From Rome to Tuscany

It had been my dream to visit the countryside of Italy and when I got the flight booked few days earlier than Bologna’s Children Book Fair, I quickly agreed to follow my illustrator friend from Indonesia, Evelyn, to visit Arcidosso, a commune located in the Grosseto province, Tuscany region.

When I arrived at Fiumicino Airport in Rome,Italy, I quickly got on the next Leonardo Express (Trenitalia) train to Roma Termini, the main railway station of Rome, Italy. I paid Euro 14 for the ticket. I know I could get on the cheaper train but I was running late to meet Evelyn. I promised her to be at the termini around 1pm. The time was 1.30pm.

The station has regular train services to all major Italian cities, as well as daily international services to Paris, Munich, Geneva, Basel, and Vienna. With twenty-nine platforms and over 150 million passengers each year, Roma Termini is one of the largest railway stations in Europe.

Termini is also the main hub for public transport inside Rome. Both current Rome Metro lines (A and B) intersect at Termini metro station, and a major bus station is located at Piazza dei Cinquecento, the square in front of the station. However, the main tram lines of the city cross at Porta Maggiore, some 1,500 metres east of the station.

When I reached the station, first thing I did was to look for Evelyn. I found her at the main entrance waiting with her host in Rome, Pasquel. She got herself on airbnb room for few days at Pasquel’s home. Before we leave for Grosseto, I got myself a Vodafone prepaid data sim card for Euro 35. It is valid for one month.

Later, Evelyn and I bought our tickets to Grosseto by using one of the ticket machines located almost everywhere at the station. The fare to Grosseto is Euro12.95 each. We got the 16.20pm ticket so while waiting for the time to board the train, we walked a bit to Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore just to pass the time. I had been there before.

piazza maggiore

The piazza (or square in English) is a place where Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and Baroque bronze statue of Mary and child are situated. The current church dates from the time of pope Sixtus III, who reigned from 432 to 440 while the statue was erected in 1614.

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statue maggiore

After sitting at the piazza for an hour admiring buidings, we walked back to the station to catch our train to Grosseto.

The journey took us about 2 and a half hour before reaching Grosseto Station. Took some pictures along the way.

grosetto1

marinella

By the time we got there, the night already fell. We bought a bus ticket of Euro 4 to get to Arcidosso.

At first we did not know which bus to take. We asked around and a bus driver told us to take bus number 15 or 30. Then another bus driver came to us. He had heard our conversation. He told us to take any bus to Sienna, get down at Paganico and take another bus to Grosseto. He spoke in Italian with a little bit of sign language so that we understand what he was trying to convey. He had been so helpful and we thanked him In Italian words: grazie mille (million thanks). He seemed happy that we speak a little Italian.

If he had not told us that, I think Evelyn and me would’ve ended in the middle of nowhere in Tuscany. But I did told Evelyn that if we got lost, we should find any hotel and stay for the night before finding our way to Grosseto the next day.

nightbus

A bus came and we saw that the sign shows that it will go to Sienna, so we boarded the bus. The journey took more than two hours to reach and we had to change bus at Paganico before reaching Archidosso. When we reached Arcidosso small town, it was around 9pm and most shops were already closed. As we walked looking for the place that we would be staying (Lorenzo’s Place), we saw one pizza shop that was about to close. We dropped by and ask for direction. The boy was so kind to show us the way and finally we reached Lorenzo’s Place.

Stay tuned for my blog post on Archidosso.

Getting to Rome: KLM operated 2 time(s) daily from KUL to FCO (Rome).

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Amsterdam Schiphol Airport

I had 3 hours and 6 hours layover from and to KUL respectively. That left me ample times to discover some of the facilities that I make use and came across at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam.

Internet connection
Before exploring further, I went to get Internet connection at KPN Internet Centre & Zones. There are signs everywhere and I could locate the centre easily. The KPN Internet Zones are located at Departure Lounge 1, Pier C (near C10), Departure Lounge 3 (Pier G), Pier D and Departure Lounge 4 (Pier M). Schiphol, in collaboration with KPN, offers wireless Internet throughout the airport. I could even access the Internet right up to the gates. Options available:
15 minutes – Euro 3
30 minutes – Euro 6
90 minutes – Euro 12
24 hours – Euro 16

I chose to pay Euro 16 and after that, I happily posted some photos on my Instagram account. Alternatively, free WiFi is available at Amsterdam Schiphol airport for one hour. Connect to the “KPN Network” for a maximum two sessions at 30 minutes each.

Internet AMS
Internet pay machine. We can use cash or credit card to buy.

Passport Control
I had great experience passing through both securities; one to get to E Pier where gate 20 for KUL flight were located and another one to get to the arrival hall. The latter security officer even spoke to me in Malay. I asked him how did he learned the language and he told me that he picked it up from tourists. I, however, had to apologise to him because I do not know a single Dutch word; only some Deutsch words. He laughed, stamped my passport and let me through while saying ‘Selamat Jalan’!

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Shops before the passport control area.

Food / Dining
While there are many food and drink options at Schiphol airport, I will just have to name the ones that I passed by. I did not have anything because I was still full from breakfast at Guegliemo Airport in Bologna and snack during the flight which covered my lunch. Here are some of the food outlets/cafes that I saw: Mc Donald’s, Food Village, Segafredo, Cupcakechic, GrabandFly, JuicyDetails, Starbucks and many more. You just got to be there to see all the food outlets the airport has; abundance!

airport02

Library
The Airport Library is the first library in the world to be located at an airport. Inside, it features the first iPads in the Netherlands, creating a spectacular space with a wealth of digital stations where passengers can read books, listen to music and get acquainted with Dutch culture and literature. Entry is free of charge. I picked up The Virtuoso and got to read many pages. Very interesting read Will buy the book at local bookstore. I also got the chance to charge my mobile phone and update about the book that I read.

schiphol library
One can find many interesting books to read here. There’s also Ipad at the desk to learn more about Amsterdam. Power port can be found on the desk as well.

Rijk Museum
The Rijksmuseum houses a permanent exhibition of ten works by Dutch masters of the Golden Age from the Rijksmuseum’s collection showcasing typical Dutch scenes: the Dutch countryside, Dutch waters, Dutch towns, Dutch royalty, Dutch people and their families painted by famous old masters. My most favourite painting is Het stadhuis op de Dam te Amsterdam by Gerrit Adriaenszoon Berckheyde, 1693. You can google the title and name if you want to see the painting.

The exhibition here changes a number of times a year. It is located on Holland Boulevard, in the area behind the passport control between the E and F Pier. The museum is open every day from 7:00 until 20:00 and admission is free.

This museum also consists of a shop that offers souvenirs specially crafted for the museum. I bought some Van Gogh’s postcards for myself as I am a big fan of his.

rijkmuseum

Shops
From gifts to souveniers to clothings; so many things can be found here. There’s H&M, Victoria’s Secret, Ako, Aviflora, Fleurtiek, World of Delights, Crocs and Body Shop, to name a few.

Luggage Storage / Lockers
I saw some luggage storage/lockers located at most of the lounges. Bags can be stored up to 7 days and the rates depend on the size of the locker – from EUR 5.00 per 24 hours to EUR 10.00 per 24 hours.

Children’s Play Areas
Kids Forest is a forest-like play area where your kids can run around and burn off some steam before getting on the flight. Hours: Holland Boulevard.

Currency Exchange
Currency exchange booths can be found at various spots throughout the airport (before and after passport control).

Prayer Rooms
There is a Meditation Centre is that is open to all religions located at the airside area (that’s before passport control if you are on a layover). The facility includes a library with text books of various religions in different languages.

Smoking Rooms
Smoking is not permitted inside the terminal except in designated smoking rooms near the food concessions.

Trains
I actually took a train to Amsterdam Centraal. Train service within the Netherlands and abroad are available from the airport’s train station. Schiphol train station is located directly below the airport. I bought my ticket at the big yellow machines for 4 Euro per one way. The travel time to Amsterdam is 15 minutes.

ticket
I did get to Amsterdam Centraal for few hours. Will blog about it in another blog post.

Last but not least, my overlay transit was smooth. I went back in through the passport control by showing my passport and boarding pass. With the sign posted everywhere, I got to E Pier then to gate 20 without any problem. Like any other security check at the custom area, I just had to take out electronic gadgets from my bag, coins from my pockets and take out my jacket and belt. This is normal procedure and I know that security is very important. I still see people mumbling about the bottled drinks that they had to leave behind but I think maybe that was their first time flying. I just smile and put on my jacket and belt at the end of the custom check while walking to the waiting area to board the plane.

KLM flies from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol to destinations worldwide. The airport has one terminal. The ground floor houses four arrival halls, the NS (Dutch Railways) train station and Schiphol Plaza. The first floor houses three departure halls, check-in desks, passport control, departure lounges 1, 2, 3 and 4, and the See Buy Fly shops.

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My flight experience with KLM

KLM_bird
A bird perching on rudder.

I had never been on KLM flight and was excited to get on it because KLM has kindly sponsored my trip to Italy to attend Bologna Children’s Book Fair. I requested to get on the 21st March flight but it was full so I had to go on an earlier flight. KLM got me a flight on the 19th but since the book fair will only start on 24th, I requested to board off at Rome and follow fellow illustrator friend, Evelyn, to Grosseto, Tuscany, Italy for an excursion.

The flight was at 11.45pm and my husband dropped me off at the departure terminal and off I went to the check-in machine but it was not working so I went to the counter instead.

Although I can carry my backpack because it weighed less than 12kg, I checked it in because it was heavy for me to carry. Haha, so much for travelling light. I had my book promotion items and that’s the main reason why it was heavy. I didn’t bring much clothings actually. Anyway, only one luggage (maximum 23kg) are permitted to be checked-in. For hand-carry bag, it is up to 12kg.

I only carry my handbag of about 3kg (loaded with laptop, camera and cables). I stuffed my toiletries (liquid and gel) in my backpack because I read on the website earlier that starting January 2014, liquids and gels can only be carried aboard in my hand-baggage if they are placed in a transparent, re-sealable plastic bag which itself may not exceed one litre in capacity.

My check-in was very smooth and I later walked to the boarding area, passing immigration and duty-free areas before boarding on the train to satellite terminal and to the gate.

Prior to leaving, I got myself an aisle seat for KUL-AMS leg because it will make easier for me to get to the lavatory because night flight tends to get my bladder full every time. For AMS-FCO leg, I opted for window seat because I like to view earth from bird’s eye view.

For your information, I registered for KLM Account via Facebook. KLM account is free to register and we can even log in with other social accounts such as Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter. Having this account will make it easier for us to purchase tickets without having to insert all our details all over again. We can always view all our bookings/tickets summary the next time we travel as it will all linked into our account. By logging into My Trip through either our account or booking code, we can:
– View and change our travel details
– Choose favourite seat and see who’s on board
– Order à la carte meal, add more baggage and arrange handy services.

Soon as the plane took off, I (along with other passengers) was served a meal; choices of rice and chicken or pasta together with bread, salad and dessert. I opted for rice as I had pasta at home before leaving. The food was delicious! I eat happily without any doubt because prior to leaving, I did some checking about the meal on KLM’s website; whether it is halal for Muslim. According to the website, Muslim meal: does not contain pork, by-products of pork or food containing alcohol. All meats come from ritually slaughtered animals. I double-checked by calling KLM office in Kuala Lumpur and they confirmed that all food outbound and inbound to/fro AMS (Amsterdam) to/fro KUL (Kuala Lumpur) and JKT (Jakarta) route is halal. But that is not the case for AMS-FCO leg, so I requested for vegetarian meal.

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Rice and chicken on board.

With a full stomach, I continued to indulge myself with at least a good movie. I selected Diana from the list. I haven’t seen the movie yet. Diana was just released September last year. There were few other new movies but I was too sleepy to watch. By the time I woke up, it was breakfast time! Yes, I slept about 9 hours (Flight was 12 hours; 3 hours for meal and movie) because I did not sleep the night before that due to work overload. I went to the lavatory only once haha. The passenger besides me did not go to toilet at all. Lucky me, I didn’t have to un-buckle my seatbelt or stand or squeeze my legs up.

Breakfast was egg and fried potatoes served with bread, fruits, dessert and coffee/tea. Not long after that, it was time to land in Amsterdam.

I had 3 hours layover before I could board the flight to Rome and I took the time to explore a small part of Schiphol Airport. I will cover this in another post soon, ok?

And then it was time to board the flight to Rome. While waiting to board, there was an announce whether there’s any passenger willing to trade seat with a man on the next flight. The man offered 350 Euro. Whoa! I wish I could trade my seat had I not make any plan to go to Tuscany with Evelyn.

Anyway, I boarded the flight as scheduled.

sandwich
Yummy breakfast!

I had yummy cheese sandwich snack and coffee while watching great views outside my window. See the sandwich box? I kept it and brought it home because I think the idea is brilliant, not to mention the cute box design! Oh, the bread was super delicious, I could eat a pack just like that without cheese. The fact that the grain was grounded in an authentic Dutch windmill has got something to do with the taste.

I continued to watch the view outside my window before it was time to land at Fiumicino – Leonardo da Vinci International Airport (FCO), Rome, Italy.

alps
Weee! Alps Mountains below!

The AMS-FCO flight duration was one hour and 45 minutes and I had a great and safe flight. A steward on the flight converse to me in Malay language and that, made it even more great! I mean, how often can you hear cabin crew speaks Malay other than those outbound/inbound KUL on local airlines?

Getting to Rome: KLM operated 2 time(s) daily from KUL to FCO (Rome).

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Going to Bologna with KLM!

Every year around the month of March, Bologna will be having the International Children’s Bookfair festival. This year, like any other year, Malaysia is participating this by bringing a lot of children’s books for rights licensing deal. My books will be there too and I don’t want to miss the act and give whatever support I can to help my books to be licensed internationally.

One problem that I always have is that I am not financially stable. Being an illustrator who works from home does not promise me a monthly fixed salary, it only depends on how many paintings or books that I can draw and sell. Since I am busy with book illustrations, I can only get at least one painting and few books (book stock as royalty payment from Oyez!Books) sold each month for few hundreds Ringgit. And out of the total amount, I have to set aside some hundred Ringgit for my son’s education fund. All the monthly bills are paid by my husband and I spend my money to buy grocery and what not. Book royalty will come in like once a year (from PTS) and that won’t happen until August for me to get the payout. And royalty is not much as well; it will be around RM500 if spread according to month for a year.

And so to ensure that I go to Bologna, I set Plan A; which is to seek sponsorship for my flight ticket. Plan B would be – try to get some book royalty advance and sell more paintings and books to get the amount for flight tickets. And I have to make it fast also as flight tickets will cost higher when the fly date is nearer. As for accomodation, I ‘kautim-ed’ that already as I got some early advance royalty for a recent book deal with Karangkraf, enough for me to pay my share for a room in Bologna with my illustrator friend, Evi.

Plan A started with me sending my proposal to KLM Royal Dutch Airlines early last month. They replied and asked me to send my blog’s traffic details for them to deliberate and after 3 weeks, I got a favourable answer; KLM agree to sponsor me! Yippee! And today morning, I went to meet KLM team to discuss their requirements and details. Alhamdulillah, it went smooth.

klmtrip

I am already excited to go. Remember that 2010 dream that I would one day return to Bologna’s Children Book Fair and stick my illustration and stuff on the Illustrators Wall? It will come true! And furthermore, this time it will be a journey of inspiration as I plan to do some research on my new books at the book fair as well as visit art places not to forget to do the thing I love; sketching.

And all thanks to KLM Royal Dutch Airlines for making it happen for me.  I will leave for Bologna on 21st March 2014.

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