italy / day twenty-three / firenze

Late checkout has us steadily packing up and we soon walk to the train station for a quick bite before our train arrives at Port Nuova. We had a bit of trouble with our seats, but third times a charm. Once in Florence, we disembark the train and lug all of our bags to the B&B Hotel, to save a couple dollars. We followed the Google Maps route, of which took us straight past the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, where we were swarmed with seas of people. Among the street vendors, an evangelist approached Jordan and grabbed his arm as we dragged our bags. She was very persistent and after politely asking many times for her to let go, Jord had to push her away from him. The walk was no more than three kilometres, so we thought it would be a breeze, but we were absolutely exhausted by the time we got to the hotel. After brainstorming reasons as to why it was so freaking busy, we realised that it was ‘Liberation Day’… 

We get to the hotel and collapse into the bed. Once we gather the strength, we head towards the river at the end of the street. There’s a nice breeze and a park filled with heaps of people enjoying the sunshine, kicking soccer balls and throwing frisbees. When we’re closer to the city centre, we turn down a street and search for somewhere for dinner. We end up with some delish cocktails at ‘Soul Kitchen‘ and add on their buffet style dinner deal for €2. Pretty decent and cheap!

italy / day twenty-four / firenze

By this day, I think we were starting to get quite exhausted. Excited not to be searching for breakfast, we tried to start the day off with the hotels’ breakfast buffet (extra €7.50 each), but it was absolutely atrocious. The limited spread consisted of cold, grey, scrambled eggs, plastic sausages and some cereal, of which I took the last bowl. Also, the cutlery was dirty and the automatic coffee machine was pumping out some seriously mediocre black liquid. We went past the reception on our way out and explained to them our horror, in hope of getting reimbursed.

We ventured into city centre to checkout some of the sights, including the Duomo and Bell Tower, Uffizi Gallery, Vechio Museum and Pitti Palace, but every single entrance was blocked by extremely long lines and expensive tickets, and the whole dance was becoming quite overwhelming. We take a breather near the river and checkout some local shops. In an effort to not waste our day, we rearranged our plans and left for San Gimignano. Approximately a fifty minute train ride to Poggibonsi, then a forty minute bus ride to the old medieval town. A little messy, but we got there A-OK.

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Once in the town, the hype becomes apparent and we are soon immersed in the mystery and beauty of this incredible place. Back in the twelfth and thirteenth century, within the town walls, two rival families,  Guelphs and Ghibellines, would seek to ‘out-do‘ each other building tower houses of increasingly higher and higher heights, for power and political control. Towards the end of the Medieval period, there were seventy-two tower houses measuring up to seventy metres tall. San Gimignano draws in many tourists with its mysterious, medieval history and incredible landscapes. 

We spend the rest of the day staring out at the rolling hills and exploring the streets of this unbelievable town. I have pasta and a sneaky Aperol spritz for dinner, as the sun slowly disappears behind the gothic style buildings. We finish with some world famous gelato for dessert. On the way back to the bus, we gather the balls and pop into one of many torture themed museums. Although creepy and unfathomable, we found it really entertaining and it was one of the highlights of our trip.

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Unfortunately, we ended up  stranded at Poggibonsi station for about ninety minutes, as our train had been delayed. We were so hungry once we arrived back in Florence that we went for second dinner on the way home.

italy / day twenty-five / firenze

After a much better sleep than the previous night, we set out to a breakfast place that had previously caught my eye, ‘Rooster‘. The menu is comprised of westernised breakfast food with fresh juices and specialty coffee galore. I really loved the rustic interiors and groovy furniture. Jordan got a beef breakfast burger and strawberry banana smoothie and I got a potato hash with eggs, onion and cheese, and a basil detox green juice – SO FREAKING GOOD!

Instead of trying to do all of the main attractions, we chose to go to the Uffizi Gallery. We lined up for about an hour and it was majorly packed inside, but I’m really glad we checked it out.

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A little walk around and we pick out a cocktail bar, ‘Buca 10‘ to relax and share some alcoholic beverages, and a tasting platter. We spent a couple hours sitting and chatting about our trip, places we had visited and plans for the future.

We spent our last night in Florence taking it all in and taking it slow. We had some dinner in a quiet piazza and watched the sky turn all hues of orange, pink and purple. A very enjoyable end to our last night in Florence.

 

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 eighteen / cinque terre

It’s been a dream of mine to hike Cinque Terre and see the incredible towns that make up this iconic landscape and we are finally here! As we were only staying in Cinque Terre for two full days, the plan was to take the train to Riommagiore, which is the most southern of the towns, and walk to the central town, going through Manarola and ending up in Corniglia. The next day would consist of catching the train back to Corniglia and continuing the same track through Vernazza and finishing our hike in Monterosso al Mare.

Up early and down to the esplanade for an outdoor workout involving some, perhaps, odd uses of playground equipment and park benches. It also seemed like a good idea to stop in at the shops, so we swing pass the local corner store and grab some breakfast and snacks for the road. Breakfast consisted of preserved peaches, muesli and yoghurt.

We take the rather expensive train to Riommagiore and call in at the information desk. She gives us a map and explains the many different trails. We tried our best to follow her instructions but actually ended up really lost. After an hour or so of walking back and forth trying to find the beginning of the trail, a passerby local notices our confusion and shows us the way. He points us in the direction of the path, which disappears over a very, very steep mountain. Hesitant, we climb a couple fences and tip toe through some gardens before our ascent.

A couple minutes into our climb and we realise that this track is absolutely insane. The stairs are so steep and seem never ending. The madly overgrown path leads us traipsing through vineyards and veggie patches. It was slightly disturbing not having passed a single soul.

Eventually, we did reach the top and yes, it was a true path. A sign at the top of the cliff informed us that in the 1920’s, this thoroughfare had been the only connection between the two coastal towns.. eep!

The view was amazing and I must say, I felt extremely proud!

Jordan and I continue along the trail as it dives into a steep descent. At the bottom of the trail we come across some makeshift gates and a large sign reading ‘KEEP OUT’ (then I remembered the person at the information desk had said that one of the main tracks was closed for maintenance.. oops!)

We stopped briefly in Manarola, refuelling with a slice of pizza, rice thins smothered in raspberry jam, and a crap load of water. We easily spot the next section of the trail and move with uncertainty, as to what may be in store.

The path seems all well and good until… MORE STAIRS!

The course took us through Volastra, as the shorter path that followed the coast was also closed. Once at the top, we suck on an ice block and cool down in the shade. The next section was mostly flat giving us nice views of the ocean. The mountain, on either side of the track, was covered in vineyards, and not a style I was familiar with. Instead of running in long rows, they were more of a canopy style that sat approximately a metre or so off the ground. Meaning that the fruit needed to be handpicked from underneath the trestle, as the fruit hung down; very old school!

Once we reached the outskirts of Corniglia (thank goodness), my legs started to get super heavy and the train station seemed aeons away. I flopped myself down another million flights of stairs to the platform and we board a train, taking it two stops on to Monterosso al Mare. Exhausted, we trudge down the esplanade towards our lodge for a nice long shower.

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We dine close by at a local restaurant, ‘La Traverna‘, and try not to order everything on the menu. We got a pizza to share, some red wine and lasagne. In all honesty, it was one of the best lasagnes that I’ve ever had. The chefs used herb infused pasta sheets and the sauce rich and full of flavour and I don’t know why it was soo good, but it just was!

italy / day nineteen / cinque terre

We skip the workout this morning, but still hit the shops for snacks to enjoy on part two of our hike. Nice and early, we board the train back to Corniglia to pick up where we had left off. With yesterdays knowledge, we bring our earphones this time and I simply wear shorts and a crop top from the get go – after sweating like crazy in the sun.

The path between Corniglia and Vernazza was extremely busy, some tourists were even wearing thongs! We also had to buy a €7.50/e ticket to walk the next two towns on the SVA trail. This track was a lot more shadier, but boy, was it still hot! We chucked in our earphones for the most part and there were many flat sections in between the stairs, making it a very enjoyable hike.

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Vernazza was one of my favourite towns. The main street was lined with street food vendors and rustic styled shops. Colourful buildings shadowed the street filled hustle and bustle of locals and travellers. Many boats fill the docks, surrounded by even more people and eateries. We munched on some really tasty pizza squares on the jetty, taking in the Italian spring air.

The path quiets down a bit, making the wacky trail a little easier to combat, and it takes us about three hours to complete the last section. The views were absolutely  breathtaking, especially as we descended into Monterosso al Mare. We reward ourselves with some gelato and a dunk in the icy cold ocean. My legs soon went numb and the ‘ice bath’ was very enjoyable. Although cold, the water felt different to home, almost soft.

The food was just too good at ‘La Taverna‘, so we went back for another serving of their amazing lasagne.

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italy / day seventeen / cinque terre

Jordan and I get up early and sneak in a workout before breakfast, then pick up some freshly washed clothes from the dry cleaners and some food for the train ride to Cinque Terre. We finished packing up our things and said ‘arrevedici’ to Roma. The train took approximately four hours to Pisa, from there we changed trains towards La Spezia, then onto the private line, Cinque Terre Express. I love travelling by train and seeing the countryside.

There are five main towns that make up Cinque Terre: Riommagiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. We got off at Monterosso al Mare station and stepped into another world; a magical esplanade overlooking a sea of multicoloured beach umbrellas and crystal-like water. After filling our lungs with the new vacation air, we headed in the direction of our hotel, where we soon dumped our luggage and took a stroll to stretch our legs. We spied a cool, rustic pizza place on our saunter and grabbed a couple pizzas for dinner. We set up camp on the beach and enjoyed some cheesy slices of heaven as the sun went down.

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italy / day fifteen / roma

Pops last day in Italy was spent roaming rome (ha). We caught a bus down to the Campo di Fiori markets to checkout the scene. The place had such a vibrant buzz, full of lively street vendors and many locals shopping for fresh products, ranging from fruit and veg, cheese, flowers, nuts, chocolate, coffee, juice; the list goes on. I managed to get some really cool snaps of the atmosphere.

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After some candied nuts, we used that energy to walk down to the Colosseum. Even though we had been inside before, we decided to go again as we felt it our job as tourists. It had actually changed quite a bit since we had been there it and ended up being really good; even with the swarms of people and ticket sellers hassling you with great deals every ten metres. They had removed a lot of the scaffolding and it was really easy to explore, with plenty of information boards scattered for anyone interested in learning more about this incredible, ancient place. We then grabbed a snack and walked over to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum.

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On the way back to the hotel, we looked at about twenty restaurants and had so much difficulty finding a place to go, mainly because the waitstaff were quite rude and abrupt or just completely ignored us. I think we sat down at two tables before walking out and finding a suitable place. Our mistake walking down the main tourist strip, but holy moly, watch out! All in all, we had a really nice dinner with Pop and spent his last night in Italy reminiscing about all the places we had visited. So surreal!

 

italy / day twelve / tivoli

A little sleep in, some cuddles and a late-ish breakfast was very much needed for day twelve in wonderful Italy. Today’s adventures consisted of a day trip out to Tivoli to explore the gardens and ruins of Villa d’Este and Villa Adriana. Tivoli is a town in Lazio, 30km north-east of Rome. The train took FOREVER, stopping for approximately four minutes at each station. We passed the time learning Italian words and phrases through the Microsoft App.

Jumped off the train and took a fifteen minute stroll into the middle of town towards Villa d’Este. After buying a ticket, we made our way through the palace, admiring the beautiful paintings that covered every space on the walls. The path then spits you out into the top section of the incredible gardens, where you can wander around the park at your leisure, taking in the fresh air, mind blowing  water features and scenery. Villa d’Este is home to the Avenue of the Hundred Fountains which leads you straight to the famous Fountain of Tivoli.

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After spending a solid amount of the afternoon cruising around the park, we remembered the time and got our butts into gear. Once back up on the main street, we caught the bus, by literally one minute, to travel down the mountain to Villa Adriana. HOLY FREAKING MOLY! I forgot just how big this place was. No more than ten minutes away from Villa d’Este, lies the enormous, and totally underrated UNESCO World Heritage site, the size of a small village, full of glorious gardens and the most amazing ruins you have ever seen. Villa Adriana needs a larger part of the day than what we spent there, but it was incredible nonetheless. Hours and hours can be spent getting lost in this ancient, mystical place.

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Unfortunately the day ended way too quickly and we had to trudge back to the train station before we knew it. If we had stayed any longer, we would have been walking back to Rome! Back at the hotel, we washed up and got a bite to eat at the restaurant downstairs. They had delish pasta and limoncello to finish – Pop shotted his..

To re-iterate, if you are ever travelling to Rome, let alone Italy, Tivoli is worth the time, money and the effort. Tivoli is a wondrous place full of culture and heritage. Before this lesser-known place becomes discovered by the masses, I urge to spend the day here, getting lost in the peaceful, awe-filled sanctuary.

italy / day eleven / roma

I sneakily smuggled away some pastries for the road after our last breakfast at Corte de Francesi. We took a taxi to Brindisi airport (I swear they were going at least 140km/h), because we were flying past all the other cars. We checked in our baggage and boarded a plane to Roma! A bus trip to Termini and a short walk, and we were at what would be our hotel for the next six days, Alpi Hotel.

As soon as we arrive, Pop takes a nasty tumble on some of the steps in the hotel and bumps his head (which we later found out that he broke a couple ribs and ended up getting pneumonia; what a bloody trooper!). Not the best start, but we patch things up with a band aid and some ruby red strawberries, left by hotel staff with compliments, and continue on with our day. Obviously, we are very hungry again and grab some super tasty focaccias (Pizza Shop 341 SNC), which filled a good hole for the next kilometre.

Checking out the city on foot, we end up at the Trevi Fountain. It was amazing, but the place was crowded with so many tourists and people trying to sell stuff to you, that we continued on pretty quickly. Though, we did stop into an awesome store that let you build your own magnum ice cream; which of course we tried.

We moved on from the square and headed for the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, an old palace gallery and home, partially open to the public, in the heart of the city. We had accidentally stumbled on to this magnificent place on our previous visit to Rome. We got some tickets and a portable handset guide, and wandered through the many rooms of the palace, admiring the incredible paintings that filled the ceilings and intricately detailed floors, not to mention the hundreds of artworks strung up through the gallery.

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We finished our day with a special dinner at L’eau Vive, a restaurant completely run by Carmelite nuns, to celebrate our first night in Rome. We started with asparagus and leek soup, then I had lamb chops with tomato, beans and this lovely creamy pepper and thyme sauce for main.