Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Tuesday blues

For those having a regular Monday to Friday, 9-5 job, you know what Monday blues are. Call it Monday blues, or Maniac Monday...it doesn't change the fact that it's always difficult to get back to work on Monday after the weekend, whether or not you've had an exhausting one or a relaxing one.

Well, my Mondays are no longer blue for me! Not for the next 3 Mondays at least, plus yesterday. I have every Monday off till the 2nd last week of February :o). Have to use up my overtime hours, so instead of taking a compact 1 week off from work, I will spread them out nicely so that I get a 4 day work-week and 3 day weekend instead. This will be my 3rd time spreading out my overtime/vacation days like that, and I tell you, it's FANTASTIC! Especially during the winter month of February when it's supposed to be the coldest/most depressing.

So no more Monday blues for me! I'll be stuck with Tuesday blues instead, but it's not as bad as Monday blues, since Tuesday is actually closer to the weekend than Monday ;o).

My 1st Monday off was quite a productive one, I think. Had intended to get up at 11-ish, but kinda drifted in and out of sleep until 13:30hrs. Had breakfast/brunch, and then started WORKING right away! As in, cleaning up the apartment. Vacuuming every little corner, cleaning the bathroom, the toilet, dusting...it was hard work! Was supposed to try out boxing at the fitness centre in the evening together with Wagma, but it was cancelled because Wagma had something coming up in the end, so cleaning the apartment was my alternative workout (and a very useful one too).

I want to make this official: my vacuum cleaner is FIRED! Yes, fired. It's not the sucker it used to be. Instead of doing its work obediently, it has been acting up lately. Whenever I pull out its extension wire, it keeps retracting it back to a point that it takes extra effort for me to pull it around to far ends of the room. It's been on strike like this for some time now, and I have been pushing off the decision to fire it for as long as I can bear. I mean, compared to other working members in the House of Love, this sucker has it easy by only needing to work once a month, yet it's being defiant.

See what mean?

After 10mins, wire becomes shorter.

Therefore, enough is enough. Its last day was yesterday, and since I now have a car at my disposal for the next 5 weeks (the reward of dropping off vacationing friends at the airport), you can be sure that I am going out to buy a brand new sucker.

Anyway...after the hours of cleaning the apartment, and then myself (shower), it became evening already so I decided to couch out and watch a movie until hubby returned home from work. An off day, gone just like that... .

I really need to try getting up earlier on my days off...just so I can enjoy them longer... .

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Can't bare it...

"Politicians are airing suggestions to allow topless bathing at public pools"

That was the sub-heading of an article I read in The Copenhagen Post recently. Basically, it's about how some politicians want to allow women to swim topless in the public swimming centres, essentially because if guys can do it, why can't women?

It is SO absurd! I mean, do guys have BREASTS?!? No! So what...has it come down to "either we bare all like them, or they put on bikini tops like us"??? Seriously, I'm really tired of feminist groups who think men and women should be the same, do the same and behave the same. We're NOT the same! Get over it! Accept it! We are however, equal....and that's not the same as "the same"... . In other words, we have equal access to the swimming centres, but we do not dress the same way while in there. See the difference?

A quote from the article: ‘We’re tired of women being sex symbols who aren’t allowed to have armpit hair or on their legs,’ said Maria Høeg, a spokesperson for the Bare Breasts group.

Well Ms Maria Hag, oops! I mean, Høeg...who on earth told you that women are NOT ALLOWED to have armpit hair, leg hair or hair somewhere else where I won't mention??? Who's stopping you from growing your own forest anywhere you want on your piece of land? Most of us choose to do so or not based on our own personal hygiene and beauty preference, not because men insist on it.

Sure, most guys would prefer their women not to feel like hairy men, but personally, I'm sure most women would prefer not to feel like hairy men either. Anyway, what does armpit hair or leg hair have to do with breasts again? Hmm... .

I don't dig being topless on the beach either, but at least those who do that usually do it because they want to avoid bikini tan lines when they sunbathe. But the purpose on being topless in an indoor swimming centre would be what? I mean, I already sometimes get traumatised from seeing too many hanging, wrinkly breasts in the ladies shower, so the least one could do is to put on some kind of support and covering while swimming.

Oh well, if they really go ahead with allowing this, then at least there is a specified time for it. Just as long as the slotted time is set to some time very early in the morning so that it won't interfere with my usual swimming time... .

Then again, my swimming membership is already expiring next Tuesday, so you know what? Maybe I shouldn't care much about this anyway... .

Sunday, 20 January 2008

When in Rome, do as the Romans do .... Day VII and Day VIII

Our last full day in Rome was meant to be shopping day for me...but believe or not, I did not do ANY shopping! Yes, I am a woman, and yes, I do love to shop, but somehow, I decided that I didn't want to bother shopping in Rome after all. I mean, they do have some stupid shopping hours anyway because of their siestas in the middle of the day. So basically, when Sheila and Martin wakes up, the shop workers go to sleep.

If I remember correctly, the only time we got out of our hotel room was to go eat dinner, and not at an Italian restaurant, but a CHINESE one instead! Yeah, you can tell by now that we were getting rather tired of this city and counting down the hours to return to home sweet home in Copenhagen.

Basically, this was spent making our way to the airport, and then queuing up for 2 whole hours at the Sterling check-in counter! TWO hours queuing up! Can you imagine? I mean, we were able to visit some of the major attractions with a queue length of not more than 15mins, yet at the airport, we were hit with a 2 hour long queue that just wasn't moving. Very inefficient. That had really tested some people's patience though, because we got to witness an argument between a Danish family and an Italian couple, who accused the Danish family of cutting the queue.

Anyway, our plane was delayed in take-off as well, which meant that we arrived home an hour later than expected. Btw, even though it wasn't the Italian national airline that we flew with, do you know what Alitalia stands for?

Always Late In Taking off, Always Late In Arrival

As if to show us what real efficiency was, every thing ran like clock-work when we touched down in Copenhagen: our luggage was already circling on the belt at baggage claim when we got there, our train from the airport to Nørreport Station arrived within 2 mins, and our bus from Nørreport Station to home arrived within 5 mins. Every thing WORKED together!!! It was as if Copenhagen was mocking us with Danish efficiency...well, at least until the next time the bus or train gets delayed.

Anyway...no more Rome for us, that's for sure. Venice and Florence would be the place for us to go when we think of Italy again...but until then, we'll give other countries a go first.

To end, allow me to leave you with this true story I read about an Italian tourist bus driver who was driving a Chinese tour group around for a couple of days. Apparently, he was psychologically sick, because he started to masturbate while driving, in full view of the female tour leader who was in obvious shock! He was asked to stop, but when they were having a break at the tank station, he started to masturbate openly again, this time, in full view of the other members of the group. You would probably find this difficult to believe after reading it; I know I did, but believe me, it's been officially reported so it's true.

I know that Italians use a lot of body language to mean different things, but man...I didn't know that masturbating means "Welcome to Italy!"

When in Rome, do as the Romans do .... Day VI

Colosseum day! We had so far only seen the Colosseum from the outside, so this was the day we would finally check it out inside.

Our hotel was within walking distance from the Colosseum, so that was easy enough. We arrived on site around 12 noon, and by then, the queue had grown. However, we were not too worried about that because I knew an entrance that would take us a mere 15mins to get in instead of 1 - 1½hrs otherwise :o).

So for those who are planning a visit to Rome, take note! Because I am going to tell you where this lesser known entrance is!

Click to see larger image.

The yellow circle is where you should go to get your tickets in a mere 15mins. Not many people know about it, because it is actually the entrance to the Palatino ruins, not the Colosseum. However, the ticket that you buy for the Palatino includes the entrance ticket to the Colosseum for €11! So yeah, now you know. It felt good to be able to walk past the looooooong queue of people when entering the Colosseum, since they could only look on enviously and wonder why we could just skip the queue like a VIP ;o).

Anyway, we would not have known this little "secret" if I hadn't been paying attention to our guide who was with us for the Catacomb tour. So the moral of the story is: ALWAYS pay attention to what your guide tells you!

So first, pictures from inside the Palatino. It's actually quite interesting:

Inside at last!

Checking out that man who was checking me out.


You're too big to fit in there, honey bunny!

Ruins are such great places for picteresque shots.

Rome-mantic couple

Btw, did you know that the English word "palace" is actually from the Italian word "Palatino"? Well, now you know.

Time now for the real attraction that we wanted to see - the Colosseum!

Doesn't look like what you thought it looks like, huh? Well, you have to imagine a wooden floor covering over the basement which you see now.

And you have to imagine stepped-seats all around for spectators.

Here's Martin imagining as hard as he could.

The basement where they kept all the animals.

I watched the movie Gladiator starring Russell Crowe for the 1st time after returning from Rome. Man, it was good! But that was what I've been hearing from those who had already watched it, and since it was a Ridley Scott movie, I expected nothing less than excellent from him. It really helps you to see the grandness of the Colosseum in that time, so if you're not good at imagining from the pictures above, then go watch Gladiator. Btw, there was a Danish actress (Connie Nielsen in a lead role) and Danish actor (minor role) in that movie. Kinda cool.

Ok, ok...if you haven't watched Gladiator yet and are either too lazy to do so or it's not your kind of movie, and you lack imagination, then you can watch this Pepsi commercial instead:

Happy now?

We had a dinner cruise booked later that evening at 21:00hrs, so we had decided to return to our hotel and relax till it was time to head to the pier. Martin really has me to thank for an exciting life because as usual, I was pushing the limits of time to get to our destination ;o). I mean, even though we were in Italy, where time was as flexible as as a rubber band, he was still running on Danish clock-work.

So we did have to run quite a bit to the metro, then once we got off the metro, we had to run a bit more to the river before we were able to see that time would not run out on us after all.

The dinner cruise was ok, I guess. I was actually expecting something way more grand, and at least tiramisu for dessert, but no...it was nothing really spectacular. Not for the price, at least. Oh well, that was our belated romantic Christmas dinner, so better than nothing.

Made it on time!

Full after a 4-course meal.

Interesting Christmas deco - Glitter Belt!

Thus ends our day... . Well, almost. We wanted to take the metro back to our hotel since we were far from walking distance to it, but it turned out that even though it was only 23:30hrs on a freakin' Friday night, the metro had already closed for business! So guess what? We had to WALK all the way back, and that took around 40mins! Oh well...like I said in a previous post, we just couldn't get enough of walking...it seemed.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

When in Rome, do as the Romans do .... Day V

Finally, Christmas holidays were over, so we could do some sightseeing as real tourists! We had decided to get up early and head down to the Vatican City straight after our crappy hotel breakfast, in the hopes that we would not have to queue up for too long. The two main attractions there were of course the Vatican Museum, where Michelangelo's original "Creation" painting can be seen in the Sistine Chapel as well as his "Last Judgement" painting, and St. Peters Basilica. I had not been inside the Vatican Museum the last time, so had wanted to go in this time.

We arrived there around 09:15hrs, and the Vatican Museum wasn't going to be opened until 10:00hrs. But my goodness! I had never in my life seen such a long queue before! The closest would be the queue to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but this one takes the cake!

Check it out:

This not even the whole queue. There are still 2 sections of it not captured on this clip!

Here's 1 of the missing sections of the queue not shown in the video clip. The other missing section is as long as this one, so now you get the full picture.

Makes you wonder what time these people actually started queuing up, huh? I mean, if this was the queue at 09:15hrs and the museum opened only at 10:00hrs, then the first people in line must have been there since 07:00hrs??? Hard core. Unfortunately, Michelangelo's works in this museum were not part of my "Things to see before I die" list, so no way was I going to waste 2 or 3 hours of my life queuing up here!

We did have some people offering guided tours to us though, and the biggest selling point was "You get to skip the queue!" But this came at a high price of €40 per person, even though it included the entrance ticket which costed €15....so no. When you had almost become a beggar recently (see Day I in Rome post), you would tend to spend money a bit more wisely ;o).

Oh, speaking of that, our Danish bank did actually call us when we arrived at the Vatican Museum! Apparently, Martin's Visa card had gone over the 20,000 DKK (S$5000) limit within the month, and we had just a few days left before it resets again. We knew that there's a limit with Visa, but seriously, I thought it was only when you're using it overseas that you have this limit! We did use his card to pay our 19,000 DKK air tickets to Singapore on 28 Nov online, but this was done IN DENMARK to a DANISH tour agency, so I don't understand why it would affect this 20,000 DKK limit.

On Jyske Banks's website, it says clearly: "I udlandet kan du maksimalt hæve 20.000 kr. på 30 dage." which translates to "You can use a maximum of 20,000 kr within 30 days when overseas." so see? I was right!

Anyway, the bank told us that they had called Visa to reset our card so that we could use it again, but by then, we had more than enough cash on us so we didn't need to use the Visa card after all.

Now back to our sightseeing... . .Since the Vatican Museum was out of the question, we decided to just go straight to St. Peter's Basilica instead. After all, if EVERYONE was queuing up for the Vatican Museum, then chances were, hardly anyone's trying to get into the basilica, right? Well yes....I was quite right, because it took us less than 10 mins before we were done queuing up at the security check point there. On top of that, it was of course free entry to the basilica, so no need to spend money there :o). Only needed to pay to get up to the top of the dome, but that was not an extravagent spending, especially since we had decided not to take the elevator up.

Here are pics:

The grandness of St. Peters Basilica

Not so many people...yet.

Michelangelo's Pietà behind bullet-proof glass.

Touching St. Peter's worn down foot.

The big nave inside the basilica

Under the dome, painted by Michelangelo too. The biggest dome in the world, apparently.

Martin saw the light!

Climbing up around 537 steps to the top of St. Peter's Basilica dome + cupola. Yeah, I was really into leg+butt work-outs in Rome. But seriously, if you take the elevator, you will STILL have to walk up the last 320 steps, so what's the point of paying extra for that, right?

View from the top of the dome.

I present to you, Rome!

Yup, that was the dome we were up on.

Drinking holy water in the Vatican City. Well, at least I assume it was holy water.

I could jump in and bathe in holy water too!

I guess by the time we were done at St. Peters Basilica, the folks who were queuing up for the Vatican Museum were done there too, so they then came to invade the basilica.

Well, when we walked back to the Vatican Museum, the queue was half the length than before, but it would still take a good 40mins or so to get in, and if the guidebook was right, the museum closed early during winter. Therefore, we would only have had ½hr or so to see everything. Still not worth the €15 entrance fee, so we went to get some "gelato" (Italian for "ice-cream") instead. Yeah, yeah, I know it was winter time, but do you not see the clear blue sky???

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

When in Rome, do as the Romans do .... Day III and Day IV

We had decided to skip breakfast this morning because it just wasn't worth getting up early for. Brunch sounded like a better idea anyway, so we didn't leave the hotel until around 13:00hrs in search for food... .

Not easy to find a restaurant or café serving brunch, though. Besides, most were also closed because it was Christmas Day. In the end, we settled for lunch at an Italian restaurant (funny enough, called Ristorante Martin) just facing the Colosseum.

Waiting patiently for food at hubby's restaurant.

Martin's first pizza

My first spaghetti carbonara (my favourite)

It was quite a delicious but heavy lunch, and it prepared us for a full day of walking. We walked and we walked and we walked, basically from 13:00hrs in the afternoon till 23:30hrs at night, with a couple of hours' rest in between. I don't remember walking so much in my life, but it sure was good toning exercise for the legs and butt ;o). Oh, and we did do a bit of running too, because we ended up being a little pressed for time for our Dark Rome walking tour which started at 21:00hrs. We got a little lost when making our way to the meeting point (stupid map!), so by the time we realised that we were walking in the opposite direction, the minute hand on our watches somehow seemed to tick faster.

Anyway, the weather was good, and you do get to see a lot more by walking than just taking the metro, so no complaints there. The only disappointing thing though, was that no matter how much we walked, we were still not able to find a really cosy café to relax and drink coffee or hot chocolate in! One would be way more successful to find a cosy café in Copenhagen than in Rome! There were of course places we could drink coffee in, but they had a "cold" atmosphere to them, like McDonald's.

Oh, speaking of McDonald's, I had, on this lovely Christmas Day of 2007, finally contaminated myself with a burger after staying clean for 1½ years! Funny that the time I ate at Mc's before this was in Germany. Now Italy. It's really not that there's something wrong with Denmark's Mc's....it's just that I don't really feel the urge to eat at Mc's while at "home". Let's see when (and where) my next "Mcfeast" at the Golden Arch will be... .

Here are some pictures from our day III:

The amazing Colosseum, where many gladiators had fought and died in.

A closer look

Some Arc de Triomphe (Paris) wannabe

It's kinda freaky, but that statue really looks like me ;o).

I really like this shot. A ruin at Palatino.

River Tiber

SMART cars, smart parking

Some ruin right smack in the middle of the streets.

Fountain di Trevi by night

Does anyone know if Pinocchio is Italian? I guess I should Wiki it up.

A "church" we were taken to during our Dark Rome walking tour. Didn't go inside because it was closed, but they apparently do stuff with human bones too.

Day IV = more walking

Inside some basilica

The Pantheon. Famous artist Raphael was buried here. We didn't go in though. I had been in there last time, and it's not like you can see the man himself anyway.

Very old buildings. I thought buildings in Copenhagen are old, but these are like falling apart!

Looks really grand, huh? You should see it for real; it's an amazing building!

You might think there was no traffic, but it was just good timing with this shot that not a single vehicle was captured here. The truth is, traffic was quite heavy... .

We arrived back at the hotel quite late this night as well; around midnight. For the 2nd night in a row, there was no one at the reception, even after we rang the bell thingy on the counter to get our room key. And for the 2nd night in a row, Martin just went behind the counter to help himself to our key, which we could see hanging on the shelf anyway. So much for feeling safe at that hotel! We should have tried to find out which room was the suite (if they even have one) and help ourselves to the room key to that instead!

Friday, 4 January 2008

When in Rome, do as the Romans do .... Day II

I am not an early riser, but if I have to get up earlier than I want to, it has to be for a really good reason. For example, catching an early flight, showing up for an important meeting, or going to eat breakfast before the hotel stops serving it after 09:30.

So yes, I can get up early, not because I want to, but because I have to. Our 1st morning in Rome started with an early breakfast. The idea was to eat as much as we could, just in case we were not able to get any money for the day (or days). Was the hotel's breakfast worth losing my beauty sleep for? Hell no! Unless of course, you consider hard, dry-ish bun, butter and jam as breakfast fit for your guests who pay money! Even the tea was so bad (almost looked like coffee) that I had decided to just select hot water from the machine and use my own tea bags instead. Yes, believe it or not, I actually had 2 tea bags with me in my bag. Had helped myself to them while having free breakfast at the Diners Club airport lounge in Copenhagen the day before (thank goodness for that).

That was probably the worst breakfast I've ever had at a so-called 3* hotel, but well, life goes on and we had other important things to think about that morning such as getting some MONEY!

In order not to make this too long, here's the jist in point form:

- Banks in Denmark were closed, so could not get any explanation till 3 days later. So much for customer service.

- Waited ½hr at the Italian bank to find out why their ATM spat out a receipt showing €100, but not the €100 itself. Spoke sign language to the supposed bank manager because she spoke no English (she ought to be ashamed of herself, since even her junior staff were able to speak English). Was assured that the €100 was unlikely to have been deducted from the account, but they could not give us any money from the counter.

- Tried my Visa card at the ATM twice at 2 different machines. On the 2nd try, my card got eaten up. "War against the machines!" I say.

- Was in the end, able to get money out from Western Union with our 2 x Diners Club card. Took out €500 in total, but they took 10% as commission, so we "lost" €50 just like that. But hey, it felt so good to be able to smell the money in our hands! We didn't have to starve after all, and best of all, we didn't have to depend on crappy hotel breakfasts for survival.

We could finally start to enjoy the city as tourists, so we walked around a bit. Went to Fountain di Trevi and the Spanish Steps, and at 14:15, we had a guided tour to a Capuchin crypt located underneath the church of Santa Maria della Conezione dei Cappuccini (Our Lady of the Conception of the Capuchins) and later to Rome's biggest underground catacomb.

Now the Capuchin crypt was very interesting because it was decorated with the human bones of over 4000 Capuchin friars (or monks)! I'm talking real bones and skulls of dead people here, as you can see in the picture below:

Real bones - no special effects

Creepy, huh? There were also skeletons of children in there, and the heart of a Capuchin devotee, Maria Felice Peretti. All the bones were nailed to the walls and ceilings, and spinal cords were used as part of chandeliers! In the last room, the haunting words of a Latin inscription reads "What you are, we used to be, what we are, you will be".

And in case you're thinking something familiar about the name "Capuchin", then you're probably thinking of the coffee "cappucino". Apparently, the story is that the guy who invented cappucino did not know what to call this new drink, until he saw a white-haired Capuchin monk walking by in his brown hooded robes with a white rope around the waist and thought "Hey! Cappucino!" We did see a real Capuchin monk at the church, and he really was dressed as described, complete with white hair and all.

No, the secret ingredient of a cappucino is not a monk.

Next stop was to the Catacombs of St. Domitilla, one of the biggest and well-preserved one in Rome which is spread out over 15km of underground caves. For those who don't know, catacombs are ancient burial places set out in an underground maze of tunnels. Mostly for Christians, but there are a couple of pagan catacombs existing too. This is not recommended to those who suffer from claustrophobia, though.

A very interesting attraction to visit otherwise, and a guide will be assigned to take you through the tunnels as one can very easily get lost in the dark maze. The guy who discovered this particular catacomb was lost for 4 days before he found his way out again! That I think, was already lucky for him because I could easily imagine more days needed to see the light again! Then again, you will get to "see the light" no matter what happens. The question would be more, "Which light will you get to see?" That is, sunlight, or the "Walk towards the light my (dead) child" kind of light.

Bodies are placed in the "slots" on the wall.

The church of San Clemente was next on the itinerary, but for some Italian reason, the church was closed an hour before the closing time written at the entrance. It was a church built on top of an ancient 4th century church, that was in turn built on top of an even older Roman house. But yeah, we had to miss that, so our guide offered us a night walking tour to discover dark Rome the next evening instead, which we signed up for.

Anyway, here are pics taken before our guided tour started:

A ruin close to our hotel

Fountain di Trevi

Narrow streets of Rome

Spanish Steps at Piazza di Spanga. More beautiful in the summer though.

At the fountain in front of the Spanish Steps

Almost swimming in the fountain now

And just to show you an interesting Italian man we met:

Therefore, piece of advise: do not drink from the many fountains in Rome!