A Travellerspoint blog

Floating in Florence...

Finding Florence and Treasuring Tuscany!!

sunny -19 °C

8 November 2005

Ever since watching that movie "Under the Tuscan Sun" starring Frances Mayes, I have been dying to see for myself whether the fields of sunflowers, stretches of wineries, oak trees, rivers and Italian country terracota villas were simply an empty Hollywood promise of exotic and dreamy getaway...but it seems, for once, art was not imitating life, it was magnifying it in romantic proportions!

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The city gate of Florence beckons...

Our first fling with Tuscany began with a date with its magical city of Florence. I have to say, Rome aside, I think Florence is my next favourite city and probably the only city in Italy that I can actually imagine living in. It has that perfect blend of natural and historic beauty without being too suffocating and a tourist trap, well, at least that was my view when I was there.

The first things I noticed were these funky cow statues littered all across the city, each painted differently to represent some symbolic expression by its artists.

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Cows with attitudes!

Of course, one cannot utter the word Florence without linking it to Michaelangelo's statue of David. Now that's one fine specimen! Located at the Galleria dell'Accademia, this towering marble carving exposes (excuse the pun) every sinewy muscle imaginable making this handsome statue a truly marvelous erection...*cough* Is it just me or its suddenly getting hot in here! Err...anyway, adjacent to the statue of David once one is able to tore one's view from him, there are other magnificent statues on display, including the work of Giambologna, one of Italy's celebrated artist in the 16th century. These are entitled "The Rape of the Sabine women". Gruesome yet poignantly and depicted with these almost-coming-to-life display of series of statues that narrated the stories of these poor women's anguish and fear.

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Gheri and I next visited the great Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore) and the Giotto's Bell Tower (which we ran out of time to go in). The Duomo and its dome of course have been the standard feature of almost all postcards depicting Florence. Beautiful 13th century gothic style carving in the traditional black and white strips (like ones in Genoa) forms the facade of the Duomo while the inside is more stark and bare, perhaps a depiction of holiness and purity of the church. After climbing around 463 steps to the top of the dome, you do get a lovely view of the city.

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Then it was time for lunch! At the base of the Duomo, oddly an area called Piazza del Duomo are many wonderful small cafes, one of which we stopped by for what is now our standard lunch, which is a baguette with salami, washed down with a glass of wine followed by a strong cappuccino!

Next up and again very nearby to us is the next point of interest, the Piazza della Signoria and the Palazzo Vecchio! The Palazzo, now the city hall of Florence was once a Romaneques crenellated fortress palace with a clock tower! Very impressive and majestic indeed.

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As the day was drawing to the close, I suddenly wanted something more serene. Gheri and I decided to go check out the River Arno, the main river that flows through the city. It was indeed picturesque especially when you gaze down the river and see the different bridges, including the one very famous Ponte Vecchio. This is particularly a special bridge built and re-built in the 14th century and the only one in Italy to remain intact following World War II. Now housing the Centro Storico, which boasts a series of very upmarket and stylish shops as one local man cheekily pointed out to us, "It's a place where a woman rejoices and a man cries". Why? Because there are many jewellers stationed here selling the most exquisite of diamonds and gold. Sadly on my backpacker's budget, I wouldn't be wearing any bling bling soon!

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9 November 2005

The next day, Gheri and I hired a car to venture out of Florence so we can see more of the countryside, that's right, Tuscany, here we come! We started by visiting an ancient medieval town called San Gimignano! This town, famous of its high towers were found by the Etruscans in the 3rd century B.C. It was famous for being a stopping point for Catholic pilgrims travelling through to Rome or the Vatican City. Quite an impressive medieval city when you think of how big and high the buildings were given the period they were built. Check out the photos:

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We then had lunch at a very small cafe, bought some postcards and take lots more photos including of a lil lost black and white kitten running around the old abandoned fortress.

As the sun dipped lower toward the horizon, we left San Gimignano and just drove around aimlessly really as I was desperate to search for your typical Tuscany landscape that has filled my dreams and imagination seeing watching the movie. I was definitely not disappointed as slowly we drove past wineries, rolling hills and valleys that took my breath away.

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Sigh...Bella no?

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My favourite one...I could live here and die happy!

I was quiet on the drive back to Florence not because I was tired or unhappy but I was just filled with this quiet peace and tranquility, happy to let the beautiful gorgeous views warmly take hold of my heart and touch my soul. I surrendered to the feeling of bliss and joy that's Tuscany...

AO Rating: I will definitely come back to rekindle my romance with you Tuscany, maybe stay for many months so we can have a wicked affair! :) Until we meet again, Ciao!

Posted by Miwi88 16:40 Archived in Italy Comments (3)

Cinque Terres (5 Small Towns)

Beautiful Italian view of the Mediterranean Sea..

sunny 32 °C

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7.11.05

I have heard of these 5 Italian towns ever since my first arrival in Europe. The crazy Canadian couple who stayed in the same hostel as myself in "The Flying Pig" in Amsterdam had ranted and raved about how magnificent the views were and their only negative comment was the size of the crowd flocking into the normally quiet Italian villages strategically located by the Mediterranean sea, simply to sample a taste of non-complicated Italian life by the sea. Most would leave disappointed.

Luckilly for me, by the time Gheri and I arrived at the first of the five quaint towns, the summer crowd were all but gone while the beautiful warm and sunny autumn weather lingered. As we only planned to make this one a day trip, little time were to be wasted as we started off exploring through the first town.

The first thing that struck me about this Italian seaside town is that every building is painted a different colour to its next door neighbours. The result of this was a kaleidescope of multi-coloured basic but sturdy brick and tile buildings laid clustered together, providing a constrast to the dramatic black cliff rock and cerulean blue sea backdrop that makes both the town and its surroundings such a gorgeous masterpiece of landscape painting on this Italian canvas.

As we make our descent from the top of the hill, and walking through the village towards the sea where the walking track starts from linking this first village to the next, we were greeted by shy smiling children and their more friendly looking parents as they go about their business benovelently playing along with our poor attempt to assimilate into their daily lives as if we too belong there.

In a way, it was very reassuring to see that the Italian village was exactly how I would have pictured them from watching movies depicting seaside Italian lives...Clothes line hanging overhead while you walk through the small alleys, old bicycles and scooters parked or rested against the side walls of the houses, small local shops with colorful hand painted signs appearing alongside residential houses with flip flops and japanese rubber slippers outside the front door, that sort of stuff. As I have gathered by now, despite the thousands of Japanese tourists that flooded such destinations, I discovered that the Italians are facinated by the eastern tourists, regardless of their origin or the fact that they're now more of a kiwi/westerner in atittude and dressing. The Italian men were of course indulgent and courteous (read rudely flitatious) in trying to involve me in a chit chat, much to Gheri's displeasure who murmured something that sounded very much like 'fanculo' (f*** off)whenever he thought I wasn't noticing.

We were told at the start of the walking track in the Tourist office that due to the torrential rain that hit the coastal area a few days prior to our arrival, we would only be able to walk from village 1 to village 2, then have to catch a train to village 3, and if we like, walk to village 4 before catching a train to village 5. While we were originally intending to walk the entire track to village 5, we thought perhaps this alternate walking and train riding might be a blessing in disguise, offering us a chance to see the towns from two different perspectives.

With the backdrop of beautiful blue sky, we set off, leaving behind the first town. The track was easy enough, about a metre wide concrete path hugging the cliff of the rocky mountain.

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Standing by the safety rail on the way from village 1 to 2.

As we walked, it was really hard not to notice how blue the Mediterranean sea was with the gorgeous cloudless sky provide little resistance or the sun to intensify the blue reflection of the sea, making it really a pleasant walk.

When we got to the second village, the buildings, houses were not that too dissimilar to the ones at the first village but the position of the houses were somewhat more dramatic in the second village, in that they were closer to the water and perched up high above the cliff. See picture below:

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Fantastic ain't it?!

Against such backdrop, we popped into the local deli where a friendly Croat who migrated to this village years ago served us the most delicious home made sandwiches this side of western Italy! Fresh bread, meat, olives and cheese...Bellisimo!!

We then caught the train to the 3rd village which I must say was perhaps the least colourful of the 5 villages in terms of the houses or the natural view. Perhaps it could also be due to the fact that this is a 'working' village in that there's lots of olive estates surrounding the village and also small wineries around. As the day was starting to get later and later and we were worried we might run out of time, we quickly walked through the jungle track to reach the 4th village.

When we emerged through to the 4th village, poor Gheri was covered with pine needles all over his track pants. I was too busy to notice as I was gobsmacked by the beautiful sight that greeted me. This gorgeous settlement proved to be different to the other three villages in that there was a large military fort complete with a watch tower and lighthouse built around the 18th century. This village was also a fishing village. We didn't hang around long though, having to catch the 2nd last train to the last of the 5 villages.

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Military fort at the 4th village

Of all the local small towns, the 5th village is the only one that boasted of having a decent beach that would be tempting to locals and tourists alike after a hot summer day. It was almost 8pm, the sun was departing..but that didn't stop a bunch of young American (but of course) tourists giggling and squealing all the way during the train ride. You just knew that you're in for a bit of entertainment and the yankees did not disappoint!

As soon as the train came to a halt outside the local train station which was just opposite the beach, the Americans poured out and raced one another to the beach. The girls couldn't take their tops off quick enough before running into the water in their bikinis to the delight most of the local men, their delight only marred by the pain of being swiped at with their wives' handbags.

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Beach front Italian village..ooh la la..

It was indeed a beautiful trip..we missed the train we wanted to catch. Gheri was really annoyed thinking it was the last one, but luckilly like many a time before, he was wrong!!! We did manage to catch the next one that took us all the way back to the first village and luckilly for us, our car was still where we parked it. As we had made a booking for a place to stay in Florence, we had to make our way there, 1.5 hours drive away. What an awesome day though spent in Italy's lil treasure paradise..all 5 of them!

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View of the sunset (and the moon) from the shore at the 5th village..

AO Rating: Wonderful place to visit definitely but definitely not a place to easily occupy yourself for too long so perhaps a day or two would be ideal and sufficient to enjoy this coastal delight.

Posted by Miwi88 22:54 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Northern Italy escapade..

Milan & Genoa

14 °C

5th November 2005

As I sat in the train on my way to Milan from Venice, I realised that there were only 25 days left before the curtain would come down on my European Adventure. It is hard to believe that time has flown so quickly. The radio announcement interrupted my ponderings as I realised Milan was approaching. A city of 1.3 million people, Milan is the financial and fashion capital of Italy. I found it rather disheartening to see Lonely Planet describing it as "surprisingly scruffy city offering the best in Italian clothes, theatre and nightlife - and not a lot else."

Luckilly for me, my visit here had less to do with the sightseeing of the city, and more to do with catching up with one of its inhabitants, my friend Gheri (whom I first met in Bratislava). Gheri, a fellow badminton enthusiasts, had somehow managed to organise a game of competitive badminton for me, playing for a club of Milan vs another club from Genoa. So the plan was to meet up with Gheri and we would then travel to Genoa, south of Milan for the game before making our way south to Cinque Terre (the 5 terraces) and Florence.

After a few frustrating text 'tagging', Gheri and I managed to find one another at the busy train station. We went into the heart of the city to eat lunch and Gheri said he would like to show me around and so I told him how Lonely Planet advised that I shouldn't bother unless I'm going shopping. He must have taken personal offence to his city being described that way as General Gheri rushed us through lunch and then dragged me to see what he described as the best duomo ("cathedral") this side of Europe. I must admit, I didn't take him too seriously with that boast as I was sure Lonely Planet would definitely not leave out such important information. It mentioned a duomo, but simply that it was commissioned in 1386 to a lunatic French Gothic design and finished 600 years later. Didn't seem hardly that interesting. This was...until I came face to face with it..

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Never since the Sigrada Familia had a church made me drop my jaw that wide as when I saw this cathedral. This was only one side of the building and it is incredibly gothic in design. The uniquely designed church with its high spires and finely detailed gilding walls were rather impressive. In terms of the size, it would certainly be bigger than Notre Dame or the West Minister Abbey, and in area size, you could easily fit in 2 rugby fields.

Ok, Gheri 1, Lonely Planet 0. As we made our way into the church to have a look around, Gheri pointed to a print of Da Vinci's masterpiece, "The Last Supper" and asking me whether did my Lonely Planet (could have sworn he snorted as he said the name) mention that while this was a print, the original of this amazing painting is also housed in Milan. After a quick flick through the book, I was tempted to use it to swipe that gloating look off his face..*sigh* Gheri 2, Lonely Planet 0.

After the church, we made our way towards this huge indoor shopping centre. Perhaps to illustrate that Lonely Planet wasn't totally wrong, Gheri pointed out that this centre hosts all the famous designer clothing store and sure enough, Gucci, Giorgio Armani and Valentino gold lettered signs appear on both sides as we walked through the busy arcade. McDonalds further confirmed that it does have a store everywhere. It was rather disturbing in order to keep up with the 'chic' style of the shopping centre where the letters forming the outlets' names are gold with the background being black, McDonalds looked so upmarket suddenly with this design. Location, location, location!

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The massive and impressive shopping centre!

We walked around the main square too and visited a few more places (thankfully mentioned in LP) before heading home to have dinner with Gheri's parents (whom he was living with). Nothing eventful to report except to point this out to you guys. Everywhere in France, Italy and Spain, it is very common for the bathrooms to also include the toilets. However, the first time I walked into one, I was perplexed to see two toilets in one bathroom. I was like ok...so some people like company while they do their no.2's...I was later advised by my French friend, Ralphy that the "Bede" is not really a toilet, but it's for err..*blush* women to wash themselves (the French's chic-ness knows no boundaries). I couldn't resist but take a picture to show you what they look like:

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I wonder if NZ would ever catch on to this..Think of it like a bird bath...

6th November 2005

We started nice and early for our drive to Genoa (or pronounced Genova here by the locals). The ride was uneventful as we were simply on the motorway most of the time. Two hours later, we arrived at the badminton hall and I felt good during the warm up but it was very apparent to me as the games went on that I have lost a lot of my court fitness and leg strength. It didn't take long before my calves scream in pain with each movement and my arms tiring fast. So all in all, I didn't play too particularly well but I did have lots of fun. Gheri was happy to play paparazzi for the day.

Everyone there was really friendly and I learnt a few terms in Italian that we normally use badminton like "Alle!" (Go!), "Bella" (good shot) and Andiarmo!! (equivallent to Leyton Hewitt's COME ON!!!)

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Started off really well...

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Thanks Gheri for making me look better than how I actually played!

After the games and a much needed shower, Gheri and I headed off for a mini sightseeing of Genova, a port city of Italy. The most interesting feature for me are how there's lots of 'striped' buildings, including churches. Gheri advised that this was common of old buildings in northern Italy.

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The main church in the heart of the town in 'striped' design.

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The justice building at the main square of Genova.

It was a nice way to unwind and we checked in at the local youth hostel for what I anticipated to be another uneventful evening of resting before making our way to Cinque Terres tomorrow. However, desitiny had other plans for us.

While checking in, there was this crew cut blonde haired guy who looked a bit rough on the edges who was waiting behind us to also check in. I didn't like the way he was looking at me but by now, have learnt to ignore these kinds of attention. Anyhow, after we settled in, we were just hanging out chatting what we're going to do tomorrow when this guy that we saw earlier at the reception knocked on our door and asked us what floor is his room on..of course, he has the key that's something like 204 which of course meant that he was on the 2nd floor so I didn't particularly think his request for help was genuine. Anyhow, he ended up hanging around and chatting to us. He couldn't speak much English but he could speak Italian and pretty much he was chatting to Gheri but he kept looking over at me, as if to size me up..and I felt like a well chopped piece of meat sitting on a scale being measured by worth..that was how it felt like. It became clear very quickly to us that he was on his own and was looking for some 'fun'. He was quick to point out that he was a stripper and I think if we even gave him the slightest encouragement, he would be on his feet right away taking his gear off! It took us a good 2 hours of strongly hinting that we're not keen to go out (and I had to personally say no like 5 times!)before he finally made his departure and left us in peace.

The rest of evening luckilly went by more sedately. From our room, we got this amazing view of the city as you can see from the pictures below. I made sure I took a picture in the morning before we depart for Cinque Terres.b

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The cerulean blue sea hugging the coast of Genova. Bella vista! (Beautiful view)

AO Rating: Milan's visit was brief and besides the Cathedral, I think Lonely Planet was quite on the mark about the place and unfortunately Milan wasn't as attractive to me due to not being within the realms of purpose of my visit, i.e historical sightseeing. As for Genova, it was more a brief stop to confirm that I have indeed got my work cut out for me when I go back to NZ in terms of getting back into shape for the next badminton season. The night with the stripper was exactly interesting to say the least. Little did I know then that this was not my last encounter of the stripping kind...So I guess my overall impression of Genova? Stripes and Strips! :-P

Posted by Miwi88 14:58 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Venitian Blinds..

Misty, mystery and beautifully eerie..

storm 13 °C

3rd November 2005

Due to the thick fog and mist covering Venice (ok, who blew it this way from Wellington?!!), our flight was delayed so that by the time I set foot outside Aeroporto Marco Polo, the fog has thickened and in the process, trapped the cold air underneathe it. I shivered slightly and zipped up my Snowgum polar fleece jacket as I made my way to the bus stop. This was my first taste of European winter as until only few hours ago, I was basking in the balmy warmth of the Mediterranean sun in southern Spain.

Well, the good news so far is that my 'camping ground' is situated only like 10 minutes bus ride from the airport and it is superly cheap accomodation (bunk to myself for 20 Euros). Bad news though is that I'm not sure what quality of accomodation I'll be getting from this 'camping ground' and that it's a 30 minutes bus ride into the town centre. Oh well, the price one would pay (or not pay as this case may be) in order to keep one's visit to one of Italy's most expensive cities under one's budget! It was also funny how there's all these vast amount of travelling on land between places. You see, I have this picture that Venice is totally a floating city with canals everywhere and you will never see a single road or motor vehicle. I guess that was a bit unrealistic huh?

Anyhow, I sighed with great relief upon walking into my 'cabin'. It was very basic, but very clean, tidy and equipped with an 'ensuite' shower and toilet. It even had a heating system, excellent! One settling in, my tummy's grumbling reminded me that it's dinner time and since it was quite late and we're kinda out in the middle of nowhere, the only feasible place to go eat would be the camping ground's in-house restaurant. As you would guess, I approached this place with the trepidition of noting what the price of the meals would be, after all, with nowhere else to go, these guys got you by the throat (or tummy for that matter) and plus being such an expensive city. As I opened the menu, I was prepared that perhaps all I could afford was a bowl of soup and some bread but once again, pleasantly surprised to see most meals were "non motto costoza" (meaning not too expensive). I ordered spaghetti carbonara and just some tap water (Backpacker's meal 101). The waiter was terribly helpful and polite and another fear began to grip me. Oh darn it, I forgot to check whether I was suppose to tip the waiters in this country or not! You see, according to the Lonely Planet guide, not only is tipping inappropriate in certain circumstances, but it could be considered an insult. Like in Prague for example, to show appreciation, you mainly just complimented the cooking and leave it like that. What do I do in Italy? Luckily, I had a cunning plan. There were few other international diners and I decided I would take my cue from them (gosh, I hope they weren't planning to stay there all night!).

When my spaghetti arrived, I was kinda stunned. Visually, it looked like a plate of thin spaghetti with lots of light yellow sprinkles of what I suspect to be eggs and of course, finely grated Mozarella cheese. That was it...no bacon, no other veggies or any other ingredients. Then I remembered hearing my Italian friend Gheri mentioning before that in Italy, where of course Pasta and Pizza "apparently" originates from (don't even get me started on that argument), the locals keep it very very simple in terms of the ingredients, unlike the pastas and pizzas that migrated across to other parts of the world where the preparation and presentation were somewhat more elaborate and complex. Shrugging my shoulders, I dug in and from the first twirl of spaghetti on my fork right to the last ones, I practically didn't stop...they were superbly delicious! I suddenly felt self conscious of appearing like a silent human vacuum cleaner instead of a worldly Chiwi (chinese kiwi of course!) traveller. Of course, after sucking down my dinner so quickly, I suddenly realised I had to painfully sip on my tap water while waiting to see what other diners would do and eventually, I learnt that you do not tip in Venice (not necessarily the same all across Italy). Pheew, just as well, otherwise I wouldn't have had quite enough with me to not appear like Miss Scrooge.

I had quite a nice pleasant walk back to my cabin..noticing the rest of the campground. It was a well set up place, with trailers, tents and cabins spread out across a well kept couple of acres of park ground. After sharing a dorm room with 3 others in Barcelona, Venice cabin seemed like a heavenly upgrade.

4 November 2005

Originally, I planned to spend at least 2 days in Venice but due to the drama of missing the train in Barcelona, I decided to cut my visit short which meant that I only had one day to see all of Venice and what a day it was going to be. So I rose nice and early and headed off to wait for the bus. At the bus stop, I found two girls also on the same mission, Aussie Sara and a Canadian girl whom for the world of me, I cannot remember her name! Anyhow, we struck up a conversation which turned out to be a laugh fest as we regaled to one another our travel stories. Sarah for one, was the most fluent in Italian of us 3 as she studied it in High school. She warned us to be very careful when we request for "gondola" rides and to pronounce it clearly so as not to accidentally have it sounding like "funcola" which literally translates to the not so nice version of "piss off". We arrived at the main centre which also happened to be the Train station. Although sharing different travel guide books with different opinions on what one ought to do first in each city of interest, this time, the books were in unison in recommending that we catch the no.1 water taxi that would take us pretty much from the beginning of Canal Grande (nope, not Grand Canal, but rather Big Canal) which incidentally is shaped like the letter "S" and it would take us right to the end of the main canal route, which we would then get off and be directly at St Mark's Square (or as I've found the Italian name so commonly referred to in my audio Italian lesson, Piazza San Marco). So after buying our tickets, we all hopped on the very quickly crowded water taxi. I was lucky I was able to wriggle my way through the crowd and onto the prime position on the outside deck where I could click away happily on the camera.

As you will see on the photos taken from this taxi, the day was unfortunately rather misty and cooly damp, giving the city a feel of an English moorland or if you're an American, think a really cold New Orleans day at the swamps. Perhaps it was this hazy atmosphere that prevented me to fully appreciate the romanticism that is often linked with this city but once a while as the taxi glides through the water and the sun was able to sneak one of its rays through the thick dark mist, you would catch a glimpse of the light against the water and some of the old buildings, illuminating both the romantically hidden and the authentically pleasant..

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Standing in ront of Chlesa di San Simeone Piccolo.

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Gondola driver on his way to work. The gondola as you can see is narrow, made of fine wood with its head finely carved in the manner that is uniformed to most of the gondolas servicing the canals of Venice. The water taxi on the other hand are simply like small ferry boats, made of steel and not terribly exciting unfortunately.

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And this is of course the gondola station. As you can see, it was indeed a misty and foggy day.

It was facinating seeing houses, offices and markets existing alongside one another in an unplanned manner, unplanned in the sense that unlike other European cities, Venice's infrastructure and city planning is governed more by the locations of the canals and the requirement of housing, offices etc as it arises as opposed to being structured like any old European city, which often started off with a small nucleus and then slowly expanding outwards. As the taxi pulls to the station at Piazza San Marco, I concluded that perhaps the buildings I saw on my way down this canal were certainly old, depleted and certainly looking like no upgrade, new paint or renovation were to be carried out, perhaps signifying the inhabitants resignment to their city's unfortunate dire future, thus confirming what we have all suspected all this time, that city of Venice is sinking and sinking quick.

Shaking the cold damp air off my shoulder together with any nonchalant thoughts that lingered like the mist over the water, I climbed out towards the Piazza San Marco to be greeted by hundreds of people walking around the square. It was not so much the large crowd that surprised me but rather the sighting of various groups of men in different kinds of uniforms either walking around, having breakfast in one of the many cafes located nearby or simply standing in some sort of formation as if practising a march. I learnt later from one of the helpful cafe owners that today was Italy's Republic day (the day Italy became a republic instead of being under the sovereign empire of Rome (and Hungary) ). A parade was to be held in honour of this day at the square. I stood for a while rejoicing in my good sense of timing and waiting for the parade to take place. After a few minutes and noticing that the wait could be longer than "a while", I decided instead to continue my sightseeing of the square and the historical Basilica San Marco which of course houses the tomb of Apostle Mark. The church, with its spangled spires, byzantine domes and seething facade of mosaics and marbles was built in the 11th century.

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The Basilica San Marco from the outside. Very impressive building.
The parade would later take place with Italy's forces, army, navy, police, air force and its "caribeneri" (like military police) would converge facing the Basilica.

The parade was rather boring no thanks to the many speeches been given and funny how you don't even need to understand the language to know it was boring :-( Remembering that I had so little time and so much to see, I left the square and made my way to the famous "Ponte dei Sospiri" or Bridge of Sighs which connect the Palazzo Ducale (residence of the doges) and the old prisons. The bridge evoked romantic images probably because of its association with Casanova, a native of Venice who spent some time in the dungeon.

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Do you know how hard it was to get a picture in front of this bridge? I had to push a few annoying tourists over the bridge to get a clear view..

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Venice is of course famous for its Easter celebration, known as the Carnival where it would go for months with lots of mask parties being thrown and accordingly, it is to be expected that most tourist shops such as this can be found sprinkled all over the place.

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If you don't recognise these, they are the highly regarded work of art, the Murano glass, originating of course from the island of Murano in Venice. I would have loved to buy a few as souvenirs for you back home but for the following:
1. Clumsy Adelina;
2. Big turtle shell bag;
3. Lots of packing and unpacking and walking through Europe;
4. All the above put together..

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Although not really the famous tower of Pisa, but it was certainly of a similar design. This somewhat smaller model of the infamous building can be found in this city and it was truly a beautiful architecture to admire.

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I took a picture of one of the houses by the Canal Grande just to show you how pretty some of the buildings can be but of course their beauty are often heightened by the fact they're surrounded by many old depleted buildings, decaying due to neglect and futility of the sinking city.

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A view on some of the smaller canals adjascent to the main ones. I guess you can view them like a 'side street' and accordingly, you have like "vehicles" parked by your house, so this kind of canal scene is typical everywhere in Venice.

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Reputed to be Venice's most famous bridge, the Ponte Rialto, one of the first few bridges built in Venice.

Besides the above, I visted many churches, many of them old and majestic but I will save them for later viewing. I have been warned that my budgetary skills will be thoroughly questioned in Venice and I could not agree more! It was rather a challenging ordeal given that you get charged not only for everything, but it is a mistylight robbery! Relieving oneself which often would be free but if not, perhaps the customary 0.50 may be required. In Venice, perhaps they wrongfully concluded that since you're about to create your own "golden arch", you should therefore be charged a good 1 to 2 Euros (that's NZ4 folks) for it. And if you're anything like me, you would almost consider investing in a portable potty.
I was this -->..<-- of launching a mini protest, carrying a loud picket sign which reads "Pee for Free in V!" Oh well..just as well I was only staying one day!

Due to the foggy weather, it was pretty much dark by 4:30pm and while I was sure I could have easily wondered around for another few hours, I was satisfied I was able to experience enough of the city to at least appreciate its beauty on the surface.I made my way back to the camp site, reflecting on the day well spent and silently noting that Venice has proved indeed the perfect host in opening the doors of Italy to me.

AO Rating: Perhaps like many other travellers, I certainly shared the frustration of attempting to navigate my way around this place due to its many canals, roads and bridges all built in a disorganised and ad hoc manner. Nevertheless, venturing boldy through the streets of Venice, sometimes on purpose and other times, by accidental purpose (meaning you didn't want to go there, but glad you did when you stumble across something interesting on that road), you certainly and easily could understand the attraction of this city...with its mysterious and misty air clinging to its ancient walls and piers, the sound of soft rippling waves can be heard as gondolas and water taxis alike glide through its waters. One can only but sigh blissfully as one turns away from yet another dead end street and make another turn right or left, half hoping that this time. this street would lead home, and half wishing that it perhaps will lead to yet another adventure inside the floating city. While I am not crazily in love with the city, I could also understand how others would write sonnets and prcolaim this to be the city of love. Perhaps they were blindfolded by the thick fog of the "Venetian Blind".

Posted by Miwi88 10:48 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Bella Barcelona - Part III

But wait, there is more!

sunny 23 °C

1.11.2005

Today marked my last day in Barcelona and despite the early morning sunlight streaming through the window of my room, promising yet another glorious sightseeing day, I was not able to shake off this sense of forboding, knowing my love affair with Spain and in particular, this magical city was about to come to an end.

However, rather than wasting good energy on wallowing in self pity, I decided that if I was to leave Barcelona, it should be with a big bang, after all, no other city in Spain had been able to get under my skin the way Barcelona had, with its slow persuasive and seductive dance of life, mesmerising you and drawing you into its cocoon before transforming and releasing you back into the world as a multi coloured butterfly complete with the sense of awe, amazement and total enchantment.

I decided the best way to pay tribute to this wonderful city was to continue my delectable exploration of the city and to absorb as much as it has to offer. Here is a visual tour on some of the highlights:

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First port of call, The castle on top of the Montjuic mountain, buil strategically overlooking the city during the period when Iberians and the Cantalans governed over Barcelona.

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Directly facing the Montjuic castle, at the bottom of the hill which you can just see behind me, was the Piazza Espana, a beautifully designed landscape featuring a round hedge centerpiece and twin clock towers surrounding it and just in front of the hedge situated one of the city's oldest monuments.

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From there, I made my way towards the coastal part of the city, where the busy city port was located, just south of the Le Rambla. Standing proud between the Le Rambla and the port area was the very highly erected bronze pillar and right at the top of the pillar stood the proud statue of Christopher Columbus pointing knowingly towards the sea. I caught an elevator up through the hollow pillar right to the top viewing booth and was able to enjoy the panaromic 360 degrees view of the city and the port. This is an aerial picture taken from the Tower on one of the port's administrative buildings.

The port area was more of a modernly designed area, complete with a marina and also a very large shopping mall where the public toilets were probably one of the bests I've ever had the privilege to use in Europe. How often could you get an amazing view of the Mediterranean sea while washing your hands at the toilet sink? However, amongst these modern complexes, there stood a piece of history that caught my attention, Spain's first submarine, very cool to look at but unfortunately, like many historical sights in Spain, you don't get any information board located beside it or if you do, they were often only written in Spanish, *mutter*.

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Even without written information, the submarine commands one's respect and appreciation of the Spanish naval power of the past..

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Further inland from the port stood Barcelona's proud Courts of Justice with its Moorish and Gothic mixed design.

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Not to be outdone by the French, the Spanish also erects their own Arc de Triumph and even boldly named it so. Comparing it to its French counterpart, you can definitely see the latino flair in its design, can't you?

From here, I made my way to Mount Trebido, the famous mountain many Spanish believed was where Jesus were meditating when Satan appeared to tempt Him. Perhaps Jesus would have found it harder to resist if he saw this picture below instead of the bare land and a few cows..

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The mountain was so high up that you had to take a tram from the bottom of the hill up to halfway and then change from that to what we call the 'cable car' but referred to as the 'furnicular' in Europe. Right at the top of the mountain is a very massive stone and cement church, although only recently built, it was built in the style of Gothic with a giant picture of Jesus Christ standing in front of it. About 20 metres southwest of the church was rather an odd sight...an amusement park, complete with roller coasters. Maybe Satan thought if Jesus ever returned as an adventurous type...

After spending a good considerable of time drinking in the magnificent view from this mountain, I reluctantly returned back to ground zero to make my way back to the Mountjuic Park where if I estimated correctly, not only would I be able to see where most of the 1992 Olympics venue, including the stadium were located, but it would also be a prime spot to catch glimpses of a beautiful sunset.

As the sun descended steadily, I walked briskly up the small hill, passing by the Montjuic Castle once more and finally reached a small park which had access to great views of the setting sun and the city basking in its dying light. Already lines of crimson red and orange could be speen splashed across the skies that were getting darker. Other than myself, there were several older people participating in a friendly game of lawn bowling while their friends watched on from a picnic table nearby. They half heartedly played cards while reminiscing about their pasts to one another, at least that's what seemed to be what they were doing judging from the laughter and animated sound of their voices. I guess for all I know they could simply be talking about how annoying it was to have tourists walking around trying to take pictures of sunsets while they're playing cards....who knows! In any case, I was too busy to notice as I happily took pictures of the many shades of a breathtaking sunset, but my favourite? See for yourself!

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My time in Barcelona and Spain has set but I really didn't want o go..

Eventually, not wanting to miss my overnight train to Venice, I made my way back to the hostel and departed for the train station. Upon arrival I was alarmed not to be able to locate my train information from the gigantic departure board overhead. Despite still having a good 10 minutes before the train's departure, I could not for the life of me rid myself of the sense of panic that was beginning to build within me. I cautiously approached the information counter and showed the guy my ticket. He pointed on my ticket some Spanish words that were alien to me but basically he explained in his thick Spanish accented English, "this train leaves from another train station, not this one and you will not make it to that station in time, looks like you've missed your train". I blinked a few times trying to register what this man had just said..."NO WAY!!" my head screamed! I specifically asked the ticket salesperson when I purchased the ticket a few days ago as to whether the train was going to leave from the Sans Station (All Station, Barcelona's main station) and he told me the affirmative and now it's all wrong?

As it turned out, up to like one week ago, trains going to Italy were leaving from this train station but the trains had been rerouted to depart from the other station, the information guy went on to explain patiently to me. He didn't say it but I could see from his expression, the one we all know so well "Didn't so-and-so get the office memo about this?!"

Compounding on my poor run of luck was the fact that there were no subsequent trains departing for Venice or Milan for at least another 4 or 5 days. The only silver lining in this very dark black cloud was that they refunded me the money for my train ticket.

Once again, this was one of those "travelling experiences" one could put this down to but I can assure you I did not feel that blaze and 'c-est la vie' about the whole thing then...I was furious! One guy's "oops" had caused me inconveniences of massive proportion! Also I suddenly discovered that since I was going no where that night, I had to sort out accomodation and figure out what was the best and quickest way to get to Italy. What do you think was the first thing I did?

If you guessed going back to the city to sort out my night's accomodation (it was already almost 10pm that night), then EEEEEEEKKK, that would be incorrect. I actually went first to an internet cafe and tried to find alternative methods of getting to Italy and the best way I discovered was to stay for another 2 days in Barcelona and then fly directly to Venice. That sorted, next pressing thing on the agenda of course was to locate the sleeping abode for the night. Luckilly for me, it was certainly the "off-peak" season (if there's ever such thing in Barcelona) and I quickly found a place to stay for the next two nights. Wellll, after saying goodbye earlier, I did promise Barcelona that I would return to her, just didn't think it would be that soon! So..as the famous chinese saying goes "rice has become porridge" (food theme is big with us), there was no point really sulking, instead, time to get excited again at the thought my affair with Spain being prolonged.

2.11.2005

Gillian (good friend met during stay in Valencia) left for Barcelona when I went to Almeria. I rememberd her mentioning that besides Gaudi, Barcelona of course was also sanctuary to Picasso and another modernist artist, Salvador Dali. As you can see, if these extraordinary figures of history with their high appreciation of aesthetic beauty could see how beautiful Barcelona was, who were we then to argue? In any case, just like Gillian, I wanted to visit the infmaous Salvador Dali's museum, located in Figueres, 3 hours train ride north of Barcelona but due to the limited time, I had to forsake this visit but suddenly finding myself with extra 2 days to spend in Barcelona, I decided that fate must have decided that I should not leave before visiting Dali and I was glad because had I not gone, I would not have seen so many of my favourite surreal artist's works. A very perculiar man indeed, especially if you see some of the statues that he created, including those of a man wearing a 1950's style underwater suit, standing beside a voluptious of a woman who surreptitiously stood gracefully balancing a gigantic loaf of French bread on her head. Yes, certainly the theory that Dali and Gaudi sharing some hash cookies while discussing their next projects sure flashed into my mind more than once!

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There is nothing wrong with your computer screen, this is indeed what the outside of Dali's museum looks like. I'm going to go out of the limb here and say that I think Dali likes eggs. What do you think?

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This is what happens if you're daughter of Dali wanting a doll house for Christmas!

These were just some of the eccentricities that greet you when visiting this very weird but entertaining "house of mirrors", where the strange and absurd never felt more at home here than anywhere else. The train ride back to Barcelona certainly passed by quickly with my coming to terms with what I saw.

By the time I reached Barcelona, it was getting dark and I was happy then to just take it easy back in the hostel and meeting a few people also staying there but no, did not make any lifetime friend..I can tell when you're mocking me!! :P

3.11.2005

As my flight to Venice was in the early afternoon, I did not have much time to explore too much. But in case you're wondering though, yes, this time, I had checked that there was only ONE airport and my plane was definitely flying out from there!

I chose to spend the little time I had by visiting a cute lil Spanish village, one that has been constructed just before the Olympics of 1992 to resemble how a Spanish village would have looked like in the early 20th century. It was rather facinating to walk through the village with its old fashion equipments being used, lots of shops that mimicked the business ran in the 1910's, like glass blowing and handicrafts.

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The impressive Spanish styled church and council building as it would have looked like in the 'good ol days'.

I was so worried that somehow I would get delayed again that I literally arrived a good 3 hours before my plane's scheduled departure time and I was happy to report that of course when you're early like that, then everything was uneventful and the trip was suddenly smooth sailing..oh Murphy, I hate you so...

AO Rating of Barcelona: Do you really need me to spell it out?! In total, I spent 20 days in Spain, the longest so far I have spent durig my trip in one country. It is indeed interesting, despite travelling mostly through the Andulusia part of Coastal Spain, then to Madrid, then Valencia and then Barcelona, I felt like I have seen one country with its easily recognisable particular customs and culture but yet at the same time, I noticed also how different they each were, slight but significant dissimilarities, casting their own kind of spells on you. Valencia certainly would be my most favourite city of Spain and indeed of all the cities I've been to so far, not so much judged from the perspective of its touristic appeal, but more its cosy, warm and friendly appeal, a place outside New Zealand and in Spain which I would consider calling home. Barcelona however, takes the cake when it comes to the "wow" factor. It was like watching a thriller movie with many heart gripping subplots. Each time you think you have had it figured out, you get another jolt to remind you that the journey had just started and you better buckle up if you want to survive the trip. Infinite Exhilaration..Hasta luego Barcelona, so long as the sun rises and sets on Mount Monjuic, I shall continue to hope and dream that I shall return once more..

Till then, I have a date with Venice...

Posted by Miwi88 20:54 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

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