A Travellerspoint blog

Killing a day (photos to come)


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In anticipation of our 5h night flight departing at 2300 to Reykjavik, we slept in and woke around 0800. We delayed our breakfast a little then packed up carefully. We wore our hot weather gear and packed our cold weather gear separately so we could change at the airport.

As we checked out at 1100, we still had no idea where we could kill our long day ahead. No optins presented to us really appealed. The receptionist suggested Trastavere, a traditional neighbourhood with some nice laid back restaurants and cafes. This had kinda crossed my mind but when the transport by bus “H” was made clear to us, it all seemed easier.

We took the bus from outside Termini station across the river Tiber and alighted. The restaurant that had been recommended to us was closed for the holidays so we wandered around until we found a reasonably priced place that was cool/shaded and also had wifi.

I ordered a salmon salad and Kim a breakfast, but as always, we swapped halfway. His meal was forgotten and he waited for quite a while but that (along with some admin on the computer) helped kill three hours.

The staff at the cafe were quite concerned with people who didn’t finished their meals (twice). I think they genuinely take pride in their food. In one case, they didn’t charge for the soup that the customer didn’t like (she thought it would be cold summer soup).

The weather became quite hot and the breeze felt like it was coming from a fan oven. We finished a whole “Absolut Vodka” bottle of water and more during our stay there and were still thirsty. Our idea of remaining cool and dry didn’t quite work.

I got sweatier going back by bus to collect our luggage, then walking the short distance to the airport bus at Termini station. It was quite a chaotic scene with large numbers of people waiting and four buses departing (three to Fiumicino [Fiumicino-travel-guide-1299304] and one to Ciampino). We managed to get on the least popular one which left before the others but we were still sweaty from waiting the five or so minutes on board.

I’d like to visit Italy during Autumn next time. This time, combined with northern Europe, it was a delicate balance between the summer finishing up there and being still too hot in Italy.

We arrived at the airport about 5h before departure, with a small hope that bag-drop for Vueling to Reykjavik would be open. Unfortunately, like most airlines, they only accept bags 3h prior. That took away our chance of using the airside lounge and having a shower. Waiting landside wasn’t any worse than waiting in a cafe in town, so no complaints.
We dropped our bags 3h prior and went airside. We managed to visit the lounge for about 15 minutes but it was hardly worth it. The food was getting quite dry and miserable but we had a cuppa tea and some soft drink before killing the rest of our time at the gate area.

The flight left on-time from a remote gate. We had three seats each near the front and took half a sleeping pill each. Kim slept the entire flight till descent while I dozed mildly.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Exploring the Vatican and Rome


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large_5550_147249006793.jpgThe Vatican uses “Allah” (last word in the picture) for God when writing in the Arabic language too. But for Jesus, they use "Yesua" rather than "Isa" (pbuh, which is normally used by Muslims to refer to their Prophet Jesus).
Locals tell us this summer isn’t too hot but the forecast was for 36 degC. We decided on an early start to see the sights of the Vatican. We took the metro to near the Vatican and walked in the general direction to be astounded by the queue for the Museum. It had gone around 3 corners and doubled back, making it 4 corners. I looked on Google Maps and estimated that it was 800m. I’m not sure if the queue was “normal” or because it is because the Museum is free today (being Sunday).

Instead, we went to St Peter’s Basilica. The queue for security was nearly non-existent in comparison. Once through, we wandered through the square into the basilica. Even though it wasn’t my first time, I was quite awe-struck for a few moments.large_5550_14724900706310.jpgInside St Peter's basilica.

Mass was on at the far end at the small altar behind the main one. We were still able to walk all around the cathedral and admire it. There were groups of pilgrims that brought a large crucifix per group.

We had seen the separate entrance for going to the cupola and papal tombs. We decided on doing both of those in turn. The former was EUR6 (or EUR8 if you take the lift). After paying for our ticket, we were somewhat ushered into the lift which saved the climb.

Half the dome was accessible to us but fenced for safety. We were able to see mass just finishing in the area below. We then exited to a large open area which was the roof of the basilica where we could walk all the way to the facade.

Then I noticed people in the cage/verandah near the top of the cupola.large_5550_14724900739439.jpgInside St Peter's basilica; canopy of the main altar.Oops! I had missed the fact that we could go all the way up there. We swiftly made our way back into the building and found the correct stairway (as an elevator can’t access a curved dome)! The stairway side-walls starting getting curved as we approached the top and we couldn’t stand up straight. It was more humid than hot and we were pleased to be out in the fresh air. The view of St Peter’s square, the Vatican and the city was spectacular.

We exited via the church then went into the tombs. That didn’t take long. It was one marble tomb after another, more or less the length of the entire of the church. Again we exited via the church, this time near the main altar. That made it three visits in one!

With our fingers crossed, we looked for the end of the queue for the Vatican Museum.large_5550_14724900765517.jpgCentre piece of the rear wall.We found it substantially shorter going only around two corners. It was fast moving and we were inside within 20 minutes. We got through at 1130, which was an hour before the 1230 last entry.

Security was swift. We took the escalator to the deck where the view was pale in comparison to the top of the cupola.
We went through room by room of the museum finishing at the Sistine chapel. Some of the paintings on the ceilings were so so stunning that the Sistine chapel didn’t stun me like it should have.

With the crowds, I found it difficult to have enough interest in reading all the captions and having a detailed understanding of we seeing. In total we were out in over an hour, being herded through the various souvenir kiosks before finally exiting the building.large_5550_14724900793636.jpgSt Peter's cupola.To be honest, I didn’t think the museum was over-commercialised. Food in the cafes were very reasonable.

We shared a lunch of curry and salad nearby before taking the metro back for a rest. We were pleased with how the day had turned out, especially with not having waited too long in queues.

In the afternoon, we metro’ed to the Circo Massimo and saw the hippodrome before buying a ticket into the Palatino. With the sun and the heat, I was quite “over” everything so we didn’t stay long. We walked across to the Colosseum nearby where it was more pleasant. We were able to explore more pleasantly until the late afternoon.

In the Colosseum, we were puzzled by the mix of brick and big blocks. It was only when we left, we realised that the exterior wall (no longer present in many areas but beautifully preserved in others) was block while the interior appeared to be more brick.large_5550_14724900839989.jpgCentre piece of the rear wall.

We grabbed dinner near the Colosseum attended to by a very nice Bangladehis waiter and an Egyptian from Alexandria (who looked quite Ethiopian). I must say, Bangladeshis and Chinese seem to run most of the shops in parts of Rome. Bangladeshis are definitely very prevalent in the food industry. I guess that’s why prices are so reasonable now.

The Egyptian said to some middle-eastern looking passers-by. “Good food, cheap food, all halal” even though they had ham on the menu ;-) I guess it is like some of the Iraqi places in New Zealand that have halal meat and bacon side-by-side for their burgers!

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Finishing our drive in Rome


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large_5550_14724898196435.jpgCalendar of handsome priests. Didn't see one for pretty nuns.
Today we drove down to Rome [Rome-travel-guide-278393] to return our rental car and stay for a couple of nights. We left Staggia at 0900 and got to central Rome shortly after 1200. The Hertz rental car return wasn’t at Termini station. I had to go into the station to ask at the counter and they wrote the address down for me. It was very near at a carpark attached to the Radisson hotel but in a car, we had to go around. Kim lost his temper for his first time driving in Italy; it wasn’t like we were running late as we had about 40 minutes left before the end of the rental period.

With a bit of spare time, we drove to our hotel and parked. We dropped off our luggage before returning the car to Level 7 of the carpark. Everything went smoothly thereafter, including the dent and 5/8 full tank that we had inherited.large_5550_14724898226445.jpgThe Pantheon.

After an afternoon rest to avoid the heat, we ventured out for some sightseeing. The Pantheon was our preferred first spot and it was best accessed bus 71 which left from outside the hotel. Unfortunately, it took about 40 minutes before the bus turned up but fortunately we were well shaded.

Mass was still on at the Pantheon when we found our way there by foot from the bus stop. Once mass finished, we joined the queue to enter the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. It is pretty amazing that it is still the world’s largest some 2000 years after it was built.

We made our way to Navona Square which had beautiful buildings and fountains. This was followed by the very crowded Trevi Fountain and the deserted Spanish steps (which was fenced off for restoration).

Going back to our part of Rome by Metro, we stopped at a Bangladeshi kebab place for dinner. In fact, it was the same place we ate at for lunch because their kebab roll-ups were so awesomely packed with chicken and salad. And it only cost EUR3.50! Much cheaper than New Zealand!

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Florence and two walled cities in the countryside


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large_5550_14724893903589.jpgFlorence’s main cathedral is rather stunning in white, green and pink-coloured marble, complete with intricate patterns and statues.
We had it in our plan to visit Florence [Florence-travel-guide-277415] today and there was no reason to change that plan. It was an hour drive to get there and we managed to park about 10 minutes walk from Piazza Duomo.

The crowds were pretty horrendous. It isn’t something we face very often as we travel to some unusual destinations instead. It wasn’t the first time for either one of us so there was little pressure to do things and tick them off.

The queue for entering the Duomo (free) wasn’t that long but it was slow-moving so we gave it a miss. We admired the Duomo and the Baptistery, walked past the Uffizi gallery and found our way to Pontevecchio.
The bridge, even though built-up on the outside, was open on the inside.large_5550_14724893936086.jpgFlorence’s main cathedral is rather stunning in white, green and pink-coloured marble, complete with intricate patterns and statues.It was lined with jewellery shops on both sides. As we had no interest in jewellery, we walked till we found the statue of a boar which Kim sat on/with at age 5, 21 and 44. He stood next to it and had another photo; I tried to exclude the large Russian group to the best of my ability.

We ate on the way back to the car; it was a lovely meal at a sidewalk cafe at very reasonable prices. Actually, even in the dead-centre of Florence, sandwiches were about the same price as a very ordinary place in Auckland.

It was about 1300 when we drove back to our accommodation for a two hour siesta. At 1600, we set out to explore the two walled cities (villages?) near Staggia. First up was the smaller of the two called Monteriggioni, 15 minutes away.

Arriving at the site, we were puzzled why there would be free parking alongside with paid parking.large_5550_14724893969925.jpgFlorence’s main cathedral is rather stunning in white, green and pink-coloured marble, complete with intricate patterns and statues.And people were paying to park in the paid section! We walked up to the walled city and explored it. It didn’t take long but the sun was scorching. We went up to two parts of the walls that were open (for a EUR3 fee). The fee included admission to the small museum which explained the 800+ year history. For kids of all ages, they had some armoury which one could try out. The chain vests were really heavy!

Continuing to the second, San Gimignano, we were impressed by the size of the city. The central walkway through the city was pleasant and lined with many restaurants. That opened up into a large square. The various alleys led to a few viewpoints.

We sat down for a salad and pasta before driving back to Staggia. Time has flown and this was our final night with the car, for tomorrow we drive to Rome [Rome-travel-guide-278393] to return it back to Hertz around midday.

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Staying south of Florence


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large_5550_14724718815856.jpgOur lunch stop at Podere Le Caselle.
The drive from Bologna [Bologna-travel-guide-276795] to our next nightstop is only 2h but we took a bit of detour. We left the hotel around 1100 and drove to the small town of Badicorte, east of Siena [Siena-travel-guide-278771] (both further than our accommodation).

Our friends Riccardo had asked us to drop in at his friend Marina’s restaurant (and hotel) Podere Le Caselle. After many tunnels (including some very long ones) on the A1, we arrived at the hotel. We introduced ourselves. Marina didn’t speak English so we didn’t try to make too much conversation.

We opted for the buffet which consisted of salads and grilled vegetables. Exactly what we needed. The semi-dried tomatoes and grilled capsicum were full of sweetness.large_4f4b1bd0-5751-11e8-b870-4db227ac3b6f.jpgOur lunch stop at Podere Le Caselle.The other grilled vegetables had lots of natural flavours too.

We said goodbye to Marina and continued to Siena. Google Maps in offline mode has been god-sent this trip for taking navigating us everywhere. We typically put into my phone the old centre of any city and start looking for parking about 5 minutes before reaching dead-centre, and this worked again.

We walked into Piazza del Campo and explored a little before sitting down for a rest in the shade of the surrounding buildings. It was very hot in the high thirties (degC). Siena’s touristy pricing saw us opting not to have a cold drink in the cafes in the square.

We continued to our accommodation the Palazzo alle Mura in the little town of Staggia, south of Florence [Florence-travel-guide-277415]. It appears to be built from the walls of the old city.large_5550_14724718936043.jpgMany hill-top villages dot the Italian countryside.We had chosen to stay here instead of Florence because (a) we could get better accommodation for the same price, (b) our drive to Rome [Rome-travel-guide-278393] on the last day would be shorter and we wouldn’t have to rush for a midday rental car return, and (c) otherwise our drive from Bologna to Florence would be a rather short day. Yes, admittedly, we would have to backtrack a little to explore Florence.

The accommodation proved to be a good choice. The town was a little quiet in terms eating (or actually everything). Due to the holiday season, some eateries were closed and some weren’t open till later in the evening. We got takeaway pizza and made a salad from a few things gathered from the supermarket.

A whole basket of goodies cost us EUR13 (including EUR3 for a wedge of good cheese), meaning that all the other stuff added to less than EUR10. That’s so cheap compared to New Zealand. Times have changed; we used to dread prices in Europe but now we are pleasantly surprised.

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