Europe 2.0 – Day 37 3 July 

Disclaimer: This post was written on 19 Aug, 6 weeks into my new semester in uni and 7 weeks after the end of my Europe trip. 3 July/day 33 is when our trip officially come to a close. 😦 Reflecting back on this trip 7 weeks after, I am immensely grateful to my trip mate, YS, for making everything possible. To do something so fun and adventurous in my early twenties will become a defining event of my youth for the rest of my life. I’m totally hyped for my upcoming trips! 🙂

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We woke up bright and early to avoid the queues at the Duomo and to make it for our free walking tour. It is a shame that is Monday and we had to miss most of the free walking tours. (Only one was available on Monday, so take note people!) We enjoyed FWT throughout our entire trips so much that it has become a priority for us when we tours cities hahaha.

We enjoyed breakfast with a  view as our apartment overlooked a roundabout 10m from the building and a main train station 50m away. In the far distance, we could see the alps. No wonder the Italians love sticking out their heads outta their windows all the time. It is actually therapeutic to people watch while doing absolutely nothing else. Speaking of our apartment, it is one of the best airbnb that we ever stayed because the furnishing is perfectly Italian. (It competes with the apartment that I stayed when I visited Venice for the first time because that one had a 180 deg shower jet in the bathroom.) The owner very kindly provided breakfast for us (muffin plus unlimited tea bags and 2 espresso shots per person, self service at the espresso machine) and if you get bored of the view outside, there is a fish tank to admire in the living room. It is a pity that we only get to stay for one night since we don’t have much business in Milan haha.

The Duomo in Milan is the BEST Duomo that I have seen (the only other being the one in Firenze). The exterior is very exquisite and its spires and doors are absolutely fine works of art. The interior wasn’t memorable for me and we spent around 30-45mins inside before desperately trying to locate our tour guide. It was an absolute disaster because we couldn’t find anyone despite waiting at the pin drop provided by its website. We asked a tourist office nearby and got directed to the 19th century museum opposite of the piazza, but still couldn’t find anyone. After walking around for a while trying to locate any tour group, we gave up and visited the Duomo museum, which to my surprise, is not bad afterall! (Considering that we were so sick of museums/touring by the end of 5 weeks in Europe.) We could see the designs of the spires up close (it was very difficult to appreciate on the actual building outside because the spires are so high and we often had to squint our eyes against the sun) and a very beautiful miniature of the Duomo also helped us to appreciate the entire building better. They also displayed the sculptures that formed the exteriors/interiors and most of the depicted mythological and biblical scenes. As we were quite free for the rest of the day, I had luxury of time to Google and learn about the life of Jesus Christs and his apostles. The trip to the museum was very educational and inspired me to learn more about Christianity because I realised that some basic knowledge is essential to appreciate famous artworks and buildings (mostly Churches/Cathedrals anyway) around Europe.

We had a chill lunch and YS made a final attempt to find to buy as a gift for her mom and sister. Eventually I stumbled upon an affordable chocolate shop that sold products more or less which tell people that I got them from Italy and we spent a lot of time picking out stuff to bring back. Last but not the least, we did a final, last chance shopping session at a local supermarket and to our surprise, did not find anything that was very much worth the money and effort to bring back to SG hahaha! I had a cuppa in the extra time and we walked back to the apartment to collect our bags (the owner was so kind to let us leave our baggage beyond the check out time)!

All in all, this trip deepened my love for Europe because it is such a diverse place that offers something for everyone. I will be back, hopefully, not too long. 🙂

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Europe 2.0 – Day 13 9 June

Today is the second and final day in Venice! We woke up late at 9am due to our late night adventures the previous night. Our quick breakfast consisted of YS’s bread with some spread that I took from Turkish Airlines hahaha! And by 10am we were out and about!

(note: the previous paragraph was written on the day itself and the following on the next day…)

The ‘highlight’ for this day would definitely be how we missed our flight the silliest way possible. And to think me, missing an aeroplane?! SO RIDICULOUS! and YES IT WAS! BLOODY HELL SILLY THIS INCIDENT! And so careless we were! We left our backpacks in a baggage deposit that closed before we could pick it up. And by the time the operator returned, the aeroplane already flown.

And what happened to us in the meantime? OK so at 10pm we happily alighted the water bus and made our way to Piazzle Roma, where we will take the 2230h airport shuttle and then set up camp until our 0530h flight arrives.

Unfortunately I saw the dim lights of the shop as we approached it, and my heart sank. When we came in front of it, it is confirmed – the shop is closed.

Later we asked the shop owners nearby for help, asking them for a number that we could call. Too bad nobody knew anyone whom we could contact and everyone was pretty stoic and unsympathetic towards our situation. A few persons helped to call the number stated on the glass window of the shop but there was no answer. Probably an office number.

Then we started to consider finding the police because they may know who owns the establishment, or suggest ways that we could retrieve our belongings. Although they tried to offer more help than the others, they were also unsympathetic and told us to find a new route/that this isn’t the world’s biggest problem (something to that extent). I could empathise with their lack of empathy – this problem could be easily circumvented as long as we have time and money, so perhaps we appeared to be overly dramatic or exaggerative.

However, in my mind, I was only concerned with the absurdness of the whole situation. How we planned everything so carefully and yet a mistake still popped out at this small loophole. We both prayed for a miracle but alas there was no solutions. Even the police gently let us know that the station was about to close (we asked if we can stay inside but they told us that the train station is our best option). I couldn’t accept the situation even when we were waking towards our space that we’ll make ourselves a resting point for the entire night until dawn. I was so sad, disappointed, angry and in disbelief the entire time. I felt that we were receiving retribution for something bad we may have done. Eg. Taking photos inside St Marks Basilica.

But I digress. When the police has also given up on us, the reality of the whole situation dawned upon me – it was no longer about finding a way to retrieve our bags, but to find an alternative route to take. For the night, we wanted to spend it inside the Venezia Santa Lucia station but it was closed at around midnight so we had to wait outside.

The night was chilly and YS was frequently worried about our safety. We took our spot next to other people who had no shelter to return to, some for tonight (like us) but the rest perhaps for a long time.

I spent the first few hours deleting unwanted photos from my DSLR as my phone has already ran out of battery to be of any use. YS was editing photos. I managed to get some sleep by lying on YS’ shoulder but felt bad after a while, so we stayed up until 0420h, ie. the time of the first bus shuttle to the Venice airport… (TBC)

Anyways, for the sake of recording the day’s events down: On our second day we left out backpacks at the baggage deposit shop, not knowing that it was a mistake. We bumped into fellow RJ batchmates in the queue and was extremely delighted that we had this fate to catch up with them after 3 years or so.

First we headed to Basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (long name heh) but an entrance fee was required so we appreciated at the line where the set up to bar non-paying visitors like us. A few 100m ahead was the Leonardo da Vinci museum and in its vicinity, we had lunch at an affordable restaurant that hires Chinese waitress who spoke fluent English and Italian. I was SO ENVIOUS of them. We shared a chicken fillet and lasagne.

Over lunch, I found out about San Giorgio and it’s glorious views of Venice. We decided to give it a go despite not having our vaporetto passes anymore… (Sooo basically we ‘jumped gate’ and thankfully were not exposed for doing so.)

As lauded by many forum members in TripAdvisor, the elevator is a life saver, as I would find out on later parts of my trips (because the trips up some bell towers takes a lot of courage and physical fitness). And BAM GREAT VIEWS! GREAT BREEZE! 😀 We had a refreshing 360 degrees view of Venice and its surrounding island.

After coming down, we visited the church (SAN GIORGIO MAGGIORE), which I feel may be the entire point of this island (since there was nothing else)! We walked by the river front where many yachts were parked, took photos with lighthouses and headed back to mainland to visit ST MARK’s BASILICA.  Wore shorts so I had to pay for a piece of cloth (which would later shield me from the chilly night) and later we also paid to see the PALA D’ORO.

Then we googled for gelato and found ourselves at GELATO FANTASY! Our research paid off because this gelateria doesn’t just sell gelato; it sells fantastic gelato, as its name suggests. We each had a cone with the same flavours – chocolate and tangerine and sat by a river while we finished our gelato.

Later we visited the DOGE’s PALACE and also rented an audio guide. Similar to Versailles, many rooms in the palace had beautiful wall paintings and frescoes that took a lot of time to identify and appreciate. But I learnt a lot about how this palace, the political system of Venice in the past and how the artists designed the interior. The highlight was walking through the bridge of sighs and seeing the outside world like prisoners in the past did… :/ (By the way, people from the outside can’t tell who, or if someone is crossing the bridge.)

For dinner we have take-away seafood pasta, which tasted super delicious because the seafood taste was so strong and there was generous serving of seafood for an affordable price. We sat by the river while enjoying our meal. Later we walked back to Piazzale Roma through CANNAREGIO, a lovely neighbourhood that I read about on TripAdvisor… We were afraid to arrive late for the airport shuttle and decided to ‘illegally’ use the vaporetto again, not knowing that a bigger worry lies ahead…

Europe 2.0 – Day 12 8 June 

Today we left Florence for Venice! It’s my second time here and from what I last rmb, the city seemed to have aged 😦 

Getting over to Venice was uneventful hahaha! We arrived at Venezia St Lucia station and find the accoms in no time upon reaching. =) First we headed to the Murano and Burano islands. The price for transportation is very steep – 20 euros for a one day pass. And it’s very necessary because unlike local water buses in Venice mainland, there is someone checking tickets for the non-local trips. 

Once again we skipped lunch and so by 2pm+, we were in our first stop, Murano. Unlike popular beliefs, it is very, very possible to do both islands if you have at least 3-4h to spare! And since the daylight is long in summer period, even better! You could head out easily in the evening and return when the sun sets, as long as there’s scheduled water buses available. I find that it takes around 1h to the further island (Burano) from Venice and vice versa. 

We got off at the wrong stop in Murano but it turned out good because we could appreciate the island while walking to the correct stop. Most shops were selling glass products, a special local product for Murano (and for Burano, it is lace).

I realised that the islands have their appeal because the buildings are shorter and the network isn’t as complicated as mainland. It feels like walking through a really small and quaint town. 

From Murano we took a connecting water bus to Burano and Yue Shan was immediately thrilled by the colourful houses! I was pleasantly surprised that they made the citizens paint their houses in bold colours like pink and purple. Most of them also grow beautiful potted flowers outside their windows, or had small gardens if they have a backyards. Several houses placed benches or chairs for tourists to take photos with. The best houses were the ones with matching colour combinations for their walls and features (like Windows or their flowers). 

Considering the expensive ride here, yue shan ate bread for lunch and I bought one slice of pizza. =/ but we ate by the river which made the food taste better. =P

On going back, we witnessed a white lady arguing with a Chinese lady over a seat in the outdoors section of the water bus. (it’s a long story, ask me about it irl thanks HAHAHA!)

The evening was slightly stressful because yue shan wanted to return to the accoms ASAP and I had plans of doing night photography after the sun set (earliest would be 9pm). I promised to walk her back but later decided otherwise as she wanted to have takeout for dinner whereas I wanted to enter an eatery for a proper meal (since our lunch wasn’t v impressive.) 

In the end she compromised as she didn’t want to stay in the accoms by her own, and would rather risk staying out in the night w me. As she was really hungry by 7pm, I quickly asked Google maps for recommended dinner options and we were led to a decent osteria, where we ate in the outdoors. We shared a calamari platter and a tuna pizza, extremely satisfying! 

Then we walked around, for example in the area of the rialto bridge and by the grand canal. Eventually we came to St Marks square and I was super thrilled that many professional mini orchestras were playing music! For free as long as you could stand and watch. I was super moved by their music and the whole experience that I teared up. :’) Around me, some couples danced in cool weather, perhaps never in a long time for some of them. 

We walked back at around 11pm and reached our accoms at 12. It was really a special night . 

Europe 2.0 – Day 11 7 June 

Day 2 of Florence! Today we woke up on time but spent a lot of time going back and forth the supermarket for groceries and also waiting for the bus (it took about 30 minutes to come). Keith recommended us to take a walking tour so headed to the meeting point, basilica santa maria novella, where a jazz band that was made of 3 curly hair guys (like the Jonas brothers) were playing. We found the guide easily and the group was HUGE! Despite splitting into 2, each group was still around 30-40 people strong. 

After BSMN, we walked over to the duomo via the luxury district. We saw the strozzi Palace and I learnt that this family is the feud of the medici family. After the duomo we went to the piazza delle signoria via the museum nazionale (or was it a church that used to be the green market?) and the guide explained to us the significance of some of the statues and sculptures which we passed by. We also learnt more about the medici family, as well as the art and culture related to renaissance. 

At palazzo vecchio, yue shan and I left so as to make our tickets and tour reservation (and to avoid tipping the guide…oops)!

As our tour was at 330pm, we decided to cover more places on our to-visit list. However we weren’t too productive (oops again) – we walked back to the piazza republica (we had passed by it during the tour; it is the old city centre of Florence and now has a big merry go round in the middle). Then we went for lunch at this place which yue shan’s friend recommended. However we not only went to the wrong one, but the good there is also subpar and weren’t priced affordably. I had an eggplant tart for €12 and yue shan had linguini with spicy tomato sauce for €10. To top it off they had a killer cover charge of €3 per person… Sigh… So I spent €20 on a small vegetarian appetiser. It’s especially upsetting because I had wanted to try a dish that’s more specialised for Florence. 

After lunch the journey continues and brought us to Biblioteca del Oblate, which means Oblate library. I had no freaking idea why this place was on the list because it’s a library that local students chill in. I don’t think there’s any touristy significance whatsoever, save for a nice view of the dome from the library’s cafe. It was a confusing and time wasting moment for us haha… 

330pm rolled around the corner and we made our way to palazzo vecchio once again. The words mean old palace in Italian, which means that a new palace is sitting somewhere! (it is the palazzo pitti on the other side of the arno river.) 

Our guide is a young florentine lady with 16 years of experience leading tours in this palace! So cool! Her accent wasn’t too bad and the tour gave us a lot of info about Cosimo the first, who is the first Duke of Florence after the fall of the Republic. She also showed us the rooms of the palace and told us the significance of each. From her introduction, I could understand the personalities of Cosimo and the intentions of the Medici family when they came into power. 

The most awesome of the tour was when we came into a room displaying a collection of world maps and she told us that one of them has a secret passage whereas the rest serves as large closets (or more like walk in wardrobes =p). 

Then after identifying the map with a border running through to the floor, she let us cross the line and brought us behind the map. It was oddly satisfying that when other people not inside the tour were equally amazed (but couldn’t follow us through to discover the secret that lies behind…) Anyways I’m really glad that we found out about this tour, which wouldn’t have been possible if our free walking tour guide didn’t inform us of it. 

The suspense is over and we were all smiles as we step inside. The secret passage way was built for Francesco’s mistress, Bianca HAHAHA! Francesco is the heir of Cosimo. He didn’t like his princess as much as Bianca because the former was a “typical princess” while the prince is a studious and independent man. Bianca is a scholarly lady from Venice and clicked better with Francesco. And the mistress’ area is used for storing her collections of interest, like poisons, textiles, pigments etc. Very interesting. From her room, she even had a secret window that she uses to spy on guests in the main dining hall! V cool 🙂 we all took turns to look through the window. 

The tour only lasted an hour and later yue shan and I made our way to Basilica Santa Croce, which was closed by the time we arrived… Sighs. We got some food from the supermarket to fill our stomachs for dinner (cuz lunch has ripped us off) and started heading to ponte vecchio and piazzle michelangelo for the sunset. The former was pretty underwhelming as most vendors there were selling jewellery. For the latter, The hike up was steeper than I imagined and I was panting by the time we reached. =( #unfit

The view was as promised, pretty amazing. I love how we were better able to appreciate the grandeur of the duomo against the Florence landscape when we’re viewing it from the panoramic viewpoint. 

The sun set later than I expected, at around 9pm!!! So we have been waiting on the steps while enjoying the view with the snacks that we bought earlier. There were many other people sitting with us and I admire the couples who could take in the lovely sunset with their significant other. Hahaha! 

People clapped when a group of marathon runners passed us by (very enthusiastic and supportive, these westerners) and later when the sun dipped behind the hills. About 10 mins later the ‘clouds’ (or actually the puffy trails left behind by aeroplanes) lighted up in orange hues, ending the day on a perfect note. =) 

Europe 2.0 – Day 10 6 June 

What a bittersweet day… Today we bade goodbye to our lovely home in Tuscany, where we’ve made friends with the locals and 2 guests from Yokeshire, England. I tried to hold back my tears as we hugged one another goodbye. 

And the adventure begins! Today’s check in is only after 2pm so we asked Bruno to drop us off the Paggio Museum which is a stone’s throw away from the PCT station. Initially we thought that we had to visit the place with our turtle homes behind us but thankfully we could leave it somewhere to enjoy the place fully. Paggio is the producer of Vespa which my sis likes them a lot so it’s of special significance for me to visit. I also video called her then to show her around the place. The visit was especially good because it isn’t so crowded and there was free WiFi! Ha! 

Afterwards we had a worrying ride from PCT to Florence because the train conductor kept walking about and we were afraid of being exposed for not having tickets. We got off scott free (again, phew) and later began an arduous wall from Florence grand station to the airbnb. The apartment is located beside the train tracks and we couldn’t cross the roads to get to it although Google maps displayed a through route. Naike welcomed us at the apartment and I loved how big and clean the place was. 

Later we reached piazza san marco and walked to the duomo. Unfortunately the tickets for the cupola has been sold out for today and tomorrow so we had to give the whole package a miss. We still managed to pop inside the Cathedral and took many photos outside so yay! There were many people on the roads and everybody wanted the right of way – the cyclist, the segway riders, the horse carriages, the cars etc. It was pretty chaotic and dangerous to walk around without paying attention! 

Along the way there were many shops and they were selling leather goods, souvenirs, gelato, sandwiches, specialty items etc. At Piazza San Lorenzo we also visited a market selling leather goods; it was super amusing when the vendors (mostly Indians or middle eastern) tried to guess our nationality and greeted us Hello. So far we’ve heard Ni Hao, anneonghaseyo, ohayo HAHAHA! The best was when a guy in Pisa started singing the pen pineapple apple pen song to us lol. 
I put the Lorenzo library and church for the next day as it was closed by the time we reached (sadly we also didn’t visit it the second day as it wasn’t a priority). Afterwards we went off to the Galleria dell’accademia when 7pm rolled around the corner as we had purchased reserved tickets online a few days before. (should be done the same for the duomo combined ticket) 

The museum was a good experience as we managed to Google our way to find out the significance of the paintings and sculptures while we were viewing them. We learnt many things about the Bible in this way and I’m sure so did yue shan =) 

Alas we came to the much anticipated attraction, David by Michelangelo. And mind you, this is the real one (there are 3 other replicas around Florence). He looks really majestic and visitors that were approaching it all seemed to treat it with a lot of respect and admiration. After all David is a biblical hero. 

To end off our museum trip, we went to the bookshop where I became super absorbed in a children’s book called ‘A story of painting’. It describes how paintings have changed over the eras and the special characteristics of each form of painting style. We must have stood there for about 10 minutes w speed reading through the educational books. They also have books written on Leonardo Da Vinci and Dante, a famous poet in Florence. If only we had the whole day… I think we may be stuck in the bookshop longer than the gallery =P

Europe 2.0 – Day 9 5 June

Today we had another day off (to Volterra) ! HAHAHA! And it’s because Marilena had to go look after her granddaughters and tbh there’s nothing much to be gone around the house.

For breakfast, we tried the Cedro jam that we made a few days back and it tasted delicious. I love how sweet it is and then leaves a nice sour and bitter citrus flavour. The consistency is very good as well and everyone loved it! Andrew also tried the instant white coffee that we brought and he liked it heh! =D

Shortly after 9, Bruno drove us to the Capannoli city centre, where we bought our bus tickets and located the bus stop. He was very kind to wait for the bus with us and since we had about 20 minutes of waiting time, we tried to make conversation haha! I asked him how he met Marilena and moved over to their present house. 

The bus was 10 minutes late but ateaat it finally came! I was secretly relieved that we didn’t have to make anymore awkward conversations as I really didn’t have anymore Convo topics! T^T

The journey was scenic, just like most of our trips in Tuscany. The views make me determined to return here again someday and gave me a damn good reason to prefer Europe over Asia. The road was super winding and we went up and up until we could get a bird’s eye view of the farms on the hill. The neat arrangement of the plantations and golden/green hues of the landscapes are very memorable. ^^

Upon reaching Volterra, we first visited one of the most well preserved section of the city walls, called porta al arco. It’s a simple gate that greeted us for the start of our exploration. 

We then walked up to Piazza del priori, where the palace of the commune of volterra sits. Along the way we went into many specialty shops, most of them selling artsy stuff like papercraft that is made traditionally, acrylic paintings and art prints featuring the scenery of Tuscany. Volterra itself is built on a hill and many of the roads are upward sloping and narrow. The architecture is medieval – the paths were cobble stone and the buildings were mostly made of bricks. The residents didn’t paint their houses and shops so the colour scheme of the whole town is grey and brick red in colour. 

The neighbourhood was very cosy and homely. It felt like a community that people actually lived and worked in because there are locals walking about, clothes hanging outside of windows and beautiful potted flowers growing outside the houses. There were many western tourists as well (we’re probably the only Asians) but the whole place wasn’t too crowded. And the weather had just gotten cloudy by late afternoon so the temperatures were copper than usual. 

After the piazza, we walked to the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. The Cathedral used to have a missionary in the medieval times and the brotherhood maintained its anonymity by donning gowns which covered their faces and body in black,which actually made them look like grim reapers instead imo. The Cathedral also displayed the equipments that they used for transporting sick people in the olden days. Near the church, a medical service was on standby and I was pleased by how people continued the work of the brotherhood. 

After visiting the baptisery of the Cathedral, we went to the acropolis to admire its ruins and see the underwater cistern from the first century AD. Along the way we saw the medici fortress, which is now a prison. 

Next up was the Entruscan Museum, which held a large collection of funeral urns. They’re similar to what we saw in Camposanto, except that in here, the urns here are more consistent in design, shape and size. We couldn’t really understand what the sculpting on the urns meant but some were themselves, works of art. But haha I was more interested in the English guides the gift shop; they have a good summary of Tuscan food, Siena and San Gimignano. 

Then it was off for lunch! We didn’t have to walked for long to find a popular trattoria in front of the museum of torture. Yue shan had carbonara pizza (with bacon, eggs and pepper) and I had delicious ravioli in truffle cream sauce, as well as Caffè espresso (very not nice). 

Feeling satisfied, we walked around for gelato and we Roman Theatre, which is better preserved than the acropolis as we could still see the ruins of the pillars that supported the majestic structure. YS was very delighted as it is her first time seeing any archaeological remains of the roman empire. Walking via the panoramic view point, we walked to the picture museum, which also houses the alabaster museum. It wasn’t very spectacular and there was almost nobody else save for us. However I feel that I could begin to appreciate paintings because we started to Google the meanings of the image thanks to the availability of mobile data. I’m guessing that there are many paintings of the same scene but being drawn by different artists, there are many works now for us compare and evaluate the skills of the artists.

Quickly, we found our bus stop and Bruno picked us up from the station at 7pm! 🙂 Today’s dinner (the last dinner at our sweet little bnb!) was a salad based on millet seeds, which i didn’t like because it was so bitter… We also had dhal that is cooked with capers so I used it to mix with the salad and hope the bitterness goes away =P Over dinner, I reminded Bruno about his children’s book as I was interested to talk to him about it. I had been trying to find the time to translate the story but I only managed to do so for the first sentence of the author’s description, which says ‘Bruno, 35 years old, lives in Campagna and loves animals more than humans (but even humans are animals).’ Later we spent the next 20-30minutes helping me to understand Italian pronunciation and grammar (at least I tried) while the rest were talking about A and H’s travels and the movie ‘Godfather’ hahaha.

Overall today was a great day because Volterra was a perfect place to visit, especially for half a day. So thankful to our hosts for always being so kind and considerate towards us :>

Europe 2.0 – Day 3 30 May

Today we woke up at 8am for breakfast. It was a simple but delightful affair 🙂 There was slice bread, oatmeal biscuits, homemade orange and lemon jam, herbal tea made from homegrown plants and muesli with yogurt. We saw a couple from Germany who were staying here for 3 nights. They worked as a IT consultant and IT personnel in the central bank respectively, and are in Tuscany for 10 days! They’ll be visiting small towns in their rental car. 

Our work started soon after breakfast. In short, we helped to cut the weeds from the garden, and Marilena identified the plants for us as well as gave us a short intro to each one of them. We also smelled the different plants but they all felt minty to us and we couldn’t differentiate anything hahaha. She has Salvia, mint, rosemary, timo and a few other herbs growing in the garden. She used most of them for making tea, like what we drank in the morning. 

It was hard work as the sun was very glaring, and our task was quite demanding but because there were many weeds overcrowding the useful plants, and often we had to bend or squat to ensure that we have gotten rid of the weeds at their roots. 

After an hour or so, we took lunch, which was once again simple yet pleasing. We had the same bread which we ate for breakfast, together with leftovers from the previous dinner – black cabbage, beet root and tofu. Marilena also let us try the porcellini cheese, which I mistook for parmesean, but it’s very tasty! 

We later boiled some water so she could try the instant white coffee which we bought for her. Unfortunately she is allergic to milk so we finished most of it! ^^ Just when I thought that we’ll definitely run out of topics to talk about, she told us that the economic crisis that had affected Italy for about 15 years. At the same time, they grapple with the problem of immigrants, just as their European neighbours do. She was also interested in finding out if we planned on migrating in the future and both yue shan agreed that most Singaporeans would. 

Later we took a break (this working contract involves many breaks, I later realised) and headed out to shop for ingredients that we need for curry! Cooking curry is an important activity with many ‘significance’ – firstly, Marilena asked us if we could cook any Singaporean dishes. Secondly, we bought her curry paste, which would be good if they could try it. Thirdly, we had pretty much A LOT of free time, so we were always trying to think of things to do hahaha. 

We first went to an organic farm, which was about 20 minutes drive away. The views did not disappoint as usual, and along the way i took many videos of the laid back tuscan scenery. 

The farm looked really legit, with shelter covering large plots of vegetables growing there. The shop in comparison, was very small and average looking. There was nobody inside when we entered and the interior was very simple. The vegetables were simply placed in crates for customers to choose. Everything look especially fresh and natural. 

Next we drove to COOP, a supermarket chain in Italy. Marilena was very nice and asked us to take whatever we felt like eating. When I was eyeing a strawberry yogurt for a long time, she egged me on to take it but I felt bad for making her pay haha… (Besides, Yue shan didn’t take anything lol.) We found the essential coconut milk to make curry over here, and bought brinjal as well to add to the variety of vegetables for making curry. 

Later in the evening, the much anticipated moment arrived – MAKING CURRY. For our lovely hosts, they can’t wait to try this ‘Singapore dish’ (I explained to them that curry came from India) whereas for us, we were so excited/nervous about how it will turn out. 

Thankfully the curry paste that we bought came with instructions, so we followed it exactly (except for one part we added too much water because there were way too much vegetables) and checked on our pot more than needed. ALAS… THE OUTCOME IS… !!!!GOOD!!!! 

Our hosts enjoyed the curry very much (PHEW GOOD JOB US THANK GOODNESS) and we were simply glad to pull this off and to be able to be of help. 

During our previous dinner, we asked them about the best point to do astrophotography and after dinner today, Bruno brought us by foot to a clearing uphill, where we saw a beautiful sunset… At 930pm HAHAHA! that’s summer for you! He also agreed lend me his Canon 10-22 after I told him that my astrophotography in Cambodia has not been as good as my lens were not wide enough. On the way there we also talked about the longest nights and days of the year and it’s relevance to Christianity (it is believed that the longest day was the day when Jesus Christ was conceived and the longest night was when he was born. Because of his birth the longest night became shorter gradually.) 

We walked back to our house together and shortly after, yue shan and I decided to head out again for me to do my photography. ^^ (It was crucial to do it ASAP as the crescent was to become a full moon, which would make the sky brighter and the stars less obvious). The way there was darker now as we decided to set off after the sun has set completely. Thankfully we borrowed a powerful torchlight from Bruno, which guided our 10 minute journey. Owing to the crescent hanging above us, the streets were not entirely dark and helped us to see better. We saw many fireflies along the way, which greatly delighted Yue shan hahaha! (Tbh, Idk why bur I was quite stoic… Perhaps I was too focused on getting the star photos and had seen fireflies in Cambodia before.) 

We stayed there for around 30 mins. I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t get the milky way but I could see my surroundings to compose the photos, which still made it interesting. 🙂 

Europe 2.0 – Day 2 29 May

WE HAVE LANDED! In Milan ~ 

Everything is great! (I think I also said this same sentence  in my previous post.) 

Just like I remembered, the grass is still ever green, the sky still a colour of the truest ‘sky blue’, wild flowers still grow out of the train tracks and the buildings everywhere are still displaying ugly graffiti. 

The immigrations were quicker than expected; surprisingly the airport was pretty empty. We took an earlier than planned train to Milano Centrale, where we tried to find our way to take another earlier than planned train. (But in the end it failed so we waited out 2h of extra time in a macs.) Throughout the whole journey, the only thing I felt could be better was if I had data on the go so that I could contact the people I care about hehe, or learn some Italian before starting the farming proper. 

As promised, our host (Marilena) was at the station waiting for us! We were both so happy to see a rather elderly (50-60 something year old) female welcoming us, instead of a youngish host, which we both agreed would be less favourable. We passed her our gifts from Singapore (Instant White Coffee, curry and sambal paste, iconic key chains and black pepper crab instant noodles). 

On the way to the farm, we exchanged conversation, most of which was sustained by yue shan as I was ‘brain dead’ or zoning out for most of the time haha… 

The scenery was GREAT! I was afraid that the place would be too modern or busy, unlike what the country side promised. Thankfully, as we drove further from the train station, houses became more distantly spreaded and more natural scenery came into view. I was especially thrilled by sights of settlements atop hills or vine yards hahaha! Furthermore the architecture was stunning. I really love the colors of the houses (orange, pink, white, yellow), the windows, the doors etc. Most houses also have some sort of garden or grow potted flowers outside their houses, which added vibrancy to the lovely neighbourhood. 

Finally after 15 minutes of driving, we arrived! We couldn’t see any farm or garden in view but  I was very satisfied that we were somewhere secluded by mother nature. The people here also seemed friendly enough – our host as an example and also her neighbour whom she stopped the car to say hi. 

We were shown our room, which had beautiful brick arches on the ceiling. A covered hole was located in front of our double bed and our host explained that this room used to be use for making wine, and the hole is where the wine drains out. Later we joined our host in the kitchen for some orange juice and home grown cherries (which tasted really sweet), and we continued the conversation further, most of it also led by yue shan. 

From our brief 30 minutes talk, we already found out many things about Marilena. She used to study in a university in Florence, where she majored in agriculture. Later she got pregnant with Susanna at a young age of 21 years old, and so she dropped out of school to raise her daughter. Later she managed to continue her studies, but with a focus on acquiring knowledge about medicinal herbs. Unfortunately the father of her daughter left her, and she eventually got together with Bruno, who is our second host and the co-owner of this establishment. They’re not married but they do have 3 cats and another black cat which drops by occasionally only for food. 

Marilena is the main person tending to guests at their bed and breakfast, and also to their garden, where she grows many herbs and aromatic plants. She left us to our own devices when the conversation became lengthy, and both of us retreated back to our room for some rest. 

Around 4h later, at 9pm, we had dinner, which comprised of millet with tomato sauce. It tasted delicious and we were later joined by Bruno, who is not only a photographer like me, but also a camera man for horse races. A talented man, he has 2 other jobs besides filming the races and tending to this establishment. On most days he works for a vineyard near his place and he occasionally teaches European folk dance to children in schools. Just wonderful! 🙂 He has also promised to lend me his wide angle lens after hearing my interest in photography, specifically, astrophotography in this countryside ^^ Best of all, both our hosts speak adequate English for us to communicate on many subjects, making our time here never a dull moment. 

Europe trip 2.0 – Day 1 28 May

This is it. We’re now on the plane, many miles from home but closer to place that we’ll be calling our second home for 1 week. 

It has been my dream since young (however cliché this phrase may sound) to work abroad. More specifically, I’ve been interested in the idea of WWOOF ever since hearing about it. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farming  and let aspiring farmers (like me, heh) stay in Organic farms for free in exchange for work, so as to promote, well,  organic farming. 

Before going, I had many doubts. But as the plane steered towards the runway just before taking off from Changi Airport, I know that there’s no going back. No room for uncertainty. This is it. And it feels so surreal…i can now understand what Zea when she said that her exchange was a dream.

It feels like a dream because you can’t believe it’s happening. And moreover, everything is too good to be true yet it is indeed, happening, and most of all, to YOU! 

Today my father didn’t send me off at the airport, perhaps due to his disapproval for my trip. Why so – i don’t know! There’s too many possibilities to speculate. Firstly, traveling is a way to spend a lot of money quickly and consecutively for 2 years, I’ve been travelling to Europe for extended periods of time. Secondly, he doesn’t understand why I need/want to travel. Thirdly, he may not want to be accountable for anything that goes wrong. I’ll never find out, I suppose. 

I must admit that it saddened me a bit… I hope he will be happy for me eventually, or that I’ll be able to justify my spending with more income from tuition, or some sort of life changing experience derived from my travels. 

My dad was supposed to be my ride to the airport so without him, my mom, sis and I had to take bus to the airport, and I had a pre-trip warm up for back packing. 

On board the Turkish Airline flight, everything is better than expected. I found a movie on my to-watch list – LA LA LAND – and the food was great. The service was to my surprise, even better than my previous long haul flight with Emirates. They provided a travel kit with essentials like eye mask, socks and ear plugs. Blankets and pillows were available, and the crew made their rounds after dinner to make sure we are all well fed before going to bed. (But the thing about sleeping on airplanes is, you can’t seem to fall asleep. What a shame!) 

It’s 0206h as I’m typing this as falling to sleep has been in vain. I’m excited for what’s about to come!