Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Travel Email – Roma (5th Oct 2009)

Hi all,

Well, we just finished our 'Last Supper' (Pizza) in the beautiful Roma, and are on the way back to the Hotel to pack.  We have half a day tomorrow for final shopping, then it's off to the Airport to come home.  Having said that, I don't actually arrive home until Wednesday morning, given the time difference, long flight and a lengthy wait at Brisy Airport.  What a holiday it has been!!!!

Well, in my usual fashion, I am just going to give a bit of a rundown of our final days, and then I will leave you in peace.

In Positano (Amalfi Coast), we were back to a 3 star Hotel, so no more cute white slippers.  Now, it did bring me to wondering how many stars we have to achieve to get a matching white robe??  I would so love a robe.  A 3 star toothbrush/paste & sewing kit just don't quite cut it in the gift stakes now that we have slippers!!! 

Hhmm, we were brought back down to earth in our Rome accommodation.  Not sure if it is 2 or 3 stars, but you know it's on the lower end when your shampoo is in sachets!!!

On Tuesday, our 'walk of the gods' along the 15 stations of the cross from Praiano to Positano was just fantastic.  Although it was 7.4 km's uphill (along the mountain cliff face for the most part) and 1200 steps/2.5 km's downhill (no exaggeration on the number of steps), the views were to be seen to be believed.  Truly spectacular!!  It took us 4.5hrs as we took a half hour lunch stop before we could bring ourselves to tackle the 1200 steps.  My poor old knees!!

Wednesday we spent a lovely day loitering around the village shops, which brought me to procrastinate over a small purchase (candle holder).  It started off the following conversation I had with myself.

Me: Do I need it?
Inner Voice:  It is not about need, it is about want!

Me:It is more than I would normally pay (after quick Euro conversion).  Would I pay that much if I saw it in Cairns?
Inner Voice: You are not in Cairns.  You are in a small village on the Amalfi Coast where you will most likely never come again (unless you start dating a famous person).  So buy it if you want it.

Me: What would Mum say if she knew I had paid that much?
Inner voice:Don't tell her, or halve it.

Me: What would my husband say, if I had one?
Inner voice: Unless you hadn't noticed, you don't have one.  Which is why you are able to be here in the first place! And if you did have one, he could give you extra money to buy a matching piece.  Which is back to why you don't have one.  Cos men like that don't actually exist!

Me: Will I regret it if I don't buy it?
Inner voice: It's not good to have regrets.  Don't chance it.  If you don't like it when you get home, throw it in as an incentive for EBAY person buying backpack (with no wheels).

Me: Should I ask for a discount for cash?
Inner voice:  Now you are starting to sound like your mother!!  Plus, unless you have already forgotten, you already did and she said no!

Me:  Where will I put it in my house?
Inner voice: Your concern should be, 'where are you going to put it in your backpack?'. Toss out the stupid sand ornament you got conned into purchasing in Dubai and it will fit!

Me: Will it match my other house ornaments?
Inner voice:  Aaaarrrrggghhhh....... OCD freak!!

Me:  Hey look.  There is a matching piece.  Oh, they look so good together.  What am I going to do now?
Inner voice:  Pretend your imaginary husband just gave you the extra money and buy both!!

MELINDA's voice:  You have to buy them both.  They are lovely and one by itself just wouldn't work.  Look, I'm buying these matching earrings, bracelet and ring.  Aren't they lovely too.

So, between the advice from my 'shopaholic' travelling partner and my extravagant inner voice, what choice did I have?  I became the proud owner of two over-priced, yet matching Positano candle holders!!!

Thursday morning we were up early saying good-bye to the beautiful Amalfi Coast, as we made our way to Rome.  We arrived about lunch time.  We looked at the travel agent's note which said the Hotel was a mere 50 metres from the train station and headed off in search of it.  Well, I can tell you, about 2 km's later, I was ready to kill the travel agent.  Not only was I mimicking the Hunchback from Notre Dame, but by the time we found the hotel, I felt like I was dragging a full size trailer beside me (disguised of course as a Louis Vuitton wheeled bag which was laden with many of Italy's finest treasures).

Melinda has attended 6 months of Bootcamp in Tassie prior to our holiday, so she was marching gallantly along a block ahead of me as if she was carrying a paper weight on her back.  She said she could hear my 'trailer' being wheeled along the footpath behind her, so she knew I wasn't lost!!  What doesn't kill me, will surely make me stronger!!!

Well, Rome is another unique city, rich with magnificent architecture and history (and more churches than I've seen in a lifetime).  We've spent the majority of the last few days walking from one end of the city to the other visiting famous piazza's, churches and monuments.  On Friday we went to the Vatican City looking for Popey (that's Melinda's pet name for the Pope), but he must have been having a day at home.  I'm sure I would have recognised him if he had walked past me considering his face is pictured on every type of souvenier you could imagine.  Was going to bring you all back a Popey souvenier, but couldn't decide between the calendars, fridge magnets, pendants, pens, cups, spoons, plates, key-rings, snow globes, T-shirts, caps and many other special items. 

We went into St Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and Museum and the artwork and architecture was amazing.  I had such a sore neck from arching backwards to take photos of the ceilings.  Word of warning though - even I was falling asleep when I was looking back at these photos, so there is no pressure to view all of these ones!!!

We also threw coins in the 'Trevi Fountain', walked the 'Spanish steps', wandered through the 'Pantheon', ate gelati in 'piazzo Navona' and stalked some nice policemen standing outside the 'Victor Emmanuel Monument' (commonly known as the Wedding Cake).  All the while, taking another 1000 photos!

I decided that while in Rome it would be quite a treat (for the good Catholic girl that I am) to attend a mass service on Sunday.  So just before Midday today, I headed off to Saint Maria Maggiore Church in preparation for my first Italian Mass.  As I arrived, a Bishop (important priest for you non-catholics), was walking out of the church.  I adopted my usual stalking photographer stance and snapped a quick one off.  SPRUNG!!!  He started motioning at me and I thought 'Oh Merda' (oh shit in Italian) as I believed I was in trouble.  Quite the contrary.  The lovely Bishop was asking whether I wanted a photo with him.  Well, is Popey catholic??  Course I did (for the photo album of course).  So the other nice priest took a photo of my mate (the Bishop) and I.  I then ridiculously did the whole 'Japanese thank you thing' of nodding and bowing and repeating 'grazie, grazie, grazie' while backing away.  And then off to church I went.

To be honest, even though I hardly understood a word of the service, it was very special.  It is probably the only Sunday Mass I will remember always.  The singing was like going to an opera.  It was great!

Melinda on the other hand decided an afternoon of shopping in Rome was an experience she would treasure more than a mass service!  We met after the service and she showed me her purchases and I showed her my nice Italian Church pamphlet.

And on that note, that is the end of my Travel Emails for this holiday. Look forward to catching up soon.

Love Joyous xx

Oh, one last thing.  My pretty walking shoes were great and managed to get me through this holiday with no blisters to speak of.  They even looked new until I dropped a piece of jam toasty bread on one of them!

The Amalfi Coast (28th Sept)

Hi all,

I forgot to tell you last email about our 'place your life in the hands of the bus driver' 2 hour bus ride from Sorrento to Amalfi the first day we arrived on the Amalfi Coast.  The drive is along the coastline (and quite high up the mountain) and although it caters for traffic to travel in both directions, for the most part it 'appears' to be one lane.  However, we have proven that you can fit two very large buses, side by side with a millimetre in between, in one of those one lane sections of the road.  We were on the 'drop' side of the mountain, which is probably why everyone else in the 'other' bus were smiling and waving (if the windows were open we could have hugged as well).  I'm sure the looks on our faces were more of sheer terror!!  Sometimes cars travelling in the opposite direction were required to reverse a short distance so we could fit past them.  It appeared as though the bigger vehicle always had the right of way??  Which is probably why the Mexican stand-off with the other bus!!!

On Friday morning after meeting with our Intrepid Tour Representative (who gave us our self-guiding instructions) we headed off for our first trek along the mountainside from Ravello-Atranti-Amalfi-Ravello.  What was to be an 8.9km (3.5hr) walk ended up being at least 13km (& 5.5hrs) - 10 km of which were up-hill!  Apparently, when the instructions say main 'path' it does not mean main 'road'.  Therefore, you shouldn't risk your life walking along that narrow one lane road for 2km's before you realise that!!!  And then of course have to return along the same road to find the tiny steps (which miraculously appeared out of nowhere) which led to that main 'path'.  When the Instructions say 'there are a lot of steps' - they are not exaggerating!!  And finally, when the instructions say 'Scala is a nice town and offers gelati and refreshments', you must rest, taste test several flavours of gelati and ask locals if short cut exists to get to next town (as instructions very long and involve too many steps).

Saturday's walking tour was to be a 13.8km (5.45hr) trek from Ravello-Amalfi (via Valle De Ferriere).  We love these 'self-guiding' tours.  We happily guided ourselves to the bus stop in Ravello and the nice bus man drove us to Amalfi in 15 minutes!!!

We gave ourselves a well deserved break and instead of walking up 10,000 steps, we decided to wander aimlessly through the streets of Amalfi (which strangely enough were once again lined with pretty, new and 'uncharted' shops).  We also sat outside a lovely coffee shop trying to spot some famous people.  Melinda and I both read recently that Sonia Kruger (Dancing with the stars) and Todd McKenney had spent some time in Amalfi (as well as some Hollywood celebrities).  Now, if you were not privy to such information then you are not spending enough time at the hairdressers!  My wonderful hairdresser has all the latest magazines and takes long enough during a cut/colour for me to read at least 3 of them.  Either that, or you go to the same doctor as I do, who still has 1997 Women's Weeklies in her magazine stand (poor Lady Diana - that really was a tragic accident)!

Hey, Melinda was reading a Marie Claire magazine last night which said that '50 is the new 25 - not just older and wiser, but hotter and healthier too'.  Does that mean that I am now the perfect age for Donatello???

We had free access to a computer in the hotel in Ravello, so I downloaded some of my photos to free up a memory card.  Unfortunately after viewing many photos, I am beginning to think I might be producing a 6 month calendar!!  Apparently, photographing something from every possible angle only guarantees you end up with 50 useless photos, instead of one!!!

The hotel we stayed in Ravello was run by the Mancini family and the two sons, Antonio & Leonardo were the front desk clerks (and served us breakfast).  They were sssooooo nice!!!  We invited them to be our walking guides, but they said unless we were still walking in November (good possibility the rate we are going) they were too busy to leave the hotel.  Yes, I took their photos (and took their business card with the Hotel email address, in case we go walking in November!)

Sunday, we were back on track!  We ate a huge breakfast (energy food) and headed off to Conca dei Marini.  Sunday's trek was only a short 2.5hrs (5.7km uphill again) and we kept to the timings, arriving at lunch time.  We are scoring the most amazing hotel rooms.  Our balcony in our Conca dei Marini hotel room overlooked the Amalfi Coastline.  I could see the town of Amalfi while lying on my bed!!

We looked over our walking instructions for Monday (Conca dei Marini - Praiano) and they just had way too many steps uphill (with little photographic gain), so again we guided ourselves a few steps to the left of our hotel and caught a bus to Praiano, arriving at 10.30am this morning, instead of 3pm!!  Again, a very rewarding decision as our hotel here in Praiano is a very special 4 stars!!  We were even given complimentary white slippers!!!  We spent some time having lunch on the hotel dining room balcony (over-looking that same gorgeous coastline) after a short stroll around the village.  Melinda even managed a swim in the pool (too cold for me).  I'm sure this is how the Amalfi Coast is to be experienced!!!

Having said that, we are off walking again tomorrow.  There is a tough walk (the instructions say it is the hardest of all the hikes) which follows a pilgrim's path along the stations of the cross to the monastery of San Domenico HIGH above Praiano, on our way to Positano.  Another reason why we had to rest today!!

Anyway, that is all the news from here.  We will have two nights in Positano and then it is off to Rome for 4 nights.  Looking forward to Rome!!!

Hope all is well with everyone.

Love Joy x

Hi from the Amalfi Coast (25th Sept)

Buon Giorno,

We left Venice Wednesday morning, after another 3 very enjoyable days.  The city was full of narrow streets (so narrow we wondered how larger people would get through some of them); amazing stone bridges over the many canals; and architecture that once again fascinated us.  Again it was different to what we have seen so far, and we wandered around in awe.

The first morning we were there we followed a suggested walking tour (from the Lonely Planet Guide - thanks Carms), and it took us down streets which were away from the main tourist thoroughfare.  It was like travelling through a maze and having a little surprise waiting around each corner.  We must have come across at least 5 churches secluded away.  Melinda gave me the task that day to read the map (brave, I know), and because the streets all seemed to end up going the same way (along with the distraction of new and exciting shops), she was none the wiser when I took a few wrong turns.  The only problem was that we wanted to return to a couple of the shops and they were never to be seen again!

However, we did finally make it to the famous San Marco Piazza and met up with about 10,000 other tourists who also heard it was famous!  I gave up trying to take a photo of the Basilica that didn't have 500 heads in front of it.  I even managed to photograph the perfect silhouette of someones nose.  Almost an icon itself it was so impressively large!

We then psyched ourselves up to climb another 400 or so steps up the Bell Tower to find the only way up was by elevator.  We laughed as we had just bought ourselves water in preparation for the climb!!  While the aerial view of the city was impressive, I was getting angrier and angrier at all the tourists using their mobile phones, while standing in the best locations on the viewing platform (stopping me from getting my perfect photo).  It was only after I muscled a few of them aside that I realised they were listening to an audio commentary (on a mobile looking phone device) which identified where the particular icons could be viewed from the platform.  Opps, blonde moment!!!

On Tuesday, we took a boat trip to the Islands of Murano (saw a very impressive glass blowing demonstration); Torcello (more churches); and Burano.  I loved Burano.  The entire island was filled with brightly painted houses.  We had 20mins only and I raced around like a mad woman photographing every thing in sight.  I'm sure the locals I ran past thought I was a complete freak.  Why would someone photograph their underwear hanging from their balcony's? (everyone in Italy hangs their clothes from the balcony).  I've never seen such an assortment of Nanna pants!!  These Italians have no shame, nor do they have any sex, if their undies are any indication!!!

I've decided that when I return to Australia I am going to resign from the QPS and purchase a franchise in Venice.  A Water Closet (Loo) franchise!  The loo in San Marco Piazza was such a money making enterprise you had to slot 1.50 euro into a turnstile to gain access!!  Imagine 10,000 visitors a day at 1.50 euro each!!  Or if you have a bladder like mine, 3 euro per person!!!  I am so in the wrong job.  I could sit in a loo all day and become a millionaire???

Now, I did pay 30 cents to use the loo in Pisa and it was so spectacular, I almost gave them a tip!!!

I must say I was disappointed in the calibre of the gondola men in Venice.  The majority were large middle aged men who had squeezed themselves into tight striped shirts to look the part.  Am thinking they may double as store Santa's at Christmas, and this is just their summer jobs!!!   

At the cost of 100 euro, we decided to opt out of a gondola ride.  We took heaps of photos of them (no surprise there).  At one stage a group of Asian tourists were crammed into one together and as it floated down the canal towards us, it looked like the 'boat people' had arrived in Venice!!!

And for those that keep asking me - no I still haven't found a nice Italian man, but I assure you, you will all know when I do!!!

Shopping wise, Melinda couldn't find any nice leather boots in Venice, but she consoled herself with 11 varied pieces of Murano glass instead.  I managed to secure a few items myself, as any good supportive shopping friend would!!!

After a last minute shopping spree on the final morning, we headed off to Naples (5 hr train trip).  Try walking along Murray St, Manoora alone at 10pm at night and you would have the same unsettling feeling that I had walking (with Melinda) at 5pm along the streets of Naples.  It was dirty and horrible.  There were African Italians selling their wares on the footpaths and you just had to see it to believe it.  They had trolleys full of mobile phones, ipods, mobile phone rechargers, watches, brand handbags - all good quality legal items!!!  I would have taken a photo, but I was gripping my camera case so tightly and I thought best not to annoy the nice black men. 

We spent one night in Naples and that was more than enough.  We walked 3 blocks and then returned to have dinner at the hotel and then left straight after breakfast.  I'm sure there were nice safe streets somewhere in Naples that weren't littered with a weeks worth of rubbish (had to dodge my new wheels around some very dubious waste on the footpath), but we didn't try and find them. 

We are now in Ravello, a small gorgeous town on the Amalfi Coast.  Our hotel room has the most amazing view of the coastline.  We are here for 2 nights, as part of our Intrepid walking tour which starts tomorrow.  Unfortunately it is raining at the moment, so we didn't walk too far this arvy when we arrived.

Anyway, I'm sure I have bored you enough with my travel tales. I hope all is well back home.  

Ciao Ciao,

Love Joyous xxx