Archive | May, 2012

Road trip from Rome to Munich

22 May

Well, this is very late, typing this on 2nd day of Phuket by the pool. The last day of our trafalgar tour of Italy has come and gone. The four of us are going to be on our own for some time now. We are heading to Nuremberg to get on our uni-world river cruise. We’ve checked out pretty early as we are changing hotels, the metro was easy except for the few flights of stairs to navigate with tonnes of souvenirs collected, hmmm too much at this stage. New hotel was down near porta furba, we got off one station too early and walked for what seemed ages, the next station would have had us walk maybe 200 meters only. It turned out we are in the burbs, a little bit seedy but we are on a budget now. The hotel was small but quite nice for 3 stars, breakfast included.
The weather is sunny and beautiful, let’s go back into Rome and looked at it dry. We are told go to the Spanish steps its awesome, metro rail right to it. Ticked it off the list, didn’t do much for me sorry. So the Trevi Fountain for lunch, guy that served us literally flew back about 2 weeks ago from working at the Lagoon seafood Restarunt in Wollongong for the last 2 years, it’s only 20 minutes drive from home. Go figure. We got really good service and he even gave us a card for a little restaurant back home to try that his friends have just opened.
A stroll through the streets to the ancient forum ruins for a good look around. Its truly a wonderful place to see, my photos don’t do justice. Little later we pit stop for gelato and a quick drink and back to the Trevi fountain. Found a bar to sit and wait for night time. Let’s order some drinks its hot as.
My wife says to the server, ” I’ll have a large beer please”. We all nod our heads in agreement with a look of awe and mild humor, my wife doesn’t drink a lot of beer. Oh bloody hell they’re the big liter steins. Woohoo we go, bottoms up, let’s gets used to it, after all we are heading to Germany. Order a couple of pizzas to top it off. After some time drinking its time to go for a look for a position at the fountain, seat obtained on top step of the fountain and not thousands of people round. We forget how long it takes for the sun to go down in Europe this time of year. The feet need a rest anyway. Lights go down and we weren’t disappointed. That’s a good tick I say. Let’s go see the coliseum lit up and catch the metro back to hotel. Once again this structure is amazing, the lights are beautiful. Few more photos and that’s Rome ticked off till next time.
The trip out of Rome was something different. As I’ve said previously Rome traffic is absolutely bonkers. I’ve never seen people turn 2 ordinary lanes for driving into six. It has to seen to be believed. First hurdle…. Yes we are going to drive, I went to the trouble of getting international license, I’m not going to use it. My good friend Tony is doing the honors. Why?? We booked the car rental pick up at termini. Where’s that I asked? Hang on that’s what they class as central on the rail, smack bang in the centre of rome. Geez ass, so hope there’s a nav man for the car. While we wait let’s go post off all the souvenirs, (ours).
Post offices in Italy are only somewhere you go if you have time to waste in a line. That’s all. The system is obviously in a foreign language Italian, that’s granted, but it wouldn’t hurt for a bigger sign saying “get your ticket for the huge whopping line here”. But no. I stand for at least ten minutes before I see someone else get one. So I get a ticket and wait and they say no you must go to the other side of ┬áthe train station for large packages. We find it, get our number and oh bugger it I’m not waiting in line. I’ll do it another day.
Time comes to get the car, hope it’s big enough we have a lot of stuff, ours mostly. It’s a nice big Hyundai i40 station wagon and no, we can’t have a navigator, out come the iPads, directions loaded and I notice there’s a big screen in the dash. Alright!! It’s a brand new car with only 2,000 Kms on the clock with an inbuilt navigator system. Happy days.
Ancona is our first stop for the night, we discover the distance is not that long from Rome to Munich. As we are driving the girls look up some hotels in the area and we pick another 3 star hotel. We get there and boy, this looks even seedier than the last place. As they say never judge a book by its cover, its another little nice one in the burbs. Unpack and off for a walk. For those that know the area of port Kembla at home well, the place we are staying looks a couple of notches lower. We are getting looks of ” hey there goes money ” not a nice feeling. Turn right and we are back in a better area only a block away. Its tea time and I’ve seen a donner kebab shop on our walk, I am in charge of meals, ┬álets have a kebab.
4 kebabs ordered with everything. Beef, taziki, tomato, onions, lettuce & French fries rolled up together, I kid you not it was the best kebab we’ve all ever eaten, how much? Only 14 euros. OMG!!! If there’s a reason to go back, it’s for a kebab.
Next day back on the road heading to a place called San Marino. Oh we know that place, it’s where they previously held the formula 1 grand prix. In actual fact they never did. It was in a town called Imola. San Marino is a very nice place to go. Nice big fortress on the top of the mountain side with another Basilica, very similar to San Gimignano with awesome views from the top. A quick drink and something to eat and we are heading to Trento.Just another stop really, not sure what importance it holds as we were only there one night. Great views from the room and I think it was good food. Huh? Yeah, too much to drink as it was the last night in Italy. It won’t happen again, until the next time.
On the road heading towards Austria, hangover. That’s all.
The border crossings were quite boring to the state of non-existent. A bit of homework reveals, they are part of the EU (European Union) an agreement has been reached for the borders. Most like it, the criminals love it. It was a let down for me. I was expecting it to be like Switzerland where you have to show your passport and pay a tax, they are still a neutral country and work different. The only thing we had to do was buy a sticker for about 8 euros to put on the windscreen for Austria. There’s no magic line just a little sign saying welcome to Germany, France and the like.
And then we are on the autobahn, oh I’m glad I’m not driving, we are now traveling approx 160kms. Drifting off to sleep I hear the car speed up, it’s only then I realize we are in another country. Whoooosh goes a Mercedes, BMW and a few others, we are not going fast enough for them. In the meantime we are stunned by the countryside. The mountains are so close and covered in snow, when you get out though it’s still really warm & quite bizarre.
The plan now is to drive as far as Munich find a hotel and do the rest of our travels and sightseeing from one central place for the next 6 days or so before driving to Nuremberg. The girls work their magic on the iPad, book us into a 3 star hotel which ends up in a nice little place just on the outskirts of Munich. It was a lot better hotel than some of the ones we has already stayed in, there’s room to move, a decent bathroom and we an open a window and get fresh air instead of hot air from an air conditioner that can’t be changed. We check in and once again go exploring.
Everyone is quite thirsty and slightly hungry, a hangover is best treated with no alcohol. This was my first alcohol free day on the trip. Soft drink never looked so good. First meal is a schnitzel, with hot chips and a decent salad. It’s been ages since we tasted real salad, not lettuce five ways, grated carat & a dodgy piece of tomato, this was a real tasty salad. The things you miss when abroad. We’ve already decided this is going to be our local. It’s a place called the Zar bar, they even cater with English menus. This was something we were yet to really experience, how to translate a menu, most of the palces we had eaten at were catered for us, it still took us 3 days before we discovered there is steak, and dam it was great to get away from pasta, bread & pizza. No more wine either now it’s beer, beer, and some more beer. Munich it is for the next week. It’s going to be great, we are planning on the city of Munich, Innsbruck & Salzburg.

Tuscan hills – Siena – Rome

22 May

Tuscan hills – Siena – Roma I’ve been a little lazy with typing out my posts lately, so I’ll be honest and tell you all we’ve just disembarked the ship at the end of our cruise. Yes a whole week or 2 has gone by but hey, I’m on holidays.
I’ve failed miserably in the Pisa – Florence blog. The day we visited Florence we went out to what we all say was the best dinner experienced, at least so far. We are all excited, we are heading to hills of Tuscany for meal of epic proportions. Frattoria il Poggio is a little winery and olive farm not far from where we were staying. Our host for the night took us all on a little tour of the winery and how it all works. Her best advice was, “watch the movie called under the Tuscan sun.” she says, “you know what? It’s all BULLSHIT!!” it’s not a real good depiction of the hard work that actually goes on.
After we finished in Florence we took an optional extra tour of a medieval city called San Gimignano. It’s one of the original standing cities of its kind, very beautiful and old. There is a little shop that is world famous for its gelato, the sign says he’s a world champion. Many flavours to choose from. I had to try some as George Lucas (for the people who don’t live in this universe he is the director of the Star Wars franchise) has sampled the gelato here, the chocolate flavour was outstanding.
San Gimignano also has a beautiful white wine that they produce in the hills. We’ve found a nice little winery called the diVinorum, we walked through and out the back overlooking the hills outside in the sun. Very peaceful and was a 2 bottle sitting between six, with Rick & Kerry our new Aussie friends on the bus buying a nice plate of cheese samples. This place is a must visit for anyone, the hills here are beautiful.
Today is the last day of our Italy tour. We visited the The historic centre of Siena. It has been declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site. It is one of the nation’s most visited tourist attractions. Siena is famous for its cuisine, art, museums, medieval cityscape and the Palio, a horse race held twice a year.
The Palio di Siena is a traditional medieval horse race run around the Piazza del Campo twice each year, on 2 July and 16 August. The event is attended by large crowds, and is widely televised. Seventeen Contrade (which are city neighbourhoods originally formed as battalions for the city’s defence) vie for the trophy: a painted banner, or Palio bearing an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For each race a new Palio is commissioned by well-known artists and Palios won over many years can often be seen in the local Contrade museum. During each Palio period, the city is decked out in lamps and flags bearing the Contrade colours. Having seen this race on tv I’m amazed at the very small area in the city square where it’s held. The race only goes for 3 minutes yet the crowds are huge, passionate and a touch crazy.
Back in Rome for the night and out to dinner with most of the tour group, the restaurant we dined at had previously tried to do some renovations some time ago, unfortunately for them an old roman villa was discovered when the excavated. Whoosh in come the authorities and shut the work down. There is now most of the villa unearthed and a roof placed over it. You could say its now a bit of a touchy point, it provides for a good calling card for an interesting meal. During dinner we where serenaded by two lovely opera singers. Back on the bus and we all joined for a sing-along. Our tour director even sang old McDonald’s farm in Italian. I promised him the video wouldn’t be posted, anyone that sees me in our travels is more than welcome to see it. Weve made lots of new friends from all over the world and we are looking forward to keeping in touch.
Arrivederci
PS. we are now in Phuket so I’m heaps lazy.

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Pisa – Florence

7 May

Pisa – Florence Today is exciting, we are heading to the famous leaning tower of Pisa. The tower began to sink after construction had progressed to the second floor in 1178. This was due to a mere three-metre foundation, set in weak, unstable subsoil, a design that was flawed from the beginning. The height of the tower is 55.86 m (183.27 ft) from the ground on the low side and 56.70 m (186.02 ft) on the high side. The width of the walls at the base is 4.09 m (13.42 ft) and at the top 2.48 m (8.14 ft). Its weight is estimated at 14,500 metric tons (16,000 short tons). The tower has 296 or 294 steps; the seventh floor has two fewer steps on the north-facing staircase. Prior to restoration work performed between 1990 and 2001, the tower leaned at an angle of 5.5 degrees, the tower now leans at about 3.99 degrees. This means that the top of the tower is displaced horizontally 3.9 metres (12 ft 10 in) from where it would be if the structure were perfectly vertical.A popular tourist activity is to pose for photographs pretending to “hold up” the leaning tower and preventing it from falling. The illusion is created through the principle of forced perspective. My photo shows me using the power of the force. Yep, my hand is nowhere near it.
We got a fair bit of time to stroll round and take photos. After that it was up a side street for some lunch. Best pizza I’ve eaten all trip, and we’ve eaten some. Back onto the bus for our stay for the trip into Florence tomorrow to do some shopping and sightseeing.
Florence is the city that displays one of the most famous & beautiful sculptures I’ve been privileged to see. For those in the know it’s obviously the Michelangelo call David. It displays David in the seconds leading up to him slinging the rock at the giant Goliath and knocking him to the ground with a single stone. Our guide took us through the museum showing us the different marble pieces that were unfinished by Michelangelo. These are called the prisoners, you can see the figures trying to emerge from the marble but are frozen in time forever. One of them looks like he is trying to stretch out from a big yawn.

The David. What can I say? It’s a masterpiece. It’s beautiful. Go and have a look. It’s made of marble. Our guide says there’s some conjecture whether it’s good Carrara marble or from somewhere else. For those that don’t know ( we do ) Carrara marble is absolutely beautiful, every house should have some. Michelangelo wasn’t actually the first person to be given the commission of sculpting David. Originally commissioned as one of a series of statues of prophets to be positioned along the roofline of the east end of Florence Cathedral, the statue was instead placed in a public square, outside the Palazzo della Signoria, the seat of civic government in Florence, where it was unveiled on 8 September 1504. The artist Agostino di Duccio was the first to try, he only got as far as beginning to shape the legs, feet and the torso, roughing out some drapery and probably gouging a hole between the legs. His association with the project ceased, for reasons unknown, ten years later Antonio Rossellino was commissioned to take up where Agostino had left off. Rossellino’s contract was terminated soon thereafter, and the block of marble remained neglected for twenty-five years, all the while exposed to the elements in the yard of the cathedral workshop. On August 16, 1501, Michelangelo was given the official contract to undertake this challenging new task. He began carving the statue early in the morning on Monday, September 13, a month after he was awarded the contract. He would work on the massive biblical hero for more than two years. Hammer and chisel, polished by pumice stone. Bloody hell. Labour of love. In 1991 the foot of the statue was damaged by a deranged man with a hammer. Historians where able to learn a lot from the damaged pieces, eg: where the marble came from and that it contained many microscopic holes that cause it to deteriorate faster than other marbles. Because of the marble’s degradation, from 2003 to 2004 the statue was given its first major cleaning since 1843. Some experts opposed the use of water to clean the statue, fearing further deterioration after trying to clean it with acid damaging the left shoulder. It’s now housed in the museum and a replica is shown in the square. The statue has been reproduced many times. The plaster cast of David at the Victoria and Albert Museum has a detachable plaster fig leaf which is displayed nearby. The fig leaf was created in response to Queen Victoria’s shock upon first viewing the statue’s nudity, and was hung on the figure prior to royal visits, using two strategically placed hooks. She was not amused.
Florence is also famed for its leather. Oh yes indeed it is. Many $$ later, I brought a new nice jacket and Terri brought a hand bag for herself. I also brought myself a nice new wallet that was funded for me for my recent birthday by family. Very nice, easy to get carried away. Another nice lunch and off somewhere else tomorrow.
This post is not in line with the others as I accidentally deleted my work the other day. Wasn’t happy but I’m working on rectifying the prob. Love you all and we terribly miss you…. Well some of you.

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