June 30, 2011

Last train out of Tanjong Pagar

It's Day 4 of school and it rained today, so the girls could wear their new raincoats. Yellow for Gigi and pink for Nat!

On Day 2, they both cried before entering class but were fine once they entered. On Day 3, Nat started crying at home and didn't want to go to school. I asked her why and sort of got the impression that it was because Gigi had made new friends and she hadn't.

This morning, she was super clingy and wanted to be carried all the way. But what's helped so far is that they've had 2 birthday celebrations already for their classmates so they are realizing school can be fun.

On another note, today is a significant day as it marks the end of an era, as the last train pulled out from Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and the Malaysian government handed the land back to Singapore in a landmark land-swop deal.

Having grown up and lived next to the station practically all my life (except for 4 yrs in AMK), I was sad to see it go. Will miss the horns in the wee hours of the morning and the ability to go to JB on a whim, as well as the chappati. On Monday I queued almost 45 mins for chappati and keema, not knowing it was the actual last day for the stall.

Since we live so near, I couldn't pass on the opportunity to bid farewell to the KTM trains and station and made my way down at 10plus to hook up with mummy and co. It was super crowded though and I got caught up in the excitement as the Sultan of Johor had just arrived.

Tried to tip-toe to catch a glimpse of him and eventually followed the crowds into the station and managed to get pictures of his head! There were so many photographers and bystanders, everyone was snapping away like crazy.

I just kept walking into the platform, trying to find a pocket of space and I did, only to be pushed to the back as the Sultan walked past.

The train was a fancier one, it wasn't carrying actual passengers, mainly KTM staff and journalists. Some carriages arrived to be joined to it and people climbed in to take photos, there was hardly any security.

As the anticipation built, the crowds surged forward especially when the Sultan boarded the train, he was going to drive it to JB for sentimental reasons. I was right in front of the train when the moment of its departure arrived. People cheered whenever the horn sounded and as it slowly pulled away from the platform, people waved and shouted out well-wishes.

Silly old me shed a couple of tears as the train cruised past and then just like that, it was over.

I hopped onto the tracks and searched for mummy, and we helped take photos of each other. Stole a piece of rock from the tracks, other people were laying their hands on any souvenir they could find i.e. cactus plans, broken poster frames, old magazines!

All too soon, security guards started chasing people out, had to vacate by midnight so that Singapore could officially take over. I wonder what they will convert the station to? My guess is a hotel, only time will tell...

June 27, 2011

1st day of school

Nat and Gigi have finally started school and today was their first day at CS Montessori in Tiong Bahru Plaza.

We've been trying to psych them up and mentally prepare for this new phase in their lives. Last week they attended the orientation with us and got a feel of their classroom and met their teachers. Today as they were getting ready, they were all gung-ho and excited, I don't think they fully comprehended they were going to be abandoned by us!

They posed for pictures in their school t-shirts and this is what they refer to as the model pose...

They obediently walked to Tiong Bahru Plaza from Membina as Swana, Lita and I walked them over. Before entering the class, they received a little pep talk and lots of hugs and as they entered the class, they were surprisingly calm. They got their hands sanitized and put their water bottles aside and then we made a quick exit.

Spent the time in the mall before picking them up from class, they came out all traumatized and crying, ha ha. Apparently it was Gigi who started first about 30 mins from the end, and Nat joined in! But hey, at least they lasted 90 mins without tears! Am sure by the end of 2 weeks, they'll love school!

June 22, 2011

Mummy's home! (Day 12, 21 June)

And we are back!

The flight was smooth, can't recall any turbulence. Didn't sleep much but watched 4 movies instead, 3 of them foreign!
We took the hotel airport for 5 euros each, and thank goodness I did the online check-in a day before, saved so much time instead of queuing with the masses.

After immigration, we did the VAT refunds, and then flush will all the refunded euros, I went on to buy a wristlet from Ferragamo and a tote from Longchamp.
We bought yet more souvenirs and foodstuff for home and then lugged our handcarry bags to the departure gate.

Had I known the Gucci and Prada were next to our gate, I wouldn't have tried to kill time on chocolates and spices at the main terminal but we had no time to browse because it was boarding time.

We got home at around 7.30 am with McDonalds breakfast for everyone. Swana and Gigi had spent the night and it was Gigi who woke up when we opened the door. When it registered who was home, she flung herself against my legs and clung on for dear life. What a nice welcome!

Hearing the commotion, Nat woke up and peeped from her room door and I think she had a look of relief that I was home! Sasha woke up too and bounced in her cot when she saw me...thank goodness she still recognised me! She insisted on putting on a dress that was too big for her when we brought out the kids' stuff!

Italy was an amazing adventure, we saw so many things, lived la dolce vita, made new friends and had a wonderful time. Am glad we took a tour, luggage was hassle-free and we didn't have to worry on how to get from Point A to Point B. The coach was super comfy, the country was beautiful but there's no place like home!

June 21, 2011

Arrivederci Roma! (Day 11, 20 June)

All good things must come to an end and tomorrow we head home.

After breakfast and some internet time at the Sheraton lobby, me and ma hopped on the hotel's city shuttle, usually it costs 3 euros but for Insight guests it was free. We were dropped off near Marcello's Theatre and made our way to Via del Corso for a day of last minute shopping, for ourselves as well as souvenirs for friends and family back home.

First thing first though, was to have gelato at Giolitti, a cafe known for having one of the best gelatos in town. It's been in business for over 100 years and the setting is like an old world salon.

Prices were reasonable though, we decided to have lunch there (Ma had to bring our her little jar of arrabiata spice mix!) followed by ice cream. The smallest cost just 2.50 euro but it's a big scoop and you can mix flavours. I had an orange, chocolate chip and irish cream, very high standard!

The rest of the afternoon was spent going in and out of shops, I managed to pick up some more clothing from H&M, ma bought Gucci sunglasses, plus I bought a Gucci bag and Fendi pochette for Swana. We finally also stumbled on a supermarket called S.m.A and bought pasta and chocolate.

Then it was time to meet Juliana and Joey, fresh off the plane. We met at the Spanish Steps and walked to a nearby cafe for dinner. Regaled her with tales from our trip and imparted some tips, especially for Montevarchi. All of us were tired though and we didn't linger after dinner.

Instead of waiting for the Sheraton bus, ma and I took a public one back to the hotel, luckily we took the right one and made it back to the hotel safely where we are now struggling to fit all our accumulated purchases into our suitcases!

June 20, 2011

O Sole Mio (Day 10, 19 June)

Oh the sun is just punishing here! BTW, 'o sole mio' means 'my sun'!

In the blink of an eye, our tour has officially ended. Amazing how 10 days can just fly. We made the short drive from Sorrento to Pompeii this morning to visit the perfectly preserved ruins of Pompeii, a once thriving town stopped in its tracks and buried under a cloud of ash and pumice by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79AD.

Another super hot day, we walked in the heat along the walkways as our local guide pointed out the highlights of the ancient town, including an amphitheatre, restaurant and brothel. Yes, brothel! Apparently it was a perfectly respectable career back then and there was an inn that had erotic paintings on the wall and concrete beds, which honestly didn't look too comfy!

We also saw plaster casts of how animals and humans spent their final minutes, curled up in fear or trying to block their bodies from the ash spewing. Quite sad...

Me and ma had a lot of legroom today, more than usual in one of the coach's front seats. Could stretch my whole leg and not touch the seat in front!

Back in Lazio, we stopped briefly in the town of Cassino, wherein lay a cemetery for Commonwealth soldiers killed in WWII. It was a quiet, peaceful place and the lawns were immaculate. Nearby uphill was Monte Cassino, where the Benedictine order and abbey was established by St Benedict.

In the late afternoon, we arrived back in Rome and checked into the Sheraton Roma. Rooms were on the old side but they will do! We rested for a bit before getting ready for our highlight dinner, there were quite a number of ladies in B&W!

Dinner was near Castel Sant' Angelo, in a little restaurant called Opera and no prizes for guessing what kind of entertainment was on the cards! A lady came around to sing Italian songs in her falsetto, accompanied by an accordion player.

It was a semi-formal affair, the food was interesting and we sat with Shirley and company. We had a spinach pasta with a cheese sauce, topped with chocolate powder...didn't quite work for me!
Actually, for me the highlight dinner was in Sorrento!

Natale gave me a fright as we were boarding the coach on the way back, he honked just as I was walking past his window! Gave him his tip when we alighted and he called me 'bella', had to take a picture with him for remembrance!

In the lobby, everyone was saying goodbye to each other, reluctant to part but part we must! Tomorrow is a day for last minute shopping and dinner with Juliana, who will be arriving for her own Trafalgar tour.

June 19, 2011

Funiculi, Funicular! (Day 9, 18 June)

One of my corny dreams of wearing capri pants in Capri has finally come true!

This morning we made an early start to board the ferry to the Isle of Capri, a short ride only about 20 mins or less. There was a collective gasp when Mark teased us to say that George Clooney was in town and then promptly introduced our local guide, 'Giorgio' Clooney!

Immediately upon our arrival, we kicked off with our optional cruise around the island in a small boat. We went around the rocky formations and admired the rugged coastline, stopping to see coral-coloured rocks, a cave with a formation of Mother Mary on a rock (have to look real hard and use your imagination!), an elephant trunk rock etc.

Unfortunately the tour did not include the Blue Grotto, I would have loved to have seen that but apparently it takes ages to get in so had to make do with some glowing underwater cavities instead. There was a funny moment when a girl named Nina had a seagull poop on her head as it flew overhead!

A few people wanted to swim so the captain obligingly stopped for a while to fulfill their wish. Nina jumped in as well and washed the poop out of her hair! Julia, who reminds me a little of Anna Hathaway at the Princess Dairies phase, also jumped in.

Back on dry land, we took the furnicular up to Capri town, it took just a couple of minutes...not as scary as the Santorini cable car which felt a lot steeper and higher. We visited a garden which had a gorgeous view and then we had free and easy time for a couple of hours.

I bought an orange granita, it was the best slushy I've ever had! Me and ma walked along the chic shops, I went into Gucci to buy Swana's requested bag as well as a wallet from Miu Miu for Jane. Once again when the tour group saw me, they made a fuss over my purchases!

All too soon it was time to head back to Sorrento. Once on the mainland, we had woodworking factory visit and demo but everything was so expensive! Me and Ma walked back to town and bought more souvenirs before stopping for a quick bite of vegetarian pizza, gnocchi and a veal scallopini.

Then it was time to get ready for dinner, there was supposed to have been a few options to pick from, set meals from selected restaurants, but Mark encouraged everyone to join him at a family-run restaurant he was familiar with instead, where he promised a good time.

And a good time was had by all! There was an assortment of dishes from deep fried sardines, mussels, salad, pasta etc; as well as the appearance of a Pulcinella, a comedic character dressed in white with a black face mask who generally went round to tease people by messing their hair repeatedly and seeing how they react. I only kena once, but Ma kena twice!

During dinner there was mandolin playing, and tarantella dancing and some of the group even did a conga line through the restaurant! An old couple celebrating their 53rd anniversary with this trip led the slow-dancing, that was a touching moment. The grandmother's 6 grandsons then took turns to dance with her before the music went uptempo and a few of the others joined in, including our bus driver! Yours truly was also dragged in at some point!