• Rome: Dinner, overnight and a mad dash to the wine store

    Note: Sorry for the crappy Blackberry photos. My time in Rome was very short and very hectic that’s why I wans’t able to take decent photos.

    In the Philippines, we call a 24-hour trip an “overnight” because it means spending a night somewhere else than your own house. Kids and teenagers usually look forward to “overnights” at their friends’ houses – it’s a way of getting away from the prying eyes of their parents while enjoying time with friends. While for me, an overnight had been a way to see Europe in between business trips.

     

    Hi and goodbye

    Last summer I spent an evening in pompous Rome after a news conference in Umbria. Because I already travelled to Italy the week before for my other job, I did not have the luxury to extend my weekend trip any longer than Monday. So Rome and I sort of just said hi and hello – a very quick meet-up.

    I stayed at Hotel Alpi, a 4-star hotel about 10 minutes walk away from Central Termini Station. I find it a bit on the expensive side at €98 per night, especially when I wasn’t able to enjoy the hotel fully – not it’s breakfast nor it’s cozy terrace. But what I found most disappointing was when they advertised at booking.com that they offer free wifi in their hotel rooms but when you ask them for it, they will tell you that it’s not possible with my computer but when I checked, I actually have to pay for it. That’s lying!

    I spent a couple of hours enjoying the sights of Rome, on top of a double-decker bus. That little window of time made me appreciate the history of the city, frown at it’s excesses and realized it’s importance to the modern society. I wished I had more time to stay.

  • One day affair: Pompous Rome!

    Rome and I, we had a very brief affair in the summer of 2011. An affair that involves only sleeping and eating together. I barely got to know him but the few hours that I spent in his cradle left me with very strong impressions which would be hard to compare with any other city.

    At a glance Rome is imposing and intimidating but with during my short rendezvous with him, I realized that it is a city that must have experienced both tears and victory at their most extreme.

    A view from a hop-on hop-off 110

    Using a hop on/hop off bus to get around a city is the last thing I’d do when travelling. I’ve always felt that these buses are just tourist traps and doesn’t give you a real travel experience. But I was dead tired from my long trip to Umbria, suffering an excruciating migraine and have an appointment in two hours, so that was the only option I have to see as much in so little time. I stepped into the first double-Decker I saw, the red Bus 110. It has 13 stops which cover the most famous landmarks in the city of Rome. I paid 15euros for a non-stop ticket because I have no plans to step out.

     

    Despite the warm summer weather, sitting on the top deck gives a whiff of breeze that’s quite relaxing despite the noise of the city. The moment I settled on my seat, I immediately felt my tensed muscles loosen up and I almost wanted to nap but that would be such a waste of opportunity to have at least a glimpse of this historical city.

    As the bus inched its way to Rome’s afternoon traffic, we passed by the nearest attraction to the Stazione Termini – the Baths of Diocletian. It was housed in an ancient building – like many of Rome’s landmarks – but when I tried the headphone to understand what I was looking at, one of the earplugs did not work. That’s when I decided not to bother myself with historical facts and just enjoy the architecture.

     

    The bus moved on to Piazza della Repubblica, to the many basilicas, more piazzas and churches and by the time we got to the Vittoriano there was only one thought running to my mind – how pompous the old Rome was!

    The old Roman buildings are enormous, not just in size but especially in design and the grandeur that was put into it. Some of these building were made with marble which during those times when modern lifting machines were not available, must have broken a lot of human backs. Surely these monuments were made for grand purposes but I can’t help but think that a lot of them were built only to demonstrate might, power and fortune. More than the famous figures who commissioned these buildings and the talented architects who designed these eternal pieces of history, my admiration goes to the workers who offered sweat, blood, tears and probably their lives to erect such gigantic tribute to the great Roman empire.

    The sun was starting to set when the Bus 110 passed by the Colosseum – sunlight gives the walls inside the ruins a sad, soft glow. It made me think of the time when Rome’s power started to crumble and all that remained were these monuments. It must have been a nightmare for the powerful and a heartbreak for their mothers and wives because for such a mighty empire to collapse must have been very tragic.

    I did not complete the bus tour. Thoughts surely make you forget the passage of time and when I looked at my watch, it was already half past 7pm. I just missed my appointment. I got out in front of the first building that I recognized from my previous trips to Italy – La Rinascente at the beautiful Palazzo della Rinascente, one of Rome’s most stylish shopping mall. Luckily my dinner dates were still on their way to the restaurant so I stole a few minutes to look around – precious 10 minutes of admiring beautiful things and when you finally decided to buy one perfect piece, they tell you that the store has already closed.

    I quickly hailed a cab and rushed to the most delicious steak dinner I’ve had in my life.

    Travel tip:
    If you only have a few hours to visit Rome, try the hop on/hop off bus but get the 48-hour ticket. It will give you an opportunity to get out of the bus and visit the landmarks. It cost around 20euros. More information can be found here

  • In Italy, I’ll never get fat

    Wednesday, September 28, 2011 0 No tags Permalink

    Carpaccio and champagne at Villa Laguna in Lido island, Venice If you are following my blog, you probably noticed that my last trip to Venice was the 4th I’ve made in just a little over a year. Only one of these was for pure leisure. But I love every moment that I was there despite a few hassles here and there. The sun, the sea, the carefree Mediterranean attitude and the wines… I couldn’t get enough of them.

    But it was only the last time I came back that I noticed a pattern which made me fall in love with Italy even more. I lose at least a couple of kilos whenever I am travelling to Italy despite lack of sleep (I am afraid of ghosts and usually very alert during the night waiting for them) and binge eating on pizza and gelato.

    Cuttlefish spaghetti in Venetia

    Contrary to my trips in  France, Belgium or  Spain where I can gain half a kilo with just one meal. Blame it to the foie gras, the thick sauces and the irresistible desserts they make there.

    Courgette and prawns cooked al dente at Quarte Sayal, Alghero, Sardinia

    Whereas in Italy, one serving of a simple tomato pasta is enough to fuel me the whole day and a slice of bacon pizza and a small cup of gelato can already count as a hearty dinner. Italians also love fish and seafood and those can be very healthy.

    Simple but very delicious lasagna in Lido island

    Whether I’m eating a plateful of frutti di mare at one of the al fresco restaurants by the Venetian Lagoon, or a freshly-made asparagus, ham and cheese sandwich at the terrace of Taverna al Ponte in Bassano del Grappa or savoring courgette and prawn pasta cooked al dente at Quarte Sayal at the baywalk of Alghero in Sardinia, I never eat Italian without a nice glass of wine. It seems that in Italy, you can hardly go wrong with a choice of wine unless you get very stingy.

    Pasta frutti di mare in Bassano del Grappa

    And I am not even so crazy about pasta.

    Melanzane pasta in Caffe delle Arti, Cagliari

    Polpette or Italian meatball with octopus. Delish!

    In Italy, I’ve also discovered some ways of cooking pasta which appeal very much to my palate. Unfortunately I haven’t *yet successfully executed in my kitchen. One of these is a vegetarian dish called pasta melanzane which is almost like lasagna but made with thinly-sliced aubergines (eggplants) instead of lasagna. I’ve had what probably was the perfect melanzane at Caffe delle Arti in Cagliari, a restaurant located at the old fortress, which provides a gorgeous view of Cagliari during sunset.

    Awfully salty bigoli in salsa pasta in Lido island

    Of course there are also misses. And that’s a dish called Bigoli in Salsa , first meal on my first Italian trip. I went to this small restaurant in Lido island and asked the waiter to serve me a traditional Veneto dish. He came with  big plate of pasta, laden with anchovies and onions.  It was so salty that no amount of Pinot Gris was able to wash off.

    Sorry about the image, I was too busy devouring the beef. At Ibutteri, Rome

    I think I’ve only eaten meat once in Italy, a sinful slab of succulent beef at Ibutteri in Rome. It was served sizzling hot and you can see the fat dripping from the sides of the meat. It was the most delicious sight. And the aroma of that fat melting, burning a little bit on the hot plate was unforgettable and would haunt a meat-lover forever.

    Your good ‘ol home-made tiramisu is a good way to end a meal.

    Don’t even let me start on the gelato and the desserts. Did I say they don’t make yummy desserts as they do in France? Well not many but enough to keep you drooling.

    Just vanilla ice cream with powdered sugar and caramel sauce. Heavenly!

    In Sardinia, a kababayan took me to Gelateria Peterpan in the centre of Cagliari. On summer afternoons this place is full to the brim and you have to get in the line that starts from the outside to sample their delicious varieties.

    Yes that cone is mine! At Gelateria Peterpan in Cagliari, Sardinia

    “When you see that the container and the spoon is very clean when they scoop your gelato, that means it’s a good gelato. This ice cream should be based only from milk but other producers mix milk with water which then melts when the gelato is on the container,” explained Elmer who said that Gelateria Peterpan is only the second most famous in Cagliari. Good thing my cone of ice cream and vanilla already satisfied me otherwise I would have gone to the best gelateria.

    And still despite all these, I still lose weight in Italy. So when you are there, eat to your heart’s content. Don’t be afraid of the extra calories.

    When I left Venice at 7am last Friday, exhausted from the lack of sleep and the weeks of travelling, I said that I don’t want to return to Italy soon. But looking back to these wonderful meals that we’ve shared together, I’m almost ready to catch the first flight back.

    Bon appetit!

  • Bassano del Grappa: My favourite place in Italy

    There are places that we have to visit at least once in our lifetime. Venice or Rome for example.

    AND there are special places where we go back again and again because it gives us beautiful memories.

    My favourite place in Italy is Bassano del Grappa, a small city in the outskirts of Venice. It lies at the foot of the majestic Monte Grappa, from which it borrowed it’s name.  In addition to the snow-capped mountain, the clear River Brenta that passes through the city adds up to its allure.

    I discovered Bassano del Grappa in the summer of 2010, while searching for a special drink – Grappa. This is an Italian digestif made from discarded grapes that originated from this former village.

    From Sta Lucia station in Venice, Bassano del Grappa is only an hour and a half by train. Because the city is so small, it is ideal for daily or weekend trips.

    A 10-minute walk from the train station will take you to  Ponte degli Alpini or Palladio’s bridge – a covered wooden bridge designed Andrea Palladio, Italy’s most famous villa architect.

    Whenever I am in Venice, I always include Bassano del Grappa to my itinerary. Standing on Ponte degli Alpini looking out to Monte Grappa is enough to take away my stress.

    It is such a picturesque place, don’t you think? It is a paradise for me.

    I’d catch the early train from Venice to Bassano del Grappa and eat breakfast at Taverna Al Ponte, joining the local men drinking their first espresso there. I would have my meal on the terrace with the view of the pastel houses on the other side of the river and enjoy a nice glass of white wine from the Dolomites together with my ham and cheese sandwhich. To end my meal, I would ask Roberto to pour me a glass of grappa and serve it with a strong shot of espresso.

    Breakfast usually takes hours because I tend to order second glasses. I’d finish with a glass of apple liqueur and by the time I am done, half of the day is already gone. I would spend the remaining hours walking around the town, peering into the little boutiques selling jewerly and shoes or sit under one of the statue at Piazza Liberta looking at the city’s grand clock adorning Museo Civico. Before my train leaves back to Venice, I’d spend an hour at Museo del Grappa, deciding which variety to take back home.

     

    Happy, tipsy and very much relaxed, I would walk back to the train station and sleep all the way to Venice, dreaming of my next journey to this paradise.

  • A Cinderella in Venice: Finding the perfect shoes

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011 0 No tags Permalink

    I’ve been scouting for the perfect shoes online and ordered at least four pairs in the last two months. Three of them went back to the retailers while the last pair I sold to a friend. Buying shoes online is both tricky and expensive and I usually end up paying more than what I bargained for. In Holland they don’t usually have my size and good shoes comes with high price tag.

    When my business trip to Venice was confirmed, finding the perfect pair of shoes became my top goal. This is my second time in the city, so I don’t  get overwhelmed by the sights anymore.

    After checking in my luggage at Hotel Villa Serena in Porto Maghera, I immediately boarded the bus to Venice and went straight to San Marco, the trendiest shopping area in Venice. There was only one thing in my mind – to buy a beautiful pair of Italian-made shoes.

    Navigating through the many small alleys in Piazza San Marco is no easy task. Finding the same stores I saw a year ago is even more complicated. Every end of an alley brings you to a completely different square and the problem is, almost all of them looks the same. Towered by Italian houses, connected by small bridges that crosses over tiny canals lined with gondolas, it is hard for a non-local to tell these  streets apart. The signs does not help much either, especially to someone like me who is geographically inept.

    I went around in circles for hours, passing by designer stores like Gucci, Burberry, Bottega Veneta, Hermes and high street fashion houses like Max Mara. They all have the most gorgeous pairs displayed on their windows and a woman can easily spend a month’s salary in them. Their leathers felt so soft and the designs are absolutely adorable. The problem is, they cost a leg and an arm and I just couldn’t afford them.

    There was one particular pair though that made me double back. It was a pair of snake-skin pumps, at least 6 inches tall and size 36. I wanted to try it immediately but somehow I got very intimated.

    The store is called Cesare Paciotti and inside was a tall, gorgeous woman in a lace dress trying out a pair of sky-high ankle boots.

    It’s not that the shoes are very expensive. But when I saw my reflection on the store’s window – small girl in brown cargo pants, white cotton shirt and wearing a purple suede loafers – compared with that lady, I suddenly felt afraid that the sales lady would not even let me in.

    That is Venice sometimes, intimidating to those who do not have deep pockets. A gondola ride costs at least €80 and a good meal will set you back €30 euro for one person. I am usually not the type who penny-pinch when travelling  but there are times when it is unreasonable to spend too much.

    So I walk away from the enticing window of Cesare Paciotti and left that little alley, my next salary still secure and my pride a little slighted. Yes, a pair of shoes can hurt a woman’s ego. But I promised to return and buy a most coveted shoes.

    An epilogue to the shoe hunt

    A little further down that alley, I passed by another shoe store called La Corte Delle Fate and the kind lady entertained me (more of pursuaded me) like a queen. The first pair that she gave me not my type, the second was beautiful, matches my specifications and my Viktor, almost the same price but not Cesare Paciotti. So I refused.

    Unfortunately, my weak heart gave in to a pair which is currently on a 50% discount so I walked away with yet another pair of suede pumps (I bought one pair of suede loafers the month before). I am still thinking of ways to pair these shoes with my wardrobe, which I reckon would be quite difficult.

    I spent most of today in Bassano del Grappa, my favorite place in Italy. I didn’t think that the little city has at least 5 stores of locally made shoes. Who am I to resist a pair of dual-colored pumps with such an attractive price tag?

    Maybe I am compensating for not entering Cesare Paciotti store and not even trying a pair. But I am happy with my purchases – two Italian-made shoes which I can use from season to season. I can finally let go of my daily habit of checking out shoes at net-a-porter.com and luisaviaroma.com. At least for a while.

    Now my biggest problem is how am I going to fit them in my luggage? :-(

  • My 1st Italian trip in Experience Travel and Living Magazine

     

    One year ago, as part of my solo birthday trip, I went to Venice for almost a week. It was one of my most enjoyable vacations and until now, I can still vividly picture the beautiful Bassano del Grappa (a town an hour and a half away from Venice). I can still  feel the tranquility it gave me one afternoon, in my search for the best grappa in the world.

    I stayed at the famous Lido Island, home to the Venice Film Festival and the grandest casinos in Europe. In these benches, I would spend my afternoons looking out at Venice and watching the luxurious cruise ships stopping by for it’s passengers to enjoy a bit of gambling. The sunset here is magnificent and although the island is the probably the least impressive in terms of architecture, it’s for my the most peaceful part of Venice.

    I also went to Milan, for a day of shopping.  That train ride was memorable because I was fined 50euros for not stamping my ticket. And to make matters worse, I only get to shop for 3 hours. Now every girl knows that that is not enough to visit every store in Milan. Fortunately I came back with a few stash and a learning experience. One year after, when I came back to Italy, I never forgot to stamp my tickets again – even when I don’t have to :-(

    Oh yes, there was Venice – chaotic, touristy but very beautiful. Believe or not I might have only spent one day there, to buy presents, take pictures and pass by on my way to other places. Don’t get me wrong, I love Venice but I love it better from afar especially during the night when the flicker of its romantic lights reaches my spot at the beach in Lido Island. I did not even ride a gondola. But one day I might come back to Venice….this time as a tourist.

    On the last day of my vacation I spend the sunset with glasses of champagne at the cozy terrace of Villa Laguna, overlooking Venice. The city looked very romantic from afar but I saved myself from the stress of bumping into so many people spending their summers in Venice by staying in Lido. I thought it was the perfect ending to a vacation – just relaxing and savoring the week’s adventure. I promised myself to continue with this annual solo trips.

    One year after, I am sharing my adventure in the upcoming issue of Experience Travel and Living Magazine. For my Philippine readers, please grab a copy of the magazine which will be in stores starting August 2011. And because it is part of their anniversary issue, Experience Travel and Living Magazine volume 8 promises travel adventures and stories that will inspire you to pack your back and book a trip right away.

  • Liquid from the gods: a dinner in Alghero

    The view from my table at Quarte Sayal, Alghero, Sardinia

    I sat on one of their chairs outside with only one purpose – pacify my growling stomach. A flight always makes me tired no matter how short or long the trip was. It was already 7pm and my last meal was seven hours ago. I did not expect to be satisfied neither be amused by the view. But dining in Quarte Sayal, opposite the boardwalk of Alghero city center gave me a totally different experience.

    Quarte Sayal is separated from the beach by a busy motorway. If you don’t mind including passing cars in your view of the palm trees, the mountainous backdrop and the gorgeous sunset, then dining here can be considered a beautiful experience.

    Locals gathering in the restaurant during sunset. That's the manager chatting with them.

    I was at first a bit hesitant when I saw a group of young people, some with tattoos and dressed like rockers, smoking by the door. It might be my prejudice against untidy people but when they hang out in front of a restaurant, customers will naturally think twice. But the waiters were very attentive. I did not have to wait for 30 minutes before somebody comes out of the main dining hall and take my order.

    The selection of pasta was very limited with only about 5 choices but the pizza was extensive that it occupies two pages of the menu. It’s safe to say that pizza is the restaurant’s specialty.

    Unfortunately I am not really a fan of pizza so I opted  for a simple courgette and prawns penne. Like I said, i did not have high expectations. Of course, since I was in Sardinia, I only wanted to drink Sardinian wine.

    I am totally ignorant of Italian wine makers so I let the waiter decide which one to pour me. He came back with my wine but he didn’t pour it in front of me so I did not know what variety it was.

    Nothing beats a beautiful sunset with a glass of white wine.

    Slowly I sipped from the chilled glass, not expecting to be delighted. But it was such a delicious surprise when the the alcohol began touching the nerves of my  mouth.  Borrowing the words of French food blogger Paolo Westbeek –  that Sardinian white wine was like liquid from the gods! Flowery, sweet, smooth and just a pleasure on the tongue. It reminded me of the dessert wine at Restaurant Raven, only that it was an Argentinian dessert wine.

    I abstained from gulping the whole glass in one go and decided to focus my attention on the setting sun. My food arrived shortly, exactly 12 minutes after I ordered it. From a few meters away, I can smell the sea behind the covered plate.

    No frills, straight forward Italian home-cooked meal, courgette and prawn pasta

    Like the wine, the penne was a revelation. The pasta was still a bit hard but I don’t know if that’s they way  Italians like to cook it. The courgette are nicely chopped in small pieces and it was a challenge forking it out of the plate. Meanwhile the prawns was cooked like how I prefer it, unpeeled, the head was separated from the body but still included in the dish.

    The meal was cooked simply, it was stripped off any sauce or fancy side dish or plating. The ingredients were probably just tossed into a wok with olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper and with a bit of wine. I felt like eating a home-cooked Italian meal. With a price of 9 euros, I don’t think anyone would complain. It was a delicious, feel-good meal.

    The wine that teased my sanity.

    When the waiter came back to ask me if my food was nice, I took the chance to order a second glass of the white wine and asked the bottle to be brought to my table.  The culprit of my food ecstasy was a wine called Argiolas Costamolino – produced from the grape Vermentino which is grown in Sardinia. I asked the waiter to pour me another glass and took mental note of the wine for a later trip to the supermarket.

    Can you tell by my smile how I'm enjoying my wine and my simple dinner?

    Slowly I enjoyed my second glass of Argiolas Costamolino while watching the golden sun hurriedly sinking behind the mountains. Despite the cars swiftly crossing the road, my view was beautiful and I felt incredibly happy.  I’m sure it was just the changed of scenery and the slowing down from my hectic work schedule but somehow being in Italy, seeing the beach and watching the faces of people enjoying the Mediterranean weather relaxed my mind. Or was it just the courgette and prawn pasta and the delicious Argiolas Costamolino?

    Vanilla-caramel ice cream on a plate of powdered sugar.

    I wrapped up my dinner with a vanilla-caramel ice cream and a shot of Italian espresso.  The locals started gathering in other tables, smoking cigars and drinking their wines. A mother of two girls joined me in my solitary space and I exchanged smiles with one of the adorable children. I wanted to order another glass, even contemplated on a whole bottle, but I needed to get up early the next day.

    I left Quarte Sayal with a happy heart which did not have any idea of the horrors of travel she will be facing the next day. At least I was well fed and enjoyed very much that decent meal – my only meal in the next 48 hours..

  • Sardinia: Few things to know before you go

    I suck at planning a travel itinerary. I’m the kind of person who jumps on a plane, bus or train to go to a place that fancy without even a map at hand. Most of the time it cost me so much time, money and effort which frustrates me rather than enjoying. But then that’s the joy of travelling solo, the adventure and the unexpected fun that you get from your travelling mistakes. And you’d think I’ve learned my lesson? Not really.

    My latest travel blunder was during my latest trip in Sardinia.

    It was a business trip for most part but I have days free in between. So I thought that some train and bus travels would not affect my business objectives. But since my understanding of geography is very poor, I underestimated the size of Sardinia and ended up spending most of my the time on the road and was changing hotels everyday. I was travelling on a very tight budget and every mistake cost me my own money. But don’t get me wrong, Sardinia still took my breath away and I am already planning to come back. And besides, who minds waiting when there’s a bar in every train station.

    But I’ve learned some pretty hard lessons about this island which you might find helpful when you are a similar trip.

    1. If your main destination is not Alghero, don’t fly Ryanair. Or better rent a car.

    Ryanair is the cheapest flight you can get to Sardinia from the Netherlands. My return flight only cost 137 euros in total and the departure times were very good (Eindhoven- Alghero 16:20 and Alghero-Eindhoven 14:55). But if your main destination is not Alghero or the neighbouring provinces, better not take this flight.

    Sardinia’s capital is Cagliari and it is a good 6 hours by train from Alghero. That is not including waiting time at train and bus stations. From Alghero, you still need to take a bus to take you to the train station which is not near the center. The old train to Sassari goes hourly and from Sassari, you can take the train to Cagliari which also leaves every hour or two when you travel in the afternoon. Waiting time can bore you to death. (See #3)

    Cagliari is near to most main attractions and has it own airport, Elmas Airport. It might cost you a bit more to fly directly there but it will be better than travelling by train. There’s also a direct bus from Alghero-Cagliari, but you need to wait three hours to catch the next bus, which only goes twice a day to Cagliari. On the other hand, you can use those three hours to roam around the town center of Alghero where they have a very nice church and lively boardwalk. Observing the locals while sipping Mojito and watching the sunset is a must.

    You can find more information at http://www.algheroairport.com


    2. If you want wifi connection, make sure the hotel “really” provides it.

    Most middle class hotels does not offer free wifi in their rooms so if you are a blogger or you want to keep everybody updated every single hour, it will cost you a lot of money to be online. If you don’t want to pay, you have to deal with the inconvenience of surfing the Internet on public areas of the hotel, mostly the lobby. Some hotels does not even have wifi, only wired internet so when booking one, and wanting a seamless, convenient Internet connection, check carefully if your hotel provides it.

    I stayed in three hotels which gave me this big inconvenience and even had a spat with one receptionist because I thought she was lying to me. I just didn’t read my booking conditions well. (Hey, I said sorry.)

    3. Train travel can take one whole day. Bring a book. Or drink your boredom away

    Most trains go by the hour and sometimes only four times a day. You can imagine the waiting time in between travel, especially if you are changing trains. A book or a magazine would be handy but if you get bored with reading, you can always go to the train station’s bar and order a glass of whiskey or Prosecco. If drinking does not appeal to you, maybe casino does. They have at least one slot machine in every bar, even a casino room on some, to mend all sorts of boredom.

     

    4. Sardinia has siesta.

    And you already knows what it means. Everything stops from about 1pm-4pm and the locals retreat to their houses to rest after a nice, full lunch. Don’t be surprised if you can’t find an open shop during these hours. Don’t worry, they open again from 4pm or as late as 7pm. The temperature can be forgiving in the afternoon, especially in the summer, so I suggest do what the locals does, just chill in your hotel room and enjoy its view. Or swim if it has a swimming pool. Otherwise, spend your afternoon driving from one province to the other (I recommend the highway from Sassari to Cagliari) where the view is breathtaking. You can even make a short stop to hidden beaches or charming little towns. Or you can always sun bathe on the beach, if you don’t mind having skin damage from your vacation.

    5. Don’t forget to stamp your tickets. And buy a day pass or 12-day ticket.

    If going by public transport such as bus and trains, don’t forget to stamp your ticket. And well, I am not just talking about Sardinia but the whole Italy. I once got a 50euro fine for not stamping my tickets. You can stamp them on those yellow machines near the platforms. Sometimes train tickets need to be stamped on board but make sure when.

    It will also be more economical and convenient to buy a day pass or 12-day ticket if you are staying there longer. Bus tickets cannot be bought on board, only on bigletterie’s which cannot be found in so many places. It will be very embarrassing to get caught without a bus ticket and having to get out. More info here http://www.go-sardinia.com

    6. If your cab/bus driver drives a madman, just relax

    It might generally be Italian but only in Sardinia did I experience such fast cars. They drive like madmen there but ironically, they also drive very carefully. If you experience this, don’t freak out. It’s really safe. Only that, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the scenery so much.

    Sardinia has been my most challenging solo trip so far. But I’m glad I overcome it…

    to be continued…

  • Conversations at the beach: Lido Island, Italy

    Thursday, December 30, 2010 1 , Permalink

    In July 2010, I took yet another birthday sojourn in Italy, a month before my birthday. Wanting to escape crowded Venice, I decided to stay in Lido Island, about 15 minutes away by vaporetto (water bus). Much as I wanted to spend my four-night stay in Grand Hotel de Bains, the famous setting of Death in Venice, my budget settled me instead in a rather dingy hotel called Vime Byron which is located few meters away from the beach.

    In the afternoons, I’d take long walks at the boulevard and around the island. The sunset in Lido island is breathtaking, made even more special with the silhouette of historical buildings, all the way from San Marco, dotting the horizon. There’s quite a few interesting buildings around Lido as well, like an old mansion which is the residence of a very lucky cat.

    This was my first time in Venice so instead of lounging in Lido’s beach, I spent most of my time visiting the must-see sights and shopping for my first set of Murano. On my last morning, I eventually decided not to leave without swimming.

    I arrived when the first sunlight broke. There was no one in the beach and I stayed there just soaking myself in the calmness of the surrounding and the gentle crashing of the waves. At around seven in the morning, the beach started waking up and boys started to set up the cabins and the parasols.

    While busy taking a picture of myself, a young boy of about 17 approached me and asked me  if he can help. I willingly gave him my camera and posed for the mandatory souvenir photo in my two-piece. He doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak French so our conversation was mostly in sign language .But we had a nice little talk about how he is staying with his friends for two weeks, about his hometown and the beautiful beaches in Tunisia and the course he is taking in college.

    When it was time to say goodbye, he gave me his email address and asked, “The disco in town, you know?”

    “Not really,” I said.

    “I’ll wait for you, tonight, 8PM,” he answered with a big smile, apparently misunderstanding me. It sounded like a scene from a romance flick. He must have not notice the ring on my finger.

  • From Lido Island to San Marco

    Monday, October 18, 2010 1 No tags Permalink

    Last July, I took almost a week of vacation in Italy. Everyday I would take the boat from Lido Island to San Marco, to the train station in Sta Lucia, to Murano or other places in Venice. Here is the lovely sights at the banks of the Venetian Lagoon. Hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.