A Travellerspoint blog

Chaotic Canals

Venice in a hurry

sunny 27 °C

17th September 2013

Ethan has been very unwell throughout the night and does not want to come with us today. David & I get ready to go and have breakfast and Ethan is fast asleep still when we return. We discuss and think that he is old enough to stay in the hotel room on his own with the 'do not disturb' on the door.

David & I are on the coach and David thinks he can not relax knowing that Ethan is unwell, in case something goes wrong. I tend to agree and I am torn. Venice is the area I have most been looking forward to visiting - so had Ethan. David left the coach and decided to stay with Ethan.

The group take the usual coach ride into Venice Island and then Tiago has arranged water taxis for us. We cruised to a glass blowing demonstration outlet. It was fascinating watching the glass blower making a horse out of a ball of hot glass. He was very talented. Of course we got the tour group special but nothing was in my price range. Vases were AUD $300+. The showroom was magnificent - a ceiling full of glass chandeliers in all colours. Walls and walls of vases , jewellery and drinkware. The glasses and tray set he showed us was AUD $2400, you get the tray for free though!

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We caught one big water taxi back to San Marco Square and from there we had free time for the rest of the day. It was already 1030am and I wanted to be across the other side of Venice at 1205pm to catch the hotel shuttle back. I looked in a few shops with Iris and Jessie from the tour. We each bought some necklaces, glass of course. I realised on the map that the bus station seemed a long way so I started walking. I was worried about Ethan and wanted to get back as soon as possible.

Although this trip has had its freedoms like no housework, no cooking, no work; no mobile phones is an interesting one. Today I really could have used one! It took me over an hour to wind through the maze of nooks and crannies from one side of Venice to the other. All the time racing and not being able to stop, with the fear of missing the bus. The next one was at 125pm and I wanted to get back before that. All the gorgeous shops I was passing, I passed over the Rialto - the most famous bridge in Venice. I stopped for less than a minute for some photos but then kept power walking.

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Venice canal

It was about half way there that realised I would not make it, but I kept going in case the driver was late? It was worth a shot. A few times in dead end lane ways, dark and unpopulated I had a brief internal moment of panic, but quickly gave my self an attitude adjustment, and kept going. I finally found the bus station but did not realise how big it was and where it was I was supposed to meet the driver. I had not booked the service and was just hoping to grab a lift.

I had missed the 1205 by 10 minutes so I just waited and waited hoping another one would come by. After 40 minutes The Antony Palace shuttle came and dropped some other people off and I asked, and was able to get a lift back with him. What a day!

Ethan was there outside the hotel room, looking a lot better, when I returned. David had been all over the little town we were in looking for antibiotics, but couldn't get any. It was lunchtime now and I hadn't eaten anything since 7am, so David & I headed over to a shopping mall food court a short walk away. We had some lunch and picked up a few essentials from the supermarket. In there we found water for 20cents and beer for 1.50 really cheap compared to on the street. We walked the aisles looking at their unique biscuits, fruits and other strange foods. We choose a few of those and walked back to the hotel.

There was a discount glass item store next tot he hotel so Ethan & I go over and get buy a couple of trinkets to take home. Dinner is always very late in Italy and its 830 before we get to eat. The meal tonight is very ordinary. For a start it is fish which we asked not to have, and the vegetables are canned peas and some soggy looking potato chips. We had a plain tart for dessert, all round a shocker of a meal!

Off to bed to get ready for tomorrow's trip to Switzerland.

Posted by JenMF 12:45 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Bolognese and Serenades

Bologna and Venice

overcast 24 °C
View Europe 2013 on JenMF's travel map.

16th September 2013

Well we said goodbye to Florence this morning and sped down the highway to Bologna. A city I had not really been fussed about until today. Not only is it the home of Bolognese sauce, but so much more.

Bologna is home to the Palazzo Dell Archiginnasio a museum and olden day university of Anatomy. This is the oldest university in the world and was the first university to accept people of every race, religion and social status. It was also one of the first places in Europe to perform public body dissections to students, under the gaze of inquisitorial monks. If the lecture and procedures became to much like science and not enough about religion, they would intervene in the class. One of the many unique carvings on the ceiling is a skinless form, dedicated to the type of work that went on here.
All through this museum are beautiful painted ceilings and a courtyard enveloped in decorated archways.

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Our guide for the day, Mareca, is very knowledgable about Bologna. She leads us next into Basilica di San Petronio, the 6th largest in Europe. There are no photos allowed inside and you can see why. It is very different to other basilicas we have seen on this trip. This one is huge and spacious, and not as ornate. It's beauty lies in the stained glass windows and extremely high ceilings.

From here we are led into the Quadrilatero, a compact district of delis, butchers and fruiterers. She stops in front of one of the butchers and explains that he sells horse meat, which is a particular favourite in these parts. As they are famous for their bolognese sauce we decide to sit and have lunch at a nearby cafe. I order the lasagne and it is magnifico! They use only one spoonful of tomatoes in their bolognese sauce, lots of meat and spices. This one had the best b├ęchamel sauce as well as lots of layers of super thin lasagne. Ethan has been quite unwell and did not have anything. David had a Greca salad.

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A quick look around at some shops and then it was time to jump on the coach. We travelled for a while and then we reached the beautiful Venice Island. We all caught a large private water taxi and cruised down the canal past the most exquisite houses and businesses. It was just like we were in one of our favourite movies, James Bond, or Italian Job, hard to believe this place is real. Everywhere we looked we were more and more in awe of this place. But as we pulled up to the dock and saw San Marco Square, Ducal Palace and Basilica San Marco we all rushed to et cameras and try and take everything in.

There were two huge cruise ships in dock and each had 5000 passengers, so the place was packed. We tried to follow Tiago through San Marco Square and it seemed we were always walking against the crowd. Each of four little bridges we went over had stunning views of canals and nooks but it was too busy to stop. After a few minutes we all stopped at this little section of canal where there were lots of gondolas. We got into groups of six and the entire group used 6 gondolas, one after the other gliding through the canals. Tiago had paid for a singer and accordion player to serenade us, he was in the middle gondola and we could all hear him on the 40minute journey.

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We first wound through some gorgeous little canals, where it was often a tight squeeze to let other s pass us. Ancient buildings adorned with beautiful flower pots, balconies and lights were surrounding us and reaching up to the sky from our low vantage point. We entered the Grand Canal and spent 10 minutes cruising up there watching all of the elegant couples eating at the exclusive cafes. Many watercraft passed us, some huge water taxis and many other gondolas. t was truly one of the most special days we have had on this trip. When we docked Tiago had champagne for all of us. after this we had free time to look around Venice for an hour.

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We looked through the square again and then walked some of the back streets looking at some of the shops . Most shops had brilliant jewellery and glassware, more expensive than we could afford. We grabbed a gelato and then headed to the water taxi to get back to the coach. This time we took smaller craft that held 8 of us.

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A while later we arrived at our hotel - Antony Palace and it was very cool. As you entered the foyer 5 red glass chandeliers hung from the ceiling and there were two walls filled with glass balls on wire. It was quite flash. The rooms were very nice too, a lot better than the previous hotel, modern and clean. We had dinner there tonight and it was quite ordinary though. A pasta to start, but so basic that Ethan could make it. Then fish and potato and beans. Then they gave us tiramisu which I didn't eat because I don't like coffee.

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An absolutely sensational day, albeit the food was ordinary. My best day in Italy so far!

Posted by JenMF 13:03 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Traffic Jams, Tardy Taxis and Tuscan Hills

Florence and Tuscany

overcast 23 °C
View Europe 2013 on JenMF's travel map.

15th September 2013

Today starts with a nice breakfast in the hotel. It is an early start , on the coach by 7.45am. We arrive in Florence early in Piazza di Santa Croce and head to a leather store. We are going to see a demonstration and I guess a sales pitch! The man in there is very nice and quite humorous. He shows us gold embossing and then talks about the quality of leather, of course his is exceptional. I don't doubt it, as I look around the store there are some wonderful jackets and bags. The price of one jacket David was looking at was AUD$1400. There was a great special for all of us and at the adjoining jewellery store so David bought himself a new watch and I got myself a pandora style bead for my bracelet.

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It was about 10am and we had free time today so we walked around town in and out of side streets. We found a fabulous supermarket with a great range of salads and pre- packed foods all super fresh. David had a barley, ham and vege salad, I had a punnet of mixed berries and Ethan wasn't very hungry - he's not feeling well. We found a spot in a piazza and sat and had our lunch and watched the world go by.

It was then time to walk over the famous Ponte Vecchio (bridge). What a sight! It was covered with jewellery stores all the way along. In 16th century the Medici family ordered the jewellery shops there to replace the butcher shops, who would throw their scraps into the river. This is the only bridge in Florence to survive the destruction from retreating Germans in 1944. It was built in 1345 and much of the medieval stylings are still in place. On a nearby monument lovers have placed hundreds of padlocks with their initials.

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We found a little cafe at the side of the bridge and had a gelato, well actually I had my first cannoli! It was fabulous. We spent about an hour walking by the river and looking at shops. Time seems to be going quite slowly for us on this holiday which is great.

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We tried to catch a taxi back to our hotel. We walked for an hour but there were no taxis around. We came across a flea market/antique market and decided we would have a break and take a look. It was arranged in stalls around a lovely lake with ducks and turtles. The stalls had many antiques and some bric a brac but everything was too highly priced compared to Australia.
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We were quite tired by this stage and thought we would try for another taxi. After walking for another 30mins with no luck I asked a man in the street to call one for us. He was very good and used his mobile, one arrived shortly after. the taxi arrived but we got caught in a traffic jam due to hugely popular soccer game that was on today.

We got back to the hotel very late and had time for a quick shower before our trip to the Tuscan Hills. By this stage it is pouring rain and we wonder whether it will still be going ahead.

The others in the group that went to Pisa for the afternoon arrived back 2 hours late so we were late leaving for dinner. The coach ride was quite long but through beautiful hills and gardens. We arrive and it is a magical place. Cypress pines line a long driveway up to the farmhouse and there is a well, flowerpots and a quaint wine cellar filled with long tables - this is where we are eating.

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The owner, Maria, takes us into her yard and shows us the olive press, explaining how to produce the best quality olive oil. She says that unless the label says Extra Virgin, First Cold Pressed it has been artificially processed. It is very interesting, but now she says it is dinner time.

We all sit at long tables, there are 40 of us enjoying the meal tonight. For starters we are given fresh bread, balsamic and olive oil, prosciutto, pecarino slices and sundried tomato. It was delicious, I was full after the Entree! Then came pasta - macaroni with tomato based sauce. This was more like tagliatelle, but they called it fresh macaroni?? While we were devouring all of this food there were 5 varieties of wine on the tables. The main course was grilled meats served with some rustic cut chips and vegetables, also exceptional. Biscotti was served with sweet wine for dolce, and then we were free to roam the wine cellar/shop, or go out and listen to music. Soon the night was over and we were back on the coach going home.

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We still had to pack cases and get ready to leave this hotel tomorrow. We are heading off to Venice - the place I have been waiting for!!

Posted by JenMF 12:34 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Nut Cakes and Genius

Siena and Florence

sunny 30 °C

14th September 2013

Last night we had a great meal at the in house restaurant at Ergife Hotel. It was amazing but AUD$120 which we thought was a bit steep. I had scaloppine, a favourite from home. This was the best I'd ever had. Ethan had Ravioli with fresh tomato; and David had mozzarella, grilled vegetables and prosciutto. We were all very happy that we'd had an exceptional meal in Rome.

Today we headed for Siena and Florence via a magnificent drive through Tuscan Hills. We departed at 8.00am and had one small stop at a roadside service station before reaching Siena at around 11.30am. The drive there was breathtaking, many rolling hills and Tuscan Villas tucked away behind cypress pines. Fields of sunflowers, olive groves and vineyards as well.

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Siena has to be the most beautiful place I have been to in Europe so far. It's fan shaped piazza is lined with stunning buildings and of course The Cathedral dome hidden in behind makes a great vista. We followed Tiago from the coach up to the square and sat for a while taking it all in. We had free time for 2 hours and the three of us walked up to The Cathedral and then continued until we found a quaint little cafe in one of the lane ways. They say away from the square is the best because most of the time the cafes in the square are very commercial and expensive. We each had a light lunch, I had frittata this time, David salad and Ethan a calzone. As I got up to pay I noticed a display case of Panforte Siena, my favourite nut cake. I knew it was called a Siena cake but didn't link the two! Here you buy it by the kilo so the lady cut a wedge off it and wrapped it up to go. It was delicious.

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As we headed back to the coach we had 30 minutes of wandering through the small lanes that make up Siena central city area. Lots of boutique fashion houses, cafes and souvenir shops. Nothing took my fancy so we kept walking. As we went through the streets we noticed lots of different door knockers of all of the large wooden doors. Some looked like a little different and we found out that they were the old iron rings that they used to hang fire torches off. Some were also used to tie your horse to when you rode into town.

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The Romans are great story tellers and one of the favourites throughout Italy has to be the one of the naming of Rome. Romulus and Remus twin brothers, who were weened by a she-wolf, both wanted to rule Rome. Romulus killed Remus on Palatine HIll in Rome and from that day forward the place was called Rome. Later in history Remus's son ruled Siena, and because of this there are several statues of the Romulus and Remus being weened by a she-wolf. They are actually all over Italy.

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Next up was a 2 hour trip to Florence which we made very easily, traffic was good on this day. Florence was not what I expected. It is somewhat calmer than Rome and also much cleaner. We were headed to meet our guide Guliana who was taking us through Florence, in particular the Galleria dell' Accademia. This is where Michelangelo's David is displayed. It was chaos waiting to get into the museum. So many tour groups in the streets, street hawkers with prints of the famous artworks all over the ground. There was also a couple of emergencies, ambulances pulled up at the door for two women who had fainted. It was quite hot in there and the air conditioning was not working.

After 20 minutes of waiting we finally got our tickets and went in. We were, as usual, wired up with sound so that we could here our guide more easily. The first room was a room full of amazing Renaissance paintings. One that Michelangelo had worked on when he was just 17 years old while an apprentice. From that room we moved into the next gallery and stood among 5 pieces of unfinished work by Michelangelo. It was inspirational to see how he had started each piece of work and for one reason or another they had not been completed. The guide said that a couple of the reasons may have been the conflict in his life over being commissioned to so much work and not have time to finish them all. He also worked from a solid slab of marble and did not make models like every other sculptor of his time, so perhaps he did not like the form it was taking? We will never know but most of them were perfect in my eyes, albeit unfinished.

In the same room, and bathed in a natural glow of light, is 'David'. What a spectacular piece, and to think he was only 27 when he completed this work. We spent quite some time just looking at this glorious statue. The guide spoke of the rivalry between Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo and how Leonardo left town after feeling that he couldn't compete in the early days. Michelangelo was commissioned by both the famous Medici family and at the same time the Popes of the time, and they say that he felt great pressure living in the political sphere.

We had a browse through the rest of the gallery and then took a guided walking walking tour through Florence. We also strolled into the piazza to see the the replica 'David' and some other quite brilliant statues.

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The Duomo was second last stop on the tour and was brilliant. Strangely enough only two sides is kept clean and the other appear very dirty. It was impressive though, the colours of marble pink, green and white for faith , hope & charity.

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The last stop was Basilica de Santa Croce burial place of Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli. It has 16 Chapels inside all decorated with frescoes by Giotto. It is located on Piazza Santa Croce surrounded by cafes and shops, and unfortunately street hawkers! From here we walk to our coach and head to our hotel for the first time. It is 6.30pm and we are very tired after a long day of travelling. I open up my panforte siena cake and take a few bites because I am very hungry.

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The hotel is Novotel Firenze and is not anything special. It is near the airport and a long way from town. Tonight we had dinner included at the hotel and it was very nice. We started (Primo) with pesto pasta, then Secondo was chicken Florentine with beans and potato. Dessert was just a tart that was not very nice. Our rooms were very simple and the mattress was thin and looked uncomfortable, but it was like a futon and was great.

We started to prepare for a full day in Florence tomorrow and a Tuscan Hills dinner at night!

Posted by JenMF 11:53 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Holy, Holy, Masterpieces

Ubiquitous Brillance

sunny 30 °C

13th September 2013

Our first night at The Ergife went very well. We were comfortable and all slept like good babies. It was a bit of a rush this morning with our coach leaving at 715am. We quickly went down to breakfast, leaving Ethan in the room to shower and come down on his own. Well of course you know what happens? He is very late coming down and almost misses breakfast. David & I race around getting something for him to eat because the day is going to be a long one.

For those of you who know I love my food, here is what they had for breakfast. All pastries, scrambled eggs, bacon, fruit, yogurt and all manner of cold meats and cheeses. I only had a small breakfast because my weight loss efforts before the trip are coming undone at an alarming rate! If I want the cakes I will have to do a lot of walking first, and walking we did!

We all hopped on the coach and arrived at The Vatican City at 745am. There we met our guide for the day, Chinzia. She was so knowledgeable and personable. So we have Chinzia, Tiago our tour leader and Junio our coach driver. Mamma Mia all these names!

No-one could have prepared me for how beautiful and unique the Vatican museums are, and also of course the Sistine Chapel. It is unfathomable how Michelangelo, Bernini and their artist colleagues painted, sculptured and wove all of these timeless pieces. We are all in awe of the ceilings and frescoes.

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We spend two hours around the Vatican museums and then we enter the Sistine Chapel. The first impression I get is that it is a lot darker than the other parts of the museum. There is scaffolding and workers are using vacuum to clean Michelangelo's works, which are only the ones above the windows. Every few minutes the silence grows into a hum and then an even louder murmur. A guard yells 'Silence' at the top of his lungs and it seems like a bit of an oxymoron. The crowd hushes and the crescendo builds again.

While we are there some dignitaries are walked through the chapel and into the private chapel of the Pope. We catch a look in the interior before the door is closed and it is very special. It is much brighter with many cherubs coming off the architrave. The ceiling is painted and looks much more vibrant too. Fit for a Pope I guess.

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From the amazing Sistine to Saint Peter's basilica. Wow, and I thought Saint Ignazio was special yesterday. My head goes from one place to the next so quickly that I don't know where to look. One of my favourites is a pinky coloured marble sculpture by Bernini, but I also love the painting on the domed ceilings. We have 45 minutes in here and it is needed. By the time we touch St Peter's feet, and look around at everything the time passes quickly. Ethan dabs some Holy water and we are off outside.

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Outside is gleaming after being indoors for hours. As far as the eye can see are white statues perched along the roof line. All of the buildings are white too. Must be so hard to keep clean, says the mum in me. The chairs are still set up from the Papal audience 2 days ago and this makes the square look even bigger.

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Chinzia takes us across the road to a cafe and gift shop and I post off some postcards from inside the Vatican City. While I am madly writing a few cards to family, David & Ethan are in the cafe ordering us some lunch. I get back just in time to sit down to some very tasty lasagne, and a small bite of Margherita pizza for Ethan's piece.

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This afternoon we were off to The Colosseum and as we had already been there, we do the short tour with Chinzia and then leave when it is free time to roam around. We grab a cool drink and sit near Constantine's Arch for a while. I was approached by many street hawkers to buy their wares - wraps, jewellery, hats, bottled water, sunglasses and umbrellas. Then the polizia come and all of them scatter like mice. David had a hat in his hand doing a deal when this happened and the guy ran off without payment. Finally he came back to where we were and David paid.

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On our way back to the hotel in Aurelia, Tiago points out some buildings and important landmarks. Most of us are very tired from long day with so many crowds. The boys go in for another swim and I have a cuppa poolside again, this time I am served straight away, I think yesterday's guy was grumpy!

We leave Rome tomorrow for Florence, stopping for lunch in Sienna.

It's my first time in Rome, and I am no expert but here are some observations of Rome:
5 days is not enough! There is so much to see and I think we saw a lot of it but really had no time to see things in detail.
Come with good shoes. Both comfortable and thick soles because you can feel the cobbled pavements beneath your feet.
Always carry water, it is hot, you walk so much that it really is a good investment. Buy one bottle and keep filling it with the spring water around town.
Always wear a hat. Same reason, very hot and before you know it your burnt!
Carry a good map, once I changed to the Lonely Planet map we were always on track. I tore it out of the Lonely Planet book. The free ones are ok but not enough detail.
Keep in mind that all things are close in Rome. In Australia we look at a map and think it is very far away, here it is so close you can walk most of it in a day.
When eating our guide told us that anyone who harangues you to come into their restaurant, the food is not worth going in for. Any eatery worth it, does not need to spruik.
Most people in Rome are very friendly and helpful. We had no trouble and walked around well into the night.
Finally I would try and stay in the city and not on the outskirts. Where we stayed we did not need to use the Metro or bus, we just walked everywhere. Most days were a lot of walking but that was a great way of exercising on holiday.

Posted by JenMF 08:48 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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