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Saturday, 17 August 2013

And then I just chundered everywah...

I am writing this post having just left the hostel bar. I am staying in the self-proclaimed 'Party Hostel.' You have to wear a neon festival-style wristband to give you access to the bar and club (yes club!) until 3am. I checked in online before and as a reward I was offered a shot on my arrival (which they exchanged for a coffee when I explained it was 11am and I wasn't really "in a shot mood...") so this is my Roman Holiday. Audrey Hepburn did not have to put up with this... 

I'm in a mixed dorm of 10, except the other 9 are boys so it's not that mixed. Actually they're more "lads" than boys - pranks are their thing it's a permanent lolacaust in D57! Archbishop of Banterbury is in the house. I spent the first night reading and trying to sleep (I had another early walking tour booked for the morning...) The second night I decided 'when in Rome' and 'if you can't beat 'em' and all those other phrases applied and went to the bar to be sociable and young. It turns out at 26 I am not that young. This hostel doesn't let anyone stay if they're over 40 and that puts most sensible people off. All that said everyone is very friendly and I was quickly asked to join a table of chatty, welcoming  people. It would appear most of Australia's young people aren't actually in Australia they are in Italy. Everyone I met was Australian. But it didn't matter they called me 'a nice pommie' and we had a good night. Until some fun youngster decided to play 
'Guess how old everyone is.' Not only was I the oldest by far but some of my drinking friends were born in 1994. 1994... So I spent the evening with very young, Australian, gap yah folk all trying to out do each other. One guy proudly told me how he'd thrown up on a girl he'd shagged. I don't know why he told me this but I feel as through I need to share this horror with other people. He was born in 1994. I had to do quick maths to check if this vomity- intercourse had even been legal.

 What does tend to happen when you get a group of 'travellers'/middle class youngsters is they try to 'out travel' one another. 'Yah well Italy's great you know but it's got nothing on Cambodia. You HAVEN'T been to Cambodia? Oh you must...'

I've often felt a little bit older than I am. I've never really been into clubbing and I've yet to find an activity that has been improved by wearing fancy dress. I'll get any mode of transport home if it means waking up in my own bed rather than crashing on a friend's floor. It doesn't mean I don't think of myself as fun. I just have different ideas about what is fun. And that's fine. My new friends went clubbing last night, I politely declined their offer and went back to my book... 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' by John Irving since you're asking. More on Rome itself later it's time to go and banter it up.

Just a little note to say I've been rather surprised by how many people actually read this blog. People have been very kind and said lovely things. I'm not quitting the day job just yet (HPF) but i'm chuffed because this was mainly written for my Mum... Apologies for the many typos and grammatical errors this is written on an iPhone. Finally a big shout out to my three readers in Namibia.

Just an example of the laughs we have here.

Licence to party

Friday, 16 August 2013

What Would Nonna Do?

The farmhouse did not disappoint. We were greeted by a gentle, warm lady (who we quickly nicknamed Nonna) who showed us round her farm. All we could really do was stare open-mouthed and occasionally let out small laughs of disbelief: the fruit trees, the hills, the view, the pool, the old red tractor by the fence... it was more picturesque than we had allowed ourselves to hope it would be. We spent most of the afternoon just staring at the view from the pool and wondering how on earth this could possible have cost the same amount as our hostel in Florence. We made plans to return next year with more people and a car so we could pick up supplies "then we would never have to leave..." 

San Rocco a Pilli is a very small town. There are two bars, last orders are at 7:45pm and after that your only option is "Il Buon Sapore" (The Good Taste). We were slightly apprehensive upon entering this restaurant. Put simply it looks like a sauna filled with frog ornaments and frog cuddly toys. There was one waiter and the restaurant was half full which is probably the busiest it gets. 

Being the only restaurant in the area we had no real choice to find a frog-decorated table and wait. We agreed we were probably in for a fairly average dinner as this place had no competition and was ridiculously cheap. Antonia expressed her concern that there was wild boar on the menu and "most bears live in America, so where are they getting the boar from?" We gently explained that a boar is not a type of bear and is, in fact, quite common in rural parts of Italy. So we ordered some food, well actually we ordered a LOT of food.

For those that are not aware it is tradition in Italy to have at least four courses at dinner: antipasto followed by "il primo" which is pasta or risotto, then "il secondo" traditionally meat or fish and then desserts and, of course, coffee. We had been fairly restrained with our meals so far just having one or two courses and skipping pudding in favour of finding a gelataria. At "Il Buon Sapore" we did all four courses, although some of us substituted the meat and fish course for a pizza... we were completely wrong to judge this restaurant by its froggy cover as the food was brilliant. We went back the next day for lunch and tried to return the next day only to find out it was closed. This meal is still to date the best I have had in Italy. Although I will happily keep sampling other meals just to be sure...

On our second day we decided to venture into Siena itself. At this point it is worth introducing our taxi driver Luigi. He gets the award for supporting role in this leg of the trip. We used him at least once a day and he never charged us more than 20 euros for a journey regardless of what was on the meter. He drove us into Siena and proudly showed us round his home town. He explained that Siena is divided into seventeen districts or "contrade". Each district is named after an animal or symbol and each has its own flag, emblem, Saint and fountain for baptising the children born in their district. The districts sort of act as independent states and are governed by their own elected council. On Sundays (which just so happened to be the day of our visit) the residents of Siena take to the streets and march behind their district flag to a special church service. This was all slightly too exciting for James, the flags, the maps, the history - he was completely in his element and I imagine he will be moving to Siena soon to become a permanent resident of Nicchio. 

We immediately warmed to Siena, it could have been the way that Luigi had sold it to us, or the beautiful cathedral or maybe it was the ricotta and fig gelato... it was definitely the gelato.

On our last day on the farm we said goodbye to Nonna, promised we would return and bought a bottle of her wine. We were sad to go but Orvieto was calling.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

"If you read a lot nothing is as great as you've imagined

Venice is - Venice is better." I am completely with Fran Lebotwitz on this one. I left Venice on a complete high (emotional not substance induced.) The combination of good food, friendly people and beautiful surroundings was perfecto. The city of Venice is like no where else I've ever been: colourful, creaking, mysterious and incredibly romantic. I loved it.I'd spent my last evening in Murano with the waiters from my favourite restaurant, Restaurant B They insisted I stayed for drinks with them after my meal so I tore myself away Mr Gatsby and sat at the bar whilst the boys poured me shots in between serving the other customers. After many drinks the lovely Michele asked if I would like to see Venice at night from his boat. The "teacher travelling on a budget" side of me immediately clocked that this would be a free night tour of Venice that would ordinarily cost many gelati. However I  politely declined explaining 'I have three brothers. They said don't get in boats with men at night...' The Venice high had slightly worn off after my train to Como was delayed and I spent 6 hours on a train with no food, no aircon and a group of the loudest nuns you could possibly imagine. I thought they were perhaps a hen do but then they said they were going to Vatican City which doesn't seem like the classic hen do destination. I finally arrived in Como and was greeted by two of my favourite people and a glass of Presecco by the pool. This made it all better.Como was beautiful. A combination of Capeside (of Dawson's Creek) and Jurassic Park - with extra gelato and fewer dinosaurs. It was a nice break from the city, although we were generally surrounded by families with children called Tarquin and Soya. My Leeds girls are perhaps some of the most organised and quick thinking people I know, it makes them ideal travelling companions and they pretty much took the reins during Como for which I was very grateful. 

Last night in Murano Lake Como

Monday, 12 August 2013

Holidays our parents would love

I met Antonia, Gary and James in Florence on Thursday. We spent a couple of days walking the city, filling the time in between legitimate eating hours with sight seeing. We climbed the 436 steps to the top of the Duomo di Santa Maria. 

436 steps sounds fairly straightforward but remember that there are 193 steps at Covent Garden station and you only ever make the mistake of walking those once. It took an age and the stairways were narrow, hot and had a very low ceiling but it was 100% worth it for the view from the top.

On our descent we got stuck behind a family with three young boys: Joshy, Ollie and Benji - a brief teacher assessment would place them as 5, 7 and 9 years old. We were entirely at their mercy for the 25 minutes it took us to climb back down. After a slow start Benji decided that he didn't want to be in front of his brothers incase they fell on him and knocked him down the stairs. Joshy was not sympathetic to this argument and refused to move from his position at the back. Leading from behind was Dad who, to be fair, would probably have had an easier job herding cattle. He reeled of the various things Joshy wouldn't be allowed if he carried on "no iPad for you Joshy", "Right no ice cream for you Joshy" (most of the things seemed to begin with 'I'.) Ollie got involved in the debate by contributing a friendly kick to his younger brother which also lost him iPad rights. This may all seem fairly standard but put into the context of a Renaissance Cathedral with 436 narrow steps and a similar number of tourists trying to get up and down the same low tunnels at 39 degree heat this event, and all involved, became quite hysterical.

Getting stuck half way down the Duomo aside, Florence was wonderful. We ate some good food, walked miles and learnt a fair amount about the Renaissance courtesy of the free walking tour - we're beginning to accept we now go on the sorts of holidays out parents would like. This means we didn't really fit in at our hostel - a place where the party never stops. Me and my friends are fun, don't get me wrong, we're just quite happy for that fun to end at a reasonable hour so we can 'get a good night's sleep before the walking tour.' 

We've come a long way since our first holiday together aged 18: a week in Salou playing bingo by the pool, drinking whiskey slush puppies and going on 'booze cruises.' Our next stop is a farmhouse in Siena - our parents will be so jealous...

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Where Is The Tree?

Milan was fine. That will remain the official party line for the rest of the tour. I got a little/a lot eaten by bugs at the Bates Motel. 'Micehalangelo', the slightly overly attentive manager, wrote 'I Love Zoe' in a cappuccino on my arrival and presented me with a bottle of wine as I left... He also said 'Why go to Venice? It stinks. Stay in Milan.' I didn't. I also didn't drink the wine...

In stark contrast I have been in Murano for less than 24 hours and i'm already willing to declare it 'My Favourite Place In The World, Ever.' It's just ridiculously, effortlessly beautiful. It's very quiet, there's just a handful of restaurants, one supermarket, one bank etc... From the moment I stepped off the boat it was as if somebody had reached into my head and found my imaginary wish list of criteria: "Right guys she wants beautiful buildings, a smattering of small but decent restaurants, a friendly baker who says 'ciao bella' when she walks in, a garden to read in when it's hot... And a man on the bridge playing the accordion. She'd like him to be playing that Italian song she likes, no she doesn't remember what it's called. Apparently she heard it on an advert."

I was disappointed to see people working in the bank and at the supermarket. Of course people need jobs it's just in my mind the people that live here would all be glass blowers, book binders and unicorn farmers. You can't live in Murano and stack shelves in a supermarket for a living, it would be like being a cleaner at Hogwarts. There are fewer English speaking Italians here so I've been able to practise my Italian. I've done quite well so far with only one major cock up. Without going into detail all you need to know is that the italian word for hotel is 'albergo' and the word for tree is 'albero' - this has not been helpful...

Friday, 26 July 2013

When Preparing To Travel

"When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money." - Susan Heller

This is very good advice. 

Having done a good 10 years of budget travelling with just a carry on with a 15kg allowance (thanks Ryanair) which, even when you calmly explain that you "actually weigh 15kg LESS than the person behind you" so surely you should be allowed to keep ALL 5 paperbacks, you are STILL faced with a smug flight attendant watching you scrabble around flinging most of your belongings at other people just so you can get through check-in. I was once informed I could "check in" a 30ml bottle of foundation to create more space in my hand luggage which did very little for my sarcasm.

"Twice the money" is wonderful advice but lovely, wise Sue doesn't really expand on where that money is meant to come from.I took it to mean "sell most of your things." My wonderfully supportive Mother responded with "your Primark frocks are probably not worth a dime but good luck." She was probably right about the "frocks" but it turns out that people ARE willing to pay more than a dime for broken electronics. Finally, my years of breaking things is starting to pay off.

So I'm going. With approximately 12 hours of Italian lessons (most important Italian phrase learnt: mi sono persa), just over a month's salary saved and a rucksack bigger than me. 

I may blog. If I do blog you will be able to read it here if you would like to...