Italy is the last country in our European backpack tour. If Switzerland was the cool “Holy Grail of Earth” as per my previous blog, Italy was the scorching hot and raucous Mediterranean Peninsula! Boy, didn’t we have a lot of things to say about Italy?! From Switzerland, we arrived at Milan Centrale Station after 3 hours journey on the train.
The train stopped at Domodossola, the first Italian terminal you would meet once you crossed the border of Italy and Switzerland. The sigh view from train of Tuscany as we made our way towards Pisa as transit to Rome.
From Milan Centrale, we boarded the Metro to Maciachini heading towards Piazzale Carlo Maciachini. It was a walking distance but quite challenging to find “the first wooden door” as people hardly speak English and we didn’t have constant WIFI to find our way. When we arrived at the door (which looked pretty antique and elegant), it was locked and there were security codes to be entered. We tried to explain to the audio machine but proved to no avail. Luckily suddenly, a young man was about to enter and he speaks English. So, he helped us dialled our hostess’s number and assisted us into the apartment.
Milan Centrale. Majestic architecture, it was.
Our hostess, Alice. Her cat, Bresson was a big fat but fierce male cat. Hahaha…sometimes he liked to fondle you but you can’t fondle him! LMAO! But he was fond of Kakak. Haha!
Our hostess in Milan was Alice. Kakak got connected to her via Airbnb (she is really good in this, really!) and she is merely 21 years old. I noticed there were a lot of books on cinemas and films and I asked her about her studies. She told me that she is a Mass Communication student and she has been doing Airbnb for 3 years now because it brings money and put bread to the table (and Kakak said that Alice has been getting a lot of good review in Airbnb so she probably makes tonnes of money!). Alice lives with her grandmother and mother and there was a pet cat named Bresson (very big but fierce cat!). I could see why people praised the house. From outside, you thought it was merely a small apartment ala Hong Kong’s but apparently, the interior was quite big. The decoration was magnificent and you could see there was sense of Renaissance style (classic portraits hung; Alice said they were her mother’s). The bathroom was big and very comfortable. Our room also was very comfortable. I could vouch that Alice’s house was the best lodging we had throughout the entire Europe trip! Haha!
Alice’s house. You guys can get in touch with her via Airbnb. Very comfortable and luxurious home-styled (for us, backpackers!) accommodation.
Our first destination was San Siro Stadium, the heart home of AC Milan. I am not a football aficionado but I occasionally enjoy watching football every now and then. Abang Zam was a football fan so Kakak thought of visiting the stadium on behalf of him and I also was intrigued by that as well. It was scorching hot 35 celsius and we were quite taken aback by the stadium. It was indeed big but there was no sign indicating it was San Siro Stadium except for a few “entrance” (Ingresso!) signs leading to the AC Milan’s museum tour which cost 14 Euro per person. Obviously we didn’t enter the museum but we managed to slither our ways into the merchandises shop. I could see excited boys and men who were probably AC Milan’s ardent fans thronging the shop. It was understandably their candies shop, of course!
San Siro, home of AC Milan.
One for the nostalgia! Haha! My skin was burning under the hot sun!
I am quite a fragile person. I couldn’t stand scorching heat without any head protection (even my colleagues at school know that!) so after having that intense heat from the sun while ‘circumambulate’ San Siro Stadium, my body became frail and feverish. Luckily with two Panadols, I was recharged and ready for our next destination, Piazza del Duomo. Like so many other “squares” with majestic cathedrals in Europe (just like in Brussels’ Grand Place), Piazza del Duomo was a place with extraordinary history. We were warned by friends that Piazza del Duomo was a haven for pickpockets and gypsies lurking around! Irregardless, the complex was a beautiful historical place. The cathedral was an apparent mirror to the glorious Italian Renaissance days. Besides the cathedral, there was a boulevard called Galleria Vittorio with a lot of high-end shops such as Prada, Versace, Louis Vuitton – to named a few. As expected, you could see a lot of Arabs dining there. They are rich lots!
Piazza del Duomo. My classic levitation pose! But beware of the pickpockets here.
The Galleria Vittorio. What a luxurious boulevard!
Are you brand-freak? Are you fashion victim? Are you the ones who would splurge tonnes of money just for the name of the brand? Then, this is your candy store. I, on the other hand had no money. Haha!
Anyway the next day, we went out early from the house as our train was scheduled at 8.15 a.m at Milan Centrale. Well, the transportation’s schedule in Italy was helter-skelter! Our train was supposed to head for Rome with Pisa as the transit and the ticket indicated certain number. When we searched the number, the train in question was to head towards Remini. We decided to ask the Information Officers but with limited English, it was hard to get confirmation. In the end, we decided to take the train after Kakak asked another train officer at the front of our train coach (who also did not speak English! He just abruptly shunned us off and indicated “go in”!).
The famous iconic architecture of Pisa. It felt great to finally witnessing this. I have been teaching my pupils by reading passages from English textbook but now I can vouch my experience to them as I have seen this myself. Being a teacher, you need to constantly inspire your pupils apart from imparting knowledge. That’s what I vow to do as long as I am working as this primary school teacher. It ain’t easy to retain such positivity if you don’t have the heart as a teacher (though people said teaching is piece of cake. Haha!) (,”)
Beyond this picture, there were a lot of people aligned the alley with different poses (the famous one would be the one you pretend as if you push the tower!) and try to secure strategic places! Haha! All for The Leaning Tower of Pisa.
The train to Pisa took us around 3 hours. We stopped at Pisa Centrale and we had a gap of 2 hours before our next train resume the journey. We took the bus (again, the schedule was all confusing! We had to ask another Indian family entourage who was also heading towards Pisa Leaning Tower!) to Pisa Leaning Tower which was situated in a historical complex. Well, there were a lot of people thronging and each one of them vies for the best picture angle they could get with the leaning tower! Well, heated conversations were inevitable! Haha! It was surreal seeing that with my own eyes. I have been teaching my pupils based on the textbooks passages on Pisa Leaning Tower and now I have witnessed this my own! That’s life enriching, for me – not merely based on facts and figures confined in text books (although that helps!).
The majestic Colosseum! Amazing historical architecture.
After countless of Selfie snapshot. It has been ages since I last used my NIKON camera. The last time was my 2014 United Kingdom’s trip. Haha!
The journey to Rome took us around 4 hours across the Tuscany region (remember the movie “Under The Tuscan Sun”?). We arrived at Roma Termini and our Rome lodging, Lazio Hotel was just a stone-throw away; walking distance. Kakak is always good in arranging our accommodations! Anyway, while we were scouting and searching for the route heading to the hotel, a fluent English-spoken Caucasian man suddenly approached us. Being Asians we were bound to not be rude although we already aware with the abundant gypsies and refugees in Rome! With his oily manner and silky voice, he offered to show us the direction as if the hotel was far. But when we refused and told him that we already knew the location, he abruptly left us and the oily manner VANISHED! LOL! So y’all better be careful in Rome! On whole, Lazio Hotel was nice except that the WIFI only available at the lobby so we had to do all the navigation at the lobby. But the bathroom was spacious and pretty comfortable.
Spectacular! Imagine the gladiators fought here years ago on their horses chariots!
There were soldiers everywhere. Felt like in a warzone. The threat of terrorism all over Europe!
After settling our things at the hotel, we didn’t waste time to visit the magnificent Colosseum. You won’t get lost. It is merely at the front yard of the metro station! It was magical historical ruin. Being a historical freak, I could imagine how the Roman Empire glorious days with the Colosseum’s architecture! Coincidentally, the sun was about to set when we visited the Colosseum. We could hear some Italian music being played at the alfresco restaurant on the elevated terrace opposite the Colosseum. And then, there were soldiers patrolling (due to the recent terrorism fracas in Europe!) the place – I guess they are safeguarding public places as terrorists seem to aim these types of places.
In front of St. Peter’s Basilica at Vatican City, the smallest country in the world.
Apparently, the obelisk (the right picture) was taken from Egypt by the famous Roman ruler, Caligula! I didn’t know until I read this Wikipedia link at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vatican_City. For those of you who do not know, Caligula was this famous Roman ruler who had outrageous sex lives (he did men and women) and there were also movies on him; the first one funded by Hugh Hefner of Playboy. How did I know? Don’t ask! Haha! (,”).
The next day, on 17th July 2016; we went to Vatican City which is the smallest country in the world!!! My sister and I read a lot of books about facts of the world when we were young and we remembered reading about Vatican City being the smallest sovereign in the world! Of course Vatican City is the focal point of Catholic Christianity being the home for the Pope; but I guess a sounded Malay Moslems would not go berserk with that, no? Some people may wonder why I put this disclaimer – lately, a lot of average-thinking Malay Moslems love to do moral policing and besmirch their brethren they thought defy the piety codes. In short, “holier-than-thou” attitude! Enough of that! Anyway, the queue was so long that we made decision that if by 8.30 a.m. we were still to queue, we need to abort the Vatican City visit due to our train to Venice at 10.15 a.m.!
The long queue to enter Vatican City. And there was a pinoy working at the souvenir booth before entering Vatican City. Filipinos and Bangladeshis are apparent labour force of the world. Their diaspora are dispersed everywhere especially in Middle East. Amazing, isn’t it?
Alas like Kakak said, ALLAH SWT wanted us to experience that. No more than 15 minutes later, the security guards let the crowd in. Like the usual procedure when we were to enter a new country, we have to be scanned and put our luggage to be scanned as well. Anyway, we didn’t have time to explore the whole Vatican City as we were running out of time – we didn’t even queue up for the museum (it was Sunday, mind you! So there were a lot of people!). We just hanged around at the front of St. Peter’s Square and admiring the architectures of St. Peter’s Basilica. Though it was short stint but it was surreal for us!
Waiting for water taxi in front of Venezia St. Lucia. The weather was so hot and crowd was thronging like ants!
The real Venice from backpacker’s point of view. Haha, a dirtier version of Diagon Alley!
From Roma Termini, we boarded the train to the northeast of Italy Peninsula! The journey to Venice took us around 4 hours but it was pretty comfortable (in comparison to the train trip from Pisa to Rome where we had to face another strangers who had the same coach and berth opposite us! Imagine being like that for 3-4 hours? LOL!) as it was a bullet train.
The famous Rialto Bridge. Unfortunately it was under construction. But we were still able to cross it. There were shops on it.
The famous Venetian Carnival masks. Perhaps suitable for those predators and preys who were into one-night-stand games? Haha! After all, Casanova was from Venice, no? Haha!
Now, Venice has another new life experience for us. We arrived at Venezia Santa Lucia Railway station. And then from there, we boarded water taxi (yes! more or less like ferry as Venice is an island) No.5 to Rialto. This was where our adventure began. Venice is not that big BUT it has intertwining cobbled streets like a maze! Each one of the road cross each other and some even had dead end! There was no WIFI for us to locate our hotel and we were practically tired dragging our 3-4 heavy luggage amidst the immensely overcrowded alleys of Venice! We located certain landmarks suspected to be near around our hotel such as the Max Mara but failed to see any signs of “Hotel Canada”. We also followed a few families walking to any exits we thought would lead us to the place but turned out that they also gambled their ways out and all we found were dead ends! FINALLY, Kakak managed to get a few faint WIFI signals from a shop nearby. We tried our luck and at last, we found the hotel at Campo San Lio!! As the matter of fact, we actually DID pass by the area twice or thrice but perhaps we didn’t realize it due to its small hidden compressed-to-the-corner facade! Gosh, Venice IS NOT FOR THOSE WITH CLAUSTROPHOBIA!
Gondola ride? Nah, couldn’t afford. Haha!
Well, our final lodging in Venice was OK. It has the warm ambiance but the room was small AND the bathroom is located outside from your room. Nevertheless, it is your own bathroom, though. Unfortunately if you want to browse Internet, you have to pay 2 Euro for 1 hour! This is like a prepaid service! Darn! Hahaha! What a sly way to cut the tourists’ throats! We also bumped into another Malaysian Chinese family who resided the same hotel. It was nice meeting your countrymen at a foreign land.
People especially women always have this romantic fantasy to have gondola ride. Well, probably the romantic fetishes do no match with the harsh reality (smelly water, crowded water traffic). Nevertheless it is prerogative as long as you have money, no? Hey, it’s your own money and fantasy. Haha!
Our vacation in Venice was somewhat a bit more relaxing than the others as we didn’t have any specific tentative to be met and it was the last destination. The famous Rialto Bridge was apparently under construction. Alfresco restaurants were abundant and gondolas ferried their ways in and out of the canals (80 Euro per boat! We couldn’t afford to lavish ourselves with that!). There were a lot of carts selling souvenirs and the famous Venetian Carnival masks! The spontaneous impression when I was in Venice struck me as Diagon Alley BUT the dirtier version! Haha! People thronged the pavement and alleys. I have to say the ambiance was nice and I guess the rich people’s romantic fetish that “Venice is a romantic place” could crystallize IF YOU HAVE A LOT OF MONEY to splurge on the fine dining and high-end brands, no? We also managed to find our ways (Haha!) to the famous Piazza San Marco. It struck me that a gigantic behemoth of building was built on an island years ago! History is interesting, isn’t it?
Pigeons at Piazza San Marco – named after Italian famous traveler, Marco Polo.
There were also a lot of pigeons (do you know pigeons love dirty places ala Trafalgar Square and all? Haha!) and you could see a lot of Bangladeshis or Indian immigrants trying to make a living by offering us few grains to the be thrown at the pigeons and of course to charge Euros on us! As much as we adored their gallant efforts to survive in a foreign land, we refused that and a few of them scowled back at us! LOL! That night, Kakak just stayed at the hotel whilst I went out to roam around at the banks of Venice Grand Canal. Maybe harsh but it looked more or less like Melaka River Cruise panorama. Haha! Nevertheless, it was always good to fly away from your cocoon and see the world.
Night at Venice.
On the 18th July 2016 for the first time ever, we woke up quite late at 8.30 a.m. and then packed our things. Had the croissants as breakfast (English meals aren’t my cup of tea but I have to do it to avoid the stomach from being empty!). We bought our tickets from this one ticket shop. As there was only one ticket girl handling all the customers, the time to queue was quite long and the heat was unbearable in Italy! Well, Kakak asked the ticket girl whether we had to validate the water taxi tickets or not – she said only validate (to touch the ticket at a detector ala Touch ‘N’ Go concept in Malaysia!) the bus tickets and the water taxi tickets were unnecessary. That was where we went wrong.
We boarded the water taxi to Piazzale Roma so that from there, we could board a bus to Marco Polo Airport. We expected the whole journey to take 1 hour; the max. So, at 11.00 p.m. we checked out from Hotel Canada. Once we boarded the water taxi amidst the congested people thronging the pier, Kakak told me :-
“Wei, Alhamdulillah. Kita dah naik feri tanpa sebarang halangan”. (Thank God we are now on this ferry without any major glitches).
The water taxi officers began to check tickets. Somehow, they passed by me as I was standing at a corner (Kakak got my tickets, anyway) and they began to check those who were sitting at the berths. Apparently, we were to be fine because we did not validate the water taxi ticket for 70 Euro each (140 Euro!!!!). Kakak tried to reason with them but they refused and adamant for us to pay. Unfortunately, Kakak’s credit card somehow went haywire in Europe as everytime she tried to swap, the machine demanded password which she said she never had! AND her Bank Rakyat account won’t work via ATM card! I myself had no more Euro left!!! I went white!
Fortunately, Kakak did transfer some money to my Maybank account and I already activated my debit card prior flying abroad. By hook or crook, we had to pay and the fine was tantamount to RM700++!! For rich people, that was little I am sure but for us, it was like a huge some of money we could use to sustain our lives back in Malaysia before the payroll date at 25th. The three lady officers went to extend of ‘escorting’ Kakak to the nearest Bancomer (bank in Italy) and even threatened to confiscate our documentations if we failed to pay! We were undeniably crestfallen by the unfortunate circumstances but Kakak told me :-
“It’s a shame what happened but although ALLAH gave us this test, there was also a way out given to slither away. Perhaps this is a subtle reminder for us for not reading Quran or being negligence to Him throughout this journey.”
In a way, everything happened for a reason. Alhamdulillah, we managed to board the bus No.5 to Marco Polo Airport and our journey to the transit Dubai Airport was smooth. Although we had the gap 10 hours for our connecting flight to Malaysia (my second time experience sleeping at airport. Initially I tried to sleep on the floor but it was damn cold so in the end I resorted to sleep on the berth), Alhamdulillah, all went well.
This tower is called St Mark’s Campanile. Situated at Piazza San Marco. Read more about it at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Mark%27s_Campanile.
On whole, I feel that this Europe journey was a precious memory I have and it enriches my life. This is also as a reward to myself for being extremely hardworking (I was so into studying Corporate Communication; a far cry from my Microbiology degree days! Haha!) for the past 2 years on my Master of Corporate Communication and even nailed 3.938 as the overall CGPA! I guess I deserve a reward for being such a dedicated person (I am not bragging. If you don’t compliment yourself, who does? I merely give myself credit and a pat on the back! Haha!) I have no regret of applying Cuti Tanpa Gaji and that will affect my one year seniority (as Malaysian teaching posts are ‘time-based’). Initially, my colleagues went agog and even surprised that I would trade my seniority for this. For me, it was all worth it. Like what Kak Adda a.k.a Zalisa (my ex Head of Discipline Teachers who also happened to be a wanderlust person like me!) said :-
“Ambik peluang yang ada. Nak kisah apa orang cakap? Ini pengalaman diri ko sendiri. Berani buat berani tanggung beb”. (Take this opportunity, bro. Why do you bother about others? This is for your own life experiences. If you dare to take the risk, you shall dare to bear the consequences, babe.”)
This journey also gave me:-
- An opportunity to see the insight of the Malay diaspora in Leeds, United Kingdom and the tapestry of their little world;
- To discuss my PhD plans with the Malaysians who are studying doctorate abroad;
- Witnessing a convocation in abroad university which totally different from our local’s;
- I also witnessed the gigantic windmills of which I used to teach my pupils on Science (year 5; Energy; windmills turn the wind energy into electricity via turbine-spinning!);
- I also able to crystallize my wanderlust dream with Kakak to set footsteps on the smallest country in the world, The Vatican City!
- Opportunity to witness the ethnic mobility around the globe. There are so many Bangladeshis and Indians (the poorer ones) in Europe doing odd jobs. So touched seeing their determination to venture out to foreign land, away from their cocoons and make effort to sustain their lives and blend with the new culture by learning the language, etc. Amazing!;
- To make differentiation of cultures of the Europeans – the British, the Belgians, the Dutch, the Parisians, The Swiss, and of course the Italians!
- To find my own Malay identity and embrace my root as a Malay Moslem; even greater when I am in Malaysia.
From our small room in Hotel Canada, Venice. Initially, I was a bit taken aback by the abysmal facade of Venice buildings. Seems that the ruins were visible. Aren’t the city council do anything about it? But when I read Wikipedia (of course!), apparently, Venice is known for its “elegant decay” (eeeks!). Perhaps, the decays are purposely let to be under the name of ‘aesthetics’? Read more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elegant_decay.
It was all worthy, Shahrill Ramli. Would you ever thought that one day you too had the experience of travelling 6 European countries within 12 days with Kakak? You know what they said; life is a mystery and have fun to unravel that! Amin. (,”)
I didn’t mean anything malicious but Italy was the least favorite European countries in our trip. And Venice? Bad memory for Kakak and I. Haha! But we cherished the experiences gained. No regret whatsoever! I need experience to enrich my life.