Saturday, 31 August 2013

My First Kitsch: Rome Day II

Rome, Italy

As you can probably tell, we saw the Colosseum. Interestingly enough, it's not called that cause it's colossal, but because there was a colossal statue of Nero nearby. Not that it's not colossal - look at that thing. 
I asked Yannick what to write about this picture, and he said "We bought a horrible bottle opener not far from here." The thing about Rome (and any other even semi-large city in Italy) is that there are swarms of street vendors selling everything from frozen water to fedoras and parasols to knockoff handbags to blobs of goo they throw at the ground that go squeak. We had bought some San Pelegrino soft drink without realising they required a bottle opener. In a moment of opportunism, I spied a colosseum-themed bottle opener (that doubles as a fridge magnet) at a stall of a vendor. Even while we paid him I kept my eyes averted lest he chase after me hawking his wares. 
The San Pelegrino, by the way, was delicious. 

From inside. There were hardly any of the original seats left, but they would have been in those slanted bits on the sides. You can also see the passages under where the stage would go (the wood of it long gone). 

There was this sweet carving above one of the doors. You hardly ever see carvings depicting gladiators, which makes this one so interesting. 

We got lunch at a place that was kind of like a bakery but also made pizza, sold by weight. We tried the pizza bianca and the pizza rossa with cheese. Our lunch cost €3.20 that day, the cheapest yet. The gelato cost more though. We sat on a Roman doorstep to eat, as there were no tables, watching passersby. 

Palentine Hill was right across the street. Yannick gained a newfound respect for Septimus Severus, who made it, and I quote, "more badass than it already was". 
We didn't get pictures of it though. Before we realised it, we were already in the Roman Forum. There was a lot of stuff going on, as you can tell from the photograph above. 

For some reason, we both really liked this set of three columns. 
I never know how to end posts so I'll end it with three. Three Roman posts. 

Friday, 30 August 2013

People Punching Horses: Rome Day I

Rome, Italy

Good morning. 
Today's post will be about the first day we went to Rome. For context, we were staying in Orvieto and taking the train in each morning. Also for context, my favourite Roman emperor is Marcus Aurelius, followed closely by Hadrian. 
This column had Marcus Aurelius on top of it, which is one reason why I like it. Another reason is that there was some sort of elaborate story going on all around it in a spiral pattern. Parliament was nearby and there were several Italian politicians walking past us here, looking official. 

We thought we'd stop off at the Trevi Fountain along the way as it was close by. I was pleasantly surprised, as I expected to be underwhelmed by it, thinking it was overrated. However, it was quite stunning. Brilliant sculpture (there's even a guy punching an aquatic horse in the face, at least that's what I think is happening), mixed with tasteful slabs of roughly cut stone. 

The Pantheon was our first intended destination. It was enormous. The concrete dome had me rubbing at my neck afterwards as I kept straining it to see the top. Everyone was backing away along the walls, vying for space to take a picture that even remotely took in the sheer size of it. Good ol' Hadrian built over Marcus Agrippa's original design, and it's now "the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome", or so Lonely Planet tells me. 

The Piazza Navona had three fountains and this one was the largest. It was in a similar style to Trevi, with the masterful sculptures (mounds of muscle and larger than life) and unrefined stones that were probably sculpted to look just the right amount of rugged. At the top you can see an obelisk that was stolen from the Egyptians. There were quite a lot of those hanging around. 

The Vatican Museum held many splendours, not least of all this giant pinecone flanked by regular sized peacocks. 

This ancient sculpure had a Renaissance head put on it. I think it works rather well, especially that beard. Bacchus on the left looks cheery but needs to give his feet a good scrubbing. 

Recognise this? Even seeing it in person, I couldn't remember if the middle figure was a giant or if the smaller figures were children. The descriptive plaque told me they were children, as well as a very nice myth about those snakes. They have oddly adult proportions for children.

Hadrian! 

We had just enough time to see the Egyptian section of the museum (or part of it, this place was crazy big). There was a selection of excellent hieroglyphics, but also. . . there was a mummy. It was shrivelled and sunken, but you could still see whisps of its hair. Its hair. It's fingernails were still pink. Needless to say, it was a little bit mind blowing and I'm not over it.
We stared at the mummy for too long and had to run to catch our return train. We made it but I was sweating so much I refused one of the lasts available seats (not wanting to sweat onto adjacent passengers). A man offered it to me and I kept shaking my head saying no and he kept saying 'prego', which is meant to mean 'you're welcome' but is used a lot to mean please. Eventually I had to say prego back to him just as insistently and he reluctantly took it, falling asleep promptly after having a conversation with a stranger across from him.

My First Kitsch: Rome Day II

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Hippies and Lawyers in Sardinia

Alghero, Sardinia

From Corsica, we took a ferry to Sardinia. The port town we arrived in was uninspiring so we drove to Alghero, where the Spanish influence still remains from days long past of Spanish rule. It was a fortified town, with sea walls, and along them were cannons and catapults.
Tiny red chair by the seaside, and part of the fortifications.

The Moorish influences can be seen in the colourful tiling of their religious buildings, which reminds me of Zaragoza's Basilica of the Pillar.

If you look closely you can see the path carved into the cliff that we walked along to reach the Grotto of Neptune. This was where Yannick dropped his camera lens cap into a pool of cave water. He tried to retrieve it, but it was just out of his reach. We had to use a glasses cloth for the rest of the trip (and we have only just replaced it even now that we've been back in New Zealand for over 8 months). 

The cave! Very drippy.

When driving along the mountainous roads, Yannick saw a hippy filling dozens of reusable plastic bottles from a tap poking out of the cliff he had somehow managed to find by the side of the road. He must have used his hippy wiles to locate such a spring, and he was making good use of it. He wore red shorts (this deserves mentioning).

Nuraghe Su Nuraxi - a nuraghe is a stone tower, and this one is the only World Heritage Site in Sardinia, dating from 1500 BC. 

The village surrounding the tower (pictured here) started in the Iron Age. 

To visit the site, a guide was needed to accompany you for safety reasons. Her English was impressive, but she often pointed to the different 'lawyers' of the buildings and I was a little thrown until I realised she meant layers. 

Cagliari, Sardinia

The capital of Sardinia. We walked around and saw the city from up high, where a sand coloured archway framed the sprawl of sand coloured buildings. 

Gelato in the capital. We ate in a park. 

We attempted to walk to the Gola Su Gorropu, or the 'Grand Canyon of Europe'.  However, it was quite tiring and looked as though it would start to rain. Not wanting to be stuck hours from shelter, we decided to turn back.  
There were goats roaming around, who were much better at navigating the rocky paths than us.

The campground we stayed at nearby was based on the rocky ground as well. We even tried to use a rock to prise off the bottle cap of some Italian orange drink we had bought. We ended up using scissors, which seems dangerous. Was the drink worth it, you may be asking. Possibly, I can't remember.

Altopiano del Golgo
The landscape became oddly swampy, and donkeys roamed. We followed sharp switchback roads to get there, parking and walking along a dusty path to find a 270 meter deep abyss. It was fenced off for safety, but you could still feel the dark depth.

The donkeys wanted food, like scavenging pigeons, but Clive our car only held biscuits which are not healthy for donkeys (or humans for that matter).

Another cave we visited was the Grotta di Ispinigoli. It contained the second tallest stalagmite in the world (38 meters high). The tallest is in Mexico at 40 metres. Our guide told us that the cave remained at a stable temperature throughout the year, so in summer it would feel cool when you went inside, and in winter it would feel warm. From Sardinia we took the ferry back to mainland Italy.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Napoleon's House

Bastia, Corsica
Back in Fance after staying in Italy for a week or so. (We came here just after Firenze and Livorno.) Not much time was spent in Bastia, as we wanted to get to Cap Corse and look at the nice fishing villages. 
This is where I walked around looking French because I had my own baguette. It seems that every bakery/fromagerie/ice creamerie proclaimed to be 'artisanal'. Probably because if they didn't, no one would buy from their shop because there's an artisanal bakery nearby and that's much better than a regular one. 
You can see a Genovese tower at the end there. Genova and Pisa had a long rivalry and kept trying to take Corsica from one another, so Genva built loads of these towers for defence. 

I cannot remember any of the names of these villages (I really am taking too long to post these blogs). This one looked nice so we took a picture but didn't explore. What you can't see is that we had to walk along a very narrow road with no footpath to get this photo. Many people could be seen simply snapping their photos from the car window.  

Corsica had a very rugged feel. Plenty of brown cliffs and little bays. The water was crystal clear. The one day we spent at the beach, the water was so warm it almost wasn't refreshing. There was also a lot of black seaweed like ribbons that stuck to your ankles as you waded out. 

These rocks were a large feature of the west coast. Unfortunately we didn't have appropriate footwear for the arduous walk, so we didn't get to see the best of the area. 

When buses came, they honked their horns before going around corners so cars could stop and no one got stuck. At least, that was the idea but we got jammed in a holdup anyway because of all those people taking pictures out of car windows. 

We weren't very prepared for laundry, but a kind neighbouring camper lent us one of their ropes to use, which we fastened to a wing mirror. The others are the tent's guy ropes closed into our car doors. Our car is called Clive. 

On the 14th of August, we realised that we would be visiting Ajaccio on 15th of August which just so happened to be Napoleon's birthday. As he was born there, they had live music going in a square and a parade. 

We visited Napoleon's childhood home - he lived there until he was nine. They had a lot of Corsican maps.

The parade started late and was a little odd. It seemed to consist of three different religious groups, and then onlookers joined in the procession at the end and walked with them. We joined in too, but felt out of place, so we slunk away. They had many Jesuses.

Further south, we went to site where prehistoric people carved menhirs and threw a lot of rocks together. This may have been a 'quarry' where they got the rocks from, or it may have been a place where they put rocks. I'm sure if I could read French, I would know. 

This one was called the dinosaur, but definitely looks more like a dragon. With a tiny head. 

At the very south was Bonifacio and its historic quarter. 
As an aside, Corsicans love roast chicken. There were signs for it everywhere. In a similar vein, I had the best raspberries of my life on a hot afternoon from a tiny roadside supermarket in the vicinity of Sagone. 

We arrived too early on the morning of departure for Sardinia, so we took a drive and found a path that lead to this view. It was a little reminiscent of the White Cliffs of Dover.
Farewell Corsica. Thanks for the Orangina. 

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Lucca, Pisa, Florence, and the Fat Foot

It all started with a rather innocuous blister on my left heel. The day we had planned to visit Lucca, I woke up with a searing pain in my heel every time I moved my foot. Not a good sign. Foolishly thinking that sometimes a blister is just a blister, I decided to ignore the pain and limp my way through Lucca. 

We saw the beautiful and striking cathedral. After that, we realised that we had parked someplace we weren't supposed to and went to move the car. Italy is full of these signs that mean that you aren't supposed to go into certain places unless you have some kind of permit. 
Walking back into the historic centre, we got lunch consisting entirely of focaccia bread (a local specialty). Then Yannick insisted we leave, as the pain in my foot was growing. 
Settled down in a campsite for the evening, we happily read for a while and then Yannick went off to see Pisa. We had limited time and I wasn't up for walking that much, but I wanted him to see it at least.  
Describing it to me after, he said it was very easy to navigate as the town was surrounded in a square wall and there was a river going straight through by which to orient yourself by. He bypassed the leaning tower as it was surrounded by tourists doing funny poses next to it. Instead he found some delicious apricots and ate nearly all of them before realising he wanted to save some for me. So he bought more, as well as a dark chocolate and white chocolate gelato that I was told was rich in flavour.  When he returned to the tower he took some pictures.

And then he drew for a while and next he noticed, the sun had moved quite a lot so he took more photos. 

Upon his arrival back at camp, I told him in a whisper all about one of our neighbours. They were a middle aged couple in a campervan. I couldn't quite decipher their accents but knew they were from somewhere far north, possibly Finland or Sweden. The woman seemed alright, but the man burped and farted constantly and unashamedly. He also stretched and yawned very loudly, but that wasn't as bad as the farting. What was worrying was a suckling sound he made. I wasn't sure if he was eating something or just sucking on his fingers but it wasn't a pleasant sound. Still, better than the farting. 

The following day, my foot was much better and I could walk in a fully normal way. It seemed that it had been healed overnight! Our day trip to Florence could carry on as planned. 
We parked at a supermarket carpark and then took the tram in, arriving next to a large train station. Spotting a tourist office, we waited in line for ever until we were given a complimentary map of Firenze, which I think sounds better than florence and I don't understand why we don't call it this in English. 
We sighted the cathedral, which wasn't open as it was before half past one on a Sunday. We did find an excellent gelateria, situated nearly within leaping distance of the cathedral. Grom. The best gelato I have ever had. We both got four scoops each - pistachio, nougat, creme de Grom, and extra dark chocolate; and lemon, raspberry, mango and peach. 

Here's a close up:

After nomming that down, we wandered around Museo del Bargello, which had many sculptures, some of which were early Michelangelos. We gazed upon a lot of marble that day. One of our favourites was an early commission for Michelangelo to sculp Baccus, god of drunken revelry. It turned out that the person who commissioned it thought it was a bit too drunken, because Baccus' expression is hilariously wonky. "Completely sloshed" as Yannick puts it.
Needing lunch, we tried to find a recommended pizzeria. The sign on the front said it had moved to a new location, so we followed it and found that it no longer served pizza. While my past experiences of eating gnocchi (in New Zealand, mind you) were not the best, I decided to give it a go. It was excellent and i gobbled it down. Though it took me a long while, because we had some wonderful lunchtime conversation with a couple at the table next to us. They were American, and were spending the week in Italy. It seemed like we talked for hours, and on so many topics. We suggested (maybe a little strongly) that they try Grom. Everybody should try Grom. 
Finally finished eating, we went back to the Cathedral. 

That was when I happened to notice that my left ankle had swollen up a little and had turned red. Well, this was a turn for the worse. I ended up pointing to my ankle and prodding it inside a pharmacy, mentioning it might be infected. The pharmacist said he thought so too, whereupon we were given an antiseptic cream that I'm not exactly sure what it did because it was all in Italian. Nevertheless, I smeared it on liberally, hoping that was the correct way to apply it. 
The tram ride back was cramped and an Italian man wiggled his eyebrows at me, only making me clutch my bag tighter, eyeing the sticker that diagrammed a pickpocketing. 

My foot had not improved the next morning, so we tried to see a doctor. When the lady at reception took a look at my foot, she tisked and directed us to a hospital as apparently all the doctors were busy.
We parked on the curb near the emergency room and were seen by a nice man at the hospital. He said it did indeed look infected. We queried about moving our car, but he just said that it is Italy, and the police do not come here. So we waited to see the doctor, who gave me a prescription for antibiotics and told me to keep the area clean. 
By the time we had finished all of that, it was barely after lunch so we decided to go back to Firenze. 
I loitered at a cafe at the plaza the cathedral was on for hours while Yannick went around getting nice pictures. 
He scaled a very tall tower right next to the cathedral and got some amazing photos of Firenze from above. 

It took you higher than the dome, and had a much shorter queue. Even as we left Firenze around six o'clock, the line to get into the cathedral was staggering and I can only imagine how hot those poor people must have been in the sun. 

This bridge looked very different when you were walking along it, with dozens of merchants selling their wares. I saw a very tall man holding an armful of knockoff designer handbags, which I found rather funny.

We stayed in Livorno, intending to take a ferry across to Corsica the next day. 
Photographic evidence of the fat foot - normal sized foot on the right. But no need to worry, I'm alright now and my feet are the same size again. 

Monday, 19 August 2013

Portofino e Cinque Terre

Portofino, Italy

It definitely is a place for rich people - we paid €5,50 to park for one hour in Portofino! That's the most we've paid yet, including Andorra and Monaco. 
I can see why though. It is beautiful, the bunched up buildings portraying an indescribable charm. 

The Cinque Terre came later that day. We purchased train passes and went to three of the five towns. 
It was far too easy to lose your bearings in the tiny winding roads and staircases. It was even very time consuming to find the train station from where we had parked our car. 

The buildings were all painted white or pink or some shade of yellow. It felt almost magical to see a place with so much coordination, like the buildings were all designed by one person and then some terrible engineer stuck them together to form towns with no pedestrians in mind. 

Despite the frequent ascending, descending, and backtracking, the towns were quaint and made you feel like you were in a different time. Just imagine yourself on one of those colourful little boats, rowing out to catch a fish for your dinner. You could do that now as well as hundreds of years ago. 

We drank a lot of water as it was tiring to walk in the sun. I noticed a small blister but thought nothing of it. With so much walking it was practically expected. 

The terraced hills sported many little vineyards among other crops. It would take some effort to harvest them, but the wine at the end would probably be worth it. Someone thought so, as these terraces apparently took hundreds of years to carve. 

These tiny trucks were all over the area, being small enough to navigate through the narrow roads. It never failed to amuse us to see a fully grown man tuck himself inside and putter off.