A Travellerspoint blog

Italy Just Keeps on Giving... ...us the finger.

POMPEII TO BARI

sunny 38 °C

We arrived in Bari fairly late and to a monstrous amount of traffic for some reason on a Sunday evening, I don’t know whether it was a public holiday or whether there were sales on but every single shopping centre/area we went past or had to go through was absolutely packed with people. We’d had enough of trying to find a park at Maccas to use free wifi and found the only campsite in the area, to the north of town. It was situated pretty much right on a bay with loads of people having a swim in the water so that was a nice bonus. The internet didn’t work for us until the next morning so we were able to download the next TomTom map we needed for Eastern Europe. Which, by the way, does not include Montenegro or Albania, only connecting roads, so we decided after spending so much time stressing out in Italy, we were just going to go with the flow and do it the old fashioned way when we got there – street signs and a fold out map ☺

We hopped on a bus into Bari and made for the port to see if we could find a booking agent for all of the ferry companies, ideally to see whether we could hop on a ferry to Bar at lower than online prices, and to see whether ferries to other destinations were going to end up cheaper. If we’d headed to Durres in Albania we would have saved a bit of coin, also if we’d headed to Greece, but we decided to stick with going to Bar in Montenegro so that we didn’t leave ourselves regretting – when are we going to get the chance to do this again? After waiting around till 3:30pm for the agency to reopen after lunch, we were all sorted.

So, with ourselves and the van booked on the 10pm ferry that night and a 9 hour journey across the Adriatic Sea ahead of us, we figured we still had enough time to make the 15km journey back to the campsite, have a swim, shower, make some dinner to avoid paying ferry prices, then get to the port with plenty of time to spare incase anything arises.

Of course, Italy had plans to send us out with one final “screw you, hippy”.

The bus stop we needed was right across the road from the agency – nice and easy. The timetable said we had 10min before the next bus to our destination was due (the final destination was the only one on the board with our town on it) so we waited patiently. After almost an hour and seeing buses going the other way and none coming ours, we figured it was just normal Italian public transport. Some local taxi drivers hanging around asked if we wanted a lift for EUR20, and we politely declined, preferring to spend only the EUR1 for the bus. A further 20min and one of the guys who had been chatting to the taxi drivers in Italian, piped up in an American accent and said we’d be better off getting the train (Edit – You can always rely on an American to pipe up and offer an opinion he wasn’t asked for... Haha, just kidding Ryan, you know we love Team America ;) plus the guy was really nice to help us out, I just can't resist having a dig– Paul), they went every 10min and it wasn’t too far to walk. Time was getting on, we didn’t have enough time for a swim anymore but maybe for dinner… we ended up walking around in a big semi circle following the limited signs to the train station for half an hour, and when we couldn’t find it we ended up stopping a few times to ask for directions. When we got to the station we found the next train was leaving in 5min, but it didn’t say which platform. By the time we’d asked a train driver and a few other people who appeared to be staff (and getting different answers), our train had left and we had to wait 40min for the next one. It then took us 15min to walk from the station to the campsite.

Finally, finally, finally after over 3 hours to cover 15km (yes, we could have just walked, but that wouldn’t have been as much fun) we got back to the van and had just enough time to shower before we had to dash out to the port, which was packed with cars and families waiting to head off to a wide variety of destinations. We followed the signs to embark to Montenegro and were first stopped by some guys checking our tickets, they said it was fine and to keep going – score! No having to wait in line with everyone back there. We got to the next checkpoint, and were asked for our security cards. We had no idea what these were, and they told us we had to go back. Pretty annoyed, we went back to see the first guys who pointed to some parking spots and said we had to park and get the security cards from the Montenegro Lines booth over there in the corner, as we went to park another guard told us we can’t park in the spot we were told to go and he pointed back over at were we where…. I would guess you are starting to see the picture here? As expected after the day we had already had, Paul started to lose his cool, gesturing as best he could to the Italian guards to ‘make up your friggin mind!’ Finally we found where we needed to park and thankfully there was only a few people in the check-in line… we got all sorted there and went to go back through the second checkpoint, only now the line up of cars to get through was massive. The only saving grace from all of this was we got to skip most of the queuing further down, either because no one else was going to Montenegro, or because it was getting late and we were rushed through. Probably the first one, because when we got on our boat (had to back in with the help of some friendly staff) it was pretty empty.

Feeling relaxed and happy, we ordered a couple of Nikšićko (a really nice Montenegrin beer) from the bar and settled in for a night sleeping on the floor of a dodgy old Eastern European ferry ☺

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Posted by Mr n Mrs Awsme 02:56 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Little Village.... Big Volcano

ROME TO POMPEII

sunny 38 °C

We headed south towards Naples and Pompeii. Our primary goals were to have real woodfired Napolitan pizza, and to take ourselves a couple thousand years or so back in time under the glare of Mount Vesuvius.

The drive along the coast was really nice, the waters so blue, clear and inviting for the most part (the crowds on the beaches a bit less enticing), then we found ourselves about 20km from Naples and the driving just got crazier than it had been up north. Lanes, speedlimits, signs, the law, clearly not issues in the south of Italy… and the amount of rubbish along the streets and the highways was a tad disgusting, but along with the driving, the small streets in the townships and the humid weather we felt like we could have been in Asia. (Edit – I have driven in Asia and it isn’t as scary as the soulth of Italy. In Asia there are few rules, and even fewer that are actually obeyed, but at least there you are only travelling 50-70km/h… Italian motorways have a limit of 130km/h!!! Adding to that, though in person, Italians have been extremely friendly, they are the most hostile drivers I have ever encountered! – Paul)

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This doesn't really do the driving justice.... Single lane exit in Italy. Note the speed limit is 50km/h - they were doing around 90km/h, honking at me for doing 70km/h. Fun.
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After a small and expensive grocery shop (even down south the cost of things in general was a bit painful) we arrived at Camping Spartacus in the heart of Pompeii, and 50m from one of the entrances to the ruins of the ancient town. The campsite itself was small but fine, the above ground pool was a bit small for the amount of people staying there and 2 of the 3 washing machines were broken… but the pizzeria more than made up for anything the campsite may have been lacking, the pizzas were big, authentic, reasonably priced and fantastic! The staff at the bar even let us bring in our own bottle of wine to keep costs down a bit.

The next day we spent a few hours strolling around the ruins of Pompeii under a scorcher of a day. After the erruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, a lot of it was destroyed but so much of it was preserved and kept so well intact that as you’re walking down past through what was originally homes and shops, you really do feel like you’re walking down 1st Century Main Street. There are panels of glass and perspex up on the walls to preserve the original tiling, artwork and graffiti behind it, you can see where shopkeepers sold food and drink from their kitchen benches facing out onto the street. The baths are beautiful and still laregly in tact as well, and there is a fairly large caged area in which preserved pots, other bits of furniture and plaster casts of bodies are kept safe. Finally, as you inspect the Temple of Jupiter with Mount Vesuvius looming behind, the power and destruction caused to this town and others around all those years ago sinks in and you decide to leave… because it is after all still an active volcano…

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After another night at Spartacus, we headed west to the other side of the ccountry to the port city of Bari to finish off the Italian leg of our trip. As we’d unfortunately had such an underwhelming experience there, we were ready to welcome a change and plunge ourselves into the unknown with low expectations... Montenegro and Albania were next on our list ☺

Posted by Mr n Mrs Awsme 02:39 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

When in Rome, do as the Tourists Do!

PISA TO ROME

sunny 38 °C

After our little visit to Pisa, continued to head further south through the gorgeous region of Tuscany. The scenery was just as incredible as I’d heard – big rolling hills, plenty of grass and trees but still with a burnt texture to the land (I know where the colour Burnt Siena comes from), pretty farmhouses with their own vineyards and charming little villages dotted along the riversides and in the valleys. No photos to do it justice I’m afraid – there wasn’t really anywhere we were able to pull over to take epic scenery shots ☹

In need of a campsite with plenty of shade and internet (to undertake Rome research, but also more importantly to watch the State of Origin decider), we found what has to be our favourite campsite so far – Le Soline, about 15km outside of Siena. Here, we had some cool breezes, a good pizzeria and bar, plenty of shade and a decent sized pool for swimming laps which was open until midnight – so happy! Completely content, we settled in for a relaxing evening by the pool and (finally!!!) indulged in some pizza for dinner ☺

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Unfortunately, the websites showing the match the next morning were overloaded and we were unable to get on to watch the game live. I was even so desperate as to check the TV in the bar, alas Italian TV does not air Aussie sports. So we decided we’d watch the replay later, and headed south for Rome.

Rome doesn’t have much in the way of campsites – our book had several camper stops to choose from so we had to make a decision somehow based on the fact that only 1 of them advertised wifi and was near public transport. The place was a very basic but secure parking lot, but we couldn’t find any info on the buses whatsoever so we rode the 2km to the closest train station (overgrown, empty, no staff or ticket machines, a very tumbleweed feel to the place).

Our first real taste of Rome was when we hopped off at the central station in town, Termini, and people started lighting up their ciggies as they were barely out the door. They can still do that there. The station itself feels more like an airport (I guess training around the country is cheaper than flying) and was crazy crowded. We made it to the underground Metro and alighted at Colosseo, and were greeted by the oh-so impressive sight of the Colosseum, which absolutely was surrounded by hordes of chubby lemmings wearing bright souvenir t-shirts, with SLR cameras dangling from their sun burnt necks and their heads buried in guidebooks…..yes, we had entered tourism ‘Mecca’. Also greeting us was the sight of the hour long queue standing in the scorching sun to get in ☹ The look of despair and anguish on our faces must have been clear as day, and we had an English lady touting guided tours with fast entry to the Colosseum, Palatino and Roman Forum pull us in. At an inflated price of course, but the chance to learn from an experienced guide and to avoid standing in a seemingly never-ending line was too good to pass up. It turned out to be a great move as the Roman Forum would have just been a pile of rocks, and the Colosseum a burnt out stadium if it weren’t for the colourful dialogue of our guides.

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Our guide for the Colosseum was a lovely older Italian lady who showed us all around and took us into shaded quiet areas for our history lessons (the main lesson being that all the marble the Colosseum and surrounding areas used to be covered in was transported over to to use in the Vatican). And for our tour of the Palatino and the Forum we had a very entertaining English/American who re-iterated our other guides point about the marble being moved St Peters in the Vatican, which as it turned out was the next site we checked out in the city. From the outside, St Peters doesn't look as much like a place of worship as it does a town hall (funnily enough, one of our guides pointed out that in ancient times a 'basilica' was exactly like a town hall) We made sure we both adhered to the dress code for entry into St Peters (shoulders covered, longish pants), and we had our breath taken away. It’s truly where all the marble in Rome has gone.

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(Edit – I was as impressed as anyone would be, and I understand the intention of building something out of the best and most expensive materials to honour God, but was I left wondering how many improvised families the church would be able to help if it dedicated all of its vast fortunes towards helping the less fortunate. Maybe I am way off, and they do as much as can be done, but if I were one of the many beggars on the street outside the Vatican I would consider its grand, overindulgence as a slap in the face – Paul)

After that, we’d had our fill of packed out streets and other tourists and headed back to Termini, only to find masses and masses of people standing around and a bunch of delays coming in over the board and the PA system. After waiting 45min to find out which platform our train was going to be on, we were spotted by a nice little old Italian man who had been waiting for his wife to arrive for over an hour and a half past when she was due, and sensing our confusion with what was happening, he asked us where we were heading before taking the time to help us find which train we needed to be on and explained that the delays were because of a cracked rail due to the heat! Finally we got on the most crowded and crushing train we’ve been on to date, and that counts sporting events, NYE, other delays etc. Fully prepared to ride in China and India now! The train also stood around with the doors opening and closing for a further 20min whilst everyone inside was trying to breathe, somehow allowing more people on to a train that was full long ago and of course the air con didn’t feel like it was working so much anymore. Thankfully, we were the first stop, and after that ride we were more than glad to get off the steaming carriage and head away from Rome to some mellower, less overcrowded Italian essentials.

Posted by Mr n Mrs Awsme 14:58 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Leaning into Italy

FLORENCE TO PISA

sunny 35 °C

After spending the night near Florence and another painful 40 degree day on the way, we decided we weren’t up to any sightseeing in the city and unfortunately didn’t have the funds to match either, thanks to our thieving friend in Venice. Plus, we’ve been to the Louvre in Paris before and endured the crowds around the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo and figured trying to see Michelangelo’s David was going to be much the same… too hot and bothered to deal with it at the moment, thanks Italy! Instead, we continued on to Pisa and spent that night in a camperstop not too far outside the town walls.

They can try and convince everyone otherwise, but Pisa is all about the tower. It really is a sight to see though, the main thought going through my head was “wow, it really does lean” – no pictures or books had quite prepared me for it! The amount of people allowed up the tower is limited to 40 and entry times are staggered, even though the tower was stabilised in 1998 (good to see they’re at least trying to be careful somewhere). Along with the tower, the Cathedral and the Baptistry are located in the Campo dei Miracoli (or Field of Miracles) – a fancy name for a square or plaza that, although very nice and spacious, probably houses the most hawkers per sqaure meter anywhere in the world. Plenty of souviner and food stalls around, added to my ever growing fridge magnet collection (a helpful hint, the further away from the tower and the square you go for tacky goods, the cheaper it is and you can try to haggle with them a bit). Always packed with tourists, but definitely worth a stop in just to see the tower itself in all its lop-sided glory.

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Kate even managed to fix it up a little while we were there....

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Posted by Mr n Mrs Awsme 14:36 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

The Old Boot...

TREFFORT TO VENICE

sunny 39 °C

Ok, so now we’re in Italy.

We’ve tried on the Boot, and too much disappointment, we are finding the boot does not fit. We might be able to get it to stretch, but it keeps pinching our toes and giving us blisters.

I better explain… we both studied some Italian at our respective schools (Paul grew up in Leichardt which is known as Little Italy in Sydney, and I had elected it for my HSC). The language is really cool to listen to and shares similarities with Spanish. Pizza has always been and will always be my favourite food, and we’ve been eating tinned spaghetti, ravioli and cannelloni for so long we’d like to try it fresh and in country of origin. We were so incredibly excited about spending some time here, but so far we have been left a little jaded by some of the experience.

First, we’ve almost been killed a bunch of times by the drivers. I had been told that Italy had some crazy drivers, but this is another level altogether! It seems as though speed limits and whites lines marking lanes etc. are regarded as more ‘guides’ rather than rules….

Next up was our first city, Venice. How could one of the most famous cities in the world have left us with a less than positive experience? Yeah, well… very unfortunately, our first impression of the area was possibly one of the worst you could hope for…. The afternoon we arrived, the temp was in the high 30’s with humidity that would even make an Indonesian fella say “damn its humid!”, and it didn’t cool down much, if any, as night fell. As hot as it was we left the van windows open with the fly screens closed so we could get some sort of relief from the heat, and at about 3 in the morning Paul was woken by what he thought was the car keys falling off the bench in the front, he put it down to the van rocking around as he moved around in his sleep and thought nothing more of it until he got up a couple of minutes later to use the bathroom. As he went to open the van door he noticed a small tear in the fly screen of the window, about the length of a hand…. As you would have guessed, the penny dropped, and he realised that someone had in fact broken into the van! He also realised that although every single night, without fail, he had hidden his wallet in the food cupboard, this night he had stupidly left it sitting on the stove – within arms reach of the window, and some thieving scum had snatched it! Thankfully the thieves had the manners to just pocket the 40 Euro cash and drop the wallet by the van before taking off, so the pain-in-the-ass of canceling his cards and replacing them, along with his driver license was avoided.

Anyone who has ever had something stolen from them would know it leaves a very bitter taste in your mouth, and its even worse when it has been taken for your home. Thanks to some prick, we both struggled to find the enthusiasm to enjoy our trip into Venice as much as we wanted to.

As you would imagine, Venice itself is a very unique and beautiful city, dripping in culture and definitely worth seeing for yourself, though the touristy element does take some of the shine off the city, leaving what would be a brilliant, cultural delight, as more of a sickly tourist trap in a lot of places, and thanks to the previous nights events we found it very hard to see past the throngs of tour groups cramming the brilliant, but tiny streets, so we didn’t have it in us to search out the hidden gems away from the hoards like we would normally, but I have no doubt that there are some amazing secrets in the little city on water.

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We left Venice and headed south for Pisa, with the bitter taste still in our mouths, and the sun still beating us into submission (approx. 40 degrees as we drove south, with no air con anywhere to be found), safe to say we were finding Italy to be less than enjoyable at this stage and we felt like we were losing our sense of ‘happy’, so when we found a camp site that was showing the final for the Euro 2012, Italy v Spain, we decided to stay and vent some frustration by cheering on Spain to a 4 – 0 victory amongst a very sad Italian crowd – viva España!!!

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We had found our ‘happy’ again ☺

Posted by Mr n Mrs Awsme 03:14 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

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