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 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 six / siracusa

A big day planned with a serious amount of walking. We walk down to the island, Ortigia, to checkout some markets and the castle perched on the coast that was closed the other day. The markets were coloured with spices and flowers, we tried some cheese and honey, then towards the castle. When we got to the castle, we bought some tickets and had a look around, but they neglected to tell us that the actual castle was closed for renovations, so there wasn’t much to see. It was still a lovely morning wandering the markets.

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Happy with our exploring of Ortigia, we set out on a long walk across Siracusa towards the archeological park of ancient Neapolis; roughly about forty five minutes. On the way, a tourist asked me, of all people, where the train station was. Through our significant mapping of the area and my great sense of direction (ha!) I was able to advise accordingly.

Three main sites scatter Neapolis; the Greek Theatre, Roman Amphitheatre and the Ear of Dionysius. These incredible sites make up some of the best ruins I have seen in Italy. We walked through the park and up some stairs following a path that opened up at the top of the Greek Theatre. On the left, many stairs/seats directing down onto a makeshift wooden stage, soon to be used for a production, and on the right, little niches found themselves in the semi circle of stone – of course we explored every one of them!

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We stumbled onto our next stop, following a shady path outlined by luscious green trees and old wooden fencing; The Ear of Dionysius, of which was nicknamed by Caravaggio. Dionysius I was a tyrant whom ruled from 405-367 BC. I later learnt that a local legend suggested that he used this cave as a prison, and its acoustics, to spy on his captives, thus the name. I found this place absolutely magical. The way you could whisper at one end and hear it at the other was fascinating. I couldn’t help myself and stayed for a short Natalie Cole tune; Orange Coloured Sky – the acoustics were just too good.

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A short walk and we were wandering around the Roman Amphitheatre. There was a heap of information boards scattered around the theatre describing what things were and what they were used for. The rest of the park lacked this, so it was good to get some insight whilst we were there, rather than later. I found the Roman Amphitheatre to be beguiling, imagining the gladiator fights that would have taken place.

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A friendly waiter and some ham and cheese toasties later, and we’re off to some nearby catacombs, San Giovanni. We bought a couple tickets and waited patiently for the next tour to start. The guide was very informative and took us through the main sections of the catacombs as well as the church and crypt. It was much colder down in the catacombs and really eerie, especially thinking about how the majority of the tunnels were underneath the city of Siracusa.

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A leisurely walk back to the vicinity of our hotel where we head straight to a pub called ‘Hops’. We munch on some well earned burgers; ended up costing us a hefty $70 for our cravings – I think we will be sticking to pizzas and pastas from now on.

honeymoon day five

Monday morning consisted of a quick brekkie and a trip into town on the free shuttle. On the way in, it started to get busier on the roads and there was a lot more people outside on the streets. We past a lot of stalls and a couple bigger fruit and veg markets. There was also quite a bit of construction of new buildings/hotels.

The bus driver dropped us off in the middle of Port Villa. We wandered off into the streets. The shopping was very different to back home. There wasn’t really any clothing shops or really any cafes, just a lot of buildings. We stumbled upon a huge building that was filled with a hundred stalls selling local styled clothing garments, homewares, art, henna and hair services. I was so excited to get my hair braided as I hadn’t had it done before. I started with a section on the side but then proceeded to get my whole head braided. Whilst Jordan waited patiently, I played hand clapping games and magic tricks with two kids – I’m guessing they were the children of the lady who was doing my hair.

After a bit of looking around, we made our way to the farmers market. It was huge and a central part of the city where a lot of people came to sell their produce. There were also stalls selling gifts, art, clothing, flowers and food. I loved seeing all the hand woven baskets. So skilful to hold that much weight!

Starting to get peckish (how unusual), we sat down at a tavern that served wood oven pizza – and also because it had a really groovy sugar skull stuck to the side of building. We were served by a very friendly chef, as we listened to covers of old school rock songs. Once finished, we grabbed an ice cream and began our climb up a giant hill to find a mysterious (very difficult to find) bike/car hire place.

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Nearly dying of dehydration (not really, but it felt like it) we made it to the hire place to hear that all of the quad bikes had been hired out by some people on the cruise ship that had come in, but were soon to be returned. We went and checked out the supermarket across the road (air conditioned) and had fun looking at the different products. We left with an iced tea.

Back at the hire place, we hopped onto a bright red quad bike after Jordan got a safety run down on how to use the bike by someone half his size (hehe it was kind of funny).

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Jordan jumped on the front to drive and I hopped behind him with the bags and camera. We spent a solid half an hour trying to get out of Port Vila with a very colourful (Dora the Explorer type style) map and hit a number of dead ends – we must have said ‘that trail we blaze’ about three or four times (Eldorado, anyone?). It was nice when we finally got out of the hustle and bustle, it was starting to get confusing driving on the wrong side of the road (on the left) and going around roundabouts; “Jordan! Give way! Give way! Give way to your left! GO!”

The one thing that was a definite on the map was the one road that went around the island. It was bitumen for the most part and went through the costal towns.

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At first there was a lot of green jungle. It reminded me of a scene out of Avatar. It was magical. We pulled the quad bike over and took a couple happy snaps. There were barely any cars. And the only one that actually did past us, stopped and asked if we were okay and if we needed any help #whatevenisthisplace.

On our adventure, there was this crazy time where we past a very friendly group of people, waving and yelling out something we couldn’t hear, as we neared a bridge. Thinking nothing of it, we continued, weaving around fallen down palm trees and debris. Right as we were crossing the bridge, we saw a bit of a gap. As we got closer, we realised that it had been damaged, most likely in a storm/cyclone, and hadn’t been repaired, thus the palm trees to stop cars and trucks from crossing – not helpful when your riding a small, powerful quad bike. We were so close to crossing the bridge, but decided that we’d best not as it was quite a drop down into the gorge and we wanted to go back to Australia in one piece. Giggling, we made our way back to our friendly group of locals. They directed us down a detour that put us back on our path.

 

One of my favourite things about driving around Vanuatu was the people. I haven’t had so many waves in my direction – like ever. There were kids running up besides the quad bike, holding their hands out for high fives, people in the cars coming the opposite direction flashing their lights and waving, even people deep into the town that you wouldn’t even think could see us were saying hi. Literally, every single person we past, without a doubt, waved and/or said hi. It was really warming and we felt super comfortable exploring their island.

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It was quite an ordeal to find petrol. There were no petrol stations in any of the towns that we could see. Starting to get a little worried, we asked some friendly people that pointed us in the direction of a small shop. It was the last building, right on the outskirts of the town. It was filled with approximately two of every basic need. Tampons, chocolate, tuna, and even pizza shapes – yes, we did get some for the road. We asked the shop assistant for petrol and he nodded, turned and headed out the back door. He returned five minutes later with a large glass bottle and proceeded to fill up our quad bike – the last place we would’ve thought to look.

Oh and that’s just some cute piccy’s of Jord drinking some cocktails.