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  • Day31

    The Colosseum

    July 28 in Italy

    The main attraction of the ancient city of Rome would have to be the Colosseum. This really is an amazing structure. The scale of this building takes one's breath away. Even today it is a huge theatre. The incredible thing is that it was built 2000 years ago. It was built using the Jewish money and Jewish slave labour the was taken from Jerusalem in the successful Roman siege of Jerusalem in AD 70. Some cheeky New York Jews have been known to make the point that it really should be regarded as a Jewish building given that it was built using Jewish money, labour resources and expertise.

    The Colosseum was Nero's gift to the Romans to entertain them and buy their support for his rule and policy. He opened the theatre with a festival which went for 100 days during which spectacles were held every morning, midday and afternoon. It was gladiators versus animals in the morning. It was executions during lunchtime, often involving criminals being thrown to wild animals, being crucified or being killed by the Roman sword. In the afternoons it was fighting to the death between gladiators. Sometimes the gladiators numbered in their hundreds. It was reported in the displayed information that 11,000 gladiators were involved in one festival.

    The Colosseum is a testimony to the cruelty of man. It represents the kinds of conduct that even the most sophisticated ancient society was involved in. Human beings are not much better than animals when such sport is the preferred entertainment of the people.

    The arena was at times filled with water and naval battles took place using full-size naval ships. Sometimes the drama of the event told the story of famous battles the Roman emperor felt should be told to communicate their greatness.

    The Colosseum is one of the best places we visited.
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  • Day31

    The Old City of Rome

    July 28 in Italy

    Today we ventured out to see the main ancient and cultural sights of Rome. We walked a long way, but were rewarded with seeing some amazing things. We saw Piazza Navona, The Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, Trajan's column, Hadrian's column, to name just a few. We really walked a long way and it is tough on the feet walking on the cobbled streets of Rome all day. We did feel like pinching ourselves at times as we walked past such amazing places.Read more

  • Day31

    After visiting the Colosseum, we went for a walk up the Palatine Hill and through the ancient Roman Forum. This was the centre of the city in ancient Roman times. The forum was where all the main city squares, Temples and Administrative buildings were located. There are huge areas being excavated and they are uncovering more archaeology all the time.

    In this area, we saw the Arch of Constantine, the famous arch of Titus celebrating the victorious siege of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the arch of Septimus Severus. We also climbed Palatine hill to see the amazing view the emperor's of Rome had from their palatial location on the top of the hill. We also saw the location of the Temple of Julius Caesar, his burial location, in the centre of the forum area.Read more

  • Day20

    After a very long day of travelling, three trains and lots of steep stairs and hills we finally made it to our next location for the next four nights. And boy were we impressed.
    We are staying in Riomaggiore, one of the five fishing villages that make up Cinque Terre. While it may not be the best of the five fishing villages with the main and only street being very steep, our apartment is amazing. It is a renovated wine cellar built in the 900s and it has been renovated in such a cool way. One wall near the bed still has the mountain wall showing through it and the other stone walls and wooden ceiling are all original. It has a real charm about it and has been so well equipped! Our best accomodation so far! Definitely worth the climb of the many steep, old and crumbly steps.Read more

  • Day22

    Today we took the ferry to Portovenere to check out the town and the Church of Saint Peter. It is such a great way to see the coastline and we were very lucky that the ferry wasn't full and we got great seats on top to admire the view.
    It amazes me how some of the houses on the steep hillsides are even built and how on earth people get to them.
    The Church of Saint Peter is the first thing you see as you come into Portovenere on the ferry as it is built on the cliff above the sea, in the Gulf of the Poets, also known as the Gulf of La Spezia. Built in 1198 over what was left of an ancient pagan temple, Saint Peter’s was probably completed between 1256 and 1277, when its distinctive black-and-white striped body was erected. Then, from the 15th century on, fires and ransacking caused great damage to the structure, until it was fully renovated in the 1930s. The church's striped body, made from black rock and white marble makes it an eye-catching monument.
    The bronze doors decorated with different figures make for a striking entrance and the dark naves give the church a very solemn feel.
    The view from the outside terrace to the sea is amazing, especially on such a clear day as today. While the church isn't big, it was nice to visit.
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  • Day22

    Byron Grotto Portovenere

    September 20 in Italy

    Just next to the church and visible through the many arched windows in the wall, is the famous Byron Grotto, the inspiration of Lord Byron. It is recorded that the immortal poet, a daring swimmer, defied the waves of the sea from Portovenere to Lerici.

    These magic landscapes were of great inspiration for many poets, especially the English Romantics. Among them, Lord Byron who lived between the Gulf of Poets and loved especially Portovenere. It was for this reason the the incredibly beautiful grotto was dedicated to him and the Byron Grotto is one of the landmarks for spectacular international diving championships.

    Although now partially collapsed, the walk down the steep rock steps on the side of the cliff was worth it just to admire the surrounding scenery, the turquoise crystal clear water against the sheer cliff with its layers of stone. The views out to sea and back up the cliff towards the church and castle were equally impressive. We just wished we had brought our togs so we could have enjoyed a swim here.
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  • Day22


    September 20 in Italy

    Portovenere is the first stop on the ferry going from La Spezia to the Cinque Terre villages and while it is not part of the Cinque Terre it is still a beautiful place to visit and spend a few hours.
    We arrived by ferry from Riomaggiore and were lucky enough to beat the crowds. We enjoyed a bit of sight seeing via the sea front and then strolled through the back streets admiring the many beautiful doors and decorations. Such a pretty town to stroll through.

    We used just enough energy to warrant a refreshing drink by the sea before returning to Riomaggiore. I loved the coloured buildings, the quirky touches (a curtain made out of pasta for the pasta shop), the fishing references, the men selling hats (and yes it worked because I bought one), the many cafes and restaurants that were beautifully laid out, and the general vibe of the place. An easy day to relax and enjoy the atmosphere.
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  • Day252

    Approaching Lido di Rossello in search of a wild camp spot, our initial impressions weren't promising. After passing through the built up streets of the quiet resort, we came to a dead end where a couple of cars were parked in front of the concrete wall separating the road from the beach. There had been road signs pointing towards a campsite and there was grafitti on the adjacent wall reading 'Camping' with a number to call. However, the tall iron gates into what could have been a site, were closed and chained up.

    We stopped to assess our options and after a minute, a short, grey haired man whose skin was as brown and thick as leather approached the van asking if we wanted to look? He proceeded to open the gates and lead us past a small hotel in the late stages of being built, to a seafront haven of gravel and grass. The area was cut into the soft cliff, bordered by flowers and low bushes with steps leading down to the sandy beach. While a paraglider played in the updrafts behind us, the man, whose name was Giuseppe, showed us around with just pride. A small lighthouse was perched precariously on the cliff above and he said that at night we could see its beam shining through the darkness. He pointed out the beautiful rocky cove to the right, where his small fishing boat and one other were moored, before directing our attentions to a stunning white cliff projecting into the sea a few kilometers to the left. Its striations stepped back as it rose and acted as natural pavements along which people were walking.

    Giuseppe took us via the basic facilities, down the steps on to the fine sand, but we had already fallen in love with the place and decided to stay at €10 a night. The late day sun was warm and Vicky paddled in the sea with Poppy while Will swam. We sat out on the sand for a while, much to the bewilderment of the locals, before returning to our 'room with a view'. From the van we watched the lively Mediterranean waters and noticed a banding of colour as they stretched to the uninterrupted horizon. It was almost like a rainbow, changing through different shades of green, to blue, to a thin strip of violet at its farthest point.

    We stayed 3 nights and each day Giuseppe came and checked that everything was going ok, despite not having a word of English. Will went snorkeling in the cove but waves whipped up the sand so much that he couldn't see his hand in front of his face.
    We took a picnic and tried to walk to the far chalk cliffs but rockfalls blocked our way, so we found a patch protected from the wind and ate our lunch there on the deserted beach.

    Unfortunately Vicky became badly ill again and this time Will wasn't feeling great either. We suspected it may have been something in the water we picked up at Marina di Ragusa and Caltanissetta, where both taps had been reduced to a dribble. It was impossible to know but when we felt able, we drained the water tank, wiped it round with vinegar and flushed it through with water from the site.

    On our last full day, a storm blew with gale force winds. The tall cliffs behind us confused the winds and it was fascinating to watch them blowing in several different directions on the water simultaneously. All day long the wind battled with the waves, ripping their breaking crests backwards and whipping the spray several meters into the air.
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  • Day4

    On arrival at the ferry terminal at San Giovanni, there was no need to disembark - the train rolled on to the ferry in two halves - one of the few places where this actually happens. It was exciting to watch, with the train rolling on, then our half reversing off and then travelling back on to lie parallel with the front half. We were able to leave our belongings and go up on deck as we crossed the Straits of Messina to one of Sicily’s main cities, Messina. It was good to get some fresh air and a walk about. The crossing only took about 30 minutes, just like going to Bute, although Messina had a bit more life about it and a good deal more sunshine than Rothesay usually does.

    The train reunited, we journeyed down Sicily’s east coast, passing the lovely Taormina and the shadow of Mount Etna, the most active volcano in the world, apparently - I think I’ll just stay on the train. Olive and orange trees and giant cacti lined the tracks here. As we pulled into our final destination I felt, like that Rodgers and Hart musical, one of ‘The Boys from Syracuse’.
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  • Day19

    Day 19 - Florence!

    September 28, 2017 in Italy

    What a great long day! We woke up at 7:00 (...the first time before 9:00 or 10:00 in days) after staying up a little too late drinking wine and playing Chess. Then we went straight to the Academia Galleria - the museum that holds Michelangelo's David. Walking in and seeing David was absolutely the most moved by (non-musical) art that I've ever been. The 17 foot tall statue was literally breathtaking. We were lucky to have tickets for the earliest slot of the day when the museum was not busy at all. By the time we left an hour or so later after checking out several other statues and works of art, including a cool mini-museum of musical instruments, it was a madhouse.

    Next, we walked over to the Duomo plaza to check out the cathedral, dome, and bell tower. Again, we seemed to beat the crowd and got some cool pictures all around the outside of the buildings. Instead of climbing to the top of the busy Giotto's Tower, we decided to go to the much less touristy (but equal, if not better, panoramic view, from what I read) Tower of Arnolfo at the Palazza Vecchio). The long climb to the top was definitely worth it. We got a great view of all of Florence with no more than 2-4 other people up there at any given time. The coolest part might have been when we were about to head down and the giant bell on the tower struck 11:00 and rang for all of the city to hear.

    After a quick 2nd breakfast or 1st lunch, however you want to look at it, of meat, cheese, and fruit paninis, we headed back to our quiet Airbnb for a nap. We woke up in time to get to the famous Uffizi gallery for our 2:45 ticket. It was pretty amazing seeing artwork from so many famous artists, including 3 of the Ninja Turtles(!!) (Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo - no Donatello pieces), Botticelli, Caravaggio, and so many more. Then we split a pizza for another quick lunch and went back once again for another break before dinner. We had an awesome dinner - a meat and cheese platter to start, then I had the truffle pasta I was craving from last night and Tim had a yummy red pepper basil spaghetti. Now we are back and debating another night of Chess or an early night for another long day tomorrow!

    Tomorrow - day trip to Siena (I think - we keep going back and forth between Siena and Lucca!!)
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You might also know this place by the following names:

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