Thursday, July 31, 2008


Siena - a town that has drew many inspirations to architects and urban planners worldwide, mainly for its town square, the Piazza Il Campo. (Pictured top) I can't put my mind on why that is, could it be the history, the scale and relationship to the users or simply the fact that it is famous for its twice annual horse race around the square, or all of the above? In either case, Siena is a beautiful town with a breathtaking view of the Tuscan Hills that surrounds it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cinqueterre (5)

The 5 towns along the northwest coast of Italy begins with the northern most town of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Together they are known as Cinqueterre (Five Towns). Each of the towns are within a few minutes ride by train, but they are also linked by foot paths between each town. The foot paths were once the original connection between the towns. It has now been recognized as a National Park and is protected under the UNESCO heritage site list.

I took the pleasure of taking the train up to Monterosso and started my 10km hike to the southern town of Riomaggiore. My total journey hike with stops between the towns of Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola was 6 hours. (The stops at Monterosso and Riomaggiore are not included in the total journey) Each town has its own characteristic and are very different from each other. Monterosso seems to be the largest town (probably because of the sandy beach) and Corniglia is probably the smallest (also possibly because the beach is difficult to reach as you have to hike down). However, my favorite town between the five is probably Corniglia. It may not have the best looking architecture, but it is charming in its own little way. It is also the only town that sits on top of a hill rather than perching on a cliff like the other towns. The path from Vernazza - Corniglia path is also one of the most scenic, but it is also one of the hardest trail to tackle as the path are rocky and dangerous during wet weather.

Interestingly enough, I was lucky to experience some Mediterranean rain shower while walking along the path from Vernazza to Corniglia. The Vernazza - Corniglia path is also the longest followed by the Monterosso - Vernazza route (only about a few kilometers shorter but it takes the longest because of its high altitude hike). The shortest path is between the town of Manarola and Riomaggiore, better known as the Via dell' Amore (path of love).

The five towns are not difficult to reach (about an hour train ride from Pisa Centrale) and I highly recommend a visit as well as taking a hike between the five towns. It is also advisable to bring comfortable shoes and be cautious when hiking as some path are really narrow. It has been quite a rewarding day being able to enjoy and experience a natural and man-made wonder.

(Picture above is the town of Manarola)

My name is Lucca

Took a side day trip to Lucca yesterday and I have to say it was really nice to get away from the crowds in Florence. There's a lot of history to Lucca but I won't bore everyone with that, however the one interesting and major attraction to Lucca is the old city wall that has protected Lucca from invaders in the past. Unlike old historical wall I've seen in other cities that are mostly destroyed or quarried for building materials, Lucca's wall is still standing, partly because it has been ramped and converted into a beautiful path and park for strollers, cyclist and the locals to enjoy. There are other interesting parts of the city such as the trace of an old roman amphitheater and a tower overlooking the city with a small garden at the top floor. All in all, it was a relaxing day as I fell asleep in the park for most part of the day.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Under the Florence Sun

This post is a probably a bit late but I've been in Florence since Wednesday afternoon. Florence is actually a beautiful city if you can look beyond the crowd of tourists. For the past 2 days, I've walked around the city and have visited 2 of the most popular and crowded museums in Florence, the Accademia (which houses the statue of David by Michelangelo) and the Uffizi (which has the 2 famous painting by Botticelli).

Looking into the eyes of David inside the Accademia does not even compare to the replica in the Palazzo Vecchio. Though the statue was originally made to admired in an exterior setting (like the replica made standing outside the city hall), in the Accademia, you're looking at the statue through the eyes of Michelangelo. Or maybe it was just the lighting or the interior setting that makes David unresistable to the eyes of the public
The Uffizi has a really good collection of arts but of course everyone visits it for Botticelli's 'Birth of Venus' and the 'Primavera'. Both are equally beautiful paintings but I wish they didn't have the glass panel covering the paintings. Its was too difficult and distracting to really admire and study the painting as it was intended.

Florence is a small city. The scale of the city actually reminds me of Boston as it is very walkable and most major sights are within a 15 minutes walk. Coming from Rome to Florence, I think of Rome as New York City and Florence as Boston.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Leaving Rome

It has been a fantastic long week in Rome. Got to visit ruins, places, paintings, sculptures and churches that I have only seen on slides in art history classes before and am now able to experience them in person. It was brilliant! A lot of the old buildings like the churches and the colosseum do need to be experienced in person to realize just how massive that structure is! I have attached to this post a trusty map that had got me around Rome for the past week. The highlighted areas in orange and red are streets and places that I've walked on. For orientation purpose, the big red circle on the lower right (next to the grey/orange patch) is the Colosseum. The big red patch on the upper left is the Vatican.

There are just too much to see in Rome. I think I've only covered 20% of the churches dedicated to Santa Maria. But as it has been said before, "a lifetime in Rome is not enough". I'm on my way to Firenze (Florence) for a week in the Tuscany region. More Santa Maria to cover and hopefully will be able to see David.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Lost in Rome

There are just so many churches, so many piazzas and so many archaeological sites to cover in Rome that it seems ridiculous to post every single sights. However, the one thing I bumped into was this guy drawing the Birth of Venus by Botticelli in the middle of the sidewalk near the Pizza di Spagna. His artwork is amazing, but he has also written some pretty interesting directions and information for tourist. Below are his words.

"Everyday lost tourists keep asking me the same questions, here are the answers ...

1. Piazza di Spagna: 2 minute walk down Via Condotti.
2. Piazza di Popolo: At the end of Via del Corso.
3. Trevi Fountain: Walk 500 meters up Via del Corso and on your right you will find Piazza Colonna. Turn left off Via del Corso after you pass the column in the center of the piazza.
4. Pantheon + Piazza Navona: Same as Trevi directions but turn right off Via del Corso after you pass Piazza Colonna.
5. Colosseum: It's too difficult to explain, so go to the Pantheon instead.
6. St. Peters + Vatican: Walk down this street in front of you until you reach the river and follow it to your left, cross the bridge with the statues on it then simply follow the trail of African guys selling fake Prada handbags.
7. Nearest McDonalds: travel to a new country to experience a different culture famous all over the world for its food and wine and you want to eat at McDonalds.
8. Hard Rock Cafe: It's somewhere near Piazza Barberini
9. Nearest ATM: There is one behind Fendi. "

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Why so many people?

Why are there so many people sitting on the steps at the Piazza di Spagna?

Exploring the ancient relics at the Vatican

Spent the whole day at the Vatican today, visiting St.Peters Basilica and the Vatican Museums. This whole place is huge, especially the museum! However, it does have a rather good or probably one of the best collection of paintings and antiquities from the Roman classical periods. And there is of course, the Sistine Chapel, housing one of Michelangelo finest paintings. It is worth the visit, just to see and experience the scale of the church and the frescos inside the church and museum. I suppose with no internet in the old days, people have a lot more time to explore the fine arts, and time probably wasn't a big issue back then.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ciao Roma!

Well, finally made it to Rome. I'll be here in Rome till next Wednesday, hopping around the ancient sites to modern Rome.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Amalfi Coast: IV

My last stop at the Amalfi Coast is Atrani before heading up north to Roma. Unlike the bigger town of Amalfi next door, Atrani is small, yet it is full of life. From its facade, you might think that Atrani is a sleepy town, but hidden behind those thick walls are narrow secret passageways and steps leading to different parts of the town as well as paths leading to Amalfi; this is where the energy of Atrani can be found. From within this passageways, you may find people catching up about their day, donkeys carrying loads up the steps and small piazzas where children plays. There is of course a main piazza where the locals would gather during the night, but life during the day takes place inside the labyrinth of Atrani. I'm glad Amalfi is getting its full attention from the tourists because that leaves Atrani to be appreciated as it should be, a hidden gem.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Dog on a scooter

If you look closely to that white fluffy dot on the lower left side of the scooter, that's actually a dog, not a stuffed toy!

The Amalfi Coast: III

This is the town of Atrani, where I'll be staying for 2 nights. Its a quaint little town, only 200 meters next to the bigger town of Amalfi.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Amalfi Coast: II

Sorrento is less than 10 minutes away by train from Sant Agnello. It is a bigger town, but I much prefer the small town quality and the slower pace at Sant Agnello.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Amalfi Coast: I

I think this will be a series of posts dedicated to the Amalfi Coast. My first stop is at S.Agnello, a town just before Sorrento. I'll be spending 2 nights here and I head to Amalfi and Atrani next. Both towns are about 90 minutes away from Sorrento by bus. It has been such a long tiring journey today but a rewarding one at the end of the day.

Crazy lady on the train to Sorrento!

Noticed how no one is sitting around her. It is because she starts shouting nonsense once a while.

On the road to Sorrento

I've finally arrived at Italy and am on the regional train from Brindisi to Sorrento. Things have been going smooth so far and I've met some new American friends. One of them will be starting his freshman year at Berklee College-small world indeed. However, I nearly missed one of my train connections at a small town called Foggia. I didn't even know it was a train as it has only 2 carts and it was so short!! I thought it was a service train until I noticed someone running to the train with his bags. Funny moments you experienced while you're traveling in a foreign land.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Crossing the Ionian Sea

Well, I'm off to Italy after spending a week in Greece. The best part in Greece was visiting the island of Santorini. I'm sure the other Cyclades island is nice too, but Santorini was special. Wish I didn't have to leave it but there's still a long way for me to go. This time, I was able to get a cabin and hopefully get some good rest before my 2 weeks journey in Italy.

On the road to Patra

If you're one of the lucky person who gets a seat on the right side of the bus (seats are automatically assigned with purchase of ticket), the view along the way to Patra are simply amazing! You'll see the coast lined up with olive plantations and houses facing towards the crystal clear blue water of the Mediterranean.

On the road to Patra

There are some parts of Greece that reminds me of home in Malaysia. It is chaotic, congested, dirty and the city streets are filled with scooters flying by. I have nothing against Greece, but I really cannot imagine a city like Athens, which hosted the 2004 Olympics and the country of Greece who gave birth to western civilization and democracy can be so backwards.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Leaving Santorini

It's difficult to describe the island of Santorini so I'll just let the pictures do the talking. It's sad to leave this special island, but it has certainly been a relaxing four days, hitting the black beaches in Perissa and enjoying the views from Fira and Oia. Now I have to head back to dirty old Athens before continuing my journey to the Amalfi Coast, Italy.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

More on Santorini

Found in Santorini: I heart Santorini

Found on the phone booth next to a bus stop. The message says " If you are a woman interested in meeting a 39 years old guy for a discreet and free relationship call me or send me an SMS at 6972591014. Thank you and lots of kisses."

Monday, July 7, 2008


Not much to say except it's hot and sunny!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

My view: Off to Santorini

Getting to and getting around the greek island is such a pain in the ass. It pays to book early, but online booking has a surcharge of 25 euro and there were no availability for the Sunday ferry I had planned. And online booking has to be done four days in advance. Instead I had to do an overnight ferry on Saturday and through a travel agency. The ticket for deck seat costs only 30 euro (one way) but its an overnight ferry, so for that price you don't get a cabin, which is why I'm lying on the floor to get some shut eye. Another tip, travel agent can charge up to a maximum of 5 euros per ticket for service, so ticket prices may vary. My return ticket from Santorini to Athens costs 27.50 euro and I bought that from a different agency, however it is also a different ferry company.

My next task is getting to Italy from Greece. There's no way any of the ferry from Santorini could connect with the ferry to Italy (the port is 4 hours away from Athens), so I'll be staying in Athens for another night when I get back. There also seems to be limited availability on that ferry (which is surprising-are there really that many people travelling to Italy? It is a huge ferry!) From the advice of the travel agent I talked too, I might have to go straight to the port and get a deck seat. So another long journey ahead.

Found: Stray Dogs?

There seems to be a lot of dogs lying around in Athens. I'm not sure if they are stray dogs as they have a collar on them. But I'm been sitting and watching him for a good one hour no one has approach the dog.


What can I say? Athens is a congested, polluted city. Except for the archaeological site like the Acropolis, the museums and the history behind the greeks, there's really not much to do here. There are parts of Athens which can be unsafe to walk around, and you just need to be constantly on the lookout of everyone around you. A day or two in Athens is more than enough to see the major sites.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A New City: Berlin

Berlin has been through so much for the past century. I knew about the war and the history behind it, but I never expected the scars the war have left behind to be cut into the city so deep. There are very few old buildings left in Berlin, as most of them have been hit by bombs during WWII.

Berlin is constantly changing, with new buildings coming up every so often. The city skyline is crowded with cranes at work. But speaking of new buildings, much of the old classical building can be quite deceiving as they were built in early 20th century. Basically, they were built to look old. A good example right now is the construction of the Old Royal Palace. The royal palace was originally demolished during the communist period and was replaced by a social building. This communist social building is now being demolished (picture above) and a replica of the Old Royal Palace will be build on its old site. All the details, building plans and statues were dug up from the archives and will be rebuild to look like the original.

Its an interesting city no doubt, with a rich and brutal history. But Berlin is a city that looks at the present and towards the future without destroying its past.


Flying easyjet is no easy task. Though check in time is usually 2 hours before flight, I'd advise getting there 30 minutes earlier as by the time you get to the front of the line, your check in counter would have already opened an hour later. (Waiting time may vary from different airports and flight schedule. )

Me and my bike

I had a few hours left in Berlin and rented a bike for a little stroll around the city. It was a great ride visiting sites I didn't have the chance to see before. Actually the guy who rented the bike was really nice. Not sure if he has the best price as I didn't get to shop around but it was near the hostel I was staying and even though I only rented it for 3 hours, he was very flexible with the time (an hour late was fine) I have to return the bike. He also owns a small cute cafe and its where I rented the bike. Overall it have been great fun!

Celebrating Capitalism At Its Greatest

Happy 4th of July! The New American Embassy here in Berlin is celebrating the 4th with a grand opening. As you can see, the embassy (on the left) is located next to the Brandernburge Gate in Berlin. Seems like there's going to be a big feast and a concert or some sort tomorrow. I see Burger King paired with some Sam Adams.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Theatre

Who sells alcoholic drinks in a cinema? The Germans do.

World Travelers

I really don't understand why certain people who travels to foreign countries expect the same quality, service and quantity that they do back in their home country in a cafe or restaurant. We all know the value or the euro againsts other currency right now, but why complain when you already know it is going to costs you xxx amount. The one good thing in Europe is that prices are readily displayed for the consumers. There's no hidden tax costs or any additional service charges (except for certain conditions) that will change the displayed prices. As for service, most Europeans enjoy their leisure time. You don't have to rush to order your food when you're sitting down waiting for the server to assists in your order, and you're not expect to leave right after you've finished your meal. I think some of you would know who I'm speaking of so I'll just leave it to your wild imagination. People are hard to understand.

Scandinavia: The Nordic Countries

For the past month, I started my trip at Copenhagen, Denmark - Stockholm, Sweden - Helsinki, Finland - Talinn, Estonia - Rovaniemi, Finland - Honningsvag + Nordkapp, Norway - Tromso, Norway - Bergen, Norway and ended my Scandinavia tour in Oslo, Norway. I'm currently in Berlin for a few days before heading down south to Greece.

To say which Scandinavian country is best to visit is difficult as all of them have its own unique quality but I can say that Stockholm was my favorite city, followed by Bergen and Copenhagen. All three cities have one thing in common which I find comfortable and it is the scale of the city in relationship to the people and its daily activities.

Helsinki was okay but it might have helped change my mind if the weather was better, however it is an interesting city in comparison to its Scandinavian neighbors. The city doesn't have the many tall conical shape church towers like Stockholm or Copenhagen, nor does it have the Scandinavian / Viking architectural influence and motifs just because it was not part of the Viking culture. In fact, Finnish itself is a completely different language from Norwegian, Swedish and Danish. From Helsinki, I took a side trip to Talinn, the capital of Estonia and one of the Baltic states. It was only a 2 hour ferry ride between the two cities. The old medieval city of Talinn is charming and is listed under the UNESCO heritage list. It is a city for those who like to go back in time and experience an old medieval town and enjoy the history and culture.

Oslo was my least favorite city not because it has the least to offer but my accommodation and safety within the city limits gave it the lowest point.

My highlight of this trip was taking a side trip off my planned route to a small fishing village in the Lofoten Island. Stamsund is still a busy fishing community and like all the rest of the Lofoten, winter is the prime fishing season and that's when the whole island comes alive. However it is not to say that summer is dead and boring, the tourist help keeps the island alive. But Lofoten is best when it is quiet and uncrowded as it helps one enjoy the magnificent landscape it has to offer. Like a step back into the mystical and fantasy period of the writings by Tolkien, Reine was my favorite part of the island and the most picturesque.

The other "high-light" was of course taking the long hike up the high mountains to watch the midnight sun. It wasn't a bright and sunny day but it gave a spectacular light show that night or should I say day, as night doesn't really exist above the Arctic Circle line during the summer season.

It has been a great journey so far but there have been some downside to it as well, mainly frustration, poor or careless planning and other unexpected situation that was out of my control. If it wasn't so expensive, I would recommend going to Norway, but a visit to Sweden and Denmark will provide you a true Scandinavian experience. However, don't forget about Iceland. It is also part of Scandinavia and my visit there in 2005 was an amazing weekend. I think the currency exchange rate has probably lowered the amount of tourist going there, but if the opportunity arise, Iceland is a must to finish or start your adventure in Scandinavia.