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Published: August 6th 2007
The Leaning Tower Of Pisa
The obligatory shot of the Leaning Tower.
The ferry over from Split to Ancona was actually fairly high-rolling.
Among the amenities available on board were a restaurant, bar and casino.
It was a 10 hour overnight voyage, so I decided to book a bed in a 4-bed cabin so I could get some decent sleep and in the process manage to score a 10€ discount for being under 26 - score! Also, the boat was pretty empty, so there was no-one else in my cabin which was sweet as.
The only thing that sucked though was the fact that the journey ended at 6.30am so I was pretty tired as I zombied through Italian immigration.
"Did you not sleep on the boat?" asked the officer.
"No, not much", I laughed back.
The officer though wasn't joking though, as I had held up the queue for a little not realising I had been called over. This wasn't to be the last time I encountered frosty Italians.
It wasn't to be the last time my tiredness would hold me up either.
I annoyingly missed my train to Florence from Ancona because I had momentarily forgotten how to read an analogue watch and thought that the time was 7.00am when
View Of Florence
From the Piazza Michelangelo.
in fact it was 8.00am, and was left confused as to why my train had left an hour early. It also took me ages to realise that there is actually no direct train to Florence and that I had to go to Bologna first - the next train going that way wouldn't leave for another 2 hours. I am really not a morning person.
The design of the train was also poor, with each carriage divided into little cabins of 6 seats each, all accessible by a tiny corridor along the side of the train which I swear was less than a metre wide, which proved troublesome for those with ridiculous amounts of luggage who blocked the entire corridor. The cabins were also tiny, meaning that I almost wiped out a couple of Italian girls trying to put my huge bag into the overhead shelf. Being kicked out of my seat by an old lady with a reservation - out of all the seats in the cabin, she happened to have reserved mine - was the last straw, and I was left feeling absolutely exhausted and frustrated by the time I arrived in Florence.
I was staying at a
Inside The Duomo
Inside the Duomo in Siena.
camping ground in Florence, a long way up in the hills. Passing all the nice houses in the hills, I guessed that this was where the affluent lived.
My "room" however was not so affluent. Basically a tent with hard wooden base and 3 beds, it was absolutely boiling inside - not exactly what you want, when all you want to do is lie down after a 15 hour journey.
The view from the nearby Piazza Michelangelo (a popular romantic PDA spot at night) was amazing though, as it looked across the city.
My sister and her friends Imogen, Carrie and Lily, arrived about a couple of hours after I did. Although I had been alone for less than 24 hours (it felt like much more than that) I did appreciate the company, and it would be the last time I would see my sister until November.
The next day, my sister, Lily and I set out on a day trip to Siena, about an hour and a half train journey out of Florence. Along the way, we admired the picturesque Tuscan countryside as we passed several fields of flowers, vineyards and the odd ruined hilltop castle.
Torre del Mangio & Palazzo Pubblico
The main features in the main square in Siena.
had very pretty streets, and had a real laid-back vibe about it despite the number of tourists around. The Duomo was spectacular both inside and out, from it's green, pink and white facade outside, to the numerous paintings and frescoes inside. Siena's sloping main square is also a hit, where the towering Torre del Mangia stands alongside the Sienese-Gothic style Palazzo Pubblico, where a couple were getting married. How nice.
The next day was my last in Florence. I hadn't really seen much of Florence, and the girls still had a couple of days here so I bade farewell to them and moved on to the train station. It was nice hanging out with New Zealanders and catching up with my sister again.
Down at the train station, I checked in my baggage and proceeded to explore the city by foot.
Initially, walking around the streets and looking out at the city from the bus, my initial thoughts of Florence were that it was pretty average.
Then I saw the Duomo. Pictures just don't do justice to this gargantuan cathedral, as they fail to give any sense to it's size. Unfortunately, the queue to get in was just as
The dome of the Duomo in Florence - the picture doesn't really give you a sense of how big it actually is.
big, and would take up time I didn't have that day. Still, I would say that this was probably the most spectacular sight I saw in Italy. My sister thought that Siena's Duomo was beautiful - I wonder what she thought of this one.
Next, I made a short walk to the Piazza Della Signora, where the historical seat of the Florentine government used to be located inside the Palazzo Vecchio there. It is right alongside the Torre d'Arnolfo and the famous Loggia della Signora, a 14th century sculpture showcase. At the Loggia della Signora was a replica of David, Michelangelo's famous sculpture. I would have liked to have seen the real thing at the Galleria dell'Accademia, but time constraints meant I had to give it a miss.
Just around the corner is the Galleria degli Uffizi, home to the world's greatest collection of Italian Renaissance art. The building was nice but the queue wasn't - I'm not an art person at all however, so I wouldn't have gone in anyway. I know some of you are probably gasping at the fact I went all the way to Florence and didn't enter a single mueseum or gallery ;-)
A replica of the most famous sculpture in the world - didn't have time to see the real one unfortunately.
honest however, unless you're into the arts, there really isn't too much to do in Florence, and outside of the main areas, it is riddled with Italian art of another kind - graffiti.
On the way to Genoa on the same day, I dedicated the afternoon and early evening to Pisa. Once you get to the station and leave your baggage with yet another sulking Italian worker at the station, the "Field Of Miracles" is but a 15-20 minute walk away.
Once there, you really only need to hang around for about a half-hour, take a few snaps and then go.
The Leaning Tower though, is exactly as the name suggests.
No matter how much you hear about it and how many photos you see of it, you are still amazed once you actually see it for real. Veering upwards at an alarming angle it is certainly gravity defying.
Around the field, you also have all these idiots in ridiculous poses, making it look as if they are holding up the tower. I can only imagine how stupid I would've looked trying to "hold up" the tower and take snap at the same time.
The baptistry and the cathedral
An Alarming Angle
This shot really shows just how staggeringly crooked the Leaning Tower actually is.
next to the tower are also beautiful buildings in their own right. The cathedral is candy striped and has a beautiful facade with frescoes and bronze doors.
Apart from a nice river running through it though, there is nothing else of note apart from the Field Of Miracles in Pisa. It didn't help either that it was a Sunday, meaning all the shops were closed, making the place resemble a ghost town.
So it was back on the train to Genoa - which took ages, and arrived a good two hours after it was meant to.
After all that, my hostel was a further half-hour bus ride up the hill, so as you can imagine, I was pretty exhausted by the time I finally arrived. There's a pretty panoramic view from up there though.
However, apart from the view the hostel was pretty characterless, and had a preposterous shut-out time of 10am-3.30pm. Surely you don't need 5 1/2 hours to make few beds and clean a few bathrooms. What if you need to get something from your room? And I thought the 12pm-3pm shutout in Paris was ridiculous. I suppose for 16€ a night, you can't really complain.
Pity the hostel didn't match it's view.
next day, I made a day-trip to the Cinque Terre, a 2 hour train ride out of Genoa. I wanted to base myself a little closer, in La Spezia, but failed to find any decently priced accommodation.
The Cinque Terre is made up of five villages - Riomaggiore, Manorola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso - all connected by a 12km walking trail boasting some of the most dramatic coastline and clearest water you'll ever see. If you're too lazy to walk it, the Cinque Terre is also connected by train, but without the views.
The hike takes about 5 hours, but I always like to try and cane these walks as a challenge, and completed it in 4. I started my hike in Riomaggiore, the southern-most village. There didn't seem like there was much happening in Riomaggiore so I started my walk immediately. The walk between Riomaggiore and the next village, Manorola, is only about 20 mins, which of course, I completed in 10. This short walk down here is the pretty much just a concrete path, but probably has the best views. It's called "Lover's Lane" and has love messages and dedications inscribed by all sorts of people along the
The second village of the Cinque Terre.
walls. Manorola is a very pretty fishing village, and had several restaurants and bars where people could make a pit stop. It also had a beautiful natural rock pool, which I was so tempted to dive into, but decided I hadn't quite earned it yet, as I'd only been walking for 10 minutes. The next leg to Corniglia took about an hour, and I thought that I would get some food here. However, once you get to Corniglia, you must climb 365 steps to the tiny hillside village - which had nowhere to buy food. The next stop would be Vernazza - 1 1/2 hours walk away.
The hot Mediterranean sun was scorching, and I was desperate for a swim now. Then there was a sign on the trail saying "free beach this way". I immediately followed the trail like a man lost in the desert heading for an oasis, however the trail was a cliffside one in every sense of the word, with ropes helping you to get down the steep slopes. Looking down, I saw the beach was still miles below where I was, and that I would have to climb all the way back up. Deciding not
Streets Of Manorola
Cute little Italian village in the Cinque Terre.
to risk my life any further, I got back onto the trail.
About 20 mins later, I hit a small group of buildings, one of which, said "Bar Cold Drinks". With a cool wind blowing through this small cliff top cafe, I set a personal best sculling back the Powerade I bought. I then enjoyed the magnificent vista before me, before hitting the track again. Refreshed by my pit stop, I pretty much ran all the way down the hill to Vernazza. With lots of stepping stones on the way down, it took less effort to jump quickly from stone to stone with momentum, rather than having to stop at each stone. Passers-by must've thought I was nuts.
Vernazza was very much like Manorola and had a sand beach.
I just had to have a swim now, and it was the most rewarding swim ever. And I have to say also, that there were some pretty hot chicks sitting next to me on the beach...;-)
One hour and two scoops of gelato later, I continued onto the longest leg of the trail between Vernazza and Monterosso. The trail here went up, and up, and up, and then...up. My quads must
Sit Back And Admire the View
Had the best tasting Powerade ever, at this clifftop bar three quarters of the way to Vernazza. The village on the hill is the third village of the Cinque Terre, Corniglia.
be stronger than ever now!
Luckily, whatever goes up, must come down, and in this case it was down to Monterosso and the beach. Monterosso is by far the most built-up and most touristy of the villages, and tons of people were enjoying the water at 6pm. With my job now done, I hit the water again. The beach here was made up of small pebbles, which I liked - it doesn't get all over you like sand, but it doesn't hurt your feet like the rocky beaches do. It was so comfortable and I was so knackered that I almost fell asleep right there and then on the beach.
Among the plethora of restaurants in Monterosso, I found a bakery still open and bought a foccachia for dinner. I wanted a pizza but the pizzeria was inundated with orders and I would've had to wait an hour :-(
It was overall though, a hugely enjoyable day - not every tourist wants to do a 5 hour walk in the baking sun, so it was peaceful, and away from everything - and if you got too hot, you could go for a swim!
At the same time, you got to
The fourth village of the Cinque Terre, I spent one hour on the beach here.
see some real cute, authentic Italian villages, and some of the most beautiful coastline you'll ever see. It was also a great activity a solo traveller can do by themselves and enjoy immensely. I liked the fact that I could do the walk completely at my own pace.
Definitely the highlight of Italy, for me.
It goes without saying that I slept well that night ;-)
The next day was spent wandering the streets of Genoa.
The central square, the Piazza de Ferrari has a couple of imposing palaces and the San Lorenzo Cathedral was nice too. Genoa is perhaps most famous for being a port city and the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.
In 2004, Genoa was made Europe's City Of Culture, and as a result the old port got a makeover, much like Auckland's did for the America's Cup in 2000. In fact the port reminded me much of Auckland's Viaduct - but with perhaps more superyachts. The Genoese waterfront also has this thing that lifts a cabin with people inside it into the air for an aerial view of the city a la the London Eye. The structure that holds it together looks strange as well, like
Piazza De Ferrari
Genoa's main square.
some spider coming out of the water. Genoa is also home Europe's largest aquarium.
One thing I noticed about Genoa, is the amount of elderly in the city. They should rename the city Geriatric Genoa ;-) On the bus up to the hostel, you are almost always standing up, trying to keep your balance on the windiest, most stop-start local bus ever. The reason you're standing up is because;
a) they are hardly any seats on the bus to start off with;
b) you always have to give up your seat for one of the many elderly persons that get on the bus. I got told off once for not giving up my seat for this old lady who really didn't look that old.
I haven't developed the highest opinion of Italians on this trip, with many of the workers being rude and sulky. When I was at the ticket counter in the Genoa Brignole Station, an old man shouted at me from the queue; "Hey you Korean! Who brought you here!?" He then went on to mutter something in Italian - something racist no doubt. The man serving me at the time was most unfriendly and stone-faced as
Redone in 2004 for Genoa's stint as Europe's city of culture.
well. It was a rather unsavoury incident all round.
But there were a couple of brighter incidents as well.
I had left my bag behind at a fast food joint on the waterfront and another customer came running after me to tell me I had forgotten it. I thought he was trying to flog something off at first so I ignored him. I then realised I didn't have my bag with me, with all my valuables (passport, rail pass etc) inside it. I then realised what he had come after me for.
"Mi dispiace," I told him when I went back to retrieve it. He was very understanding though, and forgave my earlier ignorance.
I also met an Ecuadorian man at the Genoa Principe Station where I realised my Spanish wasn't as hot as I thought it might be. I still managed to talk about his four children, how he got married at 16, that there's no jobs in Ecuador and of course, football ;-) So maybe my Spanish is not as bad as I thought. Getting to Spain will be interesting.
Anyway, my time in Italy is done, just as I was starting to get used to Italian.
Spider Thingy On Genoa's Waterfront
The main feature of Genoa's redone waterfront - though I'm not exactly sure what it is ;-)
Now I'll have to change back to French, as my next destination is Nice, on the French Riviera ;-)
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