Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

{ Naples, Italy - May 2011 }

I love how the Italian words sound, and being able to understand them is even better! During the trip in Italy, I kept trying to eavesdrop in conversations, especially when those older Italian men were talking loudly with such passion and many hand movements. But I digress. My point is, I can read and understand the title of this post - Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli is the Naples National Archeological Museum.

It has many collections from nearby Pompeii and Herculaneum, and served as a great introduction to Pompeii that we planned to go the day after. Then again, the exhibition on Pompeii in the National Museum of Singapore the year before was one of the reasons I planned the trip to Pompeii.

There were many sculptures exhibited, that remarkable as they were, became fuzzy and similar after awhile. However, there were two that stood out - Farnese Artemis and Aphrodite Kallipygos. Artemis was a Greek goddess, and I have been to the site of her temple, the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, Turkey, which was one of the seven wonders of the world. The sculpture was filled with many breast-like bumps that would be difficult to forget. Aphrodite Kallipygos was a sensual sculpture of a partially draped woman, looking back down over her shoulder.

  
  

The museum has many artifacts from Pompeii. I especially love all the reds on the walls and frescoes. The reds actually have a name - pompeian red! There was also a separate room called the Secret Cabinet. The room held a collection of erotic artifacts found in Pompeii. In 1819, when the King Francis I of Naples visited the exhibition in the museum, he was so embarrassed of the artwork, that he locked them away in a room that would only be accessible to "people of mature age and respected morals". So, since this may be accessible by people not of mature age and respected morals, I shall not show any photos taken from the Secret Cabinet.


The museum that was founded in 1750s have such an extensive collection of archeological finds that history buffs could easily spend the whole day in the museum. However, for a huge museum with so many artifacts, it had very few visitors during the short time that we were there. 

::: Footnotes :::

Naples National Archeological Museum } The museum is open from from 9am to 7.30pm from Wednesday to Monday. The entrance fee costs Euro 6.50. This is the official site http://museoarcheologiconazionale.campaniabeniculturali.it/, although the English version does not seem to work very well.


Lazy Sunday morning at Blackbird Cafe

{ Singapore - November 2011 }


Nothing like a cup of coffee to start the day, although the day started pretty late on the lazy Sunday morning that we were having brunch at Blackbird Cafe. Ordered a cup of Cafe Vienna - espresso with whipped cream - that I had come to love during my years in Australia. There are not that many places in Singapore that serves coffee this way, but Blackbird Cafe, a New Zealand cafe, does. The coffee beans were imported from Wellington, and were pretty good.


The brunch menu was pretty simple, but good enough for me. We ordered Eggs Benny (normally known as Eggs Benedict) with poached eggs on English muffin with hollandaise sauce. I liked how the simple ingredients could have such an interesting taste. Believe it or not, this was the first time I had a proper Eggs Benedict! We also ordered the Blackbird Big Brekkie with scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, cake, tomato, baked beans and sourdough bread. The Big Brekkie would be good for those who love a hearty breakfast or brunch.

The cozy cafe has a simple setting, with some outdoor seats. With good food and great coffee, I think I would be back, even if it is only for a cup of Cafe Vienna.

::: Footnotes :::

Blackbird Cafe
6 Handy Road, Singapore
+65-6337 3448
Sunday brunch from 10am to 3pm
Found their Facebook page, but not a website. 

Moments that take my breath away

   
  
Sitting on the steps of a church by the Grand Canal in Venice
Looking down Cappadocia from the hot-air balloon
Watching the sunrise from Alishan mountain
Feeding elephants in Chiang Mai
Sitting at the desk in the New York Public Library
Stepping on the Lijiang's Old Town for the first time

Moments like this are the reasons why I love travelling. 
So, here's to many more moments that will take my breath away.

Deep in the heart of historic Naples

{ Naples, Italy - May 2011 }

Walking down the chaotic historic centre of Naples, you would never guess that there is a whole world deep underground. There are various sites and tours that bring visitors under the city, but on our visit we decided to explore the Naples' underground with Napoli Sotterranea, which literally means Naples Underground.


We were led to an apartment building, down a flight of stairs into the remains of a Roman theatre. Imagine, to be living in a building not knowing that it was built on a couple of thousands year old theatre! According to our guide, Emperor Nero, the Roman emperor, sang in this theatre through an earthquake. Many families are still living in the apartment above it. 


We were then brought to another passageway, down hundreds of steps underground, into what used to be a Greco-Roman aqueduct during the Roman times. The aqueduct was eventually not used, and the water redirected. Standing inside the aqueduct, I could not help but marvel at the amazing feats of engineering to build this aqueduct thousands of years ago. It was huge in both width and height, and the relatively stale air was cool. 

The aqueduct could fit hundreds of people, which it did during World War II. It was used as a bomb shelter during the world war, offering protection to the Neapolitans as their city was bombarded by the military. There were toy cars, beds and sewing machine on display, showing how the locals lived underground for days during those times. 


We were then given a candle each, with the lights switched off (for effect, of course), and walked along a long, narrow passageway where water once flowed through, to a cistern. The water in the cistern was pumped in from above just to show us how it would have been when it was in used. We were then brought back up into the historic centre of Naples, which in retrospect, was not as historic as what we have seen deep under the streets.

::: Footnotes :::

Napoli Sotterranea } Napoli Sotterranea provides two hours guided underground tours in English a few times a day, for Euro 9.30 per person. You can find them at Piazza San Gaetano 68, call them at +39 081 296 944, email them at info@napolisotterranea.org and find more information at http://www.napolisotterranea.org/.

Paris in the rain

Been reading up on Paris and planning my trip to Europe next year
And it has been raining everyday here in Singapore. 

Which makes me wonder...
how will Paris look like in the rain?


{ Photo from weheartit }

People of Napoli

{ Naples, Italy - May 2011 }

In my previous two posts on "People of Venice" and "People of Vatican City", you can see how touristy the places are. Venice was full of day-trippers and we could only escape them early in the morning, or when we started wondering the tiny alleys. In Vatican City, with only 800 residents, there are literally only tourists that you see!

Which brings me to Naples. Just from these photos, you can see the difference between those tourist cities and this charming historic centre. There are no shortage of locals, and really, not that many tourists. So, if you, like me, love to people watch, the best place to watch the locals would be Naples.

  
  
  

This charming old lady, deserves a special mention. Saw her from the window of our Bed and Breakfast, while we were taking some photos of the street downstairs, Spaccanapoli. Quickly snapped a photo of her, which she noticed, and started scolding vivaciously before going back into her apartment! We felt sorry for taking her photo, but it turned out so well that I could not resist putting it up.


The Muppets are coming to the big screen!

{ Upcoming Movie: The Muppets }

Why are there so many songs about rainbows 
and what's on the other side? 
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions, 
and rainbows have nothing to hide. 
So we've been told and some choose to believe it. 
I know they're wrong, wait and see. 
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection. 
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

If the lyrics sound familiar, that is probably because you have heard the song before (one time, or the other). The song is called Rainbow Connection, and it is sang by my favourite muppet, Kermit the Frog. I mean, just look at that face! And, don't you just love the simplicity of the lyrics and the froggy dreamy voice of his? I just found out that the song actually received an Oscar nomination in 1980.


Well, Kermit the Frog will be singing the song again in the upcoming movie The Muppets. Apart from all the Muppets that we have come to love, the movie will also star Jason Segel and Amy Adams. Even if you are too young to remember The Muppets, I am pretty sure that there will at least be one Muppet that you would come to adore. Watch the trailer for a preview!

Catch The Muppets in cinemas this 8 December 2011 and like the Official Disney Studios Singapore Facebook Page!


::: Footnotes :::

This post is written as part of Nuffnang's contest to win a pair of tickets for the gala premiere of the movie before the official opening of the movie. Hope that I will get it!

{ Click here for a list of movies I've watched and other posts on movies }

Peperoni Pizzeria pales in comparison

{ Singapore - November 2011 }

After blogging about the Da Michele's pizza in Naples, I felt like having Italian pizza. So, we went off in search of an Italian pizzeria in Singapore, and ended up in Peperoni Pizzeria. With the Italian name and simple decor in green, white and red (the colour of the Italian flag), it looked promising.

We ordered Caprese salad that we have came to love in Italy. A simple salad with just tomatoes, mozzarella and rocket salad, I love the simplicity and the freshness of the cheese. Not a big fan of rocket salad, though.

In Peperoni Pizzeria, you can order two toppings for each pizza. So, we ended up having four toppings on our two large pizza - Margherita (mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and oregano), Frutti di Mare (prawns, clams, scallops, squid rings and fish), Prosciutto Crudo di Parma (parma ham and rocket salad) and Suprema (shitake mushrooms, chicken sausage, onions and red chilli).

If I have had the pizza last year, I would have said that the thin crispy crust was pretty good. However, having had the simple and yet oh-so-good pizza in Naples, nothing else compares. So, unfortunately, the pizza tasted bland, the crust too dry and there were not enough mozzarella and tomatoes in the Margherita. I mean, just compare the photo with the one we had in Naples!

I am not sure if this means that all pizza will pale in comparison with the pizza we had in Naples. I hope not. At least there is one pizzeria in Singapore that is a member of the True Neapolitan Pizza Association (Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana). Maybe, just maybe, it would be able to live up to the expectation.


::: Footnotes :::

95 Frankel Avenue
Singapore 458221
+65 6445 5661

There are a few other branches around Singapore. 
Do check out the addresses and menu on the website. 

L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele

{ Naples, Italy - May 2011 }

Growing up in Malaysia, and then studying in Singapore and Australia, the pizza that I knew and grew up with were those American pizza with thick crust and lots of toppings. I was never really a fan. Soon, I discovered thin crust Italian pizza that I came to love. So, when in Naples, the birth place of pizza, what do you think is the must eat dish?

Pizza is probably the most popular and the best known creation of all Neapolitan cuisine. And the most popular pizzeria in Naples is arguably Da Michele. A small unassuming pizzeria, with no decorations except for the white and green tiles, that offers only two types of pizza - marinara (with tomato, garlic, and oregano) and margherita (with tomato, mozzarella, and basil). There must be a good reason why Da Michele still manages to attract long lines of customers after 140 years. And being featured in the book and the movie Eat, Pray, Love is not the reason.

The reasons are these...


When you are able to make something perfectly, why do you need to make anything else? The dough was fluffy, chewy and crunchy, with just the right amount of oven-burnt taste. There were no fancy toppings, but the tomato, the cheese and the herbs were so right together. It may sound like a cliché, but I have never thought that pizza can be so good.

We had a front seat view of the pizza making process. A boisterous man spread out the dough on a wooden shovel, put the ingredients on the dough and passed it on to another man who slid the shovel into the wood-fired oven, turning the pizza a few times, and voila - you have the world's best pizza. Well, so I have not tried the other pizzeria in Naples and I cannot honestly put that label in this small little pizzeria. But if it is not the world's best, it must come in a close second!


We were lucky to get to the pizzeria in the early afternoon before the lunch crowd. There were no queues and we were quickly shown to our seat, with the pizza served promptly. When we wanted to go to the pizzeria on the second evening, we were met with the huge crowd in front. But even if you have to wait for an hour, it will be worth it.


To quote from Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray Love, "Please go to this pizzeria. Order the margherita pizza with double mozzarella. If you do not eat this pizza when you are in Naples, please lie to me and tell me that you did."

::: Footnotes :::

Via Cesare Sersale 1
80139 Napoli
Phone +39 081.5539204
http://damichele.net/ 
Closed on Sunday, and last 2 weeks in August
The pizzeria is off Corso Umberto, between Piazza Garibaldi and Piazza Amore

Gut-wrenching violence in 3D

{ Movie Preview: Immortals }


Eons after the Gods won their mythic struggle against the Titans, a new evil threatens the land. Mad with power, King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) has declared war against humanity. Amassing a bloodthirsty army of soldiers disfigured by his own hand, Hyperion has scorched Greece in search of the legendary Epirus Bow, a weapon of unimaginable power forged in the heavens by Ares. Only he who possesses this bow can unleash the Titans, who have been imprisoned deep within the walls of Mount Tartaros since the dawn of time and thirst for revenge.

In the king’s hands, the bow would rain destruction upon mankind and annihilate the Gods. But ancient law dictates the Gods must not intervene in man’s conflict. They remain powerless to stop Hyperion, until a peasant named Theseus (Henry Cavill) comes forth as their only hope. Secretly chosen by Zeus, Theseus must save his people from Hyperion and his hordes. Rallying a band of fellow outsiders—including visionary priestess Phaedra (Freida Pinto) and cunning slave Stavros (Stephen Dorff)—one hero will lead the uprising, or watch his homeland fall into ruin and his Gods vanish into legend.

So goes the synopsis of the 3D epic movie, Immortals. Directed by Tarsem Singh, the movie is no doubt beautifully filmed with crystal clear images and visuals that only the 3D technology would be able to produce. That, unfortunately, would also mean that all the beheading, clawing, smashing and gut-wrenching violence, that pretty much summed up the movie, were shown in all of the 3D gory (I mean, glory).

And, if there is a movie that you should read the synopsis before going for the movie, this would be it. The script fell flat and in the midst of all the fight scenes, I lost track of what was going on. The characters were not built up properly, and most of the times, I felt lost.

Why did Stavros suddenly decide that he would fight for Theseus? Why did the giant tsunami kill only the bad guys and not the good guys? When did Theseus and the virgin oracle Phaedra fall for each other that warrant the brief "I-can't-feel-the-love" love scene? Why did King Hyperion single Theseus out? How did Theseus suddenly rally the army together? Why did they fight in a narrow tunnel when the army stretched out into the horizon? Oh, and how come the bodies did not pile up in the tunnel?

Oh, and remember to check out those headgear, helmets and masks donned by the Gods and the mortals. With the gold-studded mask and crab-claw-on-a-Venus-flytrap headgear, no wonder King Hyperion was angry all the time. I was amazed that his minions could still take him seriously with that on.


And what the hell was happening on Poseidon's head? Kellan Lutz of Twilight fame (he played Emmett Cullen) may have worked out to get that body, but that headgear did nothing for him. Well, it did make me try not to laugh out loud every time he was on screen.


::: Footnotes :::

I caught the movie preview on Tuesday 15 November, before official opening in Singapore courtesy of UIP Singapore and omy.sg. The movie was officially released in Singapore on 17 November 2011, and is rated M-18. Visit the official website here

{ Click here for a list of movies I've watched }

Pulcinella in Naples

{ Naples, Italy - May 2011 }

Walking down the streets in the historic centre of Naples, we soon saw a recurring figure that seemed to the unofficial mascot of the city. A character dressed in white with a black mask, there were many figurines of him playing various musical instruments and even with pizza and spaghetti in hand. We later found out that the character is Pulcinella, which means "chick" in Italian, and it originated from 17th century theatre.



Photography Brassaï

{ Singapore - November 2011 }


I loved that whole side of Paris at night - it was part of the reality of the city. I never went after extraordinary subjects. I always loved the common things, the everyday things - because I think if you really look at them, they're often the most amazing things. 

Brassaï, a photographer who took many photos of Paris at night in the 1930s, said the above. It sums up his photographs pretty well, and that is what I loved about his black and white photos. He captures Paris at night - the people, the buildings, the bridges with all the lights and fog.

It was a small exhibition, but one that showcases some of Brassaï's most famous works. It was great to see that Singapore is slowly bringing more and more art and photographs to this small island. Looking forward to more exhibitions in the future!

::: Footnotes :::

Photography Brassaï 
22 October - 18 December 2011 
11am - 7pm (Closed on Mondays & Public Holidays) 
Galleries 1 & 2, NAFA Campus 1, 80 Bencoolen Street, Singapore 189655 
Free Admission

How I fell in love with the historic centre of Naples

{ Naples, Italy - May 2011 }

I have a confession to make. When I was planning the trip to Italy, I did not plan to go to Naples. We finally decided to go just because we wanted to visit Pompeii, and wished to break the journey from Rome. Even then, I was apprehensive and reluctant. I had reservations about the city after reading about the gritty, dirty city. However, there is the food that I have heard so much of, and so I thought that the food and Pompeii should be more than enough reasons for us to spend a day in the historic centre of Naples. 

Stepping down from the train, and walking from the station to our little Bed and Breakfast in the historic centre, the main roads were filled with garbage and there was a massive strike happening on the main road. My apprehension grew the longer we walked and I remembered that I just wanted to be in the B&B, away from the crowd. When we reached the outside of the B&B just off the main street in the historic centre, Spaccanapoli, my spirit sank even more looking at the unkept facade of the building. 

Once I stepped through the door on the second floor, and into the massive room with the high ceiling, I exhaled with relief. I loved the high ceiling, the huge window and the massive room. I later learned from the owner of the B&B, Fabrizio, that all the homes in the historic centre have high ceiling. As the buildings are so close to one another, the streets are narrow and packed with people. So, they build their homes with high ceiling to give themselves lots of space in the comfort of their own homes. I loved it.

And that was just the beginning of how I slowly, and unexpectedly fell in love with Naples.

  

Walking down the historic centre, on the narrow main streets of Spaccanapoli with tall buildings on both sides, we started exploring one of the most ancient cities in Europe. The city may be ancient, but it was very much alive. The locals were loud but friendly, the energy infectious and the pace frantic with scooters and cars zooming passed the narrow streets. It was chaotic, but I loved it. Call me crazy, but I even found myself looking at the laundry hanging all above the streets, thinking just how delightful it all were.

  

Amongst the chaos, there were shops selling many nativity figurines and scenes (called presepe in Italian) and even more on Via San Gregorio Armeno. Figurines of footballers, presidents, singers, and prime ministers stood amongst figurines of Jesus and shepherds. Many of the shops looked like they have been around for years, and seeing that they sell mostly the similar items, I wonder how they survive. Of course, I supported them by buying some items from them.

  
  

I loved the vibrant and exuberant historic centre, and I have not even started on the food.

::: Footnotes :::

{ Hotel PalepoliThe small Bed and Breakfast that we stayed in is Hotel Palepoli. The room was huge with high ceiling, breakfast was served in the kitchen, and the owner, Fabrizio, was friendly. Located on Vicolo dei Maiorani 29, right at the Spaccanapoli, the location is perfect as a base to explore the historic centre.

{ Historic Centre of Naples } The historic centre of Naples is a UNESCO's World Heritage Site.


Churches and gallery on the last day in Rome

{ Rome, Italy - May 2011 }

The last day in Rome was spent with a whirlwind tour of the places that we had not been, but was in our list of the places to visit in Rome. We started the morning in Saint Peter's Basilica, followed by Campo de' Fiori. After having lunch at Campo de' Fiori, we made our way to a church that I was actually pretty reluctant to go. 

Chiesa di Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappucini

The reason for my reluctance? The crypt just under the church contains the bones of 4,000 Capuchin friars, arranged in elaborate fashion, decorating the various chapels. The crypt started in 1631 when thousands of bodies were exhumed and transferred to the crypt. Why would they want to do that - I am not sure. I expected it to be eerie and scary. However, it was actually okay. I did have any scary or eerie feelings. Various parts of the human skeletons decorated the ceiling and walls, and some full body skeletons were also displayed. No photography was allowed, but you can visit the official site for some photos. Would I go again? Well, probably not.

The church was near Piazza Barberini, a simple piazza with a couple of fountains by Bernini such as the Fontana del Tritone (Fountain of the Triton) below.


Santa Maria della Vittoria

From one church, we went to another church, and this is one that I wanted to go! Of course, it was the book and the movie Angels and Demons that first introduced me to the sculpture Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Bernini. The sculpture depicts Saint Teresa's religious ecstasy in her encounter with the angel and was described in her autobiography as follows:
I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.
While the sculpture may have some critics due to the sensual way that Bernini interpreted the encounter, the photo that we took was not able to capture the powerful feeling that the masterpiece evoke. Furthermore, the curves and the folds that was all carved from a marble was pretty amazing in itself.


Villa Borghese

We then made our way to Villa Borghese, where the Galleria Borghese is situated. The gallery had so many amazing sculptures and art from one room to another, that it was pretty hard to imagine that they were all private collections and all of them were collected and owned by the Borghese family! There were many life-sized sculptures by Bernini as well as paintings by Caravaggio, Titian and Raphael. If only I could have one of the sculptures, I would keep starring at it in awe. Now, how do I get my hands on my favourite Apollo and Daphne?

The gallery is situated right at Villa Borghese with the amazing garden and park. We spent some time walking around the beautiful quiet park, right in the heart of Rome, on our last evening in Rome.


I initially thought that the four days that we planned for Rome would be too long, but now, having seen just a fraction of what Rome had to offer, I think a lifetime spent in Rome may not be enough to appreciate them all. A huge cosmopolitan city that I would love to hate if it has not been Rome, I have to admit that Rome managed to continously take my breath away.

::: Footnotes :::

{ Chiesa di Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappucini } Located at Via Vaneto, near Piazza Barberini. It is opened from 9am to noon, and 3pm to 6pm on Friday to Wednesdays. Admission is by donation. 

{ Santa Maria della Vittoria } The small church has one of Bernini's masterpiece - Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. It is at Via 20 Settembre, and is open from 9am to noon, and then 3.30pm to 6pm.

{ Galleria Borghese } The private gallery requires prebooking and you would not be able to buy tickets on the spot. Entrance fee is Euro 6, or just Euro 3.30 with Roma Pass. You can reserve tickets online on the website, but if you have Roma Pass, just email them at info@ticketeria.it for a booking timeslot. Just get to the Villa at the stipulated time and pay for the ticket there. No photography is allowed in the gallery.



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