After getting married on October 10th, 2009, Kim and I packed up and went to Italy for two weeks for our honeymoon. We toured the country by train hitting Rome, Pompeii, Sorrento, Florence, Venice and Cinque Terre. It was a fantastic trip!!
Italy Honeymoon -- October 2009
First of all, the wedding was fantastic. It was great to have all of our friends and family present and we had such a wonderful day with everyone. From the ceremony to the last dance, everything was amazing!
The night of the wedding we stayed at a hotel in London and the next morning we had a huge breakfast (via room service) and then hit the road back to Toronto. It was an easy drive and we had lots of time back at the apartment to finish all the last minute packing before heading out to the airport. I had arranged the rental car so that we picked it up downtown near our apartment but we were able to drop it off at the airport for no extra charge. This worked out really well as it meant that getting our bags and bodies to the airport was super easy and convenient.
The roads and airport were pretty quiet, I guess not many people fly on the Sunday evening of Thanksgiving weekend? We had a nice relaxing supper at some random airport restaurant. It was cool to be able to go slow after all the action at the wedding. Arriving super early can be good sometimes.
We're just sitting on the plane now, waiting for takeoff. We paid a bit extra to select seats in advance. It was totally worth it because although most of the plane is 3-3-3, towards the back it is 2-3-2 and we have one of the sets of two seats. This should make the long flight a bit more bearable as we don't have to deal with a third person. The plane is pretty empty though, and they just announced that the flight is indeed only half full. Cool! Should be a quiet flight. Hopefully we'll be able to get lots of sleep.
We haven't even been here twelve hours yet but we both agree, "Rome is Awesome!"
Our flight was definitely the easiest crossing of the Atlantic I've ever done. We had favourable winds and so we arrived an hour early. No turbulence really, and I even managed to sleep for more than thirty minutes (a whole two hours, with at least another hour of solid dozing). We flew over lots of cool mountains as we approached Rome and I'm pretty sure we also flew over Corsica (where Patrick and Toni had part of their honeymoon).
Fiumicino Airport was pretty easy to deal with. Our original plan was to get the train to downtown and then take the subway from there to our hotel. However once we got to the airport train station we accidentally asked an airport shuttle service where we buy train tickets and they of course recommended we use the shuttle instead of the train. The shuttle only cost a few euros more than the train and it took us right to our hotel so we decided just to take it. It was the correct choice for sure.
At our hotel (Daphne Trevi, more of a B&B than a hotel, but it's really nice) we got a really warm welcome including a map and a half hour description of all the places to go see in Rome. I hadn't really prepared much of an itinerary so it was great to get all of these details (although we were a bit tired from the flight still). The person also gave a few good restaurant and gelato recommendations which was pretty cool. Finally, when we mentioned that tomorrow we have a full day trip to Pompeii scheduled and that we would miss breakfast they happily offered to prepare us a breakfast to take with us! Very cool.
Our room is lovely, it's big and clean and everything is shiny and new. We share a bathroom and a common area with one other room in the B&B which seems like it won't be a big deal. The common area is really good, it has nice chairs and a couch and a brand new Macbook with free Internet access.
After getting settled and resting a bit we left the hotel to start seeing things in Rome. We started with some takeout pizza at the first place we came across and it was delicious! Very simple Margherita (just sauce, cheese and basil) but the sauce was sooo good. Next up we hit the closest gelato store and enjoyed some frozen deliciousness.
Our hotel is located on the Piazza Barbarini which has a pretty cool fountain with the Barbarini family crest of three bees carved into the base. From the piazza we walked north to Piazza del Popolo to see the ancient northern gates of Rome as well the giant Egyptian obelisk in the middle which was brought to Rome by Augustus in 10BC. While we were there it started raining pretty fierce so we ducked into a random church (Santa Maria del Popolo) that was also in the Piazza. It turned out to be pretty spectacular inside! Paintings and sculptures everywhere and all of it from the 1400s (ie. kinda old).
Just a note about churches and photos. Several of the churches we went into requested that people not take photos inside out of respect. I chose to apply this to all of the churches we entered regardless of posted signs so we have no pictures of any churches we entered.
Once it stopped raining we walked up Pincio Hill, in time to see a pretty nice sunset over Rome. The view was amazing. From the top of the hill we continued past the Galleria Borghese to the Spanish Steps. From there we went back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner.
The staff at the B&B had made us dinner reservations at a restaurant down the street so that was where we ate tonight. It was amazing! The place was super busy despite being down a small and quiet side street and most of the people eating there spoke Italian. I take this to mean it is in fact a real restaurant as opposed to a touristy restaurant. Our meal started with veggie antipasto and bread, as well as a half litre of the house red wine. For the pasta course Kim had gorgonzola gnocci (probably the highlight of the meal) and I had penne in a pancetta-vodka-tomato sauce (also delicious!). For mains Kim had roast pork while I had the lamb. There was a couple sitting beside us from Miami and we had a nice chat with them. They even let us try some of their porcini mushrooms and they were delicious as well (and I don't like mushrooms, not at all). By the time we were finished eating we were absolutely stuffed! I had a coffee (espresso) to finish off the meal in the traditional style and with the bill we were given one shot of grappa and one shot of limoncello. The grappa was pretty harsh, but the limoncello was nice!
After rolling out of the restaurant we wandered over to see the Trevi Fountain. It was pretty amazing and beautiful especially at night all lit up. However the area was also super crowded and touristy. There were shady people everywhere including people trying to sell mini-tripods to anyone with a camera. Kim helped watch my pockets while I took some pictures and then we headed back to the hotel (with a short stop for a piccolo gelato on the way).
We're now getting ready for our trip to Pompeii and Sorrento tomorrow. I booked a tour before we left Canada as it seemed like the best way to get down to see these places with the limited time we have available. The company picks us up at the hotel tomorrow at 7am and then drives us the three hours to Pompeii. We have a two hour guided tour of the ruins and then we get taken to Sorrento for lunch. We will have the afternoon to explore Sorrento and then they drive us back to Rome in time to catch a late supper. We probably could have arranged a similar journey by train, but it seemed like it would have been an extremely rushed and stressful day to do that. And, we definitely don't have time to spend a night down there. Hopefully the tour works out well!
Today was pretty full, although a lot of it was spent in a van between Rome and Pompeii. The day trip went well although we really didn't have enough time in any of the places. I guess it's better than not seeing them at all though.
We had to get up super early this morning for the tour which was a bit unpleasant, but the packed breakfast made things better. The drive from Rome to Pompeii was pretty sleepy but we got a good view of the sunrise over all of the hills and mountains that run along the length of Italy. Our driver was nice although quiet and there was only one other couple on the tour so the morning drive went by mostly in silence.
The one noteworthy part of the drive was the place we stopped for a break. We mostly drove on a major highway so our rest stop was at a truck stop. The truck stop was very similar to any truck stop in North America, except that they had quality food available like fresh squeezed orange juice and nice fresh croissants. Unfortunately due to tiredness and general language barriers we didn't figure out how to buy food before we had to get back in the van to continue the trip. We later found out that we had to pay first and then go to the food area with a receipt.
At Pompeii our tour guide for the ruins met us at the front gate. She was nice enough and knew lots about the region, however the tour was only two hours and the site at Pompeii is really big. So we only got to see a small portion of it. I think we could have easily spent four or five hours wandering around and not become bored or anything. It was impressive how well preserved a lot of stuff was, although I guess that's what happens when something is buried under many metres of ash for centuries.
After the tour, the driver took us on a scenic drive down the coast with several stops at cool lookout points. Eventually we got to Sorrento where the traffic was insane. All of the roads were super hilly and narrow and there were motorcycles and mopeds weaving in and out of the cars all the time. It was nuts but the driver seemed to think it was normal and it didn't bother him at all.
Down near the docks, the driver dropped us off at a restaurant where we had lunch beside the beach. It was a really good restaurant in a nice quiet area of town. There were many apartments near by and we got to watch local people going about their business as we ate. At one point a school bus came and dropped off kids coming home for lunch. While we were eating, an old lady in one of the apartments above the restaurant lowered a bucket to the restaurant, shouted at them in Italian and then they filled it with food and she hauled it back up. It was pretty funny.
The food itself was delicious, I had ravioli and Kim had lasagna and we shared some yummy bruschetta with the other couple on the tour.
After lunch, the driver took us back to the centre of town where we were free to wander for the rest of the afternoon. There were lots of cool shops and we had some really good gelato and we were even able to get back to a beach and hang out by the water a bit. It was a really nice town, but once again we didn't have enough time there.
Overall we were both a bit disappointed with the day. The trip was good, exactly as advertised really, but it just wasn't long enough. It was certainly better than nothing, but it's not how we will do things in the future.
The drive back to Rome was uneventful until we actually got close to the city itself. Traffic was bad! On the highway coming into the city it was really backed up so instead of waiting our driver drove on the shoulder, cutting into service centres when they came up. Then in the city itself he would cut across lanes and totally disregard the hundreds of omnipresent mopeds (which were also cutting across lanes all of the time). It felt like a crazy roller coaster ride to me so I just sat back and enjoyed it. I don't think Kim had quite as much fun though.
After freshening up at our hotel we headed out for supper at a pizza place recommended by the Lonely Planet called "Est! Est! Est!" It was a bit out of the way but also really tasty. I had a buffalo milk mozzarella pizza with cherry tomatoes while Kim had a broccoli-sausage pizza. We split them in half and traded and it was a great meal.
For the rest of the evening we went for a walk to see what we could see. First we passed by the Quattro Fontane (four fountains each located on one corner of an intersection). Next we passed Trajan's column which is a spectacular 100 foot column from about 113AD that is decorated with carvings winding from the bottom to the top depicting Trajan's victory in the Dacian wars. It was pretty spectacular and cool to see it lit up at night. Right next to Trajan's column is the National Monument, a crazy huge building created in the early 1900s to honour Victor Emmanuel. It's made of pure white marble and is built on high ground so it really stands out. There is a lot of controversy over the building as it really doesn't belong. It's still pretty cool to look at though.
Eventually we came to a gelato shop recommended by the staff at our hotel. The place had over a hundred flavours and everything we got was delicious. We took our gelato outside to continue our walk and we accidentally stumbled upon the Pantheon. It was pretty cool to see it at night. It's all closed up but the outside is impressive and if you stand under the front balcony part you can see and hear bats in the rafters.
After enjoying the Pantheon we started heading back to our hotel for the night but before we got there we passed a church where a free choral concert was happening inside. So we went in and joined the audience for the remainder of the concert. The concert was good and the church was pretty cool too.
We're back at the hotel now and I'm really loving it here. It so cozy and comfortable and the laptop with free Internet is awesome.
This morning we slept in a bit and then enjoyed breakfast at our B&B. It was pretty good: lots of fruit, pastries, cereal, juice and coffee. Nothing fancy, but as much as we could eat and all very nice.
After breakfast we headed out into the city to check out some churches and then passed by the Area Sacra. Area Sacra holds the remains of four Roman temples and the remains of Pompey's Theatre, where Julius Caesar was assassinated. It is an active archealogical site at the moment as well as a cat shelter (there were tons of cats roaming the area).
Next we went to Campo dei Fiori, a really nice square where a daily produce market is held. We picked up some fruit and a prosciutto panini and sat by the fountain eating and watching people for a while. At one point a bunch of dudes came by and set up fake purses for sale which was also kind of amusing.
After the market we wandered down across the Tiber to the Trastevere region of Rome, which is considered the part of Rome where "true Romans" come from. It has a lot of narrow streets and cobblestone roads and is really cool to wander around in. There are tons of bright colours and lots of fun little shops. We also checked out the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, which is one of the oldest churches in Rome and which has all kinds of cool inscribed stones preserved outside the building.
Next, ready for lunch, we walked back towards Piazza Navona stopping at La Zozzone for some delicious pizza. We both got normal pizza, but it seems like the specialty is white pizza folded over, almost like a sandwich. Tons of Italian speaking people came and left with those sandwiches as take out while we ate our meal.
We then picked up some gelato and headed into Piazza Navona itself. The Piazza is huge and contains three really cool fountains including the gigantic Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers). We spent a bunch of time wandering around the Piazza and area before continuing the day's journey towards the Pantheon.
The Pantheon was easily the best thing we saw today. It is just so big and so well preserved and so perfectly shaped. It's crazy to think that it is almost 2000 years old. Apparently to this day it is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. The reason it's so well preserved is that in 609AD it was converted into a Catholic church which saved it from the destruction that befell most ancient Roman buildings over the years. The church conversion did not change much though, so it is still easy to imagine it as a building where people did stuff 2000 years ago. We spent a long time just sitting at one of the walls and looking at the dome and taking it all in.
Next we went to check out the crazy National Monument building during the day. We were able to walk around on it and get some really nice views of the city, but there were guys everywhere who would blow whistles at you if you tried to sit down anywhere on the monument (apparently this is because it is also the tomb of the unknown solider in Italy). The monument had guards as well and we were able to see them change the guards, which was pretty neat.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped by Trajan's column, the Foro di Cesare and the Foro di Augusto (two ancient Roman forums). The sun was setting so we got to see all the ruins in some really nice light. We both really liked Trajan's column and still find it amazing that 2000 year old ruins are literally lying around everywhere here.
Before supper we walked to the train station to buy our train tickets to Florence. We used an automated machine and it was super easy. The only snag came at the end where, although we had selected English as the language, it showed us the terms and conditions of the ticket in Italian. I'm sure it will be fine though.
For supper we picked a restaurant at random on our way back to the hotel but unfortunately we picked a bad one. Kim's gnocci was terrible and the staff were pretty rude. Very disappointing really. After dinner we went and got some gelato, wandered around a bit more, and then went back to the hotel to call it a night. We walked a lot today and it is nice to be able to sit and relax.
We got up earlier today so we could get to the Vatican in good time to avoid some of the crowds. But before catching the metro we did a quick stop at the Capuchin Crypt beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. The crypt contains the bones of over 4000 Capuchin monks who died between 1528 and 1870. However, instead of the bones being buried or in tombs, they have been cleaned and arranged all over the place. The crypt is absolutely stuffed with bones. They're often arranged in piles by type of bone, but some are used to create light fixtures which hang from the ceiling and others decorate the walls in complex patterns. It's definitely one of the crazier things I've seen.
Anyway, after the crypt we got on the metro and headed to the Vatican City. St. Peter's Square is huge and the Basilica towers above it. The inside of the church felt even bigger than it looked on the outside and it was full of statues, paintings and golden things everywhere. Like other churches we've visited it also had donation boxes, "for the care and maintenance of the church," however I have a hard time believing this particular church is hurting for money. It was insane. We also went below the church to check out the catacombs where many Popes of the past are entombed, including John Paul II.
Despite arriving early to the Vatican it was still crazy busy so instead of waiting in line to go through the Vatican museum we decided to go back to the rest of Rome for the afternoon. This means we won't get to see Sistine Chapel, however we are both OK with that.
Before leaving Vatican City we stopped at the post office beside St Peter's Basilica to mail a bunch of postcards. The Vatican City is its own country and so it has its own mail service which is reputedly much more reliable than the Italian mail service (they partner with the Swiss for mail delivery). It was so easy to mail things and everyone at the post office was super friendly.
For lunch we walked back to La Zozzone again and then we went to a really good gelato place where you can see into the back where they are making the gelato from scratch. We're really enjoying walking around the city and just seeing what there is to see. We walked past an elementary school on the way to lunch and it was neat to hear the kids shouting from inside.
For the afternoon we walked down to see the Baths of Caracalla, the ruins of a gigantic complex of public baths built around 200AD. The place is really huge with ancient walls towering over 30 metres into the air. It's amazing to see it all still standing. We got an audioguide and it took us on a nice walk through the baths and explained all the areas. Kim already knew a lot of it, but she still enjoyed getting reminders. There were tons of section of mosaic floor all over the place both at the ground level as well as chunks that had collapsed from upper stories of the building. We were also able to see the remains of the libraries and massive cisterns that were also a part of the complex. The ruins themselves are in a really nice and quiet area of the city so it was very peaceful to walk around in them.
On the way back into the core of the city from the Baths we passed a really nice street market focusing on local foods. It was pretty cool and we were able to try lots of free samples of olive oil and bread and cheese.
We spent sunset wandering around the outside of the Roman Forums and the Colosseum which was totally awesome. The Colosseum is just amazing to see in person. It's so big and old and it's really hard to imagine how they built it and how it has lasted for so long. Tomorrow we'll be going inside and we can't wait!
After a short rest at the hotel we headed out to get some food for supper. We weren't that hungry so we just stopped at a place that sold pizza by the kilo, thinking we would get some to go. It turned out that they actually had tables in the back to eat at and they even did rudimentary table service. It was a really nice surprise and the pizza was really good! Of course we also got some gelato for dessert.
I wasn't happy with the pictures I had taken of the Trevi Fountain on our first night here so we walked back by it to get some more. Then we went back to the Colosseum to see it all lit up at night. After some more wandering around we eventually headed back to the hotel. Kim was pretty tired so she fell right asleep but I am up now in the common area writing notes. I just met the new people who arrived to occupy the room beside us and we had a very pleasant conversation. I figured out they were from Canada before they said it just by how polite they were and by their mannerisms. It was pretty amusing.
On our first day in Rome we had a long chat with our hotel people about things to do here, where to go and how to get there. They were super helpful and all of their recommendations were great. We weren't sure how to deal with all of the stuff to see in Rome, and so when they suggested a tour of the Roman Forums and Colosseum we decided to do it. Unfortunately we booked the tour before our disappointing trip to Pompeii. Ever since that tour we've been concerned that our Ancient Rome tour would also kinda suck. So today we decided to head out to see the Forums and the Colosseum on our own before the tour, just to make sure we had all the time we wanted.
We got up early and headed out to the Forum. But when we got there, it was closed! We found a sign off to the side saying that there was a staff meeting and both the Forum and the Colosseum would be closed until 1pm. That sucked! So we went to the Forum Info centre instead, but it was very small and didn't have much other than a clean free bathroom. Boooourns.
Near the Colosseum is the Domus Aurea a huge park as well as the remains of a villa built for Nero. We figured that would be fun to see instead, but unfortunately it was closed for repairs! We just couldn't win this morning. It was a nice park though.
Anyway, we decided to give up on the ancient stuff for the morning and headed north to the church of San Pietro in Vincoli to see Michelangelo's statue of Moses and the relic of the chains that bound St. Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem. While we were up there we also came across a University so we went inside and looked around. We managed to look in on a couple classes including one that was either Calculus or something that uses a lot of Calculus. It was pretty cool to see.
After a quick lunch we headed back to the National Monument to meet our tour guide for our tour of the Forums and the Colosseum. It turned out that we didn't need to worry about this tour at all. It was fantastic! The guide was an American living in Rome and she was extremely knowledgeable and friendly. Kim had a really good time discussing more obscure details with her and she was really good at getting us through the massive area to see as much as possible (unlike our Pompeii tour guide who barely showed us anything at all). Our tour group had a total of five people in it who were also very friendly.
We started off with a quick intro to the National Monument, and then headed by the Imperial Forums and into the main Forum itself. The Forum was the centre of ancient Rome and served as a market, and place for people to gather for any and all events. It is absolutely packed with ruins and amazing bits of history. We enjoyed it even more than the Colosseum. The Colosseum was big and amazing to see, but there is much less detail inside. It has been stripped pretty thoroughly over the centuries by any number of people. It was basically a quarry for many years and it shows. Still very awesome though, it could hold at least 50,000 people and was built much like modern sports centres so that those 50,000 people could all enter and/or exit very quickly.
You buy one single ticket to get into both the Colosseum and the Forum. However there are two entrances to the Forum so it's possible to enter and exit it twice. We combined this with the fact that our tour ended in the Colosseum to ensure that we got as much time as we wanted in both places. We stayed beyond the end of the tour at the Colosseum and then headed to the alternate entrance to the Forum and stayed there until it closed. This afternoon definitely made up for the crumby morning!
We just had a quick supper near our hotel and now are packing up to head to Florence in the morning. We've had a great time in Rome but we're looking forward to the next part of the journey.
We got up early this morning to check out and catch the train to Florence. The ride was just over an hour and a half through nice Tuscan countryside. The train left right on time and arrived on time too. It was really easy.
Our hotel in Florence is an easy ten minute walk from the train station and we had no problem finding it or getting checked in this morning. We were too early to access our room, but they were happy to take our bags and sit down with us to talk about what to do in Florence.
Florence is much smaller than Rome, so it's even easier to walk everywhere. We started out this morning by checking out the Piazza della Signora which had a ton of really awesome statues. Then we continued past Santa Croce to the Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio, a really awesome farmer's market. It had tons of cool food in it and we picked up some delicious pastry to snack on. We continued wandering until we found a park and ate our snacks there while watching some local school children play soccer. It was awesome.
For lunch we went back to the market area to get lunch at a pizza place recommended by the owner of our hotel. He claimed it is the best in Florence and we believe him! It was amazing! They had huge, stone, wood-fired ovens and it was all set up so that you can watch them make your pizza. We arrived right at opening so we were the first or second people there, but by the time we left it was absolutely packed with dining Italians. After lunch we hit up the market again for some fruit to eat for dessert. In particular we got some nice red currants and ate them on the steps of Santa Croce.
Next we headed up to the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (also known as the Duomo). It's a gigantic gothic-style cathedral with a facade of green, white and red marble. The outside is incredibly detailed and fancy, however the inside is much more simple and plain. We also went to an excavation underneath the Duomo of Santa Reparata, the cathedral that was on the site before the Duomo was built.
Just outside the Duomo is Giotto's Bell Tower. I like climbing tall things in foreign cities, so obviously I payed the admission and climbed the 414 steps to the top. Kim stayed at the bottom due to being tired, but I was able to see her from the top! The views were great and the climb wasn't too bad.
After my climb we headed to the Galleria dell'Accademia to see Michelangelo's David. Apparently there is always a long line to get into the museum, but we went pretty late in the day so the line wasn't actually that bad. It was only about twenty minutes to get in. The statue was amazing! It's really the only thing worth seeing in the museum, but it's worth the entrance cost. It's so detailed and beautiful, I loved it!
After the museum, we crossed the river Arno to find supper in the Oltrarno area based on the recommendations of the hotel staff. Our first choice was full by the time we got there so we went to another place instead. It was super confusing though because it was Tappas style and it wasn't really explained well to us. But we eventually managed to get food somehow and it was delicious. Large portions of simple pasta and salad. Nothing fancy, but good. We stopped on the way home to get gelato and the gelato store also had a section selling regional foods, including Amedei chocolate! This was the first time I'd actually seen Amedei chocolate for sale in Italy, which is a bit surprising since it's Italian. Anyway, we got one scoop of dark chocolate gelato and one scoop of mint gelato and they were probably the best we've had so far. The dark chocolate tasted like a a real piece of pure dark chocolate and the mint gelato tasted like it was flavoured with real mint leaves. Delicious!!!
We're back at the hotel now. It's pretty interesting, the furniture is all antique and they've done a lot to preserve the original interior character of the building.
This morning we slept in and then wandered around until we found a little cafe to get some breakfast in. We had some really good croissants and fresh orange juice and then hit up the train station to get our tickets to Venice for tomorrow. Once again it was super easy to handle; I love how simple it is to travel by train here!
Next we crossed Ponte Vecchio and walked up a huge hill to Piazzale Michelangelo to get a really nice view of the city and to see San Miniato al Monte, a really nice basilica at the highest point in the city. The church is surrounded by a huge active cemetery that was pretty cool to walk through.
For lunch we crossed back to the other side of the river to try to go to the really yummy pizza place again, but it is closed on Sundays. So we went to somewhere else that wasn't quite as good.
After lunch we were walking through Piazza della Signora and we stopped at an ATM to get some cash. While I was doing that, Kim found a twenty Euro bill on the ground! When I asked for more details, she admitted that it was right beside some dog poo, but apparently not touching said poo. I didn't really believe her and suspect she got it because other people wouldn't be willing to pick up poo money. There were a lot of people in the square so it's hard to believe it would sit for very long without a good reason. Anyway, we resolved the poo issue by immediately breaking the twenty by buying some yummy gelato.
After our gelato Kim was pretty tired (I think she is still recovering from the busy times in Rome), so I left her at the hotel and went to check out the Uffizi Gallery, one of the oldest art museums in the world. On my way to the museum I was able to witness police chasing after counterfeit purse sellers which was pretty funny. The police car rolled up and the sellers immediately grabbed their stuff and ran away fast.
The Uffizi was amazing! It had so much fantastic art, including a ton by Botticelli which I really liked. The Birth of Venus was obviously the most popular piece but I like a lot of his other stuff even better.
After the museum I wandered by the Duomo briefly, and then headed back to the hotel to wake up Kim for supper. We picked out a random restaurant for supper and it was pretty good! We both had pretty decent pasta as well as some veggies. The only problem we had was that I noticed the menu said it had "premium Italian beer" so I ordered one of those hoping to get something interesting. Apparently premium Italian beer is Heineken, I actually saw them pour it. Boo.
After supper we walked around a bunch to see all the sites lit up at night and then went to the really awesome gelato shop from last night for dessert. Now we're back at the hotel packing up for our trip to Venice tomorrow. Florence has been great! We were able to see lots of the city in a pretty short time without ever feeling rushed. We certainly didn't do everything, but we're not leaving disappointed with the amount we saw.
The train ride to Venice was not nearly as scenic as the one to Florence (well except for the end bit where we crossed the water to reach the islands), however we did have more interesting company. Two random Italian men sat with us and had many heated conversations in Italian over the course of the two and a half hour journey. It was pretty amusing despite not having a clue what they were talking about.
Venice is a series of tiny islands with canals of all sizes snaking through them. They have a public transit system along the largest canal, The Grand Canal. It's a boat obviously and is pretty cool. However instead of taking the boat, we decided to walk from the train station to our hotel. Venice isn't that big and it seemed like taking the boat would be slow and confusing. While it is true that Venice is small, trying to walk in it is probably much more confusing than taking the boat. The paths and walkways don't follow any straight lines and will often end abruptly in a canal and you have to turn around and try a different path. Also, our map was not super accurate as many of the walkways were too small to be listed. Finally, the numbering of buildings is done in zones rather than by street. So to find our hotel we had to find the approximate area and then wander up and down streets and alleys looking for the number. Eventually we found it, got checked in and were finally able to dump our bags. The lady at the hotel didn't speak English however she had our name and cheerfully checked us in and showed us how to use the keys to get in and out of the building. The hotel itself is nice, but nothing special. A lot of hotels in Venice are extremely expensive, but this place is very reasonable so we're not upset that we don't have a view over a canal or anything.
After getting settled, we headed out to explore. The bridges and canals and water are all really cool. It's so crazy that there is actually a city like this in the world. We saw lots of gondoliers trying to get people to take a ride, however with rides starting at 80 Euros we politely declined. We eventually made it to the Rialto market and got some fruit and sandwiches for lunch. It's a really fantastic market with lots of fresh produce and a crazy amount of fish and seafood.
Next we headed over to the famous St. Mark's Square to see the basilica and to just look around. The square floods quite frequently and it seemed like it had flooded this morning. They set up raised walkways during floods and although the water was gone when we arrived, the walkways were still there. The entrance to the basilica clearly floods often, it must be a lot of work to keep it from rotting away completely! The entire ceiling on the inside of the basilica is covered in super detailed mosaics, mostly in gold but with lots of other colourful stones as well. It's extremely shiny!
Also in the square is a tall clock tower that you can go up to get a good view of the area. Once again, Kim decided she didn't want to climb a lot of stairs so I went on my own. However, once I got to the front of the line I discovered that you didn't climb, it had an elevator! It was too late to turn around and get Kim, so I just went up and told her about it after.
After we finished with St. Mark's, we crossed the Grand Canal and visited another large church before catching the bus/boat and riding it all the way back to the train station. We were at the bottom of the canal (and the train station is at the top) so this was a really easy (and cheap) way to see a lot of the city. There is so much boat traffic on the Grand Canal! Water taxis, delivery boats, garbage boats, construction boats, and private boats all make it very busy.
At the train station we bought our train tickets to get to Cinque Terre and then walked back to our hotel to get ready for supper. We didn't have any particular spot for supper in mind, so we just tried to find somewhere away from touristy areas. Despite our best efforts, the food at the place we found wasn't anything special. Now that we've gotten over the initial novelty of the city we see how touristy it is. It's stil cool, but it's also overrun with tourism. It makes sense though, the city is way too impractical to have much else in the way of industry.
We're back at the hotel now, and just as I was writing these notes there was a banging at the front gate. The desk clerk went home long ago so I headed out to see what was up. A family from England was trying to check in and had been delayed so they were very late. I let them in so they could at least sit down in the lobby while they called the hotel owner to get checked in. They were very happy for the help.
Today, after breakfast at the hotel, we stocked up on fruit from the market and then caught a boat to Murano. Murano is an island about a mile north of Venice which is world famous for it's glass making. We were able to sit in several different workshops (sometimes free, sometimes not) and watch them blow glass and shape it into really crazy things. We sat for a long time in one place and watch them build a lot of parts for a huge chandelier. They would also occasionally make glass horses or vases or other things. It was amazing how skilled the craftsmen were and how fast they could work. Unfortunately we don't have a lot of pictures of the process or of any of the nicer pieces as there are signs everywhere saying no photos.
In addition to watching glass get made, we also spent a lot of time wandering in and out of the many glass shops on the island. A lot of the places were touristy and mainly sold small trinkets, but there were also a bunch devoted to specific artists where we were able to see some truly beautiful pieces. At one of those places we picked up a really nice, slender vase made of smoky blue glass. The store packaged it up well so hopefully we'll be able to get it home without breaking it!
For lunch we had some good pizza while sitting out on a patio next to a canal and then after a bunch more wandering we eventually got back on the boat and headed towards the island between Venice and Murano. This island is home to the only cemetery in the city and it is massive. We actually got a bit lost walking through it as it is absolutely packed with rows and rows of identical looking graves.
After a short rest at our hotel, we headed out for dinner. Over a week of Italian food put us in the mood for something different, so we went to the only Indian restaurant in Venice and it was delicious! I felt like I had stepped back into my favourite Indian restaurant back home in Toronto.
Venice has been fun, but probably not our favourite part of the trip. We both enjoyed Murano more than Venice itself. I'm really looking forward to seeing Cinque Terre tomorrow, although the train ride is going to be really long.
We were up bright and early this morning to begin our journey to Cinque Terre. It's on the other side of Italy from Venice so it was a fairly long trip (probably about 5 hours by train). The first leg was a high speed train to Florence which was fast and easy as usual. From Florence we caught a regional train to La Spezia, which is the closest major centre near Cinque Terre. From La Spezia we took a really little train into Cinque Terre, getting off at the town of Riomaggiore, about fifteen minutes from La Spezia.
The train trips were fairly draining, especially the one from Florence to La Spezia. Being a regional train it made a lot of stops and people were constantly getting on and off. A lot of people were very loud or were unable to control their small children so it wasn't a super pleasant trip. It also rained all day so the views were pretty gloomy. Fortunately the rain stopped just as we arrived in Riomaggiore so we didn't get wet walking from the train station to our B&B.
The lady who owns our B&B also runs a local hotel booking service called MarMar and that is where we met up with her upon arriving in Riomaggiore. She had to wait for a different customer before she could take us to our rooms so we had a good chance to talk with her and learn about her background. She's originally from New York and has been living on and off in Cinque Terre for twenty years. She was super friendly and told us all about the area and it was a really good introduction to the towns. Eventually the other customer showed up and she brought us further into town to her B&B. The room is really nice and the location is great. We don't have a view of the ocean, but it's so close that it is trivial to go see it whenever we want.
I should probably take a moment here to talk about Cinque Terre since it is a lesser known destination in Italy. Cinque Terre is a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site located on the Italian Riviera (the north-western coast of Italy on the Mediterranean Sea). In addition to the countryside and the coastline the region contains five tiny villages (Riomaggiore, where we're staying, has a population of only 1800 people). The draw of the region is the fact that the coastline is mostly cliff faces and the towns are all perched right on the rocks at the edge of the water. Cars are generally not allowed to drive in the area and you normally reach the towns by train or boat. There is very little visible modern development and the mountain sides outside of the towns are all covered with traditional terraced farming. The towns produce a lot of very delicious food, including wine, olives, pesto, lemons and of course a veritable bounty of fish and shellfish. A lot of effort has been made by the Italian government to preserve the traditions of the region. Although it is a fairly popular destination for tourists, there is very little of the tacky stuff you see in places like Venice or Rome. Finally, there are loads of hiking trails in the park, including an 18km one connecting all five of the villages. We hope to do some walking on that one tomorrow.
Kim was pretty tired after the travels of the day so she rested for a while at the hotel. Myself, I couldn't wait to start exploring so I headed out into town and started wandering. First I went up into the back streets of the town towards the terraced farm areas. I got some great views of the town and the ocean and got to see grapes and lemon trees everywhere. It's really a fantastically beautiful area and I feel so refreshed after all the big cities we've been in. Next I headed down to the water and explored the harbour and found my way to the pebble beach on the eastern end of the village. The waves are pretty big today and so I just sat for a while watching the pounding surf. I really love the Mediterranean.
Eventually I went back to get Kim and we took a similar walk around town before having dinner at a really fabulous restaurant recommended to us by our B&B lady. Kim had asparagus-clam fettuccine in a cream sauce and I had spaghetti with tomatoes and swordfish in olive oil. Both were delicious, but Kim's was over the top amazing! We also got a half litre of the house wine (locally made) and it was fantastic too! To end the meal I had a tiramisu which blew my mind and Kim had a cheesecake that was also quite fine. That was a damn fine meal for sure.
After supper we walked back out to the water to see the waves crashing at night and to watch a local fisherman out on the rocks. Now we're back at the B&B, just relaxing in the extreme quiet of the evening. It is freaking awesome here!
This morning we slept in and then had breakfast at a local cafe. Our B&B does not do breakfast itself, but instead gives vouchers for the cafe which is across the street. The cafe was really nice and had awesome croissants and orange juice and espresso. After breakfast we walked all around the village exploring. We found a pretty cool church and the local school. All of the houses are so neat the way they're perched on the hills. This place is awesome.
Next we headed out to the trail that connects the villages. In order to hike in the park you need to buy a pass, the fees of which go to the upkeep of the trails. So we headed to the entrance to buy our pass but unfortunately due to the rain most of the trails were closed. We could only walk as far as the adjacent village as the weather made the other trails treacherous. It was a bit disappointing but it makes sense since a lot of the trails are right on the cliff edge.
Anyway, just after we bought our pass the rain changed from a light shower to a torrential down pour. Boo. So we used the Internet for a while at the conveniently placed Internet cafe where we bought our passes and then when it was still raining we went back into town to buy some snacks and hang out in our room for a bit. Eventually it stopped and we were able to walk the trail.
The trail had really nice views of the sea, and the next town (Manarola) was as nice as Riomaggiore to explore. We bought a few things at some shops and eventually made our way back to Riomaggiore. Kim decided to take a nap, but I wasn't quite done yet so I went on another walk, this time in the other direction. This trail was much less traveled and maintained and with a much larger change in elevation. Also, in some places, it was super narrow and right at the cliff edge so it was fairly exciting. Eventually it led me back down to the sea where a local fisherman was just finishing up for the day. After he left I went and sat where he was fishing and watched the waves for a while, giving my legs a chance to recover.
For supper we went back to the same restaurant as last night. There are only three or four places in town and we really liked this one so we decided to stick with it. We shared a serving of mussels for a starter and then Kim had the asparagus-clam pasta she had last night and I had a pesto pasta that was really good too. We also enjoyed a very nice dessert again.
We leave for Rome tomorrow and the day after we fly back to Canada. Cinque Terre has been a fantastic place to end our trip as it was just so peaceful and relaxing and beautiful. We really slowed down a lot here and had time to be still and reflect on everything we've done. It's been a really good trip, but I think we're both ready to go home and reconnect with all our friends and family. It's crazy, but we haven't talked to anyone much since the wedding. We're eager to hear if everyone had a good time and to hear stories from the night.
We had a leisurely morning before catching our train in La Spezia to Rome. First we had breakfast at the cafe and then after checking out I picked up a couple packets of spice mix for pasta sauces from a little shop in town. Next we headed to the train station to use the Internet while waiting for our train to La Spezia. Patrick and Toni are still in Canada so we're going to be able to see them one last time before they leave. We're both really excited for that!
We had about an hour to kill in La Spezia before our train to Rome, so we got lunch in the train station and sat around chatting. We are pretty much happy to just relax at this point in the trip.
The train ride to Rome was about four hours long and fairly uneventful. We caught a couple glimpses of the sea on the way, but not much more than that.
For this last night in Rome, I picked a hotel close to the train station for convenience. We don't have a lot of time in the morning to get a train to the airport so I wanted to be within walking distance. Unfortunately, despite my research on the Internet, the hotel I selected is rather depressing. It's not expensive so at least I don't feel like we've been ripped off, but it's definitely not a place I'd want to stay more than one night in. It's clean, but so old and tired. I'd say the only highlight is the shower, and not because it's good, just because it's amusing. When I first looked in the bathroom I didn't even see a shower. Looking again, there is a shower head coming out of the wall between the sink and the toilet and there is a drain in the bathroom floor. There is nothing to prevent the entire bathroom from getting soaked when you shower. The toilet paper has a handy cover though so that at least it stays dry.
We obviously weren't going to spend our evening in the depressing hotel room. It wasn't quite supper time yet when we arrived so we got some gelato at the really good gelato place near the Pantheon and then wandered down to the Colosseum to see that one last time. For supper we hit up Est! Est! Est! again for yummy pizza and then got some more gelato before heading back to the hotel to pack up for the last time.
We're watching Italian MTV now as we get ready for bed and our flight home tomorrow.
After a very strange shower this morning, we headed to the train station and caught the "Leonardo Express" to the airport. I can't believe Toronto doesn't have a rail link between Union Station and Pearson. It should always be that easy to get to and from the airport.
After getting checked in for our flight we got some lunch and did a bit of shopping. Kim bought some pasta shaped like things in Italy and I found something truly amazing. Amedei Nutella!! Amedei makes some of the finest chocolate in the world and, well, nutella is just awesome. To have found the two together is something that made me very happy, even if it was 12 Euros for a small jar.
After getting on the plane the pilot informed us that there were unusually strong winds over the Atlantic and that we would not be able to complete the flight without refueling. So we had to stop in Shannon, Ireland for an hour to fill 'er up. It was cool to fly into Ireland again after having been there in May. It's a really beautiful country and seeing it made me want to go back and visit it more.
Other than being long (over 12 hours on the plane), the flight was pretty smooth. Back in Toronto we caught the Airport bus back into the city and then promptly went to bed. It was a very good trip but we were very happy to be back in our own bed in our own apartment.