??Journey or destination??

Exploring life experiences at home and beyond – Destination Happiness


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Firenze – Florence

20140629-224113.jpgWe headed off from Sorrento at around lunch time , back to Napoli for a train to Rome. We were to stay just overnight until our train to Florence the next morning. The hotel I picked here lived up to the not so fantastic reviews but it was clean and right on the station which was important.
An extra night in Rome gave us the chance to see the Colosseum by night. We arrived there after an early dinner ( anything before 8 pm seems early by local standards we find) at around 9pm to watch the twilight sky change hues as it approached darkness. The orange glow lights that illuminate this ancient relic add to the awe. Of course the regular hawkers of scarves, plastic toys that stretch , laser lights and wooden and bead jewellery meandered through the crowds.

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Our morning train to Florence was uneventful. Being in first class we made full use of the free newspapers ( learning to read italian is easier than speaking it I find) , coffee, juice and biscuits. The fast trains are really easy to use , travel smooth , are clean and you get to see the scenery as you travel. I’m now glad I chose this option instead of domestic flights.
On arrival we taxied it to our next hotel, although not far from the train station ( a bit over a km) we were dragging bags. We stayed at a beautiful apartment that looked bigger and better than the online photos ( and experience tells me this is rarely the case).

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After dropping our bags and marveling at our home for the next few days we set off to explore Firenze. I don’t understand why we call this place Florence rather than its real name.
We did a ‘Jersey Shore Walking Tour ‘ that we made up ourselves based on places my daughter knew they had been. We saw the hotel they stayed at while filming and 2 restaurants they frequented. We booked one for the next night as if would be Ally’s birthday.

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We had dinner at Cafe Duomo a restaurant they frequented that night. Luckily the football was finished just as we arrived so we got a table easily.


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Destination Amalfi

Frances: Do traffic lights mean anything around here?
Marcello: Yeah, sure. Green Light – avanti! avanti!, yellow light – decoration.
Frances: And what about red light?
Marcello: Just a suggestion.
Quote : Under the Tuscan Sun

I think this quote sums up all of Italy but thought it appropriate to use on my Destination Amalfi post .

The sun was already blazing down on us as we were picked up for our Amalfi Cost day trip. I had chosen to use a company called Amalfi Coast Destination. I’d googled lots of reviews on many sites and in the blogging community and if what they had to say was true ( and there were too many to be made up I thought) we were in for a great day. Let me tell you now that was just as it turned out to be…and those that know me are aware I have a bad personality trait of over planning and expect everyone to live up to my preconceived plans. I’m not good on ‘winging it’. Our driver, Roberto, gave a continual historical guide as we drove. He must get a sore throat after each day’s drive. But, he was informative and charming and importantly knowledgable. I’m guessing he was ‘knowledgable’ as he told us some things I’d already learnt from googling prior to my holiday so I’m assuming the other things were right based on this. 🙂 We headed off in air conditioned comfort of a Mercedes 8 seater van, leaving Sorrento behind as we began the winding road towards Amalfi.

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Our first formal stop was Positano. I say formal because Roberto had stopped for photo opportunities and to share information. It was here in Positano that some scenes in ‘Under the Tuscan sun’ were shot hence the early quotes relevance 🙂 it had an old world charm about the town with walkways draped in flowered vines , cobblestone pathways and what TOUR DE STEPS italian trip would be complete without a steep walkway haha. The family headed down to the beach for a swim but I preferred ambling through the small stores each filled with a variety of tourist trap memorabilia or expensive clothing and accessories ( perfect for the ambience of this town) . When we arrived we were suggested to keep our visit to one hour so we could see the maximum in our day. Our hour raced too quickly and before we knew it we were back in the van , sipping cool water brought along by Roberto heading further up the coastline.

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We passed through Praiano and stopped at the Emerald Grotto. Having missed the Blue Grotto at Capri I was eager to see inside this one. I had read while researching my trip that some suggest this is even more beautiful than the Blue a Grotto but I can’t make a comparison. We rode an elevator down to the water. From here we joined a short queue to enter the grotto. We rode in small boats holding about 20 people around the grotto observing the stalagmites and stalactites. The water was illuminated from natural light below apparently and looked beautiful in the still water and when the oarsman splashed purposely across the top of the water it danced magically as if fairies draped in iridescent emerald gowns were performing for an audience. I’m so glad  we visited this.

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We drove through Amalfi ( which we visited later) before arriving at Ravello. Ravello is perched high up in the hill and was reached by a narrow windy road passing through lemon and olive groves that featured on terraced mountains. Must be interesting harvesting the crops and bringing them to the top of the mountains. Although we knew lunch was to be in an hour or so we still squeezed in a gelato using the excuse ( like we need one haha) that it was a hot day and the gelato would help rehydrate us . The little alley ways led along paths of stores with lots of ceramics and of course limoncello ( at this point I think we are getting dangerously close to our duty free component of alcohol as Brian has developed an obsession for buying it everywhere in bottles of varied shapes and sizes 🙂

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Our next stop was Amalfi. It is surrounded by dramatic cliffs with hotels and businesses carved into the cliff face. We wandered into the town centre and saw the Duomo di Sant Andrea Apostolo. At the top of the stairs was a newly married bride and her groom. We then perused the shops and headed to the waterfront. We overlooked the beach with it’s brightly coloured deck chairs and umbrellas and looked back again the cliff faces and the windy road still visible from our spot.

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With rumbling tummies we headed back to the van to head for lunch. I will dedicate a post of its own to this deserving story 🙂
Surviving lunch we were back on the road on our way back to Sorrento. This time we travelled the inland road displaying a different type of beauty of green mountains and towns of Tuscan styled homes ( of course ) . Back at Sorrento it was time to rest before dinner.
If you are ever looking to day trip The Amalfi coast this is definitely the way to go. I remembered when we started Roberto the tour’s motto is “Come as guests, leave as friends” and he certainly excelled in achieving this . This post is my own thoughts only, I paid for my tour and received nothing to write this. It is not an advertisement just a reflection of a wonderful day.


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Capri – an adventure for our eyes.

We taxied down to the Marina in a limousine the hotel uses as a taxi. We caught the hydrofoil jet boat over to the island taking about 30 minutes to travel to there. It was a interesting trip as it was our first time to view the coastline from the water. I was in awe of the way the houses and businesses are built into the rock structure of the sea cliffs.

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On arrival at the island we took a tour with a company Motoscafisti . Pew opted to do the full 2 hour trip around the island. We had a short wait for the boat and on boarding a loud woman was yelling at her husband ( quite comically) as she had pushed to the front of the queue and wanted him to join her. The seats were long , running along the two sides of the boat and as weeding to sit down she used hand gestures to tell us that the spot was for her husband . We’d ended up getting what turned out to be the best seat at the front of the bow. At one stage as we entered the green grotto she tried to sit up in our area but I waved her away this time haha…a look of displeasure filled her face.

The rocky cliffs towered above as our boat was at times tossed heavily by the waves. We saw houses owned by the rich and famous and water that was a turquoise colour ( not dissimilar to that of the Great Barrier Reef where the sand/ rock / coral is of similar colours too ).
We arrived at the Blue Grotto and I had to make a hard bucket list choice. The queue for a trip into the grotto had approximately a 90 minute wait for a ride into the grotto. The company we used had boats waiting to transfer us to should we wish to wait. At the time the sea was getting rougher and there was a chance the rides would be stopped for a short while. I weighed up the wait time, what we had seen and still wanted to see and decided with a little regret to pass on the blue grotto.

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We arrived back on land and headed for the funicular ride up the mountain. Capri felt like a theme park with all it’s adventure rides. We walked through the turnstiles with Ally and me going first. The ticket numbers showed there were still 8 spots on the funicular for that. Departure but with Brian and Tim behind us and several gates operational , the glass doors closed on them licking them out of the next trip ( the one Ally and I had made). Brian looked sad so the man let him and Tim through but we ended up waiting for the next trip to get the best view position on the funicular.

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We had lunch at the top at Ana Capri then headed back down for a swim in the pebble beach. The water was warm but the pebbles proved hard for Brian and we laughed ( in a nice way of course lol) as he stumbled out of the water – he wasn’t the only awkward beach user though. It was funny too watching kids stack buckets with pebbles and fill bottles with pebbles.

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Our next adventure was a taxi ride along the winding roads as they climb to the top of Ana Capri. The views down and along the way were amazing. It was at this point drinking in the unforgettable views, my regret of not visiting the blue grotto was lost.

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Eventually we had to board the ferry for the trip back to Sorrento. We were not only filled with amazing memories but also coated in the sun ‘s rays so our skin was a nice hue of red.


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Picking up pebbles and tossing them into the sea.

Use what you have – great motto. While sitting on the pebbly beach at Capri I saw a child fill a bucket with pebbles to make a ‘stone castle’. I saw another fill a bottle to shake. Another group were tossing the littler pebbles at each other. Not sure that was a safe game haha.

Pros of a pebbly beach

You can sit on the waters edge and when you get up there’s not a single grain pebble in your swimming costume.
You don’t have to rinse pebbles off your feet when you leave the beach.
You don’t take home pebbles in everything.
There’s no pebbles in the car when you travel home.
You can fold your towel up without having to work out which way the wind is blowing.

Cons of a pebbly beach
You walk off the beach with an interesting mottle looking rash on your legs/ back/ tummy/ however you pressed onto those pebbles.
Pebbles are slippery in the water. This can also go I to the PROS section as it makes for very comical people watching ax they stumble, plan and attempt to manoeuvre themselves into and out of the water 🙂
When people walk past they don’t just dislodge a trickle of grains onto your towel rather a mini avalanche of pebbles.

 

 

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Vatican City State

Braving a cab we took the easy route to the Vatican City State. I never realised how controlled we are …or how much we receive enforced rules of safety until I hit Italy. I love that the traffic works on the. ‘I was here first ‘ rule though I do still gasp a little as if on an amusement ride with each twist , turn and hair width between one car ( bike , huge truck lol) and the next. We are now accustomed to taking a big breath and heading across a road ( on a ‘crossing’ as such , for which cars don’t really stop ) and even just where we want to cross, though I think our faces still hold the fear grimace . This is all part of the fun of experiencing places other than home.
My hint to visit the Vatican Museum is to buy an online ticket. The day was hot the line was about 3 people across and extended probably close to half  a kilometre, halfway to St Peter’s square ( and that was about 9:30 am !) However, we just entered , took probably 5 minutes to convert our online tickets to entry tickets , passed through security, then begin our day. We didn’t opt for a guided tour because a Brian tends to be photo taking crazy. I did hear  lots of guides talking though.
Rules of the entry to the museum state :-
Required clothing

Access to Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, Vatican Gardens and Saint Peter’s Basilica is permitted only to visitors dressed appropriately (no sleeveless blouses, no miniskirts, no shorts, no hats allowed).

My experience tells me with the exception of the hat rule in the Basilica I think unless you were wearing a bikini you’d have no problems – hey even a bikini might be allowed just didn’t see anyone try it. Out of respect we wore appropriate clothing and Ally commented she saw other girls also wearing the embarrassed face associated with badly put together outfits to meet the requirement-as she was wearing ( lol) . However, I saw halter tops, shoe string straps, short shirts. Ironically in the basilica itself we saw a mum with short shorts and tank top on and her little boy of about 5 had a cap on ( he had the rest of the outfit right) . The guard walked to them ….and asked the mother to remove the boy’s hat **shrugging my shoulders** 🙂

Vatican museum photos
The courtyard

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Window views over Rome

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Crowded – shoulder to shoulder 🙂

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Spiral staircase exit and dome above

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We spent about 3 hours in the Vatican Museum. You walk through to the Sistine Chapel meandering through many rooms and floors. It was maze like and I’m not sure I’d be able to have worked my way out had it been plunged into darkness. We saw many statues and heard a guide tell her group were you to admire each for one minute you would need approx 8 months to see through the museum. Brian enjoyed testing this out 🙂

We decided to ditch Brian after the first hour and made our way at our own speed, dodging the large tour groups that stop mid walk, using the traffic technique we had learnt from the Rome roads . This proved very efficient. The Sistene Chapel can’t be told in words. It’s one of those things you just look in awe at, imagining the walls being brought to life as the paint was brushed on. Unfortunately the silence of the moment was broken by a loud recorded message telling visitors to be silent ( irony much). We then enjoyed a deserved cold drink in the cafe awaiting Brian.

After viewing the carriage display it was a long hot walk to St Peter’s square where we stood in the sun for about 20 minutes to enter. The security was like an airport screener and despite a buzzer or two we were still permitted entry . We wandered up yet another staircase ( argghhh) and entered amongst a sea of light flashes as camera after camera recorded the visions in front of us. Again we opted to ditch Brian choosing rather than to view through a camera lens to  just the view from our eyes to enjoy this marvel. Luckily  though Brian did take millions of photos so we can look back on them haha. Words cannot do justice to the Basilica. It is an awe-inspiring work and I am really pleased I have had the chance to see it for myself. A part of me views it as so full of richness though while beggars are homeless and without food on the surrounding streets. But, I must read more on the history and the sharing or custodial holding of this wealth, before I pass any kind of judgement .
  The Square

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View from the Basilica entrance

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Changing of the guards

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Looking back at the Basilica and Square

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We ate a hearty dinner after all the walking and not having stopped for lunch .

 


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Let the European vacation begin!!

Sunday was a day for last minute organising and checking the bag packing. Things at this stage went amazingly smooth which made me a little nervous because that’s not usually my case 🙂 I knew the pets were in safe hands and we gave a great house sitter . We were all ready 40 minutes before our airport pick up which again isn’t our usual style. With excitement I saw the minibus driving down the hill to our house. We moved into the forbidden room with bags in tow , saw the minibus turn in our cul-de-sac , collected our bags, went out onto the porch…but the bus was gone! Disappeared! Vanished! Then we saw the driver was leaving neighbours house so I made Brian run up the oath to call out to him ( it was drizzling so I didn’t want to get wet doing it haha). Seems he had misread our address. All good we piled into the minibus and had an amazingly quick trip to the airport. I say amazingly quick because I had been a bit concerned our pick up time might be a bit late for the long trip to the airport. Living in a seaside town that’s a day trip distance from Sydney can mean Sunday nights on the freeway south to a Sydney can be full of traffic and extremely slow in parts. I guess the rain was in our favour.
We arrived at check in just before the desk opened but joined the short line anyway to wait . My next concern was my new passport. Seems these days the old hyphen us no longer allowed. Consequently my plane tickets were in a different and I had this ‘fear’ I’d be waving the family off and going home to enjoy the company of the animals 🙂 not the case, all our check in was easy. The kidults seemed to think neither the Etihad attendant nor the customs officer cared to have to hear my full itinerary and the fact my last OS trip was 26 years ago. But I could tell they enjoyed my friendly repertoire. I was chosen for the full body scan and I was so excited – small things amuse me 🙂

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Sardines in a can

 

We ate, walked around and finally it was our turn to board the sardine can plane. We watched the take off on our video screens which were of a decent size. Then into the pitch black of night we head on our chase of the sun. Each hour brought us close to our first stop of Abu Dhabi. Ok that worked was good for the first few hours then it was ….arghhh why do the hours go so slow.
The food was good and plentiful ( well plentiful for of us awake unlike Brian who missed out on the best the two best things) . I’ll write about the food in another post.
Seatbelt lights went off , I started watching a show , the food trolleys started to rattle and the aroma was good….then the show froze, a note on the screen said ‘ cabin announcement’ and through my headphones I heard “Attention passengers . If there is a doctor on board please make yourself known to the attendants”. It’s the stuff I have only ever heard of in movies! I as going to put my hand up as the next best thing to a dr but one with formal papers made himself known. What appalled me was the number of people that left their seats just to see what had happened! It was as if it were a show. Saw oxygen carried out past our row then the food service started back to our section. We ate through someone’s emergency. Later while Ally and I were up at the back of the plane on one of our too numerous to count walks as in ‘Days of our Lives’ style the events notes were on the counter. Turned out the poor passenger had suffered a panic attack and had fainted when they had got up and then cut their forehead as they fell. The funniest bit was they listed the attending medical officer as Passenger XXXX( have removed the name for privacy) and the home address was just a few streets from ours!!!

It was interesting chatting to the other passengers and attendants listening to their stories ( some big ones haha) their travels, their lives as we (Ally and I) spent hours moving around the plane rather than sitting in our seats.

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Finally we saw sunrise out of the plane window. We had finally caught that sun!!!! Our plane landed smoothly and with ease we made our way to terminal 1 for our flight to Rome on Alitalia. This flight we had separated seats. Brian and I had a window and aisle and the kidults were on a middle 4 set of seats. I gave them the window/ aisle seat instead ( always the mum) and we took off in the middle seats. On my first walk around the plane I saw the two seats in front of the exit door were empty- window and long leg room!! I asked a set of attendants eating their lunch if I could sit there . The female said no then rattled something fast in Italian ( and it wasn’t about a brown table cause I know those words lol) but then the male Saudi ” Si” …and so it was we sat in the best seats ( outside the first class of course!) fir the rest of the flight.

Customs consisted of showing our passport, collecting our bags and then leaving the airport ….simple for some . I had been perpetually checking everyone had their’s . We joined the line not far from the beginning and got our passports out. Well Tim , Ally and I did. Brian checked his backpack back pocket, front pocket, middle picket, everything out on the floor pocket, jean pockets, shirt pickets…bet you sense my stress levels not to mention Brian’s!! No passport!! With everything on the floor we pushed it from the line area and again began looking. I had visions of an overnight prison stay for Brian but then, tucked under his sleep machine, there it was!! The most important ‘ticket’ of this trip! Deep breaths for all, a rejoin of the now long line, a short wait for baggage and we were outside the terminal learning the fast way of Italian driving ( complete with horn ho kings which we found dangerous but exciting at the same time. Our hotel driver told us stories of a Rome and the sights/ sites to see. He described the wall of Rome as being the fence as now being the entry to a walking museum.

 

We settled into our hotel then exhausted we headed to the Trevi fountain for a look, some dinner , some gelato and the kidults and I were asleep by 8 and Brian about half an hour later after having had ‘Facebook time’.

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