01.06.2015 - 16.06.2015 30 °C
It was sad to say goodbye to Sicily but we were looking forward to visiting Rome, Naples and Venice on the Italian mainland. When we arrived in Rome, we were greeted by Roberto at the metro station and taken to our airbnb apartment where Roberto filled us in on what to do and see before taking us out for a coffee and pastry. Our apartment was about 40 minutes from the centre of Rome and we had a Tabacchi (bar) below us that always seemed to have the same locals there from 8am to closing. There was little noise except for the Sunday night when there was a local football game on the big screen and the Tabbac crowd went crazy. We weren’t too sure if the local side was winning or losing!
A couple of selfies, ruins and the bamboo forest
We knew that Rome would be manic with tourists and it certainly lived up to expectations with large queues and wait times to get in to the key sites. Fortunately, we had purchased our museum tickets in advance so we just waltzed on through the queues. As Deb had previously visited Rome, we decided to split up for a couple of our eight days and I headed off with the thousands to visit the Colosseum, the Vatican and Saint Peter’s while Deb visited the Gallery Borghese. Despite the crowds and the temperatures hitting a muggy 32+ these sites were highlights for us. It has to be said though that we were definitely experiencing Baroque and Renaissance overload.
Scott's Day Out
Sculpture, Baroque and Byzantine Overload
The real pleasure to be found in Rome though is to abandon the map and guide book and simply wander until you stumble across a hidden gem. It really was of no surprise that our favourite spots were little churches with 13th Century frescoes or a church that once venturing underground stood on top of a temple dedicated to Mithras. Indeed, the best museum we discovered had barely anyone in it yet it contained the best sculptures, mosaics and sarcophagi than anything else we had seen in Rome.
Roberto is a keen cyclist and Deb knew a bit about the importance of the Appian way so we took his advice and spent a day cycling down the 16 kilometre path. Along the way, we admired the Baths of Caracalla, Catacombs, Roman villas and other ruins. The Appian Way was the key Roman road that was built between Roma and Napoli. We could just imagine the feet that had previously trodden the cobblestones that our bikes bumped over. There was no marker though to indicate where Spartacus was crucified, however.
Images from our day cycling The Appian Way
It seemed that everyday we were walking further and further and we were averaging close to 20kms each day. Our pedometer doesn't lie! Needless to say our knees and feet were moaning and groaning with every step. One of the frustrations of Rome and other places in Italy was the fact that everything closed down at 1pm and didn’t reopen until 4pm so often we were stuck in the middle of a city with three hours to kill during the hottest part of the day. Due to the high temperatures we were compelled to consume large amounts of gelato with Deb’s favourite being coconut and mine being fragola and limone. Gelato wasn’t the only food item we were consuming. We managed with no effort at all to eat crème croissants, pastries, cold meats and pasta.
Eight days later we boarded the train and headed to Naples. We were once again met at the train station by our airbnb host and taken to the supermarket before arriving at our apartment overlooking Naples. Here our host warned us that we needed to be aware of the danger that the “Free Cats” posed and it was important that we kept our screen door closed. Within 30 minutes we were visited by five cats who looked remarkably well fed and were very friendly. Immediately upon seeing a free cat, Deb got out the saucer and filled it with milk so it was no wonder they kept hanging around. We later discovered that our host fed all the cats on a daily basis. In Italy a “Free Cat” is actually a wild cat without an owner and we have had the pleasure of meeting some lovely and cunning free cats all over Italy.
One free cat
Naples in its self is not really a go to destination as it has a rough reputation and the streets are dirty but it is a jumping off point for the Amalfi Coast and also Pompeii and Herculaneum. I'd also like to add that it has the most confusing public transport system in Italy. Our host told us that nothing has been upgraded since the recession so nothing makes sense! Great. Anyway, the Amalfi coast wasn’t on our agenda especially after touring around Sicily’s coast but we spent one long day visiting Pompeii, the 3D Virtual Archaeological Museum and the ruins in Herculaneum. We were the first in the gates at Pompeii which gave us the luxury of being able to wander along deserted cobbled streets and taken in the feel of the Roman ruins and imagine what life would have been like. Fortunately, we were the only ones at the Villa of Mysteries so we could gaze at the murals as long as we liked. On every corner we found the ruins of food vendor shops and bakeries and we could imagine the hustle of the busy streets of a population that was about to meet its end. Within two hours the tour groups arrived and we became part of the ebb and flow of people wandering around.
Photos of Pompeii
Beautiful Murals from the Villas
After Pompeii we headed to the 3D Virtual Archaeological Museum where we experienced a 180 degree 4D experience of the Mount Vesuvius eruption. We found ourselves the only ones there, which made a nice change. We finished the day with an exploration of the Herculaneum ruins before heading home. All in all we clocked up 29 kms of walking so were feeling pretty worn out.
For our final day in Naples we decided to check out the old part of town and to have a Napoli Pizza. On our way out our hosts invited us in to have a coffee so we had one of those interesting conversations where we didn’t speak very good Italian and they didn’t speak very good English.
We found the Pizzeria that was rumored to be the first in Italy to make pizza but also found a huge queue snaking out the door so we headed up the street and found a less crowded place to eat. I’m not exaggerating but we had the most amazing two pizzas we are ever likely to have in our lives. They were so, so good!
A street in Naples
Although Naples isn’t the greatest destination in the world, it does have an awesome archaeological museum that we spent a morning admiring but its real tour de force is the veiled statue of Christ hidden away in a little church amongst the medieval lanes. We’ve lost count of the amount of Bellini, Boromini et al sculptures we’ve seen but this veiled Christ was astonishing and was Deb’s favourite sculpture.
The last leg of our Italy sojourn took us to Venice where Deb has already visited twice before but it was my first time there. We spent the first two nights in Padova, which is about 30 minutes outside of Venice but it has a wonderful history of its own. Padova was a lovely town with a vibrant town centre with plenty of good eating. We found a lovely wine bar and enjoyed pizza, tapas and red wine.
Venice was an amazing place but once again totally over flowing with tour groups. My first experience of the Grand Canal was reasonably early in the morning during a thunder and lightening storm that didn’t lessen as the day went on. It poured down and the next greatest hurdle was trying to avoid being poked in the eye by umbrella wielding tour groups.
The Grand Canal and Umbrella Mayhem
I went to the Doges Palace by myself as Deb had been before and admired the paintings and furniture that contrasted greatly with the extension prison cell system that the Palace also contained. We continued our love hate affair with churches and visited a number of Baroque churches, rode the vaporetto up and down the canals and even did the ultimate tourist thing and had a gondola ride. We bargained our man down ten euros but it is still a total rip off. The best part about Venice though is undoubtedly the setting and the charm of ambling down so many little lanes and alleyways.
A few more pics of lovely Venice
We spent our last night in a hotel in Venice so we could go out for a fabulous dinner. After all the amazing places we have eaten in across Italy, we managed to pick our only poor choice. It was away from the main drag and the menu looked good but it was really quite average. I guess you win some and you lose some. Here we come Eastern Europe!