I know many parts of the world still have travel restrictions currently and some areas are just coming out of lockdown from this COVID-19 pandemic. We don’t know if world travel would ever be the same again, however I just wanted to feature a long overdue post about a trip that we made some time ago. In fact, we made this trip exactly a year past already, in May of 2019.
We rode the Bernina Express. This is touted as one of the most scenic train rides in the world and it runs on the highest railway accross the Alps. We boarded the train at Tirano, Italy and traveled to St. Moritz, Switzerland.
By the way, in this time of pandemic and limited travel, I saw that there are virtual train rides around the world that you can experience (see this link) right now. Bernina Express is one of them.
The Bernina Express travels through the UNESCO World Heritage site via the Rhaetian Railway. When we say World Heritage Site, it is a landmark or area, that is selected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for having cultural, historical, scientific or other form of significance, and that it is legally protected by international treaties.
And off we go….
The train has comfortable seats and is roomy inside. The glass windows are huge and are up to the ceiling, offering uninterrupted views of the breath-taking landscapes.
We passed through bridges and tunnels, mountains and valleys, towns and even lakes. No underwater tunnel though.
Photo below is the Lago di Poschiavo, a naturallake in the Poschiavo valley near Miralago, Switzerland.
The landscape gradually changed as we went higher and higher in altitude. Not too long from then we were coursing through the Alps. We were on top of the world!
After a little more than 2 hours, we finally arrived at St. Moritz, Switzerland where we boarded off the train. We spent only a shortwhile there, perhaps only to take some photos, and then we headed back to Italy.
This is an instance that the journey is as good, maybe even better, than the destination. A wonderful ride indeed.
Here’s a short video clip of the train ride as we were navigating through the snow and glaziers that it was like the Polar Express:
They say that in every dark cloud there is a silver lining. I totally understand that what is going through our world today with this pandemic is alarming and quite nerve-racking to many, yet maybe there are some lessons we can learn from this time of crisis.
I read from one blogger from Italy, a nation that is hardly hit by this COVID-19 pandemic, on how he have learned something from this calamity. He said that he has a “bad” habit of going to a coffee shop 3 to 4 times a day. But since many establishments are closed, coffee shops included, he now brings to work coffee from home in a thermos, and he realized that he was wasting lots of money before. An eye-opening reality.
I agree with his realization. Do we really need to go to the coffee shop several times a day? Do we really need to spend lots of our time and money in clubs and bars? Do we really need to eat in a restaurant every night just because we can? Do we really need to go to the mall to buy that 100th pair of shoes?
What we might think is important before, may not be so important after all. This changing times changed our perspective.
I have a friend that posted a photo of a store where uniformed police officers standing guard to a huge pile of toilet paper. That may be extreme, but I believe they were trying to enforce a limit on how much a buyer could get. Who would have thought that we will see something like this, for all we know is they guard only valuable things like gold bars and jewelries. I guess you cannot wipe your behind with your jewelries, nor could it make you clean.
In time of crisis we determine which ones are needs, and the rest are just wants.
It is also interesting in this crucial time that we now have deemed the healthcare workers, (from doctors, nurses, to even the ones that clean and sanitize our hospitals), and the farmers who provide our food, and the grocery workers that stock our food, and the truck drivers that keep the pipeline of essential supplies going to where it is needed, and the police officers that implement the law of lockdowns and curfews – are people more important than movie actors and actresses, pop singers, professional athletes, and other famous people we used to treat as gods.
I have nothing against famous people. What I am against is how we view them compared to the people around us that give us valuable service. Let us give these “regular” people their proper due.
Since we are advised to do social distancing, I encourage all of us to do our fair share of this. I know some of the recommendations by the health authorities may not be feasible to some. Like there is a recommendation that no group of 10 or more people should gather together. But how about those people in very densely populated cities where there might be 10 people already sleeping in one room? How can you do social distancing of at least 6 feet apart, if you already live like sardines?
As we are forced to stay home, let us just be grateful to spend time with our own family – our children, our parents, our siblings – the most important people in our lives that we barely spend time with before. Even though we are not in a beautiful vacation resort or in a cruise to an exotic place, may we find this opportune time with our families, inside the four walls of our home, precious and productive.
It is quite sad to think that it took a pandemic for us to set straight our priorities in life. I know that this crisis will also pass just like every problem we have, but I hope that the lessons we learned from this, we will not forget.
(*Photo taken during our visit last year, way before the travel ban and lockdown.)
Pompeii is an ancient Roman city near the modern day Naples in southern Italy. On that fateful moment in AD 79, it was suddenly buried in 4 to 6 meters of volcanic ash and debris during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
The city remained frozen in time, concealed under ash and rocks until it was discovered by surveying engineer in 1748. With methodical excavation, evidence of a once thriving city was unearthed.
When we visited Pompeii several weeks ago, we were able to witness the ruins, as well as take a peek at a slice of ancient Roman life.
Photo below is one of the main streets, where horse-drawn carriages or chariots pass through. It is amazing how the stone-paved road is in very good condition.
Though the pedestrians, experts believe, walk on the sidewalk and use the step-stones (big stones in the middle of the road) to cross to the other side of the road. The reason why pedestrians don’t walk in the stone-paved road was that most of the time runoff water was flowing in the road as part of their water drainage system. Plus, sewage from homes also stream through it, and you definitely don’t want to step on that.
Below is an entry way to a well-to-do home. I was impressed on the intricacy of the mosaic art on the floor.
Here is a courtyard garden inside the largest home on the block. It was believed that this residence was owned by a prominent Roman of the ruling class.
Below is an ancient eatery or food vendor, perhaps like the modern day McDonald’s or your local carinderia. The holes in the ‘counter’ are where the pots or vessels containing food were kept warm by a fire underneath.
Here is their theater (next photo) where they watch plays and concerts. I wonder what shows they have then. Maybe “The Three Roman Tenors?” Or perhaps “The Phantom of the Colosseum?”
The Romans also have public bath houses. The photo below, believe it or not, is a sauna room. A wood-burning furnace outside sends warm air under the raised floor to heat the room.
Next is a sample of their wall art. Much nicer than the modern day graffiti, I would say.
They also have some sort of sports complex. The facility below is a training ground for gladiators.
Below is Pompeii’s town plaza. At the backdrop is Mount Vesuvius, which is considered an active volcano up to this day, though the last time it erupted was in 1944.
As we walked around the ruins, I have noticed that there were lots and lots of pillars.
I supposed these columns that are still standing today, are testaments of a once proud and prosperous city, and what it stood for. Sorry, pun intended.
Italian cuisine is one of the best among the world’s cuisine. It is one of the most popular and most copied type of food as well. And where can you find the best authentic Italian food? In Italy of course!
When we visited Italy last month, we covered most of the country, from the northern region, with cities like Milan and Venice, to the central region which is Tuscany, including the cities of Pisa and Florence, and to the southern region, in Rome and even down to the Amalfi coast.
By the way, we avail the services of JDC Private Tours when we were in Italy, that’s why we were able to visit so many places and packed so many activities in such a short period of time. I was more than happy and have only compliments of their business.
Part of our trip of course was sampling authentic Italian food. Their cuisine is known for its regional diversity, especially between the north and south of the Italian peninsula.
Overall, the Italian foods that we ate, from the ‘street’ and on-the-go food to the long sit-down fine dining with 5-course dinner, (one evening we’re treated out by a friend from Rome and we ate dinner for almost 2 hours!), and from the appetizer like bruschetta, to the dessert like tiramisu, were all very good. It was really a delightful gastronomical experience.
Here in the United States, when we talked about Italian food, we think mostly of pizza and pasta. However, many of the “Italian” food we have here are somewhat modified to cater to the American taste.
For instance, when we went to one local restaurant in Rome, there was a note in their menu that says, “we don’t serve spaghetti with meatballs, fettucini alfredo, and lasagna.” That was interesting. Perhaps that’s all the American tourists order, and to the locals those were not even really authentic Italian dishes.
To say that Italy have many kinds of pasta, is an understatement. After all it is the mecca of pasta. But one thing peculiar is all their pasta are served “al dente.” Meaning it is really firm, teetering to raw, that you have to bite and chew it before you can swallow.
Another thing is that the Italian pizza is not served pre-sliced. They give it to you as a whole piece, fresh from the wood-burning oven, and they give a fork and a knife for you to slice it yourself. I heard that when they first introduced pizza in New York City long long time ago, somebody had the bright idea of serving it by the slice and made more money from it. Since then pizza in the US is served pre-sliced.
In one restaurant we went to in northern Italy, I was impressed on how many types of sauce or variation they have for pizza. The menu had 3 pages just for pizza! And Hawaiian pizza? That’s not even in the menu, because as you can surmise, that’s an American version of an Italian dish.
As a Filipino who grew up in Manila, I also have a different concept of an Italian dish. My favorite is the Greenwich pizza, which I understand is a Filipino brand of pizzeria. Furthermore, I used to think that spaghetti always have a sweet-tasting sauce, just like how my mother prepares it, which is close to the taste of spaghetti in Jollibee, the largest Filipino chain of fast-food restaurants.
When I migrated to America more than 20 years ago, the first time we dined in an “authentic” Italian Restaurant in New Jersey named Trattoria, I was a little surprised that the spaghetti tasted “sour.” In fact me and my wife looked at each other and said to ourselves, maybe the sauce was spoiled as it tasted different. That was an ignoramus moment for us.
Back to our tour of Italy, we landed in Milan airport and stayed in Milan for two nights. On our first day, we were so tired and jet-lagged that my son and daughter went to sleep without having dinner. But my wife and I, despite being tired, felt the hunger pangs and so we went out to eat.
Since we were in the heart of the city of Milan, there were several decent restaurants around our hotel. In fact in our hotel itself was a good ‘ristorante,’ but my wife and I wanted to explore the city. And lo and behold, just walking two blocks from where we were staying, we found what we were looking for.
We were excited as we enter the restaurant. Then we ordered our very first meal in Italy. I understand that you cannot go wrong if you order pasta in Italy, and that’s what I did. I ordered spaghetti. And when I tasted the spaghetti, it was all what I envisioned. It was good.
In case you are wondering what restaurant we went to for our first Italian dinner?
It was Jollibee!
(*Jollibee opened in Milan last year, and was the first ever Jollibee branch and only one so far in Europe.)
When we talk about Italy’s countryside what comes to mind are the picturesque rolling hills and bountiful vineyards of Tuscany.
And there’s no better way to tour this scenic place than the iconic Italian way – riding the Vespa or the Fiat. Well, you could do it too with a Ferrari convertible but that would cost you an arm and a leg.
During our visit to Italy we did the Tuscany Vespa Tour. (This is not a sponsored article though I would gladly accept even a free pizza if they offer.) Some of us rode the Vespa scooter while some of us rode the classic small Fiat car. I did the Vespa.
We picked up the Vespa and the Fiat from the tour’s office parking lot. After a brief tutorial, as I have not ridden a motorcycle since more than 25 years ago, I became more comfortable of riding it. I was at least confident that I would still be alive after the tour.
Then off we go!
Our first stop was at a local vineyard.
After parking our motorcycles and cars, we toured the place which includes wine tasting. I am not really into wine, but they had prepared free pasta lunch too, so I was more than happy. Plus I don’t think indulging in wine and riding a motorcycle afterwards was a good idea.
I even saw a black cat at the winery. Was it a bad omen? Should we not continue on our trip? Nah!
After the vineyard tour, we were back on the road again.
Our next stop was a quaint town. We parked our vehicles and walked around the small town. Here we tasted free samples of truffle spreads, different kinds of cheese, and balsalmic vinegar offered in the local stores. Their balsalmic vinegar tastes good that it rivals the sukang Iloco (being a half-bred Ilocano, I’m still biased for the sukang Iloco).
After hitting the road again, our last stop was an old fortress. Its medieval courtyard was transformed into shops and eateries. There were no sword-wielding knights nor jousting tournament though. The closest we had to a battle were tourists jostling to buy the ever popular Italian gelato. Of course we had some too.
Overall, it was a really fun ride. You may think that this small scooter is under power, but it is not. Yes it is not as muscular as the Harley-Davidson, but this Vespa Sprint model with its 125 cc cylinder can still fly through the Tuscan hills.
It was a swell experience to fly the Tuscan roads with the sunlight on my eyes, wind on my hair (even though I don’t have much) and bugs in my face. Wait…..what?
Actually “flying” has a double meaning here, as this includes the flying insects that may hit your face as you zoom through the hills. I must be in a state of exhilaration with my mouth wide open that one insect hit my teeth. Good thing I was able to spit it out.
Italian bug tasting? Not included in this tour.
From the roads of Tuscany,
(*All photos taken with an iPhone. Thanks to my unofficial photographers who took some of the pictures. A shout out to JDC Private Tours, who made our tour of Italy such a pleasant experience.)