Italy 2018 – Day 6 – Vatican city and Rome

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The beginning of the end, our last full day in Italy.

The vatican was top of our priority today, we took a bus over from our Airbnb and was almost immediately stopped by a tour guide providing ‘advice’ about how long the queues are, and how they conviniently have a fast pass to skip the queues – they said we’d be waiting 4 hours around the block, which seemed absolutely ridiculous.
This was promptly followed by us walking down the road and seeing the gigantic snaking queue to get into St Peters Basilica – literally going around the entirety of the Vatican courtyard and then coming back in towards itself like some sort of pretzel made from back pain and suffering instead of flour and whatever else goes into pretzels. We’d end up waiting 2 hours in line, majority of that in the sun – thankfully the weather that day was forgiving, being in the low 20’s rather than the scorching 28 degrees only 24 hours prior. Indians would constantly roam up and down the lines to sell drinks and selfie sticks – the water actually being a surprisingly cheap 1 euro for a half frozen 500ml ,best euro I’ve ever spent, genuinely.

I had already been inside last time and so no surprises, though worth noting that it was about as big as I remembered – which is to say really goddamn big, with each wing of the basilica being the size of ‘huge’ cathedrals in other cities. We were too tired to bother to climb up the steps to the dome (again, I did it last time so when Cordelia said she didn’t want to, I certainly didn’t argue).

We spent some time hunting around for lunch afterwards, eventually eating some mediocre pasta in a small cafe, as we were waiting in line so long that most of the proper restaurants had already closed. I’m not sure if i mentioned already, but Italy is really strict with their eating times, after 2:30pm be prepared to struggle with finding a good restaurant for lunch. By chance, I stumbled upon a small takeaway pasta place which I saw on tripadvisor, I greedily ordered some pasta to go – i’m on holiday, I can have 2 lunches if I want.
The takeaway pasta was shockingly nice, considering I wasn’t even hungry. You could really tell that the pasta was legitimately fresh and cooked just right. I’ve never had paparadelle before but man it was good, like an inch wide chewy egg noodle pasta, served with a ragu meat and tomatoes sauce.

We’d return home to rest for a bit before heading back out, hoping to hit sunset at the Giardino degli Aranci – an orange grove atop a hill overlooking Rome, we were a little bit early, but it was late enough in the day for us to get that yellow glow at least. We checked out the Circus maximus as well on the way down, which looked like a massive track and field area in a small crater.

Dinner first at ‘I Monticani‘ which served an amazing bruschetta, lasagne and tiramisu (gf had the panna cotta, which I can confirm is just as good), followed by one final visit to the Trevi fountain at night, hoping it would be less busy than last time, unfortunately not really as relaxed as we were hoping, but less people than during the day at least – enough for me to set up tripod, and for us to go down and take some selfies by the fountain edge.

Italy 2018 – Day 5 – Rome

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Train journey from Florence to Rome in the morning, which took about 2 hours, followed by the meeting our Airbnb host Isabella. Our room in Rome was really impressive compared to the last 2 we had stayed in this holiday, with a 3 meter tall door, high ceilings, air conditioning, memory foam bed and bunch of other small nice touches – we were ready to finish off our holiday.

Our Airbnb was near to Lepanto, sort of close to the river, Isabella advised we should start by walking down the riverfront and visiting the outside of the castle, before going into central Rome via the bridge – we followed her advice and really enjoyed it, the sun was a toasty 28*C that day, and the riverfront was shaded by trees as we passed the supreme Court building and Castel Saint angelo.

We’d basically go on a Rome 1 day sightseeing foot tour from here, guided by a bunch of small flags on Google maps and my own top notch navigation (if i do say so myself) – we saw the Piazza navona, campo de’ Fiori and beautiful church ‘Sant Andrea della valle’ before swinging by the Pantheon to see the outside (queue went around the block so we skipped going in, I’ve seen it before anyway). This was followed by the Trevi fountain, some house with a face in, the top of the Spanish steps, altar of the fatherland, Roman forum, and collesium. We just hit them one after another with only some short breaks in between to be able to give our legs a break.

We were lucky enough to come across some sort of carnival/parade while walking outside of the roman forum, with a bunch of dancing people in bright costumes parading around in the golden Roman sun, I think it was meant to be something to do with South America? A few of the younger performers were really suffering in the heat, visibly tired from dancing and spinning around in their costumes (at 28*C, i don’t blame them).

I tried being nice to an black guy who promptly then tied a bracelet around my wrist as a gift, I tried to play it off as ‘oh thank you very much’ and then walking off and then he started saying “don’t you have a gift for my family?” – I did kind of wonder how he was going to transition into getting me to give him money, I promptly removed the bracelet and returned it – thankfully it was only rope and not some sort of one way knot. I don’t want to generalise, but unfortunately it seems nearly every black guy who approaches you in Rome is trying to sell or con you, so watch out and steer clear if you go. The Indians aren’t great either but at least they just try to sell you things, not pretend to be friendly with you.

After taking all of our photos and enjoying the full length of the parade, we stopped by the Colosseum we went for dinner at a quirky italian/American place which had literally filled their ceiling with random stuff – had a calzone there which was unfortunately pretty mediocre, Cordelia enjoyed it though, I did enjoy the tiramisu at least.

We had Gelato on the way back too, a place on the walk back from the station called ‘G Like gelato’ which I can only assume is either some sort of FGC reference (godlike?) or house of the dead reference (Enjoy like G did?). They had some really interesting flavours, I picked yogurt and a Berry mix which was so good, the containers which hold the gelato actually spin which was interesting.

Italy 2018 – Day 4 – Pisa

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We were scheduled to do Pisa today, and set off fairly early to do so, it was the only major train ride we hadn’t prebooked in advance and so we at least had an open time frame to sort out the ride over.

Which is just as well, because I managed to get us completely lost on the way from our Airbnb to the station, bare in mind this is actually a 12 minute walk or so, we instead wound up walking down the nearby (Allegedly famous – according to Google at least) market. Grabbed some cheap sunglasses to stop half of our pictures looking like we are staring at a solar eclipse, and then proceeded to take the long scenic route to Florence Station.

The ticket system was pretty strange and caused a lot of confusion for us, the tickets sold at the booths show you all of the outbound trains for your destination and then basically ignores it all and prints out a super generic ticket which can be used at any time, no mention of the train or times on the ticket itself. Pisa is not the terminal destination of any of the trains so naturally we were running around clueless for a while, unsure which train to actually take, eventually I figured going back to the ticket machine to attempt to buy another ticket – and then taking a picture of all of the train numbers and departure times.

Train journey was maybe an hour, and unfortunately sat riding backwards in front of an arguing Arab couple who would cough without covering their mouths – the joys of second class unallocated seating, though at least we got a seat, many people were standing for the long journey.

Eventually we arrived in sunny Pisa itself, our itinery for Pisa was pretty much as expected – see the leaning Tower, take ‘that’ photo and whatever else we can spot along the way before heading back to Florence. Pisa had a more relaxed vibe to it, with wider pavements and gaps between buildings, and more sunlight as a result. Had the best gelato on the way (half coconut with chocolate and oreo, and half homemade Nutella? hell yes.) The place was called Il Gelato di toto and very much recommended if you ever go to Pisa.

The walk from the station to leaning Tower was longer than expected, and honestly, the tower itself was a little underwhelming in terms of size. I thought it was going to be like the Eiffel tower where you can see it in the distance from miles away, but maybe because of the way that the streets curve and the buildings all quite high, by the time you spot it peeking above the buildings you are basically there.

We took our pictures and then spent the rest of the time watching other people take theirs, which is honestly probably the best laugh I’ve had in ages – watching clueless middle aged men and women completely not understand the concept of how to do the photo illusion is comedy gold, some examples are an old man who looked like he was preparing to do a military press with the tower of Pisa, and a woman who was making a pose I couldn’t comprehend at all.

There are a few other attractions around the tower of Pisa, but in usual unprepared fashion with hadn’t prebooked anything – the cathedral did free tickets but on a timed schedule, and the earliest time they could let us in was at 5:30pm, about 2 hours longer than we anticipated sticking around, similarly we were too tired to walk up the tower (18EUR pp), and not particularly bothered about the other attractions which were pay on entry.

We’d unfortunately end up taking a wrong turn and walking 2 miles looking for somewhere to eat, always stick to the tourist paths people! Italy has a strange thing where many of the restaurants only open for lunch at strict hours and then close at 2:30pm or 3pm, of which we found our way back to the main strip of shops a little too late. We settled for a small cafe closer towards the station for some Pasta and then more gelato.

Seasoned experts of the Italian rail system now, our journey home was easy and much less busy than expected – for those considering travelling, the trip is about 8EUR per person, each way Firenze SMN to Pisa Centrale.

Fed up of walking for miles each day, we headed back to our Airbnb to have a little rest before dinner time, before eventually heading back out to go to a Korean fried chicken place around the corner from where we were staying – it was pretty authentic and super crispy, Cordelia had never tried it before so she enjoyed it a lot. (‘Il coco – chicken and beer’). We got to sit outside and enjoy the breeze as the sun set, with some dinnertime entertainment from the owners cute dog.

We still had some life left in us, and so off for a final walk about Florence, this time at night. I wanted to try and take some night photos of the Cathedral of Santa Maria, which was a bit of a challenge to find a good spot and not have people walk in front constantly (also hard because I don’t have a wide angle, and the cathedral is so damn big you have to be really far away to get it all in one shot with a 18mm lens). Some dessert at a nearby desserts place, where I had some sort of Pistachio giant Ferrero Rocher thing filled with cream and god knows what else, nice but very rich an a little too sweet for my tastes.

Tomorrow we catch the train to Rome.

Italy 2018 – Day 3 – Florence

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27 degrees or so, what a fine day for adventure.

After catching our train over from Venice in the morning, we headed straight to our Airbnb to meet Andy and the small room we had paid to stay in – emphasis on small, but all of the essentials were there at least (some aircon would have been nice however coz jeez, I’m sitting here typing this after a shower, in underwear, and still sweating slightly).

After having a quick freshen up, we would begin our grand tour of Florence, first stop being the Galleria del Accademia, situated only a few blocks down from where we were staying, the tripadvisor reviews describe it as basically ‘Michelangelo’ s David, and some other stuff’, which is actually more or less how I would describe it as that too, there were some other very grand paintings here, and an entire room full of busts and sculptures (I think some were plaster replicas though) but the focal point of the gallery was definitely the gigantic statue of David – to the point where it almost feels like the building was built around the statue, as there’s a huge dome above it to allow it to be properly lit from every angle.

Next up was the Piazza del duomo and Cathedral of Santa Maria, the cathedral of Santa Maria was gigantic! You can spot it from miles off with the right elevation or if walking on roads with clear lines of sight, the cathedral also features a tower and baptistry building, all of which were equally huge. We wanted to go up the tower and see the cathedral, but tickets were entirely sold out for the next 5 days, imagine not even being able to buy a ticket for tomorrow, just to see the inside of a church. Gutted, but at thankfully the outside was impressive enough to not leave any aftertaste.

We’d continue our trip south, hitting the Piazza della signoria an it’s iconic buildings, though truth be told, we didn’t really do any research so no idea what was inside. There were loads of artists outside, some less convincing that others, but a few were doing oil and watercolour painting on the street and it was very cool to see.

Eventually we hit the river and followed it around to the iconic Ponte vecchio, by name alone you wouldn’t know it, but you’ll probably recognise it from pictures. Unbeknownst to me, the bridge is filled with jewelery shops with awesome old style shopfronts to complement the cobbled road. We enjoyed a slow stroll down the road, playing top 3 rings, in a badly veiled attempt to work out which style of ring I should definitely not buy should our relationship continue. Turns out she likes weird shaped rings where the material twists, and large diamonds – who would have guessed.

We’re still walking? my legs were already dead at this point, we had been walking for miles. Cordelia in her optimism or gusto decided we would go and see the gardens in the south of Florence – they were pay on entry (though thankfully half price for those 25 or under) and lead to an impressive gigantic hedge maze style garden with plenty of Statues interspersed to keep things interesting. The fountain at the bottom was pretty and surrounded by citrus though you couldn’t get up close or steal the fruit to eat unfortunately.

We’d slog it uphill for a while afterwards, Cordelia somehow powering through like some sort of trained mountain climber, while I slowly but surely plodded upwards – the pictures really don’t do the slope justice, it was very steep.

We’d find out why as we got to the top, a view of the city from the top of the hill, before a steep decline to the Palace gardens and grounds below. A slow walk back to the airbnb afterwards, followed by me passing out on the bed whilst taking a ‘quick break’.

Special mention to dinner which we had around 8pm after I woke up, a place called Fuocco matto, we were sat in a bar style area right in front of the Pizza making station, which was an unexpected treat for a foodie like me, spending dinner watching a team of 3 guys just pump out pizzas constantly from dough to stone oven to being finished off and seasoned – as we were sat in front we literally got the pizzas as fresh as possible, where the pomodoro had only just been bubbling half a minute earlier, it was goddamn delicious.

Italy 2018 – Venice day 2

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After spending yesterday effectively doing prep work, we were ready to properly take on Venice today.

Grabbed some food from the train station and then bought a travel card for the day – 20EUR to provide a days worth of access to buses and the water buses in Venice Central.

After arriving in Venice by bus, we just hopped on the water bus all the way to San Marco Square, hoping to get in early to the Basilica di San Marco, unfortunately it’s closed on Thursday mornings for prayer, which wasn’t ideal for us. We took a diversion north to basically just escape the crowds, I had previously bookmarked a spot northeast of the main square, though couldn’t really remember why.

Upon arrival to the starred spot on my map, I remembered why I had bookmarked it in the first place – a small bookshop filled from floor to ceiling with books, complete with book filled Gondola in the centre, bathtubs and canoes filled with books, even a staircase made of books just outside, leading to a view of the nearby canal.

Bit more gelato and some wandering later, we returned to the church and got in line, the queue went around the front and then out into the square, with no shade and the sun beating down on us for a half hour or so, I thought for sure my neck was going to burn, though at the time of typing, nothing yet.

The church itself was impressive in scale, adorned with a whole ceiling of gold and murals in the negative space. They didn’t allow photos inside but a snuck a few here and there anyway. The queuing continued even inside the church, with additional segments of the church requiring payment as well, we’d end up stuck in a queue inside for what felt like a small eternity, honestly we didn’t even know what we were queuing for, just following the crowd. Eventually it turns out we were queueing to see some form of golden plate adorned with jewels – nice and sparkly, though personally not worth the agonising queue to get to see it. My legs and back were aching by the time we left, it felt like I had aged 10 years while waiting to move around the inside.

Lunch followed, we found a nice place off the beaten path offering pasta and a second plate with side and drink for 20 euro, which for Venice, is pretty good value.

Time for our Gondola ride, hunted around the main tourist spots and found another couple who wanted to share with us – as the prices are 80EUR for the gondola itself, it made sense to share and split the cost, the 80EUR is meant to last approx half an hour and include some level of tour. Unfortunately we picked a bad gondolier, to anyone who visits Venice, if your gondolier asks for the money up front? peace out of there. Rather than being a romantic ride down the side streets of Venice, our guy spent half the time having a shouting conversation with other gondoliers he passed, and the trip lasted maybe 20 minutes before he started bringing us back in to dock, we felt pretty ripped off but I’m just thankful we did share with another couple, as 80EUR for 20 minutes would have been a little too painful for me to stomach.

We were kind of out of ideas from there, and proceeded to wander around for a while, passing and looking at many of the shops selling murano glass before deciding to get the most of our travel card and catching a waterbus to anywhere – we’d end up in some gardens at the east end of Venice, taking some time to chill and take in the scenery while cooling down with the ocean breeze.

We took another boat from there to Lido, a sand bar island just off Venice, not entirely sure what the purpose of it is, but it felt like a different country over there, where the sunshine seemed brighter – it had a Spanish seaside resort kind of feel to it. We walked along the beach there for a bit before having dinner (Pizza) and starting our journey back. The waterbus taking us right round the island as the sun set.

Italy 2018 – Venice day 1

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25th April

After a painfully early wakeup to get to Heathrow Airport for 8am, we’d touchdown in Marco Polo, Venice Airport at around midday. Caught the bus from Venice Airport to just outside the main train terminal where we were staying, and then randomly stumbled in the general direction of our Airbnb until we arrived.

The flat itself was pretty nice, modern kitchen, nice shower, unfortunately it fell a bit short in the most important department – with noisy upstairs occupants and a bed which feels like it’s been fitted with some sort of plastic cover underneath the sheets. We’d get to fully enjoy that mess later, but for now, a quick cleanup and it was back out to try and find our way towards Venice.

Some more stumbling later (we found a bus which takes us to Venice bus station) we finally made our way to the island and started marching off in a random direction to just go and see what we could find. We were pretty unprepared and didn’t have a whole lot on our proposed itinerary so we figured we would just enjoy the streets themselves whilst maybe passing by and checking off any landmarks that we’d come across. Initial impressions were patches of a very overwhelming sea smell, like being at a dirty seaside in Essex – it wasn’t always present, but every now and then you’d get a big whiff of it and remember where you are.

The streets were really small, more like a collection of alleyways really, this combination of small alley-like streets and no roads for cars (just bridges and canals) meant that all of the shops were very condensed and foot traffic was heavy, it felt almost bazaar like in it’s maze like structure, and the high buildings would generally provide shade from the sun (which was a lovely toasty 24 degrees or so). We really walked about, got some gelato, saw a bunch of interesting shops, crossed countless bridges.

Eventually we got to the main touristy area, and it was noticeable. The tourist bit of Venice is on the other side of the grand canal, and only cross-able by Water bus or 2 or 3 bridges, so naturally these bridges were mental and filled with tourists getting their selfie sticks out.

We’d finally hit the main Venice Square, to the sound of music and cheers – rounding the corner we found a stage and a small sea of orange flags, it turns out we had arrived on their independence day and they were showing some real team spirit – a lovely dash of colour to my photos.

We kind of just walked around some more for the rest of the day, went into a small art gallery, had dinner (Lasagne) and then headed back to sleep because we were shattered. It doesn’t sound like we did a whole lot on paper (maybe because technically we didn’t, but we walked a massive loop around all of main Venice over the course of 6 hours or so. I personally slept like a log that night (though aided by earplugs to drown out the noise of the mattress plastic), Cordelia unfortunately didn’t get such a good night, apparently upstairs were making noise all through the night, dragging chairs about and such. We’ll be sure to leave that on the review.