Italy Week 1

Thursday

We got off to a bad start with the flight delayed by 3 hours due to technical problems on 2 different planes.  We finally got going, and once at the Venice airport we caught the water bus, Alilaguna, to San Marco.  We got a little lost trying to find the hotel (Hotel Noemi) as there were lots of little laneways (no cars in Venice, all water transport) and not all the names were on our map.  We checked in at 1am, and naturally went straight to sleep.

Friday

Had breakfast at the hotel (bread rolls and croissants), got organised and went exploring.  We walked along the San Marco Canal, like walking along the Brisbane River, with lots of tourist markets and little cafes.  The sun was scorching and there was no shade, so we got a gelati and kept walking.  We walked back to San Marco and went into the Palazzo Ducate, the official residence of the ‘doges’ from the 9th century.  Then we had lunch at Piccolo Martini and went back to the hotel to escape the sun for a while.

We then went to Musee Correr, the National Archaeological Museum, and then thought it would be fun to have a gondola ride.  We decided it wasn’t worth the €120-200 they were charging.  Instead we found a little bar and had a nice cool drink and just relaxed for a while.

We found a nice place in the backstreets, near the theatre, for dinner – Ristorante Al Theatro.  We had a lovely meal, then waited a while and had dessert.  By this stage it was time to head back to the hotel, write up a diary of what we’d done, read for a bit and then go to sleep.

Venice is lovely, but very touristy – there were no seats anywhere that didn’t belong to restaurants, and just buying a gelati from them apparently doesn’t get you a seat either.

Saturday

We checked out and caught the water taxi to Piazzale de Roma to pick up our hire car from Avis – a Fiat Punto.  We drove on the right (both senses of the word) side of the road, stopping at 2 different petrol stations for toilet breaks.  We arrived at the Holiday Inn at Dimaro mid afternoon, checked in and then drove 1.5 hours to Bolzano, where Nan was born.  It’s a gorgeous town at the foot of the Dolomites, with cute little buildings and parks.  We found somewhere for dinner and then headed home for the night.

The trip back we avoided the toll roads, and it didn’t take any longer, just very windy up the mountains – at times we were even doing several hairpin turns in a row – Adrian loved it!

Sunday

We checked out and drove back down the mountain again, to Verona.  It was too early to check in, so we just left our bags there and headed into the centre of Verona, the setting of ‘Romeo and Juliet’.  We saw the Arena, in Piazza Bra, the 3rd largest Roman amphitheatre in existence, then had lunch at Anselmi, in the Piazza delle Erbe.

Then we went and found Casa di Giulietta, home of the fictional Juliet.  Romantic superstition suggests that rubbing the right breast of Juliet’s statue (below the famous balcony) brings you a new lover.  Needless to say her right breast is a lot shinier than her left.  Adrian and I are happy with each other and don’t need a new lover, so we just watched other people doing it, which was just as fun.

We then went back to the hotel, checked in and relaxed for a while.  Escaping from the heat after lunch seems to be the thing to do.  To give you an idea of how how it is, it was 33 degrees celcius at 8.30pm!!

We headed back into town and found Porta Leoni, one of the city’s Roman gates, and then had dinner at Ristorante Adriatico, a nice quiet restaurant in a side street.  We then wandered for a while before sitting opposite the Arena at Emmanuel Cafe for dessert.  We had the most scrumptious desserts – fruit ice cream, fruit juice, cream and fresh fruit, in a tall sundae glass.  I had pineapple and Adrian had strawberry … yum!

We got back to the hotel about 9pm, had a shower, sorted ourself out for our next day, and then went to bed.

Monday

We had breakfast, checked out and drove to La Spezia.  La Spezia is right near Cinque Terre – 5 towns along the coast, accessible by foot or train.  We left our bags at Hotel Ghironi and walked to the bus stop.  Buying a ticket seemed to be a challenge, especially when the guy in the newsagent type shop didn’t speak English.  But Adrian’s little bit of Italian lessons at school served him well, and we were able to catch the bus without being fined.

We caught the bus to the train station and got the train to the first town, Riomaggiore.  We had lunch at a cute bar on the cliff looking out over the water.  Then we walked along the cliffs to the next town, Manarola, where we had a wander, bought some postcards and sunscreen.  After applying lots of sunscreen we caught the train to Corniglia and a shuttle bust to the town centre.  We stopped for a nice cool drink, again looking out over the mountains and sea.

We got the shuttle back to the station and just missed the train.  We could have walked, but to get to the last town, where we wanted to have dinner, would’ve taken 3.5 hours … in the blistering sun … no thanks!  Instead we waited for the train and got off at Monterosso, which had beaches lined with chairs and umbrellas as far as the eye could see.  We walked all along the front of the beach (sort of like a boardwalk) and finally settled on a nice cafe for dinner- Bar Nuoco Eden.  After dinner Adrian had a strawberry daquiri and I had a pinacolada.

Then we caught the train back to La Spezia and the hotel shuttle back to out hotel.  Had a nice shower, got rid of the shiny slippery sunscreen feel, wrote some postcards and went to bed.

Tuesday

After an early breakfast we hit the road, and an hour later were at Pisa.  We had a look around then walked all 290 (yes I counted) steps right to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Then we had a bit of a scare when they GPS died.  We needed to press the reset button, but it is of course very small. I fished through my suitcase and the thing that finally did it was the plastic tag from my new socks.  We got it going, but then it couldn’t work out where we were.  I turned it off, pulled the card out, turned in on and off again, put the card back in and it worked … thank God for that!!

While all this was happening, Adrian had gotten us to the Autostrade (main motorway in Italy) so we were well on track to Florence.  We checked in at the Holiday Inn and had a lovely lunch at their restaurant.  Then we caught the bust to Duomo, which was once the largest Cathedral in the world, now the 3rd largest.  We went on an ‘English’ tour which lasted about 30 mins and was very interesting.  We went for a walk around Florence, then caught the bus back to the hotel, where we went for a quick swim.  We had room service for dinner and watched some athletics, from a meet at Monte Carlo, on TV.

Wednesday

Today was a more relaxing day.  We got up at 8.30, had breakfast and drove to Perugia.  We checked in early at Hotel Tirrenus, and drove into town.  Parked about half way up the hill, and walked the rest up to the town centre.  Wandered around, found a post office to post a few more postcards, hen decided to have a quick easy lunch.  So we got paninis and ate them on the way back to the car.  Then we spent a few hours at the hotel, before driving to Assisi, where St Francis was born in 1182.

Again, we parked about half way up and walked to the town centre.  It is a quaint medieval town, with lots of little laneways.  We wandered around for ages and then realised none of the restaurants opened until 7.30pm (which is common all around Italy), so we stopped at a cafe for a drink, to kill some time.  Then we had a nice quiet dinner at a cute little restaurant called Pozzo Romano.

We made our way back home eventually – the GPS wanted us to take shortcuts on narrow, hilly roads, which our crappy little hire car had difficulty with.  It’s an OK car, except the gearbox (even in automatic mode) is just rubbish – the guys on Top Gear were right that it’s not very nice to drive.

There was a short storm, which didn’t last long, then we went to bed.  It was a nice day, just relaxing and soaking up the Italian atmosphere.

Thursday

Breakfast wasn’t included in our hotel at Perugia, so we decided to get something on the way.  We stopped for petrol, I had a croissant and Adrian had a ciabata.  We arrived at Hotel Albani in Rome just before lunch, and were able to check in which was good.

We walked to Piazza del Popolo, where we had a sandwich and cold drink for lunch.  Then we walked to Trevi Fountain, which is just lovely – best and biggest fountain I’ve ever seen!  We ketp walking, this time to the Colloseum.  We had a look around, then found a cafe for a cold drink and somewhere to sit.  We then walked to the metro, got off a few stops later, and walked from there to the hotel.

On the walk home we bought what we thought was washing detergent, but when Adrian starting to wash his socks and undies we realised it was bleech … luckily we hadn’t done any shirts yet.  So we continued doing the washing, which took up the whole line they provide in the shower, the pegless clothesline I brought with me and a couple of chairs outside.  Let me just explain why we did our own washing, by sharing the costs of laundry service at the hotel:
socks – €2 each
undies – €2 each
bras – €2 each
shirts – €6 each

Anyway by the time we had done and washing and watched the end of a movie on TV it was time for dinner.  We had a nice dinner at Al Padovano, headed to the hotel for a cool shower and then called it a night.

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