, but street musicians - not your guitar strumming variety, but entire orchestras of accordions and big base guitars and pianos - descend to add a surround sound in the moonlight, creating a spellbinding artsy atmosphere that Rome's untouchably old and preserved grandeur cannot give.

This trip is turning out as fantastic as I was hoping it to be!

More snaps here

Thursday, June 14, 2007

God is in the big things

What can you expect from a country that's barely a country - smaller even than Disneyland ?

Its main square is not really a square, it's rather curvy.
Its flagship Church is more of a tomb, with St Peter's murder/martyrdom spot about it.
Its noted museum is no mere museum, it is an artifact that ought to be in a museum itself.
To top it, this Vatican City is a certified antique, and yet looks not a day older than I! What's more, like a kid, it struts about, preening about having its own postal system being all independent from Italy's, and then goes on to cheerfully survive without any immigration and border posts at its walls.

With all the contradictions dotting it, one should seriously doubt the Vatican's ability to do what it sets out to do: See how it started off with the bloody Crusades as a direction towards building a peaceful world, to more recently when its Pope Benedict made remarks to start dialog with the Muslim world and instead ended up angering them with that very speech for friendship.

And yet, and yet, and yet - the Vatican City ends up achieving exactly what it sets out to do - make you go Ohmygod!

The moment you enter the massive columns into St Peter's square, you know you are in a special place whose grandness has no equal. The square is big enough to accommodate 35000 people comfortably seated. And the surrounding statues are tall enough for you to recognize them, even if you are 35000 people away.

I'm not going to bother going into a travelogue here - I am no good with descriptions, and there's no way I can describe what it felt like to see one of my favorite paintings (Fresco actually) - creation of Adam - up on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Just consider that I still remember the first time I saw God's hand barely touching Adam's in a magazine when I was a kid, thanks to an ad that had pilfered the work to sell an Onida (I think).

So after two decades of spying it in magazines and coasters and reprints and t-shirts, it was like meeting a hot classmate from early-teenage days at school that I had a crush on and could finally lech at satisfactorily.

Now, leaving the Vatican, I doubt any other city's relics or museums will impress me, ever, or at least for a long, long time to come, or at least till the end of this vacation!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rome Sweet Rome

Everything here is grand. Make that GRAND. On a scale of 1 to 10, the monuments here are are at 40. The antique buildings were built for giants and every pebble on every street reeks of history to prove so.

The only thing unexaggerated is the size of marble penises, which at worst have been castrated by the hands of time, and at best are rather humble in contrast to the muscled asses of the irrepressibly nudist Roman citizens.

Don't know why it is so, but sculptors seemed to believe that Roman men must be represented by the bodies of Greek Gods. Not that I'm complaining. They also seemed to believe that Roman women must be represented by bodies of real women - no abs, big waist, maybe some paunch thrown in. That's right, I'm not complaining at all. If ever you need a place to get your body image issues, walk into Rome's museum and feel liberated.

More snaps here

Friday, June 08, 2007

The real travel bug

I'm surprised the people in the apartment next door haven't beaten us up yet. Vipul has been coughing as often as an old man and as loudly as a Punjabi lad, especially at night, thus effectively killing his sleep, my sleep, and most definitely our neighbors'. That's what happens when NRIs imagine they can take on the heat and dust of India.

Two weeks ago, we'd left Hong Kong imagining birds and bees and the whole nine yards of Bollywood fare - you know, all those movies starring Raj Kapoor and/or sons romancing forbidden love on the hills. There's a river in the background, a song in focus, happiness in the air and absolutely nothing else besides. Unfortunately, my travel agent was definitely not at par with the those directors'. What we experienced instead were bumpy, hot rides on unkempt, mud-spewing roads which embraced us with allergy, then infection, and finally, a reality check. After Gangotri and Kedarnath, we figured pilgrimage and vacation are not synonyms but antonyms. Thus sickeningly enlightened, we cut our losses and fled to be welcomed by Delhi instead.

Of course, the trip had its high-points: there is ample time to enjoy the scenery that survives despite the curtains of dust. And there is ample opportunity to appreciate the psychotropic qualities of painkillers, and what makes them addictive. So thank you God for all the wisdom, but next time, what say we meet at my place instead?