Italy – Food glorious food!
It was a long, tiring travel day to get to Italy. As our overnight train didn’t go anywhere we flew to Milan. I fear that first class train travel has ruined me for economy plane travel. Vueling was our discount airline of choice and they have mastered the art of cramming as many seats as humanly possible into their aircraft. Actually, there was nothing humane about sitting with my knees crushed to my chest for an hour and a half. At the Milan train station we booked our super fast Italian train tickets to Florence. Italy of all places has the most advanced ticketing process. By advanced it simply means you can reserve tickets via machines at the terminal or online. This is so much more fun than waiting in a huge queue and talking to a human. However, there was a little human interaction we could have done without. From the moment we walked into the ticketing area with our giant backpacks and matching looks of confusion, a hustler had us in his sights. He told us he could help us use the machine and get us tickets to Florence. At first I thought he was just a nice train employee until I saw no name badge or anything resembling a uniform. There was also a sign hanging warning us to only seek help from an official employee. Joseph came to this realisation before me and told the guy to bugger off. There was a little altercation but eventually he yelled some Italian at us, which I am sure included some not so nice words, and scampered off with his tail between his legs. With tickets in hand we boarded our super fast, super nice train to Florence.
We arrived in Florence at night and with the buildings all lit up and people buzzing around, I was instantly impressed. The walk to our hotel took us through little cobblestoned alleyways lined with very old buildings. Our hotel was in a fantastic position just a stones throw from the Duomo. We dumped our bags and headed out for a glass of Chianti, as you do in Italy. The next morning we rose and headed out to explore the city. First stop was to the Academia to see Michelangelo’s David. We deliberately left the hotel to beat the crowds but it turns out they had already beat us. The line to see the little naked dude was already around the block. There was a very brief mental calculation and I determined I wasn’t waiting in line for hours to see him. Sorry David. From here we headed down to the river Arno and onto Ponte Vecchio. It is basically a bridge that has buildings on it. Once upon a time it was the place to buy your meats but the Medici family eventually ordered to butchers out and the gold jewellers in. Makes sense, why buy meat when you can buy gold? The Medici family were an uber rich family who commissioned a bunch of artists to paint stuff for them. We headed over to their palace to check it out. To my surprise there was, out the front, a replica of the statue of David. So I snapped a few pictures and pretended it was the real thing. There were a bunch of other statues around to, mostly just naked guys wrestling. Inside the palace was cool but the best part was climbing the tower and getting a 360 degree view of the city.
One of the things I have been looking forward to Italy is without question, the food. Pizza and pasta are up there in my list of tasty and delicious foods. So lunch was a little treat. I started with the basics for my for real Italian meal. Paparadelli with a meaty bolognaise sauce washed down it a Rose. It was heaven on a plate and made me very excited for my Italian eating future.
On our second day in Florence we decided to get on the train for a little day trip. First stop was the town of Pisa for a little leaning tower action. Pisa itself is a very pretty little town but as we were engaged in a day of express tourism we allowed for only a couple of hours here. It was literally a case of walking to the tower, taking the obligatory “look at me holding up the tower” picture and get back on the train. Which is exactly what we did. The next stop was a little city in Tuscany called Siena. Siena is a medieval town built on the top of a big hill. Part of it is walled in and there are many little nooks and crannies to explore. There is a sloping square in the centre and is the location where, every year, they hold a horse race. Joseph reminded me this was filmed as part of the opening scene in one of the James Bond movies. It’s always nice to have a movie reference for a famous place. We spent the rest of the day wandering the streets and when our feet finally gave out it was wine time. On our final evening in Florence I had another delicious meal, this time a Linguine Cabonara. Food is going to be featured a bit in this blog. I cannot stress enough how much I love Italian food.
The super speedy train delivered us to Venice is record time. Pulling into the station after a very long bridge we got off the train and began the usual search for our hotel. Venice is a pretty cool place. There are no cars or even scooters on the island, just boats and people. A lot of people! Venice receives about 20 million tourists a year so it’s a popular little island. Our hotel was simple but nice. It was walking distance from the train station and just off the main tourist street. We dumped our bags and set off to explore Venice. It is definitely a city that instantly impressed me. It really is like nothing else. The canals weave throughout the city and there are countless little bridges and alleyways. We found ourselves lost a few times walking around but eventually we found the guys selling the fake Gucci handbags and we were back on the tourist trail. Piazza San Marco is apparently the thing to see in Venice. It is easily found too, we just had to follow the steady stream of people to get there. The square itself is quite beautiful it was difficult appreciating it all with a billion people milling around. Joseph told me when he was here last time in November it was completely empty. The square is also quite low and when the tide is high, water creeps in. They have large wooden platforms that are placed down as temporary footpaths so people don’t get their Italian leather loafers wet. We spent the afternoon wandering back to our hotel stopping off at little cafes along the way. That evening we found the perfect area for dinner, it was down a few alleys from the main tourist street which meant the prices also came down a few Euros. There were also more Italians eating and drinking there so it seemed a little less like Disneyland on water. The meal was simple but delicious!
The temperature has steadily been rising in Italy. Venice was particularly muggy. Our second day just so happened to be my birthday. I couldn’t think of a better place to spend it! In the morning we walked around the less touristy neighbourhoods of Venice. Apparently property prices in Venice are astronomical and few people can afford an apartment. The only residents left are the oldies who haven’t already sold up and moved out. It was just before lunchtime that I noticed just how ridiculously hot it was getting. The sweat was pouring out of me faster than I could replace it with water. Eventually, I pulled the “it’s my birthday I’ll cry if I want to” card and insisted we stop for lunch. Arribiata pizza with a sparkling Rose. The birthday fun didn’t stop there however. Later in the afternoon we took a Gondala ride through the canals. Apparently the other must do activity in Venice. This was actually pretty cool. Our gondola guy was pretty informative and told us all about how Venice was made and how it sunk. Now their biggest issue isn’t the land sinking, it’s the water rising (kinda one in the same I think). Apparently in November the water rises so much some days their gondolas don’t fit under the bridges so they can’t work. Then he charged us 80 Euros for a 30 minute ride and I felt less sorry for him. He could always go home and cry into his bag of money. For our final night in Venice we found a little gem of a restaurant to celebrate me being on this planet for 31 years. No
t only was it on a canal we dined underneath a canopy of leafy vines. The meal was a delicious caprese salad to start, spinach and ricotta stuffed ravioli and a bottle of Prosecco.
Before we knew it we were on our way to Rome. This is a city I have been excited to see. She has some pretty big name tourist attractions with the like of the Colosseum, Vatican city, Sistine chapel and the Trevi Fountain. The thing that struck me about Rome (aside from the debilitating heat) was just the random ancient Roman ruins that pop around the city. We were advised to stay in a area of Rome called Trastevere and I would totally recommend it too. Unfortunately for us, we stay in an apartment that was “10 minutes walk to Trastevere”. Considering the bus took 30 minutes to get from our accommodation to Trastevere, I think they slightly embellished on that fact. The apartment, however, was huge and it was only 50 Euros a night so it wasn’t all bad news. Our first night in Rome we caught up with Tara and Kayne in the Tastevere district. The area is a hive of activity with marching bands and people galore. Our second day saw us meeting more friends from Melbourne, this time near the Trevi fountain. Bowen and Gen have been travelling throughout Spain and Morocco and we have been just a few days ahead of them all the time. We changed our Italian itinerary around so that we could see them. I am so glad we did as we had an awesome night with a delicious dinner (well except for the lasagne) and plenty of laughs. We said goodbye and headed down to the Tiber river for a few drinks with Kayne and Tara. The riverfront has a ton of bars and restaurants set up and even when we left at 2am, it was jam packed with people.
The next day was our major sightseeing day. It was also one of the hottest days I’ve ever experienced. Ok so it was only in the high 30’s but combine that with walking around for four hours and you can see why I was a little uncomfortable. The bus ride from our humble apartment to downtown took an extremely long time and was crammed with very angry Italians. It was 10 degrees cooler off the bus than on it so I was pleased to be alighting to 35 degree heat. Joseph says I complain about the heat too much. Nevertheless we managed to get to the Vatican city, the colosseum and the ancient Rome ruins. We lined up in the decent sized queue to get into the colosseum and for the hour it took it was definitely worthwhile once we were inside. The structure is so massive it is so impressive to think those little Romans built it. It once even had a canvas roof strung out over the top to keep the audience in the shade whilst they watched their favourite gladiators slaughter things. I could have used a little shade while I was there. We then headed across the street to the ancient Roman ruins. I am sure they are culturally significant and awe inspiring but being that I have no ancient history knowledge and it was hotter than hell, I was happy to skim through them. I know this makes me a bad tourist, but I am sorry, it was so hot I was literally melting like the witch from the wicked west (only I wish someone threw a bucket of water on me).
On our final day in Rome we decided to leave the best till last. The Sistine chapel and the Vatican museum. The Sistine chapel is, of course, Michelangelo’s greatest work. He spent quite a few years up there on scaffolding painting all sorts of delightfully Christian pictures. Before we got to the Sistine, we had to of course venture through the Vatican museums. These in themselves are quite incredible. Christianity has been around for a while so obviously the Vatican museums collection is quite old. I have never been a tapestry guy, but the tapestry collection the museum held was awesome. I also have never used the term awesome to describe woven fabric but I think it was because it was so old. These puppies dated back to the fourteenth century. Which in my books makes them cool. After the dazzling display of fabric, we moved on to the grand poohbah, the Sistine chapel. I gotta say, not such a grand looking building, but what an incredible interior. Of course it was summer in Italy so it was packed to the rafters with people but it was still wonderful to see Michelangelo’s greatest piece.
And here I leave you, we are about to board the night train to Vienna and eventually Budapest. I will leave the particular details of that journey to Joseph and his next blog. Needless to say we were FORCED to travel second class. Stay tuned for a doosey.