Friday, August 30, 2013

Italy : First time in Italy Part 2

As promised, from my previous post about Italy, I'll talk about Florence next but before that I'll post about Pisa first.


Still December of 2010.

Pisa, by yours truly
top of the leaning tower of pisa

After Rome we hopped on our chartered bus that took us to Tuscany. Upon reaching it we hopped on another local bus to take us to Pisa. We got off the bus and started walking towards the entrance of the Pisa town. There you would see souvenir stalls lining up the streets. Don't forget to buy those leaning mugs and/or leaning shot glass, you won't find that anywhere else and that will make for an awesome gag gift. It's not everyday that you'll see a drunken shot glass, lol.

top of the leaning tower of pisa
the narrow stairs you had to
  Towards the entrance, ready your camera. The arched entrance would make for a good frame for the leaning Tower of Pisa. Hopefully, you'll get a gap where no people is blocking the arch. Then proceed inside. The Tower of Pisa was opened to public again that time but they only allow 20 people at a time per 30 minutes. If you did decide to climb up (like what the hubby-boyfriend-then did) be prepared to climb up 294 spiraling, narrow steps. You can buy your tickets in advance but it must be booked at least 16 days but no more than 45 days ahead of your visit thru or in person at the box offices on Piazza dei Miracoli. Tickets cost €17 in advance (guaranteeing you a set entrance time) or €15 at the box office (but with no guarantee that you'll be able to climb the tower that day). Also, please remember that you need to deposit your bags, umbrella, backpacks, yes even the tiniest of purse needs to be deposited in the bag drop area along the north side of Piazza dei Miracoli. Don't worry, they will allow you to bring your camera.

bells inside the leaning tower of pisa

view from the top of the Tower of Pisa

Like I mentioned, the hubby (boyfriend then) was so itching to climb up the Tower of Pisa. It was in the Tower of Pisa that Galileo dropped two balls (of different masses) to demonstrate that their time of descent was independent of their mass (more here) and for a Physicist like him, climbing the steps, all 294 of those narrow steps, is like paying tribute to Galileo.


Home of Michael Angelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.

Well almost.

When we first entered the city the first thing that we saw was  a church called Basilica of Santa Croce. It was in the middle of what looks to me is a piazza (which looks empty that time). If you walk away from the Basilica you will find stores after stores selling leather goods (jackets, pants, gloves, etc). Welcome to Florence! The leather goods supplier!

If you walk further and proceed to the first street to your left (if your back is on the Basilica of Santa Croce) that will lead you to where the more exciting part is!

the intricate facade of piazza del duomo

Florence is like a huge outdoor museum. With huge sculptures all over the place. And their Piazza del Duomo? It's mammoth and you can't deny how intricate the details are both from the inside and out. It's just an amazing, amazing structure. Now, I'm into architecture, old and new so something like this gets me really, really excited, but I really believe that even if you're not into architecture you will still find Piazza Del Duomo very interesting. Here's more information about it.

gates of paradise

In front of the the Piazza del Duomo is the Baptistry and there you would see the famous door called "Gates of Paradise", which I believe is an appropriate name for an entrance to the Baptistry.

Overall, I really like the atmosphere in Florence. I'm not sure if this is just because it's December and it might have been their off peak season that's why the crowd is tame. Or because not a lot of tourists realize how great this place is and they didn't bother to visit. This would specially be a lot interesting to those who sculpts like my sister-in-law (hubby's sister) that we are really considering to come back here and take her with us.

If you're looking for a good walking tour for Florence try this.

note: all photos are from yours truly...please be respectful and do not use without permission..

Italy : First time in Italy Part 1

It was year 2010, in December, when I finally saved enough to go to Europe.

I asked the hubby (boyfriend then) to join me but he was having second thoughts because of the expenses it would entail (he was saving to replace his roof that time) and because he has a dog  (he doesn't want to leave his dog that long). But ofcourse that didn't stop me. I've been obssessing about going to Europe for as long as I can remember perusing old copies of Rick Steves in Shoestring, googling, plotting the logistics and planning my route and budget, yep, the whole nine yards so with or without travel companion I'm going! I'm used to travelling solo, so it didn't bother me at all and so I went ahead and booked my trip (but he later on changed his mind and booked his trip a month later).

The tour I got was for 16 days and it would go to UK, Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria, France, Italy, Switzerland, Monaco, and Liechtenstein but, as the title hinted,  what I'll be sharing is just about Italy. Atleast for now. The cities we went to in Italy were Venice, Assisi, Rome, Pisa, Florence.


I'm fascinated with Italy. Their language, their food, their history, their architecture, their people, their cappuccino and tiramisu!

The first city in Italy I saw was Venice. The first time I laid my eyes on that city, seeing the gondolas and canals and tiny bridges, I was just mesmerized. Even though it was flooding in San Marco when we got there that didn't dampen my spirit at all because all I can think of was, I'm in Venice!

the dock where we got our gondola ride

Our first stop was at a store where they demonstrated how they do glass blowing. I was hesitant to watch the demo because as soon as I saw it was a store we're going to first I know there would be some selling involved. It's like going to a Hongkong tour all over again where the tourist guide drops you off to a Tea store or Jade store for a "demo" which what really happened is they held us hostage for an hour and I swear if none of the tourists bought anything they wouldn't let us go. By the way, that was my very first international trip (Hongkong/Shenzhen) and I was naive and didn't know any better. I digress. .

I was actually surprised I enjoyed the demo. It was pretty interesting actually. I'm fascinated with pottery ever since I saw the Ghost movie (cheesy alert) and the way you can shape the clay however you want it with your bare hand fascinates me (I never got to play play-doh as a kid, maybe that's why, lol) and glass blowing is one notch awesom-er (i know there's no such word, go away!)  and I wouldn't mind trying that someday. Oh, and I was right about the hidden agenda and that is to tempt us to buy their merchandise, which by the way are all very expensive but, like I said, I enjoyed the demo so I give them credit for that.

glass blowing in Venice
Do you know that red glass (bright red, ruby red) is the most expensive? Do you know why? Because the metal that produces some of the red color in the glass is gold. That's the only thing I remembered from the demo so I just googled how the other colors can be produced.

iron oxidesgreens, browns
manganese oxides deep amber amethyst, decolorizer
cobalt oxide deep blue
gold chlorideruby red
seleniumcompounds reds
carbon oxides amber/brown
mix of mangnese cobaltiron black
antimony oxideswhite
uranium oxides yellow green (glows!)
sulfur compounds amber/brown
copper compoundslight blue red
tin compounds white
lead with antimony yellow


Then we head out to walk along the streets of Venice. Like I mentioned earlier, Venice was flooded because it rained that day and they had this long interconnected wooden platform weaving along the flooded streets of Venice up to St. Mark's Square so people won't get their shoes wet. We also saw some people, which I'm pretty sure are tourists, walking with yellow trashbags covering their shoes. Flooding is a not a rare occurrence in Venice, specially since Venice is sinking and the sea is rising.

Piazza San Marco when flooding

Of course, when in Venice one should not forget the gondola ride. it's like going to New York City without seeing Miss Liberty if you don't (and besides we don't know how long will Venice stay afloat, ssssh!). Our gondola ride started at San Marco, well, close to San Marco. There were 5 of us in the gondola and the hubby (boyfriend then) were seating at the best seat, with a heart-shaped back-rest, lol. Our gondolier didn't sing for us but what our tour coordinator did was we were following this other gondolier who was singing for all the other 6 gondolas, including us, and that's the video below.

It was interesting to see the chipped buildings as we glide along maze-like canals. It's entertaining to watch people crossing the canal bridges while we're passing through. I'm sure it would be a lot nicer if it's just me and the hubby with a singing gondolier in the gondola. Maybe next time. Gondola, by the way isn't just for tourists' consumption, it's also the locals' way of getting around.

i love pizza and i love prosciutto

After our gondola ride we were on our own. The tour guide just gave us a map and instructed us where to meet and what time. We had to go to Assisi then Rome next and we're only in Venice for a day tour. So we explored the streets of Venice for a few hours, went inside some shops, looked for an ATM machine (tip: HSBC has the best conversion rate) then finally went to where the meeting place is. We got to the meeting early on purpose so we could grab something to eat. We stopped by a place that sells pizza and man, that was the best prosciutto pizza I have ever have. I am in Italy indeed! Oh, and did I mention I love love love love prosciutto? No?

I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE Prosciutto to the nth power!


view from the the Basilica of  St. Francis of Assisi

Next stop was Assisi. The  Basilica of  San Francesco 'd Assisi is lovely! It's sitting on top of a hill and the view on top is just breathtaking. No pictures are allowed inside the Bassilica but I managed to sneak in a few video shots until the hubby (boyfriend then) started yelling at me, lol. The paintings on the walls and ceilings are a sight to behold. I wonder how the painters did that. Lying down, suspended on the ceiling? We made sure we went to the lower, upper and the "basement" where the they claimed St. Francis was buried.

The hubby (boyfriend then) also liked the place so much that when he converted to a Catholic he chose Francis as his Christian name.


From the Romantic city of Venice and the awesome view of Assisi we went to the historical Rome next.

Before entering the city of Rome our guide (which, by the way, is Italian) warned us about how bad the Roman drivers are. He said once a Roman gets into his car, his brain switches to Gladiator mode, therefore the driving skills. I thought that was pretty funny. Our guide wasn't lying, though. The way they park is bad, there's not even enough parking to begin with.  I don't think they have a concept of pedestrian lanes nor stop light, ahh, it reminds me of home (Manila), lol.

It was already night time when we reached Rome and the first place we visited in Rome was the Trevi fountain. According to traditional legend, if visitors throw a coin into the fountain, they are ensured a return to Rome.

ce sta na leggenda romana
legata a sta' vecchia fontana
per cui se ce butti un soldino
costrigni ar destino
a fatte tornĂ 

there is a roman legend
bound to this old fountain
that if you throw a coin in
you'll oblige the destiny
to let you be back

But our guide got a little creative and kinda mangled the legend a bit, lol. He said that if we throw 2 coins we will a meet an Italian mate, 3 coins and we will marry an Italian. I wasn't married yet that time so I teased the hubby (then boyfriend) that I'll be throwing 6 coins because I want to have better chances of marrying an Italian, to which, of course, he just rolled his eyes to, haha. By the way, you don't just throw the coin into the Trevi Fountain. Coins are purportedly meant to be thrown using the right hand over the left shoulder, which also means your back should be on the fountain.

Next stop was the Spanish Steps at the Piazza di Spagna. Again, it was night time  so it was dark and I wasn't really sure why and what it is famous for but then I just saw "The Roman Holiday" a few months back and now I can't wait to see Rome again so I could eat some gelato by the steps ala Audrey Hepburn, lol. Anyway, our tour guide met us at the top of the Spanish Steps and then he escorted us to our hotel and called it a night.

The next day we had an early start and made a beeline to the ruins which of course includes the Colosseum. It was Christmas day and most establishments are closed, yes, including the Colosseum so we just contented ourselves on oohing and aahing on the the facade. Next time, we'll make sure we can actually go inside.

Do you know that Italians hate Starbucks? They don't like how Starbucks butchered their espresso and cappuccino. So for the Starbucks' city mugs collector, sorry, no Starbucks Rome mug. I don't think Starbucks would dare step foot in Italy, lol.

We saw all the usual touristy stuff in Rome (the Forum, Bocca della Verita, etc) and then hopped back on our chartered bus and went to the Vatican. As a Catholic, that was a pretty awesome experience. Hearing the Papal Blessing on Christmas day, right there in front of him, in the Vatican City is just surreal! I was hoping to hear the Pope say Merry Christmas in Tagalog (fine, Filipino) but I got bored waiting so we just head out to check out the surrounding areas.

Then it's lunch time. An Italian Christmas lunch to be exact, which means a five-course meal complete with Panettone. Ah, what a delight! The hubby would always tease me that I'm a Tiramisu connoisseur, which I'm really not, it's just that it irritates me when some restaurant would call their Tiramisu a Tiramisu when in fact it's just a sponge cake with vanilla icing and some sprinkles of cocoa powder. Excuse me,  that's false advertisement. A real Tiramisu uses mascaporne cheese and lady fingers soak on espresso and rhum. Anyway, they didn't serve Tiramisu on our Christmas dinner so I had to sneak out from our lunch to go to the next door restaurant to buy a Tiramisu to go. For a foodie like me and a Tiramisu fan, it's like I died and went to Tiramisu heaven!


Home of Michael Angelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Also, if you're into leather this is the place.

I love Florence. Love. Love. I will go back in an instant if given the chance. And  time. And money. And vacation leaves.

I'll tell you why on the next Italy blog post.