Thursday, August 5, 2010

When In Rome....

Luckily I got a heads up from Bob and Sue Bowley after the last blog entry about the madness that is Ryanair. It is total chaos! No seat allocations again but luckily Jenni and I boarded early enough to get a seat together. Phew. When the plane landed everyone clapped. What the..? And because we were on time they sounded the trumpet. Like at the races. Apparently they do that on every flight that is on time. Random. Anyway, we live to tell the tale.

We had organised for the hostel shuttle to pick us up from the airport and just as well as it was a fair drive. I don't even know what it would have cost in a taxi. The hostel (which was more like a camping ground with little bungalows and cabins as well as space for tents and campervans) was only 7km from another airport, Marco Polo. It felt more like 7 meters though and we briefly wondered if we were actually ON the runway. It didn't take long to get used to it. The camp was really well set up with swimming pool, supermarket, restaurant, bar, laundry, internet, and wifi. Perfect for our three nights there.

The following morning we caught the camp shuttle bus into Venice which took about 25 minutes. The weather was hot. Venice was beautiful and there were LOTS of tourists. We spent most of the day walking around the city.

We found the Bridge Of Sighs where prisoners would get their last look over the city while walking from the palace to the jail. The bridge parallel to the Bridge of Sighs was jam packed. It took us 15 minutes to walk over it on the way back. Luckily when we had crossed it the first time there weren't so many people and we were able to get some good photos.

After a lunch of pizza we went on a gondola ride. It was perfecto! It was expensive but we had decided what we would pay up to beforehand and, well, it's just something you HAVE to do in Venice. The Gondolier gave us a little bit of history during the ride including showing us where Mozart had lived for a time, and also where Napoleon had lived. It was interesting and really surreal.

We did manage to get lost while trying to get back to the bus stop. It seemed we were walking in circles for close to an hour, crossing the same bridge again and again. But we finally asked some directions and got back to the bus stop in time to catch the bus back to the camp and rest our weary feet.

The following day we went back into Venice to organise train tickets to Florence. We happened to be there at a good time - no queues! Hurrah!! And managed to book tickets to Florence and then on to Rome so that was a good result.
We had another wee look about Venice before heading back to the camp and relaxing by the pool for the rest of the afternoon. Bliss.

On Thursday we headed for Florence. There were massive thunder storms with heavy rain which cooled the air down considerably. Still t-shirt weather though. I made good use of the rain jacket Paula had lent me. Brilliant!
By the time we made it to Florence the rain seemed to have stopped... for a while anyway. We had to ask directions to the hostel and were told in Italian the way.. which seemed to work. Lucky Italians speak a lot with hand gestures. We made it there just as the heavens opened and it poured again and continued through the night. We had booked in to a girls room with 4 beds and received a welcome pack with shower gel, cotton buds, nail file, soap and moisteriser AND the use of a white fluffy towel while staying. And Jenni and I had the room to ourselves too.

Friday was a beautiful day and we booked on a Taste Of Tuscany tour through the hostel which was brilliant and cemented my love for Italy. Our first stop was at a small family owned cafe to sample their wine, cheese, meat, and jam (pickles). We sat with an Australian couple and two American girls who were all really nice.

After brunch our next stop was a vineyard for a tour and then wine and oil tasting. It was interesting tasting the different types of olive oil. And of course it goes without saying that the wine tasting was great.
Next we were taken to the medieval town of Monterry Giannini that is still home to 42 people. It still has a wall completely surrounding it and was beautiful.

By the time we arrived back to the hostel we had two room mates. American girl who stayed out late and slept in, and Japanese girl who slept all the time and got up at 6am. We would be up around 8am so would try to be quiet while getting ready but you know when you try to be quiet you tend to make more noise. Poor American girl.

Saturday was our day of sightseeing. We went on the open topped bus tour of Florence hopping off at the Accadamia Galleria where the Statue of David is housed. There were massive queues again (what a surprise) all wanting a glimpse of David's *insert whistle here*. But, after an hour and a half trying to stay in the shaded spots, we made it inside. I was surprised how big the statue actually is. I thought he would be life size but he is massive. I felt like a hobbit.

After sightseeing we caught the afternoon train to Pisa for a look at the Leaning Tower. It was a nice little town and the tower was really nice. Reminded me of a wedding cake. And was so white! We didn't go inside because - everybody now 'there were massive queues'.

On Sunday we caught the train to Rome which took under 2 hours. Italy seems small and easy to get around in. Jenni had booked us into the Martini Hotel which was nice and central on Via Nationale and a quaint little boutique hotel. The room we shared looked like something we would expect to see in 1920's Paris. And the best thing is that it had AIR CONDITIONING!
After dinner we stayed in and watched Laguna Blu (the Blue Lagoon) in Italian on the telly.
Total formaggio (cheese) fest.

On Monday we hopped on another sightseeing bus and saw the sites of the beautiful city of Roma. It's amazing just how old parts of Rome are. Coming from such a young country it is almost unbelieveable. We stopped off at the Spanish Steps and walked around to the Trevi Fountain. And then stopped off quickly (another hour of queueing) at the Vatican so I could find out the mass times for Wednesday. The lovely nun who I spoke to said there was something happening on Wednesday morning at the Vatican but it sounded unfamiliar to this heathen. But she also said that the Vatican would be closed until 1pm.

On the way home we got a little lost again.... but asked some nice policemen who pointed us in the right direction. The street signs in Rome seem to be few and far between which made it hard to pin point where exactly we were. Jenni's quote of the day while trying to work out where we were by the buildings that looked familiar was 'Isn't our street near that big old brown thing?' referring to one of the beautiful old domed buildings. Hilarious.

Tuesday was Jenni's last day as there were no flights out of Rome on Thursday, so we decided to have a day at the beach. We caught the train - buying the tickets from a machine all by ourselves! - out to Fondi which was a beautiful but very busy beach.
It was a beautiful day and the water was so warm. I have never been swimming in sea water as warm as that.
On the return train trip the conductor gave us a 10 minute lecture, intirely in Italian, for not validating our train tickets. He pointed to a sign which stated a 50 Euro fine for failing to validate and throughout his lecture every sentence had 'slep slep' in it which, from his gestures, I gathered was his rendition of the noise the machine makes when validating the ticket. LUCKILY he took pity on us and never fined us. Phew. Not quite as travel savvy as we thought then.

My day by myself in Rome was good. I went shopping in the morning. Then I went along to the Vatican City in the afternoon (with about 10 thousand other people). I went up to the Cuppola and saw some awesome views of the city. I even posted a postcard off to Mum from there. It truly was amazing. I never got to see the Sistene Chapel though. Oh well, I'll just have to come back.

It is safe to say I have fallen in love with gelato (Italian Ice cream). Their chocolate flavour is SO chocolatey. I also tried the Pistachio and it was yummy.
I am totally over pizza - for a while at least. Although it is very yummy and not ladened with all those toppings we would get at home it is very tasty but I have eaten my quota for a year at least.
I find the Italian people very abrupt and not always the friendliest. Like when Jenni and I stopped for some lunch the other day the waitress told us to 'Sit down please' very abruptly we did what she asked and quickly.
Jenni has learnt that Tuscany is NOT in France but in fact in Italy.
I have learnt that Tuscany is not a town but a region. Apparently the staff at the hostel in Florence get asked all the time how to get to Tuscany when Florence is actually in Tuscany.
We obviously pass as Italian as Jenni was asked twice for directions and I was stopped 5 times! I thought it may have been my trendy fashion sense but Jenni said it's more likely to be my glasses. Apparently they make me look Italian.
My advice to others wishing to visit Italy is DO IT but don't travel in July or August due to the heat and the school holidays.

Ciao Ciao!

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