A Travellerspoint blog

Forget about it!

all seasons in one day
View Round the World Baby! on Dodgey's travel map.

6 Hours of driving later.... we hit Reggio Di Calabria and queued up for the ferry to Sicily. We had no idea what we were doing, which ferry to catch, or anything really. How hard could it be? it's only a 2 minute ferry. We just followed TomTom's instructions and it did the job perfectly.

We grabbed a ticket (29 Euros) and sat in the queue. A queue that never moved..... Didn't take long for everyone to start honking their horns. Bear in mind the sun is scorching, fire-fighting planes are flying over us and skimming the sea, refilling from the sea to put out mountain fires... it was that hot. That, and I'd been driving since 7am. I had to stop at 10.30 and have a 15 minute kip in a service station. I knew I had to stop - I'd started day-dreaming of warm comfy beds, duvets, fluffy pillows. It's amazing how 15 mins of shut eye (not sleeping mind you, just shut eye) can totally revive you. Coffee didn't work, but 15 mins with my feet on the door, eyes closed, and I was 100% ok. Amazing really. Never tried it before.

The queue didn't move for an hour and a half. The Italians amuse me. We are all stuck and they beep their horns, get out of their cars, wave their arms, have small meetings to discuss what could possibly be holding them up. All drama.

Then we started moving. It seems there were two queues. One, our one, where we'd bought tickets on the day, and another that we assumed had prebooked. They were getting priority, and there was a police car and a police man there controlling everything. Each time we inched forwards it was a mad race to see who could accelerate as hard as possible to move into the fastest lane of the three. We were winning! :-)

At one stage a lorry driver cut me up (well, I cut him up , and he won the fight.. almost) and I had two choices. Sit in a siding, stuck, OR - if I could zoom around the police car, which no one else was doing. I chose the latter. Bingo! miles ahead of the lorry! At which stage the copper blew his whistle and put his hand up to me to stop :-( - "what?" I gesticulated - and pointed at my ticket looking confused..., "not go round car!!" , "ahhh - so sorry - English", "ok, go on". YAY! zoomed off and just got ahead of the lorry. Looking back, we got the last spot hahaha.

The thing we've noticed about Italian driving (and much the same as they are on foot - i.e. queuing, or the lack of) - is that it's a clear case of "if there is a short cut, an opportunity to get ahead, a chance, anything, TAKE IT!". If you don't you can guarantee there will be 5 cars behind you honking their horns. None of this, "after you sir" malarky - you see an opportunity - you go, and you go fast. The funny thing is, no one seems to make much of a deal of it - it's like they all share the understanding - "if you don't, I will", and "if you do, fair play, respect, and Oh, I'm right behind you so MOVE IT BUDDY!"

I like it. It's a good laugh. Survival of the fittest. If your are a timid driver don't come here, you'll fill your pants.

Sooo. we finally got on the boat....

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Another hour South in Sicily and we found our B&B we'd been recommended by someone on the Thorntree travel forum. What a find! - we were greeted by the owner who showed us round, told us to pick any apartment as it was empty, and he'd charge us "dorm" rates. He would rather we were happy and have an apartment - no point being in an empty dorm. We have a GREAT place, above the pool and overlooking the mountains. Breakfast is included, as is pretty much everything, all for 60 Euros a night. Plus I found Wi-Fi :-)

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Very happy here.

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They don't do any food so we drove into the local village to grab beers wine and pizza - at which stage the heavens opened! - not rain, but hail. Not normal hail. Hail stones were hitting the ground and splitting into three pieces, each piece the size of a gold ball!! I'm not kidding. I instantly realised that if one hit us on the head we'd be in serious trouble - i.e. dead. We ran under cover and cowered.

It made the papers the next day. They've never seen hail like it (neither have we). 6cm diameter hail stones! I'm not sure they've even seen hail before down here.

I watched a couple slam into the car with massive bangs. Sure enough. We have a few dents..... Here is one of a few...

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The storm carried on that night...

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And the next day.....

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Great fun to watch - I got the shots using the video mode on my camera. I missed the real biggies - 3 or 4 forks hitting the mountain right in front of us.

The weather has mainly settled now and we went up to Mount Etna (Eric - your travel site doesn't know about Mount Etna in Italy! ). We's read lots of excited reports of laval flows, eruptions etc, but we were not so lucky. A thick cloud base was over the peak so most of our time was spent in near zero visibility. We paid the full 50 Euros each for the cable car up, then a 4x4 truck up further, then a walk with a guide.

- As a side note - I got to use the Italian word I 1st learnt - Nebbia!! - there are a million road signs "In Casa Di Nebbia - 50Km/h" - i.e. in case of fog, slow down. - I was so chuffed - "Nebbia! Nebbia! " I exclaimed to the guide!, "yes, fog" he said. YAY! - p..s. I've got my Italian numbers down to a tee now - I always count my money in Italian, and more often than not, the people in the shops then reply in English to check they have got their English right too. I have lost count of how many times I've heard, "you practice your Italian, I practice my English, ok?". I like that attitude. A lot. Besides which, Nebbia! - what a word. "Doctor, I've got a sore Nebbia", or "can you see my nebbia through these trousers?" Truly great word.

We saw craters steaming, and some great views, but not a whole lot of volcanic activity. Fun, but dissapointing to be honest. No probs - we have volcanoes to see in South America - Mark Hiley, a good friend, was there recently, and told me of his experience jumping over lava flows! Still, this was fun, albeit very expensive.

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(I'd done my homework and we went with jeans, trainers and jackets. Many had not - it was bloody freezing up there - don't forget it's a skit resort too!)

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(At last! a steaming crater!)

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(A burried building from a few years ago)

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(all I want to be is a Space Man, Space Man!)

We are back at the apartment now. We finally managed to grab some groceries. In mainland Italy the shops close from around 12.30 to 3pm, sometimes 3.30pm. Here, however, they close at 12, and open at 5pm. It's mighty tricky! Our local pizza place sells ice cream in large polystyrene boxes. You choose your flavours and they fill it up, and chuck in some cones and other bits.

It's funny, at home we treat ice cream like a kids thing. Here it's like buying wine. And so it should be!- Stracciatella!!! maybe spelt wrong - but my favourite, followed by Kinder Egg ice cream.

We had a chat this evening and agreed that we are seeing places for the sake of ticking boxes, and it's costing us an arm and a leg, so we are cutting short our Sicily trip. We had planned to go to Sardinia and then Corsica, but to be honest, they would be "beach" resorts, and we can do that better in places like Thailand, for a LOT less money, so we tonight booked a car ferry back to the North of Italy for the 19th. SO many sites quoted us anywhere from 400 Euros to 1000 Euros for the 20 hour car ferry. I went to the Italian site direct. 200 Euros. Sailing from Palermo so will check that out in a couple of days...

Got lots of food and booze in-house, a good pool, great views, time for some r&r (like we haven't had any yet lol)

Posted by Dodgey 10:54 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Biggus Dickus

sunny
View Round the World Baby! on Dodgey's travel map.

Rome – Rome, Rome. What can I say. Nothing can prepare you for the grandeur of the place. Except when you check into a hotel that is described as being “a short distance from all the attractions” and you find yourself in the equivalent of Watford on the M25.

It turned out not so bad. Nice room, lovely pool. The transport in involved being driven to the station (Saxa Rubra), then a 15 minute tube to the outskirts of the centre (note, if you think vandalism and debris is bad on London transport, try Rome. The trains are 100% graffiti – Matt would love it – and the amount of litter and general decay on the sidings made us feel like we were back in Cambodia). Then on the return we had to catch a bus! Omg – soooo 3rd world!

Once we’d got over the back-to-basics of transport we were gob struck. The 1st thing we came across was the Victor Emmanuel Monument . It’s a sight that will never leave us. The scale was awe inspiring. You immediately knew this was a symbol of power.

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(Crap picture but the sun was in a bad place – take my word for it – it’s huge and amazing)

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(Nice fountain too!)

We did the unthinkable and paid for a tour bus with a headphone arrangement. A great way to get the sights in, and you hop on and off when you fancy.

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(Should have done this back in London!)

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We had a good walk around the outside, and inside, which was a war museum

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(Sure I’ve seen this somewhere before…)

After being suitable blown away we wandered down to the Colloseum (rather hilariously, an American gent asked if we were at the “Colloseum stop” – I replied, “well, technically, no, but it’s just there in front mate…” – we were a 4 minute walk away and you can’t exactly miss it.

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After dodging the million English tour-touts trying to sell you x2 price tickets to “jump” the 1 minute queue we get through security and went to grab our tickets. They didn’t’ take cards. Bah! So we headed off to the cash point, turning down an offer of drinks at the local gay bar.

Once we got back we paid our 31 Euros for entry and portable audio tour thingies. Excellent. Fascinating and good to look at, though we were both a little underwhelmed at the scale (and the level of detail on the audio tour). I think we are victims of the “Gladiator” film. We both expected it to be a whole lot bigger, plus you don’t get to go around the “basement” – the most interesting part in my opinion.

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After that we carried on on our “happy fun bus”, as I called it. Saw lots of sights. Too cretinous to name them I’m afraid. Lots of fountains and statues. All very impressive, but being Londoners a lot of it is “same same” – at least with the lesser fountains and statues. Then we headed up to the Vatican City to “chance it”. You can’t go into the Cistine Chapel after 4pm and it was 3.10pm.

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(Mighty impressive!)

We queued and got to security to find only that, a) We were at the wrong place for the Cistine Chapel, and b) Kirstin, in the eyes of the holy, was dressed like a tart. No problem, we’ll do that tomorrow…

So next stop, St. Angel Castle . A huge place with 6 levels. Lots of learning and walking.

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(A real one this time! – shoots through 4 people apparently)

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(when you see the Victor Emmanuel Monument from this far you really appreciate how big it is and how they really meant to make an impression – it so does not come out on the pictures, but when you are there, you can really see it. Awesome, particularly with the winged horses and chariots – these guys were powerful!!)

By this stage we were totally knackered ( you have not seen the pictures of the other millions sights - Rome was not built in a day, and you can’t see it in a day). So we quit for a rest, swim, and drink. Followed by dinner at a lovely restaurant in the sticks.

The next morning (well, 10 am), we set off again, now fully experienced in the bus and train system. Top on our list was the Pantheon….

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Then.. The Mouth of Truths (if you put your hand in and tell a lie you get your hand bitten off apparently)

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(Her face tells a story…..in fact, I think she’s saying, “Rog, you’re such a dick”, hence she still has both hands… phew! – no need for me to wash the dishes yet)

Then we wandered (ok, walked about 3 miles) to find a “great example of Roman Baths”. Except they were closed for renovations. So we did this instead…

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And finally went to check out the famous Trevi Fountain.

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(The picture belies how many people come to see this fountain – clever framing ! )

I’ve glossed over Rome. It’s a few days later (we are currently on the Amalfi coast). But make no mistake. If someone were to ask me if Rome is worth visiting I’d not hesitate in saying that it is ESSENTIAL. The scale and quality of the architecture is unreal. It’s like being in a movie (thanks Gladiator!) . There is so much to see I think you’d need a 4 days at the minimum, and if you are religious, probably 2 weeks. To put it simply, you get put right in the middle of the Roman capital. Sounds obvious, but you have to experience it to understand. Pictures don’t do it justice. This is a city preserved. It makes London look young. And boy did the Romans make BIG statements. If you close your eyes (or blank your mind) for just a few moments, you are transported back 1000’s of years. It’s very easy to picture the Romans strolling up to the Forum in all their white garb, or down to the Colloseum, lives on the line, feasting, fighting, fornicating (well, most of the art and statues suggest that…). It really is a one-off.

We did intend to go back to the Vatican City the next day (Monday) but we’ve moved on. We’ll do it on the way back. We are now at…….well, near… Sorrento! 3 hours drive south.

I googled accommodation and booked a place called “villagio Neptuna” on the South coast of the Sorrento peninsular – just West of Positano . We are based here to go to Pompei, Salerno, and Sorrento. The website had lovely pictures of bungalows overlooking the sea etc.

When we arrived we were not disappointed, well, apart from the “bungalow” being tiny, and the sea being a long trek down. No worries though. The view is spectacular.

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We settled in and decided to take the next day as a Chilling day”. With that in mind we drove back up the tortuously but fun winding road and grabbed loads of beer and prosseco (I bought rose by mistake – yeuch!), then headed down to the beach for a swim in the wonderfully clear and warm sea.

All was well in camp Nettuna , sitting on our balcony lapping up the sun, until 10pm. Then, without warning, a party started below us. No problem at 1st. Music, some Karaoke, and lots of cheering. Nice people we thought… The music carried on. Lots of speeches. Someone’s birthday we assumed. Then more music. Then it got loud. Really loud.

I’d spied the huge speaker stacks when we arrived, but being off-season now it was easy to think that they were for days gone by in August.

Cue – CHEESY music and SHOUTING by a crap DJ. Very European style. Very funny.

Midnight now. Not so funny, but still amusing.

2am now, not fracking funny. I wandered down to check the car was locked as there was a huge crowd down at the bar area, directly below us.

Now picture this. I’m walking down the stairs – like Cinderella entering the ballroom, disco lights everywhere, glitter ball, everyone dancing, many looking up to see who is arriving.

It’s all men.

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That was the moment the penny dropped. I recalled the music from the night so far. BeeGees, Kylie, Queen, Justin Timberlake, “It’s raining men”…. GAAAAYYYYYYY!

Everyone was wearing large aviator sunglasses, tight white jeans and tiny t-shirts and either was hugging another man, or stroking their dog. No women whatsoever!

I tried to nonchalantly stroll to the car to check it was locked. That was the moment I realised we have the gayest car on earth. Mazda MX5.

The walk back was one of the toughest walks of my life. When I went up the stairs I cleared three at a time. That worried me. Was I making my butt look better by running???

Gayer than a handbag full of rainbows.

They quietened down at 6am.

9.30am – MUSICA! Grrrrr!

We asked the manager, “When does the party finish?”, bearing in mind it was Monday… his answer “Saturday”.

Shit!

Ok, so we went out for a lovely anniversary dinner in the harbour , sitting over the sea – wonderful. Then on our return, we clocked the sign that we’d ignored for 24 hours…

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Hmmm – seems we are booked for 5 nights in a gay resort.

Nothing wrong with that, but we’re not gay, and we like to sleep. Currently investigating alternative accommodation…

Update – Next day – They were having a cabaret last night. Much quieter, so we strolled down and grabbed two gay drinks (I had a Pina Colada).

If you can’t beat them…

…..

….

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Join Them!

Update: Next day!

We woke up this morning to the sound of constant helicopters overhead. It turned out the mountain above us was on fire! – The helis were flying a constant rota, diving down, dipping their buckets into the sea right below us, then flying over us to the mountain right above us, and dumping the water on the fire. Top entertainment.

We trundled off to Pompei today. When I say trundle, I mean “spanked it”. I’m really getting to enjoy the MX5 now. I’ve so far been a bit gentle with her as she’s got to last us and we can’t afford repairs on the go, but it’s Japanese built and all has been well so I’ve opened her up a bit. I have to say I’m very impressed, especially as it’s only the 1.6 model. I normally rev her to 4k rpm, but she red lines at 7k so I’ve been pushing on a bit and she really flies between 4 and 6k – a very “cammy” power surge. I managed to get the back end out properly today in Pompei going round a hair pin turn – hehe :- ) – I’m starting to understand why all the critics love the MX5.

Saying that, you have to be uber careful here. We’d been warned by two people in North Italy to be careful “down South”, and we’ve also be told no one stops at red lights. They were not kidding. The contrast between North and South is amazing. I no longer think the Northerners drive like Looney’s. The Southerners are totally insane. And don’t get me started on scooter drivers.

The red light thing is funny as hell. If you so much as slow down at a red light, everyone behind honks their horns. You just push on, checking you are not about to die. Seriously – I don’t know why they don’t just tear down the lights. The best way to describe South Italy driving is “Lawless”. That sums it up nicely. And the roads in Pompei – hmm – not roads – can’t describe them really. Just stone and rock.

Anyhows, getting back on subject – we didn’t actually go to Pompei to start with. On a recommendation from my Mother, we went to Herculaneum first – about 20 mins north of Pompei. We bought a ticket for both sites when we got there. Mum told me Herculaneum is far better than Pompei, being more “complete” – you get a better feeling for it all. We’ll see….

(Side note, TomTom GPS sent us up a road that was so narrow we had to fold our mirrors in, and another that was for pedestrians only – it loves doing that)

..Back on track… Herculaneum…. At first sight – from above – you are not overwhelmed with excitement, it looks small. Big mistake! We paid for 2 hours parking. We should have paid for 4 hours. The place is amazing! – For those that know nothing about Roman History, Pompei, Herculaneum, and a few other sites near by are archaeological sites where Roman towns/cities got buried in volcanic ash and hence preserved almost perfectly…. Moving on….. I’m no history teacher….

When I say “preserved almost perfectly” – don’t forget these are places dating around 79AD – that’s 79 years after the death of Christ if I’m not mistaken! – It’s all too easy to be in Italy, then Rome etc and take roman ruins for granted and assume they are not so old. This is MEGA old. And the condition of Herculaneum beggars belief. It really does. I’ll let the pictures do the talking….

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(That’s a wooden door, scorched by the heat of the volcanic ash)

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(Look at the wall paintings – 79 AD!!!!!!)

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(Baths / Steam Room floor – perfect condition!)

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(We thought they were toilets at first, but we think storage pots now, still – made a good opportunity for posing)

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Roman life frozen in time. Utterly incredible. We were blown away (again!) – so many pictures , so little space! I think I missed out on a lot of photos as we were so absorbed in it all.

We had a right laugh too. I accidentally farted in a very echoey room just as a large crowd of people were behind me walking out. I thought I’d got away with it when I noticed Kirstin was choking on her bottle of water. Really gurgling and trying not to drown on her drink. She was in hysterics. We both fell about for some time. I couldn’t compose myself to take a still photo for five minutes :- )

Thoroughly impressed we shot down to Pompei. The Big one!

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(That’s Vesuvious behind – the reason Pompie and Herculanium are still here today – and the same reason everyone died a very unpleasant death)

Pompei is VERY different to Herculanium. Herculanium is compact and almost perfectly intact. Balconies, roofs, stairs, decoration, everything is there. Pompei is HUGE! But less intact. This is mainly because it was the victim of many an earthquake, before and after the volcanic eruption (someone was listening to their audio guide ;- ) plus ear wigging other people’s guides).

When I say it is huge, well, we are both sitting drinking beer with aching feet now. It really is a whole city. It’s no less fascinating than Herculaneum, but it is fascinating in a different way. It’s more about scale, and the fact it’s a whole city, with amphitheatres, courts, forums, baths, sports fields, schools, you name it. You get the lot.

If you visit Pompei and skip Herculaneum, you have missed out big time. I reckon both are a must. And do Herculaneum first. If you don’t, you’ll be knackered and think, “nope , can’t do more of the same” – huge mistake.

Again, I’ll let the pictures do the talking. Exploring this place beams you back in time…….

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(note how the floor is scarred from the constant passage of chariots and other carts – you can see the ruts where their wheels went. The stones are for crossing the road – which would frequently be covered in filthy water and animal crap)

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(Come on! – really amazing – a shop (I think))

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(Something nerdy for you. Take a look at this picture – nothing remarkable – a normal picture, now look at the one below – it’s an HDR version where I mixed three varying exposures to reveal the true colours and shadow detail that the human eye can normally see but a camera cannot capture easily)

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(Incredible difference – you get the mountains back, and all the colour. It makes the original look almost like a black and white; the colours are so washed out by the bright sun)

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(I said it was big!)

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(Something Kirstin fashioned for me as it got hotter)

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(HDR again – p.s. I’m really learning now how to make them look less “artificial” and more natural)

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(Walls in a Roman bath)

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(A cast of someone who died in the city at the moment of the volcano eruption)

Utterly fascinating. A real treat. No walking tomorrow. No way!!! :- )

Update – It’s tomorrow – didn’t’ do any walking but boy did we drive!. We decided to go along the Amalfi Coast and check out Selerno at the end.

Amalfi Coast – yep very pretty, but not very accessible. One long twisty road that is constantly clogged up with coaches and very small beaches that are miles down. It’s one of those scenarios where every bit of flat land is gold dust as the coast is really a long cliff. TomTom said an hour to get to Selerno. It took three. Three very hot hours. We stopped half way at Amalfi for a beer.

Amalfi is not bad, but it’s a tourist resort, and as such, just didn’t impress us. That and 5 Euros for a beer….

Salerno – what a dump! – we drove along the coast, turned round, filled up with gas, had a MacDonalds, and drove back!

Saturday we are going to get up at Dawn’s crack and drive to Sicily. It’s about an hour and 20 mins to get off this peninsular, then another four or 5 hours to the ferry at the very bottom. Then another hour and a half to our final destination – near Mount Etna. Going to be a long day!

Oh – something popped into my head – trust me on this – watch “Battlestar Galactica” – the series. You can download it all if you are cheeky like me. It is by far and away the best television I have ever watched. I know, it sounds like sci-fi nerdy stuff, but trust me, it’s not. The “space” element is just a carrier for a truly fantastic story. Kirstin loves it just as much – and she’s a bird! So it can’t be just for nerds like me. It is NOTHING like Star Trek. You need to get the order right – it can be a bit confusing. Start with the pilot mini series, about 6 episodes from memory. There may also be a 2 part mini-film. Then hit series 1. Then carry on through to 4 – the currently showing series. There is also a mini-film called “razor” which fits in after series 3 I think. Just google “Battlestar Galactica episode guide” – you’ll find a site called something like TV Listings, or Episode Guide.com – it lists all the episodes of everything you can think of, and lists them in order. By far and away the best TV – better than the Soppranos, better than Spaced (well, almost ;- ) ), better than 24 by a long way. And far better than Lost.

A guy who mended my PC in France noticed my “Lost” episodes on my computer and mentioned how cool the latest series is and when I told him Battlestar Galactica is beter he looked at me like I was a Trekky. So you’ve been told!!!

Posted by Dodgey 06:57 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Ermintrude / Nightingale / of-Arabia

sunny 36 °C
View Round the World Baby! on Dodgey's travel map.

Florence! What a stunning city. We drove in, mightily unimpressed with the "grot" as we navigated the back streets in the car. TomTom once again threw a spas and coupled with my ability to miss turnings, we ended up in a loop of one way back streets. At one stage I thought we had driven into Morocco... We had planned to park at the main train station, which is apparently a good location to walk to all the main sights. We abandoned this plan and ended up parking under a huge market, which turned out, was near the station. Yay!

The thing with Florence is this... you are walking down an unremarkable street, when BLAMO! - WOW! - you are confonted with a gothic masterpiece of a church, or a monument, or a random building. Every turn has an architectural surprise. The streets are so narrow it's always a surprise.

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(Detailed or what!?)

After gawping for a while (and buying the worst lunch I've ever eaten) we wandered down to see the famous Ponto Veccia.

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(Pretty , though I thought it was a shame all the shops are jewelers)

... Then much more walking around and gawping. I have too many pictures of churches to show. Best you google them. The main one we encountered was "Duomo" - you can't miss it - it's made of marble in pink and green and white (The one above where I zoomed in on the statues, and below).

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We found it was free to go inside so we had a nose around and noticed a very impressive dome..... (no wonder it's called Duomo!)

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Suitable awe-struck I immediately noticed something... people were walking round the balconies up top! - Gotta do that! :-) So we popped back outside , found another side entrance and paid to go up!

Wow did we go "up"! flight after flight of super steep and narrow stairs. Spiral at 1st, then long, long straight ones...

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(steep, hot, and cramped - we'd frequently have to stop and breathe in to let people pass in the other direction)

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(Fortunately there was a little access to air here and there)

Eventually, we reached the 1st balcony level.... well worth it....

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(Pretty stunning I have to say)

And we were a loooong way up already....

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(Little people!)

After more gawping and picture taking, we headed to the next balcony, up again....

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(More stairs, and yes, that's not an illusion, they are THAT steep! - I love this kind of thing! :-) )

... but we found that the second balcony was on the way down, after we had reached the summit of the dome itself. We had no idea we'd end up there! Right in the very top :-)

And what happens when you are high above a city... yep - more views!

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(You can go up that tower too, but our dome was higher :-) )

After yet MORE gawping, we headed down, and hit the top level balcony inside the dome. Breathtaking....

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(I loved the trickery with perspectives)

Then it was a long trek down to the bottom.

We saw a fair few things, but I think a lot of the museums and galleries are wasted on us, so we enjoyed the moment and moved on. The main reason we skipped Sienna today. More of the same really - I know, the arty / cultured will cuss, but we have Rome and Pompei yet, and we felt Sienna could be done another time.

We cruised down to Rome today, arriving at our latest hotel...

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As you can see, we have our priorities sorted. We are out in the sticks though, right on the ring road, so it's a train into "town" tomorrow. Both very excited. We are planning to take the hop-on, hop-off bus round Rome, taking in the major sights, then the next day, concentrate on the Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel.

One a side note, a thing or two about Italian driving... Some tips....

1) Don't indicate. Ever. And never, ever, ever on a roundabout.
2) When you overtake someone on the motorway, make sure you leave it until the very last second, missing the car in front by 1 mm as you change lane. Repeat the same when pulling back in.
3) If someone in front is "only" doing 130K's, pull up, about an inch behind them, and flash your lights. They'll move.
4) When passing a car on the motorway, move in from your lane, straddling yours and the next lane inside, thus skimming the cars on your right by the width of a hair. I'm guessing there is a reason for this. But it surely can't be to frighten the crap out of the cars on your right. Kirstin has aged 5 years in one week.
5) When approaching an intersection where you have to give way / stop - don't decrease your speed gradually, looking to see if it is safe to proceed. Instead, approach at full speed, then slap on your brakes leaving the nose of your car poking 1/4 the way out into the path of the oncoming traffic. This method sends a clear signal that you have arrived and fightens the crap out of everyone else.
6) If you are driving a lorry, weave about, use the hard shoulder, and again, generally frighten the crap out of everyone else.
7) Just for fun, indicate once in a while, but only AFTER you have executed your turn. This one bemuses me.

Posted by Dodgey 14:13 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

"Darling, DARLING! Lets buy a house in Tuscany!"

38 °C
View Round the World Baby! on Dodgey's travel map.

So we've got off our lazy arses and moved on down to Tuscany!

The drive was fairly uneventful, apart from TomTom sat nav, who once again, displayed a total lack of knowledge of Italy. Tried to get us to join a motorway, through a bush.... Seriously, the stupid thing doesn't know certain parts of motorways exist. It's not as if they are newly built either. I reckon the mafia were involved in the mapping...

Kisrtin booked us into a Hostel for the 1st time (shudder). As it turned out - it's a belter! We have our own room - to be fair, by hotel standards, we have a suite. Lounge/kitchen, main bedroom, bathroom - with A BATH!!! - spare room (shoe box) - and a private roof terrace. All for 70 Euros a night! - and the setting is stunning. The place is called the Heart of Tuscany, and for good reason. Oh, and a pool the size of a football picth....

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(No pics yet, but you have to wear hair caps in Italy by law, in public pools. Madness! - I mean, what is a cloth cap going to stop?. As I said to K, for God's sake, I'm putting my groin in there too - what the heck is my head hair going to do that could be worse!?!? - besides which, no girls' hair fits in the caps - who on earth thinks these things up?)

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(Our lovely terrace)

Suitably amazed at the quality of the joint we popped down to the local shop and grabbed lots of booze and grub and filled the fridge. When I say "popped" - going anywhere takes an age and is a heap of fun. The roads here are all z-bend mountain roads and the Mazda MX5 is the perfect tool for the job. Shame we have to show some restraint so we don't kill the million homocyclists we see (near-miss) all the time.

Today we drove to San Gimignano - a medieval town famed for it's towers. If I read the history right, the town was split into two (feuding families - tsk!) and they built ever higher towers to express their authority (Freud would have had a field day). They did a good job - the towers are breathtakingly tall. I saw something about them on the Discovery channel some time ago - they are supposed to be a feat of engineering, bearing in mind most tall towers relied on a wide base to support the height / mass but these ones are uniform from top to bottom (cheating monkeys made the walls thicker at the bottom :-) ).

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A very pretty town it is!

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See that tower above? We went up it (well, it may have been that one, or it may have been another, either way it was very tall). We begrudgingly paid our 10 Euros and started on the stairs with a promise of a "good vista" a the top. Bloody ought to be for 5 Euros each, and no lift.

Once we got started on the stairs it took very little time to realise what an undertaking it was. As we got higher and higher Kirstin got the collywobbles. She was gently freaking out, and my legs were going all funny. The stairs are "pinned" to the walls, with gaps all around, and the steps themselves are steel mesh with nothing in between. The walkways at each level don't even join the walls.

I'm not afraid of heights but my brain was clearly chatting to my legs and making them go all weak. Meanwhile I'm coaching Kirstin to just keep looking up ahead, and NOT down.

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(It may not look like much, but you are not looking at the floor below, that's a mid-way point - it was stomach churning just to lean over and take that picture)

Mind you, nice views on the way...

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When we reached the final level, both quietly terrified at the prospect of having to go back down, we climbed one more ladder to the roof.

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To be greeted by a....

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Oh yes, and some views... my word, what views!

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(Yep, we are higher than a bell tower. Well, another bell tower)

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(Ding dong!)

Breathtaking. Simply amazing. And the walk down wasn't half as bad as we thought it would be. Mind you, as we got to the bottom, we saw a woman clinging onto her husband's shoulder, and they were on the 1st flight of stairs. I can't imagine they made it all the way up. The vertigo didn't hit us until the 3rd or 4th level.

Ate lots of icecream, saw some Frescos in the church that I was not allowed to take photos of....

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... then moved on.

We headed back to base, and stopped at Vinci (home of Leonardo De ..... ) which is right by our hostel, and checked out the Leonardo museum. Good fun, lots of models of machines that he invented. Kind of mad though. I mean, you have all these intricately made models (in wood) of his inventions - mainly cranes and pulleys etc, that actually work, and you are fascinated by HOW they work, and IF they work, but every model has "DO NOT TOUCH" signs everywhere.

To madden you even more, EVERY model has a large handle that operates it. They even stick "DO NOT TOUCH" labels on the handles. Of course, people touch.

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(You can't read it, but the small sign says, specifically, "Do Not Touch, AND, Do Not Photograph :-) )

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(Reminds me of Panorama)

Oh, one more thing. Every shot you see of Tuscany in the glossies / books - it's true. This place is blinkin' stunning!

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Florence tomorrow!

Ciao!

Posted by Dodgey 12:07 Archived in Italy Comments (3)

Pederobba

sunny 30 °C
View Round the World Baby! on Dodgey's travel map.

It's been over a week now. All we've done is relax, drink prosecco, and eat pizzas :-)

This place is wonderful!

On the 1st night Pablo and his girlfriend Viviana came over at about 10pm and asked if we'd like to go out for a drink. Assuming we were wandering down to the local village bar I popped 20 Euros in my pocket and off we went. We ended up at another village in the "Rock Cafe" bar - the most popular bar round here. It was heaving and good fun, but we ran out of money instantly - had to scrounge all night! We got back at 3am, after fending off offers to go back to various peoples' houses for more drinks - seems one chap who latched onto us is a bit of a bad boy so it was a good escape.

The next day we wandered down to the local pizzaria and ordered out take away dinner. I got chatting to the manager, who then came outside with a bottle of ... prosecco ... on him, and we drank more and chatted - where else does this happen? You order a take away and the manager buys you a drink! :-) . Soon a couple walked past and their toddler threw their house keys down a drain. Fifteen minutes of messing around with coathangers and the keys were retrieved! Village entertainment. :-)

Another day I went to get my hair cut at the local salon (bear in mind it's a mirace there is a salon here - small town). It was hillarious. I had 6 doting old ladies trying to chat to me whilst I explained in my best Italian that I was travelling etc. When we finally managed to ascertain that I was a friend of the Bazacco family and knew Renzo and Firenza they all showed great relief and excitement and one by one came over and squeezed my shoulder, you know, like your gran does. Priceless - and a good hair cut too.

One of the women mentioned something about wife, french, and "not attractive". I was a little confused but when I left all became clear - Kirstin was sitting at the bar across the road chatting in broken french to an old Italian chap. He was not very attractive.

We got chatting, and my french is pretty good now, but as good as it may be, talking another language to someone with no teeth is challenging to say the least. And he was Italian, not French. In the end I found it easier to agree and smile to most things he said :-)

We went round for dinner at Pablo's house across the road (Matt's cousin) and had a fantastic chicken curry and Tiramasou (sp?) and plenty of Grappa.

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Another great night and we got to meet some of his friends, one of which lives near some hot springs near the coast so we plan to drop in in the coming month.

We went out again a couple of nights ago with Pablo and Viviana - this time to a near by village that was hosting a festival / faire kind of thing. We all ate food off plastic plates with a bottle of... yep, prosecco. The food was delicious! - I had pork ribs with Polenta and chips and we all shared a plate of Sopressa which was delicious beyond words. (Sopressa is a local thing - like a cold meat sausage - very grainy and moist - totally scrummy). After that we came back to Pederobba and went to the "main" bar where a local band were playing. Bloody good music, lots more drinking, and made a few more new friends.

I just can't describe how welcome everyone we have met has made us feel. This is village life as it used to be many years ago in England. We frequently bump into "toothless man" , Renzo, the man from the pizzaria.. etc etc. Great place and looking forward to coming back again after our South Italy excursion... which starts tomorrow.

We are heading off to Florence where we have booked a hostel outside the city in the country. Not my idea of a hostel (thank God) - it has an infinity pool and "wet bar". We plan to go all the way to Sicily then get a ferry to Sardinia, then another ferry back to the Rome area.

Loving Italy so much. I'm learning the lingo as fast as I can but what can you do? Be intersting to see how the South is. Several people we have spoken too seem very "suspicious" of the South, and the Mafia gets mentioned a lot. lol. Sounds fun!

Oh - nerd update - uploaded "custom" software onto my small Canon DS 870 IS camera so I can now do HDR photos again. Below is a quick rough example - it's very overprocessed but it was just a test (for the uninitiated - a HDR photo is when you take several pitures of the same subject with varying exposures, then let computer software merge them all so you get the best of all exposures - i.e. when you take a photo of a building in bright sunshine, you either have a properly exposed building with a white, featureless sky, or you get the sky properly exposed, but the building will be very dark. HDR lets you "cheat")

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(That is what it really looks like (light etc) - a normal photo can't capture that - I'll do some much better ones shortly as we travel, now I have the facility again)

Posted by Dodgey 11:20 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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