Rome reminded me a lot of Kolkata, but its unquestionably more gorgeous. This was one of the few cities where I stayed for more than a day, and that meant I could do more that just rushing from one attraction to another.
Like any other Italian cities, the skyline is dominated by cathedral domes. But unlike most, Rome has much more than that. The all too famous Colosseum and the ruins of the old city around it it probably leaves the most lasting impression. The Colosseum itself is huge, standing right in front of it you realize no photos or videos have quite prepared you for the experience. Sadly most of it is ruins, or looks like going to crumble any moment, and the repairs look horribly out of sync. And it is, like every attraction in Rome, is overrun with tourists. To really appreciate Colosseum, I guess one needs to step back, stand still for a while and let the mind wander around to past - the time when Roman empire was in its full glory, but the jostling and posing-everywhere-for-photo crowd would hardly allow you the serenity to do that.
The other most known symbol of Rome is obviously the Vatican. While the basilica is impressive no doubt, I was fortunate enough to land up on a Wednesday, when the Pope holds his weekly mass. So it was incredibly crowded, and had to wait an hour or so in that expectant crowd to catch glimpse of him for a few minutes far down the hallway. Then I had to rush to the Vatican museums, partly to beat that crowd and partly to spend a good amount of time there before it closes in late afternoon. I would not even try to describe sheer grandeur or the intricate artworks which fill up the place, and the masterpiece is Sistine Chapel, where you reach at the very end. They say taking photos is not allowed inside, and people keep shooting anyway - but I guess world would have been a better place if people stopped thinking about photos (they do a very poor job anyway) and just stared at the ceiling. Standing there, it seems almost surreal - and unbelievably difficult to believe that one man could ever create something like that.
There were other cathedrals of course, often with exquisite artwork, Pantheon is one which immediately comes to mind. There was a castle which offered pretty good view of Rome skyline from the top. There were the countless Piazzas, which are the squares, bursting with people and shops selling "gelato" (pretty much our soft ice cream). And there was the made-famous-by-the-movies Trevi mountain, among other interestingly shaped fountains.
The flavour of the city is distinctly historical. It is so historical, as I am told, that whenever they try to dig up tunnels for extending the underground metro (the network is pretty limited, to put it mildly), they end up discovering another archaeological site! And walking around the narrow brick lanes and bylanes, you realize how insignificant our all too beloved "America" is - a hundred or so years does not even compare with a few thousand years of history and a thriving early civilization. The whole Rome is a vivid souvenir of those bygone days.
My pale efforts to capture that feeling is here.
( A different kind of city, Venice is up next)