Saturday, 26 April 2014

Energise for Life: 10 Days Challenge

After a carb and sugar loaded week in Italy, I’ve gained a couple of pounds in my Italian getaway. Although the week in Italy was full of walking around from morning to evening, clearly the endless gelato spree and my seafood spaghetti mania did more damage. Hence, I decided to get back on the Energise for Life 10-Days Challenge by Tony Robbins. This 10-days challenge was the very same one that got me started on my journey to lose weight over the past year. My first attempt at the 10-days challenge successful help me lose about 2kg. Although not designed as a weight loss challenge, I find that at the end of the 10-days challenge, I felt lighter and healthier than before.

My first exposure to the Energise for Life challenge was about 7-8 years ago when my uncle attended Tony Robbins’ seminar in Malaysia. Coming from a family of food lovers, the 10 days challenge became the standard routine for detox in my family. While eating is our love, being healthy is equally important.

Energise for Life emphasises a healthy diet which is based strongly on an alkaline diet to energise the body. Though the original challenge seem very much dependant on supplements, I did mine without any. The 10-days challenge focuses on vital breathing; eliminating excess fats and oil, animal flesh, milk cheese and dairy products and acid addiction like coffee; increasing aerobic exercise; increasing water consumption and having sufficient rest.

To find out more about the Energise for Life programme, have a read about here. It pretty much sums up everything to know about the programme.

Returning from my sinful Italian holiday and being on study break, I find it a great time to go on the challenge. With everyone busy studying, there is minimal social lunch or dinner and therefore, I could spend 10 days eating at home and cooking my meals according to the challenge. Plus, with regularised sleeping hours after a week of holiday, I could get proper sleep and eat at regular hours! Studying also meant cooping up at home and being on the 10-days challenge, I would have to motivation to get out for a jog. Plus, one of my buddies, Charmaine is getting ready for her upcoming graduation ceremony and wanted to shed some pounds. Doing it with a partner is definitely much easier as there is constant motivation and support from each other. Since it is her first time on the 10-days challenge, I invited her to write about her journey throughout these 10 days.

Here’s how my 10-days challenge turn out! Check out how Charmaine pulled through her 10-days challenge here.

Day 1:

Breakfast: Watermelon berries smoothie
Lunch: Baked salmon with steamed broccoli
Dinner: Blanched sweet gem lettuce with steam tofu
Snack: 2 organic pumpkin seed crispbread

Starting the challenge was relatively easy as the motivation level is still extremely high. With Tesco grocery deliveries, I got all my fruits and vegetables ready for the 10 days.

Watermelon Berries Smoothie
Loving this refreshing smoothie in the morning - check out the recipe here
Day 1- Salmon
Simple baked salmon and broccoli
Day 1 - Tofu
Steamed tofu with 1 tsp of soya sauce - it looks like it's swimming in soya sauce but really it is just the liquid from the steamed tofu

Day 2:

Breakfast: Watermelon berries smoothie
Lunch: Baked salmon with steamed broccoli
Dinner: Miso soup with Chinese cabbage, carrots and baked salmon slice
Snack: 2 organic pumpkin seed crispbread
Workout: 30 minutes jog (3.75km) and 25 minutes cycling

Had a satisfying jog, followed by cycling in the gym. Having the same thing for breakfast and lunch as Day 1 made things a little boring. So, I slightly steered off course for dinner. I had miso soup which contains relatively high sodium from the fermented beans. However, I tried to minimise the amount of miso paste by reducing it to half my usual amount. Frying the salmon slices before putting it in the soup would make the salmon taste better but frying isn’t a very healthy option. Instead, I baked them in the oven to get a similar effect and remove any excess oil from the fish.

Day 2 - Miso soup
My miso soup with cabbage and carrots hidden at the bottom. The tiny bit of oil is from the salmon. No additional oil in this meal.

Day 3:

Breakfast: Watermelon berries smoothie
Lunch: Steam egg with oyster mushroom
Dinner: Baked salmon with mixed herbs and steamed broccoli and cauliflower florets
Snack: 5 strawberries, 1 plum and 2 organic pumpkin seed crispbread

With steam egg for lunch, I was a little lazy to prepare a separate vegetable and decided to step up on the vegetable for dinner. So, dinner was a slice of baked salmon marinated with some mixed herbs like oregano, thyme and parsley and a little chilli powder to spice it up; served with steamed some cauliflower, half a broccoli (yes I absolutely love broccoli) and a carrot as my side.

Day 3 - Steam Egg

Day 3 - Salmon

Day 4:

Breakfast: Orange mango smoothie
Lunch: 2 boiled eggs
Dinner: Baked salmon fillet salad
Snack: 2 organic pumpkin seed crispbread
Workout: 30 minutes jog, 20 minutes cycling, weight exercises

With my high school friend returning to bunk another night with me after her Amsterdam trip, we were busy catching up and I slept much later thus, waking up in the middle of the day. Started off with my morning smoothie, I had 2 hard boiled eggs and headed off to the gym soon after for my workout. Continued on with the challenge and had a large plate of salad leaves with thin slices of baked salmon and topped with cherry tomatoes and apples and oranges bits. The taste of apple and orange bits is a great substitute for salad dressing!

The 10-days challenge is getting tougher and I’m starting to crave for things like roast duck. T_T

Orange Mango Smoothie
Yummy smoothie for breakfast - check out the recipe here.
Day 4 - Salad

Day 4 -Gym
Being vain and took a selfie in the gym :P
Day 5:

Breakfast: Watermelon berries smoothie
Lunch: Baked salmon with mixed herbs and steamed vegetables
Dinner: Vegetable soup
Snack: 1 banana, 1 plum and 1 organic pumpkin seed crispbread

My stomach had a craving for some hot soup so I decided to make a small pot of vegetable soup for dinner. With carrots, corn and potato, the soup was cooked over slow fire for about 2 hours. It was a bowl of goodness even without the usual chicken or pork that is usually used to cook soup. Adding only a pinch of salt for some taste, the natural sweetness from the corn and carrot was strong and delish.

Day 5 - Salmon

Day 5 - Soup Ingredient
The ingredients for my vegetable soups.
Day 5 - Soup

Day 6:

Breakfast: Orange mango smoothie
Lunch: Vegetable soup
Dinner: Baked salmon salad with egg, cherry tomato and apple and orange bits
Snack: 1 banana and 1 organic pumpkin seed crispbread
Workout: 15 minutes jog, 15 minutes brisk walk at 9.0 incline, pilates

With a little problem sleeping at the right hours, I woke up at 1pm and thus, having to adjust my lunch and dinner time. Kicked start the day with orange and mango smoothie, then I headed to the gym for some workout. I wasn’t too energised to run a long distance so I opted for an inclined brisk walk instead.

After watching a couple of pilates video by Cassey Ho on YouTube, I was inspired to challenge myself with her top 5 workouts for thighs, abs etc. Cassey is a fitness instructors that runs a YouTube channel called Blogilates where she post videos on pilates and fitness. Introduced to her channel by Sue Lyn, her videos were one of the things that help me burn some calories when I am too lazy to make a trip to the gym in my second year. Her pilates videos are easy to follow and most of the time all you need is a yoga mat.

With a screwed up sleep cycle, I managed to have my vegetable soup leftover for lunch at past 4pm and finally, my salad at 8pm-ish. All the Easter greetings and advertisement reminds me of Easter eggs throughout the day although Easter weekend isn’t suppose to be all about eggs and bunnies. Finally, resorted to give in to temptations and added a hard boiled egg into my salad.

Passing through the halfway mark of the challenge, my intense craving for everything unhealthy was kicking in. Sometime in the afternoon all I could think of was my favourite wantan noodles and late at night, Hokkien mee was the only thing that filled my mind. Well, this whole challenge is not getting any easier.

Day 6 - Salad

Day 7:

Breakfast: Orange mango smoothie
Lunch: Vegetable soup
Dinner: Baked egg with broccoli, oyster mushroom and tomatoes
Snack: 1 organic pumpkin seed crispbread
Exercise: 15 minutes jog, 30 minutes cross trainer, pilates

Yet another screwed up sleep cycle as I was catching the updates on the funeral procession of Karpal Singh late last night. Waking up to aches in my hamstrings and thighs from the pilates exercise yesterday was a great feeling. Finally, stretched those dormant muscles which I’ve neglected in the past few months. Without my old gym buddy, no one actually pushes me to stretch my muscles anymore nowadays. Felt energised to workout, I decided to remove the rest day and hit the gym. Since it’s Easter weekend, the gym is almost empty and it felt like I own the place XD

Trying to be creative for dinner, I wanted to make a healthy version of a quiche without the cheese, cream and pie crust. So I mixed some lightly steamed broccoli (cause I am afraid only baking it would not be sufficient to cook it thoroughly) and lightly sautéed some oyster mushrooms (without any oil of course) with some cherry tomatoes and filled it up with an egg mixture and shoved it into the oven to bake. 30 minutes passed and the centre still had some uncooked egg mixture and my broccoli was starting to burn. Finally after 45 minutes, it was done but the egg sort of dried up and was a little hard and my broccoli was overcooked and burnt. Oh well, shall stick to my routine steamed vegetables and salmon tomorrow.

Day 7 - Baked Egg
Tried to be fancy and it turns out disastrous :(
Day 7 - Gym
Being the only person in the gym :)

Day 8:

Breakfast: Orange mango smoothie
Lunch: Vegetable soup
Dinner: Baked salmon with herbs and mixed vegetables
Snack: 1 organic pumpkin seed crispbread

Still in a little screwed up sleeping cycle, I manage to slot vegetable soup for lunch and baked salmon with herbs and mixed vegetables for dinner. Thanks to the weird sleeping hours, I’m starting to lose control over my routine which is a bad sign. Nearing the end of the 10-days challenge, everyday seems to get easier although there are insane moments of food cravings. Facebook and Instagram had been a horrible source of torture.

Day 8 - Salmon 
Day 9:

Watermelon berries smoothie
2 boiled eggs
Dinner: Baked salmon with sweet gem
Snack: 1 organic pumpkin seed crispbread

The day where my sleep cycle is completely haywired. Slept early the night before resulted into waking up way too early. Feeling extremely hungry, I resorted to 2 boiled eggs to keep myself satisfied while I work on my law revision. Feeling extremely tired by noon, I took a nap which was longer than expected and missed my gym plans for the day. Finally, I had my smoothie as a afternoon snack and a proper dinner later on. Since it’s Day 9 and towards the end of the challenge, I topped my baked salmon with teriyaki sauce as a little reward for getting to Day 9.

Day 9 - Salmon

Day 10:

Breakfast: Watermelon berries smoothie
Lunch: 2 boiled eggs
Dinner: Pan grilled cod with broccoli
Snack: 1 organic pumpkin seed crispbread

The last day of the 10-days challenge! *victory tunes playing* YAY! Yet another completed 10-days challenge. Supposed to slot a gym session in Day 10 but I got really lazy. Definitely got to work on the self discipline.

Day 10 - Cod
Fish with tumeric is one of my favourites cause that's how my grandma always cook them :D

After 10 days, I lost a total of 2kg and felt so much healthier! Though it would be great to continue on up to 30 days but oh well, my love for food made it impossible. Instead of feeling like I'm constantly torturing my taste buds and depriving myself of heavenly culinary goodness, I adapted the healthy living concept as much as possible in my daily life and indulge during my cheat days. 

On the way to stock up my grocery, I took a short detour and tried a cropped top on. Never in my life have I thought I could wear a cropped top. Amazing how adapting a healthy lifestyle could make so much changes in life.

Day 11
Cropped top selfie hehe :P

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

5 Weight Loss Tips

After shedding about more than 40 pounds now, I decided I would like to share the 5 tips that had help me come this far. It’s not been an easy journey but it has been a satisfying one.

1. Burn The Extra Fat

Day 7 - Gym
Hit the gym or simply go for a walk/jog/run

Personally, there is no shortcut in losing weight. You’ve got to get your a** up and start working out. If exercising isn’t something that you’ve done in the past, then start slow. It is impossible to morph from a couch potato to a world class athlete almost immediately. I couldn’t even brisk walk for 5 km when I started. Surely exercising sounds dreadful but trust me, the endorphin released during a workout is amazing. Instead of making me tired, exercising had kept me more focus, energetic and happier.

Start off with cardio exercise like walking for 30 minutes, 3-4 times a week. If you have access to the gym, even better. Alternate walking or jogging with a 30 minute on the eliptical trainer or cross trainer. When your body is more seasoned to the extra work, go for a jog or a run instead of walking. From lots of online resources, high intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great exercise method for weight loss and it had worked for me (not sure if it works for everyone else). I would normally run for 2 minutes and slow down for 1 minute and repeat the cycle for about 10 to 12 times.

It would also be a bonus to be a little less lazy and take the stairs instead of the lift; to park your car further away and walk and to walk instead of take public transport when traveling to somewhere within walking distance.

In short, just get up and start working out!

2. What You Eat Is What You Become

Together with exercising, having a healthy diet is equally as important. For 2 decades of my life, I’ve indulged in a unhealthy lifestyle filled with fast food and processed food. Coming to realise that continuing with such a lifestyle would eventually lead to health complications later in life, I was fearful of having to face lengthy healthcare problems and endless hospital visits in the future. Thanks to a running high blood pressure trend in my immediate family and having lost loved ones to cancer, it was a wake up call to snap out of this killer diet.

For starters, eliminate processed food. See those canned drinks, canned food and processed food? They are a killer to a healthy body. A canned drink could easily contain up to 5-6 teaspoons of sugar. With all these excess sugar, it gets stored as fats if the sugar is not used up by our body. Those canned food and processed food, have you wondered how much sodium and saturated fat it contained? Well, start reading the nutrition labels and you would be surprised how much preservative, sodium and saturated fat is in those processed food. Although they are delicious, it is putting health at stake.

Everyone loves their instant noodles. I loved mine too and it was my staple for a long long time. But, throw instant noodles out the window. Literally, filled with carbohydrates and MSG and minimal nutrition, it is just pure junk. Yes it is convenient, easy and delicious but that doesn’t change the fact it is just junk. Help yourself and take a step further to eliminate those air filled bags of potato chips.

By eliminating all the unhealthy food in the diet, start to take a healthier approach in eating. Weight loss is not about starving or stuffing yourself with only vegetables or salad every meal. It is all about healthy eating. For instance, choose to bake or grill food instead of deep frying them. Increase the portion of vegetables and fruits daily and reduce the excess amount of carbohydrate and meat. Opt for balsamic vinegar over creamy salad dressing. Choose wholemeal or bran products over those made from highly refined flour.

These small baby steps would take you far :)

Choose healthier food options
Up the amount of vegetable intake

3. Don’t Try Reaching For the Moon

Be realistic. Weight loss is not a miracle, it is a slow and enduring process. So, set realistic aims and goals and don’t be disheartened if the goals are not achieved on time. Instead, keep calm and carry on. One of the biggest mistake I’ve made when I was trying to shed some pounds in high school and college was trying to achieve the impossible. I would make aims like losing 3kg in a week and do nothing much about it.

There should be great dreams and goals but set realistic short term goals and adjust them accordingly to real time conditions. My aim to lose 16kg when I started seem like something unreachable but with an aim of losing 2-3kg a month, it was easy to achieve and achieving each small target would spring you further to want to nail the next goal. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

It would also be great to write down the motivation for setting foot on this difficult journey. Be clear of the reason why you would want to go through all this pain and hard work. It would be great to do it out of self motivation and not because of external factors which are ever changing. Mine were the fear of getting trapped with weight related diseases and trying to breakthrough the impossible in life.

Set your aim and go for it!

4. Essential Cheats

Yes, I cheat and cheating is what keeps me going. Despite all the healthy and clean eating, cheat days are quite important. Cheat days is usually a day where you would be more relaxed on the diet and indulge in something sinful like some roast pork, char koay teow or maybe a heavenly dessert for those with sweet tooth. And if you must, indulge in some junk like potato chips or even instant noodles. (I am definitely guilty of this)

Cheat days actually help maintain the weight loss struggle. Throughout my whole struggle, I would cheat once a week and indulge in some of my cravings. But of course, don’t be carried away and cheat for one whole week or that would just waste all the hard work and effort.
You always need a break once in awhile.

Roast Pork
Indulge in sinful things like this Roast Pork *drools*

5. Counting Calories

Write down everything you eat even a piece of cracker or a cup of coffee. Aside from eating a healthy meal, calories counting helps to keep track of the amount of food eaten against the real amount of food needed by the body. Aside from that, calories counting actually motivated me and acted as a warning if I am eating too much. The breakdown in carbohydrate, protein and fats etc in my calories counter help to track if I’m overeating certain food groups.

For those with smartphones, download apps like My Fitness Pal where you could easily input your food intake and record the amount of calories in each item. My Fitness Pal would also help to calculate the actual amount of calories needed each day according to your weight and height etc. Contrary to the standard 2000 calories a day for women, everyone’s caloric needs defer from each individual so keep to your needs.

Be meticulous, record everything that enters your mouth.

For those hoping to get fit and lose some extra fats, I hope these tips would help you achieve your goals.

Disclaimer: The writer shall be relinquished from any claims of any injuries or liabilities incurred directly or indirectly as a result of following the above blog post.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

How It Really Felt Being Fat All These Years

For almost a decade in my life, I was either overweight or to plainly put it FAT. Despite growing up being rather skinny in my early childhood, the love for food took control in the later part of my life and I could never successfully contain it. For so many years, I kept eating and indulging in my favourite food which are mostly unhealthy like Char Koay Teow, fried chicken etc. Basically, anything fried is heavenly to me.

Being fat throughout high school and college and part of university life wasn’t something easy. Those around me probably would not realised what I actually felt because I was able to laugh off every single criticism and jokes about my weight. After a chat with my buddies recently, one of them suggested I should write about how I’ve felt. Well, here’s my account of how it was throughout the years.

To start off, it feels horrible 99% of the time. Although being with the group of my closest friends, jokes about my weight and how I look was commonly passed around from time to time. Well, they are my closest friends and I knew they find these jokes as harmless. Since I’ve never expressed how it actually hurt, it can’t be right to blame them for making such jokes. I’ve made a choice to bury the pain within myself and laugh it off so that’s how it had been for years. Once in a while, I would lose control and burst in anger at their jokes because it was offensive. But, since I was normally laughing along with them, many would ridicule my outburst.

Well, I wasn’t 100% okay with such sarcasm and jokes but I chose not to be bothered about it. However, as strong as anyone could be, it was impossible to not suffer any breakdown. At those times when those hurtful words bothered me, it felt like my weight was the measure of what sort of person I am. I also felt guilty for my love to eat; guilty for having no self control and guilty for not being self conscious like my peers resulting in my physique.

PE classes was something I dreaded, simply because I wasn’t as good as the rest. I  could not run as fast, I wasn’t as agile and I was always the last to finish any of the test. Every house practice and sports day felt a little like the walk of shame. Though friends would cheer me on to continue running etc, deep down it was really quite painful to be at the back of the pack. I wish I could be as fast as everyone else and as fit as my friends. So, from time to time I tried hard to shed some pounds and improve my fitness but each time to no avail.

At times, many would laugh at my lack of fashion sense and wearing similar Polo tops everyday. Like all girls out there, I would like to look pretty too. Although I always find inner beauty more important, there are times where I wish I wasn’t the ugly duckling.  My wardrobe was filled with Polo tops and stacks of knee length shorts and cargo pants because to be honest, it was the only thing that made me feel comfortable. Other apparels either made me look worst than I already am or simply wasn’t available in my size.

The worst moments was during my high school prom. For once, I would love to look stunning for prom. Being short and fat, shopping for a dress was just painful. Walking around malls and stores for several weekends only to find dresses I like which doesn’t fit, or simply to hear replies like “sorry we don’t have such big size”. Either that or even the largest XL could not fit.  While my friends were discussing which dress to get, I was only hoping to find one which would fit. Finding a dress for prom was ripping my self esteem apart in each and every moment. Finally clad in a formal-ish top and slacks, some would ask why didn’t I get a dress for prom and I’ve never actually told them the real reason simply because I didn’t know how to express my failure in getting a dress.

In social events, there are those who pass off comments about how I am less deserving because of my size. It may just come across as a joke to many but to the subject (me), it wasn’t funny. I wished to be judged for my character and not my size but in this cruel reality, the majority is just superficial.

Despite how it hurts, I am not afraid of how the world would poke fun at my layers of lipid. For years, I was called ‘elephant’ at home and referred to as ‘Ah Pui’ (meaning Fatty in Hokkien) by many. Whatever was said, I would try to tell myself to not be bothered and just let them act as they wished. My ignorance was the reason why I could continue to lead such unhealthy lifestyle and remained unfazed by future health complications.

It wasn’t until I came to realisation that it wasn’t just about my appearance but, my health was also at stake with uncontrolled indulgence. Seeing members of many of my loved ones troubled by the common problem of hypertension, I begin to realise the importance of being healthy and fit. After successfully gained control over my cravings, I am ready to embrace my past and how I’ve felt over the years. Standing firm on my belief in the importance of inner beauty over appearance, I am not vouching that looks are important. But, I would like to point out that anyone who is blessed with better genetics and appearance, one should not take their beauty as a right to make fun and belittle those who aren’t as lucky. Laughing at anyone who is worst off is simply cruel and a form of bullying. There is no difference in the rich laughing at one who is poor and those pretty laughing at one who is fat. Both are simply laughing at those who are less fortunate than them.

I would honestly admit, my excess weight had been a damage to my self esteem and confidence for many years but all the taunts and jeers was a great motivation for me during my weight loss journey. Through the years, I am lucky to successfully gain control over my health and to have some of my buddies had been supporting me throughout.

Thank you buddy! But being 300 pounds would probably result in my death
P/S: To those reading this, if you are blessed with great physiques, be grateful and don’t belittle those who aren’t because it may secretly hurt them.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

7 Days of Italy: Tuscany & Venezia

The final 3 days of the week long holiday in Italy was basically spent on a city hopping spree with a different city each day. Continuing our journey from Cinque Terre, we hopped on a 50 minute train ride to Pisa, home to the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.

With most online travel forum recommending against spending the night in Pisa, after a couple of hours in Piazza dei Miracoli with the famous Pisa landmark, we headed off to Florence. The Leaning Tower was an amazing architecture work although the first architect had to be really stupid to design a tower made fully from marble on a muddy land.

At certain angle, the leaning tower looks scarily tilted
Gotta act like a tourist once in awhile - pushing the Leaning Tower
Known to be the home of the Renaissance period, Florence was a spectacular compact city with everything within walking distance. Unfortunately, poor planning hit us hard as we arrived late on Sunday afternoon from Pisa and all museums and galleries are closed on Monday. Being the city hopping part of the journey, we had no choice but to forgo seeing the famous Michelangelo's David statue. The remainder of Day 5 was spent around the city of Florence, enjoying its relaxing open air piazza with gelato and watching sunset over Ponte Vecchio. One of our very interesting part of our night was watching a street performer mimicking Charlie Chaplin for over an hour.

Day 5 - Gelato dose
The riverside of Florence lit up after sunset
Charlie Chaplin impersonator - somehow I feel he looks a little like Hilter

As Day 6 begun, we took a tour of the Basilica Santa Maria dei Fiore, the home of the famous Duomo in all of Florence. Having seen the St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, the interior of the Basilica Santa Maria dei Fiore was of course no match for the Vatican. However, the facade and duomo (dome) was impressive. The visit to the Basilica ended our adventure in Florence and we continued on to our final stop, Venice.

Basilica Santa Maria Dei Fiore
Having visited Venice in 2012, the main island of Venice was somewhat familiar. Arriving in late afternoon, all that could be done was taking a walk around the alleyways of Venice through Ponte Rialto and ending the walk in San Marco Square. Having dinner near Ponte Rialto was probably one big mistake as we started walking back at 11pm-ish only to realise we are lost in the maze of Venice. The scariest part, at a point we asked for directions, only to end up bumping into the same group of people after 15 minutes walk and ending back at where we begin after 30 minutes of walk. Trust me, the streets of Venice is no joke. Thank god for Smartphone and kind Samaritans, we manage to find our way back after an hour or so.

Ponte Rialto in the night
With a night flight back to London, our final hours in Italy was spent hopping from Venice to Murano and Burano island. Famous for its glass, Murano offered tourist with an opportunity to watch how Murano glass is made. Burano which had seen more recognition of recent years officially overtook the main Venice island as my favourite place in this region. With quaint brightly coloured houses, Burano feels extremely cheerful.

Horse in the making
Burano's quiet canal
All the pretty colourful house!

Ending our week long journey with a long ferry ride back to the main island of Venice and a water bus ride along the Grand Canal was an amazing way to end the day. 7 days of seafood spaghetti and gelato and it’s the end of our Italian adventure.
Italy Map
Our week long journey in Italy starting from Rome and heading north west to La Spezia for Cinque Terre, then diverting down south slightly for Pisa and heading east toward Pisa and finally north east towards Venice

7 Days of Italy: The Italian Riviera

From Rome, our Italian journey continued to Cinque Terre which means ‘5 Lands’. Often appearing in online list of places to visit in the world, Cinque Terre is really a gem of the Italian Riviera.

Our journey from Roma Termini began with a tout who acted to help us find our train coach. Since train stations in the UK had ticket barriers, we had an assumption that the tout was a train station staff and accepted his help. How stupid! Once we got onto the train, he was waiting to be paid. Lucky for us, the train was about to leave and he had to get off. As mean as it sounds, thank you for the help but I am not paying for services I didn’t request for. Lesson learnt; never let strangers try to help you.

It was a scenic three and half hour ride to La Spezia with lush greenery on both side of the train. Arriving at La Spezia, we took the local train to Manarola, our base for the next 2 days. Unfortunately for us, the scenic coastal path is closed and our initial plan to hike had to be amended. The remainder of the day was rather gloomy with occasional showers. Definitely not the best weather to be in the national park.

Riomaggiore on a gloomy evening

Our hearty pasta meal! Amazing seafood pasta.

Day 4 of our 7 days of Italy started off with a hearty quick bite from the pizzeria below our apartment. Honestly, any take away pizzeria in Italy at the very least matches the standard of Pizza Hut. Our visit to the 5 villages started off with Monterosso, the highest landing point of Cinque Terre.

Ready made pizza for only €2.50 per slice

Our day continued to Vernazza, the village nearest to the sea. When the great flood hit Cinque Terre in 2011, Vernazza suffered a great damage. With a great sea view, we had lunch in a seaside trattoria which the weirdest lasagna was served to us.

Written in the menu as Lasagna with 3 fish and leek - Which part of this looks like a lasagna?
Day 4 - second gelato dose
The best snack - fried seafood mix
With a visit to Corniglia and finally Riomaggiore, our exploration of the 5 villages were complete. Ending the day at Riomaggiore, it was a fulfilling day which ended with a breathtaking sunset; watching the golden sun sink slowly into the horizon of the sea. Whilst waiting for the sun to set, we met a fellow traveler and it was a fun evening spent exchanging views on places and culture.

The golden sun from Riomaggiore marina
Riomaggiore all lit up after sunset

Leaving on the morning train to Pisa on Day 5, there wasn’t much time to explore Cinque Terre further. Being in a national park, it was a wasted opportunity to not have time to hike one of its many trails. With its quaint villages, friendly people and cheap seafood, it is a place not to be missed in Italy!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

7 Days of Italy: The Eternal City

A week in Italy is the reason for my long absence for blogging, aside from dissertation deadlines and exams. One of my high school friend is on her graduation trip in Europe and part of her trip was a week in Italy with me.

Our journey began from London to Rome via Ryanair and we landed in Rome Ciampino Airport. This trip definitely did not start of on the right note. At Rome Ciampino, there were 3 shuttle buses options to Roma Termini (the main railway station of Rome) and the online advice we found was to buy tickets from whichever bus company that is departing first. The earliest bus to leave was the Ryanair shuttle bus but we were mistakenly directed to queue in the local public bus queue instead. Assured that we could get tickets from the conductor, we stayed in line for more then 30 minutes only to be told that the conductor would not be selling any tickets because the bus is full.

So, we headed back to the arrivals and bought the bus tickets and head back into the queue. Being in the front of queue with only a couple few others in front of us, we were certain we are hopping on the next bus. A bus came and parked right in front stating ROMA TERMINI on it’s LED screen and the next second, everyone literally flocked the bus to get on it. A minute later, the conductor said his bus was not in service and left. But, it was definitely a great preview of the chaos to come when the next shuttle bus arrive and we noticed we had to turn down a little of our courtesy or we would be stuck for another few hours. When the next shuttle arrived, the same crowd flocked the bus, pushing through their way into the front of the queue. Definitely a different side of Europe. Seriously, what happened to civilisation?!

Arriving at Roma Termini and taking the local bus to our hostel and the metro to other places, we realised that nobody in this city make way for anyone alighting the public transport. It was either we put the effort to get off or get stuck and miss the stop. Excuse me or even the local ‘scusi’ don’t work! Oh boy, Day 1 and I already miss London.

St. Peter's Basilica

On a brighter side, the rest of our journey was more pleasant. Our first stop was the St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican city. It took about half an hour to get through security and all the queues but all the waiting was worth it. The interior of St. Peter’s Basilica was the most majestic I’ve seen thus far in Europe. Unfortunately, we were a few minutes late to climb the cupola (dome) of the church.

Gelato Stop 1: Nocciola and Berries
Gelato Stop 2: Melon and Berries and Cream

Our day continued with the visit to the Spanish steps which I find to be very much similar t o Montmartre in Paris. There are touts shoving roses into your hands, trying to tie charms on your wrist and knock offs selling imitation bags.

Piazza di Spagna

Ending Day 1 with Fontana di Trevi lifted the spirit of the holiday. The fountain was a majestic piece of work and being there before sunset; watching the fountain lit up was a beautiful experience.

Fontana di Trevi in the day
Spaghetti Vongole in Ristorante Sora Lucia
Day 2 begun with the Colosseo, the largest amphitheatre ever built. On a guided tour, we had a great insight of its history. Grabbing a quick lunch, we continued with the Roman Forum and Palatino hill which really is just ruins of marble columns in a vast area.

The tourist shot of Colosseo

Ruins in Roman Forum

Disappointed that we were not able to climb the cupola on the first day, we headed back to the Vatican city trying to make it on time before it closes. We reached 15 minutes before the closing time, only to be told that Queen Elizabeth II was on a visit and the cupola is closed to visitors. What a bummer.

Altare della Patria in Piazza Venezia

With nothing much we could visit in the evening, we headed to Piazza Navona. The Italian open air piazza is such a great place to just sit and relax; best accompanied by gelato. Being a shutter bug, I dragged my travel companion to capture the sunset over the Vatican from Tiber river. 

Piazza Navona
Gelato Stop 3: Pistachio, Nocciola, Cream Caramel, Tiramisu and Chocolate Chip

Sunset over Vatican City
View of the Vatican from Tiber River at twilight

Our final hours of Day 3, I spent my early morning completing my dissertation and the rest of the time was spent on walking along the Tiber river.
Riverside of Tiber River

Dubbed as the eternal city, Rome is filled with Roman history and a popular destination for tourist. So every tourist attraction meant hours of queuing. With the limited time in Rome, we didn’t manage to visit the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican and Pantheon, Piazza del Popolo etc. A great city full of history but not a very friendly place to be in.