Saturday, 6th September – Pisa to Monaco

We had a long drive ahead of us and since we stayed in Pisa last night, we got up early to see the Leaning Tower. Below is the view from where we parked our car – free parking for a couple of hours on a Saturday morning was awesome. The tower was five minutes walk away, we didn’t expect that it would have a massive wall around it.

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Even though we arrived really early (8am), there were already lots of tourists. Apparently there was a competition being run on the most creative photo with the Tower, which would explain some of the weird poses we saw people attempting to create!

Surprisingly enough there is no entry fee to see the Tower, you can pay to visit inside all of the attractions in the piazza, but photos from outside are free.

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The Leaning Tower is in Miracles Square (Piazza dei Miracoli) and recently, to celebrate the 950th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of the cathedral, art from different artists will be on display for a limited time. We were excited to see ‘Fallen Angel’ by Polish artist, Igor Mitoraj.

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There are a number of beautiful buildings in the Square, including the Cathedral of St Ranieri.

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The Baptistry is an incredible building, said to have been a dedication to St John the Baptist and built in the mid 12th century.

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The Camposanto Monumentale is a walled cemetery, we didn’t visit inside but the picture below is from the hallway to the entrance.

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After leaving Pisa we began our journey along the coastline of Cinque Terre, an amazing drive with some of the most incredible views. We stopped in for lunch at one of the five villages that make up ‘the Five Lands’, Monterosso al Mare. One of Keith’s friends that had recently visited the area recommended the Focaccia at the local bakery and it didn’t disappoint! After walking off our lunch and checking out the beach and amazing views we continued our journey.

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Our next intended stop was Portofino, however it was the last week of the Italian holidays and unfortunately the police had road blocked the entry (one road in, one road out) as the town had reached its ‘maximum occupancy for tourists’. The poor policeman seemed more disappointed than we were, recognising that we were overseas tourists, he suggested that we would find Santa Margherita Ligure just as beautiful for the afternoon. He wasn’t wrong, what an amazing little town, it was very busy as well. We found a secure car park easily and walked along the beach, checking out some shops and cafes and enjoyed a gorgeous day in perfect weather.

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Reluctantly we continued on our way, our next stop is Monaco and after some winding roads up high in the mountains, below was our first glimpse of this incredible country.

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2014 European Adventure Italy Monaco

Friday, 5th September – Florence

Our second day in Florence started badly. Poor Bec was stricken with a migraine and unable to get out of bed. This meant that Keith went to experience the Uffizi art museum on his own, resulting in 37 million photos being taken.

Arriving early, I was able to go around and take some photos of impressive locations before any tourist crowds got in the way. The Fountain of  Neptune (below) is an impressive focal point in the Piazza della Signoria, out the front of the Uffizi museum. The other photos here are: The Basilica of San Miniato al Monte, Ponte alle Grazie, Ponte Vecchio and Ponte Santa Trinita – the bridges on the river Arno.

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Once the Uffizi actually opened, I took my time going through and being blown away at the sheer number of amazing art works. Da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, (not Donatello), Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Botticelli, including The Birth of Venus (below).

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Once Bec’s migraine was manageable and we had cleared out from our accommodation, we headed to the walled city of Lucca. This place had been suggested to us before we left and we were not disappointed. The wall that runs around the city has a walkway on top of it that gives great views of the city. We wandered around the wall for a while and then braved the labyrinthine streets to find the best coffee we had experienced in Europe. Although easy to get lost, Lucca is a beautiful place to experience.

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Leaving Lucca we made our way to our next stop – Pisa.

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Thursday, 4th September – Rome to Florence

We left Rome this morning with Florence as our destination, however we decided to avoid the major highways and travel through the country via Civita Di Bagnoregio and Orvieto.

Civita Di Bagnoregio is known as the ‘Dying City’, it was built on a volcanic plateau and its buildings are under constant threat of crumbling via erosion and falling off the cliff edge. The city itself was founded 2,500 years ago, today it is reported to have only 12 permanent residents. It was a pretty amazing place and looked like a fairytale medieval village perched on a mountaintop.

With a five hour journey to reach Florence we didn’t have the time to walk up the long bridge and explore, no vehicles are permitted to enter the village.

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After enjoying a coffee at the little cafe strategically located before the bridge entry, we continued on our way. It was a really enjoyable drive, the Italian country side was gorgeous, lots of grapes, olives and traditional looking country homes. We also stopped to take in the great view of the mountaintop city Orvieto.

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Arriving in Florence well before we could check in to our AirBnb accommodation, we parked the car and jumped on a bus into the city.

The first thing we noticed upon getting into Florence was that it was really really busy with lots of tourists and business people. The buildings were quite tall and the streets very narrow.

Our main priority today was getting into the Galleria dell Accademia, an art gallery that was on our ‘must do’ list. The gallery is so busy they sell tickets by time slots to manage pedestrian traffic. We bought our tickets and had an hour to ‘waste’, so went for a walk to find the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiora.

As we came out of an alley way to the square in which the cathedral stands, we were gobsmacked. The church was so large it was impossible to get a photo of its entirety in one shot. The architecture was intricate and very detailed.

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In Florence there are two major art museums that hold world famous art works. The Accademia has Michelangelo’s “David” as its main draw card. There are also many other sculptures and paintings by amazing artists such as Botticelli. The actual statue of David is really impressive. Standing at about 5 metres tall, it really highlights the detail that has gone into creating it. As far as sculptures go, this is considered to be one of the best.

There was so much more to see than David, for example, we discovered a pair of Hurdy-gurdies that we couldn’t believe actually existed! They are musical instruments popular in the 18th century. Even after leaving the museum, there were amazing statues around the area as well.

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Whilst walking back to our bus stop we discovered a night market taking place. It was so busy and compact that it was a challenge just to walk through. We managed to bargain one of the stallholders into selling Bec a few scarves for a great price.

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After negotiating our way through the markets we eventually headed back to our accommodation, noticing a nice looking restaurant two buildings away we decided to treat ourselves to some traditional Italian pizza.

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Wednesday, 3rd September – Rome

Since studying Ancient Rome at University, one of Keith’s biggest dreams was to see the ruins in Rome. The Colosseum was our first stop. Again, like the Vatican, nothing can prepare you for the size of the thing. It’s huge. And old. In fact, it’s almost unbelievable that people could build something so massive so long ago. We took millions of photos and just loved being amongst the ruins.

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The outside and the main areas of the Colosseum were, of course, amazing, but what we didn’t expect was the museum. There were examples of Ancient Roman graffiti, artefacts and plans of the original Colosseum and how it worked – the sliding wooden deck was amazing!

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From outside the Colosseum, it’s a short walk to Palatine Hill, the sight of many ancient ruins like the Roman Forum. The Forum was a meeting place and massive area where the aristocracy met. Now it’s a series of broken columns, but the scale is still impressive.

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After leaving the Roman Forum, we saw that there were many other similar ruins across the road. We stopped to buy some fruit from a local vendor near a statue of Julius Caesar and then walked through history – the Forum of Augustus, the Trajan Forum and the Trajan Forum Piazza. This amazing trail led us to a set of stairs where we had lunch, overlooking the Piazza Venezia and an enormous white marble building, Altare della Patria, built in honour of Italy’s first king and First World War soldiers.

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The next stop on our list was a church called Santa Maria sopra Minerva. It is famous for being the only existing original Gothic church building in Rome. In the 19th Century, a neo-Gothic restoration saw the ceiling painted blue with gilded stars. It also holds a Michelangelo statue and beautiful architecture not often seen in smaller churches.

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Construction of the Pantheon (our next stop) was started in about 13 BC. It was torn down, rebuilt, burned to the ground and rebuilt again and again. The actual writing on the facade shows who built it and when. But, the age is not what blows you away – it’s the size. In the photo below, you can get an understanding of how big the entryway is because of the people standing below. Inside is a domed roof with a single circular skylight (oculus). While inside we were told that we had to be quiet due to a church service going on, but we were the only ones. The multitudes of people still created a noise that blocked out the service.

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Our final stop before heading back to the apartment was the Piazza Navona. This giant plaza holds a fountain in the middle designed by Bernini and a fountain at either end, both just as impressive. This was a great place to stop and just people watch. The plaza is always really busy.

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In the last two days we had walked approximately 14 hours. So feeling tired but satisfied that we had seen as much as we were going to see of this amazing city in the short time we had available, we headed back to our accommodation trying to take in all the wonderful sights we had been to. Rome has definitely been a highlight.

2014 European Adventure Italy

Tuesday, 2nd September – Rome

We are staying approximately 20 minutes by public transport outside of Rome, so up early to negotiate a bus and the Metro Train Underground to Vatican City.

The walk from the train station through the City and our first glimpse of Rome was pretty awesome and we were really excited. We were not sure what to expect of Rome, we had heard mixed reviews but our initial thoughts were that it was incredibly cleaner than anticipated, the buildings and architecture were amazing and at this stage it wasn’t too crowded.

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Our research made us aware that Vatican City was in fact it’s own independent country, however we were not prepared for the size of the wall surrounding it.

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While Vatican City is the smallest country, the Vatican Museum is one of the biggest and most extensive. Every hallway, every ceiling is decorated with excessive opulence.

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Areas like the Sistine Chapel with the Michelangelo paintings defy description, but sadly photography is not permitted. Although, along with the expected religious artefacts, there are amazing works by extremely well known artists. One of Rodin’s “The Thinker” sculptures and Dali’s “Paesaggio Angelico” where unexpected personal highlights for us both.

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Another pleasant surprise is the view from the windows, for example the view of St Peters in the picture below. The stairway to exit the museum was in itself a work of art, there were more tourists taking photos of the staircase than walking on it.

Overall the Vatican Museum or Musei Vaticani is extraordinarily overwhelming. Every room feels packed from roof to floor, from corner to corner with amazing works of art or memorabilia. It feels impossible to take in and we spent a lot of time laughing at each other as we stood still moving our heads like laughing clowns at a carnival. It truly was the most amazing experience, we agreed you could go every day for a year and still not feel like you had truly ‘seen’ everything.

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Once out of the museum, our next stop was St Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro) and St Peter’s Basilica. Again, the overwhelming size of everything really took our breath away. We had to join a long line to get into the Basilica, but it gave us time to look around the square.

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Upon entering St Peter’s Basilica we were in awe of its architecture, the pictures below give some sense of its scale, nothing could have prepared us for the experience. We felt like we had walked into a world of giants, so small compared to the height and magnitude of the artwork, sculptures and the Basilica itself.

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Upon leaving Vatican City we headed toward the train station, enjoying the iconic sights of Castel Sant’Angelo, the Palace of Justice along the Tiber River (Fiume Tevere) towards the Piazza del Popolo to make our way back to the apartment.

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2014 European Adventure Italy

Monday, 1st September – Sorrento to Rome

We’d had an amazing time on the Amalfi Coast but today we were super excited for the next stop in our Italian itinerary – Rome.

It was roughly a 4 1/2 hour trip to Rome so the plan was to get there by lunchtime, settle into our accommodation and then possibly some late sightseeing. The weather however had different plans for us!

Approximately an hour into our trip we noticed some seriously ominous dark scary looking clouds. We realised we were in for some rain, however as we drove into a curtain of extremely heavy rain it became apparent that this was no small downpour. Visibility became non existent and we soon had to pull off the road.

At this stage we were still on the main highway and after about 15 minutes, the rain eased up and we were able to move on our way. Not long after turning off the highway the rain again became torrential and the build up of water on the road was beginning to not only be a concern but dangerous. We pulled off the road again, attempting to find a spot that was elevated as all too soon the road was seriously flooding.

Thinking we were in a good spot, we actually found the funny side of the situation, watching the crazy antics of other drivers persisting to drive through the now foot deep flood water. The water levels continued to rise and we quickly had to move again lucky enough to find a higher spot. Five minutes later our previous position was now three feet deep under water!

After another twenty minutes as quick as it came it went away, the rain stopped, the water receded and we were able to continue on our way. All but slowly as the road had been disintegrated by the flash flood and there was quite a bit of debris floating around.

So no harm no foul we kept our toes dry, however ended up in Rome much later than expected. We are staying in an AirBnb property in Rome for three nights, so we gave up the sightseeing plans and decided on an evening of grocery shopping, a home cooked meal, red wine and a favourite James Bond movie to relax.

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Sunday, 31st August – Ravello

After spending time in the searing heat of the ancient city Pompeii, we needed somewhere to go that would be more relaxing and (dare I say it) more lively.

Ravello is possibly our most favourite part of the Amalfi Coast. It has the standard winding roads and beautiful vistas, but not the billions of tourists. Of course, there were many tourists, but not like other parts of the coast.

The following shots show you the sort of scenery you see as you drive in.

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Once you have found a car park and walked uphill for ages, you come to a small village with an open town square, church and charming little shops. The view is spectacular and the gardens need to be seen to be believed. We stopped here for lunch and listened to a marching band that happened to be playing in the square.

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By the time we had finished lunch, the temperature was really starting to soar and we just wanted to spend the day in a pool. That’s when we had the idea to ask a random hotel if we could use their pool. The staff were super friendly and their pool wasn’t that busy, so for a small fee of around ten euros, we spent the afternoon lazying by the pool, swimming and generally loving our lives.

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2014 European Adventure Italy