Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Europe 102: Lean with the Tower

The Bell Tower

What made traveling through Europe convenient is their trains. Not exactly for long travels but for shorter trips. I can hear Sheldon says "Boo! Yeah!" :D While in Florence, we decided to have a day trip in Pisa. Initially, there were some problems in all the scheduled trips to Pisa so we decided instead to go the next day. It was also the first time that we (mostly him, I just watched) used their ticket booths translated to multiple languages (and I mean, more than 2). In the Philippines, we usually just have either Filipino or English language in our booths or machines. So, for me, it was pretty cool but I wouldn't dare touch any other languages than English.

The Leaning Compound - Cathedral & Bell Tower
I am particularly excited about this trip because Pisa's architecture has been used as part of some physics problems. Although, I could barely remember what the problem was... or any other physics problems actually. I'm either physically absent or mentally absent. It's mostly the latter. ;) But what I do remember is the architecture itself... the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Basically, because its leaning naturally. I really wanted to have a look at it and continue to wonder why it's still standing. Plus, it makes a really fun picture. ;)

One thing is for sure, you won't get to see the tower at the city center itself. Going to the tower, we passed over the Arno river, same river that passes through the city of Florence. What I really like about being at bridges in Italy is that you can see the colorful buildings alongside the river. And this scene is also present in Pisa. They look something like a mixture between legos and doll houses. Like they were really arrange into some kind of order.

The Tilted Bell
Anyways, what surprises me when I arrived there is that not only is the bell tower that is leaning but the other buildings as well. This is something that's not mentioned in those physics problems. So, it's really not really about the tower but the grounds in that part of the city. Trivia: Because of the weak foundation of the ground, the tower had been leaning gradually throughout the years. However, the guide told us that because of the recent construction, the tower will be stable for another 200 years more. Whew! Good! We still have 200 years to enjoy climbing the tower. And we did! :)

It was both tiring and fun to climb the tower. Tiring... well, for obvious almost-300-steps reason. And fun because you get to see the marks of the steps at the stairs... and the marks always leads to the side (not the center). So, we climb and climb... and now I know how almost-300 steps feels like with boots on. However, the view at the top is breathtaking. From there, you can already see the entire town of Pisa. And not so surprising is that the bell of the tower looks tilted.. but then we know that it's not the bell but the tower that is tilted. Cute, right?

Boots over Tower
In the Internet, I saw a lot of fun pictures that people do with the tower (from the ground). So, we made sure that we don't made a copy of their poses. Although, I doubt that ours are originals. With the popularity of the place, I'm sure someone somewhere have already made the same. Anyways, whether its a copy cut or not, it was still fun.

We didn't go to anywhere else around Pisa but the tower alone and the cathedral on the side is already a sight to see. I could imagine myself back inside the classroom, watching my prof drawing the tower with chalks all over him and the board is filled with measurements, angles, some computations on the side. All I can see is the tower the rest are blurry. And it seems surreal that I've been in it... and leaned with it.

Next appointment, the Pope! Ciao!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Europe 102: Meeting David

A few weeks ago, I asked a friend to recommend me some books to read. And the one she recommended was Gabriel's series by Sylvain Reynard. The book is on the “romance” category... as of the “level” of romance, you just have to read it for yourself. I generally love romantic stories in whichever form... vampires, angels, humans, or a mixture of all these. So, I knew that I'm also going to enjoy this one. While reading on it, I started to get a hint of why my friend recommended it. Nope, it's not because of the romance content in it but where the romance took place... Florence. It did describe the place as I have experienced and seen myself. Since then, I already got an itch to write about this place but my little OC side have to follow some chronological order first.

Firenze, Not-The-Centaur

My first European train... from Venezia to Firenze.
The Italian city of Florence was “supposedly” our first stop before our surprising little detour. So, I already dig up a bit of information about the place. But since it was my first time in Europe, I still don't know what to expect, particularly the atmosphere. When I knew about its Italian name, Firenze, a centaur gets into mind... everyone who don't know about Florence but read Harry Potter series would know what I mean. I just have to take note that it was also my first ride on the train, particularly the Italian train. I'm a sucker for first times (I think I've said it before), so, this one is exciting for me. Since we already got eTickets with us, we already skipped the ticket booths at that time (but we did it on the next trip). Trains... I know Sheldon would love trains... it wasn't really my first time in trains but the longest ride I had taken before this was probably a 15-minute-ride (or less) in an MRT. Unfortunately, there's really not much to see since it's already getting dark (at 5pm!) except maybe passing on the bridge. So, we just settled in and enjoyed the ride mostly playing some apps and reading some info about the city... and maybe more games.

The main thing that's on my mind at that time was the idea of “stepping into Florence”... its still all so surreal for me... it's more like listening to some rich social circles that they just had a vacation in Florence. I know I should already get over it since I have been to Venice but it's not... I've got the feeling of “kilig” all over again. As I imagined, it was a very charming city... as charming and  rich in culture as Venice... only with wider (cobbledstone) streets. :D Although, I really had fun walking on these streets, it's no fun for the one who's dragging our humongous luggage. Not only is it challenging to drag, it is also quite noisy. I'm just glad I didn't have to do that (sorry, buddy :* and thank you :*). But that's the only thing that I dislike about these streets. In general, I just love it. I love how it just simply adds vintage character to the entire place. I might sound lame but it did add up character and feel into this whole European experience. That happens when you grew up with walking either on earth grounds (with normal roads) or beach sands.

David, The-One-Without-The-Clothes-On

is in Florence!
One of the things I'm excited about Florence is their architectures and arts... after all its considered to be the birthplace of Renaissance, right? I have very limited (if there's any) knowledge in art, so my interpretation of Renaissance art would be nude sculptures and paintings, particularly David (by Michaelangelo). And dang! These statues are almost everywhere! Well, not all of them are in full-mode nudity, some have barely clothes on and some almost have full clothes on. I don't think I've ever been to a place where there are art statues all around you... outside in a plaza. You get most of these Florentine statues outside the Uffizi gallery building or when you go to Piazza della Signoria. In this piazza, you can see great statues already... the ones that stuck in my mind were the Fountain of Neptune, The Rape of the Sabine Women, Persues with the Head of Medusa, and of course David (a copy). Did Italian men just walk around like David during the Renaissance age? Whew! They would definitely freeze in winter. :D Although, I was a bit conscious staring at these statues, after a while I got the hang of it and just really appreciate it for what it really is... a detailed expression of the reality from the artist's point of view. I already admire their passion in creating these pieces especially in that time in history. A time when people just started to find the liberty to really express what they feel in whichever way they want.

Sights of Florence

Partial side view of the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral
Aside from that, the city also have really great architectures including Santa Maria del Fiore, the third largest cathedral in the world. It's so huge that you can't even take a picture of the whole church. If this is the third largest, I couldn't imagine how big the largest would be. From the inside, you can't really imagine how large it is until you stand on the side of one the pillars or statues. The statues were like twice or thrice as big as I am... that's just the statues. The ceilings are designed with gold plated mosaics with some other materials on it... simply amazing. In front of the cathedral is the Baptistery which accordingly might be the first Christian church in the city. I think I'm just in awe standing in the middle of the street looking and absorbing all these scenes despite the drizzle.

Since, I'm already talking about arts and history, I think we were deciding between visiting either Uffizi and Museo Galileo. I decided to go for Museo Galileo because I was more interested to see his old stuffs... imagine what scientist use before computer was even invented... plus the fact that I don't know much about arts... :D Looking at the old telescopes and different globes was really fun, I feel like I'm a kid again. I could imagine, Sherlock Holmes using one. And I didn't even know that there are terrestrial and celestial globes... I just know a globe period. Whenever I see a globe (that type that I know), I'm just excited to locate the Philippines. Do they know that a little archipelago exists over here? Amazingly, they did... maybe not the accurate location, shape, or name but they did include our little island. One thing that's not cool though, was that my video guide kept shutting off, I think I had to go back at the counter twice. But other than that, it was fun. I just realized that while I'm looking at those old classic telescopes, the one I'm with is operating probably one of the biggest telescopes in the world.

The art gallery of Piazza della Signoria
Generally, walking on the streets was like walking in a fashion runway... it's like, presenting the winters collection. It was just wonderful to see people glamed-up even if it's winter. Anyways, moving on... while we were there just walking around the Piazza della Signoria, a group of teenagers did a mob dance. It was really fun, it's just a pity that the kids back home we're not able to see it. They also give free hugs and free kisses. I wonder what the occasion was. One thing for sure, these Italians love to have some fun. No, I didn't get those hugs and kisses. I don't know why but my shyness sinks in... maybe next time, Italians! ;)

One thing that should not also be missed in any Florence trip is the view of the Arno river. If Venice has Rialto bridge, Florence has Ponte Vecchio (“Old Bridge”). It's one of the busiest bridges in Florence and there are two other bridges that you can cross over at the other side of the city. These bridges was apparently spared from the attack during the war because the leader found it so beautiful to just destroy it. Yes, it is that beautiful. I think it was also the first time that I've really observed those locks on the bridge. It's a tradition that couples put their locks in one of rails (I don't know the exact term) and they throw the key into the river to symbolize that they're love will be forever. I think that also adds up to the romance feel of the river and Florence itself. It's a pity we didn't bring locks with us.

View of the cathedral from Boboli Gardens
On the other side of the river, you should not also miss the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. Why is it a must to go here? From the foot of the garden, you can get a bird's eyeview on the main city of Florence. It's cool for a panorama picture. You can really see the dome of the cathedral from the top. The garden is just so huge, it will probably take an entire day or two to just roam around the garden and the palace itself. At this day, the weather cooperated very well so we enjoyed it and is a different sight from the busy streets of the main city. I could imagine that it would be a better sight to see with flowers during the summer. Note to self, Florence for all seasons.. :D

My Tuscan Desire

Ponte Vecchio at night
When we were planning to go Italy, the thing that easily associate with the place are pizza and pasta. It's no kidding, if Switzerland have an entire section of cheeses in their grocery store, Italians have an entire store of just 90% pasta. My guess, is that they have ALL kinds of pasta. Anyways, I already eat my first pizza in Florence, so we also tried to take on some pasta. It's also no surprise that it was reaalllyyy good. But one of the biggest surprise is one of their soup, Tuscan soup, Ribollita. Maybe we got lucky with the ristorante that we dine but oh, my God, it was heaven! Ribollita is the one word that I will probably never forget... ever. Reading on the menu, I found out that it was made from left over food. And I was like, “Uh-oh... how can I possibly recreate this?” Yeah, you read it right. The big challenge is: I have to eat an Italian food before I will have an Italian leftover... then(!) I will have my Ribollita. Whew! I think you will also have an idea that I'm an excellent at eating but I'm stupid at cooking. I'm just glad that there's internet now. Someday, I'll be able to do it myself. Another note to self... set target for this year.

The question is: will I ever go back to Florence? Am I kidding myself?! In a heartbeat, I will... but maybe not in winter. There was a day when it was raining hard that we just have to wait for the rain to subside. On the other hand, that was also the only time that we were not walking and just sit down outside. Anyways, we had to go back because we missed putting that lock on that bridge... and besides, I also want to experience walking on cobblestone with sandals on. ;)

Next... a day trip at Pisa. Ciao!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Europe 102: A Surprise Detour

… A side note: It's been a long while since I wrote something about my Europe trip. Too many things have passed by... the school year have passed by... beloved ones have passed away... Lenten season has ended and Easter has been celebrated... labor day... etc... etc... so now, we move on to where we have left off ;)..

Planning a trip is not a one-time task... you check for flight & train schedules, accommodations, and of course what to do and where to go. Planning also helps you maximize the time you spent in a place so that the experience will compensate with your expenses both time and money. My trip partner told me that he can't just make up the plan alone because he had to ask me where I want to go and what I want to do... hence, I created my checklist.

You could imagine that this trip was a result of regular consultations and queries. After the “final” schedule has been made, I told him that it would be hard for him to create a surprise “something” for his special someone (whoever that might be). And maybe now you can guess that it was a weak conclusion and yes, I was mistaken. Somehow, he was able to slip “this” particular trip in within the schedule.

A Confused Me
The left part of my brain says "A surprise Venice get-away" 
and the right part said "Nope. Not in the plan.". I guess, my
left is right. Or vice versa whichever is which. :) 

After a few days in Switzerland, we plan to head off south on our first destination, Italy... but not the Italian city that was previously planned.. definitely not “this” one. So, when he told me that we were leaving Wednesday (we're supposed to leave on the next day), I was already beginning to wonder but dismissed it right away as probably just a change in the flight schedule. Maybe I was a bit hazy from all the snow that when I was looking at our e-tickets, I didn't recognize the name of our destination: Venezia. I wondered. But no reaction. I was thinking, maybe it's the name of the airport of the city (I know, it sounds dumb :S).

So, we checked in on my very first inter-European flight. The staff at the counter mentioned some destination that we're going: Venice. I again wondered. But no reaction. I guess I was so caught up with this first-inter-European-flight thought that the we-are-going-to-Venice thought did not sinked in yet. Then, we took our boarding passes, and I look at it: Venice. I wondered again thinking “Ahm.. this doesn't sound right.”. But again, no reaction. I was more caught up in getting into the line through the gate.

After getting pass through the airport scanner before getting into the gate, we looked at the screen showing the scheduled flights and their gate number... when I looked at the different cities, that's when it finally(!) dawned on me... that we are NOT going to the place where we originally plan to go... that we are going to a place called Venice (in Italian, Venezia)... AND that “this” place is THE Venice...! I wish I could see the grin on my face and make a caricature of myself (if only I can draw)... somehow, the man pull out a surprise for me and it took me THAT LONG to realize what it is... for a moment, I felt stupid... it was a surreal feeling, not the stupidity but the idea of being there.

Moving on... Since this one is not on the original plan, I haven't done any initial research. No download iPod app (although, he has one on his tablet).. So, what do I know about Venice? Gondolas, cobblestone streets, romance, and luxury.. yes, the idea of just going there sounds super luxurious... and I don't know why it is described as a romantic place... so in summary, I have no idea. I, therefore, concede that an ordinary girl like me knew nothing of what Venice is. Also, it's too late to google search. Good thing I have a trip partner, who at least gave me a bit of introductions.

Benvenuti a Venezia!

A different look at the Victor Emmanuel monument ;)
One thing amazing that I discovered about Venice that you should know (if you haven't google it yet): it's a man-made city.... Cool, right? That underneath this beautiful city are century old tree trunks mixed with sand. So, one thing I'm more curious about other than its architecture is how it feels like to be walking through it's cobblestone streets... my boots is all set and ready.

Since the Philippines is a bunch of islands, traveling through ferry boats is quite normal... and going to Venice through a boat, I feel more at home... except that people around you looks different... and that you wear too many clothes. Anyways, the feeling of excitement is building up. And when we arrived, it feels like I'm stepping out in a Renaissance age movie... well, everything feels like I'm in a movie in Europe, except when I'm inside.

We graze into the city despite the drizzle and cloudy weather. When we stepped out of the boat (through S. Zaccaria station), the monument of Victor Emmanuel II welcomes us to Venice. Of course, I can't pass this up without making any fun pictures of this. And so are other status, monuments, streets, signs, etc. But before anything else, our first mission is to find our hotel room. We checked on our offline Google map and turned on our GPS location. One thing I discovered about myself, I'm poor at navigation... maybe it takes some more practice.. :D So, I walked on for the first time into tiny cobblestone streets, looking into windows of gift shops, and passing through small bridges. One thing is clear: Venetians definitely love their masks.

After we get settled, we decided to roam around the city... come to think of it, I don't think I have ever seen a car around. With the size of their streets and alleys, I don't think any car would fit into it... maybe one tiny car. Anyways, we roam around town... with the drizzle... in winter(!). Did I care? At that time, not at all. I was just in awe of everything never minding the cold. I was just so excited to look around and get wherever and explore.

I realized that it's quite easy to get lost around town since most of the alleys are similar... the structures are similar... and there are bridges everywhere! In fact, the entrance door of our hotel is literally at the end of the bridge. There were even some instances when we tried going to a certain way over the bridge then ends up facing a door of a house. But it was fun and exciting... our first target location is the Pizza San Marco (or St. Mark's Square).

Before getting into the square, we passed by a little cafeteria to have some snacks. We have to feed this Filipina stomach. I think it was the first time that I've been inside a cafeteria or restaurant. While waiting for the food, I caught up the sight of a woman from another table looking at me... in wonder. My guess is that its her first time to see an Asian girl up close. I think she tries to think where I came from if the Asians she met are the likes of Japanese or Koreans. And I just realized that its probably the same look we give to the foreigners in our country or city. I just gave her my simple smile. She gave me her little smile too but still her eyes still in wonder. I have to admit that my exotic beauty would make an awesome sight to all-exclusive tall & fair-looking crowd. :D

Sights of Venice

Piazza San Marco, aka St Mark's Square
Moving on... I think any first time visitors of Venice should never missed St. Mark's Square. At the square, you'll never missed the sight of St. Mark's Basilica, Doge's Palace, and pigeons.. yes, pigeons! And one thing I've learned from getting close to pigeons is to never accept any seeds (or something) that will feed the birds. Why? First, it comes with a penny (I guess, nothing is for free). And second, you don't want a bunch of pigeons attacking your hand. For me, it's quite funny but maybe some would probably get scared. And lastly, I just read from some trip guide that its illegal to feed them. Good thing, nobody fined me or worst put me into jail with feeding pigeons on my hand. On other instances, some men would also try to give you flowers.. you would think it's the Italian way of being romantic, but nope.. they'll ask you or the man your with for a Euro. It doesn't sound romantic at all. I already learned from feeding the birds that nothing comes for free... not on the get-go... especially from strangers.

A view from the Rialto bridge for some romantic vibes ;)
We were able to visit St. Mark's Basilica and went at the top of the Dome. You can see the square from the top, the water, and some adjacent islands. You will also get to see up close the replica of Horses of St. Mark's, four huge bronze status of horses. We also decided to get out of the rain and get into the Palazzo Ducale (or Doge's Palace). It is now a museum but it previously hold the seat of government of Venice. You will get to learn a few history not just of the place but of Venice, the arts, and the Venetian Gothic architecture. We get to see some of their secret rooms and prisons including the one where Casanova was imprisoned... and a little funny back story from our tourist guide of how he escaped from there. We did not also missed the Bridge of Sighs, where prisoners have their last look of outside world... and they only get to sigh about it... guide said it in a more interesting way than I do. And what's more interesting is that she looked like Elena/Katherine, from the Vampire Diaries... so, when she talks you can really smell history and the mystic of the place. Another sight to see is the Rialto bridge. From there you can see ships going through the canal and the district of San Marco and San Polo on the sides. Since, we went there at night, I must admit that it is quite... ahm, romantic... the lights on the streets, its reflection on the water, the ships passing by... or maybe I just picked the vibes out from the couples around.. :D plus the locks on the bridge, I get to see that a LOT around Europe.

Music for Me

Paolo Ciociola and the rest of Interpreti Veneziani
I think the highlight of this trip, aside from my first taste of Italian pizza, was not something that we planned. During the night, while walking around, we were trying to look for a good pizzeria and maybe something else to do. We found a very interesting event: a classical concert by Interpreti Veneziani. I know little of Venice before I arrived here, so I know nothing about this group. What I do know is that it is a classical concert... and they are holding violins! I have never been in a classical concert... I've heard of Beethoven and Bach, but I can't recognize one of which if I ever heard one... so, this would be the first! Aanndd, aside from its sound, I love to watch musicians play violins... it is something that I wish I could have learned to play. I beg the musician at my cousin's wedding to play Butterfly Kisses with the violin. It made my day. That's just a single violin... what about a whole band?!? I was super excited! I bet I would have said no to my first taste of Italian pizza if it's going to start pronto... but we had about an hour and a half... so, we took the closest pizzeria before we get into the show. 

They played Bach and Vivaldi's Four Seasons... and, my God, it was AMAZING! They don't use amplifiers and other sound enhancements. And there were just about 20-30 audience in an old church. So, it was like a private gathering with an entire band playing exclusively for these important people. I feel like I was transported back to a grand ball with a fancy corset or Renaissance gown or something. Did I just said it was amazing? IT WAS SUPER AMAZING! At that time, I was saying to myself, “THIS! Is how I imagined Europe feels like!” Maybe it was my affinity to music but it made all the arts and architecture that I saw and the history that I've heard more alive. As if I'm transported back in time centuries ago... it gave me goosebumps. All I can do is give a deep sigh and a round of applause at the end. So, every time I get into the grandest rooms in museums, I can hear the background music playing.
My first Italian pizza... I can't rmember the name...
it's something with 4 different cheeses and salami. :)
On a side note: the man at the grand piano had his dinner at the pizzeria where we just had our dinner... so, it must be a good place to dine.. by the way, my first pizza tasted great but maybe too many cheese for me. :D

I went back to my list and realized that I did not include 'classical concert' there. I just never thought that it could be possible. Maybe we were lucky that we were able to come across a mini concert like this that's not so expensive. By not so expensive, I mean it's almost the same price I payed for when I watched BSB concert, upper box at the Araneta Coliseum. (Yeah, yeah... I love the BSB... and I love music, in general.) So, since it's not on the list, I'm adding it as #17 Watch a classical concert.

Going around Venice, from its streets.. to its bridges.. to its architecture.. to its arts.. to its music.. old period movies get into my mind. I feel like my modern day clothes does not fit into the place. Everything looks at least about two centuries old or more like I'm going to meet the Count of Monte Carlo on the street. They may not have the snow but the sights and history gave me a sneak peek of the heart of Europe.

A view from the top with the horses.
I did mention that I'm curious about how it feels like to walk on a floating city. Well, if the city can hold a basilica, palace, and some other big architectures, it can definitely hold you. Hence, it feels like any walking on any other city. However, don't look down at the little sewage holes on the streets, there you can see the water rise and fall from underneath... in that instance, it feels like you're on a boat... a very big boat... a very bog city boat... so, instead of looking down, just look up and be amazed on the grandeur of the city... the creativity and the genius of the people who built it... centuries ago.

We didn't get into the Gondola ride, as one might have expected when visiting Venice. I would have loved that but the weather is too cold and wet for a ride. I guess, its a good reason to go back to Venice, right? ;)

Ciao! Ciao! Next stop, Firenze! :)