A Travellerspoint blog

Firenze

all seasons in one day 13 °C
View 220 days on AllisonP's travel map.

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We are now half way through our four week stay in Florence. When we were planning our trip we knew that we wanted to stay somewhere for an extended period of time, not to be just tourists but to see what everyday life in Italy was really like. Thank goodness we chose Florence.

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Our spacious apartment (by Italian standards) is located about five minutes from the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge, the gateway to the old city. With so many museums and galleries within walking distance we decided to buy an annual museum pass enabling us unlimited entry whenever we pleased.

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As the weather hadn’t really been on our side the first week of our stay with light rain most of the time (normal for this time of year) a few hours in a gallery has helped fill our days. We’ve seen what seems to be hundreds of sculptures and paintings, the highlight being the incredibly impressive Statue of David. Unfortunately inside all the museums there are these grumpy old Italian women who yell at you if you try to take a photo.

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On a rare sunny day we went for a beautiful drive through the Tuscan countryside and visited hilltop towns including San Gimignano, Volterra and Monteriggioni. We plan to go back to the countryside and stop at some of the wineries and olive plantations along the way to sample some produce.

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Another day trip took us to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, once again a surreal experience after seeing the iconic Italian building in books and TV over the years. That that afternoon we walk around the wall of Lucca.

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Overlooking the town of Lucca

Overlooking the town of Lucca

The boys have been fortunate and have attended a few football games and Ben is even training with a local team, having the real italian soccer experience.

Oh Fiorentina

Oh Fiorentina

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Bret and Ryan also managed to get in a day’s skiing at Abetone.

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When we are not venturing out of town, we fill our days with walks into town, shopping (mostly window shopping), watching the Winter Olympics at a reasonable time and of course food. While the variety of food is limited compared to what is available at home, everything tastes so good. Fresh pasta, bread, salami, cheese and of course pizza. Most of the food is produced locally, nothing is processed. While I struggled at first with the lack of variety, I have since gotten used to it and now enjoy the simplicity of our meals.

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Parking in Florence is a problem. There are very few free car parking areas and the garages are very expensive. The solution has been to leave the car at Michelangelo Piazzale during the day and than move it to a free space from 8pm to 8am. This has turned out to be a nice ritual each day that is rewarded by a fantastic view over the city. Each day it tends to be different.

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So glad we have another two weeks in Florence, still so much to see and experience here.

Posted by AllisonP 23:43 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Getting lost in Venice.....

all seasons in one day 10 °C
View 220 days on AllisonP's travel map.

Heading up to see the Bridge of Sighs

Heading up to see the Bridge of Sighs

Venice. Canals, bridges, gondolas, masks, high tides, flooding and gum boots. We experienced it all.

We arrived in Venice on a perfect day. The sun was shining and we were once again in tourist mode. We checked into our apartment and headed into town to take advantage of the weather as reports had rain for most of the week.

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We knew immediately we were going to have a fantastic week as we explored our local area of Dorsoduro in this amazing city. With map in hand, our walk took us through a maze of canals, ancient buildings, churches, shops, bars and restaurants. Seven days later we still needed our map to navigate the area.

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We visited the major tourist attractions – Doges Palace, St Marks Square, the Bridge of Sighs, the Clock Tower for a birds eye view of Venice and the highlight – St Marks Basilica – a church lined with amazing mosaics.

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A trip to Venice wouldn’t be complete without a gondola ride. Our ride took us to the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge and through the peaceful narrow canals of the city. Our gondolier pointed out various landmarks along the way in very broken English, I think we may have seen where Casanova lived.

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Each day we explored a different district of the island, Cannaregio with the Jewish Getto one day, Castello with the Arsenal the next and we would always seem to pass through San Polo and San Marco every day. Getting lost and discovering new areas is the best way to see Venice.

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We ended up being very lucky with great weather for the first 4 days, the rain came for the last 3 which we expected, but we weren’t prepared for the high tides, luckily our apartment came equipped with gumboots. The high water is a combination of the tide, moon, wind and rain and on the last night we were on the island the high water hit 140+ which is deemed exceptional with half the island under water. Three hours before high tide sirens could be heard across the island – the first time we heard it was 5.30am; initially we thought it was someone’s alarm clock - it is a very calming siren. The locals would then head into town with their gumboots on, and they wore them with style!!!

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Each day the tides got higher, in some areas it was almost knee deep in water and in others you just kept away. Hotel foyers, shops, cafes and restaurants would be flooded, however business continued, patrons would just stand in the water whilst sipping their macchiatos.

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The tide then drops, the water flows away, shops are cleaned and then they do it all again in 12 hours time.

A very unique and great experience. Next stop Florence.

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Posted by AllisonP 12:55 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Hamming it up in Parma

all seasons in one day 9 °C
View 220 days on AllisonP's travel map.

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Our time at Parma has come to an end. There have been a few trying moments along the way, but overall our stay in Parma has been a great experience. We have eaten a tonne of prosciutto, mountains of pasta and just a few pizzas. We have climbed hundreds of stairs, seen works of art by Da Vinci, visited castles and dealt with the Italian legal system. What an adventure!!!

Chilling out in Cinque Terre

Chilling out in Cinque Terre

Once we became comfortable with life in Parma we decided to head out of town and see what other areas of Northern Italy had to offer. We headed into Cinque Terre, a group a five fishing villages scattered along the coast. The area is well known for hiking. Hikers usually spend the day walking from one village to the next before spending the night and then heading to the next village the following day. This was only a day trip for us so the Italian rail system did the hiking for us. We visited two of the five villages. There are no cars allowed into the villages so driving was not an option.

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First stop was Vernazzo. We had perfect weather the day we visited and it was great to see the ocean again and smell the sea air, I didn’t realise how much I had missed it. As in many parts of Italy, businesses close for the winter and Vernazzo was no exception, fortunately the beauty of the place does not close. It was extremely quiet and I imagine stress levels would be low if you lived here.

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After a quick lunch we got back on the train and headed to Riomaggio. Riomaggio was bigger than Vernazzo and I assume the village would come to life during summer. We climbed the many stairs to the top of the village, hard work but well worth the effort for some magnificent vistas.

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Kids playing Football

Kids playing Football

For our final week in Parma we were fortunate enough to spend the week in a farmhouse, 500m up into the Parma hills. With no internet and just a few Italian TV channels it was a great opportunity to get some reading done in front of the log fire. The boys were even introduced to Dominos! A full week of relaxing and more eating.

The Alps in the distance from Parma

The Alps in the distance from Parma

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We couldn’t leave the region without seeing how one of its famous products was made – Parma Ham (prosciutto). Simply put, the pork is injected with salt and left to cure for either 12, 24 or 36 months. Everything is done by hand, no machinery in this factory. I can now understand why prosciutto can be expensive.

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After the tour we had lunch at the factory – platters of freshly cut prosciutto, various types of salami’s, parmesan cheese, bread and wine, followed by chocolate tart and coffee. Everything was locally produced. Possibly one of the best meals we have had since arriving in Europe.

With our bellies full we headed to Langrihano Castle for a look around. The castle is 500 years old and each of the rooms are beautifully painted with al frescos. Award for best castle so far goes to Langrihano – molto bella!!!

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Next stop Venice.

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Posted by AllisonP 21:50 Archived in Italy Comments (5)

Parma... Getting to know the Italian way

semi-overcast 13 °C

Parma street music

Parma street music

Seven weeks into our European holiday and we are now in Italy; Parma to be precise. Parma? I hear you ask. Parma is in the north of Italy, between Milan and Florence, it is part of the Emilia-Romagna region, famous for food such as proscuitto, parmigiano cheese and vinegar. Some of the biggest Italian food brands originate from the area such as Barilla Pasta and Parmalat milk products.

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We also knew the area through football, Marco Bresciano and Vince Grella both played for F.C. Parma in the Serie A. So coming to stay in Parma for three weeks sounded pretty good. It was to be the place that we would get to know the Italian way and familiarise ourselves with the language before we hit the tourist hotspots.

Our first week has been a little slow, which is okay as the previous six weeks had been full on with not a lot of opportunity to just relax. We are living just near the Parco Ducale gardens, which connects the old town. Each day we walk through these gardens with many of the locals, a relaxing way to start the day.

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Our daily walks into the old town take us near the 1000-year-old baptistery and churches, which are truly amazing, and on most days there seems to be a market somewhere.

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We have managed to get out to a football game where Parma beat Torino 3:1, and in passing through the town we stumbled upon an expo about the 100 years of FC Parma. The old men were very welcoming and even though it was all in Italian, we managed to enjoy it.

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The biggest challenge has been to apply for the ‘Permesso di Soggiorno’, the permit to stay in Italy. We had discovered our visa was just the first step to stay in Italy for longer than 3 months. This permit has quite a reputation and our next few weeks will see if we are to be in Italy legally or illegally for the last three months of our trip.

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We have also found that as Parma is not a tourist hotspot, English is not common, so we are all focusing on our Italian language skills, which can only be a good thing.

We have ventured out of Parma, one day to visit the Enzo Ferrari Museum in Modena, this was okay but a little over priced for what it was but what do you expect with the name ‘Ferrari’ in it.

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Today we visited the hill town, Castell'Arquato, a beautiful town that unfortunately did not show its best side due to the fog. Still a great day trip with another glimpse into the past.

Walk up to the Castle

Walk up to the Castle

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Of course these trips have warts as well. As four travellers we all have our annoying habits and there has been a few arguments, which can normally be put into 3 categories:

1. Tiredness
2. Tidiness and personal space
3. Decision making

They say after six weeks on a long-term travel trip relations improve as everyone learns what is expected and how to deal with each other in all the scenarios. So far we have not had any reasons to pack up and call it quits so if it only gets better from here on we won’t have any complaints.

Enzo's way

Enzo's way

Posted by BretP 06:47 Archived in Italy Comments (5)

A New Year in Paris

8 °C
View 220 days on AllisonP's travel map.

Paris, the City of Lights. Also a city of long queues, dirty streets, smokers everywhere, a foreign language. I loved every minute of it.

Family selfie @ Eiffel Tower

Family selfie @ Eiffel Tower

Our first day in Paris and we were blessed with perfect weather. We left our ‘cosy’ apartment and headed for the Arc de Triumph, a spectacular monument at the end of one of Paris most famous streets Champ Eslysee.

@ Arc de Triomphe

@ Arc de Triomphe

After a few photos we walked over to what I had been most excited about…..the Eiffel Tower. The tower looked amazing and it was hard to believe we had finally made it to Paris. We decided not to go to the top of the tower, as there was a long wait so we planned to do it another day, (perhaps when we depart for home in July). After strolling through the streets we stopped for a hot chocolate, made with steamed milk and melted chocolate on the side. Delicious!!

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Next day we headed to the Lourve. There were a lot of people around and it seemed everyone decided to visit the Lourve when we did.

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After almost two and a half hours waiting in the cold we finally got into the museum and headed straight for the Mona Lisa. Once again everyone had the same idea. There was chaos in the room in which Mona lives with everyone trying to get the perfect photograph. I had waited so long to see it, there was no way I was going to be happy with a glimpse, so Ben and myself waited and were pushed to the front by the crowd into perfect view. A few quick photos and our time with Mona was over. Was it worth it??? Not sure. At least I can say I’ve seen it.

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After a very quick look at a few works of art and sculptures we headed to “Chez Claude” for lunch where we indulged in some French cuisine. French onion soup, confit duck and escargot, finished off with crème brulee and macarons.

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The following day was New Years Eve. We thought we would have an easy day, so we did a bit of shopping. First stop was Louis Vuitton and once again a line up to get into the store. Macarons were next on the list and yet again a line up. Bret had done his research and found another store ‘Piere Hermes’ – no line up there so macarons for afternoon tea.

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We discovered that there would be no major fireworks display in Paris on NYE, so I was a little bit disappointed but we all still headed to the Champ Elysee to see how the Parisians bring in the New Year. At midnight the Eiffel Tower ‘sparkles’ (as it does every hour) and everyone pops their champagne and salutes the New Year. Traffic comes to a stop, car horns go crazy and people let off fireworks in the crowd. A great way to see in the New Year and one we will remember forever.

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On our final day we headed to another side of town for a look around. We visited Notre Dame, Luxemburg Gardens and the Latin Quarter.

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Paris is such a large city it was impossible to see it all in such a short time. Fortunately we will be returning to Paris at the end of our holiday for another opportunity to see more of what this great city has to offer.

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Next stop Parma, Italy.

Posted by AllisonP 12:09 Archived in France Comments (6)

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