Monday, October 18, 2010

Back in Australia.

Hello everyone,
We are back in Australia now after our 3 month adventure in Italy. I am working on our photo's and the budget costs for the holiday. Also our computer with all the information is on my laptop which got a virus yesterday. So waiting for lovely Josh to fix it up for me, then I will continue with the posts here.
Thank you all for following.

North Italy-the cold.

We are very lucky to have a very generous friend in Italy. Paola is actually the lady who owns the apartment we live in, in Florence. She and her partner Sergio have invited us to stay with them in Albugnano for 2 nights then Paola has taken us to their mountain apartment in Torgnon (Valle d'Aosta). This is a great experience for us because our sons have never seen snow in Australia. Torgnon is very beautiful and it is about 10 degrees celcius during the day and very cold at night. The clouds have stayed very low for our visit and we cannot see much of the view from the apartment. But I can see the ski lift very close by for winter and the cows up on the hill. We have the fire place going now and it feels a bit more cosy.

Yesterday we drove to Mont Blanc and saw the snow on the peaks. The views are gorgeous there and the autumn colours are so beautiful. The mountains are so high and magnificent. We call our hills mountains in Australia, but they just don't compare. We are so privileged to have this experience.

Today we went to Cervinia to see Cervino Mountain, it has a pointy peak. When we first arrived there it was covered in clouds and we could not see any of it. After a hot chocolate and caffe we went out and the clouds had lifted and what a magnificent sight we saw. Unfortunately the cable car stopped on the weekend and will not be open until the start of winter.

Cinque Terre-The Italian Riviera

Riomaggiore 17 - 22 September

The Cinque Terre (5T) is made up of 5 towns clinging to the cliffs of the Italian Riviera, you can walk from town to town along the coastal tracks (unless closed due to bad weather). We stayed in Riomaggiore the first town of the 5T north of Pisa. The 5 towns are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. (Pronunciation)

We met an English family travelling around Italy as well; they were spending one night in Riomaggiore before heading back to Pisa to catch the flight to London. It was wonderful meeting another English speaking family on our adventure. We decided to travel the rest of the way to Riomaggiore together. We hopped off at Sarzana to change trains and found out that we had missed it because we didn’t know which line it was on to find out which platform to run to. So we had to wait a while for the next train to La Spezia then change to another train to go to Riomaggiore, making us 2 hours later than scheduled. ( see hints on trains).
Finally, we arrived in Riomaggiore and found our apartment easily thanks to great instructions provided by the owner. We were on the first floor on the main street with beautiful views, a large bathroom and a kitchenette (cooktop, microwave, sink). It was great to sit at the window with a cup of coffee and watch the locals and tourists in the street below, it was busy. Not busy with cars though, there are no cars in Riomaggiore, the locals and tourists park their cars in the car park up the hill, then walk to their accommodations. The only cars that come down the main street are the delivery trucks and the bus that takes people to the train station from the car park. Be prepared to walk up hills and many flights of stairs to find your apartment/hotel (there are no taxis). So try not to pack too many bags, only bring the essentials (they are very casual during the day and smart casual at night, make sure you bring a jumper or cardigan for the wind). The only way to arrive in Riomaggiore is by train, boat, bus or car. The train and boat disembark at the bottom of the hill and the bus and cars stop at the top of the hill, then you walk (this is unavoidable). I suggest packing only 3 days of clothing and utilizing the many Laundromats available they are cheap and they have dryers for fast clean clothes (this is what we did). You will also need some sport/hiking shoes for the some of the walks between towns.
Our first night in Riomaggiore we cooked dinner (money saving) and ate some delicious pastries from the Pasticceria downstairs.
Next morning we woke to semi overcast skies that soon brightened to a warm sunny day. We headed down to the train station to buy Cinque Terre tickets. You have to pay to use the walking paths between towns because Cinque Terre is a National Park and all proceeds go towards maintenance. You can buy just train tickets between towns for about €1.70 each trip, 1 day tickets from €7 for a single or €20 a family to 5 day tickets. We opted for the 3 day family ticket €50, this gave us use of the trains from La Spezia to Levanto and all the walking tracks and the green buses that stop in the town and at the train station. On our way to the walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola we ran into the English speaking family we met the day before, so they joined us for the walk.
The walkway from Riomaggiore to Manarola starts near the train station with about 20-30 steps up then you walk about 50 metres to come to the validation office. (When you start the walk you get a stamp on your ticket, you then have until midnight the next day to use the ticket as much as you can if you have a 1 day ticket and so on up to 7 days. I suggest starting early in the morning to get the most out of your tickets).
You then pass by and head on along a paved walkway that is on the cliffs. The views are amazing. On this stretch of the walk there is the “path of love” (del’amore) people have declared their love by leaving a padlock on the railings all along this pathway. Some people have left their marks on the rocks and even some of the plants.

There is a little cafe hanging onto the side of the cliffs between Riomaggiore and Manarola. You can sit on the edge of the cliffs and drink a cup of coffee mid journey. When you come into Manarola there is another validation office stamping fellow walkers from Manarola going to Riomaggiore.

Manarola is just as beautiful as Riomaggiore, it has a cove with large rocks in it that you can sunbake on. My sons decided they would like to swim in the cold water so we let them jump in. Levi climbed on the rocks in the centre and dove off enjoying himself.
Phoenix swam across to the rocks and climbed them and decided he was too scared to jump in and swim back. It took a while to convince him that he swam there so he would be able to swim back. We had a crowd of onlookers watching to see if Phoenix would swim back on his own or if Iain would have to brave the cool water and go rescue him. (how embarrassing).

After a few hours in Manarola we decided to go to check out the next town Corniglia so we headed to the train station (the walk was closed due to storm damage). We hopped on the next train and to our surprise we had hopped on the express to Monterosso, so not being worried we just went there instead.

Monterosso has a "proper" beach compared to the other towns that have coves. The beach has rocks and pebbles to sunbathe on but the water was lovely and the boys enjoyed it very much. I tried to get comfortable lying on the rocks in the hot sun (it was day 2 and we were happy to see the sun out). After soaking up some sun we headed to a restaurant on the beach for a coffee and gelati. To our surprise the restaurant was very affordable and we returned there a few days later to enjoy a lovely lunch on the beach.

On the way back to the apartment in Riomaggiore we stopped into the pastry shop downstairs and purchased some lemon tarts and chocolate muffins. YUMMO!

The next day we went to Corniglia. Corniglia is the one town of the 5T that you can't reach the beach easily from and the train does not stop in the town.

More to come... time for sleep... day 4 of jetlag.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Dolcemente Pisa

On the weekend we went to Pisa to try sweets at Dolcemente. Dolcemente is an event where boutique food production businesses bring samples for the public to taste. It cost 4 euros to enter and then you could taste all the delights. Here are some photo's of what was available:

To see the article I have written on Dolcemente please go to Dolcemente by Maleena Hardy.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Arezzo Antique Market

The Arezzo Antique Market is on every 1st weekend of the month. It is very, very big! If you have ever been to the Vintage Markets in Paris, this one puts them to shame. The difference is that you see the beautiful churches and architecture as you view the wonderful antiques and walk up towards the highest point of the town of Arezzo.

Friday, October 1, 2010

October 1st in Florence

We have made it to October and been in Italy for 78 days now and only have 9 days left before we head off to London for 3 days then back to Brisbane, Australia on October 15.

It has been a fantastic experience to immerse ourselves in Florence (Firenze) and to "live" here for 3 months (of course it is different we did not have to go to work everyday). We have a wonderful apartment and would definitely stay here again, although moving to Florence is still an option. We met many people that are original Florentines' and many people who have moved here from all over the world.

The Tuscan lifestyle is very different to what we were used to, for instance many stores close between 12:30 - 17:00 and re-open until about 19:00. Yes you need to familiarise yourself with the 24 hour clock, quite often when someone invites you to dinner they will say "come at 20", there are however, the ones who have been around english speakers that have become accustomed to saying "come at 8", but they don't use AM or PM. All public transport is in 24 hour.

When we first arrived here in Florence there was a little culture shock (especially when we had to do our first grocery shop without our landlady). For instance when you buy fruit and vegetables at the supermarket you get a bag and a glove (don't pick up with your hand) pick up the fruit or vegetable put it in the bag and remember the number in the corner of the sign, then find the electronic scale. You then put your bag on the scale and press the screen for fruit or vegetable (make sure you remember that number from the sign above your item) then press the number, the scale will then give you a sticker with the price on it that you stick on the bag. The check out assistance do not do the weighing and calculating here, they just swipe items. They do not bag either, you ask for how many bags you would like and pay for them and bag you own items. If you plan on staying for a while I suggest purchasing the canvas shopping bags, it will save you money. Things definitely work differently here in Florence.

In saying all that, we have enjoyed and learned many things about living in a different country. Although we have not had the normal daily routines of work, school and paying taxes in Florence, we have been told by locals who have moved from the USA, UK, China, Australia and many other countries that it is possible to live here if you work at it. (like anything, I suppose).