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Friday, September 22, 2017

Photo Log: 1 Day in Milan

Milan, financial capital of Italy, was no-doubt the richest Italian city we visited. Feeling like an Italian version of London, it was clean, pretty, and very modern.

Since we only had 1 day in Milan, we had to choose our sights wisely. We didn’t buy tickets to see The Last Supper, so we had to skip that, but if we ever return to Milan we’ll be sure to book tickets ahead of time.

Castello Sforzesco / Castle Sforza

Our first stop was Castello Sforzesco, a 15th-century castle built by the Duke of Milan. It was very scenic, with a beautiful, large park behind it.

In true castle fashion, there used to be a moat that ran around the castle, but it’s now dried up and home to many cats. We saw a woman ride up to them on a bike and feed them in a little nook. It was adorable!

There was a museum and several exhibitions, but we were on a tight schedule, so we had to give it a pass. We strolled in the park behind it instead, where Italians were gathered for picnics and games. It was a nice glimpse of regular Italian life.

Then, prompted by our grumbling bellies, we found a cheap sandwich place using Yelp, conveniently located right outside the Castle.

After lunch, we stumbled upon a gorgeous fountain on the way to the metro. It was hot, and several people sat around it with their feet in the water. It looked like a great idea. We not only sat with our feet in the water, but also waded into the middle for photo ops:

And because everyone started doing it, the guards came around and chased everyone out of the water. Even our feet weren’t allowed in there anymore 🙁

On hindsight, it probably wasn’t very hygienic to be walking in water that others have stuck their feet in, so we made sure we dried out feet out really well after…

Duomo

Onwards to the highlight of Milan: the Duomo.

When I first saw pictures of Milan’s Duomo, my first thought was, “Why is it so spiky?”

It was only upon closer study that I realized the “spikes” were actually statues.

3200 statues, to be precise, atop 135 spires. Crazy! But amazing. Crazy amazing.

The Duomo is located in a large square, with a gigantic shopping mall right next to it. I loved how open everything was, unlike in Rome, where historic sites were situated smack-dab in the middle of busy, narrow streets.

Entrance Dilemma

Buy the correct ticket. There are different tickets: tickets to enter the Duomo, and tickets just to get to the roof. We first bought the wrong ticket to the roof, when we needed a ticket to go inside the Duomo. This led to a scuffle with the entrance guards not worth remembering. I repeat, get the correct ticket!

Inside the Duomo

The interior made it easy to shrug off the frustrations of entering. It was pure gothic gold. With some modern touches, of course, because it’s Milan.

The high ceilings, marble columns, and statues were so intricate and so profound, that I almost didn’t want to leave.

While we were there, a service started, and they started reciting names of worshippers. At least I think that’s what it was – everything was in Italian.

The Duomo was HUGE, and there were so many angles to photograph from.

Duomo Roof

After we took a million photos of the inside, we took an elevator to the roof to soak in birds-eye views of Milan. You can choose to buy a cheaper ticket and take the stairs, but after climbing 463 steps up the Duomo in Florence, I was quite done with stairs. This time there was an elevator available, so I jumped on it. Worth it!!

The elevator was a good call, because the roof closed at sunset, and we didn’t get much time on it.

Like the interior, the roof was Gothic gold. We got a closer look at the statues topping the spires.

One of these statues is gilded copper – the statue of Madonnina (Little Madonna), Milan’s traditional protector. She is pictured here with my sister:

It’s too bad the roof closes at sunset, because Milan would have been beautiful at night. Not that it wasn’t beautiful in the day!

Milan’s skyline is quite astounding.

I love climbing onto roofs and getting great views!! This was just like climbing to the top of Florence’s Duomo. Breathtaking!

La Rinascente

For kicks, we explored the luxury shopping mall next to Duomo. It was too beautiful to give a miss. I’m glad we visited, because it made for beautiful photos.

Believe it or not, we actually bought something at this high-end mall. Yelp informed us of this famous Panzerotti shop called Luini, so we had to get one of these deep-fried cheese-filled donut things.

There are also buskers in the area, and we watched acts by a pretty Italian lady dancing with a crystal ball, and a break-dancing troupe. It felt a lot like Orchard Road in Singapore (a high-end shopping district).

Basilica di San Lorenzo

Seeing that we had time to spare until nightfall, we decided to explore a little more. My sister recalled studying a certain church in Archi class that was nearby, so we keyed it into Google Maps.

It was only about a 20 minute walk to Basilica di San Lorenzo, and we got to window shop along the way.

This Catholic church was built in Roman times and rebuilt over the centuries. I was born and raised in Singapore, which is only 50+ years old, so seeing places that have hundreds of years of history still astounds me.

Then we walked around the back, and were pleasantly surprised to find the back of the church even more beautiful.

On the way back to the Duomo, we chanced upon this rather impressive street art piece:

Italians are very talented.

Duomo at Night

Duomo at nighttime is equally impressive, and La Rinascente was beautifully lit.

We sat staring at the Duomo for a very long time. It’s hard to believe this amazing building is real.

To end our day in Milan, my sister took a photo with the statue and finally headed back to our cosy Airbnb. Tonight is our last night in Italy, then we are headed to Switzerland!

I hope you enjoyed our photos! Milan was a nice change from chaotic Rome and touristy Venice, but Florence still tops my list of Roman cities. I did like that there was a lot less graffiti in Milan. 1 day probably wasn’t enough to do Milan justice.

What was your visit to Milan like?

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This post is part of a whirlwind 14-day trip in Western Europe with my sister prior to her exchange programme in Glasgow, Scotland. Thank you for a trip of a lifetime!! (And here’s to many more!!)

Photo Log: 12 Hours in Venice

A trip to Venice is like a trip back in time, with the addition of throngs of tourists. 

My sister and I were short of time, so we only planned 12 hours in Venice. We arrived in the morning and left at evening. Will I come back? Probably when I have more money, and to see what it’s like at night time. But this historic site was too expensive and touristy for me to spend more than a few days.

Ride down the Grand Canal

The moment we stepped out of the train station, we felt like we were in a fantasy. Really we were at a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is much unchanged.

Rialto BridgeWe hopped on a Vaporetto (boat) taking route 1. Route 1 makes the most stops and is the best for sightseeing. We saw the famous Rialto Bridge, and marvelled over the quaint, charming houses, hotels, and shops.

We snagged a spot in the back of the boat, so we got great views as we rode down the Grand Canal. Try to avoid the middle as it is stuffy and you don’t get the joy of ocean breeze on your face.

Venice

Brunch at Dal Moro’s

We hopped off at the final stop, then walked to our lunch stop at Dal Moro’s – a cheap and great pasta place where they serve fresh pasta. We found it on Yelp, and were convinced by the stellar reviews. Yelp did not fail us! Dal Moro’s was cheap and great.

Lunch in Venice

As you can see, the prices were extremely reasonable, especially for Venice. The shop staff were so friendly and spoke great English. Be sure you go to the actual Dal Moro’s, because there are copy-cats nearby. I guess this fresh-pasta-for-cheap concept was so popular, others felt they had to copy it. Try to come before or after peak lunch hour (around noon), as the line can get really long.

Venice lunch
It’s a popular place!

My sister got the Calamari pasta with extra cheese, and I got the Alfredo with mushrooms and added hot dog. And because I felt this was such a good deal, I got back in line and tried the Pomodoro as well.

There is a large window with a paint marker hanging from the top at the storefront. Visitors are encouraged to leave their mark. It was a very nice touch. Here’s our multilingual love note for this lovely shop:

A note about Venetian restaurants

Sometimes Venice gives off the rich-tourists-only vibe. Stay clear of snobby restaurants if you’re on a budget. My sister was bullied by a waiter here on her second trip, where she was almost coerced into getting an appetizer, overpriced wine, and an additional entree. Thank goodness she had the courage to stand up and walk away.

We got a healthy amount of gelato in Rome and Florence, so we thought we’d try the gelato in Venice as well, and also maybe find a place to sit. Bad idea. The gelato wasn’t the best, and the snooty staff chased us out of their restaurant because the gelato was take-away only.

It’s no wonder the only people you see seated at Venice’s numerous restaurants are affluent middle-aged tourists. If you’re on a budget, Dal Moro’s is the way to go.

Piazza San Marco / St Mark’s Square

St Mark’s Square houses Venice’s main sights, namely St Mark’s Basilica, Doge Palace, St Mark’s clock tower, and Campanile (a bell tower that used to guard the entry of the Grand Canal).

St Mark’s Basilica + Campanile + of my sister taking a selfie.

St mark’s Clock Tower, emblazoned with beautiful horoscope etchings, was my favorite building in Venice. I love Astrology, and the colors white and blue, so it was perfect.

St Mark's clock tower

St Mark’s Square is right next to the Grand Canal, so if you ever get lost, just ask where St Mark’s Square is. Once there you can hop on a vaporetto and get to wherever you need to go. I recommend boating if you have the budget for it. Walking from one place to another can be a pain because the streets are winding, narrow and cobbled. It took us over 1.5 hours to walk back to the train station as opposed to 10 minutes via boat. Along the way we passed several souvenir shops, but they were mostly tourist traps selling the same things over and over.

Doge Palace, Venice
Doge Palace, Grand Canyon and beyond

That’s not to say we didn’t stumble upon interesting sites on our way back to the train station. We made an impromptu visit into a music museum, an art gallery, a stationery store, and numerous Murano glass shops.

Venetian Museums and Art Galleries

Venice has museums galore, but we only had time for a handful. One of those museums we visited was a small music museum, which displayed elegant instruments that looked like they might be worth a million dollars. Soothing violin music played in the background. It was a nice break from the tourist bustle outside.

Venice music museum

We passed numerous art galleries, one of which had cool 3D paintings on display that changed as you walked by, as well as modern art pieces and classic paintings of gorgeous libraries.

venice art

Venetian Shopping

Murano glass
Murano glass goldfish!

Venetian shops offer a wide variety, including eclectic wares, Murano glass, and branded goods. I salivated over Murano goldfish, but ultimately decided against getting one, because it was over 10Euro for a small glass decoration, and my cats would probably swat it under the refrigerator. (Update: My sister got one for me on her second trip – she’s the best!! It’s now perched safely on a tall shelf.)

Italy will be Italy, and the Italian sense of humor is evident in their selection of pastas…

sexy pasta

I would’ve bought a pack to bring home if I had extra luggage space. So make sure you have room when you visit Venice to bring one of those bad boys home!

Emotive… flatbread?

“Goofi” owls make good (but expensive) souvenirs!

If you buy me this blue handbag, I will love you forever.

venice stationery

I’m a stationery nut. Loved the stationery!

Overview

Venice is a gorgeous city, and very culturally rich. But it can be a tourist trap, so watch out for restaurants out to empty your pockets.

venice panorama

We didn’t get to spend much time in Venice, or see it at night time, so I would definitely come back. This time with a more padded wallet so I can boat everywhere, and maybe even ride a gondola.

  • Food: Dal Moro’s fresh pasta to-go
  • Transport: Foot, boat
  • Accomodation: None; we were off for Milan by night

Wishlist

  • Stay in Venice at night and soak in the nighttime atmosphere
  • See a classical music concert
  • Climb the Basilica di San Marco for skyline views of Venice

What do you suggest for visitors to Venice?

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Whirlwind Europe Day 4/14. This post is part of a whirlwind 14-day trip in Western Europe with my sister prior to her exchange programme in Glasgow, Scotland. Thank you for a trip of a lifetime!! (And here’s to many more!!)

Why Florence, Italy is a Must-Visit (Europe 3/14)

View of the Arno River from the Ponte Vecchio bridge.

If I had to choose only one Italian city to go back to in my lifetime, I have my answer in 0.0001 seconds flat: Florence.

Firenze, Italia, home of Renaissance art and architecture, the best views (from the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio), best gelato (I think so) and easiest transportation system (your feet.)

It’s funny. I’d never heard of Florence until my sister plonked it to into travel itinerary. I’ve always been more of an Anglophile, but my sister, who studies Architecture, studied the Brunelleschi’s dome and wanted to see it.

In one day, Florence stole my heart.

Arrival

Our Airbnb was delightfully close to the train station – a whopping 5 minute walk! Our host was lovely –  a Florence musician who didn’t balk at helping two struggling girls with their overweight luggage.

Duomo

florence duomoA Renaissance masterpiece. The marble, contrasting black lines, and geometric features seem awfully futuristic to me. Maybe it’s just me.

Now I have a very important piece of advice.

Ready?

Climb the Duomo.

I said it. Climb the 463 steps for 2 hours and get to the top.

However, ignore this if you’re claustrophobic or afraid of heights. The walkways/staircases are narrow, and it’s really high up.

I am by no means in shape. I start panting walking in the parking lot if there is so much of a 5 degree slope. Stairs are the bane of my life. So my conversation with my sister went a little like this:

Me: “463 steps?! Ha-ha. Pass!”

My sister: “You have to climb the Duomo when you come to Florence!!”

Since she was in charge of the Italy itinerary, I had no choice but get ready for the workout of my life.

Handy markers along the snaking line informed us the wait was going to be 1.5 hours. In preparation, I dashed back to our Airbnb, unloaded my backpack, bought tickets, and rushed back just in time.

Then we started the climb!!

Starting the climb felt something like being pushed onto a Six Flags rollercoaster ride. My heart rate quickened, my palms sweated, and I felt like I was climbing towards my doom.

I was overreacting, as usual. Turns out the climb was separated into several stops, so despite my dreadful stamina, so I survived. And you will too!

Halfway up the Duomo we were rewarded with a view of the dome’s interior ceiling:

To give you an idea of what the stairways look like, here is a photo of me climbing, and the final stairway up to the surface:

climbing-duomo

After 20-30 minutes of climbing, we finally reached the top, huffing and puffing, to claim the ultimate prize:

florence duomo viewflorence-4

It was so beautiful, we spent a good half hour at the top despite the sun’s merciless beating. We had a great time taking way too many pictures and admiring the view. We were lucky to be in Florence on such a beautiful day. Early September is a good time to come!

If you have more energy to burn, your Duomo ticket also allows access to the adjacent clock tower. I also recommend this, because then you can take this iconic photo of the Duomo that graces almost every guidebook:

florence

See that white tip at the top of the dome? That’s where you will be at the top of the Duomo. Photo credits to my sister, because I was wiped out and couldn’t get past the first long flight of stairs up the clock tower. I wish I did; my sister said it wasn’t much of a climb past the first flight.

Gosh those mountains.

At the top you will find this graffitied bell:

Climb the clock tower! It’s worth it.

Graffiti is an issue in Italy, though it seemed less so in Florence. An iPad sits in the middle of the clock tower with an app that you can doodle on and “leave your mark” with. Be responsible tourists. Don’t vandalize!

Accademia – Statue of David

After 2-week’s worth of exercise, we trekked over to the Accademia to admire the famous statue of David.

David, aka Renaissance Man, was carved from a single block of marble by Michelangelo. No one knew what to do with the block of marble, but they wanted to make something from it. Thank goodness for Michelangelo, or David might still be hidden in a block of marble.

His back is just as beautiful as his front.

I never thought I’d have my breath taken away by a statue. We rounded the corner and were greeted by the a soaring ceiling, intricate columns and of course, David.

I couldn’t believe how perfect he was.

Stand in awe for a bit. Soak in in. You are staring at the world’s most beautiful statue.

The Accademia itself is impeccably beautiful; the perfect housing for such a perfect statue. In the corner, you will find a small exhibition area with casts of other sculptures.

Fun fact about Florence: expect to see parts of David’s anatomy all over the city.

statue of david

David is everywhere, and people love it!

Uffizi Gallery

Another delightful thing about Florence: talented street artists converge around tourist hotspots such as the Duomo and Uffizi Gallery. Each artist has their own style, and they’re usually painting live. I splurged and sank €25 on a hand-painted watercolor piece. No regrets!

Next on the itinerary was world-famous Uffizi Gallery, one of the world’s top art museums.

uffizi galleryThe world-renowned Uffizi Gallery spans art history from ancient Greek sculpture to Renaissance art to 18th-century Venetian paintings. There is plenty here to impress even if you’re not artsy-fartsy.

The Uffizi Gallery houses many famous paintings like the Birth of Venus or Spring, but because I like to go against the grain, my favorite painting was neither of those. Instead, it was this one:

BOTTICELLI, Alessandro Filipepi detto (Firenze, 1445-1510)

Calumny of Apelles, 1494-1495 c.
This work is inspired by the famous painting of Apelles described by greek writer Lucian. The scene illustrates King Midas on the right, being badly advised by Suspicion and Ignorance, Anger portrayed as a hooded man with beard, Calumny with a torch that fascinates the slandered, Fraud with Peril behind her, Penitence as an old woman in ragged clothing who observes nude Truth with her eyes raised to heaven. Restored in 2003.

I love how it tells a story.

After a few hours of art appreciation, you may find the cafe on the roof enticing. If you need to use the bathroom, you’re in luck – the gallery has by far the cleanest, most beautiful bathrooms in Italy:

It was so wonderful that I had to photograph it.

Tickets: We got lucky and there was no line to enter. It was late August, a Thursday, and we arrived at around 3-4pm. However lines can get crazy (according to Lonely Planet it can be up to 4 hours), so it would be wise to reserve tickets beforehand.

Arno River/Ponte Vecchio

Time for a stroll along the Arno River towards the Ponte Vecchio. From this point it was free-and-easy and we simply soaked in the lovely, relaxed Florence atmosphere.

Prepare to be greeted by phenomenal views of the Arno River, the mountains beyond, and the gorgeous houses along it:

The Ponte Vecchio - the world's oldest bridge
The Ponte Vecchio – the world’s oldest bridge

Behold: the Ponte Vecchio. Built in 1345, it was the only bridge in Florence saved from destruction in World War II. Thank goodness, because it’s beautiful and offers phenomenal views!

Fun fact: only jewelers are allowed to set up shop on the Ponte Vecchio. It’s not because the people owning the bridge are snooty. You see, in the 16th Century, town butchers were tossing yucky leftovers into the river. Ferdinando I de’ Medici got sick of it, and so ordered jewelers onto the bridge to replace them. Since then, only jewelers have graced the bridge.

I  envy the shop staff. They get to see this every day:

I don’t know if anyone can get sick of this view. Does that not take your breath away?

It was so beautiful we hung out on the bridge for a good hour. Yup. We parked ourselves by the wall taking too many pictures again and watched the sunset. As the sun went night-night, street musician came out to play. And they were glorious. My sister and I stood perfectly content as the cool summer breeze caressed our faces and soothing Italian music wafted around us.

Florence is thriving with excellent street musicians

It was completely dark when we finally left. Summer is the perfect time to visit Florence because you can stay out late without freezing your butt off. And you want to stay out late in Florence. Ponte Vecchio is breathtaking at sunset.

Florence by night (and my sister)

We wandered aimlessly again and came to this cute piazza, complete with more street musicians, a shopping complex, and a classic merry-go-round. Right out of a dream!

florence

Overview
florence-food

  • Main Mode of Transport: Foot (the best!)
  • Highlight of the Day: Ponte Vecchio at sunset
  • Food: Cannoli, the BEST Gelato in Italy, sandwich from All’antico Vinaio, Boba (yup, Boba in Florence)
  • Accommodation: Airbnb

Future To-do List: Visit the Boboli Gardens, as well as the Galileo Science Museum.

We enjoyed Florence so much, and we both agreed Florence was one of our top destinations of our 2-week Europe trip. If you’re visiting Italy, take care not to miss Florence.

I will be back, Florence. Till we meet again.

What was your experience in Florence like? 

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This post is part of a whirlwind 14-day trip in Western Europe with my sister prior to her exchange programme in Glasgow, Scotland. Thank you for a trip of a lifetime!! (And here’s to many more!!)

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links; at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. If you would like to support this blog, please consider using these links!

3 Instances of Italian Humor

The Italians have a healthy sense of humor.

Although my sister and I didn’t interact with the locals much since we knew minimal Italian, but the graffiti we saw in the city was proof enough. We enjoyed pointing out funny art pieces and chuckling to ourselves.

  1. Uniconno!!

We saw this graffiti series at the the Ostia Antica train station. I don’t know if it was all done by the same person, but I like this story.

2. Fridge Magnets

Just one of the lovely fridge magnets found at every Italian souvenir store. David’s body parts were everywhere. Everyone loves it.

3. Stop Signs

“Oh the horror! I’m being towed!!” – A creative road sign found outside Ostia Antica.

I will be adding more to this list as I edit our 16GB of Europe photos. 😉

Do you have your own examples of Italian humor? Please share your photos; I’d love to see them! 🙂

Photo Log: Ancient Rome – Ostia Antica

Ostia AnticaWelcome to Rome Day 2 – Ostia Antica! I’m super excited because I will be writing about my favorite place in Rome. (If you haven’t read about Day 1, where we visit Vatican City and Trevi Fountain, you can find it here, or Part 1 of Day Two here, where we visit Colosseum, Roman Forum and the Pantheon.)

Are you a history geek? Do you love ancient sites? What about a tranquil park with minimal crowds? If your answer is yes to any of those questions, you’ll love Ostia.

To be honest, I would not have heard about Ostia if our packed itinerary didn’t allow time to visit Pompeii. My sister heard about an alternative to Pompeii that was close to Rome, so we did some research, and there you went! Ostia was perfect.

Getting There

Getting there is easy – a simple 45-min metro/train ride from central Rome to Ostia. Take Metro line B to Piramide (15 mins), exit the Metro, and follow signs to Lido – continue to the Roma-Lido train station. All trains depart every 15 minutes and stop at Ostia Antica (30 mins). Leave the station and walk over the skybridge; after that just head straight and you’ll find the parking lot and entrance. Better still, use Google Maps to guide you,which I did.

The Roman countryside is a far cry from central Rome. It was tranquil, serene, and the pace of life slowed down quite a few notiches. Listen closely and you can hear bird song. A much-welcomed break from the constant hustle of Rome.

The moment we arrived at the train station, we knew we were in the Roman countryside. The air was fresher, there wasn’t the constant whirr of car engines, and there was a lot of open, green space. Also, some funky-looking flowers that look like they might chomp my finger off.

Ostia Antica

Ostia Antica was a thriving ancient Roman port town. It offered the complete Roman experience: baths, shopping arcades, apartments, and public bathrooms with plumbing.

Armed with my Rick Steves Rome guidebook (there is a dedicated section for Ostia Antica), we entered the ancient ruins…

Ostia Antica

You start your journey at the Necropolis. Yeah, it’s what it sounds. Cool, huh? An ancient cemetery!

Ostia Antica

Then you’ll pass the Warehouses, where they stored wares, horses etc. Walk further and you’ll reach the Baths of Neptune, Theater, Guilds, Shopping Arcades, an actual ancient cafe, and a Museum.

Ostia Antica

You can also find ancient public bathrooms. Water flowed through and flushed waste away. Such was the genius of ancient Romans. The seats are made from real marble!

Ostia Antica

Look for an actual ancient cafe, complete with a small patio for al fresco dining!

Ostia Antica

Photography at Ostia Antica

Ostia Antica is a mecca for photography enthusiasts. The ancient history of the site lends itself to some dramatic photos.

Ostia Antica

Ostia Antica

Ostia Antica

Ostia Antica

Ostia Antica was a dream for the photography geek in me. So much ambience! So much mystic!!

It was amazing how well the ruins were preserved. The Roman government did a great job. I can’t wait to return with my DSLR.

Cats at Ostia Antica

There was a little cafe at the far end of Ostia Antica, where several stray cats hung out. The cafe was closed when we got there, but being crazy cat ladies, of course we had to check the kitties out…

The museum was closed when we got to it, which gives us extra reason to come back soon. I will be back, Ostia.

Ostia Antica

On our way back to central Rome, we got a glimpse of Roman traffic. Let’s just say I’m never hopping behind the wheel in Rome.

I hope you enjoyed the photos. I didn’t bring my clunky DSLR – we used our iPhones – but I definitely will next time.

Next up: Florence, Italy. Home to the Renaissance and SO MUCH BEAUTY. Another one of my favorites.

Liked it? Pin it!

This post is part of a whirlwind 14-day trip in Western Europe with my sister prior to her exchange programme in Glasgow, Scotland. Thank you for a trip of a lifetime!! (And here’s to many more!!)

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links; at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. If you would like to support this blog, please consider using these links!

Photo Log: 4 Ancient Roman Sites in 1 Day

Welcome to Rome Day 2! On our second day in the Eternal City we visited the Ancient Core, which includes the Colosseum, Palatine Gardens, Roman Forum, the Pantheon, and then took a day trip to my personal favorite, Ostia Antica. Yup, it’s Ancient Rome day! I’m splitting Day 2 into two posts because it would be too long otherwise. To read about Ostia Antica, go here.

Colosseum

Rome ColosseumWe used our Roma Pass to skip the ticket lines and enter. The Roma Pass includes unlimited public transport and 1 attraction. Since the Colosseum + Palatine Hill + Roman Forum are bundled to count as 1, it’s really a 3-in-1 deal! The Roma Pass can be purchased at the Tourist Information at Fumicino International Airport – it’s on the way out and easy to find.

Watch out for people dressed as gladiators offering a photo-op. They will demand a tip. My sister’s boyfriend was scammed (on a separate trip) and paid dearly for it. Also watch out for pickpockets.

colosseum

Here you can see the underground passages where they kept slaves and animals.

It’s fascinating to think that the Colosseum is 2,000 years old, and where the bloodiest, goriest gladiator games played out. It’s really something to stand on a structure that was built thousands of years ago. It’s even better to think it was home to a brutal, violent, ancient sport.

As a bonus, there is an informative exhibition area leading up the Colosseum that tells about the history of the ancient ruins, including what ancient Romans ate while watching the sport (they must’ve had really strong stomachs), ancient tools, and excavated bones.

Palatine Hill

Palatine HillThe Colosseum is only a short walk away from the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forums, all included under the same entry ticket as the Colosseum. Frightfully convenient. Just scan your Roma pass at the start of the entrance line. Simple! Be careful not to leave without visiting both the Palatine Hill and Roman Forums – the combo ticket does not cover re-entry.

Once a Roman palace, the Palatine Hill was beautiful. You’ll find remains of the ancient palace, an ancient stadium, and a charming little Museum.

Palatine HillThe stadium was impressive. I think it was being used as an actual stadium, because there was sports equipment at the borders, and a random word.

Colorful flags were set up, helping to add a pop of color to the ancient palace.

Palatine Hill

It started pouring while we were exploring (bring an umbrella and/or a poncho!), so we sought shelter in the museum for a little bit along with a bunch of other tourists.

Yeah, turned out it also got pretty cold. Dressed only in T-shirts and shorts, we ran to the Roman Forum and sought shelter under this large structure, along with many others. There was a metal fence going around it, but people gotta stay dry.

Funny, embarrassing story time!

When leaving the shelter, coordinated as I am, I tripped on the metal fence surrounding it, sprawled face-first for the soaked gravel ground and went SPLASH! in a puddle.

My right hand broke my fall, and it bruised terribly and ached for days afterwards. It didn’t bruise as badly as my dignity, though.

My sister took pity on me and bought a bright orange poncho for 5 Euros from a brilliant entrepreneur. It was raining and people were stranded at the grounds, so he ran to and fro armed with ponchos to sell. (Who knows where he got them from? It was genius!)

Heed my warning: come to Rome armed with an umbrella and a good windbreaker. And don’t try to hop through fences. It doesn’t work.

Roman Forum

Roman ForumWarm and snuggly in my bright orange poncho, we ventured into the drizzle and cold winds and explored the Roman Forum. Rick Steves offers an awesome guided tour of Roman Forum, with histories of the Arch of Titus, House of the Vestal Virgins, and the Temple of Julius Caesar, to name a few.

The white arch on the right is the Arch of Septimus Severus, a triumphal arch dedicated in AD 203 to commemorate the Parthian victories of Emperor Septimius Severus.

The Roman Forum was once Ancient Rome’s birthplace and center. Someone needs to develop an app that juxtapositions images of what the ruins used to look like in its glory days. I want to hold up my iPhones and see the Roman Forum in its full splendor. Pretty please?

My sister and Temple of Antoninus Pius, a Roman emperor

The rain eased up and thankfully it got warmer as we made our way to the Pantheon (~ 20 minute walk). Along the way we shared a quick lunch – a panini with ham, cheese, mushrooms and marinara. Cheap and good eats are abundant in Rome!

Rome food
Yummm.

Pantheon

Pantheon RomeIt’s hard to believe this was built two millenia ago because it looks brand new. A Roman temple dedicated to all (pan) of the gods (theos), it was originally built in 27 B.C. by Marcus Agrippa, and then rebuilt by emperor Hadrian around A.D 120. It was converted into a Christian church, which preserved it through the Dark Ages.

The dome served as the model for Brunelleschi’s dome in Florence, and then Michelangelo’s dome of St. Peter’s, both prominent Renaissance features. Roman engineers knew their stuff.

This is a must-see. Free entry to all!

Pantheon Rome

Like the Trevi Fountain, it lies smack in the middle of the city. Google Maps comes in handy for those who cannot read maps (like me.)

That marks the end of this post, but that is not the end for my post on Ancient Rome, nor is it the end of Rome Day 2! Go here to continue onto my feature post of Ostia Antica! (I liked the ancient park so much, I gave it a post all to itself.)

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This post is part of a whirlwind 14-day trip in Western Europe with my sister prior to her exchange programme in Glasgow, Scotland. Thank you for a trip of a lifetime!! (And here’s to many more!!)

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links; at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. If you would like to support this blog, please consider using these links!

11 Tips for Surviving Rome

I enjoyed Rome. But for a first-timer, Rome can be quite daunting. It’s oozing with history and culture, but it’s also a city of graffiti, pickpockets, and dark alleyways.

I was not kidding about the graffiti.
I was not kidding about the graffiti.

Being two little Asian girls, my sister and I kept our guard up at all times. Our BnB was located in Cipro. It was 5 minutes away from the metro but the streets were dimly lit and the walls graffitied; a stark contrast from Singapore and Orange County. We might have been paranoid. But it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Here are some tips to have the easiest trip to Rome.

Tip #1: Buy the Roma Pass.

If you’re staying more than 2 nights in Rome, consider getting a Roma Pass.

They have 48-hour and 72-hour options. Both provide unlimited rides on metro, tram and buses within Rome, as well as 1 or 2 museum/archaeological site admission. The Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Gardens all count as 1 attraction, so that’s a great deal.

The convenience of not having to worry about buying a metro ticket whenever you hop on public transit is well worth it.

Tip #2: Buy a TIM SIM card with 3G.

As someone hopeless with maps, I relied heavily on 3G to navigate with Google Maps. Google Maps told me which metro station to walk to, which metro station to disembark, and how to walk to the site from the metro station. It was a godsend.

One of Italy’s top Telco providers, TIM provided great 3G connection. TIM stores are everywhere. There is one at the International Airport, one at the Roma Termini (central train station), and several others scattered all over. To save money, we bought only one and used a hot spot to share the data.

Tip #3: Have the Telco store staff switch out SIM cards for you, activate it, and then ask for a switching tool (or bring one).

If the shop doesn’t have a tool they can give you, ask if they have a paper clip. The TIM store staff made one out of a paper clip for us. Ingenious! (If you have to make one yourself, bend the paper clip and cut off any wrapping material. Tada! iPhone pokey thing.) You’ll need it for when you go home/ visit another country.

Tip #4: Bring a portable phone charger.

Between taking photos, navigating, and researching the web for information, you’re going to need it. My sister brought a portable charger that held multiple charges, so we were never afraid of running out. I recommend this charger from Amazon.

Tip #5: Learn basic Italian phrases.

The Italians appreciate it. We should’ve known better. Except we didn’t. We arrived in Rome without the teeniest knowledge of Italian. (Sorry.) Learn some basic phrases, such as:

  • Grazie – Thank you
  • Prego – You’re welcome (Italians say this a lot. I’ve found it is sometimes used interchangably as “Good” or “Please” or “Welcome…”)
  • Per favore – Please
  • Si – Yes
  • No – No
  • Mi Scusi – Excuse me
  • Any food items so you’re not completely stumped by menus

Italians in the tourist industry do speak some English though, so if you’re only in Italy for a few days the basic phrases should serve you well.

Tip #6: Wear comfy shoes!

This might be a no-brainer, but you will be doing a lot of walking in Rome. Have you tried walking on cobblestones in heels? I haven’t, but since my feet ache after hours of walking in tennis shoes, I can’t imagine heels would be better!

Tip #7: Pick a hotel or BnB in a central area.

This way you avoid having to walk through dark alleyways. I loved our room in the BnB, but I did not love the neighborhood. I’ll pick a place more central in the future.

Tip #8: Buy all admission tickets before departure if possible.

The lines to the most popular attractions are loooong. We followed the advice of Rick Steves and bought our tickets to Vatican Museum way before we boarded the plane. There were many people who didn’t and ended up having to wait in line under the blistering sun. You have too little time to be standing in line. So if an attraction offers online ticket booking, book it!

Tip #9: If visiting in summer, do not wear jeans.

It is hot as heck, humid like a sauna, and your legs will not be happy. However, certain religious sites do enforce a dress code that prohibits shorts, skirts over the knees, or bare shoulders. Wear loose-fitting pants, a long airy skirt, or bring a scarf that you can wrap around your legs or shoulders. Anything is better than skinny jeans that chafe your skin.

Tip #10: Be careful of street vendors.

There will always be several street vendors touting flowers and trinkets at major tourist spots. Most are nice. There are pushier ones, though, who will shove roses into your hands, tell you it’s for good luck, then hold out a hand and say, “Tip?” One vendor tried that with us, and when we denied his “tip”, he rolled his eyes and snatched the flower back, leaving my hand cold and empty. How quickly his attitude turned! (This happened to us at Trevi Fountain.)

I have also read of cases where street vendors distract you while their partner-in-crime pickpockets you. Alternatively, someone may ask you to sign a petition, distract you, and pickpocket you. Steer clear of them.

Tip #11: Pack light.

I cannot stress this enough. Rome is: cobblestone streets, metro stations with stairs only, and a whole ton of walking. And if you’re taking a train to multiple cities, you’ll need to hoist your luggage up narrow stairs.

Lugging 2 large backpacks and 2 large suitcases (each weighing 25kg = 50lbs) with skinny Asian arms was not fun. Whenever a futile search for an elevator reaped no results, I would groan in defeat and wait for my sister to lug her own luggage up/down the stairs and then come up to help me with mine. Towards the end of the trip we caught on and started carrying the luggages together – I would grab the top handle and she would grab the side handle.

Seriously. Don’t do this to yourself. Pack light.

Conclusion

Our London tour guide said people either love or hate Rome. While I was there I couldn’t help but think, “I wish I was in the U.K.” But thinking back, Rome was beautiful amidst the chaos, and if I’d been better prepared, I would’ve had a better time.

Needless to say I intend on returning. There are so many things I haven’t seen or done! And, y’know, Ostia Antica beckons.

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Photo Log: Rome, Vatican Museums and Trevi Fountain

Roma, Italia. The ancient, magical city of  history and architecture. If you are an ancient history geek (like me) Rome will fascinate. It is well-worth the insanity, sticky summer heat and lurking pickpockets.

My favorite place in Rome – the Trevi Fountain!

Itinerary:

DAY 1: Vatican City Museums, St Peter’s Basilica, Trevi Fountain 

DAY 2:  Colosseum, Palatine Gardens, Roman Forum, Ostia Antica

Time Spent in Rome: 3 days, 2 nights

Arriving in Rome

Summer = humidity. It’s like walking in a mild sauna. Being born and raised in a tropical country, I loved it. What I didn’t love was my jeans. So wear shorts (and bring a thin scarf to wrap around your legs for buildings with dress codes). You have been warned!

Our B&B was comfortable, had an adorable tiny elevator with two doors, and most importantly, was air-conditioned. Located in the Roman suburb of Cipro, it was a short metro ride to the center.

Vatican Museums

Behold, the Musei Vaticani. The history was so rich you could practically feel it radiating from those walls.

Armed with our pre-bought tickets, we entered the Museums in a jiffy. I highly recommend pre-booking tickets. There was a long line of tourists waiting to buy tickets, standing in the hot sun! Don’t waste your precious time in Rome waiting in line.

We saw the best Greek and Roman statues, the School of Athens, and the Sistine Chapel, which is the pope’s personal chapel, and where new popes are elected. No photography was allowed in the Sistine Chapel. Some tourists pretended not to see the signs, so the low murmurs in the Sistine Chapel were punctuated by the official’s insistence of “No photos!!”

Vatican City

Personal anecdote: I was a walking zombie the first half of our exploration because I barely got any sleep on the plane. I held onto my sister’s shoulder because my knees were buckling! Then I got espresso. Thank goodness for the magic of caffeine.

St Peters Basilica

We took a shortcut from the Sistine Chapel to St Peters Basilica. (Psst… it’s in the far right end corner of the chapel. Kudos to Rick Steves, who writes awesome travel guides. The entrance is technically for tour groups, but try to blend in and act like you’re part of a tour group. It saves 30 minutes of walking.)

No shorts, above-the-knee skirts, or bare shoulders are allowed at St Peters Basilica, and other religious sites in Italy. Girls wear a top that covers your shoulders (like a tee-shirt), and airy pants or a long skirt. I wore jeans, and in the heat and humidity they almost killed me. You can also wear shorts and bring a scarf that you can wrap around yourself to pass dress code. Guys – pants that go below the knee work just fine.

Inside St. Peter’s Basilica there are plaques on the floor showing you where other churches end up if placed inside. Entry is free, but there is additional cost if you want to climb to the top of the dome or visit St. Peter’s original grave with the Scavi (excavations) tour. We skipped it because we were short on time; maybe next time!

Please don't let my weird expression distract from the beauty that is St Peter's Basilica.
Please don’t let my weird expression distract from St Peter’s Basilica.

St Peter's Basilica Square
St Peter’s Basilica Square

Trevi Fountain

Next, good ol’ Google Maps led the way to Trevi Fountain. (If you cannot read maps to save your life, like me, then I highly recommend getting a 4G SIM card so you can use Google Maps.)

It was only while processing this photo that I noticed one of the diners giving us a thumbs-up. Gotta love the Italians!

Roman diner giving us a thumbs-up

Rome at evening time is very enjoyable. The heat is dissipating and a cool breeze wafts through the streets. We had a great time meandering along the cobblestone streets (don’t wear heels) as Romans stroll by dressed to the nines, chattering away in Italian, their well-behaved little dogs in tow.

We passed a ton of touristy shops selling the same souvenirs over and over, including brilliant magnets like these:

Trevi Fountain is tucked away in the middle of a bustling city. I’ve always had the impression from the Lizzie McGuire Movie that it was in a space of its own. But before you know it, you’ll spill out from the narrow streets into a wide courtyard and find yourself gaping at the grandeur that is the Trevi Fountain. In fashion of good ‘ol Loki in Thor: TA-DAAAH!

Baroque architecture smack in the middle of a modern city.
Baroque architecture smack in the middle of a modern city.

The larger-than-life Trevi Fountain will take your breath away. This Baroque work of art celebrates water, first brought into Rome via ancient aqueducts. Read this site for a detailed description of the statues and history behind it. Did you know it features 30 species of plants?

We followed the age-old tradition of tossing a coin into the fountain. This means we’re definitely returning to Rome! Yay!!

Don’t let the crowds daunt you. It took us ages to squeeze through and get to the fountain so we could toss in a Euro, but it was well worth it. Worth it!!

Vendors were tossing light-up helicopter toys into the air and the toys would copter down to the ground. Be careful of pushier vendors, who will shove roses into your hands, tell you it’s for good luck, then hold out a hand and say, “Tip?” One vendor tried that with us, and when I denied his “tip”, he rolled his eyes and snatched the flower back, leaving my poor hand cold and empty. How quickly his attitude turned!

Don’t miss the Spanish Steps, only a 5 minute walk from Trevi Fountain. The Piazza di Spagna has been the hangout of Romantics over the years. We didn’t get to climb the 138 steps though; they were blocked off when we got there.

I wish we had the budget to sit down at one of the al fresco restaurants and order something off the menu. We settled for fresh-made pasta at Pastaficio instead, something my sister found in a Lonely Planet guidebook. It was empty when we got there (8-9pm?), but according to Yelp there’re usually lines far out the door. The pasta was chewy and a little cold; probably because they were closing soon. It was still good though, and lasted us at least 2 meals each!

4 Euros for 3-4 servings - great deal!
Pastaficio Marinara – 4 Euros for 3-4 servings – great deal!

We ended the long day with a little bit of grocery shopping at a supermarket by our B&B in Cipro. Oh and btw, Italians love sweet stuff. (This was confirmed by our Airbnb host in Milan. She admits all Italian breakfasts are sweet.) When in Rome, do as the Romans do, right? So we stocked up on yogurt drinks and fruits. I’m still hunting for the delicious Italian pear juice in US grocery stores. No luck so far.

That concludes Day 1 in Rome, Italy. We returned to our B&B exhausted, sticky, but happy.

Things We’ll Do Differently Next Time

  1. I will not wear jeans in the middle of summer in Italy.
  2. I will not accept roses from a stranger.
  3. Get a hotel/airbnb in central Rome because 2 little Asian girls walking through dark alleyways in Cipro gave me the heebie-jeebies.

I also wrote a post on Surviving Rome. Rome has so much to offer, but things can easily go wrong – make the best of it by preparing well! I talk about why you should get the Roma Pass, a TIM SIM card, and more!

Guidebooks

My go-to guidebooks were:

  • Rick Steves Italy – Full of insider information, tips on planning and avoiding lines. Good guided tours you can follow. Rick Steves prides himself as “the tour guide in your pocket.” I carried around his Rome guidebook because the Italy version so was big.
  • Lonely Planet Italy – Very helpful for first-time visitors as they show you the highlights of each destination. Helpful tips on keeping costs down,  beautiful pictures and layout. They also publish a Rome version.

If you’re on a budget, you can borrow guidebooks from the library. I borrowed mine – libraries are the best resource ever! My libraries allow us to borrow dozens of books for months (we can renew 5 times.) Love it!

Use the guidebooks to plan your trip. However, if you are hopping from city to city, I do not recommend bringing guidebooks. It is very important to pack light. Halfway through the trip, as I was getting short on luggage space, I whole-heartedly wished I could leave the guidebooks at our Airbnbs. But I couldn’t abandon them, because, y’know, they were library books.

Overview

  • Main Mode of Transport: Metro (with Roma Pass), Foot
  • Highlight of the Day: Trevi Fountain
  • Food: Pastaficio, Melon and Chocolate Gelato (omg I love Melon Gelato), groceries, Espresso from cafe in Vatican Museums
  • Accommodation: Bed & Breakfast in Cipro.

Next: the Colosseum, Palatine Gardens, Roman Forums, and my Roman favorite: Ostia Antica! Onward, march!

Liked this post? Pin it!

This post is part of a whirlwind 14-day trip in Western Europe with my sister prior to her exchange programme in Glasgow, Scotland. Thank you for a trip of a lifetime!! (And here’s to many more!!)

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links; at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. If you would like to support this blog, please consider using these links!

Welcome!

Welcome my personal blog! I'm an INFP Singaporean girl living in sunny California! I am mother of 3 furkids, unapologetic nerd/geek, and a city girl married to a country boy. Read more about me here. I love writing . cats . FOOD . photography . travelling . stationery . japanese merchandise! I love lots of things... this isn't a complete list!

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