Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rome made easy

I remember my first trip to Rome and Italy, I was scared to death, I've heard so many stories. I have just returned from another trip to Rome and Italy and this time time felt really at home. I was still very cautious as one should be but not scared and paranoid. The sights in Rome are always packed with people but with a little strategy, Rome can be simplified and made much more enjoyable. These clear shots taken at the Trevi fountain would not be possible if we had not gotten there early before everyone. Later in the day there's standing room only.
If one flies in and out of Fumucino airport, compared with Paris Charles de Gaulle or London Heathrow, it is not that big to be totally intimidating. There are 3 terminals, A, B and C. A and B are usually where most people fly in and out of and terminal C is where British Airways uses. There's a tram that connects C to A and B.
So much for Rome Fumucino, the next big thing to get familiar with is Roma Termini, the train station in Rome. It is always so crowded that one feels lost in it. It is very easy to navigate really. To the east and southeast of it on Via Marsala, some may consider this area seedy but it is not really. Tour groups from all the world uses this area a lot, there are hotels of all price range in this area. One wanders if a reservation is really necessary. There don't seem to be a shortage of rooms. We were there over the Easter weekend, the place seems pretty sedate. Definitely it was kind of difficult finding an American among the crowds, there are a sprinkling, maybe the Americans are staying home because of the unfavorable exchange rate. There were a few intrepid souls there like myself. Make the train station your best friend,
- most likely you'll be taking day trips out of Rome on the train.
- you'll be going to other parts of Italy on the train.
- you'll be coming from or going to Fumucino on the Leonardo Express.
At the airport, ask where the train station is, the Leonardo Express zips you to Roma Termini in 30 minutes and costs 11 euros each way. You can get a ticket from any of the numerous newsagents nearby. At Roma Termini, the official ticket counter will sell you a Leonardo Express ticket or again you can get them from the numerous newsagents. Remember to validate the ticket. The Leonardo Express leaves from and arrives at Binaro 24.
I usually purchase my train ticket the day before travel. This way I know exactly what time to be at the station on the day of travel. Look at the board that says 'Partenze" or departure. Find your train either by matching the number indicated if there's one or match the time of departure. Go to the binaro indicated, find an official train person, show him the ticket to make sure you're on the right train. Don't forget to validate your ticket by having it stamped at the yellow metal boxes. Some trains have assigned seating, make sure to find your 'carrozza' or coach number. Some sectors of travel are packed and to secure a seat, you can request an assigned seat for a few euros more and if someone is occupying your seat, just ask them to move.
There's a supermarket at the basement of Roma Termini at the Via Marsala exit, this exit will feature prominently in the train station. There'll be a sea of humanity at all time of the day. It's a crazy place. Hang on to your things but you don't have to be scared and paranoid. It is so important to pack light, wear comfortable shoes, secure everything and enjoy travel, watch the young backpackers, there are all kinds of travelers, people coming and going. It's a lot of fun!
Lines, lines, and more lines- the lines at all the major sights are long, there are a few ways to beat it.
- go early in the morning, some places like the Spanish steps and the Trevi fountain are always opened. We were at these 2 places at 8.30am and I've never seen the Trevi fountain so empty before.
- the other is to go with a walking tour, they can get you in ahead of the 3 mile line outside the Vatican museum or else go early again. That was how I saw the Vatican museum, by going early. A lot of these walking tours can be booked online before even leaving home.
- learn to use the metro and the bus and be ready to squeeze as sardines. I've become pretty used to it, at least, this trip I didn't get fondled like I was in Palermo. It was on a bus from Palermo to Monreale, it was crowded. This guy behind me had his hand in his pants pocket and had his finger in my butt crack for most of the trip. Or take a cab or just hoof it.
Bus 64 from Roma Termini takes you to St Peter Basilica and the Vatican museum. It is very crowded, just get use to it. When in Rome, do what the Romans do. Tickets for the metro and the bus can be purchased at any newsagent.
Most of all, enjoy Rome, enjoy Italy, head South to the heel or to Sicily. I love Southern Italy and Sicily more than the North.

Friday, March 28, 2008

comment from Theresa Maggio

I went and looked for the 2 books written by Theresa Maggio, I found them, I'm going to read them again for the umpteenth time. I don't blame myself for feeling so proud, I work very hard and demand a lot from myself, whether at my job or even writing this blog. When I travel, I make sure I get the most out of the trip. It's hard work saving for the trip, I hoard every penny, save every drop of water (I pay my own utilities) just so I can travel, at least twice a year. I want to take 3 trips next year, all the trips are being planned out even now. I hope to go back to Sicily in the near future. Thank you, Theresa Maggio, once again, for the very kind comment. It felt like I've been given million dollars.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Theresa Maggio

Look under post Honey, I'm home for comment from Theresa Maggio ( author of 2 books on Sicily.

Theresa Maggio

I checked my email just now and found Theresa Maggio has left a comment on my blog, look under 'Honey, I'm home'. Who is Theresa Maggio? She wrote 2 books on Sicily and liked my write ups on Sicily. Wow! This is worth much more than making money on writing a blog, which I have yet to make a cent. I'm still gushing and blushing. Her 2 books are 'La Mattanza', about the annual tuna harvest in Sicily and "The Stone Boudoir' about the many little hill towns in Sicily. I have both books and have read them many times before embarking on my 2 trips to Sicily. They were inspirational, she's inspirational too. She called me gutsy, I'd say, I got my guts from her. I can't believe this. Wow! I read almost every book written about Sicily before I took my first trip to Sicily and then my second trip and maybe soon, my third.
'Palermo, once experienced, never forgotten....'

I'm back

What's this? A panini but not just any old panini. This is the famous panini con porchetta. I've read so much about it, how people raved about it. After all this is my umpteenth trip to Italy, I finally got to taste it. I was not disappointed. It was in Orvieto and everywhere the cafes were advertising panini con porchetta. This cafe had the porchetta in full view, a huge chunk of roast pork, not just any old roast pork, it was studded heavily with chopped garlic and parsley. The roast pork was moist and oh so fragrant because of the garlic and herbs. It was to die for..... The panini was about 4 euros, an incredible deal, possibly the only deal in our trip. We paid for some expensive and bad food. I keep thinking about Sicily, the bread in Sicily definitely is much better, so is the seafood. This trip we had Arugula with everything and it was wonderful, I definitely would use more Arugula in my cooking. I even brought Arugula seeds home to plant in pots, it would remind me of my planting tomato seeds from Sicily last year. This year it's Arugula seeds from Italy. What would I be planting next year?
We arrived back last night and I'm up too early this morning. Rome, as usual, was crowded, it makes me yearn for Sicily which is less crowded. I met some people on our way from Los Angeles to London, then we parted at London Heathrow. I saw them again on the plane from Rome to London, we parted again at Heathrow, we left to go home, they stayed in London. I sat next to a lady from Pasadena on our flight back, she was in Berlin and Eastern Europe, spoke glowingly about Prague. Well, guess where I'll be going next?

Monday, March 17, 2008

I'd rather stay at home

With hours to go till my plane leaves, I'd rather stay at home. I'd rather have the bed covers over my head and go to sleep. We're already checked in - online and the boarding passes have been printed. Technology is a wonderful thing if used for the right reasons. All's needed now is to head over to the airport to check in our bags. I don't want to go..... I'm tired...... But imagine 2 very disappointed teenagers. Of course we're going. I'd rather sit in the back yard, read, have my cup of tea and smell the jasmine blossoms, eat sweet Valencia oranges and those gorgeous strawberries. Instead of having to buy very expensive Euros and English Pounds. We're going on BA and through London, so I thought we might need some Pounds. I'll be back...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Italy, again

I just realized how exhausted I am. I'm glad to be leaving tomorrow, even for just 10 days. I'm now looking forward to be away for even a little while. The 8 days on the ground, we'll pack as much in as possible, Rome, Bologna, Verona, Venice and Orvieto. This time, last year I was on my way to Sicily. I wish I'm on my way to Sicily tomorrow. I miss Sicily, I want to go back to Sicily, one day soon.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Spring time

Every year at this time my neighbor's yard would have the most wonderful display of flowers. This year is no different though it's still early yet. I rushed over because I shall be gone for 2 weeks and hopefully w hen I return the display is going to be even more spectacular. I only found out recently that Lupines (the blue flowers) are grown from seeds. People would slow down as they drive past to view the flowers. I usually just walk over and spend an enormous time admiring the display. The apricot color rose is actually from my yard, it's name is 'Just Joey'. I love this rose, it has a very gentle fragrance and when full bloom is huge. I had 2 gorgeous blooms on it last year but when I checked on them later that day, they were gone. Some passerby picked them and walked away with them. This is the only time I had flowers stolen from my front yard.

Next trip

Blogger, Paris Breakfast, wrote this morning that she doesn't feel like going to Paris this Sunday. I don't feel like going to Rome this Monday. It's been so hectic, at work and at home, that I just want to be left alone. Work is so frenetic, so many prescriptions to fill and all at once. I dread going in these days. It's been overwhelming. Home is bad, my niece's situation is worse than I had imagine. I had a falling out with my sister in law yesterday, we ended up screaming at each other. IT'S BAD.... and I'm taking her 2 daughters to Italy. I just need to force myself on the plane, once it takes off, there's no turning back. When I'm on the ground in Rome, there's too much to take care off, find the train to take us to Centrale Termini, find our hotel, look for food and the next day, visit as many sites as we can. I heard that it's no longer free to visit the Forum and Palatine hill, it's going to cost $16 per person. That's a lot. After 1 day in Rome, we leave to head to Bologna. The thought of it is a little daunting but once I'm on the ground there I'll feel differently, I have to. I've been to Rome twice before so I'm familiar with the place, at least I don't have to worry that it's all new to me.
But I need to go, the sameness here is depressing. Anywhere you go is the usual stores merchandising the same stuff, I can jump off a cliff if I have to stay here forever. There's nothing like the charm and quaintness that is Europe. That's why I starve myself of any luxury here so I can still afford Europe, maybe that's not healthy. I make 2 trips abroad each year, I'm trying for 3 next year and eventually to spend an extended period away.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Low expectations

I read somewhere that kids of welfare mothers have limited vocabulary, less than 200 words. Kids of average families have about 500 words whereas kids of teachers and professors have about 2200 words. Unless we play an active role in our kid's education, their performance will languish. Working the past 2 weeks with 2 lovely kids have made me realize that unless parents are actively involved, there will be low expectations.
Don't expect teachers to do it for you. The bar in schools these days is set so very low that everyone (even idiots) will pass. This lead to a life of mediocrity. The kids, because of non involvement from parents, will pick easy courses, even easy Math, just to fulfill the requirements and get through High School. This is a travesty of enormous proportions. Low expectation in High School leads to a life of mediocrity. Kids will grow up to take jobs managing a Walmart, a Target , a Supermarket or a Chain Drugstore. We have lost a lot of high paying manufacturing jobs. Jobs in retail are plentiful, they don't pay enough in these jobs and the work is mind numbing. I hate to think if I could do something and not do it, I'll be condemning these 2 lovely girls to a life like that, stuck in a low paying and mind numbing jobs.
A little involvement from the parents will make a world of difference. This kid (one of the 2 girls) is failing in Math. I've offered to come over every weekend to tutor her. To all our surprises, she gets up early, we start promptly at 8am and work for hours on Math and other homework. She wants to learn. I told her to, next semester, take up all the available Math and Science courses and she agreed. Forget about the artsy fartsy courses, leave them to the others.
So I went on (online used book seller) and ordered a bunch of textbooks, Calculus, Trig, Geometry, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Guess who needs to study? It's been only 40 years since I was in High School.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Road to Rome

Truly, Rome and Italy doesn't get enough respect, they're being overshadowed by Paris and France. It is a different ambiance in Rome and Italy. I don't play favorites, I try to give equal opportunity to all places in the world but the last 3 years I've been to more places in Italy than France. I don't know why, it just happened. After next week, I'll be back in Rome again for the third time. I was looking at old photos and scanning them into my computer. I love printers that act also as a scanner, what I don't have uploaded into my computer can be scanned and stored and used just the same. I do archive all my photos in CD's and as prints.
I'm less intimidated by Rome these days, the first time there was horrible, I was so scared because of stories of pickpockets. Not that they are not there anymore but I'm more able to fend them off. it's always good, when abroad, to be wary of your surroundings, hang on tight to your belongings, be suspicious of everyone. After using your ATM cards and credit cards, put them away first before proceeding anywhere. Always wear a money belt, especially in Italy, I'm more relaxed in France but not careless. These thieves, their job is to prey on unsuspecting tourists, make it hard on them so they'll find other easier targets. I'm not afraid to show my anger and displeasure at people whom I suspect to be unsavory characters. I'd rather be safe than sorry. I've seen empty wallets thrown out onto streets and empty handbags and I know there are victims out there.
With this in mind, continue to enjoy your trip, your pasta, coffee, gelato and whatever else Italy has to offer.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Vacation, again

We leave in 12 days and we are ready. The older kid needed new luggage, so being the good aunt that I am, I went shopping. Got this from Ross, a cheap department store. It's so cute, you can spot your luggage a mile away as they come out of the carousel.

Good study habits

One important thing I learned from my 'Creative writing' class is 'chair glue'. To just sit on a chair and write, write something, anything, just write. To set aside time everyday and especially on weekends- to do homework and to study. It is a very good habit to foster among preteens. The time to start is when they are preteens. When one has started this habit with them, continue into their teen years. It is the hardest thing for us to do but we have to do it with them. After a hard day's work and a hard work week, we'd rather go shopping, watch TV and do mindless thing. To sit down and study with our kids? I thought our studying time is over. Wrong! Not is you have kids. Now is the time. It's no use screaming and yelling at them to study on their own. An example must be set and enforced regardless of whether we like it or not, whether we feel like it or not. Once a habit is formed it can be carried on through High school and into college and grad school and into life. A habit of disciplined living will help carry the teenager into adulthood.
As a child and a teenager, somehow I managed to foster a disciplined lifestyle which has seen me successfully through all my life. It is easy for me to do my work well, to save money and resources prodigiously, to fulfill my obligations to myself and others. I don't have to force myself, it's an integral part of me. My parents were lucky, they never needed to push me. I am fortunate that I had the good sense of being this way and not act up. Part of the reason is being Chinese where we value education, filial piety and hard work. Another part is being born poor and knowing that without as education, a good work ethic and a disciplined life, I would spend my life in poverty.
So here am I, giving up all my weekends to tutor 2 teenagers. I'm working harder than they, I'm hitting the math books, struggling to remember what I did 40 years ago. I'm into graphs, slopes, linear equations, quadratic equations and on and the n degree. It's been a hard 2 weeks but I'm getting there. I go to sleep with math dancing in my head. I'm so confident that I'm going to tell the younger one to take up all the math and science classes next year. I'll be there for her.
All kinds of surveys have shown that people with math and science skills do better in life and make more money.
There are 3 professions I know of that pay 6 figures a year from day one are Medicine, Engineering and Pharmacists, all requiring a lot of math and science.