Italy!

9 days southbound journey in Italy from Venice to Rome with Winnie da Pooh!

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VENICE

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Grand Canal, Venice.

The city with truckloads of nicknames – ‘City of Canals’, ‘The Floating City’, ‘City of Water’ etc. It’s not hard at all to see why. This place is literally a maze of canals and narrow streets. No roads, no cars (except for the one corner of the island where the bus station is). That’s why you could see plenty of people pushing or pulling carts of goods so tediously up and down those high bridges which must be high enough for boats to pass through, as boats are probably the primary mode of transport for goods delivery.

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Gondolas lined up prettily.

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Off San Marco Square.

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Gondolas are everywhere on the canals. Empty ones are lined up along the sides neatly and those occupied have passengers sitting contentedly and taking endless pictures, with the gondoliers in their blue and white striped shirt rowing the boat until their faces are embodied in sweat under the sun. Some have the luxury of a singer belting out Italiano songs in the gondola. Fun fact: Do you know that gondolas are asymmetrical with a keel curved towards the right to counteract how the gondolier’s oar pushes the boat to the left?

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Grand Canal by night.

We covered the main tourist attractions in a few hours, finishing with San Marco Square where the tourist crowds are overwhelming. The rest of the afternoon was spent randomly weaving through unknown streets and bridges until dinner time. By night, the view at Rialto Bridge was beautifully lit up by lights dotting the sides of the Grand Canal. We were a little surprised later as we realized how empty and dark the streets were when we began our journey back to our hostel. Thank God we bought a map!

VERONA

‘Ohh, I haven’t really heard of that place’. — The No.1 response I get when I tell someone my Italy itinerary. Verona is a little city in Northern Italy, around an hour’s train away from Venice. So what brings people here?

Shakespeare! Hopeless romantics believe that a historical house here was once the home of the Cappello family whose youngest daughter is Juliette – from Romeo and Juliet. But it has been stated that the so-called Juliette’s Balcony was only built in recent years by the government for tourism purposes, meaning the house is probably unrelated to the tragic romance.

IMG_6625Juliette’s balcony.

Possibly the same as many others, I only know about this place after watching ‘Letters to Juliet’. The wall infested by letters stuck on with bubble gum no longer existed, however, replaced by mailboxes in the house for fear of defacing the heritage.

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In front of the arena.

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Piazza Bra.

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Gelato for a hot afternoon.

Verona also houses a rather well-preserved Roman amphitheatre, along with several cathedrals. It was great enjoyment strolling around and taking in the view of the city from the hill across the river. Going back at the end of the day to a most lovely B&B with much food was no less appealing!

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Inside Duomo di Verona.

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View of Verona from the hilltop.

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CINQUE TERRE

“Cheenk-kway tehr-ray.” That’s how you pronounce it. :)

Somewhere you must go in Italy! Made up of 5 colourful villages perched on rocks along the seaside, this place is a perfect break from bustling cities. Hiking trails were built between the villages but severe floods and storms have damaged them, leaving only 1 trail open for use between Vernazza and Monterosso. We stayed in Corniglia and had been warned about the 365 steps required to reach the top from the train station. Walking down in the morning with delicious panini and croissants, overlooking the waves crashing in at the rocks below was a beautiful start to the day. The walk back up was dreaded, but it turned out so much better! The temperature was cool with the surprise presence of fireflies in the dark path dimly lit by the moonlight cast on the sea surface. We couldn’t resist singing crazily and marveling at the pure beauty of God’s creation.

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Railway from halfway down the stairs.

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Vernazza!

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Sunset behind the mountains.

Two nights there gave us ample time to explore every nook and cranny of the villages, scrambling our way uphill everywhere to get postcard views. Often we just sit and laze around somewhere quiet, staring at the rolling waves splashing up to more than 5 m high as they meet the rock barriers. It was also in one of these villages where I saw presumably a local hurrying after a tourist who dropped his wallet or some belonging. Heartwarming scene when you remember all the friendly reminders and warnings about pickpockets in the country.

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Grocer store near our hostel.

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Corniglia, where we stayed.

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Coastal view at Monterosso.

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Bruschetta platter!

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Manarola, the prettiest village for me!

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Funtime watching waves.

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Spaghetti, what would Italy do without you?

PISA/FLORENCE

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Had a less pleasant visit in Pisa as I was carrying my bag around (brief stopover on our way to Florence) and hailstorm came without warning not long after I stepped foot into the grounds of the Leaning tower. The tower looked more slanted than expected, despite tourists happily giving it virtual support across the greens. The city of Pisa itself seemed pretty much like another typical Italian city, from what I saw as we walked between the train station and the tower.

My deepest impression of Pisa? People trying to sell us umbrellas.

Florence came across as a hub of rich cultural and artistic values. It has much to offer but sadly, we did not have the time. Would love to stay there longer and spend my sweet time seeing all I want. Advice for art/history-lovers: Make your stay in Florence longer! And check if you can beat the queue at the Accademia Galleria by buying your ticker online in advance.

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Piazza del Duomo, Firenze.

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Ponte Vecchio, where shops hang dearly off the edges.

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One of our favorites, tuna pizza!

ROME

I knew Rome was a city of a thousand treasures, but I was still fascinated as I held the tourist map in hand, indecisive about where to go and what to see first. Attractions were all over the city, literally. Excitement was unavoidable, with places like Trevis fountain, Colosseum, Roman Forum and of course, Vatican City.

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The mighty Colosseum.

We started our tour from the southern part of Rome, beginning from the main train station. Colosseum is as magnificent as it looked in pictures, hence the daunting cluster of tour groups coaches parked nearby. The whole place was packed with tourists from all over the world. We queued for ages to enter Colosseum – which is as ancient as it can be and a little more damaged than the arena in Verona. Of course, it is much bigger and you could imagine its past grandeur in the olden days when spectators feasted and cheered as the gladiators fought for life in the arena.

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Inside the Colosseum.

Emerging from the Colosseum, we marched on towards the Roman Forum. I had never been in anything like that before, and it certainly impressed me. Felt a little odd standing in the midst of so many ancient buildings, trying to envisage that I’m living in that era. The place was huge, and we had limited time so it was a challenge trying to see as much as possible of the magnificent forum. We managed to walk around a bit more before dinner and marvel at the pretty buildings that seem to be scattered everywhere.

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And here comes the epic part of my Italy trip. My tummy had felt kinda unwell but I didn’t thought much of it. Somehow, it worsened as we sat there waiting for our food. When the pizza and pasta were served, the sauce smell gave me a pang of nausea and I had to rest my head on the table.

Next thing I knew, I was lying on the tiled floor of the restaurant, madly cold and weak. Yup, there goes my Rome excitement, way down the drain, because I ended up in the hospital for two nights. The restaurant owners called for an ambulance and it came soon enough. My blood pressure was at a horribly low 80-40. To worsen things, I vomited repeatedly as the paramedics brought me out on a stretcher. The ride to the hospital was incredibly bumpy and the siren was wailing out loud. Not much help to my discomfort. :X

“You might be pregnant”. The doctor’s first diagnosis for me.

That gave me a rush of energy to say “No, NO! I don’t think so, I REALLY don’t think so!”. Along with the face that says “That’s hilariously ridiculous”. She smiled and acknowledged it, concluding it’s most likely because I’m anemic. They still had me do CT scan and electrocardiogram anyway, after shivering under a thin blanket for what seemed like forever. Approaching midnight, the doctor told me I can choose to refuse medical observation and leave since I’m a tourist.

Jackpot! I thought. Off goes the test stickers on my arms, off goes the IV drip. I stood up for the first time since I fainted. One step, two steps..so far so good. I sat down on a chair at the desk as the doctor did some final questioning. Just when I was about to fish for my health insurance card, the dizziness hit in again.

With that, I was ordered to go nowhere for the night. The ward was dark and quiet when I was brought in, the few other patients in deep sleep already. It was a tough night with tummy pain and nausea, almost fainting a second time in the toilet in the middle of the night when I couldn’t open the door somehow. Had a battle of my determination against energy whilst I crouched down, one hand fumbling with the door knob and the other’s blood backflowing into the IV drip tube. Talk about desperate moments!! I pressed the attention bell button like a thousand times but no one came TT.

Suddenly, in the midst of my prayers and also frustration, the door opened. I almost squealed for joy — but not as much joy as being told I can be discharged two mornings later. A million thanks to Winnie who accompanied me each day until she gets shooed out, bought me red and green apples and brought my belongings. Sorry for making you miss those must-sees in Rome and going through all these trouble!! :( Gratefulness to the lovely hospital staff and neighbour patients as well…the doctor who sings and dances and waves good morning, the doctor who uses Iphone/google translate to communicate with me, the Indian sister who is chatty but very caring and helpful, the Philippino lady who was concerned about me not eating and sleeping so much, the Italian lady who persistently talked in Italian to me though I persistently replied in English that I don’t understand X)..etc etc, even the kind-hearted cleaner who surprisingly speaks English better than anyone else I met in the hospital!

Credits also to the owners of the restaurant where I fainted. They did a great job waking me up, comforting me and keeping things at bay. I feel extremely apologetic creating chaos and messes of my vomits. =/ Yet, they took the initiative to contact us to know how I am doing when I was hospitalized, even up till my return to Manchester I received their text bombarded with questions of concern. So sweet! Do give the restaurant a visit if you’re there! – Da Trani Rome Restaurant.

Although the trip ended dramatically with the hospital stay, it was still a superb one. All because God provides! It didn’t come to mind until I’m back safely how marvelous God has been in sustaining me by bestowing hope, placing so many wonderful people around me in the hard times. Praise be to God!

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