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Thursday, December 3, 2009


Tiramisu stands for Italy. Quintessentially Italian. And that’s just ONE of the many ingenious conceptions by the Italians. Many great things and great people came from here. From aqua ducts to Armani, mascarpone cheese to Micheangelo, the Italians were, and are really the maestros of beautiful creations. Don’t forget Nutella and Prada.

My holiday in Italy this winter has been nothing less than stupendo. The only country in the world where just the thought of food can mentally excite me, Italy is truly astounding….gorgeous in a daunting but poignant sort of way. Trieste is a wonderful non-touristy town with nice people, Florence has a gem-like exquisiteness, and Rome was simply inconceivably mind-boggling and dreamlike.

You may have heard much about Italy, have seen it on TV or pictures too but it’s nothing like seeing with your own eyes. To experience that tangible and absolute presence of such greatness is a rare privilege. A country that should be on everyone's bucket list.


Standing high above the world in the capitol of the world and face-off with Italy’s intriguing history, you can't help but be awestruck by the brilliant works of its Renaissance artists and all of its splendid architecture. An ancient city within a modern city... it's all so dramatic. The grandeur of the Renaissance period, the magnificence of Baroque elegance, an old empire in a modern city... what a world to be in.

I find most surreal, not the fact that Rome is 2000 years old. But the fact that the Rome today is looking almost exactly like it was 2000 years ago! And where Blackberry-Romans live and work at the same town as did Julius Ceasar!

Blackberries walking on the same cobblestoned pathways as Baroques did. I can now say I did! Except automobiles now replaced carriages, aggressively weaving into every bend and curve or parked alongside tight lanes. It's mind-blowing to learn that the Roman empire had already, since 2 millenniums ago, built this city with concept and intention - which was to make Rome an ETERNAL CITY.

A city built to last. Being there therefore feels like being in a matrix….. it’s the future, it’s also the past.

it is said that this is the oldest walkway in ancient Rome, and the busiest during Baroque times.

Whether it’s a concrete-slab, Renaissance-aged architect or the horse-hook and eye, reminders of the past are patently magnificent.

The Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica, Castel San’ Angelo…These same places where Popes and princes of the past have stepped foot in.

Centuries-old piazzas, palaces, fountains and sculptures - all enormous structures - gloriously built, painted and decorated by the greatest architects and artists like Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Bernini etc.

Rome's centuries-old City Hall - marble & bronze sculptures by Michelangelo where they have been since day-one, at this fountain or rather, tavern bath.

I stood admiring incessantly at the Trevi Fountain. The size stunned me. It was the first monument in Rome we came upon (it sits just outside our hotel - Hotel White). Geez, it’s way too majestic to be just a fountain. See, Italians love 'drama'. It’s massive!

The gigantic sculptures and big slabs of marble wall behind it, all very intricately carved, like those of Michelangelo's style. Tons of people hang around, sit around, snack and make out at this fountain everyday. Couples kissing in front of fountains, on bridges, middle of the road - that's typically Italian, and common, as you see in movies. Yup, La Dolce Vita it is...Well there's where I like to have my breakfast at.

It’s a cool fact to know that the water in the Trevi Fountain is in fact still generated by a 2000 year-old aqua duct (and not some high-tech modern pump) that pumps water from a river. Rome was the only city in the ancient world to have had running water to all households, via this clever water system called Aqua Duct. Invented of course, by the ancient Romans, modern Romans are just as proud of this as their Tiramisu. And the Rome today still uses the same old system for many parts of the city.

I must say water in Rome really is sweet! So run the tap of your hotel bathroom or help yourself to ancient drinking fountains you find around town and have a taste yourself. NOT a metaphor it really IS sweet! Believe me.

I still can’t fathom how such ginormous Renaissance structures, cathedrals, castles and even sculptures could possibly have been made and built by hands of humans.

the Angel of Garden at Castel S'Angelo

Such precision... With only primitive tools and not computers? Pay attention to the proportions, symmetry, geometry, detail and most fascinating of all, perspective. Very very fascinating stuff.

this is just a monument yet not JUST a monument, it's huge! built to commemorate Italy's very 1st king Vittoria Emmanuel, slap right in the middle of town amid busy road traffic.

For example, at The St.Peter’s Basilica (in The Vatican City). Note that the alphabets lining the edge at the top – they look tiny, almost need to squint to read, but actually the letters are each 2m in height! That puts you in perspective just how massive this building is.

Then there's Michelangelo’s Last Judgement wall painting and the back-breaking work on the entire ceiling of The Sistine Chapel (also located in The Vatican City) which he must have painted lying down most of the time.

One more thing that intrigued me was another ceiling fresco in the gallery that displays Flemish tapestries from the 1500s (on the way to The Sistine Chapel) which was painted with 3-dimensional techniques. Yes, 3D! And already since the 18th century. Figures on the entire ceiling looked so life-like, but they were not reliefs or carved. They’re indeed flat. And the guide made sure she pointed this out.

It amazes me to realize how advanced people were already since back then....I feel small amid all these greatness. And above all else, the ravishing details. Really, time in Europe is a constant awakening. Open your eyes and marvel.

Castel S'Angelo (a museum today, some great views of the city and Micheangelo's Dome at The Vatican City)

Inside St. Peter's Basilica : the painfully intricate work of mosaic art. Pieces of tiny colored mosaic fused together to create this frighteningly detailed piece which took 15 years to complete!

Inside the Vatican galleries : the incredible details on murals and sculptures are fascinating

The Vatican City, St.Peter’s Basilica & The Sistine Chapel

Go buy a tour if you want proper guidance while in the museums, ancient sites and especially The Vatican City. It helps alot to know what you're looking at and what to look out for. I'd advise you SKIP THE LINES to same time and tours offer this privilege, so spare yourself and spend it.

We had only 4 days so we gotta get the best out of was vital we get our priorities right - for me, The Sistine Chapel is on top of my list. So The Vatican City was our top priority.

Honestly, I wasn’t too optimistic and in fact was pretty upset when Federico said ‘no more tickets online’ and ‘horrendous queues on site’. But by hook or by crook, I MUST get in there somehow or I’d be way too miserable and MAD.

Not usually my common take but for this, I am thankful for the tours because I did eventually get to stand below The Creation of Man while looking on at The Last Judgement. That seriously made my day.

Canari Tours (their booth is just at the side of St.Peter’s Square), paid 187Euros (for 2) for a guided 3-hour walking tour at The Vatican City that included the 7km of art galleries that look like this (pic below) which led to the final destination, The Sistine Chapel. It was worth it.

Then we went underneath St.Peter’s Basilica to see the catacombs, and after back up to the basilica to appreciate the interior, most importantly to see Michelangelo’s earlier work, the world-famous Pieta, sitting in a a glass room fully shielded from the outside world. I thought the one in the Galeria Academia in Florence (where David is) was the one, but I didn't get to see it anyway as it was being restored at the time. Well, turned out this Pieta here at St.Peter's Basilica was precisely THE ONE I had wanted to see! So I’m glad I saw it in the end!

Inside St.Peter's Basilica : Pieta

The Sistine Chapel ( La Capella Sistina)

Seeing The Sistine Chapel in that incredible state still since 1478, I couldn't believe I was physically in the cradle of the Renaissance. And seeing this fresco, Micheangelo's back-breaking effort, was the highlight of my time in Rome.

The Last Judgement by Michelangelo inside The Sistine Chapel

This picture is a miracle in itself.... a million-dollar one as no photo-taking is allowed once inside the chapel and the guards are very strict about it. You'll hear with finger pointing every minute or so, "No photos please!" Ah.... but somehow, through some miraculous divine intervention, there was distraction - there were some VIP visitors who needed escort out of the chapel at the time we were there. Suddenly all lights were turned on inside the chapel (normally not) and all the guards disappeared to the back of the chapel and some, out through the door we'll never be allowed to step through. This was my one chance to do the forbidden - TAKE PHOTOS!!! A distraction long enough for me to steal some shots Ha! :D

I managed to steal a few, albeit blurred shots but they're MINE nonetheless:) I must say though, that the entrance to the Sistine Chapel was much less glorious than I had expected; there was just this normal doorway, a flight of short steps up from the public toilets and the cafe where we had our coffee break. It felt more like entering into a backroom of some house...:( I didn't even realize I was already standing inside the chapel which I so longed to see since Art History class! Immediately after a very 'duh' but excited 'Oh..oh we're here?!' which followed by an echoed 'Ssshhhh no talking please...', my eyes began to search frantically for THE wall. The room was packed with people. Many staring up at my direction where I entered...

I turned around and there it was. The blue fresco I've seen and studied in books, looking back at me from the wall, behind the alter with Jesus on a cross. Yes, The Last Judgement.

But before reaching the Sistine Chapel, the tour guide took us through a series of galleries. They were pretty spectacular. The first was lined with a lot of white-marble statues, found and excavated from different parts of Italy.... they're the treasures of The Vatican. Apparently, sculptures were originally colored because the Romans loved strong colors. They’re over 20,000 statues in The Vatican City and the youngest, is 1800 years old.

the statue of fertility

Inside Tthe gallery of maps

So this was where Michelangelo had spent 9 years of his life in total, just painting. The Last Judgement took him 5 years to complete. He must have painted it lying down most of the time, standing up or stretched out in all forms, yet he had not miscalculated. Precision and perspective. The details are amazing... he was superhuman.

another miracle shot of The Sistine Chapel before leaving...

Pray for a good guide because there’re amazing stories to be heard. Here's a couple :

In the painting, Michelangelo does a self portrait depicting himself as the apostle St. Bartholomew after he had been flayed (skinned alive). This is reflective of the feelings of contempt Michelangelo had for being commissioned to paint The Last Judgement. The figure of St. Bartholomew depicts the satirist and erotic writer Pietro Aretino who had tried to extort a valuable drawing from Michelangelo. He holds the painter's flayed skin as a symbol of attempted victimization. So look out for Michelangelo's face.

Now this is a funny story : The Last Judgment was an object of a heavy dispute between a Cardinal called Carafa and Michelangelo. The artist was accused of immorality and intolerable obscenity, having depicted naked figures, with genitals in evidence, inside the most important church of Christianity. So Carafa organized a censorship campaign (known as the "Fig-Leaf Campaign" like the picture of this marble statue below) to remove the frescoes.

When the Pope's own Master of Ceremonies, Cesna said "it was mostly disgraceful that in so sacred a place there should have been depicted all those nude figures, exposing themselves so shamefully," and that it was no work for a papal chapel but rather "for the public baths and taverns," Michelangelo worked the Cesena's semblance into the scene (far bottom-right corner of the painting) with donkey ears (foolishness) and a Satanic look, while his nudity is covered by a coiled snake. The guide told us that Cesena had then complained to the Pope. But the Pope who obviously favored Michelangelo responded that "his jurisdiction did not extend to hell because he'd be in heaven", so the portrait would have to remain. :D

While your stare may be fixed on the amazing ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, do pay attention to the murals on the sides too below the old and new testaments – the detail of shadow-and-light play on the drapes are amazing.

St.Peter’s Basilica

This bronze structure is the most prominent attribute at St.Peter's. The grounds of this church used to be a Roman cemetery. Underneath the basilica is where the great popes are laid to rest. The catacombs of Popes - John Paul I and John Paul II, the previous Pope whom many adored. Surprised to find the tomb of Queen Cristina of Sweden (1626-1689) too.

To commemorate Saint Peter, this Basilica was built as a final resting place for his body which was laid to rest there since 2000 years ago. It was unbelievable to be standing just 6ft away from the remains of St.Peter, whose catacomb was clad in colorful marble. He was crucified (upside down as he had wished) just a block away from this Basilica.

The Vatican City

It’s a pretty amazing fact that this is the smallest, most sacred country in the world. Not just a city, but a COUNTRY. It has its own towns, schools, own car plate and even its own currency!

SCV stands for Santa Chita del Vaticano

The official written language is still Latin. Everything that’s produced within The Vatican City, stays in The Vatican City. Like books, peace crosses blessed by the Pope, mosaic art and other memorabilia, all can be purchased inside The Vatican only.

The Colosseum Where it stands today used to be a huge lake. The ancient amphitheatre with 240 arches/viewing galleries was built in just 10 years.

A total of 75,000 spectators could be housed all at once to watch a gladiator combat (btw, lions eating Christians is an absolute myth).

Today, The Colosseum is in fact 1900 years. Many wonder why Roman structures from 600 years old dating back to 2000 even are so resistant. Well, the tour guide explained that there’s 12-13 feet of concrete, solid underfoot.

And this day, more than ever, I had cause for gratitude : gotta thank the Romans for having invented cement! Bravo!

The Ancient City

The Roman Forum One of the most important archeological sites in the world. Rome in general is a constant archeological discovery. The entire city is still being dug-under and excavation is an ongoing job.

Imagine how enthralling it is to unearth some marble floor area of some once-upon-a-time castle or dungeon of some place. Like this one….

Well, there’s a chance that it could even be parts from one of the underground galleries which led to other parts of the city during the times of Juilius Ceasar!

What else to do in Rome?


BEST EAT #1 : If you know who the late Federico Fellini is (director of La dolce vita) is and looking to conjure the spirit of this great film director, no visit to Rome is complete without a meal at the famous Il Pastarellaro restaurant. This traditional eatery founded in 1848 was a favourite haunt of the filmaker’s whom have inspired the just-released musical movie "Nine".

The restaurant is not a fancy place, in fact a very modest, homely sort of trattoria patronized by many locals, service was very classy, your old waiter will welcome you a glass of Proseco and a night cap of alcoholic digestive on the house. You won't be disappointed with the quality of food or the hospitality.

Order the Mussels & Clams in a garlic-parsley broth, Roman-style artichokes with ham and Ossobuco (Rome is THE place in Italy to eat bone marrow) with button mushrooms in tomato sauce. Do not leave without a dessert! Go poke your nose on the trolley and you shall salivate…Must order the ‘Mont Blanc’ a home-made cake with (a lot of ) fresh cream layered-filopastry base then topped with chestnut-paste ‘spaghetti’. Very unique, it’s Roman and it’s different but it’s superb (Tel : +39 065810871 - #47, Piazza In Pisinula)

BEST EAT #2 : One other very very small local eatery called SORA LUCIA (via della panetteria) sits inconspicuously just around the back of Hotel White. You really gotta open your eyes to notice it – if it helps, it’s right next to a gelatria, apparently one labeled by New York Times as ‘has the best ice-cream in the world’. SORA LUCIA has really, just under 10 tables with lady and her mother-in-law (really bubbly & warm folks) taking orders and husband who cooks. Awesome place for authentic Roman home-cooked food at affordable prices.

I highly recommend these super yummy dishes :

Fettucini Gamberi, Zucchine, Asparagi (fettucini pasta with prawns, zucchini & asparagas in a creamy/alfredo-type sauce) – only 9 Euros Bistecca alla griglia (grilled steak) – only 15 Euros Dessert : crema con filo-mille (cream & mixed berries or chocolate topped with philo-crumbs) or simply a Tiramisu (forgot the price).

What else to do in Rome?


So what did I buy?!


Punk it with Prada! 2009 Fall Collection - this is just divine... a masterpiece... an immaculate conception. Troy meet Lion Fish meet Trojan - the one and only pair in the whole of Rome and they were my size! I went to Italy to look for them and they were obviously, waiting for me.

The main shopping strip is along Via Del Condotti and Via Del Corso which conjoins at intersections. All the major brands – Gucci, Fendi, Dior, YSL, Prada, LV, Versace, Ferragamo – are here.

Gucci, Dior, Prada & YSL are right opposite the famous Spanish Steps which is pretty much a square where it’s constantly packed with people loitering about, sitting on the stairs, a spot where Italian men hang out to pick up women!

And at the top of these steps not far up the road is the famous Villa Medici. The acres and acres of sculpted gardens within Villa Medici is incredibly beautiful and grand. Many statues, fountains and sculptures done by most of the famous Renaissance artists including Michelangelo and Da Vinci were used to decorate the garden. You however, are only allowed in with a guide, so do book yourself one at the reception.

Take a bus or walk and watch out for ruins from the Roman Empire and suck in all the grandeur of this skyscraper-free city. Take a cab (meter starts at 5.80 euros = approx RM25) or a bus (full-day pass at 4 euros or 3-day pass at 11 euros)

Apart from the exceptionally heavenly weather, the few lucky encounters from beginning to end during this last weekend in Rome, summed the trip up quite immaculately. We flew home with particularly good spirits (although I wouldn’t say we’ve ‘rested’), a pocket full of cash from all our tax-refunds and overloaded baggages of fantastic memories. I wish however, that I could have just one more TIRAMISV.

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