A Travellerspoint blog

Pisa and Montecatini

all seasons in one day 25 °C
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Pisa in the Tuscany region with its leaning tower was as I expected. Good to see, but again very busy with tourists. I had the obligatory photo taken with my hand up as if holding up the tower - there must be millions of those photos around, I think 100,000 or so must have been taken just on the day I was there!

We caught a regional train from Levanto to two of the five Cinque Terre Villages in the Liguria region. These villages are really charming, and all the more special because they can't be reached by car - you get to them by train or boat.

I had my first aperol spritz at Monterosso. Mmmmm delicimo! The ingredients are prosecco wine, aperol with a slash of soda water. Very refreshing. 😉

Some bits about the hotel in Montecatini...

The decor of the hotel is amazing, I'll post some photos if I get the chance.

Someone from my tour went to reception to ask for an extra towel (she wanted to go for a swim in the pool) they wanted to charge her E$2.00 per hour for towel hire! Needless to say she managed without the extra towel!

The rooms are small, but clean. No bathmats in this hotel either - you never know what you're going to get that's for sure!

The deal in shops: it's every man for himself here I can tell you! Even Ursula our tour guide said Italians don't respect the rules. ..they'll push in given any opportunity! So once you've queued at the cassa (cashier) counter, you have to look for any tiny space at the serving counter and push your way in. After a week; I'm slowly getting the hang if it...no point being polite in these situations cause that will just leave you going hungry!

We've been incredibly lucky with the weather - the odd thunder storm has passed by, but usually at night. We did get a really heavy lot of rain on the morning we caught the train to the Cinque Terre - but the rain cleared up just exactly at the time we were visiting our two villages. So happy days :-)

I got turned away from a public toilet yesterday too - they had a slot machine where you had to put your E$0.70 in - I had the right change, but my coins were too small - the machine wouldn't accept anything less than a 20c. I tried to get the attendant to change my coins for me, but he shooed me away - that wasn't too good, especially taking into account public toilets are few and far between and they have LONG queues to get into them. I had to get someone from my tour to give me some change and queue up again... aarrgghhh it doesn't help when you're super hot and tired to boot!

Buona notte :-)

Posted by Julie's blog 07:02 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Roma

sunny 32 °C
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My room mate for the tour is Rhonda, a nice 59 year old woman from Melbourne. We're all having problems getting our washing done, it's going to have to be a hand wash job at every 2 night stopover. Italian hotels don't supply irons, or in-room tea making facilities. At least we're all in the same boat!

Rome has a very different feel to it than Florence, it's much much bigger (our tour guide said it has a population of 4.5 million), and not as clean. There are more visible gypsies and lots of aggressive illegal stall operators. I'm getting really good and getting them to go away. One of the tricks they try (and I had it tried on me) is they shove something into your hand (in my case three red roses) and they tell you they're free... then once you've walked on a few metres they come after you and try to get you to pay for them. Grrrr.

We had a guided tour through the Vatican Museum, St Peters Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. All were amazing to see, but I was a bit overwhelmed with the crowds of people there.

The Sistine Chapel is such a sacred place you're not allowed to take photos inside it at all, or even talk. It's a shame there are quite a lot of people that ignore the rules. It has been beautifully restored, and Michaelangelo's paintings were of course indescribably beautiful. I learnt he painted the ceiling of the Chapel over a four year period (1508 - 1512) and doing it permanently damaged his eyesight. The nine ceiling paintings he created were all from the book of Genesis, the most famous one being "The Creation of Adam". Twenty years later he was commissioned to paint the giant fresco "The Last Judgement" behind the altar. Michaelangelo was in his 60s by then, and that piece of work took him from 1536 to 1541. No mean feat. You've seriously got to see it to believe it - it's one of the most beautiful, it not THE most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

We were also lucky enough to have a guided tour through the Roman Colosseum and the Roman Forum. I loved that place, so much history! Can you believe it was built in 70AD! Only about one third of the original structure remains today - hopefully the Romans manage to preserve what's left as it really is a national treasure.

Another Rome highlight for me was visiting the Trevi Fountain! That was really cool (except for the massive crowds there). I kept with tradition and threw three coins into the fountain over my left shoulder. Apparently you make three wishes with each coin toss. The first wish is to return to Rome, the second and third wishes are whatever you want them to be. We will have to see!

A little bit about my tour group. There are 42 of us. The majority are Canadians and Australians. Then we've got a couple of younger guys from Indonesia, three (including me) from NZ and I think about four from the States. There's one family group - they've brought two kids along aged 9 and 10. I fit in really well age wise - there are a about four people doing the trip to celebrate their 50th's. And maybe half a dozen older ladies who might be 60ish. We've got half a dozen men in the group too - so really, it's a good mix, and everyone's really friendly.

We went out for dinner on our second night in Rome - it was really fun. The food was great (five courses and free flowing wine throughout the night). There's some sort of pasta served with every meal here lol.

Hope all is well with everyone in NZ :-)

Posted by Julie's blog 12:42 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Florence continued...

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Florence was beautiful, romantic, clean, busy, expensive, interesting and steeped in history. I had high expectations for my time there, and my expectations were definitely exceeded!

I loved the fact you could get to all the tourist attractions on foot – even getting lost all the time like I did, didn’t impact on my ability to see everything I wanted to in the four days I was there.

There was a big military and police presence around and in the main tourist points, and at the Accademia and Uffizi Gallery we had to go through metal detectors as part of the entry procedure. Entry queues were long, I waited roughly an hour to get into each of these both of these places. The queue to get into the Pitti Palace was slightly shorter, maybe half an hour for that one. Entry fees were between E$8 and E$10 – which I didn’t think was too bad.

I nearly laughed out loud when I saw a man riding his bike in his business suit – he looked ridiculous, but it didn’t seem out of place in Florence. Lots of people ride bikes there, not the bikes like we have in NZ, these are more cruiser style bikes, and no-one wears lycra or helmets, they wear their going out clothes as they’re bumping along the cobbles… it really does look a bit silly – but who am it to judge!
I’m getting into Italian breakfasts, croissants with ham and cheese followed by a Danish – it feels really naughty, but what am I to do  And I figure out with all the walking I’m doing I’m earning it!

Gelato stalls are on every corner - they are amazing – just delicious… all the food is actually – really delicious. Prices in Florence range a lot; you’ve got to look around for the best deals. Water does too, I’ve been really careful and stuck to bottled water but it’s really expensive to buy in the city centre – I’m learning to plan ahead better with that one now after being caught out a couple of times and having to pay E$1.50 for a tiny bottle of water (not even chilled).

On Sunday I caught the train from Florence to Rome. I went and did a reckie on Saturday so I knew roughly how it was going to work – and I managed pretty well. The train was hot and crowded – but it was a fast and cheap way to get from A to B. I had half an hour to find my transfer driver once I got into the Rome Station – and it took me all that time to find him – that was a bit stressful, but it was nice not to have to worry about finding my own way to the hotel.

Posted by Julie's blog 08:44 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Hello Florence

sunny -28 °C
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Sometimes the things you think are going to be easy turn out to be the hardest. Getting to Changi Airport from my hotel ended up being a real mission! The taxi driver was insistent I tell him which terminal I needed to go to, and when I told him I didn’t know, he had a meltdown. I thought he was going to refuse to take me. After a lot of raised voices, hand waving, paperwork being shoved back and forth, and discussions with the hotel concierge, we set off. My stress levels were pretty high I can tell you! Anyway – the drama was all un-necessary because when we got to the airport it was clearly marked which terminal to go to for the SIA flight. Blimmin heck – that taxi driver needs a new job!

All this drama was due to the cancellation of my Swiss Air flight to Zurich. I think I mentioned that in my earlier blog. I got rebooked onto a Singapore Airlines flight to Frankfurt. With a connecting flight from there to Florence.

Because my Swiss Air flight got cancelled at such late notice, Singapore Airlines couldn’t give me an aisle seat, even though I pulled out all the stops to try and get them to give me one. I had to work really hard on not letting it get the better of me, and although it was really difficult, I’m proud of how well I managed. Robyn (HOT) had emailed me and re-assured me the Frankfurt transfer was tight but viable (one hour!), so I kept reminding myself of that, and that it was the airlines problem if I didn’t make my connection.

I don’t know how I did it, but I actually managed to catch my connecting flight in Frankfurt… what a mission that was … but – heck, I did it. Sitting on the bus waiting to be taken out onto the tarmac I overheard a woman telling her husband she wouldn’t ever try and find her way through that airport on her own, it’s so confusing – that made me feel quite proud of myself. I loved the legroom on that Lufthansa flight – the seats were definitely wider and deeper than both Air NZ and Singapore Airlines, and there was definitively more legroom.

I think I had the best coffee I’ve ever had at Florence airport. It was cheap too – E&1.50 for an Americano. Everyone here has amazing style and the women wear a lot of eye makeup. There are dogs on leads and in doggie handbags everywhere, even in the actual airport. And it’s loud and busy. Lots of smokers still too I’ve noticed.

My taxi ride to my hotel took ten years off my life I’m sure. I had a very young driver; he talked on his cell phone the whole time (hand held) did lots of slamming on of the brakes and swerving unexpectedly through the traffic… when we had near misses, he just cheerfully waved to the other driver… it’s like if you don’t actually hit anyone – it’s happy days :-)

It’s lucky I’d read up on my hotel before I actually arrived, so I wasn’t surprised (shocked) when I got there. I was only half an hour early but there was NO WAY I was going to get checked in early. The lady on reception was very strict. It’s an extremely old building and I have to catch two separate lifts to get to my room which it tiny and it turns out they were tricking when they said they had wifi. No tea making facilities in my room either – I’m having tea withdrawals!

To be continued :-)

Posted by Julie's blog 09:57 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Goodbye Singapore

semi-overcast -32 °C
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My first day was difficult, because I was on foot and hadn't got my bearings yet. I don't think being as tired as I was helped much either. My hotel was close to Chinatown. That's an interesting area, some of it is really nice, some of it's smelly and scary. That's the part I walked into and couldn't find my way out of. I was honestly dripping in sweat after 15 mintues. When I finally found a step that was clean enough to sit on, I got growled at by an official looking man - stupid of me, I didn't realise you weren't allowed to sit down!

He pointed me in the direction of a 'coffee shop' - haha, that was an experience too, if I hadn't been so desperate for a coffee and a 'legal' sit down, I think I would have given it a miss.

Things picked up from there luckily, I found the Museum, and hung out there in the air conditioning for a while :-)

Day Two seemed to go better, amazing what a good sleep does :-) I discovered the hotel had a shuttle service - ah bliss - a much more civilized way to get around compared to Day One :-) I hopped off at Orchard Rd and was gobsmacked with the fabulousness of it all - I was pleased to have checked that out - well worth a looksee.

I went to Sentosa Island last night - it took one bus ride, one train ride and one monorail ride to get there, then I had to do the same again to get home. Exhausting, and an achievement in itself :-) (shuttle service only runs in the daytime). I managed to get there in time to see the Wings of Time show- a pretty cool light show (Roselyn I think you recommended that one aye)

Today, I managed to find the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and esplanade - so happy I brought three of my four lenses with me - I really enjoyed that whole area, fingers crossed I've got some good pics to share once uploaded.

Singapore's been a mixed bag, some things I've really enjoyed, some not so much. It's taken me three days to get the hang of getting around... I love the trains, they've got a really efficient system here, and the routes are all colour coded so that helps to keep it simple. The buses - that a different story. the drivers are scary - if you don't have the right change, or dare to speak to them, watch out... I bused it twice then gave up on that idea as just too hard.

Soooooo- there's been a hiccup with my flight to Zurich - it's been cancelled. So now I'm flying with Singapore Airlines to Frankfurt. no guarantee of an isle seat (from what the check in lady said, the flight is full and it's not going to happen) and a one hour transfer at Frankfurt. Apparently that's tight but do-able (we shall see!).

Hope all is well with everyone in NZ :-)

Posted by Julie's blog 05:40 Archived in Singapore Comments (2)

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