October 31, 2010

Chitter chatter

Yiu Yiu can be rather impatient and whenever she needs something while I'm busy with something else, she'll keep nagging until I do it for her. Sometimes I reprimand her with "Can't you wait? Can't you be a little patient? You can't expect people to do everything that you want immediately, OK?" What am I getting at? Well, this girl always drag her feet when I ask her to brush her teeth, and especially in the morning when we are running late (which is the case most mornings), I get impatient and reprimand her. One day, after waiting for some time in the bathroom for her, I sternly said, "Yiu Yiu, I said come here now". Her reply? "OK, coming…you cannot expect people to immediately do what you want, OK. You have to be patient, OK" ooOO.

I printed a photobook with photos of Yiu Yiu from birth till two years. One day, Yiu Yiu took out the photobook and flipped through the pages. I was at the dining table and didn't know what she was doing until she started asking me questions on photos we took in Hanoi. Then she said:
Yiu Yiu: Mummy, you still haven't done my Facebook for 3 to 4 years old right?
Mummy: Huh, Facebook, what Facebook?
Yiu Yiu: Neh, this Facebook ah (holding the photobook up).
Mummy: Ohhh…it's not Facebook, it's photobook :-)

I’m quite a clumsy person – bumping into things, dropping things that I’m holding, spilling food and drinks, etc. Unfortunately, Yiu Yiu inherited my clumsiness, and Yan Yan is also beginning to demonstrate the same trait, to hubby’s dismay. The other day, I was drinking some yoghurt drink direct from the bottle and accidentally spilled some.
Yiu Yiu: See mummy. You spilled the drink on the floor already. So clumsy ah you.
Mummy: Yeah lor, mummy very clumsy one. You are also clumsy right?
Yiu Yiu: Mummy, I’m still a little girl OK. You are so big already STILL so clumsy.
Mummy: ooOO.

October 29, 2010

Transportations in Venice

Riding on a gondola is romantic, but expensive at €80 for 40 minutes. Additional 20-minute increments are €40. However, up to six people can share a gondola so if there’s more people in the group, it becomes much more affordable.

Only three bridges cross the 4km long Grand Canal: the Ponte degli Scalzi, just outside the train station; the marble Ponte Rialto and the wooden Ponte Accademia. And traghetto offers an alternative method of crossing the canal, with seven traghetto landings along the Grand Canal. Venetians typically make the crossing standing up. The traghetto also provides visitors with a taste of riding on a gondola without burning a hole in the pocket, as traghetti are old gondolas that have been stripped of their brocaded chairs and other luxury trimmings.

Vaporetto, or water bus is the cheapest mode of transportation along the Grand Canal. Single journey can cost a fair bit, so it's best to purchase the 12- to 72-hour tourist travel card. Most have seats inside and out - the outdoors ones, of course, are the favourites of tourists.

Those with more moolah can opt for the water taxi, which can also be chartered for a cruise along the Grand Canal. These limousines of Venice are spacious with leather-upholstered cabins and open-air seating.

Lastly, we also caught glimpses of boats used for commercial purposes.

October 27, 2010

Venice, the city on water

Snaking through the city like an inverted S, the Venice’s longest (4km) and widest (30-70m) waterway, the Canal Grande (Grand Canal), is the main artery of aquatic Venice, and dividing Venice into 2 major geographical areas. Venice is best seen from the Grand Canal, and since we didn’t want to fork out 80 euro for a gondola, we took the cheap option of a cruise on the slow No 1 vaporetto that runs the length of the Grand Canal from Piazza San Marco and the Ferrovia (train station). We woke up extra early for this, before the rest of Venice woke up, so there were not many people on the vaporetto and we could secure outdoor seats which afforded us unobstructed view of the 200-odd palazzi, churches, and imposing republican buildings dating from the 14th to the 18th centuries. Many of the largest canal-side buildings are now converted into international banks, government or university buildings, art galleries, and consulates.

After the cruise, we headed to the famous Il Mercato di Rialto (Rialto Market) to see how real Venetians get their food supplies, from restaurateurs to ordinary folk just stocking their kitchens.

In the vicinity is the elegant white marble Ponte Rialto (Rialto Bridge), the most famous of Venice’s bridges.

After the visual feast of colourful fruits and vegetables, we headed back to Piazza San Marco to visit Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark’s Basilica). A long queue had already formed to enter the Byzantine basilica, which is free by the way. It’s beautiful outside, with its big onion domes and multi-colored mosaics art, and the interior is floor-to-ceiling mosaics.

Few shots of the colourful mosaics

The Campanile (Bell Tower)

The pink-and-white marble Gothic-Renaissance Palazzo Ducale (Ducal Palace), residence and government center of the doges ("dukes," elected for life) who ruled Venice for more than 1,000 years, is next to Basilica di San Marco. A symbol of prosperity and power, it was destroyed by a succession of fires and was built and rebuilt in 1340 and 1424. Inside is an inner courtyard with a double row of Renaissance arches, wood-paneled courts and elaborate meeting rooms richly decorated by Venetian artists.

The inner courtyard

A brigde that connects Palazzo Ducale and the grim Palazzo delle Prigioni (Prisons) is famously known as Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs). The bridge took its current name only in the 19th century, when visiting northern European poets romantically envisioned the prisoners' final breath of resignation upon viewing the outside world one last time before being locked in their cells. Some of the stone cells still have the original graffiti of past prisoners, many of them locked up for petty crimes.

Inside the prison

(L) Ponte dei Sospiri from the outside and (R) view from the inside, the last view that prisoners saw before bring locked up in their cells

We had about two hours left in Venice and made the big mistake of visiting Murano, the biggest of the three major islands in Venice’s northern lagoon (the other two being Burano and Torcello). It was a total waste of time, as it was far less charming compared Burano and Torcello. The only thing worth mentioning was being able to watch a short demonstration on glass blowing (an age-old tradition of this island and a craft that has long since spread to Venice itself) in one of the shops. The time would have been better spent walking around districts on the opposite side of the Grand Canal.

October 24, 2010

Burano and Torcello

Venice was our last destination after Rome, Florence and Pisa The moment we alighted at the Venice train station, I just couldn’t contain my excitement. With its romantic waterways, Venice was so alluring and everything that I imagined it to be.

Venice is a really confusing city to navigate on foot, as it wasn’t built to make sense to those on foot but rather to those plying its canals. Getting lost in Venice is one of the fun things to do, as you can stumble across Venice’s most intriguing corners and decaying Gothic palaces decorated with pointy Byzantine windows. BUT it was certainly no fun getting lost while dragging a heavy suitcase each, as we did trying to locate our hotel – which we found after searching for 30 minutes or so!

After freshening up, we headed to the vaporetto (water bus) dock and took a vaporetto to Burano, world famous as a center of lace making, a craft that reached its pinnacle in the 18th century. It is a charming fishing village with cartoonlike, brightly colored houses in pink, lavender, cobalt blue, barn red, butterscotch, and grass green.

Can't get enough of 'em houses

Burano is world famous for its lace industry

Then, we took the vaporetto a short trip away to Torcello. Of all the islands of the lagoon, Torcello, offers the most charm. So-called the Mother of Venice, Torcello was the first of the lagoon islands to be called home by a mainland population fleeing the Barbarian hordes that overran the Italian peninsula during the Dark Ages. It was like stepping back in time as we strolled along the canal and traversed an ancient stone bridge (nicknamed "The Devil's Bridge") to Venice's oldest monument, the Cattedrale di Torcello (Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta), whose foundation dates from the 7th century. Unfortunately it was already closed when we arrived so we didn’t manage to visit the interior of the church. Most of Torcello today is a nature reserve, and roughly 20 people still live on the island.

Things we see on our walk from the vaporetto dock to the Cattedrale di Torcello

Cattedrale di Torcello

The Torcello vaporetto dock

On the vaporetto back to Venice, a massive thunderstorm caught up with us (a refreshing change considering the extremely hot weather during the entire time we were in Italy). We went for dinner and by the time we finished, the rain had stopped so we went for a night stroll around Piazza San Marco.

October 14, 2010

Birthday party

Last weekend, Yiu Yiu attended her kindy mate birthday party at Jungle Gym, BSC. I’ve never taken her to any of these activity centres, except once when we attended another birthday party at Kidzsports 1-Utama, so this was the first time for both of us at Jungle Gym.

When we arrived, many of her kindy mates were already playing inside, so she went ahead to join them.

Shortly after, they were called out to have their food, consisting of the usual fares of sausages, nuggets and fishballs.

The theme of the party was Toy Story, and I can see that the birthday boy’s mama took great pains to give her son a memorable party. Besides the usual decoration, she even hand made this car (packed with sweets and jellies inside) as a game for the children. Each child was given a chance to break open the car but alas, it took multiple hits from a fully grown man (the birthday boy’s papa) to break the car apart, resulting in a torrent of goodies which the children happily collected.

Yiu Yiu taking a swipe at the candy-filled car

Each child was also given this Toy Story sand art kit, complete with a colourful custom made name tag. Such a coincidence that I had just blogged about Yiu Yiu’s first sand art project recently.

After cutting the birthday cake, a magician made a brief appearance, followed by more playing inside the playgym.

Cake cutting

Enjoying the magic show

I was surprised that Yiu Yiu didn’t ask to play any longer when I told her it’s time to go. Either she’s not into playgyms all that much, or she was kinda bored since few of her “best” friends had already left.

October 11, 2010

Pisa, where the tower leans

It was about 4pm in the afternoon by the time we finished visiting all the "must see" attractions in Florence and shopping for some Florentine leather bags around the Mercato Centrale and San Lorenzo. Since it was still early and we knew the sun wouldn't set till 9pm, we took a train to Pisa, about 45 minutes away.

Upon arrival, we headed straight to Piazza del Duomo, historically dubbed the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles), where medieval Pisans created one of the most beautiful squares in the world.

Campo dei Miracoli, with its three main structures

The star attraction is but of course the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Next to the tower is the Cattedrale and Baptistery.

The Cattedrale, inside and out

The Baptistery

The main attraction of the Baptistery is its renowned acoustics. Every 30 minutes the guard will stand in the centre of the Baptistery, let out a clear loud note, while visitors listen to it echo around the room as it fades.

We left Pisa slightly after 8pm, having left our footprints at one of the most recognisable structures in the world.

October 08, 2010

Taking the leap…

As there are personal information, as well as work-related rantings in this post, I'm encrypting it for obvious reasons. Kindly email me at amomsdiary-blogspot@yahoo.com for the password.

October 06, 2010

Florence, where arts flourished – Part 2

Florence has too many outstanding galleries so we chose to visit the tremendously popular Gallerie degli Uffizi (Uffizi Galleries). It holds the world's most important collection of Renaissance art - paintings from medieval to modern times and many antique sculptures, illuminations, and tapestries from artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and many other Italian masters.

Despite being there very early, there was already a long queue at Gallerie degli Uffizi

The galleries, seen from across the Arno River

From the galleries, it was just a short walk to the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge). Built in 1345, it was Florence's first bridge across the Arno River and is the only surviving bridge from Florence's medieval days (others were destroyed in World War II). The Ponte Vecchio is still lined with shops selling gold and silver jewelry. From the bridge, great views along the Arno River and beyond can be seen.

We then took a looonnnnggg walk and hike up to Piazzale Michelangiolo on top of a hill. The breathtaking vista of the entire city, spread out in the valley below and backed by the green hills of beyond, made up for the strenuous hike. The monument to Michelangelo in the center of the piazza is made up of bronze replicas of David and his Medici chapel sculptures.

Florence's most famous man, again

October 04, 2010

Florence, where arts flourished – Part 1

After Rome, we headed for the birthplace of Renaissance arts, Florence, where artistic works of Leonardo and Michelangelo are widely accessible. Florence is a really small city, and all the areas of interest are easily reached by foot. We started off with a visit to Basilica di Santa Maria Novella (Basilica of Santa Maria Novella), one of Florence's major churches.

Making our way to the heart of Florence, we walked past the streets around the Mercato Centrale (Central Market) and Piazza San Lorenzo filled with colourful market stalls that sell everything from cheese to china to leather products. Beats me why I didn't snap any photo of this colourful market :-( We didn't stop to shop for the famous Florentine leather, but continued on towards Basilica di San Lorenzo (Basilica of St Lawrence) with its incomplete, rough hewn fa├žade. It is one of the oldest churches in Italy, and contains the Biblioteca Laurenziana (Laurentian Library), famous as a repository of more than 11,000 manuscripts and 4,500 early printed books.

The Palazzo Medici-Riccardi was built in 1444, and is the most typical example of privately commissioned Florentine palazzo. Inside there is an elegant courtyard, a small Italian garden and Cappella dei Magi, famed for its colourful and gorgeous frescoes.

Florence's most popular site is its Duomo (cathedral), the Cattedrale de Santa Maria del Fiore (Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiori). The huge Gothic duomo was begun in 1296, consecrated in 1436, and holds 20,000 people. Its exterior, made of green, pink, and white marble, has several elaborate doors and interesting statues.

To the right of the cathedral rises the Campanile (Bell Tower). The square tower is covered with green, red and white marble inlays, decorated with panels and carvings, and made graceful by double- and triple-windows.

The Duomo and the Campanile

Statues decorating the exterior of the Duomo

Opposite the cathedral stands the green and white marble Baptistery of San Giovanni (Baptistery of John the Baptist), whose interior is decorated with mosaics. The splendid bronze doors, termed the Gates of Paradise, guards Florence's oldest, most venerated buildings. The name comes from Michelangelo's description of the doors: "They are so beautiful that they would grace the entrance to Paradise."

The Gates of Paradise

Close-up of several panels of the Gates of Paradise

Florence's most famous square is Piazza della Signoria, the heart of the historic center and a free open-air sculpture exhibit, dominated by Michelangelo's David (a copy of the original, which used to stand here). The piazza has been Florence's political center since the middle ages and the medieval Palazzo Vecchio with elaborately decorated public rooms and private apartments, sits on the piazza. Today, the Palazzo Vecchio still contains the office of Florence's Mayor and the City Council.

Palazzo Vecchio

The most famous man in Florence, Michelangelo's David

Some of the statues around Piazza della Signoria

The central courtyard in Palazzo Vecchio, and more statues in the palace