When in Italy…

With no idea when we can go back to traveling, let me reminisce some moments from a few years back. I never did get around to writing about my trip to Italy in June 2017 because I got lazy! It was a nice ten day holiday with Rome, Florence, Venice, Pisa and Cinque Terre in the itinerary. One of the lessons from that trip was to give ample time for a lay over as you will never know if your flight gets delayed. Or if two flights will be compressed into one at a later time than the original one that you have booked. We almost didn’t make the Cathay Pacific connection to Rome in Hong Kong. We were sprinting to the gate as the plane door was about to close. It was embarrassing to see people looking at you inside the plane and probably thinking that we caused the delay. I can imagine the flight attendant announcing they were still waiting for missing passengers. Ha!ha!

Our first stop was Rome and we went straight to Vatican to get our tickets for the Pentecost Sunday Mass that Pope Francis will preside. That was one of the highlights of our trip. It was memorable because we heard mass that he presided, was blessed by him and saw him up close and personal. However, on the way out and while walking one of my companions was pickpocketed. We were warned about the rampant pickpocketing in major Italian cities but we were caught by surprise that it actually happened just outside St. Peter’s Square and right after the Holy Mass. We were too complacent and let our guards down. So remember that when in Rome especially The Vatican area, you should always remember that not everyone is pious. It was our second day in Italy and we immediately experienced something horrible. We felt that we weren’t safe as tourists. Coupled that with a high alert level due to the threat of bombings, we were really worried. Military men were in major tourist attractions and the security level was really intense at that time. But, the pickpockets were still rampant.

We decided to stay in Florence as our base. We had friends there and the place we rented was in the heart of the city. It’s near the Duomo di Firenze with lots of cafes, shops and walking distance to the grocery, Mercato Centrale and train station. The accommodation itself is cheap at only €50 per day for a two bedroom apartment. I can say that I will go back to Italy for the food and the vino! I have great memories of what I ate there. The black truffle pasta, fiorentina steak, pizza, gelato, espresso or cappucino are reasons to go back to Mercato Centrale in Firenze. Back at home, we eat commercial pasta but I realized that freshly made pasta is the best. I should probably learn how to make it. As if!

We normally explore on our own but for a trip to Pisa and Cinque Terre we decided to join a tour. The guide was a young and jolly guy who spoke fluent english. We had a great time although the tour that we joined was for young adults which was fast paced. It was reasonable at about €100 per person. It included the train fares already and lunch. I’m glad we took that tour. Pisa is a nice place to include in an itinerary because when you’re nearby why miss the chance to see and have a photo with the leaning tower as your background, right? Of course, we were also doing what most tourists did while there. Have a photo taken pushing the tower or leaning on it. Ha!ha!

If you get a chance, you have to visit Cinque Terre. We were only able to visit three villages which was Riomaggiore, Manarola and Vernazza. They were nice picturesque places. There’s a store in Vernazza that probably sells the best gelato in Italy and a cafe that sells the best pesto lasagna I have ever tasted. The tour lasted the whole day. We left Florence at seven in the morning and arrived back at around nine in the evening. Travel time to and from Cinque Terre is about 2.5 hrs or more. If you opt to go on a tour that is not by bus or private car, wear comfortable clothes and shoes. There’s a lot of walking and chasing trains!

We also went for a day trip to Venice. Another city worth visiting before the sea engulf it. Don’t forget to eat seafood while there aside from your other favorite italian food. It’s also a city wherein you have to be wary of pickpockets especially at the Piazza San Marco where majority of the tourists are. I guess in most major Italian cities, you have to be on guard. Make sure your bags are in front of you. Even the locals will warn you to mind your belongings.

I want to write some more of our escapades including shopping but I guess I will reserve it for next time. I hope you readers will continue to stay safe and healthy. In the meantime wear your mask, wash your hands and drink your vitamins to protect yourselves from the coronavirus.

xoxo,

the traveling KANGaroo

Memories of the Alhambra…

Last Autumn I traveled to Spain with my college friends and one of the places we visited was the La Alhambra in Granada which is a Unesco World Heritage site. It did not disappoint. A must see and must visit place. Not only for it’s history which you can look up in Wikipedia as I do not want to bore you with details and will allow you to learn about it on your own. But because it’s a truly beautiful place and you can get caught up with the past. Imagining yourself living in that fortress in ancient times.

It is recommended to book tickets in advance due to the high number of tourists visiting the place. You can book and buy tickets at http://www.tickets.alhambra-patronato.es and it cost a total of €14.85 including tax at that time. Note that the access time to enter the Nasrid Palaces cannot be changed. You will be given 30 minutes additional time to enter the premises but do not waste time as it’s about a 10 minute walk from the fortress entrance to the palace entrance. Example is if the time to enter is at 2 PM, you will still be able to go inside at 2:30 PM. After that, you can’t anymore and even if you beg, they still won’t let you in. They limit the number of people entering the palace at a given time. Which is understandable in order to protect it. Review your ticket and take note of the fine print. We almost didn’t make it that’s why I’m writing about the importance of being on time. Ha!ha!

I have always wanted to visit the Alhambra and I don’t know why I wanted to. Maybe from reading books, watching movies? But I literally insisted that we should include Granada in our itinerary even if for an overnight stay only. It was easy to include as it’s in the same region or province where we mostly stayed (our base during the Spain trip was Seville in the Andalusia region which I will write about in another post).

From Seville, you can either take the train or the bus. We decided with the bus as we were not sure if the train tracks to Granada is already fixed. There were reports that we have to change to a bus midpoint or something if we take the train. Our round trip bus fare amounted to €44.72 including tax and preferred seats for a regular and supra economy tickets. We had to pay those seats as some of us gets nauseous when traveling by bus. 😁 We were a group of nine people traveling together. You can book bus tickets at http://www.alsa.com and I recommend booking in advance so you can get deals or cheaper tickets compared to buying it near the travel date. And choose Supra Economy instead of the regular one for a better bus travel experience.🤣 The bus ride will take 3 hours and it will leave on the dot so don’t be late. Also note that from the bus station you have to take a taxi to/fro the city center. Taxis are aplenty in Spain and they are affordable.

Food in Granada is cheaper than in other cities we’ve visited. The chipirones fritos in the restaurant outside the Alhambra was so delicious that we had to order another serving! One recommended place was La Botilleria in Calle Vallera. They have good food, drinks and serving is value for money! They had their own version of the sangria called Vargás and it did not disappoint. And for the price of €2.50, you can imagine how many glasses we had. 🤭

Another recommended place is the pizzeria, cafe and churros place named Desi. And when in Spain, you have to try eating all the churros that you can buy and eat! They do have different versions of it there.

And if you are a Roman Catholic then you might be interested to drop by the Catedral de Granada. It’s a beautiful church worth visiting. There’s a €5 entrance fee or donation for the upkeep of the church though. But it will be all worth it to see the inside of this stunning cathedral.

Lastly, the shopping! Yes, I do think it’s cheaper in Granada as well. I bought a €12 cute souvenir lamp there but in Seville it’s €20! I think we bought a lot of souvenirs (Medina Spanish fans, trinkets etc.) in Granada more than any place we’ve been to. 😁 Check out El Corte Ingles and don’t forget to check out the grocery section. I never fail to visit it whenever I go to a new place. So many things to buy but limited time and limited baggage allowance to bring all the goodies home. However, you can never go wrong with a bottle of Rioja wine, Manchego cheese, Spanish Sardines, Jamon Iberico and sweets that you can only find in España!

xoxo,

the traveling KANGaroo