Hang on tight, here comes Italy

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Getting Ready for our Tuscan Bike Ride

Hello All,

Forgive us if its been a while, we were on a whirlwind tour of Italy. I’ll keep it brief and let the photo journals speak for themselves:

***NOTE WE ARE HOPING TO GET PICTURES POSTED IN PERTH, WE HAVE RUN INTO A SPACE ISSUE ON THE IPAD COMBINED WITH SLOW INTERNET CONNECTIONS***

Milan & Venice:

Florence:

Cinque Terre:

Naples:

Rome:

Ok so things started rather mildly, our friend Rae came out from Seattle to join us for the Italy leg of the trip in Milan. As an excellent third wheel, we were now the “Rae in the middle” group as our photos will show. Luckily, Rae is a smart lady and after we missed each other in the subway she found Kailey at the hostel so it didn’t turn into a crazy scramble to find each other to start the trip. Rae is a great travel buddy if you didn’t know. Kailey got another girl to talk to, Sam got a wine drinking buddy and overall she is way into all the old stuff of Italy being an art history major and also really into history. It was like having our own traveling historian with us at all times that cried at moments because she was so excited and her dreams were coming true :-). Milan was pouring rain and kind of dirty so luckily we only spent one day there before heading off to Venice. This is where the fun really starts!

Sam lost our digital point and shoot camera….if you haven’t read about that fun adventure read about it now (https://teamgarther.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/the-heart-of-darkness/). That almost made things really uncomfortable for Rae and really awful for me. Luckily, as you may now know it turned out to have a happy, albeit unlikely, ending. When we arrived in Venice we walked out of the train station to see the cathedral, the canal and the people. Italy was off to a good start. We stayed outside the city in a camping ground that except for the incompetent staff was actually a pretty good place to stay. The first time we tried to take the bus back to the hostel we used the map the young woman at reception had drawn for us and would have wound up completely lost, be it not for two Czechs who had a smartphone and randomly happened to cross paths with us on their way back to to the campground themselves (seeing a pattern yet?). The rest of the time was spent eating lovely seafood, traveling around by boat (that is their bus system), seeing the sights and generally enjoying a very lovely city. Rae even went for a romantic gondola ride….for one 🙂

From Venice it was off to Florence to see the birthplace of the Renaissance and to get into the Tuscan country side. Both were well accomplished through city wandering and bike riding through Tuscany (video upon my return). Florence was a great place with great food and a good hostel. The bike tour of Chianti and the Tuscan countryside was a perfect way to get a very small glimpse of the area and also have the chance to taste some great chianti wine, olive oil and local culture. The bike ride was an easy one so long as you took the van up the last hill….Rae and Sam weren’t so lucky and decided to ride it. Yes, Kailey wimped out to save her knees and be our sherpa. This hill was a monster and by the top Sam was happy to have cold water poured on my head in the middle of October. Unfortunately, the large amount of pasta and wine Sam had at lunch seemed a little less delicious but it stayed down.

After Florence we continued our sunshine exposure by heading over to Levanto to try and see Cinque Terre. We had heard rumors in Switzerland of more landslides and trail closures, but supposedly they were minor and were going to be quickly repaired. By the time we arrived they had another landslide that sadly killed two Australians and ALL the trails between the villages were closed for the foreseeable future. Plan B or C was now in play. We settled into our hostel then went out for a drink and a dinner recommended by the hostel reception. We got drinks in a local bar that served microbrews from around the world, homemade antipasti and had an awesome atmosphere. We then headed out for dinner nearby at an excellent seafood restaurant.

Day two of Cinque Terre was our day of bike riding north as was also recommended by our hostel reception since the Cinque Terre trails were closed, which would take us to two small, non touristy villages (Fumara(sp?) and B…). We could even bike along a brand new path that had just been completed where the old rail lines used to be. We were happy to olbige, rented beach cruiser bikes and spent an awesome day riding north hanging out in the small villages before returning home to grab a bite to eat at a restaurant on the beach before we headed off to our free Levanto town walking tour. The walking tour turned out to be really awesome and you would never notice how much old history was around the town until someone told you about it. Levanto was even at one time a main shipping harbor for the area, which is kind of crazy as the sea level has dropped and the former harbor is now quite a ways inland.

Day three was our last day in Cinque Terre and we spent the day on the trains going from town to town as the train time tables permitted (you kind of have to jump around from town to town to make the trains work) starting with Monterosso. Monterosso was Kailey’s favorite as it had an awesome beach. Vernazza was Sam and Rae’s favorite as it is a little harbor town (see the pictures). We ended the long day of walking and taking trains with Sam and Rae taking a sunset dip in the Mediterranean Sea (Kailey was too cold and took pictures and video of it all), then we all had an amazing gourmet cliff side dinner at L’Anchora dell Tortuga in Monterosso (we will let the pictures speak for themselves). This meal was among one of Sam’s favorites of the trip.

Naples was next on our stop with the goal to accomplish seeing Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii. The city of Naples is big, but rather dirty as apparently the mafia at least runs the garbage system. We got in late from the train and Kailey was feeling car sick from having to ride backwards for several hours, so she had a 7 -up cracker dinner while she got her body to calm down and Rae and Sam split a pizza. We were only in Naples for one full day so we had to make the most of it. This included a “fun” trip that ended up being much longer than we anticipated to mail some things home that we had picked up in our travels and didn’t want broken. 4 weeks later the package made it and luckily nothin was broken (visualize a bright yellow Italian Post box half full of our breakable belongings that we were not allowed to add more packaging to…). Finally we were off to the train to Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii. On Mt. Veusvius we went all the way to the top via bus, 4WD converted military truck and walking. The crater is still smoking and you can see where the new dome is forming inside the crater. From the top you can also see Naples and the surrounding towns below as well as old lava flows. After our Volcano tour we were then off to Pompeii which was a thing all three of us had wanted to see for along time. Pompeii was massive which was incredibly impressive for a vacation resort built in its time. Apparently it has been continuously excavated for the last 200 years and they still are not done. There are the casts of the bodies around, but out of respect and Kailey’s wishes we did not take any pictures of them (you can google that yourself). Rae loved Pompeii and probably could have spent at least a week there herself. Following our long day of sight seeing we then had famous Naples pizza for dinner (Naples is where pizza was created). Sam and Rae liked their pizza, but Kailey was not impressed. We went back to the hostel packed up and prepared for our departure the next morning to Rome, our last stop on our whirlwind adventure.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it tried to kill Sam in one. We arrived in Rome in the early evening from Naples and settled into our hostel which at first glance looked awesome. It was a large three bed dorm, no bunk beds, A/C, large cabinet, we were very impressed. We did a bit of planning, got an idea of what we would do the next day and decided that since it was the one free day a month at the Vatican Museum it made sense to take advantage. We were told to get in line by 7:30 or 8:00 since on the free days even the locals got in line to see it. We went out for a quick bite to eat and to get to bed early since we had to get up at 6 to get in line in time. Well 6 am rolled around and Sam woke up feeling itchy and burning all over. He asked Kailey who had been up for a bit if the windows had been left open as he was covered in mosquito bites, Kailey replied that the windows were all closed as the A/C was running…..this meant only one possibility…..the boogeyman of travelers, the Freddy Kruger of the backpacking world, the Jason of all who sleep in hostels and hotels….Bed Bugs AAAAAHHHHHHHHHH. We turned on all the lights and started tearing the beds apart. We saw a small bug crawling on the wall and soon discovered a dead one under the bed. All it took was a quick google search to confirm, Sam had been pillaged by bed bugs. Sam was dispatched with the bug to reception and returned shortly with the message to pack up everything immediately and leave our items in the center of the room where they would be moved to a new room. We still wanted to go to the museum, but now had to deal with this so we consulted the not so savvy about bed bugs night guy receptionist and agreed to come back by 2pm to continue to deal with the problem encountered. We then left the highly rated hostelworld hostel to get to see the Vatican Museum. We are going to leave the bed bug story alone for the most part since it was one of the most heinous experiences Sam and Kailey were forced to go through. To sum up events, the three of us spent the next two days cleaning all our belongings, laundering everything we had that was washable, living amongst our laundry and worrying every night that you will get bit again. (Side Note: when you think it is a brilliant idea to bring lots of wool layers as they tend to not get smelly and you can layer them to keep warm, it is a brilliant idea until you have to mass wash them all and they have to hang dry as they are not able to go in the dryer. Did we mention that the heat didn’t work in our room?) It was a really unfortunate part of the trip that ate up a lot of travel/sight seeing time and sleep, but one that we made it through. It sucked, bed bugs are gross, but it was what it was. The one thing that made it truly the worse was the resulting attitude and response of the hostel… I don’t think they really cared! If Sam didn’t want to make a pattern out of Seattle residents ending up in Italian jails then that building would most likely be on the receiving end of several moltov cocktails. Regardless back to the good stuff…

The Vatican Museum was massive! It was a truly amazing collection of artifacts and works of art. It was one of those moments where you know you are seeing something that everyone in the world has heard about and dreamt about seeing. The Sistine Chapel was one of those sights where the pictures and the descriptions don’t begin to do it justice. That being said all of the signs instructing people to remain silent and respectful didn’t do a whole lot of good as the dull roar of everyone “whispering” was pretty unnerving, even the PA announcement in a host of languages didn’t work to silence the crowds for more than a minute. The rest of that day was spent in activities that lent themselves unfortunately to dealing with terrorists of the insect variety. Rae luckily was able to go on a nighttime tour of Rome, while Sam and Kailey did manage to get a really good dinner in at a local restaurant near the hostel.

The next morning we were off to see the Colosseum, and had managed to figure out the convoluted websites and get advance tickets with an underground and 3rd level tour which are closed off to the public. The tour was really great since we were able to first skip the line and then after wandering on our own for a little while we met up with our guide who took us around the restricted areas giving us a great picture of what the history and culture of the Colosseum actually were. After our tour we walked along the Palatine Hill over to the Roman Forum and then on to the Circus Maximus where Rae did a victory lap in honor of her Italian tour. After all of this we made our way back to the hostel where we got clean and relaxed and then went back to the restaurant that Kailey and Sam had found the night before. It was another great meal with the same waiter recognizing us and welcoming us back. The meal ended with some excellent dessert and a surprise couple glasses of wine from the owner of the place. It was a great end to the day.

The next day we packed up and headed to the bus to make our respective flights onwards, Rae to London and Sam and Kailey to St. Petersburg. Rome wasn’t about to let us go so easily as our bus kept us nervously waiting its arrival for 20 minutes before showing up and driving like mad in order to deliver us on-time to the airport. The airport was bittersweet since Sam and Kailey were really excited to see Ashley and Russia, but bummed that we were saying goodbye to Rae. Luckily though it seems as though our fates would be crossing paths soon in Oz! On to the plane we went and off to Russia we flew!

~K and Sam

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