A Travellerspoint blog

Day 9 – 26 May (Tuesday)

semi-overcast

We leave Siena today for La Spezia (the Cinque Terre coast). I only went to Siena out of duty because Bill was keen to go. It exceeded all my expectations and I am so glad we went. We went for breakfast to a Patisserie, recommended by the manager of the apartment (who was very helpful even getting us a 10% discount on our meal last night), which was just up the road. It was a classy patisserie - a lot of the people who came in were quite classy too (including us)! We had sandwich pizza and pastries (very nice) with great coffee. We then hit the road. We drove on a B road through “Castellina in Chianti” and “Greve in Chianti” – these are delightful towns. It was a windy road through the most beautiful countryside with vineyards, villages and green forests etc. We stopped for a few photo shots. We kept passing the same cyclist on the road, we would pass him and then stop for a photo shot and he would pass us. If he hadn’t noticed us stopped for photos he must have thought there are a lot of orange Jeeps around today! Note for David – lots of bikers use this road. No doubt because it has lots of bends, is hilly and is very scenic. David would really enjoy cycling in this area. This brought us to the outskirts of Florence and then towards the coast. As we came near the coast the countryside became very rugged with steep forest clad hills. We passed near Carrara which has been famous for marble from ancient times. You could see the marble quarries in the hills behind.
We then came to La Spezia (a city about the same size as Toowoomba) on the northern coast of Italy. It is located at the head of the Gulf of La Spezia. It is difficult to work out streets in Italy for us English speaking people, and that’s where the Tomtom is indispensable - we would never have found our accommodation without it. Our apartment was located high up on the steep hills which surround La Spezia and has great views of the mountain range to the north and the La Spezia harbour. The narrow road to the apartment winds up the steep hill – I lost count of the hairpin bends.
The owners of the apartment are a very friendly elderly Italian couple who speak just a little English. It was interesting communicating with them – but we succeeded. The apartment is very nice with a queen sized bed and a single bed in a large room and a well-appointed kitchen and dining room. We are very pleased with the accommodation.
After we settled in Andrew and Bill went of shopping to a shopping centre in La Spezia. They bought items for dinner tonight. They reported that it is a shopping centre along the lines of Chermside etc. and were quite impressed by it.
After they got back, at about 6.00pm we went out to visit Portovenere (or is it Porto Venere) which is located on the tip of the southern arm of the Gulf of La Spezia. Because of the steep hills in the area access to towns in the area is limited and roads tend to be congested.
Two problems in this area are steep hills and parking. The tendency is to grab the first parking spot you find and generally it is up high and means you have to walk down a lot of steps or down a steep road to get to the villages. We did just that, only to find there was a lot of parking available beside the sea. It is a very pretty area. The town looks over the Gulf of La Spezia and across to the Island of Palmaria which has a lot of history attached to it. It is very scenic looking across to the island. We walked along the foreshore (with its crystal clear water) and came to Byron’s Grotto. This is a rugged area which looks out on the Mediterranean Sea – there are cliffs and grottos (sea caves) – very picturesque. Apparently Lord Byron (the poet) used to meditate at this point. Apparently he also swam from this point across the Gulf of La Spezia to Lerici (7.5 km) to pay a visit to another poet named Shelly. This has become the basis of an annual swimming race. Beside the area is the ancient Church of St Peter. There are also the ruins of a castle and some old mill buildings. It is a fascinating place. Bill went into overdrive with his camera taking photos of the area.
We left when it was getting dark (nearly 9.00pm) and came back to the apartment. Andrew prepared a pasta dish for dinner tonight – it was delicious. He is a very good cook.
So a lot of travelling today – but it was great to visit Portovenere.

Posted by Tomheasley 21:39 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Day 8 – 25 May (Monday)

sunny

We leave for Siena to day. We went out for breakfast to Regoli Pasticceria for breakfast. It was a beautiful sunny day. The city was different as business was back to normal after the weekend. We sat by a window and enjoyed the coffee and pastry. This is most enjoyable – relaxing with good coffee watching the world go by. It is also entertaining listening to the interchanges between the workers in the Café – I enjoy listening to the Italians relating to one another. There is a passion and liveliness about it. I have to confess that the coffee in Rome is some of the best I have had.
Andrew and Bill went to look for a SIM card and I went to look at an imposing church just up the road - Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (see how good I am with Italian words!) It means Church of Mary Major (it is the major Marian Church in Rome). I had to cross a few zebra crossings and you have to be careful using zebra crossings in Italy as they are often ignored by drivers. The trick is to go across with a mother pushing a pram or a priest or nun. It is some Church – if you want to find out about it look up Wikipedia. The architecture, the statues and the paintings etc. are quite overwhelming. There was some kind of service in progress in one of the naves. It was characterized by the soft gentle singing associated with Catholicism.
We had trouble getting a taxi but finally got one and went to Hertz to pick up our hire car. We were served by a very nice Italian lady and were upgraded to a Jeep (Hope would love the colour – it is bright orange). Bill took on the driving – I did not envy him. I was in great trepidation about getting out of Rome without having an accident. The Tomtom took a while to work – but after it got going we had good guidance. We took a few wrong turns but the Tomtom get us back on tract. Bill did well.
Once we got to the freeway, the driving was fine. You generally have a speed limit of 130 kmph. The scenery along the road is very enjoyable. The country side is undulating and there are many wooded areas with beautiful green trees. Italy has a wet winter and a dry summer – so there is a lot of green with the winter just having ended. Unlike Australia, villages and towns are built on the top of hills. This adds to the scenery. Quite often the scenery is dotted with villages sitting on the top of hills.
We stopped at an Autogrill food outlet on the way – it goes over the highway like a bridge – so both sides of the highway can use it. We all had risotto – it was so so.
The scenery around Siena is quite beautiful. It is very undulating – with patches of forest, wheat fields, olive groves and villages - quintessential Italian. Our accommodation is just outside the walls of Siena – named Fonti Di Pescaia. It is a little apartment with 2 bedrooms and bathroom – very roomy. We settled in and made our way to Siena. We passed through the arched gateway into the city. We walked through a maze of narrow streets- it was like going back 500 years in time. The city was thronging with tourists. I reckon if you picked up the walled city and shook it; at least 10,000 tourists would tumble out. We eventually came to Piazza del Campo – the principle public square and center of Siena. It is regarded as one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares. We bought gelato and sat in the square and enjoyed! It was a beautiful afternoon and there is a real sense of occasion in the piazza. It is lined with cafes filled with tourists enjoying the place. The town hall and a large tower (Torre del Mangia) dominate the square. You can rent a luxury apartment which sleeps four in the square for Euro 865 per night! Sandra and Rebecca might be interested!
We went then to Siena Cathedral which was nearby. A very impressive Church – one of the most impressive we have seen on the outside. This was followed by a walk through narrow streets flanked by even narrower alleyways. No doubt the houses along these streets are occupied by locals. I don’t know the prices of houses in Siena but there is an 8 room castle for sale in Siena for Euro 18 million. Anyone interested? We eventually came to the Basilica of San Domineco – a large Church that is undergoing renovation. We went into the Church but a service was in progress so we could not take photos. It does not have the luxuriant interior of other Churches but was still impressive.
We then went to the Fortezza Medicea (the Medici Fortress) which is a most interesting structure. The walls are some 30 metres high and the walls, which are rectangular in shape, are about 1,500 meters in length. We walked right round the structure on the top – great views and great photo opportunities. Interestingly the structure is filled with earth so it is like a platform which gives great views of Siena. We were disgusted to see that a carnival was in progress on top of the fortress. It almost seems like a desecration of this historic site to have such a thing on this site.
We came back to the unit before going out for dinner. We went out at about 8.30pm (still daylight) to Trattoria Fonte Giusta in Via Camollia for dinner. We sat on the street – an idyllic location. I had pizza (very filling), Andrew had a wild boar dish and Bill had a Tortilla dish. A very enjoyable occasion. The Italians do have a wonderful way of giving service in restaurants. The fact that you don’t speak Italian does not bother them – such a different attitude from Parisians. Bill went to take photos after dinner while Andrew and I went back to the apartment. When Bill came back he said the city was beautiful at night with the lighting. He also said that very well dressed couples were walking around, which gave the city quite an edge.

Posted by Tomheasley 07:40 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Day 7 – 24 May (Sunday)

semi-overcast

We set out this morning at about 9.15am. It was overcast. But this is great walking weather. Bill says that it can also be better for photos. When we got down to the ancients ruins we were in the midst of a large number of Tourists. We went into the narrow streets. Andrew was looking for a place which sells great coffee. We walked past the Pantheon again (crowds of tourists) and came to Sant’Eustachio II Café (I think it is called this because it is in the area of a church dedicated to St Eustace). It was only a little shop and was packed- standing room only – and the people kept coming. The baristas were incredible busy – but the Italians have a wonderful way of working fast but without stress. It is very calming. I am going to have to learn from them. Hope would love this – she does not like me to be stressed. We got our coffee and went outside to enjoy it with a croissant. It was very nice. Good coffee. Bill and I then went to the Vatican and Andrew stayed (he has been to the Vatican before – we suspect he wanted to enjoy more coffee). Bill and I walked over the Tibor River (beautiful at this point as it is lined with luxuriant trees) and went on towards the Vatican. We were disappointed that it was closed today for some reason. So we walked back to meet Andrew We walked past St. Peters. A mass was being conducted in St. Peters and broadcast to the square by large screen TVs. The square was filled with people (and because it was drizzling with umbrellas – it was quite a sight). We watched it for a bit. A murmur of approval passed through the crowd when Pope Francis appeared on the screen to read scripture. We can now say we went to Rome and saw the Pope!
We found Andrew as we suspected sitting in a street enjoying a coffee. We joined him. We then decided to visit the Trevi Fountain. On the way we passed a church with advertised and English mass. So went in to observe. It was conducted by three younger African priests. The acoustics were not good so it was difficult to hear. However we were given a sheet with the words. It was a Pentecost mass, so there was much about the Holy Spirit. They were good words and it would be hard to take offense at what was said. I was very moved when at the end we sang “I need thee, oh, I need thee”. We were led by the Africans and their sonorous voices and there was something heartfelt about the singing.
The Trevi Fountain – one of the most famous fountains in the world. It is a most impressive sight. The fountain itself was not operating as it is undergoing repairs and there was scaffolding on the building. But, with the sculptures etc. you could still see something of its grandeur. The thing about Rome is you don’t walk far before you come across another place of interest. We passed a McDonalds which was packed. Andrew went to use the toilets in McDonalds – there was a bigger queue there than for the food! Public toilets are scarce in Rome – this is one criticism I would raise.
After this we decided to go to The Spanish Steps. We passed piazza Mignanellie, which has a column on which stands a statue of Mary and is dedicated to her alleged immaculate conception. We then came to the Spanish Steps which are impressive because of the Trinta dei Monti Church at the top. The church was covered in scaffolding which took away from the sight (and there was advertising on the scaffolding). The steps were crowded with people sitting on them and soaking up the atmosphere. There is a wonderful atmosphere to enjoy in the city of Rome. We walked up the steps to get a view of the city.
We walked on down to Piazza del Popolo (I’m really getting good at these Italian names)! On the way we stopped in for lunch at Taverna del Corso. We were served by a lady in her 50s but with a great sense of humour – I think I enjoyed her serving us as much as I did the food. Every restaurant experience we have had in Rome has been great – because of the attitude of the people working in them!
The Piazza del Popolo is a great place to visit. It contains an Egyptian obelisk as its central point and is surrounded by beautiful buildings. It is a great square and has quite a history.
After this we decided to go back to the apartment. We got back at about 5.00pm and I was quite tired. We did not feel like any dinner so we called it a day.

Posted by Tomheasley 22:34 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Day 6 – 23 May (Saturday)

semi-overcast

We started of today at about 9.00am and finished the day at about 11.30pm. We had a wonderful day. My big regret is that I did not take Hope to Rome rather than Paris in May 2013. I think Hope would have loved Rome. It is a wonderful city – full of ancient ruins, old buildings and wonderful history. There is a romance to it – little narrow cobble stone streets, little restaurants and a lot of Church buildings – mainly Roman Catholic. When I was in Paris I was very conscious that I did not speak French – in Italy the fact that I don’t speak Italian hardly mattered.
We started walking and walked through the markets along the colonnade of the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II and then along Via Cavour. The buildings are so different quite Italian and there are so many old ruins. The first formal ruins we came to were the Forum of Nerva (completed AD 97), then the Forum of Trajan (completed AD 113). These are ruins but a lot of structures still stand. In this area we came across Trajan’s Column which celebrated Trajan’s victory in the Dacian Wars. The column is covered in engravings which spiral up the column to the top - quite fascinating. The intriguing thing is that a statue of Peter stands on the top of it. You can see that it is Peter because he holds two keys. I found out that Pope Sixtus V crowned the column with a statue of Peter in 1587. It seemed to proclaim that Trajan won this great victory for Rome but Peter inherited it all (referring to the conversion of Rome to Christianity). That is my take on it. Nearby is the magnificent Altar of
Travel Log – May/June 2015
the Fatherland (completed in 1925) which contains Italy’s tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It is quite a sight to behold.
We had breakfast in a very nice café – as you expect in Rome the service was friendly making it a comfortable experience. We had pastry and coffee (very nice). We then came to Santa Maria in Vallicella. It is a church building dating from the Counter Reformation. We went in – the interior was filled with paintings on the ceiling and around the walls and beautiful sculptures. I found that these churches impart a very powerful sense of the difference between heaven and earth. Earth is chaotic and full of suffering and injustice but heaven is full of holiness and peace – but heaven views the sufferings of earth with compassion and understanding – Christ came to earth to bring redemption and the Church now stands between as an instrument of grace. Bill took lots of photos. We passed another church building a little further along. It was a church dedicated to John the Baptist (San Giovanni dei Fiorentini) – by contrast internally it was bare of the art and sculptures.
We continued our journey and crossed the Tiber River (fast flowing with quite a bit of water). The view from the bridge was impressive. You could see the ancient Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel) - it originates from the days of Emperor Hadrian.
We then came to Via della Concilazione which leads up to St Peters. Now here was sight which was most impressive. Up until this time we had not seen many people – but now we came to crowds of tourists.
St Peters Square is a big plaza surrounded by two great arms of colonnades (apparently representing the arms of the Church which are open to all). The colonnades are lined with statues of saints which seem to look down on the crowds – I got this great sense of history looking down on us. There is an immense sense of history in this place. We joined a long queue which ran around the square – it was about 750 meters long (maybe a kilometre). It was a very orderly and amiable queue. We stood in the queue for about 2 hours – but in view of the surroundings and the crowds of people I did not feel frustrated in any way. The Lord, John and Baptist and the 11 faithful apostles line the top of St Peters – so you feel them looking down on you. When you get to the end of the queue and past security the same as airport security) you finally get into the Church. Inside it is overwhelming when you see the sculptures, paintings, the great pillars, the marble floor and ceiling etc. It is a vast church. I think it would be beyond the capacity of present day society to construct such a building with the materials and art etc. A trumpet ensemble was practicing while we walked through – this added to the sense of awe. Again I felt this great sense of the difference between heaven and earth but how that the grace of God comes down to us in our struggles. One painting of the transfiguration really conveyed this sense. In the upper level of the painting there was Jesus dressed in blue (the colour of heaven) with Moses and Elijah, then in the middle were the sleeping disciples with one just waking from sleep (the imperfect church which stands between) and then below them the crowds with the demon possessed boy. Despite the crowds of people in the Church there was a quiet atmosphere.
We came out of the church and made our way back over the Tibor. We walked along the narrow streets and found and restaurant where we had lunch. We all had pasta dishes – it was very nice and very busy. The Italians have a very good way of dealing with business in a relaxed way – it makes you feel relaxed as well. We walked through Rome and enjoyed its piazzas, churches and other famous buildings. We passed the Pantheon (an ancient Roman building). The Piazza Novena is very
Travel Log – May/June 2015
impressive. It was crowded and full of activity. It started to rain and we went into a Church fronting the piazza - Sant’Agnese in Agone - (dedicated to Agnes, a young woman who was martyred in AD 304). Beautiful sculptures adorned the church. We enjoyed this respite from the rain.
We got back to our apartment at about 5.30pm and had a welcome.
We went out again at about 8.00pm and walked to the Colosseum. Bill wanted to take photos of this great old building from ancient Rome. We then went Trattoria Luzzi a restaurant near the Colosseum. It is so popular that we had to wait for 45 minutes to get seated. By now it was about 10pm. It is so busy and vibrant. It was enjoyable just sitting and watching the waiters rushing around in their very relaxed way. The manager of the restaurant would burst into song every now again but kept a close eye on everything. We all had pizza for our meal – very nice. A great experience.
Finally we got back to the apartment at about 11.00pm.

Posted by Tomheasley 10:10 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Day 5 – 22 May (Friday)

overcast

Today was mainly a day of travel – so my log will be boring. We packed up this morning before breakfast as we are checking out and leaving for Rome.
After breakfast we took the tube to Oxford Circus for a visit to Carnaby Street. We had coffee at Department of Coffee and Social Affairs. Apparently this coffee shop has good coffee. We agreed it was not as good as Monmouth Coffee but it was not too bad. We then wandered to Piccadilly Circus and Bill took a few photos. There is a great view down Haymarket to Parliament House and I am sure we could see Nelson’s Column as well. We decided to ride bikes back to the B & B as we still had a bit of time from yesterday – which meant hiring the bikes was free. We rode down Oxford Street but got swept by heavy traffic into Park Lane – that was a bit scary. We then rode in Hyde Park and then along Bayswater Road and then picked up our baggage from the B & B and got the tube to London Bridge. Bill is totally over travelling by tube and it is more stressful when you are handling luggage. Bill finds it claustrophobic in the tube trains. His head almost reaches the roof of the tube trains! I find it quite Londony and adventurous. At London Bridge we had to walk up flights of stairs carrying our baggage, which is somewhat tiring!
The train to Gatwick only cost GBP 6.75 each which was good. It is a fast service – the train travels up to 150kph. I know that from my Train Simulator – one of its modules does the London to Brighton run which goes through Gatwick Airport Station. Gatwick is a fair way out of London, but it is a very busy airport and quite modern. We got through security at about 1pm – so we had a 2 1⁄2 hour wait. We had lunch at Jamies Italian at the airport. We all had the same dish – a pasta dish – it was very tasty but the serving was not enough. They were doing a roaring trade – you had to queue for a seat.
The flight was about 45 minutes late. It was 100% full. I had an aisle seat and had two lovers beside me. The young woman in the relationship got up to go to the toilet and lifted the arm rest between me and her to make it easier to get out, and, when she got back she forgot to put it back. She sat around to face her man friend and in so doing encroached on my space – so it was an uncomfortable trip for me. It was not deliberate as she seemed a very polite young woman. I did not like to interrupt the situation and asked for the arm rest to be put back.
As we flew over the Alps you could see the mountains poking up through the clouds. I only had glimpses, but what I saw was impressive.
I must confess I had a negative view of the Italians when we arrived and was not looking forward to Rome at all. It was not helped by the fact that we queued for 45 minutes to get through the security check. But the personnel checking the passports were very friendly – not officious at all.
Travel Log – May/June 2015
We got a taxi to our accommodation which was in the centre of Rome. I was worried about being scammed – but the taxi driver was very professional. We drove at 140mph on the freeway into Rome, very close to the car in front – which was scary!!! Andrew was in the front seat and really felt the speed and the proximity to the car ahead of us.
It was raining when we got there – we were dropped off at the address and stood before a big door (with a little door built in) but nothing to indicate that this was Fabio Open Space Apartments! Fortunately I had their number and was able to telephone them and so we met with someone who let us in. He was a pleasant man who spoke very broken English but he did succeed in making himself understood. It was a nice introduction to Rome. It is a roomy one-room apartment which is more than adequate for our needs. It is located in a quintessential Rome block of apartments.
It was now about 9.30 pm. When Bill and I were leaving with Andrew for dinner we were working out the keys. We heard a conversation in the apartment next door. It was a woman with her husband, who was obviously being romantic and she was protesting – but finally she said “Ro-bert- o”. It was so funny – we knew we were in Italy!
Andrew then led us out to dinner at a little pizza place. It was a delightful place – the staff were very friendly and the pizza and Calzonie were delicious. We sat with a view of the man making the pizza – he worked very efficiently and when it came to making ours he said to us “I make yours now!” It seemed to be a family affair. There was a very jolly relaxed atmosphere. The Italians really do speak with their hands. I was now beginning to really enjoy Rome – friendly and relaxed. What a contrast to Hope and my experience in Paris.
It was after 11 pm when we got back so we all slept well.

Posted by Tomheasley 10:08 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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