Italy ~ Pompeii

So one of the day tour that I took from Rome is a day tour to Pompeii. I first heard about Pompeii 2 years ago when la Gioia asked me if I was going to visit it. It wasn't in my plan 2 years ago. However I did some reading about it (wikipedia is my usual source) and it sounded pretty cool. Part of the things that I wanted to do in Italy this time around is not to do the same things that I did in my previous trip. Well it's logical that I had to explore new things right? My dad was already protesting that I was taking a trip to Europe again and mom was like telling me, didn't you already go to Rome that time around? So something different was really necessary. So this time around in Rome, I chose 2 day trips, one to Pompeii and the other to Capri. We did the Pompeii tour first on Saturday, May 14th.

We actually started in Napoli first, to pick up the local guide. We saw a bit of Napoli, not much. It seems like a big city. It didn't seem rich. I saw a few homeless people. The guide, Vittorio, was complaining about the mayor of Napoli. The mayor earned 15,000€ a month and according to our guide the mayor didn't do much. I was pretty stunned hearing the 15,000€ / month salary that I wondered if I heard wrongly but I seemed to hear him correctly. It was a really high salary. The majority of the world population do not make that much in a year. Anyways, Italy was having election for new mayors in the period when I was there. I think spain too actually. Anyways I think the people decided to have a new mayor for Napoli now. This reminded me of the guide in Milan who was saying that they were going to have an election for a new mayor. She said that most likely the incumbent mayor was going to stay, however I think the people chose differently. They voted for a change. All these incumbent mayors were from the prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's party. I think the Italians are getting really tired with his scandals and his party. An American who was in the same tour with me in Milan was asking who's Silvio Berlusconi. I was flabbergasted on how ignorant people can be. I know he's not the only person in this world who doesn't know who Silvio Berlusconi or even cares to know. I just still can't stop shaking my head sometime with this kind of people. This American also said, if he's not a good baseball player then I don't need to know. Well ... okay, what can I say?

I'm digressing. So we went to Pompeii. At this last leg of my journey, I was actually feeling pretty tired that I decided to just follow the guide. He did give us a map and gave us the option to explore Pompeii on our own. However the place was massive, it's hot, and I just didn't want to end up getting lost. We saw a few interesting stuff there, starting with the amphitheatre. The we saw a small vineyard. Obviously it's not the same vineyard as in the ancient time. The plants were planted in the same place just to give an idea to the visitors on what it was like back then. I was pretty moved seeing the plaster casts of victims, especially seeing the kids there. It's so real and to think that there's actual body inside it, it's kinda freaky and very very sad at the same time. You can see the pictures here. From the posture you can see that they didn't really have much time to save themselves and they just died. Very very sad.

Other than that, we also saw an inside of a house. Obviously I have forgotten many details of what the guide told us. I remembered there's these stepping stones in the middle of the road which the guide said were used by the people in the case of heavy rains that the street was pretty flooded. I had Mau take a picture of me in that thousands of years old stepping stones :P However obviously I never post any picture of myself here or even in Facebook :P One of the major attraction was apparently Lupanare or the brothel. There was a jam of many different tour groups in that small street, all waiting to enter the brothel. The guides were negotiating which of their groups should enter first. The Lupanare was actually very small. I think there were 4 paintings on the wall depicting sexual acts. The people of Pompeii seemed to be really liberal in their sexuality. There were obvious signs pointing to the Lupanare. What I mean by obvious is a big penis sculpture on the road or on the wall pointing to the direction of the brothel.

The last stop was seeing the forum and the open area around it. Pompeii is very interesting. It's massive though, so walking exploring all of it will require a lot of energy and appreciation of the history :P It may not be a place for everyone. Will I visit it again? Well it's not on the top of my list to see in Italy anymore. Just like I think I'll be okay about not visiting the Vatican the next time I'm in Rome. I'm glad though that I have seen Pompeii and walked inside this ancient town :)

Leaving Pompeii for Rome, we had a break along the way. We met these 2 nice ladies from Texas and in one of the break, we sat with them. They're really nice, saying you can sit with us. We chatted a bit. The funniest bit was when one of them pointed and said, look at that guy with the pink scarf. It was pretty funny because them being from Texas, they just felt it's so not gonna fly in Texas. Well perhaps if the guy is gay, it's okay. It's pretty funny how unexpected topic like this can come out among strangers :D

We reached Rome quite late that day and we decided to just have dinner at the restaurant next to our hotel. I was tired and it's late and so I was rather annoyed that it took quite a long time for the waiter to come to us. I noticed that there's a weird restaurant system in Rome. I am not sure if I'm right. It just seemed that each of the waiter is assigned a certain section and they only have to deal with that section. So even if a waiter is quite free with not many people in his section, the waiter is still not going to serve the guests in another busier section and the guests are left waiting. So we were left waiting for our waiter who had to deal with other quests. I was very annoyed with it. Eventually he came and we placed our orders. We had to wait again and they seemed to be very slow that Mau decided to go up to our rooms and charged her phone and left me alone. The waiter then finally came bringing our drinks and he asked me where I'm from. I guess he was perhaps wondering who this impatient girl was. As I said I was very tired, pretty annoyed with the long wait and on a mental state like that, I didn't actually welcome the question much. For some reason though or perhaps simply because I didn't welcome the question much, I didn't give him the answer straight away. I said, "indovina", which means guess. That took him by surprise and he said, "indovino?", which means I guess?. It actually took me 1-2 seconds to understand him. That 1-2 seconds was enough to make me question if my Italian was correct :P but I was correct. Jokingly he said, Italian? which of course I'm not. Then he said, Singaporean? This answer made me feel better because if he had said, Phillipines, I think I would have been more annoyed :P His guess made me smile and I told him, I live in Singapore but not a Singaporean. Next he guessed, Malaysian? Which I'm not. Up to this point, I decided to stop him because I was feeling Phillipines was going to be next, so I told him I'm Indonesian. I asked him if he hadn't seen an Indonesian before, if there weren't many Indonesian tourists there. He said it was his first time seeing an Indonesian. It was a nice moment for me, being the first Indonesian one met :) I should have asked him if he knew where Indonesia is. I tried my best to speak Italian but when you're tired it's even more difficult. I wanted to ask for some ice but I did it wrongly that it made him laugh. I asked him how to ask it correctly and I actually wrote down what he said in my phone. I guess this little conversation made him nicer to me and it's good to be treated better :) Our last dinner in Rome was also in the same restaurant and in his section again and he was really nice to me :) These kinds of little connections and interactions are really the memorable ones for me and so I remember them pretty vividly. Well as for now that is, I know I'll forget them someday or perhaps soon so it's good and important for me to write them down :)

:) eKa @ 8:56:00 PM • 0 comments

Italy ~ Rome and Vatican

The story continues. We're supposed to depart from Milan on May 13th. Mau was stuck in Venice the night before. There was that thought of what if she couldn't make it back in Milan for our 10 am departure but for some reason I wasn't really so worried about it. Maybe I would have gotten worried like half an hour before if I didn't see her. However she was perhaps rather worried that she took the first train out of Venice to Milan. I think the sun hadn't really risen yet when she left Venice but she did make it on time because of that :) She had enough time for a shower and breakfast. The uncle declared to me happily when I went for breakfast, "your friend has arrived". Yeah she did. So all was good. I felt a bit sad saying goodbye to the uncle because he was really nice. Anyway, I didn't spend much time in Milan, but I do have to say that there's something about the city that I like. Being rich, it just has such a good infrastructure and things tend to be cleaner. Milano Centrale train station was great. Milan's metro was also pretty nice. Leaving all that and coming to the chaotic Rome, you just feel a bit let down :P

Anyways, I got the fastest train for us to Rome. It's more expensive but it only took 2 hour 59 minutes from Milan to Rome and that's actually really fast. It didn't make any stop and as Mau said it's kinda like a bullet train which I'm sure not really but it was very fast. I spent the time taking pictures from the window. An Italian dad asked us to let go one of our seat so that he could sit with his family and so Mau got to sit with a handsome Italian guy but they didn't talk :( My other entertainment was watching Carlotta, the 3-year old daughter of the family. It's obvious that her dad loves her so much and she's such a daddy girl. She's clingy to her dad. She's very chatty with her dad but when I talked to her she was shy. Too bad I couldn't really get what her dad told her when I asked if she has any brother or sister. Her dad was friendly and her mom as well. They were okay about me taking a picture of Carlotta. Her dad asked if she smiled when she told them that I took her picture. She told them that I took her picture! I was thinking, you're such a tattletale :P Luckily they didn't tell me off or anything.

Arriving in Rome, I kinda still knew my bearing. I found our hotel easily. Getting out of Termini station, things were still familiar for me. The metro was a bit disorienting for me though. I guess because they're doing renovation, so certain entrances and exits were different. The state of Termini metro station was so much worse than when I was there 2 years ago. I really really hope they get the renovation done quickly and it will look amazingly great when it's done. The state it is now is worrying. There were things in the ceiling which I'm not sure what they were, perhaps they were moulds. My first thought seeing them was, biohazard! I was very disappointed with our hotel. It was spacious but wasn't clean and the wi-fi doesn't really work inside our room. So coming from the nice Milan hotel, this place totally brought my mood down :( It's much more expensive as well :( Rome is pretty expensive in terms of hotels :(

Anyways, we put our luggages and we went straight to the Vatican. Mau booked an entry to the Vatican Museum at 3 pm. So I dropped her off and I went to St. Peter's Basilica. The queue was long but I did stay in the queue. Seeing the basilica again was something that I really felt like doing. Between the queue and the taking a lot of pictures, I didn't have time to do my initial plan which was to visit Castel Sant'Angelo. Instead I went to an exhibition about Pope John Paul II's life which was held next to St Peter's Basilica. The exhibition was in conjuction to his beautification. It did give such an insight about Pope John Paul II as a person. Seeing his conviction and faith in God amazed me and it was really admirable. After I finished with that, as I was walking in St Peter's square, an American dad came to me and asked if I could take pictures for him. I asked him what he wanted to see. He said, his family. It made me laugh. Perhaps my question was rather silly as well. But you know how some people would want their pictures to be taken with certain things and you're being told, please make sure this thing and that are in the picture. For him it was about the family and it's great that way :) I think there were a few generations there. I think there were grandma, grandpa, maybe aunts and uncles and of course the kids. He asked me to take 2 pictures. I had to wait for the second one because as they were changing position, one of the boy was taking his time to pose, a little divo :P After I was done, he stunned me by giving his hand first to shake my hand to say thank you, instead of taking his camera. He was genuinely nice that I was taken aback at how kind people can be. It's like a moment of realization as well of why can't you be that kind to other people yourself?

After that, I made my way to Castel Sant'Angelo. I promised that I would meet Mau there when she's done with the Vatican Museum so that we could go to Piazza Navona together since she has booked a Rome walking tour which departs from Piazza Navona. I spent the time waiting for her in Ponte Sant'Angelo. It was a totally Angels & Demons moment for me. You know, I've been in Rome once before this but there are still things that I haven't seen and still haven't seen even after this second trip. She succesfully found her way there. We didn't have a map of Rome, but I did have a print out from google map about the area which I wanted to explore. It really helped. We found Piazza Navona without much difficulty. I left Mau there and off I went to the Pantheon. However there was a mass in the Pantheon when I arrived and so it's not open for tourists and all the tourists were waiting behind the barricades in front of the door. I decided to go back to Piazza Navona and see its fountains and all the artists there. There were many people there for a Friday afternoon. Then I made my way back to the Pantheon. The mass still hadn't finished yet but I decided to wait. After the mass was done, we all went in and I do have to admit that I wasn't in awe as much as I was when I saw these places for the first time. Instead I had a feeling of comfort, a real good feeling for being able to be there again :) After the Pantheon, I made my way to the Trevi Fountain to do the customary coin throwing. Hey, I would really really want to come back to Rome again :) Then off to Piazza di Spagna. There were many people there and I had walked a lot that I didn't feel like scaling the steps to go to Trinità dei Monti. I was also feeling too tired to walk to Piazza del Popolo. I did take picture of the street leading to Piazza del Popolo and over here an Italian guy was like saying hi and hi to me. I was ignoring him but he persisted. So I did stop from taking pictures and look at him and he asked, where are you from. A too freaky question for me that I said sorry and just walked off. Yeah he wasn't that handsome :P but still the whole thing was freaky for me. Anyway the sun was setting, so I decided to go back to the hotel and rest. This is a picture of the sun-kissed Trinità dei Monti as the sun was setting. I love how majestic it look.

Mau said she had a good time in her walking tour and her Colosseum pictures with all the lights were really pretty. That was Friday. We had Sunday off without any day tour plan because initially Mau asked if she could attend a mass on Sunday in the Vatican. So I'm going to continue this post with the Rome and Vatican story from that Sunday. In the end, Mau said, it's okay not to attend the mass. I still wanted to go to the Vatican because I wanted to see the Pope :P There are 2 ways to see the Pope if he's in town. Come to his Wednesday audience or come to his Sunday blessing. I've been to his Wednesday audience but I wasn't sure about this Sunday blessing. I wasn't even sure where he would appear actually. There were many people at St Peter's square at that time. It amazes me how people really love the Pope. He does this twice a week and there are still so many people adoring him to fill up the piazza. People were also bringing flags of their countries and excitedly waving them.

Mau was hesitant about joining the crazy queue to enter St Peter's Basilica but in the end she did join the queue. Meanwhile, I just waited at the square for 12 o'clock, trying to figure out where the Pope would appear. Then I saw a banner being lowered down from one of the window some minutes before noon and I found out that it's the window where he's gonna make his speech and I tried to find a good spot to take pictures from. Despite of my zoom lens, he was still looking small in my pictures. The crowd really went crazy when he appeared :D He's really like a rock star. He's really playing it to the crowd too. He spoke in many languages. I'm sure he spoke in Italian, English, Spanish, German, perhaps French and perhaps there were others languages too and he would greet the crowd and addressed them in the native language of the crowd. You could see the flags going crazy :) Geez, I forget now what he talked about. He spoke for 15-20 minutes or so and then he's done. I felt like an accomplishment for me that in the 2 times I've been to Rome, I saw the Pope on both times :) It was hot that time and there were really so many people. I actually saw a lady faint :( The heat wasn't really nice but now when I compare it to the hot weather Singapore has been having for the past weeks, that day is nothing compare to Singapore :( So since I didn't want to brave all the crowd who were leaving the Vatican, I decided to go to Pope John Paul's exhibition again and enjoyed the air conditioned place. After I'm done with it, the sky actually turned cloudy and there was a bit of a drizzle :(

I actually wanted to go to Villa Borghese garden. I made my way to Piazza del Popolo first but the drizzle was becoming more like a light rain :( So I just walked straight to Piazza di Spagna and took shelter in Trinità dei Monti. With the rain, the Spanish steps were actually empty of people. It made it nice to walk up without the so many people but it was slippery because of the rain :( I was telling Mau that it would be something to be in the Pantheon during the rain so I actually had a good chance to do that, that Sunday. However the rain really didn't make me feel like I want to walk under it to reach Pantheon. It was chilly as well and I just didn't want to pay 5€ for an umbrella that people were selling. Trinità dei Monti has a special place in my heart. 2 years ago, I found it accidentally and I felt happy seeing it and seeing the view from its ground. On this trip, it gave me shelter from the rain. There was comfort and peace when I was there. I didn't remember how much time I spent there, maybe 1-2 hours. I just sat and started writing in my journal. I hadn't had time to write the days before, so I used the time to write. The rain didn't stop though so after some time I was thinking I should just go back and perhaps take a nap.

When I arrived at Termini station, I went to the bookstore and got myself a book. I haven't started reading it though. It felt good that I still remember a few stuff there. I remember that there's a supermarket, bookstore, and such. As I exit the station, the sky actually cleared up! So I put my stuff in the room. Mau was there slacking. I decided to go to the rose garden near Circus Maximus and see La Bocca della Verità. The Rose garden wasn't open yet. So I just explored the area as I tried to find my way. Then a couple of chinese tourists stopped me and asked for direction in Chinese!!! Hello, do I look chinese? I guess they were desperate. I told them I don't speak Chinese in Chinese, which I think stunned them :P They wanted to go to the Colosseum however they didn't know how to say it in English, so the guy had to flipped in his mobile phone to show me the picture. I reckoned they wanted to see the Colosseum and I was right. I could actually give them direction, the correct direction mind you because I actually know where it is exactly. However in between them not being able to speak english much and the girl looking not so happy after being lost, I couldn't give a detail direction. The girl actually walked away when I was trying to tell the guy how to go there. I think the guy felt bad for it. I wasn't too annoyed because I understood the frustration of being lost and of walking too much because you're lost. I just found the whole episode to be funny. In Rome, there happens to be a lot of Philippines and people often thought I'm from the Philippines. It annoyed me greatly!!! So this time around, someone came to me and started speaking in Chinese, I felt really amused :P

Anyway, I managed to find Santa Maria in Cosmedin church in which La Bocca della Verità is in but it was closing and they're not accepting any more visitors. An Asian girl pleaded with the guard to let her and her friends in, but he wasn't having it. I wonder if I could sway him if I pleaded in Italian, but I decided to just let it go. I did manage to take a picture of La Bocca della Verità (go see my flickr set) and I saw the remaining tourists queuing to take pictures with it. Then I made my way to the Colosseum. My initial plan was to get ticket to Palatine Hill and the Colosseum. I really loved Palatine hill the last time I was there. However I was there quite late so I decided to just take pictures around the Colosseum. The sky was blue now. Seeing the pictures, I had some really nice pictures from there. After that, I went back for dinner with Mau. That was my Sunday in Rome. It's a city which I've visited twice now and as much as it can be so chaotic sometime with the so many tourists there, I think I actually love it more now :) Of course I want to come back there again. I threw coins into the Trevi Fountain, so I really hope I'll be there again soon. For pictures of the Vatican, you can go here, and for pictures of Rome, you can go here.

:) eKa @ 3:19:00 PM • 0 comments

Italy ~ Verona and (the stupidity in) Lake Garda

So our second day in Milan wasn't actually spent in Milan. I wanted to go to Verona and Mau wanted to go to Venice. How did Verona come about? Well I always research about the cities I'm gonna be in and I also look at the day tours that depart from those cities. There are day tours going to Verona and Venice from Milan. Unfortunately they do not go everyday. The tour that is going to Verona is going to Lake Garda too and so I just started reading more about these places, how to go and such. I didn't want to go to Venice because I've been there before. We should explore something new, right? Although I did think if I should spend the morning in Verona and then the afternoon in Venice since Verona is half way between Milan and Venice. In the end, I decided to just go to new places. If I was to finish seeing Verona earlier, I would go to Lake Garda and so that was the plan.

Me and Mau bought our tickets at the automatic machines the day before. These machines are so convenient and pretty easy to use; I didn’t know that. We bought return tickets which is a mistake for me actually. I bought return tickets from Milan - Verona - Milan. This is a mistake because the station for Lake Garda, in the town of Desenzano del Garda, was actually between Milan and Verona. So if I were to go back to Milan from Verona, I actually had to go back to Verona from Desenzano and then pass this town again on my way to Milan. For some reasons (so unlike me!!!), I didn't plan things in details, I just wasn't committed or sure if I could make it to Lake Garda so I guess that was me subconsciously buying the return ticket so if I didn't make it and ended up spending the whole day in Verona, I'd have had my return ticket ready. So anyway, Mau's train and mine was actually the same. It's just I got off first. It took around 1 hour 30 minutes from Milan to Verona and close to 3 hours from Milan to Venice. Our train left on time but it got stuck halfway, I don't know what happened, it just stopped for some time that we ended up arriving later than planned and this caused Mau to miss the day tour in Venice that she booked.

In the train, there's this stunningly beautiful Italian girl sitting in front of me. I think she's Italian. Anyway, I thought she was so beautiful that I was thinking that it was rather incredible. Now that I wrote about it, I wonder if my guy friends will think she's beautiful because often times the ladies whom I thought to be pretty are considered so so in their eyes and they often cited girls whom I thought as ordinary to be pretty. Okay, why does this matter? Well, I just want to show you how my brain works, the things I see, the things I remember, and maybe you'll get an idea of how I am like. Anyways, the girl was looking rather sleepy. Well I guess if you are commuting for around 1.5 hours from Milan to Verona for work, it does get tiring (she was looking all formal with a laptop bag). There's also a chinese tourist sitting in front of me, okay I forget where she's from, maybe not chinese. Maybe Korean or Japanese. She got separated from her boyfriend or husband that they were not sitting together. They got off somewhere which I also couldn't remember, perhaps Brescia (Note to self: google Brescia). Moving on, I arrived. Wanted to pee but you had to put some coins to get through the toilet barrier. Italy! I'm speechless sometime. Some of the important infrastructures are not well managed and yet they can put automated barriers for the toilet. Granted, not all toilets are like this. Anyway, I didn't have enough coins. So off I went without shame, asking the first Asian tourist I saw, if I could get some cents. I forgot how much I asked. The girl kindly gave me. I couldn't quite pin point where she's from, perhaps Taiwan. So after I managed to pee, I went to a magazine store asking if I can buy a Verona card, which is stupidity on my part. I knew it's being sold in the Tabaccaio and yet I went into a magazine store. Obviously the lady said, go to the Tabaccaio. So I went there, wanted to buy the 1-day pass but I was told by the lady that there's no 1-day pass anymore, either you take 2-day pass or 3-day pass and off she went lecturing me that the 2-day pass is worth it and so on. I said okay and I took the 2-day pass and it cost 15€. This is a proof that my Italian is better than my Chinese because if the explanation had been in Chinese, I wouldn't have been able to understand as much. Done with that, I got out of the train station and oh dear I started to get lost. As far as I looked, there's nothing like the city center or a piazza outside the train station. By the way, the lady in the Tabaccaio didn't have a map of Verona to give me :( So what I could do but to walk forward? Walking forward led me to the bus terminal. I chose a random stop / shelter and saw that there were many buses going to the Arena. So I thought okay, take the bus. You can take the buses for free with Verona card. I took a bus and it's weird. In Singapore you could count the bus stops and know that you'll get off correctly but it wasn't like this with this Verona bus. When I saw that the bus was stopping near something that looked like a piazza, I got off. I walked towards the fountain and then I saw the Arena *praise the Lord!!!* and so that was my first stop.

The Arena is like the Colosseum but it's so much smaller. I didn't stay much actually because there's nothing much to see. Unlike the Colosseum, there are many seats all around the Arena. I'm not sure if it's always like this or they were preparing for a performance. There were some people working on the stage. I didn't spend much time there. Met a girl from China who asked me to take her picture. She was travelling alone. You know now that I think of it, I've met a few girls who were travelling alone but I haven't met many guys who travelled alone. Girls are really more daring than guys? Moving on, after the Arena, I just walked, kinda following the crowd. Wanted to go to Casa di Giulietta / Juliet's house. However for the life of me, I couldn't find it! I'm that bad with direction. I took a turn somewhere and ended up kinda on the outskirt and I saw the river and the bridge. I didn't cross the bridge though, I just walked along the river. I should have researched more about Verona and have a map! At that time, I still hadn't had a map.

So anyway, took a turn somewhere and saw a church. I checked if it's listed on the Verona card. It was and I went in. It's Chiesa di Sant'Anastasia. It's kinda a nice church. What's interesting was seeing the hunchback who had the holy water basin on its back. I just looked in wikipedia, apparently there are 2 of them, but I only saw one :( After the church, I went to Torre dei Lamberti. I found the lift, so I obviously took the lift while a horde of french teenagers were taking the stairs. I was thinking, I'm too old for that. It's kinda nice to see the Verona from the top. The lift doesn't stop all the way at the top. There are more staircases. I didn't take it because I really didn't want to tire myself out. I tried taking pictures of me by myself and a nice lady offered to take it for me. I like it when people are nice to me :) This is a picture of Verona which I took from the tower :)

After I got down, I finally got a map and got direction to Casa di Giulietta. I found it but I almost missed it again! It's quite a small entrance and the sign was covered with graffiti, hence I missed it the first time around. The entrance was filled with writing on the walls by kids, it's so dirty and crazy and I think a lot of chewing gums were pasted there, so it's kinda a biohazard :( If you have watched Letters to Juliet, it's really not like that. There were many people there. I entered the house which is not the house of Juliet. Romeo and Juliet is a fiction although the fact that there's Juliet's house and Juliet's tomb in Verona may make you question it. The house is like a museum that contains illustrations of the story Romeo and Juliet and also of the bed and clothes and many things that people in that period of time used. Juliet's balcony was actually in the hall, not in her bedroom and so if she existed, it would have been impossible to converse with Romeo without being noticed by the people in the house. The balcony was small. I was contemplating if I want to have my picture taken on the balcony. I couldn't find anyone to ask :( Then I thought they had such a sad love story so perhaps it's a good thing that I didn't have my picture taken there, lest I jinx my already-very-sorry-non-existence love life.

There were so many people in the courtyard of the house. A lot of teenagers. A lot of people taking pictures with Juliet's statue with their hands on her boobs :( I feel sorry for the statue. The so many teenagers apparently caused too much annoyance for the people working there that they called a vigile. I'm not really sure how to translate this in English, perhaps the security? In Indonesian, I guess it would be satpam. A lady vigile came and she came blowing her whistle loudly and started screaming at the kids, telling them, Do you think this is your house? You have no respect at all, so noisy until people called me. I actually kinda grinned because I found it funny. It's funny how in a different language, people still can scream and scold in the same manner, the sentence of, do you think this is your house? is something that an Indonesian in that situation will scream as well, as I do think a Singaporean will do as well :D I think I saw people trying to distance themselves from the kids :P

After that, I decided that I was done with Verona and it's time for lunch. Looking at the map now, I feel sorry that I didn't do any research about Verona because I should have gone to the Duomo and Teatro Romano :( Anyways, I went back to Piazza delle Erbe because I saw there were many restaurants there and I settled with Ristorante Alla Torre. I was greeted by the signore, who's the owner and he's very funny. He's like the no bullshit Italian guy. He was chasing away people by saying, no pizza here!!! I think it annoyed him greatly if people asked for pizza. He then mumbled in Italian, if my wife knows about this, lucky she's not in the kitchen today :D He gave me the menu and when he said why don't you try today's special, the pasta ai porcini, I was surely not gonna argue with him and straight away said okay :) He's actually pretty nice, asking me if I have a map and he wanted to give me a more detailed map but I said I didn't need any. He asked me where I'm from and since I spoke Italian, I guess it confused him a bit. He guessed correctly that I came from Milan but I meant as in I came in from Milan that morning, not that I live there. He's originally from Milan but he left and move to Verona many years ago because he likes the smaller city. He asked me if I've been to Venice, I thought it was a rather funny question, us being in Verona. I said I did visit it 2 years ago. He said, oh you travel quite a lot, which I actually don't. He said he liked to travel too. He's been to Singapore which he said was great. He stayed in Singapore for 3 days. He's been to Bali but then he said he's never been to Indonesia. I wanted to tell him, but Bali is in Indonesia! But I had my pasta to focus on at that time, so I let him slide. After I'm done with lunch, he wanted me to explore more of Verona. I said okay not wanting to disappoint him. He obviously loves Verona so much. I excused myself and said good bye and made my way to the train station. To see pictures of Verona, you can go here.

In the train station, I got my train tickets. To go to Lake Garda, the nearest town with the train station is Desenzano del Garda. I got a return ticket back to Verona because of my earlier return ticket of Verona - Milan. The stupidity!!! So anyway, it took around 15 minutes or so to reach Desenzano from Verona. However, it's a long long long walk from the train station to reach the lake, where the boats and ferries are. I didn't see a bus and I didn't even know if I was going the right way. I just walked straight ahead. It felt really good to finally see the water! I found the booth where they sell the ferry ticket. It's perhaps because it's not peak period, there weren't actually many people. I got the ticket to Sirmione which is the first stop from Desenzano. It's a return ticket. The frequency of the ferry is not so good, it's not every 15 minutes or so. Again perhaps this is the Singaporean influenced me speaking. I expect more convenience :P So I had to wait for half an hour or so. I walked a bit, took some pictures around the lake. Sat down and get tanned. When I got into the ferry, I think there were only less than 10 of us who boarded the ferry.

Reaching Sirmione, the first thing I did was getting gelato. I enjoyed it while watching swans on the lake. Since I was having gelato, I couldn't take a picture of these 2 swans who were perhaps doing the mating dance and were facing each other that their necks was forming the heart shape! That's my first time seeing that in real life and yet I didn't have a picture of it. It was rather nice seeing the water, ducks, swans, while enjoying my gelato. After I had my gelato, I walked around the lake. There were some kids but noone was swimming, perhaps the water was still too cold. There's actually a castle like building in Sirmione but I didn't enter it. I was making sure that I had enough time to go back to Desenzano. Since the ferry doesn't run every so often, if I missed the ferry, I wouldn't have time to go back to the train station and that exactly what happened to me!!!

So what happened? What happened was upon the time in which I think the ferry was going to Desenzano, I started getting down to the dock. There were so many people that I was so focused into getting into the ferry without asking if it's the right ferry. I want to blame the staff there who didn't check the tickets!!! The irony was, there was this Australian couple (I think they're Australian) who were with me on the ferry in to Sirmione. They were also in the dock at that time. I was behind them. I thought they decided not to take the ferry because they didn't want to squeeze and being the trained "kiasu" person here in Singapore, I managed to squeeze in. As the ferry took off, I saw them in the dock and I actually felt sorry for them that they didn't get into the ferry! I should instead feel sorry for me!!! So in the ferry, the staff started checking the ticket and the staff told me you're on the wrong ferry! I was like, WHAT??!?!? and SHIT and FUCK was going interchangeably in my brain. He told me to come with him to the front steering area. Wow, as I am writing this, I still want to say shit and fuck. Anyway, he talked to his colleague and then told me in English, either I get off at the next stop and paid the difference or just stay on until we finally reach Desenzano. He said my best possible option was to stay in the boat simply because it's the fastest way to go to Desenzano. I weighed my option. What options did I have? One, get off at the next stop and find a way to go to Verona which is surely gonna be problematic because I don't know if there's any bus going there. Two, stay in the boat, and be late upon reaching Desenzano which would mean I wouldn't be able to make it to Verona on time to take my train back to Milan. However, I was pretty sure there'll be trains from Desenzano to Milan. The choice was obvious right. I still found it pretty hard though to just calm down and accept my fate :'( I'm just one of those people, I can not calm down in the face of mistakes and problems :( So I said, alright I'd stay in the boat. It seemed that I didn't have to pay anything because my ticket was for Desenzano - Sirmione - Desenzano without any stop in between. So even if the ferry took the long route from Sirmione to Desenzano, the trip I took was actually valid according to the ticket as long as I didn't get off in any of the stop. Well, it's either that or they just felt sorry for me that they didn't ask me to pay more. So anyway, I was very sad. One of the other crew asked me where I'm from. I replied in Italian that I'm Indonesian but I live in Singapore. Straight away he was like, Singapore - the airport is great!!! Such an amusing comment but I was too bumped out to be amused :( Anyway the crew were entertaining these 2 American girls, so I decided to leave that steering area and tried to find a seat among the many German tourists. I was so sad and pissed and there were so many Germans there and all I could hear was German and I was thinking, I don't want to hear this anymore!!!

At one point, everyone got off. I'm not sure which stop that was that I was kinda left alone in the boat. Well there were like 2-3 people boarding in but the crew who spoke to me in Italian did say, you're staying alone? I replied sadly, yeah, I have to stay, right? :( After the ferry moved again, he came to talk to me. He's actually very nice. I felt so touched that he came to talk to me!!! That's like my first time having an Italian guy coming to talk to me. Now I kinda forget what his first question was, perhaps what I was doing there and such. He asked me if I've been to Venice. Again, I found the question to be amusing but I seriously was too sad to focus on the good part. You know even when he said he liked Asian culture and food, I couldn't really reply much. I could have asked him, e la ragazza asiana? (Asian girl?). Seriously, looking back, I'm such an idiot. I think he's actually quite handsome behind his ray ban glasses and instead of making more small talks, I didn't really ask him much stuff. I didn't even ask him for his name :( I did let out a bit of a scream and said, arrghhh sono molto stupida!!! (I'm very stupid!!!). He said, why? because you got on the wrong ferry? I said yes. He said have patience while gesturing towards the lake, kinda telling me to enjoy the lake. I could only say softly, Si. Then he's off to work again. I think he did make me a bit relaxed. I did take a few pictures of the lake after that. When we were reaching Desenzano, he told me, we're reaching soon. I said finalmente! I kinda dashed off that I didn't try to see him again before I left. At this point, I don't know if you think I am more stupid for missing the ferry or for not talking to him more. Stupid stupid me!

Anyway, I walked really really fast to get to the station. Still there was no way I could make it on time to Verona to take my initial train. I was hoping that the train would stop at Desenzano like my train in the morning. I asked the signore at the counter. He wasn't friendly at all :( He said no and told me to get new ticket. So that's what I did. You know I should be thankful actually. The train that I was about to take was actually late by half an hour or so hence I could take that train. If not, I would have to take a later train. So at this point, my Verona - Milan ticket was wasted but I still have a Desenzano - Verona ticket. Unlike the Verona - Milan ticket which has a seat number and could only be used at the stated time, the Desenzano - Verona ticket was not marked like that, instead it was valid for 1 month (I think). So I was thinking of giving it to the first Italian I saw in the train. I sat down next to this lady and I had difficulty explaining to her that I wanted to give her the ticket. The mixture of Italian and English didn't help. I don't think she speaks English. Anyway in the end she got it but she wanted to pay me which I insisted that she didn't have to. She insisted but she didn't have the exact amount. It was actually very cheap, I couldn't remember how much. I think I took 1 euro something from her. I asked her if it's gonna be useful for her. She said yes, so that's good. I told her that I was so stupid that day and she was very nice and told me, no no, you're just distracted. When a seat by the window became available, I moved so that I could sit alone and be left with my thoughts. The lady was very nice that when she got off 1 stop before me, she looked at me again and we said good bye.

In that train ride, I got an sms from Mau, telling me that she missed her train from Venice. That train was the last train to Milan and so she's stuck there. I guess it was a really bad day for us. As mean as this may sound, that sms actually made me rather happy because that meant I got the room all for myself. When I finally reached Milan and got out of the station, I was actually feeling better. It was late and it was already dark outside, luckily our hotel was near. The uncle at the hotel was there and asked me where my friend was. I told him about Mau being stuck. He asked me, you didn't travel together? He also asked if I've been to Venice. It's the third time someone asking me that. It's very amusing. I guess it's because Venice is very very unique. You do have to try to visit Venice if you're in Italy. I don't think there's another place like Venice in the world. So anyway, got into my room, had pizza for dinner. Had shower. I felt more relaxed. The tv was showing Leonardo diCaprio's The Beach. God, that guy was actually quite lanky in his younger days. He has become so plump now. With all the mistakes that I made, I actually managed to feel happier when I'm in that hotel room alone. The solitary was really what I needed. I will always need my alone time and in all the days of our trip, that day was the only day in which I spent the most time alone and it's good for my soul :P I almost forget, for pictures of Sirmone and Lake Garda, you can go here. So that's the very long story of that day. The next day, we were off to Rome. I'll leave that for the next post.

I should end this long post, but let me just add this bit. Went to watch the Italian movie, Il Vento Fa Il Suo Giro or Le Vent Fait Son Tour in French or The Wind Blows Round in English with YeeMaggio on Monday. The story is about a french family, a goat cheese maker, who decided to move into a small village in Italy. They were greeted with people who welcomed them kindly as well as the people who just didn't like the foreigners. Unfortunately in the end, the hatred won, and it drove the family away. The saddest part of the ending was when one inhabitant of the town, who's mentally challenged, killed himself. He used to lived on the street but the french family actually welcomed him into their house. When they left, they didn't bring him along, so I think he was broken hearted that he killed himself. It's kinda a sad movie. It's weird for me to say this, that I don't get the resentment towards foreigners but at the same time I understand the feeling that you want to keep your community the way it is and not take any outsider in. Anyway the movie was in Italian, French, and Occitan. It was funny for me of how there are conversation in which one person was speaking in Italian and the other person replied in French and for some reason, they understood each other. This has been a really long post. I have to go to sleep. Buonanotte tutti!

:) eKa @ 10:52:00 PM • 0 comments

Italy ~ Milan

Today marks exactly 1 month since I came back from my trip and yet I haven't finished telling you all the stories or sorted out all the pictures. I guess, bear with me with these outdated stories? This blog is to voice out what I think or want to say and since people are not asking me detailed stories of my trip, I'm just gonna put it here because I want to let it out.

In the last post, we ended with the overnight train from Barcelona to Milan. I thought the train was pretty nice. It's not luxurious or anything but it's adequate. I had dinner on the train. I still remember the waitress' name, Tamara Hier. I thought she's quite pretty and very nice and friendly. She speaks very little English and mostly Spanish but she's very nice, very helpful, and friendly. She offered to have Mau's left over paella to be microwaved so that she could have it hot. I thought that's very nice of her. So I booked the room with a bunk bed and a water sink, with that we got a free breakfast. I think if you book the one with the toilet and shower, you'll get free dinner as well as breakfast. Anyway, the water sink was adequate enough for us to wash our face and brush our teeth and there's a common toilet you can use. The dinner and breakfast I had was so so. There weren't many options in the dinner menu. Still, the whole experience was interesting for me :)

Met an Italian lady in the train and I started practising my Italian with her. I have to say that I'm very very bad. I addressed her informally instead of using the formal words and verbs conjugation. The Italian perhaps have a more relaxed rule in this than the French but since she's a much older lady, I think I am still considered as really rude. But she was nice enough to respond back to me and I guess after she got over the fact that this non-Italian girl was trying to speak in Italian to her, she just got used to me. She's from Firenze (Florence), which is a really really nice city, and apparently she goes to Barcelona quite often because her daughter is living there. The daughter has lived there for some time. I thought because the husband is Spanish but the husband is from Sicily :) They have a son, which I couldn't remember if she mentioned to me the age, but anyway the son is very cute with curly hair. I can sense that this grandma loves him so much :) She said the grandson is now speaking 3 languages, italian, spanish, and a bit of english :) Grandma is taking the train all the time because she's too scared of flying. Unfortunately this time around the trip is not so nice for her. I found out from her that there was a strike in France. It was rather weird that when we were having dinner the night before, the train wasn't moving. Tamara didn't know why when Mau asked her. It was still stationary when I went to sleep at around 11 pm something and perhaps it contributed to the fact that we could sleep really well. Either that, or we were just plain tired, or having a bed is really a major factor. Anyway so we're 3 hours later than expected and obviously that threw grandma's plan off the window. She still had to take a train to Firenze. Lucky for me and Mau, when we arrived, we still had time to check in to our hotel and then go for our half day tour of Milan. We supposed to get a 50% refund because of this lateness however I couldn't find out how. I tried my darnest to get the information in the station but there was nothing substantial. I got really really frustrated. Perhaps the nicest thing that happened was that a signore, a staff in the station, praised me for my Italian, which I thought was bad but I think he just appreciated it that I could speak it and in a manner which he could understand and I could understand him. Before I continue on, let me show you this picture.

I think we have crossed the French border and was in Italy at the time this picture was taken. Take a look at the mountains. My geography sucks but I think that the snow capped mountains might be the Alps. The lady was the one who pointed them to me. I forget to tell you that our rooms were side by side and she spent much time standing at the corridor and looking at the window, which I followed suit but it was me and my camera. I tried to ask the lady what's the name of the mountain but she didn't know what it was and I didn't really know how to say Alps in Italian, I did think it might be called Alpi but I just didn't try. I think it is though, well if anyone could confirm that to me, it would be great :)

So arrived in Milan. After some asking around, we found our hotel, Hotel Stazione, which I love dearly!!! The irony of it all, it was the cheapest hotel that I chose and I thought it's not gonna be so good but I was thinking we're just gonna spend 2 nights there so I could rough it up. It turned out to be the best of all!!! It was totally value for money. For a double room, it was less than 100 euro. I don't think it's easy to find good hotels in the big cities in Europe with that price, in a location near the train station. Trust me, I tried, I couldn't find any except for this one. Yeah it's not luxurious and all, but what I love was that it was really clean and surprisingly spacious! The room seemed to be new, all the furnitures seemed new. The wi-fi connection worked great. The place for breakfast was really really small but there weren't many people anyway because the hotel was really small (only 1 floor) so I didn't mind it. There's always space for me to have breakfast. Either way, you can take your breakfast to your room. The kind uncle even brought Mau's coffee to our room. I thought the breakfast was good, love the cornetto!!! The uncle was really really nice. I talked to him in Italian and he's just really nice and tried to make sure you have all that you need. For me, it was definitely the best hotel we stayed in and seriously I was thinking how ironic it was because I was preparing myself for it to be the worst; that honor actually went to the hotel in Rome - another story, another posting. So if you happen to be going to Milan and want a hotel which is not too expensive and near Milano Centrale train station, I'm totally recommending this hotel to you :)

Moving on, I actually book a half day tour of Milan. Why? Simply because I wanted to see Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper. To see The Last Supper, you have to book in advance and really that's the only way to see it. There's no queue at the place because everyone booked for it and everyone must come on their time slots or they just couldn't get in. I didn't want the trouble so I thought let's just book the half day tour, we got to see Milan with a guide and we got to see the Last Supper. You know what, I just checked how to book for the Last Supper and see how crazy it is, for July there's only 1 ticket left, on July 31st. In August, there's a total of 12 tickets left on 3 different dates. September still has some tickets in each of the day of the week. So point to note, book like 3-4 months before your actual visiting date! That is not very convenient, isn't it :P

Anyway, our day tour started with visiting Teatro alla Scala. It's actually pretty small. Well it has been around for more than 300 years so the fact that it's still a functioning theatre and still matters a lot, well ... shows how awesome it is :P When we were there, there's a ballet company practising at the stage. We got to see a bit of their practice. I can imagine that it must be an honor to be performing at La Scala. Next was Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Saw the luxury goods shops and the first Prada shop as well. An interesting thing to mention, when most of the McDonalds in Europe mostly have their golden arch behind a green background, the one in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II has it behind a black background. That is so that it blends in with the rest of the fancy shops but I think its presence still makes the rest of the high class shops look at it in disdain :P Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is pretty impressive. We did the turn with our heels at the bull on the floor so that our wish could come true :P I couldn't remember what I wished for :( Exiting the galleria, we reached Piazza del Duomo which brought us to Duomo di Milano. I didn't know that this Cathedral was one the biggest church in the world. I think the thing that I would remember the most about this church was Saint Bartholomew's statue. You can see the picture and the rest of the pictures of Milan here. I didn't have many pictures of Milan actually. I only saw Milan from this day tour and didn't explore it more in depth on my own. After the Duomo, we went to see Castello Sforzesco. We didn't go inside though. Before I continue, this is the picture of the Duomo taken from the bus, so the colour is a bit weird.

The last stop was to see The Last Supper. I know that this was a mural on a wall in a church, Santa Maria delle Grazie. However I didn't expect that it was housed in a separate building of its own. I thought it still inside the church but it wasn't. It was a very very unique experience seeing the mural. They only let at most 25 people to see it at one time and for 15 minutes only. I remember we had to go through 2 separate waiting rooms. Supposedly we are being purified from the dust or whatever pollutants we had on us. I was expecting a strong wind would blow us or something like that but nothing of that sort. Nothing happened actually in the waiting room, we're just waiting for the next door to open. There's only 1 staff waiting in the hall of where the mural is. Do you think she's lucky to be able to see the famous painting for as long as she wants when people only get to see it for 15 minutes? Anyway the mural is on one side of the wall and on the other side of the wall, there's a fresco by another painter. The rest of the wall is just painted white. Don't ask me what's the different between a fresco and a mural. I just know that Leonardo's Last Supper is not a fresco, it's a painting on wall ... I hope I am correct by saying it that way. Anywho, our guide tried her best to explain as many things to us in the 15 minutes we had. I remember so few details about it, like a door was actually made on the wall hence the bottom part of the painting (where Jesus's feet should have been) is not there anymore. Over the course of the history, the hall had been used for many things, they all contributed to the damages of the painting. Some of the faces were actually not clear anymore. The guide said during restoration, the people didn't want to alter much of the painting so they left some of the smudges as is. Seeing the painting didn't actually bring much emotion in me. I guess I was thankful that I got to see that in person, something that I can boast about :P The whole experience in getting to the room was more memorable for me than my actual feeling of seeing it. I remembered taking one last look at the painting before I had to leave the room, simply because I know maybe I'll never get to see it again. It felt rather sad at that time. So that's the story of Milan. Why didn't I explore much of the city? Because the next day I decided to go to Verona. That's a story for the next posting.

So how's my life since I last wrote? Life is so so, surviving. Feeling abandoned by some people but not gonna go into it here. Watched a few movies. Last week, I watched 1860, which was an old black and white Italian movie about the war, at the free screening by the Italian Cultural Institute. YeeMaggio kindly accompanied me to it. It got me reading about Giuseppe Garibaldi in Wikipedia and learnt that Nice in France used to belong to Italy and it was actually called Nizza. Giuseppe Garibaldi is an Italian hero who was bornt in Nizza. He was really pissed that the city eventually went to France. Another Italian movie that I watched this week was Signore & Signori (The Birds, the Bees and the Italians) with Carl and the rest. By the way, the Italian season is happening right now until the 21st of June so there's a few Italian related events happening, like the screening of several Italian movies. I'm thinking of watching another one this coming week but I'm not sure if I will eventually do it. Anyway Signore & Signori was another old black and white Italian movie. It was funny. There are 3 different kinda overlapping stories about the Signore and Signori of a town in Italy. They're funny, they're so pretentious and hypocritical. If there's one common thing that threads the different stories, is how they tried to hide certain things that they did. My italian is not so amazing that I still needed the subtitles :(

A more mainstream movie this week was Super 8, which I watched with Oshie. He was having X-Men: First Class and Super 8 back to back. I kinda abstain myself from super heroes movies this time around, exception is only for Transformers. Oshie was saying why?!??! It's the summer. Yeah I know but they just don't excite me anymore. I also think there should be a law banning an actor from appearing in more than one super hero movie. I'm gonna let Chris Evans slide because Fantastic 4 movies weren't really that deep. Back to Super 8, I like it! I thought the kids were great and they are the gems in this movie. The way they spoke was really fast sometime but they were funny, they had the best lines, and they were cute and adorable! Funny lines were like when one of them said, production value!!! or drugs are so bad. They're hilarious. As for the suspense, well the Lost style which was implemented me kinda annoyed me at times. You know there's something bad and big but like in Lost, J.J Abrams decided not to show it to us, instead he teased us with sounds or the rustling of something, very very Lost style. I thought the ending scene was rather sad for me, maybe it didn't matter for other people. I was hoping the boy got to keep the necklace but he didn't so that is sad :( If you're watching it, stay tune for the movie that the kids made during the credit roll. Osh told me that the zombie movie was really made by the kids. It was really funny and cute. They are really talented kids and I'm sure they had lots of fun doing it. For actors like them, I reckon it's harder for them to be acting bad than good :P I hope these kids will be great in the future. Elle Fanning is definitely blooming and showing she's as good as her big sister. Do watch it peeps, it's really good and the kids were really entertaining :D Okay, gotta stop now. Buonanotte tutti!

:) eKa @ 9:58:00 PM • 0 comments

Spain ~ Casa Batlló, Casa Milà (La Pedrera), Park Güell ~ Barcelona

So with the so many days in Spain spent not in Barcelona, we actually didn't have much time to explore Barcelona itself. In our last day in Barcelona, we were leaving for Milan at 7.30 pm something. It kinda gave enough time to see a few things but I wasn't really sure if I could see all the things that I wanted to see. Initially I thought I was just going to visit Casa Milà (La Pedrera) and Park Güell. Obviously Park Güell is a must and from my reading La Pedrera seems interesting as well. Then I was thinking if it's possible to visit the Picasso museum as well. I happened to meet Carl before the trip and she spoke about how she liked Casa Batlló so much and so I put that into the list. I took note of the metro station in each place, thinking I would just take the metro but Mau decided that she was going to take the hop on / hop off bus, especially after being told by the Australian tourists, who took the Provence tour with us, of how convenient the buses were. I got swayed, so I took it as well. It is very very convenient. There are 3 routes and there are a lot of stops all over Barcelona. You just hop in and hop off anywhere you like. I think it might worth more to get the 2-day pass for 30 euro than the 1-day pass at 23 euro. I don't think you can cover the whole 3 routes of the bus in one day and still stop at places to see some things. I didn't even have time to try the green line. It's really really worth the money and the staff were really really friendly :) The guy at booth made me smile when I got my ticket.

Again since our hotel is by Plaça de Catalunya, we just needed to cross the street to go to the booth to get our tickets and got on the bus. Both Mau and me took the blue bus but we had different things that we wanted to see. I was off the bus in the first stop. First stop was Casa Batlló. I LOVE Antoni Gaudí. You can call him quirky or such but I love his design aesthetic. I think we match :P There are so much details in what he did. There are curves in the handle of the stairs so that they fit your hands perfectly. There are different mosaic glass on the windows which will change colors as the light goes through them. The walls are tiled in blue tiles which goes in gradient of light blue to darker blue. There are glass panel which will reflect those tiles like reflection on the water. The chimneys are not just chimneys, they are pieces of arts, colorful and wonderful. The colors, I love the way the colors are. I love everything about this house and I think a house should be like this, unique and fun! I really love everything he did. Barcelona is really a Gaudí's city and I'm sure I haven't seen all that he did but from all the things that I saw, I love them all. To see my pictures of Casa Batlló, you can go here. By the way, look at this picture of its exterior facade, look at the details of the walls and balconies, pretty! It's a well managed house too. I saw some people fixing the mosaic and they did it with such care and in a really meticulous way.

After Casa Batlló, the next stop in the blue bus is Casa Milà or more famously known as La Pedrera. It is very very near. You start exploring La Pedrera with the roof. There's actually elevators but stupid me took the staircase because I thought there are some things to see in the floors reaching the roof but the way you visit the place is designed so that you start with the roof first. Reaching the roof, I was impressed but at the same time not so blown away. I guess it's because you came from the colorful roof and home of Casa Batlló and then you reached La Pedrera where the chimneys are more in a brown color without much mosaics on them. It's still a stunning and incredible roof because all the figures are interesting. You see faces on them and you can't help but smile a bit seeing them. I think the roof is bigger and there are stairs all around so walking up and down may get you tired but of course all the energetic kids were running around excitedly. After the roof you go down to see the apartments and the rooms that were used by the people who used to live there. Some of the items were really really cute. I feel that it's also another nice place to live in. I can imagine going to the roof as the sun was setting down or rising, it must be so beautiful up there. It would great if I can live in building like this. The pictures are here. Here you can see the picture of the roof.

My next stop was Park Güell. Well the bus stop to the park is not so near, you kinda have to walk up. I stopped for lunch because I needed the fuel :P I had meat on skewers, fried eggs, and fries. The meat was scarily a lot but it was good :P Anyway first impression of Park Güell was that it's unique. You see the stairs from the entrance and you can sense that it's something different and unique. Then you turn your back and see the 2 houses at the entrance, very unique houses. I guess the only thing I don't like is that there were just too many people and I hate that but I guess the park will never really be empty of people. There are many many interesting parts of the park. I love the mosaics, I just love them! There were many artists, many musician, so there were a lot of different musics playing. You also have people selling many stuff and there were also artists who paint. If you hike up a bit more, you get away from all the crowd below and see more greeneries. I didn't hike all the way up because the paths were rather steep and it was rather hot and I didn't know how far it would lead me and I didn't want to stray too far and end up taking too much time to get back. The quiet moment up there was really really nice for me. I just love the peace and you got to see Barcelona. It's wonderful. Many people have told me to be careful in Barcelona because of the pick pockets and I remember Yeni telling me that there were pick pockets going into her bags so I didn't fancy having a lot of people there and the park really lived up to that bad stigma unfortunately. I saw a caucasian tourist chasing after one of the people who were selling stuff, they were running so fast that it gave me a shock. Then some minutes later, again I saw people running away from something. It's very very unfortunate that the park is not so safe :( I didn't feel like I want to stay there long but that was also attributed because there were just too many people to make it a pleasant visit. Sometime I wonder if me being alone roaming around kinda caused all these bad people to pity me and not target me. Well I do make it a point not to open the map in public and look obviously like a tourist. Maybe some think that I'm just an exchange student and perhaps they think just don't hassle to solitary girl there :P Whatever it is, I am thankful that God always protect me on my way. Pictures of Parc Güell is here. This is the picture of the 2 houses at the entrance. The one on the left made me think of a gingerbread house. Gaudí was really really religious, you can almost always see crosses in all his works and I really admire his devotion.

After Park Güell, I basically had nothing else that I wanted to see (badly). Well I have a few things that I could think of but I didn't have the time. I wanted to visit the Picasso Museum but it's on the other way and so I thought I should just sit on the bus and see Barcelona. Point to take note, when you are on this double decker open top buses, obviously you want to sit on top, however it gets really really windy! It became rather uncomfortable for me. It's bright and the sun was shining but it's windy, so I had my jacket all zipped up which perhaps made me look really weird, but I really didn't like the wind. Anyways, it was a sunny blue sky day in Barcelona so my pictures came out all with blue sky, I love them :) It is hard though to take pictures on a moving bus, so I don't actually have many pictures. They give you earphones in the bus, so you get to hear commentary about the places. It's interesting :) You can see the few pictures I have here. I actually love Barcelona very very much and I didn't expect that I'm gonna love this city that much. I don't speak Spanish so obviously I'll have difficulty navigating myself in this town but it is such a great city. I thought its infrastructure was great. I only took the metro twice so I didn't actually try it much but from the little I saw, it was better than Rome and Paris. I think it has a laid back feeling but at the same time it's also cool and modern that it doesn't come across as too laid back perhaps. Gaudí is of course a huge draw, you can almost see his influences everywhere. I would definitely want to come back to Barcelone one day and explore more of its city and also other parts of Spain. Oh I also have to say, I love the food. You can feed me paella anytime and I'll be happy happy happy :) I was talking about this with Carl the other day. She said she didn't love France much and I shared her sentiment. It's harder for me to eat in France, I couldn't find something that I'd just know I would like. It's so much more easier for me to eat in Italy and Spain. Anyway here's one picture of Barcelona. I'm glad and thankful that I've been here :)

So that's it peeps, the Spanish stories. I seriously felt rather sad about leaving Barcelona even though we were heading to Italy. I just felt that I haven't gotten enough of it. Anyway we took our overnight train to Milan. When I saw our room it was actually small and it made me rather sceptical. We saw 2 seats there and so I wonder where's the bed. Well there are beds but you need to get the staff to set it for you and the lady set it up for us when we went for dinner. I was impressed when I got back from dinner to see the bunk beds. I'm very bad at taking pictures of things like these, hotel rooms and the meals we had because it just didn't come to my head that I should take pictures :P Let's just settle and say that I was really impressed. Well that is before I watched Japan Hour recently in Channel News Asia and their overnight trains were so much better! So I guess our train and room were so so but I still love it and I had a good night sleep and I'll do it this way again :) More stories in the next post okay, ciao!

:) eKa @ 10:57:00 AM • 0 comments

Spain ~ Girona, Pals, and Costa Brava

The following day, May 9th 2011, Mau and me had a day tour to Girona and Costa Brava. We met Adrien at the meeting point. Amazingly he remembered our names. It's very nice of him because I think some people would just don't care especially guides like him who see many different people every day. Unfortunately he wasn't our guide for the day, though I would have loved to have him again. We had Anna. She's this petite spanish girl who's ... well on one side, one can say that perhaps she's a bit unprofessional but I think it's the way how things are run in Singapore that I kinda expected things to be carried out a certain way, so perhaps it's just me. On the other side, she's very open in talking about her personal life and such which perhaps can annoy people but I think it just showed how easy going and friendly she is and she's actually a very nice person because she took extra care of the Australian lady who was with us, who physically had difficulty in walking on some paths. Again it was a small group, we had the Australian couple which I don't know if I remember their names correctly. Anyway, the husband is British and the wife originally from Sri Lanka and they're currently living in Perth. Then there's the young Canadian girl, whose name is Michelle (I think). If I remember correctly she's a 2nd year university student and at that time she was alone in Barcelona because all her friends have left and she's waiting to start her summer studies in Mallorca. This group wasn't as fun as the day before but I did have some gelato time with Michelle in Costa Brava. We sat at the bench looking at the blue water and misty sky while having gelato and just talked. Sometime when you're travelling alone, you kinda get really lonely. I know because I've been there. So I hope she enjoyed that little human interaction with me :P

We started the day in Girona. Girona was having its annual Temps de Flors exposition. Apparently they have it every year during spring. So you have many installation arts all over the town and they are all decorated with flowers or plants. I didn't see everything but I thought it's pretty cool. It really made exploring the town so much more fun and they were many locals coming to see it. The exposition really made Girona memorable because if not, I think it will be just another town. As suggested by Anna, I went through the Girona's wall. You know as silly as this may sound because it sounds tiring, it's just kinda nice to be walking alone exploring the paths and taking turns here and there, you were left with your thoughts and sometime you saw unexpected wonderful things :P

This bridge view kinda reminded me of Firenze, maybe it's the colors. You can see more pictures here.

After Girona, we went to Pals. The road was so quiet on our way there and even in the town. It was so quiet and we hardly saw any people!!! It was rather strange. I wondered why that was so. I didn't ask Anna but I really wonder if it's because it's the siesta time. We were there after lunch time. It's all blue sky in Pals and it was hot and I think the combination of those and the fact that the town was quiet, we decided not to stay for long. So I don't have much pictures of Pals, you can see them here.

Next stop was to see Costa Brava. Unfortunately when we arrived there, the weather wasn't good. It was misty and rather cold and because Pals was hot, I left my jacket in the car :( But it didn't stop me from having gelato though later on :P The fishing village we stopped in was Calella de Palafrugell and I have to say that even though it was misty and cold, it was really really beautiful there. Again there's not many people around which would have been ideal if the weather had been nicer. I think there weren't many people because there's no sun to enjoy and the water was too cold to swim in. I didn't touch the water though. As we were about to leave, the sky started to clear up :( The blue sky started to appear and the water echoed the its blueness and everything looked really nice and blue. It's very very unfortunate for us. I am sure that it's even more beautiful when the weather was better. To see the pictures that I have, you can go here.

:) eKa @ 8:54:00 PM • 0 comments

Spain ~ Montserrat and Parés Baltà

So the story continue. I actually had very little knowledge of Spain and Barcelona. I just knew I wanted to see Sagrada Família but after that I basically don't have anything else that I wanted to see. After much googling and wikipedia-ing, I do want to see Alhambra but it wasn't on the way. So anyway, I browsed and looked at the day tours that departed from Barcelona and I actually was really interested in going to the Pyrenees. However in the end I decided not to simply because I think it started quite early and I thought it was gonna be physically demanding and so I decided on the Montserrat day tour that includes a visit to a vineyard. I think the wine tasting and the vineyard visit was such a huge pull factor :P You know, I am glad to say that I have been to a vineyard in Italy, France, and Spain. As snobbish as this may sound, I think it's quite an enriching and cool experience in my life :P

Montserrat is a mountain near Barcelona which is famous for the church Santa Maria de Montserrat. This church is famous for its Black Virgin, but me and Mau didn't queue to see it. Anyway, it was a small group, there were only 4 of us, me, Mau, and an american couple, Gwen and Thomas. At first I felt rather uneasy because I was hoping for a bigger group so that we wouldn't be all so quiet. However the group of people were rather awesome. Our guide was Adrien, a french, who's been living in Barcelona for 12 years. We were with his colleague, Anna, the following day and she said that he's fluent both in Spanish and Catalan. That got me googling about Catalan. Apparently it's a whole different language but I doubt you can find a place to learn Catalan easily outside of Spain. Anyway, with Adrien, again perhaps it's a french thing but he has a certain cheeky sense of humour, which is okay for me and it made it fun :D Well proper people bore me to death! It's better for me to be rather quirky, crazy, and bold, it makes you more interesting. So anyway, I had quite an interesting talk with Gwen and Thomas. Thomas used to or perhaps still works for HP and he's been to Singapore. He was fascinated by the pink dolphins :D and as many foreigners who's been to Singapore told me, Singapore is impressive because it's very orderly. With Gwen, she talked a length about her daughter, Shannon, who has a bachelor degree in Neuroscience and now pursuing a master degree in Business Management or something like that. I can feel that she's so proud of her. This makes me wonder if my mother or my father have ever talked proudly about me or my brother. I highly doubt it! It's just not in our genes, I guess. I wonder if it's just the Asian culture in which we are always feeling that what we achieved are so so and we always look at other people who have achieved more. I don't know.

We started in Montserrat and it was cloudy and rainy when we were there. I was a bit down with that. Adrien took us to the church and started telling us about the history and all and I had a feeling that he really really wanted us to pay attention :P However, seriously there's no way my brain will remember all the things that happened in the 1700s or 1800s or even older than that. He told us the things that we could do and then left us to explore on our own. We were there on a Sunday and since it was still drizzling, Mau and me, decided to go into the church and watch the mass. The monastery was famous for its boys choir. Initially we wanted to wait until the mass was over and then hear them sing but they were already singing during the mass so we thought it's the same thing and we didn't stay until the mass finished. When we got out, the sky was blue and I was feeling happy :) That day being Sunday saw more people and more locals visiting the church. Adrien said it's a very common thing for the Catalans to come to Montserrat to pray to the Black Virgin and come back to give thanks when their prayers have been answered. So since it's Sunday, it seemed that there were more activities than usual and there were traditional catalan dance performances outside the church and many people selling local products. The dance seemed pretty fun. They were performed by kids, youths, and even older people. They were in traditional clothing and they used colorful ribbons during the dance and they all get tangled and such. The kids were looking pretty cute doing the dances :D

After watching the dance, we got lunch, and then we took the funicular to go to the higher ground of Montserrat. The view was awesome!!! I'm not one who's been to many mountains. In fact right now if I have to think about it, the last mountain which is also perhaps the first mountain I've been was Mount Bromo in Indonesia. I just want to say that it's just an incredible feeling being on top of a mountain and looking at the view. It's the view and it's the experience, it was just breathtaking. It just felt so awesome. There's a trail that you could follow to explore the area but we didn't have much time to explore everything. I did feel a bit scared that I was going slip and go trudging down the mountain, that would be so tragic! :P I think the view from this mountain is the main highlight for me. It was really really awesome :)

You can see the pictures here. After Montserrat, we went to Parés Baltà, a vineyard which in Adrien's word is small. Well I don't know how do one classifies a vineyard as small or not. It seems that this vineyard only produces a few thousand bottles a year, which I think is actually quite a lot. Anna, the british girl who worked there took us to see the vineyard. I have very little knowledge in wine making so I just listened. Gwen seemed to be very knowledgeable. Anyway, the vineyard in Parés Baltà is not watered, they totally rely on rain. I found that to be very interesting. Obviously such thing will not work in Provence where they don't really get much rain. So it's interesting for me how different regions grow their grapes differently. After we were shown the vineyard, it was time for wine tasting. The grandpa of Parés Baltà came to greet us. He was such a nice person, very humble, and seemed to be genuinely happy to see all of us there. Such a warm welcome do really make you warm and fuzzy inside and you just love the place even more :P I think we tasted wine from 5 - 6 bottles. I couldn't really remember :P We tried 2 cava and some other wines, I think 1 white and 2 red. They gave us biscuits, cheese, and bread which we ate with the olive oil. All were so good :D I'm not a big wine fan but I think I like one of the red wine. Anyway perhaps it's the wine, I ended up getting a bottle of Rose Cava and a bottle of olive oil. Everyone bought something. It guess wine can really do something to you. Mau is always more chatty after she has wine and I could sense that even Gwen was more relaxed :P I on the other hand went into a defensive mood, that is I could feel that the wine was doing something to my head and so I tried extra hard to pay attention to everything, drink less, and since there were no water, I ate more :P I just became really really more careful in what I do and say, perhaps I became quieter? I believe I have a bit of OCD. After the wine tasting, we headed back to Barcelona :P I still couldn't believe I got those 2 bottles. I was dragging them all the way to Italy and Singapore and they survived, thank God! I'm actually gonna drag them home to Indonesia, the next time I go home. I thought the last time I got a wine from Tuscany was already silly enough and yet this time I was getting bigger bottle and not just one, I had another bottle of olive oil. It's the wine!!! :D

So we arrived back in Barcelona pretty early. It's being Sunday, the shops / malls were closed!!! I couldn't believe it!!! It's such an unbelievable concept. We decided to get paella for dinner and so we explored Las Ramblas. Seriously our hotel was really in a good place. There were a lot of artists there, you can see all kind of paintings and some of them were really really good. We kinda reached the end and so we just chose a restaurant. The paella and octopus were great and the serving was great as well. It's so much cheaper than in Singapore. I love seafood! We ordered sangria as well and it came in such a big glass, very very big. You can have your breakfast cereal in it. For some reason, I decided that I wanted to finish it and I did. I don't think Mau even finished half of it. I don't know why I wanted to do it. After all that, I realized that my vision was impaired and it's really really hard to focus. I think I still walked straight but it was rather hard to do so and I think it was by God's grace that we could get through Las Ramblas and reached our hotel safely since this street is also famous for the pick pockets. I was very very intoxicated that I really had to shower carefully and hold on to the wall and by the time I reached my bed, my head was just spinning. There was a little feeling that I wanted to puke but I didn't. It was such a bad feeling, I hate it so much. The feeling of not being in control of yourself and I realize this is the part where bad things could happen to you and I was just lucky that I was already in the safety of the hotel room. It's such an enlightening experience and you really do need to experience certain things to really know what it really feels like and now that I have felt that and hated that helpless and weak feeling, I really really don't want to drink much anymore. I hate not being in control and though I almost gonna say I'm not gonna drink anymore, I'm not gonna say that. I'm just gonna say I'm gonna try not to drink if I can help it and if I do drink, it's not gonna be a lot anymore!!! Okay, that's all for today. I'll try to continue soon :)

:) eKa @ 8:56:00 PM • 0 comments

Spain ~ Sagrada Família

Hello peeps, let me continue with the story of my trip :) So we left France for Spain on Saturday, May 7th 2011. It marked a week since we started off on our journey. It was a bit like we were half way into our trip. At that point in time, there was a bit of sadness about leaving France but I wasn't actually in love much with France. I remembered telling Mau that the place in France that I loved the most after all that we've seen was Paris and that was regardless of how chaotic it is. Even Provence didn't make me fall much for it. We were going to Barcelona and I was excited about it because I will get to cross the number one thing in my life list. You see before my Italian trip 2 years ago, the number one and two thing in my life list were to go to Italy and have a trip alone. I don't know in what sequence they came but I was glad that I got to cross them both at the same time :) After that, it changed me a bit and with all the things that I googled and read, the number one thing that occupied that life list was to go to Barcelona and see Sagrada Família and I am thankful to God that I got to do that. I crossed that off my life list!!! I felt so thankful to God for the blessing and opportunity to do that. No matter how I try to describe how it felt like, I don't know if I can do it justice. It's the feeling that you are so thankful for being alive, for being there, for all the things that God gives you that get you there. I'm not one who wants to give life advices because I don't think that I'm highly successful in life or anything like that but I do urge people to have a goal in life or a life list. I know this sounds annoying, like the things your annoying bosses or people who interview you will talk to you about, but I'm speaking from my experience. I have goals in life, things I want to do in my life list, and the moment I got to do that, the feeling is amazing. Some people may think that my life list is meaningless and perhaps aimless and so not ambitious but they didn't feel what I felt everytime I managed to cross something off it and that's something that they couldn't take away from me :) So I do urge you guys to have something and try to fulfill them. I guarantee it, the moment you reach that goal, it's incredible, it's what being on top of a mountain feels like and since I was kinda on the high ground of the Montserrat mountain in Spain, I can tell you it feels amazing and incredible! It'll take your breath away :)

Wow, I'm like preaching there. So back to the story. We were in Marseille and to get to Spain we had to take the train, first to Montpellier and then to Figueres Vilafant and then to Barcelona. In Montpellier we got into the wrong compartment. The stupidity just baffled me!!! I don't know how else to explain or justify on how we couldn't find the right compartment. Anyway the lady conductor told us to get off at the next stop and we had around 9 minutes to run with our luggages to the correct compartment which was many metres away. I was devastated with things like this but Mau found it to be really funny and memorable. I really really don't like mistakes!!! It took me sometime to calm down from the mistake :( But anyway we arrived safely at Barcelona Sants train station. My first impression of Barcelona and the station was that of utter pleasant surprise. The station was really really nice and big, like an airport. It's modern and it's really cool, awesome cool I mean. I like Barcelona on the get go :) We decided to take the taxi to our hotel because we just didn't feel like dragging our luggages through the metro. Luckily our hotel which is basically at Plaça de Catalunya is pretty near and so it wasn't expensive. We checked in, I dropped my luggage and proceeded to go to Sagrada Família.

I was musing for sometime on which day I would go to Sagrada Família and in the end I decided to do it on the first day I arrived and I think it's apt that visiting it was the first thing I did when I arrived in Barcelona :) The whole trip did revolve around giving me the opportunity to cross this off my life list. Anyway I have heard the queue was going to be long and I have heard of people giving it a miss because they didn't want to queue but I was thinking that if I got there by 4 pm and had to stay in the queue for 2 hours, it would still be okay, because thanks to daylight saving time, the basilica was closing at 8 pm. That's how eager I am to see it :) So I took the metro and again I was pleasantly surprise because the metro train station was pretty nice. Yeah it's kinda dark and all but it was pretty clean and nice and there were big signs everywhere and you will not have difficulty finding your direction. The metro itself was nice and clean. Obviously not like Singapore standard but it was way better than Paris :P So I easily arrive at Sagrada Família and the queue was round the corner surrounding the compound. It was long but not as long as I expected it to be and I gave it 40 minutes before I'd get to enter the basilica but the queue actually moved really really fast that I think I got in within 20 minutes :)

I really can't describe what it felt like being there. It was cloudy and windy in Barcelona so I quickly got inside. I think the bad weather also caused the lifts to be not in used that day :( but it's okay. I hope I'll get to come back again, maybe when the church is finished. Hmmm ... I can put this in my life list :) Anyway, I got in and the high ceiling just took my breath away. The mosaics on the window was beautiful. The design of the columns, the ceiling, and the windows is awesome. Every single details of it is amazing. What made me so taken about this church was basically Antoni Gaudí and his dedication and commitment to God in building this church. He was so passionate about the church and you can see it in all the details. It's really inspiring and I am sure if you are an architect it will inspire you even more. I'm really really glad that they are finishing the church and it's great that way.

The outside of the church is also amazing as the inside. The front part where the Nativity Façade is, is so different with the back part where the Passion Façade is. The Nativity Façade has more nature elements in it and you are just in awe looking at all the shapes and all the little details, the animals and the angels. The Passion Façade has a more clean look. I love the expression of the statues. I think the artists did an amazing job. You can see the pictures here. Unfortunately, I don't think the pictures came out nice :( Anyway in the compound of the basilica you can also visit the small museum which gives you more explanation on the building of the basilica. Oh yeah, they made you queue to go into the gift shop :P Maybe they only do that when there are too many visitors (which I imagine is always). It was kinda funny for me but it did make a more pleasant experience browsing at the stuff :)

So that was my first day in Barcelona. After all the mistake with the train, I ended it feeling really happy and thankful to God for the opportunity to see Sagrada Família :) After that I got back to the hotel. In the Plaça de Catalunya metro station, I was pleasantly surprised seeing people dancing to some of the musicians who were busking there. It was such an impromptu thing. There's an old couple dancing sweetly and there were 2 young girls who didn't really follow the rhythm :P I loved it. It's definitely not something that happens in the shy Asia. I love how easy going and laid back people are. I have heard the song they played before as I am sure you too but I don't know what it's called and it's driving me crazy now trying to find out what song that is especially since I can only remember the melody :( Anyway I didn't watch it for long because I was still cautious about Barcelona and the pick-pockets stories. So I got out to go back to the hotel. I have to say that our hotel was really really in an amazing place but I didn't actually like it much when we first arrived :( The room was big and clean so it was a plus point but it is noisy as well. We arrived on a Saturday and as usual there's a football match on the weekend and some of the supporters were making so much noise at Plaça de Catalunya. It seriously drove me crazy and for some reason there's also too many noise from inside the hotel itself, maybe it was the lift. However, apparently when you are really really REALLY tired, you can sleep anyway. I did sleep and I had a good deep sleep so overall the hotel still does have its plus points :) Hmmm, I thought I was going to write about our trip to Montserrat as well here, but I guess not, maybe tomorrow. So I'm gonna stop here for now :)

:) eKa @ 6:43:00 PM • 0 comments