Skip to main content


"All roads lead to Rome" goes an olden proverb as testimony to the reach of the Roman Empire that saw tributes flowing in from all parts of the known world then. Our own road to Rome was a short flight from Warsaw on Alitalia without frontier checks, a blessing of the Schengen visa agreement. The latest count has got 26 European Union nations that fall under this regime making travel inside Europe relatively hassle free. My wife and I decided to visit Rome and Tuscany for our summer vacation.

Spanish Steps in "Roman Holiday"
A Roman Holiday evokes an aura of romance against the backdrop of haute couture and historical ruins. Gucci and Garibaldi jostle for prominence cheek by jowl in the crowded streets milling with a multitude of insatiable tourists. The spirits of Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn commingle with that of Romeo and Juliet. We spy Laila and Majnu holding hands. Hordes of Yuris and Laras descend upon Rome today irrespective of the west applying sanctions on Putin's resurgent Russia. After all, "Doctor Zhivago" was first published in Italy when the Soviets banned it.

We stayed in a downtown hotel at walking distance from the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, a suggestion from our travel agent we are grateful for. Our first foray outside our hotel took us to the famous Spanish Steps. We were disappointed as the steps were closed for renovation but the square itself, Piazza Spagna, is full of hustle and bustle with countless designer stores and street side eateries offering the best of Rome. The hordes of tourists milling about the Trevi Fountain at all times meant we had to go there again and again, each time to get a better perspective.

Piazza Spagna in the evening light
I booked the Vatican City tour online with Viator and this was a real blessing. Not only was our guide Julia a font of knowledge but we also beat the never ending queues as the pre-booked tours, although expensive, gives you right of access skipping those queues. In a small group of fifteen, we were herded through metal detectors on to the Vatican Museum, the tour culminating with the visit to the Sistine Chapel. The Vatican Museum itself is a treasure trove of divine art that coined the name to this period - Renaissance - a great revival of art, literature and learning. We were constantly given dates and descriptions by Julia in her microphone, earplugs in our ears. Room after room of statues and paintings, four Raphael rooms, Michelangelo's "School of Athens", perhaps one of his lesser known works, sculptures of Bernini and other masters.

The Sistine Chapel is in the Pope's abode although we were told the present Pope Francis decided to live in less ostentatious surroundings nearby. Tourists walk in whispered awe, guides cannot speak into their microphones, no photography is allowed, it is a holy place with the work of Michelangelo sen-surrounding it completely. One has to lie spread-eagled on the floor really to view the beauty of the ceiling art. My neck hurt looking up constantly. We walked out to the bright lights and the summer heat and our tour was over. But not quite. Just next door is St. Peter's Basilica, the huge church of Vatican City. We are told this is where St. Peter the apostle was martyred during Nero's reign. The first church on this site was built by Emperor Constantine the Great and the present one dates back to the 15th century A.D. The church overlooks St. Peter's Square with an Egyptian obelisk of red granite, 25.5 m. tall brought to Italy by Emperor Caligula in the year 37 A.D. adorning the center of it. Our guide told us that the structure would snugly fit in the dome of the basilica that is how high the basilica is! We left touring of the Colosseum and the Palatine Hills to another occasion as the heat was stifling and the ticket queues incessant. A day tour on the hop on and hop off bus without doing either gave us a perspective of Rome before we said goodbye and headed for the more pleasant climes of Tuscany.

Florence is arguably the most beautiful city in Italy, and to my mind, the world. The panoramic view of the city from Piazzale Michelangelo is stunning. Salman Rushdie in "The Enchantress of Florence" describes the city thus: That is the city of Florence, narrow at the edges, swelling at the centre, with the Arno flowing through between, parting the two lips, the upper and the lower. The city is an enchantress. When it kisses you, you are lost, whether you are a commoner or king". Nearby we are told lived for a period Dostoyevsky and Tchaikovsky two Russian giants of literature and music for inspiration. Ponte Vecchio is the house bridge. A walk along it surprises with expensive watch and jewellery shops inside the old decrepit looking houses. Piazza del Duomo is our Durbar Square, just next to it was our hotel - another great location to stay at. The cathedral Campanile di Giotto is at the centre of the Duomo. A great evening hangout for cold rose wine and Italian hors d'oeuvre to beat the summer heat!

Uffizi Gallery in Florence is the most sought after place by visitors. We went there to find an interminable queue but the touts were handy fronting as licensed guides and we got in quickly albeit with a lighter wallet. Two hours is certainly not enough to view all the masterpieces of Italian art there, nor two days, nor two weeks. We opened our mouths to gape at a Botticelli here, Leonardo da Vinci there. Works by Raphael and the young Michelangelo are also gracing the gallery. There are the elegantly sculpted busts of Roman emperors, men who were worshiped as Gods in their lifetimes, now adorning the hallways while tourists scurry past them clutching their guidebooks with the next must-see masterpiece of art in mind but with nary a second glance at the gods that fell: Claudius, Hadrian, Vespasian, Titus.

Emperors Titus, Vespasian, Hadrian and Claudius
The highlight of the tour in terms of stunning beauty of the countryside started at Siena, the gateway to Tuscany, the undulating vales and dales of vineyards and the signature cypress trees. We joined an organized tour for the day and visited the quaint villages of Montalcino, Pienza and Montepulciano. Besides the timelessness of these places with their quaint alleyways and piazzas we also enjoyed their wineries. A visit to these wineries offers a great insight into the business of wine making from olden days to the very modern techniques of today. And we get to taste a range of wines for free before settling to buy a few bottles that suit our palate. Our favorite was Brunello di Montalcino, wine made from brown grapes and my wife loved it and purchased a couple of bottles. I am not particularly fond of wine and I drink the odd whisky to compensate for the unsophisticated palate. Our hotel in Siena the four star Garden Hotel located just at the outskirts of the city offered us the ultimate Italian hospitality with gourmet meals, a well stocked bar and a bartender that stepped right out of a thirties Hollywood movie. We had our own romance. Our trip was on a road well taken.        

 Garden Hotel in Siena



Popular posts from this blog


As a kid I used to gape in wonderment at the magnificent crown my father possessed not knowing that the jewels were only for show. The dark green emerald drops were made of glass, the sparkling diamonds were probably zirconium and the pearls were not of the best sort. Every Rana general had his personal crown in those days and my father was no exception. I did not recognize the difference between this personal crown of father's and the other more valuable crown of the Nepalese Commander-in-Chief of the Army that my father was seen wearing in many a portrait displayed about the house. Little did I know that my father was the last person to put on his head the army chief's crown from the Rana era, real glittering diamonds, snow white pearls and thumb-sized emerald drops and all. The feather in the crown was the magnificent plumes of the Bird of Paradise that gave it such a majestic look.

Nepal had only three crowns that were genuinely the real stuff bedecked with expensive pear…


The first time I ever saw this historical edifice thirty five years ago, she was in ruins and looked like an old hag during the winter of her life, simply waiting for her eventual demise. I was then on my way further west on a week-long trek from Tansen to Tamghas in Gulmi District.
Thirty five years later, I found myself at the same spot once again, this time out there on purpose. I had seen pictures of the building with a coat of new paint before and I wanted to see how much change had been made by the Nepal Government’s Department of Archeology. Yes, the outer fa├žade still looked brand new with fresh paints, which to me personally was a bit too gaudy. But when I walked through the inside of the building and saw nothing but empty rooms without even a single piece of furniture, my enthusiasm took a nose dive.

And when I entered one room where there was a fireplace with the floor in front of the hearth still looking as black as charcoal, I assumed that, over the years before ren…


If only the Tudor King Henry VIII of England were as lucky as Jung Bahadur Rana, he would have had male heirs aplenty and he would not have had to behead a few of his queens in the hope of his next one presenting him with an heir. All the Maharanis would live together at Hampton Court Palace in seeming harmony at least until the death of the Maharajah. If England had the tradition of Sati, who among Henry's wives would have had the macabre honour of being buried alive with him? Would her be Catherine of Aragon his first queen? Or Anne Boleyn? Or the fair Jane Seymour, his favorite queen who gave him his only male heir, had she not died in her postnatal illness?

Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana had many wives because he did not have the Catholic Church to worry about. He had at least a dozen sons and innumerable daughters from at least 13 recorded wives. He married some for love, others for political alliances with various noble houses, including a sister of Fateh Jung Shah, one of th…