Thursday, August 25, 2005

Dunnottar castle in the Stonehaven countryside where Mel Gibson once acted in a movie Hamlet Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Relaxing by the beach on a hill in gorgeous Scotland Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The famous St Andrew's ground (GOLF) Posted by Picasa

Stirling Castle in Scotland stirs my heart! Too cold tho... it's 12 degrees and it's SUMMER! Posted by Picasa

Monday, August 22, 2005

Marido at Brighton Beach- note the pebbles and not sand on the beach Posted by Picasa

Sunday, August 21, 2005

London EYE- Believe me when I say that it takes 30 mins to do a loop.. i was soooo trapped! Posted by Picasa

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The splendour of Versailles- unfortunately I do not have a bird's eye view Posted by Picasa

Pretty French Postcards Posted by Picasa

The stained glass of Notre Dame Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Parigi, Paree or Simply Paris

The City of Love somehow did not inspire me to feel amorous at all. Then again I was not with a sexy man...

We took the horrible night train from Venice to Paris that took an excruciating 10 hours. 6 people occupied one cabin and the beds were like triple bunk beds. It was stuffy and yet cold and the noise of the doors outside clanging shut everytime the train departed from the stations irritated me. Imagine.. I who slept with ear plugs found the noise unbearable.. and not to mention the shaking of the train.

An officer on the train wanted to take our passports with him "For immigrations purposes" he said but I adamantly told him that I would not hand over my passport. He got a bit upset and threatened that the police will come for me. "Tell me to see me," I said coolly. When he went off to the next cabins, I enquired in the other cabins if the occupants had passed their passports to him. They all nodded in affirmative. I still thought that it was a strange procedure and so when the officer returned to collect the other passenger's (who got on board later) passports, I still refused to give mine to him. I needn't have worried because he returned everyone's passport about an hour before they got off the train.

We got off at Gare du Nord.. most convenient as our Hotel Grand Magenta (with a name like that I was really thinking that it would be crawling with prostitutues). It was a tiny hotel with a tinier lift (it could barely fit Shirrene and I together with our luggages. However, the good thing was, we had TV with CNN and we watched it every night we were in Paris.

We went to the Louvre on the 1st day. Spent 6 hours there and it was seriously NOT ENOUGH! What an impressive collection they had. We were at the Egyptian section for the longest time. Then we were off to see The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. You could only wave at Mona from a distance of 20 feet. There were so many people jostling each other to take a picture. So much for being captivated for hours by her enigmatic smile.

2nd day.. we spent it at Versailles (Parisians say "Ver sai" - sounds like shit in Hokkien). We took a train straight to Chateau Versailles and wandered in the magnificient grounds and the summer palace of King Louis XIV. It was opulent with rooms 'drenched' in gold or pink fabrics or yellow furniture and chandeliers (I had thought that Mark's impressive house by the Palace in Melaka would look a little like this). As far as the eye can see from the windows of the palace were the garden grounds. The gardens would take your breath away. Especially after you had to walk 3 hours to visit the length and breath of the gardens. There was the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon and others which Shirrene refused to visit due to the xtreme walking that was needed.

3rd day - Eiffel Tower... my knees started knocking when I thought about climbing the tower....A strange feeling came over me when I was admiring Eiffel. Maybe the combination of the height and the thought that Tom Cruise proposed to his current girlfriend here made me a little sick. Visited Pompidou Centre -only viewed the frontage (it houses modern art - like huge LCD TV screens and fantastic new do-interesting-poses chairs). Also walked in Rue du Martin for the arty things like postcards, paintings and creative inventions. Trudged along Champ Elysee to see the Arc de Triomphe. We had to stop by Louis Vuitton after so many Chinese from China begged us to buy the bags for them. Apparently they were only limited to one bag a person. As if I was going to buy for them to make money!! What did I get in return?? LV was PACKED!! Were they that cheap? I had no idea as I was not familiar with the prices back home. We had a scare in LV.. Shirrene grabbed me and said that her money pouch and passport was not with her... we rushed back to the hotel in hopes that it was safe.. thankfully it was!

Definitely think that Paris was charming.. even the people were friendlier than the Romans. Always start the sentence with "S'il vous plait...Parlez-vous anglaise?" They warm up to hear you try to speak their language. And 4 days is also not sufficient to enjoy Paris.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Burano Posted by Picasa

Lido, Murano, Burano, Torchello and Verona

Lido : The beach on the island Lido was THE BEACH for the Venetians. It was an ok beach.. you can give it a miss. Nothing really spectacular. But the hot chocolate there was the best that I have ever tasted in Italy. I was so inspired that I bought 3 boxes. (better to feed Spot and anyone else who comes to visit me!)

Murano : The place where glass making originated. We took the vaparetto there and promptly went into the glass making 'factory' where a man was making a vase and a fish - quite impressive. The man who was explaining the process whose name is Leno started talking to Shirrene and I. Shirrene insisted that he was checking me out.. who are you kidding?? Anyway, he was so impressed with us cos we bought a set of froggies (me) and octopuses (Shirrene) that he 'decided' to show us the GALLERIA.... where the beautiful pieces of art that never loses its value were sitting. It was impressive but the price tags were even more impressive...into the thousands and ten thousands of Euros.
Leno kept on saying that if we ever need him, we have only to whisper and he will be there.... charming or what... I think he reminds me of a very oily man. If you ever go there, do not buy anything... too expensive (we found that out much later!)

Burano : Such an enchanting little island where the houses are painted in bright happy colours ie fireman red, sunflower yellow, naranja orange, ultramarine blue.. etc. Burano is famous for lace but I was not impressed by the collection I saw and sadly most of the lace are made from China as it is just too expensive to make by hand in Italy now.

Torchello : Small fishing village with a very ancient tower in the middle and a fat carnivorous like cat basking in the sun but virtually uninhabited. You could still find an odd bed and breakfast place or boutique hotel and a few decent restaurants but go only if you wish for utter serenity with minimal activities.

Verona : A 2 hour ride into the west of the Veneto (supposed to be only 1.5 hours but it took us 2 to get there), it is the background of which Romeo and Juliet (Giuletta)'s tragic romance took place. Went to visit Juliet's house and watch countless people molesting her right breast in hopes of returning to Verona again. Her right breast looked so worn out and shiny.. I must say that is seems flatter than her left which Juliet cleverly covered with her own hand.
Surprisingly, Verona looks like a fancy shopping place.. with designer goods in shops along the streets. It also houses one of the best operas 'stadium' where there are shows almost every night - in Italian - of course.. or we would have watched it. When we were there, it was showing Turandot by Puccini - so interesting... if I could only understand it.. dang!

Friday, August 12, 2005

Gondolas Posted by Picasa

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Venice Masks Posted by Picasa

La Serenissima Venezia

We landed at the Santa Lucia train station at 9pm... the night has just begun and we dragged our luggages and bagpacks across half a km of steps, stair and cobbled stones and got lost in the process of finding the Santa Fosca Hostel. The road signages in Venice was appalling.. but we finally found our hostel after asking around. Our hostel is actually a university dorm which they rent out during the summer months.

What struck us as we walked along the streets was that the atmosphere was gay and pleasant without the harshness of city life. There were happy people eating and drinking with beautiful shops dotting the roads and gleaming waters of the canals. No cars or motorised vehicles throng the roads and you only hear the patter of footsteps around and lively chatter.

It was cold that morning.. so cold I had to get up at 4am to wear 2 layers of sweater as the blankets were thin- just a piece of cotton sheet. However, when we went out the next morning, the air was crisp and there was a tinge of grey in the clouds but that was quickly disappearing in the rising of the sun high in the sky. We pottered around Cannaregio to look at the elaborately beautiful but strangely eerie Venetian masks that pop from almost every shop and corner. They range from the size of a fifty sen coin to the size of your torso (that huge esp those with plume of feathers on them). There were also endless gelato shops.. did I mention that my favourite flavour is WATERMELON.. taste as though you were eating iced watermelons.... yummmm. Shirrene was thinking that she could lose weight while travelling and walking so much but hey.. with eating a gelato/i everyday and eating 3 full meals of pasta, pizza and panini...there is no way anyone is going to lose weight.

Venice had this special Spaghetti ala Nero (or in any pasta) a dish with squid ink... it looks gross and smells hardly any better but it tasted quite ok but I would not eat it again! Shirrene stayed far away from that the moment she got a sniff of it.

Gondola... aah! The romance of it.. NOT! It looks like a regular boat shaped like Aladdin's shoe and would topple over when anyone gets in it! Ok ok.. it does look quite nice.. the seats look like they were meant for the Queen but I did not want to take the ride... a) It was too expensive.. 60-80€ for a ride (depending day or night) and b)I was with Shirrene. Hmmm... I did not mean that in a bad way. What we did instead was to take the vaparetto (a ferry) over to the many different islands that make up Venice. Did I even know that Venice is a cluster of island so close together that the bridges make them seem like they are part of the same piece of land!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Florence at dusk Posted by Picasa

Waiting for Uffizi

Uffizi Gallery was last on our list for Florence/Firenze. We sauntered to the gallery on Tuesday morning thinking that at 9am we had ample time to finish the gallery and catch our train to Venice at 3.14pm. When we got there, (we already knew that the queue wud be long and we did not call early enough to book nor did we want to spend an additional €10 for booking with the agent), we were horrified to see the queue snaking around the gallery twice. We queued with our bladder that was already asking to be released. 5 and the half hours later, you bet that our bladder was bursting and to think that we still had to pay €6.50 for that stupid wait!!

But the Uffzi (Offices) gallery was a charming museum with works by Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli's famous Venus, Rafeallo, Perugino etc

You could deduce that we missed our train but then again.. what can you say about 2 idiots who want to save money but end up wasting 5 hours of their lives....??

Sunday, August 07, 2005

VIew of the Tuscan countryside Posted by Picasa

Under the Tuscan Sun

We took a bus to Siena yesterday... it was a Sunday and the bus queue was incredibly long. And to make matters worse.. the crowd did not exactly queue and the bus driver was yelling in vain for all of us to queue. We were like the people of the Malaysian bus stops.. all shoving and pushing so that we get to go in. We had to take the 12.10pm bus as we missed the 10.10 am earlier.. do not go on weekends.. the buses are few.

Siena was normal.. not really that spectacular after the beauty that we experienced in Assisi *definitely must put Assisi on your list if you want to go to Italy*. It is a medieval city that supposedly delightful but as we walked on foot around the place, we noticed that only Piazza Del Campo was anything to shout about. Used as a horse racing ground during the summer called Palio Di Siena, it is however filled with locals and tourist just basking in the glory of the ancient buildings surrounding them. And a tall tower.. not unlike the tower out of Harry Potter rises like a graceful phoenix in the dark forbidding sky.

Everything was brown but I was a bit disappointed after having such great expectations of the Tuscan region. However it was ok but I should think that Siena could be given a miss.

We took the bus to San Gimignano today. We had to take the bus to Poggibonsi and change to San Gimignano. What we did not know was that we needed to take the bus to Siena. Since there was a bus to Poggibonsi stated on the tv screen at the bus station, we thought it was that and missed the actual bus instead. How terribly confusing.

San Gimignano rises on a hill (334m high) dominating the Elsa Valley with its 13 towers. From the Torre Grosso, a tower which had me in fear and trembling as I climbed the seemingly endless flight of unprotected steps which metal steps that had holes in it so that you can see how far down you will fall if you are careless, I managed to see the beauty of the rolling hills and green plains. Climbing down was another ball shrinking exercise. I was suitably exhausted after the climb..not from the physical exertion but the mental torture of acrophobia.

I bought a lovely apple green box bag which I could not resist at €50 and met a charming shopkeeper in the process. He said that I was the first person that he has met who asked if I could touch the merchandise first. He actually only became charming after I asked for permission to handle the goods. He then went on and on about how inconsiderate tourists are about fingering merchandise and how the kids with sticker fingers due to eating gelati would ruin his goods.

We had vernaccia wine gelati which can only be found in SG. I had a glass of lovely SG wine whilst basking in the warm sun rays seated in a chair overlooking the hills and plains of the gorgeous region.

Then it was back to dirty Florence.. and I don't mean Foong Sim

David in his magnificence Posted by Picasa


Florence's beauty comes from the sunsets at Ponte Vecchio where the river background with the bridges and golden rippling waters makes the city seem less formidable. It adds a serenity and beauty that softens the harsh skyline of the ancient city. Not that I am complaining about being in a city that is hundreds of years old where the facade is not allowed to be changed but I guess the water does it for me. Sitting by the bridge and chatting to strange men is most interesting. A Barcelonian offered to take my picture after he found out that I was trying to take a picture of myself with the sunset at the back (Shirrene was several metres away settled in her spot to take her shots). Pablo was such a nice young man with pasty white face and lotsa black stubs. We conversed in my smattering of Spanish. He came with his mum.. and he is an amateur photographer.. much like the hordes of people here with incredibly heavy equipment..estas loco!

Just got up and it's abt 9am now.. slept in a bit cos we were so tired and I had a little headache from sleeping with my head wet.

Finally got that jacket.. at 150€ but did not get a receipt for it.. I think that Ali (Iranian) the shop man at Myriam near the huge Duomo wanted to get away with tax... there were other shops that we went to that charged 240€ for the same piece and he wanted cash too!! Anyway, I am now a proud owner of a magnificient copy of Chanel's black leather jacket in lamb skin. How cool is that!

Hope to tackle Siena today (a lovely medieval city) and Gimignano tomorrow. The weather here has been less hot then in Rome. Not sure how much but it's nicer.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

From a window in Assisi Posted by Picasa

Sleeping with Romans or Italians

ROME : Sigh... the hostel of Sunshine 2 faces the square Piazza Vittorio Emanuelle II but instead of being serene.. the noise is incredible. Trucks would rumble in the night and wake us all up from our already drifting in and out of our sleep due to the stifling heat (there is no fan here in summer!). And the screening of a movie with a lady bursting out in loud operatic voice did nothing to enhance my rest. I thought that there was a riot or something of the same.

ASSISI : We took a 2 hour train to Assisi and watched the dirty grimy city faded into a blur and a gleaming community on a hill filled our sight. As we took the town bus to the heart of Assisi, we were stunned by the magnificient vistas of the rolling hills and sprawling areas of wheat dotted with homes and animal shelters. What a gorgeous view! We fell in love with Assisi..

People were friendlier.. in fact so friendly that one old man took us to the Albergo La Rocca where we were supposed to spend the night with such kindness on his face. I was apprehensive to follow him after hearing all the horror stories of them wanting money after they helped you. But no fear.. he just shook my hand longer than neccessary...

Assisi continued to delight Assisi me.... little streets that only allow one small car to pass but mostly no cars pass by.? Cosy stone homes near each other. You could talk to your neighbour from your window without yelling.? Cobbled stones on the ground with nooks and crannies filled with flowers or stalls with pretty things like art, painting and dolls. Tall towers with gleaming windows in the sun.. it was really delightful....we sud have stayed more than a night..even the room we had was such a contrast to the one in Rome. The windows of the room opened up to a view of the valley and a restaurant below. It was a perfect little spot to do my morning devotion whilst Shirrene took an hour to pack her bag.

I went to a shop selling paintings and bought 3 pcs of watercoloured postcards and when I went to pay.. the man smiled and me and Shirrene and walked over to a corner and gave us a postcard with a flourish "Presento!" With that he came over and gave me 2 kisses on my cheeks and did the same to Shirrene. Then after paying, he proceeded to kiss me again. I told Shirrene to take a photo of us but her hand shaking (not sure due to laughter or shock) that she never took one of him kissing me. He actually give very long and sloppy kisses and squeezed really hard.. I was the recipient of more than 6 of them. I had to push him away.. I would have really prefered if a man 50 years his junior did it ....dang!!

Monday, August 01, 2005

The coloseum Posted by Picasa