A Travellerspoint blog

Rome

Day 52

sunny 31 °C

This is my 3rd visit to Roma and I am getting to like it. It is dirty and overrun by marochinis (foreigners) but I love it there is something special about seeing the Colosseum as you wander through town and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier part of the Vittorio Emmaulle II building in Piazza Venezia is breathtaking at night. The Romans don’t go out until about 7 or 8 pm for a drink or café and don’t have dinner until 9 or 10pm so it makes for a late night and its so easy to get around and you feel safe and secure amongst the chaos of people and traffic.
We got to catch up with family yes there is more of them and we managed to have a pranzo (lunch) with both my uncle and Angelas auntie and got escorted around to see more churches to the kids disgust especially Izzy who was wearing shorts and a tank top one day and had to put on these clothes to cover her legs and shoulders not quite the Milan fashion look! I cant believe they have so many churches some of these chuches were amazing and others were so so. On one of escorted visits we went to Villa Adriano to see the ruins but even more awe inspiring are the gardens at Villa D’Este at Tivoli. The fountains and gardens are beautiful and a perfect way to spend a hot roman day.
We spent our last night in Piazza Navona in an obsencely expensive café listening to Opera being played in the Piazza as part of the public holiday of Ferie Augosto. We wandered our way through Rome stopping at the Fontana di Trevi to ensure we return, the Pantheon, Piazza Venezia, past the roman ruins on the Fiori Imperiali and of course the Colosseum. It is a magical place and I want to return.
The holiday is coming to an end and Singapore awaits as our final stop before heading home.

Posted by rasci 18:57 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Latina

Day 46

sunny 31 °C

We were heading back to Rome on the high speed train Freccia Rossa which meant a return to Napoli and Piazza Garibaldi. On our way to the platform I was befriended by a porter who I couldn’t shake off and I knew would want to be paid. Angela was furious, Cristian was ready to tell him to piss off and he followed us all the way to our seats and then demanded to be paid. He wasn’t happy when I put 1.70 euros in his hand and proceeded to lecture me on what a proper tip was. Well even Angela (in a not so angelic frame of mind) got stuck into him and he left in disgust.
We were met at Roma station by Angela’s cousins who were in shock with how much baggage we had and luckily one of them had a station wagon to pile all the bags in. The other cousin had had some car trouble and borrowed a CLS Mercedes from his brother in law so Cristian and I jumped in with him with Izzy and Angela relegated to the wagon. As we made our way out of Roma and all the memories of our previous visit came flooding back. Roma is a fantastic city of which I am totally in awe of but I would have to wait until the 11 of August until we would return to Rome. It was Cristian, Carmine (Angela’s cousins brother in law) and I travelling in this Merc flying along the autostrada listening to some local Roma radio station pumping out the pop music. We headed towards Latina with everyone on the road moving to the right to let us through I thought it must be the Merc or the plates because one of these guys was a driver for the President of Italia but no its just the way they drive they will flash or honk and the guy in front pulls right and you just barrel on through and this is on a single lane road. On the autostrada they only respect 2 lines the ones that mark the left and right edge everything in between is their domain and they use the whole lot! On our return trip to Rome it was dusk as we left Latina and we were absolutely flying using the whole 3 lanes, averaging 140km/h in an 80km zone and at one point it was a 50km zone. Even through Roma we were flying at 80 - 100km. They just have no concept of rules or limits! We drove back with Giancarlo, who is the Presidents driver and he travels at these speeds, along this road every day because that’s how they drive the politicians around with a police escort front and back and a military van with Special Forces.

Latina was fantastic the beach is just a few kms away but we chose to go to San Felice because they know the lady that runs the beach and have cut a deal on the use of the brolly and lounges. (This is how Italy operates, everyone does favours with very little handing over of cash. No wonder the country is in disarray).The beach is fantastic and has sand all the way to the water and beyond and we even had waves that you could almost bodysurf. We spent 2 of our 3 days at the beach it was just so relaxing that we would spend hours in the water just swimming and floating around, ball sports had been banned because of the number of complaints of balls hitting people sunbathing, Italia go figure! Angela’s cousin made us feel very welcome we had the bottom storey of their home to ourselves and their 3 cats, 4 dogs including little Spirlo who was a puppy they had just got and their daughter Noemi who made us laugh with her antics. They drove us around everywhere to see the sights and of course the magnificent beach and to visit the family.
It was sad to leave and Angela was a blithering mess before we even started to say goodbye which will also happen in Roma with her Auntie and cousin.
The kids are getting edgy and want to get home and even Angela has commented she is ready to get home and cook! I like Italia too much to leave and I don’t want to go back to work but I am itching to get on the bike and ride so I am resigning myself to the end of our incredible European sojourn.
It is time to head to Roma for the penultimate stop before arriving in Australia.

Posted by rasci 14:17 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Sorrento

Day 43

sunny 30 °C

Benvenuti a Sorrento!

What a place the views driving in are spectacular. We had a very animated Neapolitan driver, Enzo who was great. He explained all the sights even stopped for photos and made us laugh with stories about Naples and its peoples. Our hotel, the Hotel Caravel was a pretty good pick close to the beach, nice pool and the bathroom passes the Angela test. We were all keen to hit the beach but after having travelled for most of the afternoon our stomachs took over and we headed to Sorrento central in search of food. Our hotel is in San Agnello which is about a kilometre away from Sorrento’s central piazza but it’s an easy walk (Italian standards) there you just have to dodge the scooters, buses and cars that want to kill you and also deal with a footpath that appears and disappears depending on buildings and road width. But here in Sorrento they will stop (eventually) if you cross at the zebra crossing you just have to show no fear or hesitation and go for it.
The gelato here gets a thumbs up from Cristian not as mind blowing as Vivoli in Florence though. In fact the food here is pretty good we have eaten at a few places and no dodgy meals yet. The weather has been great and the people very friendly. Once they find out you have some Italian blood they become really friendly. If you read my Facebook entry for Capri I wrote about the waiter who talked us into a seafood meal when we only really wanted pizza. The story goes once he found out we were of Italian stock he took away the menus and basically organised the whole lunch for us he even took me into meet the kitchen staff and showed me the pizza oven. It was a pretty good lunch with seafood from the bay and it only cost 150 euros about $200!
We got to catch up with family while in Sorrento. It was only a short train ride to Napoli and then onto the bus bound for Benevento, the home town for my father and the regional centre of the other villages that our parents came from. When we arrived in Napoli in Piazza Garibaldi I don’t think we were ready for what we saw it resembled Mogadishu in Somalia from the movie Blackhawk down. There was rubbish everywhere piles of it some in bags some just loose paper blowing around the streets an endless trail of cars going around the piazza which was under renovation ( it’s been 10 years our driver informed us on our return to Napoli to catch the Freccia Rossa to Rome) then there were more multicultural people than Neapolitans. People were everywhere trying to sell you stuff or asking for money It really shocked me and put me off doing sightseeing and I was on edge the whole time and really feared getting everything stolen and I could not wait for the bus to leave for Benevento.
We basically ate then visited some relatives then ate some more visited some relatives then ate I think you get the picture. One of the visits was to Isernia to see Angela’s auntie who was in an old person’s home despite being of sound mind and body. Some background to this story is that she had polio as a child and has a dud leg and she has visited Australia on a few occasions and she built up a relationship with all of us in particular Isabella. She is in the old folk’s home because of family related matters and she recently broke her good leg so mobility has become even more constrained. It was great to visit her because she is a kind generous person with a good sense of humour, immense faith which we think is what keeps her going and needless to say it was very hard saying goodbye. Angela started crying before we even thought of saying goodbye and by the time we did she was a blithering mess and that made it even harder for the rest of us and the 100kms back to Benevento was unusually quiet. It was heartbreaking to say goodbye and leave her but I think it might have been even more heartbreaking not visiting her. This visit left a big impression on me I could not stop thinking about her for days after and because she spent so much time in Australia and was almost going to live in Australia with Angelas mum it has strengthened my resolve that if life opens a door you need to walk through it and make the most of those opportunities.
At the beginning you would have noticed my mention of a train & bus ride to get to Benevento well the family wouldn’t let us go back the same way and insisted on driving us back. Well the original plan was to catch the 1.30pm bus from Benevento and the 3.00pm train to Sorrento and be back at our hotel by 4.30-5 latest. Well we could not leave without lunch so by the time we hit the road it was 4.00pm. It was a warm day mid 30’s and we made Napoli about 50kms in 40 minutes then we missed the turn off and headed into Salerno 25 kms away. Once we had sorted that out we headed back and its only 18kms from the freeway turn off to Sorrento well that took an hour and a half. It seemed that the entire population of Napoli was on this road and although it was evening by now the car air con which I describe as asthmatic with emphysema trying to blow out birthday candles had given up so we were bathing in our own sweat crawling along at a snail’s pace wishing and hoping for our hotel turnoff to appear magically 10 kms earlier.
We also visited Angela’s other cousins who live in Salerno. These guys are how the other half does it. They have an apartment by the sea and commute on the weekend and holidays there. It’s a nice setup with the apartments and villas fenced off and secure with your own patch of beach including a brolly. This beach has sand but don’t get too excited the sand ends at the waterline and slippery slimy rocks appear which makes entry and exit interesting but the residents all own paddle boats same as you find on River Torrens and basically paddle out without ever setting foot on the rocks. The paddle boat comes complete with a little ladder out the back to enable you to climb back in and have a flat area to lie down and sunbath after your dip in the Med. The funny thing is they cost nearly 3000 euros about $5000!
Well with all this traveling and daily excursions we finally hit the wall and were ready to kill each other and anybody that crossed our path. We had basically been out or visiting family 7 days straight. It started when we arrived in the breakfast hall placed our keys on a table returned with bowls placed them down and then returned to the buffet and came back to our table to find the keys and bowls gone. The waiter had taken them off because the table we chose had been set for dinner! Only in Italia would they be setting up for dinner when they haven’t even finished serving breakfast yet. Well in the move my spoon was lost and all the spoons at the buffet had disappeared so that was it I was ready to kill for my spoon, Angela is trying to calm me down the kids are shaking their heads thinking not again. Eventually I was given a spoon and it was decided we may need to rest so I think we all slept most of that day and then most of the afternoon of the next.
We finally hit the beach and paid our 40 euro for a lounge and brolly and did the beach Italian style, no sand, fish &chips or cricket. It’s not really relaxing because some kid or old lady is screaming or walking past even 30 seconds and everybody is watching everybody else. The water though is fantastic we chose to dive off into the ocean side first and it’s disconcerting at first not gently walking into the water and acclimatising but that is soon forgotten when you realise over the horizon is France.
We spent our last night dining by the beach watching the sun set over the Sorrentine Peninsula and walking through the San Agnello pizza festival.
Sorrento was fantastic, great food, weather and people and I think we will return. But our time has ended and its now time to leave and head to Rome.

Posted by rasci 09:06 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Florence

Day 31

overcast 27 °C

We arrived in Florence on time unbeknown to us but as we travelling to Florence a station in Rome, Tiburtino had caught fire and was about to cause chaos to the metro and rail network. The weather had cooled down since we were last in Florence and as we dragged our bags over the cobble stones to our well located hotel. You may think that cobblestones look great and give the city it’s uniqueness but when you’re dragging a dead body in a bag (ok its only 30 kg a small dead body) every little bump, pothole is amplified.
The culture overload has taken its toll because it was the shops that won the next day but we did manage to book a tour of San Gimingnano, Siena and a Chianti winery the next day. It turned into a tour that Mr Bean would have been proud of. They overbooked the tour, the tourguide had never run a group this big before and they also mixed up the languages so we were on a bus with 70% Spanish and the rest either Aussie or English. The Spanish have managed to exceed the benchmark set by the Americans they are loud, have no awareness of personal space and are just plain rude. The places we visited we fantastic to think that in the Piazza Del Campo 20,000 people fit in the centre and 17 horses run around the outside is amazing and probably worth coming back for. The Chianti wine region could be swapped for the Barossa and the price they were charging for the wine I’ll stick with a nice Grant Burge or a Rockfords.
We did manage to get some culture by visiting the Uffizzi. It was more by chance really because we could not get tickets for Tuesday we were told they were running an evening session with free entry. We got ourselves in line by 6pm with only an hour to wait. These sessions are not advertised and the line quickly grew down and around the building along the River Arno. While waiting in line a guy in front of me struck a conversation with someone a few people back. His managed to slowly sneak his way forward until he was level with me and proceeded to shouldered me out and try to squeeze in. His body language was incredible by the time he was level with me he had turned his back to me and was standing hands on hips slowly squeezing me out. I was talking only English to Ange & the kids so this guy thought was some hick tourist well the look on his face when I tapped him on the shoulder and said in my best hick tourist italian “Scusi ma le non sta in linea di la” and pointed to the back. Well he mumbled something about we are only talking and he promptly disappeared back to his spot that he had walked away from. BTW Angela is yelling at me while this is going on calling me a bully and to stop being aggressive, Cristian has his ipod on and is completely oblivious but he did spot the body language from the Sicilian. Well I had thought that would put an end to anybody else trying anything, well forget it as soon as the line started to move it was on for young and old. They were coming from all directions and these were the locals. As the line moved they would just jump the barrier or climb under or just walk along side you and push in. We made it in withut an international incident and saw some spectacular art. We went out ont the rooftop terrace and had a café surrounded by the cupolas and towers of Florence, absolutely magical. It was our last night so on our way back we went past the Ponte Vecchio, Piazza Del Repubblica and back to Vivoli for the best gelato so far on the trip. Florence was a magical place its hard to believe that an Aussie family on our Trafalgar tour didn’t like it and did not see the value of visiting. We have enjoyed our short stay but it is time to move on. We packed, checked out and headed for the train station and are now on a Freccia Rossa, high speed train heading towards Roma and then Napoli and Sorrento.
Arrivederci Firenze!

Posted by rasci 03:19 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Torino

Day 25

sunny 26 °C

We jumped onto the TGV in Paris and it was a smooth trip over the Alps and into Torino. Apart from the door to our carriage which unbeknown to us led to the restaurant carriage being used by the entire occupants of the train 3 times over (well that’s how it felt to me & Cristian) it was a great journey and our first and maybe last in a high speed train. We arrived in Porto Susa station and got completely lost in the station trying to find an exit. In our defence the station was undergoing renovations. By the time we got to Zia’s place she had raised the alarm and was ready to call the army, navy and air force to look for us but in the meantime she did have the time to prepare a meal fit for king and queen in fact probably 3 or 4 kings and queens and entourage. We had not seen real pasta and a real sauce for a few weeks so we devoured the meal and promptly did the European thing and had a siesta.
There is quite a lively little bar downstairs from the apartment building which parties every night. The cars come and go all night they double and triple park. If you are blocked in by a double parker the protocol is to toot your horn a couple of times to get the attention of that driver who will then let you out. It’s almost a choreographed ballet of cars in and out.
It was raining the next day we tried to walk into the centre of Venaria Zia made us turn back and wait because she was worried we would catch cold and dirty our shoes. Eventually we made to Veneria and organised an Italian mobile phone and a 3G internet card. The mobile costs are ridiculous here 12 cents per minute for mobile calls to anyone and 12 cent SMS the phone comes with 5 euros for free and a plan where you can call anyone at certain times for free. The 3G internet is charged by the hour not by gigabyte so I have 100 hours of internet for 19 euros WTF!
We visited the historic centre of Torino today and it’s as nice as Rome or Florence but without the masses of tourists. They have fantastic piazzas and the Piazza Vittorio Veneto which flanks the River PO which is the meeting hub at night of the city. We also met a distant cousin he is the nephew of Zia’s brother in law also named Cristian. In Italia this makes us cousins it doesn’t matter on which side of the family your from or how distant the connection is. Cristian took us sightseeing and helped us with organising minor errands. One of these was a package we wanted to send back home to Australia. You would think this would be a simple thing fill a couple of addresses and bada bing of it goes. But in Italia this is a bureaucratic nightmare fraught with a myriad of forms, assistants unable or unwilling to help and the infamous “codiche fiscale” the Italian identity code number that all Italian citizens have. The short story is the package is still with us, Poste Italiano 1, Ricciardi’s 0 more to come this one I think.
I had some trepidation on visiting Torino being an industrial town I had visions of black plumes of smoke from the myriad of factories but I was pleasantly surprised. The suburb were Zia lives, Veneria was the summer residence of the ruling family of Piedmonte the Savoys. It has a magnificent palace and many beautiful piazzas in the historic centre. It is also has many apartment blocks which give it the impression of Elizabeth or Hackham West but it is actually very nice and very safe even at night. Zia cooked a fest every lunch and evening and we couldn’t wait to get out for a passeggata around Veneria to try and work off some calories. The week has flown by and we are now on the Freccia Rossa the high speed train headed for Florence. It was a wonderful week being waited on hand and foot and having 3 huge meals every day. We were all sad to leave Zia but I think the experience will mean that we will return.
Arrivederci Torino.

Posted by rasci 08:23 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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