Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Rome, Italy

Wed, 3 June 2015

Today morning we would be departing Venice for Rome at 9.25am and our train journey would take us 3 hrs 45 mins, passing through Florence (or Firenze) and arriving in Rome at 1.10 pm. Since we were hungry by the time we reached Rome, we went straight for lunch at one of the many halal eateries in front of Roma Termini.Our lunch of beriani lamb and kebab cost us around EUR15

Roma Termini for bus, train and Metro
halal restaurant in front of Roma Termini
beriani lamb
After lunch, we walked to our nearby hotel (or hostel rather) at Friendship Place. It is actually located in an old apartment building on the 6th floor and you have to ring the buzzer at the front door for the owner to let you in. You need to inform the owner of your expected time of arrival for her to receive you, otherwise you'd locked out in case she was running an errand. Our accommodation cost us EUR 60/ night excluding city tax of EUR3.50 per person per night and Wifi access of EUR 1 / night. During our stay, Senorita Barbara was on duty, giving our keys and explaining how things work, much like an airbnb arrangement. She gave us a helpful map of Rome as wel. But nevertheless, our room was cosy and breakfast is included in the rate, although it is served the earliest at 8am (as Barbara only arrives at 7.30am), so we didn't get the free breakfast on the second day as we had to leave earlier at 7.30am to catch our flight back to Amsterdam at 10.25am. On the day of our check out, the lift door at the ground floor was still locked (Barbara hasn't arrived yet), luckily the lift door on the first floor was unlocked, so we exited through there. Otherwise, we had to go down by stairs from the 6th floor.

front entrance door of the apartment building

our room at Frienship Place

old lift at Friendship Place

our simple breakfast
with Barbara

We only ventured out to Rome at around 4pm when it was already scorching hot in the beginning of summer. We bought a 48 hour Rome ATAC ticket which gives you access to rides on bus, metro, tram and urban train for EUR 12.50 which we bought from the self service machine at the Roma Termini Metro station. I read that there would be a lot of walking required to visit the places of interest in Rome, but we bought the pass nevertheless as some places are still accessible by public transport, especially the Colosseum.

We planned to buy the ticket to the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill Complex today (cost EUR 12/ person) and only access the complex the next day as it was already 4pm. This Complex is a Unesco Heritage Site under Historic Centre of Rome, the properties of the Holy See in that city enjoying extraterritorial rights and San Paulo Fuori le Mura.

Arriving at Colosseo Metro station, we went straight to the Roman Forum to buy the tickets as we the queue at Colosseo was longer. We read this tip online prior to our trip, and it was true! There was no queue at Roman Forum so we got our tickets in no time! To our surprise, we were told could access the Complex for 2 days, beginning today and could come back again tomorrow. Since we were already there, we decided to cover the Complex today and might continue tomorrow if we couldn't finish it.

We went to the Roman Forum first as it was nearest to the ticket counter. The Roman Forum is is a rectangular plaza surrounded by the ruins of ancient government buildings. It was the center of Roman public life: the venue for processions and elections, public speeches, criminal trials, gladiatorial matches and commercial affairs. Some of the surviving structures that are still visible today are the:
Temple of Antonio and Faustina: Begun in 141 AD by the Emperor Antoninus Pius and was initially dedicated to his deceased and deified wife, Faustina the Elder. When Antoninus Pius was deified after his death in 161 AD, the temple was re-dedicated jointly to Antoninus and Faustina
Arch of Titus: to commemorate Titus' victories, including the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD
Regia: originally served as the residence or one of the main headquarters of kings of Rome and later as the office of the Pontifex Maximus, the high priest of Roman state religion
Tabularium : official records office of ancient Rome, and also housed the offices of many city officials Gemonian stairs : a place for execution. The condemned were usually strangled before their bodies were bound and thrown down the stairs
Temple of Saturn: temple to the god Saturn
Temple of Vespasian and Titus : dedicated to the deified Vespasian and his son, the deified Titus
Arch of Septimius Severus: to commemorate the victories of Emperor Septimius Severus against the Parthians in 194/195 and 197-199

Temple of Caesar: dedicated to the senate deified Julius Caesar posthumously
Temple of Castor and Pollux : originally built in gratitude for victory at the Battle of Lake Regillus (495 BC), Temple of Vesta : All temples to Vesta were round, and had entrances facing east to symbolize connection between Vesta’s fire and the sun as sources of life
Facts taken from here

Temple of Antonio and Faustina
Arch of Titus

areal view of the Roman Forum

part of the Regia ruins

Map of the archeological ruins of Rome

From the Roman Forum, we walked to the Colosseum just opposite the Forum. The same ticket can be used at the Colosseum and there was no long queue. We had our bags inspected here. The Colosseum could hold, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators and was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in 72 AD, and was completed in 80 AD under his successor and heir Titus.

A note captured from the Colosseum revealed a grim scene of the Gladiator battles:
The spectacle day began in the morning with the presentation of all the participants (pompa). This was followed by the Venationes, hunts in which hunters tackled wild animals lurking among sets replicating the geographical contexts from which they came. During the lunch interval, when executions ad bestias took place, the condemned, naked and unarmed, faced the wild beasts which would eventually tear them to pieces. During the intervals, there were performances by jugglers, acrobats and magicians, as well as parodies and re-enactments of ancient myths. Finally, gladiatorial combats (munera) were held in the afternoon. Their origin, perhaps Estrucan or Samnite, was linked to funerary celebrations in honour of eminent individuals. The participants in these combats were usually prisoners of war or slaves, but some gladiators were free men seeking fame and fortune. There were numerous categories of gladiators, distinguished by their weapons and combat techniques. Those who were defeated in a duel could hope to be pardoned by the emperor or the audience, saving their life. Thanks to the popularity, the games (ludi) were often financed by politicians who hoped to curry favour with the public whereas intellectuals saw these spectacles as a means of swaying public opinion and as a cause of spiritual decadence.

Facts taken from here.

the colosseum

the colosseum

inside the colosseum

From the Colosseum, we made our way to the Trinita dei Monti and Spanish Steps via the Metro Spagna station. The Spanish Steps is a stairways of 135 steps linking the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti church at the top. Spanish refers to the Spanish Ambassador who lived there. At the right corner of the Spanish Steps is the house of the English poet John Keats. Perhaps, one should come here during spring when the ramps of the staircase are covered with flowers. During our visit there, the Trinita dei Monti church was closed for restoration works.

Spanish steps. Trinita dei Monti at the top is under restoration
Piazza Spagna at the base

From the Spanish Steps, we took the Metro from Spagna to Barberini station. We walked towards the Fontana de Trevi, but unfortunately the fountain was also closed for restoration works. According to legend, if you throw a coin into the fountain, you'd be returning to Rome again. Originally, the fountain was one of the aqueducts that supplied water to ancient Rome.

Fontana Trevi closed for restoration works

what Fontana Trevi would have looked like

We had dinner tonight nearby the Trevi fountain at a halal pizza eatery - Luna Caprese. The pizza is priced by weight, a bit on the high side compared to other full pizzas that we had. Our sliced pizza cost us about EUR 20. We also did some t-shirt shopping at the shops near the fountain (EUR 10 per t-shirt), but later found out that the shops near to our accomodation sell cheaper t-shirts (EUR 8 per t-shirt).

Luna Caprese facade

pizza by weight at Luna Caprese

Pinocchio shop near the Trevi fountain

We then went back to the Colosseum by metro to take pictures of the Colosseum at night then called it a day. Tomorrow we would be visiting the residence of the Pope - Vatican City - a country of its own.

the Colosseum at night


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Venice, Italy

Tue, 2/6/15

Today we would be heading to Venice from Milan. Our train to Venice today would be departing at 10.35 am and it would take about 2.5 hours to reach the Venezia Santa Lucia train station. Our train ticket cost EUR 37.50 which we bought at Milano centrale ticket machine. You could get a promo ticket if you purchase it much earlier which can be done online. Our ticket had a designated coach and seat. Unfortunately that day, our coach no. 9 had faulty air conditioning so the Trenitalia staff told us we could find seats at other coaches. We moved to 2 coaches away (it was too stuffy to stay put ), luckily no one was seated there until we reached Venice.

ticket to Venice

inside the train

Venice, or Venezia in Italian, is built on an archipelago of 117 islands formed by 177 canals in a shallow lagoon, connected by 409 bridges. In short, it is an island! It is located in the marshy Venetian Lagoon  between the mouths of the Po and the Piave Rivers. The canals serve the function of roads, and almost every form of transport is on water or on foot. It is car free! It is connected to the mainland by the Via della Liberta causeway. Cars can pass through the causeway but need to be parked at Piazza Roma, then you need to travel by foot or water transportation , the waterbus or vaporetti. You can also take the traditional gondola, but this is mostly for pleasure rides. A 30 minute ride via the gondola cost EUR 80 during the day and EUR 100 at night (starting 7pm)! This is the standard official rate as shown on signposts across Venice. If you ask the gondola driver (or gondolier) to sing for you, you might be charged more! A gondolier can be recognized by his signature striped shirt and hat.

Venice areal view. Image taken from here

crossing the Via della Liberta towards Venice

a Vaporetti
Gondola rates signage

the inside of the Gondola

A gondolier in action

A gondolier. Image taken from here

The buildings of Venice are constructed on closely spaced wooden piles. The foundations rest on plates of Istrian limestone placed on top of the piles, and buildings of brick or stone sit above these footings. The piles penetrate a softer layer of sand and mud until they reach a much harder layer of compressed clay.

The original population of Venice consisted of refugees from Roman cities near Venice. Other sources reveal the existence of fishermen on the islands in the original marshy lagoons. The first church erected was that of San Giacomo in the year 421. All facts excerpted from here

We arrived at Venice as per schedule and were mesmerized with the view of the Grand Canal coming out of the Venezia Santa Lucia train station. We stopped by at Quanto Basta, a halal eatery very near to the train station, and on the way to our Hotel Marte. We ordered a regular size (the maxi size was too big!) Margherita pizza (tomato and mozarella cheese) for EUR 5.50. We could watch the pizza making live from our table. It tasted really good as we were also famished. We then had the gelato (EUR 3.4 for 2 scoops) which came as a great delight under the scorching hot sun, it was the beginning of summer!

Venezia Santa Lucia train station

the Grand Canal view just outside the train station

Quanto Basta halal signage

Quanto Basta facade

our Margherita pizza was yummy with the succulent creamy hot cheese
pizza size and kitchen where you can watch live pizza making

Quanto Basta's gelato

enjoying gelato by the Grand Canal

We then continued to walk to our Hotel Marte, which was just 5 minutes away and refreshed ourselves a bit before venturing out again. We had to climb up the stairs for check in, and thankfully our room was just next to the check in counter. Our basic room cost EUR 100 for 1 night with free wifi and free breakfast of hot drink and croissant which we had at the cafe just below the hotel the next morning. We were greeted by a lady and her grandmother I assumed, who guessed our nationality correctly! Bravo senorita!

Hotel Marte facade

inside the room at Hotel Marte

our free breakfast

view in front of Hotel Marte
the bridge in front of our Hotel Marte

After refreshing ourselves, we walked to Piazza San Marco, or St Mark's Square, is Venice's biggest square where the San Marco Basilica , San Marco Campanile and Doge's Palace are also situated. The Doge's Palace was the residence of  the Doge of Venice, or supreme leader of the former Republic of Venice and now functions as a museum. The San Marco Basilica was first built in 828 as the chapel of the Doge and is now the Roman Catholic cathedral of Venice. San Marco Campanile is the bell tower of the San Marco Basilica and is 98.6 m tall, originally built in the 9th century as a watchtower or lighthouse. You can actually go up the bell tower to get an areal view of the Piazza overlooking the lagoon. For more facts, refer here

San Marco Basilica

San Marco Piazza

Doge's Palace

San Marco campanile

A bit of walk from the main Piazza to the connecting Piazetta San Marco lead us to the Molo or the quay at the Venice lagoon where gondolas are parked. We sat by the quay for a while, taking in the view of the sea and the busy Piazza with all walks of people. We then proceeded to walk to the Ponte di Rialto, one of the 4 bridges crossing the Grand Canal of Venice. It is the oldest bridge crossing the Canal, built in 1811. Unfortunately, it was under restoration during our visit, so we couldn't get a good picture of the bridge and there were many people too.

Venice's Molo lagoon quay

Ponte de Rialto

view from Ponte de Rialto

From the Rialto bridge, we walked towards the direction of the train station, effectively covering 3 of the 6 boroughs or sestieri of Venice: San Polo, San Marco and Cannaregio by walking. We crossed from San Polo to Cannaregio via the Ponte degli Scalzi bridge, crossing over the Grand Canal back to the train station.

views of the Grand Canal

the bridges of Venice

old Chiesa (church) of Venice
a narrow lane in Venice

the smaller canals of Venice

We then spent time shopping for souvenirs from the plethora of stalls selling fridge magnets, key chains, t-shirts, Venetian masks, Gondola driver costume and Murano glass, among others.  Dinner was Pizza at Quanto Basta again and another round of gelato. Interestingly, while walking around looking for souvenirs, one of the waiters at a trattoria (restaurant), asked a couple in front of us to come in his restaurant for free wifi, which he assumed were from Korea. Then looking at me with covered hair, he offered us halal food. So free wifi for Koreans, halal for Muslims were their marketing pitch ;)

souvenir stalls

Venetian mask

We hung around the ponte (bridge) in front of our Hotel Marte until nightfall and were rewarded with a stunning view of the Venice sunset from the bridge and some beautiful songs rendered by a live strings and guitar ensemble from a nearby restaurant. It was so beautiful that I recorded one of the songs.

sunset in Venice

dusk setting in Venice

beautiful night lights in Venice
walking in the Parco Savorgnan, next to Hotel Marte, the only green lung in Venice

Ah good night Venice, tomorrow morning we would be leaving for Rome.