Pest to Buda: The Road to Yesterday

From the busy bohemian affair that is Pest, Buda is a world away. It is as if the Danube which bisects these two cities injects the air with a change that is palpable as you make your way to the capital of medieval Hungary. The good Welsh folk would declare us tup to have opted for a walking tour on a morning that proceeded to get distressingly foggy and frigid. But we will run with Kurt Vonnegut here. That “bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God.”

There was drama on the square outside St. Stephen’s Basilica. A bomb scare. Police arriving officiously and dawdlers scuttling equally hastily. We had left behind the grandeur of old buildings reminiscent of the golden age of the Austro-Hungarian empire, caryatids and brawny males holding up doorways, ornate moldings, some Art Nouveau architecture spicing up the mix, when we came upon Freedom Square. Memorials laced with irony. For there’s the memorial to the Holocaust in the form of an eagle, representative of Nazi Germany, attacking the Archangel Gabriel symbolic of the victims, when you know that the Hungarians colluded with the Nazis. And then there is that of the Soviet liberation of the country during WWII, a stark obelisk with the commie star crowning it. There is American president Ronald Reagan too caught in mid-stride facing the American embassy, as an acknowledgement of his role in ending the Cold War (“Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”), leading to the welcome exit of the Soviet regime from Eastern Europe.

You know when not to talk politics I suppose even though the mind might be brimming with points you want to make.

What you do instead is gasp at the grandeur of the Hungarian Parliament which on the dreariest of days knows how to cut it even as you stand by the Danube and feel the icy fingers of the breeze pierce the barrier of your warm clothing, your feet doubling up as numb blocks that keep moving because they have to.

Sixty pairs of bronze shoes lined up along the banks of the river. Grisly memories of Jews shot along the banks of the Danube by the anti-semitic party that was ruling the city after the Germans had toppled the erstwhile government in the mid ’40s. Heartbreak. A city filled with heartbreak that time cannot wash away.

Just as we had crossed the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Vee abandoned us. He could take the cold no more. We carried on, toiling up stone steps, buoyed by visions of warm cafés awaiting us atop the hill. It is a matter of gravity that when we did reach the top of the hill, dreams were shattered. What was this? An open-air bar called Budapest Terrace. The temptation to be a stick in the mud was overwhelming, to throw a proper fit. We exchanged that urge for steaming cups of hot chocolate. Shiver and sip, sip and shiver, nose tingling, cold misery threatening to bog us down. But misery did have the panoramic company of the Danube and the moreish flavours of the best hot cocoa I have had in years.

As dusk gathered beneath the dim lights of wrought-iron lamps, we tread uneven cobbles, coming upon bronze statues and listening to Alejandro, the tour guide, narrate medieval stories of ambition and greed, the arrival of Renaissance art in the palace when a king wed a Beatrice of Naples, the Ottoman Turks and then the Habsburg queen Maria Theresa. Vee joined us again after warming his insides with pálinka. He had carried a bottle for us to swig on. It did its job as did the combined glory of hearty goulash (which you cannot get away from here), fried potatoes and chicken paprikash at a traditional Hungarian eatery.

Then it was truly dark and I cannot tell you how exquisite Buda was. Ludicrous baroque beauty that renders all adjectives redundant. The Fisherman’s Bastion, St. Matthias Church which was the site of many a coronation, old Roman excavations in the basement of hotels, the view of the parliament from across the Danube. We let it all come together in deserted Buda on a freezing December night and weave a mesh of golden spell upon us then, this golden city called Boodahpesht.

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Imre Nagy, the Hungarian Communist politician whose attempt to win Hungary independence from the Soviet Union cost him his life in 1958. This national hero now stands upon the bronze bridge gazing at the Hungarian Parliament.
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The Hungarian Parliament 

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Jews who were shot in the winter of 1944-45 into the river by militiamen from the Arrow Cross Party. “…I heard a series of popping sounds. Thinking the Russians had arrived, I slunk to the window. But what I saw was worse than anything I had ever seen before, worse than the most frightening accounts I had ever witnessed. Two Arrow Cross men were standing on the embankment of the river, aiming at and shooting a group of men, women and children into the Danube – one after the other, on their coats the Yellow Star. I looked at the Danube. It was neither blue nor gray but red. With a throbbing heart, I ran back to the room in the middle of the apartment and sat on the floor, gasping for air.”  Reminiscences of a survivor.
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Castle Hill
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Fishing Kids Fountain
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Matthias Fountain depicting a hunting party led by King Matthias of Hungary
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Hungarian soldier on Castle Hill
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Goulash
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Chicken paprikash with spätzle
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 St. Matthias Church

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A look at St. Matthias Church from Fisherman’s Bastion
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Fisherman’s Bastion, a paean in turrets to the seven Magyar tribes who arrived in Hungary in the 9th century
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Yes, the Hungarian Parliament
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The unfolding of Budapest’s beauty at night, the perfect place to prepare for a hangover (those Pálinkas can pack a punch) .

 

 

Portraits from Pest

In the flat plains of Pest, which the Hungarian calls Peshth, we took over the city on foot. It drove our friend Vee up the wall, those long evening walks by the Danube when the fingers ached with a strange intensity, startled by the piercing cold of the night when even breathing seemed like a bad idea. Lights twinkled through the fog that sat thick upon Gellért Hill high above us as we crossed the Liberty Bridge, the bridge that looks like it was fashioned out of turquoise metal and ebullience. The kind of ebullience that comes with freedom, freedom from the Nazis. But then the smothering of that very freedom by the Soviet for at least five decades.

A saint stood high above that hill holding aloft a cross, a man who was stashed into a barrel and rolled down the hill by irate Magyars when he attempted to convert them to Christianity. For all his sins, Gellért Sagredo had the hills named after him, the very hills down which he was tumbled to his death. And a hotel too. Hotel Gellért of the splendid Art Nouveau façade and iconic thermal baths, a reprieve from the harshness of a winter’s evening. The baths of Budapest are like grand flourishes of the city’s past. There are said to be 120 warm springs simmering beneath the surface of the city which the Roman, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires lost no time in tapping, leaving behind a legacy that the city is quite so proud of.

The intense cold drove us back into the arms of Pest’s hipster heart – District VII. It helped that we had chosen to stay in a chic little apartment a stone’s throw from a sprinkling of Christmas markets, classical cafés and restaurants, strung with fairy lights most becomingly on frigid nights. The kávéház, the legendary cafés like Café Gerbeaud where you gave into a long-standing tradition bequeathed by the Austro-Hungarian empire and found yourself transported to the grand old cafés of Vienna. The glutton in you was hard pressed not to pleasure the gut at every stop. And oh, those vintage clothes boutiques where it was difficult not to sigh over the warmth and prices of sable coats, pieces of decadence that demanded deep pockets.

We sought warmth in local bars, the kinds where old men sit and drown their loneliness in glasses of whisky and we revived ourselves in shot bars where a pretty bartender handed out tulip-shaped glasses of aged pálinka, feeling the burn of it soothe the cold away with a dab hand, murmuring ‘come child come’. And then we wandered around District VII, letting its intriguing personality seep into us. The Jewish quarter secreted away into the district’s inner parts, the synagogues with their onion domes and Moorish exteriors making the jaws drop. Derelict buildings flanked a warren of cobbled streets that seemed to be a repository of rundown structures, often crumbling away beneath layers of gigantic murals which are infused with the spirit of the city and that of the artists inevitably.

Some of those ramshackle buildings that have been slipping into gradual disrepair since WWII have been converted into pubs. Ruin pubs. Hubs of underground culture. The oldest of the lot is Szimpla Kert. Set up in a disused stove factory, it is a place for the youth to hang out with cheap drinks, watch outdoor movies, buy fresh produce from farmers on Sundays… The layout was fluid. A sprawling space filled with themed rooms, one leading into the other, distressed furniture, winding stairs leading to more rooms, psychedelic lighting that kind of makes it seem right that a bicycle should hang over your head, that you should slide into a clawfoot tub to sit in cosy comfort with your lover and that there should be a disused Trabant car (East German commie car for the hoi polloi) standing in the garden, a remnant of grim times.

In that ruin pub, we sat on a swinging party night with a bottle of wine and took in our eclectic surroundings when there was a discordant note struck by carrots. Not a product of my imagination, no sir, though that would be a possibility given the heady wafts of weed in the air. A girl circulated around us with a basket of carrots. Did we want to buy some? Now how do you say no to carrots? It was a strange night that, wrapped up in the apple smoke of the hookah. It made me dream of Berlin and it also made me think that the more you travel, the more you see this underlying thread of similitude (this innate urge to break free) that seems to bring people and places together.

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Boscolo Hotel, a 120-year-old building
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New York Café, the traditional kávéház in Boscolo Hotel 
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New York Café 
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Shot Bars in District VII
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Because Pálinka will be your saviour
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Evenings along the Danube
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Liberty Bridge, the shortest one to connect Buda with Pest
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 Gellért Hill
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My two favourite photographs are this and the next
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A walk that shattered us
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Hotel Gellért
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District VII
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Architecture inherited from the Austro-Hungarian empire

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Carl Lutz memorial in the old ghetto dedicated to Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz who had saved the lives of over 60,000 Jews during WWII.
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Szimpla Kert

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Theme rooms at the ruin pub
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The Trabant that stands in the garden

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The Sassy Winter Spirit of Budapest

I overheard a conversation at a Christmas stall in Bryant Park in the first couple of weeks in December last year. No darling, I do not make it my business to stand around people earwigging, but in this case I was hovering near a stall of fairy lights wondering if it was the owner who was gabbling rather animatedly with another woman about the dilemma between choosing Budapest and Prague. I was tempted to squeak in with my two bits about both but it seemed then that the other woman had a handle on the situation. She noted: ‘For me, it is Budapest.’ Those five words settle Adi and mine emotions when you mention the Hungarian capital that throbs with youth and energy. Actually make it three since we were there in the winter of 2016 with our friend Vee who we had met during the hike to Pulpit Rock.

Vee is a chilled-out guy who lives and works in London managing the wealth of millionaries, smokes cigars and lives life to the hilt with his plethora of Russian girlfriends. The feminist would want to pack him a wallop for carrying on about the quality of women in various parts of the world but the guy is good at heart and a seasoned traveller. Poor Vee was enthusiastic about travelling with us to Budapest but then he found himself there with us and I suspect that he wanted to beat himself up over his commitment to the cause. You will know the why and wherefore of it soon.

On an early morning in December, a few days before Christmas, the three of us landed in Budapest. I was disconcerted. A frosty sight greeted my bleary eyes when I peeped out of the cab. There is a shot of it in the post I updated on The Little Corner Apartment, the cosy nook in the Jewish Quarter that Adi and I stayed in for the duration of our stay. Later, when we walked to Vee’s hotel about 15 minutes away from our apartment, we had a measure of the day-time temperatures that averaged -3°C. With wind chill, it stood at -8°C. We quickly scarfed down that crisp sweet bread called Kürtőskalács (important to note: you can pronounce it, just keep at it) with glasses of hot mulled wine. Cinnamon, allspice berries, cardamom, star anise, mace, ah how those wonderful spices hit the right notes as we stared at a mob practising Tai chi on the pavements outside the hip Jewish Quarter and wondered why.  We revelled in festive Christmas sights that made our nerves hum with pleasure even as we tried to deal with the importance of going numb with cold. It so happened that without an ounce of planning we had adopted a ritual that would stand us (for the most part) in good stead. Drinking, eating and walking, repeated all through the day and night.

We jump-started the routine at a café called Bouchon where couched within its warm mahogany tones, we tried out Hungarian red wines with fillets of rolled chicken and wild boar. At the end of the meal the waiter passed me a folded paper. Eeh, a note expressing amour? Even better, a hand-written recipe for the rolled chicken I had so admired.

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Street Tai Chi in progress
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Jewish Quarter
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Jewish Quarter
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St. Stephen Cathedral (Szent Istvan Bazilika)

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Wild boar and potato croquettes
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Rolled and stuffed chicken served with an apple and plum salad
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Heroes’ Square (Hősök Tere). Here there are statues of the seven chieftains of the Hungarian tribes, the Magyars, at the time of their arrival to the Carpathian Basin in 895 AD. Here there also figures statues of national leaders and the tomb of the unknown soldier.
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Vajdahunyad Castle 
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In the grounds of the castle 
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Vajdahunyad Castle was originally built out of wood and cardboard by the architect in 1896 commemorating a thousand years since the medieval Magyars had first settled on the plains of Pannonia.
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Then they found that its blend of Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance and Romanesque architecture appealed to the public, so it was rebuilt in stone.

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Adi tests the water of a spring near the castle
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Shots of Pálinka, traditional fruit brandy, became our go-to everyday
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A Ukrainian stone-carrier ship that is a bustling concert venue now
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Enough wine in my veins 
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The jazz outfit from NYC that had us grooving
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Christmas markets

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Deep fried Hungarian bread. Lángos. The guys were so surprised at the sight of it that they left me to finish it all by myself.
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Hot mulled wine
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Christmas markets at Deák Ferenc tér
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 Deák Ferenc tér
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“If my Valentine you won’t be,
I’ll hang myself on your Christmas tree.” 
― Ernest Hemingway

 

Inside The Ghetto

In the tiny bakery known as Boccione within one of the oldest Jewish ghettos in Europe, we queued up for a slice of Jewish pizza. The woman at the till, her hair tucked carefully into a plastic cap, doled out a rectangular piece of dense cake which tasted more like a biscuit as the moreish taste of raisins, almonds and dried fruits came together in a a perfect ménage à trois of sorts. Then the beauty of butter. Eternity is encapsulated often within the briefest of moments.

A few metres from us was the atmospheric restaurant, Nonna Betta, which declares that Anthony Bourdain could deign to eat only within its august interiors in Rome. It is charming inside Nonna Betta. White walls, old-world wrought iron brackets for its equally old-world lamps and extensive murals splashed across the walls that portray what life would have been like in the ghetto before the 1800s. We did not lunch at Nonna Betta yet I could not resist a peep. Instead we meandered through the Jewish quarter, nibbling on rich fruit cake, taking in the quiet alleys where Jews have lived for 2,000 years, history etched into the stones of the buildings with their peeling plasters, facades chipped away by the inexorable passage of time.

Shutters, ribbed and fastened against e’en the honeyed beauty of the sun on the December winter afternoon that we drifted through narrow passages beneath balustrades of marble, our minds lingering upon the kind of stories that those passages must nurse, forgotten tales of people taking flight from persecution. Then there were enclaves that must have been thronged by the poverty-stricken multitudes. The Carmel Temple that you see in the lead photo must have been the repository of dark thoughts festering within repressed souls who in the 16th century had been commanded by the pope to attend ‘compulsory preaches’. How did the adult Jews combat such decrees you think? They plugged their ears with wax, yessir, because who wants to be told what faith to follow. If some dared to fall asleep, they were kicked by watchful papal guards to wake up. Pieces of history that crept up along the walk through The Ghetto.

A piece from a 17th century poem by a certain Giuseppe Berneri captures the misery of life in The Ghetto and it goes like this:

The Ghetto is a place located next to the Tiber
On one side, and to the Fish-market on the other;
It is a rather miserable enclosure of streets,
As it is shady, and also saddening.
It has four large gates, and a small one;
During daytime it is open, to let people out,
But from the evening until morning has broken
It is kept locked by a porter guard.

This marks the end of my series on Rome that was punctuated by that on Florence and my mind is quite ready to exit Italy (do I hear hurrahs at this point?) and enter India where I am currently staying at my parents’ for another week before I fly back home to Adi (Though I cannot promise you that I shall not bring forth photos from Rome and Florence all over again for I have such fond memories tucked into every nook and cranny there).

The walk from the Colosseum to The Ghetto
The poplars of Rome
Avenues of stone pines 

Sights on Aventine Hill
Temple of Diana

Into the Ghetto

Portico d’Ottavia, a portico built by Emperor Augustus in 23BC
The Roman fish market was housed within the portico from the Middle Ages to the late 19th century.
Cobbled streets within the quarter
A Maremma strolls through the Ghetto
Pasticceria Boccione
Jewish pizza on the left
Dilapidated columns and remains of the past inside The Ghetto

Colours of the Night in Florence

Now wait, did you think I was done with Florence? You do know my proclivity for banging on about one place till I have flayed it to its core, right? Because the mind finds itself wedged between the atmospheric alleys of an old city, it refuses to let go of memories acquired under the half-light of twilight.

The old towns of Europe, they come alive under the warm yellow lighting ensconced within the vintage street lamps as you trod upon uneven cobblestones coating those old roads. You walk down narrow alleys charmed by everything you set your eyes upon because is it not all a living fairy tale? A pastel pink leather bag bagged within the leather shops where the smell of animal skin is pungent and thwacks the olfactory senses, looking into bookshops where tattered tomes line shelves in a language you sadly have no knowledge of except for the bits and bobs of local phrases you spritz your conversations with, let dusk turn frigid. Beat the sting of the evening air by pottering around the Christmas market that sprawls itself in front of the Gothic basilica. The Basilica of Santa Croce.

Nibble on potato cutlets smeared with hot melted cheese, slices of smoky speck ham, chomp on churros doused in chocolate sauce and then some piping hot bratwurst…take a breath from eating…listen to the man singing out his soul with a rendition of Cohen’s Hallelujah and then stare at colourful rows of candied fruit and precious old porcelain tea cups and dishes. If only you had space enough to lug them back home.

Gawking at the tall Christmas trees peppering the piazza around the colossal personality of the Duomo, a shy Cocker Spaniel pup hiding behind her master in his tweed coat and flat cap, the cathedral, campanile and baptistery lit up subtly because such extreme beauty of those reliefs carved out from coloured stones should shine only under nebulous lighting.

That is how we let it come to a grand end, in the shadow of the Duomo, you and I, humans humbled by the sheer superbness of it. Before we sit on the train that whisks us back to Rome.

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Romanced by Florence

I saw Florence once again through the eyes of my love. In it, I found inordinate pleasure.

That was another time it seemed when I had caught the train from Milan to Florence in the spring of 2016. Though it was not quite long ago. I had set out on a walking tour with a middle-aged artist with a long, gaunt face, dishevelled hair covered by a tweed flat cap, his ample girth covered by a capacious coat that had seen better times. He had drawled about the finer points of Florence which could not be missed by the most absent-minded person that ever existed. Mouths gaped open then at the sight of the Renaissance magnificence that reared its head in a cluster upon the Piazza del Duomo.

The wonders wrought by the compilation of bands of serpentine green, red and white stones by Renaissance architects Brunelleschi and Giotto. Sculptors of the likes of Ghiberti and Pisano whose doors retain their arresting quality so that Michaelangelo declared Ghiberti’s doors of bronze to be the ‘gates of paradise’. Those gates lead inside the Baptistery of St. John where the mosaic clad dome blinded me momentarily with its flamboyance in gold. So that when I had stepped outside and one of those street artists, a pot-bellied jocular Italian, had grabbed my hand while streaming out words in Italian, I remember feeling bewildered, amused and seized by the urge to swat his hands off mine. My blank expression made him break out into bits of English and the mixture of persistence and perseverance was difficult to escape.

But this was now and Florence had acquired an added sheen of romance. Adi’s jaws dropped visibly as we walked into the Piazza del Duomo just like mine had. Soon his face wore a hangdog look as he followed me up Giotto’s Campanile. A steady stream of climbers made sure that we had to keep climbing. By the end of it, legs reduced to a jelly consistency, my darling flatly refused to subject himself to the same torture up the Duomo. His excuse was the 5pm ticket slot we had. ‘It will be dark by the time we are up on the Duomo,’ he insisted. I felt benevolent. I relented. You have got to choose your battles after all. There was a long walk ahead. I had planned to make him walk up the hills that climb above the city. We lunched at a cutting-edge seafood restaurant where the salted codfish made me want to trill. The dopey fellow who took our orders and messed it up did not however make me want to trill. Balance was achieved.

We were soon wandering around the Uffizi, staring at the imposing Palazzo Vecchio guarded by the copy of Michaelangelo’s David and Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus. We stood at the spot where the Renaissance preacher Girolamo Savonarola had been hanged and burnt, shivered at the thought, and Adi wondered aloud at the Rape of the Sabine Women. You see, when the first king of Rome, Romulus, came to power, the Romans wanted to marry the Sabine women. But the ancient Italic tribe did not agree and the Romans abducted the Sabine women. There might not have been sexual violation thrown into the fray, yet the event was dubbed so. The plethora of stories upon stories that lie buried within the old walls of Florence makes the mind whirl.

We found curious quiet once we had crossed the Ponte Vecchio, the old bridge populated by rows of jewellery stores spanning the River Arno. A bylane led us up and up and soon we were on cobbled paths lined by elegant old villas and olive groves, an old chiesa, an old man stooping upon a walking stick to pick his way carefully upon the cobbles. The silence of it broken only by the occasional Fiat that swept by us with great speed. The Italians are supersonic on their Vespas and Fiats.

Adi wondered if we were lost. I soldiered on with a determined look that relayed more confidence than I felt. The road not taken was taking its own sweet time. Yet how beautiful it was as it gradually opened up to a road that snaked past the gardens of Boboli and offered up views of Florence below us, framed by an army of green and golden trees. Words are always inadequate to express the beauty of any moment.

Later, after we had watched lovers embracing by the medieval defensive walls of Florence, traipsed through alleys in which leather shoemakers sat crafting hair-raisingly expensive shoes, peeked into shut antique stores and upholstery studios, gobbled up cake and coffee at a charming coffeeshop, watched a couple of men stop in their tracks to gawp at a woman running in shorts, we had a leisurely stroll by the Arno. Dusk descended upon our shoulders in rosy hues and an old man bicycled along the river with his arms entwined about his lover. There it was, that incredible feeling of love and belonging. We were caught in the bubble where nothing else mattered but that we were there together in the midst of the impossible beauty of that ancient city called Firenze.

Adi turns his back on the Renaissance magnificence of the Piazza del Duomo rather grudgingly.
Florence Cathedral and Baptistery of St. John in profile
Giotto’s Campanile
The Duomo
Baked terracotta roofs of Florence

 Fishing Lab alla Murate
Salted codfish with onion relish in chickpea puree
Grilled shrimps
Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli at the entrance of Palazzo Vecchio. Cacus, the fire-breathing giant, was slayed by Hercules for terrorising Aventine Hill before the founding of Rome. 
The Rape of the Sabine Women
Piazza della Signoria
Hilly roads that lead above Florence

Via San Leonardo 
On the southern outskirts of Florence
Chiesa di San Leonardo in Arcetri, an 11th century church from the pulpit of which Dante and Boccaccio had preached sermons.

In the distance stands Torre del Gallo, an ancient castle belonging to the Galli family of Arcetri.
The Tuscan atmosphere of our walk

Florence 
Former defensive walls of Florence
Antique stores
Upholstery studios
Leather shoemakers off the Tower of San Niccolò
 An alley opening up to the Tower of San Niccolò
Coffeeshops of Florence
Coffeeshop residents
A slice of chocolate cake to take the sting off incessant walks above Florence
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Amore
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The Ponte Vecchio on the Arno

Ambling Around Rome

I have been neck deep in eating, hence the absence. Hedonism in the new year. Indo Chinese and biryanis and street food and what not. All of that would be fodder for another post. I am in Calcutta at my childhood home which means that I am persevering to achieve Zen. A tall order given the frequent squabbling with my mother who remains the most headstrong woman I have ever known. But because I am home alone — something I ached for as a child when my parents refused to leave me to my devices as it would involve my racking up the phone bill to palpitating figures — I thought about reconnecting with my beloved bloggers. After all, I have left my passion for waffling on the phone behind. The passage of time. If this were a 13-year-old me, I would have shrivelled a person who uttered such ludicrous thoughts with deep-dyed contempt and scowls.

Back to our rambles in Rome because I have a truckload of photos to unload upon hapless you, the day we drove into the city from the airport we met a cab driver who lives in a small village near Rome. This large and drawling Italian, born in Rome with an invigorating love for the city, rattled out figures. For example, the dimensions of the Circus Maximus, the former stadium of ancient Rome that now looks like a serene and long vat of green and which 2,700 years ago could hold a 40,000-strong crowd to gawp at chariot races. Our mobile cache of facts was amusing and charming. It was a long conversation about the state of the world, his teenage daughter who has grown out of clinging to her dad for everything, her quest for learning Arabic, his experiences in Afghanistan when he served in the army, their move to the suburbs of Rome, his nonna who makes the best bruschetta for early evening snacks,… but the tip that we picked up was — climb the Altare della Patria that stands at the cobbled crossroads of the Piazza Venezia.

For if you take the combination of stairs and elevator to the top of the boxy monument in white marble built for Victor Emmanuel II (the first king of a unified Italy), you get a breathtaking view of the city. We stood on top of the monument for a long time beneath stellar blue skies and a caressing winter sun, watching people photograph sizeable (could be the pizza and pasta diet) preening Italian gulls with the Colosseum as a dramatic backdrop, photographed them ourselves, and then later retraced our steps to the Roman Forum where I remember jostling with crowds in the summer of 2016.

The road to the largest amphitheatre ever built in this world of ours is in Rome, as you well know. Yes, the Colosseum, and that thoroughfare is flanked by historic columns and arches, basilicas and ruins of former government buildings that must have held sway over ancient Rome. We walked below the many stone pines with their umbrella tops, past tall poplars standing like spare soldiers, sauntered past temples to various goddesses, peered at worn doorways above which murals faded away as if they could not be bothered to defy the ravages of time.

Via del Teatro di Marcello
Via del Teatro di Marcello
Campidoglio
Cordonata, the flight of steps to Campidoglio, Capitoline Hill, one of the seven hills of ancient Rome. In the backdrop of the piazza designed by Michaelangelo is Palazzo Senatorio.
Statue of Castor at Cordonata
Stone pines on Via dei Fori Imperiali

Monument of Victor Emmanuel II
Elevator to Terrace of the Quadrighe, atop the Monument of Victor Emmanuel II.
Inside the Monument of Victor Emmanuel II

A survey of the Roman Fora and Colosseum
Quadriga (chariot) at Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II
Stone-pine hedged roads of Rome
Via del Teatro di Marcello
Rooftops of Rome

Teatro di Marcello. Theatre of Marcellus.
The oldest surviving theatre from the 11B.C. It is dedicated to Marcus Claudius Marcellus, a young lad, and most importantly, nephew of Emperor Augustus. The boy died five years before it was finished – at the age of 19.
The crowds have melted away from the Colosseum 

Roman Forum
Basilicas of Rome
Soap bubble magicians
Trevi Fountain

A vine-clad palazzo

Waiting for the owner to emerge from the coffeeshop on a frigid and dull day
Inside one of the many palazzi in Rome
The festive spirit of the city