Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Milan, the Fashion Capital

While waiting for the train to Milan, I gave Dad a call asking him where he ate when he was in Milan 2 years back. Hubby and me were dying for rice already after a week in Italy and I remember Dad did tell me before I departed that he had good briyani while in Milan. So, we made a mental note that our mission in Milan was to find a place selling briyani.

Again, took the train from Florence to Milan. Around Euro 40 per person. Milan Centrale – Milan’s train station was jam-packed when we arrived. It was certainly the busiest train station compared with the three cities’ stations we stopped at before.

Our hotel was just across the road from the station - Starhotel Anderson. This was the first chain hotel we stayed in and it was nice. What I liked most about the hotel was the look of the lobby. It was kinda contemporary fusion (is there such a term? Hehe) i.e. Modern plus classic! Not forgetting the lifts – dimly lit with Milan’s snapshots decorating the four walls of the lifts (The most romantic lift I encountered). Breakfast was complimentary and I loved the variety of Italian breads. Soft, fluffy and uniquely tasty and not forgetting the many types of cheese. Coffee? Marvellous! I’d normally end up with headaches if I took coffee, but in Italy, headaches were non-existent to me!!

1) San Siro Stadium – Went for a museum and studio tour (Euro 12 per person). Hubby was ecstatic and he ended up taking lotsa pics and videos. He even took pics of things sold in the souvenir shop. I enjoyed it too. Wished that I’d bumped into Beckham. Why you may ask? Simply because we were there on the day AC Milan was announcing that he’s joining their team. Managed to catch press setting up for the press conference to be held that evening. Beckham’s posters were everywhere. The stadium's pretty far from Milan town. We took the cab and it costed us around Euro 17. Bought T-shirts (from Euro 20) and key chains (from Euro 6) at the stadium store.
2) Galleria Vittorio Emanuele — The mother of all shopping malls in Milan. Upscale shops in a splendid 19th century palace of a mall. Prada originated from Milan and the very first Prada shop established is in this mall. Other shops include LV and many, many upscale cafes. Ended up buying 2 cds from the music store. Laura Pausini and Tiziano Ferro at Euro 20 each. Discovered them while watching MTV there. Mahal kan? (if convert lah) But after listening to them, they were worthy buys indeed.
3) The Duomo and surrounding area – Like Florence, the Duomo is one of the city’s heritage symbols. It’s surrounded by both historic and modern architecture. This is where you can do most of your shopping. There are all sorts of middle to high end retail outlets here. Ferrari, Zara, the big department store La Rinascente etc. The Duomo is around the corner to La Scala Theatre – one of the world’s famous opera theatres. Dunno whether it’s true, but a taxi driver told us that it’s difficult to get tickets to the shows there unless you’re a socialite. And bookings have to be made years in advance. Oh yeah, we were in Milan on the day Natalie Cole performed for a free open Christmas concert near Duomo. It was fabulous. An open concert under the stars and it so happened that day was our 5th wedding anniversary. I forced hubby to dance along under the stars with Natalie Cole in the background singing! Bila lagi kan? It’s Natalie Cole in person ok? Her finale was the evergreen Unforgettable. The crowd went wild when she sang the song..and so did I!
4) Foxtown Factory Outlet – This is situated in Mendrisio, a small town bordering Milan and the gate to Switzerland. We bought a return bus ticket from the local travel agent, costing Euro 12 per person. The journey to the outlet was around 30 mins. The scenery nearing Mendrisio was breathtaking as we could see Swiss Alps right in front of us. Foxtown is a huge shopping mall. Damage done to the pocket? Giorgio Armani sunnies @ Euro 40, Lacoste Tees @ Euro 30, Benetton Kids tees @ Euro 10, Armani caps @ Euro 15, Gucci sunnies @ Euro 60 etc.

Eat :
1) We found a Northern Indian food and had prawn briyani there. Rice never tasted so good. Hehe. The whole meal costed nearly Euro 50 for the both of us but then what the heck? Mengidam sangat!
2) Loads of gelato – we made a mental note to check our blood sugar level when we get home. With the abundance supply of authentic gelato around, it’s as if we were going on a ‘glucose diet’ there in Italy. Hehe.
3) McD (oh no, again?) – We opted for the different meals they offered. Spinach nuggets and prawn fritters. Yummy. Each meal at Euro 3. Wish they have them in Malaysia!

Leaving Milan, we took the airport shuttle from the terminal located across the road from our hotel (Euro 12 one way per person). We left Milan for Paris via Milan Malpensa Airport, located 45 minutes from Milan city. Our Easyjet flight took off from Terminal 2, so, a reminder to travellers who are planning to do your VAT claim, leave for airport early as the VAT Claim counter is in Terminal 1. These terminals are pretty far from one another. So, you need ample time to reach the airport, check in, claim your VAT and do you last minute shopping at the airport before boarding your plane. My personal rating for Milan? 3.5/5 :) Next destination? Bon jour Paris, here we come!

In search of David in Florence

They say a trip to Florence is not complete until one sets eyes on David, Michaelangelo's most famous sculpture. And yes, that was the one main reason why hubby and I made our way to the Tuscan land, after a fascinating Roman holiday.

Going there:
From Kuala Lumpur, we flew to Rome with MAS. Return ticket was less than RM3,500 each as we managed to secure a good deal from MAS website. One tip: Always be on the lookout for MAS deals, plan your journey and book your tickets well ahead. Sign up for MH Buddy or follow MAS on facebook and twitter to ensure you do not miss out any attractive travels deal. And yeah, do install MH mobile on your gadgets! With this, buying flight tickets can be made anywhere, anytime!

The journey to Florence from Rome was only 1.5 hours via train. We left Roma Termini Station with Euro Star train (Euro 42 per person) to Florence after a hearty breakfast. Comfortable journey throughout.


The hotel was only 10 mins walk from the train station. We had to drag our luggage along but the walk to the hotel was all right as the walkway by the road was smooth (no, no potholes sighted!). The hotel we stayed at was Globus Hotel (Euro 70 per night). Upon arriving, the hotel manager, a lady by the name of Serena came down from the reception area on the 1st floor to the entrance on the ground floor and helped us with our luggage. There was no lift so imagine a lady carrying hubby's 16kg luggage up a flight of stairs to the 1st floor! Such a Wonder Woman! The reception area was nice and warm despite the cold weather outside. What made our day that day was the fact that they had a computer available for free internet use at the reception area. They also mentioned that wi-fi was free on our floor. True enough, there was a laptop in our room! Such great news for people like us who like to be connected all the time, especially a blogger like me. Another bonus was we had Sky TV too!

Breakfast at the hotel was good - loved the variety of pastries, fresh fruits and the best of all was the hot chocolate! My oh my, I've never tasted hot chocolate as good as the one that Roberto (the one and only guy serving the guests in the hotel restaurant) fixed. I believe he made the drink out of Nutella chocolate spread straight from the jar! Seriously thick and of course, sinfully delicious!!

Must Do :
1) Pisa Tower - We took the train (Euro 15 return per person) to Pisa upon reaching the hotel as our room was not ready upon arrival. Pisa is 1 hour away from Florence. The train we took was ala our KTM train. From the Pisa Centrale station, we took the cab (Euro 5) to the Pisa Tower. It took about 10 mins to reach there. What do you do there? Camwhoring! We spent nearly 3 hours taking shots after shots. There's a row of stalls selling souvenirs, so grab whatever Pisa souvenirs you like here because they're hard to find elsewhere. Plus, it's relatively cheaper here compared to other places. Fridge magnets cost between Euro 2 to Euro 4.
2) Open markets - They're a few open markets worth going. The one near our hotel was San Lorenzo market. This was where we spent our Euros to purchase souvenirs for people back home. Nice silk Italian ties from Euro 3, silk pashminas from Euro 7, tees from Euro 5, various accessories from Euro 5, pill boxes from Euro 2, key chains from Euro 1 etc. Florence is well known for its leather goods too. You'll be spoilt with endless choices of leather bags, shoes, leather-bound journals, books etc.
3) Ponte Vecchio and Uffizi Gallery - Ponte Vecchio is a nice bridge with stores along it. Mostly jewellery shops. It's believed to be the only Florentine bridge to survive the World War 2. A few metres away from it, you'll find Uffizzi Gallery. Entrance fee is Euro 6.50. It's one of the finest and oldest arts museums and they have statues of famous figures outside e.g. Gallileo, Michaelangelo, Leornado Da Vinci etc. We read that a replica of the famous David statue was outside this museum as well. Hubby and me went around to look for it, asked people around but to no avail. Apparently it was right in front our eyes but alas! it was under restoration, so it was covered by plastic. Sigh!
4) Galeria dell'Academia - Our search for Michaelangelo's David ended here. This is where you would find the original statue. Entrance fee is Euro 6.50. We went straight to him upon entering the gallery. Unfortunately, we couldn't take pictures. Yupp, the statue looked alive; the spectacular sculpture on a pedestal, with its detailed muscled calves, ribbed abs and veins on his body. The souvenirs in the gallery's souvenir shop were all about David. From key chains to posters to bags to table cloth etc with price tags starting from Euro 2.
5) Duomo Piazza -The city's beautiful cathedral, the symbol of the city. Brunelleschi's (one of the famous Renaissance architects) cathedral huge dome was considered an engineering feat of the time. A statue of Brunelleschi was sited in the piazza, with his figure looking upwards towards his dome.
6) The Mall - This is one of our shopping highlights! Hubby and me went crazy ok! We had to take a bus from Florence town. Costed us around Euro 6 return per person. The place is situated about 45 mins away from Florence town. Situated in a country-like area, it's actually an outlet for designer off-season goods! Imagine Gucci, Fendi, Armani, Ferragamo, Tod's, Bally, Burberry etc at more than 50% cheaper than what you'll find here. This bargain hunter totally went nuts! Ended up buying Tod's loafers (Euro 90), Armani shawl, (Euro 20), Fendi handbag, (Euro 150), Gucci wallet (Euro 60), Armani caps (Euro 15) and tees (Euro 15) etc.
7) Go on a day trip out to the country and enjoy the Tuscan landscape. You’ll discover a spectacular world of woods alternating with vines and olive trees, medieval farmhouses, Renaissance villas and castles. For this, you can join a guided day tour, starting from Euro 40 per person.

Before you embark on all these activities, do your research on travel portals such as Yahoo! Travel. You'll definitely find travel inspirations and guides that are valuable.

Good eats :
Where else to have the best authentic Italian food if not in Italy itself? Imagine all the pizzas, pastas and chocolates. Halal food including pizza and kebab are also available, from as low as 2 Euros. Chocolates are sold everywhere, with a 250g packet going from as little as 3 Euros. Florence is also believed to be the birthplace of gelato. From 2 Euros, you can choose all sorts of flavours, from Ferrero Rocher to Twix and Kinder Bueno. If you fancy hot chocolate,
go for the pure thick hot chocolate drink made from dollops of Nutella (that originates from Italy).

Nahhh, Florence is a safe city, so you can walk around without fearing for your safety.

Insider Tips:
I would say that Florence is my favourite Italian city. It's a cultural and an architectural gem indeed. If you fancy Medieval and Renaissance era, it's like going down the memory lane. The city is timeless. People are friendly. Goods are cheap. Everywhere is within walking distance. So, make sure you bring good walking shoes as the city is best seen on foot. It is also advisable to buy tickets to galleries and museums, especially Galeria dell’Academia and Uffizi ahead of time to avoid long queues.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Roman Holiday

Our Rome review:

The journey from Venice’s Santa Lucia Train Station to Rome’s Roma Termini was about 5.5 hours. Took Euro Star, and yes, it was impressive. Went on the 2nd class coach, and it was wayyyy better than KTM’s first class kat sini. It was a direct train with less than 5 stops. Stops were just for a short period – was only for 10 mins max. (Euro 90 per person)

Leaving Rome, we took the bus from the hotel to the train station. With the luggage that we each had, we certainly couldn’t afford to walk and drag our luggage along. The funny thing was, we were not aware of the bus system there and ended up did not pay a single cent for the journey from the hotel to the train station! Apparently, we had to use bus passes ala our Touch n Go cards and had to come onboard the bus via the front door (We entered through the door at the back-there were 3 doors, you see!). Only discovered that when we were already on the bus and after trying very hard to ask a passenger. The guy I approached had the friendliest face amongst the passengers but obviously knew only a few words of English. He had a hard time understanding me and vice-versa and when I finally understood him, we realised that we were nearing the train station already. Thinking that things might get complicated later, I quickly pulled hubby to get off the bus one stop before the train station. The bus driver didn’t yell or chase after us. Phewhh! Selamat di situ.

7 Kings Relais near Roma Termini station, 10 mins walk from the main train station. Consider taking the cab if you have big luggage though. The hotel is situated in a square with other hotels and residences. Once you enter the square, you’ll see a nice courtyard. Enter the door when you see the hotel signage hung outside one of the doors and take the lift to the 1st floor. If you’re not a solo traveler and each carry a big suitcase along, forget about going into the lift together. Yupp, it’s that small - it could only fit you and one big luggage. So, take turn to go up to the hotel. We were greeted by a friendly lady who told us that she’s been to Malaysia. The reception was a small nice place. I could see that the hotel was recently refurbished looking at the nice wallpapers and freshly coated walls. Checking in was smooth as we’ve prepaid via internet. (We booked via Rate per nite was only Euro 50. Cheap huh? Room is nice and clean. But it was winter and they have ceramic tiles for flooring, so it was quite cold. I was happy looking at how modern the room was but my happiness was short-lived the first nite when while I was trying to sleep, I could hear the oohs and the aahs of the people staying in the next room doing ‘it’!!! Can you imagine how thin the walls are!!! I felt so disgusted! Cepat2 I put on the handphone earphone and blasted whatever music stored in it! Cehh!!!

Do :
1) If you don’t have time just take one of the hop-on-hop-off buses. They were plenty and they go to almost similar stops. But after studying the routes, we took the trambus ( Simply because it stops at other sites too other than just the archeo spots. Stops include – Colloseum (wajib to go inside! You can take the tour @ Euro 12), Piazza Navona (nothing much, a big square with a few Christmas stalls at that time), Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain (wajib to go @ nite-beautiful!), Vatican City, Hard Rock Café etc
2) Rome is a metropolitan city, traffic jam boleh tahan juga (but of course can’t beat KL’s). Filled with big department stores especially along Via dei Condotti and Via del Corso. We didn’t shop much here. Only some Rome souvenirs plus Hard Rock Café’s stuff! HRC tshirts start at Euro 20++.

1) Fast food - Bosan kan?

Rome was nice. You may want to spend at least 3 days there to cover the must-go places there. As usual, people sana tak friendly tapi there’s no one lah yang I encountered yang treat us badly. Oh yeah, met many Malaysian students there. All in all, I give Rome 3/5. Next destination – Florence!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Venice Afloat

Venice has always been one of the places I wanna set foot in. And my dream came true when hubby and me flew there from Paris in December recently. We flew to Paris from KL via Dubai. And then flew to Venice with Easyjet a day after we arrived in Paris. Spent a nite in a hotel nearby the airport as we need to catch the early morning flight the next day. Good thing was the hotel provided us with free airport transfer. Anyway, here's our review for Venice:

Transportation :
1) Easyjet from Paris Charles De Gaulle (CDG) Airport to Venice Marco Polo Airport. Booked online from Malaysia (Total one way trip for Euro 40)
2) Alilaguna (Water taxi) from Venice Marco Polo Airport to hotel in Venice (Euro 12 per person one way)

Hotel :
Ca Pozzo Inn – a nice hotel located near the train station. Good location if you intend to travel out of Venice by train. They serve nice continental breakfast, have to pay for internet access though. Hotel is also an art gallery, you’ll find art prints and sculptures at every corner, on every wall. Hotel manager and front desk were pretty helpful in telling us where to go, what to avoid. Room is spacious, very well-heated, nice bathroom. (Per nite stay @ Euro123, yupp, rooms in Venice are pretty pricey!)

Do :
1) Go on a gondola, around Euro 90 per person for a boat with 2 passengers, for cheaper fare, go in a group of 4-6, you’ll pay about Euro 20 each.
2) Go around Venice on foot too – we took 4 hours to cover the whole Venice. Go into the alleys and you’ll discover lotsa little shops selling nice stuff for gifts - Murano glass accessories, lace, venetian carnival masks. There are many small markets all over Venice too. Rialto market is a must if you wanna see the locals marketing for their groceries.
3) San Marco Piazza, San Rialto bridge, Accademia area and the many, many squares they have throughout Venice.

1) Only a few halal pizza & kebab places around – We went to the one in Accademia area, managed by an Iraqi. Euro 2.50 per big slice of pizza.
2) Salads and seafood in fast food chains. We ate lotsa McDs.
3) Buy foodstuff and snacks in Billa, a supermarket. We bought plenty of croissants (plain and with chocolate/strawberry fillings) and snacks.
4) For Ferrero Rocher fans, make sure you get hold of dark chocolate version of these rochers. They’re yummier and crunchier than the ones sold here. Me and hubby menyesal sangat tak beli banyak2 bawak balik!

Overall, Venice was okay for me. But I think the city looked dirty, perhaps it was because of the flood. We were very disheartened upon arrival because the city was flooded! It was high tide at that time and water rose up to our knees! It was for a few hours only though. We had to use the black garbage plastics as our boots to walk all the way from the jetty to the hotel. Nasib baik dekat! Lepas tu, had to buy Wellington boots. (Macam boots Phua Chu Kang tu). Luckily it was only for Euro 15 each pair. Hmm..what else? People-wise - didn’t find anyone particular friendly except the ones in the hotel. I got snubbed off by one guy for walking slowly in front of him one nite (duhhh! sight-seeing, takkan nak jalan pecut, rite?) There was another occasion when I was enquiring to buy train tickets at the train station counter but this old cashier guy, dengan pandangan menyampahnya towards me, marah2 when I asked questions. Guess I look very Asian and I think dia tak suka Asians!!!! Whatever! All-in-all, I’ll rate Venice 2/5! Next destination – Rome!

Out of hibernation

It has been about 3 months since this blog was last updated. Continued enslaving myself working on the project after the December trip and had just completed it last week. Unfortunately, no breathing space for me as I'm starting a new project tomorrow with a client located right smack in the city! Urghhh! I've to leave home super early now..Ermm..perhaps not that early tomorrow though since it's the first day of school holiday..Tengoklah macam mana..

What happened the last 3 months? Hmm..can't say much happened. Work, birthday, treatment ended, work, work and work. Boring kan? There's something that I look forward to in May though. Will blog about it when the time comes. But first, I've to put up entries on the December trip first as promised earlier..Yes, am such a slacker!