A Travellerspoint blog


9th-15th May

TGV bookings is a flawed system. It is in fact possible for two travellers to board a train thinking they got a great deal on tickets, have those tickets validated by a machine, then be told by the conductor half way through the trip that they in fact needed special passes. Where was the box to put the codes of those special passes into while making the booking? Or is it all a big conspiracy to coax poor students onto the train then demand a credit card to charge the real bill to? We weren’t impressed. We had decided on coming to Nice because the south of France in general had appealed, and Nice in particular because when we went on the website we saw an incredible special deal on tickets. We eventually coaxed the head train master man into giving us a 20% discount (better) and cheered up a bit on arriving in beautiful Nice to best hostel in France in the late afternoon sun. With a guided tour and free wi-fi, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, towels and sight-seeing advice we were in much better spirits. We took up a special offer for dinner and had the first homey-type meal in a long time (chicken with mashed pots and salad) before crashing to bed.

We woke up the next morning not knowing what to wear. We had been living out of our backpacks for five weeks, occasionally swapping clothes and trying all the various combinations of items we could think of. And we were sick of it. It was time for shopping. Despite the financial hit we had taken the day before, and perhaps just a little to cure it, we both managed to pick up a few new bits and pieces. It’s incredible how even something as small as a new pair of earrings or a bikini top can make you feel like you have a whole new wardrobe. We lasted a few hours on the main street in Nice, loving every minute of it and eventually becoming too scared to enter shops for fear of withdrawing more cash and overstuffing our bags even further. We spent the night playing drinking games with a Kiwi couple and various Canadians and Americans back at the hostel bar, learning a few new games and teaching them all some Kiwi vocabulary (‘skull your vessel’ usually gets us blank looks and ‘possie’ hasn’t quite caught on around the world just yet, but we’re trying).

On arriving at the hostel the girl recommended the Villefranche beach, a short bus ride out of Nice but worth it for the sand and surf. On day two, we spent our time there. On the tram to the bus, there were a couple of other guys from our hostel – one of which Ella randomly knew from uni – who decided to come along with us to check it out. We spent hours lying in the sun, swimming in the azure water (cote d’azur – get it?) and reading on the beach. Not to mention posing for some photos to give a tiny idea of what the conditions were like, even though it was the kind of day you can only really capture by being there. We paid for our imprecise sunscreen applications later but still considered it an amazing day at an amazing beach. That night Hayley walked past someone familiar – an old workmate from Cathedral Café who had stayed at the hostel himself as a traveler and never left. The tally now stands at Ella: 1 Hayley: 1.

Day three was time to get out of the city. We took a tram first to get to the bus, where there was an interesting moment with a woman banging on the doors and yelling as we pulled away from a stop – took about a second to realise her 3-4 year old daughter had boarded the tram without her and was off on a wee adventure on her lonesome. For the sake of the blog we can assume that the story ended happily ever after. After some minor issues we found the correct bus and headed off first to the little mountain village of ‘Eze’ (also recommended) for some tourist gold nuggets of photo opportunities and souvenir shopping. It turned out to be one of places that probably hasn’t changed in a hundred years and probably won’t for another century either. The recommendation had led us slightly astray, as even though the village was pretty, it did not take more than thirty minutes to explore in full (unless you are a waddling elderly American tourist like the rest of the people on the bus) and we were stuck in the town for two hours twiddling our thumbs and raiding the supermarket for sweets. Finally the bus arrived to ferry us to Monaco, another thirty minutes down the road, and we were there. Our main objectives were to check out the casino, the boats, and the palace. Monaco is a much more happening place than Eze, in all its construction splendour as it geared up to the Grand Prix in a couple of weeks time, and we managed all of our targets within a few hours. Despite being afraid of movement due to intense sunburn, and coughing and sneezing (with a cold we shared like everything else) through the uber-expensive streets, we agreed on preferring Monaco in the sun with sickness to New Zealand in the rain with mid-terms. There were some incredible cars around, and one we couldn’t even name. That might not mean much but when we could easily pick out the Jaguars, Porshes, Ferraris (we counted five), Rolls Royces, Bentleys and Chryslers, it has to mean something. Between that and the super yachts it was an absolute boys paradise. Somewhere between the Cartier store and the Prada store you can find the girls' paradise. We left Monaco still very sore and very tired for our last night in ‘the best hostel in France’ (we were beginning to disagree), opting for bed instead of the tempting offers of happy hour.

We’ve made it a habit to book our hostels early, and also to never book more than a few nights at once. This tends to be a fairly good plan as even when a hostel is dubbed ‘the best in France’ by HostelWorld, it can still be incredibly noisy at night, and only have one toilet and two showers on the whole floor. We were relieved then to be on our way to our next hostel in the middle of Nice for a further three nights. Hayley was in charge of finding the place as Ella was crookliest with her cold. We managed to only walk right past it once, which is pretty impressive considering the sign was about A5 size and tucked away in a little corner. It didn’t look good. Once we were inside though it was all fine, and considering what we were paying it wasn’t bad at all. We spent the day reading and sleeping in bed mostly, only leaving the hostel for a food hunt for dinner then back to our cave for a movie. While this hostel had an entire TWO bathrooms for roughly twenty people, they were up a set of tiny stairs Ella dubbed ‘the death stairs’. If you think about those engineering assignments students have to do at university where they must build a bridge that will withhold the weight of one person, but collapse as the second steps onto them, you can imagine these stairs. Carry anything more than shampoo to the bathroom and you’re done for.

The next day we had planned to once again spend at a beach with some caves you could swim out to, but with both of us still somewhat under the weather we took our books to a park and spent another day reading. Still in France, in the sun, things were going pretty well.

The next morning we both woke up feeling much better. Sunburn fading and coughs much less irritating we were looking forward to a day in Cannes stalking some major A listers. Then Hayley noticed she could only see out of one very puffy eye. Somehow in the night Ella had punched her in the face… not really, but it looked like it. We took our very limited French to a pharmacist who forwarded us to an eye specialist within seconds. We took our limited French to an eye specialist who spoke no English but was lovely and handed over a prescription for some magic drugs that would fix the apparent allergic reaction within a day or two. With a couple of hours of rest and some large dark sunglasses, we set out for Cannes. We arrived in late afternoon and lost ourselves amongst the tourists, locals and the nameless faces in big name brands. We found the red carpet, which was empty at the time, and followed the crowds along the shorefront. Passing by a couple of buskers we felt a drop of rain. Within seconds it was bucketing. We hid under a awning infront of a fancy art store, seriously reducing the aesthetic appeal of the store, and waited it out while trying to guess who was behind the tinted windows of the uber fancy cars around us. Once it stopped we grabbed a coffee, and wandered back to the red carpet area to see if anything interesting was happening. It was. We could find the famous and glamorous by watching the paparazzi – most of the time we didn’t know who the photographees were, though the procession of models in designer outfits was breathtaking. We followed the crowd to the closest point to the red carpet that we could get to, still not really sure of what was happening, what movie was premiering or who was going to be there. There were enough beautiful dresses walking past to keep up entertained anyway. After a while a few police escorted, flagged and tinted windowed cars drove past. At the entrance of the carpet area when the cars stopped we could hear – but not see – the screaming crowds on the other side. We could hear them chanting. The announcer was almost drowned out by the screams, but even through the screams, the static and the French introductions, we could easily make out the names ‘Johnny Depp’, ‘Penelope Cruz’ and ‘Geoffery Rush’. We got a few glimpses through the crowd at they walked up the stairs to the entrance, and took a couple of grainy photos that didn’t turn out so great – but we were there, we saw them – and we were stoked about it. Somehow, the day had turned out to be a success. Still sporting large dark sunglasses after sunset, we made it back to Nice for one last sleepless night sharing a miniscule eight bed room with sir-snores-a-lot and his buddy senore mcsnore.

Posted by Trailblazn 11:14 Comments (0)


4th-8th May

Sprinting down a main road in Amsterdam in jeans and dragging 16kg bags behind us we swore to never again trust Google maps. It had sent us to Amstel St. instead of Amstel St.ation. Fortunately the bus station was only a thirty minute walk away. Unfortunately we only had fifteen minutes to get there – hence the running. Thank you to the kind stranger who saw we were lost and asked if we needed help before pointing at a tall building in the distance and saying that that was where we needed to be – never would have made it otherwise – and tears would have occurred. The bus ride was another long one, and we made it to Paris in the late evening to stay with Hayley’s friend Amelie who kindly gave up her cute French apartment for us to completely take over for a few days. Not only that, she then shouted us to a gorgeous dinner at a local restaurant before finally getting some rest after our morning marathon.

Our first full day began very slowly with pains aux chocolat in a park we found near Amelie’s apartment. It continued on slowly as we went for a short wander around the area before hitting up a supermarket for some picnic supplies, returning to our park with food and books in hand, and spending the entire afternoon lying in the sun. That night we went on a bike tour of Paris with Fat Tyres bike company, Ella’s aunty had given her a voucher for Christmas so thank you Odette for something we wouldn’t have otherwise done. The ride was tense at times when we were biking through very central parts of Paris at a very busy time of day, at other times we got to go cruising around the Louvre at sunset and really couldn’t complain at all. At the end of the tour there was a one hour canal cruise with wine included to see the Eiffel Tower light up at night, which was absolutely spectacular, and something we had wanted to see for a very long time. We returned home knackered once again despite our deliciously lazy start.

Day two in Paris was something we’d been looking forward to for a really, really long time. A whole lifetime kind of a long time. We finally got to go to Disneyland. We made it there just as it was opening and walked into a random ride as our first stop. Little did we know it was the most stomach churning ride we would go on all day. It was essentially a roller coaster in pitch black darkness, and we’d somehow managed to get seats in the very front row. After taking our earrings out to avoid further spiking, we wandered out to find some tamer rides. We got to go on plenty of cutesy fantasy rides, with lots of distressed princesses and heroic princes and enough souvenir shops to keep our heads turning all day. One surprising aspect of the whole day was the amount of smokers. Not just in the park, but literally rocking children in their prams in one hand and holding a cigarette in the other. We were slowly getting used to the huge numbers of smokers in Europe but seeing parents so cavalier with their behaviour in front of kids was incredible. Perhaps this is why so many of the kids were little brats – the park was very nearly a giant advertisement for contraceptives. Eleanor thinks that comment crosses the line but Hayley would like to add that this is a personal point of view and that seriously, some of them were little tyrants in the making. We found our way home again, watching some Glee (with French subtitles – awesome) with Amelie before bed.

The Saturday in Paris was a public holiday due to it being the anniversary of the end of WWI, so it was extra busy everywhere we went with locals enjoying the sunshine and the day off. We enjoyed a sleep in before setting out to Galleries Lafayette and the surrounding shopping area to drool over some of the designer brands and crazy high-heels. Our wonderful local guide Amelie pointed out some of the more interesting buildings and monuments and showed us around a few of the more popular areas of the locals, including the main park and a fashionable café area. That evening we did something even Amelie had never done, something as highly touristy having a picnic on the ‘pont des arts’ is not an activity a lot of locals do – but should – which we enjoyed in style with baguettes and brie. Amelie’s friend joined us for a wander around the night club area (passing a bar where the waiters wore boxers only) and spending the rest of the night in an ice cream parlour for some delicious treats. It was a nice and cruisy way with plenty of localness to spend our last day in Paris until we return there to fly home in January.

Posted by Trailblazn 09:51 Comments (0)

Top Deck Tour Week Two

Already one week into the trip and we already had about 200 photos in our ‘Top Deck’ folder, and considerably less funds. Week two began in a pretty similar fashion. On Easter Sunday we left our accommodation in Ljubljana (hopefully the last time I have to spell that) for another long bus ride to Tyrol, Austria. On the way we stopped for a couple of hours at a tiny place called Lake Bled, which ranked very well in the prettiness factor. Essentially, it is a lake that you can walk around in an hour (we did), a small village with no ATMs all surrounded by scenic mountains. The lake is famous for rowing, and is where they are holding the world cup this year. Also, in the middle of the lake there is a tiny island (don’t know how this works with the rowing side of things) upon which sits a little church, which is rather cute, as far as churches go. We picnicked on the grass under a blossom tree and were hindered in our shopping attempts by the public holiday. That afternoon we were to drive to Tyrol, the adventure capital of Austria. So far we have been watching movies filmed on location in the places we have been visiting (ie Angels and Demons for Rome, Casino Royale for Venice), and guessed the Sound of Music would be next. Hayley awarded Ella 10 points for the correct guess but Ella thought she deserved more. Little miss. We pulled up to our ‘guest house’ as Maria and Mr von Trapp were getting married and enjoyed an amazing BBQ dinner and early bed.

Kirchdorf (Churchtown) is one of the tiny villages in the Tyrol area, neighboured by the larger St Johann, which is where we were to glide over later the next day during our paragliding. Kirchdorf won us over very quickly with working ATMs and a bowl of free lollies at reception. Paragliding was sensational, one of those things where you don’t realise just how safe and unscary and easy it is until you try it. Floating over the Springtime ski field and green green valley, we landed loving the area even more. The ride was just fifteen minutes long, but we got some amazing photos to make you all jealous and left wanting to go again. Afterward Ella opted to walk back to Kirchdorf for the scenery and Hayley took the van for the lazy afternoon and optimal lolly nicking opportunities it offered. Others on the trip also went mountain biking or canyon jumping, some girls even shelled out for the traditional drindel dresses which they found in possibly one of two open shops in the area. Easter’s great till the shops close and the chocolate stops. Ella took up the optional dinner out on a mountain and tried her first stein of beer, while Hayley chose to be lazy once again and hang out at the guest house for second, and last, night in Austria.

The next morning our driver, Marcus, and his sidekick, Gabrielle, got up extra early to clean every little bit of the bus interior. Rumours circled of a girl taken to hospital for a mysterious rash, and we were now provided with hand sanitiser when we boarded the bus. Chicken pox had arrived on Top Deck. As a tour for 18 to 30 somethings, this was unexpected and potentially very hazardous considering there were four more members of the trip who had never had chickenpox when they were young, and the fact that it is possible to catch it more than once, only much much worse as an adult. As we sat driving away from Tyrol wondering how hand sanitiser would combat an airborne bug, one of the guys moved to the front of the bus and declared that he had lost a bet the night before and had to ‘entertain’ us for a full minute. His choice of entertainment, what else, was yodelling. It’s moments like these when you realise that travelling in a group is far more entertaining. Our next stop couldn’t have changed the mood more. As we drove north toward Mauthausen, one of the bigger concentration camps in Austria, Leti explained some of the horrors that happened there. Between both Hayley and Ella we took three photos in total, and found the whole camp sickening. The ‘cold rooms’ for storing bodies, crematoriums and of course the gas chambers were the worst. After a couple of hours here we all boarded the bus again (more hand sanitiser) much more quietly than usual. They played ‘Fool’s Gold’ to cheer us up a bit… apparently some people must enjoy that movie. After many, many more hours on the sub-zero bus, we arrived in Prague. Hayley promptly snapped her key card by storing it in a jeans pocket and had to pay a fee for a new one (Ella would later crack hers by holding it while slipping in jandals but get away with it). After dinner Leti took some of us on a night tour of Prague to see the main sights, which were very pretty and included a Disney-ish castle.

The next day was a marvellous chance to get a sleep in before exploring the city for ourselves. We shopped some more, ate some more and very much loved the city. We even made it to the palace on time at noon for the changing of the guards. It was a very cruisy day that we finished off with a few quiet drinks and a couple of games of pool with some of the other girls on the trip.

The following day was all about another long bus ride to get from Prague to Berlin. We had just one stop in Dresden to improve the unbearable hours on the bus but it didn’t take long for us to decide that the bus may have been preferable. The city is full of architecture that was essentially destroyed in WWII and has only recently been rebuilt. Apart from that, it smelt like the horses that were touring the streets, the food was hard to find, expensive and less than average, and the entire centre is full of old tourists – which means they walk even more slowly than the normal ones. At least there were free toilets. The one piece of travel advice for Dresden is to stay on the bus, unless you need a bathroom. Hours later we had a quick driving tour to Berlin to check out some of the main sites before arriving in ‘wombat’s hostel’ – one of the coolest we’ve been to so far, and watched another movie before heading to bed.

Exactly four weeks to the day since we had left home, we had the day to explore Berlin as we pleased. Even though neither of us really knew what to expect from the city, we both loved it by the time we were done. Most of the group went on an optional third reich walking tour as we made our way down that main street in Berlin Unter den Linden. We picked our way through many of the souvenir shops, and ended back at a Jewish war memorial we had driven past the night before. Placed in a large square in the centre of the city and consisting of over 2700 concrete blocks over sizes varying from about one foot high to ten feet high, it was like a giant concrete maze, intended to give the feeling of confusion and helplessness that many would have suffered. Underground the open air memorial part, there was a modern museum of sorts telling the stories of certain pictures, families, individuals and hand written letters in a series of rooms. While sobering, it was definitely a very well done piece of living history. We made our way back to the hostel and caught the end of the royal wedding, had a rest then went back out for some more shopping. That night we went on a ‘night life tour’ - something we know more accurately as a pub crawl. Free shots were included as we visited five different pubs and clubs and had another good night out.

Our last drive the next day was the longest on the trip and didn’t stop until we got to Amsterdam. It was a national day of celebration for the Queen’s birthday so as we drove in we could see the entire city out in the streets, all wearing orange, and partying like it was 1999. We could only drive so far because the central area was blocked off to cars so the entire group jumped off almost in the middle of a road and had to walk the few remaining blocks. The trickle of orange clad revellers became thicker and thicker until we were lugging our bags through what was essentially a city-wide mosh pit. It was chaos. Somehow, we made it to the hostel and were given some time to get some food and something orange to dress up in. As we wandered around looking for stalls selling overpriced orange t-shirts, hats and boas we came across one of the canals. For a small canal, there were an incredible number of boats cruising down it, all packed with people dancing to the music that seemed to come from everywhere. We picked up some orange and met back at the hostel to walk to the red light district where we would get to see some of Amsterdam’s ‘finest’ (sorry mum). The sexxx show we went to was incredibly funny, we were expecting at least some awkwardness but found only hilarity. The girls had a knack for picking the geekiest guys from our group and making them involuntary volunteers. Afterward most of our group went to a ‘coffee shop’ to experience more of Amsterdam’s produce, while Hayley and Ella decided to walk back through the streets to our hostel to witness the aftermath of the carnage and only get a little bit lost.

Our very last day with Top Deck had come around so quickly, and luckily without any new cases of chicken pox. In the morning we started with a refreshing bike tour of the main city in Amsterdam (don’t be fooled by the pictures, it was actually really cold). The tour guide said it was what was known as ‘flat tyre day’ because of all the glass on the roads. Between our group of about thirty people, we had eight flat tyres – Hayley and Ella used our amazing ninja skills to avoid the glass instead. We spent the next few hours wandering, shopping, laughing at the souvenir stalls and generally being stunned at how quickly the city had been cleaned up after the mess left the night before. For the last dinner the whole group made our way to the Sea Palace floating restaurant for a delicious meal. Afterwards we all boarded a boat where we would spend the next hour and a half cruising the canals and making the most of the free drinks. A lot of alcohol was consumed by all and the Macarena was completed in a traditional boys vs girls dance off. We left the boat and headed into a club (more free shots) for a big night with lots of dancing, drinking and photo posing.

Suffering from a couple of severe cases of ‘Amsterdamage’, now with almost five hundred photos in our TopDeck folder, and once again alone after the tour, we made our way to our new hostel out of the main city. As our room wasn’t yet ready, we got an upgrade to a four bed room with a new ensuite bathroom, and ending up having it all to ourselves. We spent most of our two nights there sleeping and catching up on some much needed rest and relaxation. This would be our last night in Amsterdam before setting off for Paris the next day.

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Top Deck Tour Week One

Months and months ago we booked a two week tour of Eastern Europe with Topdeck – Aussie’s version of Contiki. The tour started in Rome and is due to finish is London. However, we are getting off one day early in Amsterdam instead.

On our very first day we had until 2pm to get to the campsite. When we say campsite, it means there are also cabins/chalets there. We do not do tents. The site was gooorrrgeoouuss with a restaurant and pool. Total luxury compared to our nights in central Rome. We were to join with 16 others into a group of 30 who were half way through their grand tour of Europe, so we were a little worried about being the newbies. However, we had an amazing meal that night from the on-site chef, followed by a few quiets, then some more, at the bar, and managed to learn a few names and everyone actually made a real effort to meet us too.

The next day consisted solely of a long bus ride to the outskirts of Venice. New Zealand is overflowing with blink-and-you-miss-it type of towns, where it is usually best just to blink. Though through the countryside of Italy, they have a way of making dilapidated look charming and quaint. The bus was surprisingly uncomfortable and we were asked again if we were sisters – bringing the total count for the trip so far to eight times.

In the morning we took a shuttle across the only route into Venice by car, where we left at the main entrance and proceeded on foot. All of Venice is car free, making it the largest place in Europe without vehicles. Leti (our Topdeck guide) explained some of the history as she led us through the alleys first to the Rialto bridge, the most famous in Venice. Apparently the Venetians needed one big enough to fit large boats under, so opened up the design possibilities to anyone. Celebs like Michael Angelo submitted designs, but in the end a random called Antonio won. Yay underdog! Leti then took us to St. Marks square – as seen in Casino Royale. Getting there through the tiny alleys is almost indescribable. They get smaller and smaller and darker one after the other, then all of a sudden spit you out into an open sunny square milling with tourists and souvenir stalls. After a quick explanation of the square, we went to the Murano glass demonstration and store. Venice is famous for its Murano glass, and it was easy to see why. Ella bought some very pretty blue glass earrings, which showed a lot of restraint considering the colossal chandeliers that were selling for about 500 euros and upward. The next stop was an optional extra of the trip – a ride in a gondola, something that everyone in the group took part in. Even though our gondolier did not sing, we had a breathtaking 30 mins (give or take, depending on traffic) cruising around checking out the Rialto Bridge from a different perspective, seeing the ground levels of many houses get flooded/sink into an uninhabitable state, and watching the ‘traffic’. From there we had several hours to spend as we pleased, which we spent carefully on a St. Marks church visit (full of gold), lunch (more pizza), souvenir shopping (masks – should be fun carrying til January) and finally taking a vaporetto (water bus) back to our bus with wheels (that go round and round). That night Leti explained that we would be having a toga party after dinner. Her Spanish accent has a cute way of shorting the ‘ee’s in sheets to ‘i’s, which we were all very mature about when she said we were not allowed to paint, rip or sew our sheets. Apparently it’s also very funny when she starts talking about beaches. That aside, we struggled admirably with our sheets and couldn’t figure out how the Romans used to do it – it’s really not as easy as people make it look. It was a good night all around and the sheets were unharmed.

Again the next day consisted mostly of travel on the uncomfortable and cold bus. Two main highlights saved the day however. Firstly, we woke up and had breakfast in Venice, stopped for lunch in Slovenia, and arrived on Pag Island, Croatia for dinner and bed. The other highlight was another optional extra as part of the tour. While in Slovenia, we stopped to visit the Postojnska Cave, the biggest known system in Europe, where stalagmites and stalactites were growing on almost every surface. When the guide pointed out a three-metre stalactite, he mentioned how they grow by one centimetre every one hundred years… you really don’t need to do the math to know that’s old. One cavern had thousands of tiny white stalactites covering ceiling so they looked like glass, or crystal droplets covering the entire surface. Unfortunately photos were banned, and screaming children discovering their own echo were not. A few hours later we were in Croatia, ferrying across the harbour onto an island that was as bare as the moon and driving into the gorgeous little tourist trap that is Pag Island.

For three nights, and two full days, we had no actual activities planned. Just as much time as we wanted to explore the little village, shop, hang out at the beach or visit the bars. One night we had a beach themed party, where Ella went as a treasure chest – wearing all the jewellery we owned together, and Hayley went as Venus, wearing the Venus apron souvenir she had bought in Rome. The second full day was Good Friday, so chocolate was a must.

On the Saturday we left out island paradise in Croatia to go back to Slovenia. This time border control was not so easy (last time we pretty much just drove straight through), as the woman didn’t like that we had no entry stamps into the UK. We didn’t like that either but it looks suspicious asking for stamps everywhere. Eventually we got through, and drove the rest of the way to the capital Ljubljana (pronounced Lalalalalalaana). After dropping our bags off in our accommodation we all went back into town to check out the city centre. There wasn’t much there bar a cool castle and a bridge with some dragons on it. We all ended up in the same place for dinner – some trying the traditional horse meat, and all went out to club ‘skeleton’ to enjoy two for one cocktail deals. We all had fun trying out the different mixes with interesting names, before a quick stint in a weird club in town and still made it home fairly early, with a 5 Euro fare, instead of the 30 Euros the other group were charged (hahaha).

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Rome 9-17th April

One taxi, four trains, two planes, two busses, plenty of walking and a measley 38 hours later on zero sleep for the entire time, we arrived at our hostel in Rome.

We had a tiny cabin to ourselves, with two beds, a shelf and nothing else. The beds squeaked when you blinked and the whole room shook when you scratched your nose. That’s hardly even an exaggeration. For three nights, we stayed in Tiber Camping and Hostel, 40 mins out of the main city in a dodgy looking area. The hostel itself was nice though and this was our first chance to catch up with home. For both full days, we hung out sleeping, eating, reading, learning Italian, watching our DVDs catching up on some much needed R&R.

After our three nights, we moved to Alessandro Downtown, another hostel in the centre of Rome. The first thing we did was go for a wander around the area to get out bearings, finding a big old thing we dubbed ‘big old thing’ and a tower we named ‘Hayley and Ella’s tower’ cause the Italians don’t name anything. We kept walking, and got caught up in a stream of people all heading in the same direction. Standing on a corner looking at some more big old things, we turned around and noticed the Colosseum about 200m away. We had a quick squiz, but didn’t go in, only stopping again to check out a big white building with statues on it that turned out to be a museum at the end of Palatine Hill.

After a reasonable sleep considering we were in an eight bed dorm, the next day we set out to find Vatican City. The ticket was pricey but we can now say we’ve seen the Sistine Chappell, a real life mummy, a bunch of statues we vaguely remembered the significance of from classics in high school, and a giant ball thing that we still don’t understand (really, the Italians don’t label anything). After the museum we went to visit the Pope, but the lines were insane and would’ve taken all afternoon, so we stood outside and played tourists for a bit before moving on. On the way back, we visited Trevi Fountain – one of the coolest and biggest fountains in Rome. Legend has it that if you throw a coin over your shoulder into the fountain, you will guarantee your return to the city – this is how approximately 3000 Euros are thrown in every day. Since the Spanish steps weren’t far away we trekked up those as well. That night we halved a bottle of 3 Euro wine and watched some movies off Ella’s hard drive, and decided to ring Khalid for an early morning wake up call… sorry.

On day three in central Rome we decided to go back to the Colosseum and Palatine Hill. This time, we actually took the scenic route – aka got lost – on our way there. Though by some stroke of luck we had arrived in Rome during ‘Culture Week’, meaning our entrance fee to these was waived. It did also mean there were thousands of school children midgets in colourful hats to avoid, but when you can buy almost two bottles of wine from the money we saved, we didn’t mind so much. The Colosseum was pretty cool, we didn’t know about much of it but eavesdropped on tours (apparently if the slaves survived in the arena they got let free) and used some of Eleanor’s Lonely Planet guide to piece it together. Unlike most tourists who whip the book out all day, Ella had ripped out the relevant pages and used those instead. It was very weight-economical. We found our way over to Palatine Hill – a huge place with more bits and pieces of ruins, statues and buildings that didn’t mean much till we consulted the ripped pages. It was, “the social political and commercial hub of the Roman Republic”. With a few fancy aqueducts, the remains of Augustus’ house and Saturn’s temple and an arch for someone called Severus (aka Snape). We had a lazy night back at our hostel.

We’d planned the next day to be a cruisy one, so had a bit of a sleep in before sending off some postcards and doing a bit of laundry. We decided to have a look at the Pantheon, which is 2000 years old has the biggest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. It was pretty cool, but we ran away before there was an earthquake. Close to the Pantheon was the Piazza Novona which had the ‘Fontana di quarto fiumi’, or fountain of four rivers. There were actually three fountains in the piazza, cause even though they don’t name stuff, they do get really excited about fountains. We walked home, having more gelato on the way, and had the afternoon to relax before heading out to a nice dinner. The plan was to get lost, have dinner somewhere cute and find our way back again. Surprisingly, we actually managed it. We finished the night with another 3 euro bottle of wine and a Disney movie.

Rome is actually a lot smaller than you’d than think. On one of the days there was a strike on the metro, so we had to walk. This is how we found that most of the sites are less than 30 mins away, and you get to see so much more on foot. On our last full day there, we went walkabout. We found the Trevi fountain again, as well as the Pantheon, Piazza Novona and the four fountains (one on each corner of a random intersection). We were sort of hoping to find the Campio di Fiori, where we’d heard there was a daily market. Eventually, without really trying, we did. It was a real life Italian market with all the fruit and pasta you could ask for, stalls with clothes, some with jewellery, some with wine and cafes all around. We bought amazing fruit salads and a few knickknacks before finding lunch (more pizza) at a nearby restaurant, served by the charming David who demanded kisses before we left. We walked down lots more cobblestoned streets, which are incredible in themselves as a decent amount of Italian women wear heels during the day, and somehow navigate their way around without breaking their ankles. We struggled just doing this in flats. Avoiding more gelato, we found our way back to the hostel without getting lost for our last night in Alessandro Downtown.

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