Murano Glass

I am not a Murano glass expert. I’ve only been on the island once, for 3 hours; and I’ve spent half the day today going around Canaregio, looking glass wares with claims that they have been created in the island of Murano. There’s a difference – easily recognizable – between a glass product created in Murano by virtuoso Murano artists and a glass product created by copycats. A glass product created in Murano has the stamp “Murano Glass”. Going further, a glass product created in Murano by virtuoso Murano artists has a “Vetro Artistico Murano” sticker on it.

IMG_2142

A “Vetro Artistico Murano” sticker on a wine stopper purchased on Murano

“Vetro Artistico Murano” is a Murano trademark and certifies that a product has been made on the island of Murano using traditional artistic methods born and developed over a thousand years in the island of Murano. It is a proof of origin provided by the Veneto Region in compliance with the law 70, passed on December 1994.

The second identifiable difference is the quality and design of the product. The more cliché and gaudy-looking a product is, the less the probability that is created by a virtuoso Murano artist. Take for example these wine bottle covers that we bought. One is certified “Vetro Artistico Murano” while the other was just created in Murano. Both we bought on the island of Murano. The one created by a virtuoso artist cost 3 EURs more than the one that isn’t. Before putting your mouse over the photos below, can you identify which is which?

Notice that the design on the left is something you see everywhere. This Murano glass was not created by a certified Murano glass artist. The design is common and one you would probably find in a mall outside Italy. Nevertheless, my eyes are drawn to it. I liked it so I bought it. I knew though, when I bought it, that it may have not been made using traditional Murano glass techniques. And that is fine.

So, let me leave you with this. Just because something is cheap(er) does not mean it is worth the buy, especially if you’re particular with handiwork, design and quality. Choose well! Not everything that glitters is gold. But just because something isn’t certified, does not mean it’s not worth the buy either. Buy what makes you happy, it’s yours anyways. 😉

April 05, 2017 | Venice, Italy

Venezia Island Hopping

Today was an exhausting day of island hopping in Venice; but I would not trade it for any other Venetian activity. We started of visiting St. Mark’s Square and waiting in line to enter St. Mark’s Basilica. It was worth the wait. The entire ceiling of the church was covered by golden mosaics. It was so beautiful that, unless you make a point to look for it, you’ll totally miss the understated tomb of St. Mark (yes, Mark from the Gospel of Mark in the Bible). I know I did. And I nearly left the basilica without seeing it, if not for my husband’s presence of mind. We asked one of the guards, and he pointed us to where we already have been!

IMG_1316

Gondolas

IMG_1315

Entrance to St. Mark’s Square

IMG_1322

Façade of St. Mark’s Basilica

IMG_1349

Golden frescos inside St. Mark’s Basilica

IMG_1348

Tomb of St. Mark

After St. Mark’s Square, we took the vaporetto to Murano, had a panini and toast, and then walked around town to look for a interesting Murano glass creations that we could bring back to Copenhagen with us. And find them, we did. Beautiful glass creations that I’m saving for when I finally have my own place to decorate.

IMG_1390

Murano!!! 🙂

IMG_1396

My lunch: toast!

IMG_1406

Taking a gelato break on the island of Murano

From Murano, we took another vaporetto to Burano, the island famous for its laces. But the laces are not the only thing that’s interesting about the island. Burano is the most picturesque Venetian island I have ever been to. The colored houses are amazing. I could stay at them, standing on the slides of the canal, and never get tired.

IMG_1447

The colorful houses is a dead give away that you are on Burano

IMG_1462

Color blocking on Burano :p

IMG_1466

More colorful houses!

Now, back at our apartment. We’re making ourselves spaghetti with a sauce we bought from Conrad. We’re matching it with Chardonnay from Cantine Azienda Agricole. It comes highly recommended by us.

IMG_1502

Back on island of Cannaregio, where we’re staying for the night 🙂

Indeed, my legs are aching, and I feel I’m about to have cramps. But I wouldn’t trade this day for any other Venetian day. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

April 04, 2017 | Venice, Italy

Un-Confusing Rome and Vatican City

If, like me, you have tried DIY-ing your trip to Rome and Vatican City, you will have discovered how utterly confusing everything is, not because of language (Google Translate!) or of unavailability of information (there is, in fact, too much online!), but because of this overwhelming feeling that there is not enough time to sort through everything – opening hours, skip-the-line, best times to visit, sunsets, sunrises (I spent 2 weeks planning Rome!). Not only are there so many things to see and do, there are also so many different (and not-so-different) tour packages to choose from.  My advice? If you don’t want to wade through the mess and you have the money to spare, book a tour and get it over and done with. Lots to choose from. Pick one. With a booked tour, you won’t need to bother with individuals marketing their tours to you (before and during your visit!). When you see the LONG, LONG lines, you will feel justified spending 25 – 40 EUR for a tour. If this is your choice of a Roman vacation, you’re good to go and this blog ends here. 😉 BUT – major BUT – if, like me, you don’t want to break the bank and end up spending 200 EUR in 2 days just for tours, then read on.

Tour packages (also known as third-party skip-the-line tickets) are usually relatively quite expensive (relative to buying the ticket from the source). An admission ticket to the Vatican Museum, for example, costs 16 EUR (+4 EUR online sales fee). But if you book it through a skip-the-line tour company, you’ll end up paying 26 – 30 EUR (+4 EUR online sales fee) for the exact same thing! So, why don’t people just buy directly from the source, i.e. online from the Vatican Museum? Because it’s confusing! And the source is usually not the first thing that appears when you do a Google search! Below are some tips for saving $$$ and making the most out of your Rome and Vatican City trip.

 

Commuting

If you have international roaming mobile phone data and Google Maps, you won’t have trouble finding your way in Rome and Vatican City. Public transportation tickets can be bought from kiosks near train stations and these tickets can be used for metros, trams, and busses. You can buy a one-way ticket (1.50 EUR), a 24-hour ticket (7.00 EUR), a 48-hour ticket (12.00 EUR) , a 72-hour ticket (18.00 EUR), a weekly ticket (24.00 EUR) or a monthly ticket (35.00 EUR). A one-way ticket is valid for 75 minutes, unlimited transfers. The first time you use your ticket, the machine stamps a date and a time on it, so you will know exactly when your ticket expires.

Admissions

Most sites have extremely long lines, so you will need to book in advance (maybe a week in advance) for the sites that you want to visit. When booking online, you will usually be charged an online sales fee of 4 – 6 EUR per person. That’s normal, don’t worry about it. Be very careful, however, that you are actually booking your tickets from the official website. It’s tricky. Many websites claim to be “official”, but they are not. Here’s a list of official sites from the places I’ve visited:

  • St. Peter’s Basilica

Church admission is free but dome admission is 5-7 EUR. The church is open from 7.00 – 17.00 (April – September) and 7.00 – 18.00 (October – March) while the dome is open from 8.00 – 16.00. The line for the church is LONG, and you might be tempted to get a 3rd part skip-the-line ticket. But if you have time and patience, fall in line after lunch, anytime from 1pm – 3pm. The line won’t be as long as the morning lines. I lined up at around 3pm and got in within 30 minutes. Once you get past security, head directly to the dome. You can explore the church at leisure after the dome. There are paid audio guides available inside the church, if you’re interested in that . 🙂

There are two options for the dome. You can either climb 551 steps for 5 EUR or take the lift and then climb 320 steps for 7 EUR. If you book a 3rd party skip-the-line ticket, you might be paying somewhere between 30 – 40 EUR.

IMG_1534

St. Peter’s Basilica. The long line is to my right (in the photo).

IMG_1659

Michelangelo’s Pietà. Do not miss this at St. Peter’s Basilica. When you enter the church, it will be on your right.

The Vatican Museum ticket can be booked online for 16 EUR (+4 EUR online sales fee) using the Vatican Museum link I provided above. It’s huge, so be very conscious of how you are spending your time. You can spend an entire day in the museum and not run out of things to see. If, however, you’re mainly there see the Sistine Chapel, be aware that the Sistine Chapel is near the end of the museum tour route. And, if I were to be perfectly honest, the only interesting thing after the Sistine Chapel is the relic of the true cross.

The Vatican Museum has an audio guide for 7 EUR. They don’t provide earphones, so if you don’t want to hold the audio guide right next to your ear all the time, make sure to bring your own earphones. TIP: the audio guide has two earphone jack outlets, so if you have two sets of earphones, you can share the guide with a family member or friend. 🙂

IMG_1621

The famous spiral staircase. You’ll see this when you exit the museum.

  • Papal Audience

Getting an audience with the pope is free, but you will have to book a ticket in advance. To do so, you can call +39 06 6988 3114 and +39 06 6988 4631, or fax +39 06 6988 5863. The office of the Prefecture of the Papal Household, which is in charge of issuing tickets, is open from 9.00 – 13.00 on Mondays and 9.00 – 18.00 on Tuesdays. My advice: call. Load up your Skype account and call, because if you don’t a 3rd party skip-the-line ticket will cost you 25 – 30 EUR.

There is only one ticket for the Colosseum, Forum and Palatine Hill. Tickets cost 12 EUR (+2 EUR online sales fee) and are valid for 2 days (but you can only enter each place once). You can book the tickets online using the link I provided above. Every first Sunday of the month, admission is free and is on a first come, first served basis.

IMG_1864

Roman Colosseum

  • Pantheon

The Pantheon admission is free, and is open from 9.00 – 18.30 from Monday to Saturday and from 9.00 – 13.00 on Sunday. DO NOT book a skip-the-line ticket. First, because it’s free. Second, because there really isn’t much of a line and the line moves fast. Third, because there’s really not much to see inside. Inside is a big dome and several chapels. If you’re looking to book something, maybe a guided tour of the Spanish Steps, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Colosseum, and Forum would be money better spent than a skip-the-line ticket.

IMG_1701

Entrance is free and is on the right (when facing building).

  • Basilica of St. John Lateran

Although this is the papal seat, it’s not as famous as St. Peter’s Basilica. There is no line. Do not buy a ticket whatsoever, unless you want a guided tour. Near the Basilica of St. John Lateran are the Holy Steps, the steps Jesus used when he was brought to face Pontius Pilate. Admission is also free. If you want to go up the stairs, you have to ascend it on your knees.

Basilica of St. John Lateran is open daily from 7.00 – 19.00 during the summer and 7.00 to 18.00 in the winter. The Holy Stairs is open daily from 6.30 – 19.00 during the summer and 6.30 to 18.30 during the winter. It’s good to visit it early though because sometimes they close early for one reason or the other.

IMG_1811

Facade of the Basilica of St. John Lateran

IMG_1814

Holy Steps

 Eating

It’s hard to go wrong with food in Italy. Eat as much as you can! And try out as many new things as possible. But be careful. My Italian friend warned me to never eat at trattorias and osterias in the city because they’re usually tourist traps. And many of them are! On my first day in Italy (not in Rome), I decided to not follow my friend’s advice and eat at a trattoria. I ended up paying a whopping 50 EUR for an antipasto, 2 primi and a 1/2 liter of wine. If I ate like this everyday for 10 days, I’d be broke before my Italian holiday finished!

A sandwich usually costs 5 – 8 EUR and would definitely fill you up for lunch. *yes, I know Asian friends, no rice for lunch* An entire pizza usually costs 6-10 EUR. You should definitely eat a pizza in Rome, at least once. Order the basic, traditional pizza – the Margherita – and you won’t regret it. Plus, since it’s basic, it’ll be the cheapest pizza on the menu. 😉 If you’re into the slow-food movement, drop by Eataly and learn where your food is from. For local food places that won’t break the bank, try Podere Rosa (outskirts of Rome), Franchi Gastronomia (walking distance from Vatican City), and Ristorante Colosseo Luzzi (near the Colosseum). A meal from these food places costs 5 – 8 EUR. Podere Rosa is a pizza place but also serves other Italian dishes. Franchi Gastronomia is a small corner shop that has food items you can point at and order. You can also have them make you a sandwich. Ristorante Coloseo Luzzi is a sit-down restaurant that serves all kinds of Italian food – pasta, pizza, etc.

IMG_1513

A Margherita. 🙂

IMG_1523

Make your own sandwich at Franchi Gastronomia

When you eat at sit-down places, the waiter will keep asking you if you want to order natural water. Don’t order it. It’s expensive. Always bring with you a water bottle filled with water. Italian water from the tap is drinkable. When asked what to order, order wine instead. Wine is just as costly (sometimes even cheaper) than water, and oh boy, it is soooo good! 🙂 Ordering wine in Italy is a bit weird though. I’m used to ordering wine by the glass, but in Italy, you order by the volume: 1/4, 1/2, or 1 liter. A 1/4 liter of wine is enough for two people who are not used to drinking wine all the time with their meals. 1/2 makes for a more happier shared wine. Take note, restaurants usually levy a 3 – 5 EUR service charge per person. And of course, you are not obliged to tip. In fact, don’t tip at all.

I hope I’ve un-confused Rome and Vatican City. If you have any questions, feel free to write a note or comment below. Enjoy your vacation! 🙂

April 9, 2017 | Rome, Italy

Milano Centrale

A friend of mine who has been living in Italy for some time told me that it’s best to be 30 minutes early for your train, especially since tickets are nonrefundable and train platforms can change without much information. And so, being the obedient travelers we are, we had lunch at the central station 2 hours before our scheduled departure. After lunch, we shopped at the nearby grocery store for food and drinks we could carry aboard the train, went up to where the train platforms were, and waited for our platform to be shown on the screen.

It wasn’t complicated, and I’m glad we came early. We did not rush, and we were confident that we weren’t getting left behind. We found seats in front of the screen, so we were able to see when our platform number became available.

Milano Centrale is one of the prettiest train stations I’ve ever been to, and getting to the station early afforded me the time to snap a few photos here and there. The main arrival hall has high ceilings that were apparently patterned after the Union Station in Washington DC. Milano Centrale has 24 platforms, serving 300,000 passengers every day. The building was inaugurated in 1931.

IMG_1180

Milano Centrale Arrival Hall

IMG_1179

The other half of the massive arrival hall

April 03, 2017 | Venice, Italy

To Helsingor or Not To Helsingor

Two days ago, Andrew and I decided to do an overnight trip to Helsingor. I’ve always wanted to go, but could never find the time. I’ve also been traveling so much the last few weeks by myself. I just wanted to travel with Andrew for fun before another crazy amount of solo-traveling for work.

So here we are. Elsinore. Also called Helsingor; mostly known for its Kronborg Castle, where Shakespeare’s Hamlet is set. We arrived yesterday from an hour long train ride from Copenhagen, just in time for a surprisingly delicious Chinese lunch at Asia House Restaurant (click here to virtually visit the restaurant). We both had Peking Soup (which seems to be served in most Asian cuisine places in Helsingor), which came as part of the lunch menu. Andrew ordered roast duck with mushrooms. I ordered beef with vegetables. Both orders were served with rice and the servings were enough for one moderately hungry person. Both orders and the soup were quite delicious. In fact, this may be the most authentic-tasting Chinese food I’ve had in Europe since I moved; enough for me to consider taking another one-hour train ride one day just to eat Chinese food.

After lunch, visited the Kronborg Castle. The castle closes at 4pm. It was already 2pm when we got there, so we had to quickly deposit our carry-on bag into one of the castle’s free lockers and move as fast as we can so as to make our entrance well worth it. Luckily, we finished viewing all opened rooms in the castle and even spent a bit of time browsing the gift shop. Embarrassingly, we may have been the last to leave the castle premises. They had to re-open the big doors to let us out, and we had to profusely apologize for putting more work on them.

A recycled fish exhibit just right outside the Kronborg Castle

IMG_6501

A recycled fish exhibit right outside Kronborg Castle

My most and least favorite part of the Kronborg castle where the castle’s casemates. The casemates are gloomy, cold and dark underground passages under the castle. Some of the passages were open to the public. This is by far the longest and most complicated underground passage I’ve ever been to. But I don’t really have much to compare. My only other underground passage experience was in the old city in Accra, Israel. When I visited Accra, most of the passages were blocked, so the entire experience only took 5 minutes. But this one – in Kronborg – took a loooong time. Other than the arrows on the wall, I did not have a guide to lead me. It was eerie. And I had to freakin’ use my cellphone flashlight to help me see the way. I also had to mind my step. Not only was the ground uneven, some had cobblestones, some  were cemented, and some just had sand.

The Kronborg Castle tower offers magnificent views of the city, the Øresund Strait and Sweden at a distance. There are 145 round tower steps, which surprisingly were not as narrow as many round tower steps I’ve taken. I usually hate steps, but this one was not really much of a chore. Other than occasional dizzy spells (because I felt like I was going round in circles both going up and going down the tower), I didn’t really feel a need to stop and catch my breath. In comparison, I would say the Møns Klint staircase is far worse than this.

After 4pm, Andrew and I left the Kronborg castle, walked along the banks and caught a bus to our hotel which was 30 minutes away from the city center. It was the only hotel available at a fairly reasonable price at such a short notice. The hotel has its own restaurant and serves free breakfast.

Unfortunately, if you want to have your lunch and dinner at the hotel as well, you will need to order in advance. The nearest restaurant is 15 minutes west of the hotel (by feet). It’s called the Hamlet Asia Restaurant, an all-you-can-eat fusion Asian cuisine (I know, Asian cuisine in Denmark) for 139 DKK. Soup, main course, and desserts are all in. Drinks are 45 DKK on average.

Tomorrow, we check out of our hotel and travel back to the city center to explore some more. We are also thinking of taking the 7 EUR ferry to Helsingborg, Sweden. Perhaps go shopping at the H&M store there. We’ll see. But we look forward to more adventures. 🙂

October 08, 2016 | Helsingor, Denmark