Monday, August 30, 2010

Speak the truth or he will bite your hand… Bocca della Verita

Rome day 5
Today is our last full day in Rome and I want to see The Bocca della Verita (The Mouth of Truth). The legend is that if a witness whose truthfulness was doubted placed his hand in the mouth of the mask, it would bite him if he were guilty of telling a lie.
So after a little trip back to a clothing store to exchange a skirt I had purchased, we headed down along the river past 4 bridges, through the Island of Tiburina we found the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedian (a Greek Catholic church). The line up to see the Bocca della Verita was quite long but was moving along at a reasonable pace. The Bocca della Verita is just inside the church and you can take one photo per person and they like you to give a small donation (but not compulsory). After standing by the mask with your hand in its mouth you go through the doors of the church and see inside. There are some Roman ruins below the church that you can see for a small donation (50c), they are dated 200 BC (this is what the guide told us). It was quite impressive and no one else was down there, the boys even found it interesting.
We walked back along the other side of the river and enjoyed some cold drinks from a street vendor (these are found everywhere). After arriving back at the apartment we decided we had better get some rest now that we had seen all we had planned. We cooked dinner and watched a movie on the computer and went to bed early.

The Vatican is NOT fun with kids…

Rome day 4 Vatican visit

Well I guess you can tell by the title that I was not a happy chappy in the Vatican, although the photos tell a different story :-)

We started the day off wonderfully by getting up early and having something to eat in the apartment. We walked about 20 minutes and came to the Ponte Vittorio Emmanuelle to cross the Tevere. This is a beautiful bridge with large statues on both sides, very picturesque against the Castel San’ Angelo on the other side of the Tevere.

Another 5-10 minutes walk to the Vatican, because I forgot to bring the map and had to purchase another one just in case we got lost. I have to have a map at all times ;-)

We entered the Vatican city through the Piazza Pio XII (the round plaza with the tall post in the middle- you will have to pardon my ignorance to the name of it) and looked around to see if we could find the ticket office (bigliteria). We could not find anything, there were no signs pointing to anything and no visitors boards with maps. It is very hard to find anything in the Vatican city without paying for it. We went to line up in a line that looked short and it was for people to go through metal detectors. I assumed we needed tickets to show so we exited and walked around towards the Basilica and found an information office there. The man behind the counter said we could buy tickets for the Vatican museums that let us “skip the line”, we said no thank you and he said the shorter line was for the Basilica only. He did not however mention that the Basilica was FREE to enter…GRRRR. So we walked all around the Vatican walls until we found a VERY long line for the museum. A woman selling “skip the line” tickets bombarded us with information and told us if we purchased the tickets we not only “skip the line” but get headsets for the tour guide and get entrance into the Basilica and tombs below (at this stage we still didn’t know that the Basilica and tombs were FREE). We purchased her tickets and went to beginning of the line with the tour guide that was just about to go in. The headsets were awful and every time the guide spoke they crackled in my ear and it hurt, it was so frustrating. And the kids were mucking around before we even set foot in the museum. Let me just say that a tour guide is NOT needed in the Vatican museum, you can purchase your ticket for 15 euros and line up or you can purchase a ticket for 21 euros and skip the line (from the information office near the Basilica) I recommend doing this if you don’t line up before opening time at 9am. Then when inside the museum purchase an AUDIOGUIDE with headset and map for 7 euros, you can then listen to information about the art you find interesting and you do not have to WAIT around for anyone. PLEASE remember this advice I have given you, it will save you a lot of time, money and heartache. Also remember the Sistene Chappel is inside the Vatican museums, look for the signs (apparently you can miss it and then you have purchase another ticket).

After all that, I did enjoy most of it especially when we ditched the headset and guide and went it alone (and Iain went ahead with the boys to find a toilet). I had the camera in my hot little hands and took photo’s of everything I found interesting inside and outside the museum, the interiors are amazing and the gardens are spectacular.

If you don’t have time for all of the Vatican(at least 3 hours in museum), then I recommend just seeing St Peters Basilica (you can climb the dome on the stairs or take a lift for 7euros) and the tombs of the PoPes. Both the Basilica and tombs are FREE entry and have the shortest lines. And you can take photos without flash in the Basilica.

Levi and Phoenix recommend finding your children a babysitter for the day because they thought they were dying in the museum from boredom.

After a most tiring day we headed back to the apartment for siesta and woke again at 5pm cooked something for the kids and went for a walk along the Tevere on our way back to the apartment we stopped in Palazzo Farnese and had 2 coffees and some biscuits (10 euros, most expensive so far eek).
We slept well this night.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Budget tips for Rome

1. If you can handle the heat (33 degrees C) go to Rome in August when it is holiday time for Italians, there are less people and all of the sights are still open. Take it from me the heat is not that bad especially when you can go out in the morning, have siesta during the hottest part of the day, then go out again in the evening.
2. If you are staying more than 3 nights look for a central apartment. This way you can cook some of your meals and save on take out and restaurant meals.
3. Carry a bottle with you, you can fill it up with cold natural spring water at many fountains and taps around the city.
4. Don’t buy food / gelati / drinks from cafes, bars on the main streets or in front of places of interest, go one street back and find everything cheaper. Even better buy cold drinks at the supermarket, there are many SPARS scattered around the city.
5. If you see a church that is open go inside and take photo’s(if allowed) this is FREE. They are all amazing and ornate.
6. Buy bus tickets at the Tabaccheri , these look like newsagencies with a sign out front with a big T on it. They are everywhere.
7. Musei Vatican: line up before 830am, buy a ticket for entrance 15 euro, then go in and purchase an AUDIOGUIDE (map and headset) 7 euros. It will cost at least 40 euro for an English speaking guide and it will take at least 3.5 hours to go through with the guide. With the audio guide you can go at your own pace and when you see something that interests you press the number into the headset and it gives you the information. (more info on this in the blog). St Peter’s Basilica is FREE, the tombs below are also FREE. Do not be conned by people outside the Vatican walls selling inclusive tickets and skip the line tickets.
8. During Summer there are stalls and restaurants set up along the River Tevere between the Ponte Garibaldi and Ponte Palatino. I recommend going for a walk along the river at least once, its FREE too.
9. There are FREE walking tours around Rome, take advantage of this. They are ENGLISH only and take about 1.5 - 2 hours.
10. There are many FREE sights to see in Rome. For example you can see the outside of the Colosseum and walk all the way around it to take photo’s. Unless you really want to know the ins and outs of the Colosseum don’t worry about paying for the entrance. There are many ruins around the city for great photo’s too. (I will make a list of the FREE places of interest).

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Some tours are good every now and then

Rome day 3 - Tour to Pompeii
Day 3 started with a 45 minute walk to the tour office at 630. This was not fun and google maps can be very deceiving. Anyway we made it to the tourbus with 5 minutes to spare.
Our tour guide was Russian who spoke four languages: Russian, English, Italian and Spanish. The tour was done in English, Spanish and Russian. This can be a little annoying especially for the 2nd and 3rd group who hear about many places after we have passed them already. We travelled from Rome near the Termini through the suburbs and into the countryside, then over the boarder into Campania where Naples is the capital city.
Campania is beautiful, they grow a lot of citrus trees and grapes for wine. I think the State of Campania is very like Queensland (except with more water).
When we arrive in Naples we find it to be very old yet scattered with very modern buildings. In the “new” city centre there are many skyscrapers for business. We drive down to the Bay of Naples where the beach is pretty much great big squared off boulders of Limestone. People are lying on top of these with towels very close to the main road. The water is quite nice but there is a lot of rubbish floating in there and the smog from the city ruins the views out to the islands close by. It is a shame really because I was really looking forward to visiting Naples and going to the beach.
We picked up a male tour guide from Naples an elderly man who spoke Italian, Spanish and English. His English was not so good and I switched off for him and concentrated on the views from the bus. He explained that we were passing Mt Vesuvius and that before it erupted and destroyed Pompeii it had only 1 peak now it has 2. Anyway we had the male tour guide until we reached ’new’ Pompeii and had lunch.
Lunch was 3 courses, we enjoyed a 1st course of either pasta with tomato or soup, 2nd course of Pork, potatoes and mixed greens and 3rd course was Rockmelon. All of it was great and very tasty. I was glad not to have pizza.:-)
After our lunch we hopped on the bus a short way to the Pompeii ruins. We got another male tour guide Franco who is 84 years old and fit as a fiddle. Franco said he loves showing people Pompeii and will do it until he cannot do it anymore. He spoke very good English and was very likeable and entertaining. The boys (Levi and Phoenix) loved walking with Franco and hearing his jokes and information about Pompeii.
I definitely recommend a tour to Pompeii through Greenline Tours in Rome just to get to have Franco show you around Pompeii.
The Pompeii ruins were fantastic especially if you are good with a camera. The ruins give you so many opportunities to be creative with your photos. Even I am getting better with the camera and trying different angles. As you will see in the photos from Pompeii as I had the privilege of having the camera all day. Yay!
All in all the tour took from 730 to 2030 and the bus dropped us off near to our apartment.

In Rome you will never go thirsty

Rome day 2
We decided to take to the streets and alleyways through Piazza Navona, past the Pantheon, walk through all the tourist at Trevi fountain and made our way to the Spanish Steps.
Piazza Navona is beautiful, it is surrounded by a Palace (now the Brasil embassy or something like that) and other amazing buildings. In the centre there are 3 fountains made from white marble that are just spectacular, I think this piazza would have to be one of my favourites. Also the little cafes on the way to the Piazza Navona from our apartment are just gorgeous and not expensive at all 1.50 euro for cappuccino. We enjoy sitting and having a coffee at the quaint cafes. Unlike in Tuscan cafes we have not had to pay to sit at a table here in Rome. And we have stayed away from the cafes in the tourist squares they are at least 100% dearer than ones in the next street. All you need in Rome is a good map with all the Street names.
The Pantheon is under construction at the moment with quite a bit of scaffolding around the front of it. The Piazza in front of it has a pretty fountain and some nice restaurants and cafes. We walked down one of the streets past a lollypop and gelati shop the boys were treated with a large lollypop each for behaving themselves in the morning. There were lollypops in the shape of feet, ice creams, faces, some had paintings of buildings and the pope on them. The shop was full of American tourists buying ice cream.
After the lollypop shop we headed towards the Trevi Fountain, we found a galleria that we could go through with air conditioning to get to the fountain behind it. This was lovely after walking in the sun for quite a while.
The Trevi (fontana di Trevi) has always been one of the places I have wanted to see for myself. It is spectacular and large. Made out of the white marble used for many of the monuments here in Italy it is also somewhere that people discover for the first time that the water spouting out is from a natural spring and very cold. You will see people in the corner of the fountain filling up water bottles with the cool spring water and drinking from the spouts (using their hands). We decided to pour the water out from our bottles and fill them up too, nice and cool and refreshing, tastes good too. We soon found out that the water from the tap in the apartment was the same. Even the toilet cisterns have condensation on them from the cold water.
There are fountains and taps available all over the city for free use.
We found many people going in the same direction as us towards the Spanish Steps and decided that we would just follow them. When we arrived at the steps we found that there were many people there, but not for the steps for the water fountain in front. They were lapping up the cold water like it was going to disappear. Back to the steps , well they lead up to a church and from the church there is a wonderful view over Rome. There were some African merchants trying to sell handbags on the steps but they were the only ones I have seen in the 5 days we have been in Rome. There are also Indian merchants selling roses and paper umbrellas and fans. I am glad I am used to being in the heat of Queensland.
After the Spanish Steps we headed to McDonalds for lunch the boys loved it and it was cheaper than in Florence. McDonalds is a great place to use the toilets.
After McDonalds we decided to walk to the Colosseum and join the queue outside. It took about 30 minutes and the tickets cost 12 euros each (only EU children under 18 are free). So keep that in mind if you are planning a trip to Europe and you are able to get EU passports through family members before you leave. There are also free days for EU citizens.
Our walk through the colosseum was interesting and we ran out of camera battery. The work that went into the colosseum was amazing and well worth visiting.
We went into the Palatino on our way back to the apartment as it was part of the Colosseum ticket. The Palatino is a large garden with many ruins in it. We only explored a quarter of it and were a bit too tired to go an further so we headed back to the apartment.
After 6 hours of walking in the heat we went back to the apartment and cooked pasta and made salad for dinner. We also went to bed quite early. We were totally worn out and needed rest for the our Pompeii (they spell it with only 1 I here) tour the next day.

When in Rome…cross the road as fast as you can!

Day 1
We love Rome.
When we first arrived in Termini station we were a little wary of what we had been told and read about gypsies, but after a few hours of not seeing any at all we relaxed a little.
We hopped in a taxi from termini to Campo de Fiori, it took about 10 minutes. From the taxi we saw so many monuments and fountains that we wanted to go back and see straightaway. We were so excited about Rome (Iain and I, boys are a bit over it now).
We went out and found a Spar to buy groceries. We forgot that we didn’t have an oven and bought frozen pizzas… oh well they worked out fine on the cook top.
Crossing the roads here in Rome is scarier than in Florence even on zebra crossings, you walk a couple of steps and then wait for the car to go in front of you, then another couple of steps and the scooter zooms past you, after 3 or 4 vehicles try to run you over thank God you made it to the other side.
Iain and I wandered down the street to the piazza and found an American Pub “the Drunken Ship” it was happy hour so we decided to have a beer and a glass of house wine. Surprisingly the wine was not to bad and I quite enjoyed it (the wine here is a lot stronger in alcohol than at home). We walked about 15 mins from the apartment (we didn’t want to be too far from the boys) to the ruins where the sterilised, fed cats live :-). Then past there to the Monument for Vittorio Emmanuelle and the Palatino ruins beyond that. They all look fantastic at twilight. You can see some of these photo’s under the Rome tab.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Chianti Tour

We decided to pay for a tour to the Chianti region instead of trying to find our way around ourselves. I think that for touring a winery we would need a car to get to one in the first place. It cost about 150euro for the 4 of us, we were willing to pay for this to have a tour guide and to spend some time with other tourists. The tour started at 2pm and ended at 7pm.

We first met a couple of Australian girls from Melbourne with Italian parents, they said they have been speaking English everywhere and becoming very slack with their Italian. It was fun talking with the girls (especially for me).

At the winery we sat a table with 3 Canadians, a couple from Winnipeg and a guy from Montreal they didn’t know each other came from the same country.

The boys went outside while we did some wine tasting and met a little French girl (Leeza), her Father and Mother translated for them, she was so cute. Levi and Leeza tickled each other with peacock feathers for ages.

There was an older couple from Perth who had been living in Chicago USA for the last 8 years (slight accent) they were very excited to meet with other Aussies here. They told us they have been a bit disappointed with the Italian food here. ( I will write something on food later for all you foodies).
Then I met a guy from Texas while waiting for the boys outside the bathroom, it is always hilarious when they ask you about where you live and they have absolutely no idea ( a little frustrating too ). It is particularly funny when the boys get all chatty about the animals we have in Australia especially the sharks… “you swim with sharks!?! Oh!!!” ROFL (roll on floor laughing).

The winery was beautiful and green and luscious, Quercato winery is about 500 years old and has been owned by the current family since late 1800s. They grow 2 types of grapes; giovanese(Italian) and cabernet(French) and they also grow olives for Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Chianti only produce red wines and they have rules for them: Top shelf must have 80% giovanese grapes in it, it actually didn’t taste too bad for a red wine, very smooth and tasted quite grapey.

The olive oil also has rules: the extra virgin olive oil is the best it must have olives that have been pressed within 20hours of being picked. The virgin olive oil is up to 24 hours and the other oils they said they would only use for the cars J. They basically said that if it isn’t Extra Virgin Olive Oil then don’t use it.

All bottles of Chianti wine have a picture of a black rooster on the bottle, there is a legend behind this picture:
There was a war going on between Florence and Siena over who owned the Chianti region between the two cities. They decided to have a race for the land. The idea was for each city to send out a knight to race towards the other city, where they met up that would be the boundary line. Each knight would have to wait for the cock to crow then race out. Well the Florentines did not feed their rooster the night before and he woke up very early and gave the Florentine knight a very good head start, He almost claimed the entire Chianti region. ( The Florentines say that the black rooster is a sign of “cleverness” for them, for the Sienans it is a sign of the Florentines having an unfair advantage).
Just a little story telling for you, they do not know if the legend is true or not but it can cause fights still between the cities.

After the winery we drove on very windy roads ( I was feeling it blah) to Greve in Chianti and beautiful little romantic town, with gorgeous little streets. We only had 50 minutes to roam around, so I went to the markets for inspiration when I arrive back home. Of course we were the last ones back on the bus.

We arrived back in Florence at 7pm a little tired. I just love that it is still daylight at that time. I love daylight savings.

Galleria Ferrari- Modena and Maranello

This Tuesday we went to Galleria Ferrari (it is Iain’s day)
We went from Florence to Modena by train (one train) then we were supposed to get 2 buses from Modena train station to Maranello and walk to Galleria Ferrari, but we saw some taxi’s out front of the Train station and decided to take the easy route this time ;-).
Maranello is a pretty little town where Mr Ferrari built his company and there memorabilia of Ferrari and Enzo all over town. You will see the photo’s to back this up. Anyway of course there is a Ferrari museum to visit if you are an avid fan of the sports car. Ferrari is Iain’s dream car so today was very exciting for him. We went to the museum and purchased family tickets 9 euros each, not too bad. The museum is not very large but if you love the car there are many displays of the real thing and the race cars too. There is also a trophy room with all the trophies and helmets on display. They even have a display cabinet with all the colours of paint and leather you can get for your very own Ferrari. I must admit it was not very interesting for me, but to see that Iain was so excited about it was good. It did not take very long to go through the museum, and we left with a souvenir for Iain.
When we walked outside I could see a car rental place and all these people sitting with tickets in their hands (Iain had not noticed), so I went inside the shop to see how much it cost to go for a ride in a Ferrari, well to my surprise you didn’t just go for a ride you actually got to drive one. I knew Iain had always wanted to do this so I casually went back out and said you can do it (the cheap one) go inside and fill out the forms. I don’t think he knew exactly what I was talking about but a few seconds later he had his wallet out and was filling the form for a 10 minute drive in a Ferrari F430 coupe (60 euros). We had to wait a couple of hours for the drive so we sat and took photos of the other Ferrari’s for rent: California, Scuderia, Spider and some other ones that I can’t remember…(embarrassed).
So at 115pm Iain got up a bit nervous because this was his first time driving a Ferrari and also his first time driving on the right hand side of the road (what a way to do it). He told the owner of the car and he was not worried, so Iain hopped in and I took photos and a video as proof that he had actually done it. Yay! Off he went down the road with a low roar for what was supposed to be 10 minutes. I ran down the drive way to wait for his return to take photos and another video, 10, 12, 13 minutes passed, I began to worry that Iain had kidnapped the owner and taken off with the car (LOL). In the meantime a stretched dark green British mini had driven past me (to tell you the truth I was more impressed by that J sorry!!!)
15 minutes passed and I could here the Ferrari coming up the street in front of me, I zoomed the camera to get a close up shot, then pressed record button, this was a bad idea because then I could not zoom back so I got a video of rosso red passing by. Forgive me, I am trying to learn how to use the camera quickly.
Iain turned off the car and told me there was a video to buy too so we went in and purchased it.
We then had to walk to the bus station which was not far but we had already missed the train we wanted to catch. We got to the bus station and decided we were too tired to bother and got another taxi back to Modena.
To make a long story short we ended up having to catch 3 trains back to Florence, one from Modena to Bologna, the Bologna to Prato (took us an hour to work out where the platform was), then Prato to Florence, let’s just say it was a very long day, and leave it at that.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bidet...come on you know you want to know what we think!

Well bidets are a normal piece of equipment in all bathrooms in Italy. I stared at the one we have in Florence for a week before deciding to face my fears.
From an environmental point of view a bidet is good, basically you use less toilet paper which means less tree cutting and less dunny paper in the sewer and dumps. So it is a good thing.
The bidet which is basically a little bathtub with a tap (that sprays down like a normal tap). You can even put a plug in it and shave your legs or bathe baby in it (they use them for everything here), they also clean alot here. Anyway after the toilet bit you sit on the bidet and wash like you would when you have a shower with soap and the tap running. I hope that wasn't too graphic.
So have we all got it now? Bidets are good, not scary and everyone should install one now. ROFL. ;-)

10 August - VENICE

Ok so currently, right now, this very minute I am sitting on a train with my wonderful husband and 2 lovely children on our way to Venice (Venezia).

The train is not exactly the most comfortable but we have 4 seats together and we are only travelling 2 hours on this particular train. There are all sorts of travellers on the train with us, a family from India, some Italian Military dudes, a group of French women (who by the way are not all skinny) and some young adult types in the seat behind Iain.

The trains in Italy (the fast ones) travel mostly through tunnels which is ok if you travel through the night, but very boring during the day. The normal trains travel above ground and you can enjoy the countryside rolling by very quickly, it is soooooo pretty.

The boys are not paying any attention they are playing their nintendo dsi's , at least they are quiet. And I so love that I can blog while in transit, thanks to internet keys.

We arrived at Venice at lunch time. We walked a far way to find the agency that keeps the keys for the apartment. Then we walked back to where we came from to catch a ferry to the Rialto bridge, we were met there by Sabrina a shop owner that greets people and takes them to the nearby apartments for the leasers. We turn the corner past Golden Point (swimwear), walk past Max Mara and turn left at Rolex, then turn right at Calle dei Calice and walk through the hole in the wall, open the gate behind the restaurant and climb 4 flights of narrow stairs (only half have handrails) to reach our apartment on the top floor (huff n puff). Bye, bye Sabrina, thanks for showing us the way.But the apartment is good, we are up 4 floors (hell stair climb) good views over the top of buildings and churches. From the living area if you stick half your body out the window and turn to the left you can see a canal.

It looks as though the Venice council has been cleaning up the city quite alot over the last few years. The canals look cleanish and they don't smell as much as the Gold Coast, the allyways are clean and lovely. There are no rubbish bins(wheelie bins) in Venice, you put your rubbish in a plastic bag every night and put it outside your door, and magically in the morning it is gone. Fantastico!

We eat lunch and venture out to San Marco (St Marks Basilica)…follow the yellow metal signs stuck on the sides of buildings up high with arrows pointing in every direction you could possibly go to get to your destination. We weave through crowds and stop in at Murano (glass) and Burano (lace) shops and check out the prices (lucky we came at SALDI time). Finally we reach San Marco (really only 10 mins) and what a sight, it is so beautiful even with all the people milling around. The kids are still with us too, haven’t lost them yet :-).

The square is big surrounded by restaurants, cafes, shops and gelateria. I found the first café in built in Italy after the Turkish men introduced coffee to the Italians. (It is quite a funny story the history of coffee in Italy, lets just say that they didn’t want coffee at first because they thought it made you “gay”. )
Anyway back to my blog, we went into an art gallery in the square that is all glass items, tried to stay calm with the boys in there.

After exploring the square we walked around to the Adriatic Sea and follow the path through markets to a gorgeous bridge (there are many) and took many photos of boats, gondolas, people, churches, islands and more boats for Iain (if it isn’t cars it’s boats).

We turned around and headed back to the square where I got to go into the Doges Palace and see all the wonderful art and architecture all by myself in peace with no whinging children saying they are bored. Only thing is Iain had to miss out too.
After viewing St Mark's Square we all headed back to the apartment and heated up some frozen meals the we brought with us from Florence (good way of saving money).
The boys wanted to watch a movie on the computer after dinner, so we locked them in the apartment with a mobile phone (in case of emergency) and Iain and I went out for a short walk near the apartment(didn't want to go to far). We found some buildings that were leaning quite alot, unfortunately we didn't have the camera with us to take any pictures of it.
We came back to the apartment with pastries and the boys were still up watching the movie and Levi was so proud that he got to be the 'man' of the house for a little while.

Day 2 of Venice, we decided to use the boat tickets we purchased the first day and went to Lido to check out the beach. The ride to the Island was great and very relaxing also saw some amazing sites, like the botanical gardens and the war memorial. Lido is very pretty and it has cars on it, we walked to the other side of the island in 10 minutes and the boys ran to the water, we decided to give them 30 minutes. They were in there for 20 minutes and came out with stings from a jellyfish (not quite as bad as a bluebottle for us Aussies). So the boys have now swam in the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Adriatic Sea now. One day they will realise just how lucky they are.

We left Lido and went to Santa Maria di Saluti , a very beautiful church that you just can’t miss if you are on the Grand Canal. It was of course closed for Siesta when we arrived so we went into the Art Gallery next door (modern) this Iain and I paid for (15euro each) the kids were free. We soon discovered that we had to preview each room before deciding whether or not to let the boys see it (for instance a room full of little skeletons and disfigured people figurines at war… called F’ing Hell) Not Good!!! Ratings people!!! Ever heard of them!?! So as you probably guessed the boys had their eyes shut for most of it. Some parts were quite interesting like different cities made in coloured glass and somebodies idea of history through magazine advertisements. Back to the church, it was FREE and beautiful and we could take photos without the flash, just gorgeous. The area surrounding the church was lovely too, very pretty buildings and bridges over the canals.

After the art gallery and church we headed back along the Grand Canal to the Rialto Bridge and back to our apartment for lunch/afternoon tea and dinner.

The boys did not want to go up the Bell Tower in fear of having to climb many stairs, I too was a bit apprehensive. So again Iain and I locked the boys in the apartment and went to the Bell Tower in St Mark’s Square and low and behold there was a lift to the top (WOW!). I was so excited! We went up there and the views were spectacular especially at 830pm with all the lights. We spent about half and hour there taking photos and enjoying each others company child free. We did not leave the boys too long, we did however get a little lost on our way back to the apartment and had to use a map to get back. ;-) Perfectly natural to get lost in Venice.

Day 3 Our last day in Venice, We woke early and went to St Mark’s Basilica, I lined up for 45 minutes waiting for it to open and the boys went souvenir shopping (as we only had a few hours left in Venice). And boy did we blow a bit of cash on souvenirs there…hehe. Oh well it was mostly for friends and family.

St Mark’s Basilica (built in 1094) was wonderful and FREE the tour takes about 10 minutes and there are NO photo’s allowed so I purchased some postcards to show what it looks like inside. Also I like to buy something or leave a small donation if it is a FREE church.

After the church we walk back to the apartment, grab our belongings and head to the boat to take us to the train station. The boat ride is always nice and the scene is spectacular. The train station is like all other train stations, we wait around an hour before it is time to board and find out what platform we leave from. On the train we end up sharing a compartment with 2 Italians who do not speak a word of English, they slept most of the journey, so did we. 3 hours after leaving Venice we arrive back (home) in Florence.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

30 July - 7 August Florence and Siena

Well i have not been on the blog for a week now. Missed me???
We had a visit by Iain's cousin Mark and his fiancee Rachael for a few days, that was a lot of fun. We enjoyed showing them our Florence.
On Wednesday 4 August, I woke up with an extremely stiff and sore neck, I could not turn my head very well at all. This was bad because we were heading off to Siena for the day. My neck did start to feel better during the day but it got worse on the way back to Florence in the car.
Anyway, Siena was gorgeous, we had the best weather and it was a beautiful city.
Siena was lovely with it's old art and architecture. In Siena each street and district has a different flag, and each district the light fittings are in the districts colours. Each year in August they have a horse race in the Piazza with each district represented. The idea is that the winner is whichever horse crosses the line with or without the rider.
The Cathedrale in Siena is the best church I have seen so far, it has not been destroyed by floods and the artwork is amazing, the colours are still bright and bold. Even the books with illuminations have been preserved, the gold leaf is beautiful.
The views from some of the churches are just amazing, looking out over the wall of the city and into the luscious green of the countryside. Wish we had more time to stop into San Gimignano.
I love seeing all the towns that are surrounded by fortresses like in old stories with kings and queens and motes around the castles. FANTASTICO!
After seeing Siena I spent 3 days at home in the apartment in pain from my neck, my landlady called her doctor and he told me to get some medication and gel from the farmacia. It seems to have worked and I am feeling ALOT better now. I am so glad because we head to Venice in a couple of days.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Tues 27- Fri 30 July-VIAREGGIO

Today we ventured out of the city to Viareggio (on the Tuscan coast near Pisa and Lucca) on the train from Santa Maria Novella Stazione in Florence. We packed one small suitcase and the boys had a small backpack each with their games and our lunch and drinks in them.
The train ride was only an hour and a half and quite comfortable in the 2nd class carriage.
We did not know about validating our tickets so it was a bit of a shock when we got a fine for not validating them (see
When we arrived at Viareggio we set off walking towards the beach to find the promenade, this part was easy. But then we walked and walked to find the hotel, after 30mins we found the landmark the hotel owner told us to look for and found the hotel we were to stay in for 3 nights (Hotel Lukas). Cindy the owner is lovely and speaks very good english. Our room had 4 single beds and a bathroom and tv in it. Small but we were only sleeping and using the bathroom there. Our breakfast was included in the cost of the room and was quite nice (croissants, ham, cereals, cake, toast and coffee and juice).
We headed to the beach at about 2pm and found out quite quickly that we had to pay to be on the beaches close by (10 euro for a chair or 20 euro for an umbrella and 2 chairs all day). It turned out not to be too bad, because you really do spend all day at the beach except for lunch time unless you bring a packed lunch, the sun does not go down until 830pm and the sun is not as hot in Italy as it is in Australia.
Our dinner the first night was awful, we ate a cafe on the beach and had hamburger and chips (literally the meat pattie and chips).
2nd day at Viareggio, we got up had breakfast, went down to the beach paid for an umbrella and spent a few hours there until lunch time. We headed down the promenade and found somewhere to eat, we enjoyed a pizza, superburger, salad and chips (we shared). The salads here are huge! We met an English family over here for 2 weeks and the boys kicked the soccer ball around for a while. The boys were happy to play with other boys. One of the English boys got stung by a jellyfish the day before and had the marks to prove it all over his belly. The jelly fish are big and have a blue ring around the edge of them, I think they sting like blue bottles. The lifesavers have nets and they scoop the jelly fish out of the sea and bury them in the sand. (Not a good idea when the kids are digging in it). Hello!
We had ice creams and headed back to our umbrella (where we left our towels), the boys enjoyed a few more hours of swimming and I had more time for my tan.
The "gypsies" hang around the beach and try to sell you things, just pretend to be asleep, they keep moving then. :-)
We had a great dinner of mixed deep fried calamari, baby octopus and fish with chips. It was the best and I did enjoy the octopus (tasted like the calamari).
We received a call from Iain's cousin Mark saying that He was in Florence. We told him where we were and him and Rachael (fiancee) drove to Viareggio (where they had been that morning :-). We headed back to the hotel and found Mark and Rachael waiting for us there. It was great to see a familiar face. Mark and Rachael have been travelling the USA, UK and Europe for 7 months now in a large van.
Thurs 29 July- WET Viareggio. It poured and poured. Mark and Rachael headed back to our Florence apartment with our keys and used our washing machine.
Fri 30 July- Iain's birthday. I remembered the night before and didn't remember until we were on the train back to Florence oopsie! Happy Birthday Iain. (we have found that we don't know what day it is most of the time).
Glad to be back in familiar surroundings, we headed back to our apartment and had a great dinner of NACHOS. Thanks Mark! Yummo!