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Ness_07 Jan 7th, 2008 12:20 AM

Ness' Italian trip report
Here is my favourite section of my European trip from June/July 2007.

We entered Italy as part of a Kumuka group, visiting Pisa, staying in Prato, seeing Florence and San Gimignano. The tour ended in Rome and then we indulged in independent travel through Rome, to Assisi and onwards to Venice. This included our wedding in Roma!

So this report begins with us crossing the border from France into Italy!

With our last stop in France complete - it was on toward Italy! Luckily for us, the excitement of nearing Italy outweighed the very uninteresting drive along the coast. There are more than 120 tunnels along the route, and although we passed near places like San Remo on the Italian Riviera, we mostly passed through industrial areas, as befitting the country's largest port district. Slowly the architecture and look of the place changed too - houses were a little rougher around the edges, the balconies were less ornate, there was a homely, laid back feel to the environs. One of the interesting things pointed out were the marble quarries - source material for some of the world's finest sculptures. This definitely got me thinking about Florence...and the Accademia!

We stopped for lunch at the Autogrill where the group received an education about how to order in Italy, and I was excited about having my first opportunity to use my basic Italian skills. Ordering Italian-style entails choosing what you want, then going to the cashier and paying and taking your ticket back to the servery area where a different staff member passes you your order. We were definitely in Italy - even the Autogrill food was fantastic. Rod had a quarter serve of Margherita pizza and I had a panino toscano (with salami and cheese).

At the Autogrill we found some flavoured milk (iced coffee no less) - the first we'd seen since leaving Australia so we picked up a couple for the road, along with some kinder chocolate. My first attempt at using conversational Italian was successful, and this gave me a lot of confidence to keep on practising.

The countryside didn't capture us until we turned away from the coastline and went inland through the Tuscany region. We started to spot little village clusters dotted high on the gently rising hills with their bell towers or campinales, prominent. There were gorgeous sunflower crops everywhere, a feature we would continue to see a lot of during our travels through Italy.

More soon...

Ness_07 Jan 7th, 2008 02:45 AM

We stopped in Pisa en route to Florence, and received our first taste of an Italian tourist attraction.

Buses aren't permitted to enter the city centre of Pisa, so we had about a ten minute walk through some back streets up to the iconic Field of Miracles (Campo dei Miracoli) - home of the leaning tower.

The place was packed with tourists and the temperature was hot! Here, we received our first experience with the dodgy vendors who set up their fake bags and sunglasses on cardboard tables that conveniently fold away flat pack to enable a quick get away from the polizia. I can't actually believe that anyone would buy from them - they are obviously fake and definitely suss, but I wasn't surprised to see a few from our group wander over for a look at the wares on offer. We'd go on to see these "cardboard bandits" everywhere in Italy, but from what I saw, they were most prevalent in Florence.

Pisa was a beautiful place to be, especially away from the bustling Piazza de Duomo. That's taking nothing away from the square - the tower, cathedral and baptistry are glorious, spectacular really with the almost pearlescent white and green marbled structures framed against a cornflower blue sky and lush green grass. We purchased a ticket to see the Duomo first and found the visit well worth it, despite the trouble I had, and would continue to have with pronouncing the word "biglietti" correctly.

Construction of the Duomo was begun in 1064 and it is of Romanesque style - it also has some very impressive bronze doors. There were some interesting tombs in there, and the ceiling was beautiful too - blue and gold patterning, just as you imagine in a cathedral of grand proportions - that you can look heavenward and see that kind of beauty! Our first glimpse of an Italian church with its rich artwork gave us a taste for what we could expect at all the Italian destinations to come.

Our photos around the campo were really pretty, with the striking colours and the fact that the grass is roped off. Most visitors were lining up the cliched photo of the subject holding up the tower - and of course we had to indulge in this as well!

The Leaning Tower was finished in 1350, and has leaned a little further every year over the centuries, but was stabilised in the 1990s. It appears to lean a lot more when you are standing right before it!

Ness_07 Jan 7th, 2008 12:59 PM

There are souvenir stands everywhere you turn in Pisa. Lots of tempting things (given I have a five year old) including pinocchio puppets! It was stiflingly hot so we soon moved on to gelati. A wander up the main street, away from the field and the horse and cart rides and pinocchios and we found a more sedate side to Pisa - very charming with wide streets and red flags fluttering overhead.

We walked back to the bus, laden with souvenirs and prepared to drive on to Prato, a town just outside Florence (45 mins) where we were to be based for a couple of nights. Prato is relatively nondescript, but the Hotel (Charme) was actually very comfortable. The 'no iron rule' struck again here to my chagrin though!

We all decided to head into town for dinner and were dropped off at a large campo where we were greeted with a multitude of dinner options. We ended up heading to a family run pizzeria with our tour leader and driver, leaving the others from our group down the road at another. The food was very good - Rod had the pizza and I ordered gnocchi gorgonzola. Some of the calzones looked fantastic. It was a bustling little place, with a mixed clientele - grubby middle aged men on their way home from a day's work, families and a very well groomed young man with a little white fluffy dog on a leash. Certainly the most endearing aspect of the place were the sticky seats, which caused a bit of fun.

After dinner, we wandered off on our own in the vague direction of the bus and grabbed some gelati as we walked.

On the drive home, we watched the town of Prato prepare to end the day, all the while we were reminded we were in Italy, the Catholic motherland with almost every house displaying a little shrine to the Virgin Mary near their front doors - the statues surrounded by candles, lanterns or plastic flowers.

Back at the hotel, we hit the bar for some nightcaps, struggling to be understood. Several of the group offered instructions on making cocktails such as White Russians - the result - highly potent beverages! We slept pretty well and as I dozed off I wondered again at the irony of this hotel having a bar fridge but no iron and the scene that would get my day off to a fabulous start - "ironing" my cargo pants with a hairdryer in the bathroom....

bfrac Jan 7th, 2008 02:03 PM

Ness, enjoying your report. Keep it coming.

Mamaw Jan 7th, 2008 02:28 PM

Your killing me about the iron. I can't wait to hear about the blow dryer/cargo pants caper. And if I know the blow dryer's in that part of Italy, baby your in trouble.

More More....

Theresa in Detroit.

vlcgoddess Jan 7th, 2008 02:33 PM

Keep it coming! We loved our time in Pisa and Florence--looking forward to hearing more about yours.

BellaItalia Jan 7th, 2008 07:41 PM

Enjoying the trip report! Love those Autogrills!!!

Ness_07 Jan 8th, 2008 01:43 AM

Thanks for your comments everyone!

Mamaw: The technique involves stretching the fabric taut while blasting with hot air. At times it seemed futile and not worth the fight but I persisted and ended up looking acceptable!

BellaItalia: the autogrills are great! I'm so envious when I see some of the terrible fare served up in our service stations here...

Next instalment coming...

Ness_07 Jan 8th, 2008 01:47 AM

Day 12 Florence

We knew it would be hot, and we knew there was a lot to see within a limited timeframe. This was one of those days on the organised tour that I was frustrated by - Florence deserved more than a day, to adequately see its riches. However, we set out determined to do the best we could with the time available, knowing that the heat and the walking were probably going to get us in the end.

Our day centred around a pre-arranged booking with the Accademia, where we would see David in all his glory at 4pm. The rest was up to us. So, clad in my best sun protection clothes and comfortable footwear we took our places on the bus for the 40 minute drive into Florence from Prato.

Our first stop was at the Piazzale Michelangelo, which usually provides a beautiful panoramic view over Florence, its skyline dramatically dominated by the cluster of buildings around the Duomo. However, as luck would have it, the prime viewing areas were fenced off with temporary event fencing, as a crew set up for a classical music concert which was to be held that evening. This meant the views and backdrops we'd been longing for would not eventuate, so made do with a group shot featuring a little of Florence, a little of trees and other foreign objects!

There is a big replica of the David up there and despite the inconvenience, the views were still ok. Florence is a sea of terracotta tiled roofs and as the morning sun beat down, a haze hung over the city - not a lot of greenery in Florence's historic centre.

The bus took us back down to the outskirts of the centre and we walked a little way along the River Arno to the local guide meeting point that was at the Piazza della Signoria. I loved the brave Florentines (or were they tourists??) sunbathing on concrete slabs around the Arno!

We decided (as time was fleeting in Florence) that the included guided walking tour would be less beneficial than sticking to the itinerary we'd mapped out in advance, as we hoped to see some of the major things that had made us extremely excited about visiting Florence. The walking tour also included a pre-arranged shopping stop at a place called Leonardo's Leather Works - but as per the day before with the perfume factory, our interest in this was low and these pre-arranged visits seem a bit dodgy to me.

So first, we walked off towards the San Marco Museum, which houses the Fra Angelico frescoes. This was to be a big highlight for me as his works are beautiful and I love the illumination details.

The museum is in a former convent - the San Marco Monastery that was home to two of Florence's most famous monks - Savonarola and Fra Angelico. It was a good choice of museum to visit first off - the detail was beautiful and in addition to the altarpieces and large frescoes on display were many exhibits of the illuminated manuscripts created by the Dominicans.

In the upstairs section of the building, the dorm like cells of the monks are preserved, each featuring a fresco by Fra Angelico. These were images that would serve as a reminder to the monks of their piety as they prayed.

Of interest was an image of a blindfolded Christ, surrounded by surreal images including bodiless hands and a spitting face. This piece is called The Mocking of Christ and is the most startling of the frescoes there. Also on the top floor was the cell of Savonarola, which contained some of his personal effects including one of his robes and various books.

The cloister here too was lovely, and also richly decorated with frescoes.

Ness_07 Jan 8th, 2008 02:31 PM

After visiting the museum, we headed back into Florence's heart to take a closer look at the Duomo, Campinale and the Baptistry. As we walked, we soaked up the Florentine street life - which was hot, noisy and crowded, just as I'd imagined it to be. Elements of Italian life were everywhere, from the coffee bars with their careful window displays, to the scooters, cobblestones and piazzas bristling with tables and the cacophony of spruiking waiters. I don't think sign writers have been in work since the 1960s!

We went into a fantastic bookstore on the walk and it had a huge selection of children's picture books. I went a little crazy buying copies of Pinocchio and some other number and alphabet books for my son who is learning Italian at Primary School, but the worst thing about this impulsiveness was having to carry them around for the rest of the day!

Our old friends the Cardboard Bandits were out in force in Florence.

It kept us amused all day watching them pack up and flee and unpack and wait it out, hoping for a buyer. As we queued for certain attractions the rows of sellers mirrored the lines. Then it would be something as simple as a guy on a bicycle letting out a shrill whistle to alert them to the fact the polizia were not far away.

The centre of Florence is breathtaking, with the Duomo, Campinale and Baptistry buildings - all awe inspiring. Their bands of pink, white and green marble are incredibly pretty.

First, we decided to enter the Duomo, as the line for this seemed somewhat shorter than the others. The church's actual name is the Santa Maria del Fiore, and it is the fourth largest in Europe. It took 150 years to build and was begun in 1296. The dome is its main feature, as the interior of the church is vast and largely empty, although the artworks there were definitely worthy of a spin round.

The cupola was designed by Brunelleschi and was an incredible feat of engineering for its day. Although we would have liked to have climbed the dome, we figured climbing the adjacent campinale, that was designed by Giotto and eventually finished in 1359 would afford us better views of Florence, that included the Duomo! The queue for the bell tower was also quite small, possibly due to the heat and the fact that the Duomo is much more popular for climbing. It is a hard climb - 414 narrow and spiralling stone steps to the top. The views made the trip worthwhile though.

We rested for a while there, watching (but not watching) as a beautiful young Italian couple had a teary conversation - an interesting place to break up!

We were also in close proximity to the Baptistry - the famous doors of which were covered by large crowds every time we walked past it. I ventured as close as I could and the detail on the bronze doors, which were designed by Andrea Pisano and which featured scenes from the life of John the Baptist were wonderful.

Ghiberti later designed doors for two other entrances to the Baptistry, one including scenes from the life of Christ in gilded relief panels. The original doors have been moved to a museum since, but the replicas are still beautiful and worthy of inspection. We were later sorry we didn't go inside the Baptistry - if only to see the zodiac-patterned floor and for the fact that Dante was baptised there. But with such little time and so much to see something had to give along the way!

More Florence soon...

Ness_07 Jan 8th, 2008 02:34 PM

From the central area we moved back toward the River Arno and the Ponte Vecchio. Our original plan was to walk down to the Santa Maria del Carmine church to see the Brancacci Chapel - but my timing was out and it was closed at that part of the day.

So instead, we walked up and down the famous "old bridge". It does not really seem like a bridge at all, because of the shops that are squeezed onto its flanks. However in the middle, there are views over the Arno. The shops are mostly gold and jewellery shops. We didn't care to go into any of them, but were happy wandering along and people watching.

It was getting very hot by this time in the day. Fatigue was starting to hit so we walked back toward where we'd come into Florence, and decided to visit the Santa Croce Church where many notables are buried.

Here, we saw the tombs of Michelangelo, Dante Aligheri and Galileo. It was a nice church to visit, cool inside and we took some time out in the cloister to recharge.

From here, we headed back up to the San Marco district, as our Accademia appointment time was inching closer and we needed some time to eat and relax before going in. We went back to the same cafe where we'd bought paninos earlier for lunch and sat with some drinks for about an hour. Our feet were thankful!

I wondered too about the hundreds and hundreds of visitors to Florence who decide not to pre-book (or maybe don't know they can pre-book) tickets to places such as the Accademia - as the massive line snaking down the street, in that heat seemed incomprehensible.

I'd rung through to the ticket office from Australia to book - this meant we received a reservation number and essentially jumped the huge queue once our appointment time was announced. After 10 minutes of waiting, we were inside. It was worth the cost of a short international call.

Next... the David!

Mamaw Jan 8th, 2008 05:09 PM

David, oh how sweet he is.

Ness_07 Jan 8th, 2008 09:16 PM

The Accademia houses a lot of sculpture and many altarpieces, but the Michelangelos are the true drawcard.

It was a beautiful museum, and having seen the line outside, I was determined to make the most of my visit there, being grateful to be there at all!

We walked first toward the four exhibits of unfinished Michelangelo statues "Prisoners" which were at the beginning of a large room that had "David" as its spectacular centrepiece at the end. While looking at the other exhibits, it really is difficult to keep your eyes from being drawn toward David, he is that imposing and alluring - positioned beneath a large dome through which natural light floods.

Here, it is easy to gain an appreciation for the genius of Michelangelo - the way he presents the human form and the fluidity he can bring to the sculptures - just breathtaking.

David was sculpted from one giant slab of marble, and originally stood in the Piazza della Signoria until it was moved here in 1873 and progressively restored. A copy now stands in its original location. There is also a large plaster cast gallery of famous works, many altarpieces and crucifixes as well as some impressive renaissance artworks. One piece that grabbed my attention was the Sacrifice of Isaac.

We also visited a large exhibition of musical instruments that had been created from unusual materials. There were ornate harpsichords, pianolas, woodwind instruments and horns, many of them encrusted with precious stones. There was a lot to absorb here. On our way out we took in The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna -another famous sculpture, which was best viewed by walking slowly around it as it had been created in such a way to evoke a sense of spiralling action.

When we finally departed, I was fairly sure that nothing could top the Accademia as far as art went, and that was a big call considering Rome and the Louvre were as yet, unvisited. We contented ourselves with the fact we'd seen and done quite a bit within our timeframe, so returned to the group meeting point that was in the Piazza della Signoria.

We found a cafe and ordered some drinks - and we just loved how they brought out complimentary nuts and appetisers on little toothpicks. We started seeing a few of our group congregating, and watched as more scaffolding went up for another classical evening concert.

We were alerted to the fact that the concert was free, and a few of the group made plans to stick around after dinner, and have some drinks, listen to the music and return to Prato by train. It sounded good to us, so we helped rally the group over dinner. Again the food was a little ordinary - another set menu with no choice available. It was served trattoria style on large platters that were passed around. Included in tonight's dinner were bottle of local chianti. I would later rue the chianti!

In Annecy we'd missed out on tiramisu as they ran out before they got to our table, the same thing happened in Monaco with the creme caramel and in Florence we were again denied when informed the tiramisu had not set, so we had to be content with this horrible ice cream cake made with gingerbread.

Everyone who wasn't going out when off to get on the bus, and the brave ones who stayed behind gathered in close and we swindled the chianti bottles and it wasn't long before the group was merry with all that chianti. So we stumbled down the road, back toward the piazza and the music, finding a little bar that was happy to accommodate a group of rowdy Australians. This is where my recollection becomes hazy. I remember walking to the train station was a bit of an ordeal and that there were plenty of stops for directions, to dodge the cardboard bandits and by the time we got there, I promptly leaned back on my partner who was sitting on the gorgeous Florentine marble floor and fell into a deep sleep. I did make it on the train, but I felt horribly sick and disorientated. We went by taxi back to the Charme Hotel and I remember trying to talk to the driver in Italian - "Buona Notte"...

Day 13 ... last tour day in the Tuscan hills then onward to Roma!

Ness_07 Jan 9th, 2008 11:33 AM

Day Thirteen - San Gimignano to Rome

Today was the last day of the tour and the morning greeted me with a cracking headache and aches and pains courtesy of an overindulgent night out in Florence the night before. However, I soldiered on through this and we even managed to be one of the first downstairs and into the breakfast room. We were so pleased to be leaving behind the pre-packaged croissants and the blood red orange juice...

San Gimignano was our first stop of the morning. On our approach the silhouettes of the 13 famous windowless stone towers stood on the hill like a medieval urban landscape - skyscrapers bursting out of the gentle Tuscan countryside.

It is an interesting hill town, primarily because of these tower features. The towers were built during the 13th and 14th centuries by rival families as symbols of their individual wealth and power. At one time, more than 70 towers stood in the town.

It is a pretty place, as most of these hill towns are - but they definitely bow to the tourist trade here, and you have to look deep into the laneways and crannies of the town to glimpse local life here. The main square features a large well, and is over-run with cafes, gelati shops, leather merchants and souvenir stores.

The stone buildings are splashed with blue and red, with strings of flags fluttering across the laneways. I wasn't feeling up to climbing any of the towers - for obvious reasons but was content to potter around, eat some gelati, peer in the shops and sit for a while at a cafe in the piazza.

Ness_07 Jan 10th, 2008 03:28 AM

We lucked upon the actual "World Champion 2006-2007" gelati man in the main square and this was a boon as it was the best we’d eat in Italy. The proprietor was loving the tourist attention, posing for photographs with hordes of tour groups. We walked down one of the back laneways where wonderful vistas of the rolling Tuscan hills could be had and snapped a few photos here with our bus friends.

We kept bumping into members of our own tour group and it wasn't long until we sat down at tables in the piazza, drinking cappuccino and people watching. I managed to pick up some nice souvenirs here as well, mostly on the walk back down to the pick up point. I was especially pleased to pick up a little stone tablet bearing a Fra Angelico painting - to remind me of the wonderful art I'd seen the day before in Florence.

We then walked through the local supermercarto while we waited for the bus to arrive, stocking up on things like fruit, biscuits, snacks and bottled water. In Italy when you buy fresh produce, you weigh the items yourself and the machine spits out a price label that you then affix to your purchase. Reminded me of the old "Jack the Slasher" era. Once everyone had their supplies and were safely back on the bus we departed for our lunch in the Tuscan countryside at a local vineyard.

We were all desperate for food at this point, but to be honest, the thought of wine tasting with the horror of the chianti still fresh in my memory and on my tastebuds didn't go down well. We all went in and took seats around tables in the outdoor dining area. There were little kittens running about the place, rolling over each other as they wrestled playfully, others dozing peacefully in the sun. There were plenty of oohs and ahhs and pictures taken.

Our lunch commenced with a plate of antipasto each with the winery owner taking us through a wine tasting exercise, so we needed to ensure we had samples of each item on the plate to try with the wines. We were first asked to try the wine and then each of the accompaniments and decide which combination we liked the best. Plates contained a slice of bread drizzled with olive oil, salami, cheese, potato chips and crackers.

The cheese and salami were great and seemed to me to go with almost everything I tasted, but I think my tastebuds were weary and the smell of the wine was having an adverse effect! As we tried the combination the owner explained to us, in between cracking jokes and telling stories that there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to pairing wine and food - the only rule is what you like. We were then served up lunch proper - a traditional Tuscan dish (which Bonny, as the group member of Italian descent declared 'peasant food'). This dish was made from day old bread, herbs and olive oil. It was actually very unappetising, but most people soldiered through it a) to be polite and b) because lunch was included in the tour!

After lunch the winery tried to flog the wines off to the group and so began the extremely long line for the single toilet on the premises. But, happy in the knowledge that this would be the very last time we would have to wait and wait for people to get on the bus and get going, we settled back into our seats and prepared for the drive to Rome, the finish of our tour and the beginning of our independent travel.

BarbaraS Jan 10th, 2008 06:51 AM

I'm enjoying your trip report - thanks for posting it. Though it does make me glad that I'm not taking a tour on my upcoming trip.

Mamaw Jan 10th, 2008 10:53 AM

I am having acid flash backs of the tour stuff. I know exactly what you mean. Those meals included with the trip sometimes SUCK! And the staff/restaurant give you medicore service and there have been many many times that we didn't get dessert or the got the bottom of the barrel because they ran out. And you'd be starving and thinking your gonna get something good (because your in chi chi Paris/Rome/Spain) and you get crap instead. Now that I'm older and wiser when I go on these tours with language students (I'm going in March for 10 days England/France) I request a vegetrian meal for dinner and I get Double salad and veggies and dessert and venture out on my own late at night and eat whatever I want. Breakfast time I usually get better food/service. I get up way earlier than any of the kids/parents/teachers and have coffee and breakfast on my own and I get better service since I'm not coming in with the group. OMG, once in Madrid while our group was there for 4 days and it was the worst food ever on all these trips. They fed us meat (were not sure what it was) with chicpeas's and potatoes. It was horrible. NO ONE and I mean NO ONE at it. We all left starving. And our hotel wouldn't let us eat in the dining room with the other guests. They gave us a room in the basement with a bag full of boxed bread, juice, jam and a orange. I had gotten up early and went to the dining room and sat down and had coffee. I was waiting for my roomie to get ready. She came down and said we don't get breakfast here, they have a room set up for us and that's where we were to go and eat. Had I know what we were getting I would have eaten in the dining room. Our tourguide really heard about that one. When I got home from Spain I called the tour company and bitched. Not so much for myself, but for the kids, I have no problem getting something else to eat later or paying more for a better meal, but the kids are not quite as hip to all the other ways to do things and end up not eating much at all. And they are pretty good at trying new stuff. They know being in another country means trying new foods, but when we adults can't even eat it, that's bad. Thank God there was a Gyro joint below our hotel. We ate there many times. And they were open 24/7.

And I must say, I have been on at least a dozen trip with this school and the kids are really good and well behaved. So I don't why we get some of the food and treatment we do. I guess they just associate us with everything going bad by other groups with kids.

Can't wait to read the next part of your trip. I am so loving your report. Hope your hangover get's better.

Ness_07 Jan 10th, 2008 12:03 PM

It was kind of a double edged sword. You save money with the meals, transport, accom all sorted for you but your pace reaaally slows down. Plus you are stuck with people whether you like them or not. We did end up mking some friends whom we're still in touch with, but our trip gets SO much better from Rome when we are free to do and see what we please. So I'm glad we did the tour (as an intro to Europe) but once we had our feet and confidence - we were away - and probably won't do tours ever again!

Ness_07 Jan 10th, 2008 12:06 PM

Half of the group were leaving in Rome, including us. The group was joining another group and getting a new tour leader, so things weren't going to be the same, so people started to get emotional about it - I was just eager to get to Rome and start experiencing the culture by total immersion.

We did have another Autogrill stop along the way, and then got caught up in a major accident on the highway that saw our bus stranded for some time - so much time that motorists were spilling out on to the road to wait it out. Then, finally, Roma.

The bus pulled in at the tour group's designated hotel called the Torre Rossa Park Hotel - located on the outskirts - far from anything and so inconvenient for us that we had to take a taxi in to our B&B which was in Trastevere. The area looked a little dodgy, lots of housing commission style blocks etc. The hotel seemed swanky enough though. So we said goodbye to Kumuka and prepared to stretch our wings once again.

Our taxi driver had a bit of trouble with the address and spoke very little English, but took us as close to the B&B - Arco del Lauro as he could. Parts of Trastevere are inaccessible by car. So we walked up from the little piazza, taking in our first experience of Rome, the narrow lanes, the cobblestones, the dirty buildings and the graffiti. It was filthy and ramshackle but charming and alive, all I'd expected from Rome and we couldn't be more pleased.

The delightful Lorenza was there to greet us as we made it through the door with our packs and we received a warm welcome in very good English. We were having to switch rooms after the first night which was a bit of an inconvenience but that aside, we were just grateful to be there. It was a very nice place, with complimentary Internet access (I was loving that), yoghurt and juice, tea, coffee and biscuits. The rooms were clean, modern and well equipped and we really couldn't have hoped for more.

After a short rest and a bit of unpacking we ventured out into Trastevere. It was magic. The cardboard bandits were back out in force, couples sauntered along the little lanes arm in arm, scooters whizzed around the pedestrians and everywhere there were ristorantes and cafes and gelaterias. There is a friendly and fun hubbub here, people talking and gesticulating wildly, street vendors selling jewellery and other souvenirs, trattorias and enotecas and the constant whine of the motorini. We were already in love with Trastevere.

Ness_07 Jan 11th, 2008 12:56 AM

We walked up to the Santa Maria in Trastevere piazza, where there is a central fountain. Around it, various performers were plying their trade - jugglers, singers and illusionists. We walked on, hoping to find a cheap pizzeria and we lucked upon a place called San Cristo.

It was most definitely a locals’ place - long communal tables, a television showing "Italy's funniest home videos" in the corner, laminex tabletops. Very little English was spoken here, and the place was full of attractive Romans on their way out. We sat at a table next to two tiny Roman girls, who were all sparkly tops, tanned skin, loud voices and gold jewellery. Almost everyone was watching the television and roaring with laughter as they shared their meal. We ordered a pizza margherita and a house special and were gobsmacked when they arrived - massive things, drooping over the edges of the plate like a steak in a Corowa pub back home. The pizzas cost us only 4.50/5.50 euros each and were incredible. We ate as much as we could, watching the goings on in the restaurant - mobile phones going off everywhere, the well dressed and groomed Italian boys showing off their muscles, guys roaring up to the door on scooters to have a conversation. It was an excellent choice for our first night in Rome, and as we wandered back to the B&B with gelatis in hand later we were pretty content.

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