Saturday, September 29, 2012

The hills are alive ~ Salzburg, Austria - Day 2

Only 2 days?! Not enough!

Salzburg is so very greeeeen... (me love). Every time you turn around, it looks like a scene from a postcard. I made it a mission to check out as many sound of music filming location as I can and poor Calvin had to bear with me. On our way to the Mirabell gardens where they filmed the 'Do, Re, Mi' song, we stumbled upon their farmers' market. How fun! Walked around, trying to use my few pitiful german words to ask about taste, price, etc, we ended up with our lunch to-go (some meat here, more meat there, a chicken leg with a dumpling to complete the meal - we also tried apple-carrot juice with a touch of olive oil *I swear I didn't know they added the olive oil until Calvin pointed it out afterwards*).


no longer sixteen

Untersburg view

Went to Schloss Hellbrunn to look for the gazebo where they filmed the 'I am sixteen..', visited their trick-fountain garden while out there. Bumped into few sound of music fans as well. Everyone sang the song while they snap a pix or two for memories. We ended up going to Unterberg (cable car ride to the top of the mountain) for some amazing views of the surrounding - stunning (not if you are afraid of heights, the cable car ride made my knees weak). Spent more time that we expected, we had a beer on the top of the mountain =) But its okay since we were not in a hurry. Managed to find the house where the Von Trapp mansion was portrayed in the movie (not the real Von Trapp home) it's also by the wall where Julie Andrews sang 'I have confidence' and also the convent where Maria (in the movie) attended.
I asked Calvin: where is Borneo?

outside the Convent
We better leave before I root myself there! Left my heart in Salzburg =(

Friday, September 28, 2012

The hills are alive - Salzburg, Austria - Day 1

Day 1 in Salzburg was head-spinning. We took a night train from Venice (didn't want too many transfers and the night train was the only way to go from venice to salzburg non stop). Got into the train by 9.15pm and reached Salzburg by 4.10am. We waited patiently (and not so patiently at times) for the information center to open - not till 9am!

Checked out few sites before checking in to our hotel. We went to a fortress that overlooks the city, crossed the Mozart bridge. I spot sound of music film sites here and there as we walked around town and geeked out =) Calvin has never seen the sound of music (yet) so he wasn't as excited as I was but the sights of the town and the mountains surrounding the city was majestic by itself.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Venice - Day 2

Islands hopping~

water bus stop
We've been having our meals religiously in this one place - Pontini's for all our days in Venice - cheaper than the others. You can see Calvin here is eating by a bar/stand  - most locals eat by the bar right next to their cashier - it's about 50 cents to one whole euro cheaper per order - so a cappucino would cost about 1.50 euro standing up by the bar versus a 2.00 euro sitting down. Once you tally that up with the rest of your meal (bread, etc), you saved a good few euros by eating like a local. So apart from saving money, we truly enjoyed eating and blending with the locals for breakfasts here at Pontini's.


Murano glass

Anyways, our day -
First to Murano then to Burano. Those are two islands not too far from the venice side - from san marco, about 45ish minute water bus ride to Burano, and only about 10 mins or so to Murano. Murano is famous for its glass making while Burano is more about lace-making. Writing about the visits still make me feel a little bit tippy - after all that waterbus-ride, I still (every now and then) feel as if I am still aboard a boat, rocking gently. Murano wasn't too much of a fun stop for us, the whole place is just filled with shops after shops of selling pretty much similar items of glass products - accessories or high end chandeliers or mantlepiece decors. Had a panini speck with Brie cheese - yuck - not a fan of Brie for sure (good thing Calvin has no problem finishing it for me).

Burano was a pleasant surprise - rows after rows of colors popping in every corner you turn. It's a smaller island than Murano, we didn't expect too much but turned out to be our favorite stop for the whole trip to Venice. I would go back in a heartbeat, still a little packed with tourists but quieter and cheaper items for sale too. Ride back to San Marco wasn't too fun - packed like sardines for a good 45 mins, a Canadian couple who stood next to us felt the same way, couldn't imagine packed the same way in the heat of summer (lucky us, it's cooling a lot now). Greeted by thunder and lightning halfway back, rocked back and forth a little more and this time we were prepared with an umbrella but still managed to get pretty drenched. A nice touch of rainbow overlooking lagoon to end the day =)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Venice - Day 1

It was a total of 3 train transfers to get from Pisa to Venice San Lucia.We were at the train station by 1.15pm and we got to Venice by 7ish. If any of you have ever been to Penang island in Malaysia, the ride from the mainland to Venice San Lucia station itself feels like riding from Seberang Prai to Penang island. Venice is a pedestrian only city so for a change, it feels good not having to worry about cars or vespas going in and out.

Venice at night

colors, colors, colors!

on our way to San Marco, one of the views

we didnt try this, looks good though

view from Rialto bridge

Roma, Pisa, Pompei, Amalfi - we thought we learned by now how to deal with crowds. What hit us coming out from the train station was entirely different. I read about the island and was told by our Roma hostess that Venice is mainly filled with more tourists than locals - most cannot afford the high property rates here so a lot choose to move inland. Our first night dinner was probably the worst meal in Italy, a shameful representation of the good food they have. We didn't walk around too much the night we got here so we rested well enough to explore more on our first official day in Venice the next day.

the Square
Woke up fresh, asked around for a place where locals go to and it didn't disappoint - Pontinis, not too far from where we are staying too.  Had great coffee and bread, good start to the day and off we went, we chose to walk to San Marco from there, plenty of shops throughout the walk (of course, people everywhere too). Instead of the car fumes, we get a lot of second hand ciggie smokes - not cool. We didn't go into St Mark's Basilica but we went up the bell tower next to it instead for an overall city view from high up. The waterbus ride back to the station from San Marco was a nightmare. Everyone wanted to board at the same time, so picture New york rush hour but on a boat. Got to watch out too for fakes - murano glass, italian leather - even shops selling 'authentic' items with large signs, doesn't look too right to us. Let's hope our trip to Murano today will end up better.

every inch utilized.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Pisa and its Leaning tower

Four hours. That's how long it took us to ride the train that got us here from Rome Termini. Rome Termini is the central train station in Roma, we got there early and today was the first day I saw pickpockets in action. We stayed behind a wall while waiting for our platform number to show on the big board and saw two girls moving around the crowd eyeing their  potential victims. We didn't stay and watch further and head to take our train. It wasn't too crowded compare to the ride from Napoli to Roma but it was still pretty hot - we were on a regional train (cheaper tickets) but also less luxury accomodations, which is fine since we were on a budget.

Got to Pisa by 2.15pm and met our host for the bed and breakfast place (minus the breakfast). He drove us through Pisa and gave us a 'what you need to know about Pisa' tour. We left our bags and soon enough we were on our way to check out the Tower. Same with all those other monuments we've been to in Rome, the streets looked empty on the way towards the Tower but when we actually got there, the crowd was a little crazy. We were amused by the antics of tourists trying to take pix of them supporting/pushing the leaning tower. The leaning tower is in the Miracle Square (Piazza dei Miracoli) and next to the lesser known cathedral and its free standing bell tower. We paid a visit to those two other buildings and headed out to walk around town.

Dinner was simple but good, I tried their squid pasta and Calvin had 'filleto al cognac', ended with a cup of coffee each. No starbucks for a week or more now the coffee's a wonderful touch to end the day. We went back to the Tower again to look at them after they turned on the lights after dinner before heading back to rest.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Rome Holidaying - Day 4

Our last day in Roma before heading out to Pisa. We went to the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain on our fourth day and window shopped for a bit in between. Bus 40 and 64 takes you pretty much everywhere you want to go as a tourist in Roma but a local told us you want to avoid the 64 for pickpockets, so we stick to bus 40 most of the time. Even then, we were watchful and you probably don't want to keep your wallet in your back pocket.

Pantheon - the temple to all gods, has a very interesting dome. I thought the building itself was amazing from the outside but what wowed both of us was when we got inside. The center of the concrete dome opens up to the sky, as you can see in the pix I took. Big tour groups start pouring in altogether at once and we decided to walk to this gelataria (where they sell Italian ice cream) recommended by our host. The first bite, I was speechless and by the second bite, I was in heaven! Cream, coffee, chocolate and chestnut (4Cs!), you can't go wrong. Calvin tried pistachio, chestnut, hazelnut, and man, whatever they did to make this gelato (that's what they call ice cream here), they were doing it right. There's a different price to sitting down eating and standing by the bar eating - cheaper standing, so we went back to split a panini - Prosciutto with a slab of mozzarella (a slab, they don't do no slice over here). Like the gelato, the panini didn't disappoint - if you are in Rome, you've got to check them out (Ciampini), not too far from the Trevi Fountain.

We didn't use a map today, just following the trail of tourists - I thought they are probably heading to the same place anyways. Just when we thought we were lost, we turned a corner and there was the Trevi Fountain! I wanted to go just to make a wish and toss a coin (if you do that right, you'll come back one day - supposedly).  I didn't do it right anyways but it was still fun to people-watch. Didn't linger in that place for too long because of the crowd. Bad news if you don't like crowd because this is probably the busiest place from all the places we've been in Rome (can't imagine when its mid August when it was super high tourists season).

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Roma holidaying - Day 3

Colosseo! (That's what the call the colosseum here).

Us inside the Colosseo
Day 3 was a busy day for us. We walked extensively, covering the Colosseum, Palantino and the Roman Foro, all three just next to each other. Didn't really wake up that early, still recovering from the Pompei and Berlin stops, so try to rest as much as we can, after breakfast and waiting for the bus, we didn't get to the Colosseum till close to 10.30am. The line to get in was shockingly long, again, plenty of tour guides (private and non) offering their services and 'skipping' the line for their guided walk through the Colosseum. We were never that big on tours so again, we chose to just wander around on our own. Thank goodness for the Roma Pass. We managed to skip the long lines (who knows how long it'll take us!), the pass is good for 3 days of any public transport in Rome and two free archeological sites/ or museums free so we chose this as our first site. Got in within 5 minutes of arriving.

You can see the underground network inside the Colosseo

Palantino garden

Roman Forum - ruins further ruined

Piazza Venezia - major bus central
Just an incredible feeling, picturing all the gladiator and hunting games that took place within its very walls. Admission was free back then and there were shows all throughout the day. A big turnoff throughout the visit with tours just filling up the areas, can't really read the signs and enjoy as much. I was expecting tours, just like in the Vatican City (St Peter's Basilica) but much worse here. Sad to see graffiti on the Colosseum walls, people sketching names and dates they were there (really? on a site like this?)

inside the Vittoriano museum

 Anyways, sat outside the Colosseum for a quick lunch before heading off to check out the Palantino gardens and to the Roman forum. Both sites not as dense with tourists as the Colosseum and very well kept. All day long it was overcast until it started to drizzle when we were just finished looking around the Roman Forum. Ducked into a church and the Vittoriano Museum Complex to get away from the rain (we left our umbrella).

Another beautiful church near the Roman Forum
View from the Vittoriano - you can still see the crowds in line to get in the Colosseo

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Roma Holidaying - Day 2

Here we go again!

It's the Vatican City first stop! With great guidance from our bed and breakfast host, Mila, we took two local buses to get to the St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. It seems like every single tourist in all of Rome decides to be in the Vatican City today as well. The lines were bearable, every visitor needs to pass through metal detectors and the 'clothes security' to get the okay before getting in the Basilica. Bare shoulders, shorts or skirts lower than the knees are a big no no. They have signs all over before you waste your time waiting in line but we still saw a handful of tourists being turned away from not following the proper clothing requirements (it is a church, after all). We saw a lot of peddlers selling scarfs along the way to the Basilica from the bus stop and it all began to make good sense. Those not dressed-appropriately can just buy a scarf and cover up to get in.

Details inside the Basilica

Anyways, we got in fast and it is just as crazy inside the Basilica. We can't seem to be able to find any map so we just went with the flow of tourists. Right in front of the main entrance, you can join a tour for 10 to 15 euro per person and it seemed to be a popular option to a lot. We saw tour guides holding their 'tour flags' high up (marked by different scarf colors, umbrella), leading their own groups around the Basilica. Very detailed decor overall, I am extremely impressed by the amount effort invested to build the Basilica. We took our time taking pictures inside before heading to the Dome.

You can either go up the dome (550 steps) by just walking the stairs (pay 5 euro) or you can take the elevator (pay 10 euro per person) and still have to hike a good (320-ish steps). Definitely not for the old, physically disadvantaged (size-wise as well) or if you are claustrophobic.
Nice break but 320 steps more to go!


So after another 550 more steps hiking down from the Dome I was pretty drained. Lunched on the steps of the St Peter's Square (we bought fruits from the morning market not too far from where we stayed). Decided to just head back the bed and breakfast place and rest for the rest of the day and do some planning for the next day's trip. Day 5 of NO RICE! The horror, absolute horror!

View from the top - beautiful