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Quiet places in Rome

Although I knew the Spanish Steps weren’t really that exciting, I wanted to see them.

Yuck! The crowds were unbelievable. As they were along the shopping streets. In fact, it seems everywhere is crowded from 10am on.

Our tour guide of the ancient area advised us that if you want quite, head to the hills. Most are topped with church organisations and they are quiet for contemplation.

I think they are also quiet because people are generally too lazy to walk up the hills, and they only want to tick off the main attractions.

Mr S and I visited a number of quiet places. They all had much to look at. Also, not being pushed and shoved and negotiating around people was a relief.

The Protestant Cemetery

Just behind the pyramid, across from the Pyramid metro station lies the Protestant cemetery, which is also a cat sanctuary. It’s quiet and green and cool.

The statue of the Angel of Grief – shows such anguish which the sculptor Celt at the loss of his wife.

The poets, Shelley and Keats, and some family and friends are buried here.

The Aqueduct Park

A short metro ride and a short walk away from the centre of Rome is the Aqueduct Park. Locals are riding, jogging, walking their dogs. But there were no crowds. Just open fields with the aqueducts, trees and a pond. We walked around and marvelled at the skill of the Romans and how soil level rises and covers what are huge monuments.

The hill behind Trastevere

We walked up the hill and, as is our way, got lost and and wandered around, discovering things.

We had the path along the fence on the other side of the Botanic Gardens to ourselves.

There’s statues and memorials to people we don’t know. One we thought looked out of a western. Love the bird having a free ride on his shoulder. It was part of the statue.

The Knights of Malta Hill

On the way up, we walked around the streets, admiring the beautiful houses in the area. (OK, we got lost again but enjoyed the walk. OK, we really had a little blue over map reading. But we still enjoyed the end product.)

I read to expect a queue of people wanting to look through the keyhole towards St Peter’s. There were many people. (Though Mr S did get annoyed at one group of Americans, each of whom wanted to take a photo and one of whom tried several times with three different cameras.) The view is amazing. (I didn’t bother trying to take a photo. I knew if I googled it someone with a better camera would have put one out there.)

See the flag of the knights of Malta?

The door, worn from all the tourists.

Someone else’s photo of the view. It was like this by more amazing. The line of trees were beautiful

After we peered through the keyhole, a huge tour group turned up. Still walk a few steps away and we had parks and views to ourselves. They only come for the look through the keyhole.

Mr S calls this, Another tower of Pisa, only better as its not broken/leaning

We didn’t get to the Mask of Truth but probably glad as it would have been covered in tourists. We had this fountain to ourselves.

A burning martyr in a park on the hill

Our last view over Rome. (Interesting fact: no building is allowed to be taller than St Peters basilica.)

Green and peace abound!

Like a tornado

I awoke on our second morning in Rome to warnings of a tornado from Apple weather.

Nope, sunny outside. Seems like Sydney got the warning too. Lucky there was no wet or stormy weather, we had much to see. We we’re going to be storming around like a tornado.

On the recommendation of Laura, I booked a walking tour of the central historic area. I am so glad I did. We skipped lines (which were massive) and had history, ruins and buildings explained. Not only did this help us appreciate what we were seeing but what we were looking at made sense.

You know, I heard and read so much, I can’t remember which arch this is.

Up on Palatine Hill. Sunken floor mosaic

Looking down on the Forum ruins from Palatine Hill. See how crowded with ruins it is!

See! Even more ruins in the Forum!

Another triumphal arch

The tour was three hours! A lot of walking. My right knee began to suffer. This is not the one I injured two years ago in a skiing accident. I hope it is just from all the walking on cobblestones. Time will tell. I’ve had problems with my knees before – it was this that made me definitely put Cinque Terre on our itinerary. My knees won’t last forever.

Anyway, once the tour was over we had lunch. Again, on Laura’s recommendation I had cacio e peppe pasta. Yum. So glad I did. I would not have picked it before, thinking it was too plain. (Loved it so much I had it again at another restaurant in Trastevere two days later.)

After lunch, we walked and walked. Through the Circus Maximus. And the old Jewish quarter and well, everywhere.

As we did on other days.

This market was probably very close to the markets of Ancient Rome, or of any period really. Crowds. People selling and buying stuff. Haggling.

If you don’t like noise and crowds, the main areas of Rome won’t be for you. But you can escape. I’ll post some quiet places tomorrow.

Rome ♥️

How can there be so much to see??!!

There’s just so much, and all the ruins, buildings, artwork, eras are all mingled and mixed up. So that is how my posts will be. No themes. No straight narrative.

Crazy, shambolic, crowded. Like the streets.

I wanted to get up early and head to St Peter’s Basilica before the crowds, so we headed off before having any breakfast. Of course, we were not the only ones, but the queue was not long. It was November 1, All Saints Day, a public holiday for which the Basilica would be closed later.

We left the Basilica and found ourselves among a marathon, with many groups of runners having fun. We wandered, stumbled upon a French pastisserie with a French family enjoying breakfast, and had a delicious croissant and hot chocolate. Revived we walked further to the Piazza Navona, which had what we thought was quite a few people. Ah! We came back another day at a later time and we couldn’t move. The piazza was PACKED!

Walking around in the direction of the Parthenon, I found my favourite statue: the poor, labouring elephant, who carries a obelisk on his back.

And then the Parthenon! Mr S’s favourite building. A marvel of engineering.

Everywhere you look ancient is mixed with medieval with old and modern. Building grow up from and alongside and incorporate and recycle elements of the past. Who knows what is what!

We stopped at a few shops to have some fun. I could have blown much money on useless, fun stuff. But I didn’t.

Then we hit the Trevi Fountain. With careful positioning, I made it look like we were there alone.

But we weren’t. Look at the crowds.

No wonder we didn’t linger. No humming of “Three Coins in a Fountain”; we hightailed it out of there. The metro station we wanted was closed so we just walked “home” for a rest and a cup of tea.

That afternoon we ventured out again to the Campo Dei Fiori for a drink and people watching. As luck would have it, just before we found the Campo, I found a shoe shop just as the shop was closing. Sneaking in, I found a perfect pair of Italian shoes. Heavily reduced, of course. In the piazza, they were cleaning up after a market, with no worries about health and safety. People, tent scaffolding coming down, garbage trucks, street sweepers, hawkers – all mingling.

On our first full day in Rome we walked over 26,000 steps, or 17km.

Oh Siena!

I was a little nervous about our travel arrangements from Vernazza to Siena. Mainly because I hadn’t made any.

Looking online it looked like we had to take four trains, three of which were regional and one an intercity express. And there didn’t seem to be many options. So if we missed connections …

But we didn’t. The trip was smooth. Though I do think our luggage was being cased to be snatched. So I made Mr S bring it to us.

More James Bond

This is turning into a Bond tour of Europe. Siena is the scene of one of the recent Bond films, Our taxi ride from the station to our accommodation was straight out of Bond. Narrow streets. Swerving past parked cars and pedestrians. Feeling like we were going at speed.

We had a huge climb to our apartment, which I picked because of the positive reviews; all of which mainly focusing on the views. And you don’t get views like this without a few stairs.

Mr S sitting on the verandah

Night view from the dining room

We ate lunch at a restaurant recommended by the AirBnB host. It was very nice. Then we wandered and wandered. Siena is perfect for just waking around.

One of the gazillion alleyways

The next morning we went to the weekly Wednesday markets. Where I bought a red leather jacket and a fake furry one. So soft!!!

Then we wandered into a church. Tried to find a fountain, but couldn’t so returned to our apartment to offload the jackets.

We found the fountain. The oldest one which was once the main source of water; now it is home to Japanese coy fish.

Outside the fountain. Originally had three levels – water for humans, next for washing, last for animals. The water cascaded down the levels

Water was so clear

Arched roof of the fountain

We visited the cathedral. The guide recommended we take the walk up the facade first as it was meant to being raining. A few small drops hinted that the rain was on its way so we went straight up. The facade was to be the extension to what is already a massive cathedral but the Black Death stopped the build. Amazing views of the town and countryside.

Unusual stripes in marble.

The museum was full of medieval illuminated manuscripts, paintings and statues. One room felt like a scene from Doctor Who. I am sure they were about to wake up. Like the people had been frozen mid-stare.

Don’t blink

Strange neck! What was the model trying to check out?

Mr S said he’s had enough of churches but he’d come in for me. I told him to just wait outside. He came in and was impressed. Majestic. Unusual with the stripes. Beautiful art work on the floors, walls and ceilings.

Mr S’s fav painting was the one of all the men showing off their flash gear, especially the one posing in his new tights.

Inside cathedral – looking up at the dome

One of the many artworks

Close up of the man with tights of which he is clearly proud

Cathedral ceiling

The stripes are repeated inside

Underneath the cathedral is medieval murals, which were lost for centuries. Absolutely amazing.

Of course, we visited the main piazza, scene of Bond’s chase while the famous horse race was taking place.

Instead of eating out, we went to a deli and bought up big. Marinated zucchinis. Marinated anchovies. Three types of cheese. Roast pork (or wild boar, we weren’t quite sure). Prosciutto from wild boar. Cherry tomatoes. Red wine. I was worried what it’d all add up to. Surprisingly less than half of the previous day’s lunch. And yummier. What a feast!

Time for a cuppa and a rest before we walked around with all the tourists who are staying in Siena (the day trippers have left) and the locals.

Back to our apartment for wine with a view.

Ah Siena!!!

My top hints for visiting the Cinque Terre

We walked around side streets, often with only a couple of other people.

1. Stay in one of the villages. Yes, La Spezia is cheaper and may have more choice, but it is ugly. Also if you are in the village, you get time to have it much to yourself.

View from balcony of our accommodation

2. Check your accommodation doesn’t require lots of steps. Ours was a short stroll from the station. The only stairs were at the station and into the building. It didn’t have a view of the ocean but it had a balcony with a view of a creek with ducks and locals chatting and going about their business. We saw some people trekking up and down steps galore. My pick is Vernazza for this reason.

Midday crowds at Vernazza. In late October. Most places shut the last weekend of October.

3. Go at the end of October. It was still warm but not sweltering. We had a day of blue skies and one of clouds but it was warm enough. Not too hot. And, importantly, without the summer crush. The downside is some of the restaurants are closed, or close early, and by 8pm it is very quiet. But that’s not a problem as you haven’t come for the night life.

Cloud one day. Sunny the next.

4. Get up early. Beat the day trippers from Florence and wider afield. They tend to turn up around 10 and 11am and then it is BUSY. Go for part of the walk, take the train, look around early. You’ll have it much to yourself. And again after 4pm.

Local watching. These three ladies met for two nights. On the third, one waited alone.

5. Buy the Cinque Terre card. €15. It gives you right to walk the track, unlimited train and bus (we didn’t use the local buses that only run within each village), toilets and wifi at the stations. If you don’t plan to stop at each station, you may save money, but the convenience of not buying tickets when the stations are crowded and people are trying to navigate the station and the ticket machine cannot be overestimated.

Too blue for words

6. Bring some food (and a knife and plate). We had a feast at Siena from food bought at a local deli. No such cheap but delish options in Vernazza. The takeaway food was awful. We had the worst pasta, reminiscent of tinned Heinz spaghetti. We bought a pizza slice; they burnt one of them. Yes, the restaurant was great but €€€. It would have been nice to have a feast on our balcony. But it wasn’t to be. Would have been difficult as our accommodation did not supply any plates or knives.

Cat hunting pigeons in Vernazza

Face of cat who missed catching pigeons. I share her pain.

7. Wander around the back streets. We had many spots to ourselves while the main street was crowded. Just before sunset we walked behind the village, and had the views almost to ourselves.

Twilight view above village. All to ourselves

This entry was posted on November 3, 2019, in Italy, travel.

Cinque Terre

Ever since reading the late Ann Rickard’s book, Not Another Book About Italy, six years ago, I’ve wanted to visit the Cinque Terre. When planning this trip, a colleague advised me not to visit. “You’ll hear Aussie twang at every step.”

I almost didn’t include it but Mr S said it has been your dream, so go.

Given that my knees are “going”, this might be the last time I am able to walk the trail at all.

So we included it in our trip. Three nights in one of the villages, Vernazza.

And it was heaven.

Look at the golden light!

We only walked one of the sections of the walk, Vernazza to Monterosso.

Looking down on Vernazza

Local farmer. Can’t imagine walking here with tools, let some working on the step slopes

Vernazza

Monterosso coming into view

I wanted to have a swim in the sea. The water was brisk. What stopped me was the lack of places to change into my swimmers. Instead, after paddling up to our ankles, we revived ourselves with a gelato, naturally.

The plan was to then catch the train to the furthest village, and hop on and off the train to all the villages, until the one before Vernazza. Then do a second section of the walk.

It was sunny and hot. And the track was steep, narrow and, in places, slippery.

I don’t do heat well. My knees were swelling. All this is to justify explain why did we didn’t do the second section of the walk. Though I don’t regret abandoning the walk.

By the end of the day we did over 17,000 steps and 83 flights. There is much walking required from the stations to the centre of each village! Especially Corniglia, where a flight of steps significantly added to the count of flights climbed!

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore

Sun on the Mediterranean

Unending steps to Corniglia village centre

The views were awesome. I am so glad we came.

And for the record we heard very few Aussie but lots of Italians and Americans.

We ended the night with dinner at the restaurant recommended by the host of the rental rooms. It was high on the point. As daylight savings had ended we didn’t see the sun set. We were, however, entertained by the waiter, Andrea, who loved Kylie Minogue, leaving her tunes playing in my head for days!

Looking up to the restaurant

Tomorrow my top hints for visiting the Cinque Terre.

Day trip to Lake Como

The skies cleared and the sun shone brightly for our day trip to Lake Como.

It’s a short, direct train ride from Milan to Como. Don’t be sucked in to pay for a guided day trip.

The lake is a short walk from the station. We walked along the lake for a little bit, avoiding the touts drumming up business. I wanted to eat at a restaurant that my sister-in-law had during her recent trip. She, in turn, was following a recommendation of someone else.

It is a pace for promenading, sitting, soaking up the sun, drinking and people watching.

And some retail therapy. I bought a mix and match handbag. The straps and inserts are replaceable.

Our big city fix in Milan

After visiting “no-where’s-ville” Germany (as a work colleague called my itinerary) and the small town in Switzerland and outlying areas of Geneva, Milan was a shock to the system.

Noise. Colour. Traffic. Glam fashion. Short skirts. High heels. Makeup. Hair dos. [I felt so underdressed. Yes, I had on clothes I wouldn’t be seen dead in, in the centre of Sydney. But they were fine while travelling in Germany.]

Central station is an imposing and majestic structure. But in a case of style verses substance, there is little organisation. On Friday afternoon, returning from a day trip, some trains were cancelled due to industrial action. There was thousands of people standing around. Ticket check were letting more in. People leaving couldn’t get out. It was a massive crush with no order.

We have left sensible Germany and Germany speaking Switzerland. With their uniform of blue jeans, jackets in sensible dirt-hiding colours, walking shoes. And rules on noise control (ie no noise in middle of day or after 10pm; no washing machines after 8pm; rubbish recycled in 100 different ways.)

We stayed for three nights. One night a car alarm went off every twenty minutes, all night. Another night someone spent an hour or two yelling under our window.

Rules? Pfft! There was double parking galore. Parking over pedestrian crossings. Parking in the middle of intersections.

One our first full day we did the normal sightseeing things, using a day train travel pass. The ticket machine charged us €7.50, although online it said it would be cheaper. This wasn’t the first time being ripped off in Italy.

The night before we went for a drink. €20 for two drinks. Fuck that. Guy said it was happy hour. Don’t know what it means in Italy. In Australia it means half price drinks. Only one who was happy was the bar tender.

Anyway, back to sightseeing. Duomo was impressive even though it was wet, wet, wet. On the upside we got to see gargoyles spouting water. Look in the second picture; you’ll see it too.

We went in to a department store. The assistants were so impeccable dressed; I wanted to ask one for directions as to how she tied her scarf. I was worried that security would ask Mr S to leave. He looked rough and as if he’d come from a bush walk. Unfortunately for some unknown reason, the security alarm actually went off as Mr S left. He had so many pockets, I worried about the check, but the security guard simply asked him to walk in and out. Yes, it went off again. Then without any checks, the guard let us go!!!

We walked towards a tower. When looking on google maps, I thought the tower was a church with an ossuary, which we found. Mr S didn’t want to see any more bones – he said he had enough in the Paris catacombs. I find them quite interesting. So that was a serendipitous find.

The shrine image of Mary was freaky too. Look at that face!

Wandering around, looking in shop windows was envy-inducing. Such style. Such beautiful design. Why doesn’t my kitchen/lounge/wardrobe look like that?

We went to the Scala. Didn’t want to pay the entrance fee but hoped it would help me dry off. It did and while I am glad I have seen inside, and how many stage hands there are setting up, it was a rip off. And I would strongly recommend not bothering to go in. Basically, you just get to squash in one of the boxes and look into the the theatre.

Not sure how comfortable the seats are. Four other people get to sit on stools! For a whole Opera!!!

But we did get to play with the statues. How’s my imitation?

Although it was wet and cold, we stopped for a gelato. Mr S pistachio was the best.

Our last stop for the day sightseeing was the castle. Massive. Impressive. But we were so over being wet, we abandoned trying to walk to the gate we saw in the distance.

Interesting brick work, very useful for birds

Pigeons nesting in each of the little alcoves between the bricks

Wet. But not enough rain to fill the massive moat

Luckily our hotel was warm and had plenty of options of English speaking channels.

Restaurant food is not cheap. In one place we were charged a cover charge. The food itself was beyond ordinary. And it cost us – well it doesn’t bare converting to Aussie dollars, but horrendous.

Now we know why Italians were taking the €10 deal of a drink in a plastic cup and a small plastic plate of shitty food (food that the local bowling club used to give free – cheese cubes, bits of bread, a piece of ham). No style in that. Or taste. And what about the environment?

What a city, a country, of contradictions.