Thursday, September 30, 2010

Florence to Venice (Lido Island)

Another good trip from Firenze to Venezia and luggage was a problem again, but that’s the way it goes with so many tourists.

We left the train for the tourist office and were given by a kind hearted English speaking tourist a map and things to see in Venice guide book. We purchased a 72 hour transport pass for 33 euro each, which in hindsight was very good value as each Vaporetto (water bus) trip was 6.50 Euro. Saved heaps.

Getting to Lido Island was a sight seeing trip in its own right even with our heavy luggage in tow.

On the Lido we didn’t have far to walk until we found our accommodation, the Villa Berghinz which is located right next to one of Lido’s canals. 


IMG_2024 Villa Berghinz

If you’re visiting Venice this is a great location as Venice is packed and finding your way back through narrow dark alleyways late at night is a worry. The Lido is much, much quieter and safer.

As we arrived we met Mara a lovely lady who spoke no English at all. We were struggling trying to explain to her that we were from Australia not Austria. At the crucial moment another couple arrived who were from Austria, which explained the confusion. The Austrians introduced themselves during this confusing time and we were too embarrassed to ask their names later on. The bonus was that they could speak Italian as well as English. Life became much easier although there was a huge amount of confusion as to which couple was to go to which room.

We had heavy luggage with us and the Austrians had only two light weekend bags as they were only staying for two nights. Both couples were shown the various option of rooms with one room at ground level and the other way up high. The last flight of stairs to the third floor was very steep and extremely narrow. This lovely couple from Austria thankfully decided that us taking the bottom room made more sense. A little time after we sorted things out Giorgio our host who spoke some English arrived.

We met the Austrian couple at breakfast on the next 2 mornings. They had two kids, a 17 year old boy and a 10 year old girl. We made many comparisons between life in Austria versus Australia. On the last day somehow the subject of cricket came up in the conversation. We started to explain the game and how there was a thing called a test match that lasted five days. They kept looking at us in disbelief. They thought that we were pulling their legs. Then I explained that an Australian test match cricketer on average would earn more than a million euro and that this was much, much more than an Australian based soccer player could earn. This made things worse.

It was only after we explained that the British had come up with the game and explained some of the details that some form of trust returned. I guarantee that they will be googling test match cricket when they get back home to see whether they have been had.

The following photos were all taken on Lido Island.

DSC_0874 A Venice sunset.

DSC_0870 Down the canal out side our hotel. One of the many cruise ship being pulled out of the lagoon by a tug boat.

IMG_1974 Lido beach. There were thousands of these beach huts all along the island.

Once we were settled into our room we took off to explore Venice ( The good, the bad and the ugly )

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Peter’s random ravings

We are having problems with composing our post for Venice. Venice is like that old Clint Eastwood movie “The good, the bad and the Ugly””. So as a filler here are some of Pete’s random ravings that I’ve been accumulating. Well, maybe not raves but whinges.

All over Europe Claire has been struggling for a good cup of tea. Her success rate has been under forty percent. In so many situations she gets that look on her face in anticipation and then gets thwarted by a hitch. Some reasons, no jug,  no tea, no black tea, tepid water, no milk. It just keeps happening. We caught the cable car to the top of the mountain in Innsbruck today and played in the snow for a while. We were cold and wanted something to warm us up. Before we went into the restaurant at the top, Claire said those magic words “cup of tea”. In the restaurant she had already put the water in her cup and then looked at the selections of tea, her face dropped, of the five teas available not one black tea.

Ice Coffee? I know it sounds like a dumb introduction but try getting an iced coffee that in any way resembles the ones we get back home. In one of the galleries in Florence I ordered and Iced coffee and got a small strong black cup of coffee with ice cubes in it. The next try was in Venice and its was ice cream and very strong coffee, no milk at all.

For us silly English speaking types we seem to struggle with something as simple as tea and coffee.

In Firenze on the second day while Uffizzi Gallery I came down with a sudden attack of Galleriaphobia. I suspect that the cause is attributed constant exposure to paints from the 14,15,16 and 17th centuries. The dust from marbel sculptures also seems to be having and impact as well.  The worst cases of the attacks seem to occur in rooms depicting religious scenes. The paints used in these paintings seem to be particularly toxic.

I’m also displaying symptoms of Polkishowertennitis. Whenever I have a wet head I develop and overpowering urge to touch my feet but its impossible to do so. This effect is happening all over Europe. Hope it clears up when I get home.

Everywhere we travel there seems for be a preponderance of statues of men on horses. There everywhere. Never see statues of men leading goats or cows. There was one statute I saw in Assisi of a man on a sad looking donkey. Because of this variation in statue design they made the man a saint. I think his name was Francis.

Italian postal logic. All over Europe we have been accumulating things (some idiot brought a Russian cossack hat in St Petersburg). So we wanted to send a parcel home to ease our luggage problems. Some of the post offices in Italy don’t offer a parcel service as they are too small. So when we found a huge post office in Florence we thought you beauty. This post office have more than 10  counters but was full. You needed to take a ticket and wait for your number to come up. After a 15 minute wait we got to the counter and we were informed that we couldn’t send a parcel by sea from this post office as they didn’t have any forms. He then showed us on the map a small post office 20 minutes walk away where we could send the parcel. This was a 3 counter post office but it was closer to the sea. It figures.

Despite all of the above we are still having a great time.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Florence (Firenze)

We had a good trip from Rome to Florence on one of the better trains, however it was crowded and luggage problems arose.

We found our way to the B&B we were staying at and met our host. He informed us that he was having plumbing problems (we suspect he over booked) and had found us alternate accommodation. After a small wait we were introduced to our host’s mate Mario. Mario took us in tow and we were led to a large apartment with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a very large living area which included a kitchen. It belonged to an old lady who rented it out infrequently and only to older, more reliable tourists. It was a great apartment.


About 3pm we set off to see the David at the Galleria Dell Accademia exploring as we went. The queue was huge for the non reserved entry so Peter went to the front of this line to find out how long the people at the front had taken to get there. Two hours. Reserved entry people we taking about 15 minutes to get in. We searched our map and found a tourist information centre close by. They informed us that a booth selling the reserve ticket was about 15 minutes walk away.

At the booth we brought tickets for the David and for Uffizi Gallery for the next day at the extra cost of 4 euros each. We couldn’t take photos in either gallery which was a bugger. The David is probably the best piece of sculpture we had ever seen with the Pieta in Rome a close second. The photo we have included is one of the copies in the Piazza della Signoria. We enjoyed other exhibits in the gallery, however some of the religious art was losing its lustre for us.


We met a Belgian couple, Famke & Alex, over dinner that night. They were from the Dutch part rather than from the French speaking area. Belgium has had a hung parliament for over 100 days because of the divide between the cultures. Again these sorts of meetings of different people make the whole trip far more enjoyable. Lots of laughs and we stayed longer than a normally short dinner.

Close to our apartment was a laundrette so while watching our washing from a bar across the road we met up with youngish couple, Jack and Lindsey, from St Louis in the States.

On our second day we visited the Uffizi gallery and explored the city. Two thirds of the way through the Uffizi Peter hit cultural saturation point. It was day 35 of our trip visiting over 50 galleries. Enough is enough. This effect seems to hit the males of the species earlier than the females although Claire is showing some signs of tiring.

DSC_0697 Ponte Vecchio

IMG_1805 Fortezza da Basso

That night we had dinner with Bob and Barbara an older couple from New York. They pulled out the video camera and got us to introduce ourselves on film.

On our third day we visited the Palazzo Pitti galleries and Boboli Gardens. The galleries we visited were more treasures than art and Peter had started to recover. The costume gallery while small had a very good display of costumes from various periods together in each display.

DSC_0714 Pitti Palace

The gardens were a pleasure and certainly worth a look although fairly tiring as they climb a hill with great views of the city.


DSC_0765 Medici Grotto

As usual our daily walking distance was between 10 and 15 km.

Our apartment was not far from the Duomo and we walked past it almost every time we went out. It was difficult not to stop and look each time though taking a photo of it was like taking a photo of an elephant from 3 feet away.


There’s not much eating alternatives in Italy and we are starting to search without luck for something different.

Friday, September 24, 2010


They say that Rome wasn’t built in a day, but we tried our hardest to see it all in a day. Last time we were in Rome we visited the Trevi Fountain and tossed our coins into it. It seems to have worked so Claire was determined to give it another shot. We didn’t have our cameras with us before so we decided the fountain would be our first stop in our whirlwind tour of Rome.

DSC_0698 DSC_0696

We had mapped out a path from the Trevi Fountain to St. Peter’s Basilica that took in all the things we wanted to see. Lots of people had told us that the queues for the Basilica were much shorter in the afternoon so we were trying to finish up there.

From the Trevi fountain it was a short walk to the Pantheon. It is fascinating the number of ancient places of worship that have been converted to Christian churches.

IMG_1627 Restoration work is being carried out on the facade of the Pantheon.

DSC_0702 Inside the Pantheon.

Next we went to the Vittorio Emmanuele monument. We had seen the top of it from our tour bus last time, but it is well worth seeing up close.



The road from the monument to the Colosseum passed by the Trianao Forum, a very large area of ancient ruins.


We arrived at the Colosseum to find it surrounded by ‘barbarians’. We had decided not to go in this time and the volume of visitors confirmed the decision.


Our path then took us past the Forum Romano and the Mouth of Truth. We didn’t join the queue of people lining up to put their hand in it, but Peter managed to get a photo through the fence.


We crossed the River Tiber and found a nice restaurant for lunch. Breakfast of brioche and coffee is fast losing its appeal so we have taken to eating fruit salad for lunch. We long for a bowl of cereal and a cup of tea!

DSC_0742 Old bridge over the river.

After lunch we explored the Traversere? an area of narrow streets and interesting shops. Claire found her ‘Rome’ earrings here. We gradually made our way to the base of one of the hills of Rome, then started the climb. Luckily the view from the top was worth it.


There was a gradual descent down the other side which brought us back to the river. We were going to visit the Castel Sant’Angelo but it was closed on Mondays. It houses the tomb of Hadrian and is another of the old buildings which have been converted to Christian worship.


After a short rest we headed off to St. Peter’s Basilica. The queue wasn’t too bad and we were soon inside. Claire’s main interest was to see Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’. Despite being behind glass after an attack a few years ago, the beauty of this sculpture is still obvious. Claire was not disappointed.

DSC_0774 The photo does not do it justice.

Even after walking all over Rome we decided to climb to the top of the Basilica. We cheated a little by taking the lift. It saved us 230 of the 550 steps, so we still had 320 steps to climb.

About half way up you get to look down inside the Basilica.


The climb becomes very narrow and claustrophobic but it is worth it. It was made more difficult by the couple who decide about two thirds of the way up that they couldn’t manage to get to the top and headed back down. As with most of these climbs there is one way up and another way down, so it is not designed to take two-way traffic. The guy managed to tread on both of Claire’s big toes and she nearly let fly with some inappropriate language considering her surroundings.The view from the top overlooking St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican is spectacular.



Luckily our B & B wasn’t very far from St. Peter’s so we didn’t have far to go at the end of a very busy day.


As you could discern from our earlier post “Foligno to Positano” our first impressions of Positano were lukewarm.

After 5 days I can sum it up, we loved the place and would certainly come back if we had a chance.

Our room at the Villa Delle Palme was on the second floor. It was very comfortable had lovely water & hillside views from the balcony. The balcony also had some lines and pegs to dry your washing which is essential when you’re travelling for a long time. Down stairs where the free Wi-fi worked was also where we had breakfast and after lunchtime turned into a bar. We both enjoyed meeting up with the various visitor down stairs, however Peter was often trapped down there long after Claire had gone to bed. On some of these occasions Peter had the opportunity to have long conversations with Giuliana about the town. The TV in our room could pick up the BBC world news service on channel 43, however the TV down stairs had another station on the same channel. Everyone could not work out why it was happening but it was pleasant not to have to try to decipher what was going on in the world from the Italian news.

Giuliana & Manuela from the Hotel Villa Delle Palme were wonderful warm hearted people who made our stay a pleasure. Both spoke good English and were invaluable with their advice.  Their first recommendation was Christine’s walking tour which Claire’s post covered. We followed most of Christine’s recommendations and could not fault her advice.

The hotel we stayed at had relatives at two restaurants close by, with one right next door and the other 75 metres down the road. We got discounts at both restaurants and the food was good at both of them. The one next door was a little strange with about eight tables on the other side of the road very close to the traffic (a very tight squeeze for the busses to get through). So that all the traffic travelling through the town came right through the restaurant with the waiter dodging cars, scooters & busses while carrying a tray full of food. Peter began to think that in this part of the world we could have a scooter passing through our bathroom. After exploring the town we discovered that this was not an unusual situation with many of the restaurants in the town working on the same basis. You get used to it.

The scenery in Positano is a little overpowering. I’m not sure that you can see it from the photos but the mountain tops loom imposingly over the town. The moon glistening off the sea is unforgettable.

DSC_0684 This shot was taken from our room after it occurred to us to try to take a photo. It’s a bit fuzzy. If we had the brains and taken the shot earlier it would have been better.


DSC_0580 Shot of the Positano coast with Praiano in the distance.

IMG_1595 View from the main square.

Besides the scenery Positano is famous for its fashions, ceramics, restaurants, cheeses and wines. It’s not cheap but it’s of a different variety and quality that you see elsewhere.

The locals are warm and genuinely friendly. In one of Peter’s late night talks with Giuliana she explained that there are only 4000 local residents and they all know each other and are related in some way somewhere down the line. The tourist industry is the towns livelihood so they do their best to keep up its reputation.

I remarked that I didn’t see many shady characters around town. She explained that while there was some minimal theft from the locals in the town it was only from a few bad eggs, the same as in all towns, but when dodgy customers come there to pick over the tourists, the locals soon identify them and send them packing.

My first impression was that the traffic in the town was insane. After five days I perceived that it was remarkably well organised chaos. It works. Almost all of the problems stem from the crazy tourists.

Memorable Positano moments:

Our stay at the Villa Delle Palme and chatting with the visitors and hosts.

IMG_1583 Hotel Villa Delle Palme centre of the photo.

IMG_1579 View from our balcony

Dinner at the classy Buca di Bacco restaurant on the main beach (glorious setting, excellent food & service at a not too expensive price)


Christine’s walking tour and tastings.

Drinks at very, very reasonable prices down at Puppetos on the off-main beach.

Besides our visit to Pompei we also did a trip to Ravello via Amalfi which was marred by our problems with the hordes of tourists and the busses being overloaded so we missed some and were packed in on others. Ravello is worth a visit but the choice of time for the visit is essential.

DSC_0654 Ruins in Ravello

DSC_0661 The view from Ravello

We have seen a lot of churches so far and it is true that they can gradually lose their impact on you, but the cathedral at Amalfi really stood out. The main church is impressive, but it is the Crypt of St. Andrew underneath that is truly magnificent.

DSC_0674 Crypt of St. Andrew

In summary visit Positano if you can but take more than just a day or two or three. The town definitely grows on you.

IMG_1592 Positano from the main beach.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

First day in Positano

We didn’t do a lot of research about Positano before we came, mainly choosing it as a base to see the Amalfi coast and Pompei, so we asked Manuela for suggestions of what we should do. The first thing she recommended was a walking tour called discoverpositano. It is run by an Australian woman, Christine, who is married to a local and lives in Positano. She only has small groups, never more than 15 people. We thought that would be a good way to learn about the town so we booked for the first morning. We met her outside one of the many churches in the town and while we were waiting for the rest of the group to gather she was telling us about some of the things to do outside of Positano.

DSC_0581 The view from our balcony.

Once the group was gathered we went inside the church and Christine started telling us about the history of the town and the church. We visited several shops, one selling ceramics, one selling clothes and another sandals. We were a bit worried at first that we were being taken to overpriced places and encouraged to buy things but we didn’t spend long in each and it was more an opportunity for Christine to explain the history of each type of shop. She then took us to her husband’s delicatessen where we tried some local produce. Two types of cheeses, some salami, olives and sundried tomatoes. They were the best dried tomatoes we have ever had. Vincenzo then gave a short talk about local wines.

We passed a tree with unusual flowers and even more unusual branches. They were covered in huge thorns. The flower looked a bit like a cross between a magnolia and a hibiscus.


Someone asked Christine what it was and she said someone asks her almost every tour but she hasn’t been able to find out. She has had people promise to find out and let her know but no-one has yet.


She told us about the legend associated with the mountain behind the village. It is hard to tell from the photo but the left hand hole goes all the way through while the right hand one doesn’t. Legend has it that the Madonna was on her way over the mountain to fetch water when she came upon the Devil who offered to blast a hole through the mountain for her. She rejected him and continued on her way. Coming back she found the Devil cursing and only part way through the mountain. She told him her faith was stronger than his power and hey presto a huge hole appeared through the mountain next to the one the Devil was trying to make. We didn’t know the Madonna had spent time on the Amalfi coast!

Next we were off to try some Limoncello. It is a very popular local liqueur made from lemons, and boy does it have a kick. Eleven thirty in the morning was way too early for Claire to have more than a sip, but Peter courageously finished both. He did reject the offers from others in the group though.

Positano has two beaches. The main one where the dock is and another one around a point. The second one is much less crowded and we finished our tour there at a bar called Pupettos where we were served a very refreshing drink that they have named the ‘Christine’. The tour was supposed to take 2 hours but we ended up spending almost 3 hours. It was a wonderful way to spend the morning and it set us up for the next 4 days.

DSC_0578 On the way to the second beach

IMG_1599 At Pupettos

We returned to several of the places that Christine recommended over the next few days and weren’t disappointed with any of them.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Positano to Rome

We are posting this one slightly out of order. Some posts are much easier to write than others. This one practically wrote itself.

We only had 2 nights in Rome so we had hoped to arrive early in the afternoon of our first day, but you know what they say about the best laid plans. After dragging and carrying our luggage down to the ferry at Positano we discovered that the sea was too rough for the ferries to run. Hiccup number one. I won’t describe the trip back up to the internal bus stop. It is too painful to remember, especially for Peter who lugged both bags for the last 200 metres so that Claire could rush on ahead to check bus times and buy tickets.

Things were looking up as we didn’t have long to wait for an internal bus and the bus to Amalfi. We arrived in Amalfi 2 minutes after the Salerno bus left and had to wait an hour for the next one. Hiccup number 2. We enquired about the price of a taxi to Salerno, but decided that 90 euros was a bit over the top. We checked our Eurail timetable to find that there is a big gap in the middle of the day and the earliest train we could now catch to Rome was at 2.36, arriving at 5.30. At least it gave us a chance to have something to eat at Salerno. Luckily we hadn’t booked our tickets to Rome so we weren’t out of pocket for the missed train.

IMG_1616 Amalfi


Finally we were on the train to Rome and all our worries were over. Ha! The first part to Naples was fine. We have never been so glad to have reservations. There were people in the wrong seats all over the train. After Naples someone decided that we should be in a sauna not a train carriage. The air conditioning had been turned off and to make matters worse the automatic blind control was broken. We thought we were going to cook. The corridors were full of people and luggage because a lot of people had got on without tickets. Finally a couple of enterprising Italian women went looking for the conductor and got the air conditioning turned on. The rest of the trip went without anymore hiccups. Our B & B Federici was right next to the Metro exit and joy of joys there was a lift so we didn’t have to lug our bags up 3 flights of stairs.

After a quick shower we went out to explore around our place. We weren’t very far from St. Peter’s Basilica so we wandered over to have a look in the fading light.

Close to the Basilica we found a restaurant and were seated next to a group of three couples from Denmark. After many lively discussions we all agreed that the Australians and the Danish were now cousins because of the Mary connection. Another fun night ensued from just randomly meeting people.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Pompei trip

The trip to Pompei involved a one hour bus trip to Sorrento and then catching the Circumvesuvius train to Pompei. Both trips were sightseeing trips in their own right.

The bus trip has some incredible drops just off the side of the road. Claire refused to look. The road is so tight that on a number of occasions we had to stop and back up or slow down to a crawl in order to squeeze past a bus going the opposite way.

The train trip from Sorrento to Pompei was less spectacular but still interesting.

Giuliana & Manuela advised us to gather a group together on arrival at Pompei to share the cost of a two hour official guided tour. There were seven of us who formed a group at the cost of 15 euro each. The guide was a real character and well worth the money and kept referring to the ancient Italians as we.

Firstly Pompei is far bigger than we imagined. It covers 61 hectares and well over a couple of km’s in length. We arrived before midday and there were lots of people and especially big tour groups that our guide called the barbarians, but the place is so big that it wasn’t too bad.

DSC_0583 The Basilica

The guides tour covered the highlights in about a quarter of the park and covered the main square and its temple and buildings, the shopping district, a remarkably intact house, plaster casts of some of the victims of the volcano, recovered crockery and household items, the bathhouses and the red light district with erotic paintings included.

DSC_0586 Plaster cast of victim, covering his face.

IMG_1486 Statues

All the above was impressive and the guide especially regaled us with colourful stories about his obvious favourite, the red light district. So if you were looking for some paid company in the city you could walk down one of the main street until you found a penis engraved on the flagstones at a 45 degree angle to the road. This indicates that you take the next left for a good time.

Once we departed from our guide we had lunch and then started to seek some of the other sights the guide pointed out to us earlier. These turned out to be just as spectacular.

The amphitheatre was Peter’s favourite of these. It was huge and it’s the one where Pink Floyd gave their Pompei concert. I think it could easily hold 20-30 thousand people. I was just trying to imagine when the archaeologist first found a part of this building in his excavations and thought I wonder what this is and started digging it out and several years later ending up with a gigantic amphitheatre.

DSC_0620 Inside the Amphitheatre

DSC_0625 Outside the Amphitheatre

There were two theatres one holding 5000 people and the smaller holding about 500. I was tempted to go down to the stage in the bigger theatre and start singing, but then I might have been the first person stoned in Pompei for two thousand years.

IMG_1517 Large Theatre

The temple of Apollo and gardens and many, many other features followed as we spent another three hours before running out of puff.

IMG_1519 Who knew there were bus stops in Pompei?

IMG_1553 Statue of Apollo

DSC_0626 One of the best preserved paintings.

The whole place certainly lived up to and exceeded our expectations.  It’s one place you shouldn’t miss if you’re in Italy.