I had never been anywhere. Anywhere outside my birth country, Malaysia, for 40 years of my life. But last year, at the age of 41, the opportunity came knocking. I got to visit Italy; the land of love, gastronomy and history. The visit was made possible by Linda Tan, the publisher of my picture book who wanted me to get to know the children book industry through Bologna Book Fair, which is held every year in Bologna Italy, mostly during the month of March. My gratitude and big hugs to Linda. I had already posted more than a dozen posts about the trip in my blog but here’s an entry to sum it all up. Enjoy!
Note: This is a very long post with tons of photos and sketches. You may want to make yourself a nice hot cuppa coffee.
Day One – March 19, 2010 (Rome)
Linda and I arrived safely in Rome at 8.20am despite the scheduled 5.30am arrival. The flight from KUL to ROM was delayed for more than two hours and we had to switch aircraft as the one we were boarding was having a technical problem. During the waiting, we were served by MAS-Alitalia cabin crews with fruit cakes and orange juice. Eat as many as you like, they told us. Yums! Frown faces turned all smiley, thankful for the free treats.
On the flight, I was so restless and could not really sleep. The trip was my first time traveling across the world by MAS for 12 hours. Previously, it was just domestically, 45 to 60 minutes flights. I cannot sketch or read on public transport because I will get myself nauseated. So, I turned to MAS in-flight entertainment; there’s a wide array of entertainment facilities available and I indulged myself in movies, sitcoms, documentaries and many latest programs. When I got bored, I turned to music. Sometimes I would switched to the route map to see how far the flight had flown, what was the altitude like, which country we crossed, etc. Love all the information that MAS provided. Overall, it was a smooth journey to Rome. Oh, and there was this one guy, he was so lucky that both seats beside him was empty, he got all three seats for him and slept like a baby! So cute!
Anyway, as we arrived at Fiumicino Airport, we were fetched by a driver sent by the owner of B&B Maggiore (the place we were staying). The journey took about an hour despite a 45 minutes drive because the driver could not find the place! How weird?
Upon settling down at B&B Maggiore, we had a quick rest and later went walking to Coliseo de Roma or better known as Colosseum (in Latin). The Colosseum,originally the Flavian Amphitheater, is an elliptical amphitheater and the largest building ever built-in the Roman Empire. It is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and Roman engineering. Although it stays partially ruined because of the damage caused by devastating earthquakes and stone-robbers, the Colosseum remains an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome.
As it is one of the most popular tourists attraction, the queue was so long, probably from Penang to JB! So, Linda and I skipped the idea of visiting the interior of theColosseum.
Interesting buildings around Rome
Me having latte | Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore
The Colosseum | Plants around Rome
This café is situated opposite The Colosseum, up on the hill on the Via Nicola Salvi. Via means Street.
Day Two – March 20, 2010 (Vatican City)
Linda and me, we both woke up early and went downstairs to get our morning treat of lattes. A small glass or a cup of latte cost about 1 Euro if we have it standing. If we sit and drink, it’ll be 3 Euro. 2 Euro for the seat and a napkin, I guess. And maybe for the service for cleaning the table later. Yes? Si o no?
Linda and I having our lattes. Snapped this using the timer and tripod.
Later, as planned the day before, we went to visit the Vatican City. We walked to the Roma Termini (Bus & Train Terminal) and took bus No. 40 to the Vatican City. We bought our tickets (Euro 1 each) from a news stand nearby the termini. The owner of the stand noticed that we spoke Malay and he interrupted us with “satu, dua” to us. We were very surprised and asked how did he knew the language. He said he can speak a few as he had been to Malaysia before. That was so good to know! Hidup Bahasa Malaysia!!! 1Dunia!
After saying goodbye or selamat tinggal, we boarded the bus. It was a pleasant one and we hopped off the last stop, somewhere Via dei Corridori. We had to walk about ten minutes before reaching St. Peter’s Square.
St. Peter Basilica
St. Peter’s Square
The Vatican City is the world’s smallest state, being only a few acres. It is built over the tomb of Saint Peter. Between 324 and 326 AD, the Emperor Constantine built a magnificent basilica over the burial site. It was replaced by the present St. Peter’s Basilica between the 16th and 17th centuries. Architects include Bramante, Michelangelo, Giacomo della Porta, Maderno and Bernini.
A crow perching on Bernini Fountain
Vatican City covers a territory of 44 hectares. It is partly surrounded by walls and stretches into St Peter?’s Square as far as a strip of travertine stone that corresponds with the furthest end of the colonnade. This marks the boundary of the State and the edge of the Square which is normally open to everyone. According to Vatican City official website, the population is roughly about 800 people.
Linda with her favourite angels
After Vatican City, we went to the Fontana de Trevi (Trevi Fountain). The fountain was built by the architect Salvi (1735) in the time of Clement XII, and decorated by several artists of Bernini’s school. It is the front of a large palace (Palazzo Poli) decorated with statues and bas-reliefs on heaps of rocks. Standing 25.9 meters high and 19.8 meters wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world. The Trevi fountain was the setting for an iconic scene in Federico Fellini’s film La dolce vita starring Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni. Part of the fountain is replicated at the Italy Pavilion at Epcot in Walt Disney World, USA.
A traditional legend holds that if visitors throw a coin into the fountain, they are ensured a return to Rome. I did not throw a coin, i want to go elsewhere next! But visiting Italy again is definitely be on my list.
Just right in front of the fountain, we found two interesting men: A still man and a chestnut man. It was amazing that the still man could be just “still” for hours! And the chestnut man was quite friendly…had a crush on Linda, hehe.
still man and chestnut man
drawing of a man walking, somewhere in Trevi
Later, we try to make our way to Palazzo de Quirinale (current official residence of the President of the Italian Republic) on the Quirinal Hill, the tallest of the seven hills of Rome, but we got lost. We walked about two hours but still could not find the place.
But worry not, we had a great ‘lost’. How often can one get lost in the the city of Rome, a city that has been listed as one of Italy’s 44 UNESCO world heritage sites? Not often, right? Rome has been declared as world heritage site in 1980 and was chosen as a world heritage site primarily for its ancient Roman monuments. Rome is full of ancient monuments including the Colosseum, Roman forum, ancient markets, and Roman baths. The UNESCO inscription also includes the religious and public buildings of papal Rome, or the Holy See, in Vatican City.
We later had our lunch at a very beautiful café (I had spaghetti alle vongole and latte) and returned to the hotel.
Linda slept early, as early as 5pm, and did not want to have a dinner. So, I went alone to a middle eastern restaurant called Shawarma Station for dinner. After having my dinner, I walked out from the restaurant and that was when I saw a car pulling over by the roadside. As a row of parked cars separated us, a man from the passenger’s side screamed out to me. From his hand gesture, I could guess that he wanted me to come near him. I shook my head in refusal and walked on. My heart was beating fast. I smell trouble. He later tried to lure me by declaring himself as ‘polizia’ with a hope that I surrender myself. A police not wearing uniform with Arabic face? Get real, I am not an easy target to fall prey to such predator. My thoughts ran wild and I could not help but created an imaginary scene in my head where he would just grab and tuck me in the rear seat, seal my mouth with duct tape, tie my hands and drove me off to a place where they would rape, kill and ditch me at a nearby river (thanks to CSI TV show, I am able to imagine the worst). But then again, I remember watching the movie about human trafficking, Taken. But as I am not that young and urmm.. not a virgin (haha), I had to scrap the thought. So, back to the previous imaginary scene. The imagination along with faces of my son, husband and mum kept rolling like a repeated non-stop montage in my head.
Having the thoughts of what might happen, I ran faster and seek refuge in a nearby café. I waited at the café for a while before peeking from behind the wall of the café. I saw him leaving with the driver of the car. If he had come for me, I would SCREAM for help. I am very sure such big scream would not fall on deaf ears. I was all blue in the face, sooo…haha this was the best part, to make it brown again, I bought a latte from the café. I walked very fast to the B&B where I stayed and quickly locked the main entrance, locked the B&B’s main door, locked my room and locked the windows. *Scared*. I even locked the bathroom door, locked my bag, locked everything; even my mouth, and tucked myself in bed.
Day Three – March 21, 2010 (Trastevere – Bologna)
Went to the Porta Portese Sunday Market as early as 7am. Linda and I wanted to have more time to look around the market as we had to check out from B&B Maggiore at 10am. As per instruction by Arnold, the assistant keeper of the B&B, we walked to the Termini Centrale to take bus number H to the market. I looked for the Bangladeshi boy who spoke Malay the other day to buy tickets but his shop was still not opened so we just bought tickets from a machine nearby.
The bus to Porta Portese. Once you boarded the bus, you need to validate the ticket on the machine inside the bus.
We boarded bus H and found empty seat across a very big woman. After a while, Linda looked at me and I looked at her. I spoke to Linda in Malay, “Linda, you ada bau sesuatu tak?” Linda replied, “Ada la, makin lama makin kuat“. So we decided to find seats in the front part of the bus. After having my seat (my seat was facing her), I could not help but looking at the woman. She had a blonde hair, shabby clothes, shoes that she only wore half of them and a very big bag. Anyway, she had the two whole seats to her. Pardon me I know it is rude to stare but my eyes controlled my head. She noticed that I looked at her, panicking, I quickly turned away. You know how naught eyes can be. So I turned a little bit and look from the corner of my eyes. She took out an eyelash curler and slowly curled her right eye’s lash. Later she puts the curler back inside her bag. After looking left and right, she took it out again and curled her left eye’s lash and put it back inside her bag. I swear she got the most curliest eyelashes in Rome. Seriously, she done it very nicely. But too bad, the smell would not go away. Most of other passengers around her moved to the front part of the bus.
Anyway, when the bus moved, I totally forgot about her as the view outside the window was much more interesting. The bus took us to Trastevere where the market is located. Arnold told us to board off the bus after we see the river. The river we saw and off we boarded from the bus.
Linda walking towards a newspaper stands to ask for direction
There was no sight of the market and we just walked until we saw a man and we asked. He told us to walk straight and could notice the market from far. And that was in sign language and a bit of Italian but we comprehended. It was a 15 minutes walk.
We finally reached the market after the 15 minutes walk and Linda and me got to buy a jacket for each of us for only 3 Euro! And many Bangladeshis traders were calling out to us, “Cik adik, abang mana?” Haha, it felt like home!
Porta Portese market is the largest flea market in Rome. It opens every Sunday from 7am to 2pm.
It was 9.30am and it was time to fetch our bags from the B&B and checkout. As there was a marathon (Maratona di Roma) in Rome, most of the major roads had been closed down so we took the train back to Termini Centrale. We bought our train tickets to Bologna. The Eurostar ticket made me poorer 65 Euro!
Trastevere Train Station and two girls from the marathon who passed by B&B Maggiore. The winner of this marathon was from Ethiopia.
After checking out B&B Maggiore, we headed back to the terminal to board our train to Bologna. The ride took us more than two hours.
Me posing in front of Eurostar (thanks to Linda for taking my picture!)
The Bologna signboards (left) and the Boscolo Hotel (right)
Day Four – March 22, 2010 (Firenze-Bologna)
Linda went out early as she had to attend SCBWI Conference at the Bologna’s Children Book Fair, Bologna Fair Centre – Piazza Costituzione, Bologna and I took the time to find my way to Firenze (Florence). Took the morning train and it took about two hours to reach Firenze Rifredi. When I reached there, I just walked out of the train station and headed to the town.
Firenze Rifredi Train Station
There weren’t much to see and it was so not what people told me and how do I get to Tuscany? I was so helpless, I wanted to do my research before I left KL but I was too busy to finish my illustrations.
Signboards everywhere but I did not know where to go!
But of course, I found few interesting objects to snap.
Oh Dandelions! Really made my day that day! My very first encounter with Dandelions…don’t laugh, OK.
Firenze ducks are pretty! I never met green-headed ducks before.
So I bought a map and headed back to the train station. On the way back to the train station, I found an internet café and decided to go in and updated my Facebook status, “Sesat di Firenze!” and got to talk to few friends online. After sending a message to my husband and son, I walked to the train station and sat there staring at the map. I later gave up and bought a ticket back to Bologna. I waited there but missed it as I thought it was a train to Napoli!! I was really dumb! I took it as a sign and sat back and relaxed for a while until later I saw a schedule board with available trains to all parts of Italy and saw Firenze Santa Maria Novella (SMN)! That was it!! That’s the place I was supposed to go! I concluded to myself Firenze Rifredi is a transit station. So I bought a ticket to Firenze SMN!
That was more like it! But as the time has passed 3pm, I calculated my journey back to Firenze Rifredi and then back to Bologna, I decided not to wander far from the Firenze SMN’s train station. I went to the Information Center and ask for a map. The map was so much better; it got interesting places to visit! I only managed to buy little gifts from the city and headed back to Bologna.
I bought a ticket back to Bologna they told me I can board any train to Firenze Rifredi before going back to Bologna. I bought the inter-city train, so I had to transit at Rifredi. Not knowing which train to board, I asked a man in a Trenitalia uniform, “Excuse me sir, would you be so kind to tell me whether this train is going to Firenze Rifredi?” while pointing to a train nearby. He said no and left. Not very friendly. So I waited for another train for like an hour or so. When the train arrived, I asked a couple (they seemed to be madly in love) whether the train were going to Rifredi. At first the boy told me no but then the girlfriend, said, “wait, yes, it is. All trains on this platform stop at Rifredi.” I was so happy and said thank them twice, “Grazie, mille grazie“. Well, probably a thousand times as mille means thousand. I wonder why the man previously did not say anything about this. The only logical explanation was that he doesn’t speak English. Overall, Italians don’t speak English, if you speak in English, they will reply in Italian. I had this problem earlier when buying tickets from Trenitalia’s ticketing officer. Took me ten minutes to really figure out his explanation on how to go back to Bologna from Firenze SMN. He showed me the ticket and said, “partenza firenze rifredi, non qui. Treno piattaforma, board (while showing me to the schedule board).”
OK, I safely boarded the train to Rifredi and then took another train to Bologna. The train moved fast, sitting by the window, I tried to forget what I had been through the whole day by watching the view outside. The mountains, the trees, the beautiful houses…. Basically the houses are all old and mossy, they have crawling plants all over the wall but that’s what I call beauty. I took few deep breath and sighed, for two solid reasons; one–the breathtaking view and two–it helped ease what I had gone through earlier–like the Malay sayings, penat tak berbaloi. Traveling alone unprepared, is not the way to go about exploring Italy. I need to do my homework next time.
houses, somewhere along Firenze to Bologna
When I reached Bologna, it was about 6pm and I just walked around the town and took few photos.
Montagnola Park, Bologna. You can see the sculpture displaying the wife of Neptune (a nymph with an octopus arm around her waist) and the horse at her side.
Day Five – March 23, 2010 (Bologna)
This day is the start of Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the fair that is much awaited every year. For your information,The Bologna Children’s Book Fair is the most important international event dedicated to the children’s publishing and multimedia industry. In Bologna authors, illustrators, literary agents, licensors and licensees, packagers, distributors, printers, booksellers, and librarians meet to sell and buy copyright, find the very best of children’s publishing and multimedia production, generate and gather new contacts while strengthening professional relationships, discover new business opportunities, discuss and debate the latest sector trends.
Linda and me had an early and quick breakfast as we had to arrange the books on our shelf. We took a taxi from the hotel to the Bologna Fair Center and the fare was more or less about 12 Euro.
Entrance to the book fair
the aisle leading to main hall
My own “My Mother’s Garden” on the shelf, a novita (new title)
a potential rights buyer came early to our booth
Day Six – March 24, 2010 (Bologna Book Fair)
I was not feeling quite well on the sixth day (Wednesday, 24th March 2010). I vomited the night before and my head was so heavy. The weather and my nose-bleeding must have been the root to my health. I wish I had Minyak Cap Kapak with me! Linda told me to rest awhile and after feeling a bit better, I took a taxi to the book fair. I had to be there as Linda told me earlier that a small launch for “My Mother’s Garden” will be held.
The launch was witnessed by Mr Yeoh from Future Ace, Mr SH Lee (Sasbadi’s Publishing Director), Linda T Lingard (my agent/publisher), Hj Sahari Jantan (MEP Educare), Puan Norhayati (MBKM), just me, Dato’ Dr. Shahruddin Salleh (ITNM’s Chairman), En Redza Khairudin, IBBY Vice President, Hj Shaari Abdullah (President, Persatuan Pengedar Buku Bumiputera Malaysia), two trade visitors from Malaysia and En Shadri Abdullah (YPJ Publications). Although small, the launching marked the beginning of my career as children book illustrator and writer.
The book is now available in Kinokunoya, MPH as well as The Borders.
Day Seven – March 25, 2010 (Venice)
Better known as Venice, Venezia Santa Lucia is dubbed as one of the most romantic cities in the world. Being about two hours ride by train from Bologna, I wouldn’t want to miss it for the world. Linda gave me a day off from the book fair. Thank you Linda for being so supportive! I took the 8.30am morning ride from Bologna and reached Ferrovia Train Station, Venice at about 11.30am. On the train, I encountered a problem, I forgot to validate my ticket on the machine at the platform. The inspector was blabbing to me in Italian, I was just like, “si, si, scusa, scusi, scuse. I am sorry.” He wrote something on my ticket and said, “convalidare, next time.” But he said it in a very melodious way, you know…convali-daaaray… All Italians speak in melodious way. I really love how they speak although I hate the fact they don’t speak English.
I walked from the station to Piazza Santa Marco. I lost track of the time but I think I walked more than two hours! Venice is a car-free city and the only way to get around is by foot or boat/ferry. This is why I walk
A view just outside Ferrovia Train Station. Magnificent isn’t it! The sky adds a dramatic feeling to it.
Gondolas with red seats; how strikingly romantic!
A table for two?
Came across a group of kids holding flowers, I think they were all going somewhere but not sure where?
Street performers; somewhere between Ferrovia to Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco
I just love their windows!
It is best that you go with your other half or kids. Going alone is no fun. My head kept picturing myself exploring Venice with my husband and son!
Anyway, I tried walking back to Ferrovia from Piazza San Marco but the usual thing happened; I got lost. For almost two hours. Pusing-pusing kot tu, sampai balik ke Piazza San Marco. Their lanes are like mazes, there was one or two times when I reached to a dead end! I was so chicken scared. Lucky I managed to find my way to the San Marco ferry station, so to save time, I took a ferry back to Ferrovia.
Here are some views from the ferry:
Day Eight – March 26, 2010 (Bologna)
I was at the Bologna Book Fair, helping Linda around and when there was a free time, I went around the huge hall; collecting brochures, postcards and bookmarks. Most of the time, I was in awe with all the beautiful children books. I really had great time walking around the Hall.
Slovenia’s booth, love the cute birds hanging in front of their booth
The logo says it all – Penguin’s
Eric Carle Agency’s booth
illustrators wall where illustrators can leave/stick prints. How cool! I plan to go and stick something next year.
SCBWI’s booth, pretty Linda Tan in kebaya
Day Nine – March 27, 2010 (Bologna)
Linda extended our stay in Bologna for one more day. The initial plan was to visit Firenze Santa Maria Novella and later went back to Rome but as both of us were very tired, we settled for Bologna town. Went to Piazza Maggiore, Book Libri and the market. Got myself another luggage as I took a lot of catalogs and books during the book fair.
sunrise in Bologna, just in front of the hotel where we stayed
Statue of Neptune, Piazza Maggiore
Linda and me went inside the Book Libri (a bookstore) situated in a castle!
A lady performer; she sang, played music and puppets all at the same time; amazing! Such a hardworking bella.
Sunset from my room
Day Ten – March 27, 2010 (Bologna-Rome-Kuala Lumpur)
Linda and I left Bologna early in the morning. We had two big luggage each and had to struggle up and down the steps of the train station because the elevator was not working. How convenient! Sometimes we would stop in the middle of the stairs and laughed. So hard!
It was time to say goodbye and I was feeling anxious to go home. I missed my family. But somehow this picture below gives me the feeling that I must return someday.
Leaving Bologna, to Rome, back to KUL.
And also, I have unfinished business with Firenze. I want to visit Tuscany as well as Positano. In Positano, the houses’ structure and architecture are very unique and interesting and I want to have a drawing of the view in my sketchbook. I can imagine now me sitting there, while sketching away.
Overall, I just have to visit Italy again because there is no spaghetti alle vongole and café latte as good as spaghetti alle vongole and café latte ala Italiano.
And no, I will never ever forget to convalidare. Non sempre. 😀