A Travellerspoint blog

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Siena

Day 1 - June 3rd 2009

sunny 28 °C

Siena. Could Tuscany get any more beautiful? This place reminded me of my sister Jannet. You would have loved it, sis. I can imagine you sitting out in one of the Piazzas reading a book then cycling through the rolling hills to a quaint little cottage somewhere. Wish you were here. Siena (in my opinion) was prettier than Florence, less crowded and to use a word I learnt in my travels, less touristique.

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Duomo. Like I said, every Italian city seems to have one but that doesn’t make them any less spectacular.

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Colour. The characteristic use of reds, blues and yellows on the buildings complemented the greenery of the hills rather beautifully. Could quite easily disappear into the hills here. Grow a beard, rear geese and make wine.

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Haircut. It was time to lop some of the curls. Another week and I would have looked like Jimmy Hendrix. Choppy, choppy please. No round and no taper cut. Maybe he didn’t hear the “no” part but his first effort emulated a style fashioned by Vince Colosimo early in his career. Short on the sides with flowing curls on top and a fringe down to my eyebrows. Bit more off the top please. That’ll do, mate. I’ll bring in a magazine next time.

Campanile (Bell Tower) in Piazza Del Campo. We had to wait 30 or so minutes before commencing the climb. The staircase was tight and windy and certainly didn’t allow for multi directional traffic. It was worth the wait. Sublime panoramic views of Sienna and the surrounding hinterland. What beauty. Postcard perfect.

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Posted by samandvic 14:48 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Rome

Day 1 - June 3rd 2009

overcast 22 °C

Welcome to Rome! I thought the Taxi driver disputes were well and truly a thing of the past. I thought wrong. Although the hotel was only 500 or so metres from the terminal, we decided to take a cab (due to the broken wheel on the suitcase - gotta do something about that soon). The congregation of cabbies were so welcoming at first. “How are you, friend? Let me help you with your bags. First time in Rome? Blah, blah, blah.” About a minute or so into the ride, I noticed the meter wasn’t engaged. “Why isn’t the meter on?” “No meter. Fixed price. 30 Euro.” Listen mate, there is no way I am paying 30 Euro to travel 500 metres. We’ll just get out here.” We argued a bit before finally turning the meter on. From that point, it was like riding in a rally car. I mean he literally got the car sideways and went around the block a couple of times. He was pissed but it got worse. After pulling our bags out of the boot he tried to charge us two euro for each bag (including Vicki’s handbag!!). “I am really starting to lose my patience, mate. The meter said 10 and I’ll pay you one Euro for each of the bags you handled” (not that he was entitled to it but that’s what they charge in France). He threatened to call the cops but I had a sneaking suspicion it would have been a few of his friends to help sort things out. “Go for it or would you like me to call them you dodgy little fuck?” “No, fuckah youeh.” I can’t tell you how close I came to dropping him when he wrestled the suitcase from my hands. The thought of Vic being there was the only thing that stopped me. I chucked him 2 more Euro (15 in total) and we were on our way. I suppose it was worth the investment to reactivate the bullshit radar nice and early. We had such a good run in Milan and Tuscany but somehow I feel that Rome is going to be very different…

Hotel. We were buzzed in at the entrance then made our way into an old, manually operated, cage style elevator. The interior was made of wood and similar to something you’d see in an old movie. I loved it but it made Vicki nervous. Freshly decorated spacious rooms with unlimited access to a fridge full of goodies and an espresso machine to boot. Brilliant. Can’t seem to access the internet but we can deal with that in the morning.

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Posted by samandvic 15:00 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Rome

Day 2 - June 4th 2009

sunny 31 °C

Rome. Abbier and Andy wouldn’t have experienced much of a culture shock in Rome (in terms of people). The Rundle St and Parade crowd really do emulate that of the Italian capital. They love their bling and there isn’t an Italian male in Rome that will allow an opportunity to check out all of a passing female’s body parts go begging… I swear they must all suffer from whiplash. Their necks twitch like canaries when a female walks by. Great to watch.

Touristique. Yep, that’s us. The sightseeing, particularly in France and Turkey, really took it out of us. If we overdid it in Rome then I’m certain we’d avoid the sights in any of our remaining country visits. Probably just end up in a bar every morning. Not entirely bad I suppose. The Hop on Hop off Tourist bus took all the effort out of finding stuff. The intensity of the sun here is incredible. I can just imagine how bad it gets in the thick of summer. Extreme crowds and extreme heat. Bugger that.

Colosseo. First stop, the Colosseum. Mama Mia. The TV references constantly running through my mind suggest that I should permanently disable my cable subscription when I get home. All I could imagine was Russel Crowe swinging his sword in Roman hot pants (Not gay). Truly amazing inside and out. Sounds corny but if you close your eyes and try to imagine what it would have been like, the experience is heightened. After almost 2 hours and a few gladiator poses, we were ready to move on.

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Arco di Costantino. The Romans built Arcs to represent and honor victory in battle. This one represented the battle for Constantine over Maxentius and was right outside the Colosseum. It is apparently the best preserved in Rome.

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Foro Romano. We walked up the hill (through the exit mind you) to get a glimpse of the Roman Forum. For the moment, we couldn’t handle the thought of walking through the park exploring all the ruins. We spent a whole day doing that in Ephesus (Turkey) and weren’t prepared to do it all again (today anyway).

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Vatican City. The holy centre of Rome and practically all of Europe. Our timing was good as there were no crowds but Vicki’s tarty ways got us knocked back at the entrance. Infidel. I took great pleasure in the fact that they were happy to let ME in but not the Roman Catholic. No exposed shoulders please. We pottered around to gain an idea of geography in preparation for our return tomorrow.

Piazzas. They form a big part of Italian society. We visited a number of them today including Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Novona. Big quadrangles, normally with a fountain or obelisque in the centre and surrounded by historic buildings and cafes. Really good for grabbing a coffee to take a load off or a quick bite to replenish energy reserves whilst soaking up the atmosphere. Not cheap but nice.

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Fontana di Trevi. A huge fountain with the most elaborate façade. It depicts Neptune’s chariot being led by Tritons and was made famous (if it wasn’t already) by Fellini’s, La Dolce Vita. Great to just sit around and people watch.

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Dinner. After eating pasta for the past week, it was time for some red meat. Superb lamb chops served on the sweetest of Italian diced potatoes. Vicki opted for the Carbonara. It is said to be best eaten in Rome. Well, that’s what our mate Andrea told us and he wasn’t wrong. Vicki could only eat half so I guess I got my pasta fix after all. Molto Buono.

Posted by samandvic 15:18 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Rome

Day 3 - June 5th 2009

sunny 32 °C

Bus. The Touros on the bus go click, click, click… Back on the bus and straight to Vatican City.

Vatican City. A number of things to see here and after soaking up the sights of the main square we headed to the Vatican Museum primarily to see the Sisteen Chapel. There was so much on offer but we didn’t have time to see it all.

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Vatican Museum. The path to the Sisteen chapel had you walking through dozens of rooms each as remarkable and interesting as the next. The room of the maps was my favourite. It contained maps of all the lands once under Roman rule but most impressive were the battle maps. Paintings of the great battles between the Romans (or Byzantines) and the Turks. They showed where the Roman and Turkish infantry were positioned and also where ships were caught in battle. I couldn’t get enough of them. Another very spooky and disturbing set of images was Raphael’s slaughter of the innocent. Tapestries depicting men killing infants in their mothers’ arms. They were rather graphic and clearly showed the mothers’ futile attempts to fight off the men (who appeared to be Roman soldiers) from killing their young.

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Capel di Sisteena. After a long winding path up and down stairs through various chapels and exhibits, we eventually came to the Sisteen Chapel and quickly realised what all the rave was about. Awe inspiring, dark, silent and beautiful yet surprisingly small. Wall to wall (and ceiling) paintings, including the most recognisable of all, The hand of god. The only sound was that of the guard repeatedly yelling “No photo”. Of course like most tourists, we snuck in a few cheap shots to the guard’s disgust. Back luck buddy, not quick enough.

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St Peter’s Cathedral. Now that Vicki was dressed accordingly we were allowed inside to view this marvellous place of worship. You could easily accomodate a couple of thousand people indoors. Like many of the Roman cathedrals we had seen, the interior was elaborately decorated with paintings and sculptures that were attractions in their own right.

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Piazza di Spagna. Home of the famous Spanish steps. We initially couldn’t identify them due to the number of people occupying the area but we eventually figured it out.

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Pantheon. A piece of architectural brilliance even by today’s standards. It was built almost 2000 years ago. The techniques used for the construction of the dome are unknown. An understatement to say that it was ahead of its time.

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Largo Torre Argentin. Basically an archaeological block of ruins in the centre of a built up part of Rome. The fascinating thing about this site is that Caesar was allegedly stabbed by Brutus here. I had to take a photo doing the Chopper, stabby, stabby motion. Chop chop.

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Largo Torre Argentin Cat Sanctuary (in the same site). They were closing when we got there. Vicki was notably emotional and started crying when we arrived. The sanctuary cares for over 250 cats. They apparently lock the cats indoors for about 90 days before letting them out, that way they think of the site as home and don’t stray. All the cats are sterilised and regularly fed. It all started when an old man began feeding the strays 30 or so years ago. He later passed but his legacy remains and the shelter was erected some time after. The cats just roam the ruins and laze about in the sun. What a life. I think they deserve a bit of a break after hearing what the gypsies do to them. Vicki made a friend we called Maximus, he was a nice little man. A bit frail and we suspect he may have had a broken jaw. This just drew Vic to him further. He took quite a liking to Vic and casually climbed onto her lap for a cuddle. They quickly became the bestest of friends which made parting very difficult. According to Vic, this was the highlight of her entire holiday!

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Bill and Ted. Well, our itinerary has gone through a dramatic change yet again. We had planned and organised to head north to Holland then across to London to stay with some friends. We timed it so we could hang out with Greg and Fiona on the weekend. The train situation did not allow for the journey without losing 3 or so days in transit and a small bucket full of hundred dollar bills. Sorry Greggles.net. We were really looking forward to our stay and appreciate your intended hospitality. So what does that mean for us? It always made sense to travel east before looping back around to Germany. Now that we had a few days up our sleeves, we decided on the fly to visit Croatia. We travel from Venice to Zagreb on Sunday the 7th before exploring the famous Dalmation coastline. We get to try the exquisite seafood that Jen and Shaun have spoken so fondly of.

Internet. The hotel still hasn’t got their shit together with the wireless which means we have had to use internet cafes during our entire stay in Rome. Rather frustrating. It just sucks time out of your day as opposed to doing stuff at night in the comfort of your own room. There is however something positive to speak of. The man running the Internet Point (as they call them in Rome) was an Egyptian man called Khaled. After a small time searching for hotels in Venice, he asked whether I was Lebanese or Egyptian, completely out of the blue. Freaky. I told him I was half Egyptian and half Lebanese. He was very proud of himself for picking it. He said I had the appearance and speech of the Lebanese but the heart of an Egyptian. He brought us tea and we chatted about each other’s backgrounds. A really nice man. I told him that my Mum was in Egypt and that our trip unfortunately didn’t allow us to join her. He gave us his work and personal numbers and offered us his apartment in Sharm El Sheikh anytime we wanted it. It is a very exclusive Egyptian destination and we were extremely flattered by his open hospitality. Thanks again for the Tea and your general kindness in allowing us to stay past closing hours, Khaled. We’ll be in touch soon.

Happy Birthday, Abdul!

Posted by samandvic 15:44 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Venice

Day 1 - June 6th 2009

sunny 25 °C

Train delay. A storm hit Rome just as we were leaving. Fortunate timing? I guess not. Yes, we missed the bad weather and out ran the storm on the way to Florence (stopover) but the track heading North to Venice wasn’t so lucky. We had to wait for it to be cleared which took about 4 hours. Lucky for us (if you can call it luck) the delay occurred once already in transit, it meant we could at least stay on the train in the comfort of the first class cabin. We spent most of our time speaking to a retired American couple. The guy loved his dog so much that he cut one of his previous holidays short to be with him. It cost them a small fortune and a heap of transit time to get back a few days early. They now only take short breaks. Nice couple. Thanks for being kind enough to share your biscuits.

Venizia. City on the sea. I guess they hadn’t heard about global warming when they built this place. No roads, just waterways and boats as far as the eye can see. So much character and beauty. Wonderfully original.

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Hotel. My personal Travel Agent (Vicki) booked the most beautiful hotel in he heart of Venice. A two minute walk from the Rialto waterbus stop and the same distance from St Mark’s Square. Superb location, uber modern and excellent facilities. Bonza (Can you guess where I’m from?)

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Flood. As we were entering a local restaurant, Vic noticed a small stream of water beneath the doorstep. “Was it raining?” She asked. “No, this is Venice” the waiter replied. We didn’t pay much attention to his comment. After entrée, Vic went out for a smoke and noticed that the stream of water had become a large puddle but again didn’t think too much of it. We finished dinner and exited the restaurant to find that half the laneway was underwater and some of the shops too. There were dozens of tourists and locals wading through it with shoes in hand (although the locals were a little more equipped wearing gum boots). We took off our shoes and joined the party. The thought of any potential nasties in the water didn’t come to mind until much much later. Finally a use for the bidet!

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St Mark’s Square. What a sight. It would have been sublime on any day of the week at any time of year but today it was completely submerged in about half a meter of water. I was waiting for Kevin Costner to pop out bearing soil in exchange for a concubine. We felt like little kids in a Venizian water park. The joy of being in a place this beautiful to experience such a phenomenon was really quite extraordinary and something we’ll remember forever. There was an orchestra playing, couples dancing, teenagers wrestling and touros snapping pics at a rate of 40 clicks a second. Apparently the frequency of flooding is on the rise in Venice. I’m not sure whether Venice will remain above sea level forever, in fact expert advice is to the contrary but it really is an amazing place. Lets hope they can work out a way to prevent Venice from becoming a modern day Atlantis.

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Coffee. $22 a pop in St Mark’s square. We’ll just find somewhere else thanks. Geez, that’s rude.

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Posted by samandvic 15:16 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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