Monday, July 20, 2009

2008 Winter in Rome Day 13

19th Dec

The Shopping Bus #100 was a free service to encourage Christmas shopping downtown. At the Tritone area, we did frantic last minute shopping since it was the last day for us in Italy. From the back of Spagna, we stumbled upon Villa M Medici and enjoyed peace in the park with the shopping madness below the hill. Lunch, off Popola across V L Savoia , was the biggest heap of carbonara ever at €8!

Fast forward the shopping and then it was pizza at Da Baffetto because it was mentioned in DK Top 10. The crust is thin enough but the soggy middle made us miss the pizza at Lucca. Service was brisk but not unfriendly. The last purchase in Piazza Navona was Santa hanging on a rope ladder, which will be look great outside our glass balcony on the twelve floor somewhere in Singapore.

2008 Winter in Rome Day 10,11,12

16th Dec

Capitoline Hill


Our wet weather program for the day was the Capitoline museums. 5 hours and hundreds of stone busts and statues in Palazzo di Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo, I was glad to be out enjoying the Teatro di Marcello. It looks like a mini Colosseum from the exterior and the approach from the slope near Capitoline brings the best feature out of the Teatro.


We checked out the Marmatine prison ( free with donation ) where Paul and Peter was said to have been imprisoned. The Metro took us to Ottaviano where we looked for Musicarte ( Via Fabio Fassimo ), hoping to look for violin bric-bracs. Unfortunately, it looks like a boutique shop for purchasing violin and we ended up with nothing.

Dinner was again at Dal Paino which has become my favorite trattoria because of the food, price and closeness to the apartment.

17th Dec


Anzio Museum

Operation Shingle was the operation Allied forces carried out at Anzio and we were eager to see the Anzio beachhead museum and British cemetery nearby. The train ride ( €3.20 one way ) from Termini to Anzio took slightly more than 1 hour. Meanwhile, I impressed Pat by validating the train ticket at a platform’s non-descript validating box ( among emergency box, tissue dispenser, ticket dispenser – thanks to Flickr and ) just before hopping onto a waiting train. I took care to alight at “Anzio”, after “ Anzio Colonia” as pointed out by oneTA poster since no arrival announcement are made in the train.

Anzio station was not what we expected and it had a hard- to-read area map outside. Indeed as in any town away from the capital, no one spoke English and “Parla Inglese lei?”,“Mi dispiace” and “Grazie” were insufficient to get us going. Relying on prior preparations using Google Earth and a compass , we stumbled upon the beachhead museum. It was a Thursday and not opened to the public but the caretaker took pity on us and we had the entire museum to ourselves, that sweet man. There was a very human aspect to the exhibits which was extremely touching.

Anzio beach


We headed towards Anzio town central but it was hard to locate because of the lack of human activity. At 3pm, we had a sumptuous lunch at a well patronized beachside trattoria .At the marina, we watched fishermen selling their day’s catch and a glorious sunset. The British cemetery was nowhere to be found. Besides, I did not wish to be locked up inside the cemetery after dark – an adventure best avoided. Then, it was back to Rome by the 5.30pm train ( hourly ).

18th Dec

The original plans was to see the aquaduct using the Archeobus. Since the service to this stop has terminated, we used the Metro and went down to Subaugusta, a 30 min ride. From Google Earth earlier, we mapped out the relative location with reference to Subaugusta and moved southwest until we hit the Aquaducts. It was easy to see from afar since the housing estate suddenly gave way to great space and greenery.

The aquaducts off Subaugusta was complete and stretched beyond the golf course. It was very beautiful, majestic and an engineering marvel. There were plenty of golfers and joggers in the vicinity so we did not feel too alone. My fellow companions had to tear me from the place and we moved north to a playground and ruins. Across Via Lemonia, we rested our feet at SG Bar at Via Claudio Appia and had the cheapest lunch in Italy, €13, with 2 primos , 1 dolce and coffee. Language was no barrier and we made friends with the boss , waitress Silvia, and received free T-shirts because we are “friends from afar”.

We continued our journey from Metro station Gioli Agricola and stopped by Colbi Albani. It had a wild sort of look for a park with farm houses. Actually I had forgotten why we made a stop here. If the sunset did not chase us away, a black man hounding us to buy hats in the deep wilderness did make us run all the way back to the main road. The entire place was a disappointment but the thoughts of making friends earlier more or less made the day.

2008 Winter in Rome Day 9

15th Dec

Stt Peter's

Plans for Anzio had to be shelved today because of forecasted bad weather. The wet weather program is to stay downtown and shop. This was not a very good idea because Rome is not very good for walking in the rain ( slippery cobbles, no sidewalk or shelter ). Anyway, we revisited St Peter’s Basilica simply because it is nearby and sheltered. We had to detour using Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II since Ponte Sant Angelo was closed due to a barge that was lodged under. It was 10am and there was hardly any queue at St Peter’s Basilica. The same couldn’t be said at 12nn when we left. Scores of people huddled in the rain waiting to enter.

Lunch was near a small bar off Viale Vaticano. We were charged an extra €2 for non-existent pane which the staff meekly reimbursed us when quizzed about this item.

Impulse buying became worse in rainy weather and the loot was mostly made walking along Via Cola Renzo – chocolates, leather goods, gelatos etc, an indirect result of trying to seek shelter. Walking south to Campo Marzio Roma,we noted that the crystal encrusted fountain pen is sold €2 lesser than the stall in Coin. To cut losses, we bought 3 more pens ( for Claire, Anissa, myself ) which came in incredible packaging.

That night, the Euro rose against the Singapore dollar and shopping zeal sizzled immediately. Thrift mode will have to be kicked in tomorrow. Museums will certainly be a cheaper option for the credit card.

2008 Winter in Rome Day 8

14th Dec

Campo De Fiori

From our apartment behind the Pantheon, we covered Campo de Fiori, Palazzo Ricci and Santa Maria inTrestervere in 3 hours. Claude Lebet’s violin shop at Palazzo Ricci was closed for the day, causing much disappointment to Hope. The atmosphere across Ponte Sisto in Trestevere became less touristy and more real. All its colorful lanes , fodder for more photo shoots, led us to S Maria inTrestevere. It was a moment of prayer and reflection in the sanctuary. Off S Maria, we became the first customers of the day at the corner ristorante. We couldn’t say no to the extremely friendly manager and lunch was the full works with antipasti,primo,second,contorto etc. The bill was round down to €60 because he couldn’t find small change.


From Via G Indundo, Ponte Sublicio,we search for the road (at the end of Via Marmorata ) that leads up the hill to Piazza di Cavaliari di Malta. Hugging the leftmost lane, we puffed up and were greeted by 2 heavily armed guards near the gate. 2 other tourists were peering into the keyhole and we tried to loosen things up by putting up touristy behavior – maps, cameras and queuing up. The metal plate around the keyhole was rubbed clear of rust by the nosy oily noses of tourists peering into the keyhole. Behind the keyhole, St Peter’s Basilica was framed up by trees lining the driveway. It was just that to see and what more with guards nearby toting machine guns, we went northeast by Via de Sabina.

City view

Among the tangerine trees, the view from Parco d Alessio of Vatican city and Rome downtown was as good as that from Capitoline Hill.
Down the hill at Santa Maria at Cosmedin, we queued behind Japanese tourists to put our hands in the mouth of truth / nostrils. Northwards to the Pantheon on Ponto Sisto, we gawked at city town council workers trying to dislodge a boat among debris near Isola Tiberina. It was a monumental task and I declared that photos opportunities of them at work would be available the next few days.

6 km and it is time to retire for the day. ZaZa pizza opposite Sant Eustachio café was recommended by the landlord and we concluded the pizza was a good choice to end the day with.

2008 Winter in Rome Day 7

13th Dec

St Paul outside the Walls

Back in Rome, skies cleared up after days of rain and the Tiber has subsided somewhat . A barge was still trapped under Ponte Sant Angelo and trash stuck on branches of trees indicating the last highest water level .

St Paul outside the Walls

The destination of the day was St Paul Outside-the-Wall. San Paolo Basilica ,reachable by Metro, was a short walk from the Metro station. It has an extensive façade and an equally impressive interior. Paintings on the walls depict Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus and his subsequent trip to Rome.

St Paul's chains

We saw the brick end of his sarcophagus and his prison chains, stirring great emotions. A pilgrim group made a grand procession into the church just when we were about to leave. Resonant guitar music and singing pulled us back and we hovered around to see a mini service of dedication and prayer, causing lumps to well up in our chest.

We left at noon and had great gelato outside the Metro station for a steal at €1.50 ( 2 generous gustis ). Near Barberini, it was pizza at Via della 4 Fontane’s Circo. The waitress hurried us along and soon we hit the streets. Someone approached us to support an anti-drug campaign and would not let us go until we part with €5.

We checked out fountain pens at Pantheon Cartoleria and a Made -in -Italy pewter fountain pen became mine for €47. I would have rejoiced at this great bargain if I had not discovered that it was probably not entirely new because of residual red ink still left in the cartridge.

2008 Winter in Rome Day 6

12th Dec


We have enlisted the help of Beppe from to bring us out of Florence to Pisa. He had earlier taken care of Alvin and his family earlier and came highly recommended because he speaks good English, has a wicked sense of humor and is a great driver. Prior to our trip, he had also helped me settle earlier problems regarding lodging arrangements in Rome so we took to each other like old friends. Our first stop in the morning was a Gothic church in Prato and there, we shamelessly sampled mounds of Prato biscottis from Antonio Mattei. We also sat out an anti-government protest at a nearby café discussing the merits of expresso.

A short ride and we ended up in Lucca. We started our walk through the old city from the city gates. Lunch was 3 pizzas on biscuit crust and fruit tart at Da Gherardo, in front of the Piazza Anfiteatro for about €30. It was the most low carbohydrate and delicious pizza I ever had so far.


Finally we headed west for Pisa. It was a smooth ride and we reached Pisa at 2.45pm. We had more photo shoots around the leaning tower and loitered around its surrounding vicinity for about an hour. At about 3.45pm, we made our way south for Rome.

Our regular dinner place in Rome

The Tiber had swollen somewhat because of the rain but Beppe was constantly being updated about traffic and weather conditions so we made good progress. We reached Rome just in time for a sumptuous dinner at Dal Paino ( Via Parione ).

2008 Winter in Rome Day 5

11th Dec

Train terminal at Florence

We woke up a sleeping cabbie and took the one and only cab at the Pantheon taxi rank at 6.30 am to the train station. Thunders snort of rumble in the northern hemisphere while the ones at the equator snort and snap. Anyway, it was our first thunderstorm in Rome but thankfully the roads were clear at that hour. It took us €10 and 5 minutes to reach Termini.

We took the first ES Italia train ( #9428 ) bound for Milan to Florence from binari ( track ) 4 at 7.30 am. The bin number was only displayed on the board minutes before departure so we had to be alert for new information. The anticipative migrating crowd looked away from the departure board and jerked into decisive action the moment information changed to white ( confirmed bin ) and we followed suit. We had reserved seats at carrozza ( car ) 6 seats 21,28,23. No worries about the number because we sat together facing each other.

It was a bumpy ride along flooded fields all the way north. We reached Florence’s Santa Maria Novella station at 9.30am, an 1 ½ hour ride. The rain has not caught up in Florence but the sky was grey. Near Mercato Central, I bought a leather back pack for €30, a lambskin belt for €15, cow-hide belt for Pat €20 and lots of biscotti. We would have bought more had it not been for the day-bag that grew heavier with each purchase.

Florence historic central is sort of miniaturized and we checked into Hermitage Hotel ( on foot ). We had booked the hotel ( triple €150 ) because it was minutes from Uffizi, our main interest of the day. Lunch was at the river restaurant across River Arno, near Vecchio, which was unexceptional with an equally uncommunicative waiter.


Hermitage Hotel had made a free booking for the Uffizi that comes with a priority code . We did not use the privilege and saved €4 ( per person ) reservation fees. That meant paying only €6.50 for the entrance each. The exterior façade was deceptively so-so but the works and corridor of the Uffizi are fantastic. However, I couldn’t enjoy some of the works due to low light condition at certain galleries, probably to protect the works. We left shortly after sunset and looked for sustenance. Help came from Ristorante Buca Poldo where we had fantastic Tuscany food ( gnocchi, vongole, ravioli,wine,café and sides ) all for a bill not exceeding €60.

Hermitage Hotel

It’s then back to Hermitage Hotel where we enjoyed Ponte Vecchio from its rooftop garden and the cool crisp air.

2008 Winter in Rome Day 4

Day 4 10th Dec Wed

Light Rain

Since we stay near the Pantheon, the idea is to visit places that are most accessible on foot and then branch out of Rome gradually. My plan is to cluster our places to visit so as to minimize transport costs.

The Colosseum

Today we set off for the Colosseum , Rman Forum and Palatine Hill, a short walk behind the apartment. It was an unhurried start since the rain from the previous night has refused to stop. Between the 3 of us, we used an umbrella that broke 15 minutes into the walk because of the vicious wind.

From Torre Largo Argentina, we headed towards the Colosseum area and paid a combined entrance fee of €12 to visit the 3 sites, located next to each other. I enjoyed the colossal Colosseum the most because of the sad stories and sacrifices slaves, gladiators and Christians faced there. In fact, the Pope holds mass every Good Friday in the Colosseum – that speaks volume to its significance as a place of martyrdom.

Next we proceeded to the Palatine Hill and archeological sites within the premises. We passed gladiators wanting to pose with tourists with a fee and freelance guides. Our skin color made it easier for the first time as tourist in refusing unwanted services. Hope was tickled pink skirting around them.

The Forum

Light rain came on and off like a sprinkler in the most annoying fashion. By 1 pm, the lack of lunch and endless cobbles in the Roman Forum caused my entire body to scream out and the 2 shutterbugs left me to nurse my injuries on the torso of an unknown soldier while they snapped away merrily. We bade ancient Rome goodbye and made our way back towards the Pantheon.

Chiesa de Gesu

Lunch at a bar across Chiesa de Gesu was pretty good with the usual Roman fare of pasta and red wine. Sated , we went over the church to admire the biggest chunk of lapis lazuli used as a tomb stone over the body of St Ignatius. Actually the light condition in the chiesa was so poor I could not note the lazuli’s color. The arm of St Francis Xavier encased in a glass urn drew murmurs from all of us. Chiesa de Gesu is indeed opulent and redolent with splendid splashing of ornaments.

The Colosseum

Before retiring, we spent some time in the Pantheon for the first time, after dark. We gawked at Raphael’s tomb, whom nature refused to be outdone. The dark sky gaped from the oculus, interrupted by soaring sea gulls. It was like white kites in the night and makes the interior of the Pantheon stretch beyond its brick walls. Hadrian had implemented the first unsupported structural dome in ancient Rome and is really a genius to lighten the load by using an oculus.

2008 Winter in Rome Day 3

Day 3 9th Dec

The world's smallest country, the Vatican

We have been here for 3 days. By now, I am able to mumble “buon giorno” to the shop keepers and even get responses . Packed with a couple of biscottis from a nearby alimentari , we trooped to the Vatican.

I had made pre-booking for the Vatican museums ( entry fee + €4 reservation charge ) some time before the trip. Now clutching the precious email printout with its bar-code that will ensure a smooth queue-free entry into the museums, we made a beeline for Ponte Castel Angelo, the bridge connecting Rome central to Vatican city across the Tiber River. From our apartment in Via Della Palombella, we walked past Via del Governo Vecchio and checked out the location of Da Bafetto, the famous pizzeria mentioned in DK Top 10. The first triumph of the day is to discover that it is only a 5-minute walk from our base.

Ponte Angelo links Rome to the Vatican,over the River Tiber

Ponte Sant Angelo was a joy to behold. From a lower level, the bridge with its angels frozen in ecclesiastical conversation. We spent quite a bit of time on the bridge taking pictures of every sculpture and the Tiber that I secretly worried about the CF-card getting busted for possible data overflow.

Past Ponte Sant Angelo, we made a beeline for Piazza S Petro. While the shutterbugs did what they are hardwired to do, I approached a Vatican policeman to locate the entry booth. To my utter dismay, I realized the entrance is a 15 minutes walk at Viale Vaticano and not at the square. I was to realize that this is a very common mistake made by tourists.

We gained entry with our email amulet though the queue was non-existent. This is our first paid museum in Rome and maps were not entry entitlements. We wondered, completely disoriented and all signs seem to lead to the Sistine Chapel until I bought a guide book for €10.

There were replicas of Greek sculptures and followed the crowd towards the Raphael Rooms. It was breathtaking simply because by now, with the head looking upwards for an hour, I was seeing stars on ceiling frescoes. Biblical characters mingle with papal figures in a happy marriage were depicting Bible stories panels after panels. What a sight!

We maintained this pose of pointing our noses into the air until we reached the highlight of the Sistine Chapel. Silence and no flash photography was the official order but the amount of tourists in the room made it an impossible task for the security to implement this rule. I slummed onto a chair totally exhausted by the long walk. The crowd is beginning to make me feel claustrophobic. Hope was my eyes and in the very dim room, pointed out the sections of Michelangelo’s creation for my personal enrichment.

Taking the advice of travelers at, we made it out to St Peter’s Basilica through the door located at the right of the Chapel, completely giving the Papal library and accidentally giving the photographed Giuseppe Momo’s spiral staircase a miss.

Michelangelo’s Pieta , located at the right side of the entrance, was much adored by photo-toting tourists. It is the only sculpture that the famous artist signed on, across the sash of Madonna, making it his creational oddity. It was done after a spate with a rival artist and must have upset him so much as to make his mark on his commission.

We admired the immense Basilica and paid €7 to go up the Cuppola, first by lift and then another 300 odd steps on foot. The second leg of the climb left me nauseous with claustrophobia. The sweeping vistas of magical Rome and fresh air eased all these bodily discomforts, making the effort worth it. On the way down, I eased the same discomfort by visiting a gift shop and bought so many crucifixes Dracula would have sizzled up just standing near me.

By now it was already 3 hours past lunch. Our biscottis were consumed discriminately behind the pillars of the cupola and it is time to look for real sustanence. Before leaving the Vatican, we sent postcards from the Vatican post office so that we can boast to our friends about our visit.

Our lunch place

We walked round the Vatican walls towards Via Cola Renzo and had a Roman feast of Pizza, Pasta, Antipasti of grilled vegetables, Ravioli and café all for €38. We celebrated our successful trip with super cheap gelato ( 2 gustis or scoops ) on cone for only €1.50.

Coin ( the rare Roman department store ) was along Via Cola Renzo and Pat spied some crystal encrusted Campo Marzio pen. Soon, the royal purple ( which is the new Roman black ) were his for €72.

We turned down to Via Cicerone and ended up at Ponte Sant Angelo again. It was dark at 5pm by now, giving us new perspectives to St Peter’s Basilica and the Tiber.

The same River Tiber and Ponte Angelo at night

We packed back some sumptuous dinner things at Di per Di supermercato along Via del Governo Vecchio and went back to rest our sore feet, aching backs and sprained neck.

2008 Winter in Rome Day 2

Day 2 8th Dec

Pope at the Spagna on immaculate Concepcion

Today is a special holiday , celebrating the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Our goal is to be at the Spagna at 4pm, where the Pope will present flowers at the base of the statue Mary.

From our apartment, we checked out the Pantheon. Not surprisingly, it’s closed to the public as a mass was in progress. Ditto for Santa Maria S Minerva but there was no worry since the apartment is just steps from the 2 sites. We walked eastwards past Piazza Rotanda and visited Sant Ignazio. It is a very beautiful church and moved me beyond words. Next stop was Trevi fountain and as usual, it is full of people. Police stood nearby armed with whistles if you go beyond the perimeter of the fountain.

San Crispino gelateria was off the Trevi fountain in a non-descript lane. As a must-eat item, we had 3 tubs of gelato and had the use of their fancy bathroom. The pistachio gelato is my favorite but the other 2 members prefer the honey flavor. We trudged towards the Spagna and already police are cordoning off the area in preparation for the Pope’s visit. We hang around the Spanish steps which is a couple of meters away from the statue but got bored waiting. We walked towards Piazza Popolo ( via del Babuino ) but the crowd made the short walk a long long. We all had sandwiches ( €3 ), seated on the steps of one of the ‘twin churches’ facing the square.

3pm and we made our way back towards the Spagna and ended up in stationary shop, Vertecchi, located in Via Croce. I bought a beautiful made in Germany fountain pen, encrusted with Swarzoski crystal for €45 as a PSLE present for Hope. At 3.50pm, we became one of the 20,000 people at Spagna, cheering for the Pope and soaking in the atmosphere. Ah! What a great country!

Starlings constellation near the Vatican

Walking towards the Tiber river on Via Fontanella , we looked out for the swarms of starlings forum posters mentioned and fretted whether we will be victims of biological bombardment. Since we were “unattacked”, it was a sight to behold and reminds me of shoals of fishes. I would hate my car to be under the sky formation though!

It’s almost 6 pm and we ended up at Campo de Fiori. Most trattorias do not seem to be ready for dinner. We had a simple meal near Argentina of suppli and pizza before heading home to rest our very tired feet.

That night, our landlord, Emmanuel came by to teach us how to use the gas stove and convinced us the apartment is not as cold as it felt. Nice guy.

2008 Winter in Rome Day 1

Day 1 : 7th Dec 08, Fair, clear

Pantheon Apt

We landed in Fiumicino International Airport at 5am, an hour ahead of schedule. Our driver, contracted by our landlord, picked us up at 6am and drove us into downtown Rome. While waiting for the landlord to arrive, we had a mini tour of the Sant Eustachio church and Pantheon area where we will live the next 2 weeks.

We left the apartment after a short rest and visited Sant Eustachio Café, which is situated next to our apartment. I became an expresso convert that day. Must try item : grand café ( €1 ) .

We were barred from visiting the Pantheon and Santa Maria sopra Minverva as a mass was in progress. Not sure when it will end, we headed southward towards Largo Torre Argentina, a 5 minute walk, to see the ruins of Pompey theatre and where old Julius Cesar was assassinated by Brutus. Next we headed east in the direction of Termini Stazione by via Nazionale. Trajan’s Column was undergoing renovation but did awed us with its intricate carvings.

We passed by Piazza Republicca and made it to Termini in one hour’s time. This included lunch, coffee therapy and photo shots along the way.

The train ticketing booths ( ground level ) were opened and there was a very short queue for reservations. I had made a printout of my intended trip from Rome to Florence on the Eurostar Italia on the 11th Dec from website in case of communication problems. The counter staff gave 3 of us a class 2 family pass with 20% discount, costing slightly less than €80.

Road outside the Colosseum is closed to traffic on Sundays

Mission accomplished, we made our way towards the Colosseum by way of via Cavour. It took us 45 min walking downhill and stopped outside St Maggiore for photos. The Colosseum was awesome from the exterior and via dei fori Imperial was jammed packed with people because the road is closed to traffic on Sunday.

Moving away from the Colosseum, we went to the Emmanuel Victoriano monument across Piazza Venezia and had a 5 minutes photo opportunity before the guards announced closing hours are up ( 4.30 pm in winter ) with whistles.

Piazza Navona near Christmas is one big fair ground

After dinner, plans for night shoots at Piazza Navona were marred when we discovered to our horror the entire square was one night market cum fun fair. We left the fountains disappointed as hawkers vie for your attention amidst blaring music.

A long day and we make it a point to wear comfortable shoes tomorrow. The cobbled roads are beginning to kill.

2008 Winter in Rome : Preparing for Italy

Italy is an accidental destination. I don't speak Italian and only realized that cappucino is Italian recently. Boo-hoo .. so much for my general knowledge! And since I have overcome Japan not knowing Japanese, surely Italy will embrace me even if I know no Italian.

It is about the same time I discovered that St Peter and St Paul are buried some where in Rome that finally got me excited. Rather than reading about the guys in the Good Book, maybe I can find some connection by visiting their resting places.

Preparation starts in early 2008. My choice of carrier was Singapore Airlines, of course.But as Pat's year end vacation starts so late in December as well as Hope's late exam results posting and SIA's schedule does not match mine,it is down to Malaysian Airlines. No choice but to forgo the national carrier with a direct flight and paying a couple of hundred dollars more, it's Italy, here I come!

From some random adverts at Great Rentals, I found Emmanuel Fadini's apartment. It has no lift and no nearby Metro but its location behind the Pantheon, nearness to the Colosseum and Fadini's long distance call to touch base halfway round the globe made me remember him. For €130 per night for an apartment in the historic center with internet access, I hope it gives the comfort and convenience of home as well as the magic of being make-believe locals.

Pat wants to do the Pisa and Sistine photo routine which he feels is what Italy is about. Only did I discover Pisa is sooooo far away! What a laugh to realize why my geography teacher left us for the private sector. Anyway, to make everyone happy, Pisa is now on my radar and just as well, since Hope wants to pop over to the Uffizi to check out the Masters in Florence. I spent a couple of months debating with myself how to fit Florence, Pisa and Rome. Looks like a night in Florence should do the 3 hour train ride justice. Finally, upon a friend's recommendation, we hired driver Beppe from Prato. The arrangement is to drive us from Florence to Prato, then Lucca and finally Pisa before heading back south to Rome. It is more costly than the train ride back to Rome but the short day in winter is a pressing factor.

As in all other holidays, target destinations grew over the months only to be scaled back due to weather and budget concerns. Since we will be totally on our own with probably our legs as the main mode of transport most of the time, I will cluster the visits to minimize fatigue like what happened in Japan. No train passes, no city hopping, just the plain old leisurely pottering around our base. Hopefully this will help us to understand Rome's charm and mystery.

Forever the control freak, I have used google-earth and livemaps to do a preliminary reconnaissance of Rome. Neat! The folks at have been both sympathetic and helpful with a persistent Singaporean traveler who has asked so many questions the past 10 months and has yet to travel. Flickr and slow travel have helped me to understand the intricacies of the train system at Trenitalia and beyond with photos, images of validating machines, Eurostar Italia and many more.

Just another 6 days more and finally Italy will be real. I want to see the ankle wrecking cobble stones, morph into a Che Belle and hopefully enjoy the plentiful gelaterias in wet wintry Rome.

Preparation fatigue is beginning to set so it seems. The google searches decreases and anxiety increases. Time for some action!