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Europe » Italy » Tuscany » Florence
May 28th 2009
Published: May 29th 2009
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It cost 5E but it was worth it to bring the colo to life
Where do you start when descibing Italy?

It was nice to think that Anita and I will not need to find our way to train stations, bus terminals and accomodation in each town and then decide which resturant to eat at. Having said that Anita had being doing a great job picking out nice little eateries off the beaten track. Yes G.A.P were going to take care of that aspect of the travel. Our job was to enjoy Italy. How do you see Italy in two weeks, you don't so we choose a tour that focused on Tuscany. Many friends from home had raved about its beauty and thats what we wanted to experience. We found a trip that started in Rome and ended in Venice stopping at Siena, Florence, Lucca, La Spezia (Cinque Terre), Asti and Como on the way.

So lets start in Rome. We took an easy 2 hour flight from Barcelona and had 36 hours before the trip began. 36 hours in a city with so many things to see. We are becoming fans of the "hop on, hop off buses" because they take the hard work out of finding everything. We found them best
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La trevi, I love fountains
over two day periods because you can return to explore some of the attractions at a more leisurely pace the next day. Rome has so many amazing sights and the fountains are incredible however it is a big, dirty humid city with thousands of tourists and thousands of locals trying to make a Euro out of them both legally and illegally. We did enjoy the Vatican City, Colosseum and the many fountains including La trevi, the fountain is fed naturally by a spring about 10km away.

Saturday 9 May we met up with the others on the tour 7 females and me, 1 Oz, 2 Kiwis, 1 Pom and 4 Canadians, our leader was Rachel (USA) and we had an trainee leader Matt (Pom) who would be leading the next tour in Italy. On Sunday morning we boarded the train for Siena but wait there more. Italy is a thriving metropolis of pickpockets. They say they are trained from birth and have a handbook of tricks like throwing their baby at you and taking your purse while you are distracted. Many appear to be women and they work in twos or packs. Stations and trains are prime spots because
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Is that a halo?
everyone is pushing and a little push to cover the enry into you handbag or pocketis likel to go unnoticed. Anyway as we got into a train compartment there was a bit of push and shove and 5 minutes later one of our group notice her purse has gone. Anita was also pushed but her purse was at the botom of her bag and although she found her zip undone the wallet remained intact.

Siena, our first stop, is a lovely medieval town in the heart of Tuscany. It is famous for its square/Piazza (Il Campo) and horse race (Il Palio). There was a street parade which led me to believe the race must be coming up soon. Its easy to walk around in half a day and I climbed the tower to get a good view of the Tuscan landscape. Next morning we were on the move, travelling by train to Firenze/Florence. I'd never been excited by Florence but was blown away by the beauty of the buildings and the amazing statues. Seeing "David" was a highlight and feeling and soaking up the history was at times chilling. It's a pity there is a charge on just about
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The view of Tuscany from this tower was amazing
everything but I suppose there is upkeep. I used to laugh at the Catholics taking money from the poor to maintain their grandure in the name of God, now they take it from the tourist. Much better than taxing the peasants. I had my first good Pizza in Florence and it was good, to die for. Anita and I had Pizza in Rome on our first night and it was crap. I'm sure it was bought in a packet at the supermarket, heated in an oven. 10E for the Pizza, 2E service charge, 2E for the outside seat and of course a tip and so on and so on.

After 2 days in Florence we were back on the train for a short ride to Lucca. Another small Tuscan village, with a unique city wall that is 5km and encircles the old city but you can walk, jog or bike on the wall. We decided no churches or historic sites today and rented bikes and cycled every where. Suzy, our adopted daughter (19 and never been abroad), came with us. It was a pleasant change and a great way a seeing everything. That evening we splashed out and went
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Riding along on a pushbike baby
to a Puccini recital in one of the churches. The drop of culture is good for the soul. Next day it was of to Cinque Terre via a 3 hour stop in Pisa to see the tower. We came, we saw, I bought an orange T shirt (with VESPA not Pisa on it) and pickpockets struck again. Gretchin and I had being walking at the back, we noticed some girls behind us, reading a map looking lost. We let them go a head because they felt too close, 5 minutes later someone pointed out to Gretchen her backpack was open and sure enough the wallet was gone. She retraced her steps found her wallet and credit cards but the cash was gone. This was the last time we were struck by pickpockets thankfully.

That afternoon we arrived in La Spezia and prepared for our Cinque Terre hike the next day. The hike lasts between 4 to 6 hours and takes you through 5 small coastal villages. If you start at the far end it starts of demanding but gets flater as you finish. We were lucky to have a day that was not too hot and it is early
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These 5 towns were so picturesque
season so the track wasn't overflowing with other walkers. We relaxed at the end with a couple of beers before heading back. Very pretty, very worthwhile a definite highlight. But there is no rest for the wicked, not many sleep ins on this tour. We were at the train station by 8 to head for Asti, one of the wine growing regions. Red wine is very cheap in Italy , price of wine were also good in Spain. House wine at the resturants was less than a Euro a glass and a bottle at the supermarket between 2 and 3 Euro and very, very drinkable. So the highihtof Asti was a visit to a Winery Museum and the wine tasting afterwards. Actually the highlight was the wine tasting not the museum.

Day 8 and it another early start to Como, in search of George Clooney. Como is own set by a lake, half an hour from Milan and up near the Swiss border. It is beautiful and reminds of some of our southern lakes. The pace of life was laidback and although I enjoy the sights of the cities it never seems relaxed. Much the same as everywhere, I
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Romance is alive in Venice, the others hide, embaressed
guess. So the first afternoon we wandered around, getting our bearings and discovering the shops. Next morning, another beautiful day and we head down to the lake for a boat trip that ferries us between the many small villages that border the lake (all accessable by road). It takes about 2 hours to our first stop and then an hour later we are at Bellagio. It is very beautiful but very commercial with boutique shops selling designer clothes, art and jewellery. When we return in the late afternoon we catch the Finnicular up the steep hillside for views of Como and the lake.

Our final destination is Venice and it is everything its cracked up to be and even more expensive than the rest of Italy but it is so unique it is a must. I don't think I need to describe it you have either been, seen it on TV or read about it. We took a Gondola ride (6 of us, no romance) walked the Bridge of Sighs, Rialto Bridge and of course the main Piazza. In fact we spend 2.5 days there and got to know the place quite well. WE never needed a map because
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With our adopted daughter Suzy in Marco Piazza
everything is well signposted, not always the case in Italy.

So after nearly 30 days on the road it was back to London BUT next day we were back on the road for a final farewell to Anita's cousins in Wales. We spent 2 days at there Caravan in South Wales, St Clears, (South of Swansea/Mumbles) very close to the town Dylan Thomas lived. The Weather on the Saturday and Sunday was as good as Italy's and I went for my first swim in Britain (15 mths after arriving). Chris and Jenny have been wonderful hosts on the 3 times we have visited Wales and we hope to repay there kindness when the return to Aotearoa.

Today is the 29 May and tomorrow we fly to Ghana to work in Gods Eye Orphanage for 8 weeks. We will be in the Volta region, about 7 hours from the capital Accra in a town called Nkwanta. Who knows what adventures that will bring. It will be nice to be in one place for a while. Since leaving work on the 17 April and moving out of our flat it has been living out of a suitcase and always on the go, we are starting to look forward to our return home. Hopefully I can update our blog from Ghana.

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30th May 2009

Bella
Hey guys, Isn't Cinque Terre amazing! I took Jeremy there when he first arrived in the UK, we stayed in one of the little villages for about 5 days and drank and ate our way round the local area. Brilliant...I am very jealous reading your travels as i am rolling around in the very late stages of pregnancy now only dreaming about the day i will be able to squeeze into a bikini and a foreign holiday! Take care and we look forward to introducing you to baby Cox when they and you arrive NZ xx Claire and Jez

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