Amazing Italy – Vatican City

As planned we saw the Spanish steps in the morning and walked along the riverside till Saint Angel’s castle. There were some light showers for a while but clouds got cleared up soon. At St. Angel’s castle  we saw a few catacombs which were all sealed off, we got our first glimpse of Vatican city from the top floor.

There was a big queue to get into St. Peters basilica at the Vatican city, the architecture inside St. Peters was just awesome. We then climbed onto the Cupola. 

View of Rome and Vatican city is from Cupola.


Inside view of St. Peter’s basilica.

Vatican Museum
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Amazing Italy – Rome

June 6th 2008: We got up early and made it to the Florence Railway Station at around 8.15. We decided to travel in super fast ES (Euro Star) train, which is one of the fastest trains of Europe, it travels at around 350 kmph. As we bought our tickets, the ticket vendor asked us to hurry since the train was scheduled to leave in another 10 minutes. We hurried till our platform and we got to know that our compartment was at almost on the other end of the platform. We then casually walked on the platform next to the train looking for our bogie, ‘Wham!!’ all of a sudden all the doors of the train closed. We rushed to a ticket collector and showed him our tickets, he just replied back saying he couldn’t do much as the train doors were closed and was about to leave. We felt shattered as the next train was in the noon, and also we had paid 80 Euros for tickets… As we looked at each other confused, we saw an old couple having a word with the Ticket Collector. They were in a similar situation. We quietly joined them and requested the TC to let us in, luckily for us the TC obliged and let us in. As we entered the train, in no time, train took off like a plane in full speed. We just made it in the nick of time 🙂

The journey was amazing, and real fast. It took around 2 ½ hours to reach Rome. We arrived in Rome at around 10.30, the first thing that we did was checked into our hotel which was again very close, just 2 streets away from the railway station. The hotel which we stayed in – Hotel Alessandro Palace, its more like a youth hostel, we stayed in a 8 room Dorm and the hostel was relatively clean with a nice friendly staff.  We freshened up and collected a Rome city map from the hotel.  We decided to head in the direction of the Colossium and along the way we thought we would try to cover a couple of places.
Along the way we saw Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore and S Pietro Vincoli, reached colosseum at around 12.00. It was very crowded out there and the queue was a very long one. We met a local guide who offered us a direct entry (skipping the queue) into the colosseum for 20 Euros each. We not only saved time but also saw Colossium in an organised way.

Colossium
————Colossium View from the pathway———————-


—–Amphitheatric View of the Colossium from the inside —

Few Facts about Colosseum:
In the first century AD, Colosseum (though in antiquity Romans referred to it as to Amphitheatrum Caesareum or hunting theater), was erected as a gift to the Roman citizens. [Theater/ Operas are of the shape of a semi circle and amphi means two, so amphitheatres are circular theatres :)]
Vespasian started construction of the Colosseum in 72 AD and it took 8 years to complete. Over 160 ft high with eighty entrances, the Colosseum could hold upwards of 50,000 spectators. Public events such as gladiator fights, mock naval battles and wild animal hunts were held at the Colosseum. From the fourth story of the Colosseum wooden masts supported a linen awning that protected spectators from the sun, which made Colosseum look like an indoor stadium. The Colosseum boasted seats of marble for the upper class, and benches of wood for the lower. Women were usually not allowed inside the colosseum.
The floor of the colosseum play arena had surprise traps and filled with sand to absorb blood. Inaugural games lasted for 100 days and nights, during which some 5,000 animals were slaughtered. During one of the game seasons, the entire colosseum was filled with water and naval battles were held in colosseum as a part of sport. Trajan once held games that lasted for 117 days, during which some 9,000 gladiators fought to the death. Fighters were slaves, prisoners or volunteers. Tigers and lions were brought from as far as India. Winners of the games were selected by spectators who shouted ‘Kill Him’ or did a ‘Thumbs Up’ after the fight. Spectators saw persecuted Christians killed by lions. After 404 AD gladiatorial battles were no longer held, but animals such as lions, elephants, snakes and panthers continued to be massacred in the name of sport until the 6th century.
With the fall of the Empire, the Colosseum was abandoned and gradually became overgrown. During the middle ages, stones from the Colosseum were removed for new buildings. A massive earthquake struck in Rome, due to which major part of the colosseum was destroyed. Today, in Rome, the Colosseum is one of its most famous landmarks and tourist attractions. Although it survives only as a ruin, it still rates as one of the finest examples of Roman architecture and engineering.

Ancient Rome
———Ancient Roman Forum view from Palatine hill———

The guide then took us across the street towards ‘Arch of Titus’ which are the entrance gates into the ancient section of Rome. As we entered the gates the guide made us walk through the Palatine hill explaining the historic significance of the place. Palatine hill is where the wealthier Romans and Emperors once lived. It is some 70 meters high with views of the Roman Forum on one side, and the Circus Maximus on the other. Looking down on the Roman Forum and the temples from hill top was an amazing experience; we could see an ancient empire from hill top but all in runis.  If you think, "Is this is it? There’s nothing here. It’s all in ruins." Think again… We were standing in a spot that was in use 2,000 years ago. You can see the work and the craftsmanship that built the structure. People like Julius Cesar, Augustus and Roman mighty kings walked here, they climbed the steps, people cheered their favorite gladiators here. They walked these same stone passageways!!!.
We  strolled around the hill watching the famous Farnese Gardens and old remains of the layers palaces built on one another. We then climbed down the hill and walked along the ruins till we came across the huge ‘Rome Military building’.
This modern Monument of Victor Emmanuel has an army museum which has a display of fine artifacts and historic significances of Italian army during World war/ Italian reunification . We got to see the war weaponaries used by Italians and got to know facts about many significant advanced military technologies and tactics, including field artillery, muskets, and combined arms tactics used by the Italian army.

Emmanuel Monument
—————-The Monument of Victor Emmanuel II———-


——————————–The Pantheon—————————-
Even after spending about 2 hours in the Colosseum, and 2 hours at the Roman ruins and spending another hour at the museum, we were still able to see a lot in the evening. It was already 6 in the evening but since it was early summer, sun sets at 10 PM. So we still had lots of time time to roam around. We initially never thought of covering so many places in a day, but everything happened clock work.
We took a small break and started studying the travel guides and Rome map.. Remember I’d mentioned the map the hotel gave us was good, we didn’t get lost once…..  We might have stood on street corners while we worked out where we were but we won’t count that. We quickly planned our route and walked through the Forum towards the Pantheon.
The Pantheon is a church of Rome today and contains the tombs of Rafael and of several Italian Kings who unified Italy in the nineteen century. The Pantheon is made perfectly harmonious by the fact that the distance from the floor to the top of the dome is exactly equal to its diameter. The dome gets thinner as it approaches the center, the hole in the top of the dome is used as a light source for the interior. The thickness of the dome at that point is only 1.2 meters. It rains and snow occasionally fall through it, but in practice, rain seldom falls inside the dome. The massive columns supporting the portico weigh 60 tons. Each was 39 feet (11.8 m) tall, five feet (1.5 m) in diameter and made from stone quarried in Egypt. The columns were transported by wooden sledges to the Nile, barged to Alexandria, and put on vessels for a trip across the Mediterranean to the port of Ostia. From there the columns came up the Tiber by barge.

Around the Pantheon, we saw a number of mouth watering Pizza restaurants around. It was already 7 in the evening, and we decided to have few Pizzas :-). We had delicious pizzas at a family-run restaurant that seemed to be in an alleyway. The streets were very small and narrow, that it always seemd that we were walking in an alley. When we first arrived, the server sat us at a table that was so close to another couple, it would seem as though we were there all together. Most of the other tables were empty, so we moved to another table. The couple told us that it wouldn’t matter where we moved to, but we didn’t understand what they meant. Almost immediately, another couple sat next to us as close as before. We quickly learned that all restaurants in Italy sit people this close. One more thing, Pizzas are of big rectangular shapes (unlike round ones in India) which are cut into 8-10 pieces. One slice would cost somewhere around 5 Euros. And three to four slices should fill your stomach.

After having nice Pizzas, we rested for 30 minutes or so. We just sat and looked around all the time.
I initially thought we had seen enough for the day but my travel companion insisted we just keep moving.
We had a look at the map again and walked towards Piazza Navona. Piazza navona, is a big city square and contains two fountains on two ends of the square with a tall Egyptian Obelisk in the middle. The place lookd like a stadium filled with a lot of restaurants, painters, and mimic artists who were all trying to earn some money.
We then walked towards the Trevi Fountain. I did not know until I saw it that the fountain is really a front wall of a large palace that is decorated with heaps of rocks with large statues and water rushes & gushes from almost every part of these statues. I loved the figures on this fountain such as the Roman God, Neptune & his Seahorses. On the lower level of the fountain, a young girl can be seen, and her name is Trivia. Most historians think that the Fountain was probably named after her; thus, The Trevi Fountain. This fountain is very difficult to photograph unless you have a widescreen lens. That is why my photo is only a portion of the entire fountain. Another problem is the crowds of people who are also trying to take photographs.
There is a legend that it is lucky to throw coins with one’s right hand over one’s right shoulder into the Trevi Fountain. Whoever drinks the water or throws a coin into the fountain, that person will, no doubt, return to Rome, even I tried my luck and threw a coin into the fountain…:-)

TreviFountain
–Trevi Fountain.Well, cant see the fountains due to crowd–

It was almost 9 in the evening, with tiring legs, fading lights and no more memory space left in my Camera, we walked back towards our hotel. Along the way we went to a Internet parlour and transferred all the pics into a USB memory stick. We d taken almost a thousand pics in a day!!
We reached our hotel at 10.30, and had a chat with our 2 roomies who were students and had come from Britain on a holiday. Before we slept , we decided that we would get up early in the morning; see the Spanish Steps, St Angels Castle and spend the remaining whole day at Vatican City.
I couldnt have asked for more, our Roman holiday was turning out to be more exciting than imagined!!..

Amazing Italy – Florence

It has been quite the journey so far, when we finally put our feet on the ground in Florence, it was indeed a great experience. When we boarded the bus in Pisa, we were told that it would take 2-3 hours to reach Florence, so we thought of having a quick nap during our travel. I was asleep in no time, and when I woke up, the bus was parked on a roadside. I just had a look outside the window, and I could see nice buildings around, with nice architecture. I asked the driver where we were (remember we were only 3 of us in the bus), the bus driver said we were already in Florence. We got off the bus in a hurry and looked around, we were near Piazza della stazionne, which is almost the center of Florence. Because we had plenty of day left, and had made it to Florence earlier than expected, we relaxed for a while at a nearby place. We had bought a tourist map of Florence in Pisa itself, we planned how we’ll spend our day and all.
We set off on foot, looking for the Cattedrale Santa Maria del Fiore, otherwise known as The Duomo. Along the way we saw many fine buildings and piazza’s in a quite remarkable city. This was Saturday and the place was absolutely jam packed with people, thousands and thousands of them, all shapes, sizes and nationalities.
The Duomo when we reached it, was an astonishing building with a walls of white and green marble. It makes you wonder how such magnificent structure was constructed hundreds of years ago. It is amazing and fascinating at the same time. The building is by no means small, you can’t photograph it properly, because it is surrounded by buildings and you can’t get far enough away to get a clear shot.

—-Cattedrale Santa Maria del Fiore, The Duomo————
We went inside – free entry – but with a big queue. Just infront of the Duomo, there’s the Ghiberty Door which are the east entrance to the Baptistry of Florence Cathedral (the Duomo).These doors are the masterpiece of the 15th century sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti.

—————–Ghiberti Doors, Florence—————————–
I felt my backpack a little heavy, I couldnt carry it along all day. We planned to dump our baggage in the hostel and walked towards our hostel. Believe it or not, our hotel was just  around 100 steps from the Duomo.
The Hostel in which we stayed was: Academy Hostel, Via Ricasoli, 9. It was a little expensive though 80 Euros for 2 beds. But it offered free Internet, common area for a TV, provided lockers, AC rooms, free towels, maps, free breakfast and a very polite n friendly staff too. And the location couldnt have been better. After relaxing for a while in the hostel, we had nice Pastas for lunch. 
As planned, after our lunch we headed towards Galleria dell’Accademia. The galleria has Michaelangelo’s unfinished sculptures "Slaves" and "Prisoners" and other paintings. But the main attraction of this museum is; it is the home of the ORIGINAL David sculpture by Michaelangelo.The statue of David is so amazing that I kept looking at the statue on and on, circling around the statue many times. I had seen David’s statue on TV and read about it in books. But you’ll have to see the statue by yourself to realize how amazing it is. This statue is carved from a single block of a huge marble(About 14 feet long) and it is so realistic that you can even see veins on David’s hand, hard to believe it was sculptured. We were not allowed to take photos of the statue. If someone asked me whats the one thing to see in Florence was, I’d definitely say the statue of David.
After spending some time at the galleria, we wandered around Florence. We came across the leather market. We then found our way to the river, walked along the riverside till a bridge with shops on it- The Ponte Vecchio, a very pretty bridge with lots of Goldsmith shops on it. We then came towards the Uffizi museum, since it was crowded and we were running short of time we skipped going in. We walked till Piazza della Signora, [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Piazzasignoria.jpg] it is like an open area, an L typed square right in front of Uffizi . It is the meeting place of Florentines as well as the numerous tourists. Just the place we were looking for to relax.  We were exhausted by now, and grabbed Gelato (Italian mouth watering IceCreams).
After a while, we started off our leisurely stroll along the river in the direction of Piazzale Michelangelo. Along our way we saw Galileo’s Museum. Piazzale Michelangelo, was on a hill top making us more exhausted. But it was a worth after all, we could see the best view of the city from there.

—————-Amazing View of Florence—————————
It was 10 in the evening when we reached our hostel, we transferred all the pics from my Camera to the pen drive, browsed Internet for a while. We had to get up early in the morning and catch a 8:00 AM train to Rome. We slept off early with tired legs, but full of nice memorable memories.

Amazing Italy – Pisa

Italy has been my ‘The best’ travel destination till date. It just about lived up to my expectations and everything about this trip was just perfect. Maybe because we had planned our Italy trip well in advance, we had infact booked flight tickets (RyanAir) and accommodations almost one month before.  We were lucky enough to pick the best possible weekend as well; weather was just perfect, sunny but not hot (it sometimes got a little chilly in the evenings, when the wind got up, but still pleasant).

30 May 2008:
We finished off our work early; reached our home at around 5 PM. My roomie prepared ‘Puliyogre’ (a south Indian cuisine) for us to eat on our way. We packed our baggage; reached Mechelen Railway station at 6.30. We traveled till Charleroi Station and from there, in a bus to Charleroi Airport (Not the regular Brussels International Airport). Our check-in was at 9 PM. and we made it just in time.
31 May 2008:
We reached Galilei Airport, Pisa at around 1AM.  It was long cold rainy night, and we spent the whole night at the airport, almost awake the whole night. Bus shuttles to Pisa-Tower starts at 5.30, and we took the first bus in the morning. The tower is very close to the airport, infact it took us not more than 15 mins to reach. The friendly bus driver dropped us and pointed a direction. As we walked a few steps, there it was, ‘The Leaning Tower’!!!
The place seemed deserted though..Why??? It was a little too early, 6.15 AM it was..:-)

We could see the Baptistery Dome and the Cathedral as we entered the compounds.

—————-Baptistry Dome and the Cathedral——————

Cathedral is enormous and constructed with a beautiful architecure. Its an amazing piece of art which is built with striking white marbles. The design looks clearly influenced by some Arabic designs.The Bapistery, is another sacred building with a large dome.
Both are sitting on a lush green lawn, which looks so neat.


—–Pisa Tower, leaning at 3.97 deg ——–

Then of course there was the famous leaning tower, which was orignally supposed to be a just a normal bell tower. When we saw the tower for the first time, we just wondered what makes this bell tower to be a wonder of the world. Well, you may have to dig into history and read books to undestand what makes this to be a wonder.
Few Facts on the Tower:  The Leaning Tower of Pisa is actually the Bell Tower of the Italian Pisa Cathedral. Due to the subsidence of the foundation, the tower body began to incline while the third floor was in construction, after almost 1000 years of establishment, the tower has gradually strayed from the vertical line by 5.2 meter. This phenomenon of inclining without collapsing has been a fantastic wonder in the world archiectural history
The architecural history of the tower’s construction is well documented and displayed near the tower.

Almost anyone who visits Italy has to come at least one time to Pisa, after all, it is one of the most well known Italian landmarks in the world!. It’s funny, because if it weren’t for the poor planning on the part of the engineers who built this bell tower, I doubt that anyone would even be coming to visit Pisa!
But having said that; Pisa has other importance as well, it is the oldest city in Italy, and the 2 mile wall around the oldest part of the city is the oldest intact wall of its kind in the world.


—–The leaning bell-tower in front of the Cathedral——–

We admired the leaning tower from afar and circled around the tower once. We bought souvenirs from a nearby shop and hopped in the bus, and travelled back to the airport.
From airport we caught a bus to Florence. Florence is also pretty close to Pisa and it was a 2 hours journey to Florence. I gotta mention that there were only 4 people on this bus, one being the driver who drove like a stuntman on a chase scene hehhe..
I have been writing about few traveling tips in my previous posts, here I go again :-), these tips might help you if youre travelling in Europe.
Traveling Tips:
For travelling on air in Europe, one of the best budget airlines is RyanAir, connecting almost all major cities throughout Europe. RyanAir offers very attractive promotions every now and then. Tickets are inexpensive only if you book your tickets well in advance. But be aware, these flights get delayed frequently. In major cities, Ryan Air operates from a secondary airport. One more cons, RyanAir charges passengers for their check-in luggage.
For accommodation, http://www.hostelworld.com is definitely the most reliable way of booking hotels / youth hostels, it provides a wide range of accommodations to choose from. Again the best way is to book hotels well in advance; try to book hotels which has more than 70% customer rating. For booking, all you need is a credit card; and you need to pay about 10% of total booking charges.