My random ramblings.

Posts tagged “Italy

Real interesting stuff you probably didn’t know about Florence

Some months ago, Bubbles and I and our nutcase friends, who by the way feature in my blog through periodic mention; visited Siena in Italy. (Read Siena blog here) We also paid homage to its  rival city: Florence. They say you either like one or the other, Siena for its gothic-style buildings or Florence for its renaissance-inspired architecture.

I can’t really make up my mind which city I prefer. It kind of represents the non-committal person I am…and like most psycho-analyses reveal, this one can be traced back to childhood.

Me: (I do something naughty and anger mum, then run around the dining table knowing mum can’t catch me)

Mum: (looking murderous like scary Goddess Kali and wielding a ‘rotan’ i.e. a feather duster that doubles as child-beating weapon) ARE YOU GOING TO COME HERE OR DO YOU WANT ME TO CATCH YOU? IF YOU DON’T COME HERE AND I CATCH YOU, YOU WILL GET TWICE THE BEATING!!

Me: ( I freeze on the spot and weigh the options. Little did I know that at the tender age of five I was already dealing with mathematical problems like ‘probability’ in my mind!)

But I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, Florence. Here’s Ponte Vecchio…one of the most recognised sights of Florence.

Ponte Vecchio does not boast of the pointed arches or elaborate mythical creatures that epitomise Gothic buildings. Instead it almost looks like a nondescript apartment over the river, but yet there is something enchanting about this structure, with its arched bridge crossing the Arno river.

The walk across the bridge is equally bewitching. There are interesting shops that line both sides of the bridge.

Apparently, the economic concept of bankruptcy originates here. When a merchant could not pay his debts, the table on which he sold his ware (the “banco”) was broken (“rotto”) by soldiers. This practice was called “bancorotto” – broken table, or possibly “bancorotta” – broken bank. Without his table, the merchant was not able to sell anything.

Interestingly, Siena hosts the oldest surviving bank in history; Monte dei Paschi, established in 1472. I can see signs of rivalry having its roots here. Bankrupt Florentians must have asked said bank for funds and got rejected in the face. 🙂

I think Florence and Siena have another distinct difference between them. Florence must have had all the muscular, macho men. How else would you explain the fact that only Florence is dotted with anatomically perfect statues such as this? 🙂

I reckon Siena must have had fatties (or flabbies!) as there’s not a single statue celebrating a man’s hot, muscular bod! That could also be where the rivalry originates…can you imagine the wrath stemmed by bodily insecurity and envy? 🙂

Here’s the Statue of Neptune. He’s a bit too bulky for my liking and there’s something odd about the kid standing between his legs. Wait a minute…he’s not a kid. He’s got pubic hair! So, there are two odd things about the kid-statue. Look at his ding-ding. It looks frayed at the edge!

Pray tell what that’s supposed to be! I’m intrigued. So there you go: possible another difference. Maybe there was so much testosterone coursing through the veins of Florentine men that they reached puberty at seven!

Sounds to me like architecture had nothing to do with the two cities’ rivalry. They each coveted what the other had! Like a lot of unproven historical research, I present to you these hypotheses so you can make a valued judgement. (I can tell I would be a very capable historian) 🙂

Have you noticed the frayed genital before or seen any other odd statues in Europe? Do tell me about it! 


Sienna Siena

Meet Siena: the city that lent its name to the colour ‘burnt sienna’. It almost seems ironic then that the very colour makes the city look monochromatic. A rust-coloured skyline greets the traveller from afar, as one approaches the heart of the city through its walled enclave. The atmosphere is unmistakably Italian: ancient and dusty like its southern sister, Rome.

As if decreed by the city, all windows are green; a bright contrast to the reddish brick buildings. One or two buildings stand in defiance, daring to be different.

Even the vespa I spotted is red. One has to wonder if the city’s colour theme is subliminally affecting the inhabitants’ choice!

The gelati too! Would you look at that…the ice-cream tubs have Siena’s signature colours!

By now I’m pretty convinced something is going on in that city. There’s some sort of colour-brainwashing going on. The “brain-washers” are probably operating amongst the average people. Could it be here?

Or here?

We wouldn’t know. We’ve probably fallen victim to it, too. We returned with a magnet of a red vespa.

Have you visited Siena? Were you enchanted by the (predominantly) monochromatic city, like I was?


Sky’s the limit!

It’s a year of many firsts.

For the first time in the 10 years of my life in the UK, I find that it is early May and we still have the heating switched on at home. It is raining every single day in spring. The skies are dull and grey like a winter’s morning.

I am filled with melancholy looking at my holiday photos, where not far from here the land was bright and sunny a few weeks ago.

The skies were a colourful splash of blue and white during the day.

The horizon glowed in the sunset. The world felt right.

And on the days when the sun hid itself, it was only so the clouds could show off their splendour.

They danced languidly in the sky. When night fell, the sun extinguished itself with one final display of grandeur. A rich blue hue enveloped the sky, before melting into darkness.

As if spellbound, I stood with my neck craned, gazing towards the skies.

For the first time, I didn’t photograph my subject with a bit of sky. Instead, I photographed the sky with a bit of subject.

(Note: No post-processing done to these photos.)


Europe = Best train service…really?

Hello peeps! Apologies for not writing in ages, but I was abducted by aliens sometime ago and only recently managed to escape and return to Earth. They were so enamoured by me they made me their Queen and begged me to rule their aliendom. It was a tough decision returning to Earth when one had been bestowed such an exalted position, but I couldn’t just abandon my faithful blog readers. So in no time, I plotted an escape plan and returned to Earth. The moment I returned, I threw myself into another holiday so I could blog about it and keep you fellow readers happy. I know…I take my writing obligations very seriously.

Bubbles and I and our nutcase friends went to Siena recently. We flew to Pisa then took the train to Siena. A quick research done weeks before our travels revealed that it was pretty much ‘turn up and go’ with the train from Pisa to Siena. It involved two interchanges at Pisa Central and Empoli and the whole journey would take 2 hours. We didn’t need to buy tickets in advance. Fantastic, I thought. My kind of laid back life where you just did things without planning too much. I come from a country where you just turn up at a clinic if you are ill. No appointments necessary. Not like in the UK where you need to make an appointment with your GP and by the time you get one you are practically clinging to your dear life. (nevermind the fact that I’m just talking about the common cold and no one expects you to go to the GP for that in the UK, but Malaysian doctors prescribe antibiotics for colds like they were Tic-Tacs!)

Anyway, ‘turn up’ we did at the ticket counter and bought our tickets for Siena. We were told the next train to Pisa Central was in 10 minutes. We ran to the platform and were greeted with a colourful, graffiti-adorned train.

Whatever happened to those new, shining aerodynamic trains I had somehow associated Europe with? Well, it was only a 10-minute ride to Pisa Central so I wasn’t too fussed about it. But we waited ages for the next train to turn up. The train to Empoli wasn’t exactly new and modern either. The UK’s intercity trains look like the Concorde of trains in comparison. The Italian trains looked like they were hand-me-downs from India!

It ended up being a long, dusty journey to Empoli (yes, no air-cond!), then another changing of trains for our final journey to Siena. We were in a perpetual cycle of boarding and alighting trains on the first day of our trip!

Where are Europe’s fast trains? Is it only reserved for the big cities? It made me a bit more grateful towards our UK trains. Maybe in terms of rail fares Italy was way cheaper, but at least the train experience in UK is better. When there are no delays. And no one puking or farting near you.


Where to travel in 2012?

It’s that time of the year again. A time of reflection and self-introspection. A time to either polish those trophies or wince at the near-catastrophes. Do you think about what you have achieved over the year, as it draws to an end? I do, but mostly I dwell on my globe-trotting achievements.

This was how about a week ago, I exclaimed to Bubbles, after a moment of absent-minded pondering –

“You know, we haven’t really gone anywhere this year, apart from our Europe trips.”

What do you we haven’t really gone anywhere? What about India and Malaysia??” exclaimed Bubbles, his voice reaching new soprano levels.

“Oops”.

How could I forget? Especially my most favourite trip in the whole wide world thus far – India? I tell you why. We went to India in early April and it just feels like it was ages ago. Cue we need to go again. 😉 Anyway, it’s got me thinking about where I’d like to go in 2012. So here’s a list of potential locations in no particular order. By no means does this mean we’ll cover all next year – unless of course we strike the lottery, or a very generous friend strikes the lottery and shares his/her winnings. (because that’s exactly what I would do for all my friends!) 😉

1. Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, Brazil

This is a National Park with a difference, as it supports no wildlife and practically no vegetation. Located in north-eastern Brazil, it is only accessible by four-wheel drives as the park is protected. The entire park is covered in sand dunes, and in the rainy season, spotted with lagoons from water collecting between the crevices of dunes. This creates a spectacular scene of swirling blue and green waters against white sand.

I’m not quite sure what I’d do once there, apart from ogling in wonderment at the scene before me. This is a park that probably wouldn’t rate highly on many top travel brochures, but that’s exactly why I like it: it’s the path less travelled and is still quite exclusive.

2. Dubrovnik, Croatia

Croatia…yes, the former war-torn country. Rich in history and heritage, and richer in unspoilt beauty, this is a must-visit place on my list. Dubrovnik was exalted to the position of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

The days could be filled with walks along the city walls, boating at the Old Harbour and short excursions to nearby islands. I sure could lure Bubbles with the prospect of having a beach holiday here…he loves beach holidays and complains we never go on enough of them!

3. Trans-Mongolian Railway Trip

I consider the Trans-Mongolian (or alternatively Trans-Siberian) rail journey the Rolls-Royce of holidays, especially the way Bubbles and I would do it. We would fly to Moscow, spend a few days doing touristy things, and then embark on the Trans-Mongolian rail journey. En route to Beijing, we would stop at one or two locations in Mongolia, one of them of course being Ulaanbaatar. Then, we’d spend a few days in China, and return by flight via Malaysia! So, with at least 5 stops it could be quite an expensive trip, but oh so worthwhile!

Speaking of Mongolia, did you know that Genghis Khan was the greenest conqueror in history? Unfortunately it’s not exactly an accolade…he has been labelled green because he killed so many people that swathes of cultivated land returned to forest!

4. Rome, Italy

Rome is a city Bubbles and I have been twice already, but would never shy away from an opportunity to go again! Plus both visits were during my pre-DSLR days, so I’d love to go again and take some proper shots of the wonderful and majestic city! I’d love to see the Colosseum again, wander around the Palatino, eat gelato by the Spanish steps and eat horrible Italian pizzas! (Did you realise how the pizza tastes horrible in its home country – well, at least in Rome?) 🙂

I’d also love to do some street photography here. The opportunities are endless for interesting people…mime artists, street artists, honeymooning couples, friends huddled over a tourist map…

I guess what they say about first love applies to travelling as well, Rome was the first city I visited in Europe, and it will always have a special place in my heart!

While in Italy, I’d love to go to Palermo too! The beaches are supposed to be fantastic (Bubbles would hope the b**ches would be too!) Plus I’d be able to sell it as a beach holiday to Bubbles…

5. Istanbul, Turkey

Bubbles and I keep wanting to go to Istanbul but we haven’t done it yet. It’s like one of those places that are very accessible and so you take it for granted that you could go any time, but never do! A bit like Devon and Cornwall for us, too…it’s about 2-3 hours away and we’d love to go there but haven’t!

We’ve heard Turkey is a real good place to go if you want to experience some of the Middle Eastern culture, but in a safer and friendlier place. Apparently you get none of the intimidating, overzealous touts and sellers that you do in places like Egypt.

You could also get a tick in the box for having visited a transcontinental country – Turkey straddles both Asia and Europe – okay, not a superbly unique quality, as other countries like Azerbaijan, Russia, Georgia, Egypt etc. share the same title, but still, it’s nice to know the place you’re going to has that extra something! 🙂

So, there you have it – my list of 5 places to visit in 2012 from the seemingly ordinary well-trodden path to the more exotic awe-inspiring, envy-causing locations! Where do you think you’d like to go in 2012? I’d love to hear about it…and potentially poach your ideas and land myself there! 🙂

Happy New Year!