Travel Diary 27/5/16

I’ve managed to get down to a week between posts. Quite the feat. Last time I posted, I was unwinding in Palermo…

Day 51
Over breakfast at the hostel, I met a delightful German girl, and we decided to check out the Palermo Catacombs. It is beyond creepy. It’s a small catacomb, but the walls are lined with skeletons, in their funeral finery, some still having skin attached… And many of them are held upright, as though standing there. There is also the fully preserved body of a dead toddler from the 1920s. A very, very creepy place.

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Fontana Pretoria, Palermo

We walked past Palermo Cathedral, which is a very impressive and beautiful building, but like I mentioned before, church fatigue has well and truly set in at this point, so I didn’t go inside. We wandered around for a while longer, we looked at a few other churches and palaces and the like, without going in, before heading towards Mondello and the beach, where we spent the afternoon.

Day 52
Another travel day. Unlike in Naples, the owners of this hostel didn’t want me hanging around after checkout, so I took one last walk through the streets of Palermo. Then I hopped on another overnight ferry, this one much more comfortable than the last.

Day 53
From where my ship docked at Civitavecchia, I caught the train back to Rome, before travelling on to Bologna. I wish I’d had more time in Bologna, it seemed a very nice place. I took in the main sights, including another cathedral, but the primary reason I was in Bologna was to taste a traditional ‘bolognese’ sauce, which is actually a meat ragu, served with tagliatelle or tortellini. It was fantastic, although I’m sure I’ve tasted similar at home.

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Another cathedral. This one's pink.

Day 54
Today I took another train, this time to one of my must-see cities. Venice. I arrived in the afternoon, and settled in, uploaded some photos and cooked enough food to get me through a couple of nights. Venice is EXPENSIVE. Worse than Paris or London.

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The view that drew the eponymous sighs from prisoners on the Bridge of Sighs.

Day 55
A major sightseeing day today, I went to the Doge’s Palace, which I would honestly say is actually nicer than Versailles. Entry to the Doge’s Palace grants you entry to three other nearby museums. Well, they say three other museums, but they’re all in one building, interconnected, and only have one entrance. So really it’s entry to the Doge’s Palace and one museum with three themes. I saw the outside of the famous Basillica di San Marco, but the security guard was being arbitrary when choosing who was allowed to carry their backpack inside, and I didn’t much want to get back in line after walking a block to the cloakroom. Plus, what’s another cathedral?

Day 56
Today, it is in fair Verona where we lay our scene. And I’m not going to lie, I was there for one reason. Verona is the city that Shakespeare’s famous tragedy Romeo and Juliet was set. It’s one of my favourites (and the subject of the greatest song of all time, Dire Straits’ Romeo and Juliet. I will fight you.), so I absolutely had to go there while I was in the region. I swung by the famous Roman stadium in the middle of town, like a smaller, pinker, Colosseum. But I had to go to ‘Juliet’s Balcony’, which is apparently the balcony that served as Shakespeare’s inspiration. There isn’t actually any evidence that Shakespeare ever went to Italy, despite many of his plays being set there, but it’s nice to pretend.

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It's much pinker in person.

Day 57
Which brings me to today. Today, I went to the Rialto Bridge, across the Grand Canal. It’s currently being restored, but is still impressive. I then, finally, ventured onto the canals themselves. In a Waterbus, of course, not the gondola that’s on my bucket list. Because a gondola ride costs €80. I wandered the city for a while longer, and decided to relax for a little longer at the hostel, before writing this very blog.

Tomorrow I’m spending twelve hours on a bus or something ridiculous like that. So that will be fun.

Travel Diary 27/5/16

I’ve managed to get down to a week between posts. Quite the feat. Last time I posted, I was unwinding in Palermo…

Day 51
Over breakfast at the hostel, I met a delightful German girl, and we decided to check out the Palermo Catacombs. It is beyond creepy. It’s a small catacomb, but the walls are lined with skeletons, in their funeral finery, some still having skin attached… And many of them are held upright, as though standing there. There is also the fully preserved body of a dead toddler from the 1920s. A very, very creepy place.

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Fontana Pretoria, Palermo

We walked past Palermo Cathedral, which is a very impressive and beautiful building, but like I mentioned before, church fatigue has well and truly set in at this point, so I didn’t go inside. We wandered around for a while longer, we looked at a few other churches and palaces and the like, without going in, before heading towards Mondello and the beach, where we spent the afternoon.

Day 52
Another travel day. Unlike in Naples, the owners of this hostel didn’t want me hanging around after checkout, so I took one last walk through the streets of Palermo. Then I hopped on another overnight ferry, this one much more comfortable than the last.

Day 53
From where my ship docked at Civitavecchia, I caught the train back to Rome, before travelling on to Bologna. I wish I’d had more time in Bologna, it seemed a very nice place. I took in the main sights, including another cathedral, but the primary reason I was in Bologna was to taste a traditional ‘bolognese’ sauce, which is actually a meat ragu, served with tagliatelle or tortellini. It was fantastic, although I’m sure I’ve tasted similar at home.

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Another cathedral. This one's pink.

Day 54
Today I took another train, this time to one of my must-see cities. Venice. I arrived in the afternoon, and settled in, uploaded some photos and cooked enough food to get me through a couple of nights. Venice is EXPENSIVE. Worse than Paris or London.

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The view that drew the eponymous sighs from prisoners on the Bridge of Sighs.

Day 55
A major sightseeing day today, I went to the Doge’s Palace, which I would honestly say is actually nicer than Versailles. Entry to the Doge’s Palace grants you entry to three other nearby museums. Well, they say three other museums, but they’re all in one building, interconnected, and only have one entrance. So really it’s entry to the Doge’s Palace and one museum with three themes. I saw the outside of the famous Basillica di San Marco, but the security guard was being arbitrary when choosing who was allowed to carry their backpack inside, and I didn’t much want to get back in line after walking a block to the cloakroom. Plus, what’s another cathedral?

Day 56
Today, it is in fair Verona where we lay our scene. And I’m not going to lie, I was there for one reason. Verona is the city that Shakespeare’s famous tragedy Romeo and Juliet was set. It’s one of my favourites (and the subject of the greatest song of all time, Dire Straits’ Romeo and Juliet. I will fight you.), so I absolutely had to go there while I was in the region. I swung by the famous Roman stadium in the middle of town, like a smaller, pinker, Colosseum. But I had to go to ‘Juliet’s Balcony’, which is apparently the balcony that served as Shakespeare’s inspiration. There isn’t actually any evidence that Shakespeare ever went to Italy, despite many of his plays being set there, but it’s nice to pretend.

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It's much pinker in person.

Day 57
Which brings me to today. Today, I went to the Rialto Bridge, across the Grand Canal. It’s currently being restored, but is still impressive. I then, finally, ventured onto the canals themselves. In a Waterbus, of course, not the gondola that’s on my bucket list. Because a gondola ride costs €80. I wandered the city for a while longer, and decided to relax for a little longer at the hostel, before writing this very blog.

Tomorrow I’m spending twelve hours on a bus or something ridiculous like that. So that will be fun.

Travel Diary 20/5/16

Slightly earlier than usual, here’s a travel diary. Won’t be much to report this time around, mostly some do-nothing days. All this travelling is hard work, you have to relax sometimes.

Day 43
My last full day in Rome, I figured I should make the most of it. First up I trekked my way over to the Catacombs of St Callixtus, one of five underground cemeteries in Rome. I suggest you take the bus, as the walk from the nearest Metro stop is not as easy as Google Maps would suggest. I got onto the last English tour before they closed at noon (to reopen at two pm, like so many other places in Italy). it was really interesting, however, unlike the famous Paris Catacombs, the bodies have been removed from the publicly accessible tombs, including more than a few Popes.

After taking another ill-thought out walk, I found my way back into the city proper, and went to the Spanish Steps… which are currently under extensive restoration. You can see the steps through the transparent barriers, but I think I’ll save the photos for next time.

From there, it was a short jaunt to the Pantheon, which is quite impressive. Not sure what I was expecting, it’s one of those sights you know you have to see when you’re in Rome, but I don’t know, I never had a coherent picture of it in my mind. But yeah, another big, ancient church to cross off my list.

Day 44
I made the most of my ten o’clock checkout, and slept in. At this point, I want to plug the place I stayed in Rome, Hard Rock Rooms. It’s a tiny place, an apartment converted into a two-dorm hostel. It’s a minute away from the Metro, the staff are incredibly friendly and helpful, and in addition to the standard free hostel breakfast, they provide a pasta dinner every night. It’s almost like a big family dinner, with everyone around the small table. By far the best place I’ve stayed.

Anyway, I took an afternoon train to Naples, found my way to my hostel, and didn’t do much else with my day.

Day 45
A bucket list item got crossed off today, one of the big ones: Pompeii. Getting there is easy enough, despite Italy’s famously poor rail system.

One thing I didn’t know is just how enormous Pompeii is. A lot of it is kind of same-y after a while, and the distance between the points of interest are kind of long, especially for someone of my fitness level. It also rained. But all in all, I’d say a good day. Pompeii is just too cool to be any other kind of day.

Day 46
I decided to have a look around Naples today, I climbed up to St Elmo’s Castle, or at least the square in front of it, for an amazing panoramic view of the city. I then hiked all the way down to Castle Nuovo on the waterfront. I didn’t go into either, because I thought they were impressive enough from outside, and I’m trying to save a little money at this stage in my trip, since I overspent in that first month.

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Don't quite have the hang of the panorama feature on my camera...

I did spend money checking out ancient Greek/Roman aqueduct under the city, which was converted to a bomb shelter in the 1940s. The two-hour tour only cost €10, and was fantastic.

Day 47/48
A couple of do-nothing days, caught up on laundry, uploaded some photos watched some TV and read some comics. Basically just recharged my batteries, before catching the overnight ferry to Palermo…

Day 49
I got into Palermo at around 6.30 am, having got around three hours sleep on the ship. So I found my way to the hostel, which was easy enough, and dropped off my bag. I then proceeded to wander the city for the morning, until I could check into the hostel. I didn’t accomplish much of anything, to be perfectly honest. Too tired.

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I looked a lot like this dude most of this week.

Day 50
I think fifty days is an achievement in itself, and to celebrate (because I definitely knew I was fifty days in), I had another lazy day, this time heading to the beach for a few hours. Which brings us to this exact moment, as I have returned to the hostel now, since it has clouded over a little, and I am relaying my week to all of you adoring readers.

Tomorrow I’ll do some proper sightseeing in Palermo, it’s really a nice city. And maybe some more the day after, since I am once again waiting for a night ferry back to the mainland.

Travel Diary 12/5/16

Terrible WiFi in Florence meant I couldn’t do a photo upload, which in turn meant no blog post, and also a photo backlog. I’ve caught up now, I’m halfway through my time in Rome, so here we are, only slightly later than usual.

Day 32
Primarily a travel day, I left Milan for Levanto. Levanto is at the northwest end of the Cinque Terre, and is a great starting point for any trip into the famed Five Lands. A few of the hiking trails into the Cinque Terre start here, but since I was only spending one night here, and, quite frankly, do not have a body built for hiking, I just went down to the beach to watch the sunset.

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Levanto Sunset

Day 33
Today I left Levanto for La Spezia. Italy’s primary naval port, and a beautiful city, where the ocean meets the mountains, with absolutely gorgeous panoramas. Another perfect launching point for Cinque Terre adventures, which is exactly what I used it for.

Day 34
Always check the difficulty of a hiking trail before you take it. Because just looking at a trail up a mountain and thinking “That doesn’t look that high” is not an accurate way to judge. That’s what I did. Turns out the mountain trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola is one of the more difficult trails. The scenery is absolutely worth the pain, and honestly, if I can do it without equipment, and carrying 100+ kilograms of human, then there’s a fair chance you can too.

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The view is worth the pain.

Many of the trails in the Cinque Terre aren’t in great condition, whether from the 2011 floods that wiped out the famous Via Dell’Amore, or just general lack of maintenance. It certainly makes things more difficult. I also checked out Corniglia today.

Day 35
No hiking today, I learned my lesson. I did check out the remaining two towns in the Cinque Terre though, Vernazza and Monterosso. Monterosso is the only town with a proper beach, so I spent some time down there, while Vernazza has that postcard perfect harbour. Of course, to get that perfect shot, you have to climb halfway up the mountain, and sorry, I’m just not that committed.

Day 36
Another travel day, but with an important stopover. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is absolutely beautiful. But once you’ve seen it… There’s not a lot else to do in Pisa. So I hopped back onto the train and continued to Florence.

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The lean is a bit unnerving at first...

Day 37
Florence’s historical centre is beautiful, like so many other European cities. The Florence Duomo is one of the most beautiful churches in Europe. The Academie di Belle Arti is absolutely worth waiting in line for, because Michaelangelo’s David is amazing. It is way bigger than it looks in photos. Around three times taller than me, and is elevated to make it seem even taller.

Day 38
No trip to Florence would be complete without a visit to the Uffizi Gallery, home to a number of Renaissance masterpieces. Unfortunately, da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi is currently in restoration, but the gallery’s other main drawcard, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus is still on display, and is still amazing.

Day 39
I arrived in Rome today, and after I’d dropped my bag at the hostel, I made a beeline for the Trevi Fountain, which is probably the highlight of my trip so far. The recent restoration works means the fountain practically shines in the sun. I, naturally, made a wish in the fountain.

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Absolutely perfect.

Day 40
My hostel is situated about ten minutes away from the Colosseum. It’s more than a little surreal to just round a corner and see the Colosseum right there in front of you. While I was there, I checked out the nearby Forum and Palatine Hill, some very extensive Roman ruins, right in the middle of the city, in almost a park setting (if parks had an entry fee).

Day 41
I practically walked all the way around a country today, and crossed the border about six times. Granted, that country was the Vatican City. I saw the Pope… doing Pope things. I don’t speak Italian (Latin?), so I’m not sure what he was saying, but there was a blessing and so on. St Peter’s Basilica is huge, you could practically play football inside (Australian Rules football, not soccer). The Sistine Chapel is well worth the price of entry to the Vatican Museum. It’s very high up, and photos aren’t allowed, which makes it kind of hard to see the detail (or take a sneaky photo). It’s strange to see all these frescoes on high ceilings, so much effort for something barely anyone will see in great detail.

Day 42
Every now and then, on a long trip like this, it pays to have a quiet day. One day where you’re not rushing to get to the next sight, or standing in line for hours. So, today I’m doing laundry and catching up on Youtube. And writing this blog. Tomorrow I’ll see the other Roman sights, The Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, and whatever else I think of between now and then. And after that, it’s Naples, then Palermo. Hopefully it won’t be another week before I post again.

Travel Diary 1/5/16

Today I learned that if you change orientations from Portrait to Landscape while using the WordPress app, it reloads the page, deleting everything you’ve written.

Day 21

As I said in my last entry, today was my sightseeing day in Antwerp. i started by returning to the train station, which was a huge, beautiful building, right in the Diamond District. The sheer number of jewelers in the area is astonishing.

I went on to the Grote Markt, a grand square in front of the City Hall, with a huge fountain in it. Nearby is Antwerp Cathedral, in which you can find a number of artworks, including a few by Rubens.

I walked by a few more historic buildings, and finished with a walk by the river, passing Het Steen, a medieval castle.

I then walked down the Sint Annatunnel (Saint Anne’s Tunnel), which was completed in 1933, connecting both sides of the river for foot traffic. It contains the original wooden escalators.

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I am literally the only one who thinks this is cool, aren't I?

Day 22

Another travel day. I left Antwerp for Luxembourg, via Brussels.

When I arrived in Luxembourg, around lunchtime, I made the most of my time in the city. It was unfortunate that they are currently in the process of repairing the Adolphe Bridge and the square in front of their palace, but that gave me time to see their local history museum, and to explore the casemates (fortified tunnels in the mountains for the city’s defense).

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Casemates Du Bock, Luxembourg

Day 23

Another travel day. This time to Amiens, France, via Saarbrucken, Germany, and Paris.

By the time I got into Amiens, I just found some dinner and called it a night.

Day 24

It was a little rainy today, but I didn’t let that stop me from seeing what Amiens had to offer. Primarily, that meant the cathedral.

Notre Dame d’Amiens is actually bigger than the one in Paris. And I think it’s nicer, but that could just be the chapel at the back with the Australian flag in it. I could be biased.

I also discovered the Jules Verne Museum, in the house he lived in during his eight years in the city. They claim that he was at the height of his fame, which I’m inclined to believe, since he had already written the books he’s famous for before he moved there.

That evening, I caught the last train out to the village of Villers-Bretonneux. Just outside of town is the Australian National Memorial. During the Great War, the town was occupied by the Germans on the 23rd of April, 1918. At 10 pm on the 24th, the Australians showed up, and had liberated the village by morning.

Day 25

Which means that the 25th of April is just as important, if not more important, to the people of this area, as it is to the Australians. Anzac Day is the anniversary of the 1915 Gallipoli landings, and is Australia’s biggest national holiday. But it’s still just one day. In Villers-Bretonneux they celebrate Australian Week.

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The entrance to the cemetery.

But that’s what brought me to this village. The Anzac Day Dawn Service. Honoring the Australian soldiers who fell on the Western Front, many of whom were buried just metres away. It was cold, I was tired, but I’d do it all again. An incredibly moving service. Thousands of Australians were in attendance, and for just one day, it felt like home.

Day 26

Another travel day, from Amiens to Bayeux, via Paris and Rouen. I stopped over in Rouen for a few hours, to see a couple of churches, and most importantly, the place where Joan of Arc was burned (and I spent an hour or two at the Joan of Arc museum).

Day 27

I shelled out and paid for a tour today. I had pre-ordered it, so don’t think you can just show up and find your way onto a tour of the D-Day Beaches. I mean, you probably can, but don’t risk it.

The tourguide was great, we saw St Mere Eglise, where two paratroopers famously were caught on the local church, and were hanging there for hours.

We saw the immense German cemetary, where some 20,000 bodies are buried, in comparison to the American cemetary, which is four times the size, with half the bodies.

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American War Memorial and Cemetery, Normandy

We walked on Utah and Omaha Beaches, and saw the landscape at Point Du Hoc in between, where the craters left by the shelling were never filled in.

Day 28

Another day trip, this time to the world-famous Mont-St-Michel, one of my must-sees for France.

It was a little surreal when my bus crested the hill, and all of a sudden, there was this little island off in the distance, with a huge monastary on top, surrounded by a village. And as I got closer, it just seemed more fantastic. Like something from a book.

Unfortunately, I got there near low tide, and didn’t get to see the island fully surrounded by water. High tide was scheduled late that night, so I’d never have made it.

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Mont-St-Michel

Day 29

Today I got to see the Bayeux Tapestry, which is more than a little mind-boggling. The detail in the near-millenia old stitching is great, their use of colour and different stitching to create movement and depth, as they basically create a massive comic book is brilliant.

No photography is allowed, of course, but an audioguide is part of the visit, taking you through the story of William the Conquerer step by step as you look at the tapestry.

I caught an afternoon train back to Paris, where I got on an overnight to Milan.

Day 30

‘Sleeper train’ is a misleading name. It’s very hard to sleep for a myriad of reasons. The noise, the movement, and of course the worry that you’re going to miss your stop, or that something is going to happen to your passport while the train staff have it.

But it was a roof over my head for a night, and I can’t complain about that. Cheaper than the combination of transport and accomodation too. I managed to snag a cabin to myself too.

Speaking of getting lucky. Today I found out that you need a reservation to see The Last Supper, and that people book months in advance. Considering up until a few weeks ago, I thought The Last Supper was in The Louvre, that was never going to happen for me. However, at 8.15am they sell off the cancelled bookings. Fortunately, I had arrived at my hostel by around 6am, and was in the line before 8. I managed to get into the 3.30pm session. I can’t imagine there were many tickets left after that, so I wouldn’t recommend doing it the way I did.

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And you wouldn't want to miss this.

Of course, that meant I had the rest of the day to kill. So I went and checked out some churches (Santa Maria del Grazie, which is the church The Last Supper is at, although the two are separate, and the Monastry of Saint Maurice), as well as checking out Sforzesco Castle, which is immense, and just in the middle of the city, moat and all.

Day 31

Today it rained. All day. Which is why I’m here writing this.

I didn’t waste a day though, I braved the weather to go see the Duomo, which is one of the oldest cathedrals in Italy, and seems to be the biggest I’ve ever seen, at least from inside (Wikipedia confirms this, it’s the fifth biggest church in the world).

Nearby is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a huge shopping arcade, with a massive glass dome in the middle, with works of art inside. On the floor in the middle is a huge mosaic, part of which is the Turin coat of arms, a rearing bull. Legend has it if you place your heel on the bull’s testicles and spin around three times, it will bring you luck. I did it, just to be safe, but I don’t feel any luckier.

So that’s where I’m at. Tomorrow I’m going to the Cinque Terre for a few days, and after that, Florence.