Sunday, December 30, 2007

Happy New Year

I'm recovering from fever. No more high temperature, but still a bit tired. Hopefully the fever wouldn't return. I'm begining to wonder, does it (fever) got some thing to do with my internal clock. Around the same time last year, I had a fever too!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Italy: Trip Recaps

Okay, this is my last entry on the Italy trip. I just remembered I haven't done the recap for Italy. I did it for Thailand, and China. So I should do it for Italy too. So here goes:

1. Celcom partner is Vodafone. Should have better international roaming rate. 3G works just fine. Only they charge by bytes (not sure about the rate). Let just say, with all the SMS, phone calls and internet browsing using my T5, my telephone bill wasn't as expensive as I thought it would be. No need tweak the configuration if you already have the phone set up for internet connection in Malaysia.

2. Shopping. From non-shopaholic view point, leather goods are of good quality and cheap especially at the small shop that don't except credit cards :). The goods look like locally made and have no recognizable brands (but then again I'm a non-shopaholic who don't know much about branded stuff). You can try haggling but don't expect the price to drop very much. It might work more to you side if you haggle discreetly with the shopkeeper.

3. Language. More people speak English in the touristy are like Rome, Florence and Pisa. They are also more 'tourist-friendly'. In less touristy area, an Italian phrase book or dictionary would help you a lot.

4. Dress smartly. Even the street vendors are impeccably dressed!

5. Shoes. Wear proper shoes. I made the mistake of not properly worn in my leather boots (the leather was still stiff). They bit my toes! Only now, after the long walks, they are properly worn in. If you go in cold weather, your shoes also should sufficiently insulate your little toes. You wouldn't want to have frost bite.

6. Take care of you belongings. I didn't have any problem. Perhaps because I wasn't smartly dressed :). But upon returning to Malaysia, I heard stories of people being pickpocket.

7. Have a great time. If you appreciate arts, culture, architecture, history, etc. you would need more than a week to see it all ;).

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Day 9 (Sunday): Rome - KLIA

Breakfast at the hotel. It was our last day in Italy. I had wanted to go to the park near our hotel again. However I woke up late. I had a restless night. My aching right knee woke me up every now and then through out the night.

We already checked out of the hotel and on the bus to the airport. 40 minutes later we reached the airport in Fiumicino. We checked in our luggage and lingered for a while.

We queued at the security check. There was a long queue. 20 minutes later, it was my turn. I emptied my pocket, put my backpack into the scanning machine. I walked into the metal detector gate. “Beeep!”. The security guard asked me to take off my boots and my scarf! Not wanting to make any scene, I obliged. Sure enough, the thing did not beep!

After uneventful check at the immigration, and speed train ride, we reached the gate for international flight. The flight, scheduled for departure at 12.20pm got delayed.

We finally boarded the flight home. I though the waiting was over. But no. According to the captain, we would be delayed. There was too much traffic! Can you believe it? My first air traffic jam! The plane finally took off at 2pm.

That was the time on my T5. But the plane must have crossed some time zone for it was sunset. Before I knew it, I lost sense of time. More than 10,000 km later, we landed in KLIA around 7.30am Malaysian time on Monday 19th November.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Day 8 (Saturday): Rome wasn’t Built in One Day

So is it possible to see Rome in one day? I didn’t know, but I was willing to try.

I packed instant ‘Beef Kurma’ and bread into my backpack. Then I took the lift down to the restaurant for breakfast. As the lift opened at the ground floor, the aroma of scrambled eggs and strong cappuccino greeted me. I instinctively follow the aroma, only to find a closed door. It was still early. Already dressed in multiple layers of clothing, I headed out for a little morning walk.

I walked westward of Via Labicana. I There’s a little hill next to our hotel. I think the hill is called, Esquilino. I climbed the stairs. The stairs lead to a park. It was eerily deserted. There were some ancient structures. Then I realized, I was very close to Coliseum. The hill overlooks it!

I returned to hotel for breakfast. The hotel had the usual continental breakfast – omelette, bread and the likes of it. As usual, I ‘smuggle’ items into my backpack. I met my travel companions.

We organized ourselves and started walking. The temperature was cold, must be in the region of 7-8 degree Celsius. One or two travel companions had to turn back to get additional layers of clothing.

About half an hour later, we reached our destination. It was still early. Not many tourists around. There were only one or two street vendors setting up their souvenir stalls. Some of my travel companions headed to the stalls for souvenir. The others went to shoot some photos.

I was the only one who brought a tripod. Hence, my camera had somewhat became the camera for taking ‘group’ photo. I took out my tripod, and screwed it to the dSLR. I pulled the legs to extend it. First, ok. Second, ok. Then, the third leg, it came off! The base of the third leg snapped from it’s two siblings. After supporting my cameras and occasionally me, my tripod of 10 years finally gave up on me.

Somehow I managed to precariously balance everything and took last group photo.

At the first door, we went through a simple security check. The security politely asked everyone to put his or her jackets and bags through the scanning device (in English!). Luckily, the queue wasn’t long. Otherwise, I could have frozen due to the cold temperature (I’m exaggerating, but you know what I meant).

Once we passed the security check, we headed to the ticket counter. We thought we could get a special price if we bought the tickets as a group. But no, it was Euro 11.00 flat. We went through the ticketing gate. Then followed the crowd through an archway (that looks like a tunnel). It opened to the arena. Actually what you would see is a somewhat a maze underneath the arena.

While the rest of the group was busy taking photos at the arena, I walked along the archways. Saw some of the columns that used to form the Coliseum. Some how I found the stairs leading to the top section of the Coliseum. I took a few photos before my dSLR went dead! After seven days, I finally dried up my battery.

I had to switch to my back-up camera – my old Nikon Coolpix 7600. Yes, I was paranoid. I brought two cameras, with two memory cards each. I glad I did. I must be the only one in the group who brought two digital cameras. Even though my back-up camera have limited capability (it performs very badly in low light), I glad I had it. My other travelling companions had to use their mobile phone camera (due to camera ran out of battery or memory).

We were out of the Coliseum. By now the square around the Coliseum was thronged by tourists. Among the tourists, we met two group of Malaysians. The first group was from Ministry of Defence (I’m not sure about this, if they weren’t they could be from the Army/Navy). The second was two men from TV3.

We follow the mass up a small hill. At the top of the hill was a huge archway, Arco di Tito. We went through it. We walked through ancient ruins. And got down some stairs. It was as if we were walking in an ancient town. There we ancient ruins all around us. It was the Foro Romano, or in English, Roman Forum.

Following other tourists, I found a little corner of the ruins where there were flowers. With hand gesturing a stab, I asked an old Italian lady if this was where Julius Caesar was killed. She nodded. I asked another tourist (the handsome man got a guide book with him):
Me: Inglese? (English)
Handsome blonde: A little.
Me: Is this where Caesar was killed?
Handsome blonde: No, he was burned here.
Me (looking puzzled, and thinking wasn’t Caesar was only stabbed?)
Handsome blonde (looking unsure): Cremated?
Me (smiling and comprehending): Aa… Ok. Thank you.

We continued walking. The Foro Romano is like a town with ruins that looked like temple, houses and what nots. We walked along what could have been an ancient road, now named Via Sacra. We exited the site through an archway, Arco di Settimio Severo at the end of Via Sacra. We climbed up some stairs that lead us to more-recent buildings. At the little square, there were some street vendors selling touristy souvenir as well as practical things (battery, cheap tripod, guide books, films etc). Inspired by the handsome tourist, after a little haggling, I bought a guide book for Euro 6.00.

The square led us to a bigger square called Piazza del Campidoglio. Interesting enough, there’s a poster of Aung San Suu Kyi hanging on one of the balcony. Perhaps this is to show support of democracy. On another side of the square was a church. I didn’t get the name but I’m sure it wasn’t Aracoeli. There was a short photo session of bride-groom and the wedding attendees. With the church and the square as the background, the picture must have looked good - except for the jacket that the bride had to wear over her white wedding gown. By now, three of us were separated from the main group.

The three of us went down some staircase and reached to a main road. I think the road is Via del Teatro Marcello. We pondered where were the rest of the group. If they decide to walk to the Vatican City, it would be to go northwest-ward (some one mentioned that we should go to Vatican City). If they decide to return to the hotel, it would be southeast-ward. Looking at the map, the route back to hotel was more straightforward than the route to Vatican City. So we headed northwest. On our left was more stairs that lead to Church of Aracoeli. We continue walking. In front of Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II (a place where Mussolini once made a speech) we found them!

The rest of the group wanted to go for lunch. They wanted to find a halal restaurant as told by the first group of Malaysian we met earlier. Some wanted to return to hotel to charge their batteries. Me, as I had my daypack, prefer to have a simple ‘picnic’ lunch and continue exploring. Somehow I managed to convince the two guys to join me while the rest headed back to the hotel!

But before picnicking, two of us badly in need of toilet break. We found a group of policemen and asked one of them. The polite policemen told us that we have to use toilet in one of the many restaurant there. He pointed us to the direction of one restaurant. At the restaurant door, I asked politely:
Me: Inglese? (English?)
Serious-looking Staff at the door: Yes.
Me (looking somewhat guilty): May we use the toilet?
Staff (now smiling): Yes. Go to the left and down.

So off we went, down the spiral staircase. Why was I feeling guilty? Because I want to use his toilet without buying any food from him! We had to queue for the toilet. We were later joined by the polite policemen. There was only one toilet. We had to wait for quite a while.

Once we answered the nature call, we were ready for our picnic. We took a bench at what I think is Piazza Venezia. I took out a loaf of bread and a pack of “Brahim” instant beef “Kurma”. My companion took out some oranges. I began arranging the food on the bench. There were a few pigeons at the area. My companion, pitying the pigeons, suggested that I gave a piece of bread to them, which I did. Great mistake! Before we knew it, we were swamped by pigeons. It was a chaos.

Lucky for us, we haven’t took out any of the food from the packages except for a slice of bread. We grabbed everything and moved to another bench. I don’t know why, but the pigeons didn’t flock us once we moved to another bench. And so we were able to continue with our picnic. We finished the bread and the beef. My companion was about to keep the oranges since he had no knife to cut through the skin. Both guys were amazed when I took out my ‘swiss army’ knife from my parka pocket. We (or rather the two guys, I avoid sour fruits that may cause stomach upset) had oranges as desert.

While we were queuing for the toilet, the other guy managed to figure out how take a bus to go to Pantheon and other places of interest. I welcomed the news for after climbing up and down the stairs, my right knee began to ache. I’d begun using my broken tripod as my walking stick. I could still walk, but at a slower pace. At the rate I was walking, it was almost impossible to see Rome in one day!

There were a three bus stops at the Piazza Venezia, ‘Yellow’, ‘Red’ and the last one if I’m not mistaken ‘Green’. The ‘Yellow’ and ‘Red’ buses are double-deck-open-top kind of bus. We decided to go for the ‘Red’ buses simply because the buses were higher than the ‘Yellow’ ones. The fare was Euro 16.00 for one day. We were given earphones. At each seats we could slot the earphones and listen to the explanation while the bus travel through the city.

According to the bus route map, the nearest stop to Pantheon was Piazza Navona. I told my friend who sat next to me that we should do two rides. On the first ride, we should just sat and see where the bus would take us. On the second ride, we should hop on and off to head to places of interest. He agreed. Little that we knew that our other friend didn’t know that the Euro 16.00 bus fare was for one day.

The bus drove northwestward of a main street called Corso Vittorio Emanuele. As the bus drove along the road, I looked left and right according to the voice from the earphone. Before long, I was lost as what monument the fellow was explaining and what was I seeing. I decided to just look at whatever I want to see and later consult my guidebook.

The bus crossed the river Tevere on a ‘elaborately’ (sculpture, carving and what nots) built bridge called Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II. Ponte must be Italian for bridge for I see it on every bridge in the map. From a distance we could see a huge brown building called Castel Sant’ Angelo. It was initially built as some sort of a family burial place for emperor Hadrian. Somewhere along the history line, it was turned into a fortress and now a museum.

Then the bus drove along a straight road, before stopping for three minutes. During the ride, I didn’t know that we were already in Vatican City. (At the end of the first ride I asked my companions where was the Vatican City, only to draw laughters from them. They told me that we were in Vatican City once we crossed the River and out of Vatican City once we crossed it the second time! Showed that I really wasn’t listening to the voice from the earphone. No wonder buildings in the area was funded by one priest after another.) At the stop, called San Pietro, there were some street vendors selling what I assume to be fake goods (handbags etc.) and some shawls.

The bus continued up the road, Via della Conciliazione. There were a round open space with lots of people. It was the Piazza San Pietro. The enormous building overlooking the piazza is Basilica di San Pietro. The bus turn into Via dei Corridori. If you looked up, along this road is a structure that looked like a corridor. If I’m not mistaken some pope or priest used this corridor to get to the Castel Sant’ Angelo from Basilica di San Pietro. The bus went through one of the archway underneath the corridor and straight to Via Crescenzio. Before long we were crossing the river for the second time, only this time we used Ponte Cavour.

The bus drove through the city of Rome. We passed numerous monuments, squares (piazza), and fountains. Some were built by Michelangelo. And some of the monument was brought from Egypt (the thing that looked like a squarish column). One of the fountain consisted sculptures of women in provocative positions. Some time in the previous centuries, the power to be in Rome decided that the sculptures were too provocative and immodest. Instead of tearing down the monument, they build a wall surrounding it – effectively blocking everyone’s view of the provocative women! I tried to find the name of the fountain in my guidebook, but fruitless.

The bus finally reached the Colosseo. We were on the second deck. With cold wind blowing to our faces, we were cold. We decided we need a break. We got off the bus, and walked to our hotel. Along the way, I stopped at a shop to buy fresh batteries for my back-up camera (Bummer, I ran out of battery while on the bus. So not much photos during the ride). It was 3.30pm.

After sprinting for the bus, we were back touring the city for the second time. The guys had no problem running to the bus stop. I was never a sprinter, so it was very hard for me. I was grasping for a breath when I finally got on the bus. It was especially harder to breathe in the cold air. Eventually I managed to calm down and enjoy the ride.

We wanted to get off at Piazza Navona to walk to Pantheon. Unfortunately, due to time constrain we had to scrapped the idea. By the time we reach San Pietro (this time I knew I was in the Vatican City), the sun was already setting in. We decided to get down at the Termini stop and grab some dinner.

We got down at the Termini stop. The guys wanted to find the halal restaurant for dinner. Me, food was actually last on my agenda. I had some buns (smuggled from breakfast) and snacks in my daypack. Again due to time constrain – the last red bus was at 7.30pm, we had to scrapped the idea. The guys settled with McD.

I didn’t want to order anything, but change my mind when I saw that they are selling hot coffee and bun for Euro1.80. Ordering the set meal was easy, but getting the right set was not (there were a few types of buns). As in Genoa, the staff didn’t speak English. The lady almost gave up pointing to the menu over our head (they don’t have those menu on the counter like in Malaysia), and just gave me a bun. Then I remember my T5. I drew the shape of the bun that I wanted and showed to the lady and her male colleague. They laughed and I joined them laughing. They finally gave me the correct bun. The hot coffee was refreshing and the bun was filling for my small stomach.

We walked to the bus stop in the cold night. The temperature showed on the little electronic information board was 3.5 degree Celsius. The Italian seemed to have installed these boards everywhere. I saw the boards were in most streets in Genoa, and now in Rome. And they seemed to show the temperature at that particular street (the reading varies from streets to streets).

We were on the bus. This time I settled for a seat at the lower deck. It was warmer. After the sprinting episode, I began to feel a little breathing difficulty. I suspected that it was due to the cold air. The bus finally moved fifteen minutes later. We reached our stop, Colosseo around 8.45pm.

So that was how I got to see Rome in one day!

note: Some of the photos in this entry are from my friend's camera. My back-up camera didn't perform up to my standard. So I lend my memory card to my friend and let him take more photos.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Away on a Road trip

No, not road trip in Rome. Yes, I know I should finish my Italy entries before starting a new topic. I can't finish my entry on Italy since I didn't bring my travel notes. I'm now in Melaka.

I have some work to do in Melaka. I initially wanted to do a day trip. But I was too lazy to drive. So I decided to take a room in one of those many guest house in Melaka. The guest house may look dubious, but don't be fooled. I got a decent air-cond room with attached bathroom for RM40 per night. Since no shoes is allowed in-doors, the floor is clean! There's at least three power points in the room (including one for the air-cond). And two types of lighting - bright white light, or two dim-warm light.

As much as I hate to shop, I went for shopping. I had to buy a set of clothing for work tomorrow! In between shopping and finding the room, I managed to go for some sight-seeing.