Author: Yellow Duckie
Apart from the brief encounter I had with Rome when I touch down about a week and half ago, I didn't realy get to see what Rome is like. The perfect picture I had in my head about Rome can simply be sum up in one word: Romantic. However, it wasn't the case when I arrived at Termini station from La Spezia. I was totally horrified by the rowdy crowd and the massive amount of humans in the underground.
After the horrific encounter of swimming amount the massive crowd, I have yet to overcome another torturous journey with my 20 kg back pack from the closest metro station to the hostel. According to the hostel staff, it's just a couple of blocks from metro station. Once again, I have discover that couple of blocks literally means about 1.5 to 2 km. So all these are not very romantic at all, this is when all the romance is gone and when reality kicks in. However, I am glad that apart from this, Rome did reveal the better side (the romantic side) of its charm to me.

Like many others who come to Rome, we intend to see what tourist see and do what tourist do: Be at the St Peter Square, find myself in the Vatican Museum, taking a photograph of the Colessuem with me by its side, fight for a spot at the Trevi fountain, stroll down the spanish steps...
Here are my list of favourite encounters in Roma:

1. Join the Pope for breakfast
I am not a fan of the Pope ( no offense to my Catholic friends) but the atmosphere of being amongst the crowd that fill the St Peter Square is overwhelming! I was completely shocked when I saw the crowd and was actually pretty glad that we made our way here. It's like being in a rock concert except that you will be listening to sermon being preached in a foreign language. The Pope made appearance to the public every wednesday and staying close to the barricades will give you the best view of the Pope when he goes about doing his entourage while waving blessing to his crowd in his white jeep.

2.Vatican Museum
A MUST SEE. This is something which I will not recomend you to miss, you will be astonished by the work of the artist and will leave you in the state of marvel. Be early to stand in line for the entrace ticket as you will be surprise that there isn't really an off peak season when if comes to visiting the Vatican Museum. It was literally the longest line I've ever been to.

3. Drop by at Villa Borghese

Although I am sick of art works by now, The Villa Borghese still managed to hold my attention with the marvelous scupltures and art works contained inside it. I think one of the things that caught me most was the mosaics. How they can add tone to the picture to make the picture more life-like shows me that the artist who worked on this has got amazing skills. This is the place where you can find alot of the mosaic works and extremely life-like scupltures.

4. Enjoy a cup of Gelato at Old Bridge
Via dei Bastioni (by the side of the Vatican City)
I am quite certain that this Gelato shop has been in existence from the ancient times, judging on its ancient appearance. No Matter what time of the day we passed by this place, it is always packed with people. The price is generally cheaper than alot of gelato shop and once, we were there sometime around 8pm, there were 2 cheeky guys serving behind the counter, for Euro 1.50 (2 scoops) we got a generous scooping of gelato, which definitely is more than 2 scoops plus cream for free!

5. Dine at Fabio's place
This place was recommended to us by Patrizia, my dear italian friend. Unfortunately I did not keep the address of this place to be shared here. The moment we arrived, I could see why she recommended us this place. Famous among the local, this place is hard to get in without a reservation, with that in mind we actually turn up pretty early to try our luck. Ordering itself was interesting, being the only non-italian speaking guest there, we pratically did not get to order much, in fact, we didn't really get to order. All Fabio asked was if we like fish or pasta. We said yes and he disappeared into the kitchen after recommending us the special pasta which his mum made and that we will definitely like was heavenly!

6. Enjoy the night scene at the St Peter's Square and Colessuem
Can anywhere else be more romantic and captivating than these places? I'll let the picture do the detail description...

I admit that by the time I reach Rome, the excitement and thrill about being in Italy is gone and all I longed for is to carry the weather back with me and find myself cuddling in my bed...i miss my bed. We did not really get to venture all of Rome, I guess one has to make some room for our second visit. Although I didn't toss a coin over my shoulder at the Trevi fountain, I know that someday, I'll be back.

Author: Yellow Duckie
Just when I thought I’ve seen the best of Italy in Tuscany, I was completely swept off my feet with I saw Cinque Terre. As far as I am concern, this place is quite popular among the locals but seems to be an off beaten path for foreigners, like myself. I have never once regretted choosing this place as the meeting point with a dear friend of mine.

Cinque Terre, literally means five lands, consist of five towns that lay along the coastline of the Ligurian Sea: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernezza and Monterosso al Mare. To get to Cinque Terre, the closest main line train station is La Spezia. From there, you will need to switch to a local train that travels in frequent gaps between these five towns. The spectacular view begins as you step on board the train. I was completely mesmerized by the scenery: Emerald water of the Ligurian Sea slapping in gentle violence against the rocks of the coastline with the blue sky hanging majestically above it; shyly revealing the coastal towns on and off as the train glides in and out of the tunnel.

This place is a hikers’ paradise and many will seek to conquer the pilgrimage of hiking through the five towns. Although I was hoping that we could skip the hiking part as I have been walking for almost ten days now, I am glad that Pat & Dino insisted that we should try the easy routes (Riomaggiore ~ Manarola~ Corniglia). It was indeed quite worth the muscle ache. I have not tried it myself, but as many guidebooks have noted that the hike from Corniglia to Vernezza and Monterosso is scenic but also very steep.

With limited land, the residents have creatively turned the slopes of the hills into vineyards, producing one of the smoothest and sweetest wine I’ve ever sipped down my throat. Laying by the coastline, naturally, product of the oceans are the greatest resources for their survival. Apart from their much appraised pesto, this place is also famous for its salt preserved anchovies. I was slightly put off when the operator at the factory proudly boasts that the anchovies were not washed. Salt in this case is used as the preservating and disinfecting agent. I must admit that the preserved anchovies are really yummy!

All five towns have got its own distinct features although in a rough glance it may seem to carry similar characteristics. We managed (with much difficulties according to Patrizia, my friend who arrange our accommodation) to get two rooms (despite the peak season) at the rest house in Corniglia. The structure of the building is really small and getting about the guest house was rather difficult (even I find it difficult, can you imagine those who are slightly bigger in size than I am?). How Dino, who happened to be more than 6 six tall takes his shower in the tiny shower room which I find it difficult to do so, is still a mystery to us. However, the view at the patio that overlooks the vineyards and the sea was extremely rewarding.

The most memorable walk I had here was when we first arrived from La Spezia. Uncertain if we should purchase the daily rail pass which would allow access to the bus ride, we decided to walk up the hill. Big mistake. The train station is usually situated by the coast and the town is usually way up high the hill so it was utterly the biggest mistake I've made in my entire trip by attempting to walk up to the town center with our luggage.


View from Riomaggiore Town : Track that we travel on in betweens these towns
Italian way of relaxation?

Most impressive work of art. The life of christ depicted on the vineyards.

Our track from Riomaggiore to Manarola was interesting. You will pass through the "Lover's Lane" and the "shrine" itself was quite worth spending some time there. You can read graffiti of lovers left behind proclaiming their eternal love to each other and the souvenirs they left there: anything they have with them at that time as a token or symbol of their sincerity. You can find all sorts of things from hair band, landyards, pieces of clothing and the most common item, the pad lock.

In Manarola, we met up with Pat's friend and had our aperitivo, a drink with some snacks such as bruschetta or olive, before dinner. This is a common practise as the Italian usually have their dinner at around to 10 pm so before dinner they will enjoy aperitivo with some friends or family.
View Upon leaving Manarola to Corniglia. The best view of the coastal town!
It's in Corniglia that I learn what it is like to enjoy dinner the way the Italians do. I could never understand how they could eat dinner and make it last for 3 t0 4 hours but in Corniglia, we practically enjoyed our first dinner at that duration with great companies, loads of good food and laughter. I had my first taste of Grappa, extremely strong liquor that burns your throat and enjoyed one of the smoothest sweet wine with biscotti. It was an excellent meal indeed!

The most beatufiul of all five. However, I do get tire of the massive amount of humans after a while. This place has got some interesting restaurants that sticks out from the edge of the cliffs, in a way it looks pretty scary to be in there but once you are in it enjoying your dinner, you have the best view of the Ligurian sea.

Monterosso Al Mare
Do look at for the Foccaceria and indulge yourself in the wide range of Foccacias. It was the most delicious foccacia I've tasted and my favourite happened to be the one with the green olive!
Monterosso is where the Anchovy factory is. Do drop by for a visit and be amazed how they preserved these yummy tiny delicacies!
Amazing structures
Author: Yellow Duckie
There is only one recommendation when you are in Tuscany, stay at the farmhouse, get a car and conquer the scenic routes ( the road map will indicate which are the scenic routes) There is definitely no better way to see Tuscany than this. Don’t worry about spending a couple of nights at the farmhouse, I can guarantee that you will not end up staying in the stable or the barn. I would say this is the most luxury place I’ve stay thus far in Italy!

Our stop in Tuscany was Siena. Leaving our luggage at the station, I walked all the way from the train station to get our car in the city. From the map, it doesn’t look that far and thank God in reality it’s only about 1.5 km. I was fascinated as I enter the city. This city is walled within a fort. It feels like you’ll walking into one of the gated medieval town! Impressive!

My next challenge was to locate our farmhouse, Il Lucherino. By far, I had no problem locating any place in Italy but Il Lucherino is so hidden that after a while, we begin to get a little worried (yes, even with the map at hand) if we could find it at all as no one we asked could tell us where it is. Somehow, God was gracious, we managed to bum into it by accident and it was so well hidden that for those we are seeking for a solitary holiday away from the hustle bustle of city life, this place is perfecto.

We conquered both the Northern region ( Il Chianti), Southeast region ( Le Crete) all the way down to Saturnia (famous terme bath)

While you are on the road:
1. Make pit stops anyway
Be sure it’s a safe spot before you do that, there are many road with additional curve in space for you to do that, so make your pit stop wisely. You’ll find vast field of vineyards and olive farm revealing itself gracefully before your eyes ( Il Chianti region). It was so serene. The blue sky and white clouds above us just compliment the scenery with a perfect touch. Heading towards southeast of Siena (Le Crete region), you will see vast green rolling hills. The pastures looks almost like crème has been pour unto the hills beyond and the view is simply magnificent. It is as though there is no end to these green hills and the road we drove on seems to cut right through these hills. I was in awe. Most of these were only captured in my head and not on my camera.

2. Visit some of the olive farms
Make pit stops at the olive farm to check out their products. One thing I regretted most not buying is the Olive oil which gives you a pinch of pear after taste. It was the most delicious Virgin olive oil I’ve ever tasted!

3. Take time to enjoy your farmhouse
Usually the farm house area is situation in the midst of the olive farm or vine yard and they have facilities for you to enjoy the scenery of the area. The one we stayed in even has a swimming pool. It overlooks the vine yard at one end and the rolling fields at the other. The farmhouse is usually equipped with a complete kitchen so cooking is possible here and it is a cheaper way to dine here. For Euro 30, we managed to cook up 5 hearty meals!

Sunset at Il Lucherino

4. Visit the tiny towns along the way
I can’t recall how many town we’ve come across but the ultimately goal was to visit Montepulciano and Saturnia. Our first pit stop was in Asciano. It’s a small quiet hamlet town. Walking on the tiny lanes that leads to the main street was awfully still. Stepping into the town feels makes you feel like you have traveled back in time and anytime you will expect to see a horse pulling a cart with an Italian dressed in their medieval clothes greeting you from his cart.

The drive along the scenic route is full of surprises. It’s like you’ll never know what you will see. You will pass through vast open field with lots of flowers, green pastures, and even drive through a small town (literally through the town). Hardly recall most of it, we did pass by Pienza, Trianni, etc.

Montepulciano is another hill town. Although after Perugia, this shouldn’t be something new to us but I still find it fascinating. Smaller than Perugia, Montepulciano guarded by the Etruscan fort and is set atop a narrow volcanic rock. Driving up in my tiny Fiat Panda was quite a challenge but big cars will find it difficult to go through the narrow lanes, so it’s your choice to go with. Word of advise, go with the smaller car as you can never imagine how small the lows can be…really small. This town offers a magnificent view of the countryside beneath.

5. Relax at a thermal bath spot
Here in Tuscany, it is famous for their natural thermal water bath and usually it is in the nature open for public use. Of course, if you are up for a luxury treatment at a 5-star thermal spa hotel, there are endless list of hotels for your selection, else, there are a lot of natural thermal pool which allows you to enjoy the benefit of the thermal water without any charges. Our choice was Saturnia and it did took us quite a while before we get there. The temperature of the water hangs around 40 degrees Celsius and the volcanic formation of the pool is interesting, creating a cascading waterfall with tiny private pools for dip.

Our last stop in Tuscany was of course, Siena. I have nothing much to comment about Sienna as it has basically what most of the Italian town I’ve been to has so this is nothing new. There are only two things I would highlight about Siena:
1. Piazza Del Campo.
This piazza is in a giant scallop shape and not to forget it is slanting too. It’s huge and will take a while before you notice that it’s in a shape of a scallop.
2. Tratorria La Torre
This is a family-run tratorria with only about 10 tables and a vaulted cellar. The chairs and table set up outside is interestingly secured in the slating lanes. Just imagine putting chairs and table on the streets of San Francisco and have them secure steadfastly to hold the weight of man. The food there is excellent and don’t bother turning up without reservation or turn up early and convince them that you are Asian and you will consume your dinner in 15 minutes. They did not allow us to take up the space even though we turned up at 7.30pm and they had a reservation for the table for 9 pm. We did however managed to convinced them that we will swallow our food and leave before 9.

Author: Yellow Duckie
Entering the 3rd day of my road trip to Italy, we have made our way to Florence. Upon descending from the hills on Perugia, Florence offered us a different view of Italy. It's a city bursting with life and excitement. Unavoidably, this place is tourist infested. Getting around in Florence is extremely easy and cheap, in fact it's free! All you need is a pair of strong functioning legs :), I may have scared you by saying this but honestly, Florence is best explored by foot. So grab yourself a tourist map that marked a recommended walking trail and you'll never be disappointed!

Word of advise if you want to visit Uffizi, the hot spot of Florence and to catch the actual "David" sculpted by Michelangelo in Academia, don't bother saving the reservation fee as you will be glad that you paid the extra to avoid standing in a never ending line just to get the ticket.

While in Florence :
1. Have lunch at Nerbone
Mercato Centrale, San Lorenzo
At Nerbone, I realised that Italian doesn't just feed on Pasta and Pizza (although no doubt that these two takes up a huge market share in their daily meals). This place has been in operation serving hot lunch since 1872! Recommended dish: Their succulent beef burger. One thing I've noticed about the food in Italy (so far) is that it is really SALTY! I am not too sure if salt is a cheap commodity here or it's just the Italian tongue preference. The guy behind the counter is really helpful, ask him what's nice and he will give you the best recommendation.

2. Take up the Challenge in getting to the top of the Duomo
Please take note that to enter the Basilica, there is a seperate entrance fee charged but I suggest you could skip the Basilica and head straight up to the Dome and enjoy the view of Florence from the top! The dome, as it was said, to be the largest cupola ever built at that time! Not to forget that half way through your climb, you will be rewarded with one of Michelangelo's masterpiece: The Last Judgement. How he paint on the cupola, it is still a wonder to me. Not to worry too much about how many steps you'll have to climb, it's just 400++.

3. Uffizi: Not to be missed
I understand that not all are art lovers but this place is a manifestation of masterpieces painted by great artists. I must admit that half way through, I had an overdose of La Madonna e Bambino ( Madonna and Child). You can find all types of La Madonna e Bambino, from the most conventional form: paintings, to wood craving, gold scultpures to any manner of potraying La Madonna e Bambino you can think of! If you are using the Audio guide, just make sure which room you are in and which painting you are admiring at or you'll fail to find the blind guy in the painting...well we eventually found him in another painting.

4. Piazza Della Signoria
For non art lovers that doesn't see the point in paying to get a glimpse of what's inside Uffizi and Acedemia, yet want to indulge in a little bit of italian art, this is the right Piazza to be. Please take note this is not a substitute to Uffizi and Academia! This serves as just a teaser. It feels like they have moves part of the sculptures museum out to the open. Pretty interesting set up.The sculptures here are quite a work of art. Oh those nice tight butt!

5. Shop for leather goods
Leather goods are definitely cheap here. Not only they are quality leathers, they come in all shapes and sizes to cater for all your needs. Get it here in Florence as the same bag in Rome may cost you double.

6. Ponte Vecchio
Stroll across this history piece of landmark: stone bridge with jewelry shops situated at both sides of the bridge. Although it was almost destroyed in the last storm, this bridge sustain through and still standing tall until today.

7. Piazzale Michelangelo
All walking trail in Florence will lead you here by Sunset. But before that, you may have given up hope as the journey from Ponte Vecchio may seems unending and not to mention that it seems quite deserted. Plus, your legs would have start to fail you but trust me, it's worth the effort getting here and you don't necessary have to get here by Sunset. Alternatively, hop on a bus that gets you here. The panaromic view of Florence town from up here is simply breath taking.

8. Enjoy a cup of Gelato in Festival de Gelato
Via del Corso 75r, just off Via dei Calzaiuoli
Often times, people say that when there are too many choices, it make life tougher in decision making. This place is where you will find yourself in such situation. Boasting of 50 flavours, this place has the most gelato flavours offered and you will be overwhelmed by life toughest task - deciding which flavours to savour!

9. Outlet Malls
Via Europa & Leccio.
Do not be too excited about Outlet Malls if you are not a fan of branded goods such as Gucci, Prada, etc. This is a paradise for all branded good admirers and collectors. The one that I went to was known as The Mall. Buses to The Mall has got their schedule so check out their schedule at the main bus station in Florence. But word of warning, the central bus station in Florence was quite challenging to locate even with a map at hand, so ask around for directions. You can get your branded goodies here at half the retail price in town.

Although I only spent 3 days in Florence, I am not too sure why it feels like eternity here. Perhaps the town is so accessible by foot that it felt like I've been to every corner of Florence in my 3 days visit.

Author: Yellow Duckie
After enduring a 21-hour journey, a blend of being in the air and on the train tracks, I was so glad that we finally made it to our first stop: Perugia. The bus ride from the train station to Perugia was fascinating as I had no idea that Perugia is actually a hill-town. Although the energy level in body was extremely low (not to mention that I am in the midst of overcoming my jetlag),excitement was spilling out of every corner of me.

The moment we arrived at the city centre, I felt as though I have just stepped in Discovery Travel & living channel. I could not withhold my awe standing in the midst of these ancient buildings. Lugging our 17 kg backpack, we were desperate to dispose our bags at the hostel and begin our exploration of this University town. To our dismay, the hostel will not open its door until it is 1600 and we have like almost two hours to kill. What choice do we have other than to join the crowd by the steps at Piazza IV Novembre and people watch. It turned out that this was rather relaxing and enjoyable. No wonder the steps are always filled with people! Word of advise if you want to enjoy your gelato at these steps, you have to beware of the extra toppings you may get from the pigeons that hovers above your head.

Although I was a little skeptical about the condition of the hostel, I was totally dumb founded to find how clean and beautiful the hostel which we will be bunking for 2 nights is! From the window of our room, the scenery of the rooftops beneath us that fill the hills was simply breathtaking. The common room itself is creatively decorated with Sculptures and the set up is really comfortable. I am so recommending this to all who would travel to Perugia (Rate is only Euro 15 per night, dorm and sheets is Euro 2).

I was totally overwhelmed by the fact that I am finally in Italy and to be quite honest, this is really something extremely different. The architecture, the air, the people, the food, just about everything is different from all my other travels. I can’t quite describe it but all I could say is that it’s kind of like walking into a surreal world. Stepping back in time to the medieval was perhaps is a more accurate way to describe my experience here. Steep Tiny lanes that criss crossed the town covered in arches was extremely worth exploring. I am simply lost for words.
Two advises while you are in Perugia:
One: Be adventurous to venture beyond Corso Vannucci, the main street of the town and be totally sweep off by the charm of Perugia as you view the city beneath and beyond your feet. You may even find a farm land in between the walls or an palace which was well perserved from the medieval times.

Two: Remove your tourist hat and learn to chill while doing nothing! There are some many perfect spots to enjoy this, the terrace of the Ostello, at the steps of the Piazza, the park, the cafes and the list goes on. We had the opportunity to spent a evening by the fountain at a piazza and watch how the crowd changes from a group of proud parents toying around with their kids, to a bunch of teenagers teasing and flirting with each eventually to a few lonely birds trying to quench their thirst. You could even find young lovers lip locking passionately by the fountain bench.

Less than 40 minutes train ride from Perugia will bring you to Assisi. According to the guide book, this is a PERFECT hill town and I for once, totally agree with the guide book. To begin with, you have a perfect view of this town from the train station. Stretched beyond the plains on a hill, Assisi stood majestically in perfect view for all who feast their eyes on it. It is no wonder that millions of tourist flocked this place without giving it a rest.

I was disappointed that I was not able to catch the sun flower fields which I dreamt so much of. The vast plains that stretches beneath this town, is where these beaming giant flower would flash it's beauty at certain time of the year as the foreground to this hill town. Unfortunately it is not during the time of my visit.
Although it felt a little bit commercialized by rows of tacky souvenir shops as you enter the town gates, you will soon be distracted by the spell this place has on you as you venture further in. The serenity between these walls will soon draws all thoughts from your mind and leave you in the state of marvel.

My first exposure to the Italian art was at the Basilica Di San Francesco, a spot which one should never miss whenever you are in Assisi. Step in and be taken away by the work of art left behind by the famous artist of the ancient times. It's a wonder how they could paint or sculpt on the ceiling.

Assisi has a lot of quirky and interesting shops which makes strolling along these tiny streets even more pleasurable. One of my favourite is the soap shop that sells all the interesting design soaps.

One of the most notable thing about Assisi which I could not forget is the delicious pork chop served at Otello (Vicolo San Antonio 1). It was unmistakably delicious!
Author: Yellow Duckie
Being my first time to Sweden, I choose this place because i read that this place will be able to show me some of the remnants of the Great Viking and a perfect little town for a day trip (situated only about 40 KM from Stockholm). The journey as I recall was not really straightforward, meaning, there is no direct train to this place. You will have to take a train to Marsta and jump into bus 570,575 or 584 (which runs pretty frequent).

Sigtuna is really beautiful. This town has alot of quaint tiny streets and buildings. Unlike in Stockholm where the buildings are line neatly in rows next to each other, in Sigtuna, you will be able to see the different design buildings and houses. It'll keep your eyes busy as you stroll down the street. The buildings here seems tiny and so doll- like that I was beginning to wonder if they actually made this whole town up just for tourist!

This place is small enough to venture on foot. Drop by the tourist visitor center in the main street, Stora Gatan ( probably Sweden's oldest main street) for a walking guide map. The trail will lead you to the various museums, the viking runes, churches and alot of attractive houses

What I enjoyed most of this town is looking down at the town from "Thing Hill", yes, that's the actual name if you are wondering whether I just made that up. You'll a perfect view of Lake Malaren and the town itself. This used to be a lookup point in the olden days for approaching vessels to determine if it's a friend or foe.

And of course, a visit to Sigtuna will not be complete without a good lunch in the oldest standing building in Sigtuna. It's really a small cosy hut with low ceilings, giving me the assumption that the people who used to live here are really tiny. It also has an outdoor area where you can enjoy your meal.