Slip Into The Boot Of Europe - Italy (by Jenny)

Eeks… I’m going Italy!

Italy has always been on my mind since my first visit to Europe. Though very much tempted by the world renowned fine gourmet, branded luxuries and breathtaking sceneries, I always gave a pass on visiting this wonderful country each time I was in the vicinity. Why you may ask? My near phobia of the infamous hordes of professional pick pockets milling through the tourist districts, that’s why! The throwing of ‘babies’ in your lap while they snatched your purse, the use of chewing gum to pick your wallet while you were busy fending off harassment from another… you named it… I have heard of way too many horror stories to garner up enough courage to venture into this land on my own.

But alas, my long-time travel mates (my beloved sister and brother-in-law) finally managed to convince me that the temptation and allure of this beloved country is just too enduring to let go just because of these little blemishes. And so, prep with whatever anti-theft gadgets we can get our hands on and a bagful sense of street smart, to Italy we march!

Ma ma mia… I’m in Italy!

After a long 11 hours flight, I finally arrived. Apprehensive, I walked into the arms of Italy; Rome to be exact, the capital of the country. Looking beyond the doors of Fiumicino Airport, the sights that welcomed me is actually quite pleasant. Hmmm… this country may not be so bad afterall…


With a little jostling, we finally loaded our luggage into the coach and got ourselves organised. Soon, we are on our way to our first stop, the famous Colosseum.
The Colosseum was originally called the Flavian Amphitheatre after its builders, the emperors Vespasian and Titus, both of the Flavian family. Construction began around 70 AD and was completed in 80 AD. It seats more than 50,000 spectators. Its opening was celebrated with 100 days of games in which thousands of animals and gladiators were killed.
Though the amphitheatre has lost most of its past glory with time, with two-thirds of it badly damaged by fires, earthquakes and plundering (Did you know that The cathedrals of St Peter and St John Lateran, the Palazzo Venezia and the Tiber's river defences, for example, all exploited the Colosseum as a convenient quarry!), restoration work is nevertheless in progress.

I am not too much of a Colosseum fan, reminds me too much of the ancient Roman’s barbaric and violent ways. Instead the ice-cream stand nearby caught my eyes! Yum yum, my first attempt at Italy ‘cuisine’. True enough, the ice creams live up to expectation, creamy, soft and not too sweet… in short, yummy!

With my sweet tooth satisfied, we move on through the now bustling traffic to our next stop, the Vatican City.

Vatican, the smallest but one of the richest Catholic states in the world. One will never forget the sight of the St. Peter Basilica. Its light blue dome glittering under the sunlight... such compelling grandeur that I am lost for words.

We quickly joined a long queue to pass through security scan to enter the interior of the St. Peter’s Basilica, a catholic church. If you are zealous and fit enough, please do climb the 323 steps of stairs to reach the roof of the Basilica. You will be rewarded at the top with picturesque bird’s eye view of the St. Peter’s Square, with the Egyptian Obelisk at the centre that resembles a sharp needle pointing towards the sky.

Rome is literally littered with water fountains. The fountains which once served as water sources to the locals are simply too numerous to be counted. But THE ONE that all tourists will make an effort to visit will be the Trevi Fountain. The Trevi Fountain (Italian: Fontana di Trevi) is the largest — standing 25.9 meters (85 feet) high and 19.8 meters (65 feet) wide . It is the most ambitious of the Baroque fountains of Rome.
The Trevi fountain is elegantly decorated with intricate live-size marble sculptures. The centre piece being that of Neptune riding a chariot drawn by two (sea) horses. The famous Chinese Author San Mao once remarked the irony resemblance between Neptune and her late husband, Kher Si. Being a professional and renowned diver, it was a big sarcasm that Kher Si died in the embrace of the ocean while catching fish.

As the local folklore goes, it is lucky to throw coins with one's right hand over one's left shoulder into the Trevi fountain. The legend of the coin throwing is actually that if you throw one coin, you are ensured a return to Rome; two coins to get married; and three to get divorced! Like a true blooded tourist, how can I let go of such a good ‘lobang’, I tossed a coin into the fountain and kept my fingers crossed…

Around Trevi Fountain, the streets are flanked by coffee houses and luxury goods shops. A nice place to laze the afternoon away, but beware, the indulgement comes with a hefty price tag too. Come prepared with a well-lined pocket.


It was raining when we reached Pisa. Three white buildings stood quietly in the Field of Miracles, resembling three pieces of toys miraculously created and placed by God for the appreciation and enjoyment of mankind. The baptistery was first to be constructed, followed by the cathedral and lastly the landmark of Pisa, the leaning tower. A mistake turns good; the architect should rest in peace if he knew that the uncalled for tilting of the tower has brought great fame and wealth to the country. As tour agencies cliché sales pitch goes, you have not toured Italy if you did not see the leaning tower of Pisa. Taking a photo with the pose of trying to push the tower back straight has interestingly become a favourite, widely copied among the photographers and visitors. But come to think of it, why push it back when it is famous because of its tilt? Anyway, as long as everyone is enjoying themselves, who is complaining right?

Alas, while everyone is busy playing Hercules, ‘pushing’ the Pisa Tower back in shape, this was the only place that I failed to take a photo. Not because of the rain, or the horde of umbrella sellers, my mood was as tilted as the tower because my sister and brother-in-law were under the weather. We took shelter in a coffee bar, contemplating flying home when we reach Florence, our next stop. Fortunately both got well after taking the medicines prescribed by a young lady doctor. A little blemish to our otherwise enjoyable experience so far, best forgotten.


Florence, home of the renaissance. A city of elegance, fine art and class. One can’t help but feel a bit more cultured while you busked in this beautiful city. Here, you will find the renowned art pieces of 2 grandmasters - Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci. The Statue of David is the most commonly known masterpiece of Michelangelo. Like most tourists, I can’t help but to focus more on the lower body of the statue instead of his lively eyes. Not that I am being cheeky, but you can’t help but gasp in awe how real life David is! Michelangelo is a rare talent, with an eye for details. A true grandmaster who in his younger days spend nights in the mortuary to study the human anatomy, every vein every muscle, in great details. You can’t help but marvel at his skills and seriousness towards art.

Makan time! Tried the renowned Florentine Steak. But to my disappointment, the T-bone steak was so dry and hard that it could have chipped my teeth anytime!


Among all the cities that I have visited, Venice is the most unique of them all. She is special in many aspects. This city sits on a shallow lagoon, made up of many islands connected by bridges. According to the local guide, there are about 400 bridges on all the islands add up. Here, roads are replaced by canals.

A must to do here will be to take the Gondola ride. Most people claim that the Gondola ride along the canals is romantic. But it appeared to be a tad too artificial to me. The gondolas are highly commercialised, used mainly by tourists. Romance suffers an instant death as you step out of the Gondola as you will be greeted by a man with an outstretched hat, waiting for tips. But I have to admit that the sight of gondolas sailing through bridges, especially at the famous Bridge of Sigh is unforgettable and magically beautiful.

Have you ever worn a mask to a fancy ball? Imagine Romeo and Juliet, and the famous masquerade party whereby the star-crossed lovers met, bet you’ll know what the fuss is all about. During the carnival season each February, Venice will turn into a big party ground whereby almost all Venetians (and tourists of course) will don masks and party hard. The carnival atmosphere during this time is simply intoxicating, I was told by the local guide.

Though I missed the masquerade, one can still easily admire the unique Venetian masks in the many display windows here. Unlike our Chinese wayang masks, the Venetian mask is usually of a duller, more sober colour tone, elegantly decorated with feathers and simmers. Though I always feel that there is a somewhat tinge of sadness in each of them. I wonder why…

In any case, I am lost in my world of shopping. Those who find the masks too heavy and delicate to carry home can settle for a much lighter alternative of buying the mask ear rings or mask fridge magnets. Venetian glass is another signature of Venice, with Murano glass leading the pact. The colours in Venetian glass exude a whimsical feel, and are usually very, very colourful. The glass ornate range from classic to modern designs. Like all things in Italy, these beautiful glasses do not come cheap. However, be warned that if you do wish to buy some as souvenir, please do not procrastinate as you will not be able to find them easily once out of Venice.


Milan, land of Prada, Gucci and Ferragamo, a paradise for shopaholics like me! Well, as I always say, you are not a woman if you don’t shop. Here, you can be a living testament to the phrase ‘shop till you drop’, and if I may add, ‘or shop till you are broke’! The wide arrays of luxury goods here are simply too much to resist. Bags, shoes, clothes; whatever you can imagine/wish to have! I suddenly feel sorry for the men who are paying the bills. Well, someone has to pay, and didn’t they say that women are to be protected and pampered? Milan is definitely THE PLACE to be pampered in!

Italian cuisine - Pasta Mania

Talk about Italian cuisine and the all so familiar spaghetti will pop into mind.

The Italians love their pasta. And amply, they have come up with all sorts of shapes and sizes and textures to make this Italian staple more interesting and appetising. Pasta is often served as starter on the Italian menu. The Italians usually prepared them in a simple but delicious way, from the usual tomato base sauce (note, the Italians usually cooked the sauce from fresh tomato rather than our plop out of can tomato puree), to cream sauce, wine sauce or just simply toss in olive oil with some herbs. For the big eaters, it is wise to finish all the pasta because the main course is usually of a smaller portion. But no worries, you will not go hungry if you are still unsatisfied after all that. There is always abundance of bread served as appetisers on the table for you. Despite the hefty size of the locals, they prefer a healthier alternative of dipping the bread in olive oil to applying butter/margarine on the bread. To me, dipping the bread in oil is welcomed as the oil will help to soften the bread’s texture, which otherwise requires very strong teeth to munch!

Ciao Italy

My whirlwind tour ended way too soon. Just as I was easing up and getting into the feel of Italy, it is time for home. The trip is as enjoyable as I can hope it will be. In the short 10 day, I am fortunate to catch a glimpse of the many facets of this lovely country, the highbrow shopping districts, the avant garde cultural cities, the raw majestic remains of the Roman empire, and last but not least, the peaceful but endearing country side. Love them all! I do hope to visit this country again in the near future (still keeping my fingers crossed for that coin I have invested in Trevi fountain) and this time, I will get a picture of the leaning tower! Wait a minute, did I mentioned about those professional pickpockets I was gripping about in the beginning? Well, thanks to our lucky stars, we have been most blessed not to have any encounters with them, but merely to see them in action at a safe distant. All in all, the trip has been memorable, the beautiful sights, the wonderful company. Won’t you help me keep your fingers cross for my little wish lying at the bottom of Trevi fountain?

As saying goes, Rome was not built in one day. So don’t try to discover all of Italy within 10 days of tour!

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