An whirlwind tour of Italia!

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August 26th 2009
Published: September 16th 2009
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We touched down in Milan and picked up Jonesy after his lonely 2 weeks sitting in the airport carpark. It took us 4 hours to drive to Venice where we found a quiet free camping spot for the night (there was no point checking in to the camp ground as it was already 10.30pm after all).

The next morning we hit the camp site, set up, and then caught the 11am ferry across to Venice proper. Our first impressions of Venice were everything you would imagine, picturesque canals, old-world bridges and charming shops down every lane and around every corner. After checking out St Marks Square (San Marco Square) we caught another ferry down the Grand Canal and got off at the famous Pont Rialto (a beautiful bridge spanning the Canal). From there we lost ourselves in the thousands of dazzling Venetian masks that filled this city to the brim. We literally spent hours in and out of shops, staring in awe at many of these dramatic and eye-catching creations. We came back to reality when we had to do some camera shopping for our now broken DSLR camera! And what did we find out that day.....? Well just our luck that Sony lenses are sold nowhere in Europe except the UK.....awesome NOT!!! How typical, oh well no more fancy camera for the rest of the trip, so back to the trusty digital point and shoot Canon we went. After the not so great news about the camera we decided it was time to cheer up with some much needed lunch, pizza and beer!

With full tummies we headed off and jumped on the little gondola taxi’s that take you across the canal, only 50 cents each for a ride and the backpacker version of going on a gondola ride for 2 which would set you back about 100 euros! If you ask me the gondola taxi is far better value for money anyway. So it was back over the canal and off for more exploration of the shops, and most importantly loads of gift shopping. We analysed presents left, right and centre and after choosing a select few spectacular gifts we ventured back to Ponte Rialto to a speciality store to buy our handmade and hand painted one off’ Venetian mask. Its straight to the pool room with that one when we get home. 110 euros or so

Fancy a 100 euro ride?
later and Suz was in mask heaven with a smile from ear to ear from her purchase. By this time we decided it was time to leave Venice before we spent a cent more! Realising our ferry was about to leave we dashed through the streets, over the bridges and around the canals only to miss our ferry by 5 minutes! Aaahhh so annoying. But all was not lost, there was a gelati shop right next to the ferry terminal, so it was then time for an icy gelati sitting on the cathedral steps and soaking in the last of the afternoon rays from the sun - see not so bad after all then hey?

Come morning it was off again and after a measly 2 hours we arrived in Bologna. We parked at a nearby campsite and caught a bus into town (much smarter than paying for parking in town and far less hassle too!). As we strolled into the heart of Bologna we were quite surprised by the size of the streets and the space that the city had, not to mention how deserted the city was for a Saturday. Compared to every other city in Italy they were huge! Normally Italian streets are so poky and small you can barely get a car down them - but not Bolonga, you could drive four semi-trailer’s down these bad boys! You’ll see what I mean in the pictures below. Anyhow, so we checked out Piazza Maggiore and the nearby Piazza Nettuno, complete with a colossal Neptune fountain. It was then off to find a little trattoria (a restaurant that usually only a local would step foot into) oozing character for some traditional ragu (essentially meat Bolognese sauce)! We found a charming restaurant (thanks to the lonely planet!), with its owners chatting away merrily at the bar and people consuming food enthusiastically. And we weren’t disappointed, following colourful hand signals/gestures to communicate with the non English speaking staff, we devoured the Tagliatelle Ragu, which was delicious......not that you’d expect anything else, we were in Bologna after all!

After lunch it was off for more sightseeing. We made our way down the enormous streets back to Piazza Maggiore. We found Basilica de San Petronio (the 5th largest basilica in the world), only to establish we couldn’t actually get in because of Suz’s short skirt and singlet which revealed her oh so sexy shoulders (tutt tutt)! Tarty Suz! No but in all seriousness, it is one tip we definitely give to anyone travelling through Italy, even when it is scorching hot make sure you take a scarf or two with you (they are always very handy as extra clothing), it is amazing how many people get turned away from churches or other religious places, because when you go sightseeing you don’t really think about making sure you have your knees and shoulders covered! So after taking in the basilica, from the outside, we wandered some more until we eventually found the leaning towers of Bologna! No joke, they have two towers (“Due Torri”) that are quite impressive, and they have a lean even greater than Pisa. Who needs Pisa hey! For those unaware, Bologna is actually a city known for its towers, apparently this dates back to the early days when they were used for defence purposes - but quite interesting to see today. Once we’d taken a few happy snaps and read up on the towers it was off for yet more gelati and then a bus back to Jonesy. Back on the road again and 2 hours later we had arrived in Florence.

We were greeted by a huge water fight at the Florence campsite. There was some festival that began that day (which we never got to the bottom of what it actually was), but the gist of it was you have a big water fight to start the celebration. It did look like fun, although Vince and I were feeling rather lazy and didn’t want to get wet due to the pure hassle of having to change. So we scuttled through the camp ground like little kittens, not wanting to be seen. Unfortunately for Vince though three little scheming kids were on the loose and had him in their sights! Vince knew he couldn’t get away so he surrendered, hoping for their mercy, only to be soaked from head to toe by the little buggers. Luckily for me I scurried away into the campsite shop nearby. So after a hot shower and a change we settled in to our camp and rested for the evening.

Sunday afternoon we journeyed into the city for what we hoped would be minimal crowds as we were going to the biggest sight in Florence. Well boy did we get what we wished for, Sunday afternoon, Florence was a ghost town. So having the streets to ourselves we made our way to the Galleria Del Academia to admire one of the world’s most famous statues. We paid our extortionate entry fees and finally found the room where the masterpiece stood. It was the most mammoth, enormous, huge, titanic piece of artwork we had ever seen. Words cannot really describe the size of it, but trust me when I say it was awe inspiring. And if you don’t already know what I am talking about, the artwork is none other than Michelangelo’s David - no more introductions necessary! We stood there for a long time just gazing at this work of genius, and sneakily managed to take some photos that we weren’t supposed to. When we had soaked in enough of the culture we headed back out to wander the streets a little more, and then off home. We were still feeling the affects of our Greek Island flu’s so some rest was definitely in order. The next day (day 2) we chilled out and tried to rejuvenate ourselves some more. Lots of nanna naps, a lazy lunch and an early dinner.

Day 3 in Florence and it was time to get our sightseeing shoes on. First stop was the Gothic Duomo (Cathedral). The duomo was engulfed by people and it wasn’t hard to see why. Out of all the churches/cathedrals we’ve seen this is by far the most unusual. With an array of colours, shapes and designs on the exterior it is more like an artwork then the outer walls of a church. And with the chapel and cupola surrounding it in the same theme it is a very striking place to be. Next stop was Piazza Della Signoria and its surrounding Piazzas and important city buildings. Piazza Della Signoria is another backpacker heaven as it costs nothing to explore and it is complete with numerous copies of world renowned statues (including Michelangelo’s David) as well as other great original masterpieces. It was then down a maze of cobbled streets and out to probably the second most famous part of Florence, Ponte Vecchio. A quick little history lesson on Ponte Vecchio.... as you will see from the pictures it isn’t any ordinary bridge, it is actually more of an arcade of shops across the river. Well originally this
Ventian mask shoppingVentian mask shoppingVentian mask shopping

Simply amazing
arcade was packed with butcher shops, but when a corridor was put through the centre of the bridge to link either side of the town, it was ordered that goldsmiths inhabit these shops. And this is one tradition that has lasted the years well and truly, as today it is absolutely booming with jewellers - gold, crystal, diamonds and all a girls finest desires reside here, shame Vince didn’t have time to buy me that eternity ring! After I mopped the drool up, we headed back to Jonesy and back on the road for the next stop, Roma!!

We arrived in Rome around 9.30pm that night, again being quite late we decided to free camp on the side of the road. Much to our dismay there was to be no free camping that night, as even at 10pm it was still around 30 degrees! We were sweltering like piggies in an oven and couldn’t even relax when we sat still. So off to the campsite we trundled to check in and set up, in complete darkness mind you, but it was worth it has we had our much needed fan going!

The next day we headed into the city and off to the tourist office to help us plan our attack on Rome. Well boy were they useless! Most tourist offices provide maps, timetables, guides, the works, but the Rome tourism board must not believe in helping tourists as they couldn’t tell us anything! Even when we asked what guided tours of the city there are, they had no idea apart from the hop on hop off bus - which any Tom, Dick or Harry could tell you! Seriously for such a major city, one of the biggest in Europe it is pretty appalling. Anyhow so we gave up on them and stuck with the faithful lonely planet and the information guys at our campsite (who were much more useful!).

Come morning it was time for more rest - yep still trying to shake the “Ios cough”. We lazed by the pool for most of the day, as temperatures soared into the mid 40’s there was not much else you could do to stay cool. It seemed a heatwave had hit Europe right when we were in one of the hottest areas - great! The afternoon was filled with more swimming, reading, many games of “shithead” and “13’s”, dinner at the campsite restaurant and attempting to sleep come nightfall with our little fan working its butt of for all its worth.

Day 3 in Rome and we were off to tackle the disgusting heat head on, whilst exploring more burning hot areas of Rome - the Roman ruins! The daily sights included the Roman Forum, the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain. No matter how many pictures you see of these places, they are just unbelievable in real life. The magnificence of the Colosseum and the extraordinarily well preserved condition the structure is in, is simply fascinating. The Roman Forum is also just as remarkable, and when you stand outside the two of them on a modern day street in Rome it is just breathtaking to see such history amongst a modern bustling city. It really does take you back to what things would’ve looked like in ancient Rome. Regrettably Vince and I rented the audioguide for the Roman Forum - which was a complete waste of money, very hard to follow! We then paid for a guided tour of the Colosseum, which also wasn’t the most informative as we’d heard all the exact same information before
Giant door in BolognaGiant door in BolognaGiant door in Bologna

For some reason everything in this city was HUGE!
when we’d done our tour of Tarragona in Spain. Another hot tip from us: once you’ve done one roman amphitheatre you’ve done them all! So pay for one really good quality tour guide once and you’ll then have all the necessary knowledge to explore the others on your own! From the ruins it was off to the Trevi Fountain. Along with everything else in Rome it is huge! Elaborate, impressive and did I mention big?? With thousands of tourists throwing in pennies everywhere it is overrun with people, but still amazing and very pretty. The afternoon consisted of a spot of gift shopping and then back to the campsite.

Day 4 and we were most excited of the plan ahead. And why were we excited? Well today was our 4 hour guided tour of the Vatican and from past experiences when we pay for a proper guided tour we get quality and have a really great time. So we covered up appropriately (no bare knees and shoulders this time!) and met up with our Irish tour guide for our “Angel tour”. Sneakily we got away with being students for the tour fee, we hadn’t even begun and we had
See what I mean?See what I mean?See what I mean?

Huge streets or what
already saved 20 euros. Upon entry to the Vatican museum Vince confidently handed over both of our drivers licences and said “2 students please”. The saleslady inspected the cards for what seemed like an eternity, handed them back to Vince and charged us student rate. Yippee another 12 euros in the bank. Oh before I begin, thats another tip of ours: if you have two matching I.D’s (e.g. drivers licences) show them as if you are showing a student ID, most of the time the sales people either don’t bother to look, or can’t read English that well, so they give you student rate - no harm in trying hey!

So it was then the real tour began. We started in the Vatican museum adorned with hundreds of priceless statues, the room of mammoth hand painted and navigated maps, 3D illusion paintings and mind boggling tapestries that stretch from the ceiling to the floor. It really is amazing to see how much money the church has, this museum is a treasure trove of priceless items. From there we entered the Sistine Chapel, but not before Jimmy (our guide) had given us in-depth knowledge on Michelangelo, his works (i.e the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the Last Judgement painted on the wall), the insinuations in the paintings and the story on Pope Julius II who commissioned the work of the Sistine chapel and St Peters Basilica. The information Jimmy gave us was so fascinating and made the viewing of the chapel extremely interesting and very rewarding. We’ve heard many people say they are disappointed when they see the Sistine Chapel as there as so many other glorious paintings and treasures in the museum, but trust me if you have a guide and learn all the information we did, you will find it the most worthwhile tour you ever do!

From the Sistine Chapel we entered into the even greater St Peter’s Basilica, the largest basilica in the world. Once again words can’t describe the enormity of St Peter’s and the feeling walking from the square, up the magnificent steps and into the church. Inside there is yet more dazzling statues, paintings and an altarpiece like none other you will see in the world. After viewing the world famous Pieta statue (Mary holding Jesus when he is taken down from the cross), we then descended into the catacombs. Here
Due TorriDue TorriDue Torri

Bolongna's leaning towers
we viewed “the world’s greatest Pope’s” tomb, the late Pope John Paul II. Even if you are not religious, it is a very tranquil place to be and rather touching to see so many people still paying their respects to him. Lastly we headed up the cupola of St Peter’s Basilica to take in the splendid views over Rome. This is another narrow winding climb where you wouldn’t want to be too chubby or have claustrophobia for that matter! The walls were so close together anyone with a little bit too much pudding would be wedged in there for sure! Lucky for us we haven’t put on that much weight and we managed to squeeze up to the top and out into the open air of the cupola. The steep climb was definitely worth it, the views over Rome were spectacular, especially looking down at St Peter’s Square, you really do get a true feel for the Square’s size from above. We gazed out from the cupola at the sun setting over another beautiful European city and closed the chapter on our sightseeing journey that was Rome.

The next day we left Jonesy on his own in the camp ground parking and we took off down to the Amalfi Coast. After Jonesy’s protests of hills over the last couple of months we doubted very much he would take to the winding cliffside roads that is the Amalfi Coast! We made it to Sorrento only to be welcomed by a shabby and rather dirty campsite, complete with staff telling us at 4pm that our room wasn’t ready. Well let me just say, after a long day travelling there is no way in hell I was going to stand for someone telling me at 4pm my room wasn’t ready, so in true Suz style I demanded a reason or another room. Needless to say we had a room 5 minutes later. After a shower and a rest from the day’s sweaty travelling we ate at the campsite restaurant which was quite nice and cheap (a lovely change from the typical Italian prices we’d had so far!).

The next day it was off on our self guided tour of the coastline. We caught the bus that winds and crawls along the cliffs to Positano and Amalfi. It is quite amusing and sometimes scary on these buses as they are continuously honking their horns at almost every turn, to warn oncoming traffic of their presence. Obviously they expect everyone to hear them as they hurl themselves around the corners and really aren’t very cautious at all (apart from the horn!). We arrived in Positano all in one piece and descended the hundreds and hundreds of stairs down to the beach. As you can see from the photos it is a VERY long way down from the roads where the buses are. Once we made it down we explored the teeny streets, shops and little quirks of the town. Come lunch time, we found a nice little cafe and had a few mini pizza’s to fill our tums (surprise, surprise, more pizza!). We then had to get back up to the bus to continue to Amalfi. So rather than catching a bus up the cliff side Vince and I thought it would be a good idea to take the steps as we were intrigued to know exactly how many steps there were. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I look back and think “who the hell cares how many steps there are!” In total we walked up 660 steps, not that many really but it was a very steep and damn sweaty climb. We jumped back on the bus and finally got to Amalfi. Much more of the same was done at Amalfi, more exploration and an afternoon snack. Once again surprise of all surprises we had......gelati! At the end of our exploration day we caught the ferry along the Amalfi coastline back to Sorrento. It was really nice getting to view the coastline from the top and bottom - I would definitely recommend it.

The following day we set off to the lost city of Pompeii. It was another scorching hot day in Italy and as usual on the steamy days we were out to explore one of the hottest places - typical! We arranged for a 2 hour guided tour of the ruins as Pompeii is absolutely enormous, and once again it was the best choice we made, very worthwhile. I can’t even begin to imagine how long it would take to explore the ruins with only an audio guide. We were shown amazing pathways that are purely composed of the volcanic remains, streets, homes, mosaics, body casts (including a poor dog that was chained up when the eruption happened - obviously the owners forgot it as they tried to get out to save themselves), a bakery, the town square and even a brothel. All I can say is that it’s amazing and so astonishingly well preserved - obviously from the volcano burying the city. It is phenomenal that archaeologists could discover and excavate this great city, and yet keep it in such an original and untouched condition.

From Pompeii we took the cable car up a nearby mountain for views out over the coastline and overlooking Mount Vesuvius. We had lunch at the top of the mountain at a very quiet family pub which had fantastic prices and huge meals (just what the backpacker needs)! Afterwards it was back down to Sorrento and time to pack up for our huge day of travelling that was to follow. The next morning we were up early and onto our first mode of transport. To give you an idea of just how much travelling was involved this was the schedule: bus, train, train, metro, train, bus, car, ferry, car. A lot of mucking around or what!! Anyway we thought we would play it safe and give ourselves
Ancient Roman times at the Roman Forum in none other than RomeAncient Roman times at the Roman Forum in none other than RomeAncient Roman times at the Roman Forum in none other than Rome

You think you could get the word Rome in that title anymore?
a 3 hour contingency as well. But by the time our Naples to Rome train was 1 hour late, which resulted in us missing the next train (so another half hour delay), and then a huge traffic jam on the motorway whilst driving to the ferry, which resulted in another 1.5 hour delay (our first traffic jam this entire trip), we only just made it to our ferry with 2 minutes to spare. As we drove onto the ferry they literally closed the door behind us! Talk about lucky or what. So 24 hours of travelling later and needless to say we were buggered, but had finally arrived in Split, Croatia.

All in all we were left with pretty great impressions of Italy. It really is a gorgeous country that just bursts with culture and beautiful sights. If only Jonesy was a little bit faster or could handle hills it would’ve been fabulous to explore a little more off the beaten track, rather than just driving on motorways. The little bits of countryside we saw near Florence were just delightful and we can only guess what the rest of the country may have to offer. The Cinque Terre was by far the highlight of the trip, but Florence, Venice and Rome are also high on the “best places” list. However, after a total of 3 weeks in Italy we can definitely say we were quite sick of pizza and pasta and honestly don’t know if we could’ve handled it any longer (hence our numerous trips to McDonalds during this timeframe). Only other gripe, toll roads are extortionate!!

So after our whirlwind tour of Italy we are now off to Croatia to board a sail boat with around 30 other people and 4 of our good buddies from London, Scott and Em, Hayles and Nov. Vince’s 26th birthday is to come in a couple of days and no doubt lots of craziness and drinking.

Additional photos below
Photos: 50, Displayed: 38


And again...And again...
And again...

looking down into what used to be the chambers beneath the floor.
The Trevi FountainThe Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain

You can just see the coin in the air Suz threw in
The ORIGINAL "Thinker" StatueThe ORIGINAL "Thinker" Statue
The ORIGINAL "Thinker" Statue

Inside Vatican Museum - this is the orignal that dates back to BC times. The statue in Paris is not actually the orginal thinker - you know the one that still has the head etc??
Sistine ChapelSistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo's world famous ceiling painting of The Creation stories and The Last Judgement on the far wall.
Close up shot of the Creation storiesClose up shot of the Creation stories
Close up shot of the Creation stories

Looks boring but the stories behind the individual paintings are fascinating...
Why oh why did we decide to climb the stairs back up??Why oh why did we decide to climb the stairs back up??
Why oh why did we decide to climb the stairs back up??

Especially when there was a perfectly good bus to take us!
The cathedral at AmalfiThe cathedral at Amalfi
The cathedral at Amalfi

Vince almost gets lost in those steps

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