Galileo's finger

Italy day 5: Ufizzi Gallery and how my shoes ate my feet in Florence [YQrtw Day 31 May 8]

Location: Florence, Italy

[I am writing this slightly tipsy from a 3.60 euro bottle of Italian sparkling wine. Hangovers await me.]

The morning was dedicated to the Ufizzi Gallery. The art museum is described as “one of the oldest and most famous art museums of the Western world” by our go-to resource, Wikipedia.

I was planning to take the light rail from the hostel to the train station to save my feet from too much walking but I found out that I would still need to walk if I take the train and that the travel time would be the same.

In the end, I walked to the gallery with the Taiwanese newlywed and a Chinese couple who came yesterday. The journey to the gallery is a 2km walk but with my crazy shoes, it felt like I was walking in hot coals.

I wore the 5 euro fake leather, made-in-China shoes I bought yesterday at Florence’s Tuesday market. I knew I should not wear new shoes when I need to walk but I convinced myself that I will never be able to wear it anytime during the trip anyway.

The shoes were narrow at the toes after I wore my socks. The sole was a terrible rubber that was a far cry from my darling Crocs. I had a few blisters at the end of the day.

When we got to the Ufizzi at around 8:30am, the line to queue for tickets didn’t seem very long. As I have the Firenze Card (72-hour museum pass), I could skip the lines and go straight in.

I got to the second floor (4 long flights of stairs) before realizing that I could not rent the audioguide there. It was another 4-flights down and 4-flights up before I got to start my tour.

Besides the gallery’s official audio tour (6 euros), I also brought along Rick Steve’s audio guide for Ufizzi. I had to juggle using both audio guides during the visit but it was quite worth it.

The museum was packed with great works. It took me about an hour to finish the very crammed first seven rooms.

I particularly loved the Botticelli room because all his female figures are gorgeous. Leonardo da Vinci’s helping hand in the Baptism of Christ, when he was an apprentice, is lovely. Leonardo drew the angels on the left.

No photos were allowed in the Ufizzi and I didn’t even bothered sneaking any photo. I did see many people not-so-secretly snap pictures.

By the time I was done, it was almost 12:30pm. I dropped into the Galileo Museum right next door since it was covered by the Firenze Card.

In the Galileo Museum, the most impressive things were Galileo’s fingers and the terracotta model of fetuses in difficult delivery conditions.

Galileo's finger

Galileo’s finger

Lunch time in Florence

After the museum, my feet were hurting really badly but I still had to drag myself around.

I stopped by tourist restaurant famous for its Florentine steak but ordered the cheaper lunch menu.

Lunch was lasagna and roast chicken. The lasagna was creamy and thick while the roast chicken pale but well-seasoned.

The bad thing about dining out in Italy is that they don’t serve tap water. Instead, they serve sparkling or still water at cheapest 1 euro a pitcher.

After lunch, I had another awesome cafe latte at the pastry store near Duomo.

The next part of the day was filled with a lot of aimless walking. Correction, I was trying to find obscure museums but my Google Map and physical map and internal map wasn’t coordinating.

Even when found sites with signs of Museo XXX, there wasn’t a counter in sight or the counter person said to come back another time. The mystical Italian business hour at work, I suppose.

I ended up visiting only the Opera del Duomo Museum to hide from the rain and to use the bathroom. In Italy, public restrooms can cost 1 euro a go or 50 cents at the nice coffee shop I like.

The greatest piece in Opera del Duomo was the restored Gate of Paradise. The golden panels were too small and high up so I didn’t really give it a good look.

Afterwards, I was hoping to visit another museum before I call it a day. Thanks to my terrible map skills, I ended up in a library with a nice courtyard. That wasn’t where I wanted to be but I spent about 10 minutes trying to read my book.

In the end, I decided to use Rick Steve’s Renaissance Florence tour but I walked in the opposite direction of its starting point.

I did go to one of the points in the audio tour so I stayed there and listened to the file all the way until Piazza della Signoria. Then I followed the audio guide right till the end. It began to drizzle halfway during the tour.

Since I was at the opposite bank, I walked in the drizzle for the cheap gelato. I picked chocolate chip and coffee in a cup. The gelato melted a little while I walked.

From the gelateria onwards, I gave up on humility and took off my shoes. I walked part of the journey with only my socks and a major part of my journey using my shoes as sandals.

When I got back, I realized that a huge blister formed on my toe and even on the soles of my feet where the skin is deep. Why!!

Florence Tuesday market

Italy day 4: Florence Tuesday market [YQrtw Day 30 May 7]

Location: Florence, Italy

Florence Tuesday Market

Today was Florence’s Tuesday market day. The hostel Aunty took me, another girl studying in France and the newlywed couple to the market which was just a walk away. (I wouldn’t really call it a short walk but it’s not too long neither.)

It turns out, most weekly markets are quite the same with lines of vendor selling things on makeshift tables.

What’s different about this market and the one back home is that people bring their dogs out. Vendors here that sell porchetta display a WHOLE ROAST PIG. There are also carts selling delicious coffee, serving the dark elixir in double layered plastic cups to prevent customers from burning their fingers.

Porchetta

The road for the market was very long. I managed to buy only a pair of 5 euro shoes and a bracelet which I thought was a necklace.

Aunty and us were separated on our way back from the other end of the market. We decided to feast on the local delicacies while waiting for her.

I bought a porchetta which was served in a jaw-breaking piece of bread. Some parts of the meat wasn’t seasoned well but when I hit the well-seasoned parts, it was heavenly. There were even bits of liver-like parts in my bread. Yum.

Our next stop was a gelatto place across the river.

We passed the US embassy along the way. The building was guarded by Italian officers in a brown-green uniform. They glared at us when we stood outside for too long to admire the river.

Finally we reached the gelato place and had a cheap two-scoop gelato for only 1.50 euro. The previous organic gelato I had in Pisa was 2.50 euro.

1.50 euro gelato in Florence

The Aunty took us down the road and pointed out to interesting places. We passed the Medici bridge and the Ufizzi (where there was a horrible queue).

We took time to admire the fake David’s naked body (there are plenty of naked bodies around, keep your pearls out for lots of clutching).

Then we were at a cafe at the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. The latte macchiato was so tasty! The cup was a larger serving than a cappuccino and was well worth the 1.60 euro. I heard that the desserts are to die for too.

While at the cafe, we used its toilet. The washroom was guarded by a lady and there was a entry fee box where everyone had to drop money before going in. This didn’t stop the line from hold at least 4 persons at any time.

Santa Maria delle Floire

After oohing and aahing at the beautiful exterior of the basilica, we stopped at Bifolli Shop which was packed with gorgeous toiletries. Since I did not have any luggage space, I was torn between a lavendar (my all time favorite plant) or a spice and patchouli (smells great on my skin) perfume.

In the end, spice won out. I am now a proud owner of a 19 euro perfume which I hope can mask my backpacker scent (not that I know if I have any).

On our own

Aunty brought the student back to the hostel, leaving me with the Taiwanese newly wed. They are a very great couple, allowing me to tag along with their shopping.

We checked out many candy shops, leather shops, souvenir shops. We walked from one end of the sights to the other and walked more.

The highlight of all this walking was the Plaza Michealangelo (and the Rose Garden along the way). The lowlight of all the walking was the slope to the plaza.

From the plaza, you can see beautiful Florence. It looks more like a medieval town than the present. I did wish that I could ride on a dragon back to town.

View of Florence from Plaza Michaelangelo

We walked back to the hostel. According to Google Maps, the journey would take us 40 minutes.

We did manage to drag ourselves back, stopping by a supermarket along the way.

At night, we had dumplings for dinner. I’ve been having Chinese food these few days because of where I am staying at.

Florence Cathedral

Italy day 3: Cloudy day in Florence [YQrtw Day 29 May 6]

Location: Pisa, Italy
Location: Florence, Italy

Breakfast at Hotel Moderno was a self-service breakfast bar. The layout was very cute. I gorged on coffee (even this cheap drink is so tasty here) along with a piece of toast slathered with butter.

Breakfast bar at Hotel Mordeno, Pisa

My train to Florence left at 11:11am. It was a non-stop service which meant that it was punctual and very fast. It took 49 minutes to get to the city, in contrast to an hour or so on the normal train.

The owner of the hostel I was going to stay at wasn’t at the station as she promised to. For 5-nights, I will be staying at a Chinese-run hostel 民宿, an accommodation I first discovered in Barcelona. I’ll write a follow of this type of hostel soon.

I called the aunty and she said she will come and pick me up. I waited a while before I saw a Chinese lady waving her hand at me. She immediately started talking about how we should start sightseeing a little before we go back.

I stored my bags with one of her Chinese friends who sell souvenirs opposite the train station. Then we went to a Chinese grocery store where we even used the bathroom.

It turned out that Aunty and her friend wanted to go shopping and I was tagging along. However, they did point out the good eateries and even introduced me to lampredotto (made from the fourth and final stomach of a cow, says Wikipedia).

Yummy cow stomach sandwich--lampredotto

I told them I would go and explore on my own so they can go shopping. For an hour, I circled the Florence Cathedral which was a piece of art from every single angle. From the photos, you can’t tell that the walls are pretty with green borders and flowers but up close, there is so much detail.

Florence Cathedral

While sightseeing, it started drizzling. I hid in the sidewalks of some of the closed shops, admiring the cathedral all the time.

I also popped into a makeup store and bought eyeliner. I have been travelling without eyeliner for almost a month! It’s time I get some clothes for my eyes.

When it was time, the other aunty picked me up. She showed me the way back to the hostel/house after we picked up my luggage. My backpack was so heavy that I felt that the girl from [spoiler!] Shutter was on my shoulders.

I was allowed to pick one of the free beds in the 6-bed dorm. I chose the one on the lower bunk because I like having a roof on top of me.

I met a newlywed Taiwanese couple after my check in. Later, they went shopping while I stayed in the house, drinking Ceylon tea, downloading Rick Steve’s audio guides and finishing my posts.

The dorm also has dinners for those who wish to eat in. Too lazy and cold to head out, I ate the meal. There was Chinese pig trotters (yummy) and a magically yummy bean-sort of stir fry.

Later in the evening, I met the other two Taiwanese girls in my room. One also quit her job but she was only travelling for 40 days in Europe. The other was studying in France for her last semester.

It’s quite nice getting to know people even though I’m some times antisocial.

Leaning tower and friends

Italy day 2: Pisa [YQrtw Day 28 May 5]

Location: Civitavecchia, Italy
Location: Florence, Italy

I took a morning walk in chilly Civitavecchia to warm up before breakfast at the bar behind the B&B. (Turned out the bar was closed today.)

When I found out that the bar was still closed, I headed back to my room and packed everything. The reason I suddenly became so interested in packing was that I wanted to delay going into a local cafe for breakfast. (It’s so scary!)

Anyway, I did visit the local cafe/bar called Bar Europa and ordered a cappucino and a pastry. Go me!

It wasn’t easy going there for breakfast since I am terrified of interacting with people. I had to dare myself to go to the place. “I’ll bet you don’t dare buy breakfast, you chicken!”

Breakfast in Italy

I wandered around aimlessly after breakfast. Thank goodness Civitavecchia has free Wi-Fi on the main street which I used to contact my family.

I did buy a SIM card but there was a BIG problem. Even though I bought my Italian SIM card from Wind yesterday evening, it wasn’t activated in the morning.

It wasn’t until 12 noon and a bit of fiddling by the man who sold me my SIM card that my phone started working. This is the longest I’ve waited in any country for my SIM to work.

Fast forward to after my check out and after my SIM card finally worked, I had Middle Eastern for lunch and went to wait for my train at the station.

Interestingly, my express train was on time. Yesterday’s slow trains to and from Tarquinia were both late by 10 minutes.

The view from the train was beautiful. There were meadows of wild flowers, puffs of sheeps grazing and even a view of the coast. It’s true that Tuscany is beautiful.

At around 3:50pm, we stopped at a station. I checked Google Maps which told me that we have 120km to Pisa. I didn’t think we could cross 120km in 20 minutes but miraculously, we did!

My hotel in Pisa is near the train station. I’m grateful for that because it means that I do not have to carry my heavy backpack (it has gained weight, along with me, after our cruise.)

Being the cheapo tourist that I am, I decided to walk from the hotel to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Thank goodness for Google Maps or I will be very lost while travelling.

The journey from the hotel to the tower was filled with cute old buildings. Almost 1 out of 10 people were walking their dogs. Six out of the 10 seemed to be tourists.

I didn’t turn on Google Maps while walking so I was a bit off course. (If this is the magical “getting lost” that travel pros tell us to do, I’d rather not have that much of it and get to my destination fast.) Being off course meant that my first view of the Leaning Tower was from its back.

I saw the tip of the tower first and giggled. Finally! I’m meeting the famous tower. When I saw the tower, I was surprised that it was bigger than I imagined. Usually, we see a faraway shot of the tower so seeing it being thick at the waist was a surprise.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

The highlight of the area wasn’t the tower but the exhibition in the different buildings. The entrance to the four buildings (excluding going into the tower) is 9 euro but the things you get to see is worth a lot more than that.

There were carvings, frecos, tracings behind frescos, golden wine cups, tapestries, stone coffins, and many many more. The cathedral (which is free) has a most gorgeous interior.

My check list for Pisa was all ticked after the visit. Dinner was gelato and strawberries. I passed by a gelato shop and bought a cone with macademia (yums!) and coffee (hmm…).

Strawberries were on sale at a fair and I bought 3 packs for 5 euros. This was the second night I had strawberries for dinner.

Strawberries of Italy

Etruscan museum show case

15th cruise day, Italy day 1: Tarquina day trip [YQrtw Day 27 May 4]

Location: Legend of the Seas
Location: Civitavecchia, Italy [Day trip to Tarquinia]

Initially I thought I had to leave the ship at 6:00am. Thank goodness the timing was more generous and I left at 8:30am. There was a shuttle bus from the ship to the entrance of the port which saved everyone lots of walking.

I was supposed to reach my B&B at 8:00am. I timed myself carefully but couldn’t find the place and got lost. In the end I did find the correct square and a lady brought me up to my room.

My room was very cute. A red sofa and a super cushy bed. Of course, I did not have time to lie in bed all day so I got ready to head out to Tarquinia for the Etruscan tombs which John and Liz from the cruise recommended.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out the doors of the B&B. The main door was heavy and the electric lock didn’t seem to open. When I tried to go back to the apartment, the house door’s key hole was horizontal and I took forever to figure out how to unlock it. One of the guests at the B7B showed me that I need to push really hard to get the door to open.

Damn Italian locks

So finally, I was on my way to Tarquinia. The next train to the town was coming in more than an hour. I met a few cruisers I know while waiting for the train. One group was heading to Florence while the other group to Sienna.

Our train came, 10 minutes late, and everyone pushed their heavy luggage up the rungs. I was luggage-less and managed to find a seat by the window.

The train sped through the Tuscan countryside. The view was amazing. I saw a lot of fields, some vineyards, puffs of brown sheep, oceans of wild flowers in purple, orange and yellow.

Since Tarquinia was only 2km away from Civitavecchia, my stop came very soon. After getting off the train, I immediately got on a bus which had a very handsome driver. (Squee.)

My first stop was the tourist information center where they give you 10 minutes free of Wi-Fi in exchange for a copy of your passport. I updated my mom and my Google Map within the tiny time frame.

The museum was about 10 meters away so it made sense to head there first. I used my *ahem* student card and got a 4 euro ticket that came with a visit to the tombs.

The museum is housed in an old building. Even though it seemed small, it was packed with Etruscan goodies. The Etruscans lived in Tuscan areas but eventually disappeared after being conquered by the Romans.

Etruscan museum

The sarcophagi on display were quite cute. Each sarcophagus has a person carved on the lid of it. Most of the carvings were “banqueting”. Some were leaning towards the visitor in the right way while some looked like someone stuck a head on the shoulders of a carving and violently snapped the neck.

I particularly like the Greecian pots in the museum. They looked exactly like the Greek pots they show on TV and encyclopedia. I even found those with my favorite Greek deities Athena and Hermes.

After the museum, I walked around aimlessly. Suddenly, I heard a lot of cars honking. It turned out to be a post-wedding procession.

Tuscan wedding procession

Unpleasant lunch

Later, I ventured into a local restaurant. On the menu, there was a first and second course page. It turned out that the serving of the first course was tiny. I ordered a second course of pork steak which was yummy.

Small plate of pasta

However, the experience was marred by the restaurant guy. One of the tourist/customer must have said something terribly insulting to him when she paid. The restaurant guy was rude afterwards and complained in Italian really really loudly (shouting kind of loud).

He went on and on and on. It was very uncomfortable. He should have dared told the customer what he was not pleased with instead of acting like a child.

After the unnerving lunch, I walked around some more and decided to head to the bus stop for the tombs. The bus never came so I go on the bus back to the train station to catch the train to Civitavecchia.

Train to Civitavecchia

I walked around some more in the small town and bought a SIM card. The card gave me headaches until the next noon.

I found a Carrefour and bought strawberry and ricotta. Bad move. I didn’t realize that the ricotta was dry-ish and tasted nothing like yogurt. Italian cuisine fail, YQ.

So I “feasted” on strawberries and surfed the internet.

At 9:00pm, I ventured out to see what was lurking in the night. Civitavecchia seems more lively at night with well-dressed Italian youths sitting in the cold, talking over beer.

Tourists from cruise ships in the day are replaced by Italians. Is it because Civitavecchia is far enough from Rome to be considered edgy by its patrons?

It was too cold to walk around any more so back into the warm B&B I went. I found a painting of Mary and baby Jesus on the wall of the building.

Ave Maria

Old Timey Florence, vintage, florence, commons

YQrtw: Why Italy

[I’m stealing my mom’s mobile broadband to post these posts. Thanks mama! Let’s get back to our regular program.]

After floating about at sea for 15 nights for my round-the-world (RTW), I will be in Italy–the land of gelato, cappucino and pizza. Buon appetito.

Old Timey Florence, vintage, florence, commons

Old Timey Florence

Photo credit: Library of Congress

I must confess. Italy was not in my “MUST VISIT” list when I was first making plans. [By now, I know most of you will be like: YQ! Stop telling us you didn’t want to go to a country but ended up going anyway.]

Hear me out! I didn’t want to go to Italy because I felt that it was too touristy and would be more expensive than the other countries.

Besides higher-cost, I felt that since I was headed to Greece, I could skip Italy. My theory was that the Roman Empire followed the Greek Empire so I can see even more ancient stuff if I head to Greece. Of course, I did not take into consideration my lack of knowledge in ancient European grography and history.

In the end, Italy fell into my lap because it was the last stop of the cruise I will be going on.

Turns out, Italy is more exciting than I thought it would be.

I have 10 days in Italy (to divide my 30 days equally among the three European country I am visiting). As I like to travel slow, I plan to base myself in Florence for most of the time. If I get too bored in Florence, I’ll take a day trip elsewhere.

I’m not too keen on Venice because of the flock of tourists that will be there. Plus, I heard that Venice is not the cheapest Italian city to be in.

Travel plans for Italy

My travel plans for Italy is the most concrete among my other plans (including Sri Lanka which I will be heading in about a week’s time.) I’ve booked two 19 euro tickets, which is kind of a bargain.

My cruise will land at Civitavecchia. After a night there, I will head to Pisa before taking the train to Florence.

I plan to spend most of my time in Florence to look at the beautiful things they have there. My only regret about Florence is that I didn’t manage to finish Assassin’s Creed 2 which had a walking map of old Florence. I blame my old computer for that.

For the last three days of my trip, I will head to Italy’s capital Rome. I am not very sure what I want to do in Rome but I’m sure I’ll be able to pack all three days to the brim.

In Italy, I want to eat a lot of pasta, gelato and pizza. My stomach is hungry just thinking about these three food.

Have you been to Italy? What do you recommend doing there?

Old timey cruise

YQrtw: Why a repositioning cruise

We’re sort of back on schedule with my daily round-the-world (RTW) posts.

Today, we are talking about my 15-night repositioning cruise from Dubai to Europe.

Old timey cruise

Old timey cruise


Image credit: Australian National Maritime Museum

The cruise was the first booking I made for my RTW. After paying the deposit, I felt that the RTW was going to come true. It also helped with choosing travelling dates for the rest of my trip.

I planned to cross either the Atlantic or Pacific ocean on a cargo ship but the price wasn’t cheap enough.

In the end, I found out about repositioning cruises which are ships that travel during off-peak season back to popular starting points.

Pros and cons of a repositioning cruise

Pros

  • Cheaper per night than the usual cruise
  • Long sailing period (so much water! and sunsets on the ocean)
  • One-way (so I do not need to backtrack)
  • Full of retirees (so I don’t have to see party animals)
  • Unlimited food (vs cargos with three meals)
  • Stops at a few important locations (one-day excursion!)

Cons

  • Large one-time payment
  • Long sailing period (with few stops at shores)
  • Full of retirees (who have the time to travel on a long stretch of time)
  • Expensive (not the usual price of a budget flight and not recommended if you are on a round-trip journey)
  • High single surcharge (vs budget flights)
  • Short stays at shore

Cost of repositioning cruise

When I made the booking for the cruise from Dubai to Italy, my booking charge was around S$2,000. I felt it was a reasonable price since it included transportation and lodging.

I paid the final fees in early February. However, I was shocked when I did a search and found out that the type of room I booked for was going at an even cheaper rate.

My friend advised me to call up the cruise company and tell them that I am upset about the price difference. I did make and call and was surprised when the operator told me they would refund the difference.

The refund turned out to be S$599.75 which is a really hefty sum and could help me with many nights in a cheap location.

I still need to pay about S$200 of tips for the whole trip but I haven’t made the payment yet.

While I’m very excited about the cruise, two of my friends who have been on cruises told me that it is actually really really boring. Gulp! I guess I’ll have to find out myself.

Have you been on a cruise? How was the experience? Will I be bored out of my mind?