Ok, so tenuous song blog title here (as there as been with a few, I know) but we’re getting close to the end and I haven’t yet used a Blink 182 lyric. There wasn’t really any loud music but there was a fair amount of pizza since we last spoke! We’ve spent the last 5 days in Italy cramming in a lot of major spots into a relatively short amount of time hopping up and down the country on their impressive high speed trains. 5 out of my 6 dinners were pizza and the other was pasta, we had multiple gelatos and lots of espresso; well, when in Rome…
Our first stop was Venice: arriving on the third train of our day (you can no longer travel across the Slovenia/Italy boarder by train so we had to go back up to Austria) at the Mestre station which is on Italy’s mainland where we were staying we had suddenly found the heat and the summer. It was sweltering. After dropping off our bags at our hotel we caught the train the one stop along the 5km bridge to the island, or group of islands, of Venice. It is the most bizarre but interesting place, it might as well be a commercial maze with lots of little interesting streets to get lost down, usually culminating with a canal creating a dead end (unless you’re prepared to go for a dip) we had abou 24 hours in the city and spend our first afternoon simply exploring the place on foot, half following a map and half our noses. It took us a while to get from one side to the other eventually finding the Piazza San Marco on the southern shore. Before heading back towards the train station for pizza number one of the week.
The following morning we had our first Italian breakfast in a lovely little cafe next to a canal (but then i guess everything is next to a canal) we picked out three pastries to share along with some fresh orange juice and itialian coffee. It was delicious. After breakfast we went off in search of a gondola, despite it not really fitting into our price structure we both agreed that it was something we should do while in Venice. We weren’t wrong. We saw a very different city to the one you get to see from the streets, the gondola bobbed down quite canals, ones without an padestrian walkways, to give us a unique view of some of the buildings. The driver (sailor, captain?! I’m not sure) of the gondola was incredible, he was pretty much threading a needle manoeuvring the boat round tight corners without bumping or scraping it once. He told us that it takes up to two year to train which was easy to believe given the skill that seemed to be involved! After our little jaunt it was time to get back to the train station and head for our next city, Florence.
Due to a bit of poor planning we had the shortest amount of time to explore Florence, a decision we were serverly reprimanded for by our nice hotel receptionist (we’d left the leaning tower of Pisa off our original list and so had to piggy back it onto our time in Florence). To be fair, we didn’t actually have anything we wanted to see before we got to Florence, so in our minds any time spent there was a bonus! It was getting hotter too, Suzanne bravely went out for a run around the town while I sat under the air conditioner in my pants. Once we did go out exploring we found a pretty little city that felt very historical, like venice lost of little streets to explore (but with roads this time) and some beautiful old buildings. We also went to see Michelangelo’s David in all his nude glory just before the museum where he is housed closed – perfect planning/blind luck- as we wandered around.
By the end of our afternoon we had made it to the Michaelangilo Piazza overlooking the city. The view was incredible, I think possibly one of, if not the best views we’ve had in the last 6 months, certain he best urban view at any rate. The city doesn’t have many tall buildings so the towering dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore looks grandly impressive in contrast above the short city. On our way home we picked up takeaway pizza to have back in our hotel. Pizza number two wasn’t quite as nice, but it certainly wasn’t the worst pizza I’ve ever had.
Early the next morning we were up and on a train again, this time only for an hour to Pisa. Mercifully we were able to leave our bags in the hotel despite checking out while we headed to the leaning tower, but that did mean we would have to go an pick them up again before boarding our next train to Naples. We got to Pisa and suddenly realised we didn’t actually have a clue where we were going, stupidly half thinking we would just arrive at the station and the tower would be leaning right into us we spend about 5 minutes aimlessly wondering around trying to get a hint of where it might be. We eventually worked out that the bit of the public map which had been rubbed out must be where we wanted to go and so headed off in that direction. We eventually started to see road signs pointing the way before getting our first glimpse of the wonkey tower.
The area surrounding the tower was, unprisingly, full of tourists trying to catch the perfect shot of themselves with the tower. I hope there are security cameras in that square with security guards Sat in an office laughing at all the daft people trying to get shots holding up the tower. Of course if you cant beat them, join them. We did spend a little bit of time trying to get a good perspective shot, some were ok but I’m not sure any of them were worth how daft I felt trying to do it. As we were on a bit of a tight schedule to catch our train later in the day it was only a fleeting visit to Pisa, so after looking at the leaning tower we headed back to the station, back to Florence and on to Naples.
Italy’s third city was also our third Italian city; Naples. It was certainly rougher round the edges than either Venice or Florence but seemed to be a lot busier! The main reason for our visit was to see Pompeii, but as it was also the apparent birth place Margherita pizza so it would have been rude to go out looking for anything else for dinner. Unfortunately it was Sunday and apparently most of the cities pizzerias close at lunch time as most of the locals go to sleep after a particularly heavy lunch so there weren’t too many options. However, there was one open and according to a number of sources it was no less than the worlds first ever pizzeria! It didn’t disappoint either, a perfect juicy cheese and tomato pizza with a nice thin base fresh from the wood fire oven. Pizza number 3 was the best so far! The restaurant was also right in the middle of Naples’ historic centre and we got to explore a little of its narrow alleys with cobbled streets as we walked home.
The next morning we were off to Pompeii, anther two hour round trip for a day excursion before heading on to yet another city. This time was were on an old commuter rail line aptly called Cercumvesuviana as it hugs the base of mount Vesuvius. It was busy as you might expect and a bit of a push to get on the train. As we were piling on I felt my back getting moved, it would have been easy to think nothing of it but I did instinctively look back. As I did two blokes walked swiftly onto the next carriage. My bag was half unzipped, but luckily everything was still in it! There had been signs all over Italy about pickpocketing but that was the first time I’d notice it happen. We found out later a few others from the platform had lost phones so perhaps I was doubly lucky! Anyway we got to Pompeii with everything still about us and got into see the famous ruins. They were incredible, I hadn’t quite realised how big the place would be. A full town complete with its own stadium and outdoor theatres. The level of detail still left on floors and walls was also quite amazing, I’m not sure if I was more surprised by the amount still there, or the size of what was left!
After spending a good few hours exploring as much of Pompeii as possible we set of to conquer the volcano that condemned it! Unlike other volcanos and mountains we’ve climbed in the last half year, we were able to get a bus most of the way up Vesuvius leaving just the last 800m to climb. Before we could start the walk we had to get off the bus and buy tickets. We had a little snag here, the ticket office didn’t accept card and we were €2.50 shy of the price for 2 tickets in cash. Fortunately the bus driver took pity on us and spot us the missing euros so we could both go up! Brushing off the embaressment of having to ask for a donation we set off up the carved path to the rim of the crater that is apparently on a 40 year eruption cycle but hasn’t erupted since 1944 (go figure). Although it was only a short walk the views from the path to the top were stunning giving a great panorama of the Naples bay and the see. We walked as far as the path would take us before turning back and rushing down the path to catch our bus.
Our 5 night tour of Italy culminated with a 2 night stay in Rome, it was quite a luxury being able to stay in the same place for more than a night rather than heading back to the train station about 24 hours after arriving. It was also just as well we left ourselves a bit more time as our list of places to visit was quite long. Top of that list was the Colosseum and, after doing a full lap of it trying to find the entrance, we were in to explore the amazing amphitheater. Much like Pompeii it was pretty hard to comprehend how old it was and how much of it was left, it was fantastic to be able to go up the levels and look at the view that was afforded from different part of the stadium. It does make you wander why they build so many 20th century football grounds with big pillars in them!
Before the Colosseum we visited the Arch Basilica of St John in Lateren, complete with 12 foot statues of the 12 apostles and some of the most decorative interior desire ever seen, gold every where. Did well for himself in the end did old JC! The cathedral was across the road from Scala Sancta or the holy stairs which were apparently used by Jesus himself. Because of this pilgrims visit to ascend on their knees whilst in prayer, apparently Charles Dickens described the scene by stating “Never in my life have I seen something so rediculous and so unpleasant in my life” I feel perhaps unpleasant is perhaps too strong and live and let live, but I’d perhaps agree with the ridiculous observation: there were a second set of stairs adjacent to the holy stairs which you could walk up on on your feet and get to the same landing as the holy stairs. This seemed a much better idea.
Our last day in Italy we technically went to another county, Vatican City, although there was nothing to signify leaving or entering another country. We spent the first hour queuing to get into the museum. It was worth it just to walk down the hall ways adorned with murals by Rafael and Michelangelo (amazing what these turtles could do with no thumbs). The end of the museum took you into the Sistine Chapel which was the one up-er of mural rooms! All I could think was how long it must have taken! If Rome wasn’t built in a day I dunno how long it too, to paint!
Our last top was via another queue, not quite as long but in the baking sun of St. Peter’s square. At the end of the line was St. Peter’s Basilica it took about 50 minutes to get to the front but it was worth it. Quite easily the most incredible religious building I’ve ever been, again somewhere Jesus and his old man should be blushing at the scale of the thing in their honour. Gold on every nook and cranny, marble statue after marble statue, again mural paintings that must have take hours of workman ship to even conceptualise let alone paint. I was however getting frustrated that I couldn’t find the last supper anywhere. After a lap and a half of the huge church I took to google to figure out where it was. Turns out Milan. Whoops. Maybe for our next round the world tour!! I don’t think we can fit any more Italy in this trip.