Trip Start Jan 01, 2012
8Trip End Ongoing
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Italy was always going to be a big trip for me; there are so many places I've wanted to see so I knew a quick weekend here and there was never going to cut it. I guess because I knew it was a big trip it was going to be costly and as a result I've continued to put it off. I figured 2012 was my year to stop dreaming and to make it happen so late last year I booked a 13 day tour starting in Rome.
In my Venice entry I didn't touch too much on my guide, however there were numerous issues which led me to making a complaint to the tour company. When I was in Venice I found out that the guide was also going to be my guide for this trip so in my complaint I requested to change my departure date to ensure I was not on her tour. I know that sounds harsh however when you are paying a hell of a lot of money for the trip of lifetime you want to enjoy it
I arrived at the meeting hotel in Rome after a somewhat stressful journey and getting my first taste of 42 degree heat. We met at 3 for a tour briefing and to my surprise I was greeted with the very same tour guide I had specifically requested to be moved away from. I was not impressed. Throughout the meeting she failed to introduce herself, give her name and yelled at a girl for eating. I was already getting a taste of what my next 2 weeks were going to look like.
That afternoon we went for a walking tour of Rome to get an orientation for the city. We saw the Spanish steps and Trevi Fountain and got a general feel for the city. It was beautiful to see the town at dusk and despite the late hour it was still stinking hot. We had our first meal as a group at a small local restaurant, for me it was carbonara, salad and tiramisu for dessert. I had a relatively early night knowing I had an early start the next day.
After a good night's sleep it was an early start as we headed for a private tour of the Vatican. I had been humming and harring whether to the private tour as it was much more expensive than going on your own. In the end I went with the group and I am so thankful I did
The private tour meant we had time on our own to explore without the hussle and bustle of others. The artwork contained within was incredible and for some pieces I was so impressed with the vibrancy of the colours as to how they had remained so bright throughout the years. Our guide was an American woman employed by the Vatican that was so knowledgeable. She was able to relay the event of history and explain things relating them to modern equivalents to help us understand.
We saw the Sistine chapel which was just incredible and even saw a collection of Popemobiles throughout the ages. A few of us decided to head up to the top of St Mark's dome to get some photos looking down on the Square. The climb involved a hell of a lot of steps but was very rewarding and well worth it. After the dome we were able to visit the crypts and view the tombs of Popes from years gone by. By the time we exited I fully appreciated the benefit of the tour we did as people were waiting up to 4 hours to get into the Vatican and then another hour to queue for the dome.
The Vatican tour was half a day so by the time we were out it was time for a quick lunch before heading to the Coliseum. Luckily we had been told a tip to get ticket without queuing for which I am also thankful as the Coliseum also had a queue for several hours. It was a very impressive site both inside and out and was much more intact that I had been anticipating. After a walk exploring the local area near the hotel and devouring some much needed gelato that was me done for the day
Day 3 saw us heading on our thankfully air conditioned bus to Pompeii, the weather was a scorcher which made sightseeing more difficult than usual. There were certain items than both amused and also others that touched me here. There are ruins of an old brothel which hand painted drawings above each door depicting the services provided. As a port city lots of foreigners used to come and as they didn't speak the language they need the picture to help the express their needs. There is also some old graffiti carved into the walls, they were so cute and looked like a small child had carved gladiators into the wall. The thing that touched me were the bodied trapped in ash and frozen that way for ever, in particular the body of pregnant woman trying to shield her bump from the volacanic onslaught.
From Pompeii we drove to Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast, our hotel had a pool so the afternoon was spent in the cool waters sheltering from the heat. After dinner we headed to a small bar where there were some locals performing traditional Italian dances dressed in national costume. It was very upbeat and you can't beat a bit of audience participation.
It was an early start on Day 3 with a ferry to catch out to the Isle of Capri
We took a funicular ride to the top of the island where we were greeted with the most gorgeous views of the island. We got to see where the first perfume was invented in a small monastery at the top of the island. I was quite surprised with the wealth on Capri, the shops were all designer brands aimed for those with money to burn. It seemed odd to me as it wasn't a big city but a small village on the top of an island quite far off the mainland. Most of the others on our tour opted to spend the remainder of the day on the beach but with 2 others in tow we caught the hour long ferry to Positano.
Positano was simply beautiful, splitting my day to view this town was the most rewarding experience as the small resort was nothing short of incredible. Perched on a steep cliff the village is made of tiny winding streets with cobbled roads and tiny boutiques popping out at every corner. The beach itself had white sand and the shoreline was dominated with bright colourful beach umbrellas. We didn't have too much time before it was time to make the last bus back to Sorrento.
The bus ride was hell on earth winding along narrow gravel roads for an hour, all safety measures were ignored and I would say at least 50 more than the permitted number of people were pushed on board
Due to the late night arrival back dinner consisted of ham sandwiches back in our hotel room.
From Sorrento we drove to Assisi which was a gorgeous little town full of some incredible Frescoes, I am by no means an art critic but to me the paintings here rivalled those in the Sistine Chapel. What fascinated me the most about Assisi was the amount of Friars and Nuns...they were everywhere. Our local guide told us it was the home of the Franciscan Friar and Nun movement. There was a closed nunnery there home to the Poor Clare's, followers of the original St Clare of Assisi. These women are banned from the outside world so have never left the gates of the convent since being admitted. They are only permitted to speak for half an hour a day.
What got me the most I think is that our guide said this particular convent was unusual as it had women who had come from all over the world. Some of the women were not religious before working high powered executive roles however they got the calling and that was it
That night our accommodation was a bit out of the city but was gorgeous. My room had a gorgeous view looking out over the Tuscan countryside. We had dinner outdoors with the sun setting in the background and it was simply beautiful.
On Day 6 we drove through the Tuscan hillside to Siena, I fell in love with the city immediately. To me it seemed to quintessentially Italian with the red terra cotta coloured buildings. I loved the washing hanging out the windows to dry and the women pegging them wearing what to me looked like 1950's pinafores.
From Siena we drove the Chianti Classico region and visited a vineyard to learn about the specialty wine of the area and had our own privately hosted wine tasting in a family home. The hosts were so wonderfully welcoming and down to earth and you could just tell that the vineyard had been in the family for several generations and was their pride and joy.
That evenings final destination saw us arriving at Florence. Our hotel here was my favourite of the trip and I was fortunate that my room looked over into a small square. It had heavy green curtains and combined with the view and oak furniture felt so European.
Day 7 in Florence started with a walking tour taking us to see all the sites used by the famous Medici family. For me this day was about relaxing and shopping. The city was beautiful and the coloured stonework on the Duomo was so vivid unlike any other I had seen before. Florence was an art fans dream but for me not knowing much about art history I found myself passing on all the famous museums. For me instead I spent my day milling around the numerous leather markets. I love the smell of leather and I was right in my element in handbag heaven.
That night most of our tour opted to go dancing at an English bar. Me and my roomie Sharon on the other hand opted to stay behind. The reason for this was in the square at our hotel they were hosting an open cinema playing Paris, Je T'aime. Looking back on the trip that open cinema was my favourite moment. I loved sitting with all the locals as the sunset listening to women natter away, I have no idea what they were saying but it felt so good to experience something the locals would.
The other thing I found fascinating was that there are a lot of homeless immigrants in Italy, in Florence you could see them bringing out their cardboard to sleep on at night. In the mornings you could see them at the fountain having mastered the art of washing and protecting their dignity, washing their hair longer than mine in the cold outside tap
Day 8 saw us driving to Lucca, a small walled city. It was very cute and gorgeous but if I'm honest by this point I was so knackered that I didn't give the city the attention it deserved. From Lucca it was on to Pisa to go take the typical shots trying to hold it up. Unfortunately mine didn't turn out but screw the photos I'm just happy to say I was there. Pisa is like the Eiffel Tower in that it's one of the big European attractions and was just incredible to be there standing in front of such a landmark.
After Pisa is was off to La Spezia in preparation for our visit to Cinque Terre the next day.
Day 9 was a big one, and the reason why I had chosen this particular tour. I have been obsessed with going to Cinque Terre since one of my very first clients back in New Zealand had me booking them a holiday here.
We caught a train into the first of the 5 villages that make up the Cinque Terre-Riomaggiore
Manarola was a little larger in size than Riomaggiore and in my opinion was less steep. It had lots of landscaped gardens carefully crafted into the steep Cliffside. From Manarola we took the train to Corniglia which was my favourite village of the five. We had to take a bus to the village which was set above the cliffs, it had amazing views looking down over the sea and had gorgeous narrow roads winding through the village and was peppered with independently owned boutiques and cafes.
After Corniglia came Vernazza. Vernazza was flooded earlier during the year and was still recovering from all the damage that was caused as a result. The town had a small exhibition showing the damage and destruction from earlier and you could see how much progress the town had made since.
Monterosso Al Mare was the final village and considered the most beautiful of them all. It was the village with the most beach space which is probably why it is considered such a tourist hotspot. The village was beautiful but to my eyes it was clearly a tourist destination designed with tourists in mind. Compared to Corniglia it felt fake whereas Corniglia was clearly a village still lived in and inhabited by locals who go about their everyday life somehow it just felt more real to me.
The day at Cinque Terre really took it out of me and by late afternoon I was stuffed
It was an early start on Day 10. We started with a drive to Lake Garda where we had a beautiful lunch looking out over the crystal blue water. There was even a lone accordion player to set the mood. From Lake Garda we had a quick stop in Verona. Why this was such a brief stop I don't know as the town itself was beautiful.
There is normally one reason why tourists go to Verona and that's to go see Juliet's balcony. She may have been a fictional character but in Verona you can go stand on her balcony and oddly enough go see her tomb. There is a statue there and it is said that if you rub her right breast in a clockwise motion you will be lucky in love and one day return to Italy. The walls near Juliet's balcony are also covered in padlocks and graffiti. But its love graffiti, poems and sonnets and names of people who love each other forever and names of people wanting to fall in love. I know this sounds silly but it was romantic graffiti and by leaving my very own message for Juliet I feel I got to leave a little piece of me behind in Italy too. Here is hoping that Juliet brings me love and brings me back to Italy one day.
From Verona it was on to Venice, my second visit for the year. We stayed in Mestre and it wasn't till the following morning that we headed to the city centre. As I had already done the lace making and glass blowing demonstration on my last trip I got a free day. I went to the top of the Campanile bell tower to get views out over the main square. I spent most of my day wandering around hunting for the mask shop that did the masks for Eyes Wide Shut. Eventually I did find it and bought a male Gonzo Mask
Day 12 saw us with a lovely 8 hour bus ride back to Rome. Luckily we got to stop at the very cute village of Orvieto which sits atop a hill and is only accessible by a funicular ride. It was a nice way to break up the journey. It was such a nice day and I spent my time here relaxing in the sun in a small café.
That night was the last of our tour and saw us having one last group dinner. I can remember feeling sad that my big trip was over but also so thankful and blessed for having the opportunity to experience so many amazing things.
Italy was everything and more than I could have imagined, I met some amazingly wonderful people and despite the guide I had an incredible time. I don't know if I will ever have the opportunity to return to Italy unless Juliet works her magic for me but I feel like I had enough time to do the country justice.
Italy is such a country of extremes, beautiful beaches, lush green countryside, snowy mountains and dry barren lands. The people are so passionate in everything they do and have such a culture for family and enjoying life. I felt blessed to be part of it for the duration of my trip.
Until next time,