Tuesday, July 1, 2014

#europevacation2014 - the highs and lows (part II)

"The clouds that cover the sunshine,
they cannot banish the sun.
And the earth shines out the brighter,
when the weary rain is done." - Anonymous

The annual vacation actually started out well.

After spilling out my frustration over the robbery in Milan, here's a summary of the HIGHs of my European vacation:

1. Emirates Airlines - There were two legs to the flight (both outbound and inbound). Of course, the technical stop is in Dubai. The 777-300 planes from and to Manila are wide enough with the inbound from Dubai being a newer plane. I think because they fly out more OFWs, they use an older model for the outbound flight. And we parked in the desert, which really sucked because we all had to take the bus to the terminal (about a 30 minutes ride including deplaning). When compared to Qatar Airlines (which is my all time favorite), the food served on the outbound and inbound flights on Emirates were mere sandwiches and very light snacks...unlike Qatar Airways, the food was always a very hot meal. And this was disappointing because I expected better food on Business Class. After all, it was a 9 hours flight to and from Dubai! They provided amenities which include mini-Bulgari lotion and cologne, but Rexona and Colgate were part of the package.

On my bucket list was getting to fly an Airbus 380, and this was available out of Dubai - to Rome and from Barcelona. Now this was flying. While the plane lived up to its design, I found the business class a bit too cramped as they fitted in too many things to make ONE seat looked like a mini suite. It was, however, an excellent sleeper as it was a 180 degrees lie flat bed! And the bar where food and drinks (well, yeah, mostly drinks) were abundant was the piece de resistance of the whole plane! Of course, the icing on the cake were: (1) you boarded separately from the rest of the world from the business class lounge and (2) you had your own chauffer-driven limo to take you TO and FROM your hotel (as long as it was within a 70km radius of the airport).

Rome is without doubt a city deep in history. If one should make a trip to Europe and want to review the history of various countries or do some Museum hopping, Rome should be your initial destination, otherwise you might end up with saturating yourself with Museum-fatigue-syndrome.

Rome is a small city and I suggest two things: get a great hotel right in the heart of it all and bring some good walking shoes.

Selecting hotels can be a problem especially in Europe. Most of them are small, and the nice ones are expensive. But I've always cherished a vacation. You need to plan for one and not just jump on a plane on a whim! And remembering the places will require great accommodations and not just the scenic or touristy spots.

In Rome, we stayed at the Sofitel Villa Borghese which is such a beautiful hotel found at the back of the Villa Borghese park. It's a stone's throw from the Spanish Steps and while it is a bit secluded, security in the area is guaranteed. Breakfast at the hotel is divine and those Strawberry Shortcakes were to die for! One thing I can assure all the guests who plan to go to Rome...you'll never go wrong choosing Sofitel Villa Borghese.

Aside from the famous Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain (where there are loads of gypsies), Colosseum, Palantine Hill,and the Roman Columns are many places where you can enjoy Italian cuisine. Just a note to remember: you need to check with the concierge where it's best to dine. On the first night, we just casually walked to some restaurant and the food was terrible! I thought that spending 90 euros was such a robbery considering that the restaurant was one of those sidewalk restaurants. Rule of thumb to remember: IF THE LOCALS DON'T EAT THERE, THE FOOD MUST BE BAD!!!

The Vatican City State is a walled enclave found within the city of Rome in Italy. It's about 44 hectares and with a population of less than 1000 people, it is the smallest country in the world.

For this part of the tour (which we spent a whole day for), we paid for a walking tour. While the walking tours are a bit pricey, don't attempt to do it on your own because you'll miss out on most of the history of the place. The Vatican City is ruled by the Bishop of Rome - the Pope. Pope Francis makes it a point to meet and greet the audience after the 10AM mass at St. Peter's Square.

In the city, the cultural sites are St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Museums. The major income of the Vatican comes from the sale of postage stamps, tourist mementos, admission to museums, and publications. The military and police defense of the Vatican City is provided by the Italian government. The guide informs us that the Vatican City has no armed forces of its own and the Swiss Guard is the one that takes care of the security of the Pope. The arrangement for recruitment is between the Holy See and Switzerland. Majority of the people that live in the Vatican City are those working in the state and their families.

Firenze (Florence) is famous for the Renaissance history. The turbulent political history were periods ruled by the Medici family and numerous other prominent leaders. The Medici family were bankers to the Pope and this contributed to the family's ascendancy to power.

It is the most populous city in Tuscany and was declared by the UNESCO a World Heritage Site in 1982. Florence is an important city for Italian fashion and is a major source of economy for Italy.

In Florence, we stayed at the Hotel Brunelleschi. Found right in the heart of the piazza, this is a quaint modern boutique hotel which is just a few steps from EVERYTHING!!! The hotel is nice and the ambience a contrast with the old exterior facade but a modern interior!

Within Firenze is history at our doorstep. The Florence Cathedral, the Medici Palace, and other tourist spots are just a very very short distance from our hotel.

From Firenze, you can take a short train ride (about 30 minutes) into Pisa.

Or go outlet shopping...

I know that we've not really seen much of what Italy has to offer in terms of culture and arts...but aside from the fact that I had such a horrible nightmare from a robbery in Milan, the first leg of our trip ended at the Philippine consulate in Milan.

The second and final leg will be featured in the next blog update.

No comments: