5 December 2006

Italy

Italy is a beautiful place; some may say its the most beautiful country in the world. Full of architecture, history and art makes it unbelievably rich in culture. I visited Italy in the summer of 2005 with my wife for our honeymoon. We had a few options, but Italy seemed to be the best for the occasion. What would make a honeymoon more perfect than cruising in a gondola ride in Venice?

However, I don't know if most of you know this, but Italy is pretty damn expensive! Deciding not to spend every last cent I saved on the honeymoon, it seemed reasonable to limit the whole trip to 12 days. According to my travel agent, 12 days would be good for 2 locations in Italy, with a train ride in between.

Now came the problem. 2 locations? Here is what I had to choose from:

- Milan/Milano; the fashion capital of Italy (comparable to Paris?)
- Florence/Firenze; the culture capital of Italy
- Rome; the actual capital of Italy
- Venice/Venezia; No other place in the world quite like it
- Pisa; Home to the tower of Pisa, considered by many to be one of the wonders of the world

Of course, each of these locations had a bunch of things we wanted to see; there is absolutely no way we could miss out on any of these. How could we choose only two?

So we decided. We would go to 4 of the above 5 places, stay 3 nights in each area, and get around by train from place to place. And make a quick visit to the fifth!

So here was our plan: 1st Stop, Milan, then a train ride to Venice. Another train ride to Florence, and during our stay there we would take a bus to visit the Tower of Pisa, which was an hour away, then back. And our final stop would be 3 nights in Rome; you can see the route highlighted in red in the map (and in blue for our short stop in Pisa):

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Ah. That way we could take in all we want to from Italy. Might be a bit rushed, but its still exciting! So, that was the plan, take a look at how it went:

1st Stop, Milan:


Arrived to Milan early morning after a very uncomfortable 6-hour flight. Thanks Qatar Airways! But still, we're finally happy to be here. Walking through the airpot, seems like everyone was talking some funny-sounding weird language we didn't understand. Oh wait, thats gotta be Italian right? That sounds pretty cool! We got to the place where you put your bags through the x-ray machine and walk through that little door thing, and I started beeping; well actually the machine did, but it was as I was walking through it. It was obviously my belt, as the guy scanned me with his little hand-held thingy, and it beeped again when he placed it near my belt. I'm like, ok, thats gotta be pretty obvious right? Obviously not. The guy asked me to take off my belt, and I just questioned the Italian people's cleverness. Or maybe its just extra security? The lady on the side started rambling on in Italian balaburi samamuro calaluri regulataro. Oh, regulataro. Regulations. That makes sense; so I took off my belt and seemed everything went fine afterwards. See, the Italian language isn't TOO difficult; its like english with the letter O or I at the end of every word. Or so it seems.

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Took a cab to the hotel. Luckily for us our travel agent did well. The hotel was in a prime location in town, on one of the main streets, Corso Buenos Aires, and was easy to find (By the way, Corso means road; actual translation of the word is race, which just gives you an idea of how italians drive!). We went in and laid down for about an hour, just getting over the rough plane trip (again, thanks Qatar Airways!).

After resting we went out for a short walk down the road. Its a pretty lively place with lots of shops and restaurants, and it was in a Spizzico where we got our first taste of real italian pizza! Spizzico is their fast food joint; it serves pizza and pasta, and even for a fast food place I must say it is pretty damn good; huge pizza slices with their tasty tomato sauce; something is different about italian pizza.

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Anyhow, discovering the rest of the area, we passed by the Giardini Pubblici (Remove the "i" at the end and you have it, Public Garden! Easy!), and made our way towards the Duomo area, which is supposedly the most popular spot. Duomo means catherdral, and this is supposedly the biggest one in the area, and a sight to see. So we walk towards the area, full of shops and high class boutiques, fashions and so on. Also, something about the Milan people in specific that we noticed while we were there; They are all BEAUTIFUL. Doesn't matter if they're a guy or a girl, there's just something about them. They're always wearing the classiest clothes from head to toe, their skin color is the most amazing golden tan, they seem to have perfect bodies, their hair is made up well, accessories, shoes etc. They just look GOOD! And walking down those streets, no matter where you come from or how good you look, you just might feel a little intimidated by all those beautiful people!

When we finally saw the Duomo it was a real sight to see; its actually the largest gothic cathedral in the world. Walking through the alleys of Milan, passing by the shops and people, something stood out in the distance as soon as we turned one of the corners;

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This photo does NO justice to the sight. This Duomo was an amazing sight and seemed to engulf the whole area. It is a huge work of art, each wall covered in inscriptions, sculptures, and artful decoration, and just to think of how long it took to actually put it together is mind-boggling. Also consider the fact that it was built in the 14th century; wow. Trying to take a good photo of the cathedral is an almost impossible task, it is just too big. There is an open area which would probably make a good photo shoot area, but unfortunately the duomo was undergoing renovations from that side and so that was out of the question. But here is my best shot at it:

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Anyhow, the surrounding area is also very nice. Every building seems to be a piece of art in itself, and each corner seems to have some sort of artwork embedded into it; however, when you think about it, Milan is considered to be one of the coldest cities in Italy and with the least soul. Wow; if this city has the least soul, I wonder what the rest should look like?

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If you are in Milan, there a bunch of things to do. If you like haggling, make sure to make a visit to the Brera after sundown; its a small area with lots of people selling things on the side of the road. Things; ie gucci bags, armani belts, sunglasses, shoes etc. And if they give you a price of 100 Euros? Make sure you dont pay more than 25! There are also a number of piano bars and romantic restaurants you can try there. Beautiful. (By the way, I am not the type of person to use the word beautiful so much, but to describe things in Italy, you can't help but use it)

After a beautiful 3 days in Milan, it was time to go. Before leaving though, we had to visit the Santa Maria della Grazie, the church that holds Da Vinci's work of art, The Last Supper. Unfortunately this was not possible; when we went there, we were told that there were no tickets for the next three weeks! So just a tip for anyone going to Milan and has their eyes set on seeing the Last Supper. Book WELL in advance. This is the Santa Maria della Grazie - unfortunately only from the outside :(

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Finally, it was time to go. Although a shame to leave Milan, we were looking forward to the next part of our trip; Venice! We went to the station and took a 3 hour train ride. The Italian country-side is beautiful. Make sure you try to take it all in (and make sure you have batteries in your camera, mine ran out without being able to take in any really expressive photos of Italian countryside.

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2nd Stop, Venice:


Venice. How to describe Venice? Well, before I actually went there, I had a preconcieved notion about it. If you actually walk around Venice, it probably won't feel so special. Its just like walking around a town near the river or so. Boy was I wrong.

Here's our first experience of Venice; we were coming in by train. Traditionally, trains run on land, and thats how the train we were on started. The train kept moving and suddenly it was like, left or right, there was no land; we were in the middle of the water! Seems the trains to Venice run on tracks built in the middle of the sea. As you get closer to Venice, you see the floating city in the middle of the water; its like these buildings just floating in the middle of the water:

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And as soon as you get off the train and see Venice for the first time - all sorts of people walking around, colors, music, children running around; its a different experience! Considering there are no other sinking cities anywhere in the world, makes venice a toursit hotspot. It seems as if it is always full of people, making it lively and gives an upbeat feel to it

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The Venice trademark is obviously the Gondolas; crescent looking boats which you can take for a ride around the canals, while being propelled by a Gondolier (the oarsman), who might even sing for you. We decided to take one, but beware! Make sure you have a lot of cash at hand! Approximate prices are around 80 Euros for thirty minutes (around $100), or 150 Euros for an hour (appx $180)! But it is definately worth it, theres nothing in the world like it; the serenity, the calm of the ride, exploring Venice through the canals..

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Another thing Venice is famous for is its masks. Although pretty expensive, these masks are beautiful works of art. You might even get to see Venetians posing on the side of the road and take a photo with them :) (Just make sure you drop a few Euros in the bucket or they might get angry!)

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Other things to do in Venice include passing by Murano island and taking a look at glassmaking. Or you can pass by Lido island and enjoy the amazing beaches. Or pass by Piazza San Marco, the only urban space in Europe where human voices prevail over motorized traffic.

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Another thing that happened was when we were in San Marco Piazza. This was at the south of Venice, while we were supposed to go back to the train station at the north. Now, Venice is an intricate maze of canals, alleys and passages. Some roads are blocked, others take you to a waterway, and some are open. We had a small map with us, but you have to keep looking at it every minute or two to make sure you are going down the right way.

And it started raining. Heavily.

Within two minutes it seems every single person in Venice had disappeared. And with a small wet map, we had to navigate all the way through the alleys of Venice in the cold wet rain with a map that didn't seem too clear. And we were running through the alleyways trying to get back;

But at that moment, it seemed like we had Venice all to ourselves. It was a nice feeling, and although it did take us 25 minutes or so to get from San Marco Piazza to the train station (Venice is bigger than it looks on a map) by the time we got back to the train, we felt closer to Venice. Ah Venice...

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After a few more days it was time to move on.. Although we didn't really want to, we still had a lot more places to visit..

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3rd Stop, Florence/Pisa:


Florence; Once the capital of Italy, and birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, you can't help but notice the culture everywhere around you. It is sort of like walking into a movie scene. Shops and markets have been incorporated into historic buildings, statues and fountains around every corner; every single inch of Florence seemed alive with culture.

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Although essentially a small town, Florence has a lot to offer. There's quite a lot to see, from Michaelangelo's David, to the views from the Arno River, to high class shopping in the expensive boutiques, or bargain hunting in the many bazaars around town.

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But while we were in Florence, it wasn't our only stop. We had to take a bus ride to Pisa, to see the infamous leaning tower. Pisa wasn't too far away; approx a one hour ride. But seeing the actual tower is something amazing; i've been seeing it all my life in magazines, movies etc, and to finally see it in real life is something of an experience. Also, walking up the tower, you can feel the tower tilt as you reach the top. But definately a site to see, don't miss it if you are in the area!

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Of course, as everyone does when they visit the tower, I had to take a shot with me leaning on the tower (everyone does this; if you can't figure it out, just take a shot of you very close to the camera, and with the tower far away you both look the same size)

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Final Stop, Rome:


Our final stop was in Rome. It feels like a shame that the trip is coming to an end, but there is still a lot to do and see! The home of the great Roman Empire. Just taking a taxi down to our hotel and looking at the sites around us, you feel the strength and power the Roman Empire used to command. Everything is HUGE! From the Colosseum, to the Roman Forum, to buildings and statues. Wow.

By no means is a few days enough to take in Rome. The sights to see are unbelievable, and even seeing them on TV or in pictures, seeing them in real life is a different experience. There is the Trevi Fountain (throw a coin in backwards and you will definately come back to Rome, which I did!), the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, and once again shopping! (Seems to be some sort of trend with all the Italian cities!).

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Of course, take a look at the Roman Forum, unfortunately mostly in ruins. Read a good book about it first; going there with no knowledge of what it is, you may have no idea what you are looking at. But if you read up about it you will be able to see what went where and things will fall in place. Definately a sight to see. Take a look at the enormous Vittorio Emmanuele II Monument, and the Colosseum at night, they look very different than in daylight.

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Of course no visit to Rome would be complete without a trip to the Vatican. There are certain days of the week where you can catch a glimpse of the Pope waving to the people; look that up if you have enough time to plan your trip. Unfortunately we didn't have enough time for that. But still, the Vatican is a beautiful work of art...

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And unfortunately that is the end of a beautiful 12 day vacation! I promise myself to never use the word beautiful again (unless I visit Italy once more sometime in the future!). But if you are planning a visit and need some advice on where to go and things to do, let me know! I will be more than happy to help :)

Thanks for reading!

2 comments:

Manooyh said...

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah reminded me of rome's days.... i just loved it :(((( i wanna go back.... but heyyyyyyy cooooooooooooooooool pics.

Bahraini Diva said...

ammaro, I have a tear in my eye ... no body knows the feeling you get from that place until you actually visit - I miss Milan & Venice sooooo much :'(