Italy

Monday 25th April 2011

Heading for Rome

We had an early start today and awoke at 4.45am to get to Heathrow on time to fly to Rome.

Compared to what we were used to in Australia, Heathrow Airport is huge and we flew from the new terminal 5, which has 3 sections – A, B & C… and is pretty hard to find.

We caught a cab from the airport and arrived in Rome after a very speedy trip down the motorway in a Fiat van full of people doing 140km/h while old mate, who was driving, took several phone calls – no hands free kit mind you!

The drivers here, by the way, are insane – virtually no road rules apply, double-park wherever you want, use your horn at every opportunity and totally disregard ANY use of your indicators.

Our accommodation

Our hotel was somewhat further from the city centre than expected… a 20 minute walk to St Peter’s square and Basilica. We took the opportunity to visit the Basilica while the line was short as we got there around 4pm…just as well as the line on Tuesday was about a kilometre long!

St Peter’s square and Basilica

We wandered around Rome a little to get our bearings and then the rain began. We had been so lucky with the weather until now. We had no choice but to buy a dodgy umbrella from hawkers which we saw up the road later for less than half the price!

Rome streetscapes

We had about an hours walk ’home’ and arrived drenched from the knees down – we used the hairdryer to dry our shoes as best we could. We were so exhausted that we crashed and had our BEST sleep so far and actually slept in till 7.30!

We were a little sad to have missed the dawn service at Currumbin but we were there in spirit. Lest We Forget 🇦🇺

Tuesday 26th April 2011

Rome - Our first full day

We woke up refreshed to an overcast day but at least it wasn’t raining. We walked down to the big smoke of St Peters and found a ‘hop on, hop off’ city sightseeing Roma tour… yep you guessed it, quite early on in the day we realised that we picked the wrong one again. If there is a long queue to be in, a slow bus to take or a dodgy deal to be bought we sure know how to pick them…

There are street hawkers every where and we were ‘got’ by a Roman Centurion on the Spanish Steps who offered to take photos with us. Before we realised what was going on we were 3 photos in and it clicked that this was going to cost us. You guessed it he wanted 10 Euros but we declined his generous rip-off and settled for 5 as we had nothing smaller… slippery gypsies everywhere in this town…

Spanish Steps

The sights we saw today blew us away and we almost have whiplash from all the neck swivelling. Thank goodness for digital cameras as we have taken heaps of photos. Before this trip I had seen nothing old but now I have seen ancient ruins and incredible history. Wow! It takes a bit to get your head around how they built all this stuff without cranes, hydraulics and heavy machinery. Everything is so BIG and so TALL… and it would have been extremely heavy as most of it is marble. It is just beautiful and the craftsmanship is something else.

We visited all the famous attractions such as the Colosseum, the ancient ruins, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon just to name a few.

Trevi Fountain

“The Trevi Fountain was designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Giuseppe Pannini and several others. Standing 26.3 metres high and 49.15 metres wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world.”

Presidential Residence

“The Quirinal Palace is one of the three current official residences of the President of the Italian Republic.”

Pantheon

“The Pantheon is a former Roman temple, now a church, and almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.”

Piazza Navona

“Piazza Navona is a public space/plaza where the ancient Romans went to watch the agones (‘games’) – hence it was known as ‘Circus Agonalis’ (‘competition arena’). It is believed that over time the name changed to in avone to navone and eventually to navona.”

Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

“The Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs is a basilica built inside the ruined frigidarium of the Roman Baths of Diocletian in the Piazza della Repubblica. It was constructed in the 16th century following an original design by Michelangelo Buonarroti. Other architects and artists added to the church over the following centuries.”

The Colosseum

“The Colosseum or Coliseum is an oval amphitheatre built of travertine limestone, tuff (volcanic rock), and brick-faced concrete. It was the largest amphitheatre ever built at the time and held 50,000 to 80,000 spectators.

The Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles but ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era.

Although substantially ruined because of earthquakes, thieves, and stone-robbers, the Colosseum is still an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome and is listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.”

Ancient Ruins
Around Rome

 What a day of magnificent sights… we are glad to put our feet up…

Wednesday 27th April 2011

The Vatican

Today we had dedicated the whole day to seeing the Vatican Museum which includes the Sistine Chapel.

O.M.F.G! You should have seen the opulence. There was an abundance of antiques and treasures that have been hoarded over the centuries. Priceless artworks (including Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Rubens et al), countless statues, Egyptian artifacts, an Australian collection, Faberge eggs and numerous other treasures. It was a bit much really – a real overload for the senses. I would love to be able to put a dollar figure on all we saw but it is probably impossible…

Our day ended with a thunderstorm and another drenching to the bone. We had to resort to the hairdryer to dry our shoes again but some Australian ingenuity and electrical tape certainly helped.

The Sistene Chapel
Faberge Eggs
The Australian Collection
Priceless Artworks
Vatican Grounds

We’re off to Florence tomorrow and on departure we paid 3 Euro per person, per day for city tax that had to be paid in, you guessed it, cash. They’re on the take everywhere you turn.

We’ve had a great time but have had our fill of Rome…

Thursday 28th April 2011

Florence: What a great city

We had an earlier start today to head down to the main Termini (Railway Station) to catch a fast train to Florence. We didn’t get ripped off by the taxi to the station and had a very good driver but got somewhat gipped at the money exchange. Warning to ALL travellers, change your money at any airport where there is 0% commission payable, or you will pay as we did.

The fast train to Florence was smooth, quiet, comfortable and fast – I speed-checked it on the GPS at 248km/h. We arrived and found out our hotel was just over the road which was quite handy really. Only problem with that though is that it makes for an ordinary night’s sleep due to all the noise.

Our accommodation

We spent the day wandering around Florence. What a great city, much nicer than Rome. It has a really nice feel to it, is still busy and has crazy drivers… but in a nicer way. It’s a bit hard to describe really. Rome has a hard edge to it with an opportunistic and slightly desperate underbelly, while, Florence has a much more relaxed atmosphere and happier, artier people. A great place!

We made a necessary pit stop at the local Athlete’s Foot store to buy some walking shoes – the ones we had just weren’t cutting it. The new ones, Heaven! A pleasure to wear. We’re doing about 10km a day so we’ll see how they hold up after a week or so…

Streetscapes, Ponte Vecchio and more
Ornate street hardware
Some of the amazing street performers...
Duomo Cathedral

Finished the day by climbing, I don’t know how many steps but I’m sure my calves will let me know it was a lot tomorrow, to the top of the Duomo Cathedral (the main one in town). Angela was feeling poorly so didn’t climb with me.

I got a great view of Florence and surrounding suburbs. We’re physically tired and should sleep well tonight so long as there is a curfew on the trains…

Friday 29th April 2011

Pisa... and the Leaning Tower

I (Angela) crashed early last night as I felt crook. I woke up feeling better today after a night of having a fever and am amazed I managed to get a good sleep considering how noisy it is here.

We decided to do a day trip to Pisa without having to cart all of our luggage there with us as originally planned… We were blessed with sunshine again this morning and caught the train, about and hour’s ride to Pisa which is much smaller than Florence.

Once there, it was easy to find the Leaning Tower which is on much more of a lean than one would think.

“The first stone of the Tower was set on 9 August 1173 in 1185 sinking and the resulting lean halted works for almost a century. Giovanni di Simone was the architect with extraordinary skills in containing the effects of the inclination and was entrusted to carry on the works. The works continued until 1284.”

The Leaning Tower of Pisa... and grounds
Pisa streetscapes

We enjoyed our day trip and came back to the hotel mid afternoon to join in and become the viewing audience the Royal Wedding… just couldn’t help ourselves.

Tomorrow we are off to Cinque Terre which we are really looking forward too.

Saturday 30th April, 2011

Cinque Terre

We woke up excited to be heading to Cinque Terre. We went for breakfast to a local café, looking forward to a nice hot Italian coffee but our order was lost in translation and we ended up with a nice frothy mug of hot milk. Note to fellow travellers, latte means milk – not the coffee latte we are used to. We will be ordering macchiato’s or cappuccinos from now on to make sure we get coffee in our milk.

We caught the 9:55am train and struck up a conversation with some Americans from Ohio, Donna, John and their son Daniel who is studying Theology at St Peters in the Vatican for a year. He gave us plenty of insight into the history of Rome and the St Peter’s Chapel – he would have made an excellent tour guide a few days ago. We helped them catch the right connecting train to Cinque Terre and chatted the whole way about our home countries, sport and travelling in general.

We arrived at Cinque Terre and took the scenic route with our luggage up steps and down the other side. We found out later in our wanderings that we could have cut through a tunnel which would have been much easier and far shorter – yep, we did it again!

Our accommodation

Cinque Terre is awesome and a must see. It will be such a pleasure to spend 4 days here and chill out some what. The scenery is amazing, the atmosphere is relaxing and we are staying in a converted wine cellar which once belonged to a church built in the 1400’s. It’s just awesome! We are once again blessed with beautiful weather, may even get to go for a swim…

The township of Monterrosso
Around Monterrosso

Sunday 1st May, 2011 

Cinque Terre Trail

Another glorious day in Cinque Terre, not a cloud in the sky. We decided today to do the trail walk between the five villages of Cinque Terre. Cinque means ‘five’ in Italian, hence the name of this region which is made up of five villages – Monterrosso (where we are staying), Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.

Monterrosso to Vernazza

We started our walk with about 300 steps straight up and this set the tone of the walk to come. We ended up pretty high and the views of the bay and Monterrosso were breathtaking, as was the climb up.

The trail itself was, well, think goat track. It suited the terrain beautifully but was quite hard on the body with knees and calves getting particularly caned. The trail is not so wide and in spots you have to stop and lean against the bank to let people coming from the other direction through. Handrails are sparse and there are plenty of sheer drops over the edge which we managed to steer clear of. Thankfully.

There were heaps of fellow walkers ranging in age from about 3 months (in Dad’s backpack) to well over 60, possibly 70. We couldn’t believe the age range considering the terrain. We thought we were pretty fit but even we ended up weary.

Vernazza
Vernazza to Corniglia

We got to the 3rd village to find the track closed between there and the following village. We had already covered the hardest parts totalling 7km. The remaining 2 legs were only 1km each. We caught the train back as we were tired.

We came home and cooked some pasta which we enjoyed with some fresh Italian basil pesto. It’s nice to eat in for a change.

Monday 2nd May, 2011

Train ride to Manarola, and Riomaggiore.

Today we went to the villages of Manarola, and Riomaggiore, which were the ones we didn’t do yesterday due to the trail being closed between Corniglia and Manarola. It was more of the same stunning scenery and cliffside dwellings of the locals. We had a leisurely day wandering around taking photos and eating local fare.

Manarola
Riomaggiore

In the afternoon we trained it back to Monterosso, had home-cooked pasta for dinner and called it quits for the day. We are really enjoying our temporary life…

Tuesday 3rd May, 2011

Being locals in Monterosso

Today we decided that we would do nothing but hang around Monterosso – a real ‘do nothing’ day. We poked around and explored as much of our village as we could. Angela is loving it that they are very fond of cats in this town, there are cat souvenirs everywhere – really makes us miss Pussco.

On an interesting note, I am amazed at the mathematics in Italy. Prices on menus are merely indications of the lowest price your meal could be, but won’t be. I’ve always been a ‘numbers person’ but even I can’t work out how it works. We had a coffee each this morning and one cake each. 4 items. 2 coffees at $1.60 each = $3.20 plus 2 cakes at $1.00 each = $2.00. My addition totalled the bill to be 4 items, $5.20. So, I head to the counter with my $5.20 and get a receipt from the till for $7.00 and 3 items (2 x $3.00 + $1.00). Anyone know how this works? It’s been the same for our whole time in Italy. Sorry to get all mathematical but I’d really love to know…

On a lighter note, my Pidgin Italian is coming along a treat… although Angela reckons it’s gibberish and I’m just making stuff up… she might be right. Papa Guisseppe, fish fila!! Hilarious!

We are heading to Venice tomorrow and have train travel of about 5 hours, so we’ll have an early start. Looking forward to being in a town with no cars and water everywhere. It’ll be a real experience…

Wednesday 4th May, 2011

Getting to Venezia (Venice)

Woke this morning to find that it had been raining overnight. We had breakfast, headed for the station and waited for our train to La Spezia. We changed trains there and headed to Pisa where we changed again for Florence. Once at Florence we purchased tickets for the fast train to Venice but the 10:30am was booked out so we waited around for the 11:30am. 2 hours later we were in the city of canals and gondolas.

Our accommodation

We checked into our apartment and what a pleasant surprise. It was a huge single bedroom apartment with large balcony, spacious living area, and to Angela’s delight, a fully self-contained kitchen. Next stop, the supermarket, or Punto as it is known here. We are both missing home-cooked meals and Angela is missing cooking in general.

We spent the afternoon familiarising ourselves with our surroundings and came home to enjoy a real home-cooked dinner…

Venice streetscapes

Thursday 5th May, 2011 

Lucky us, more blue sky

We spent today aimlessly wandering around Venice with all it’s rabbit-warren streets. We were getting lost and loving it! We had a map but chose not to use it until we needed to find our bearings, which was when we passed the same building a few times when we hadn’t meant to.

Rialto Bridge

“The Rialto Bridge is the oldest of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal. It has been rebuilt several times since its first construction as a pontoon bridge in the 12th century, and is now a significant tourist attraction.”

St. Mark's Cathedral

There is so much to see and do in and around Venice and we crammed as much as we could into our day. St Mark’s Cathedral was the highlight and is quite magnificent.

There was marble everywhere, as usual, but the gold mosaic was really something special. It was all over the ceiling and down the walls. Wow!

There are street vendors and market stalls everywhere as well, which really adds to the atmosphere of a really pretty city.

There are fake Gucci and Loius Vuitton bags au-go-go but if you’re caught purchasing them you can be fined. The Police don’t seem to ever apprehend the sellers however, and they seem to co-exist peacefully. Quite strange…

Needless to say, we didn’t buy any…

We’ve had a great stay in Venice and head into Croatia tomorrow in a hire-car. Driving on the wrong side of the road will be a challenge, so wish us luck.

Arrividerci! Ciao, ciao!!

Trip progress
Day 21 44%
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