A Travellerspoint blog

Rome

Day 1
Arrived on the 12:30 train from Naples, despite leaving on time for a 70 minute trip we were still obligatorily late - this time by 25 minutes. We caught a taxi to our accommodation Arpinelli Relais, literally 50 metres from the fabulous Trevi Fountain. The hosts then sat us down and gave us a great overview of Rome attractions and restaurants that are recommended by them. Our rooms were lovely and with sound proof windows so despite only being 50 metres from Trevi there is virtually no street noise at all. The beds are comfortable and the bathrooms excellent (we did have trouble with the shower but it was attended to immediately). The location is perfectly situated for many of the attractions. We decided to walk to and up the Spanish Steps in the 37oC heat!! We then meandered to Piazza Navona plus the excavated Greek-style stadium buried underground, and the Pantheon. The Pantheon is staggeringly beautiful, not as fussy in decoration but the sheer height and engineering feats is astounding and hard to believe its over 2000 years old. Suffice it to say we were all totally worn out by the time we got back to the hotel. We showered and went to dinner.
Day 2
On Gareth's recommendation we decided to visit the Catacombs. This became a bit of an issue. Finding how to get there became a real pain. Our hosts here told us to catch a bus from Piazza Venetia. That was easy enough - but a decent walk! Having got there, then trying to find which bus became a mission. Two bus drivers told us two different answers. We eventually figured it out but had to wait over 40 minutes in oppressive heat for our bus. This then took us on the Appian Way (never built for buses) for about 20 minutes to the Catacombs and then had another 40 minute wait (thankfully shade and drinks from a self-service dispenser were available). The Catacombs are where over 500,000 christian Romans were buried. They originated about the middle of the second century and are part of a cemeterial complex which occupies an area of 90 acres, with a network of galleries about 12 miles long, in four levels, more than twenty metres deep. In it were buried tens of martyrs, 16 popes and thousands of Christians. It is a fascinating place to visit - the excavations are amazing, going down as note twenty metres. Well worth the visit! Marred by the trip back - waited another 30 minutes for the bus back, packed in like sardines and having to stand in a low air-conditioned bus was not a lot of fun! We walked back to our hotel stopping at Macas on the way for a late lunch before going out for tea at 9:30. Another uninspiring but acceptable meal.
Day 3
We had pre-booked 'skip the line' tours for both the Coliseum and Vatican City. We took an Uber to the Coliseum and given pretty average instructions on where to meet the guide finally found her. 'Guide' was possibly overstating her purpose - which really amounted to her getting us in quickly, because once inside she virtually told us nothing and left us to our own devices pretty much. Nonetheless it is still an awe-inspiring piece of Roman architecture - and the information sources inside are much improved on when we were last here in 2008. Having seen the queues when we exited, we were still pleased we paid the extra to skip the lines. We meandered back and had lunch at a nondescript cafe but the food was molto buono (very good). We then caught another Uber to Vatican City. This turned out to be a bit of a disaster. Not only did the driver get lost he dropped us off at an entrance miles away from where we were meant to be. Accordingly we missed our pre-booked tour - but a savvy Indian fella saw an opportunity and signed us up for another tour (yes lucky us :-) ) Anyway, as it turned out the guide 'Jad' was brilliant. He had a dry sense of humour was knowledgeable and interesting. Patrick marveled at the Sistine Chapel and the halls leading up to it and the Basilica itself - these are still incredible legacies of the Catholic church's inclination in that period to overdo the glorification of God and all things related.

Posted by 3kiwisabroad 04:13 Comments (1)

Sorrento

Day 1
We caught the 7:25am train from Venice which meant another early rise. The train was well-appointed and the seats extremely comfortable. The train (Frecciarossa - Red Arrow) reached speeds of at least 299kms per hour ( we recorded this but we expect more in tunnels where GPS would not allow it to be recorded). Regardless of the speed it was incredibly smooth. The trip via Rome to Naples was supposed to take five hours but was closer to six, as once again our experience of Italian trains invariably running late was reinforced. The trip required a transit to the local train at Naples and after a little uncertainty we found the correct platform. These trains have no aircon and are packed. Uncomfortably hot! These trains look old and tired but boy do they tramp - not sure of the speeds but ewe got the impression they are pushed to their limits both mechanically and the laws of gravity!. We found our hotel to be a bit further up the hill than envisaged (a 25 euro taxi ride) but a beautiful spot with a lovely pool area and a lot of shady areas and patios for relaxing in. Incredible view of Sorrento from our hotel room. We ventured into Sorrento and realised its much bigger than we remembered and full of narrow streets full of retail outlets and eateries. This place is also full of tourists (but not percentage of Asians we have encountered in other hot spots thus far). There seems to be some reasonably-priced clothing here and Julie & I bought a couple of items. We found an eatery (the Star Pub) that seemed to offer a menu that had some offerings that were more up our alley and we weren't disappointed. Having lost the bus timetable we caught another taxi which we though would be more direct and cheaper than the previous one but because they close the main shopping street at 7:30 it was once again a round-about and expensive trip :-(
Day 2
Spent a couple of hours around the pool before wandering down town with the view of going to the Herculaneum - the Kiwi way - walking, catching a train, walking... The train ride was uneventful until we missed the stop (the stations are very poorly signposted and the signs on the carriages often obliterated) and had to get off at the next one and return - but only lost 10 minutes. We walked the 600 to 700 metres down to the Herculaneum and spent an hour or two wandering around this marvellous site before walking back up the hill and catching a very packed train back to Sorrento where we had dinner in the Star Pub again - three cod and chips please. Very tasty. We then caught what we thought was the right bus back past the hotel only to figure out (just in time) that it didn't go past at all - getting off at the nearest point and trudging the last kilometer uphill to the hotel - very footsore, hot and tired.
Day 3
Picked up at 9.15am by Tours Sorrento van. The trip to the dock for the boat took 45 mins as traffic is always busy. It was all well organised and people were guided to their chosen tours by staff who spoke reasonable English. We were on a very nice boat which took only 12 people so not crowded at all. The group included 3 Americans from Wisconsin, 4 English people from Yorkshire, who were our drinking buddies and funny as hell and a couple of Italians. Our skipper was Luca who was fantastic and treated all of us with great service, supplying us with beer, wine, water and snacks at our whim. He actually said at the start of our trip, when you want something you just say ‘Luca, I want or Luca you get and Luca will get‘. The tour took us to the chicken islands first where he stopped at a nice place for us to jump in and have a swim. It then continued on to Amalfi where we had an hour and a half to shop and look around before reboarding the boat for Positano for another hour or so looking around. Amalfi was quaint but busy, Positano is manic, so many people we could hardly move on the streets, very pretty place though. We preferred Amalfi better. Luca was very accommodating on the way back stopping twice more in lovely safe bays for us to swim again. He also supplied snorkelling gear if you wanted it. He stopped at numerous points of interest along the way and we never felt like we were being rushed at all. It was another glorious hot day and as we finished the day (which was a full 8 hrs on the boat) Luca supplied us all with a Limoncello which was delicious. We would highly recommend this to everyone who likes a fun time on a boat. We finished the night at the Foreigners Club - this is a very large restaurant with magnificent views and the most extensive menu we have seen in Italy and the food was pretty good!

Posted by 3kiwisabroad 15:11 Comments (1)

Venice

Day 1
Left Florence at a very agreeable time of 10:15. As typical with what we had experienced with Italian trains thus far it was late in leaving and lost even more time on the route because of mechanical trouble somewhere else so we arrive in Venice 40 minutes late. On leaving the station we were collared by A Bangladeshi porter who insisted that the B&B was 15 minutes away, across 4 stepped bridges. He wanted 30 Euros, we agreed 25E but once he got us to our B & B he insisted we had agreed 30 euros and would take no less!!! Then he had the cheek to give me his card for the return journey - well he can forget that! The B& B is quite central and run by a charming 50 something lady with a nice body (according to Patrick) :-). After settling in we decided to go for a walk and actually chose an area far from the madding crowd. We intended to walk for an hour or so but it turned out to be closer to four. We got lost several times ( well just going in the wrong direction) before figuring out that following the crowds was actually a good idea! The main thoroughfares are simply manic. Wall to wall tourists and kiosks, stalls and shops. We saw a 16 Sq metre kiosk for sale at a price E500,000! We have decided that Venice is unique and picturesque in its own way, but not with the beauty of Florence or Cinque Terra. Possibly the thousands of tourists are clouding our perspective! The waterways are busy with craft of every type, Julie wants to do a gondola ride but at 100 Euros for 35 minutes its a have. We will see what transpires on Day 2. We had a two hour siesta (gps clocked us as having walked 10.5kms) before going out for dinner. We found a restaurant close by and we all had pork scallopini with grilled vegetables, tasty but once again underwhelming and the cost wasn't justified.

Day 2
We were delivered a lovely venetian breakfast of croissants, bread rolls, fresh orange juice and a variety of condiments for our toast - (no healthy cereal though) to our rooms at 9am. Set off to go to the 'islands' (Murano, Burano) at 10am and found that the area that was deserted the previous morning was now filled with some stalls and a reasonably-sized fish market, taking advantage of the early morning shade. We bought all-day tickets and took the Number 4.2 ferry to Murano (with a few stop offs on the way). The Murano glass artisans are still alive and well (although cheap Chinese knock-offs have apparently forced a few out of business). We paid a few euros each to watch a master glass-blower create three pieces in about 15 minutes, each great in their own right, just to be cast back into the furnace each time - seems a hell of a waste! Anyway it was great. Julie bought a beautiful photo frame and espresso cup as mementos. We then ventured on to Burano where the lace/linen industry is - slow 45 minute ferry ride that had us all hot and bothered when we got there as the ferries are well overloaded and you have to be quick to get a seat! Julie would have loved to buy some linen but it was very expensive indeed. We had a quick tour around then grabbed a pizza and drink for lunch. Some confusion over which ferry to catch back but ended up in Punta Sabbioni (one of the beaches) where we had to get off as it was the end of the line. We then caught the number 12 ferry back to San Marco in Venice where we took in the Piazza San Marco and Bridge of Sighs before catching yet another hugely overloaded ferry back to our nearest ferry stop and to our hotel for another well-earned 'siesta' .
About 8pm after freshening up we went out for dinner at a lovely courtyard restaurant close by the canal - unfortunately although we had our first palatable glass of italian red, the food again left much to be desired. None of us can understand why they don't offer more of their beautiful fresh fruit and veges which are in abundance - very strange! A final walk back to our rooms and into bed - a 6am rising is on the cards

Posted by 3kiwisabroad 13:50 Comments (1)

Florence & Tuscany

Day 1
Arrived from Pisa by train to a hubbub of activity at Florence Santa Maria Novella station. A constant throng of travellers - thousands every minute of the day (we have been through the station about four times since then). The noticeable difference from the last time we were here 9 yrs ago is the huge number of Asian tourists - Japanese, Chinese and Koreans mainly - now they are a high percentage of the tourists in Italy. We caught a cab to our Hotel which is as grand as its name: Grand Hotel Villa Medici, a 5 star hotel, so flash John thought he had booked the wrong hotel!! Lucky for us he hadnt and we have two rooms at the end of a wing with our own private door! We call it the Kiwi wing!! The rooms are rather larger than we have been used to so far, fantasico.

We went for walk through the streets of Florence, including a visit to Ponte Vecchio and around a few nearby piazzas before finding Walkabout Tours where we booked a 4 hour vespa guided tour to the Florentine countryside which we will do on Sunday afternoon. We caught a cab back to the hotel and spent a couple of hours around the pool being waited upon. John went to the gym and worked up a sweat while Pat and Julie sat soaked up the atmosphere. That evening we had a meal at a nearby restaurant which had a gorgeous courtyard but the food was only very mediocre - we have found Italian food so far to be very ho-hum with few green veges which we are all craving now.

Day 2
We caught the hotel courtesy car to the station (but having found how close it is taking the most direct route we would not bother now). We wandered around a few shops with John buying a few items, the others lucked out. We then got on the Hop On Hop Off tourist bus to see the sites of Florence. This took us to a fabulous lookout overlooking the whole of Florence - it is Wow. We hopped back on the bus with the view of getting on a different Line later in the day to see more of the outskirts of Florence but this never happened because the other bus never came so we hiked it back to the hotel and got the courtesy car hoping to visit the Boboli Gardens only to arrive at closing time! We walked back looking at dozens of shoe shops looking for a pair of sandals for Julies very sore feet. Once again she lucked out. We had walked another 10kms by the time we got back to the hotel. Another session around the pool and another gym session for John. We found a nice vegetarian/vegan restaurant very close to the hotel and decided the food was good enough to plan going back the next night. (But we didn't)

Day 3
Clearly never destined to see Boboli Gardens. We cruised around in the morning and Patrick and John did some laundry at a nearby self-service launderette and grabbed a coffee while they waited. We decided again to visit the gardens and having missed the last courtesy car got a taxi there once again to be stymied by a huge queue for tickets, we decided that by the time we waited to get to the front of the queue we just wouldn't have enough time before we had to be at our meeting point for our vespa tour so we missed out again - very frustrating. So once again Shank's pony came to the rescue - another 5km saunter back to the hotel. We've seen a bit of Florence's back streets by now! Even got lost in a couple of them!!!
2.30pm we're off on our Vespa tour into the Tuscan countryside. Boy are we glad we did this tour, it was absolutely fantastic, Valerio our guide led us in his little Fiat Bambina and all the vespa riders followed him. There were also two couples who hired Bambinas instead of vespas so he had a few to keep his eye on but did a valiant job of keeping us all safe on the roads. He took us into the hills of Florence where there are a lot of olive groves and vineyards where the streets are sooo narrow they are barely wider than the car at times. We went through the village where Gallileo lived and did his astronomy. Such beautiful Tuscan scenery. We continued on the hilly roads for 2 hrs winding our way around various hills before stopping at the vineyard where we were treated to a fabulous early dinner of Pasta, antipasta board, their own wine and espresso coffee to finish. We then meandered our way back down the hills to the centre of Florence again where our tour ended. We would reccomment this particular tour to anyone coming here, it was such great fun and good value. We'd do it again in a heartbeat - thanks Walkabout Tours.
We walked back to our hotel, grabbing another gelato enroute and had another wine and relaxed the evening away.

Posted by 3kiwisabroad 10:59 Comments (1)

Cinque Terra

Day 1 - Cinque Terra
Arrived via three hour train from Milan around 11am into Monterosso. A taxi arrived simultaneously with us coming out of station (along with dozens of others) and saved us a good walk to our digs in the old town at Affittacamere De Cesare B&B. Welcomed outside this by an American family just leaving who had fabulous comments to make which was encouraging. Julie under the weather so she went to bed and Pat & I went for a walk to take in Monterosso. This took us to the high point overlooking both the old and new towns where we discovered the burial ground with some amazing crypts that hold the remains of the town's deceased. We reckon the walk up there carrying the coffins probably killed a few more off! We then went for a swim before enjoying some wine and cheese sitting on our balcony. Julie joined us without the wine! Our venture out for dinner was a complete letdown, picked a restaurant that served us up three very disappointing dishes and the price paid left an even more sour taste in our mouths!
Day 2
The day started with an excellent breakfast at the B&B. The people who own and run our B & B are very informative and friendly and speak enough English for us to understand. We then caught a train to Vernazza for a look around (much quieter than Monterosso) and then a further (20 minute late) train to La Spezia. We all agreed the centre of La Spezia is lovely and it has it excellent shopping. John bought a nice linen shirt, yes its actually made in Italy to! We caught the train back to Monterosso and all ventured down to the beach for a bit of R&R. Even Julie got in - the water was a beautiful temperature - so refreshing. We came back and freshened up and then caught a train to Manarola and intended to do the walk from here to Riomaggiore but when we got to the track it was closed due to previous land slides. It seems things take a while to get reinstated around Italy in general we have found. The track has been out of action for some months, in fact years. Anyway we decided to catch the train to Riomaggiore where we had a good look around, Julie bought a t-shirt and the boys had a coconut gelato which was delicious. Caught the train back to Monterosso, showered and sat on our little deck with an Italian red (too dry by far for our palate) and ate a rotisserie chicken for dinner. Another full day and 3 kiwi's have very sore feet after 12 km's of walking!
Day 3
Commenced with another fantastic breakfast at Affittacamere De Cesare. We were also given generous slices of Mama's lemoncello cake to take with us. Buonissimo! Caught taxi back to the station. Some trouble figuring out which carriage (1st Class) we were on. Finally advised by an Aussie couple where we needed to look to find the carriage number. Anyway we were about eight carriages from where we were meant to be! We left our big bags in the care of the Aussies and collected them getting off in Pisa. Pisa was a madhouse. We were there in June 2008 and we reckon there was five times as many people there this time. Hot as hell and sticky. Patrick not interested in climbing the tower so we did a quick tiki tour, cool drink at Maccas and back to the station. Julie bought a hat and two aprons. Once again having to lug our numerous bags up and down steps because most stations in this region don't have ramps, escalators or lifts!

Posted by 3kiwisabroad 14:34 Comments (1)

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