Spinster:

Short commercial break (since I still have to finish writing about my Italy trip): This is an appropriate post for this blog. Check out this blogger’s post about the Docklands Museum in London, United Kingdom.

P.S. I know, I know – I haven’t updated this blog in a shamefully long time. I have numerous drafts on this blog’s dashboard waiting for me to finish ’em. I’m gonna try to be better about posting here.

Originally posted on Here There Everywhere:

On a recent visit to the Museum of London I read a placard advertising a visit to their sister museum The Docklands.  Since then I’ve been wanting to pay a visit.

The museum invites you to uncover London’s long history as a port through stories of trade, migration and commerce.  The 11 permanent galleries tell the stories of London’s Docklands, the River Thames, and London’s past as one of the world’s great trading cities.

The galleries tell the story of the local communities in the East London riverside. They include the award-winning London Sugar Slavery gallery, which explores London’s part in the system of slave labour that transported Africans to the Caribbean to work on sugar plantations.  While good I would say the Museum of Slavery in Liverpool is better.

The museum is in a building that was used as a warehouse during that time to store sugar and rum…

View original 146 more words

Commercial break – Not your typical tour.

I interrupt this Bella Italia series with the following post. There’s a method to my madness: I didn’t do anything the day after my trip to Florence, so instead of boring you with details of sleeping most of that day, take a look at an interesting tour that I took based in London. Bella Italia will continue after this commercial break; just stay tuned.

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I receive lots of travel e-newsletters & have many blogs in my reader. They inspire me to travel the world (or at least imagine doing it), help me refrain from moving back home, and give me ideas about things to do in my neck of the woods. One of the e-newsletters that I receive is Time Out, a great resource worldwide for things to do in some major cities across the planet. Prior to the riots, I received my usual Time Out e-newsletter and a free walking tour caught my eye. A few words stuck out:

Alternative.

Walking.

Free.

Those words, to me, meant that this was a different way to see the area – not your typical (double-decker) bus tour with a bunch of annoying loud American (or insert other country here) tourists and a tour guide holding a megaphone while reciting the typical boring basic (insert any city here) facts. Most importantly, this is free. In a world where the rich get richer and the rest of us get poorer every day, anything free is a godsend. And finally, I like learning about places on an intimate level. I appreciate the good, bad & ugly about places: history, culture, architecture, art, future urban planning, and quirky facts that most others aren’t interested in and/or won’t know.

So I looked at the website listed in the e-newsletter and contacted the person (or people) who run the tours. After a few snafus that were out of my control, I finally got a chance to take the tour. Luckily for me (and you), the tour occurs year-round.

I’m glad to say that I enjoyed myself and wrote a TripAdvisor review about it. Check out the reviews, as well as a few of the many pictures that I took during the tour below.

Tour guide.

Tour guide.

Shadows.

Shadows.

Bangladesh's national bird.

Bangladesh's national bird.

Jimi.

Jimi.

Local man, aged 90 something.

Local man, aged 90 something.

Burden.

Burden.

If you want a down-to-earth, unpretentious, interesting & (maybe) fun way to explore just one area of this large metropolis, take this tour and my word for it. Enjoy.

The Alternative London Tour
http://www.alternativeldn.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/alternativelondon
https://twitter.com/#!/alternativeldn

Bella Italia – 06.18.2011.

06.18.2011

As promised, S. woke me up to get ready for the day trip. Sleepy but happy about it… I just wanted to get some more sleep. I readied myself and out we went – K., Giovanni, S., the baby, A., A.L. and me – for the walk to the train station at 10 a.m. Since I didn’t really get to talk with A.L., we walked & talked together on the way to the station.

Like K., I’d met A.L. online earlier this year, believe it or not, on the same expatriate women’s website. I didn’t correspond with her before the trip as much as I did with K. though. Like K., A.L. is also a native of my hometown (small world!). Also like K., she met her husband online a few years ago. He happens to be a native of Milan. They, too, met face to face and later married. So yes… here was another expatriate, from the same hometown, married & living in Italy. Since Milan is only about 4-5 hours north of Livorno via train, she came for the weekend to meet us.

Before we got to the station, Giovanni wanted to get us all something to eat at a local pasticceriaPasticceria Cristiani. He and K. swore/swear by it. And I’m proud & hungry enough to confirm it. In addition to selling small sandwiches & breakfast items, it sells

We ate & talked & walked to the station, but Giovanni was so excited about showing us around his hometown that we missed the 11:10 train. The next train wasn’t coming for about another hour. After a bit of debate, K. & A.L. decided to stay around the hotel, since they both visited the new city anyway. That left me, Giovanni, A. and S. I couldn’t access my money, so S. bought my train ticket and I paid him back 2 days later. The time flew by and before we knew it, the train arrived. The ride was about 90 minutes long, nice & scenic. I would’ve taken a nap on the train since I was kinda sleepy, but unfortunately that was impossible, what with the swarm of British tourists buzzing around our train car. :-| I’ve now concluded that British tourists are just as loud & obnoxious as American tourists. On the bright side, at least the view from the train was beautiful, and I looked forward to seeing a new city.

What new city, you ask? Here are a few hints (after leaving the tourist information center).

il Duomo.

il Duomo.

Firenze (Florence). We wandered around Piazza di Santa Maria Novella and a few other surrounding piazzas.

We walked around so much that my legs succumbed to excruciating pain. We didn’t get to see the city, but with over 5 hours of wandering around, we saw plenty. And besides, S. was getting antsy, and it showed in his attitude: he kinda snapped at Giovanni, we cut our time in Florence short as a result and, when we got back to Livorno, he walked home instead of taking the quick bus ride to the hotel with us. That’s reason #123456789 why I prefer traveling solo: no worrying about other people’s attitudes, when (or whether or why) they want to come or go, etc.

It’s a beautiful city and I definitely plan to return again to wander around the piazzas that I didn’t get to see. Old World mixed with New World, classic interspersed with modern.

I fell asleep on the train ride home. It was a day well spent in spite of S.‘s attitude… which I told his mother about. (That’s right, I snitch.) We relaxed for the rest of the evening and called it a night.

Bella Italia – 06.17.2011.

06.17.2011

I slept a lot. I probably needed it since I stayed up late the night before departure, woke up early to go to the airport, and took the trains to my destination. I woke up once to go to the bathroom but aside from that, didn’t get up until after 1 p.m. K., the hotel owner, laughed a bit when she saw me emerge from my room like a freshly arisen zombie.

“You slept a lot. You seem tired!” she said. I nodded a barely awake “yes”.

I was hungry and asked K. what was around to eat. She mentioned a store right downstairs & next door where I could buy something quick & cheap to eat. Like a zombie, I walked down the hotel stairs, made a quick right outside of the door and walked into what reminded me of the corner stores in my old neighborhood. Small sandwiches sat behind a glass-covered counter, while snacks & sundries sat behind the store owners. I slowly became excited as I saw words that I recognized from learning Italian in school years ago: formaggio, prosciutto, Parma, insalata. I bought myself formaggio & prosciutto on focaccia bread, nice & cheap, and went back upstairs.

Mangia!

Mangia!

The sandwich was absolutely delicious. The flavors & textures came together and melted in my mouth. It was obvious that the food was fresh, free from chemicals & preservatives. Italians pride themselves on using fresh untainted food in their cooking, which is why food in Italy is an art in itself. I was half-awake as I enjoyed my sandwich but despite that, K. & I talked for a bit.

I’d met K. online earlier this year, believe it or not, on an expatriate women’s website. She wrote a blog entry about her hotel on the website and invited people to stay at her accommodation if ever visiting that part of Italy. A few people, myself included, liked the idea and K. set up a date for those of us who expressed interest so that we’d meet in person. The price was too good to pass up, it’d always been a dream of mine to visit Italy, and this was a good chance to go. Another website member (briefly mentioned in the last entry) – A. – had already been there for about a week before my arrival, and another member – A.L. – was en route.

K. – a native from my hometown – runs the hotel with her husband Giovanni, a Livorno native whom she also met online a few years ago. They met face to face and later married. She and her son S. moved to Italy, and she & Giovanni added a new addition to the new family: a daughter who’s now 3 years old.

After we talked for a while, S. & Giovanni invited me to go to a local version of Germany’s Oktoberfest later that evening. I said “sure, it’d be a good way for me to see the area.” I laid down in my room to elevate & rest my legs, which were in major pain. Apparently my body was still tired because I unintentionally fell asleep… until after 7:30 p.m.

When I awoke, A.L. had arrived while I was asleep (more about her later). I grunted a sleepy “Hello” and readied myself to head to the local Oktoberfest. During the walk, which took a while, Giovanni & S. spoke with pride about the neighborhood: history, economics, expensive rents for small apartments, gangs, etc. It never crossed my mind that American gang culture would reach all the way to Italy, but here it was (albeit on a smaller scale than the United States), etched & weaved into the concrete that made these high-rise buildings.

While native Italians abound, a noticeable Roma population (also known as Gypsy or Traveler communities) is also in Livorno (1.2 million throughout Italy), as well as a small but noticeable sub-Saharan African population (a little over 285,000 throughout Italy). Unfortunately, neither population has a nice reputation in Italy; the Roma face much discrimination for many (substantiated & unsubstantiated) reasons, while sub-Saharan Africans are known for sex trafficking. How this affects either population isn’t this blog’s focus, but I might mention a thing or two here.

We finally got to the festival, grabbed some food, took a few pictures, and ate. The festival was small but nice, with German food & beer of course, as well as Italian food.

We stayed for an hour and walked home. While walking, we happened upon a small Roma camp in a shopping center parking lot, and the smell coming from it was strong & unmistakable – as if the camp’s inhabitants hadn’t bathed in a long time. It made me wonder if this was one of the reasons why they face such discrimination. (Whether the reasoning is right or wrong is beyond this blog’s scope.) Needless to say, we walked as quickly as possible under the circumstances – my legs were in major pain so we couldn’t walk as fast as we wanted – escaped the smell and got back to the hotel.

I gave A.L. a more official greeting, apologizing for being a zombie earlier that evening, and said that I’d speak with her more tomorrow. Not only was it late, but Giovanni planned a day trip for us early the next morning. While I wasn’t excited about getting up so early in the morning, especially on a weekend day, I knew that it’d be worth it when everything was said & done. Where was our trip, you ask? Here’s a photo hint:

Where in the world...

Where in the world...

Stay tuned for the next blog entry. Until then…

Arrivederci e grazie.

Arrivederci e grazie.

Bella Italia – Arrival.

06.16.2011

This was the day.  I hate early flights, and I hate waking up early to get to them even more.  But despite that, this wasn’t any old boring trip; this was the trip of a lifetime, my dream come true.

I didn’t get much sleep beforehand; that’s typical with most trips I make, whether for business or leisure.  But I forced myself up anyway.  I decided to save money by taking public transportation, instead of taking a cab like I usually do.

Tip #1: if taking public transportation to an airport, make sure that you give yourself enough time to get there & check-in.

I was out of the house by 07:00.  Trusty backpack on my back, laptop in my duffel bag, handbag in hand, and still half-asleep, I walked to the bus stop & caught the bus to the train station.  Everything was right on time.

Tip #2: if taking public transportation to an airport, map out everything beforehand.  TfL is a good example of a website that lets you pick modes of transportation, as well as choose the time that you want to leave.

I caught the train into central London, then switched to a national train line made specifically for the airport.  Since I mapped it out before I left, I had spare time to get a quick bite to eat before catching the train.  I got on the train, settled in, and before long the train departed on time for the airport.  I guess I was pretty sleepy because I dozed off for a bit until the train staff came around to collect tickets.

*scratch record* *rewind*

Collect what?  Isn’t the transit card enough?  Doesn’t the money get deducted from it?

Apparently not.

Tip #3: if taking public transportation to an airport, check to see if you need to buy a train ticket before you board the train.

The lady came around & asked for my ticket, and I gave her my transit card.  She looked at me with a quizzical look on her face and said “This is your transit card.  Where’s your ticket for this train?”

Me: “I’m sorry.  I didn’t know that I had to buy a separate ticket.  I apologize; I’m not from here.  I’ve never done this before.”

She informed me that I had to buy a ticket.  “It’s a good thing that none of the other staff came around to inspect you for a ticket.  They would’ve fined you in addition to making you buy a ticket.  So next time, buy one before you board.”

Me: “Thank you.  And again, I apologize.  I truly had no idea.”

I bought the ticket – it was only a few pounds sterling – and relaxed for the rest of the ride.  When I got to the airport, the staff there also inspected travelers for tickets, so it’s a good thing that things happened the way they did.  Phew!

I found my way to the airline check-in area, where the woman behind the counter inspected my passport & work visa.  Being a legal non-citizen worker is a pain in the ass sometimes because I always have to wait a little extra for people to inspect my documents & make sure I’m not lying, but now I’m used to it.  The airline is a low-cost/budget airline, so the price was right.  Unfortunately, I overlooked the section on the airline’s website where it said that one can check in baggage online for a cheaper price.  I wound up paying £25.00 for my backpack; online it would’ve been only £9.00 – £12.00.

Tip #4: when traveling with a low-cost/budget airline, read about ALL extra fees & taxes that aren’t included in your ticket price.

Tip #5: when traveling with a low-cost/budget airline, don’t check any baggage if you can get away with it.  If that’s impossible, check your baggage online or via telephone.

I finished and made my way to the waiting area, got myself something to eat & bring on the plane, and waited.  My flight was delayed for about 1/2 hour due to weather, but it more than made up for time in the air.  I ate one of my sandwiches on the plane & fell asleep soon after.  The flight was only a little over 2 hours, enough time for a nice nap.  I woke up about 1/2 hour before landing – the pilots were already in descent mode – and I looked out the window.  What a beautiful sight.

Italy from the air.

Italy from the air.

We landed at Pisa Airport and, since it was a small plane, got off away from the gate/on the tarmac & walked to it.  I got off, felt the warm sun on my skin, and smiled.  This was better than the dreary United Kingdom weather I’d left.  My dream officially came true and would last for a week.

I made my way to customs and, when finished, made sure that the customs officer stamped my passport good enough to see the stamp.  (I pride myself on my passport stamps.)  I then made my way to the ticket office to buy a train ticket to my destination – Livorno, Italy.  While I’ve lost most of the Italian that I learned in junior high school, I took Spanish for many years afterwards; Spanish has some similarities to Italian, so I understood a bit of what the ticket seller & sign said.  The sign said “We only accept cash.  No credit cards.”  Annoying… especially with a semi-heavy backpack & duffel bag & handbag.

Tip #6: carry enough cash, in the correct currency (whether it’s changed before or right after your arrival), for when you need to make cash-only purchases.  {Carrying a bit of cash (just a bit) is a good tip in general.}

I changed a few pounds sterling into euros & bought my train ticket.  I took the shuttle train (5 minute ride) from Pisa Airport to Pisa Centrale (pronounced chen-TRAH-leh), then switched to another train from Pisa Centrale to Livorno Centrale (20-30 minute ride).

Shuttle.

Shuttle.

I called K, the hotel owner, and let her know I’d arrived.  She, along with her toddler daughter & another hotel guest, were gracious enough to walk to Livorno Centrale train station & get me.  We took a quick taxi back to the hotel & settled in.

How do I know the hotel owner?  I’ll tell that brief story in one of my next posts.  In the meantime, check out the hotel room:

Albergo Houston

It was already late afternoon, creeping into evening, by the time I got there.  So aside from eating this:

Ahhhh yes.  The real thing.

Ahhhh yes. The real thing.

I chilled out for the rest of the evening, e-mailed family to let them know I was alright, and swiftly fell asleep when night fell.

This is the first of a few posts chronicling my trip to Italy, day by day.  Stay tuned…..

The Wizard of Oz: 9.11.2009 – 9.13.2009.

Last days – Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

 

Vibe Hotel Sydney

Vibe Hotel Sydney

 

The Rocks ghost tour

The Rocks ghost tour

 

Circular Quay night shot, post-ghost tour

Circular Quay night shot, post-ghost tour

 

Queen Victoria Building

Queen Victoria Building

 

The Cupcake Bakery.

The Cupcake Bakery.

 

Royal Botanical Gardens.

Royal Botanical Gardens.

 

House party.

House party.

 

Heading home.  Thanks for the memories.  See you later, Australia.

Heading home. Thanks for the memories. See you later, Australia.

 

Links:

Vibe Hotel Sydney

Queen Victoria Building

The Rocks ghost tours

Circular Quay

The Cupcake Bakery

Royal Botanical Gardens