talk about being focused! its been a week since i kick started my bucket list, and already two of the (supposedly more tricky) items are settled!

the vatican necropolis is a paticularly tricky one, owing to the fact that (i) not many people know of it, and (ii) even if you know of it, its quite tough to get tickets, owing to the limited number of tourists they allow in. but you know what, after the experience, methinks its so worth it. it speaks volumes despite being quite humble in appearance, and acts to connect your entire ‘vatican’ experience, tracing the soaring beauty of michelangelo’s dome and bernini’s bronzed sculptures right down to the tomb that started it all.

the place doesn’t allow for photography – but in all honesty, it’s not a place to just merely see – photo’s wouldn’t do it justice. it’s meant to be experienced and felt, as with alot of ancient rome sites. in fact, as a gentle advice to future tourists, do note that alot of ancient rome needs to be recreated in your mind — hence people with bad imaginations might actually find ancient rome stiflingly boring when they stare at piles and piles of rocks and crumbling edifices.

but anyways, part of what makes the necropolis scavi tour so special is that it offers and intimate, close up experience of the vatican and the heart of catholicism/christianity. because of the small size of the group, you don’t get annoyed by the throngs of tourists, camera flashes, inappropriate laughters and such. instead, you focus on what is in front of you and you re-imagine the scenes and the emotions of the past. our tour guide paints a compelling image, telling us of how the circus of augustus (i think), which was on top of vatican hill, used to be the scenes of much christian martyrdom, and where peter was eventually crucified upside-down and martyred.

i think the strongest point of the tour for me was when we were right underneath the papal altar, a position closest to peter’s grave and where we could look up from the grate in the ceiling to glimpse at the basilica built above and at the amazing dome that capped the basilica. it spoke to me in a certain way — that amidst all the grandeur and pomposity of the renaissance basilica, and the adornments of the constantine basilica below, lay a very simple, and humble grave. a grave of a man who was deeply flawed as well – having outright denied Christ three times.

such emotions drove home two points to me – christianity was never intended to be about grandeur and riches – and this is an uncomfortable truth, but one we ought to take heed especially in light of all the brouhaha that has emerged what with the city harvest mismanagement saga in singapore. christianity is a personal relationship with God, one who understood our flaws, never left us and uses each flawed individual to accomplish great things as long as we let Him.

so yeah, call it a pilgrimage of sorts, but this tour certainly was an emotional and special one for me. and to be honest, as we emerged from the lower levels and re-entered the main basilica, my mood instantly dipped when i got hit with throngs of tourists talking ridiculously loud in this special place and just obstructing and preventing any form of reverence and worship. and to be honest, i also didn’t feel as inspired in the renaissance basilica – if there was ever a time something could be too impossibly big, or too impossibly grand, then st peter’s basilica definitely could be considered as such. and what with the maddening sounds of the tourists who didn’t seem to have much understanding of the significance of the place and were chattering excitedly about their previous day’s prada purchase, there wasn’t a greater contrast to the experience i just had.

and that’s sad.

to access the vatican necropolis, you need to send a special email indicating the number of people and preferred dates well in advance to the vatican excavations office online. and hope that they have space for you. it costs 12.50 euro for entry and a guided tour of roughly an hour or so.

[photos are from my previous visits of the vatican compound, including the st peter’s square and the vatican museums]

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dreamy mediterranean island

after a really good lunch, we set off for a boat tour round the island – which is essentially THE WAY to travel around these mediterranean islands. i mean, a day in ponza essentially constitutes of waking up, heading off in your private boat/yacht, docking at some incredible sight/beach for some sun tanning, grapes-eating, late morning snoozing. and if it gets too hot, just jump in for a swim in the crystal clear waters before continuing.

wowza. i could get used to that.

the rocks here are really special, formed from the interaction between the lava and sand (that was all my bad italian could pick up)

what was really awesome was the chance to swim in the grottoes at the cliffs. grottoes are these sort of stone formations carved by the churning water into the cliffs – some of them form some sort of passageway/channel daring you to swim across. and it’s kinda intimidating initially – there’s not too many people around (well, none) and the channel is pretty narrow and long, the rocks seem kinda menacing and the waters are frothing, but oh boy.. there’s the inherent thrill factor which makes for the memorable experience. it’s like famous five’s demon’s cove all over again. i’m giving enid blyton lesser and lesser credit for thinking of such adventures.

and of course, for the more relaxing swim, you head toward places with less wave action, anchor your boat and just frolic in the water. amazing stuff.

the little town on the island is pretty chic in its own right as well – sun-drenched and exuding these colorful, relaxed vibes. but who are we kidding – ponza is for the beaches and the sea.

ponza can be reached via hydrofoil from terracina or anzio (which is closer to rome). it can be done in sort of a daytrip like what i did, but methinks you should spend at least a weekend there, in order to experience the beauty of palmarola as well (which we sadly missed). but honestly, i was super satisfied already.

bucket list #1, complete!

i’ve realized that a bucket list is really awesome! it gives you focus and forces you to get yer (my) butt off that computer chair and actually plan some awesome weekends! so yeah, the first on my list to tackle was that trip to ponza, an offshore island close by to rome. well, i wouldn’t exactly call it close by technically, considering it took us 1 1/2 to drive to terracina, and then an hour’s ferry to actually even get to ponza.

but it’s well worth it. i’ll let the pictures do the talking.

disembarking at the port, you instantly feel as though the work woes of the week have been left behind in mainland italy and that knotted up, stressed feeling within oneself starts to slowly unravel as you breathe in the sea breeze and gaze at the merry islandfolk and well-rested tourists.

what blue skies you have, ponza

 

going along with an italian friend for this trip proved to be such an awesome decision – considering that things really just fell in place despite us not having planned a single thing besides knowing that we wanted to be at ponza on saturday. having that ability to converse and ask for privy information is something that no matter how many years of practice at italian wouldn’t yield. so we essentially, reached the island, hopped on the only local bus, and headed to one of the beautiful coves in the island.

and yes, you have to climb down and up by yourself. there’s no other way. yup, we met tired, old ladies panting and emphatically saying ‘fa caldo‘ (too hot) and ‘muore‘ (i die) on the steps as we headed down.

everything just seemed to fit in place to form this mediterranean heaven. and speaking of beaches, santa marinella, you just got pwned pretty bad.

      

guys, i just found my future summer residence. and LOOK at that crystal clear water.

LOOK AT THAT WATER. i do not dare comment to my italian friends about fort siloso beaches. (*hides face*)

part 2 coming soon.

it’s amazing how one’s perspective of matters changes so drastically when he stops viewing the glass as half empty instead of half full.

well, for my case it would be to see my rome posting as four months left, instead of four months in.

and in bid to really experience as much as possible before everything gets locked up in the regrets compartment of my brain, i’m gonna create and maintain a bucket list, just to see how much i can inspire myself to complete.

FRANK’S ITALY BUCKET LIST

#1 – visit ponza

#2 – take a wine tour round the tuscan countryside

#3 – go for a michelin starred restaurant in italy with parents

#4 – chill along isola tiberina with mates/my sis on a hot summer night

#5 – try dragon boating here

#6 – play tennis on a clay court

#7 – go to sicily

#8 –  visit a swedish friend I met at the copenhagen marathon

#9 – explore the quirky regions of puglia and umbria

#10 – go for an italian cooking class

#11 – try a super tuscan

#12 – visit the necropolis under the vatican museum

#13 – visit sperlonga

#14 – go for an opera/concert of sorts

#15 – attempt to cook a saltimbocca and master the spaghetti vongole

suggestions anyone?

the beautiful spiaggia of santa marinella

to my dear Roman friends who scoff at Santa Marinella, saying humbly that the beach is just ok… please don’t expect much of a beach holiday if you come to Singapore and visit Sentosa.

I mean.. i think having grown up in an island where the color of seawater is a consisted muddy green, and where going to the beach usually meant heading to east coast park for some cycling and barbecue, any beach where i can kinda see my feet through the water is already a pretty darn decent beach imo.

so yeah, Santa Marinella, less than an hour’s train ride away from Rome, was a decent beach getaway amidst the sweltering summer weather.

but to be honest, i think my trips to the beach need to be far and few, namely because i have tanned to my dragon-boat days level just after one time of basking in the sound, turning into a bronzed-blackish color. not good.

which is a pity because I really did enjoy myself – what with the silky sands, cool waters and tons of like-minded folks. the only thing i didnt like (as compared to lake bracciano) was the horrible saltiness of the seawater – it came as a shock considering the water looked so pristine. lol.. i sound like such a beach-noob

of course, whats great is also the great appetite and good, fresh seafood. this is life!

we’re now heading toward the mid of summer in Rome, what with unbearably stuffy and smelly bus rides and days that feel like you’re being cooked in a furnace.

and on a quick reflection, I’ve suddenly realized that i’ve reached the half-way point of my stay in Rome. literally. 4 months have gone by, with less than 4 to go. and by all counts, that was a bittersweet reflection. to be honest, i wish alot of things happened – i wish i was more outgoing, i wish i could have connected with my italian colleagues better, i thought that i would have had more friends to spend the stuffy summer nights with and to head to isola tiberina for some summer aperitivo and snacks.

but yeah, none of it has really occurred. =( i think on hindsight, part of the reason lies in the fact that this isn’t student life, where you have a bunch of fellow sojourners of the same age and somewhat same interests as you, wading together in a foreign land. it isn’t going to be presented on a platter to you. welcome to the scary depths of adult work life, frank.

and yeah, i was kind of depressed the past week. lamenting that fact that i have spoken to like no one from my gym, have made really few friends and wonder if i am seriously just utterly introverted to begin with, or have some sort of social aspergers defect (lol).

but it can only go up right? in a fit of trying to make things right, i signed up for multiple expat events and i will grin and bare it and go out there and try my best to

(1) not think bad of myself as being the solo asian in the group of expats

(2) be disarmingly genuine and attempt to talk to others

and to be honest, the past events i have gone for have been surprisingly very pleasant, though initially tough. i mean, i realize that i really do get the kick out of meeting new people and learning about new experiences and new perspective, regardless of how tiring and daunting it might seem initially.

ah well. half-way point. let’s work hard to make things better.

piazza del popolo during italy’s eurocup match against germany

the atmosphere was electric. fans were cheering and hooting at every italy offense and gasping in concert at every german counterattack. bottles were strewn all across the piazza and ubiquitous red/white/green flags were fluttering sky high. then, at the last few tense seconds, you could hear everyone count down, quattro, tre, due, uno

and then it was a mess.

vuvuzuelas were sounded throughout the piazza, along with smoke-spewing sparklers thrown in for the good measure. people close to the fountain started frolicking in the fountain and there were hugs galore. ignorant bystanders might have thought this was some massive riot of some sorts. and indeed it looked it one.

but it was truly a night to remember eh? feels nice to be in the winning country watching a winning watch.

that night, the cheers of “viva italia!” never seemed louder or more resonant in my mind.