It’s quite a coincidence that the theme of the photo challenge is “Layered” which was the exact feeling I have from my recent trip to Italy. Why, one would be curious..

That’s because the present day Italy has several layers of civilizations underneath it. I am not sure which city of Italy wouldn’t have ruins of as far as the Roman times, if not even older, under it.

But for the photo challenge, I’d like to present these terracota statues – “The Compianto” made by Niccolo dell’Arca in the 15th century, which are today housed in the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita, in Bologna. The statues are so lifelike that it feels like someone froze a moment in time. Now what is the connection to layers here? The traditional statue making with stone involves chipping off the stone but in terracota, one needs to add one layer over the other to achieve the effect. It was considered by sculptors of the likes of Michelangelo an inferior form to create something by adding (putting layers of clay) than by removing (chipping off marble)! To each his opinion. My opinion is that art forms are means of expression of the same thing inside us human beings that wants to come out – and hence, no form can be inferior or superior. A form can be easier or difficult to work with – but ultimately, it is the end result that is important. Does the work on display evoke any emotion in the observer? If yes, then it’s good work. If not, then it probably could be made better.


For more interpretations of the theme, you can visit here.


Amsterdam 3

And finally the day came when I had to return home. I still had the morning to taken in some more of this beautiful city. There was a small guide in my hotel which suggested some interesting things to do – and that too for free!

Following the guide, I went first to the Public Library where it was allowed to go up to the top and get a view of the city. I had not been to a public library in a long time. Had to wait until it opened (I reached a bit early). When I entered the place, then I was pleasantly surprised at how modern this place looked. I had not seen another public library like this.


The Public Library

After taking a look at the library and the view of the city from the top, I came down and strolled towards the central station and captured some beautiful images of the city.




Cycles looking over the canal

Hadn’t got a chance before to step into these huge clogs that the shops had placed outside them because there were always so many people taking their pictures. But then as it was still morning time and was relatively empty, I got my chance. They look pretty but are quite uncomfortable I must say. I wonder how the people wore (not the huge ones but ones that was of their foot size, of course) and worked in them everyday.


Traditional Wooden Shoes

Walking and taking the tram somewhere, I reached the Bloemenmarkt  – the Flower Market at the Singel canal. I had read on the internet that it is a floating market. But I didn’t see anything floating, don’t know if I didn’t look properly or the boats weren’t there. There were rows and rows of flower and souvenir shops. It might be that they were on houseboats moored in the canal – although I didn’t feel any movement when I stepped into them. Whatever the case may be, it was just beautiful.



I found a cheese shop there which allowed for tasting and paired its cheeses with some special chutneys! Quite stimulating for the taste buds, in a good way :-).

Then I checked the time and realized I had just enough to go eat something at my favorite restaurant, which I had been going to for the last two days and then return to the hotel. This time I got a seat beside the window and I could see the cyclists closely who would stop at the traffic light. The cycles in Amsterdam are of a very simple kind – no gears and fancy stuff. But what caught my eye was the variety of people riding the bicycles. I captured this musician on my lens.


The musician cyclist

Then I returned to my hotel – was even a bit late to checkout but thankfully, the friendly staff was not angry about it. Then to reach the place where I had to board the bus from was slightly tricky but managed to reach in time. The return journey was uneventful and quite alright. Looking forward to going there once again and experience some more of this wonderful city..

Amsterdam 2

At the end of the walking tour from the previous day, our guide gave us some flyers about a comedy evening happening at a restaurant later. Since I didn’t have any plans for the evening, I thought it would be a good idea to go there. I had made acquaintance with a lovely young couple from Germany during the walk and they also expressed interest in going there. So we agreed to meet later,  after having a coffee together (not the “Coffee Shop” kind ;)). They needed to buy some things and I wanted to get rid of all the heavy stuff I’d been carrying all day (remember the umbrella, jacket that I was carrying due to rain and cold temperature from the morning?) as it had become quite hot during the day. So I went back to my hotel, dumped the things and then returned to the city. Now it was a difficult task to reach that restaurant but with google’s guidance, I did reach – only to find myself in an Industrial area! I wasn’t sure if that was the right place with hardly anyone around. But upon entering that beach kind of restaurant (sandy and open air), I saw the German couple and heaved a sigh of relief. They told me that they were also unsure when they arrived but upon seeing our walking tour guide there, they were confident that this was the right place.

Then we waited. Nothing happened for a long time and there weren’t too many people either. We ordered some food (which was a disappointment by the way) while waiting. Then someone came on the stage and announced that we would start soon. Then they counted the audience, looked at one another and we understood that there were 5 comedians and 5 people in the audience. It was gonna be good – 1:1 interaction! Anyway, a few more people arrived but yet, the ratio didn’t change drastically – might be 2 audience per comedian. They then started – of course not before wondering about the advertising of the event! The first thing they asked was about the nationalities of all the people present. It was amazing that in total (including the comedians), there were people from at least 7 different ethnicities/nationalities – Indian, German, Canadian, American, British, Iranian and Dutch (I can’t recall the complete set). There were four/five new comedians and the chief guest was the one who became famous with his creation of the “Holland Second” video (starting from 0.38 seconds in the link). It was really funny to hear the comedians share their take on the experiences with the people of the different nationalities present there. There are some things which many of us do and it seems normal to us until someone presents it back to us like showing a mirror :-).

Thus, the evening went quite nicely and we then decided to call it a night. I got a good sleep after all the action of the day.

The next morning, I was wondering about what all places should I go and see. The Anne Frank museum was difficult because it has time slots that you need to book in advance else you stand in a huge queue and there is no guarantee that you would get in. So I went to the Rijks Museum to get inspired by art. Now, that is one huge museum. I hadn’t planned it properly. Spent almost the whole day there and yet, it wasn’t over! It’s fascinating to see the art from the masters of the previous centuries, sculptures, models of boats/ships and also what the Dutch explorers brought back from their expeditions in Asia.


Rijks Museum solarium

When I wanted to sit down to give my feet some rest and found this room where they provided colors and paper and also some inspiration. I made the postcard and put it up on the wall of that room. So now I also have an exhibit in Rijks Museum ;-).


My “inspired” art-work at Rijks Museum (inspiration in front)

There were amazing sculptures there – some European and some Asian.


Guanyin (China)


Statues of Gabriel from different times

The self portrait of Van Gogh – I don’t remember but I guess this was one of the very few paintings from Van Gogh there. Rest of his work is in a separate museum Van Gogh Museum which is across the street from Rijks Museum but I didn’t get the time to go there.  I was enlightened that there was not just one of these portraits – he kept experimenting all his life and perfecting the technique!


The Maestro himself

There were lots of amazing portrait works in the museum commissioned by the patrons of those times. I loved this one, of a woman who lived in the 17th century. There was a plaque that told her story briefly.


Portrait of a beautiful woman with her dog

There were some exhibits also about how artists created 3 dimensional visuals with layers of painted papers spaced in a way that it created the illusion beautifully.


Amazing 3D visuals with paper

One post will not be sufficient to explain all that I learnt and experienced in that museum. It was just beautiful and should be experienced by anyone who visits Amsterdam and wants to learn about the rich heritage of Dutch artists.

Since it was almost closing time of the museum, I had to get out else I would have stayed even longer. Then I was super hungry. So I went to the same restaurant as the previous day and had a super “lunner” (lunch + dinner). Satiated, I came to the harbor area with the hope that I would be able to get a boat ride through the canals. I was lucky and found one of the boat tours that was still open. It was just lovely to go in the evening through the canals and look at the historic landmarks of the city. Got this beautiful view at the end of the tour that captured the essence of my blog – reflections.


After that I just walked around a bit to take in the feel of this wonderful city and then called it a day.

Amsterdam 1

I reached Amsterdam on a wet Saturday morning in June after taking a long journey with a bus. It was an extended weekend, so I had three days at hand. Had been wanting to go there since years but it wasn’t just materializing and then as it happens with most of my trips, I booked it 3 days before the journey.

First briefly about the journey – I have had good experiences with these long distance buses. This one was also fine except for one administrative glitch. This bus company doesn’t have an app and wants people to print out the ticket. I printed it but the setting was to print on both sides of the paper. Now there was a change required at one place in the journey and the issue was that the driver takes that paper from you. So, as you may have guessed it, I didn’t have the paper with me for the second leg of the journey. But seemingly the language of money is understood all over the world. The driver took 5 Euros from me to return that piece of paper to me. I don’t understand it – if he could give it back to me in exchange for money, why did he need to keep that paper in the first place! If I had the ticket printed on separate papers, he wouldn’t have been able to make any money on that. Unsolved Mysteries. Another thing that happened was that when I woke up upon reaching Amsterdam, I found that some liquid had drained out into my bag from somewhere and had moistened the papers inside. I suspected the collapsible water bottle that had in my bag. Immediately took out the important things and put them in a plastic bag. Later I realized that it was not the water bottle but the pack of disinfectant wipes that had gotten pressed and the liquid soaking them spilled out. Since then, I have started carrying them around in a zip-lock bag!

Anyway, so I reached the destination which was a train station somewhere outside of Amsterdam. I tried to figure out the way to go to the city as per the information I had collected from the internet. They have a good public transport network. You just need to locate the right ticket machine (which took me some time). Then a metro train and a bus journey later (meanwhile also meeting a man who appeared stoned, at the bus stop who wanted me to wake him up when the bus arrived..), I reached my hotel. Thankfully, they had the room ready even though I was early. The window overlooked a beautiful marina.


After resting a bit, I started for my exploration of the city. It was cold and rainy, so I had a lot of things with me – camera, jacket, umbrella, water…uff! There was a tram stop close to the hotel from where the tram brought me directly to the central station. And as you can see in the picture below, everyone was trying to find a shelter from the rain.

IMG_5169 (2).JPG

But by the time I got the information from the tourist information center (opposite to the central station) and sorted out some things, the rain stopped and I could proceed. Reached a shop that invited inside to take a look at the cheeses and take pictures. So I went in. Looked interesting as you can see below with cheese wheels, wooden shoes, weighing scales, mugs and a cow!


Inside the cheese shop


Royal Palace

Thus walking around a bit and taking in the scenery of the city, I decided to go for some lunch. I knew of my favorite South Indian restaurant being there somewhere. Went and had a hearty lunch.

I was waiting for the walking tour that was to start from the Dam Square. Reached and then the tour started. Sharing what I learnt from that tour.

The guide warned us by telling us that national sport of Holland is hunting tourists with the bicycle – we have to be verrrrrrrrry careful while walking around – nobody was to take a chance by stepping into the bicycle lanes! Second piece of warning was to NOT go inside the “Coffee Shop” if anyone wanted Coffee. Why you wonder? Because in Amsterdam, Coffee Shops are for getting drugs not coffee. Coffee is served at a Cafe. Phew..just saved! Thank goodness I had my coffee at the South Indian restaurant!

With those instructions we started on the tour. First stop was the Red Light district. It looked like any normal neighborhood during the daytime. Some windows showed the women waiting for clients. Although it is a profession, it still evoked some sadness inside seeing those women looking at people in a matter of fact emotionless way. Only good thing is that since 2000 it is a legalized profession in Amsterdam, so the workers can get insurance.

There was a huge church right in the middle of that area – Oude Kerk – Old Church with all the windows around that church, clearly showing how the city turned a blind eye towards the profession. According to our guide, and I guess there is some truth in that – it was a necessary evil – considering the number of sailors who came into Amsterdam after being on the ships for months, in the last centuries.


Oude Kerk

About the Dam Square – the big street there used to be the Amstel river. About 800 years ago, fishermen built a dam because the river used to flood the town.

As the country had no major natural resources, so they started business with other countries and gave rise to a huge shipping industry. In the 17th century, it was the richest nation in Europe. There was a city wall from medieval times, which was removed in early 17th century. It became the golden age for the country.

In 1889 – the harbor used to be where the current Central Station is – it is an artificial island!

Walking ahead, I saw this interesting setup with all the old style clothes and the photographer there.


The photo artist with his paraphernalia

We reached the New Market square and then moved on towards the Jewish quarter. Before WW2, around 120000 Jews lived there but around 60000 were killed.

The harsh winter of 1944 destroyed the area because it was so cold that people took everything and burnt down. It was in such a bad shape that when the city was liberated, the soldiers thought that this area was bombed! This is now a quiet beautiful residential area.IMG_5210[1]

Then we came to the Dutch East India Company. It was started in 1602 and closed by 1792 or so (taken over by Batavian government). It was the first company to start share trading in 1602 – at that time it was for shipping companies.


Dutch East India Company


The current king of Holland is Wilhelm and the queen is Maxima (Argentinian). They live in Hague.

In 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte established the Kingdom of Holland and made his brother – Louis Bonaparte the king. But it was a short-lived kingship for him as he was not the puppet his elder brother had hoped him to be.

A funny side effect of the French occupation of Holland was that til today, the people are carrying the whimsical surnames that their ancestors came up with when they were forced to have one for the purposes of population registry.  Family names were not prevalent before. People followed a kind of patronymic system like “son of x” or “daughter of y” – Jansen or  Jandr but there was no set pattern as such. But when forced, then they came up with interesting names like Zondervan (without a surname), Zeldenthuis (rarely at home). I am leaving out the more “strange” ones. Now this story could be a joke or real – take your pick :).

Other quick facts that I learnt from our guide were:

  • Eduard Douwes Dekker , pen name Multatuli, was a Dutch writer famous for his satirical novel Max Havelaar. It was about the Dutch exploitation of Indonesia.IMG_5218[1]
  • The Dutch people have grown taller – about 20 cm increase in height in the last century!
  • Every year, the water department of Amsterdam fishes out 12000 to 15000 bicycles from the canals. Seemingly throwing bicycles in canals is a popular past-time!
  • In Amsterdam, houseboats are like normal houses with gas and electricity connection. Mooring rights are sold just like you would sell houses in other places.
  • 11 million trees were used to build the base for the city center after reclaiming the land from the sea. The trees have rotted slowly over the years thereby tilting the houses.
  • 20% of country is below sea level
  • Amsterdam is a Unesco world heritage site with 165 canals!

Thus with fun and facts, we ended the walking tour.. There was another interesting thing that happened later but more on that in the next post.


Italian Adventure – Day 8

Alas, the trip has come to an end.

As they say, the body is tired but the soul is longing for more. Looks like I’ll have to come again. Italy had captivated me long ago when I came here for 2 days in 2005. One day was spent in Rome and one in Venice – a whirlwind trip. I can’t believe that it took me 12 years to be able to visit this lovely country again. I hope the next trip is sooner.

About today then. I woke up this morning at a lazy pace, had a slow breakfast and then had the major task of packing everything back in the suitcase. I need the charm that I saw Professor Lupib use in the Harry Potter movies! It was such a time consuming task – to compress everything and fit into the carry-on luggage and that when I hardly bought anything here (so much self control – I must be reaching the gyaan stage of the Buddha!).

So I came to Pisa from Florence – this time I did take the train that was in 10 minutes. Took the chance and it worked :).

The first thing at the Pisa station – the airport shuttle (mini train) goes every 5 minutes from there and costs 2.70 Eur one way. There is a machine at the same place from where the train leaves. It is not the same as that for normal trains. The Tabacci at the station very patiently and genially answered my queries about the regular bus and airport shuttle. The regular public bus can take you to the tower. Ticket one way costs 1.20 Eur and valid for 70 mins after stamping in the bus.

I noted the location of the shuttle departure (at the end of the platforms – there are 13 of them) and then went on my exploration of the famous architecture of Pisa. It was perfect to be able to see all the buildings in just one location with green grass lawns around. I lightened my luggage by having the food that I had brought along. Sat at the lawns and enjoyed the view. Since I had started late, I didn’t have time to go inside any building.


Of course

Keith Haring Mural

Now I need to board my flight. I checked the temperatures back at home and it is going to be so different there after all the sun and warmth in Italy. Until next – Ciao Italy.

Italian Adventure – Day 7

According to the Old Testament, God created everything in 6 days and rested on the 7th. I can imagine why us humans would think that – we get exhausted after 6 days and need to rest – whether at work or on vacation , as has been my experience since the last one week.

Today morning I was just not in the mood to venture out for anything. It was raining in the night and I had again a broken sleep. But then at around 9 AM, I saw that the sun was peeking out. That encouraged me a bit as then it would feel like committing a sin to keep sitting inside the hotel. So I got ready, had breakfast and did a kind of “Eena Meena mina moe” to decide between Lucca and Siena as the destination for today. Siena won.

At the train station, I bought the ticket that gave me 25 minutes – you know why! Then located the right platform after asking a trenitalia staff member. It was hidden behind due to some renovation work going on at the station. The train looked rather small – I guess 3 carriages only. The driver was a young guy and just went past us in the carriage and entered his cabin through a door within the carriage. That was unusual – I had never before seen a train driver get inside his cabin through the passenger seating area. 

Then after about 1.5 hr of journey (sleeping intermittently), the train reached Siena. I had read on the net that there is some kind of escalator going up from train station to the city. The posts were from 2011 and peope were discussing in it the ongoing construction. Now it is all running very well – I can tell from first hand exprience today. There is a shopping mall opposite the station. Just keep going up in it using the escalators and you would reach the town. Upon exiting, go left and keep going until you reach a medieval style gate on your right hand side through which majot traffic is passing by. You have to enter that and then just follow the crowd. You would reach the city center.

Siena is a town which had rivalry with Florence. While Florence became the main center of Renaissance, Siena retained the Medieval character. 
I stopped for a coffee and rest room break as the train journey had given me a headache. Then proceeded to the Piazza del Campo while peeking into the smaller churches on the way. 

The piazza was circular with a stunning huge tower on the arc. Lots of people were just sitting there and enjoying the feeble sun. I also sat down to eat something as it was lunch time. People were either at the restaurants or at the piazza with their sandwiches etc. Kids were running after the pigeons and parents after the kids. Thus taking in all the scenery and relaxing my feet, I moved ahead.

The guides yesterday had told that Siena had a huge cathedral and Florence had built its Cathedral to score on Siena. So of course I wanted to see the cathedral here. There was a OPA ticket that allowed to visit 5 places. I took that though wondering if I would have enough time to see everything. I managed by skipping the panoramic view for which the queues were really long with a waiting time of 1 hour. 

The cathedral was indeed impressive but after having seen the one in Florence before it, it seemed just fine. But I am glad that I went inside. I had not seen these bright colors inside a church before this one. It was just awesome. And in addition, there was a library inside which was also lovely. I saw the hand written books on display with beautiful artwork as was the way before the printing press of Gutenberg.

Then I went to the museum, baptistry, crypt and oratorium in that sequence. The panoramic view was through the museum but I skipped it as I wanted to see the other things before they closed.

The amount of religious art from the middle ages that I have seen in the last 3 days is enough to make me see green faces, and babies with adult features in my nightmares! The reason is that the skin tone was made by first giving a green base and then coloring on top. Over the centuries the top coats have faded and one can see the green underneath. And regarding the adult face – for whatever reason, the artists in medieval times had to represent Jesus as a homunculus man – perfectly formed but small.

But the sculptures and architecture works that I have seen makes up for it. They are just marvelous.

I wanted to spend some more time in Siena but was afraid that I might reach too late to Florence, as it is about an hour and half journey plus the time to reach the station and waiting for the train. It had also started raining a bit so I set off. After having missed one by a few minutes, I took the ticket for the next direct one which was one hour later, grabbed some dinner from a lovely salad shop (make your own combinations), returned to the station, found the train and came back home (hotel after 2 days starts feeling like home).

Oh, I forgot to mention – a daily dose of sorbet/gelato is also being taken during all the sightseeing. It’s not cheap here considering it’s the source but it’s superb.

So that’s the end of day 7. Tomorrow is the day of return. Hopefully everything will go smoothly. Ciao for now. 

Italian Adventure – Day 6

Today I am about to write my exploration of Florence both from yesterday and today.

Upon arriving yesterday after all the adventures, I ventured out to explore the city a bit. A walking tour was to start at 5 PM (they call it afternoon here!). So I had about 4 hours to kill. I decided to take some pictures around (art everywhere), grab some lunch and get a feel of the area. The churches looked interesting with green and white marble facades, some with only bricks and some with yellowish brown stones. Walking around I also reached a street market – San Lorenzo Market which was full of vendors with leather goods – bags and jackets. I didn’t notice any shoes though. There is also an indoor market there – Mercato Centrale – see the one with the green roof in the picture below. That has food stalls.

There is of course a basilica of San Lorenzo around. Interesting thing is that it has only the brick structure in the facade which was made in such a way so that marble could be laid on top of it. Michelangelo was given that task in 1518 but Florence is still waiting for the marble to come from Carrara!

I was hungry and after some futile search for gluten-free vegetarian food even at restaurants marked in tripadvisor, I landed in an Asian fusion cuisine restaurant. The waitress there told me she could get me the hot and sour soup with rice noodles and no meat. It was a huge portion and quite alright.

Also took some matcha bubble tea to beat the heat of the spicy soup. But it was in the end too much for me.

Proceeding further, I reached the main cathedral and was bowled over by its beauty.

It is huge – as I got to know today – the 5th largest church in the world.

And now it was time to start the tour. So I came to the Santa Maria Novella church in front of which everyone was supposed to assemble.

We started for the tour about the Medici family. Very intriguing. I need to write one post separately about that! For now, just know that they started with the Banking business and became the Dukes of Florence. Four members of the clan even became Popes! Business, politics and religion – the three pillars of medieval times.

Once done, I was exhausted with all the walking but still did some more on my own and looked at the shop windows, curbed my desire to buy things and then came back to the hotel. It is crazy with the buses here. The schedules written at the bus stops seem to be valid sometimes and invalid at another. So you can never be sure!

Thankfully I reached when I reached because as I told yesterday, it rained cats and dogs all night long and also this morning!

Due to the heavy rain, I could start today only just in time to reach for the Renaissance walking tour. That was good too but it was still raining from time to time – so a bit difficult to manage taking notes, pictures and saving all the paraphernalia from rain! Would write another post just for this tour and what I learnt about Renaissance art.

After that got over, I went in search for food. Luckily I came across a shop that had everything gluten-free in it! Enjoyed a slice of pizza margharita and a fruit tart.

Thus fuelled, I moved ahead and thought of what next to do. Reached the Uffizi gallery and remembered the words of the receptionist from this morning – that when he came to Florence for the first time, it was for about 6 hours and he spent the time in this gallery to absorb all the art.

And looks like the guides there read my mind or just noticed that I was getting deterred by the queue and one of them approached me. The agency offered guided tour of the gallery with no standing in the queue for the ticket. It was quite expensive but I took it. Now I realize that I should have taken the earlier slot because the last slot meant having to rush through everything and not having the time to explore on your own even though the ticket allows that. Anyway, that was lesson for today.

While waiting for the time, I went to look at some of the spots suggested by the guide today morning. Even splurged a bit in shopping (yes, the self-control of yesterday was gone). And then returned for the tour.

Now the Uffizi was originally the administrative office of the Medicis – Cosimo the First got it constructed. It was turned first into a private art gallery for all the collections of the Medici family by Francesco – the son of Cosimo and then became a state museum when the last female of the clan – Anna Maria Medici willed everything to the people of Florence to prevent the taking away of the artistic treasure from Florence. The tour was very informative and showed the most important pieces of the gallery – MichelAngelo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Carvaggio to name a few illustrious artists. A lot of Greek and Roman sculptures were there as well but the tour didn’t spend much time on that. Some pieces below for a glimpse.

Prima Vera (Spring) by Botticelli

Doni Tondo by Michelangelo

Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci

I ended my day by having nice Indian food for dinner. And then with no plans for tomorrow, I go to sleep now.

Italian Adventure – Day 5

First Lesson for the Day

Do not become overconfident about the public transport of a country. The moment you think that you understand it and you can handle it, you will be caught by surprise – and a missed connection.

Today morning, I had 10 minutes to catch a train and I thought it’s easy. I bought the ticket from a ticket machine. The platform number indicated on the board was 6. I was standing next to one that said 6 but the train indicated there said something else. I thought may be there is still time and when this one goes, then the next one – the one I have to take would be here. But now only 3 minutes were left. So I went inside the train and asked a lady there (there was no train number or destination mentioned on the train). She tried to tell me that I needed to go to another Binari (Platform in Italian). Thankfully my senses worked and I exited the train in time. Then looking around, I realized it was 6 Ovest and not 6. Ovest means “West” in Italian – which I know now. So I ran with 3 minutes in hand to find 6. Reached in 4 minutes and the train was explained to me by an Italian guy standing on the next platform when I asked. So much for my confidence that I would be able to catch a train if I have 10 minutes at hand. So then I thought of going to the human beings instead of the machine – at the ticket counter. Mind you Bologna station is not a simple station. It has 4 levels underground which I now know. Somehow I managed to reach the ticket counter after some up and down. Then I asked the lady outside the counter who was helping people find where they needed to go for their query. She told me to go to a kiosk labeled La Frecce and “try” changing my ticket. That was for last minute service for the passengers of La Frecce – the fast trains managed by Trenitalia. The lady there was occupied – a passenger in front of me took more than 10 minutes – I don’t know what was so complicated in his query. Anyway, so my turn came, I explained the issue and she agreed to change it (Phew!!). I asked for a train that was about 30 minutes later (there was one in 10 minutes too but you know “once missed twice careful”). She gave the new ticket and told me that the platform was 4 levels below the ground. I didn’t believe her but then found that it was true. Then I waited for 20 minutes at the platform. The train came, I boarded and then it was all fine from there. Or so I thought. The weather prediction displayed on the monitor in the train for Florence said “Rain”!! And I had no umbrella. When I reached, I thought I’d be stuck now but then it wasn’t raining. I managed to go to the tourist center, got myself a bus pass for the day (it’s interesting that here you get it from Tobacco shops labeled Tabacchi or newspaper kiosks) and boarded the right bus. And then on getting down, as you would have guessed – it started raining. 

I still went on – moving stopping – as it was nothing compared to the Indian monsoon rain and reached the hotel. The receptionist told me that the room was not ready because I was early. He double checked it for me with housekeeping. I already knew it because I had mailed and asked last night for which they had responded that they would be unable to do so. Moving on, I decided to take out the camera and leave the luggage at the reception. The receptionist got occupied with a family that was leaving, I wanted to ask something and so I waited and in the meantime – he got informed by the lady from housekeeping that the room was ready!! Buon giorno!! Since it was raining anyway, I went to my room, relaxed a bit and then came out when it stopped raining. 

So in the end, all turned out to be perfectly fine – missing the train, reaching later than planned, rain, getting the room….

I would write more about this day tomorrow. For now, it is raining again – heavily this time and I am safely back in my room looking from my window at it.

Italian Adventure – Day 4

I think I overestimated myself for packing in so many places in a short time. It’s not that any place I have been to so far had anything very interesting that I might have missed because of less time. But the journey times between one city and another have been a bit more than I thought because I didn’t consider delays, missing connections, fast versus slow trains. Lesson learnt. 

Started this morning from Como to reach Milan and then from there to Bologna. I splurged a bit and took a first class ticket for the second leg of my journey. The advantage was that it was much quieter and less crowded than the the second class. I liked that because the journey was a long one. Slow train – took about 3 hours from Milan to Bologna. I crossed the famous Parma (Parmigiano-Reggiano i.e. Parmesan cheese), Modena (Balsamic, Ferrari, Lamborghini) before reaching Bologna (Bolognese Sauce fame). 

Now Como was cool this morning as it had rained last night. So coming from there, Bologna felt so hot. Walked down from the train station to the hotel. Was sweating profusely by the time I reached the hotel. And – I was earlier than the check-in time so the room wasn’t ready. I probably should have mailed them yesterday but then last night I didn’t know when I would be able to reach. So I just stowed my luggage in their storage room, freshened up a bit and started on my exploration.

Mysterious keys hanging from a tree

Now, Bologna looks like a town that is still in middle ages – the refinement of 21st century has not reached it – I am only talking about the central part of the city. I was actually reminded of some old cities of India. Electric wires criss crossing above the head spoiling the photo opportunities, narrow lanes, buses, bicycles, scooters, cars – all mixed up in one get the picture.

I reached the information center which is located in Piazza Maggiore. I couldn’t find any free walking tours so bought ticket for the one organized by the tourist office. It was supposed to start at 4:45 pm. So I had plenty of time to grab lunch. I found an interesting place that serves organic vegan/vegetarian food. Chatted up with two ladies from there. Was a pleasure. 
I still had time before the tour so I went to a kind of monastery as it was not part of the tour – San Stefano. It was ancient. 

So today’s lessons. 

The name of the region is Emilia Romagna. That is because it was managed by the Roman general Emilius. 

In Bologna was established the first university in Europe for Medicine and Law in around 14th century. With the tour, We went to the Anatomical Theater to see where the dissection of the cadavers used to take place. It was done in winter only, because of lack of refrigeration technology  in those days. The dissection used to take about 7 hours.

I am still updating the post. Do keep an eye on the blog because Bologna like rest of Italy, also has lot of dramatic stories in its past and I will write all about it.

So about the Tortilleni – The name comes because it looks like a small navel. Technically it is supposed to be 8 mm in size after getting cooked. The bigger ones are for tourists!


Famous Terracota statues

Italian Adventure – Day 3

Ocean’s 11! The fans of George Clooney must’ve understood what I am talking about. And not the Bellagio casino – I came to the real Bellagio – the “Pearl of Como”. Charming place and hence, super touristy. Reminded me of a village in the Bay Area that I visited long ago. Now I understand what the people who emigrated from Europe to US were trying to recreate.

But, first things first. I started from my hotel in Milan this morning – missed the train that I originally intended to take because I didn’t check my painstakingly collected information the previous night. Then proceeded to the station after having some breakfast. Sadly it wasn’t the same friendly guys at the reception as yesterday. The ones today couldn’t find all the gluten free things that I had yesterday. So I got just some rusk today. Better than nothing!

Reached the station, tried my hand at the first ticket machine that I saw and couldn’t find my destination listed. So I proceeded to the ticket counter. They charge about 1 Eur more per ticket as the fee! And I didn’t want to take a chance – so I booked both back and forth tickets. And then just a few steps ahead I found their self-service machines..the first one I had checked was not from the same train operator, hence no ticket! Mystery solved.

Alright then, I needed to change the train at the next station. I was deliberating whether I should go via the Metro there and then board the connection or just go as per the schedule. In hindsight, I should have gone via the metro. Yes, you guessed it right – I missed the connection – by 1 minute despite all the running, as the first train was late. But I was not the only one. An American family came huffing puffing behind me. Then we looked up the chart and found that the next connection would be 1 hour later. So we went our separate ways to pass the time. Suddenly while I was in a shop, I had the thought of going to the ticket counter to ask if the same ticket could be used or not. So I went there and found the younger members of the family also just right before me in the queue. The lady there told them that there was one more train that was leaving in 10 minutes and we could use the same ticket. We proceeded to that train.

That train also started about 6 minutes later than the scheduled departure. But no complaints there as it was still about 20 minutes before the one we were waiting for. After that, no further incidents and we reached the destination.

We parted ways once more and I walked towards my hotel. It was a hot sunny day. When I reached the hotel, they were cleaning the room (I was early). But they told me that I could leave my luggage. I was preparing for that (getting camera, putting away other unnecessary stuff..) but by then, they made the room ready before I left so I could even relax a bit in the room before starting.

The Cathedral of Como is beautiful – I haven’t seen one like it. It has a mix of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles as it was built over a long period of time. In general it is free to get inside the cathedral but they ask for a little donation like a Euro or two, and also give a pamphlet in a few languages – English, German, Italian.., explaining the church. That’s quite alright for the opportunity to learn about the church.

I reached the Piazza Cavour – the place from where the ferries start towards the other towns on Como lake. Bellagio being the hot favorite, everyone was buying the ticket to go there. It was a long queue and super hot day. I was sweating so much that I wondered if I was in the plains of India in peak summer. Finally got the ticket and had enough time to grab some lunch. Tried searching for an Italian restaurant which could serve gluten-free options but failed. Then found a small charming cafe. Had a nice salad there and moved on towards the harbor to catch the boat.

The boat journey was quite nice, albeit long. After taking tons of pictures, I gave up. But then doing nothing and getting a nice breeze made me feel so sleepy! But you know you just can’t sleep on a ferry like that in front of everyone!

Upon reaching Bellagio, I first checked what would be the way to return because the folks at the ticket counter in Como said something like they cannot issue a return ticket because they don’t know how full the return ferry could be. I found that there was a bus C30 that would take half the time and the ticket could be purchased at a bar (ya, I was surprised too). I took the ticket, noted the time and went to explore the place. Later I found that you could also pay directly to the bus driver instead of buying at the bar (but better safe than sorry as the frequency of the bus is once per hour!).

Found a church – San Giacomo. It was quite interesting from inside.

The shops had really nice things but I was in no mood for falling into the tourist trap. That doesn’t mean I didn’t do window shopping. Here’s a little glimpse. A shop selling glass ornaments made in Bellagio and Murano.

Then I treated myself to some gelato and started towards my bus stop.

Upon reaching Como, I went back to the cafe from the afternoon and had a cappuccino as I had a terrible headache. Then refreshed, I went towards the last attraction that I wanted to finish. It was the Funicular connecting Comp to Brunate. I had seen it from the queue for buying the ferry ticket and wanted to be on it. It was nice. But when I reached, the sun was giving just the last colors to the sky. So it wasn’t so great for taking pictures. Doesn’t matter because I couldn’t find a good place to take pictures from anyway. Then after strolling a bit and taking a few pics, I returned to Como.

Then walked back to my hotel. Heated up some stuff for dinner (it had a kitchenette) and then started writing this post. Thunderstorm outside, so quite glad to be indoors in time.

Until next post..Arrivederci!