27 July 2011

The Beauty of Ancient Rome

Surrounded by ancient history at every corner of this incredible city you marvel at the engineering and architecture of 2000 years ago.

Colosseum (c. 70-80AD)

Take for instance the Colosseum. Standing at 48m high, 188m long and 156m wide this impressive structure exemplifies Ancient Rome’s power, superior engineering skills and design capabilities.

Seating a near 50,000 people during an event you can only try to imagine the brutality, hardship and deaths that occurred amongst the gladiator battles. There is certainly nothing romantic about this structure given its barbaric history, however, you can see the beauty in the architecture such as the arched windows, the corinthian and ionic columns, the labyrinth of passages and removable stages. Mock naval battles were once conducted by flooding the arena.

Surviving several earthquakes over the centuries and whilst no longer a complete structure the Colosseum withstands the test of time and demonstrates the Romans' exceptional building competencies. It begs the question; would any of our modern buildings still be around in 2000 years?

The ever-present tourists.

Through one of the archways.

Arch of Constantine (c. 315AD)

Near the Colosseum resides the Arch of Constantine. A triple arched structure; it is one of three remaining imperial arches in Italy. Awarded to Emperor Constantine I only a mere three years after the victory against Emperor Maxentius this triumphal arch is richly decorated with parts of old buildings. It is not clear why old parts were used but some explanations such as insufficient time to create new artwork or shortage of artistic skills or complimenting his victory and piousness by using artworks from previous Imperial Greats are afforded.

Regardless of the reasons, Constantine was much respected and seen as the liberator of the city. This is evident in the still legible inscription at the top of the arch which translates as follows:

“To the Emperor Caesar Flavius Constantinus, the greatest, pious, and blessed Augustus: because he, inspired by the divine, and by the greatness of his mind, has delivered the state from the tyrant and all of his followers at the same time, with his army and just force of arms, the Senate and People of Rome have dedicated this arch, decorated with triumphs.” From Wikipedia

The Colosseum through the middle arch.

Imperial Fora (c. 46BC – 113AD)

One can only imagine the grandeur and architectural beauty of the public squares clustered in the Imperial Fora. Used for government affairs and religion, the various squares were built over a period of 150 years.

Commenced by Julius Caesar, he wanted a Forum that bore his name. Partly to show his absolute power, partly to replace the Roman Forum where government affairs were held and partly to be closer to the Senate, which was the centre of power. It is possible that the forum was never completed due to his assassination by the Senate and that it may in fact have been finished by his successor Augustus.

Unfortunately for Augustus himself, he never saw the completion of his own forum and neither did Domitian after him.

The final forum was built by Trajan as a celebration of his conquest of Dacia, now known as Romania (my birthplace). Trajan’s Forum included a market and was the biggest and grandest of them all. Almost as if making its final mark on Ancient Rome.

Very little remain of Caesar, Augustus and Domitian’s Forums. However, the greatness of Trajan’s Forum is still evident in the partially ruined buildings that are still standing today.

Last to be built, Trajan's Forum continues to stand proudly today.

Temple of Venus Genetrix (c. 46BC)

Amongst the ruins of the Imperial Fora, stand three corinthian columns, the remains of a temple honouring the goddess Venus Genetrix. Symbolised as the “creative force that sustains all life”, Venus played an important role in Roman mythology and more importantly in Julius Caesar’s life who claimed to be a direct descendant.

Originally constructed with eight marble columns on a raised podium it was decorated with statues of Venus, Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, Greek paintings and a collection of engraved gems.

Destroyed by fire in 80AD, it was eventually rebuilt and later restored. The remaining three columns today are a result of the later construction.

Temple of Venus Genetrix's remaining columns.

Sant’Angelo Castle (c. 139AD)

This spectacular cylindrically shaped building was initially built by Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his successors. The mausoleum was completed by his successor and adoptive son Antoninus Pius a year after Hadrian’s death. His ashes, along with his wife and first adopted son were eventually interned here.

The function of the mausoleum was short-lived as it was converted into a fortress c. 400AD. A statue of Archangel Michael was added in 590AD from which the castle’s name is derived. It remained a fortress until the 14th century when it was handed over to the Papacy. Eventually connecting the castle to the Vatican through a passage, it was used as a residence in times of danger and even more unpleasantly as a prison and place of torture.

Commencing on the first floor is the famous 120m long winding ramp which once again illustrates their engineering and building skills.

In its two centuries of existence, Sant’Angelo has morphed and reshaped itself on numerous occasions by adding, deleting and modifying. It is a labyrinth of underground rooms, balconies and stairs that today as a museum Sant’Angelo exhibits its own story of past events along with a vast collection of ceramics, paintings, sculptures, armoury and weaponry.

Sant’Angelo has such an exceptional and rich history that the only way to do it justice is to one day write a blog dedicated to it.

Castle Saint Angel and the statue of Archangel Michael atop it.
This is only a snippet of Rome's wonderfully rich history and I could only wish I had more time to investigate, tour, admire and appreciate.

A highly recommended place to visit and experience.  To do it justice one must spend at least a week in Rome to absorb all that it has to offer.

20 July 2011


Unleashing the poet inside this is my brother's latest instalment.  

His challenge was to write the poem in such a way that the reader could imagine the story being about a leaf or that it could be about love.

You be the judge of that and do tell me what you think.

by Alex Hajas

The summer wind has brought you forth
Among the thistle and the thorns
With a smile in a lonely field
Alone you shine for me to see

They weigh you down but you resist
Your sheer strength creates a mist
Where you hide in time of sorrow
To gain your strength for what's tomorrow

Everyday you seek the sun
To feel its warmth that gives you life
So keep on smiling and look up
And see the rays that fill your heart

17 July 2011

Singapore to Rome with a 2.5 yo and 16 hours flight

Okay, so there’s a little anticipation and nervousness regarding flying from Singapore to Rome as a solo parent with an under 3yo child for 16 hours for the first time. How will she travel? Will she have a tantrum on the plane? Will she manage to have some sleep? Will she get bored? These are just some of the questions floating in my head as we head towards Changi Airport, Singapore at 7.30am.

Check-in takes 10 minutes, the coffee is divine this time round and daddy is wondering how he will fill in the time for the next four weeks whilst his wife and child are gallivanting in Rome and visiting Aunty.

Clearing customs is swift and Trini can barely wait to get near the windows to see the plane. With camera in hand she snaps off a few photos that are quite impressive given her age.

Once boarded and seated, we await departure. Unfortunately it’s a busy morning at Changi airport and our take-off is delayed by an hour. Not so bad for me as it reduces our transit time in Dubai and alleviates some of the potential boredom arising from waiting for the next flight.

As lunch is served, I wonder if 11.30am is too early to start with a white wine. Of course it is only a passing thought since I request a small bottle anyway. The coffee follows suit which I am pleased to report is neither burnt nor bitter as experienced on other flights and yes, I have gone back for seconds.

The inflight entertainment collection is substantial but sadly most of the movies that would have been of interest, I had already seen. So I switched to comedy sitcoms and we busied ourselves with colouring in Cinderella until nap time. 

Trini awakens from a 90 minutes nap just prior to landing and a promise of ice cream raises her from a drowsy state and circumvents a whinging session which is typical of her when she just wakes up.

After 20 minutes of searching the enormous airport, I nearly despair in finding an ice cream vendor when in the distance Haagen Dazs presents itself in all its splendour. Relieved that I found it and it serves coffee, we settle ourselves with a serving of choc chip chocolate ice cream and a cappuccino.

The mere 1.5 hours that we had to wait here between flights went quickly and shortly thereafter we were seated and ready for our second leg of the trip. Trini full of beans and rested from her nap is ready for more Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland and Finding Nemo. Tangled gets some air time too and throughout it all Trini just simply loved the fact that she had her very own child headset. She stuffs herself silly with dinner and Milo and finishes off with a Kit Kat all over her face. The slight mishap with the pineapple juice was not too impressive since Trini ends up soaked and so does her seat. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a spare change of clothes, two blankets placed over the wet seat and another wine (keep mummy's disposition bright and all is good).

Time and kilometres are accumulating whilst our Singaporean body clock is nearing midnight and fatigue is setting in. A bit more coffee, a bit more wine, a bit more colouring and negotiations are commencing in order to keep Trini awake, calm and relaxed. Not surprising since with the exception of the 90 minutes nap she has been going for 17 hours and we are at least another two hours away from the nearest bed.

Sure enough 10 minutes prior to landing in Rome, Trini gives up the ghost and drops into a deep sleep. Needless to say waking her up was tough and found myself carrying my overhead luggage, a handbag, laptop bag and Trini with all of her 16 kgs. A quick monorail trip to the luggage belt and a ride on top of the trolley was all that was needed to liven her up again and within half an hour we were off the plane, luggage collected and through customs.

So, was the anticipation and nervousness justified? Not at all. This child was a breeze to travel with. She endured the length of the trip with little complaint. Of course the ice cream assisted immensely in Dubai and so did the doting air-hostesses.

We passed the time with eating, drinking, colouring, iPadding, movie watching, caffeinating and playing with toys. The hours melted away, we had quite a bit of fun and the mother-daughter flight became memorable.

Following 22 hours of being awake, I eventually surrendered to my bed, curled up to my already snoozing girl and succumbed to sleep with minimum struggle.

13 July 2011

A day with my girl

There is nothing more satisfying than getting to the end of a day and reflecting on the sheer pleasure of spending the day with my girl in the city.

We started our day by having lunch with daddy at Changi Airport and over coffee we combined efforts to color in a couple of Tinkerbell sceneries ensuring regular changes of color pencils (there are times when an entire scene will be just one color, not particularly exciting).

Our joint colouring effort and Tinkerbell.

After taking a monorail between terminals we caught the train and escorted daddy to work. Following lots of kisses and hugs and bye byes we farewell daddy and continue our train trip to the city.

Daddy showing TinTin where he works.

Our first pitstop is the vintage Toy Museum where we feast on an enormouse collection of about 50,000 vintage toys, mostly pre-1960s. Whilst Trini recognised Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck even in their earlier designs, I felt that she had difficulty relating to many of the toys. It shouldn't be surprising since many of them were before my time as well. But it wasn't all lost on her. She had a great deal of wonder and appreciation for the vintage teddy bears on display. Incidentally, in case you didn't know, the name teddy bear came from US President Theodore Roosevelt, whose nickname was Teddy.

Admiring the Teddy Bear Collection.

Vintage Teddy Bears, Pinocchio and
Snow White & the 7 Dwarves.

After 5 floors of tin toys, plush teddy bears, Chinese wooden dolls, comic book characters and Germany's Penny Toy Collection, we braved the heat and strolled down to the Philatelic Museum.

Here I can honestly say that I lost Trini's attention altogether but the dinosaur stamp collection has more than made up for it. Whilst she very much loves dinosaurs, apparently they often chase her in the apartment, bite her ankles and then she shuts doors to keep them contained. Sometimes they escape and she has to protect baby from them and sometimes she tells me "I scared. Dinosaurs coming. Quick mummy, quick... run. Chop, chop!!!" Her recognition of the brachiosaurus, triceratops, diplodocus, quetzacoatlus and ankylosaurus stamp images goes to show that her Little Book of Dinosaurs is much loved and was worth every penny paid. The small collection of butterflies stamps received a warm reception and whilst she liked the beautiful colours, the dinosaurs won hands down.

L-R: Longisquama, Dimorphodon & Diplodocus

The challenge after the museum was getting to the train station with a tired child and peak hour train traffic. Pressed in like sardines I was grateful to the woman who vacated her seat for me and Trini. I abhorred the notion that I would have to hold Trini all the way home, since I was absolutely not going to put her down in a packed train.

With an uneventful ride home, we arrived in time for daddy to organise a cold beer and an even colder bottle of milk. I commend Trini on her effort to take on the sun, the heat, the packed train and the lengthy walks. Not bad given that we have been out for nearly 8 hours. Without a car here everything takes that much longer to do.

By 7.30pm Trini had piked it and slept for the next 14 hours but we had a wonderful mummy and TinTin day.

Good-night TinTin.

09 July 2011

Ribollita - An old Tuscan soup

After many, many, many Asian dishes, today I was hankering for a good old vegetable soup.  Perhaps it's my body telling me I haven't been having enough greens or perhaps just a need for a Western meal.

Ribollita is a very old favourite of mine.  I have been making it for at least eight years now on very regular occasions and particularly during the Australian winter.  Whilst Ribollita is an all vegetable soup, there are times when a man must be fed meat (ie my husband).  In this instance, John is in charge of slicing and frying chorizo sausages which are added to the finished soup.  It gives the soup more weight and a punchier flavour.

Originating from Tuscany during the Middle Ages, Ribollita, known as a dense breaded soup, was considered a peasant's dish because the feudal lords who banquetted without plates or cutlery would use stale bread as plates for their meat.  As you can imagine the juices and flavours of the meat soaked into the bread which was then passed onto the poor servants.  The servants would then toss this bread into a pot with whatever vegetables and herbs were available thereby giving rise to Ribollita.

As with any recipe, it has many variations but it has its staple ingredients such as carrots, cabbage, beans, onions and of course the bread.   Whilst I originally began with a recipe from a book over time it altered according to what was available in my fridge and the supermarkets.

From a health point of view, beans are a great source of fibre and low in fat, cabbage, onions and garlic have antiviral and antibacterial properties, carrots are high in betacarotene which help nourish the liver and digestive system and celery is a natural diuretic.

So without further ado, here is my recipe and please enjoy:


2 T olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 tsp of minced garlic
2 celery sticks, washed and chopped
1 large zucchini, diced (do not peel or the zucchini will break down too much)
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 can of white beans (or whatever is handy, I have used Pinto beans because borlotti was not available)
1 L chicken or vegetable stock
Half a cabbage, shredded
Salt and pepper to taste
1 baguette bread for croutons (optional)


Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onions, garlic, carrot and celery.  Cook on low heat for about 10 minutes.  Make sure you stir occasionally or the vegies will burn in the base of the pot.

Add the zucchini and cook another 2 minutes then add the chopped tomatoes, cabbage, beans and stock.  Bring to boil, then turn down the heat, cover the pot and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Tear the baguette into small chunky pieces.  Add oil and butter in the frying pan and once heated/melted toss in the baguette chunks and fry until the bread is toasted.  Adding the butter to the oil provides a much nicer flavour to the baguette than just oil on its own.  

For a meaty dish, slice 3 chorizo sausages and fry them in a pan, then add them to the finished soup with the pan juices as well.  It adds a delightful flavour to the dish.

Of course a nice bottle of red accompanies this dish superbly.  Bon appetit.

Bubbling away on the cooktop...

Up close and personal...

Finished product. 
It was accompanied by a very nice bottle of Chilean Merlot.