Ness' Italian trip report

Old Jan 19th, 2008, 09:42 PM
  #61  
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We finished the night off at the spectacular Trevi Fountain - feeling really blessed we were able to visit it twice during our stay. It is truly spectacular by night.

The crowds were still thick but there was a real carnival atmosphere. We stayed about 20 minutes before caving in to the luxury of a taxi home to Trastevere.

I was excited to use some Italian on the journey - remembering the words for "on the left" and "stop here please". And so ended our glorious Rome chapter.

Some observations about Rome:

It is a dirty and noisy place but that gives it its charm I think.

There is a lot of garbage in the streets, bins overflowing, rubbish piled up and graffiti everywhere. People drop litter wherever they please.

The cobblestone streets are great but aren't kind to your feet when you are doing so much walking - you can see in some places where the cobblestones have been covered in bitumen.

There are no traffic lanes in Rome - first in, first served at the lights.

I love how everyone answers their phones with "Pronto" and how the word "prego" means so many different things - Can I help you? Here you go. Ok. What do you want? Next.

Ahhh Roma...I was missing it already as we packed our bags ready for an early morning train trip to Assisi.
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Old Jan 20th, 2008, 03:27 PM
  #62  
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Day Seventeen Assisi

We caught a taxi to Termini this morning as our train to Assisi was an early one. The trip was a very smooth one, and it gave me confidence for the following day's scheduled trip, which involved a couple of changes on our way up to Venice. It was a pleasant trip and for much of the way I was chatting with an Australian man who now lives in Foligno, Umbria. It was great to pass the time speaking with a knowledgeable fellow Australian in Italy. He had been living there some time and effortlessly slipped between English and Italian. He had on board with him some huge Aboriginal art canvases which he'd picked up in Sydney, and was returning home after a couple of weeks holiday back in Australia. He put us on to the local Montefalco wines and in return I told him the story about visiting St Peter's bones at the Vatican, which he didn't know about.

Finally, we pulled into Assisi. The train station lies at the bottom of the hill where Assisi is carved, and the town appears like a shimmering mirage of the famous pink and white marble stones - truly a sight to behold. There was no possibility of us walking up to Assisi with our luggage, especially after the exhaustion of Rome so we opted for another taxi. We were keen to get up into the town and check in, which meant we passed on visiting the Santa Maria Degli Angeli Church that is also at the bottom of the hill and is the place that contains the cell in which St Francis died.

However, the taxi ride was fantastic, firstly because it gave us a great appreciation for the beauty of the city as we sat back in comfort, and secondly because our driver was delightful, chattering away and indulging my attempts at very bad small talk in Italian. He has a lot of pride in his town and insisted that we call him again when it was time to leave, giving us his card and saying call anytime.
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Old Jan 21st, 2008, 02:49 AM
  #63  
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Assisi is a magical place. Untouched by modern architecture, the integrity of the gleaming stone buildings intact - it really does seem to glow in the light. For this raw beauty, Assisi outshone any other French or Italian hill town I'd seen so far on the trip. The streets are incredibly narrow, and very steep, but somehow our driver squeezed his cab into amazingly compact spaces. Several times he had to stop and turn his mirrors in so we could pass by certain sections of the town.

As I marvelled at the tiny streets (correctly finding the right words 'piccolo via') he said yes, well for 700 years there were no cars in Assisi and this place is not meant for them.

We were dropped off outside the Hotel San Rufino, which I had booked through Venere online. We went in to check in, only to discover that somehow our arrangements had been changed and we were staying instead at the Hotel La Rocca, up the road.

I thought this was a bit dodgy but I was tired and didn't care in the end. Although it made me cranky that I'd spent all that time researching places to stay and selecting my preferred option based on reviews and facilities etc only to have the choice taken out of my hands.

From the looks of the foyers, the place we were to stay in looked less pleasant. But it was only to be for one night. We had to wait an hour until our room would be ready, so we stored our luggage out the back and set off to look around.

The nearest Piazza was the San Rufino Piazza, and there, we found a bar with Internet computers, gelati and a nice little balcony overlooking the Chiesa San Rufino. We decided to have lunch there, Rod had a calzone and I had a panino.

The only issue with the place were the constant processions of tour groups coming and going - all extremely loud! I wasn't able to get on the Internet, so we decided to go check in and then try our luck with the computers later.
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Old Jan 22nd, 2008, 01:56 AM
  #64  
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Our room was neat and tidy but featured a very unusual shower/toilet combo! The fact is, it was so tiny in the bathroom, that you could sit on the toilet and have a shower at the same time...When you do have a shower, the entire room floods which is fun - the floor didn't appear to slope at all to drain the water away. Adding to the fun was the doorknob that fell off as we left. Dodgy seemed to be the correct interpretation of the place.

Our plan of attack was to tackle the most strenuous of the attractions first, as it was hot and we knew the energy would be sapped fairly quickly. We set out for Rocca Maggiore, a huge citadel that is perched at the top of the ridge and which dates back to the 12th century. It is very striking, even from a distance and the views across the valley are spectacular.

Walking up is a strenuous activity and the incline is extremely steep, so when we did arrive it was nice to poke around in the cavernous rooms in the relative cool of the structure. There were also people abseiling from the side. It is a fun place to explore, filled with spiral staircases, dungeons and chambers. The highlight was definitely walking through the very long and narrow soldier's corridor that extended right up to the observation tower, which is where the best views could be had.

After picking up a cold drink and some postcards, we set off in the direction of St Francis' Basilica. The place I had been so eager to see since planning the Italian leg of our trip. In parts the walk was like bushwalking, as we passed over some rough terrain and were surrounded by trees and bushes. Eventually though, our path led onto the back streets of the town.
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Old Jan 23rd, 2008, 05:19 PM
  #65  
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The first glimpse of St Francis' was magical. We viewed it from on high, and easily visible were the little shrubs out the front, arranged in the shape of the word "pax" or peace in Latin.

Many pilgrims come to Assisi to visit the tomb of St Francis, one of the saintliest of all the saints. The church was built in 1228, two years after St Francis' death and is divided into two sections - the upper church (Chiesa Superiore) and the lower church (Chiesa Inferiore). The upper Church is pretty but was extensively damaged in the 1997 earthquake that rocked Assisi. It contains some famous frescoes by Giotto and has a beautiful rose window that survived the quake. It was such a shame to see the blank sections of the walls where parts of frescoes had been lost.

Next, we descended down to the lower church, where St Francis' body lies. It is dark and atmospheric, Romanesque in style with a low barrel-vaulted ceiling which adds to the sombre mood.

There is an altar, the crypt of St Francis and some of his followers. It was a somewhat spiritual experience for me, sitting before the tomb, silently watching as groups of pilgrims came and knelt, and made offerings. Many visitors touched the stones of the crypt, others had poked photographs of loved ones behind the wire, so they rested against the stones themselves. I'll never forget the feeling or the place of being there.
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Old Jan 23rd, 2008, 06:01 PM
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Ness, just a note to let you know that I am continuing to enjoy your Italian adventures. I know it is a long and time-consuming process to write a trip report, but I really appreciate that you are not leaving us hanging

Assisi sounds magical.
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Old Jan 23rd, 2008, 06:09 PM
  #67  
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Thanks LCBoniti - it is nice to know people ARE reading my reports! I loved writing them...
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Old Jan 24th, 2008, 01:59 AM
  #68  
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I was unsure anything could top that visit, so as we ventured back up into town (steep climbs all the way!) we visited some other churches along the way.

As we walked there were little clusters of nuns in habits everywhere, reminding us that this was a holy town. Our next stop was at the Chiesa Santa Chiara, a 13th century Basilica founded by St Clare of the Order of the Poor Clares. Here we viewed the crypt of St Clare, and another important relic - the Crucifix of San Damiano - a wooden altarpiece. This Chiesa too had been badly damaged in the earthquake.

We also visited San Rufino, the church where both St Francis and St Clare were baptised. This place was nearby our favourite cafe, so we returned there, for more Pizza Bianco, gelati and cappuccino. I was also finally able to get on to the Internet computers.

We returned to the hotel and began to pack our belongings for the following day - another early start and a train trip up to Venice.

After a bit of a nap we re-emerged into the cool evening to find some dinner. It was a relaxing place to be at that time, men sat on doorstops and chatted, while children were kicking around a soccer ball and squealing. There appeared to be many Italian families on holiday at that time. You get the feeling that when night falls and all the tourist buses have pulled away that the town grows back into itself, and becomes an ordinary little hill town again, where everyone knows one another and locals go about their business.

We didn't venture far to find dinner, choosing the "Il Duomo" pizzeria. It was an excellent, reasonably priced option with delicious pizza and we shared a carafe of wine.

And so ended our whirlwind visit to Assisi.
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Old Jan 24th, 2008, 07:24 AM
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waiting for Venice!
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Old Jan 24th, 2008, 12:18 PM
  #70  
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We were too ellenem! But the next part involves a very traumatic episode at the Florence train station - I feel sick just thinking about it six months on!!!
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Old Jan 24th, 2008, 12:35 PM
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Oh dear, now I really can't wait to hear about Venice. I hope the traumatic experience didn't ruin Venice for you.
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Old Jan 25th, 2008, 05:10 AM
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Here it goes...

Day Eighteen - Assisi to Venice

Nothing was open for breakfast in Assisi at the ungodly hour we had to get up and down to the train station. So we tried to call our little friend on the business card he gave us but had to make do with a different driver.

We were happy to check out of dodge-ville especially after the boisterous antics of the elderly pilgrims who got on the vino last night and made a big ruckus in the hallway at about 2am smashing glasses on the tiles - Assisi is a real party town for pilgrims!

At the station, we found the bar open so I ordered two cappuccinos and two cornetto cremas (I'm very much addicted to these now...) and we sat for nearly an hour watching the action in the bustling little bar and people going through their pre-work morning rituals.

I picked up some more Assisi souvenirs - a St Clare pendant for my sister and some tiles and a wooden crucifix for me.

Then we were on our way to Venice, with two changes of trains in between. The first leg was fine - it was on a small local train that was full of people going to work. Mobile phones were going off constantly and it was fun to listen into the conversations and see how many words I could understand.

Our first change was at a place called Terontola - I didn't know what to expect here as we only had a five minute connection time, but in the end it was as simple as walking to the next platform, to get on the next train to Florence.

This train was very stinky (not sure what of, but bad) but we had no one sitting near us for the entire journey that was a nice change.

We pulled in to Florence, and I relived the fun of the night on the Kumuka tour, when I'd fallen over on the marble floor. The train station was packed and buzzing, and truth be told, we probably got a bit cocky here. We both queued for the coin-operated toilets and then Rod went off to find some food while I watched the bags. We knew we had half an hour for this connection, but the time seemed to pass much more quickly.

Somehow, it all went horribly wrong.
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Old Jan 25th, 2008, 11:13 AM
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What a cliffhanger! Please don't leave us wondering for too long!
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Old Jan 25th, 2008, 11:17 AM
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me too! hurry back! waiting . . .
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Old Jan 25th, 2008, 01:18 PM
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Oh, no . . . this does not sound good . . .
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Old Jan 26th, 2008, 04:01 AM
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Thanks all for your interest and patience!

It is Australia Day today so celebrating with friends, a barbeque lunch, lots of cold ones and watching the Test match (cricket) against India has taken priority!

But anyway... back to Florence train station...
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Old Jan 26th, 2008, 04:02 AM
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About three minutes after Rod left for food, they started making announcements related to our train. It appeared to be boarding and getting ready to depart.

I waited a few extra minutes before going into panic mode - eventually, somehow managing to grab on to all of our luggage - two big backpacks, two small backpacks a carry bag and my handbag and dragged it to the middle of the station where I hoped I could cut Rod off on his way back. More excruciating minutes passed as they continued to make announcements relating to our train. Finally, I saw him rushing back and I screamed at him to 'help me with the bags - the train is about to depart!' I started running to the platform, but when I got there and turned around to find out why he wasn't helping me I realised he was gone!

I flipped out. Not knowing what else to do, I heaved the luggage on to the train, blocking the passageway and all the while, hanging out the door, desperately scanning the platform for him. I must have been on the train a few minutes and at this point I was just hoping he got himself on the correct train when I heard something that made my heart sink into my stomach.

I had mistakenly boarded the Eurostar bound for Milan, not Venice!
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Old Jan 27th, 2008, 03:51 AM
  #78  
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At this point, I thought all was lost. I jumped off, dragging the luggage, hyperventilating and unable to run. My arms and legs had turned to jelly and I felt ready to collapse.

I reached the end of the platform and saw the train in the adjacent binario was the correct one. It looked ready to pull away but I couldn't get there any quicker. I reached the first window and tapped on it - asking them to open the door for me.

I couldn't believe it but the attendant said - you are on the wrong side! You need to come around to this side of the train!! It seemed to be slow motion and it seemed to take a lifetime but I moved as quickly as I could, in the grip of a fully blown panic attack and mustering whatever strength was left threw the gear and myself into the train as it did, indeed pull away from the platform seconds later.

Shaking and struggling to breathe, the nice attendant helped me calm down, getting me a drink of water and assuring me everything would be ok. I was on the correct train now, but was Rod?? What if he wasn't? We had no way of contacting each other - no mobiles, and I had all the tickets, money and itinerary with details of where we were staying.
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Old Jan 27th, 2008, 06:43 AM
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Ah, the wonderful memories of Italy.

Being on the stinking train and listening to the Roman's on their cells yelling into them Ciao Ciao about 20 times and Prego Prego another 20 times at the end of the call.

Ness' I am so loving your Italy report. Chuck you guest out the backyard, put out the barbie and get back to the report.

I'm at the restaurant waiting for the crowd after church, I only have so long before I'm hopping with the hash.

LoveItaly are you reading this? If so I know your lovin' Ness' report.
Ciao Ciao Ciao.
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Old Jan 29th, 2008, 02:27 AM
  #80  
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Mamaw - I'm so pleased you are enjoying the report!!

Venice is next!
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