Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Traversing Tuscany

Florence (Part 2 of Italian Adventures)

 “Any arbitrary turning along the way and I would be elsewhere; I would be different.” 
-Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun

Tuscany is the heart of Italy.  The subject of numerous works of art, the inspiration of various musical scores & the setting of some romantic films, traversing its wonders and tasting its treats almost sounds cliche. Despite this, people don’t seem to get tired; its cobblestone streets still attract countless of photo-hungry tourists even in winter.

Even I joined the bandwagon.  And I don’t regret it.

Its capital, Florence, served as the cradle of the Renaissance; up to now classical singers learn Italian to sing its songs.  Aside from the jaw dropping tours in Accademia (they did an awesome job in restoring David)
and Uffizi, I immensely enjoyed every room in the grandiose Pitti Palace.  In exploring its rooms, I felt almost part of the Medici family :p

From the Tuscan capital Florence, one can take a daytrip to Sienna, Pisa, and San Gimignano to see, taste, and feel the highlights of Central Italy.

I rode a tour bus to see all of these in one day.  The tour guides (from Tuscany experts) were amazing; all of them are multilingual and they shared valuable insight about the city.  

Siena is a medieval city of brick in a distinct red brown…a hue also referred too as Siena.  Here one can marvel at dozens of Gothic architecture as it boasts of the art of Duccio, Simone Martini, and the Lorenzetti brothers. 

Emperor Augustus founded Siena as a Roman colony and it flourished in the 13th and 14th centuries.  The Black Death hit the city in 1348, killing almost three quarters of the population, destroying the social fabric, and upsetting the economy.  It never recovered and much of it has barely changed.

That seems to be a blessing in disguise as up to now we can marvel at this medieval gem.

Several stepped alleys lead down to Piazza del Campo.  Like a sloping scallop shell, the Campo was first laid out in 1100s on the former site of the Roman forum.  White marble lines divide the pavement into nine sections, representing the oligarchy that ruled over Siena’s greatest republican era, the Council of Nine.

Piazza del Duomo is also a sight to behold. Besides forming an L with the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, there stands the museum complex of Santa Maria della Scalla. Its exterior is colored like a serpent and its interiors are majestic in different marble colors.

With the tour group, we managed to have a quickie with Pisa. We came in really early (around 9am) to avoid the line & the pickpockets. Like most Italy fanatics, I got to nudge its leaning tower on photo :) I wish we had more time for the cathedral tour though.

Last but not the least, there's the quaint town of San Gimignano. Even just the scent of its grass makes your skin tingle. I bought shirts and other items for my friends there since there were a lot of really nice shops in the area.  Too bad it was already dark when we got to the area; I wasn't able to take much photos.  

I'll definitely come back to Tuscany.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Roaming Rome

Rome is filled with exhilarating sights that can attest to its old-world grandeur. Last month, I was able to fulfill my dream of spending my birthday weekend there. Here are some memorable Roman sites for me:

1. Colosseum (aka Flavian Ampitheater)

Hiking this is quite a feat for the knees.  Built of concrete and stone during the reign of emperor Vespasian in 72 AD, his successor Titus inaugurated and completed it in 80AD with a bloody combat lasting many weeks, between gladiators and wild beasts.

The stadium could hold as many as 87,000 spectators.  Seats were sectioned in three levels, dividing the people by social rank and gender. Public spectacles such as mock battles, animal hunts, executions and reenactments were for free.  However, spectators had to obtain a terra-cotta disc or tessera to enter.

Nowadays, people have to pay for admission to fund the careful monitoring of cracks and structural weaknesses.  It is quite scary to stand at its foot and feel the subway vibrations below.

2. Arch of Constantine

Next to the Colosseum is a triumphal arch erected by the Senate in 315 AD to honor Constantine’s defeat of the pagan Maxentius at the battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 AD.  Arco di Constantino or the Arch of Constantine marks a period of great change in Rome’s history as Constantine ended the centuries-long persecution of Christians after his conversion.

3. Pompeii

Can’t get enough of coliseums? After 2 train rides from Rome’s Termini, one can enjoy exploring other coliseums and archeological wonders in Pompeii.

Among which is 5th Century BC Teatro Grande in the east still used by some performances today; and Anfiteatro in the western end, one of Italy’s most complete and oldest ampitheaters, dating from 80 BC.

Although it used to be Italy’s most important commercial center, Pompeii was completely destroyed by Mt. Vesuvius on Aug 24, 79 AD.

Effectively frozen in time with a thick layer of ash for almost 2,000 years, the excavated ruins provide an unparalleled insight into the everyday life of the ancient Romans.  People can still admire the notoriously erotic art in their bathhouses, and the majestic altars for their gods.

4. Vatican

For art history aficionados and Catholic devotees, you shouldn’t miss a trip to the tiniest sovereign state, the Vatican City.

Aside from the public mass on Sundays, each Wednesday, whenever the pope is in Rome, pilgrims get a chance to catch a glimpse of his Holiness.  People from all over the world start coming in at 8 in the morning to get good seats in the Paul VI Hall of Audiences or in St. Peter’s Square.

There are those who avail of the free tickets three days in advance from the Swiss Guards by the bronze doors just after the security at St. Peter’s.  While others download a request form and fax it to the Prefecture of the Papal Household.

Aside from the natural high and deluge of blessings you may get from getting to see and pray with the pope, nothing else quite lives up to the awe-inspiring collections of the Vatican Museums.  A 15-minute walk from St. Peter’s, it’s a vast treasure trove of paintings, sculptures, and other works of art collected by the popes through centuries.  The museums include several monumental works such as the Chapel of Beato Angelico, the Raphael Rooms, Loggia, the Borgia Apartment and the much-celebrated Sistine Chapel… where unfortunately it was forbidden to take pictures. 

 5. Castel Sant'Angelo

For Dan Brown fans, Castel Sant’ Angelo has an irrevocable appeal.  The bulky cylindrical fortress on the Vatican side of the Tiber has a complex history and is known for its torture chambers utilized in the medieval period. Too bad the dungeons are only usually open on summer evenings. 

Aside from classical music and jazz in summer, one can also enjoy the sight of dogs romping amidst the lush gardens.

6. Navona

Just across the Vatican and Castel Sant’ Angelo lies Rome’s true heart…the Centro Storico or the historic center. It flourished during the Renaissance and at present, its streets and alleys are crammed with mysterious churches, lavish fountains, and excited tourists. There you can find Rome’s most famous square…the splendidly baroque Piazza Navona. 

While Rome’s most famous Trevi Fountain is undergoing an extensive cleanup this season, kids and kids at heart can enjoy the other fountains at Navona.  Fontana dei Qattro Fiumi or the Fountain of Four Rivers opposite 17th Century Sant’ Agnese in Agone is a typical exuberant Bernini creation.  Topped with an Egyptian obelisk, its four stone personifications below symbolize the world’s greatest rivers: the Ganges, Danube, River Plate and Nile.  At the southern end are Bernini’s Fontana del Moro or Fountain of the Moor and the 19th Century addition called Fontana di Nettuno or the Fountain of Neptune.

7. Pantheon 

The Temple to all the Gods is among the architectural wonders of the world. Originally built in 27 BC by Marcus Agrippa and was entirely reconstructed by Hadrian in the early second century AD.  Animals were once sacrificed and burned in the center; and the smoke escaped through its natural light source…the oculus.

But since the 7th Century, the Pantheon has been used as a Catholic Church and it’s informally known as Santa Maria della Rotonda.  It also serves as the resting plase of Raphael and two Italian Kings: Vittorio Emanuele II and his successor, Umberto I.  It’s still an amazing sight when it rains as a slight haze forms inside when it drizzles.

Brimming with art, food, and history in every corner, Rome will definitely leave any tourist craving for more. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Bida Balikbayan

This balikbayan season, Daybreak chanced upon a new Filipino fusion restaurant in Fairview that is delightfully amusing. Owned by the quirky loveteam Jolina Magdangal & Marvin Agustin, here one can enjoy his/her favorite comfort food with ease. Here are some of the fun stuff I've tried:

1. Cho Pusit
Squid stuffed with delectable chorizo, it has a bit of a kick that excites the palate. 

2. Crispy Pata flakes
This fused the lovable elements of adobo flakes and crispy pata together. Now we can enjoy crispy pata w/o having to worry how to chop it up. So convenient, you can even have this on your first date.

3. Heavenly Rice
As bright&cheery as palabok, this goes well with anything! As in!

4. White Chocolate Chocnut Champorado-- Jolina's favorite!
Kids of all ages will surely love this. 

5.Sago Gulaman
How can you say no to this charmer?:)

6. Ultimate Loveteam
Nilagang Pares? hot heavenly tenderness. Crispy bagnet? Mouthwatering crunchiness. You have to try it for yourself so you'd know I'm not exaggerating.

Want more? Catch Morning Pick on Daybreak on 9TV (Mon-Fri 7-8:30am)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas Gift Suggestions

With Christmas just around the corner, many of us are cramming mall stalls and bazaars for gift ideas.  Well, fret not because here are some fuss-free stuff you can order in the Metro that your friends will definitely enjoy:

1. Prose (from Poetry and Prose Patisserie, Shangrila Mall)

'Tis the season to be jolly! To achieve this, catch up with friends (their chika is like modern-day prose) and go red all the way with this French-inspired dessert.  If you're quite wary about your friends'  sugar intake, they have it in cute diet-friendly miniature versions too.

2.  Backyard Coffee (Metro Pointe Center, P. Guevarra, San Juan)

There's nothing backward about the backyard.  They offer a wide range of desserts to complement your drinks and inspire your creative juices to gush forth.  You can offer a slice of this inspiration to your loved ones.

3. Infinity Shawl (Regine's Boutique)

Can't decide which dress or shawl to give to your friend?  Why not give him/her infinite possibilities in his/her favourite colour?:) Keep the info sheet so you would be guided while having fun.

4. Hi-5 House Hits (Resorts World Manila)

Surprise your little ones with tickets to the whacky group's biggest concert in Manila anytime from December 19-22.  Memorize their songs before you head to the party so you can do the moves.

5. Cookies (Bald Baker, BGC)

Match your matcha and unleash your friends'  inner cookie monster.  My personal fave is Matcha with black sesame, forecast to be the most hip flavour this 2015.

6. Ravioli cun Funghi Porcini (Benassi Ristorante Italiano, Ortigas)

For mushroom addicts, this straightforward modern Italian Restaurant is for you.  They also have remarkable risotto and unforgettable mascarpone (their take on tiramisu, minus the bitter aftertaste ;))

7.  Bejewelled cookies (Krit & Kaye) 

If you adored Lisa Frank as a child, then you'll go gaga over the floral-inspired designs of Krit & Kaye.  Order cake bouquets for your family or shiny shimmering splendid cookies with edible pearls and glitters for your friends.  

8. Perfume

SM Aura recently celebrated its Fragrance Fest.  You could actually go safe and pick scents from the Fresh, Fruity, and Floral families or you could go wild with Oceanic, Oriental, Spicy or even Woody. Have fun testing!

9. Linguini Fini (Megamall)

If you want to go for slow food this Christmas but you don't have the luxury of time to slave away in the kitchen, now's the time to try fresh, nose to tail goodness in this restaurant.  If you want to be a bit adventurous, enjoy their Papardelle Nose to Tail Bolo (flat pasta with pork testa, veal and oxtail ragu, and parmigiano reggiano). Fine pleasure! 

10. Disney on Ice: Dare to Dream (Araneta Center)

Celebrate with Ms Intercontinental 2014 2nd Runner-up Kris Tiffany Janson and her Bb Pilipinas sisters.  Delight in seeing your favourite Disney characters prance and dance on ice in our tropical country!  Show runs from Dec 25-Jan 4.

For more Christmas tips and ideas, catch Morning Pick (Monday-Friday, 7-8:30am) on Daybreak (9TV..soon to be CNN Philippines)