It makes you modest because its only then you realise what a small place you occupy in the world. It’s fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness. I’m talking about our besetting vice of travelling. This is the story of 37 wanderers satiating the freedom of their mind, all from different places in the world, met at Madrid and kissed goode to each other in Rome after 13 days. Each imparted a new vigour to their minds. I was a part of this one big family and we went to Spain, French Riviera and Italy via Contiki. Technically, we went to 5 countries since we covered Monaco and Vatican City.
The shortest summary of this trip would be party, glamour and history.
Spain – Madrid to Barcelona and then to Avignon
My experience at Madrid was mostly the Real Madrid Stadium, Royal Palace, Tapas Bars and bull fighting. Would never recommend Bull fighting to anyone as they kill the bull in the end and its a traumatising experience. But a walk around the Baroque Royal Palace was a memorable experience. (In the pic above: Giaquinto’s fresco above the staircase). This palace is known for an exquisite collection of chandeliers, clocks, porcelain art on walls and furniture and ceiling paintings. During the civil war, the porcelain factories were destroyed and till date the same quality could not be re created. The royal family though doesn’t reside there and only use the palace of state ceremonies.
Barcelona is one of those cities you know you’ll keep going back to. Once wasn’t enough for us because we were already so drained from midnight to dawn bailando that we struggled to face the sunshine. The city is historically significant in many ways. We heard the story of Columbus standing right there at the square where he was greeted after his discovery of America. He had brought with him 12 slaves, tomatoes and potatoes to prove he had found a new place. As a tourist, you need up to a week to visit the gothic quarters, football stadium, historic parks that look straight out of a Jane Austen book, glistening riverside, each church telling a different story and the the most satisfying shopping. Brands such as Zara, Pull & Bear, Massimo Dutti etc are all Spanish brands and are available at the cheapest price. But before you start shopping, I especially recommend quality time at Park Guell under the works of celebrated architect Antoni Gaudi. For the evening, make your reservation for Flamenco night.
Avignon is where you get to try Frog legs, snails and the best champagne. We loved the rustic beauty of Provence, known for its pretty landscapes of lavender, sunflowers and wild herbs. We skipped the stay and went ahead but a night in Avignon means you’ll get a real taste of the Provencal lifestyle and look into the town’s Roman heritage. Spend your day wandering through the cobbled streets and relax with a glass of pastis (aniseed liqueur). I paused to learn about the city’s past as a spiritual superpower when you see the impressive Papal Palace. And from here, our journey for a long time, just smelt of Lavender.
Aix-en-Provence was our lunch stop and from there the most glamorous part of our trip began. Follow the beautiful sapphire waters past the movie-star glamour of Cannes to sunny Nice. I took a train and went to Cannes, which has long been associated with the glamour and pizzazz of its annual film festival. Year-round, Cannes is a lively seaside destination, with a choice of luxury hotels, gourmet dining and pretty beaches. En route we also stopped at the home of the French perfume industry, Fragonard perfumery. From there we went to Italy We did stop at Pisa but nothing much to write home about.
Cinque Terre: Mangia bene, ridi spesso, ama molto. – Eat well, laugh often, love much.
Duomo Cathedral rises above Florence, which serves up frescoes, markets and priceless art. It was drizzling slightly while we strolled through the open-air museum. I picked up siciliy lemon and strawberry gelato while walking on the streets crammed with artworks Michelangelo. We gathered together for a skillful demonstration of Florentine leather making and understand this region’s traditional art. We got another day to get closer to the Secrets of Michelangelo’s Florence – see where his David was gifted to the Florentines, Ponte Vecchio, the Medici Palace & much more for which even a week is not enough.
From Florence we drove towards the Tuscan countryside, known for its iconic cypress trees and olive oil. Spend the morning in San Gimignano, the stunning hill-top town that is often dubbed “Medieval Manhattan”. Dotted with ancient towers, San Gimignano serves up sweeping views over the region’s rolling hills. Explore the village and pick up some local specialities like wild-boar salami or percorino cheese.
Una cena senza vino e come un giorno senza sole – A meal without wine is a day without sunshine. Cheese platters, Truffle, Pesto and buffalo mozzarella Pizza, and of course Nutella was my staple diet in Italy.
The Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Piazza Venezia, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon & Piazza Navona. the remains of an ancient empire with a fantastic optional tour of the Roman Forum and Colosseum. Then check-out the smallest country in the world and home to the Pope, the Vatican City. Thankfully we had a reservation and didn’t have to wait in the line to see St Peter’s Basilica and Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the Sistine Chapel. After that, take off into the city and absorb the atmosphere, as Vespas flash past timeworn monuments that are surrounded fountains, pizzerias, cafés and bars. In your free time, live the local lifestyle indulging in a long lunch on a paved piazza or knock back a shot of espresso at the bar, like the Romans do. At the end of the trip, just sit the fountains of Rome only after midnight when it’s quiet and peaceful and relive the history that made our today so beautiful.