Tuesday, September 1, 2009


For the August bank holiday we decided to go to Normandy, a province of France on the North West coast. Normandy has a lot of history, such as 1900s WWII D-day to 1400s Joan of Arc. It is also well known for its camembert and caramel.

After work we left central London on our tour bus to the massive port of Portsmouth, Southern Britain. Arriving at 8.45pm it was dark. How depressing that winter is around the corner! We were loaded onto the ferry via bus for an overnighter on the ferry. We settled in a huge lounge with other passengers, some choosing reclining chairs to sleep on and others (who had done it before) with sleeping bags on the floor. We were the only ones that were recommended and felt silly enough to bring sleeping bags, but it was worth it to get a good night sleep. We have never travelled by a huge ferry before, so this reminded me of the titanic when we hit very stormy waters at 1am in the morning!

Bev squeezing in some zzzz's

We arrived at the port of Le Havre at 7am French time (very slow overnight ferry), and headed to an old town called Bayeux,

Cute water wheel in Bayeux

famous for the 1000 year old (and very long) UNESCO world heritage Bayeux Tapestry. The tapestry tells the story of William the Conqueror and Harold, Earl of Wessex, depicting the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England in 1066. After we saw the tapestry museum, we wandered around town checking out the very cool old gothic cathedral.

Gothic cathedral in Bayeux

We then found the most delicious fancy French pastry shop - the pastries were amazing!!! And they were cheap too! Mind you, we were comparing this to metropolitan Paris prices!

Our next stop was just down the road, the Bayeux British memorial. For the British who lost their lives on D-day, World War II. This was quite a moving place to be, especially to see some of the graves showing how young some of the guys were - a lot young than us! The average ages seemed to be between 19-25 years old.

We then headed to see Omaha beach, where the Americans landed on D-day. Forgetting the history that had occurred on this beach, it was a really nice to see a golden sand beach, with a really wide sand to shore area. This beach was massive, and you could have imagined what it could have been like.

Us at Omaha Beach

Memorial at Omaha beach

The next stop was the American memorial. This memorial was much bigger, overlooking the beach. Again it was really moving to see the amount of people who lost their lives for many nations’ freedom.

We continued onto Arromanches, an artificial Mulberry harbour, "Port Winston", that protected the landings of 2,500,000 men and 500,000 vehicles during the D-Day invasion. This prefab concrete construction was built in Britain. They were submerged in rivers in England away from the prying eyes of German aircraft, and finally towed across the Channel at 6kph as the invasion began. It was quite interesting to see how they were made, and how huge it was. However, all there is left to see are the remains, as it was destroyed by a massive storm during the war. We had lunch there and checked out the remains on the beach and the cheesy souvenir shops. It was quite cold with the sea breeze when the sun disappeared behind clouds - another reminder that winter is around the corner!

Remains of the artificial Mulberry harbour

It is so hard to imagine how close we were to losing the war until you actually go somewhere like Normandy, and see and hear some real evidence of the war and the scary statistics- it was basically the strategy behind the D-Day landings that turned the war around, and it was really interesting (and a little scary) to hear that it was all nearly cancelled due to the combination of precise details that needed to be aligned for it all to work – including tides, weather conditions etc.

We finally headed to Caen where out hotel was. Caen was bombed in WWII and rebuilt, so not many of the buildings were old, making it quite a dull town.
After watching a le chat and le chatton (French for cat and kitten) play outside our hotel window for ages, we headed into town and stumbled into an untouched old bit, where all the restaurants were. After looking through plenty of menus we went for a cheap 3 course one that we could read the menu off, but ended up choosing something more expensive off there any way! It was nice to be served by quirky French waiters and waitresses again – we thought it was extremely hilarious when we asked our waitress to translate the menu into English and she goes “Oo la lah! I thought that was a myth that French say that! We finished off a delicious meal with the best ever creme brulee - oo la lah alright!

Extremely cute French restaurants

The next morning we got up nice and early to travel to Mont-Saint-Michel. Another UNESCO world heritage site. Mont-Saint-Michel is a massive gothic style abbey (church) on a hill out on the mud flats. From a distance it’s a distinct silhouette. During high tides in the old days it would have been hard to get to, however the sand has built up over the years, creating an access way to it. A very cool place to visit! Although it was tourist galore by noon!

The Spectacular Mont-Saint-Michel

The bus managed to stop just in time not to enter Bevan's ear

Our next stop was Saint-Malo. Saint Malo is just outside of the Normandy province, in Brittany. The walled town is known for its seafood and sits on a beautiful sand beach with lots of forts off the beach. We had plenty of time that afternoon so we wandered around the wall enjoying relaxing blue sea views and sand! We stopped off at one of the many seafood restaurants to enjoy the local delights cooked in true French style, at a reasonable price too. You realise that Paris is very expensive after seeing these smaller towns.

Little fort off the beach at Saint Malo

Delicious lunch at Saint Malo

After a relaxing afternoon, we headed back to Caen to rest up, only venturing out to get a light meal.

After having a cloudy day the day before, today was a stunner. We set off early to a fishing port called Honfleur.

Picturesque Honfleur

Interesting Cathedral in Honfleur

Mmm another delicious French Patisserie......................

Honfleur was very picturesque, with lots of boats in a small harbour, surrounded by really cute buildings. We had an hour or so to explore Honfleur, and its quaint streets and buildings, and then we carried on to Rouen-which is where poor Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake. Again we were given time to explore Rouen, taking in the Joan of Arc museum, and seeing the courtyard where it all happened.

Massive Cathedral in Rouen

Joan of Arc Church

Mid afternoon we met back up with our group again to continue on our journey to Calais. As it was a long weekend, and we were returning late afternoon on a long weekend, the traffic at Calais was ridiculous! Cars were lined up for ages. While we were queuing to get on our ferry, we saw a bunch of guys walking in the brush on the side of the road-we found out that these were refugees/asylum seekers who are trying to get into the UK from France! Interesting!

Refugees on the side of the road at Calais

Although there was uncertainty whether we would make our booked ferry, we did manage to make it, due to some clever queue jumping tricks by our bus driver. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, so clear that we could see the white cliffs of Dover from Calais. We enjoyed the sun by sitting up on the top deck of our ferry drinking in the vitamin D and beer-an excellent end to a really cool trip.

White cliffs of Dover

Jam enjoying the Sunshine on the ferry with the white cliffs of Dover in the background

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Mama Mia - Bravo Italia

Day 1

We got up bright and early before the summer sun even got up at 330am, and took an hour ride in a taxi to Gatwick airport. We flew out at 7am and arrive into Rome 2 hours later in to a nice muggy atmosphere. (I was stoked because I slept for pretty much all two hours of the flight, so it was the quickest flight ever). We bumped into a couple of Maori girls going to Rome for the weekend. It was nice meeting up with some fellow kiwis and having 4 brains to work out the transport system, to get into Rome from the airport.

We got a train (called the Leonardo express) from the airport to the main Termini station, and from there we caught the metro to the area where our hotel was. This was all fairly smooth until we had to catch a bus and ended up lost in the opposite direction from where we needed to be….the instructions went from good to very poor.Eventually we found our hotel and found out first hand how very relaxed Italians are.

We arrived about 2.30pm and our hotel room still wasn’t ready, and later we found the bathroom sink was blocked, but were advised by the reception guy that it was the cleaners job to fix it, and gave no indication that he was going to do anything about getting it fixed! In the end the sink was unblocked the following morning by the cleaners! We met up with our tour guide and our tour group in the mid afternoon, and started out with a walking tour, with rain! We thought Italy was meant to be warm and sunny…spring weather I guess. Funnily enough, as soon as it started raining these annoying street salesmen appeared out of nowhere trying to sell us these shitty umbrellas. Our first stop in central Rome was the Peoples plaza, then the Spanish steps (stopping off a McDonalds to try their unique curly fries!),

Fountain at the bottom of the Spanish Steps, Rome

and then the impressive Trevi fountain.
The Trevi Fountain (it is huge), Rome
We then stopped for dinner at a nice pizza and pasta restaurant. The restaurant was quite cool because it was constructed of very old bricks from 1600+ years ago back in the Roman days! We then carried on past the Pantheon, stopping for our 1st delicious taste of Gelato, mmm yummy. We then walked past the National Monument of Victor Emmanuel II (a massive monument that the Italians dislike), passing the roman forum, and finally ending at the most impressive of all, the Colosseum.

The Colosseum
It seemed quite weird that there were a lot of designer shops such as D & G and Gucci, everywhere, but this is just the norm for Italy! They say that the Italians are really vein, so much so that they prefer to be impotent over losing their hair!
On the way home we witnessed the aftermath of crazy Italian driving, where a scooter had gone under a bus….not cool. Scooters are very common in Italy, there are mechanic shops everywhere that just specialise in fixing scooters. Interestingly, scooters are called Vespas in Italy, which means Wasp in Italian(and for you entomology nerds Vespidae is also the latin family classification for wasps!) – an accurate description, because they are always buzzing everywhere! What was funny was seeing pretty Italian ladies all dressed up, wearing high heels driving scooters around.

Day 2

We started the day with beautiful blue skies and took the bus to the Vatican City! We booked onto a guided tour of the Vatican museum. We highly recommend anyone do this, unless you are an art history buff, it would be hard to appreciate what you are seeing without the background info. Our guide said it would take over 12 years to appreciate each piece of work displayed, and there was even more hidden away in storage. The Sistine chapel was fantastic, it really makes you appreciate Michelangelo’s god given gifts much more when you can see the amazingly detailed work in person and know more about the circumstances he worked in. We explored the worlds richest church, St Peter Basilica, and explored where the pope roams around (no pun intended!).
Inside the Vatican Museum
Inside St Peters Basilica, Vatican City
After we left the Vatican city, we ignored all the expensive tourist trap restaurants and stumbled on the best pizza shop ever for lunch. The dough and toppings were so good it inspired Bev to build that Pizza oven he’s been talking about building when we get home!
Me absolutely starving, pretending to be happy that Bev wants a photo, but really just dying to eat my pizza!
We then wandered in and around the impressive Colosseum

Us outside The Colosseum

Us inside the Colosseum!

and Roman Forum, were people did daily trades over 2000 years ago!

Inside the Roman Forum
Its interesting in Rome that there are so many random water fountain points where you can just fill up your drink bottle, created ages ago, gotta love the Romans and their impressive technology, it is extremely convenient. Did you know they were the first to invent roads and to make efficient grid town planning?
We then retraced our steps of the previous day’s walking tour (now that the weather was better), and rested our well beaten legs at a restaurant for a yummy Italian meal near the Pantheon.

Day 3

This morning we became acquainted with our tour bus for the 1st time (up until this point we had been using public transport in Rome), and left the dirty metropolitan city of Rome for Sorrento, along the Amalfi coast. It was so nice to get out of the city and excitement grew when we spotted towns in valleys and the Italian country side – this is what we had imagined Italy to be like.

Our first stop was a walking tour around the exciting old ruin city of Pompeii. This city was buried in 79AD when the nearby Mt Vesuvius erupted.It was really cool walking around a city that was a hub for Italy back in the day. There were a number of really memorable sites at Pompeii, the best being the wear marks on the stones on the ground from where the chariot wheels had driven over the road millions of times, and the brothel was an extremely interesting experience! Basically instead of using words, pictures outlined the um… menu of options one could request from the brothel. Even funnier was how one found the brothel – large penises were carved out of the stone pointing in the direction of the brothel.

Us at Pompeii, with Mt Vesuvius behind us

One of the streets in Pompeii, with Mt Vesuvius in the background

They have also recovered body shapes by injecting plaster into the air space that formed around the bodies following the eruption – this was really eerie as you could even see the expressions on the faces of these people as they got buried in lava. Again we were impressed by how advanced the Romans were at this time – paved roads, pedestrian crossings and footpaths. There was also this really cool tiled floor in one of the houses that said “Beware of the dog” in Italian - how cool is that, they even said that 2000 years ago! After our tour we had the most delicious Lemon slushy we have ever had – fresh lemons blended with ice – so refreshing on such a hot day.
We continued on to Sorrento, arriving at our hotel early evening. We went for a short walk from our Hotel on the hill overlooking Sorrento to a small lagoon and went for a refreshing swim in the Mediterranean. We then had dinner at the hotel, and ventured into Sorrento for a spot of shopping. Sorrento had a really cool beach town buzzy atmosphere at night which was really cool. Our hotel had some really stunning views from its cliff top of the city.


Sorrento at night (Bev randomly caught some fireworks going off in the background!)

Sorrento at night - in town

Day 4
We began our second day in Sorrento, by walking down the road to catch a bus to Positano.

Beautiful Positano

Us at the beach (well grit/stones) at Positano


What was funny though was because they drive on the opposite side of the road to us and because the bus stop was at an intersection; we weren’t quite sure which side of the intersection we should have been standing on. However there was a restaurant beside where we were standing, and a vege wholesaler was unloading his produce from the back of his van. When he saw me and another girl standing there he goes “ You are beautiful, but the bus does not stop here”, haha trust the Italians to start by telling you that you’re beautiful and then proceed to make you feel stupid!
So eventually our bus did turn up (an hour later than the published time) and we travelled the windy road to Positano along the Amalfi coast – the ride was scary but stunning. At some points our Bus could barely fit around the tight corners, navigating between old buildings on the edge of the cliffs and other traffic – hairy!
Positano was the cutest little village, basically we just wandered around the cute pastel and terracotta cliff top town, relaxed on the grit and gravel beach and looked around the boutiquey shops. At 2.30pm we caught a fast ferry from Positano out to Capri Island, where we had arranged to meet some of the others from our group for a small boat ride around the island.
Capri Island
We had a relaxing boat trip, seeing the different coloured grottos around Capri and we swam through the green grotto which was pretty cool – it is basically a cave where light shines through a small hole, making the sea shine a bright green.
The Green Grotto
There is also a blue grotto, which we boated past, but due to being high tide was too dangerous to swim through. All around Capri were these really flash wooden boats like in the movies...you know when you’re in a flash part of the Mediterranean. After our boat trip we had a delicious coffee at a fancy cafĂ© on the waterfront (honestly I could live on Italian coffee – we need more of these guys in London – they really could teach the Brits a thing or 20 about coffee). We then caught a fast ferry back to Sorrento (it was huge!). We decided to elect for a cheap dinner, ordering from the local deli - Italian parma ham, cheese olives and bread - it was so good to have a nice Mediterranean dinner. We then sat on the cliff top overlooking Sorrento at sunset – very pretty.

Day 5
Today we travelled from Sorrento straight to Assisi – my favourite place in all of Italy! Assisi is a UNESCO medieval town set on a hill surrounded by the beautiful plains of Umbria (which borders Tuscany). It is honestly the best town we have ever been to. It was the birth place of the Franciscan monk – St Francis of Assisi. We went on a walking tour of the town and saw the famous St Francis of Assisi Church – it was quite spectacular, along with that of St Katherine’s church. Randomly we saw Sharon Osborne (Ozzy Osborne’s wife) there – some of the guys on our tour got a photo with her. Assisi is exactly what my impression of Italy was like.

The view of Assisi from our hotel (and our bus)

The beautiful countryside surrounding Assisi (Umbria)

Classic italy - Assisi

St Francis of Assisi's church

We stayed the night in Assisi at the best hotel room, it was such a pity that this was the only place we stayed 1 night. Again we had the most spectacular view, and we had the yummiest dinner, of chicken with nicest sauce and chips at the hotel in their outdoor dinning area. Bev and a couple of newly recruited camera buddies escaped after dinner to some nearby hay fields and found a building site of a half built house to do some night photography.

Assisi at night

Day 6

From Assisi we travelled on to Florence, stopping at the much anticipated Siena to be slightly disappointed; after seeing Assisi we expected Siena to be the same if not better. However, if we hadn’t gone to Assisi, we probably would have considered Siena pretty town. Siena was quite dirty, but the shopping was pretty good, and we had an extremely weird walking tour guide – he was very Borat like.

Delicious Italian Gelato - so many flavours, so little time!

Siena is famous for its yearly horse races that they host in their main centre, called Palio. Basically riders’ race horses around the area as fast as possible, and bets are placed on the horses.
The site where Palio takes place - they had just set up the sand on the ground for it - Siena
From Siena we carried on to the absolutely beautiful Tuscany! The landscape was very nice, with rolling hills, acres of vineyards and big round hay bales. We stopped at a vineyard on the outskirts of Florence, and went on a winery tour, with Chianti wine tasting. The location was absolutely stunning, and we enjoyed a delicious dinner at the vineyard, with the tastiest bruscetta ever!

Chianti Wine Tasting in Tuscany - this is the life

The other highlight of the winery was that they had a cat that was very eager for some attention and to play! We then travelled the short distance into Florence, and got ready to go out to a beach party at a local pub. Note: Sand at a pub is not cool.

Day 7

We basically only had one day in Florence – and it was a really big day! Florence is an absolutely beautiful city, and it was a real shame that we only got one day there. We started with another walking tour around the centre of the city, seeing where Michelangelo’s David used to stand (now a replica) and other sculptures. We walked around the shopping areas and saw the building where Michelangelo studied.

A large line of Vespas

We found Florence so cool because there we no cars in the centre of the city just grids of allys. Florence is built over a roman city! So one day if they were ever to excavate Florence some interesting history may be learnt. The Ponte Vecchio is a really cool bridge, which is supposedly the only one not bombed during WWII, because Hitler walked around there with Mussolini, and liked it so much.
Ponte Vecchio
Florence is famous for its fantastically designed Dome or Duomo, so what better thing to do in Florence than climb the many hundreds of steps in the Dome – it was well worth it though (even though we were climbing vertically at some points) the view over Florence was excellent – so many terracotta roof-tops.
The Duomo - it was definitely worth climbing the 600+ steps to get to the top of this (however this photo was taken from the bell tower beside it (Bev climbed another 300+ steps for this photo!)

The view from the Duomo of Florence

More of the view from the Duomo of Florence, and the bell tower Bev climbed.

The interior of the Dome!

For lunch we enjoyed the most spectacular bruschetta – so delicious and fresh, and nicely complimented by this really delicious creamy balsamic vinegar!

Delicious Brushetta
After lunch we zoomed straight to the museum containing the real Michelangelo’s David - which I must say wasn’t much besides David – but he is definitely worth seeing! The detail on the sculpture is incredible, all of the veins in his arms, his muscles etc are so life-like it is unbelievable.
Michelangelo’s David - the Replica (we saw the real thing, but you aren't allowed to photograph it at the museum)
From here Bev and I went our separate ways, Bev went to climb the many hundred stairs of the tower beside the Duomo, to get good photos of the Dome (and to experience the most awesome atmosphere of all the city’s church bells going off at 6pm), while I and another person from our tour went to check out a small museum that had made models of Leonardo Di Vinci’s ideas, more god given gifts- not only art but architecture and mechanics. What an amazing brain that guy had on him! So many of his inventions were well before his time!

After a good 9 hours on our feet walking around Florence, we meet with our tour group to go back to the same pub that we had been at for the beach party the night before for dinner. Randomly, as we walked into the restaurant, Bev goes “Oh my gosh, you’re kidding me”! I had no idea what he was talking about until I saw that two of our friends from NZ, Monique and Brent were in the very same pub as us in Florence!
Us with Monique and Brent - so random!
I don’t know how we do this, but we keep bumping into people we don’t expect to see! Cool surprise though, so completely random and unexpected, we so could have been in the same city at the same time and missed each other completely! So we ate our dinner (Monique and Brent’s tour group were actually being kicked off the table to make way for our groups booking). After dinner we went and had a drink with Monique and Brent and caught up on their travels!

Cute Italian house
Day 8

Florence to La SpeziaLeaving Florence we headed to Lucca, on our way to La Spezia. Lucca was another cute medieval town, which we got a small guided tour of to begin with, and then we got left to our own devices to find lunch and general free time.
An arena in Lucca, that has been turned into a piazza
So Bev and I took the liberty to order a delicious pizza (surprise surprise), washed down with delicious coffees, and closely followed by Gelato – mmmm it doesn’t get much better than that! We then hired bikes, and rode around the ancient walls of the city, just relaxing and enjoying the fantastic sunshine. We left Lucca early afternoon for a quick stop at the Leaning tower of Pisa. People aren’t kidding when they say Pisa is a hole, and that there is nothing else to see there – believe me! We had a competition on our tour bus as to who could do the best/most ridiculous Leaning Tower of Pisa photos. We found it so funny that as you walked towards the tower, there were so many people of all different nationalities standing there, with a person photographing them, give them instructions on how to line their hands/feet miscellaneous body part up to the leaning tower to construct a ridiculously cheesy Leaning Tower of Pisa photo!
Us and the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Three tourists getting cheesy Leaning Tower of Pisa photos!
So after getting our fair share of cheesy tour photos we headed off to La Spezia. Arriving early evening, we did some washing, and then went to a delicious nearby restaurant for more delightful Italian food – risotto, pork and the highlight, Panna cotta with a berry coulis!! Heaven!

Day 9

We got up really early to beat the heat and crowds to see Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre is a UNESCO world heritage site, and is an absolutely stunning costal walk linking 5 unspoilt fishing towns perched on coastal cliffs. Each town is connected by a path (and roads and railway) covered in beautiful small vineyards and olive and lemon trees precariously teetering on the coastal cliffs.

One of these is not a vegetable, and is not for sale! So cute.

One of the five towns along the Cinque Terre - Vernazza

Bev in one of the towns narrow alley ways


Me with one of the smootchiest cats ever on the Cinque Terre walk

Looking back on Corniglia

Gorgeous little fishing town - Manarola

Another of the towns - Vernazza

Looking back on Vernazza

Two of the towns - Vernazza and Corniglia

Another of the towns - Corniglia

The walk was very hot and humid; Bev and I have never been so sweaty before on a walk! From this day on, the rest of our trip had true Mediterranean weather, very hot and humid YAY! – summer at last! We walked the two hours or so walk which connected the five towns, taking in the spectacular views, and patting the random stray and friendly cats that we encountered along the way. After reaching the final town, we collapsed in a heap, and devoured the most delicious foccacia bread ever – it had a fresh tomato and pesto topping yum yum! We found out that pesto was invented near Cinque Terre, in Italy for sailors to prevent scurvy! We then caught the train back to a few of the other five towns and then went back to our hotel. For dinner, we again found delicious olives, fresh bread, cheese, pastrami, sundried tomatoes and pesto to feast on at the supermarket!

Day 10

Leaving La Spezia, we headed for Venice, stopping in Lake Garda and Verona on our way. Lake Garda is really huge lake, in an absolutely gorgeous setting – lots of pretty terracotta houses with large mountains as the backdrop.
Lake Garda
We ferried across the lake on a car ferry, then spent the next few hours having lunch and doing a bit of shopping around the small town of Garda.

Lake Garda with the mountains behind it

Us with Lake Garda in the background
We then moved on to Verona, which is quite a romantic town, famous for being the scene of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet script. There is supposedly a place that was Juliet’s balcony (although this is supposed to be a huge tourist inducing lie), but unfortunately for us, we were unable to see this balcony as they were filming a movie there on the day that we wanted to see it, grrr! One of the coolest things about Verona was that the streets are made of local pink marble, and they also have a more intact colossem, which still retains its marble exterior (Rome’s colosseum has long since lost its exterior marble).
The Colosseum in Verona - far better condition than Rome's Colosseum
It was so hot by the time we got to Verona that we just couldn’t be bothered doing anything, so we found a piece of lawn in some shade beside the colosseum and watched some guys dressed up as gladiators try and get money out of tourists – very entertaining! We continued on to our hotel on the outskirts of Venice, and went out for dinner to another pizza restaurant – the highlight this time was the delicious profiteroles covered in chocolate mousse – mama mia!

Day 11

An absolutely stunning, sunny morning greeted us as we made our way into Venice, from our hotel (a 20min public bus ride). We learnt that Venice is made up of 130+ islands, and that the normal population is around 200K, but climbs to 8 million in peak summer season!! Whew that is a lot of loud, rich Americans to put up with! Grr! Again we began with a walking tour weaving in and out of the alleys and bridges, over the canals towards the centre - St Marks square. We went to a lace making factory and a Murano glass factory – so cool! We then took a Gondola ride around the canals (unfortunately we didn’t have a spare €80-100 to hire a boat to ourselves, but it was nice to at least go with people we knew from our tour. It was so relaxing just to float around the city – it is so weird to think there are no roads in Venice, just canals and paths. It was really funny seeing doors that just opened up with no jetty or anything so you could literally walk out the door and fall into the sea!
Us at the Grand Canal

The Rialto Bridge, over the Grand Canal, Venice

Gorgeous restaurant alongside a canal in Venice

A house with offstreet parking in Venice!

Feeding the pigeons in St Marks Square - they started to peck at my toes - not cool

A Gondola in Venice


Bev on the Gondola in Venice
Other places had little jetty’s with boats tied to them. The heat was crazy – so hot. Again we had very little energy, so we decided to just wander around the markets by the rialto bridge, looking at all the awesome artwork of the mask shops and glass craft. Initially, we thought it was over rated like Amsterdam, and found it very touristy, but it didn’t take long for us to fall in love with Venice. The problem is though, when you go on any holiday, you are always going to have tourist fatigue, and unfortunately Venice got buried under a bit of that for us (and the heat didn’t help!). I think we definitely would have appreciated it more if it was the first place we visited on the whole trip, but I am also glad that we didn’t leave NZ and just go straight to Italy, as I think we would have been far more disappointed/distracted by European city-isms – ie dirty, busy, beggars etc.
After 10 days of pasta and pizza, we caved in and followed all of the loud American families to McDees for lunch – not something we are particularly proud of, I know you are all thinking who goes to Venice and eats at McD’s, but we were craving non-Italian food, and Venice is not really known for being a place of middle-class budget travellers if you get my drift! In the afternoon we headed back to St Marks Square and enjoyed an atmosphere of an orchestra practicing for the Andrea Bocelli concert that night (some famous Opera singer). We then took a taxi boat ride along the Grand Canal back to our bus home. We had a quick yummy supermarket salad, and then Bev went back into Venice to do some night photography.

Day 12

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end! We left Venice early the next morning for Rome, again stopping at a small town called Orvieto. In Orvieto we took a funicular(train using a cog like system) up the hill, did a small walking tour, got some lunch, some gelato and just chilled out.

Church in Orvieto

We then continued on to Rome, back to the hotel that our tour began from. For our last dinner together we just ate at the hotel – bit of an anticlimax really, but then as a group we went out for a few drinks at a nearby pub so all wasn’t lost. It was quite sad saying goodbye to people that we had just spent the last 12 days touring with!
Day 13
The next morning we packed up our stuff and took it to luggage storage at the train station, then spent the rest of the day having one last look around Rome, going back to the Vatican City,
Vatican City
eating more of the really good pizza that we found and then heading back into the centre of Rome to look at the Pantheon.
Inside the Pantheon

From here, now late afternoon we walked to Termini station to collect our bags, and waited for our train to the airport. While we were waiting we saw these dodgy looking guys trying to help people load their bags on to the trains. We are not quite sure what they were up to (other than no good, of course), but the conductor blew his whistle for the train to leave the station, yet these guys were still “helping” people with their luggage. I suspect that they wait until the train doors close for take off, and conveniently make sure that the luggage they were helping with isn’t on the train at said closing point, and then run away with the goods! But whatever they were up to the conductor chased them and gave them a big kick up the butt – literally! So when our trained arrived we made sure to avoid these dirty scoundrels and hop in another carriage!Once at the airport, we relaxed to our final Italian meal, and reluctantly returned to our other life!

General Observations
  • This was our best trip so far - we feel so cultured now in how and where western culture gets so many things from and how they came about!
  • Italian food is amazing on all levels!
  • One thing we really liked about Italians, is that we found them to be really fair about things – they weren’t out to rip you off, which is a nice change from other places we’ve been – namely Thailand/Fiji/Egypt!
  • There are so many Italian words that we know, and use all of the time without realising it – like finito, and pronto – and of course so many are latin based – which is quite handy if you’ve studied science.
  • Although everyone says it is really scary crossing roads full of Italian drivers, I beg to differ. Basically if you walk out with intent (it is all about the timing as well) the Italian drivers will happily stop for you, however in London, it is a little bit more hit and miss whether the lousy English drivers will wait for you or not! – Even at Pedestrian crossings! Grr!
  • Italians appear to stinge on things like working bathrooms, and renovations in preference of splashing out at expensive restaurants and ordering drinks etc with their meals. They seemed offended when we just ordered tap water (unless they expected us to be rich American tourists??).
  • It was nice being a blonde girl in Italy – the attention was nice and not creepy like Egypt, service was always quick, and Italian men are very flattering – its nice to be called beautiful (even if they follow it up with something that makes you feel stupid) :o)