Florence, Cinque Terre, Rome, Venice
21.06.2007 - 01.07.2007 38 °C
The plan was simple, arrive at the train station at 8:30am, and get on the train we reserved the day before (€50 surcharge) and arrive in Florence a few hours later. But that would be too easy. The Italians joined the French train strike which had been off and on for about a month but hadn't yet affected us. We arrived at the chaotic Nice train station to find that our train was not on the list of departures. Along with everyone else, we needed to spend hours in multiple queues to get our money back for the reservation and try to find our way to Florence. Like any profession, there are good workers and there are bad workers. On our first attempt at the queue we were able to get our money back but the ticket attendant told us that we needed to get on an overnight train that was FULL, End of story, no other way to get to Florence. How helpful she was. Our next attempt at a different queue found us in line with a friendly Australian couple who just happened to be in the same predicament. We were both headed for the same campground in Florence, so we pooled our knowledge and decided to make the trip together. The next attendant was much more helpful, she could get us to Italy and give us a theoretical plan but couldn’t promise the trains in Italy were all running. Along with everyone else trying to get to Italy, we boarded a train to Veintemille which is a city on the France-Italy border, and then we would take local trains because the international trains were on strike. The first problem was that everyone and their dog were on this train and it was due to arrive 20min after our connection to Genova was supposed to depart. Apparently it was supposed to wait but thanks to some quick thinking by the Aussies I think we were the only ones that made the connection as this train was about to pull away as we got off the first train. Four trains and one bus later, we arrived at Camping Michelangelo at midnight.
Florence is a beautiful city. We stayed at very well established campsite which had the best views of the city, and was right below the lookout! It had a nice patio restaurant and bar which we enjoyed many evenings.
The first day was spent at Uffizi Gallery with the Aussies (Troy and Alwyn), which contained famous works by Botticelli and Michelangelo to name a few. It was great, but we were very exhausted by the end of our 3 hour endevour. Our next goal was food. A little pizza and some gelato! We followed the guidebook in order to find the best Gelatoria in town. It was right! Simply fantastic. Gellato is indeed an edible art form, as it suggests. We went for the fruity flavours since the weather was so toasty. The peach and the strawberry tasted exactly like the frozen fruits, but the lemon took the cake. It was like ice cold lemonade. Fabulous! Afterwards we went to the local supermarket for some food for dinner and were inspired by a fabulous sandwich idea. We got fresh pesto from the deli and fresh buffalo mozzarella, and Taylor had some meat, all of which we assembled onto a warm baguette fresh from the oven. WOW. What an amazing meal. No other food has topped our Florence experience. We hiked back up to the campsite to stumble upon happy hour at the campground bar - pints of beer for €2 and bottles of wine for €2.50, and I am talking good stuff. We couldn't pass the opportunity. We drank a few bottles of wine between the four of us and talked the night away. We realized that Australia is definitely a place we would like to visit someday, and now we have a place to stay!! We got along so well with them.
As fabulous as the campsite was, its one drawback was that we had to get up before 8 when the sun hit our tent in full force and breathing became difficult! Oh well, it made the days that much longer. The next day was leather shopping day - the day that Taylor had been looking forward to the whole trip We headed down into town and tracked down the leather market, which consisted of several hundred stalls selling anything and everything leather. Claire was in heaven, but we had to learn the art of true Italian haggling if we were going to buy anything. That day we just browsed....Claire very content, Taylor content with her contentness....and at the last store in the whole city we found the perfect purse. Unfortunately our haggling skills did not get us the deal we wanted, so we had to leave it and walk away The next time we were going to prevail! We hiked home up the hill, and spent Happy Hour with our Aussi friends again (who had spent the day in line waiting to see David), and the night passed quite similarly to the previous one.
The next day also began the same, and we went to haggle school. By noon our skillz were sharp and we returned home victorious. After our shopping we met up with the Aussis and wandered to the train station, then to see David through the windows of the museum (you can see David through the glass exit doors, and actually don't have to wait in line for 3 hours to get into the museum!) We topped off the day with another indescribably delicous gelato, and headed up for our last Happy Hour with our new buds. This night was special though, since, very conveniently, there was a festival that night which was celebrated with an hour long fireworks show on the lookout across from us. We had the best seats in the house. It was the perfect topper to a great Florence experience. A great way to kick off Italia....though the food would never be as good.....
The following day we said our farewells to Troy and Alwyn and took the train (about an hour) up to Pisa. We missioned to the Leaning Tower and took the requisite photos.
Then we took the train up to Monterosso (another hour), which is town #5 of Cinque Terre. We walked out of the station and were confronted with a gorgeous sea of turquoise and lots of sunburned tourists. It was nice, but not the idyllic hide away scene we had been expecting. You see there is this travel writer named Rick Steves, whose book we have with us and have really enjoyed (thanks Jane), but he has a big section on Cinque Terre and his audience is largely American, which meant that instead of the calm scene he described, which we guess everyone was looking for, the place was overrun, I mean packed, with American tourists. All with his book in hand. We found our hotel though - Hotel Souvenir - and checked in. We even got a free upgrade due to their lack of organization. Sweet. We had some gorgeous fresh local pasta named Trofie with fresh pesto for dinner. Monterosso is the birthplace of pesto, so as you might guess it was awesome. We had our token gelato for the day and crashed early, ready for the hike that awaited us the next day.
We were up at 6 and caught the train to town #1 (Riomaggore), which took all of 15 minutes by train. The next six hours were spent mosying along the path between the five towns and stopping where necessary for a token photo or bite to eat. It was awesome until about 8 when everyone else got out of bed and there were too many people for the poor little seaside paths to handle. The views though were stunning and the villages very cute.
That was our day in Cinque Terre, we would have stayed longer, but the accomodation was expensive and we had achieved our hiking goal. Next we headed to ROMA.
We took the train to Roma Termini station, then a two metros (which took about an hour and were totally packed) to get out of the city to Castelfusano. At the station a little shuttle bus took us to the Castfusano Camping place, aka Little Germany. It was like being in a German summer camp, wit 15-18 yr old Germans everywhere, and it was a big place! Needless to say, we kept mostly to ourseleves in our little bungalow.
We spent two full days sighseeing Rome and covered every major sight there except for the sistine chapel for which the queue was a good 2 miles long (no exaggeration!) A few highlights were St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, Trevi Fountain with gelato and the cat sanctuary where we got to pet kitties for as long as we wanted at this cat shelter situated in the ruins where Caesar was murdered. All this in 38-40 degree weather!
Next we took a direct train to Venice, where again we stayed slightly outside the city. We stayed at this little hotel that was a 10 min train ride from Venice, so the location was perfect! We spent the evening paying €8/hr for internet to track down our next place of accomodation in Austria.
Our one day in Venice was beautiful and sunny. We took a "bus" (aka boat) out to Murano, which is an island that manufactures world class glass products. We had the opportunity to see a demonstration which was incredible and did a little browsing in the plethora of tiny glass shops. That was our main mission for the day, but we also walked through the city and saw the main sites and famous piazza, and of course had our token gelato for the day.
And that was Italia, good food, hot weather and a piece of history around every corner.