Dear all,

Went for a Europe trip 1.5 months back with friends and it’s been a long time since I’ve gone for a long break – 20 over days to be exact. The trip was really an eye-opener. We went from Rome-Florence-Venice-Milan-Paris-London, and transited in Hongkong before returning to Singapore. Fare was S$1212 from Singapore to Hongkong to Rome and we returned from London to Hongkong to Singapore. It was considered cheap but I had another colleague who went to Italy on just $800++ on Emirates, barely two weeks later than my trip. I could have easily used that $200 to get more souvenirs! But well, it’s all a matter of luck and I’m fine with paying $1212.

We reached Rome at about 7 plus, after more than 15 hours of flight, including transit time. I love flying on plane for the beautifully arranged food on trays, served by well-groomed stewardesses and the anticipation of a whole new experience at the end of the flight. It’s magical when you think how the invention of planes enable any person with a little extra cash to go to another country to experience life. While I’ve heard how some people hate airline food, I simply love it. There was plently of food offered and tea breaks during the long haul. What I usually do is I keep leftovers in my bag so that I can eat it when I’m hungry later on. So my routine is to bring a roomy bag on board and keep food, erm.. yes, I am one of those guilty of stealing airline’s blankets. Why? Because it is convenient and you’ll never know whether you need them when you move from city to city. I use them as either pillows or blankets, depending on my needs. Do I see it as stealing? Not really since the cost of missing blankets would have been included in all fares (lousy justification but that a matter of perspective).

How’s Rome?

Rome is quite a rundown city and a crowded one. The image of what I had of Rome didn’t quite gel with what I saw. The place is too commercialised and had plently of tourists everywhere we turned. While we’ve heard stories of it being an unsafe city, we didn’t meet with any mishap. One possibiliy is that the many tourists there in April reduced the possibility of us being seen as targets. Moreover, the fact that we look like poor students on our graduation trip probably helped as well. Dressed in jeans and tees with our thick coats – the weather was still somewhat chilly – I doubt we were seen as rich pickings. Also, returning back in our hostels before nightfall also eliminated much of the danger a tourist faces.

IMG_1536Leonardo Express – Train from airport to city – costs €9.50 one way

From airport to the main city, we had to take a train. The tickets can be purchased from the many vendors at the train station, which was linked to the airport. We were quite disorientated with the many different vendors selling the same tickets and had to ask around. It was also at the station when we tried to break down our bills into smaller change. After purchasing the tickets, we had to valid them via the little machines placed in front of the train platform. It took us some time to figure out how to validate them as some of the machines were not working. It was on the train where we had our first sight of how affectionate Europeans in general are – lots of loud kissing sound came from one of the seats near us. It’s not a common sound in Singapore’s trains, so it felt a little disconcerting at first.

After reaching the station, we took a stroll to our hostel, which was near the station. The name of the hostel was called Yellow and we paid €58.00 per person for two nights. Mixed dorms basically refers to how males and females are placed together in a room and is cost saving for hostel since it doesn’t have to separate males and females. It sounds like an awkward situation when I first heard of it from a friend but you actually stay in one, it’s really not a big deal. Hostels for Americans are like places where you can socialise but for us, the reason for us picking hostels over hotels was to save money. Saving a little each day means that we save quite a bit on lodgings. The room we stayed in was clean and there’s a little antique lift that stops at each level, so we needn’t lug our luggage over the many flights of stairs to our room.

IMG_1837Stairway of the hostel

IMG_1840Posters at the hostel

I didn’t take any pictures of the room but you can check them out on their website: http://www.yellowhostel.com/tour.php#
The ladies at the counter were really friendly and chatty but as we reached there before the check-in time, we had to leave our bags in their store room first. After we left our bags, we went to a nearby eatery for brunch and the prices for a sandwich were pretty much like delifrance or cedele. The sandwiches were delicious and had a cappuccino to go with it and cost about €4.10 in total.

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Nearby eatry, just a street from the hostel

IMG_1540Brunch

We then went grocery shopping at a supermarket at the basement of the train station, getting a bottle of water to keep us hydrated for the day. It was also at the supermarket that I saw this entire shelf of Kinder products that we don’t have it in Singapore. Pretty cool right? I stood there for quite sometime, overwhelmed witht the selection. I had wanted to get something back but the thought of lugging it all over Italy to France and to London kills the idea the moment it was formed in my head.

IMG_1543At the supermarket

We were then ready for our first adventure on our trip! Our first stop: II Vittoriano, a a monument to honour Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy, located in Rome, Italy. We had to take a bus from the station to the monument. Can’t quite remember the cost of it though. The monument was quite an impressive sight and if you have the time, do climb up the stairs to have a top view of the plaza. Although we didn’t quite appreciate the meaning behind the monument, we felt awed by the whole architecture.

IMG_1544II Vittoriano

IMG_1564Top view from II Vittoriano

After you reach the II Vittoriano, all the sightseeing places that we planned for the day are just walking distances apart. The imperial forums, Arch of Constantine, Palatine Hills, Roman Forum, Capitoline Hill.

Picture 3Layout of the places we went on our first day in Rome

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Imperial forums

IMG_1582Colosseum

We managed to get into Colosseum and many other places of interest for free as Italy was having its cultural week where they open up state owned tourists destination for free. It was a really good deal which we didn’t plan for earlier (it’s quite difficult to plan one’s holidays around as they don’t really publicise it. The free admissions also meant that there were long queues that made up of both tourists and locals. Although there’s no charge, we still had to get a ticket from the ticketing office which I felt was a waste of paper. I mean the purpose of having tickets is to show that one has paid for it right? In this case, where’s the need?

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Ticket for Colosseum, Palatino and Forum

IMG_1631Arch of Constantine, picture taken to show its promixity to the Colosseum

When we chanced upon the Arch of Constantine, we didn’t realise that it was the monument we were looking for as there were no tourists surrounding it. Which is weird especially when everywhere’s crowded. On our way to the Palatino, we saw lots of ruins and it wasn’t easy to tell what each of the ruin was. This was a real problem for me as I had tried to avoid viewing photos of Rome while doing up my itinerary. I wanted to experience first hand how Rome looked instead of having a preconceived idea of how everything looks like. So, I pretty much was overwhelmed by the sights such that all ruins look the same to me. Yeah, it was a bad idea…. Don’t be like me!

IMG_1686Map of all the ruins – the map was situated in the Musei Capitolini where you can check against the map and look out at the actual scenery through the window.

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When viewing the ruins, we were caught in the rain. Luckily we brought umbrellas along on our first day and we quickly took shelter at the Musei Capitolini. The museum wasn’t in our itinerary but since we were caught in the rain, we decided to just enter the museum (which had free admission again due to the cultural week promotion).

Compared to the other museums and palaces that we went, the Musei Capitolini is considered less significant and the pieces aren’t as valuable. However, it was the first time I encountered such richness in decor and I was taken aback at the sightings of the paintings, tapestry and sculptures. I can still remember how it felt to encounter the beautiful rooms where every nook contains something interesting to view. There was also this extremely spacious exhibition area where it seems almost like you are at outdoors. The sun shines in almost unblocked in this room and there are steps where many visitors would sit on after a long day of touring.

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One of the stairway at the museum

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To end our day off, we had our meals in the museum’s cafe. Sandwich and a pot of tea (I took the whole tray of teabags and had two different types of tea, quite a good deal for just the tea itself!) cost €5.40 – about S$11 – not cheap but not expensive either.

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Back to hostel we went. After checking in, a friend and I had to stay in a room where we had male strangers for roomies that day. I had initally thought one of the roomies was a girl because there was a bath lily around the bed. And to think that me, a girl, has never used one before, even till today! Was given a free one from thebodyshop but just don’t have the habit of using it. The only problem I faced with mixed dorm was that guys really snore loudly and their problem with us was probably our practice of hogging the toilets. Ha…. And I think for one of the nights, one of the guys slept naked, so he had to wait for a long while till we got out of the room before he could out of his blankets and get dressed. Lesson learnt: If I ever stay in a hostel again, I’ll definitely bring ear plugs & not to forget, my useful eye mask to block out the lights (not everyone sleep at the same time as you)!

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