Monday, 11 August 2014

Peter & Leanne on 2r, Italy, UK and France, updated 05-01-2014


Finally after months of planning and anticipation we packed our bags and set out for Tullamarine Airport, the weather in Castlemaine had been cold and wet for a couple of weeks before our departure, however on the day of departure it was very pleasant, a bit of a disappointment, I had hoped for rain, I don't know why, I would have the warmth of Italy's summer to look forward to.
  Our trip got off to a slow start what with the interminable boredom of preflight check in and waiting to board, there was a two hour delay prior to take off, apparently the cargo bay doors would not lock, ho hum. Once in the air we settled in for the fourteen hour flight to Dubai, we spent our time reading and watching movies.
  We had a two hour stop over in Dubai before the next leg ( six hours) of the flight to Rome, we where dying for a decent coffee and found a cafe that served a passably good cappucino, then boarded the plane once more. Guess what different plane same problem, the cargo bay doors would not lock, Umm this was becoming a habit, only an hours delay this time, once again we spent the flight reading and watching movies, this time in a sleep deprived haze.
Seven hours later escorted by our driver we walked out of Flumicino airport and took our first breath of fresh Italian air, the driver loaded our bags, the drive to our Hotel would take about a half hour, at first you travel through nondescript suburbs of multi storey apartments and industrial areas, then as you approach Rome proper, like spectres peeking out from corners and lane ways, the history starts to appear, little by little until before you know it you are engulfed. fragments of ancient walls, buildings, fountains, churches and piazza's are every where, I was overwhelmed by the beauty and the history of Rome, sure it is a little shabby but hey, who wouldn't be after two thousand years, the shabby chic of the place lends it an enduring charm.
  We were staying at the Hotel Selene, on Via Viminalie, if you are coming to Rome I would highly recommend this Hotel both for it's friendly staff and the fabulous location. we checked in, showered and put on some fresh clothes headed out on our Roman discovery.

The Piazza della Repubblica Rome

You come across scenes like this at every corner

The Church of Santa Maria de Maggiore

This is where we shared our first meal in Rome and our first taste of real Italian Pizza 

Wednesday we started our first full day in Rome, we planned a trip to the Colosseum, then to the Forum, the trip to the Colosseum was about 1 Kilometre, we ended up taking longer to get there than we should have due mainly to the fact that everywhere you look in Rome there is something magnificent to see and to photograph, I have come to the conclusion that there are not enough pixels in the world to photograph every beautiful view in Rome.
We had heard the horror stories of the queue's to get into the Colosseum, now I can vouch for the truth of those stories after buying the tickets for our tour we waited as the guide led us toward the entrance, what was at first a massive crowd, turned into a crush as we neared the entrance, I was worried for the children in the crowd, what a nightmare, once inside it is hard to believe that this place was built 2000 years ago, the technology is similar to what would be used in it's construction today, the only down side is us the tourist, the mayhem continued inside with thousands of tourist and hundreds of tour groups all trying to get to the same features and to take the same photos,  however all this considered, I would not have missed it for the world.
Below are some pic's from the Colosseum and the forum as well as our walk around the Palantine hill.

The crowd gathers outside the Colosseum

The Crush!

Looking across the Colosseum

The Cross marks the place where the Emperor and dignitaries would sit, it was erected by the church in memory of the christians who were martyred in the Colosseum, but as with a lot of what we believe to be historical fact, no christians were actually martyred in the Colosseum, go figure!

looking at the Colosseum walls from inside

The view across the Forum from the Palentine hill

The Temple of Romulus, apparently the marble in those two column beside the entrance is Porphory Marble, incredibly rare and worth tens of millions of dollars, I'm amazed it is still there

The Forum from ground level

The Temple of Vesta

On the Palentine

The views from the Palentine are fabulous, the Palentine is one of the seven hills of Rome

You get a wonderful view of the Colosseum from the Palentine hill


Tivoli is an ancient city in the Lazio region roughly 30 kilometres northeast of Rome overlooking the campanga  and is is a popular getaway for Rome's citizens, this hill top town is easily accessed via rail from rome, however the train station is a couple of K's from the old town and will require public transport or a stroll to access it's attractions but once there you will not be disappointed it is beautiful with a quite laid back charm, friendly locals and fabulous food, but look to the back streets for the best places to eat, we found a narrow lane just out of the gates of Villa de Este where there were a couple ristorante's the one we stopped at was run by a lovely woman who treated us like family.
The town is small, so seeing it on foot is no problem, we visited Villa de'Este and Villa Gregoriana, I wish we had allowed more than just one day here two to three would be ideal!

Villa de'Este 
The Villa was built by Cardinal Ippolito in the 17th century the house itself is beautiful cool and inviting, you enter into a large court yard with a fountain against one wall and colonades around the other three from which the various rooms lead off the floors are covered in beautiful tiles and the ceilings vaulted there are incredible frescoes painted on the walls and ceilings there is not a lot of furniture to see, there are some statues and works of art though,  the villa in fact it seems very liveable although on a large scale and with magnificent views of the Campanga.
The Garden is the real star of this Villa the terraced garden is huge and lavishly planted, but you are struck dumb by the extent of the gardens water features, I will let the photos do the talking.

Villa Gregoriana

Not a stately house but a park, situated at the foot of Tivoli's ancient Acropolis, the bed of the Aniene river was damaged by flood in 1826, Pope Gregory the 16th commissioned the park to repair the damage wrought by the flood.
Villa Gregoriana is like an adventure playground, with walking trails that take you up, down and around the forested valley across the river, into caves onto the waterfall then up to the Acropolis and back into the village, this valley garden / park call it what you will is a fantastic escape from the heat of the Italian summer well worth a visit, grab some bread cheese and wine then find a shady seat and enjoy the views.

                                                     Cinque Terre

After Rome we traveled to a town called Manarola in the Chinque Terre, a group of five towns that    cling to cliffs overlooking the Ligurian sea, the villages were initially built there to safeguard against attack, but these days it are one of the prettiest holiday spots in Italy attracting thousands of tourists.
We made the journey from Rome to Manarola changing trains at Florence, it was a long and tiring 
trip made more difficult because we were carrying quite a bit of luggage, our journey took us through the provence of masa- carrara with amazing views of the mountains where the the carrara marble is quarried, the slopes of the mountains look as though they are covered with snow but it is only the dust from the marble quarries. 
Thirty minutes later we had arrived at Manarola and made our way to Cassa De Mezzo, where we had booked to stay for three nights, according to the tourist brochures Manarola is the most hilly town of the five, a fact we can vouch for, getting our cases to the room was quite a struggle, but once there, Wow! what a view, our room was high on a hill that over-looked the village and the hill opposite, below us the roof tops of the houses dropped away like a staircase down to the Main Street which teemed with visitors, to our left was the ocean a deep dark blue shimmering in the late afternoon sun, to the right we looked towards the hill, past the ochre rendered house's with brown shutters to the church watching over this idyllic village, what a magical site.
 Tired from the trip we rested, then walked back down to the village along the maze of tiny, steep lane ways, found a grocery store and bought wine, cheese, bread and olives, then slowly made our way back to our rooms for supper on the balcony, it was beautiful sitting there with the village on display below us.
Whilst we were in the town we stopped at a bar for a drink, apart from wine the Italians make very good beer and noticed that the bar had live music in the evening we asked if there would be any that night, depends who shows up, if anyone and the music could be anything from Flamenco to Jazz, after eating we did head down to the bar and found the place jumping with a collecting of locals and some very talented tourist making up an impromptu group playing Rolling Stones, Beetles and a long list of other classic bands songs,
The following morning we took the opportunity for a walk around Manarola before the hordes of day trippers arrived via train and boat, the village is beautiful and quite until around 10.00 am and after 5.00 pm in the evening, in between it is mayhem, after grabbing a bite of breakfast and the by now obligatory cafe macchiato we walked to the little ticket booth by the harbour to purchase tickets for the tour boat that runs between the five villages our plan was to take the boat to Vernazza have a look around and then catch the train to Corniglia.
Duly the boat arrived laden to the gunwalls with day trippers, there is no pier as such at Manarola and the boat simply pulls in close to a rocky out crop, ropes are cast and the boat secured to the rock a gang way is then slid from the boat, which is pitching and rolling and the passengers disembark along the moving gangway, most amusing. soon it was our turn to embark and we made our onto the boat , the sea here is the most beautiful deep azure blue, this coupled with the amazing views of the villages makes for an enjoyable and memorable trip.


The white Mountains of Carrara

The view to the left from our rooms

The view to the right from our rooms

The main St of Manarola at night

Looking across Manarola Harbour

Looking from the hill out to sea, Manarola


Vernazza Harbour

Looking across Corniglia

One of the winding lane ways of Corniglia

Napoli and Pompei

No visit to Italy is complete without a visit to Pompei, the ancient city was buried by the volcanic eruption of nearby Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD, attracting 2.5 million tourists a year Pompei is a hugely popular tourist destination, visiting the site illicits a strange mix of emotions on the one hand to see this ancient city frozen in time is astonishing but the thought of the final hours leading to it's destruction brings great sadness.
We left Rome for Napoli on a chartered bus tour, an easier although more painful way to see Pompei, the round trip from Rome takes fourteen hours mostly spent on the coach, the day we went the traffic was horrible, upon arrival in Napoli we disembarked for a quick walking tour of the old parts of the city near the port.
Our tour of Napoli was very short, but what we did see was a bustling urban city with the mixture of the old and new architecture we had come to expect in Italy, although you could not say that all Italian cities are the same, just like the villages each place has it's own character and ambience, Napoli has a reputation for being on the dangerous side and tourists are advised to be careful, I do not know how true this is, most cities have areas where caution needs to be exercised, I would love to see more of Napoli.

Castel Nuovo

Lemons for sale, Napoli

Street scape, Napoli

Mount Vesuvius viewed from across the Port of Napoli

After our whirlwind tour of Napoli we climbed aboard the coach for the final leg of our trip a stop for lunch and then to Pompei, by now we were used to the fabulous food on offer in Italy and were looking forward to lunch, the restaurant we stopped at had a large outdoor eating area and was obviously set up for the tourist coaches, our guide herded us into the eatery where we ate a reasonable meal albeit at a hurried pace, very disappointing.
Then it was back on the bus, Yeees! finally Pompei here we come, we arrived at the tourist precint, along with one three hundredth and fifty sixth of the two and a half million visitors to Pompei, this place is packed, not only with tourists but souvenir stalls places to eat and street hawkers, we were a little frazzled after the coach trip, the hurried meal and the heat (around 35 degrees celsius) so were not impressed, except by the size of the lemons on sale here, they were the size of footballs! 
At last we made our way into Pompei itself, the ruined reminders of a once beautiful city are everywhere collapsed buildings, piazza's, cobbled streets, roofless colonades of colunms, the amphitheatre and statues, an eyrie feeling pervades the place, you are constantly aware of Vesuvius which looms above the city.
The Pompei itself must have been quite a sight in it's day wide streets with all the features we would expect today, drainage, running water, lighting, even pedestrian crossings there were also cats eyes, pieces of white marble that would glow in the moonlight to help you on your way at night, Pompei was cosmopolitan with cafes, shops and brothels, even suburbs divided between the classes, if you were to be transported back in time Pompei would not be that different to the cities we live in.
It is wonderful to see the how the people lived, their homes were not huge mostly modest in size, the wealthier citizens had larger more elaborate lodgings, beautifully decorated with mosaics on the floors and frescoes on the walls, for some life here would have been good.
On the site is a shed which houses artefacts and some of the casts taken from the ash sarcophagi, seeing the casts sitting in the shed seems somehow disrespectful to the dead, as I said earlier this place plays with your emotions, only about a third of the city has been excavated with the rest still buried awaiting it's time in the sun once more.
At the end of an emotion packed day we boarded the coach for the long haul back to Rome, tired drained and having to listen to the inane chattering of four young women on the bus all the way back to Rome I remembered why I do not like coach tours and renewed my vow to stay away from them.
Despite the incredible crowds, the road trip and the heat Pompei was a magical place, when you visit try to find a quiet place away form the crowds to sit and contemplate this tragic place, it will speak to you!

Standing tall a line of columns at Pompei

A suburb of Pompei

A fresco from the brothel

Looking down the main street of Pompei

Vesuvius watches over Pompei

How the mighty fell

Just another artefact

Does he see the eruption of Vesuvius?

A mosaic from the floor of a noblemans villa


Diana looks on!

A constant reminder

There is art in destruction

Perhaps the most poignant photo, the cast of the body of a pregnant woman

Florence (Fierenze)

After three fabulous days at Cinque Terra we took the train back to Florence we were staying at the Hotel Paris, which was within walking distance from the railway station, our walk to the hotel was a warm one, we found Florence to be a bustling, busy city much like Rome with cobbled streets and plenty of traffic, as we got nearer the hotel the streets were smaller and  of course lined with restaurants, bars and stores selling a lot of high end clothing.

Florence, Street scene

Street art in Florence

More Street Art

After about fifteen minutes of walking we found the Hotel Paris tucked away in a narrow street a stones throw from Il Duomo (Florence Cathedral) the hotel easily had the grandest foyer of any place we stayed, the desk staff were very friendly and accommodating, the hotel had a lovely old world fell about it, we checked in showered, changed then went looking for lunch while exploring the neighbourhood we made our way to the Piazza di Santa Maria Novella what a beautiful piazza enclosed with historic buildings and the church the piazza is named after, there are lawned areas and garden beds we had a relaxing lunch of pizza and wine before heading into the maze of narrow streets and lane ways. 

Piazza di Santa Maria Novella

We made our way to the Fiume Arno (River Arno) across which stretches the Ponte Vecchio, this amazing bridge is also a medieval strip shopping mall, flanked by tiny Jewellers shops and  producing what is, going by the prices asked some very fine Jewellery in Gold, Silver and quite a lot of red Coral, at night these tiny shops are locked up using either steel or wooden shutters some of which look like they have been in use for centuries, you can only wonder how many tourists have enough money to buy souvenirs from here.  

Our first Glimpse of the Ponte Vecchio

Jewellery shop window on the Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

After visiting the Ponte a Vecchio and battling the crowds of tourists, we walked back along the Arno to Via de Tornabuoni and made our way to the hotel, Via Tornabuoni is lined with outlets for nearly all of the most exclusive brand names imaginable, window shopping here was a pleasure i have rarely experienced you could spend a hundred thousand dollars on clothes and accessories in minutes
be you male or female, the bling was dazzling, with dollar sings burned into our retinas we made it back to the hotel with bank accounts in tact for a nap.

Refreshed we left the hotel for an evening stroll our  primary destination was the Piazza del Duomo, home of the Florence Cathedral  (Il Duomo), once more we passed a seemingly endless shopping strip, with window displays that you could not walk past without stopping to admire the items on display.
The Piazza is thoroughly dwarfed by the Cathedral it is huge the entire building is finished in white and green marble, the sight of Il Duomo must have taken pilgrims breath away, it is stunning a must see!
We ate a light meal of cheeses, bread pickled vegetables and cured meats at one of the bars, leaving there we wandered around taking in the scenery of the surrounding streets, if you leave the tourist spots there are far less people, the evening was balmy perfect for promenading, until the skies opened,
resulting in a deluge that sent Lee and I looking for cover which I might add was not easy to find, the rain had decided to hang around leaving us to to move from awning to doorway as we walked back to the hotel, despite the rain it was a glorious evening in a beautiful city.

Il Duomo, Three views of the most impressive cathedral i saw on our trip

The following day we prepared for a long days sightseeing, Florence is small enough to experience by foot, although your feet will be a little tired by the time your done, we headed back to the Ponte Vecchio, crossed the Arno then walked along Lungarno Serristori, then followed the winding back streets up to Piazzale Michelangelo situated high up on a hill and giving a magnificent view across Florence, there is also a rather large copy of Michelangelo's David up there, don't miss the opportunity to take in the view form here, there is also a lovely Ristorante, La Loggia across the road, ideal for a lunch break with a couple of Nastro Azzura's.

Two views from Piazzale Michelangelo and one of a street running off Via Belvedere

From here we followed Via Belvedere a tree lined road that looks like it is the Des Res area of Florence there are plenty of lovely villas with outstanding views, by this time we were a little lost and took a very small and steep lane way, which we hoped would take us to somewhere near the Pitti Palace, it did, sort of, any how road weary and foot sore we eventually found the Pitti palace and Boboli Gardens.
The Pitti palace is huge and houses several displays it is basically a Museum, there is aFashion through the ages display, one of the best collections I have seen, better even than the Victoria and Alberts!, Glassware, missed that one, Medicine and Gemstones, then you have the gardens which stretch up the hill behind the Palace, I have never seen so many marble statues in one place, I reckon there are more statues here than there are at Versaille, there is also very good collection of modern sculpture in the garden as well.
We spent hours wandering around the displays and Gardens, basically until we were told we had to leave, the palace and gardens deserve a whole day of their own to fully appreciate them, pick up some cheese, meat, bread and wine for a pic nic in the gorgeous surrounds and make a day of it, but get there before 10.00 am when the tourist busses arrive.

State from the Pitti Palace

Cherub swimming from Pitti Palace

Boboli Gardens

Boboli Gardens

Tuscany and Umbria

From Florence we hired a car and would continue our journey by automobile, on the morning of our leaving Florence I felt somewhat nervous about driving in Italy, I have never driven on the righthand side of the road before and of course new nothing of Italian road rules.
I had been told that the Italians are terrible drivers, but from the little I had picked up from the net it sounded as though drove in much the same fashion as i do, make of that what you will! we picked up our car, a blue Fiat Panda, estate all wheel drive and turboed, from the Avis Garage, loaded our luggage, I set up the GPSI was using Sygic App an app for my phone which we found in valuable and extremely reliable, I would highly recommend it.
I familarized myself with the cars controls adjusted mirrors etc then finally we pulled into the traffic, wow! it was like the first time i had driven on my own all over again, my wife was just about hyper ventilating, she panics a little, after some stressful moments we safely made our way through Florence and out into the open countryside.

Our Fiat Panda

More soon

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