Italy (Milan, Verona, Venice, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Florence), Italy
After a bit of confusion as to what train we were meant to take (and with some luck we got it right!) we arrived in Milan. When we came out of the station we noticed the clouds looming above us and it looked like rain was not too far away so we decided it would be really nice to just find the hotel so we could recharge and relax for the rest of the night. The next morning we jumped on one of those hop on and off buses so we could make sure we saw all the sights in the one day we had there. First stop was the spectacular Duomo, it is massive! We saw it from the bus and thought we would come back to it after we went to see the painting of the Last Supper. We figured, like everywhere else in Europe, there would probably be massive lines and we wanted to deal with it in the morning rather than leaving it till later in the day, however we were surprised when we saw very few people hanging around outside. We thought we must have picked a good time to go, so in we went and were told that they were booked out for the next three weeks! So annoyingly that was quickly wiped off our to-do list!
So it was then time for a coffee and to revise our plans then back on the bus to continue on our way. I was actually surprised how few noteworthy things there were in Milan and not that pretty either. I suppose it is great for fashion and shopping but as we weren't there for those it was a bit on the dull side. We decided go back to the Duomo next but were accosted by hawkers at every turn on our way into the building, they were so persistent and annoying! There was one particular guy that was trying to 'give' me a bracelet, and I was telling him no thanks over and over again. He took my wrist and tied one of those friendship type woven bracelets on me and knotted it on there so damn hard it was not coming off even though I was tugging at it and then he asked me for some money! The cheek! I told him that I said no to him over and over beforehand so there was no way I was giving him money now! Funnily enough he didn't like that much and was pretty pissed at me! So I just turned around and went in the cathedral. It was truly magnificent inside, but the best bit for me was going up to the roof. The architecture and detailing of all the spires was really amazing, like nothing I had seen before and the view down onto the forecourt was pretty neat too. I even saw something showing that on some special occasions they had some type of service up on the roof, now that would be something I would go to church for!
Next it was time for a walk around and some lunch, the first pizza of many! And then back on the bus to go over to the design museum. There was some interesting stuff there but several rooms were shut off for some reason, and the designy stuff was kind of bitsy and kitschy, as opposed to a variety of different genres like the one I went to in London which was pretty inspiring. After we moseyed around and lost track of time while looking in the book shop next we realised we had two minutes to get to the front of the building so we could catch the last bus of the day! So out we rushed and waited and waited and thought we must have missed it until one finally came around the corner 15mins later, which was very lucky as we were dreading the idea of a long walk home! When we jumped of the bus near our hotel we walked up the road a bit and came across a neat looking little bar with squishy seats outside, it seemed like a good time for another drinks break so ordered a beer and out came some nibbles with it! We discovered we had stumbled upon a place like a tapas bar so we just sat and ate and drank and watched the world go by. It was great unconventional dinner but suited us just fine, then it was time to drag ourselves from our comfy seats and head back to the hotel to pack for Verona.
We were on our way fairly early to Verona and we emerged at the other end to a lovely and seriously hot day. In Verona we booked a hotel called Milan Hotel, of course, and it was what they call a design hotel. This place was flash and the first thing we saw when we got into our room was a glow from the bathroom, and in there are led lights that glow different colours! So while you are having a shower it morphs from blue to red to yellow to... well you get it, and it's so cool! Beside the beds were swanky little touch panels that control all the lights in the room, so you can just imagine me lying there going lamp on, click, bedside table light on, click, lamp off, click, entry light on, click, bedside table light of, click...... haha loved it!
Off we went for a walk and what we found was a very pretty town, especially as slap bang in the centre is a super old amphitheatrethat is kind of used for a giant roundabout (it still boggles my mind when people live with this kind of history on their doorstep!) and with a map with a bunch of old buildings on it and walls and arches and bridges and we just spent the rest of the day wandering around the city. Juliet's fabled balcony was actually at the end of the list of must see things so we didn't actually get there till it was getting dark (and the fact we couldn't damn well find it for about half an hour) and the gate to access the courtyard was locked, so we peered through at it and it was surprising just how much graffiti was on the walls of lovers who had left their mark. One of the best things there however was the place we found to have dinner, it was a sweet courtyard we had walked past earlier in the day, and it had plants all around it and big white umbrellas up and candle light. There were a ton of eateries in the centre of town by the amphitheatre, where all the tourists sit to watch others and be seen, but we were ever so happy to find somewhere else.It was just so lovely, and there were very few people there which meant we got great service. We had gnocchi and grilled aubergine and mozzarella and then finished with a fabulous tiramisu for dessert. We then got given a lovely sorbet for free to finish off. All washed down with a bottle of superb local Veronan red wine, it was a great meal, not cheap, but worth every cent, and the waiter was just so damn nice. I even asked what a man at the next table had, some drink out of a huge glass bottle, and he said it was grappa and would I like to try some. This stuff is like rocket fuel - it actually reminded me of the home brew we had in Asia! Pretty damn awful really!
The next day we continued east to Venice, which I was quite excited about as it was a place that was really nothing like I had seen before. Luckily we had booked a place quite near the train station as it didn't occur to us that if it was any further away we would be lugging our stuff up and over every bridge, and there were tons of these suckers! So our first trip was to find our way to St Marks Square, and on our way we took our time winding in around canals and over bridges and eating a bit more pizza. Then we came across a very pretty glass shop (well there were hundreds, selling pretty much the same stuff but this one's jewellery was a bit different as the lady that owns the shop is there making her own stuff. Her work was so pretty- and I am not much a fan for glass jewellery-but some of her work was stunning, so mum and I indulged in a piece or two as some nice mementos. Then we finally got to the Rialto bridge and took the obligatory pikkysand then went on to the square and had a look around and fed some pigeons as it was the thing to do... and man these guys were used to being fed. The second I got some food out I was swamped with pigeons (can pigeons swamp, I'm not sure) but they were all eager to get the good stuff and they were perched on every available place, yes very unhygienic, but pretty fun too, well minus all the scratches from their claws!
We stayed around the square eating and drinking (a further confirmation that that is all we do) until it was dark and just sat and watchedthe gondolas bobbing lightly in the moonlight and then we took one of the ferries back to the hotel up the Grand Canal which was a very nice way to see Venice at night. We had another night booked in Venice for the following night but we were starting to think that we wouldn't need another whole day and night there even though it was pretty neat and different, it was also packed to the gills with tourists and all the shops were pretty much the same. So we cancelled our second night but before we left the following day we fitted in that all important gondola ride which was all very nice drifting up and down the canals.
As a last minute addition to our itinerary, La Spezia was a long train ride away, so we were off before lunch and had to change trains in Florence and then at another little station that I can't remember and then finally as darkness fell we made it to La Spezia. Unfortunately it was after the information kiosk had shut and we didn't have a map. All we could both remember was that the hotel was very close to the station, but how close and in what direction we weren't sure. So luckily there was a train information counter which we went up to, to get a map. Well we thought we were luckily till we talked to the lady and she said she didn't have a map (in a very short manner) so we asked where we could get one from please and she said the info kiosk, but it was shut, and we said yes we know but is there anywhere else please and she said no. Just no, and looked at us like we were such a pain for asking. Right we thought, well actually f**k y*u was what we actually thought, so we went out of the station and luckily there were a few people floating around, so I found one carrying a map and I accosted him and found the road our hotel was on and then we were on our way, phew.
The next day we were back at the station and got ourselves a day pass to the Cinque Terre, the five pretty villages just up the coast from La Spezia. We could hop on and off as often as we liked, so we thought we would start at the first town and work our way down. As it happened so did about a zillion other people including a couple of school groups, so we thought better of it and jumped back on the train and decided to work our way backwards. The place at the other end was quite pretty, a nice little seaside town, and if we had brought our swimming suits we may have just stayed here for the rest of the day in the sea. Instead we just went from town to town and had a look around, and managed to find a delightful little spot up on a hill looking down over the bay for lunch. The food was pretty average as it was just a little family run spot where the two guys just yelled at each other the orders across the courtyard but still a very nice spot to rest. There is actually a walkway connecting all the villages and if we were a little more motivated and wanted to spend five hours walking instead of eating and drinking we would have done it. We did however do the last stretch for about half an hour and it was a stunning walk clinging to the cliff looking out over the sparkling water.
The following day was going to be quite a challenge. First we had breakfast in La Spezia and we were making our way to Florence that night but we still wanted to see the Leaning Tower at Pisa on the way. So we stopped there first on the train and then jumped into a taxi to take us there, although we could have walked but my trolley bag handle had broken the day before so it made it a bit of a challenge, and mum's wheel had been broken on her bag for over a week. So in the taxi and out at the tower, which even though I knew exactly how it would look it was still breath taking, it really looks like it will topple at any moment. So after the cliché touristy photos I got Mum to take of me we went to have a rest in the shade and have a gander at it. Luckily for us a tour group stopped behind us and we heard all about it from the tour guide, including something I didn't know, which was that the tower is made not entirely straight. Only the first three tiers were built before it started to tilt, so the next three were built but leaning back a bit to help distribute the weight. So in essence it looks slightly like a giant banana! Then being the total armchair tourists as we were being, we hopped back into another taxi (after lunch of course) and back to the station taking the next train to Florence.
Since time in Florence was a bit on the tight side too we decided after checking into the hotel to go straight to the Boboli gardens before it shut at 6.30 and as it was already coming up to four we had to hurry along. Luckily for us it wasn't far from the centre, just the other side of the Arno River so we made it in time and had a wander around the garden. It was pretty big, but alas so badly maintained it was quite unspectacular. There was actually little of significance to note apart from a pretty nice view from the top of the garden back over the city and a couple of sculptures.So next up was a chance to do some more eating and we found a sweet little place down a lane with lots of little pot plants and fairy lights. The whole place was actually in the space between other buildings and shops and no inside space, so we had no idea where they popped into to make the food, but it was very good none the less!
To really make good use of our short time here we booked a walking tour the next morning and went and saw some of the other highlights Florence had to offer. We saw the Uffizi gallery (but unfortunately did not have time to go in,) the walkway that the Medici family used to cross town and the Ponte Vecchio bridge to Boboli, the Duomo which was spectacular due to its huge size and green and black and white marble exterior, and larger than life exterior and around an old flour trading market. It was turned into a church when someone saw an image of The Virgin Mary there (it still has the old hooks in the walls for lifting the huge sacks of flour and original double height walls and windows) and the leather market and the bronze statue of a boar which you are meant to rub for good luck. It was a very interesting tour and at the end we went to see David who was pretty impressive (and bigger than I realised - in height I mean - geez you with the dirty mind!) I also had no idea that he was first commissioned to be placed on top of the Duomo, why he never ended up there no one is quite sure. Due to that fact he was originally meant to be viewed from below is why hands are out of proportion with the rest of his body, because they were meant to look in keeping when viewed from so far away. I also had no idea that someone tried to smash it up a fair while ago and that's why the toes on his left foot are mashed, and that he is also starting to crack so they have sensors on him to monitor him at all times - so he doesn't end up pieces of David rubble!
After we had got all cultured up it was time to go find a car to get us to our villa and we were sure excited to have a bit of a break away from it all. So we found out where the hire places were, conveniently about a ten minute walk from our hotel, so into the first place we went only to be told they were all out of cars - now this wasn't something we had anticipated! The last time we got a car it had been as easy as walking into the place and in a couple of minutes we were done. So off we set for the second place only to be told the same thing! Crap! It was Saturday so we think that may have made all the difference, as people were off for the weekend. So we waited in line at the third place and started chatting to some Aussies who had booked their car months ago and were meant to pick it up in the morning and they were still waiting for it to be returned four hours later, so this made us worried that they must be pretty short of cars too, to not just give them another one.So we waited and waited in the slowest moving line in the WORLD (one person was processed in 20 minutes and there were still another two people in front of us) So I went on a mission while Mum waited, found another place, booked out, and another, booked out, and another, which had another super long line which I waited in for five minutes then gave up. Then one last place where I found that they had one car but it couldn't be returned in Siena like we wanted to but it had to be returned here so I ummed... and thought crap well I can't book it in case Mum had got to the front of the line and booked one at the other place, so text her and at that point my phone died.. argh... so asked him to hold it for 5 minutes which he was kind of ok about while I ran back to Mum, to find she had moved one closer and the last person got a car... so do we wait there or go back ...... so I went back to the other rental place well longer than 5 minutes later hoping he still had it and he did so said we would take it and went and found Mum again and took her to the other place and we finally got it all sorted....phewwwwwww what a nightmare. So the guy went to find it as it had only just been brought back and drove it to us, where we were shocked because we still had to go to back to the hotel to get our bags so he sighed parked it again and we finally got back and got our bags and came back again and found the car and then had a whole new set of roads and signs and crazy drivers to dodge on the wrong side of the road.... oh god here we go again....