Full-length Feature: Tracing the Mediterranean (Part 3) – A Heart Full of Rome (Part 1 of 2)

Rome is drop-dead beautiful!!

I’m lost for descriptions every time I look at the Rome skyline at sunset. A plethora of emotions goes through your heart as you gaze and admire. Everywhere you look, all 360 degrees, there’s something that draws out from you a sigh of contentment, of admiration, of awe and wonder.

I’m not going to describe or go into detail about the sights I have seen in my one week stay in Rome. For these, you have a host of travel guides or blogs that will do these sights more justice than me.

Instead, I shall focus on my experiences and thoughts on what I’ve seen and felt in Rome.

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View from Victor Emmanuel II

I have to admit, I didn’t know where to start my exploration of Rome when I first arrived. I mean, I already had some kind of an itinerary in mind, but there seems to me, so much to see and do in the Eternal City.

For the first two days, I decided to follow closely a walking guide called Romewise.com by Elyssa Bernard, that was suggested to me by a young Polish girl, who bunked in the same room as me during my stay in Naples. She recommended the website because she and her sister had relied on it for their three-day tour of Rome and found it to be quite beneficial.

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Piazza Barberini
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Spanish Steps / Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti
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Piazza del Popolo
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Pincio
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View from the Pincio
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Victor Emmanuel II Monument
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So, to cut a long story short, I didn’t follow her guide to the T because I found it too intense for one day. You would have to start your day very early or you must have very muscular thighs to cover all that she suggested. Instead, I split her suggested ‘1st day walking tour’ into 2 days, and tweaked the route to form like two circular routes, as summarised below:

Day 1: Piazza Barberini >> Spanish Steps >> Piazza del Popolo >> Pincio >> Piazza Venezia >> Vittorio Emanuele II Monument (or Altare della Patria)

Day 2: Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri (Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs) >> Piazza della Repubblica >> Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore (Church of Santa Maria Maggiore >> Scuderie del Quirinale >> Trevi Fountain >> Pantheon >> Piazza Navona >> Campo dei Fiori >> Largo Argentina.

I’m so glad I rounded up my first day at the Vittorio Emmanuel II, Rome’s famed “birthday cake”, because from the marble terrace (which offers a more or less  360 degree panorama over the city centre) overlooking Piazza Venezia, I caught my first view of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum at sunset. You can even see as far as St Peter’s Basilica.

The domes / cupolas and cathedral steeples dotting the Rome skyline, bathed in golden light. It was such a mesmerising sight!!

Rome is compact in that sense, because all the ancient Roman ruins are more or less clustered together in one place – although the walking is anything but.

I hung around at the terrace till the last light went out, and after a thousand snaps of the Roma city skyline.

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Colosseum at night

Reluctantly, I left my vantage point and made a beeline for the Colosseum. Just seeing the Colosseum right there before your eyes makes my heart skip a beat – okay, several beats a few times.

As I approached the almost 2,000-year-old Roman relic, I caught sight of a cluster of modestly decked low-rise apartment blocks just across from the Colosseum. And I could not help but wonder what it’s like to stay just across from the Colosseum.

This must be one of the world’s most expensive real estates, I thought.

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Trajan’s Market / Mercati di Traiano

How does it feel to know that the ‘building’ just across from you was there long before you were born, and will still be there long after you die? Random, weird thoughts I know, but it’s a legit question.

I decided I would dedicate one full day to the Colosseum – a single entry ticket also gives you admission to the Roman Forum / Roman ruins and the Palatine Hill / Palatino, and is valid for two days. So, a tip here is not to rush the visit to the Colosseum, and then attempt to wrap up your ticket to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill – there’s no way you are going to appreciate either.

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For now, I’m just contented to sit at one of the stone benches near the aforementioned apartments and gazed at the Colosseum, now dappled in a soft glow in the moonlight.   LS

Note: This post features only photographs taken from the first day of my walking tour in Rome. More photographs of Rome will be featured in Part 2.

Full-length Feature: Tracing the Mediterranean (Part 1)

I promised to leave Japan when I wrote my last post for 2018. As some of you might know, I failed to do so. This time, it’s for real.

This is a trip that has been four years in the making. I first had the idea of tracing the cities along the Mediterranean coastline in 2016, because I’ve always been fascinated with the Mediterranean region.

Countries like Italy, the south of France, Spain and Portugal are so rich in history, cuisine and culture. I had always been interested in ancient civilizations, in particular the Greek and Roman Empires.

Of course, to visit every major city in the Mediterranean region in one trip is almost impossible. I originally planned to spend four and a half months covering the coastline from Central Italy to Portugal, but due to my sheer ignorance of the Schengen ruling, I was forced to cut Portugal (and a side trip to Morocco) altogether and scale down the plan to meet the 90-day allowance for non-European Union citizens.

Still, three months of traveling nonetheless looks a bit daunting, given the longest I’ve continuously been on the road (not including my two-year stay in Japan) was a 24-day solo trip to Central and Eastern Europe (Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Austria) back in June, 2012.


Central & Eastern Europe Trip – June 2012

This time, I would spend almost three weeks to slightly over a month in each of the Mediterranean countries I planned to visit, starting with Italy, then to the south of France, and finally ending in Spain.

My first stop?

Naples, Italy.     LS

Featured header image © https://www.123rf.com

Nous sommes unis

The Eiffel Tower Paris

I’m sorry for going on such a long hiatus. And to be honest, it could have been longer if not for what happened in the wee hours of yesterday morning. I woke up to the shocking news of the terrorist attacks in Paris.

I’m sure many of you out there feel as indignant as me. Whether you hate or love Paris (or Parisians or the French) for that matter – one thing is certain! This is not an attack on Paris, or the French per se. It is an attack on humanity.

An attack caused by a collective of monsters. A group of cowards who hide behind masks and machetes and machine guns. Scums! Idiots! Bloody s***heads!

You who fight so hard for your cause, are alienating your fellow brothers and sisters in Islam.

You who claim to uphold the name of Islam through your acts, have instead succeeded in smearing its name even further.

You who call upon the name of Allah, to justify every despicable act you commit, will burn in Hell for eternity!

You who cry for blood and spill the blood of others, will yourselves be slain in cold blood. And no one will give a s*** if it happens, when it happens, and how it happens.

You who seek to spread fear through your acts of intimidation, have instead strengthened our resolve to rid the world of this malevolent scourge.

Today we stand in solidarity with the Parisians. And together we grieve, we pray and we unite. No forces of evil shall enshroud the City of Lights, nor diminish its lustre.

Nous sommes unis

View from the Eiffel 4

Wien is the Life?

Sometimes you’ve got to call a spade a spade. Cast aside all the superlatives dangled in Lonely Planet, ditch the romanticism that hangs like a spectre over this once charming city. Yes, I said “once”. Because Vienna (or “Wien” in German) has, sadly, become as uninspiring as the dry and crummy sachertorte on my plate. Did I mention that I’m trying to chomp down this brick of a cake in the opulence of the Hotel Sacher? The home of THE creator of the original sachertorte. I ditched my original plan to lug three kilos of these chocolate monsters back home as mementoes.

DSC02705DSC02711At the same time, I’m suffering from “church fatigue”. At first, you just snapped at every single one you see. You admired the ornate interiors, the intricate carvings, the awe-inspiring sculptures of Jesus and his disciples. By this time, however, even the majesty of St Stephen’s Cathedral has lost its draw on me. I just stood in front of the cathedral, wilting in the Viennese summer heat. I decided I needed another round of iced coffee.

Part of me blamed Budapest – because it’s difficult not to draw comparisons. Part of me blamed the Austrian national football team. Had they been a bit more adventurous, the streets of Vienna would have been enraptured in football fever. Instead, while the rest of Europe were chugging beer hops and partying to the wee hours, it was business as usual here.

Boring.

So I did something very Austrian. I plonked myself on the grass in Stadtpark – Vienna’s first public park constructed in 1862 – and took snaps of other locals frolicking / making out / reading / chatting on the greens. Then I swear I dozed off for five seconds.

*Yawns*

Fortunately I found Naschmarkt, a place that reminds me of the good old “Newton hawker centre” in Singapore. More than 120 restaurants and market stalls squeezed into an area the size of a football field, offering cuisines from authentic Viennese to traditional Vietnamese. In other words, paradise!  LS

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Hungry For More

No other city on this trip filled me with more regrets than Budapest. Regrets of the positive kind, that is. Because there were so many sights to see, so many dishes to savour, and so many pubs to bar-hop that I almost fell into a near depressive state while packing my bags on the first (and my last) night in this beautiful city.

Did I say “beautiful”? That was an understatement!

Budapest is probably one of the most magnificent but understated (and under-rated) cities in Europe. Relatively a newbie compared to its ex-communist brethren (Poland and Czech Republic), Budapest has grown exponentially in the last decade. In the streets, Michelin-starred restaurants, local artisan stores and luxury hotel chains and designer ateliers are sprouting like moss after a springtime rain. Fortunately, a relatively depressed forint means that you get more bang for your buck.

There’s one thing that the Hungarians and Japanese share in common – their love for baths. Although the number of baths here pale in comparison to its Japanese counterparts, the tradition dates back to the Romans and there’s nothing more “local” than to spend a day at one of the dozen public baths that dot the city. Of course, as you may have guessed, this tradition is more like a graying pastime in modern Budapest. If you ask me, picking up some words of wisdom or being regaled by tales from Hungary’s Iron Curtain past from some septuagenarians doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all.   LS

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Poles Apart

DSC01138For a city that was completely flattened by Nazi bombing during the Second World War, Warsaw (or more affectionately known to the locals as Warszawa) has come a long way.  Although remnants of its post-war Soviet Cold War era still survived (most notably the inappropriately named Palace of Culture and Science – a Stalinist monstrosity which turned 60 this year by the way) across from the Warszawa Centralna Railway Station, Warszawa is changing so fast that six months would seem like a decade.

DSC01117DSC01258The Old Town Market Square (Rynek Starego Miasta) overlooking the Vistula is the heart of Warsaw and probably any traveller’s first stop. However, when the sun goes down, hipsters and well-heeled Poles flock to Nowy Świat, a cosmopolitan F&B thoroughfare that boasts some of Warsaw’s swankiest cafes and fine dining restaurants. Here, you can spend hours just people watching or bar-hop to find your ideal poison. Luckily for me, they still count in zlotys. So go ahead, indulge your inner demons!   LS

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A Bungling Makeover

You don’t need to remind Berliners of their dark past during the Second World War or of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany – because these reminders are scattered all around Berlin. The city is chock full of these poignant epitaphs. Interestingly though, these are the same reasons why tourists are drawn to this historic city built out of swampland. A wave of optimism now surrounds Berlin as numerous construction projects are transforming the city.

The greatest transformation, though, is in the arts and entertainment scene. The city’s clubbing scene draws exuberant crowds from all over Europe. On the streets, artists / artisans are a thriving (and blooming) species in Berlin, and the streets are their open canvas.

Along certain sections of what remains of the infamous Wall, the government is having a hard time trying to preserve a historical blight (a major tourist draw) that Berliners from both sides zealously sought to tear down a little more than a quarter century ago. Desperate to shed its post-war shackles, Berliners have indeed come a long way. Today’s Berliners are progressive, liberal and they know how to have fun!

However, the city’s ever-evolving physical landscape seems to be struggling to keep pace with its cultural evolution. As we speak, the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport – intended to replace both the Schönefeld and Tegel Airport – has become somewhat of a misnomer for German efficiency. Plagued by numerous delays, poor planning and mismanagement, the airport’s opening has been pushed back to 2018 or 2019 from its original schedule of 2010. Until the afore-mentioned construction projects are completed, these now serve more as distractions than attractions. Berlin can best be described as a “city in transition”.  LS

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