Day 10 – Florence to Sienna

We drove to the medieval town of Siena in Tuscany which is also the territory of Chianti ( Pronounced Kiantee) wines. The drive through the mountainous terrain was picturesque. Siena, like the other towns and cities of Italy that I am now familiar with has its share of beautiful squares, buildings, churches and alleyways.. The Cathedral of Siena was another magnificent building. The pictures I will share with you (hopefully soon) will tell you. The reason I am not able to download pictures now is a) My Panasonic has a faulty battery and does not charge- I am still figuring if its the battery or the charger that went bad and b) the other camera is GSR's and it is his new canon D 90 and I am not familiar with it yet.


It was cloudy some part of our drive and even drizzled a bit en route but when we got there, it was a beautiful, sunny day. We walked about Siena and plonked at the main Piazza or square called the Piazza  del Campo. The town was buzzing with activity and there were people milling around the whole place. We shopped a little and walked a lot. We grabbed a slice of Margherita on our way back and sat in a little garden for lunch. This is the first time in our long trip to Italy that we decided to ' rough it up' at lunch. We drove back in beautiful weather too. The clouds got darker and heavier and it began to pour on our way back.


The men decided to stay back in the room while Mamy and I went back to tour Florence in the hop on hop off. We went on an hour long tour of Florence and saw parts of Florence that we would never get to see otherwise. The ride on the topless bus was chilly and a very memorable experience. Thankfully the rain had stopped long enough for us to enjoy the ride and began again as we got off. When we finally got home walking, we had stopped to shop a bit too. So it was worth getting a little damp from a slight rain. I wonder if I would felt this way about getting wet if I had not had the opportunity to stop and shop. But then again, that was never going to happen with two women let lose with Euro's in hand.


Our dinner tonight at Cibero (Pronounced Chiberrro) was fabulous. You have heard of saving the best for the last. This ranked close to the saying. The meal was delightful, the ambience in the restaurant pleasant. Top it with a few glasses of Chianti ‘classico’ and flourless chocolate tart. SINFUL. Hey, we are on a holiday, if not now, then when.


Signing off for tonight, Tomorrow we go to see Michael Angelo's David. Then we get ready to leave Italy for Singapore.


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Day 9 – Florence to Pisa

Casa Ravoi, the place we stay at Florence is a 12th century building. Casa Ravoi is a small apartment that serves as a bread and breakfast – Europe is full of them. We are on the 3rd floor of the building,. All the guests have their own keys to the apartment building. The lady that is incharge, Ariaanah, inherited this apartment from her great grand parents.It has basic ameneties, Internet and water.They serve us a frugal breakfast ( any food without wine seems so frugal to me these days) . The warned us to be careful using the towels and linen in the rooms since they had no intention of giving us fresh laundered towels every morning.


Pisa was only an hour from Florence by train. We left at half past nine and got back by five in the evening. At Pisa we walked from the station, to the Cathedral, the baptistery, the cemetery and bell tower which the world over is known as the leaning tower. I had always seen it pictures and being there seemed so surreal. We even climbed the 180 feet tower. The marble stairway inside tilts to one side and makes climbing an experience. There was not much else to do at Pisa so walked back to the station from where we had to take a train back to Firenze or Florence. We got a little mislead and had to walk a whole block around and finally got to the station to take the 4 pm train back home. It continued to drizzle on our way back so we had to have our one Euro raincoats on us from getting ourselves wet.


The men wanted to chill while Mamy and I went out to shop. We went to the a few local stores around where we stay and got home in time for a lovely dinner at one of the local Tuscany diners where we had made a booking for the evening. We had some of the best local delicacies and some Chianti Rosso and Bianco Wino. For dessert there was Tiramisu and chocolate cake. It was pure sin. The men washed the diner down with an aperitif Grappa and some espresso.


My legs have done more than their share of walking today and they need a wll deserved rest. Tomorrow morning we drive to Sienna.

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Day 8 – Visit to the Shroud of Turin

Even though we had tickets to visit the Shroud of Turin for 10 o clock today, we were advised that we better get there early to beat the crowds. We had already walked the path to the cathedral that housed the shroud last evening so that we got the hang of what distance to commute. We took the tram till the church and walked the last leg to where the queues began.

I have to tell you this. There were thousands of people that had traveled far and wide to reach the Cathedral early in the morning. It’s a pilgrimage for the Christians of the world, like you would have read from the link I sent you with my last update, and Christians from all walks of life from World over were queuing up for their turn to take a glimpse at the Holy cloth that wrapped Jesus of Nazareth after his crucification. What was spectacular was the behavior of the crowds that had gathered. There was no commotion, despite the fact that there were so many of us. There was no jostling, pushing or messy queues. People somehow seemed to understand that their turn would come and there was no point in rushing people ahead of us. I can tell you from experience that we, as a race of Indians will never behave this way.


The drive from Turin to Florence took us about 5 hours. We stopped for lunch on the way here. The landscape changed from farms on plains to mountains. I lost count of the number of tunnels we had to cross too. The weather is chill and partly cloudy. We walked around the City of Florence , saw a few old medieval buildings, David by Michael Angelo, the River Arno. Today we take the train to Pisa.  


More when I get back. From Pisa.



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Day 7 – Milan to Turin

After a big breakfast spread at the Hotel Mediolanum,  we drove to Turin. We had decided to do the scenic route through the little villages en route than take the highway. Little towns and villages that we passed by during our drive gave us the flavour of local life around the country. We reached Turin around lunch and checked into our hotel. It had been fine weather till we reached. I froze to my bones when I stepped out of the car.

We warmed our little toes and fingers for a bit and stepped out to explore Turin. Our experience with the City Sightseeing bus in Milan told us that that was the best way to tour the city of Turin with the weather being so chilly and cloudy. We parked at the hotel and walked up to the central square to take the tour. Just like predicted it began to rain.

The whole of the afternoon we did two trips one of the contemporary Turin and the other of the Historical Turin. No points for guessing which was more exciting. Only when you know the history of the place you can really begin to understand how the city has evolved into the modern day version.

After our tours, we got back to the hotel for a break and stepped out for a long walk to find out where we had to be tomorrow for a viewing of the Shroud of Turin. It turned out to be a nice long walk across town. The best part of the walk was the dinner that we had decided to have at the end of the evening at a Pakistani run Indian restaurant. I had had my share of Pizzas and Pastas for the last ten days that I was dying to eat some naan and dal. Which is precisely what I ate at the restaurant.

Tomorrow we are due to be at the Cathedral of St. John at 10am. For more on the Shroud read here

We drive our last leg of the trip to Italy tomorrow. We plan to drive to the South of Italy. Florence.

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Day 6- Back to Venice- And it was sunny!

So here we are on our own now on. The group split after conference days and were free to go back. We decided to stay on for a few more days and travel around before we got back.  In all fairness, this is men’s first opportunity to experience the country. Some others as well, from the group, had made their plans to go around the country before they went back.


As planned we hired a Hertz and drove to Venice last evening. At the mainland of Venice- Venice has two parts, the mainland and the lagoon- we parked our car and took the water taxi to the lagoon. The water taxi takes a route in the lagoon and stops at different spots on its way through the lagoon. So this works like a public transport in any other country except that you are sailing in water. If you have been to Kottayam in Kerala, which is referred to the ‘Venice of the south” in India, you know what I mean.


We had made our reservations online and had an address, email and phone number of the Al Palazzo where we were to stay. They had clearly instructed how to reach the place. We got off at the advised stop and walked along the jetty and across a bridge – of which there is plenty here – to reach the hotel. Our room is just over the canal and overlooking it too. We had decided to have a Pizza for dinner since we had not tasted one yet- Italian Pizza being the mother of all Pizzas. We were not disappointed – all Pizza bases are freshly made and are thin crust. The varieties the Pizzeria offered went over 100 different kinds. Other than the toppings, the different cheeses made for such variety. I stuck to familiar cheese – mozerrella. 


After a frugal breakfast of orange juice, bread rolls and coffee, map in hand, we began our tour of Venice – second time around, for Mamy and I, but in awesome weather. The sun was bright and out for the day and Venice was buzzing with life. There were people everywhere. The plan for the day evolved as we walked the streets. We went on a Gondola ride in the Venice canals. The Gondoliers were smartly dressed in their stripy tee shirts, hats and charming demeanor. They row a 11.5 meter gondola single handedly, while chatting you up about local traditions.


We also went to another island of Venice called Burano. Burano is known for its laces and colorful two storied houses. Even from far away in the ferry we had to take to reach Burano, we could see little brick houses in purple, pink and shades of green and blue.  We spent two hours in Burano walking the streets with the other tourists and locals. We stopped at a local café and were surprised when the waiter spoke to us in Hindi! He knew of Bombay, Mhd.Rafi, Kerala and the traffic in India. How cool was that.


Most of the shops lining the streets of Venice sold leather goodies or jewelry. The Carnivale masks, chef caps, aprons, magnets, blown glass with intricate design patterns, artistic representations of Venice in charcoal, on canvas, water colors, and hordes of gelato kiosks made up for the rest of the shops. Speaking of Gelato.. I had two other flavours since I came here. Tiramisu and Limone.


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Day 4 and 5 – Walking tour of Verona and Sirmione

The walking tour of Verona was an amazing experience. Even though it  was raining throughout our 3 hour trip we did everything we had planned to do. Franchessca, our hostess for the morning was a friendly young local with better spoken English skills than Alessandra. We toured on foot and saw all the major landmark squares of the city. We got back to the Byblos for lunch with the spouses who had had yet another long session in the conference hall.

We were later taken on a tour of the latest Kemin facility at is being constructed here . We drove for an hour and a half to reach the facility and the group was taken on a little tour of the incomplete building of the Kemin facility that is going to specialize in flavourants for pet food. It continued to pour through the afternoon and early evening. The best part of the evening was a tour of a Winery and dinner at the castle of the vineyard. Which meant more wine than anyone can handle.

But dinner update has to wait for now. Today is Day 5 and the last day of our stay at Verona. The spouses are all set to visit Lake Garda. More about my visit to the lake and dinner from last night in the next  update.


Day 5 – Sirmione

Sirmione was a beautiful village town that had just one big medieval castle – The Della Scala – and about a hundred Gelato outlets. And to think I did not get an opportunity to have one. The entire town has beautiful villas that are usually second houses to most locals. This is where they built a weekend place to get to when they got bored wining and dining in their own little houses in the bigger cities. Sirmione grows a lot of lemons. So you can imagine the curios shops selling lemon based everything. Soaps, perfumes, candle sticks, liqueurs (heard of Limoncino?), magnets, ceramic tiles and other knick knacks. They even had stores selling lemons exclusively and you have to see the size of the lemon to believe it. Sirmione is supposed to be the most humid climate wise and there we were all shivering from the chill of the day.

We passed green vineyards on our 45 minute drive by bus. The Castle was a sight situated on the Lake Garda with it being a beautiful day with blue sky and white fluffy clouds and add to that the commentary by Alessandra, our Italian speaking Spanish hostess.

“The meeleethaary beelt sthrucchures in heesthoricaal timesuh.Theese therithorys were zmall and the inhaabithants in ceetees came to grow veenyaardsuh. Tooreesm in the beegeening was naathin. Now goodh. Oviously deefeecul economical possibilities. Tooris developed couture for lakes, more presenceuh of Austrians and Germans. People from America a few but they comeuh. Complex of lakes, mountains created from deep of the grounduh, oviously there were glaciers that modified into beeg lakesuh of which Lake Garda is one. Pipl come-un, have goodh weatheruh, fun parksuh, faameely lakes: seembol of the town is two eels parallel. Eet ees fourbeedhen to beeld taller than three floors. Zmall cheeldren nurmaaaly come for camping sites.”

Whew. Can you imagine listening to that language style for three full hours. And you thought I was having fun. We passed another vine town called Lugaana that made wines especially for the Vatican. Who would have thought the Pope ordered wines. Sirmione has hot water springs though we did not go to one. June to August seems the best time to visit this place, if you ever plan a ‘veeseet’.

So much for today.


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Day 3 – Venice

The day began early. We had to be at the lobby at 8am. I rushed  through my breakfast of yoghurt, fruit and espresso with latte and made it in time. It was not a sunny bright morning like yesterday and so we took umbrellas with us. We knew it was going to be a cloudy ,wet day. And we were right. It poured all the way to Venice, at Venice and back too though that did not stop us from walking down the squares at Venice and discovering the magic of the lagoon.

Alessandra, our hostess for the day turned up on time though a little breathless at the hotel lobby and we all got set to go. The drive to Venice by bus was about an hour and a half on a bright sunny day. But given the fact that it was raining, it took us about two hours to reach the mainland. A private steamer boat was organized to take us to the lagoon of the Mediterranean sea.

Fun facts about Venice that Alessandra shared with us on the way – Venice has about 150 canals, 100 odd bridges and 117 small islands. The map of Venice looked like that of a large fish. Marcopolo, is a famous merchant from Venice. I loved the way Alessandra spoke English.  I jotted down some of the words that she spoke differently just to share them with you –

Venees ees is a maagneeficent city. Its a peety Venees is sinking. Many beeldings are being ristorrrrrred on the soorrrface. The poblik trunsporrrrrtaeshun is maagneeeeeficent. The seembol of Venees is a winged lion. You will see the buhseelikah, cut-eeh-dhral and the kanaals in gut kondeeeshun. Some of the ‘otels are cared for by the locaaal administreashun. Normully, the Gondola is pooshed and pooled
in a cerrrrrrrrten way.Peeeeeeeeeeeek yourrrrrrrrr umbrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrelas everrrrrrrrrybodhee.

Whew, that is very exhausting. Try it aloud and you will know what I mean.

The dinner was another night of wining and dining to say it in a few words. We were dropped off at various points downtown in groups.We had been sorted into groups of 5 couples each and the restaurants were pre-decided too. The reason behind this maybe because the bistros and ristorantes in Verona are really cosy and small and won’t take more than 30 people at any point of time. Restaurants here are not concerned about how many table covers they have had for the night but the quality of experience they are able to give their patrons.So typically you won’t find people queuing up in front of ristorantes because there are several in every lane, every square, every piazza. I also think the revenue that they earn per table amounts to quite a sum what with patrons ordering the most exquisitely prepared seafood or bottles and bottles of wine.

So this place our group went to was another cosy restaurant that could seat only about 25 odd people. The ambiance was warm and friendly. The unique thing about the quaint ristorante were the unfinished walls- we could see the layers of brick and concrete and it was left unpainted – the walls also had little earthen pots that had stuffed witches on brooms hanging from them. Maybe they were trying that for a theme. It did have an effect.

While the others enjoyed seafood, octopuses, squid and everything in the sea, we were happy eating pasta with gentle flavour of herbs. I must tell you that I have begun enjoying my wine experiences. I had a glass of white wine and enjoyed every sip. I am so intrigued about wines now and I have promised myself an education about wines when I get home.

I also had a dessert that I have to write you about. It was Grappa with almonds and I have to tell you. I had a near death experience. It was H.E.A.V.E.N. Read about Grappa here

 Tomorrow we plan a walking tour of Verona….and hopefully some shopping too.

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