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time FOR A CUPPA At la Piazza Navona
time FOR A CUPPA At la Piazza Navona

Celine lemaire on how to enjoy budget travel in the Italian capital

In the very centre of Rome, the terrace of a small café is like a haven of peace. The thick stone walls of the surrounding domus muffle the hubbub of the antique city. In the shade of an olive tree, what else would you enjoy other than an espresso stained with a drop of hot milk?

Guide book in the left hand, and an ice cream in the right, I start wandering among the monuments. More than anything else, the superposition is striking. From the Palatine Hill that overhangs the Forum Romanum, the view seems incoherent. Ruins foreground quaint residential areas, which half-hide the sky-scrapers that screen the horizon.

Fascinated tourists

In front of the Roman Colosseum, super-AC DVD buses pour streams of tourists who are told about the ancient city, under a blazing sun. Long before the end of the story, they all rush towards the “mini plastic Colosseums in a snow ball” seller.

A bunch of them writes a quick post card to their family, and hop back onto the magic bus. Like in front of the Taj Mahal, the reactions of the crowd are as interesting as the ravaged monument that time has devoured like candy in an anthill.

From the leftovers of the amphitheatre, I choose to wander through the pedestrian streets till the sun sets. For many Roman youth, life begins on la Piazza Novana after the tourists and guides leave the place — with artistic performances. And, dozens of loud bars that frame the Campo dei fiori start pouring drinks.

By 7 p.m., the young Italian crowd clutters the aperitivo bars. Order a cocktail for some eight euros, and you are entitled to a delicious appetiser buffet that displays several kinds of pastas, risottos, pizzas and sandwiches. Students will take it as their dinner, whereas classy Romans will just grab something to whet their appetite till later.

As for the cultural events, “Othello” is performed tonight. I’m a student traveller, and it’s one of the last days of my trip. I have a pair of jeans I’ve been wearing for two days, and only one clean T-shirt left. I’m glad they’ve let me in.

New-age Shakespeare

The curtain is raised. The audience seems to be more interested in each other’s appearance than in Othello’s despair. Desdemona looks like Jennifer Aniston in “Friends” and the track sounds like it has been taken from “Dawson”. Shakespeare’s masterpiece is summarised into a one-and-a-half-hour show. The performance is greeted by a conventional round of applause, and everyone goes on making plans for the night.

It’s soon time to find a place to sleep. For young budget travellers, the best accommodation is one of Rome’s youth hostels. For a third of the price of a usual room, some of them even provide dinner and breakfast.

As I may not get a lot of time to sleep, one of the eight tacked up beds in a dormitory and a shared bathroom will be comfortable enough.

Don’t ask how the stay can be so cheap. Don’t even wonder why no one is able to find the place until an old woman tells us to walk up to the first floor after having watched each one walking up and down the road five times. You will understand how the lodge is run by talking to your fellow travellers, some of whom have been living here for a few months, and who are very mysterious about their past…

Bonding with travellers

Even if you are travelling alone, you will never feel lonely. As soon as you enter the reception hall, which serves as the dining room and the kitchen as well, you end up meeting someone from Argentina or a Japanese student on a trip around Europe.

Is there a French musician staying here with his sister? If you have missed the aperitivo and you are a jazz amateur, cart them along and spend a part of the evening in one of Rome’s jazz clubs. You will undoubtedly find one at the corner of the street. Get in and enjoy a frenzied jam session savouring a glass of Chianti, accompanied by a slice of Parma ham.

How to go there

Regular flights from Chennai cost you upwards of Rs. 20,000

Check out

Charity Café Jazz Club

( www.charitycafe.it)

Free Style Hostel

( www.freestylehostel.it)

Super Gelato

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