Friday, September 2, 2016

Day 1 - I never expected it, but here I was in Italy...

Day 1 - To Rome ~ The much feared centre of the universe for pick pockets...
2nd September 2016
People mountain people sea at the Trevi Fountain in Rome. My iPhone.
Don't ask me how Serene and I ended up going to Italy.  We knew we would one day set foot on the soil of the heart of the ancient Roman Empire.  But we never expected it to be so early in our lives.  I must have been under the influence of some Thai alcohol one fateful night in October 2015 when the Kaans and the Ngs persuaded me to sign Serene and myself up for Singapore trekker's Northern Italian trip.  And the master travellers had even more up their sleeves- we would execute a four day extension down south to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast alone the Sorrentine peninsula.  We really didn't know what we were in for.  But this turned out to be such an EPIC trip for myself and Serene.  And it made loads and loads of memories!

The slightly earlier arrivers...

One day earlier several of us flew into Rome.  It was summer.  Days before, our advance party Mr Yik had already warned us that it was going to be hot with intermittent rain.  Midday temperature in Summer could easily peak at over 30 degrees, but with little humidity I found myself no longer sweating buckets as I would have back at home.  A constant layer of sheen on the surface of my skin was all the resemblance I had for perspiration.
Night time was a nice comfortable 20 degrees.  And the air smelled nice and cool, like Ang Moh air like that.

Our first dinner in Rome in Restaurant Trevi. [Photo: Eddy handphone]
Celebration of old friendships and new acquaintances

Serene and I were very happy to be able to embark on this trip with many of my old friends.  We started way back, when Singapore Trekker first organised its photography trip to Bromo and Borobodur in 2009.  Over the years, our friendships blossomed, and Kai Sing, Alex, Lai Peng, David, Eddy, Serene and myself all did a sudden lateral migration from photography to cycling and then to some other bizzare physical acivities.  Over time, some of our old friends had drifted elsewhere, and no amount of cajoling could bring them back to photography nor cycling.  Having always been ones for friendship, we longed to reconnect with all my lost old friends.  Still, personally both Serene and I were really thankful that we had Kai Sing, Joanne, Alex and Lai Peng as our travelling buddies;  and Eddy and Michelle as our photography inspirations; and last but not least David as my photography big brother and my triathlon buddy.  Of course those of my triathlon and English Premier League-crazy friends had always been close by.

Despite our new hobbies, the call of photography was constant, and photography never left us.  Although it had been a long time since we did a photography trip together, I was so glad that we all finally were able to be here on this day, together with Joanne and Michelle, and our good old friend Mr Yik and Dorothy, and Jonathan.

Adrian was the one with whom we all went through tough and painful times with on some of the more siong trips, and with whom  we enjoyed plenty of good times together.  We'd always loved to disturb him and make him sweat during his tour with us.  But we knew each other for so long, secretly I believed that he enjoyed our company.

Of course, no Singapore Trekker trip would be complete without having new friends.  And on this lovely trip, we had the honour of Jeffrey Julianti, Albert and Joe with us.  The circle was complete and we were ready to go.

What was this photography trip to Italy all about?

Honestly, unlike David who had photography flowing in his veins and who actually still actually shoot professionally for commercial properties, and Eddy, Kai Sing, Alex and Lai Peng who had been most excited about their latest Sony cameras, Serene and I remained stagnant with our old rangefinders.
"Dar, don't worry.  This trip to Italy I want you and I to relax all the way.  We will just bring one rangefinder and two lenses each.  If we can shoot, we will use the camera.  If we cannot, then we will use our iPhones.  If really still no lingam (inspiration), then just use our eyes to see," I reassured Serene.  This was a great departure from the days of old, when Serene used to carry a full Think Tank belt and shoulder harness system with tripods strapped, back packs mounted, and three cameras, one long lens, one ultra wide, one Infrared and a whole host of extras on her.
"We will enjoy the history of Italy, the sights, and the food, and also the extension down South with the Kaans and the Ngs.  Shopping is always a bonus."

Of course, what I didn't realise was, the boys and girls actually had another hidden agenda - to capture Mr Mime on this trip to Europe. *Faint* LOL!!

So, on this day...

A warm summer Roman afternoon welcomed us into her embrace.

Flumicino airport welcomed us

Emirates flew us to Dubai for a 4 hour transit and landed us in Flumicino Airport around 4pm Italy time.  Our eagerness in purchasing a TIM prepaid SIM card in the airport came to nothing as seven of us were herded quickly by our hired driver to the parked Mercedes van.  It was really a joke as the Italian driver was holding up a signboard "J. JIM" perhaps awaiting a certain famous Singapore singer 'J. J. Lim'.  It took an observant Lai Peng to confirm with the Italian man that 'J. Jim' was none other than our Joanne, whose good thinking in booking the transport for €70 to our hotel, saved us quite some trouble in lugging our heavy luggage up and down flights of steps in the train and metro.  This Italian man was in a hurry.  That was all I could say of him.  But alright lah.  He did his job.

Hotel San Giusto
At the entrance of Hotel San Giusto
Just two minute walk from the Bologna metro station, this oldish hotel certainly could boast of the convenience of commute.  What more, a supermarket right next door to it delighted us.  The skinny tall Italian receptionist in the hotel wasn't the warmest of concierges.  This was my first time in contact with an Italian.  I tried not to form any conclusion from just a single encounter.  Try as I might and eagerly wanted to, I could not sense any warm emitting from him.
The lobby where we would spend a couple of days and nights on this trip.
The hotel was really old fashion.  It was carpetted all the way up the two and a half long flights of steps through where we heaved our heavy luggage up before a small lift offered some relief for those staying on level 3.   I was suitably impressed by Lai Peng whose strength and determination in un-complainingly grabbing her huge bag and dragging it up the steps embodied the very spirit of Singapore Trekker's customers, totally deserving of that prestigious title was her.  
Alex would keep saying on this trip that Joanne and Serene were lucky because they were the ones who had the Strongman and the Ironman to carry their luggage.  Well, I guess Kai Sing and I did put in a bit more training specially for this trip, knowing that we need to keep up with the Singapore Trekker's ethos.
I will forever remember this corridor leading to the breakfast hall, and on the right, a half
flight of steps to the small lift.

Later that night, Kai Sing & Joanne, and David had more chances to feel the warmth emitting from the hotel as their aircon decided to take a siesta and these people had to change rooms just before midnight.

Trevi Fountain... and our first witnessing of a pick-pocketing
Trevi Fountain. [Photo: Alex Kaan]

It was evening already.  Adrian Whatsapped us: "... I'm at the Coliseum, will be going to Trevi Fountain tonight if you wanna join me.  Meet me 6pm at Spagna metro..."
We looked at each other.  "Aren't we going to Trevi Fountain tomorrow?" I asked the boys, only to find that I was wrong.  We were not.  If we were to see the Trevi Fountain, this evening would be the only time.
And so we left San Giusto and its musty carpets and took a metro from Bologna station to Baberini station, passing armed Italian soldiers patrolling the turntiles at the stations, and making our way through the main roads and the smaller streets.  I was impressed by the way Alex led the group.  He walked as though he was born and raised here, without hesitation, true blue AlexK style.

Even the Police cars in Rome were tiny little Electric cars.
On our way we spotted a really tiny little electric care that only housed one person, a man, who was having a swell time reversing it out of a tiny parking lot.  Over our trip, we came to realise that in the cities, there were many small electric cars because they were small and easy to maneuvre and to park, especially as many of Italy's roads were narrow and cobblestone-paved, and parking spaces were very limited.  These electric cars could hold only one or two persons, and could only travel at about 40-50km/h, we learned from one of our drivers on the later part of the trip.  It was thus of no wonder that they were so popular here.
"Wow.. look at the Ang Moh Al fresco cafe! So stylo!" I exclaimed, just before reaching Piazza di Trevi.  And Serene posed for me.

The Trevi Fountain was one of the world famous fountains.  What was the most significant information I felt about the fountain was that in the history of Rome, 19BC, a virgin girl led the Roman soldiers to a source of spring water 13km away and the then emperor Augustus commissioned an Aqueduct to be built leading all the way to the Trevi Fountain and it served as a continuous water source of this city.  Thus the name of the aqueduct Acqua Virgo.

AlexK the famous portrait master straight away at work.
All I knew was that at this famous fountain. every visitor would throw a coin into it.  For what purpose, I wasn't exactly sure.  But I guessed asking for blessing and good luck would be one of them.  So we all any how threw.  It was only on the next day when we learned the correct way was to hold the coin on the right hand and throw it backwards across one's left shoulder.  And this would ensure that one would come back to visit here again.  Alamak.. I looked at all our photos and concluded that we all threw wrongly.  There went all our wishes.
Lai Peng, Joanne and Serene grabbing the spot for a shot.
CLICK on the photo above to see how Lai Peng threw her coin in to the fountain... I wonder
if she got her wish...
"Huh? You both used only 50 cents coin?" joked Lai Peng. "I used $1 coin leh."  Yah hor... maybe we should have had used the $1 coin instead.  I was sure it would have a higher chance of bringing better luck.
Serene and I trying our luck with our 50 cents Singapore coins.
And Alex Kaan's shot of us shooting ourselves. Hahaha..

The little young pick pocket...

On this afternoon, the Trevi Fountain was inundated with visitors from all over the world.  We could hardly get near the edge of the fountain to throw our coins, not to mention capture a proper photo of the structures.  In the midst of the crowd there was suddenly a commotion.  A group of old English ladies caught a young gypsy girl who pick pocketed one of their wallets.  They held her tight and created quite a scene.  But a thorough search brought up nothing.  It was too late.  She had already passed the wallet to her accomplish.  They had no choice but to let her go.  Well, that was our first experience with the pick pockets of Rome on this trip.
But that left quite an impression on us.

Adrian leading the way...

Despite the crowd, we spotted Adrian at the far end of the fountain and he slowly made his way to join us.  It was good to see him, a reassuring towering figure of a man.
"Ok. let's go for dinner shall we?" Adrian suggested.  "I'll bring you to one of the restaurants nearby the Trevi Fountain.  It is supposed to be one of the more atas restaurants.  But food there is only so-so lah.."
The Piazza di Trevi

My first attempt at 'Pick-pocketing'...

A horse-driven carriage came into sight.  There were a few horses and carriages waiting on the street here waiting to pick up tourists.  These were good opportunity for photos.  Lai Peng and Alex were right in front blocking my view.  Shucks.. I had to get this shot.  I poked my hand in between the space between the couple so that my iPhone could capture an unobstructed shot.  Immediately they both jumped upon feeling my forearm.
It was the very first time I saw this kind of reaction from them.. But in retrospect I understood the impact the witnessing of the pick-pocket incidence earlier had on every body.
"Wah lau you ah! I was almost going to turn back and whack you already leh!" said Alex.
That was really funny, thinking back.  It never crossed my mind.  But now I finally learned - when in Rome, never push your hand-clad phone any how through any space, or you might just risk getting a bruised eye. Hahahaha!!
The horse and carriage that almost got me a blue-black eye.

Restaurant Trevi

The heavenly Lobster Risotto
What a restaurant this was.  The Italian waiters were nice and cheeky with humorous replies and the typical Italian smile.  Serene and I didn't know what to order.  But anything with lobster should be good.  So Serene gotten herself a Lobster Linguine and myself a Lobster Risotto.  And my were the portions and the plate huge! The china plate was so heavy Serene almost developed tennis elbow holding it up.
It was so heavy... perhaps the lobster was the one that weighed it down.

And the taste? I didn't know how the others rated the food.  But this was one of the nicest Lobster risotto and Lobster Linguine Serene and myself had ever had! Both of us totally enjoyed it.

I was quite sure David digged his lobster linguine. [Photo: Adrian Loh Thien-Hock]

Cheers to friendship!

A eventful day culminating in this most suitable final curtain was the ideal way to induce sleep.  What a day it'd been!

Click here to continue to Day 2 ~ Historical Roma