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Monday, November 03, 2008

Rome Day 1 (Pt. 1) - Grand hotels, real Italian pizza and Via Veneto!

(Continued from this post)

After a brief stop over at Dubai, we continued our flight to Rome.

This trip to the Rome International Film Festival was part of the prize I won from the BMW SHORTIES for Chicken Rice Mystery back in May. I'm traveling with fellow winner Mahaletchumi Tavamany ('Sing in the Rain'), and two judges Zahir (last year's BMW Shorties winner, director of K-HOLE and TEDDY AND I) and famed actress Ida Nerina.

Maha, Ida and Zahir
From left to right: Maha, Ida and Zahir, shortly before landing

After the 7-hour flight which I drifted in and out of sleep (while trying to watch THE HAPPENING), we arrived at the Rome Airport.

Ida and Zahir outside the Rome International Airport
Ida and Zahir outside the Rome International Airport

There was also huge perfume ad with Jude Law, Ida was absolutely excited. I snapped a quick photo of her, unfortunately, I didn't use the flash.

Ida and Jude Law
Ida with Jude Law

So Ida gave me her camera and I took quite a few ones with her and Jude. She was elated. And her elation was contagious, because I also wanted to take a photo with Jude, but she took one using her camera, so you people are spared from seeing me posing with Jude.

A car whisked us to our hotel, the Grand Hotel Parco dei Principi, which was just as grand as it sounded, and very retro-looking too.

Entrance of Grand Hotel Parco dei Principi

We were received by Vijayaratnam Tharumaratnam (will be mentioned henceforth in this blog as Vijay) outside the hotel, the press and corporate affairs manager for BMW Malaysia. He was on his way to the location of the Rome Film Festival to know what exactly do we have to do on that night (aside from attending the EASY VIRTUE premiere), but he helped us check in first.

Checking in at Grand Hotel Parco dei Principi
Checking into the hotel. Vijay's the one on the far left.

This is how my room looked like.

My room in Grand Hotel Parco dei Principi

Grand Hotel Parco dei Principi 2

While I was resting in my room, I received a call from award-winning filmmaker, Tan Chui Mui (who was also a judge at the BMW Shorties), who had arrived few hours earlier on a different flight, asking whether we had taken lunch.

I said no, and I was craving for some REAL ITALIAN PIZZA, so Mui, Maha and I headed off to a restaurant recommended by the hotel staff (Ida and Zahir wanted to rest for a bit before joining us). We started walking, and I was struck by the nice buildings at the streets. They were very traditional-looking, immensely different from the hyper modern buildings I'm used to seeing in Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur.

Buildings of Rome

Buildings of Rome 2

Buildings of Rome 3

"This is so... so... European!" I stated the obvious.

And the sky was so very blue.

Buildings of Rome 4

Buildings of Rome 5

Maha's feet were aching, and she needed to buy a pair of comfort shoes more suited for walking, so we stopped at a market outside Casa Mia (the restaurant we wanted to go to)

Mui and Maha buying shoes at a market

Casa Mia was a quaint little restaurant that we would end up visiting again a day after.

Mui and Maha in Casa Mia
Mui and Maha

Even though I don't normally drink, I downed many glasses of white wine.

Me in Casa Mia

Not really. There was an empty table beside us with lots of wine glasses, so Mui thought it was a good idea to take a photo of me sitting there.

Maha ordered pizza, Mui ordered pasta, and then she recommended to me the Stracceti con rucola (strips of beef on rugola leaves), an Italian specialty, which I tried. They were awesome.

The pizza we had was much thinner and crispier than its Pizza Hut counterpart. I was briefly reminded of a nice pizza restaurant I used to go to with Justin in Fremantle.

Ida, Zahir and Vijay joined us moments later.

Ida Nerina and Zahir in Casa Mia

After the meal, we agreed to follow Vijay to the famous street of Via Veneto. The 1960 classic film, LA DOLCE VITA, by one of my all-time favourite directors, Frederico Fellini, was centered in this area. Unfortunately, I've never seen the film (only seen LA STRADA, 8 1/2 and THE SHIP SAILS ON). Quite a pity. I tried to borrow the one and only DVD copy from my Murdoch University in Perth back then, but the DVD was broken. I wonder whether they've replaced the copy or not since then.

Posing before going to Via Veneto
Me, before going to Via Veneto

Ida, Maha and Zahir walking to Via Veneto

Mui and Ida on the way to Via Veneto

Walking to Via Veneto

Via Veneto was lined with upscale shops and cafes that I think I might enjoy hanging out at if I had more time (the cafes, not the shops, I'm poor).

Via Veneto

Via Veneto 2

Maha at Via Veneto

Via Veneto 3

I was amused by a dodgy-looking Chinese sign at a glove shop (the Chinese words read: "hand bag")

Glove shop with dodgy Chinese sign at Via Veneto

Then I walked past the Hard Rock Cafe Rome and saw Elvis, Hendrix and the Beatles.

Hard Rock Cafe Rome

Elvis outside Hard Rock Cafe Rome

Hendrix outside Hard Rock Cafe Rome

Beatles outside Hard Rock Cafe Rome

We sat and spoke until night descended upon the city.

Hanging out at Via Veneto

Vijay and Mui looking at Zahir's camera

Via Veneto at night

Via Veneto at night 2

Via Veneto at night 3

Nice little shop in Rome

It was time to go to the film festival, and we had to return to the hotel to get ready. So many things to see, and so little time, I lamented in silence as Via Veneto sped past the taxi window in a dazzling blur of lights. The lights of the building and the streets that elevated the romantic Italian atmosphere that I've heard so many times, but had never seen until that day.

Of course, the melancholy that gripped my heart was very fleeting since we were going to attend the EASY VIRTUE premiere of the Rome Film Fest.

And Jessica Biel was at the premiere.