Our unusual summer fling with Italy…

After our mini holiday from our holiday our livers rejoiced when we left Croatia, however we had high expectations of Italy which in some ways were reached…

After no sleep in our hostel from people making constant noise, we reluctantly got up at 5.30am to catch the train to Vilach, Austria which went through Slovenia! Yep we had lunch here AND our passports were stamped so we can add another two countries to the list. Slovenia and Austria are absolutely gorgeous and after passing through Slovenia, it’s definitely a country that I would love to come back to! Anyway after our pit stop we jumped on our bus to Venice and you can instantly tell the change of countries as vast mountains are soon replaced by vast vineyards. It took us a full day of travelling to get to Venice but it was worth it as soon as we stepped off the bus, then off the water taxi! I would probably recommend staying on the main island otherwise it is a bit of a hassle to get around plus you have Venice at your doorstep.

For our one and only full day in Venice we visited St Mark’s Square and the Basilica (Hot Tip! Cut the queue by either reserving your ticket online or just literally cutting the queue!  We did actually reserve our ticket online but couldn’t print it and there is this other way in which gets you to the main entrance – all legit of course).  The Basilica is quite beautiful to see on the outside and inside and you will spend most of the time with your head to the ceiling in awe. Definitely worth a visit in my books but not worth the 3-4hr wait in summer. We decided to pop over to Murano Island aswell which is famous for its Murano Glass and glass blowing.  We sadly learnt that the glass blowing exhibits are closed during August and open back up in September but it didn’t stop us going on our own mission to find some back street glass blowing operators which failed.  Murano is still quite a nice place to visit and you can check out some important pieces of glass that were produced between the 15th and 20th century.

Our next stop was the Doge’s Palace which you must must must do!! The artwork alone is stunning! We have seen a lot of stuff since travelling and this place just blew us away!  We spent a good couple of hours here exploring every inch and every room impressed us more than the last.  The info guides are quite helpful as well and it’s extremely interesting to read what each painting represents. Anyway after our culture hit for the day we wondered the streets getting lost in Venice (yet we always found the food places) and I stumbled across a nice little mask shop called Atelier Marega. Try and find this place! You actually meet the lady who makes all the masks and she goes through and explains how they are made and what they represent and she will let you try them on too. The masks are all at reasonable prices as well (I may have bought 3 here). We went into a few other places and they seemed a bit more posh and not as friendly but I suppose it just depends what you are after. I may have bought one more on the way home which was a bit more expensive but a collectible one, however thanks to my awesome bargaining skills I actually got it reduced by 50€! After our hectic yet oh so romantic day in Venice we ended the day by watching the sunset over the canals and listened to the streets come alive with music and laughter.

We had an early start today to make our way to Naples and let’s just say it was not what we were expecting at all! Naples itself is a little bit sketchy and we were quite glad that we were staying in a little town 20mins away, however when we caught the train to get to our town we started questioning if this was a bad move.  Basically we stayed in a somewhat ghetto place and this has actually been the first time we were a little bit scared to walk the streets after nightfall.  Our hostel was quite nice but not equipped with a kitchen so we had to get somewhat creative (chicken nuggets in a microwave creative). So, our first full day here we made our way out to Pompeii to see some dead bodies, let’s face it, it’s the only reason people come here.  In seriousness though, I love ancient history so for me it was amazing to visit Pompeii and see such a well preserved city. We did do a little cheeky trespass onto a closed exhibit (we paid 11€ to get in and we were determined to get our monies worth!) and we also saw a lot of other amazing things that didn’t require trespassing.  I would say Pompeii is definitely worth the visit but allow at least a good 4 hrs or so to see everything and take an umbrella for shade and a big bottle of water as it does get hot during summer! There is also a museum where you can see bits and pieces that have been excavated but we are beyond cheap at the moment so we only did one site but have heard the museum is also quite good.  After a massive day we made our way back to the train station to ensure we got back before nightfall (dodgemcdoge I know).

The next day we set out for some much needed beach time as this was our last chance until we head back to Oz! After standing in a unairconditioned cramped ghetto train for over an hour we found ourselves in Sorrento! We jumped off and looked around like excited puppies in search of the beach.  After finding the right direction to go in and climbing down 200 or so steps and then walking a further 5 mins down a windy road, we found the “beach”. The first one is Peters Beach where you pay 5€ just to get in – this does not include an umbrella or a sunbed, just entrance to the “beach”. If you keep walking, you will find the free “beach”, I suggest just turning back now and cutting your losses! The “beach” is dirt or mud, whatever it is, it’s neither sand nor pebbles but some unknown substance.  But hey, we still had hope; maybe the water was crystal clear and sparkling blue. Unfortunately not the case – we were horrified at the dirty, murky water and more horrified by the dozens of people that actually seemed to be enjoying it.  We took one look and walked straight back out.  I have been told that there are some nice beaches near Sorrento and some are accessible via boat (lucky we carry a spare boat around with us) and there are probably other ones that locals know about but we didn’t find any. After that disappointment we decided to make our way to the Amalfi Coast still optimistic!  It does take almost 1.5hrs to get to the last stop which is Amalfi so be prepared!  We only had a small amount of time left before we had to make our way back (before nightfall of course!) so we decided we would spend a couple of hours at Amalfi as it was the most easily accessible.  We have pretty high standards after visiting Greece so for us the beach was okay and in our books not a real beach but it was still quite nice to chill out for a few hours on the Amalfi Coast before making our way back to the ghetto.

After our somewhat interesting times in Naples we made our way to Rome! WOO!  Rome for me was definitely my favourite city in Italy hands down.  I’m not sure what it was but there was something about it that I just fell in love with…  We stayed near the train station and from there pretty much everything is within walking distance (okay it’s a bit of a hike for the day I won’t lie, but it’s still walking distance).  For our first full day we did Rome on the cheap because we are less than cheap backpackers now but we found that you can honestly see Rome for free without feeling like your missing out, I mean they can’t really cover up the Colosseum… or can they?  Anyway our first stop was the Colosseum (actually we accidentally found it) and from there we also saw the Arch of Constantine and Palatine Hill.  We then made our way to the Ministry of Culture and Heritage and on the way you can see parts of the Roman Forum anyway.  You can also wonder around inside the Ministry for free just ignore the intimidating big gates and guys with rifles pointing at you.  From here you can also see the Colonna Traiana and the Mercati Traianei, as I said everything is relatively close and we did a bit of a loop tomake our way back to our hostel in time for a cheap 3€ pasta and wine dinner (the wine tasted like meth and the pasta was… interesting but it’s food).  We decided to be somewhat social tonight and joined a pub crawl (oh dear).  We had to meet them at the starting point so we jumped on a night bus to some unknown destination and wondered the streets to find the Highlander Pub where the crawl kicks off from.  We arrived in time to see people passed out and vomiting on themselves and at this point we thought that this was going to be a great night (sarcasm intended).  The crawl made its way over the bridge and down some steps that lead to the Fiume Tevere river where we were contemplating running as it started to look a bit dodgy and we weren’t even sure if we were on an actual pub crawl but then it opened up to a weird marquee type setup where there are a lot of different bars along the river which was kind of a weird set up but a fair bit of fun in a way…

After that unusual experience we decided to have a quiet day to just chill out and I decided that I wanted to see all the sights at night so I created my own little Rome night tour group as another girl at our hostel was interested to come along too.  The Colosseum was our first stop and here we accidentally ran into someone that we had met along the way since travelling Italy and he decided to join in on my tour.  We also somehow managed to pick up 4 other people while here that were keen to get on board the MT Tours (that’s right, I’m now official).  So my tour group had expanded and I got my first taste of being a tour leader and I discovered that I’m quite crap at it – getting the group lost and not knowing the names of sights don’t really help my case BUT we had an insane amount of fun along the way and met some new people so I can’t really say it was a failure now can I?

The next day we decided to visit Vatican City.  After an extremely uncomfortable experience on the bus which I still feel like I need to disinfect my bum from (a story that needs to be told in person) we made our way to St. Peter’s Basilica.  The Basilica is free to get into (music to our ears) and it is worth the lineup!  Your mouth will be constantly open in awe and you will take a thousand photos that don’t do any of it justice!  It is absolutely stunning and you can easily spend a fair bit of time in here just wondering around.  After a few ‘mature’ photos in front of the Basilica we made our way to the Sistine Chapel and went through the trouble of lining up and going through the security process to find out entrance was a little out of my price range and you couldn’t even take photos inside (which was the deciding factor for me).  We watched a little video presentation that showed the inside and decided that we had seen the Chapel.  We are 100% sure that we will be back in Rome so for us, it will be something exciting to see when we come back not so broke.  Renee and I went our separate ways after this as we wanted to see different things but I wondered around a bit and actually got lost in Rome yet somehow managed to stumble across all the sights that I wanted to see (obviously I have a built in GPS that I’m unaware of).  Highly recommend finding the Piazza Navona which is a funky little place to chill out and have some lunch plus from here you can easily find (or accidentally stumble across in my case) the Pantheon and Hadrian’s Mausoleum.

We had a lazy start to the day and slowly made our way to Florence.  We decided to make Florence a bit of a base as we wanted to see a few things but didn’t really have time to stay at these places.  So, for our first day trip we did a tour of Tuscany which I had been looking forward to so much because I just wanted to see the fields of sunflowers (my favourite flower btw), however I was quite disappointed when I was met with fields of black crispy sunflowers… L The region had been experiencing an extremely dry summer so everything was a little dried up and dead unfortunately, however my disappointment didn’t last very long as the region itself is still quite breathtaking and for me this is the soul of Italy and how I pictured it in my mind.  Our first stop was the medieval town of Siena where we wondered the streets and saw one of the most breathtaking Duomo’s (I know I keep saying that but honestly this one is at the top of the food chain)!  The Duomo is a beautiful gothic cathedral and when you first see the outside it will draw you in to want more and you are not disappointed one bit as soon as you take that first step in.  You will be in awe, you will take five thousand photos and you won’t want to leave.  Firstly this Duomo is quite unusual as every surface of it is decorated, from the floor to the walls to the ceiling and columns.  If I could only choose one Duomo to enter in Italy, this would be it!  This Duomo holds some artworks from Donatello, Bernini and Michelangelo and the cathedral floor is even stunning as its all marble inlaid with even more artwork which took 200 years to complete!  Anyway you can tell that I’m impressed because I’m rambling about it now so we shall moooove on.

After we spent a little bit of time in Siena we made our way to an organic farm called Poggio Alloro for lunch.  We had a guided tour around the farm and got to see their wine making process, vineyards, vegetable gardens and the cattle that they breed for meat.  After our guided tour we had lunch made with fresh food straight from the farm and of course a little bit of wine tasting overlooking an amazing view (we were left with 3 bottles of wine to finish so I think we did a good amount of tasting).  Everyone left a little bit happier and talkative and ready for our next stop in San Gimignano!  Here we found what is apparently the best gelato in Italy (and it was pretty damn good), some wild boar meat and a lot of leather goods (oh oh).  After our pit stop here we made our way to our final destination for the day – Pisa!  Pisa is a beautiful little town filled to the brim with tourists!  We got our token photos with the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa and then chilled out on the grass for a bit of people watching.  After a somewhat relaxed day filled with wine and gelato we made our way back to Florence.

The next day we explored Florence by foot and found the Duomo which is just as stunning as the one in Siena on the outside but on the inside it’s actually quite plain and we kind of just walked back out.  Afterwards I found my way to the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition which showcases some interactive machines that have been reproduced from his codices.  It’s kind of a funky little exhibition to go and wonder about I just wish that they had more stuff so you could stay for longer!  From there I made my way to the Galleria dell’ Accademia.  In my books, the statue of David was probably the only worthwhile thing to see.  There are a lot of nice artworks in there but for me they didn’t really have a wow factor unlike other pieces I’ve seen, but everyone is different.  If David is the only thing you want to see there are a few other fake statues around Florence that you can see for free if you would prefer to save your money.

For our last day in Italy we did a day trip to Cinque Terre and I couldn’t get enough of this place!  If someone was to ask me to choose between the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre, Cinque Terre would win hands down!  Cinque Terre stands for five lands in Italian or five towns as it’s often translated to.  You can walk from the first town to the last town and I believe it takes about 5-6hrs to walk all 5 towns (obviously it depends on your fitness levels), otherwise you can catch the train to each town.  As we did this as part of a tour we felt like we kind of did the cheats way a little, so for me I’d love to come back here and walk the whole thing.  We started in Manarola and wondered around the town before taking the train to the next town Corniglia (the road was actually closed here so a train was necessary).  From here we had to earn our lunch and made our way up 390 steps and I can say after sweating out 5 litres of water I think we well and truly earned my lunch!  We had an amazing seafood lunch at a lovely family run restaurant with an amazing view of the ocean (what isn’t amazing?).  After we were well fed and rested we prepared ourselves for the hike between Corniglia and Vernazza.  This was not an easy hike which is why it’s called a hike and not a walk I suppose, but after 3 months of travelling with no real exercise I’m quite embarrassed to say I kind of struggled but when you make it to the next town it is an amazing feeling to know that you made it!  In Vernazza we decided to try out some Lemoncello which the region is well known for and let’s just say that the name perfectly describes this drink.  It’s served in a sort of shot glass but you just sip at it and make a funny face as it tastes like you have just taken a bite out of a lemon.  It would probably be nicer served over ice just to break the sourness a bit but it wasn’t too bad when you get over the initial strong taste.  From here we caught the train the last town Monterosso and then caught another train to the first town Riomaggiore where we chilled out with the group and had a glass of Cinque Terre wine overlooking once again an amazing view.  We ended our trek with a lovely stroll down Lovers Lane to the train station to make our way back to Florence where we ended our time in Italy!

We have had a change of travel plans and decided to cut France short by 1.5 weeks so we could include Prague and Budapest to the list!  But look out for our Paris blog and find out if we were tempted to eat frog legs!


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