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Emma & Maneesh on the Big OE

Italy - The Rest Of It

ITALY | Thursday, 29 October 2009 | Views [766]

One of the villages on the Cinque Terre walk.

One of the villages on the Cinque Terre walk.

October 17th

Today we had a busy morning at the campground sorting out a little bit of washing, and packing up camp, just before it started raining. We completed our jobs in the rain, then headed down into the Dubrovnik township where we did groceries, and filled up Sven before checking in for our ferry to Bari, Italy.

We had about a two hour wait, so we cooked a hot lunch while waiting and ate that in the van – we took sandwiches on board for dinner. Our ferry left at 3:30pm for a 6 hour sailing. As soon as we got on board some of the Italians aboard started to get into the partying. Someone was playing the piano while the women danced and sang. It was fun to watch, but the novelty wore off after a while, mainly due to the tuneless singing. They really only last an hour before running out of steam, so we were able to have a quieter time for the remainder of our journey.

It was a smooth crossing, so thankfully we all avoided sea sickness. We docked soon after 9:30pm. Em had a chat to a people in a little camper behind us on the boat, and their plan was to go the truck stop within the port. We had read about this on the internet, so followed them, and that is where we slept for the night. It was suprisingly quiet, apart from the rain on the roof.

October 18th

Day 100 on the road! Well you would have though we would have planned an action packed day to mark the occasion, but it did not really pan out that way. And it did not really matter.

We were up quite early, and on the road after breakfast. We drove west across the width of Italy to Pompeii. It was a windy day so the last part of the journey was hard driving. We had been warned about the roads in the south of Italy, but they were quite good, and the drivers were much better than I was expecting, given the stories I have heard. We got the campground and had a late lunch, then decided whether or not to do Pompeii that afternoon. It was very grey and quite miserable outside. The entrance to the ruins was directly across the road from our camp. We all voted for a van afternoon, so that is what we did for the remainder of the day.

October 19th

We made the 200m journey from our campground to the entrance gates at 8:30am and arrived with no queues and no crowds. It was great. We had kindly been given a Pompeii guide book from Mark and Briar, (the Kiwi couple we met in Ljubljana), so made good use of this and went about exploring the ruins. Whooa! It was incredible.

Before coming, I was rather ignorant about this place, so we all learnt a lot. Basically it was a 'lost' village after Mt Vesuvius erupted in 79AD, and buried the village in about 6m of ash. It was first discovered in the 17th century and has been carefully excavated. One of the creepy, but very interesting parts of the excavations was the pouring of liquid plaster of paris into holes found within the ash. When the moulds were removed they found out that the spaces were organic matter – plants, animals, and people. It looked rather unpleasant, most of them on the tummies with their hands around their face. There were also dogs, and they used a simialar technique and found out where vineyards were, by identifying the roots. It was all pretty amazing.

Some of the buildings were in brilliant condition, with the ampitheatre being a highlight. There were shops with painted signs, laundrettes, bakers, homes, and brothels. The roads were paved with cut volcanic stone, with raised footpaths, and lead piping carrying fresh water all through the city. The buildings had some beautiful fresco paintings on their interior walls, mainly on a deep red background. We could picture the people going about their daily life, wearing their togas!

We explored the area until about 2pm, by which time we had worn out our legs and worked up large appetites, so we went back to the campground and had spaghetti for lunch in the van. We then left the campground and Em drove us north to Rome. We arrived at 7:30pm, set up camp and planned our next day.

October 20th

Day one in Rome. We had an early start with the aim of beating the crowds and it worked. We got into the Colosseum at about 9am, after a bus, train, then tube ride. It was a cold morning, with even a hint of frost in the low lying paddocks! But it was a nice sunny day.

Outside the Colossuem we found people doing a tour so we joined the tour and had about an hour tour outside and in, telling us a little about the history of the building and the events that took place. Everyone has seen photos, but it is brilliant to see it in the stone. It is huge, and incredible to imagine the gladiator sports that went on inside its arena. We spent a couple of hours in and around the Colosseum, before joining another tour at midday to head across the way to Palatine Hill.

This was the Beverly Hills of it's time, where all the emperors and important people lived. We had a fantastic guide who had a great sense of humour who we followed around for an hour finding out lots of interesting facts and stories. When the tour finished, we looked inside a small museum, before heading down to the Forum.

This is below Palatine Hill and has lots of ruins of temples (such as that of the Vestal Virgins), and other Roman buildings. We all loved it.

By the time we were finished wandering around it was nearly 4pm and we had not had lunch! Poor Em had two grumpy boys on her hands. We managed to quickly find a place to eat to replenish our energy then we wandered around a few more ruins before catching the train and bus back to the campground. It was nearly 12 hours out on our feet, but it was a great day. So many great things, and nothing like what we have seen on our trip so far.

October 21st

Day two in Rome. We were told it was going to rain. Well the cloud burnt off and we were greeted by another hot autumn day which is the way it stayed. We got in early again and went straight to The Pantheon. Em and I both had great interest in this building as we had both studied it. It did not disappoint. It is one of the best preserved Roman buildings in the world, thanks to the Christians who started using it as a church in the 6th Century. The size of the pillars, building, and in particular the Dome is mind boggling. Particularly given that it was built in the 1st Century AD. One of the best things was we were early enough to share the building with only about 10 other people and it was dead silent. We returned later in the day to find it packed and very noisy – we felt very smug.

From the Pantheon we moved (via a great coffee shop) to the Trevi fountain, a massive, but comparatively new (18th century) fountain, which forms the base of a building. It had huge sculptures of winged horses and gods. Again we struck it lucky and beat the crowds which made the experience even more enjoyable. We followed the legend and threw in two coins each over our shoulders – one to ensure our return to Rome, and another to grant a wish. From here we had quite a leisurely wander around a few back streets and went to the Piazza Navona which was filled with artists selling their works on canvas. We continued on to the Tiber River for a look. It was not a nice river at all. From here we could see the Piazza outside St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, full of people. We walked along the river to have a look - Wednesday is the day the Pope gives a public address, and this was no different. The Pope was broadcast up onto big screens all around the Piazza. We got there after he had finished his service and was meeting with some of the religious VIPs. Once he had finished this we caught a glimpse of him as he moved towards the crowd (to loud cheers) to meet and bless a few people in the audience.
After this we went to our pre-selected lunch place back near the Pantheon, and enjoyed some cheap and delicious pasta. This finished off our 'planned' day so we wandered around for a little longer then we caught the train back to our station. We explored the shops at our station, where there were hardly any tourists, and also picked up a few more groceries. We seemed to have done lots of grocery shops lately, mainly because we are enjoying the Italian supermarkets with all of their cheeses, wines, antipastos, meats, and fresh produce.

When we got back to the campground we discovered there was a Kiwi couple next to us (Josh and Lauren), so we had a drink and a chat to them before tucking into the antipasto with bread that we had purchased – grilled capsicum, zucchini, eggplant, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, gorgonzola cheese. Our van-picnic dinner was extremely tasty and suprisingly filling.

October 22nd

Day three in Rome. Our final day allocated for Rome. Unfortunately we woke to rain, and it remained relatively overcast for the day, although it was still fairly warm. We were into the city early and queuing to get into the Vatican Museum before 9am. It opened up at 9am, and the line moved quickly so we were inside by 9:30am, which we were happy about. We spent almost 4 hours wandering through different parts of the museum. It was huge, but the size did not increase our enjoyment. All three of us felt quite saturated (our eyes were hurting by the end and we couldn't take in all the artwork), and we did not really enjoy much of it at all, mainly due to the seething crowd. The highlights were posting our postcards from the Vatican City post office (the Vatican is a country in it's own right), seeing the 'School of Athens' painting by Raphael, and going into the Sistine chapel. We are guessing it was a pretty quiet day people wise, but because of the poor layout there was lots of queuing and waiting at huge bottlenecks like staircases.

We were all pretty hungry, but found a great place for lunch where we had fantastic pasta and tiramisu which was a great pick me up, before we went to St Peter's Basilica. This was very impressive. It does not look that big from the outside, but once inside you find out how incredibly huge it is and why it took 150 years to build! Then there is the decoration, the marble floor, and of course it's famous dome. It was a nice way to finish our Vatican experience.

On the way back to the train station we stopped in at a market full of jewellery, leather, and crafts, and had a look around, but did not make any purchases.

Once we got back to the campground we relaxed and started to read up on Florence, our next stop in Italy.

Rome probably goes to our number one city. We have had a great experience here. We loved all of the buildings. The food we had was great, and we have met nothing but friendly, helpful Italian people here who have been more than happy to direct us or assist us. We will be sad to leave, but since we made a wish at the Trevi fountain, I am sure we will be back some day.

October 23rd

We were up early and driving away from the campground as soon as the gates opened at 7am, with the hope that we would avoid the traffic. Thankfully this worked and we had a smooth run out of Rome. It was a nice drive north, and we arrived in Florence just after midday to our campground at the top of a hill overlooking the city. Unfortunately we arrived to find that they were still in 'peak season' and it was by far our most expensive campground of the trip. Anyway, it was only for one night.

After quickly setting up camp, the three of us headed into town. It was an overcast rainy day, and we decided we would be having a curry for lunch. Although not very Italian, it was going to be a nice break. When we got to the restaurant we saw that it had closed down, and was now a japanese restaurant! Big disappointment. We decided to go in search of an Italian restaurant instead. Lucky we did because we found a great little place, and had the best meal of our time in Italy so far. Em had a great polenta dish, Hamish had a spicy fish pasta dish, and I had smoked Marlin. It was brilliant. Although Italian, it was a nice break from the stereotypical dishes (pizza and pasta) that we have had of late. After lunch our initial plan was to head to the Uffizi gallery, a renaissance gallery. Unfortunately all of us were 'galleried' out from the Vatican, and after some serious discussions and thoughts we all felt like we would not regret it if we skipped it. Instead we had a nice afternoon exploring the pretty streets and shops in the rain. There were leather shops galore, the smell alone was enough to draw you into them. We finished off by going across Ponte Vecchio, a 14th Century bridge that was lined with butchers, but is now lined with jewellers. We were all a little tired and felt like we had done enough exploring to give us a taste of Florence, so headed back to the campground. It really is a beautiful city, and seems so much friendlier and welcoming than a city you would expect from the size of it.
Once we got back the van we had dinner and a nice hot chocolate to warm us up again.

October 24th

We were up and away from Florence early. Thankfully the rain had abated and the sun had come out of hiding again. Hard to imagine we would be complaining about two days of 'rain' after living in Ireland for nine months!

We drove south from Florence about 25km into the countryside of Tuscany, which is just like in the movies. We stopped in Greve in Chianti. It was a larger town by the surrounding areas standards, but still a nice little size. We wandered around the local markets and bought lots of nice foods including three different types of cheeses. We also went to supermarket and got lots of antipasto stuff to fill up the van with Italian food. It was a close call, the supermarket, along with every other shop in town, was closing for their lunchtime break (about 1pm – 4 or 5pm). Since it was Saturday we thought that this would be it for the day.

After having some lunch we relocated the van to the town camper site. It was a designated free parking area for campers with a place to fill up and empty water. No power or anything, but it was good for one night. There were about eight other campers when we arrived, so we happily parked up and wandered back into town. The main reason we came to Greve in Chianti was that we had read this is one of the central areas for Tuscan wine and there was a good wine tasting place here. We managed to find it and had good fun tasting wine. You purchase a card and there are little taps for about 200 different wines. Each taster takes a little bit of money off your card. In total between us we sampled 21 different types of wine. There was also free olive oil sampling with little pieces of bread, so we tucked into that as well. Unfortunately we did not really find any wines that we liked enough to purchase, apart from one dessert wine.

Once we were done there we wandered back along the main street to see that all the shops had reopened, even on a Saturday. We passed a food shop that we couldn't resist. We ended up buying our dinner there. A couple of tasty pastas, stuffed onions and a tripe dish! We took them all back to the van and enjoyed all of them, even the tripe! After a game of cards it was bedtime.

October 25th

We left Greve in Chianti and drove south west to San Gimignano. The drive was slow going, but it was beautiful. We wound our way through rolling Tuscan countryside, with vineyards and olive groves aplenty. We eventually arrived at San Gimignano to be wowed by the town sitting proudly at the top of a hill, surrounded by it's old town wall with eight tall square towers. It looked amazing. We found a campground, ate lunch, then caught the shuttle bus into town. Yet again we were under the Tuscan sun, and we had a lovely afternoon wandering through the small Unesco Heritage listed (touristy) town. We spent a few hours there looking through the shops, and enjoying a busker's singing. We also were treated to Gelato from the 'World Champion' gelato maker 2005/06 and 2007/08. Well that is what it said above the door anyway. It was good too - there were around sixty different flavours to choose from. A few flavours we sampled were lemon, rosemary & rasberry, and gorgonzola (blue cheese) and walnut! The first two were good, the last one (one of Em's flavours) should really only be eaten as a cheese, it was just strange. Once we were done we caught the shuttle bus back to the campground, and had a relaxing evening in the van.

October 26th

Today was going to be spent relocating to a coastal area of Tuscany. After the drive, which took much longer than anticipated, we decided not to stop, because it was a very industrial coastline, and we'd left the vineyards far behind. Instead, we drove up the west coast as far as Pisa. It was a long day of driving. We were on back roads so it was slow going, as we saw the day pass. Eventually, at about 4pm we pulled into the only open campsite we could find, on the outskirts of the city of Pisa. This is where we spent our afternoon and night. It was quite a strange campground with a lot (more than 200) of permanent type fixtures which were caravans in a canvas type garage with awnings. It was enormous, but we were the only people there. Anyway this place did the trick for us. We had a few hands of cards before bed.

October 27th

Our plan was to get away from the camp early, get into Pisa to see the leaning tower before the crowds, then have breakfast. This pretty was pretty much what happened, except it took us a lot longer to get into Pisa than we thought because of road closures, so our GPS would not take us a way that was possible that day. We got there eventually and found a park, then went into Piazza Dei Miracolo (the Piazza of Miracles), where the Leaning Tower of Pisa is. It really is something else to see it for real - it looks quite shocking! The impressive lean that we saw (4.1m from the vertical at the top) is less than what it was at it's worst, (5m off vertical) because of some straigthening up that happened a few years ago. Engineers think it has now settled and will remain like this. We were lucky because we managed get in just before the crowds. After taking photos (we had fun doing the typical pose of holding up the tower) and having a good look we left just as the tour groups began to pour in. It was great. After a quick coffee we were back in the van on the hunt for a supermarket. We eventually got there, did some shopping, then had breakfast, our latest of the trip (by this stage it was almost midday!)

Finally we got on the road and drove 130km north up the west coast to a small town called Levanto. It was yet another slow trip with windy, narrow roads, particularly the last 40km over coastal mountains. It was hair pin after hair pin. We saw lots of trees with chestnuts all over the ground underneath, but there wasn't anywhere we could stop to pick up any. We arrived in Levanto and found a nice campsite near the town centre. We had come to Levanto because this was to be our base for doing the Cinque Terre walk, a walk between five coastal villages.

After setting up and having a late lunch we went to the beach, wrapped up a little, and enjoyed some fresh air before skimming stones and watching the sunset. It was a late dinner before doing a few computer jobs.

October 28th

Today was the day we would do the Cinque Terre walk. This is a lovely path winding between five small villages clinging to the steep hillsides above the sea. Before they relied on tourism, they were fishing and farming villages. The hillsides were terraced with many vineyards, so steep that the farmers use home-made monorails to transport themselves, equipment and grapes! The villages all sit above tiny marinas, and are full of brightly coloured terraced houses.

We caught the train 5 minutes south to the first village, Monte Rosso. It was slightly cloudy initially but these had just about cleared by the time we started the walk.

The first stage of the walk took us just under 1 ½ hours over several fairly tough hills to the second village, Vernazza. Our legs were a little tired after this, but this was reportedly the hardest leg, so we felt slightly reassured. The shops in this town were not really all that open, so we did not spend too much time here before getting on the track to the third village, Corniglia. This took about 1 ¼ hours, but we had some morning tea along the way. Although we had only done two of the four legs, we were two thirds of the way to the finish, so we enjoyed the village, browsed the shops and relaxed in the sun. The next two sections took about 40 minutes and 20 minutes. They were much easier, flat, and a little disappointing to be honest. Still overall the walk had been good. Lots of steps, not sure if I have been up so many steps before in my life. At the second to last village, Manarola, we sat near the water above the little fishing boats and ate our lunch in the sun. At the last village, Rio Maggiore, we found some Gelato for dessert. Again most of the shops were closed, because it was also their lunchtime, so we caught the train back to Levanto. It was about 3:30pm when we got back to the campground, so we made good use of the time doing a few more jobs on the computer.

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