Sunday, 31st August – Pompeii

We got up early and headed to downtown Naples, which is a little scary to be honest so we were glad we drove. With the car tucked away safely in a parking garage, we headed off to see the sites of the ancient buried city of Pompeii.

It was a beautiful clear day and was heading for around 40 degrees in the centre of the city so we were glad we started early. Once we paid to get in and negotiated our way around the bus loads of other tourists, we walked through a gate and went back over two thousand years into the past.

The first thing we noticed when we came through the gate was a sort of sports field. As you can see in the picture below, it was huge and they’ve let the grass grow back. Behind it was a massive amphitheatre which they still use today for performances. The next thing we saw was a temple ruin that was just so detailed.

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After seeing these amazing structures as soon as we walked in, we spent the next couple of hours just wandering among ruins. Everything was so alien and different, yet somehow familiar. It was just unbelievable to think we were walking around the same city that people were walking around so long ago as if we were there with them.

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It was great to get an understanding of how the people from Pompeii lived – how the houses and shops were right on the edge of the road, that they had foot paths, that they had drinking fountains and best of all, you could see the actual gouges in the road from the carts that they pulled through the city!

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In the main area of Pompeii there is a large open area – courtyard like, perhaps a market place. On one side there is a series of sheds which hold items found during excavation. These included plaster casts of bodies they found – which was quite eerie to be looking at. In the background of the photos below, you can see Mt Vesuvius lurking ominously.

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One of the most spectacular structures was a bath house. This was a place where rich men gathered and bathed together – kind of like a day spa. The opulence that is still visible is mind blowing. The carving, statues and plaster work are all amazing.

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Another couple of insights into life in Pompeii was through a home and a shop.

The house was amazing showing exactly how the walls would have looked in a wealthy person’s house. The walls were all brick (as you can see everywhere) but on the inside they plastered over the bricks and then painted murals. On the floor there were mosaic tile pictures as well. So fascinating.

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The shop that we saw was a bakery. You could clearly see the stone device that they used to crush the wheat into flour for baking. The oven also doesn’t look that different from a modern day open pizza oven.

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Overall, we had an amazing time and wished we had paid for a personal guide to find out more. We have made a promise to ourselves to watch some documentaries and research more about this fantastic place when we get home.

Since it was getting really hot and not many buildings had a roof to provide shade, we left around lunch time and headed off to a beautiful sea side village – Ravello.

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Saturday, 30th August – Amalfi Coast and Positano

Ah, the Amalfi Coast. It has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. Today was the day that we would explore it a lot more.

The first thing that needs to be said is the bad side of this area – the streets are really narrow. It does seem like a really small thing, and it is. The reason I mention it is because we had a pretty big car and had a lot of challenges and pretty scary moments on the drive today. However, if we had a tiny little Fiat (like most people do), a three wheeled ute (so awesome, cute and everywhere) or a motorbike, it would not have been a problem at all.

The good side, however, is fantastic! The view on every corner of the coast as you drive around is spectacular. It is difficult to take photos, but there are spots where you can stop from time to time to snap a fews pics. But, don’t take me word for it, have a look at the photos we did manage to grab on the drive.

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The main area we explored on foot was around Positano. Parking was difficult, but not impossible – it just involved LOTS of stairs. Positano is mostly focused around its beautiful beach at the bottom of the hills filled with shops and hotels.

This is a fantastic place to explore, but should come with a big stair warning (I actually counted 506 stairs to get back to the car). It is worth it as these pictures show.

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After spending hours walking around and enjoying this beautiful part of the world it was time for us to head back to get ready for our huge day in Pompeii tomorrow.

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Friday, 29th August – Assisi to Sorrento

After we were finished with Assisi, our next mission was to relax for a few days on the beautiful Amalfi Coast – specifically in Sorrento. Our Airbnb accommodation was a large apartment with an even larger view!

The view from the outdoor terrace of the apartment:

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There were so many things to see. This walled village with Naples in the background. Beneath the village is the main road into Sorrento with amazing views as you drive along the coast line.

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There were small castles and watch towers set up to watch over the shores – and we worked out that if you actually sat in one for a day you could watch the sunset and sunrise from the one location!

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Atop another hill is a massive cross that looks over the whole of Sorrento.

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The houses and shops that were actually right on the beach were in the shadow of a giant cliff, but right on the water. You could see cruise ships go past from time to time.

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In between the gap of two mountains, you can see the shadowy top of Mount Vesuvius – the volcano that buried Pompeii. There was also a small village nestled in the crook of the mountains with their view Vesuvio on one side, the Sorrento valley on the other.

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That night we watched a storm roll in and play with the colours of the clouds out above the water.

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We also watched the sun set over the valley and the colours change dramatically.

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And then at night, the lights came on and showed us the beautiful buildings in the valley.

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And the coolest thing is that we didn’t leave the apartment all day. All the above photos (no filter) were taken from the terrace of the apartment we stayed in. It really is the most amazing place.

Tomorrow we will be venturing out to see the sights – more photos then!

2014 European Adventure Italy

Thursday, 28th August – San Marino to Assisi

This morning the view across San Marino from our hotel room was non-existent as the fog was so dense!

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We had a reasonable amount of distance to travel today so decided to leave San Marino, avoid highways and take our time. What resulted is something we will always laugh about but it was also a big lesson to not trust the in-car navigation system!

We were enjoying a beautiful drive for a couple of hours until we reached a turn that would send us down an unsealed road. It looked to be in pretty good condition and it was wide enough – we’ll give it a go we said…. Well about half way through the road narrowed, then deteriorated and pretty soon we were off roading! We couldn’t turn back – there was no room for that and as we negotiated a particularly large crevice in the road, we paused near the gate of a property where a particularly nasty looking guard dog paced the fence daring us to get out. In fact, he looked like he was measuring up ready to jump the fence and attempt entry to the car via Bec’s window. Ok so he probably wasn’t, but it made the experience more hilarious as not only were we negotiating a terrible road but now we were in danger of being mauled by dogs!

Finally we saw a clearing and as we turned the corner to join the never to be taken for granted again asphalt, we got our first glimpse of our destination – Assisi.

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Assisi is an old walled city much like San Marino but on a much larger scale and also much older.

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The Basilica of San Francesco is a Franciscan monastery and church, its construction begun after the canonisation in 1228 of St Francis and was completed in 1253. The crypt was added in 1818, when the tomb of St. Francis was opened. The lower church is where the saint is buried.

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Inside the Basilica is just beautiful and full of history, unfortunately photos are forbidden, but Bec really wanted pictures for her Mum so she sneakily took some with her iPhone.

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Assisi is challenging to walk around, it’s all up and down steep hills, we were very happy that we had made arrangements to stay in the city overnight so we didn’t have far to go at the end of the day. Another bonus of this arrangement was that we could sit and relax and watch the sunset over the church.

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There were other beautiful buildings including the Roman Temple of Minerva in the Piazza del Comune.

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And another absolutely gorgeous church the Cathedral of San Rufino.

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2014 European Adventure Italy San Marino

Tuesday, 26th August – Venice

And then there was that time we went to a city that had streets made out of water. It sounds crazy, cliche and a little farfetched, but that is exactly what Venice is like. And the traffic is hectic! There are little barges running around on the waterways doing whatever it is they do. Of course there are walkways in between the buildings, but the water ways seem to be the main way to transport things.

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Overall, Venice is a wonderful city that just doesn’t seem real, even where you are actually there. The buildings are all really big with the waterways in between them so you never know what might be around the corner. Venice also has to be the easiest city in the world to get lost in! There are amazing sites tucked away and hard to find – like the Rialto Bridge (above).

One of the most popular locations is the Piazza San Marco. It has an amazing church, observation tower and a massive palace. It was also the setting for the famous James Bond gondola scene.

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There are also amazing little churches nestled away all through the streets – like this one below.

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Speaking of churches, the Santa Maria della Salute is massive! You can almost see it from anywhere in Venice. It’s located on the Grand Canal and is spectacular both inside and out.

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One thing that did open our eyes in Venice was in relation to a new trend that has emerged over the years – the padlock on the bridge. People buy padlocks with their names written or engraved on it and lock it on a bridge in a romantic location like Venice. The problem is that the weight of these locks are actually causing bridges to collapse! Venice is now actively removing the padlocks (as seen in the photo below) and there are campaigns to ask people to stop doing it. There have been monuments built specifically to hang padlocks on, to avoid historical bridges becoming damaged due to this new trend.

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All in all, we had an amazing time and are still pinching ourselves that we actually went to Venice!

2014 European Adventure Italy

Monday, 25th August – Lake Como to Mestre via Verona

Verona is a beautiful city that is well known as the setting for the Shakespeare play, “Romeo and Juliet”. This city was on the list of places to stop for Keith to indulge another aspect of his inner fan boy.

Nothing could have prepared us for the first thing we saw though – a lady taking her rabbit for a walk on a leash in the local park!IMG_8108Built on the foundations of a Roman fort, the Castelvecchio is the looming castle that dominates Verona. It was built in the 1300s and consists of huge walls, a massive keep and the bridge we crossed to get into the city.

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There are remnants of Roman architecture throughout Verona, including archways that date back as early as the 1st Century AD.

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Juilet’s Balcony is probably the most famous of the landmarks in Verona. Although the picture below shows the balcony and a statue that commemorates it, it doesn’t show the millions of people crammed into the tiny square to take photos. Lucky Keith is tall and was able to get the picture!

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There are many piazzas through Verona, all with cute cafes and restaurants and most with vendors selling masks and souvenirs.

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The main Cathedral in Verona was under restoration, but luckily still open. It’s called the Chiesa dei Duomo and is just spectacular.

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Once we left Verona, it was off to our accommodation in Mestre near Venice to get ready for another iconic Italian city!

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Sunday, 24th August – Star Wars Villa (Villa del Balbianello)

Indulging a fan boy’s wish, Bec had researched a particular villa on Lake Como that was featured prominently in the Star Wars movie, Attack of the Clones. The wedding scene between Anakin and Padme as well as a couple of other scenes were shot at the Villa del Balbianello.

Aside from fan boy cred, the villa itself is amazing and can only be seen to be believed. Yes, the photos are beautiful, but the villa is so much more beautiful – and everywhere you look is a million dollar view.

The villa’s history is so mixed, it’s almost like a movie in itself! It was built at the end of the 1700s as a quiet summer residence. Prior to that, the place was inhabited by Franciscan Friars! It has also been used as a trendy gathering spot in the 1800s, an explorers home and now is looked after by a trust to ensure it stays beautiful.

It was hard to pick the best photos for the blog as they are all amazing, but here is a collection of the ones that we thought really showed off the villa. Enjoy!

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Lake Como and Villa del Balbianello really was a perfect start to our Italian adventure!

2014 European Adventure Italy