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 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 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 thirteen / roma

Woke up and got straight into a HIIT workout on the small balcony of our hotel room, involving body weight exercises like squats and push ups. Managed to actually get up a good sweat, though super missing going to the gym.

Scheduled in today was a trip to the Borghese Gallery, as Pop had already organised us tickets 6 weeks prior. Pop knew the tickets sell out very quickly and have to be booked in advance, as it is unlikely you will have the opportunity to purchase them at the door. Thankfully he snapped some up for us to visit the gallery at 1pm. We took a train to Spagna where we took the Park exit and made our way to the gallery to check in, as you need to be there one hour prior. This gave us some time to wander around the lively parklands in the middle of the city. Everything was so green and the air was so fresh. There was lots of tourists, buskers, painters, dogs, runners and so many children. Lots of people had hired these 2/4 seater bicycle carts and were riding them on the wide paths around the park, under the trees.

Borghese Gallery was amazing. The once Villa, now a widely renowned tourist attraction, home to the Borghese collection of paintings, sculptures and antiquities. You’re given a two hour time frame to gaze in awe at the ceilings and explore the many rooms in this mansion. Although you are shuffling along with the crowd, it is a small price to pay for the beauty that beholds this place. Many of my favourite paintings/sculptures are housed in this very spot.

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We walked back in the direction of the train station via the city, stumbling upon the Spanish Steps. We spent the rest of the day wandering the city, down to Vatican City, Castello D’angelo, along the river to Tiber Island, where we got a sweet treat of Tiramisu gelato. We kept walking until we wound up at Circo Massimo train station and headed on home. We had dinner at a restaurant around the corner from our hotel.

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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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