italy / day twenty-six / arrivederci italy

Day Twenty Six was mainly spent travelling. We walked from our hotel in Florence to the station, but this time we took the back streets and it was quite enjoyable. I may have even detoured us past ‘Roosters‘ in hope of a green juice to-go – great idea might I add! We arrived at the station and everything was in a bit of a shamble. Thankfully, we had bought tickets a couple days ago, as there were major delays, pushing each train to Termini back approximately two and a half hours.

We changed trains in Termini to the Leonardo Express, taking us directly to the airport. We chose to stay in a hotel nice and close to the airport, as our flight was scheduled to leave early the next morning and we didn’t want to be delayed or anything. Instead of cabbing it, we, once again, chose to walk, as we would need to take their shuttle tomorrow morning. Well this was fun, wasn’t it..? The three kilometre walk started off in high hopes, then we ended up on a highway with about half a metre of space from the sidelines of the road. Let’s just say we were thankful to get to the hotel. We stayed at the ‘Best Western’ airport hotel. The rooms were really cosy and clean. We changed into some activewear and hit their gym for a couple hours. We had some delicious Chinese takeout for dinner, as we sat in bed and watched Iron Fist.

Such a fun, happy end to our holiday.

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Sadly, we didn’t end up sleeping for very long and we were up and out of bed by 4.20am. The hotel shuttle cost us, a criminal, €8 each to the airport, so thank goodness we walked yesterday. We got on the plane A-OK.

Although I was sad to leave Italy, I was happy to get back home to Australia. This trip couldn’t have happened without my amazing husband, Jordan, and Pops incredible generosity and enthusiasm to travel. This trip has enlightened me in so many ways and I am grateful for everything that I have been able to do, see, taste and experience. I am so blessed to have everything that I have in Australia and how everything is simply at my fingertips. This trip has helped me to understand just how important my relationship is with Jordan and Pop and there’s no one I’d rather travel with and share in these adventures. On a final note, here are some of my favourite pictures of us:

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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 sixteen / roma / ostia antica

We woke up early and headed down for a nice leisurely breakfast, before Pop’s car arrived to take him to the airport. Although it was sad to see him go, it was a nice farewell and Pop made it to the airport A-OK.

Ostia Antica was on the agenda for today and we were soon on a train out to the ancient ruins. The large archaeological site was once a thriving city and main port. I had been there on some previous travels, but I totally forgot just how big this place was. We spent a couple hours here, walking the paths and not walking the paths. We brought some snacks and had a light picnic in the grass between the old ruins.

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After some jam-packed days of adventuring, we were exhausted. We spent the night in bed after picking up dinner at a supermarket in Termini; one roast chicken, two salad bowls, pesto and a bottle of red wine. We watched the Fast and the Furious seven. It was very relaxing..

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italy / day fourteen / roma / nettuno

Snag some breakfast and we are out the door and on a train to Nettuno. Home to the one and only attraction, an American Military Memorial, that Pop had really wanted to visit. A short walk from the station and a few directions from the locals and we had reached the memorial. I grabbed some olives at a small stall to snack on.

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The memorial was actually stunning. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it wasn’t this. The gardens were beautifully kept and thousands of white marble crosses stretched to the sky, row after row. We wandered the paths on this sunny and peaceful day and I remember watching Pop, so entranced by the place. It was really nice to see.

There was a visitor centre that was absolutely deserted, but full of photos, maps and information on how the Americans infiltrated Sicily and basically won the war.

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After a light snack we then caught the train another stop to Anzio. Pop said there was an English Cemetery there, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to locate it. We actually ended up at a war museum, that was full of artefacts, newspaper clippings, posters and gear; the place was overflowing with history.

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Later on that evening, we freshened up at the hotel, then watched an amazing concert at Saint Paul’ Cathedral, Barroque verse Vivaldi. The music filled the space, enveloping us in the warm sounds. I really enjoyed the second half, as it was mainly Vivaldi and I knew many of the compositions. Even Jordan knew a couple (one of the songs is used as the theme song to Chefs Table!)

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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.

italy / day ten / otranto / gallipoli

Started the day off with a great spread in the old tannery, then made our plan of attack for the day. We only had one day but we wanted to fit in the equivalent of two day trips. The lady at the reception wished us well, even though I’m sure she didn’t believe in us. Via train, we travelled to Otranto, a village on the coast. A short walk from the station through the suburbs and the path spits you out right in front of the most magical, crystal clear turquoise waters; extremely inviting for an afternoon dip.

 

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We walked along the esplanade admiring the boats and watching the little fishies swim around the rocks. We temporarily lost Pop for a bit and went on a search. Lots of little shops lined the narrow streets, selling touristy gizmos and local knick knacks. We eventually found Pop after scouting out the colourful streets.

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We take a brisk walk back to the station to catch the next train back to Maglie, to then go to Gallipoli, in the opposite direction. This worked well for the most part, until a heard of teenage kids suddenly appear on the platform and pile into the same little carriage of a train, heading to the same destination as us. Luckily they all got off about half way through and we could stretch our legs a little more.

 

At the final stop, the driver pointed us in the direction of the older town, down to the port. Although the salty wind whistled up the main road and it was much chillier, we couldn’t go past this ginormous gelateria. As we approached, the old town could be seen clearly as the mainland was separated by a bridge and a castle stood tall and proud, just to the left. The receptionist had given us some free tickets to actually go inside, which ended up being really cool.

 

 

Passing through the cobbled streets, we tried some pistachio liqueur and a traditional biscuit, taralli. I found this beautiful olive oil bottle that I bought to use in our new house. A leisurely walk to the point at the edge of the town, we grabbed some dinner and sat outside overlooking the ocean as the sun went down. Pasta and fish was on the menu.

 

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On the way back to the station, I had neglected to realise that the trip back to Maglie was actually only half way by train and the other half by bus; which we spent another thirty minutes waiting for. Whilst we waited for the bus, very late at night in the middle of nowhere with very little people around, we got chatting to a friendly, frizzy haired guy holding a guitar and his friend. Turns out he was a pretty serious 16 year old musician, with big dreams. I participated in the music jargon and whipped out a jazz tune. It was really fun.

 

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