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06.01.97 - Arrive in RomeWe arrived into Rome this morning and headed straight out to the HI hostel which was quite a distance from the centre of Rome, right out near the Olympic Stadium. The people who work at the hostel REALLY suck. They're obnoxious and rude and not at all helpful, at least they all speak English.
Me and Brad walked through the Olympic park and along the river near the hostel while we waited for Joe to return with Maria, who would be travelling around Italy with us. There were statues all around the Olympic park, they were made to look like the old Roman statues of nude athletes, but they had stupid additions like skis and tennis racquets that just made them look stupid.
After Joe and Maria returned we wandered around a bit, but me and Brad were too tired to do anything very much. We did, however, manage to get out to the Vatican City, which was very impressive.
We went out for dinner later and ended up at an excellent pizzeria where we had to queue for about 45 minutes before getting in. I had a funky pizza-type thing with egg and bacon enclosing it so it looked kinda like a funky clam or something (I found out later this was called a Calzone). We had a bottle of red wine with the pizza even though Italians normally drink beer with their pizza - oh well.
07.01.98 - Sight-Seeing in RomeWe got up early to hit the sites since most places in Rome seem to shut around 2pm never to open again (remembering that we were in Europe during Winter, the tourist low-season). On top of this, just about everything in Rome shuts for 2-3 hours for an extended lunch period. This extends to the food shops which shut at 1pm on the dot, as a result we regularly found ourselves running around markets at 1pm in a buying frenzy, just so we had something to eat for lunch.
Our main aims were the Colosseum and the Pantheon, though we ended up doing a big tour around the whole city. The Colosseum was too expensive to get into at 10,000L so we ended up only wandering around the outside which was good enough for us. It was surprising to see that the whole building was damaged, not simply by weather damage, but by a history of being used as a kind of quarry for other building projects. Evidently the Colosseum stopped being used at some point and it was seen as an easy source of rock.
The Pantheon was interesting -- and free. We wandered around inside for a bit, but since there is really only one room you can only spend so long looking around. The roof is the point of interest in the Pantheon -- it is a dome construction with no keystone, it must have been quite an engineering feat to construct it, and I have my own theories on how it was done.
One thing we practically stumbled upon was Circus Maximus. The site reveals itself as a large park area with some ruins towering over it. The park area was once a chariot race-track, and the ruins of the stands around it for spectators. What strikes me most about Rome is its obvious old-age. As you walk around the city you find yourself stumbling across ruins and ancient buildings all over the place -- there is a LOT of history in this city, more so than in any other city that we have been to so far.
After all the sightseeing, we headed back to the hostel to regroup and then went back out for dinner. We got a couple of slices of pizza (we never managed to find cheap pasta anywhere in Italy, but pizza was everywhere) which was reasonably cheap and filling. But the real bargain came from desert which consisted of donuts, jam croissants and other sweets that left us all feeling the sugar and adrenalin rush of a good, cheap, sweet feed! We were all quite happy to walk back to the hostel rather than catch the bus because we were feeling so good.
08.01.98 - Vatican MuseumWe woke up early (again) to check out the Vatican Museum. The museum is very extensive, like the Louvre, and leaves you a bit shell-shocked, like the Louvre. The Egyptian relics and the Sistine Chapel were the highlights, as well as the buildings themselves.
The guards in the Sistine Chapel didn't allow anyone to take photos, so I waited until they were all distracted and looking the other way before pointing my camera straight up at the ceiling and taking a photo of the Michaelangelo painting with the hands (making sure the flash was turned off first, of course). I felt very happy with my little effort and, as we were fleeing the scene, Joe said he wished he had caught the whole thing on video. Further photographic exploits were accomplished later when we moved the chain from around this big globe thing in the courtyard to get a decent photo.
We sent postcards from the Vatican City which was kind of cool -- it's meant to be more reliable and efficient than the postal system in Rome itself, which is sort of odd. The novelty was fun in any case. From there we stopped off at an Internet Cafe to check our mail and then bought lunch at a local market before they shut for lunch themselves!
Lunches in Rome were cheap but kind of sucked -- generally consisting of rock-hard bread (apparently you're meant to soak the bread in Olive Oil and salt), fruit and something to put on the bread (not always available). I'm getting pretty sick of eating like this! Can't be too healthy either.
09.01.98 - Tivoli and Adriana's VillaWe travelled out of Rome today to a little town called Tivoli -- we thought it would be nice to see a part of Italy NOT in the capital city. Tivoli was very nice to walk around, with small windy streets that were really fun to get lost in. You have to pay to get into just about everything in Tivoli, however, whether they be nice or not. Quite a few places were shut and, since we weren't going to pay to see a stupid garden, we left.
We headed from Tivoli to Adriana's Villa which was built by the Roman Emperor, Hadrian - this was the major reason for our visiting Tivoli and was well worth the effort. The Villa was huge, with the ruins supposedly requiring 4 hours to walk around, although we did it in 3 because we needed to get back to Rome to catch the train to Florence that night.
10.01.98 - FlorenceWe managed to get to Florence with only just enough time to check into the hostel (we got there just before midnight) and got up the next day to wander around the city.
Florence is a very nice city, but after only one day of wandering we seem to have covered all the major attractions. The hostel we are staying in is right near the river just a couple of blocks from the bridge with all the shops on it (can't remember the name offhand). From there it is only a short trek to all the churches, museums and markets.
We went to the open-air markets and checked it all out - lots of leather-goods for sale! Maria bought a leather satchel which she said cost her less than half what it would have cost in Australia.
We made some pasta for dinner which is so far the only pasta we have had in Italy - it was very good! :-) We tried to find an Irish pub we had seen earlier that was showing a super-bowl playoff game (Tampa-Bay vs. Green-Bay) but we couldn't find it! We wandered around for ages searching for it, but after finding two alternate Irish pubs that weren't the one we wanted, we gave up. Instead, we bought a gelato each which were very expensive and not quite as gelato-ish as I had been expecting, more like ice-cream than gelato in my books.
11.01.98 - Ufizi MuseumToday we walked around the Ufizi Museum which was a big let-down as far as I was concerned - 12,000L worth of entry fees and it only took us 1 hour to see it all. We didn't even see any of the Da Vinci art for which Ufizi is famed since half the floors were closed for maintenance. Only 'The Birth of Venus' stood out as one of the more famous works.
It is Sunday so most things are closed but we did manage to buy some food for dinner (more pasta) and send some email - I even managed to chat on irc for a short time! Now I'm just chillun' back at the hostel, modifying my day-pack so I can hang it off my back-pack and writing my journal.
12.01.98 - Vinci to VeniceVinci is a small town just 70km from Florence which just happens to be the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci (which I guess translates to Leonardo of Vinci). We went there after being so let down by the Ufizi museum and we weren't to be let down twice!
We wanted to see some of Da Vince's work, so we went straight to the Vinci Museum which has a lot of his drawings on display (albeit copies) with models of the machines illustrated on display next to the drawings. An engineers heaven as far as museums go and a nice change from all the religious crap!
Vinci is really nice so we spent a bit of time just wandering around the town and we walked out to visit Leonardo's birthplace which was located in some olive groves not far from town. Vinci was a welcome change after all the big cities of Europe - highly recommended.
That night we headed off for Venice. We arrived there around 8pm and found a hotel before we even got out of the train station. We got picked out by a man in an overcoat and a very official looking hat who turned out to be looking for people to stay in one of the hotels he worked for. The price was right and it was near the station so we took him up on the offer - we're sick of walking for hours trying to find hostels to stay in! We got dinner at the cheapest place we could find (which turned out to be a Chinese restaurant) and headed back to the hostel to sleep the night away.
13.01.98 - First Day in VeniceWe slept in a bit before heading onto the (very cold) streets of Venice. The city isn't nearly as nice as I had been expecting, and the stink of the canals is pretty bad, but it is still a very nice city. You can find some of the most amazing glasswork in Venice - if only it weren't so darn expensive here! I would have liked to have bought a few of the things that were for sale here, although I guess that what didn't break in my backpack would probably have looked tacky out of the Venice environment once I got it home.
San Marco square is no-where near as impressive as I had hoped - esp. since there were renovations everwhere - but the pigeons are insane (as they are all over Venice) always seeming to only just miss you as they fly around chasing every crumb. It's not like they're thin or anything either!
We hope to get some cheap pizza for dinner tonight ourselves.
14.01.98 - MurranoWe had read from TLP that the best glasswork was all found on Murrano Island in Venice. We caught a ferry out there through the canals and landed on the island in search of the promised glassworks.
While it was cool to see some of the glassmakers in action it really wasn't all that exciting a place to visit. There were lots of shops on the island, however, which were very impressive with an extremely wide variety of touristy crap to be bought. I resisted the temptation to buy some pieces as presents because I knew once they were out of the store all the pieces would look extremely tacky. I also wanted to get some of the masks you can buy in Venice but didn't for the same reasons.
We had to change hotels that night because we had already checked out, thinking we would be catching the train out that night. Me and Brad almost killed ourselves when we met some cute girls who were also checking out who asked us in the worlds sexiest accent (Brazilian) what we were doing that night and we couldn't reply because we didn't know.. Initially we looked for a hotel ourselves but couldn't find one in our price-range so, remembering how we found our hotel the first night we arrived, we headed back to the train station.
We ended up speaking to one guy who asked us what range we were looking for, and asked us if we were students (a sure sign of having no money) who then suggested one place to us. The price was right for us so we said 'ok' and were led to the hotel which turned out to be the same hotel we had just asked at, but we got a room we were told would only rented out at 28,000L each the first time, for 25,000L each!! :-) Nice room too.. We got some of the same super-cheap, super-nice pizza we had the night before and played cards 'till we fell asleep.
15.01.98 - Travelling to TrentinoToday we travelled from Venice to a town in the Dolomites near Trento (capital of the Trentino Region of Italy) called Laverone where we are staying on a camping site in a small cabin. We ended up here when we found out how expensive it was to stay in Trento where we had planned. This region seems very Austrian, despite being in Italy still, and many people speak German. The cabin is very cheap at 75,000L for all of us and it has its own fridge and stove and stuff!!
We had a nice hot dinner and drinks before heading off to bed in preparation of some serious walking around in the morning (I can't believe how cheap it is here considering we're in the middle of the Italian Ski fields!
16.01.98 - LaveroneMe and Brad gave our respective sleeping bags their first acid test last night by sleeping with the windows open -- we still ended up hot if we zipped the bags up. We woke up late-ish and ate a nice breakfast, Joe thought he had water in his ear all night so he didn't sleep too well -- it ended up being a little spider! Me and Brad laughed quite hard but Joe wasn't too impressed.
Before lunch we all walked around Laverone in the hills for a while, which was really nice - even with the thick mist that restricted our field of vision to around 75m. We even did a bit of trekking through some snow!
After lunch we climbed up one of the hills near the lake in Laverone. It was way steep and Maria spent most of the climb up and down on her ass, but she laughed the whole way which was ok. :-) Joe and Brad climbed up a rock-face where people learn to climb, except they did it without any climbing equipment and then had to figure out how to get down again without killing themselves.
We played with the frozen lake for a while, which was a bit of a novelty since we don't tend to get frozen lakes in Australia. Joe managed to put his foot through the surface of the ice and we all laughed at him... as you do. It was practically impossible to break the ice in the middle with stones, even very large ones, but it made a cool sound when the stone hit -- it was like the vibrations set the whole lake up as a giant speaker or something.
We're leaving tomorrow morning, hope all our cloths dry by then because we literally washed ALL of them since we had NO clean clothes. We've turned our cabin into a giant drying-room, turning all the heaters on and hanging our clothes from whatever was available. Because all our clothes were wet, and because it was so damn hot in the cabin, we all sat around with shorts on -- running outside into the snow every now and then to cool off.