Apr 122011

Well, our last stop of our Italy trip ended in Milan. We took an early train on a foggy Venice morning to be sure we had enough time to see what needed seeing in Milan.

Most people have said it’s not worth a long stop, despite it’s popularity for high-end shopping. However, Milan seemed to be the most advanced and cosmopolitan of all the cities we visited.

The main attraction is the cathedral (Duomo) in the main piazza, which is made of pink marble and it’s HUGE! The inside stain-glass windows were incredible. Still, everything was starting to blur together. This was our last chance to get some more gifts, so we headed down the Galleria V. Emanuele II, which is considered the oldest mall and has a few of the shops that make Milan famous. In the center under the dome is a marble bull and people spin on the testicles for good luck. It was funny to see.

After a rest near the statue of Leonardo Da Vinci, we headed toward the main shopping center of Milan – quadrilatero della moda. Of course, my budget didn’t allow for any major purchases in this area, but when we got to the more realistically-priced shopping center, I bought some more gifts and a pair of shoes for me. πŸ˜€

Of course, there is more to see in Milan. The “Last Supper” is held here, but tickets are meant to be purchased far in advance and we were getting very toured out. I remembered how I felt at the end of my Egypt tour where I just couldn’t handle any more history or archeological sites. My mom said “I’m all old-buildinged out”. Perfectly expressed!


So, after a final lunch, we headed to our hotel, which was another adventure, but our last night was spent relaxing before a very early departure to the airport and flights back to our opposite sides of the world.

It was a quick Italian tour, but it was a lot of fun and good to spend quality time with mi mama!

Back to more mundane topics soon. ;P


Apr 122011

We arrived late in Venice, but managed to work out buying a 36 hour transportation card allowing us to use the boats and buses freely during our visit.

Our hotel was the Rio Alto, which was conveniently located near the famous Rioalto bridge. Once we checked in, which was a bit of a strange process, we settled in for the night and planned the next day’s events since we only really had one full day there.

In the morning, we took the number two boat to the Piazza San Marco, which is the main thing to see. Although we could have walked a mere 10 minutes from our hotel, the best way to see things is on the Grand Canal.

The Piazza San Marco is another impressive sight to see and is quite beautiful at night if you are able to go both times.

From the Piazza, we hopped onto the 41 boat to get to Murano island. Murano and Burano are two islands that many people visit from Venice. Murano is famous for glassworks and Burano for lacework. We just decided to do Murano since we were both pretty tired out by this point of our trip. Murano was pretty and we found a few gifts there for people. We relaxed with a nice lunch and then went back for a nap.

By the time we woke up, it was pretty late, so we walked around to find something to eat for dinner, but most places were closing up and we just took in the night views instead. We did not do the gondola rides, though we heard the gondoliers singing in the canals from our hotel. It was a bit pricey for our limited budget trip, but I think we experienced Venice nicely!

It is perhaps my favorite stop in Italy because the water was relaxing and seemed to add a touch of something more to the atmosphere. Also, it’s easy to walk around exploring without getting too lost. I’d go back for a few days to just chill out there, so I highly recommend a stop in Venice someday. πŸ™‚

Our Italy trip ends in Milan – coming up next!


Apr 122011

Despite not buying tickets to the museums prior to arrival, we were able to get tickets through our hotel. When we checked out of Residenza Betta, Elizabetta, the owner was very warm and friendly to serve us a cappuccino before we headed out.

After a quick breakfast, we headed to the train station to get our tickets for Venice later in the day and drop off our luggage so that we could explore the museums.

Our first stop was the Galleria dell’Accademia where the statue of David is kept. Of course, pics had to be taken despite being told not to…I just can’t help myself! It is truly an amazing statue up close – I still wonder why we aren’t seeing such amazing art these days or maybe I’m just not in the loop.

Since there isn’t too much else to see at the Accademia, we had quite a bit of time before our assigned time to enter the Galleria degli Uffizi. So, we walked around the square a bit and then found lunch to relax a bit. Along the way, we found the boar that people touch/kiss to have good luck that someday they will return to Florence. πŸ˜€

The Uffizi was an impressive building with a number of great works of art by Boccelli, Caravaggio and of course Michelangelo. It’s actually smaller than I expected in terms of the number of pieces there compared to Vienna or other places. However, it was still well-worth the visit. Just be sure to book way in advance if you visit during high season!

After we finished the museum, we just wandered around and hung out until we could catch our train to Venice. We crossed the bridge – Ponte Vecchio – which used to be where the butchers held their shops. Now, it’s the main jewelry center of the city. We walked to the Piazza dee’ Pitti to see the Palazzo Pitti, which used to be a palace but is now a museum with gardens. However, I think we were too exhausted to do any more touristy things, so we enjoyed the outside and then went to the station for Venice!

I will post on our first night in Venice with the next posting.


Apr 122011

As I mentioned before, Mondays are generally the day major museums are closed. We had heard that it’s a good idea to also explore outside of Florence if we could. Since we could, we booked The Best of Tuscany Tour with WalkAbout through our hotel.

Unfortunately, out of the entire week, this was the ONLY day that it rained. When I say rain, I mean poured! Luckily, I had prepared with my rain jacket and even an umbrella. So, though we were slightly dampened, the tour was still a good one.

We started in Siena, which is apparently the biggest rival city to Florence. It is divided into 10 neighborhoods that have their own symbols and seals. This is mostly important for the annual horse races – Palio di Siena – that are held in the main square. It’s an interesting story to learn. The city of Siena seemed pretty with lots of red brick, though very small. After getting the walking tour, visiting the main church, and feeling tired – it was time for a stop at Illy’s for a coffee.

(By the way, Starbucks has no stores in all of Italy…SHOCKING!)

From Siena, we stopped for our lunch at an organic farm to taste the Chianti wines famous in the area and some Italian dishes. It was quite tasty and the weather started to clear up, which was nice.

Vin Santo with Biscotti

After lunch, we headed to the town nicknamed the “Manhattan of Italy”, San Gimignano. The bus was a bit perkier from our lunch beverages. πŸ˜€ The town is a UNESCO site for Architectural Heritage due to the number of towers that were built by families feuding over power in the town. There wasn’t much to do in our free time here, but we walked around and considered getting gelato from the World’s Best Ice Cream at Gelateria di Piazza, but it somehow felt too cliche to do it despite the other tourists lining up for it.

From San Gimignano, we continued on our way to Pisa. One really can’t be in Tuscany and not see the Leaning Tower of Pisa! We took our cheesy photos and enjoyed the cultural square there, but by this point we were pretty tired. We did get a train ride tour of the town of Pisa, which is mostly a university town, they say. It’s not somewhere I’d like to go to school, but it could be worse. πŸ˜‰

Thus ended our tour and after finding some grub, we collapsed back at the hotel. The museums are coming up next!


Apr 112011

We planned a late morning train and left our Roman accommodations with plenty of time to reach the main train station – Termini, supposedly just 15 minutes away. We were told that the tram would take us there and so we hopped on board feeling good about our timing. The worst and perhaps best part of Rome is the complete lack of signage on public transportation as to their route or any information that might help a tourist figure out where s/he is heading. Thus, we found ourselves thinking we should have reached the station by now and in unfamiliar territory.

After alighting from the misleading tram, we attempted to ask a bus driver how to get to the station. He was not helpful preferring not to speak any English. Thus, we contemplated our map and realized we were in the university area of town. So, we took the next tram back, to a metro station and finally made it with plenty of time to our train. Good thing we left early! πŸ˜€

Now, having been spoiled from years of Shinkansen and Japanese trains, I’m a bit snoody about trains that are called “first class”. We purchased our tickets the night before from very easy-to-use machines for Italy’s train system – Trenitalia. You can book tickets online and pick them up at the machines as well, but it was just as easy to get them the day of or before.

According to Rick Steve’s book, it is recommended to pay the extra Euros for the first class tickets. To keep costs down, we bought tickets for the slower train (2.5 hrs vs 1.5 hrs) so that we could do just that. As we passed the six passenger cabin seats in second-class, I was more than relieved to be in the comforts of first-class seats with plenty of space and leg-room to take a snooze.

The countryside to Florence was pretty, though the vineyards are not yet in bloom.

Upon arriving in Florence, Mom was alert enough to realize that we needed to get off at the second Firenze stop because the train did not stop in the main S.M.N station – who would have known that? We taxied to our hotel – Residenza Betta – and were very joyfully greeted by Adriana who offered to book our museum tickets (this should normally be done way before you go on your trip…off-season is ok, though), and we decided to do a tour of Tuscany the next day since the main museums are closed on Mondays.

With all that settled, we prepared to explore Florence. Everyone had told me it’s a beautiful city and amazing. So, I may have had rather high expectations for the place. It was definitely nice to be in a smaller town than Rome. We hardly got lost and it was a much more relaxed atmosphere. The streets were quaint and the buildings lovely. However, perhaps the grey skies and pending rain made it less amazing than expected.

Still, we meandered through the market since leather is the big product in the area. Though we were more interested in discovering the wine – Chianti – which comes from Tuscany. πŸ˜‰

The piazza did have a fine showing of their Duomo, which was beautifully carved and adorned with all the religious icons and images. It was something to stand nearby as the church bells rang (video on the Picasa site) and look in awe at the building. Sometimes, it’s just too overwhelming to take in all the amazing artistry in one place.

With a few stops for a cappuccino and snacks, we called it a day as we were already feeling weary from walking and our Roman wanderings.

More to come…


Apr 092011

Our second day started off relaxingly with a long breakfast and chatting as we planned out our day. It was our only real full day to see the rest of what was to be seen in Rome. Thus, there was no time to waste!

We managed the bus 810 straight to Vatican City, where we joined the throngs of tourists in St. Peter’s Square to take pictures and follow the smoothly moving line to get into the Basilica. While I have only an intellectual interest in Catholicism, my mama grew up in the religion, so I was curiously asking her questions. It’s quite an impressive sight to see.

As we neared the Basilica, I was somehow convinced to climb the 551 steps to the top of the Cupola (and back down!) to see the grand views of Rome and the Square below. Despite the sore legs and knees in the following days, it was worth the climb (though one might be willing to fork over the extra 10Euros to skip the first 236 steps).

Back on the ground, we toured St Peter’s Basilica, which was quite amazing.

Then, we headed towards the Vatican museum, which lets you in to see the Sistine Chapel and garden area. Words cannot describe the art to be seen. It makes one wonder where did all that talent go or is it still out there, but hidden?

Though already a full day, we still had a few more spots to see before we could say our visit to Rome was complete. So, after a pizza stop, we headed off to see the Pantheon. Though we got a little turned around, which was quite easy to do in this city, we managed to find it. The inside was closed, unfortunately, for mass, but the outside was impressive in itself.


After that, we made our final stop to see the Trevi Fountain. I often wish that I could just live the life of an artist and create such beauty as the marble carvings or paintings, but alas I would never make it! Instead, I must blog in hopes of someday making my millions with my words. ;D

Thus, ended our very brief tour of Rome. One could really spend a few days here and still have plenty to see, but there’s so much more of Italy to be seen and we were booked for our train to Florence in the morning.

*The following post will be a link to ALL of the photos taken in Rome and the Vatican City* πŸ˜€

Next up – Florence and Tuscany….