Friday, April 29, 2011

Our Italy Trip - Part 2 - Milan

We stayed in Bellagio for 2 nights and moved on back to Milan. In Milan, I chose to stay at Best Western Hotel Galles. This is the hotel which I got a cheaper deal by being a member of Nozio Traveller. I chose this hotel primarily for its location which was close to the railway station and that it had a Metro subway entrance right outside the hotel.

On the first day back in Milan, we did not do much, just walking around Corso Bueno Aires, enjoying some delicious gelato from a place called Grom. It is frankly one of the best gelato we have tasted for a long time. There is an Italian restaurant named Ristorante Sabbatini just 2 blocks down from the hotel and the menu as well as the food were great. So great that hubby and I went back there 3 nights in a row...I think the waiter was beginning to think we were nuts..Basically, we were just lazy to look for another place to eat. LOL..

Day 2 in Milan was tour day. I had booked a tour which included viewing of the original 'Last Supper' painting by Leonardo Da Vinci through Viator. The tour is actually operated by Zanni Viaggi, a local tour operator so if you preferred, you could book directly with them instead. The tour guide spoke very good English and you get these little headsets so that the guide does not have to yell to ensure that all of us could hear. It was the first time I had come across that gadget and thought it was great!

The lobby or waiting lounge at La Scala Opera Theatre

We visited the La Scala Opera Theatre but sadly were not allowed to take pictures inside. This theatre is one of the oldest in the world. We would have loved to watch an Opera but everything was sold out even when I checked 3 weeks before time. Maybe next time. But from the one picture above, you can imagine the opulence of the inside of the theatre.

The roof of the Gallerie

Next we went to Gallerie Vittorio Emanuelle II which is basically a shopping gallery with a VERY expensive hotel in it as well. Here you will find all high end shops but the building itself is beautiful and full of history and the architecture is amazing.

Milan Duomo

Walking through the Gallerie, you will come to the Milan Duomo. It is by far, one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen and one of the most intricately structured. This is a definite must see when you are in Milan. Note however that security is very strict and oversized bag packs will not be allowed in the church.

The last stop was the viewing of The Last Supper at Santa Maria delle Grazie. There are no photos to be shown as photography was strictly forbidden. Suffice to say it was really awesome to be able to see the painting in person after seeing so many versions of it and hearing so much about it. It really does take your breathe away. Only 20 visitors are permitted in the room at any one time and you are only allowed 15 minutes to view the painting. The temperature in the room is closely monitored in order to best preserve the painting as is. The building in which it was painted was actually destroyed by a bomb a long time ago. However, the painting itself was spared (somehow) and only bits of the painting had fallen off. I would say that 90% of the painting is still intact.

Stadio Giuseppe Meazza

AC Milan Changing Room (much nicer than Inter's)

On day 3, I had arranged for hubby and I to visit the home football stadium of AC Milan and Inter Milan, of which hubby is a fan of Inter. All the tour operators called it the San Siro Stadium BUT it is actually known as Stadia Giuseppe Meazza. Don't forget! It was easy to get there as we took the Metro but it got a little confusing once we got to the stop and was basically walking in circles to find the stadium. Anyhow, we finally made it and it was kinda cool to see the changing rooms, shower area and get to know a bit more about the teams. I'd like to think that I managed to sit on the same chair that Jar Jar Binks, also known as Ronaldinho set in before he left AC Milan. One interesting fact I took away with me is that the grass on the football court is changed every quarter. Do you know how much is spent on grass in a year?? ONE MILLION EUROS...To me, that seems a little obscene when the money could go to better causes, but hey, that's me...

Note : It is easy to get to the stadium with a proper map and asking people for directions. Also, we decided to go on our own instead of taking a tour (through Viator, for e.g.) because apparently, you are not allowed to take photos if you don't take the stadium's own tour.

Inside of Cova Cafe

The rest of the time was spent shopping or window shopping. I forgot to take photos of the shopping streets. Hehe..But I do want to show you Cova Cafe which is on Via Montenapolene. It is approximately 200 years old and we wanted to grab a quick lunch in the little charming place. Tables were too tiny and the menu was too expensive. Let me show you.

My one piece of Croque Monsieur costs 6 Euros!

Anyhow, Milan was a great experience and somewhere I've always wanted to go back to since my honeymoon in 2005. Thanks hubby, for bringing me back there.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Our Trip to Italy - Part 1 - Bellagio on Como Lake

This post is long overdue as hubby and I came back from Italy on the 9th of April. I will try to remember as much as I can. We were in Italy for 13 days and we covered Como, Milan, Venice and Rome. We were so excited because we managed to get really cheap fares on Singapore Airlines. Two return tickets cost us approximate RM5.8k. The funny thing was it was cheaper to fly into Milan and out of Rome, then vice versa. In fact, it costs almost double if you do it the other way around. I put it down to the fact that there are less flights in and out of Rome as compared to Milan.

Before the trip of course, I was frantically searching for hotels and tours and such. I book all my hotels based on recommendations on Tripadvisor . However, I do not always book through the third party websites there as sometimes, you may be able to get better deals if you book with the hotel directly. I am not sure if it is true for all Europe travels but if you come across something called Nozio Traveller, i.e. certain hotels have an affiliation with Nozio and you can get cheaper rates by being a member. Membership is free and I managed to get a cheaper rate in the hotel in Milan from this.

My hubby and I prefer not to join tours from Malaysia anywhere because they usually take you to tourist type restaurants and such. However, for Italy, we thought some tours in the particular cities would place less stress on us. I chose the tour operators based on recommendations in Tripadvisor as well as Viator. However, with Viator, you will only be told the actual tour operator's company name when you sign up and pay for a particular tour. But they also provide feedback on their website so you can sort of gauge from there. I booked a tour for Milan through Viator and was happy with the service and the tour. More about that later.

Our first stop was Como, or more specifically, Bellagio which is situated on Como Lake. If you have a lot of luggage and are planning to go back to Milan after your trip, I strong suggest that you only take one bag with you if you are not staying a long time in Como. We landed in Milan, dropped off our huge luggage with our hotel and proceeded back to Milan Centrale Station for the train to Varenna. From Varenna, you have a 10 minute walk to the ferry dock. Two one way tickets from Milan to Varenna cost about 35 Euros and the journey takes about 1.5 hours. The ferry to Bellagio costs approximately 3 Euros per person (if I remember correctly). The ferry ride is a quick 10-15 minutes and the scenery is absolutely beautiful. I have a particular affliction for lakeside towns because I find it so peaceful. We had beautiful weather the whole time in Bellagio which I was grateful for.

View from the ferry as we approach Bellagio

Bellagio is a beautiful quaint little town. Basically you can walk the entire town in 2 days. The tourist season had not really begun when we arrived on March 28, so the 3 biggest hotels were still closed, as were many of the restaurants. But we were able to relax and walk around town, enjoy the foods and just take in the fresh air. It was awesome! Love love love Bellagio! The plus side of NOT going during tourist season is that you have a lot of peace and quiet and you can take pictures without dozens of people in your pictures. Haha..

View of Como Lake from our table where we were having lunch

Just loveee these trees

Our hotel in Bellagio was a small quaint place called Hotel Centrale Bellagio. Our room was charming and had a skylight which I loved. It was not a big room but adequate for our needs as it was clean and the beds comfortable enough. The room also came with free internet much to hubby's delight.

Our charming tiny room

There isn't really much to do around Bellagio. The only touristy thing we did was to visit Villa Serbellioni which is famous for its gardens and was once owned by an elite member of society who unfortunately passed on when she was very young. That's about it. One of the better restaurants we ate at were Trattoria San Giacomo and Ristorante Antico (I think that was the name). Be sure to visit these restaurants if you are ever in Bellagio.

Como is truly breathtaking and beautiful. Peaceful and away from the hustle and bustle of city life...I miss it already...