Italy Week 2

Friday

Today was a very long, but good day, seeing the sights of Rome.  We started the day by walking all the way to the Piazza Repubblica where we found a good hop-on-hop-off bus tour – one of a lot to choose from. This one was reasonably priced and was at every stop every 30 minutes so you never had to wait long.

The first place we got off at was the Pantheon. We had an interesting experience when we arrived.  There were a couple of men dressed up as Roman Gladiators offering to have photos with them. We though tit was a good idea, but once we’d taken the photos, they wanted €5 each!! Adrian told them they should have been upfront about it and we weren’t going to pay. They wouldn’t take no for an answer and they even followed Adrian demanding he delete the photos. We just kept walking into the Pantheon and they didn’t follow us that far. Then when we were finished looking we made a quick escape.

After that we had a quick lunch and got back on the bus, this time to the Vatican City. Although shorts are not allowed to be worn, ours must have been just long enough, as we were allowed in.  First we went down to the tombs of the Popes, including Pope John Paul II, which was quite a sombre experience. When you come back up the stairs, you come up in the middle of St Peter’s Basilica, which is amazing! The Basilica is so ornate it is simply breathtaking… you need to see it for yourself to really understand.

We then walked around the other side (which took a lot longer than we expected) to enter the Vatican Museums. We made our way to the Sistine Chapel, looking at stuff along the way, including wall sized tapestries depicting stories from the bible. The chapel has Michelangelo’s wonderful frescoes, ‘Creation’ and ‘Last Judgement’, and again is amazing to see it in person.

After making our way out it was late afternoon, so we walked to the tour bus, hopped on and hopped off about 4 stops later, then walked back to the hotel. Absolutely shattered and with sore legs, we decided to have dinner at the restaurant in the hotel but it wasn’t open. Instead we found a delightful little place called Cecco e Lino. As we were about to leave, there were only three tables taken – one of British, one of very loud, but fun, Americans and us, Australian. It was a nice relaxing end to a busy day out.

Saturday

This morning after breakfast we watched the last part of the Olympic men’s cycling road race which was really good. Then we walked about 40 minutes to Palazzo Nuovo. We found a little bar/cafe for lunch and then went to the Musei Capitolini, which is the oldest antiquities museum in the world. After wander around for an hour or so we started the long walk home grabbing a lemon slushie on the way. We then watched some more Olympics, before heading to Al Simeto for dinner. We had a late dinner, so headed back to the hotel and called it a night.

Sunday

After breakfast we had the challenge of getting the car out of the hotel garage – up one of the steepest driveways I’ve ever seen. The poor little car made it eventually and we drove to Naples.

At Naples we parked in a 24 hour garage that was only a few minutes walk from our Hotel (MH Design Hotel), which was in a pedestrian area. We were too early to check in, so left our bags and went exploring. We found the Museo Archelogico Nazionale, but decided to have lunch first. Being in Naples (famous for inventing Pizza) we had lunch at a Pizzeria – a little disappointing. Pizza needs a little more than just cheese to be interesting.

We had a good look around the museum, including the Gabinetto Segreto (secret cabinet), where we discovered just how very fond ancient Romans were of the male nether parts, lol.

We went back to check in, stayed at the hotel for a while, then went walking to find dinner. We ended up on the waterfront, which was lined with one restaurant after another. After one particular waiter put on a show, including showing us their fresh fish and lobster, we settled at his restaurant, called Antonio & Antonio. We had bruschetta, then shared a Lasagne pizza (much nicer than the traditional margherita) and I had fresh pineapple for dessert. It was a loverly night, watching the sunset over the water.

Monday

After breakfast, we got the car out of the garage (much easier this time) and drove about 30 minutes to Pompeii.  We went to the site of the ruins (from the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in AD79) and the map we were given had suggested “tours” depending on how long you wanted to spend there. We chose the two hour one and set off with Adrian in charge of navigating. It was a lot of walking but worth it.

Then we hit the road for Matera, stopping along the way to get petrol and lunch. We arrived and found somewhere to park, then walked through the pedestrain, cobblestone, hilly area to our “hotel” – Residence San Giorgio. The guy checked us in, then walked with us for a few minutes until we reached our room. Might I add that all this walking was done whilst carrying our suitcases!

The town of Matera is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places on earth, and the caves – known as “sassi” – provided the setting for “The Passion of the Christ”, being the closest thing to ancient Jerusalem. Our room is like a small cave, fitted out like a small hotel room, but without losing the atmosphere.

We walked up the hill to the “new town” in search of the Sassi Tourist Office. We finally found it, but weren’t so lucky finding someone who spoke English. We figured out that there was a walking tour for four hours, but it wasn’t really going where we wanted. In the end we decided we would do our own exploring, just soaking up the atmosphere. So we headed back to the Sassi area (where our hotel is) and found a nice place called La Zuppa Del Re for dinner. It was probably the best place we have been so far. The waiter didn’t speak English, so he got one of the waitresses who did. She happily translated the whole menu for us and helped us choose what to have. The food was really nice, and when we asked the original waiter for dessert, he didn’t even get the menu, just straight away got the other waitress. We had a lovely dessert, it was all well-priced, the service was great, and they took American Express, so we got frequent flyer points – bonus!

We walked the few minutes it was back to our room, and I commented to Adrian that even though we are in the middle of nowhere, with lots of alleys and laneways, it’s about the safest I’ve felt. I haven’t felt particularly unsafe anywhere we’ve been, but this area just feels very warm and friendly – I’m glad we decided to come here.

Tuesday

Because our room was like a small house/cave, the breakfast was there when we arrived. There was bread, croissants, jam, juice, tea, coffee etc so we just got up and helped ourselves.  We checked out, walked up the hill to the car and drove 3.5 hours to Pescara. We stopped twice on the way – once for a toilet break and the second time for petrol.

We had a bit of trouble finding somewhere to park near the hotel as it was hard to tell which streets were just for pedestrians and then what the time limits were, so we ended up at the big train station car park. We checked in, then had a late lunch at Sirenetta Mare, which was like a beach café.

We didn’t do much in the afternoon – Pescara was mainly just somewhere to stop to break up the driving – so for dinner we walked along the beachfront, but all the ‘restaurants’ were either seafood or bars/cafes. We ended up a couple of blocks back from the beach at Birreria del Corso – not the best, but it was food.

Wednesday

After breakfast, we checked out and drove three hours to Bologna – our last stop. We checked in just before lunch, then drove into the city. The first challenge was parking, then after that it was finding something that was open (difficult on a Wednesday). We walked and walked and in the end we figured we wouldn’t be able to eat and get back to the car before the ticket expired, so we got a pizza and took it back to the hotel.

The hotel is quite good. They have free juice, coffee, biscuits, fresh fruit in the “breakfast bar” area and they have meals you can buy and heat in the microwave – well suited for travellers and business people. We spent the afternoon in the hotel and then asked reception if he could recommend a restaurant for dinner. All the local ones were shut, so we went to a really nice one in the centre of town , called Franco Rossi.

We got a taxi in, as it was the easiest option and only cost €10 each way. Once there we felt a bit underdressed, as we were in our shorts and t-shirts and it was a fairly fancy restaurant. Bologna is famous for a few dishes, one of which of course being bolognese sauce, so I had Tagliatelle alla Bolognese, which was very nice. Adrian had a sort of soup tortellini dish, and we splashed out and had dessert too. The final bill was actually quite reasonable considering Adrian had wine too. They called us a taxi and we headed back to the hotel and called it a night.

Thursday

This morning after breakfast we drove into the centre of town, parked at Piazza VIII Agosto and walked to Piazza Maggiore, where we saw the Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune). From there we walked to Due Torri, Bologna’s two leaning towers, and then to the Basilica di San Domenico.

On the way to the Basilica we took a wrong turn, but found an international bookshop, so we stopped and bought a book for the plane and also the time we will have between returning the hire car and catching our plane.

After we looked around the Basilica, we went back to where the bookshop was, as there was a nice cafe opposite. We both had strawberries and cream and took advantage of their free wifi to download emails onto our iPhones. We then headed back to Piazza Maggiore, this time for the Collezioni Comunali d’Arte, home to the city’s art collection.

After wandering around there for a while we found lunch in a cute little place tucked away in a backstreet and down some stairs. It was called Osteria delle Donzelle and we tried their lasagne – another dish that Bologna created. With Adrian and I being the connoisseurs of Lasagne, I would have to say that Elio’s (a restaurant near my parent’s place in Brisbane, Australia) is still top of the list for best Lasagne.

After lunch we walked back to the car and drove back to the hotel. We read our new books for a bit then went and took advantage of the free facilities and had a hot chocolate and biscuits. Then we went back to our room and read some more then drove into town again for dinner.

We had Tortellini alla Bolognese (Tortellini is yet another dish created in Bologna) and then found a gelateria for dessert. We normally get it in a cup, but this time I decided to have a cone. It proceeded to drop onto my fingers and down my hand – it was great. I felt like a big kid!! (Notably, I didn’t make a mess at all — Adrian)

Friday

After breakfast this morning we set off one last time in the car, to Venice. We found the Avis car hire place, but we needed to fill up with petrol. That was OK until the police (who seemed to be there because of an event or something) wouldn’t let us go back the way we came, so we had to go all the way back over the bridge, do an illegal u-turn and a strange round about type thing, and come all the way back. We parked the car and just made it back for the 1pm deadline.

Right near the Avis place was a restaurant called Autorimessa, where we each had a huge pizza to keep us going until dinner. Then we caught the bus to the airport, which got us there just abouter 3. We found a table at the cafe/pizzeria and settled in for our 4 hour wait until we could check in. We passed the time by reading, writing in the diary, reading, listening to music … and reading!!

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