8 December 2011. It was the day when I left for Rome, Italy from Singapore’s Changi Airport. I was filled with excitement and anticipation because this was my first time going to Europe. I have never travelled beyond the Asian continent and Australia/Pacific, so I guess you could sense my joy at the prospect of being able to go to the other part of the world, where you hear so many good things about those places. Those castles and churches I hear since young, the towns where fairytale stories were born, and the buildings where I would add colours on my artbook when I was just a little kid. Europe was this mysterious land that created so much fantasies and life to my wonderful childhood years. I would imagine Little Red Riding Hood walking along the beautiful meadows amidst the beautiful Alps as the background. I would imagine Tweety Bird singing and playing chasing games with Tom in Venice, with the picturesque beauty of the city shown right before my very eyes. Europe was basically a dreamland filled with my childhood memories, and being able to experience it first-hand was an indescribable feeling. Off we fly to the Land of Wonders.
My trip to Rome did not get off to a very peaceful start. My plane was delayed almost 3 hours due to technical faults in the aircraft which resulted in the inability to switch off cabin lights during landing and take-off. We were stuck in the plane as technicians frantically tried to sort out the problems. When all of us thought everything was alright when the technicians left the aircraft, and we were informed about the take-off, the problem resurfaced again. After what seemed like eternity we finally left Singapore with a sign of relief.
Day 2. It was a pretty mild day for a winter morning, with temperatures hovering around 10C. We touched down at the airport, met our tour guide and made our way towards our coach, which brought us to the first stop of our tour in Rome, St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
I was awed beyond words when we dropped off to take in the sights of the amazing place. Vatican City is a landlocked sovereign city-state whose territory consists of a walled enclave within the city of Rome. It has an area of approximately 44 hectares, and a population of just over 800. This makes Vatican City the smallest independent state in the world by area, and also the world’s least populated. I also saw the Apostolic Palace and the surrounding St Peter’s Square.
Next we left for Colosseum, one of the most magnificent monuments of ancient Rome. Built in 72AD, it once used to seat 50 000 spectators and was the chief circus of the Roman Empire, where gladiatorial battles and other cruel glories were held.
The thought of standing right in front of a 2000 year old building struck me hard. I live in a very young and modern city, so I do not have any idea whats the feeling like to live in a historic city, and that very day I suddenly felt vulnerable amidst those precious structures that withstood thousands of years of wind and rain. We then proceeded to Trevi Fountain, which was one of the main filming sites of “triumph in the Skies”. And I saw many people making wishes by tossing coins into the fountain. I did not get to toss one into the fountain though. It was packed with tourists and locals.
After our tour around Rome, the next city on our itinerary was Florence. Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area. We viewed the entire Florence from the hill, and although the weather wasn’t good, it was still a breathtaking sight.
Next, it was time for us to explore the city. We made a photo stop at Ponte Vecchio, a historic bridge with a superb view of River Arno, which runs along the entire city.
We also had a tour around Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, the 3rd largest cathedral in the Catholic world. And although it is not as majestic as the St Peter’s Basilica, the architecture was simply stunning.
Next, we went for some shopping and sight-seeing along the most fashionable and high-end street for the well-heeled, Via de’ Tornabuoni, and its the place where major luxury fashion houses and jewelry labels, such as Armani and Bulgari, have their elegant boutiques.
Our last stop was Piazza della Signoria, which is a lordship square, which houses many sculptures by famous Italian sculptors including a copy of Michelangelo’s ‘David’ statue. It is a site important for being the centre of Florence’s civil life and government for centuries. It is still home of the municipal government today.
The clock tower seen above is the Palazzo Vecchio. It is the town hall of Florence, Italy. This massive, Romanesque, crenellated fortress-palace is among the most impressive town halls of Tuscany. Overlooking the Piazza della Signoria, it is one of the most significant public places in Italy. And when night falls, the entire plaza is transformed into a magical land where tourists gather for pictures, and locals bring their dogs out for walks, and couples sit along sidewalks for candle-light dinners. So picturesque.
I shall continue my journey through Europe in my next post, where I travelled to Pisa and Venice!