italy / day twenty / torino

We had such an incredible time in Cinque Terre and were very sad to say goodbye. Unfortunately, we hadn’t slept very well on any of the nights at the Airbnb. The rooms were quite nice at first glance, but the beds were disappointing and a sensor in the hallway kept loudly clicking the lights on and off every ten seconds. Somebody even stole some money from a compartment in one of my bags, which we made very clear we were unhappy with and they reluctantly paid it out to us before we left for our train.

We took a train from Monterosso al Mare to Genova, then changed trains to Port Nuova, a.k.a. Turin. We were able to squeeze in a couple power naps before lugging our baggage up the cobblestone streets to our next accomodation at Tohouse. We followed the little beacon on google maps to a very big door that we couldn’t open without a key. Very confused, we called the number on our confirmation email and soon we hear the “clippity-clap” of high heels down the street. The receptionist explains that she wasn’t expecting us for another hour or so and was out for lunch. She brings us through the big door that opens into a courtyard, surrounded by apartments. The lady shows us where Tohouse actually is and checks us into one of the handful of rooms. The room was really lovely and I had to use all my might not to jump into that glorious bed.

We walked into the city centre, checking out some of the shops and beautiful architecture, but most museums and whatnot were nearing closing time. We went to the information centre hoping to get some insight into the city and plan some form of itinerary for our two days in Turin. He was actually quite helpful and pointed out the best attractions and how to get there. Hungry and tired, we wander back to the room and order some Chinese takeout, then jump into bed for a good night sleep to fuel our next couple days of sightseeing.

italy / day twenty-one / torino

After a good sleep, we journey to the centre again, but with a plan. I grab some bubble tea and we head to the Palace. We get tickets straight away using our Torino+Piedmonte Tourist Card that the rep at the information centre had suggested was best for the places we wanted to see/go. We chuck our stuff in a free locker and start to roam the halls in the Royal Palace of Turin.

The building is ginormous and the rooms are in great condition. They had a really cool armoury that was filled with all sorts of cool gear. The collection was made up of swords, guns, shields, body armour, spears and other things I don’t even know the names of. The palace was also home to a number of incredible sculptures and paintings.

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We take a lunch break and stop in at a pizza joint. A little on the oily side but is actually really good. Our next stop is the Egyptian Museum. Our tourist card gets us in, again, with no additional cost, except for locker hire. They shove an audioguide in our hand and we begin walking through the museum. Being the second biggest Egyptian museum to Cairo, it attracts many visitors from all over the globe. We spent many hours learning  about the history and exploring the collection. Such an awesome place and I totally recommend trying to get there if you’re in Italy. It was a big highlight of our trip so far and I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

All this learning made us hungry and we soon found the perfect thing to fill our bellies, Mexican food! We grab some margaritas and fajitas and it ends up being one of the healthiest and best meals we’ve had in Italy. The service was really good too, it made the rest of our night really enjoyable.

On the way home, we swung past a small wine shop that I had been eyeing off across the road from where we were staying. My favourite wine of the trip was tasted here and I bought two bottles to bring back to Australia with me.

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italy / day twenty-two / torino

Such a good sleep! Absolutely love Tohouse!

We trek into the city and find the bus stop for the Veneria Express, to Veneria Palace. Once the bus pulled up, it was crazy and people were like animals as we simply tried to board. The bus was really good though and it dropped us right down the road. A short walk and we line up to get our tickets… to be met with more crazy. The line was made up of everyone that had been on the bus+ and no one knew what a “personal bubble” was. In addition, they made us line up against the wall outside in the direct sun and then the line moved so freaking slowly. On the bright side, once we got our tickets, they didn’t cost us anything more after we scanned our tourist card – this card paid for itself over and over again!

The main hall of the palace was really amazing, but I wasn’t overly impressed with the rest of the palace, especially after seeing the amazing Royal Palace yesterday. Veneria Palace had actually been abandoned for approximately fifty years and was destroyed by vandals. They did a really good job restoring the building, but majority of the paintings, furniture and sculptures had been wrecked. The gardens were really beautiful and we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the paths and exploring the little district.

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Once we grabbed a bite, we made our way down to the bus stop to head back into the city. We were twenty minutes early and there was already a huge line up. Once everyone started boarding the already half full bus, we realised we weren’t going to make it on, and probably not on the one after that either. We met some lovely ladies that knew of another bus, it was just on the other side of the palace, perhaps a fifteen minute walk. We followed them and successfully end up back in the centre of Turin.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the National Cinema Museum. They have this crazy elevator that goes straight up through the middle of the big, dome shaped building, to a viewing deck of the city. The views were awesome!

Our last day in Turin was coming to an end. After such a great experience yesterday, we go back to the Mexican restaurant for dinner again, then head home for another day of travelling again. Next stop, Florence!

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italy / day eight / matera

After all the pasta and breads, olive oil and wine, I was so excited to get to the well equiped hotel gym downstairs, that I barely slept! Jordan and I headed down to basement and I had a really good arms session. We had a quick shower and then enjoyed a westernised style breakfast buffet, whilst going over plans for the day. Today we were going to Matera, in the small region of Basilicata, approximately an hour, by train, out of Bari. The ancient neighbourhood, namely Sassi, are a series of caverns carved out of limestone, nestled in a small canyon.

On arrival, we picked up a map of the Sassi and a punnet of strawberries for our journey. We soon made sense of the layout, breaking it up into a distinct New Town, Old Town, and in my opinion, Very Old Town. The train station is higher up and you could basically follow any of the streets down towards the main square. From there, it’s more of a wander and get lost kind of situation. I loved this, as the small number of tourists that were there just dispersed and you were solely there to immerse yourself in the seemingly small, but literally huge Sassi.

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Mid afternoon refuel of pizza bread and fruit smoothie, and we were back exploring the Sassi. Closer to the ravine, deeper into the town, there were many empty grottoes ready for me to explore; semi fenced off but not really.

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After farewelling the enchanting Matera, we ate at one of the only eateries we could find in Bari, Tankard Gastropub. We put some washing on at the laundromat across the road, whilst eating some delicious ribs and salad. The person manning the venue was lovely and so helpful with the menu, even though he couldn’t speak a drop of english. It was one of the tastiest meals we had.

To this day, Matera is one of the most incredible, absolutely magical places I’ve ever been and is seriously underrated. If you’re going to Italy and not sure whether to go, as it is a bit out of the way, I’m telling you now, it is 110% worth it.

italy / day five / siracusa

A quick workout in the hotel room leaves us hungry as ever. Jordan and I fill our plates with cold meats, some pastries and get some eggs cooked to order from the kitchen. They also have a big bowl of fruit – Jordan finally gets his banana! The plan for today is to head out to Noto, a short ride from Siracusa train station. Slightly confused, we board what seems to be the train heading to Noto; a completely covered graffiti ridden single carriage train. The rackety vessel chugs along the tracks at full speed and we are soon at Noto station. We are greeted by many Italian locals, offering tours of Noto in their vehicles, gesturing towards one of the roads heading up a hill. We brush them off politely and follow the signs up the hill to the centre.

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It takes us a lovely fifteen minute stroll through quiet suburbia to get into the town centre. The small town comes to life as we get closer and it is much more larger and spread out than anticipated. Grand churches stand tall, interwoven in the landscape of other giant, old, sandstone buildings. There is a lot of locals out and about, and kids playing sport. We wisely decide to peruse the beautifully paved streets with coffee cinnamon gelato in hand.

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We grab some sandwiches at a cafe on the main street for lunch, then slowly make our way to Palazzo Nicolai, an old princes home with a great view of the old town. On the way back to the station, we get chatting to a friendly Argentinian man selling handmade jewellery. He shows us his tools and precious rocks, and gives us a demonstration of the copper wire work shown through his products.

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After speed walking our way back down the mountain we just make the old rattler of a train as it pulls up to the platform. Packed full of people, we find some seats near the back next to an African man from Togo. He openly chatted to us the entire way home about travel, family and politics; funny guy.

Back at the hotel, they suggest a restaurant, very popular for it’s pizzas. We take their word and head down to find and empty restaurant. We realise it is only just about to open and we patiently wait outside. We are seated at a table at 7.30pm and get some tasty pizzas to share. By the time we leave, the restaurant is full with a line out the door – great to see such a busy restaurant loved by locals and tourists alike.

italy / day three / taormina

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Ate a balanced breakfast of goji berries and orange jam crostata, then jumped on a bus to Casteloma, a smaller village, higher up the mountain. The bus took about twenty minutes, skilfully manoeuvring the bendy roads. The road came to a dead end in a square, where the bus dropped us off and turned around to make his next leg. It was much quieter once we reached the top. There weren’t as many tourists, and besides a couple motor cycles, there weren’t many vehicles either. The pathways between the old buildings were narrow and the majority of Casteloma seemed to be inside, asleep. This was perfect because we were able to pleasantly explore at our own pace.

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After following some signs to the outskirts of the town, we decided to walk down to Madonna De Rocca, instead of catching the bus. We started on an overgrown path that soon dissolved into suburbia. At first it didn’t seem very far, but we were soon mistaken, and ultimately, very confused about how on earth we were to get there. The homes were scattered all over the hillside and there was no clear path.

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view of Madonna de Rocca (on lower hill to the left)

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crazy trail down the mountain from Casteloma into Taormina
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Casteloma, high up in the mountains

Sweaty and exhausted from climbing stairs and walking on deserted trails, we stopped for a breather and an aperol spritz at a cafe nearby. Once rehydrated we continued a little further on from Madonna de Rocca to a castle that we had seen when we were back in Casteloma. Once at the top, we came to a locked gate (my favourite!), which was soon conquered by the great Pop, Jordan and Lily.

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Once sneaking inside the gates to some of the most spectacular views you have ever seen, we were getting a little peckish for something a little more hardy.  We walked down another ten thousand flight of stairs to the main street of Taormina. We ended up getting a couple pizzas to share at ‘Porta Messina’, after being rudely turned away from ‘Bellini’, for sitting down at a table and asking to share (this was for lunch at a simple cafe, completely empty). We filled our bellies and took a trip to the botanical gardens.

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After all the days we spent admiring the blue waters from above, we took a cable car down to beaches below. The sand was made up of shells and rocks, where Jordan and Pop skipped a couple stones. The place was crazy deserted, but I could see just how busy it would be in summer. After a little scouting and climbing, the sun started to disappear and we headed back up for a nice, last dinner in Taormina.

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