Monday, December 31, 2012

Mesmerizing Italy

I promised myself that I would blog about my trip to Italy before November but I never really got the chance to do it.  There just never seems enough time to get things done.  The days went by quickly and 2012 is almost done! I began writing this post in my head last night, as I was trying to fall asleep (one of a few free time that I have these days).  I had gone over more than 1500 photos that we snapped in Italy last month, but I never got to finish the caption until now. Browsing through those pictures again reminds me of how enigmatic but forever amazing and beautiful Italy is!

Our first stop - Venezia (Venice)
This island city is by far the most unique city we'd ever visited. Surrounded by water, there's no lawn and no paved streets for cars. The walkways narrow to arm's width and they all look similar in every other way. There are a lot of bridges connecting the islands.  The street signs exists but sometimes are very difficult to find, adding to the likelihood that visitors regularly get lost; which my mom actually got lost on the day we arrived around 1am!  My sister and Choon Ping went to look for her for sooo long... finally she found her way back to  our apartment 2 hours later!  My mom noted that she'd never crossed so many bridges in her entire life and she's pretty much done with Venice after such long night walk! It actually gave us a different experience of how Venice was like with not much tourists around, especially the Piazza San Marco.  To our surprise, Venice is pretty safe late at night. 

Our rented 2-bedroom apt has excellent location. 5 mins walk to the main attraction: Piazza San Marcos, and Basilica San Marcos. It's the smallest apartment that we rented/stayed in Italy, but the most expensive one. However, it was still a lot cheaper than staying in the hotels, and definitely more convenience when travelling with a baby... we needed a kitchen!  Our Venetian excursion includes carrying our little emperor up and down the countless bridges whenever we went from one place to another. The Ponte di Rialto looked a lot more impressive in person but somehow not so much in photo. We also ventured up to the Basilica's terrace via its narrow and steep stairs with Wy still sleeping in the stroller.  Touring the Basilica is a "no photo" endeavor, but still... an interior shot to share :P

Firenze (Florence)
While planning our trip, my Italian friend expressed their love of Firenze, and this great city did not disappoint. Our apt was just right at the center of the town!  It's just one block away from the Piazza della Signoria.  Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore was just down the street.  The architectural wonder was so grand that it couldn't fit inside the frame of our camera.  We had 5 days here. So we took our time to visit Uffizi Gallery, strolling along the beautiful Arno River toward Ponte Vecchio, lining up to Accademia de Galleria to see the actual "David", Checked out Palazzo Strozzi, visited Palazzo Pitti, and Boboli Garden. On the last day at Firenze, we took a day trip via train to Lucca and Pisa; which was a bit tiring. Lots of walking involved and by the time we were about to leave Pisa, it was about to get dark.  More and more mosquitoes... they were all very aggressive!  When we got back to our apartment, we realized that the fruits that my mom bought for Wy at the farmer's market at Lucca had "disappeared" (stolen)!
Before we left Firenze to our next destination, we got the opportunity to climb up the dome of the duomo early in the morning before Wy got up; less crowd too!  Thanks to my mom.  She decided to just hang out at the apt, and fed Wy breakfast after he woke up. :)

It's one of the 5 towns that make up the Cinque Terra region. The 5 villages area Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore are UNESCO world heritage site. The town can only be accessed via walking paths, trains and boat/ferries.  Corniglia is the only village that can't be accessed via ferry as it's located on top of a promontory.  Anyway, Vernazza was built next to a cliff with a tiny beach.  It was cloudy upon our arrival and it started to rain about an hour later.  After the rain stopped, we spent the rest of the day leisurely walking or actually climbing around the small town while my mom and my little took a nap.  The town is small and colorful.  We thought we would be the only Chinese speaking tourist around here.. but we were wrong!  Upon our arrival at the train station, we heard people speaking in Chinese!  Lots of Korean tourists too.  This little town was our relaxing station :)  I got to celebrate my birthday here.  Too bad that we didn't get the chance to take the ferry and had a good view of the colors of Cinque Terra from the Sea before we left this little town. :(
We had a total of 5 days here in Rome. But my mom and sister had only 3 days. It was quite rush for them.  Our 2-bedroom apartment was surprisingly spacious; just 5 mins walk to Colosseum!  Love the fact that we got to admire the Colosseum by night everyday on our way back to our apartment! Walking around Italy was like having the volume turned on your day. Almost everywhere was a bit louder and crowded with tourists.  Rome was definitely no exception!  Lots of car traffic, which Wy liked it a lot as he got to watch those vehicles constantly zooming by.  Funny that we realized in Rome, all the motorized vehicles would not stop for pedestrian even if it's on a zebra crossing.  BUT they would all stop if pedestrian with kids, babies or strollers crossing the road!
Our Roman Holiday tour began at Piazza di Spagna, the Spanish Steps, and the Trevi Fountain at night. The next day, we went to Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and Roman Forum. There were a lot of walking, lots of carrying... our "little emperor"...up and down the steps of all these ancient ruins, and taking turn to look after the snoozing Wy.  While we were all done for the day, my sister went to Capitoline Museum, and also checked out the Mouth of Truth in the church in the Piazza Bocca della Verit. (One of the famous scene from Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, where the legend is that if you're lying, you put your hand in there and it will be bitten off) 

The following day was another full day... we took subway and then walked to the Vatican City. Musei Vaticani (Vatican Museums)... what can I say. I could not believe how detailed every inch of the place was. Pretty much everything in this complex is a work of art. No photos are allowed inside the Sistine Chapel where the frescos of  Creation of Adam, the Last Judgement, etc resides, so we have only the memory of seeing it.  Even though the security guards kept saying “silencio” (silence) to the people in the chapel, and “no photo!”  People were still chatting away and some took photos when they were not looking.  Wy pooped in the Chapel, and it was a big one... it was quick stinky that we’d to change his diaper in there as once we got out of the Chapel,  we couldn’t get back in anymore.  It’s like a ‘one way traffic’.  After visiting Musei Vaticani, we entered Piazza San Pietro. The crowd was ridiculous. The line to enter the basilica wrapped entirely around the piazza, so we decided not going into the basilica. On our way walking from Vatican to Piazza Navona exists my favourite geleteria in Rome. :) YUM!  Our final stop for the day was the nearly 2000 year old Pantheon.
We stayed an additional day at the apartment after my sister and mom left. Then our remaining 2 days in Roma... we stayed at the St. Regis :)  ...which completely exhausted Choon Ping's hotel points that he had accumulated during all his business trip to Asia. It’s beautiful hotel with excellent service! We took our time to visit Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps again.  And I finally got the opportunity to shop! :D

Winding down in Capri!
It was just 3 mins walk to our hotel from the port of Marina Grande upon our arrival... but it was a little strenuous uphill walk, especially we were carrying a baby, a stroller, and 2 luggages. After checking in, we took funicular up to Capri Town. Spectacular view, cute town and it’s crowded with expensive boutiques. The gelato was a bit more expensive but not too good! *sad!*. :(  

View from Anacapri!
The next day, we took the bus up to Anacapri; a more local, quieter town, and located on a much higher elevation. The buses were not very big and got filled up very quickly. The bus ride to Anacapri was a hair-raising thrill ride.  The bus drivers were a bit crazy here, fast speed on a super narrow road and steep cliff along the way! If heights don't make you sweat, stand on the RIGHT side of the bus going up, and LEFT side leaving Anacapri.  The panorama view of Capri will take your breath away! We also visited Villa San Michele, and I did some shopping before getting the bus back down to the main area of Capri for dinner.  :D   The relaxed pace and sunshine had made it a great last 2 days in Capri! We then got the Funicolare back down to the Marina, and back to our hotel.

We took a boat tour around the island in the morning the following day before we left Capri. Lucky for us, Wy fell asleep within 2 mins after the boat started moving! And he stayed asleep the entire ride. :)  Too bad that we’d to skip the tour to famous Grotta Azzurra.  The wait was just too long (2hrs!), and we’d a little man with us! :( After the tour, we had lunch at the Marina Grande, and then we took a ferry to Naples where we simply stayed overnight and catch an early flight the following morning. Naples was pretty ghetto, but they had yummy pizza!

We highly recommend Italy as a vacation for all our family and friends. Visiting museums and churches in Europe with just the two of us and a baby/toddler?  Forget it!  It's not going to work... at least for us.  I am thankful that my mom and sister came along to join us. The trip would never be the same and we would have never made it to all those places that we'd been! ...and we got to have a little romantic getaway.  A simple idea and the best kind of fun!!  Oh yeah!  The shopping in Italy was simply to die for!!

Thanks for reading this outdated trip posting.  Hopefully you are able to experience Italy in some other way, even if only vicariously. Ciao~!


More photos here (407)
Italy 2012

Thursday, December 27, 2012

♪ Christmas at San Francisco ♪

 There is no place quite so dear
It's the closest thing to heaven
How I wish that you were here. :)  

Seeing San Francisco through fresh eyes never fails to remind me of how pretty this city is, and how unbelievably lucky I feel to live here in the San Francisco Bay Area.  

Our little emperor. :)
Our one day stay at the Palace Hotel, San Francisco.....   It is a very elegant hotel. The beautiful stained glass dome ceiling at the Garden Court Dining was simply stunning! Too bad that our camera just couldn't capture the entire area.  Since Choon Ping is a 'Platinum Member', we got upgraded to a suite and with our choice of either having a free gift, hotel free points, or complimentary breakfast.  Now that we've a little man...  of course complimentary breakfast is the way to go! The hotel lobby was so busy and packed with lots of guests waiting to be checked in.  We got there at around 1pm, hoping that we could get an early check-in and put Wy to bed.  But we were still waiting for our room at around 3pm. :( The hotel is surprisingly reasonable in price. The service at the hotel was just ok.  But I think it's the holiday season... it's understaffed.
The promenade

The Garden Court Dining with a huge Christmas tree at the center. The gingerbread structures display at the hotel lobby was quite amazing!

The little man was playing with his daddy along the promenade while waiting for our room. :)

It was way pass Wy's nap time.  Fortunately, I was successful to put him to sleep at around 2:45pm.  While the little man was snoozing on the sofa at the hotel promenade waiting for our room to be ready, I drove to visit my friend, Pei Sze, at her shop, and at the same time did some shopping. :P  Choon Ping got the room like around 4:15pm; Wy was still sleeping soundly when he transferred him onto our bed. With a suite, it's a lot easier and enjoyable! We could hang out at the living room while the little guy was sleeping. It felt as if we had found a way to have the best of both worlds.  Baby and late nights! :P   When I got back to the hotel room around 5pm, Wy was still sleeping!  He then finally woke up like around 5:45pm, and we were able to take a picture of the bedroom before it was ruined by us. :P 

LOVE having breakfast at the Garden Court dining area. The atmosphere... ahhh!! Saw lots of families with kids coming here to enjoy their long weekend and celebrating their Christmas family gathering.  Wy enjoyed the breakfast very much and was very well behaved. :D  The mothers at the other tables were quite impressed that he could sit on the baby chair the entire time. Maybe it's the food plus the nice atmosphere. :P  But then, he's always pretty good when having breakfast.  Lunch and dinner time are a bit more challenging for him to stay on the chair the entire time or maybe... doesn't want to sit or eat at all!  Anyway he ate a lot for his breakfast; a bottle of milk, a bowl of cereal, bowl of fruits, entire piece of French toast, and snacking on our bacon!

The hotel have an indoor heated swimming pool. Though it's still quite cold to my standard. So I hung out at the hot tub the entire time. After a few minutes of hanging out at the big pool, Wy started to shiver.  So my two cuties came to join me at the hot tub.  Wy enjoyed it very much... but after a while at the hot tub,  he wanted to go back to the big pool again... too hot I think. He played in there for a little bit longer than the first time round.  When he started shivering again, it's hot tub time... until his feet was all pruned up,  it was about time to go. :) Wy had a lonngg nap after that. :)  So Glad that Choon Ping had such perks of having the 4pm late check out in this case!  And we got to enjoy our to-go lunch from La Boulange in peace at the living area. :D

The Christmas tree at Westin St. Francis is not as nice as the one at Palace Hotel.

The sugar castle at Westin St. Francis and the Christmas tree at Union Square. 

Powell Street and Macy's at Union Square

The San Francisco Shopping Center and Market Street
 Wy loves looking at buses, trucks and cars.  

We had dinner with PeiSze on Christmas Eve at a Vietnamese Restaurant closed by.  We were very lucky... once again Wy was very well behaved during dinner time.  He loves Pho noodles, especially with jumbo shrimp in it!  After dinner,  we changed Wy's diaper on the stroller outside the restaurant since it doesn't have diaper changing station in the restroom.  By then, we just realized that Wy had been sitting on his poop all this while.  His poop was already on his thigh and smeared onto his pants. While changing the diaper, it got onto the changing pad, the stroller and ChoonPing's hand. Literally shit all over!! :(

Anyhow, it was a great short get away from home.  We had a fabulous time!   Happy Holidays!!