Month: September 2013

Rome: Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Roman Forum

We came from the all time high of our Tuscany tour to the bustling and crowded city of Rome.  As much as I don’t want to kick off our 4 day adventure in Rome on a negative note, I have to admit I wasn’t too thrilled about smoggy air, hoards of evident tourists, and dusty streets.  This should not be surprising as Rome is a hot spot for both vacationers and business.  Aside from our impressions of the city, the second thing on our mind was food and at this point I was already a little sick of pizza but it literally is the most readily available street food.  We grabbed a slice for dinner and retired early to get ready for a jam packed day of sightseeing the next morning.   We stayed at Gaius Roma B&B and I make a point of mentioning this because the owners of the place are an old married couple and they are honestly the NICEST people I have come across.  They are so polite and genuine and they …

Florence Day 2: Leather markets, Statue of David, Ponte Vecchio

One thing you cannot miss out in Florence is their famous leather markets.  Rows upon rows of leather jackets, wallets, and other trinkets to choose from.  Not only are the prices much more reasonable since they are manufactured and sold locally, but bargaining is fair game!  My tip… never purchase at face value because chances are, you can always knock it down.  Plus, the act of haggling is actually quite fun and rewarding.  Right next to the open leather market is an indoor food market!  We headed over after a few hours of intense bargaining.  It definitely wasn’t one of the most glamorous markets but it has some decent fresh produce and ready-to-eat options.   I got a panini and after eyeing the lady next to me gorging on a custard filled croissant I had to get myself one too.     It was actually pretty damn good.  Soft flakey croissant and the inside was just sweet enough for a nice end to our quick lunch     There was one major item on our …

Best of Tuscany

Our next stop after Venice was Florence!  The city itself is not extremely exciting or big, but we had a full day “Best of Tuscany” tour lined up.  We started the day bright and early, reaching our first stop in the beautiful city of Siena.   We were lucky to get a tour by a local who told us some pretty interesting facts about this medieval town.  Siena is divided by “contrade” which is Italian for neighborhoods and each contrada had its own symbol derived from an animal.  Some of the animals were pretty common like eagle and badger, but there were some pretty ridiculous ones like unicorn and caterpillar (heck, I wanna be on the unicorn team!).  The citizens of Siena are sorted into these contrada right after birth and there is a lot of pride involved in representing their own contrada.  In fact, they go as far as to have these symbols engraved into the regions of each neighborhood so you’ll always know whose turf you’re on.The one famous tradition that is held …

Fruits of Venice

Although we only had 1.5days in Venice, it was more than enough time to explore the relatively small city.  We woke up to catch the morning open market blooming with colorful fruits, glistening fish, and pungent spices.  I couldn’t help but think how wonderful it would be to be able to have such an arsenal of fresh produce to work with on a daily basis.   The fish market was very impressive, selling everything from entire stingrays to chunks of shark to giant octopuses.  The inner foodie in me was churning with curiosity on the potential dishes that these exotic cuts could be transformed into. We bought a few fresh fruits to go and dipped into a little cafe for our breakfast and coffee.  Unfortunately, I have no idea what this cafe is called nor will I really remember where it is hidden in the many intricate small streets in Venice but this place had the BEST prosciutto croissant and their cappuccino was very good too.  The croissant was tender with just the perfect amount …

Charmed by Venice

London and Paris were both nice…but it wasn’t until Venice that it finally hit me.  I’m in Europe.  Venice was just so significantly different from the city-like London and Paris where it was simply a variation of Toronto.  After over a week of damp chilly weather, we were graciously greeted with the pleasant warm breeze of Italy.   We took a boat into Venice from the airport.  It was such an enjoyable ride.  The closer we got to the city, the more excited we grew!   I could not stop taking photos of Venice’s colorful houses.  All of which were eroding from waters and age.  Yet there was something so rustic and magical about this floating city.  This was one of the few places that is truly what you see in postcards.       We were very lucky to be staying close to the Rialto bridge which links the markets and is one of the most important bridges in Venice.  It is very lively on either side of the bridge.  Streets adorned with vendors …

Discovering the artistic side of Paris

Musee du Louvre, the largest museum in the world and probably one of the most famous as well for its feature in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.  Reserve at least half a day if you want to enjoy a good chunk of this museum because the exhibitions are enormous.  We spent about 3 hours and only got through about three exhibitions and within the last hour we sped through most of the artwork.  As I am writing this post after my Europe trip, I must say Musee du Louvre is large and thorough enough to over shadow all other European art museums and act as a good summary of all categories of European artwork.  Initially we were going to do this and Musee D’Orsay within the same day but I’m glad we scraped that idea because you will be exhausted after exploring either and will need a breather before delving into such intense artistic realms again.  The beautiful modern glass pyramid entrance How the pyramid looks like from the interior after you have descended the …

Shopping in Paris at Champs-Élysées!

Today I finally visited the much anticipated Champs-Élysées, which is THE shopping distract in Paris.  Wide streets lined with every store imaginable.  It is comparable to London’s Oxford street but slightly larger.  I wasn’t about to obliterate my wallet on Chanel and Hermes, but I did have my sights set on one thing: L’aduree.  The much coveted confectionary shop is most renown for their macarons; sweet chewy delights in heavenly flavors.  I had my first L’aduree macaron in New York and was sold ever since.   The Ladurée store on Champs-Élysées has an outdoor cafe and a bar for those that want to stay a little longer to soak in the pleasantries.  When I finally reached the store, clearly I wasn’t the only one that had to get their hands on a macaron. Yup… check out this line up.  This was AFTER I got past the line up that extended past the door. STILL well worth the wait.  Yes, I honestly think they are THAT good.  You should be quick with your order because as friendly as the staff …

Château de Versailles

West of Paris lies the city of Versailles, home to King Louis XVI’s royal palace.  Within these 67,000 square meters of royal land, you will find over 2,000 windows, 6,000 paintings, 2,000 sculptures and plenty of other luxury goods to flaunt the Sun King’s wealth.  Upon entering the proximity of the palace entrance, one is overwhelmed by the spacious cobble stone and gold rimmed exterior of the palace.  But the real deal begins on the inside.  The view beyond the gates is but a minuscule fraction of what awaits inside this enormous piece of land. The Château de Versailles is sectioned into many different rooms and hallways.  My personal favorite is the Hall of Mirrors.  This hallway is lined with glass and dangling with sparkling chandeliers that glisten in the sunlight.     Room after room of impressive statues and paintings   Instead of posting photos of the rooms that every other tourist has already snapped up, I’m going to take you through a secret tour.  M and I were lucky enough to come across …

Classic Paris: Eiffel Tower & Seine Cruise

Paris, the city of lights.  The capital of romance, french baguettes, outdoor cafes and macarons.  I’m going to mention one thing that my photos will not communicate.  It is the fact that Paris is just like any other highly populated city.  Its metro system, although very developed and intricate, is at best smelly and dreary.  The streets are littered with people trying to sell you things and pickpockets are scattered generously all over.  Keep your fairytale expectations of the city on the low and you will be able to enjoy the many pleasures that Paris has to offer. First and foremost is obviously the Eiffel Tower.  Plan to arrive early if you want to catch a ride up this tower of steel because the line ups will be lengthy.  There are two levels: midway and top.  We went all the way up to the top to catch a glorious view of the city.  There is also a restaurant available on the midway point and souvenir shops if you want to dine with an unbeatable backdrop. …

London Day 3: London Eye, High Tea, Wicked

We started off our last day in London with a visit to the London Eye, the giant iconic ferris wheel.  The wait was pretty bad in the sweltering heat but it was a little better since we had pre-purchased our tickets which is always a good idea.  Thank god the little glass compartments on the London Eye had AC because we were roasting by the time we made it to the front. The Eye moves slowly so you have about 20-30mins of air conditioned arial view of the city. I would say this is a must-do if you visit London.  In fact, I always make it a point to catch a birds eye view of a new city when I get the chance.  Almost makes up for the fact that you cannot possibly visit every single landmark when backpacking. Our London eye tickets includes a trip to the Aquarium which is literally next door to the Eye.  They have a wide assortment of different water species from giant sharks to starfish and penguins! Of course, …