Sunday, May 30, 2010

Destination: Milan

Posted by Kero at Sunday, May 30, 2010 5 sweets for Kero Links to this post
"Rome is a like a voluptuous woman whose gifts are very apparent, while Milan is the shy, demure girl whose treasures are plentiful, but discovered in time." ~ Italian saying

After a challenging yet romantic stay in Venice, we packed our bags again and boarded EuroStar Italia. We spent two hours marveling the beauty of Italian countryside before reaching our last place to visit, the world's fashion capital -- Milan.

Our tour started visiting Da Vinci's painting, The Last Supper or locally known as Vinciano Cenaculo. The 15-minute visit requires reservation a few months before. Strictly no photos allowed and only 25 people are allowed per visit. The photo is similar to what you see inside the room.

Da Vinci's masterpiece is housed in the simple refectory of the 15th century St. Mary of Graces Church. It is a 20-minute taxi-ride from our hotel in Corso Bunos Aires.

After our lunch, we passed by the massive La Scala Theater touted as the world's most renowned opera house. It  first opened in 1778.

Because we spent our morning with legs cramped inside the train, we decided to walk our way to visit Piazza Del Duomo where Milan's iconic gothic cathedral is located. The Duomo  built in 1386  is Italy's second largest cathedral next to St. Peter's Basilica. It is set in white marble with thousands of statues in its facade and hundreds of spires.

"Some say that the Cathedral of Milan is second only to St. Peter's at Rome. I cannot understand how it can be second to anything made by human hands." ~ Mark Twain

Going back to Hotel Fenice, we decided to walk around the posh mother of all shopping malls  called Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele. The 19th century palace is named after the first king who unified Italy.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Off To Venice?

Posted by Kero at Wednesday, May 26, 2010 3 sweets for Kero Links to this post
"San Marco - Lido! San Marco - Lido!," says the balding  Italian guy in-charge of assisting passengers on the vaporetto. Tourists ask where they should get off but his answer remains the same: San Marco - Lido! San Marco -Lido!!

Nothing prepared me for Venice. So these pointers might be helpful for any budget traveller.

 The thick crowd in Piazza San Marco

1. Make sure that your train stop is at Venezia Sta. Lucia. That is the last station but still many people hop-off at Venezia Mestre which is a town on the mainland and five minutes earlier than Venezia Sta. Lucia. Don't go along with the crowd.

2. Get a good map. Know what landmark is nearest to your hotel. It could be The Rialto Bridge or Piazza San Marco or anything popular. Venice streets are uber complicated and locals might give you a blank stare when you ask where is Calle Specchieri.

3. Venice is expensive. It is, beyond your imagination. One way you can save is to bring a decent amount of food/grocery from Rome or Milan whichever you are coming from.

4. Aside from the colorful carnival masks, do your souvenir shopping in Rome.

5. No cabs but they have elegant water taxis with the price to match. Your cheapest and best option is to ride the Vaporetto #1 which runs up and down the Grand Canal. It has frequent stops so do know your landmark as to when you should hop-off.

6. Stay healthy and avoid touching the water in the canals.

7. Have a bite of the Burano cookies. 

8. For the best deal, book your hotel near Piazza San Marco. It is where the main monuments and sights are located so you never need to spend  more for vaporetto to explore. We stayed at Comfort Hotel Diana (100 yards from San Marco front entrance) with its charming Venetian furnishings, modern bath, and free Wifi. The thin, old man at the reception might give you a stern look but the lady and the other stocky gentleman were very accommodating and helpful. I can't say much for the food because we skipped breakfast for the whole time we stayed.

8. Have fun and get lost (you will be with the maze-like structure of the city) with your pretty flip-flops and Pucci dress (save the white sun dress for sunny Dubai). You can always ask which way to San Marco when you decide to return to your hotel.

9. Italians enjoys bringing along their pets so beware where you put your feet. Bring flash light when you decide to roam around at night.

10. Be sure to ride again the vaporetto #1 at night when the day trippers had left. Or early in the morning to watch the sunrise. You will forgive the "smell" when you first arrived and understand why Venice is worth ALL your life.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Venice, The City Of Love

Posted by Kero at Sunday, May 23, 2010 8 sweets for Kero Links to this post
After our Rome rendezvous, we boarded Italy's high speed train called EuroStar to reach the next place for our holiday. The travel time from Roma Termini to Venezia Sta. Lucia is four hours. Glenda, our Italy contact person, booked our train tickets way ahead of schedule so we were able to avail the first class coach for the price of Class B. Train ticket for each person costs 69 Euro (345 AED/ 4,140 PP)

We arrived Venezia Sta. Lucia station around lunch time and boarded a public transport called vaporetto. We made several stops along the way, picking and dropping passengers, that it took a good 45 minutes before we reached the main district of San Marco where our hotel is located. Today, I share with you photos of our first day in the City of Love.

Venice is the only city in the world built entirely on water.

It stands on dozens of islets linked by some 400 bridges. The most famous of them is called Rialto Bridge spanning the Venice Grand Canal.

The romantic and expensive gondola ride. It costs 80 Euro for 40 minutes along the Grand Canal.

The colorful carnival masks for souvenirs.

Moonlighting in Venezia

 "This was Venice, the flattering and suspect beauty this city, half-fairy tale and half-tourist trap." ~ Thomas Mann.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

When In Rome

Posted by Kero at Wednesday, May 19, 2010 5 sweets for Kero Links to this post
Thank you to all of my blogger and FB friends who gets excited every time iIshare photos of our holiday in Italy. I am about to share tales of our stay in Venice, but before doing so i am making this post to answer the queries i received in my inbox regarding our stay in Rome.

For those who are still on the process of applying their visa, good luck. If you followed all the instructions, then there's no need to worry but pray =)

You are most likely to receive your visa approval a month before you board your plane. This will give you ample time to research and plan. In doing so, consider the following (and basically what we did as a family).

1. Research on budget airlines that fly to Rome. Some travel agencies directly recommends Austrian Airlines which is good if you are returning from Venice. Milan was never in our itinerary but due to budget consideration, we had to fly with Qatar Airlines with routes to Rome and Milan - hence extending our visit to the fashion capital.

2. Prioritize what you want to see in Rome. Anywhere you go in Europe is expensive. Think 1 Euro = 5 AED = 60 Pesos. No matter what you do and no matter how long you will stay, you will never get to see all that Rome has to offer (so that's a good reason to come back teeheee). The Vatican Museum alone will probably take your whole day if you explore every room and dissect every sculpture and painting.

3. Eat while in Rome. Because food in Venice sucks and you are better off spending something for your wardrobe in Milan. Having visited multi-awarded restaurants and hotels, food in Rome is incomparable. The pizza margherita with its lovely cherry tomatoes, pasta dishes with gentle sauce, the frothiest cappuccino, and richly flavored whenever you can because by the time you reach Milan, your dinner will be made up mostly of beer =)

4. When in Rome, prepare for the ride of your life. They say that Manila has dangerous drivers, expats in Dubai complain about idiots driving around the city, but road life in Rome is far more intimidating than any of the two. I think it is probably the worst city to drive. Think Tiida swerving through the narrow crowded streets of Hor Al Anz. Drivers change lane without so much as warning, nobody cares about speeding (probably because they are racing against the impending traffic), most roads are one way, cars park even on zebra lines, pedestrians cross as soon as they see no cars coming and even if the signal is red (which will cost you a fine in Dubai). This was probably the shock i suffered next to how small cars are in Rome.

5. Research about your hotel. You maybe in a budget but make sure you don't end up enduring a bed space like your temporary home in Dubai. Some travel agencies say that your hotel accommodation will be revealed within 72 hours of flying but don't fall for such trick or you may end up with an unmade bed without so much as toiletries.

6. If you intend to visit any museum, this is where your credit card comes handy. Book ahead online. We visited Borghese Gallery on Sunday and tucked at the front door is a notice that all tickets for the next two days were sold out. You do not want to fly that far only to be denied at the entrance. This also applies to The Vatican Museum. For the Last Supper in Milan, it is advisable to book two months ahead. So time to rack your brain if you have any bloodline in Italy. We don't have credit card so I think the universe conspired that Glenda should be enjoying the beautiful life in Italy so we could get pass the Swiss Guards =)

7. Learn useful Italian phrases. Italy maybe a top holiday destination but you will be surprised how little do they speak the English language. Bringing along an English-Italian dictionary is no exaggeration.

8. Dress up and guard your bag.You will be treated better if you show up at a ristorante or museum in dark jeans and tailored jacket. Reserve your flip-flops for Venice. Cover up when visiting Vatican City. No bare shoulders and no skirts above the knee. Absolutely no shorts for men.

9. Get plenty of rest before flying to Rome and pack a comfortable walking shoes. It is not a city as convenient as Dubai where you have the elevator and travelator at your disposal. You will use the stairs, walk up and down the streets.

10. The best way to see Rome if you are on short stay is the Double Decker Bus Tour. There are seven companies competing for  the service. We chose the red bus called City Sightseeing Roma. Tickets can be purchased at Piazza Venezia for 18 Euro each person - valid for 48 hours.

Have a lovely stay at The Eternal City!

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Leaning Tower Of Pisa

Posted by Kero at Monday, May 17, 2010 5 sweets for Kero Links to this post
On our third day in Rome, we decided to take  a day trip to Pisa, Tuscany to see one of Italy's iconic structure, the La Torre de Pisa. The journey from Roma Termini is three hours via EuroStar City. A roundtrip ticket for each person costs 79 Euro (395AED / 4,740P). By the time we left at 6:10 a.m., it started to drizzle and we thought we made a good choice of spending most of the day inside the train coach to see Italy's country side. Boy is this country blessed! It was all greenery, with the grapevines, fruit trees, farm houses, herds of cows, was a breather to see slopes and running hills instead of ruins hihi.

Wasting no time upon arrival, we boarded a cab to Piazza Dei Miracoli. The lady driver (oh yes, even the Rome double decker bus tour had an Italian lady for a driver) expertly swerved through the Pisa traffic and we arrived our final destination in ten minutes.

The wide, walled Piazza Dei Miracoli or Square Of Miracles is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Partly paved and partly grassed, the Piazza is dominated by four religious edifices: The Duomo or Cathedral of St. Mary of Assumption, the Leaning Tower or Campanile, the Baptistry, and Camposanto.

Torre Pendente (Leaning Tower). The structure was originally conceived as the cathedral's bell tower. Construction began in 1173 and the tower started leaning soon afterwards due to subsidence of the ground underneath its base.

The medieval Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta

The Baptistery dedicated to St. John the Baptist.

The name Piazza De Miracoli was created by Italian poet and writer Gabrielle d'Annunzio who, in his novel Forse che si forse che no (1910) described the square in this way: L’Ardea roteò nel cielo di Cristo, sul prato dei Miracoli - which means:

"The Ardea rotated over the sky of Christ, over the meadow of Miracles."

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Worldless Wednesday

Posted by Kero at Wednesday, May 12, 2010 1 sweets for Kero Links to this post

I took the photo while passing by Tiber River on a double-decker bus tour.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Saving Up For New TV!!

Posted by Kero at Monday, May 10, 2010 3 sweets for Kero Links to this post
It is Election Day in the Philippines and too bad I cannot be updated about it because we do not have cable subscription. You see, the only small television unit we have is dominated by our toddler who demands to see Barney and Dora videos everyday.

Now hubby and I saving up to buy a bigger one to make at least our weekend movie nights more rewarding (our toddler's been keeping us away from cinema theaters hihi). And of course to finally get a cable subscription. It's time for our little boy to be acquainted with children's networks like Nickelodeon.We are planning on a purchase of combined LCD TV DVD unit. 

I wonder which brand is better? Samsung or Toshiba?

Hotel Priscilla, Rome

Posted by Kero at Monday, May 10, 2010 2 sweets for Kero Links to this post
Note: We did not choose the hotels in the three cities we visited for the holiday. Those were booked for us by our travel agent Ms. Jabeen of Belhasa Global Tours in consideration of our budget. Overall, i could say that they were all very clean and in good location. As I share with you tales and photos from Italy, I might as well do a review for the hotels.

We traveled on spring time when the peak season started. Check in time is strictly 11 am. Nothing earlier because the hotel was fully booked.  If you are used to modern conveniences, Italy may not be for you. Three star hotels don't have swimming pool unlike in the Dubai. We had room 125 on the second floor. I don't know why they had to use three digit numbers when the hotel only offers 43 rooms =). But then, i also noticed this in Venice and Milan.

 The lobby taken early morning.

The elevator with its iron door and lock was most amusing. Too bad i forgot to take a photo. I think it belongs to those that you call vintage elevator. Like in the old movies that when you reach your floor, you have to push aside the iron door.  It was small like only three of us can fit inside with an umbrella pram. It was a funny experience yet we only used it twice because Andreas preferred using the stairs.

Anyway, when we went to the second floor lobby, our room was still being tidied. The lady scrubbing the bathroom floor was definitely Italian in all her glorious blonde hair. Hubby commented this was the only time he was being served by a supposed superior race. We noticed as well in the course of our travel that even the lowliest jobs were being done by Italians.

Wifi charge is 5 Euro for three days but we did not avail the service. Do get a rest before flying to Rome because the roads are like Baguio City. You either go up or walk down (Rome is composed of seven hills) so that going back to the hotel means going straight to bed for a good sleep. Oh their bed! They were the comfiest of the hotels we stayed!

The temperature drops at 10 degrees at night so we never opened the AC instead we threw the windows wide open. Bathroom is huge and the heater efficient.

Breakfast is served at 7:30 to 10:30 but the breakfast lounge is ready as early as 7am. Breakfast buffet have the basic croissant, cookies, and toasts with orange juice, yoghurt, and cornflakes. We saw only one Italian lady in-charge and she was definitely brilliant. She makes capuccino or hot choco or latte upon request.

Priscilla Hotel is located at Via Calabria. Roma Termini is a walking distance. You will be charge not more than 10 Euro if you take a cab. The hotel is also a walking distance to the posh district Via Veneto and Villa Borghese.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Colosseo

Posted by Kero at Sunday, May 09, 2010 10 sweets for Kero Links to this post
Great to be back blogging again! Thank you to my online visitors who continued to leave messages for the past three weeks. To show further my appreciation, I am taking you with us today for a visit to The Colosseo =)

We landed Fiumicino Airport (also called Aeroporto Leanordo Da Vinci) early morning of April 25. We were met by my province mate, Glenda who has been working in Italy for quiet awhile now. Truth is I was soo nervous before embarking for the holiday. We've never been out of Dubai for the past four years - which makes one complacent - and after reading those tourist advisory on thieves and pickpockets, I was not so sure if we made the right choice of destination). The only thing calming my nerves was that Glenda will be there to guide us.

The passport control area was stringent as expected. But the baggage claim was different at all. Nobody checked if passengers claimed their rightful luggage =). By this time, we noticed that nobody spoke the English language. You ask them for directions, they will reply in Italian. When we finally saw Glenda at the arrival area, we gave up speaking to the airport staff. Glenda confirmed, only 1 in 10 Italian speak the English language =)

Along with other tourists, we boarded a private taxi going to central Rome which is about 30 kms away .Charge: 15 Euro per person. We could have taken the train but hubby was in a hurry to see The Colosseo. Besides, we were on travel with a toddler and a cab was the quickest and most reasonable for us.

After checking in at the charming Hotel Priscilla (thank goodness, the staff knew basic English), we tidied up for a scheduled visit to Borghese Gallery before proceeding to the Roman Coliseum. Enjoy the photos!

Also called the Flavian amphitheater, Italy's iconic structure nevel fails to impress for its elegant, enduring bulk, and its disturbing former function as a theater of slaughter.

Inside as well, you will see displays of reconstructed Gladiator armors.

The famous Arch Of Constatine. It is located between the Colosseo and Palatine Hill. The masive arch was erected to commemorate Constantine's victory over Maxentius.

Daddy and Andreas goofing around with Gladiators outside.
The Roman Forum as seen from the Colosseo. While it is not one of the best preserved archaeological site of Ancient Rome, The Forum was the nerve center of the most powerful Western civilization in history for a thousand years. This is where political decisions were made, speeches delivered, and markets took place.

Our 4th Wedding Anniversary at the Eternal City.

Visiting The Colosseo, Palatine Hill, and The Roman Forum costs 11 Euro per person. You can also get a Roman Archaeological Card which is good for three days if you are staying longer in Rome.

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