16th - 17th Sept - Cinque Terre, Italy
We bided farewell to France and headed out via an awesome drive through Monaco. Mid afternoon we arrived in Riomaggiore - one of the 5 quaint cliff side villages in Cinque Terre. We stumbled across our accommodation in a tiny little alleyway and headed out for some exploring. We found our best bar yet - right outside the Lovers lane walk looking over the cliff and picturesque view of the town. That night we had our first Italian meal - Bellasimo!!
Much to our disappointment the 9km walk connecting the 5 villages was closed due to bad weather - so we opted for plan #2. We had an awesome stroll along lovers lane that was built a 100 years ago connecting 2 villages - it was aptly named lovers lane so the in-breeding could stop J We witnessed the age old tradition of placing a padlock on the walk to declare your love. For the rest of the day we caught the train between all 5 quaint villages - having a drink in each one to avoid the rain. Despite the weather the remoteness of the location and sheer beauty was amazing. Each little fisherman's village is perched on rocks and olive oil and wine is grown on the sheer cliffs behind. A great triumph given the unhospitable terrain.
The next day our luck had still not changed and the walk was still closed off - so this time we decided to explore the villages from boat to get another perspective. Starting at Riomaggiore, then Manarola, Corniglia, my favourite Vernazza and ending up at the only village with a sandy beach Monterosse. We enjoyed a great meal in Monterosso before sadly having to leave this amazing World Heritage site.
18th - 19th Sept - Tuscany
Next destination - the world's greatest architectural failure, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. With a current lean of 4.1m and holding. It was amazing to actually witness it with your own eyes, after seeing hundreds of images of it; you never believe you will be standing in front of it. And yes, we were complete tourists standing there for 20min doing our best "holding up the tower" impressions.That night we treated ourselves to a hotel - what luxury amidst the rain and camping J
It was then time to explore the outdoor museum of Florence - the greatest example of the Rennaisance period. We caught one of those hop on hop off busses and saw the Duome, Michelangelo plaza (fantastic view of the city), Florence Mint, Vecchio bridge (Florence's oldest bridge home to zillions of gold jewelers), Fiesole (neighboring town). We also saw the infamous statue of David by Michelangelo - not bad… pretty impressive for being made out of one solid piece of marble with no cast. We ended our day wandering through a few of the grand piazzas and being serenaded whilst we ate another pizza!!
20th - Siena
Today we headed off to see Florence's main rival city - Siena of gothic architecture. It is more like a village, quite quaint as you walk through pedestrianised cobbled streets. We stopped off for another fine Italian espresso! We witnessed the Piazza Al campo;where the worlds shortest horse race is held every year. It is a tradition that has been going on for 600 years. They run in an anti-clockwise direction and the winner pays and loser wins money - go figure!!
21st - Pompei
After another evening of having to eat Pizza - we had to go walk it off somewhere. Where better than a 40 hectare 2000 year old town covered in Volcanic ash. This was quite a surreal experience. In 69 BC Mt Vesuvis exploded killing 2000 people in the Roman City of Pompei. The city was completely forgotten and buried in ash. It was 1500 years later when they started to excavate. We took a 2hr tour around the ruins - surprisingly quite intact - the facilities where amazing - stock exchange, polling booths, heated baths, houses with alfresco gardens and plumbing, shops, banks, theatres, playschools, pedestrian footpaths and of course a brothel. Amazingly there are even whole human bodies that have being preserved in the volcanic ash. After visiting this site - it really makes you feel we haven't done much in 2000 years at all!!
22nd - Amalfi
We followed the coast along from Sorrento through Prosipano down to Amalfi. What a beautiful drive, such a dramatic coast line with sheer cliffs meeting the ocean. Well beautiful that is apart from the bloody crazy Italian drivers, we even got road rage from a cop, for his mistake! We had lunch in Amalfi before exploring all it's little cobbled stone streets and alleyways.
23rd - Capri
We abandoned the car today and decided on a ferry as our mode of transportation. We made our way across to the Isle of Capri. We then hopped on a tour around the island by boat. The island was amazing - beautiful white stone cliffs and azure blue waters. After waiting 2 hours (love the tourist season!) to get into the famous blue grotto it was our turn. You are taken by a small row boat under a huge rock.When you pop up on the other side you notice that you are in a cave with the most amazing electric blue water beneath you. This is caused by the reflection of the sun into the cave and the illusion it creates. It was a great experience all while being serenaded by our Italian oarsman. We ended our day in Capri with their traditional Sorrentini gnocchi.
24, 25, 26th - Rome
Ahh the ancient city of Rome. After another great Italian coffeewe headed to the infamous Spanish steps before walking down Via Condotti - the designer store street. So more window shopping only for me! We then headed to Piazza Navonna for lunch - pizza of course…We started our walking tour at 2pm. We found out that the police force are literally the fashion police - both of the national and local police being decked out in Armani and Valentino respectively. We then walked to the Pantheon ( a jaw dropping site considering its age and design) - a church dating back 2000 years - amazingly the construction of the cement dome lay a secret and the use of cement was forgotten for the next 1500 years. Next stop the Trevi fountain. And yes we threw our obligatory coins in the fountain. It is amazing how when you finally see a landmark how different the surroundings can be - amazing fountain squeezed into a tiny square. We continued our tour as our guide explained how you can drive a "scooter car" at the age of 14 without a licence - well, that explains a small part of the crazy Italian driving!! We then proceeded to the very ancient Roman Ruins - amazing story of how Rome is many cities built on top of one another as the generations go by. Our Final stop was at the Colosseum (What an amazing place) - interesting to think it was built by 100,000 Jewish slaves to then be used to crucify Christians!!
Next day we were off to see the Pope. Sweltering in our strict Catholic dress in the Roman sun we queued up to see St Peter's Basillica. The gold, statues and money is quite staggering and makes you feel slightly uneasy… We then decided to become cultured and heading into Vatican (tick - we have now done the smallest country in the world) to the Museum to check out the papal art collection of greek monuments but most importantly viewed the Sistine Chapel and the infamous Michelangelo fresco. Historical records show that Rome is due for another earthquake (given historic timings) and if this should occur the fresco - which is basically plaster on a ceiling - will not survive. It was great to do this with a guide as she explained how Michelangelo did not originally want to do the project and resented the pope and ensured he painted his enemies on characters in the painting. After being so cultured we headed through the Antique shop district and found a quaint Italian restaurant - for our best pasta since we arrived. Ended our day with a spot of shopping.
27th - Perugia
We sadly left Rome behind and headed to Perugia on our way to Venice to meet our cruise. We stopped in the small walled city of Perugia for lunch. Also famous for the city of Baci chocolate. We then setup camp in a quaint campsite on the side of a lake. It was refreshing to be back with nature again and away from the crowds.…