December 11, 2010 § Leave a Comment
So I’ve been home for almost half a year now.
Some friends have said I’ve changed since I came back, especially those who’ve been attempting to study with me for this semester’s finals. I’m more ‘slack’ (or distracted, in a way), less intense about studying, happier, but definitely slacker.
Is this really a ‘return from Europe’ syndrome? Not sure how the rest are faring, but half a year in Switzerland and traveling across more than 20 cities in Europe has taught me more about life than the close-minded, narrow-sighted tunnel vision rat race that we run, constantly and daily, as a Singaporean youth facing Singaporean pressures.
I have learned to relax. To enjoy time. To enjoy people. To have a clearer understanding of the ‘eternal perspective’.
I have been reminded to treasure the people God has blessed me with, to put people above results. To put human beings before goals. To value a person above perfection in their work. To let go of things I cannot control.
I have learned to treasure the gift of time. The gift of time to spend with family, loved ones and treasured friends. To appreciate the fact that at the end of the day, my grades are not going to save me, they are not going to make me happy, the endless chase for perfection can only satisfy for so long, and that my life would be meaningless and worthless if I had no one to come home to, and no friends I can call to share my happiest and crappiest moments with.
I don’t want to wait till I lose somebody, someone gets a terminal disease, or face a near-death experience to realize that it’s time to say ‘I love you’, ‘Thank you’, and ‘I’m glad to call you my friend’ to the people who matter.
So, don’t forget to tell the people who matter to you that you love them. Love them now, not tomorrow, not when the exams are over, not when you have the time, not when they become perfect or do the right thing, not when you can finally prepare something grandiose. But love them simply, and love them fully, and love them now.
This post is titled Missing Europe. So here are some other photos from my travels, some from later trips than the last Europe photo post which was of us in Spain. If any of the juniors going to Europe are reading this, please, get excited, travel lots and don’t just be caught up in the photos, but be caught up in the experience.
May 10, 2010 § 1 Comment
Sorry for the lack of updates, we’ve been having a couple of weeks of more intense lessons. Then we flew off to Rome for the best holiday I’ve had since I came here.
As you’d know we’ve already visited the other major cities (Florence, Milan, Venice, etc), but there is truly, truly, no place like Rome. Attempting to describe it would fall deathly short of the true experience of being there, but I shall try my best.
Italy is a country where all the major cities are designed around tourism. Italy lives and breathes tourism. You cannot walk around the major areas of its cities without being caught in what is obviously designed and catered for tourists. All the times we’ve been in Italy we’ve been in the key tourist areas, so I can safely say that the ratio of tourists to locals ratio I encounter every day is probably more than 10:1.
Every where I’ve been in Italy I’ve felt like I’m stuck in a permanent tourist trap. No where in the world have I visited where I am in constant doubt about being ripped off and wondering where the locals actually eat/shop/etc.
Being generally skeptical about everything, I would say it had a dulling effect on most of my Italian experiences to date. Venice was a bunch of islands that got famous, Pisa had a a ridiculous little leaning tower that was unduly underwhelming, Como was a bunch of boring lakeside towns that are only famous because George Clooney owns a house there…. Florence had a lot of art that I couldn’t really appreciate. I’m sorry if I’m being uncultured but I personally can only see THAT many renditions of a ‘Madonna and Child’ and pre-Renaissance religious paintings so many times.
I remember complaining to Eldon (the most cultured of us all, on exchange in the UK) that I couldn’t really enjoy myself because there were so many tourists and it just totally affected my mood and receptiveness to everything. With a shrug he had replied that ‘you just have to be here for the reason you are here and ignore the factors that stop you from enjoying the experience’.
I didn’t really have a chance to apply it till I came to Rome.
Rome, while no less touristy than any other Italian city, is a city I didn’t mind being ripped off in. Well, almost. I’m not much of a art person. But I’m definitely a lot of a history person. And Rome was like my dream playground with its Roman ruins, of which I’ve exhausted so little of and want so very much to go back for more. But let’s start with the Vatican City and the Museum. We queued 3 hours just to get in. Three hours. And we were there at 9.30am too.
The Vatican Museum and its’ endless ceilings of elaborate frescos that bring about Stendhal syndrome. The Sistine Chapel (no photos allowed, though that stopped few people) with Michelangelo’s indisputably superior craftsmanship was definitely the epic highlight of the museum (museum is an inappropriate term. It was more like strolling through an endless mansion). Yes. I have to use the word ‘epic’. I cannot, right now or possibly ever, find an appropriate enough description of what it felt like to stand in the Sistine Chapel and gaze reverently upon the work of a master. I have seen many works of art throughout Italy. But no other work of art in Italy or even this world, I dare reckon, will ever top just looking at the precision and majesty of those frescos in the Sistine Chapel.
This, my dear readers, is not a painting. It is a tremendous mosaic piece. Mosaic. Yes you heard that right. Thousands upon thousands of little mosaic pieces. Overhearing one of the tour guides, they did it this way because they wanted it to ‘last forever. You can take photos of it, use flash, have the sun shine on it, and it will never fade.’
The famous Trevi fountain. It is said that if you stand backwards and throw in a coin, it ensures your return to Rome. Didn’t do it. There were literally flocks and throngs and all other usable words to describe large masses of humans there. But I promise myself that I will return to Rome.
Now we move along to my favourite part. The Roman ruins.
This is the road leading up the Colosseum. It’s closed on Sundays so you can take a lovely, leisurely stroll and view the Roman Forum and the Trajan’s Market which flank either sides of the road, juxtaposed with newer, modern buildings. It’s really bizarre gazing upon the structures of Rome and how they co-exist in the same space. Buildings were built around and on top of Old Rome, the city is a mishmash of it’s own colorful, diverse history.
I had some time in this place alone on our last day in Rome. Jun Hua and Becky had gone off to an Edward Hopper exhibition, and I went to the Trajan’s Market on Via dei Fori Imperiali (which is now a museum too) for a William Klein photography exhibition. The curators had cleverly distributed Klein’s prints among the other museum exhibits, so it was a pretty enjoyable, quiet morning stroll in the largely empty structure while it drizzled outside. It was nice to be in an empty museum. Coming here isn’t one of the main tourist activities, there are so many other bigger sites to see in Rome for the regular tour group traveler. So it was a real pleasure to be able to take my time and savor the experience on my own.
Still and dark hallways that must’ve used to bustle with so much life and activity. It was slightly creepy walking through these parts on my own. The vastness of those dark empty chambers were unsettling. (I don’t like the dark very much.)
I stood in this little street for a while just imagining what life must have been like back then. From this angle your view of the rest of Rome is non-existent. The great thing about Rome is that all the buildings are short. There’s nothing to obscure your view or disrupt the feeling that you’ve been transported back in time.
And so we move on the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
Truly beautiful grounds. Palatine Hill is important to Rome for many reasons. Augustus lived here, Rome was purportedly born on this hill, and more. Visiting Rome has increased my desire to brush up on my knowledge of early civilization and the early Greek and Roman myths just so I can appreciate everything better.
Moving on to the great Roman Colosseum…
The Colosseum is pretty magnificent, and gets the most attention by its sheer size. The flat ground you see is where the original flooring was (wooden planks). The labyrinth-like structure you see below is actually a rather ingenious backstage that they used for all sorts of morbid entertainment gimmicks (ie. using a pulley to bring up a palm tree as an obstruction, or haul up a bear, etc). The descriptions we read made it sound like a real-life Playstation game. It also mentioned that ‘hardly any gladiator made it to the age of 30, which was about the average age of Romans in that period’.
And that’s about all I can put down in words. Rome is a place you have to see, taste and experience for yourself. (This city definitely has the best gelato!) There are more snapshots in the entry below, but for now there is so much more to Rome that I have yet to see, so many more sites to visit. I’d like to go back again and see Pompeii as well, though that’s closer to Naples.
The next trip out will be in a couple of weeks to Amsterdam/Rotterdam for the European Design Conference. Van Gogh and Anne Frank Museums there for me. Among other interesting things. Can’t wait can’t wait.
I’d just leave you with some parting shots for now. I’d try not to be lazy and update more regularly. I’ve a backlog of some photos to clear from other mini escapades.
May 9, 2010 § Leave a Comment
More talk in the later entry – though there is so much to Rome that words alone cannot satisfyingly describe the experience of just being there.
April 14, 2010 § 2 Comments
Shall I make an attempt to squeeze 8 days of an italian holiday into a single entry?
Yes, I shall.
So us Lugano folk met up with Eldon and Janie (studying in Hatfield, UK) and Walter (Sweden) and did a crazy whirlwind tour of Milan, Venice, Verona, Florence & Pisa in eight days.
The holiday cost me about 450 euros. I budgeted 400 euros, which I wouldn’t have exceeded but I spent about 70 euros shopping. More than 200 euros went to transport and accommodation. The rest was food and entrance tickets and such. Italy is an amazingly tourist-ed place. You have to pay to get into anywhere. And I was faced with so many tourists over the past one week that I’m not even sure how many people I saw were actually Italian.
Each Italian city had it’s own unique flavour and architecture. Every where we went it felt a little different. (Prices and quality of food too.) These are my general impressions of each city.
Milan: Wet and cold when we got there. Couldn’t walk around without getting harassed by street hustlers. Four girls who looked about 12 tried to pickpocket me on the train. Generally couldn’t move without feeling on my guard all the time and not the most pleasant first impression or experience of Italy. Furthermore we were there on Easter Sunday and all the shops were closed. Will have chances to head back again so I’m sure I’ll find something better to say the next time I’m back.
Not many pictures from Milan because it was cold and wet and the pictures all turned out shitty.
Venice: Walking around the entire island was like being in Chinatown on Chinese New Year’s eve. We even joked that the island was probably sinking because there were simply too many tourists. A pretty place that everyone has to visit at least once in their lives even if you have to fight for elbow space with about a hundred thousand other people. Whoever built Venice never heard of urban planning. Navigating the streets was like moving through a labyrinth. You almost never go down the same street twice, unless by accident. Fun place to get lost in. Obviously a lot more pictures from Venice because it deserves it.
Verona: Amazed that there is actually tourism here because of 1) a rather unimpressive roman amphitheater, 2) Juliet’s house, Romeo’s house, and Juliet’s grave. Tourism at work I tell you. These characters don’t even exist. But yes we did go up Juliet’s underwhelming balcony and marveled at why Verona has tourists.
Roman amphitheater. Heavily under repair/construction/whatever. But they were still charging people 6.5 euros to enter, unbelievable. We bought the Verona Day pass for 10 euro so we could go to all the touristy places at a cheaper price and take the city buses for free.
Florence: Lovely, lovely city rich and abundant in culture. Food was more expensive here. But I managed a spot of shopping. Visited the 3 David statues and appreciated some lovely early European art. I like Florence more than Milan because at least I don’t feel like I have to guard my bag with my life all the time and that someone was going to try and aggressively con me of my money in a heartbeat.
Pisa: First impression was ‘cui’. And that it was dead boring. There’s the leaning tower. Small, unimpressive and underwhelming. But we still did the tourist thing and took lots of pictures. There’s an old town with a bazaar and lots of shops, but we didn’t spend much time there before taking our 8 hour trip back to Lugano. (More on the experience of traveling in Italy below.)
Food in Europe is generally expensive but we’re getting used to it. After all we pay out of our noses for everything in Switzerland. Every day was gelato day. Almost, at least. Italian gelato is heavenly. If you don’t go for the rip off ones (some of ours were). The best were the ones on Venice and the last gelato we had in Pisa. 2 to 3 scoops of amazing Italian ice-cream every day makes the world a better place.
The other cheap food option were the kebabs for around 3.5 to 4 euros. These were always hearty and satisfying (and most importantly had CHILI). Can’t say much for Italian pasta because I’m sick of pasta (I eat that stuff every day in Switzerland) and never really liked pasta anyway. The only pasta I had was squid ink pasta in Venice and it just tasted like the one from Waraku.
The pizzas I had were just ‘okay’. Nothing that screamed wow. Need to find out where the places are. We’re always in the touristy areas and no matter what I buy (food, icecream, clothes, etc) I feel like I’m being ripped off at least a little (it’s just the degree of rip-off-ness).
Sandwiches were nice, if not a little pricey too. 2.5 to 4.5 euros. Yes budget traveler I am. The rest of the money goes into shopping. I shall gush about how much I love European fashion later on.
Below: Other more expensive yummies in Venice we didn’t buy.
Okay. It’s rather bad to put it this way, but crossing the border from Switzerland to Italy really feels like I’m taking a train from Singapore to Malaysia. Being in Switzerland has spoilt us rotten. The comfort of Swiss trains are indubitable. We rode on a variety of Italian trains. Some were alright. But our final one back to Milan was a bit of an experience. It was a six seater carriage but we were sharing it with 2 huge Italians and their dogs and another guy. And also a father and son who were occupying our seats before we arrived and tried to claim that the seats were his. Had to spent the latter part of the journey having the kid glaring eyeballs at me for having ‘chased’ him and his dad out of the carriage. And oh, smelling like dog and having fur all over my clothes of course.
Fortunately the couple didn’t ride all the way to Milan and got off at Bologna. If not I’ll probably never get the smell of wet dog out of my belongings.
Generally the Italian transport system isn’t very much different from what we’re used to in Switzerland, it’s pretty easy to understand and find your train. It’s just the trains themselves and the people whom you would potentially meet on board that are a little… different.
I congratulate myself after 21 years of existence as a Singaporean for finally understand how IMPORTANT it is to dress according to the season’s fashion after going to Italy. Italy right now has become far warmer, it was about 20 to 21 degrees in all the cities we visited, warm enough to wander around in shorts and tank tops if you so chose. And all the winter clothes have been shed and everyone’s decked out for Spring. Not dressing accordingly in Italy really makes you stick out like a sore thumb!
I wonder how it’ll be in Spain. Spanish people take great pride in their fashion too. (We’ll be heading there this Sunday for 5 days of culture and shopping!) But I really, really, really love European fashion. Gosh the clothes and styles and colors are just absolutely LOVELY. Hence yes, 70 euros spent in Italy on clothes. Just a bit of H&M, Zara and Tezenis. I’m not a big fashion spender or a brand whore. But I do love a good bargain and unique designs.
Can’t wait to shop in Spain. Hope I can find a cheap new pair of Camper (which are, I must say, my favourite snugly comfortable brand of walking shoes). And a new bag.
No pictures of the new clothes.
Okay but here’s one of my new scarf which I got from one of the many street vendors in Florence. Everyone there was wearing such pretty scarves and I couldn’t resist it any longer. 9 euros! A little on the pricey side but I really liked the design.
(And the grey tshirt is a new Zara basic.) Strangely I’ve been buying a lot of GREY since I came to Europe. Which is funny because in Singapore I never buy anything grey and think I look absolutely horrid in grey. (I still look bad in blue and orange though, that hasn’t changed.)
But I’m so happy shopping here because they have ALL the types and shades of colors in the earth range and the bright range that I like and look good in.
Okay I’ll stop gushing. Will probably have more to gush about after shopping in Spain. But in the meantime I’ll just leave you with pictures of us enjoying ourselves.
Till Spain! Or when something more interesting comes up.