Milano 18 to 20 Dec 2015
Also known as the fashion capital of the world (though I didn't feel too out of place in my hiking boots and jeans). We flew into Malpenso airport, before taking a coach into the city centre and walking to our hostel. Spent most of our time wandering around the Duomo area, and checked out Luini's panzerotti (which looked and kinda tasted like Singapore's hum ji peng).
Highlight: Cimitero Monumentale
[Update 4 Jan: still can't figure out why some of the photos on my iPhone are not appearing on Photos on my Mac, but least I can import them using Preview into a folder]
|A very very tiny fraction of the beautiful graves in the cimitero.|
|Trees are just way cool. Also found in the cimitero.|
Firenze 20 to 23 Dec 2015
Took the train from Milan to Florence, which reminds me of a mix of Innsbruck, Austria and Heidelberg, Germany, probably cos of the Arno river. I thought it was prettier than Milan, with some nice winding cobblestoned alleys. We usually cook dinner in the hostel, but this hostel (PLUS Florence) turned out to be more like a hotel (just imagine a regular hotel but instead of your own private room it's a dormitory room with bunk beds) that didn't have a kitchen, and banned food and drinks from rooms. My friends had already bought groceries though, and so it made for an interesting dinner, eating on the window sill outside our room. The mercato centrale was pretty good, had the best ravioli ever, with a pumpkin filling and bolognese sauce. We also visited a pottery studio which was pretty cool.
Highlight: Fiesole (day trip, taking bus 7 from San Marco piazza)
|The archeological museum in Fiesole (that wasn't open when we were there)|
|The ruins in Fiesole|
|Sunset from Fiesole|
|The river Arno cutting through the city of Florence|
|The pottery studio where the owner hand paints these plates.|
Roma 23 to 28 Dec 2015
We then took the train from Florence to Rome for the other main reason why I chose to travel in Italy - Christmas Eve mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Basilica :D A friend told me about papal masses and that one had to request for tickets for them. It's all free, but you either have to snail mail a request form or fax it to the Vatican, and you usually had to do that well in advance to get the tickets. Thankfully I managed to get 3 tickets despite requesting just 2 months in advance (apparently people usually request 6 months in advance? Especially for big groups) so I was very very happy and excited.
Obtaining the tickets and attending mass involved a lot more queueing. Had to wait in a line on my own (cos the security personnel decided that we shouldn't have friends with us when queueing...) that was barely moving for 50 minutes to collect the tickets for mass itself. Real trial of patience that was, I hate queueing and would usually skip a stall if it involved massive queueing. For the mass, we started queueing to get into the Vatican at 5pm, managed to get past security after about an hour, then waited another hour before the doors into St Peter's Basilica itself opened at 7pm. We thought it was a midnight mass, but it started at 930pm, so we only had to wait about 1.5 hours (cos there was rosary recitation at 9pm).
The longest procession of priests I ever saw preceded the arrival of the Pope. Then a sea of cameras: phone cameras held in hands, on selfie sticks, DSLRs etc. I wondered what the cardinals/altar servers thought, because people were obviously trying to take photos of the pope not them. And I wondered what they thought about camera phones in mass, cos some/most of them must have been there since before everyone had a camera phone... I refrained from taking out my phone until mass ended, and I somehow wished that cameras were banned, cos they somewhat spoil the mood for mass. Mass itself was mostly in Latin, but with bits in various other languages - first reading in Portuguese, responsorial psalm in Italian, second in English, prayers of the faithful in an assortment of languages included Arabic, Mandarin Chinese and Aramaic. The gospel was the most beautiful I had ever heard though, chanted in Latin.
- interjection of felicitations: Buon Natale! Feliz Navidad! Feliz Natal! Frohe Weihnachten! 圣诞节快乐！Merry Christmas! -
Most of the rest of the time in Rome was spent visiting various tourist attractions, which I was not overly enthused about. Too many people for my liking :X We almost didn't visit the Vatican Museum, as it was closed on St Stephen's Day, 27 Dec was the last Sunday of the month which meant free entry (and an insanely long queue that stretched a kilometre probably, from the entrance of Vatican Museum to St Peter's Square. They stopped accepting people at 12.30pm and we probably wouldn't have made it in), and we were leaving about 11am on 28 Dec. On the way to the Vatican on the 28th, we passed this tour agent who was advertising queue jumps for the Vatican Museum, so we paid €28 each (student price, instead of €8 if we had queued on our own) and got into the Vatican Museum at 9.25am. Whizzed through/skipped most of it due to lack of time, and headed straight for the Sistine Chapel. I can only say I wish I had more time to spend there, and that there weren't that many tourists. But wells.
Highlights: Christmas Eve mass and Riserva Naturale di Monte Mario
|St Peter's Square and Basilica|
|The nativity scene in St Peter's Basilica|
|Rows of pines in Monte Mario|
|Roma from Monte Mario|
|River Tiber at mid-morning|
|Columns at the Roman Forum, one of the many tourist attractions. It was quite nice to have people familiar with Rome on the trip.|
Napoli 28 Dec 2015 to 1 Jan 2016
From Rome, we took another train to Naples. Having had enough of the city and crowds, we spent the first two days around the region - Vesuvius, Vico Equense (a little seaside town), and Sorrento. Skipped Pompeii cos I had had enough of tourist attractions - Vesuvius was rather disappointing. Then spent the next two days wandering around Naples with no particular objective. Spent a nice New Year's Eve in the hostel room with wine and good company, though the celebrations are quite raucous in Naples.
Highlights: Sunsets on the rocks by the pier, and a little hike to Sant Agatha village in Sorrento
|Sunset on the rocks (we just stumbled into this little gem)|
|Above the clouds on Vesuvius|
|View of Vesuvius and Sorrento (foreground) from Monastero di San Paolo|
|From the tower in Monastero di San Paolo, Deserto, Sorrento (access to tower only from 3-4pm)|
|One selfie on the last sunset of 2015|
|View of Naples with Vesuvius in the background from Castel San Elmo|
Catania (Sicilia) 1 Jan to 3 Jan 2016
[Time to sleep. Updates on Sicily later]