Tuesday, August 30, 2011

T & R : Venice and Milan (Day 1 to 3 of 2 Weeks in Italy)

Day 3 : Exploring Milan and reaching Cinque Terre.
Before leaving for Milan from Venice, might I add that do not expect large accommodation in Venice if you are trying to save. I stayed at San Giorgio and I love it due to its location and the owner’s hospitality however for Euro70 a night, you are going to get a small place.
Thus, if you want to save more and don’t mind the size of your rooms then Venice will make you happy.
From Venice, it is approximately 2 hours to Milan. (Below is a picture of me in front of Milan train station)
Milan is a busy and crowded and, truth be told, polluted city – not necessarily a place you would want to spend more than a couple of nights. Luckily, the main sights of Milan (yes, there are some) are easily covered in a day, so if you want to pause in this bustling metropolis you can do so.
The list of things to do in Milan may not be as long – or as famous – as the list of things to do in other Italian cities, but this isn’t just a destination for fashionistas and bankers. There are a few world-famous sights in Milan, several others worth your time if you have more than a day, and even more if you plan on making Milan a base for day trips.
Whether Milan ends up being a favorite Italian city or not, one thing you’ll certainly appreciate – regardless of how long or short your stay is – is how easy it is to get around in the city. If you limit yourself to the city center, you’ll find it amazingly compact and easy enough to walk around to many places. If you want to explore further or just want to give your feet a break, you’ll find Milan’s combination of subway, trams, and buses make it extremely simple to get anywhere you want to go.
Just take the hop on hop off buses which will be able to take you around the city of Milan in 2 hours – be warned though Milan is especially dusty and smoky.
Do visit the DUOMO if you can.
The best news for those who want to visit the Milan Duomo is that it’s free to enter. You’ll pay a fee if you want to enter the Treasury or Crypt (located inside the church) or access the Duomo roof (elevator and stair entrances located outside the church), but to just wander around the inside it’s absolutely free. There are entrances and exits at the front of the cathedral, and also along the right-hand side (if you’re looking at the front) – so if the line at the front is long, peek around the side to see if that door has less of a wait.
Why, you’re asking, are there lines if there’s no tickets to buy? Well, there are still police guarding the doors who have to make sure you’re dressed appropriately (no exposed shoulders or knees) and not bringing in food or drinks. There are also signs directing people to turn off cell phones and not take photographs or videos inside, but while I wandered around I think I was the only person not taking pictures. I even heard cell phones go off inside the church, and people chatting away on them. Now, I’m not religious, but I am respectful of other people’s beliefs, so please do me a favor and be respectful as well. This may be a tourist attraction to you, but it’s a place of worship to many. If you must take photographs (and it should be said the guards inside were doing nothing to stop people who were), whatever you do don’t take pictures of people praying or giving confession (I saw people taking pictures of both). The cathedral is an attraction, the people aren’t.
Ahem.One of the highlights of the interior of the church is a statue toward the back on the right-hand side, which depicts Saint Bartholomew. He was skinned alive, so is often shown in religious artwork as holding his own skin. In this case, he stands with his skin draped around him. The Flayed San Bartolomeo by artist Marco d’Agrate dates from 1562.
Other things worth noting inside the Duomo include:
  • The massive paintings which hang seemingly in mid-air all over, between the various aisles, displayed during November and December
  • Several sarcophagi of archbishops
  • The church’s magnificent stained-glass windows, including the enormous choir windows
  • Trivulzio Candelabra, a 12th-century gold piece in the transept of the church
  • The Duomo is supposed to be in possession of one of the nails from the Crucifixion, which it keeps in the dome just beyond the spot over the altar and only lowers down into plain view once a year
The enormous painting adorns one wall of a former dining hall in the monastery attached to the Santa Maria delle Grazie church in Milan, and unfortunately da Vinci’s experimentation with a new kind of fresco application has led to the painting deteriorating dramatically over the years since it was completed. Because of this, visiting The Last Supper (Il Cenacolo in Italian) isn’t just as easy as showing up and popping in on a whim. Admission is strictly limited to a certain number of people per day, and visitors must go through several sealed chambers before entering the room where the painting is. In fact, the dining hall itself has been converted into a climate controlled environment, with the windows bricked up and the entire room sealed, simply to preserve what’s left of da Vinci’s work.
Groups of no more than 25 people are admitted into the dining hall every 15 minutes (when, of course, the previous group is ushered out). Tickets are sold in advance, and even if you’re not visiting during the busy tourist season you’ll need to book well ahead of time – the calendar can (and does) fill up quickly.
Personally, a few hours in  Milan was enough for me. The next gem is in the next town.
Next : A 5 hour train ride to the “5 villages” aka Cinque Terre.

Travel and Review: Venice (Day 1 to 3 of 2 weeks in Italy)

Day 2 : Still in Venice.
If you plan to spend a couple of weeks in Italy, starting from Venice is a good bet. It is rather easy to get there and you won’t be too tired after your long trip because it is very easy to get to the island from the airport. Plus if you intend to travel to many parts of Italy, starting from Venice ensure that you won’t have to backtrack. If you intend to start from Milan and travel to other part of Italy then you may need to backtracked a couple of times. Similar if you were to start from Rome. (Unless of course you don’t wish to go to the south of Rome i.e Naples/Pompeii)
So have fun while you are in Venice. I know I did.
The above is a picture of the bus stop. Remember in Venice buses are actually waterbuses and thus their stops definitely are platforms that allow boats to dock quickly and safely. DO NOT BUY YOUR TICKET ONLINE for your waterbuses!! There are websites that allows you to buy your ticket online for taking the waterbuses (which you print and then exchange for a real ticket from a ticket dispensing machine once you are there) but you should be aware that if the ticket dispensing machines is out of service for whatever reasons, there is no way that the ticketing officer (who sits in a booth) can print for you a ticket because apparently the system in the ticket booths is different that the one in the ticket dispensing machine. Which means your printout is basically useless. I can only advise based at this time of writing and perhaps over the next few years they may merge the systems together. But for now, just buy your tickets for the waterbuses once you are there from the ticket booths.
The famous RIALTO bridge……called in Italy as Ponte Rialto.
From Venice, take a waterbus to the nearby islands Murano and Burano to discover their beautiful colored houses or if you prefer (although expensive I might add) purchase a handmade glass-blowing vase. ( you can watch how they are made too!)
Once you have explore the main island and the nearby islands, have a good night stay in Venice for the last night because the next morning you are to take a waterbus to the train station (stops just in front of the train station) to make your way into Milan.
Next: Exploring the fashion city of Milan.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Travel and Review : Italy in 2 weeks.


Day 1 : Arriving in Venice.


What can I say? Italy is just oozing with charms. If you have never been to Italy then this is a city on your must-go visit. Unlike others who prefer to go on tour trips to Europe in 14 days (is that crazy or what?) or the backpackers who spent months touring different parts of Europe (I don’t like to sleep in dorms), I am pretty much a practical traveller who has just enough vacation time to enjoy a country in at most 2 weeks. If you are like me and don’t like to rush through a country and prefer to laze around and soak in the atmosphere of the sights and sounds without them being too overwhelming, then please keep reading.

I started my travel to Italy in the month of June (the beginning of their summer months) and started my trip in Venice. Yup, other than Paris, Venice has its charm of being a romantic city as well. It was only later that I realized that the main attraction of Venice is not Venizia (as the Italians called it) but the island itself. Thus if you are looking for places to stay just make sure its indicated as near St Marco because that will be situated in the main island, others might have you staying in the mainland (which is very very very far from the island itself) and make sure also that it is not on another island (there are many islands around Venice itself) because it is going to be a hassle to get back to your hotel from the main island especially at night when the water buses are very limited.


From the airport, a short walk will lead you to the alilaguna, a water bus system which is cheap and rather comfortable. Near it, at exorbitant rate is the water taxi which will lead you straight to your hotel doorsteps but I rather take the water bus and make my way to my hotel – not only is it more fun but you get to understand Venice even better.




Once you board the water bus aka alilaguna (tickets can be purchased on the spot), be prepared for a 40min boat ride to either San Lorenzo or St Marco water bus stop (So try to book your hotels near these 2 stations). Another option is to book your hotel near the RIALTO water bus stop but I prefer the former as the view is way way way nicer ….. besides you can always walk to the RIALTO which is again much more fun to do.


Unfortunately during my summer trip, the weather was pretty rainy thus the view is not as picturesque as it might be but nonetheless the fact that you are in Venice, looking at the gondola going through the canals is an experience unlike any other.


The main island of Venice is pretty small so staying 2 nights here is more than sufficient. The cool thing about Venice is the fact that you need to get lost within the meandering lanes of the island. Trust me, its a lot of fun! Personally, I found more than 6 ways to reach my hotel from the main basilica and I am sure there are many many more ways to find it. Getting lost in Venice is the charm of the island by itself because along the different lanes you will discover different shops which may just have the things you are eyeing for all this while.


so the tip for enjoying a trip in venice is TO GET LOST!!!


You cannot miss the above monument (St Mark Basilica) as its right smack in the centre of the main island.


If you like to enter it, it is better to book your slot online. You can do so by booking your visit here. Once you have your ticket, please print it and just wait at one of the entrance which is catered for group booking 10 minutes before your allocated time. (Do not join the long queue with the rest who did not purchase the ticket beforehand!)

It should be said at the outset that St. Mark’s Basilica is, perhaps, my favorite church on earth (at least that I’ve visited so far), so you’ll have to pardon my gushing. Despite what could be considered a bias toward this church, I can assure you that my affinity is well-placed, and Basilica di San Marco is a must-see while in Venice.

The structure which now stands proudly at the head of St. Mark’s Square dates from the 11th century, but it was built in the place of an older church, so there has been a church on this site for many hundreds of years. If you’re used to the straight lines and flying buttresses of Gothic-style churches, you’ll be cocking your head to one side as you stand in the Square and look at the many domes on the roof of St. Mark’s. No, it’s certainly not Gothic. But what is it? It’s Byzantine, bringing a bit of the East over to the West at a time when Venice was a major port and therefore a crossroads between the two worlds. As if to emphasize the city’s position as an important stop on the trade routes, the front of the Basilica is decorated with mis-matched columns which were all stolen from elsewhere and brought back to Venice as trophies.

The word “basilica” denotes the fact that a church houses the remains of a saint (or the partial remains, anyway), and in this case the saint in question is St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice. His bones were brought to Venice in the 9th century, stolen from Egypt and intended to increase the importance of Venice even more. It worked. Of course, the Venetian thieves probably thought they were just fulfilling destiny by making off with Mark’s remains – a legend of the time said that an angel had appeared to Mark in a vision, telling him he would be laid to rest in Venice. The same cannot be said, of course, for the columns, jewels, and other objects sea captains brought back to Venice over the years, but that is another matter. Originally a private church for the Doge’s (Venice’s rulers), Basilica di San Marco was only made public to ordinary Venetians in the early 1800s.



So use the first day to just wander along the lanes and buy things along the way which you fancy because unless you are very geographically talented, finding that same shop on your way back may not be such an easy task. Hell, but if you are determined to do so, then there is nothing to stop you, is there?

Above all, don’t forget this when you are in Italy, be it Venice or other places…… Buy buy buy and eat eat eat their gelato……anytime, anywhere….it is THAT delicious!

Now head over to your hotel, and rest for Day 2.