Monday, 29 September 2014

Italy, Rome (Colosseum)

Rome was our playground for the next three days. We made our way in Rome on foot most of the time and it was extremely fun. Sometimes visiting a place once was never enough so we went back just in case we missed something interesting.

Photo taken from:

We signed up for a guided tour of the Colosseum and the Palatino before we set to Italy because this was one way we could learn more about the history of the Romans.

Here's the majestic image of the Colosseum. In the past, the Colosseum was known as 'The Flavian Amphitheater' and it was the largest amphitheater in the Roman city. It could house 50,000 spectators at one time, which was truly an extraordinary feat I must say.

The Colosseum is elliptical in shape and its height is over 160 feet high. However, the top part of the building which formed the other half of the ellipse had collapsed, after several earthquakes occurred in Rome. We could see the parts that had fallen near the walls. 

There were so many other negative elements that threaten the Colosseum each day but the structure is still standing after 20 long centuries. The Colosseum is indeed one solid building made from concrete, stone, volcanic rock and bricks. To me, it's also a living proof that the architects in that period were brilliant and way ahead of their time. 


Having 4 main floors in total, each floor had 80 archways and multiple sets of stairs. This made movement in and out of the Colosseum very easy and smooth. I marveled at the exterior of the Colosseum but its interior was a different story. It saddens me because I could see more clearly that the building is decaying and time is of the essence if we want to save the Colosseum. I was somehow relieved when the tour guide said that the restoration of the building is already underway.

I walked around the winding corridors of the Colosseum and imagined myself walking with the Romans. For a moment, I wondered whether the Romans were tall and big as the walls surrounding the arena was very high. Later, I was told that the walls was built that way to prevent both wild animals and gladiators from lunging into the spectator area.

The seats in the amphitheater were arranged according to social status. The third floor was designated for slaves and women since it was the furthest from the arena. The second floor was for the common people (the plebeins). And the first floor was for the emperors, nobles, senators, vestal virgins, and Rome's rich citizens (the patricians). The seating arrangement was quite clear cut but in the eyes of the Romans, women were seen to be in the same status as slaves? So women were slaves to men? Hmmm...

We had the opportunity to go down to the ground floor of the Colosseum. This was directly underneath the arena and this area was not opened to the public unless you happened to have a special pass, which our tour guide had. 

While on the ground floor, I could see that additional support had been installed to strengthen the Colosseum. The management had also tried to simulate a small part of the arena as the original arena had rotted and disappeared.

Before, the arena used to cover the ground floor of the Colosseum. Now that it was stripped off, we could see the underground tunnels and the rooms that housed both the gladiators and wild animals from the first floor.

The guide told us that the ground floor was equipped with pulleys, ramps and transported elevator so that both gladiators and wild animals could be brought up to the arena. I was equally amazed that there was also a stream underneath the Colosseum! This stream supplied water to the gladiators and the caged animals at that time.

The artifact in the Colosseum shown here illustrate that the game is not only between gladiator and gladiator. Sometimes, a gladiator would be forced to fight with wild beasts. Most of the time, the game would end with the winner slaughtering its opponent. The lives of these gladiators were of no value to the Romans simply because the gladiators themselves were slaves, prisoners of war and condemned criminals.  

As much as I admired the Colosseum, I still don't understand why the early Romans were desensitized to violence and killings. I've no answer for this but the Colosseum is still a place that you can't miss if you go to Italy.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Italy, Rome

We decided to skip Florence altogether and went straight to Rome. It was a regretful decision for us but we didn't have the time to go to both cities. Sadly, we also had to give Cinque Terre and Sorrento a miss. Sob... sob...

Now that I am back in Singapore, I have the luxury of researching more on Italy. And the more I learn about Italy, the longer is the list of places that I want to go to; it really makes me want to fly back to Italy in the near future.

Photo credit to:

That day, we reached Roma Termini around 1 pm via train. By now, I was quite familiar and used to the train services. It had certainly made travelling convenient and easy for us. 

Rome is a sight to behold as it is truly an open air museum. The ancient ruins of the Roman empire sit together and blend well with the present buildings. Here, we can walk along any busy street and come across an ancient ruin. What's amazing is, we'll find yet again another site unexpectedly when we make our next turn.

Walking along Via dei Fori Imperiali, we came across our first historical site, the ruins of ancient Roman city. This site was just right behind our accommodation! Notice the brown building? That's the present day apartments.

The photo above is the Forum of Augustus, built by the Emperor Augustus himself in 42 BC. After the war that avenge the death of Julius Caesar, Augustus and Mark Anthony commanded the forum to be built. This included the Temple of Mars Ultor, which is dedicated to Mars, the God of War.  

Just directly across the road, there was also another forum, The Forum of Caesar. But because it's the oldest of all the Forums, you can't really make out the structures. What's left are the columns, some architectural fragments and huge rocks.

Seriously, I find Roman history very difficult to understand. Italy is such an old nation and for me, it's like looking at small pieces of jigsaw puzzles. All I hope is that I had pieced some of the Roman history correctly.

Next to the Forum of Augustus is the Forum of Trajan, built in AD 112 by the Emperor Trajan. This is the greatest and also the last forum of the Roman Empire. The photo shows the Trajan's market, which is equivalent to a modern shopping centre in that period. 

A few steps away from Via dei Fori Imperiali, we came to another era of Italian history, the period of a unified Italy. Notice that as time changes, the building structure changes too. It's really fascinating.

This building is known as the Victor Emmanuel Monument. It was really huge and high. The roof of the building looks like it is touching the clouds and the marble walls were stark white, which was a huge contrast to other buildings in the vicinity. 

Given that the monument was dedicated to the first king of Italy, I was surprised that there are so many nicknames tagged to it - the wedding cake, the typewriter and the urinal. It seems that most Italians did not approve of this monument as it was built on the archaeological ground of the ancient Roman city.

An equestrian statue featuring Victor Emmanuel on a horse could be seen here.

The shopping belt of Rome, Via del Corso, was just right in front of the monument. It was around 5 pm when we noticed a huge crowd started to gather on the streets. Barricades were also put up along the roads by several fully-geared policemen. We had no idea what was going on but it looked like all of them were waiting for someone important to pass through.

We chose the highest spot to watch the "event". Waiting, but not really knowing what or who would pass by. We stayed put at our location because there's no way we could get through the human traffic below

We waited for more than an hour and the Pope suddenly emerged from a black car.

There was a loud cheer from the crowd. People were reaching out to touch and kiss his hand as he walked along the road. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to capture clearer photos because the vapour in the air had condensed on my lense and I had already zoomed my lense to its max.

I overheard from the crowd that the Pope was there to light up the Christmas lighting. So I did some research on this and 
found out that the occasion was called Immaculate Conception. On that day, the Catholics celebrate Virgin Mary's conception of Jesus. It is also a public holiday in the Italian calender, which explains the huge crowd. 

The tradition in the past used to be the Pope riding out from the Vatican to Piazza di Spagna on a caravan, before placing a wreath at the Colonna dell'Immacolata. This was not the case anymore. Well, I'm glad I've found out something new on that day. Travelling really opens my mind and that's why I love doing it. My next post will be on the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Italy, Venice (Murano & Burano)

We simply had to go to these two craftsmen islands in the Venetian lagoon. The island of Murano is best known for its beautiful handmade glass while its counterpart, the island of Burano is reputed for its high quality lace.

The history of these islands was equally interesting. The craftsmen and artisans of these two islands were highly prized in Venice as they contribute greatly to the economy. As a result, they were not allowed to leave the Republic at all. Those who tried to leave would be sentenced to death or worse, had their hands cut off. 


Having read the history of the islands, we set off to Murano very early in the morning. Unexpectedly, we also witnessed the daily lives of some of the islanders who were just starting out their day. We saw a number of men busy lugging goods and merchandise in their boats to sell in the main marketplace in Venice.

Others were just cleaning their boats like the picture above. Somehow, this brown boat stood out from all the other boats, so I snapped a photo of it. However, I suddenly felt very self-conscious when the owner looked at me. I must admit that I have forgotten that it was rather rude to take photos of people without their consent. Eventually, we moved on and I was thankful that my initial anxiety slowly faded away.

We came across the glass factory in Murano and then we made our way to the Museo Del Vetro (glass museum). We wanted to learn more about the island's collection of glass work, but I must warn that the museum might be a pretty boring place for those who are not into glass. We spent only a short while there before heading to the taxi station to visit Burano. 

When we reached the taxi station, the information board immediately caught my attention. Irregular services??

I didn't know that labour strike could happen in Venice and being stranded in Murano was not an appealing situation for me. Fortunately, the boats came on schedule and we happily headed to Burano. 

Two adorable cats found under the tree greeted us when we alighted from the boat. They were so cute and didn't seem to be bothered at all by the attention they had from people. I even had wild thoughts of "kidnapping" one of them.

We found lace on display in one of the shops. The people here not only weave lace, they also make use of lace to create hand fans, parasols and blouses. The lace designs really looked intricate to me; I'm even worried to hold it.

This is the reason why we visited Burano. Largely to see its famous, brightly, colored houses. And right at the end of the canal, the red house in front of the bridge looked very much like the Santa Claus house. To us, Burano certainly looks like a joyful place to live.

The houses were simple looking and sturdy. However, it was very quiet when we walked along the houses. They're almost uninhibited. I mean where were the sounds of little kids crying or running and people talking? Or the smell of something cooking? Surely, that would be the norms of a house right? The only traces of human occupancy were the fluttering of lacy curtains decorating the windows and cute flower pots neatly lined on some of the window sills. 

The legend of Burano stated that the houses were painted in striking, contrasting colours so that the fishermen could recognise their homes when they went fishing. We thought we could see some fishermen mending their nets near their boats but we saw none.

We visited the Museo del Merletto (Lace Museum) next, which showcased many different designs of lace from different periods. The lace in the exhibits were remarkable because they looked soft and thick and had lots of details and soft curves. I guess this was the first time and maybe the only time in my life whereby I had successfully took an interest in lace. 

Haha.. Up next, is my post on Rome, our next destination in Italy.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Italy, Venice (The Grand Canal)

We started off very early the next day. The morning breeze in the Grand Canal was cooling and refreshing as we sat on the front seat of the water taxi.

The sun spreading its golden ray over the canal made me a very grateful person. I felt blessed because I get to admire Venice in such a pleasant weather. We would have a different experience if it rained in Venice. I've read how people had to walk with water up to their ankles when the place gets flooded. Thankfully, we didn't face any bad weather at all.

A water ambulance just "flew" past us; its siren alerted other boats in the canal to give way. This is another interesting fact about Venice. Since it is a city on water, it thus has a special water-based unit. The ambulance, police and fire units - all of them have their own water fleet. 

One of the water taxi stations to pick up and drop off passengers. 

I love the buildings in Venice. They were uniquely Venice. 

We also noticed that some of the buildings had murals painted on their walls. The murals further added character and beauty to the place. 

Finally, here's the famous Piazza San Marco.

It was such a huge piazza and there were so many fat pigeons there. I think we pretended to be scarecrows most of the time for about an hour so that we could have the pigeons perched on our arms. It's one of the crazy things we did but we had such great fun. We didn't feed the pigeons though as it was prohibited. 

There were many shops along the piazza but they were not opened yet because it's too early in the morning. The campanile (bell tower) is the most prominent landmark in the piazza. We went up the tower to have a bird's eye view of the area and for the price we paid, it's worth it. 

For me, the Secret Itinerary Tour of the Doge Palace is the most interesting part of our visit in Venice. I learnt about the system of governance when the doges were still ruling Venice and I find it pretty impressive. I also became acquainted with the story of Casanova, the most famous prisoner held in the prison here. I once thought that he was just a myth but now I knew that he was a real figure. A biography on this fascinating man could be found in the palace bookstore.

The trip to Venice wouldn't be complete without taking a ride on its gondola. Unfortunately for us, we didn't take the ride because it was expensive. I'll be contented with just a few photos of the beautiful gondolas. It must be romantic to take a cruise in one.