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Italy

It is not just another day in my life. It’s probably the day I have been dreaming of. I am in Italy. My trip planned well in advance – Naples, Rome, Pisa, Venice, Florence, Rome and back.

Day 1 in Naples

Mea Culpa

We leave for the Capri Island. As usual the first day you struggle to figure out the local transport system. You are like a nervous student who has studied for the wrong exam. So here we were trying to understand if we had to buy the bus ticket before getting into the bus or on board the bus and I decide my bag is too heavy and so I should leave it in my husband’s backpack. The minute I keep it in, our bus arrives and we like anxious tourists get in. We are worried as we have no tickets. We ask a gentleman and he says yes you had to buy before getting into the bus. And then he is chatting with us telling us to guard our bags. I only have my mobile in hand that I am guarding with my life. My husband is busy talking to this stranger and suddenly there is this other equally gentle gentleman who closes the zip of my husband’s bag. Husband tells him Thank You and then gives me a dirty look for keeping his bag open. We get off the bus and then suddenly my man has an epiphany and he checks his bag and voila his entire pouch is gone. I can’t believe this is happening. I want to run behind the bus screaming chor chor. We both realize that the duo in the bus were the culprit. One who distracted us by talking and the other whom my husband thanked generously. We both feel like Dumb and Dumber only extremely angry as the pouch had both our passports, Euros, husband’s credit card, driving license and pan card. You see, we Indians like to be safe by carrying along all important documents. Well this time we were safe and sorry.

We go to the local police station where we are treated like invisible royals. My husband is arguing with the credit card company on call that he didn’t use the credit card (Apparently Bunty and Babli had already swiped our credit card). After a long wait, the officer decides to talk to us and tell us that he can neither understand nor speak English. So he goes to his computer puts on the google translator and asks us to type in English while he reads the Italian version. He would type back in Italian and then we would receive some random English words that seemed to mock at us. After many rounds of playing the translator game, officer tells us in what sounded like good English ‘Ah you got robbed in the Bus, so you have to go to a different police station’. Uff. Whoever termed the phrase ‘It happens only in India’ was so so wrong. Husband leaves to do the tough job of going to the correct police station while I decide to sit and sulk in the hotel room.

By evening we both decide to not let this incident come in the way of our enjoying the trip. We were going to Rome after a day anyways. We will go to the Indian embassy there and get our temporary passports. So we take off to Capri Island the next day with my phantom husband constantly on the lookout for crime.

Day 3 in Rome

Senorita, bade bade deshon main aisi choti choti baatein to hoti rehti hai

So we reach the Indian Embassy as planned. We expect the Indians out there to be like the NRIs you see in our Bollywood movies, happy to meet people who bring them their mitti ki khushbu. Cut to reality. The Indians at the embassy almost sent us back stating that we should have filled some online form before coming. When we reminded them that no one told us this when we had called 2 days back, they reluctantly were willing to help. But of course we had to wait in a long queue for 3 hrs. Then, they give us a laundry list of documents to be filled and photocopied and scanned and the usual nonsense hinting to us that we should get it done from an agent. As we step outside an Indian started talking to us. He was feeling very sorry for what had happened. After a few minutes, we asked him where can we find an internet café. He tells us that he is an agent and guides us till his Café where he announces his fees will be 100 Euros. Ahha. A friend in deed is definitely not what we need. We told him that he is forgetting that we had lost almost all money and so we cannot afford 100 Euros to fill forms. Of course he refused to help us otherwise and so we left his café that ironically had a huge signboard ‘Punjab Café at your help’. We went to another Cyber Café where we completed the form submission in 8 Euros. We got our photographs done. By default when someone is taking your picture, you give out a smile. My husband turns red. “If you keep smiling like this, they will not give us our temp passports soon”. I still can’t wipe out the smile on my face. My self-healing process had already erased the robbery from my system. I was in Rome. Why shouldn’t I be happy!

We go to the Embassy with all the papers and after a long wait are called to meet the big boss. While entering his room, my buddy again stops me from grinning. This time only more sternly. I try to look morose. When we meet the official, he asks who filled all the documents and I gladly say we did it. The minute I say that he says

“Your name is wrong. You didn’t write your middle name in the form” (In other words ‘You didn’t do it through the agent and so who will pay my commissions’)

I say “The form didn’t ask for the middle name”.

“You should have still written it”.

“Okay so I will write it now”.

“No you cannot, the online form you submitted is wrong. You will have to fill it and come again. Tomorrow is Saturday. So come on Monday now”.

“But we leave for Pisa on Monday with my friends”.

“Sorry mam you can’t”

My brain is calculating all the money we will lose in our hotel bookings and my whole onward trip will be screwed. And suddenly my smiles are wiped off and gush of tears flow. I am unstoppable. And please note I am not silently crying. I am shouting at the Officer while crying. Must have been a funny sight. But the good thing about Indians is that they are emotional people. So suddenly the big boss started to order someone to change my form online. The other dude says he doesn’t have time. Oh he seems to be part of some strong employee union. But my continuous tears were doing a great job. The boss tells the dude “I will do your work, you go and change their form”. My husband is all smiles. My tears still not stopping. Husband is nudging me slowly telling me to not overact. So I leave the room. After some time husband comes out and starts clapping saying “what a performance”. In my defense, I was really crying. Of course not because we were stranded without passports & money, but because we were going to miss going to Pisa.

Finally we get our emergency visas and are all set for our Roman Holiday.

Day 4 in Rome

The Sopranos vs The Godfather

The next day I meet my friends; one couple from US and one from Switzerland and lots of kids. It’s my birthday too and celebrating it in Rome was just something.

On route to the Trevi Fountain, we stop to watch a street painter doing magic on his canvas. There is a whole crowd gathered. After he finishes, my friend’s husband opts to buy the painting. The painting is for 10 Euros. The painter removes 40 Euros to give my friend back as change to the 50 and suddenly stops and says you didn’t give me 50. My friend says of course I did. Suddenly I see both of them almost getting into a fist fight. In all that rage, my Swiss friend actually takes 40 Euros from the painter’s pouch. Didn’t know my friend had married Robinhood Pandey. Husband and I still angry from the earlier poaching incident, decide to not let one more Italian take us for a ride and so we start arguing with him too. The fight turns ugly, the kids were taken away by the third couple and the four of us are standing our ground against this crazy street fighter / painter who keeps whispering the word ‘Mafia’ in my friend’s ears. Cops come seeing all the commotion. Again, they can’t speak English. We are telling them he is threatening us with the word Mafia and the foolish policemen tell us don’t use that word. We demand that the CCTV cameras should be seen and justice must be done. The street fighter in the meanwhile calls some other like-minded souls and all of them now threatening the four of us saying ‘We will not let you leave Rome’. But we 4 stand tall with our dignity. ‘We don’t care. We will not accept surrender’.

Finally the cops call a translator. This time they ditch google and go for a lady. She hears both sides of story and then asks my friend, “Are you sure you have paid him cause sometimes we think we have, but we haven’t”. I laugh at her statement. But my friend suddenly says “Let me check”. He opens his wallet and realizes that all the money that he had withdrawn was still in his wallet and says “Oh maybe I did not give the painter 50 Euros”. At this point husband and I were choking. We come to their land. Take their painting. Don’t give them money. Snatch 40 euros from their pouch. And then in front of a huge crowd accuse them of stealing. This is a nightmare.

All of us start talking to each other in Hindi now. Husband says let’s not say that we made a mistake, just pay them and f off from here. We tell the cops we let go the money, give them the 40 Euros and leave. The fighter and his ‘mafia’ friends are still giving us dirty looks. We ask the cops to escort us till the bus, but they don’t care. We walk ahead. My husband is still in shock and is warning the three of us to leave the area immediately as it’s not safe. But I want to see Trevi Fountain. ‘Arre the guy was just threatening yaar. Don’t worry.’

So the four of us are walking towards Michelangelo’s creation, when the other couple friend comes running to us shouting that those guys are after us now and are waiting for us at the end of the street. At this time we all panic, we start running. I can hear my husband’s ‘I told you so’ loud and clear. I am running past the Trevi Fountain on my left thinking damn I couldn’t take a photograph. We run and run the bylanes that just don’t seem to end. Finally reach the main street and get into a bus waiting for the automatic doors to close after us. But they refuse to do their job. After a few seconds, we get off and run again to a cab and tell him to drop us to a station. He says its just 2 minutes and we can walk it. We tell him to take us to the next station. And we finally leave the place with my ninja husband who is constantly looking behind to see if someone is following us. We rush to our hotel room. And thanks to the Wi-Fi, my Happy Birthday messages start pouring.

Day 14 in Rome again

The Gladiator sins

My partner in travel had given me strict instructions that we will not go to that part of Rome again. But I still have Trevi on my mind. The good thing about the way my husband travels is that he doesn’t bother about maps or streets much. He goes with the flow. Not knowing that this time I am secretly leading him. So I make him walk through a different route that takes us to the Trevi Fountain. I can never forget the look on my husband’s face when he came face to face with the glorious Trevi Fountain. He didn’t have a choice now, but to smile for the pics. But not before telling me that Rome had aroused the Gladiator in me that is heading to die.

Well there were other fatalities also, not major but worth a relish. Those will be mentioned in a blog written by my husband and called ‘100 ways, my wife harasses me’.

So compared to the first few days, the rest of my trip was about the Gondolas at Venice, Renaissance in Florence and back to Rome where art and history make passionate love. Italy is a place blessed by the creative talents of Nature and Man. It’s where good food meets good wine, inconceivable sculptures and paintings meet breath taking architecture and where culture meets God. As they say a man who has not been to Italy is always conscious of his inferiority.

So to all those who took the pains of reading this long saga, please visit Italy if you haven’t already, and guard your belongings and your heart. I continue to dream of going back to Italy someday again.

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