A Travellerspoint blog

September 2012

Venice, Italy

Wondering the streets and canal ways

sunny 80 °F

As an activity in Venice, we read that we should wander the narrow streets and canal system of Venice and just ‘get lost’. We’ll that wasn’t too hard! Directions from the train station to our apartment were something along the lines of “follow the narrow street, cross over canal, and repeat another 20 times.” One hot afternoon we were near the train station and wanted to head home for a siesta. We decided to forget looking at the directions and instead just follow the crowd in the right direction towards Piazzo San Marco. After about 30 minutes later we saw a big canal up ahead and were so happy to almost be home for lunch… we walked up to the canal with the anticipation and excitement as if we were walking up and over the horizon of a mountain ridge line only to see the train station directly in front of us. We were back to where we started 30 minutes ago!

We scored a sweet little apartment in Venice that gave us the feeling that we actually lived in the city. There were multiple little art galleries in the neighborhood and a little deli where we bought our dinner supplies and some cured meats that the local old guys were buying.

It is true that Venice is flooded with tourists, and unfortunately a gondola ride is evolved into being completely unromantic. Whenever we saw or heard the singing of a gondola all of the tourists nearby would run over to the nearest bridge to snap a picture and watch not one boat, but a string of 5 or 6 boats go by in a train. Luckily we lived in the heart of the city and early in the morning, and late in the evening (when all of the tourists are in their cruise ships) we found it was possible to get the sense that we were the only people there.

We were surprised by how much we enjoyed Venice, especially since we almost avoided it entirely due to the numerous people who had called it a tourist trap. It was interesting to experience life without cars, trash is picked up by people pushing carts through the streets and where people buy produce from little boats.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 09:01 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Our first luggage lost … almost!

Where is the orange bag?!

sunny 85 °F

In order to get to Tavernelle, we took a bus to Barbarino from Florence. The only problem was, we weren’t exactly sure where we were getting off. At one point, we started seeing signs to our hostel, and when the bus went a different way, we thought we’d better get off. In a mad rush to gather all of our belongings, ‘someone’ (not to name names) left our orange food bag on the bus. Luckily, we don’t keep much of value in the orange bag, other than snack food and a notepad. So considering how much we eat, we thought we might as well try to get it back.

We headed to the tourist information site to see if there was anything we could do. After about 10 or so phone calls later, the illusive orange bag was located and being held at the left luggage in Florence. A few days later we were in Florence with a two hour layover before catching a train to Venice. Robin high tailed it to the transit office, collected the orange bag, and returned to the train station in just enough time to meet Kevin for the next train to Venice, thus reinstating our no lost luggage* status :-)

p.s. this status technically has a small asterisk for the few things that ‘someone’ lost along the way (including a Nalgene bottle in Australia, a plastic shopping bag containing our lunch in Thailand, and a wool long-sleeved shirt in India). Over all, this was a healthy reminder that we really haven’t had any real issues yet with theft or stupidity. And now the moment you have been waiting for! Just what does this ‘orange bag’ look like!? Well, it’s is orange (surprise!) and has black elephants printed on it. We bought it to specifically have a shoulder strap around it so it couldn’t be easily put down and forgotten (like the lunch bag and Nalgene). Below is the best pic we could find of it (we are in an elevator). Take notice that even with it around her neck and shoulder, Robin seems to be clutching “the orange bag” and guarding it with her life:

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 02:48 Archived in Italy Comments (3)

Tavernelle del Pesa, Italy

Into the Chianti countryside

sunny 85 °F

Just south of Florence is the region of Tuscony - famous for wines and beautiful countryside. The village was quite the happening place with a different festival in the town square every night! The warm summer night air filled with the sounds of a brass band as old Italian men BBQed large cuts of bistecca.

For dessert we discovered bomboloni! It is our favorite dessert on the trip thus far. Say it out loud with an Italian accent right now, we dare you! Bomboloni! Bomboloni! It fun to say and fun to eat! They inject the hollow donut with either chocolate or cream right in front of you!

After coming through Rome and Florence, being in the country away from all the tourists was just what we needed. During the day we biked around the vineyards and through the woods to the surrounding picturesque villages with narrow cobble stone streets and flowers hanging outside of their wooden shutter windows.

We biked up to a fancy hotel offering wine tasting and lucked out with meeting the most amazing Semoneau. He was a young, energetic guy who walked us through the history of the Chianti region, and what distinguishes a Chianti wine from other wines by letting us sample a ton of local wines.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 14:22 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Florence, Italy

Italy makes it into the Eurocup Finals

sunny 90 °F

Crowds filled the courtyards of the city on this warm summer night. We were in Florence ready to support the home team in the Eurocup (soccer) Finals against Spain.

After the crushing defeat, we walked around the lit up Duomo which seemed almost like a fake backdrop.

We aren’t much into waiting in long lines to see old painting so we skipped the Uffitzi museum and enjoyed a more peaceful Galileo Museum of Science. We really enjoyed learning about all the old math tools, the first telescopes, and crazy contraptions for telling time and dates. In the basement there was a rotating exhibit called ‘Geometry meets art’ that had some really interesting displays using mirrors and different perspectives to create symmetrical art from something warped and barely recognizable. This piece had a spherical mirror in the middle that reflected the odd shaped numbers in a perfect clock.

We toured the city by bike in search of a few local recommendations. One of which included a little hole in the wall restaurant followed by the best gelato ever at Gelateria de Medichi! We rode over the Ponte Vechio and by the fake statue of David where we tried to convince some tourists that they used Kevin’s calves as the model for some of the more muscular statues…

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 03:08 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Rome, Italy

Nonstop site seeing

When buying tickets to Rome, we noticed that each day there were two trains that were about 4 times cheaper than the other trains. Turns out that these are “regional trains” that stop more frequently and weren’t going to have aircon…. but hello?!?!? We spent 16 hours on buses in Nepal that would trump any train air-con or not! So we bought the cheap tickets, and crossed our fingers. As the train approached we noticed the windows in every car but two were wide open… we boarded one with closed windows and whalah! We had a whole section of aircon it to ourselves!

That night we headed straight for the Coliseum area to find a pub to watch the Italy soccer team play Germany in the Eurocup. We were pleasantly surprised to find ample options of outside big screens and with Italy’s victory, the streets were in a roar of excitement, filled with scooters honking and people hanging out of cars waving Italian flags. It only takes a few steps outside of the Coliseum metro stop to realize just how close the ancient sites of Rome are to the city center. It’s a jaw-dropping experience to see the Coliseum up close, especially at night with soccer fans rallying around it.

For the classic tourist sites (Trevi fountain, St Paul’s Cathedral, Vatican City, etc…) we did a double take by visiting them during the day, had a siesta with gelato, and then went back to them in the evening to see them lit up. The evening walk was much cooler, and more impressive.

Just walking around Rome and bumping into deep archeological digs or humongous columns could have kept us busy for days; however, Roma had an additional plan for keeping us busy. We rented a room just outside of the city center and ended up with a long and interesting tale regarding our host’s daughter’s school’s English program’s foreign tutor. In short what initially sounded like a rather peculiar request by our host turned out to be fun story that we’ll share with you over a drink sometime.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 01:11 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Pompeii, Italy

The ancient city at the base of Mt Vesuvius

sunny 90 °F

The story of how Mt Vesuvius erupted early one morning covering the city of Pompeii in molten rock and volcanic ash is just about the only story that Robin recalls from ancient history class. This disaster made Pompeii the best preserved ancient city in the world. As you walk through the city, you can look up and see the magnificent volcano that destroyed and preserved the ancient city of Pompeii. We walked through several houses, the bath house, the court, a temple, the theater, the stadium, and finally through some vineyards that were in the same place that they had been in 79 A.D.

After a sweltering day in the city of Pompeii, we headed back to Naples to go have a look at the national museum, where many of the findings from the Pompeii excavations are on display. The museum also houses numerous Greek and Roman sculptures that are quite impressive. We felt as though we fit right in with the sculptures.

There is a must see secret room of the museum that housed ancient phallic artifacts and paintings… in those days hanging a sculpture of a penis on your business door was a symbol of wealth and prosperity. Imagine walking into your dentist and seeing this painting on the wall:

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 04:53 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Naples, Italy

Our first real pizza!

sunny 90 °F

We blazed through Bari and headed to Naples. We found a hotel, and asked the owner Mario where to get the best local pizza. He drew us a map and told us where to go. We decided to splurge, and ordered the special pizza, not knowing exactly what it was, and our expectations were blown away! It didn’t fit our standard ‘look’ of a good pizza, but once again our expectations didn’t mean anything while traveling… the greenish orange tomatoes that didn’t look tasty at all were sooooo super sweet, it was delicioso!!

One of our favorite things to do is to walk through grocery stores and look at all the different foods. The first one we went to had isle after isle of boxed pastas and fresh pastas, we weren’t in Kansas anymore!

We spent a day in the city of Naples just wandering around, stumbling on amazing galleria shopping centers that look like they were straight out of Las Vegas, or is it the other way around?

We also explored our first castle for the trip. It was fun walking through the spiked iron gates and up the cobble stone streets and a much different feel than the temples we’ve grown accustom to visiting.

We also spent time sun bathing with the locals on slanted uncomfortable rocks… but that didn’t stop them from lying out all day. It was incredible to watch them lather on baby oil, rotate and freeze to make sure they get every part of their body darkened (notice the ‘white’ guy in the picture behind robin, he must have stood like that for over an hour). They even call sunbathing “sun medicine” here because they sorta believe that the sun can cure anything (not sure if that includes skin cancer!).

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 13:35 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Patra, Greece to Bari, Italy

Sleeping in a 'deck seat'

sunny 90 °F

We thought we’d try to get on board our 16 hour ferry to Bari, Italy a bit early to score a good spot to sleep since our last boat seemed to have a mad dash of pushing and shoving. After a long walk with our backpacks on through what seemed like an endless line of semi trucks spewing out 100 degree heat onto the blacktop and dodging the stowaways trying to hitch a free ride into Italy we found ourselves on the other side of admissions without a soul in sight.

We said our sad goodbyes to Greece, which we had really enjoyed. We loved the feta cheese and olives sold at the delis in supermarkets, the ‘clear skin’ wine sold in plastic bottles, and of course – the frappes! Greece is a beautiful country with very friendly people and crystal clear water for swimming. We went cheap on the boat and paid for deck seats, apparently, no one else does for a 16 hour boat ride because we had the whole deck to ourselves!

Just kidding! Actually, deck seats just meant ‘open seating’ in certain sections of the boat including the floors and other nooks and crannies that people have already been laying down sleeping their bags in. After already taking two ferries, we felt as though we were old pros and ignored the rush to get some good couch seats and instead found a spot in a stairwell that we though was pretty secluded and scored some nice floor space to sleep. On our way back from watching the Italy soccer team beat England with some very excited Italians, we were stopped in aww of our new neighbors who totally out did us with their sleeping bags, pillows and air mattresses.
Our spot:
Their spot:

We became a bit envious and snuck down to some couches near the reception area and pretended to watch a movie (but really just tried to sleep). Just as soon as the shoes came off the conductors asked us to move but politely offered us the use of the air seats room (imagine airline seats). When boarding this was the only place on the ship that we were specifically told we couldn’t go into without upgrading our tickets so we hesitantly accepted the gesture but then ended up with most of the room to ourselves (since nobody seems to pay more for slightly relining airline seats).

Having a deck seat kinda feels like it would if you were in an open recess area at a prison (or maybe a kindergarden playground)… everyone is jockeying for position and you aren’t sure what the rules really are. With all the scheming we did to get a good sleep spot it really didn’t turn out at all like we planned but it in the end it all worked out. We have had a lot of different adventures trying to find a place to lay our heads at night and this one wasn’t too bad. Morning came, and we used our little pot to make some coffee and had a nice breakfast out on the deck, surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 00:54 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Kaminia, Greece

Life on the Mediterranean… literally!

sunny 90 °F

Thank the Greek gods, Dionysis and his wife Georgia hosted us in their small village (Kaminia) near the port of Patra because Patra was basically a rundown ghost town. Maybe it was because of the time of year we were there, but basically nothing was going on in the town and although there were a few nice walking streets we were much happier at their place playing basketball with the kids. It helped that their place was literally right on the water, and every morning was started the day with a swim, and every evening we finished the day with another swim, beers and the neighbor’s olives against the sunset.

Dionysis had a Frappe maker, and upon arrival his sister whipped one up for us as a ‘welcome to our home’ gesture. We definitely had fun with this little machine and probably had way too much coffee while we were visiting. For those interested, we made a short instructional video.

We ventured out to Diakofto one day to see the famous Odotonos mining Railway that goes through the Kalvarita Gorge. The train ride is famed for the scenery and the sheer cliff drops on both sides of the train. The gorge is off the beaten track so most people who do this trip are traveling from Athens to Patra via car. So getting to Diakofto, taking the train one way and leaving from Kalvarita was a complete adventure requiring 5 bus trips in one day. Once we got to the base train station we decided to take the train up halfway, and then walk the last 9 km on the train tracks alongside the river. Neither of us had actually followed a train track for that long before, so it was quite surreal especially after just reading Water for Elephants (a book set on and around trains).

During our stay in Kaminia, the Greek soccer team played Germany in the Euro Cup. We went with Dionysis to watch the game in a nearby village where every square, street, ally, restaurant, bar, and café had a TV screen outside for people to watch. It was very exciting when Greece scored their two goals and fireworks were set off and we felt fortunate to be able to participate in a small town gone largely patriotic.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 01:20 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Olympia, Greece

Zeus and his Games

sunny 90 °F

Since we are heading to the Olympics in August, we thought we would get a little refresher on the history of the games prior to our arrival in London. The ancient ruins in Olympia are mostly destroyed, and leave a lot to the imagination. However, the stadium where the athletic events were held is still in good shape (probably because it only consists of grassy slopes and a track). We walked around the site humming “chariots of fire” and challenging tourists to race across the first ever Olympic games track.

We saw loads of tourists taking pictures with this gravestone looking thing so we decided we should get a pic with it, however we kinda forgot to ask someone what it was so if you have any ideas, please let us know!

The city is small and seems to exists solely to cater to the tourists so there are lots of museums including one of ancient Olympia, the museum of the Olympics, an exhibit on ancient Greek mathematical tools, and a museum on the archeology finds and digs around the area. One of the most interesting museum pieces was an ancient tiled floor from the baths that was still intact that they covered by glass so you could walk over them… it depicted the different types of events that were held in the ancient games, including the pankration (a wrestling & boxing combo) and the hoplitodromos (running with armour).

After all the tour groups had left for the day the city became a ghost town once. We sat down for a beer, frappe, in an alley for a game of backgammon. Turns out that Greeks love to play and it’s all over the streets and bars... we were amazed at how fast people could play the game (we are still workign on the strategy part - but fun none the less).

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 15:02 Archived in Greece Comments (2)

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