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 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 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 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 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 four / siracusa

Our time in Taormina came to a close, as our tummies attempted to settle in the bus ride back down the mountain to the train station. A semi early breakfast and quick getaway allowed us to be in Siracusa by lunchtime, after a two hour odd trip.  The trip into the city was very different to that of Taormina. A lot more industrial, fuel refineries, junk graveyards, abandoned trains, boats and shipwrecks. It was a light walk with our gear to the hotel, Caportigia. The boutique hotel that was once an old warehouse, was now fully refurbished with beautifully restored high ceilings and gorgeous decor. Once checked in – and changed into something a little cooler, we ventured into the new city. The short train trip changed the entire landscape and scenery. The area was a lot more open and flat with lots of sandstone coloured buildings and large paved walkways. We walked down to Ortigia, an island namely the historical centre of Syracuse. The scene was definitely european beachy, with only shorts and singlets in sight. There was also no shortage of cocktails/wine/juice bars.

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_MG_4930After a nice walk, we had a light lunch at the Sunset Bar, consisting of fresh sandwiches. My crusty bread roll was filled with buffalo cheese, speck, tomato and rocket. I finished my lunch off with some fresh strawberries and cream.

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Ortigia was filled with plenty of historical buildings with no sparsity of churches. After choosing a church to enter, I was told to put on a poncho otherwise I was not to enter (hahaha have you seen anything more ridiculous)

 

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I think the water was a little nippy

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After the church fiasco we dove down into some old war caves that ran underneath Ortigia. We wandered through the extensive tunnel system, very easily loosing ourselves in the mysterious place. It was unusually quiet with very little tourists. A relaxing and very interesting way to spend our afternoon.

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underground in the old war tunnels

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After a great day full of sunshine and exploring the beautiful Ortigia, we steered away from the touristy restaurants along the coast of the island, and headed inland to a little seafood restaurant recommended by one of the staff at the hotel, La Lisca. The staff there were friendly and more than happy to help with translating their daily changing menu, dependent upon the product available at the markets nearby. We requested that the kitchen simply send out a couple of favourite starters and staple mains for us to share. It was quite different to what we were expecting and it was exciting trying the unusual foods. At the end of the meal, one of the owners, that had been serving us all night, plonked a bottle of house made limoncello on our table and a couple of glasses for us to enjoy – best limoncello I’ve ever tasted!