It’s Sunday evening in grey Newcastle and already the pictures of us in sunny Nice seem like years ago, but it was only this morning.
So the story begins last Friday (nine days ago) when we flew from Newcastle to Rome. Arriving at Rome’s Ciampino airport (smaller than Leonardo da Vinci and for budget airlines) at about 9pm at night and with little confidence in the planned shuttle bus arriving, we spent some nervous time waiting (and trying to use the stupid non-functioning Italian pay phones). But eventually we were picked up and were taken to the camp ground (Tiber Village Camping Hostel). I had made the rather unusual decision to camp in Rome for two reasons. (1) We had already decided to bring our tent to camp in Cinque Terre (2) I couldn’t believe how expensive accommodation was in Rome. We paid about 75 euro for three nights, I would have had to pay more than that for one night. The drawback was that we had to catch a free shuttle from the camp ground to the local train station, catch a train to the nearest metro and then catch the metro into town, about 45 minutes all up. But it didn’t really affect us to much, and we actually really like the flexibility of being able to cook our own meals and not having to wander around looking for an affordable place to eat…but anyway.
After a restful night (no problems with pitching the tent or anything else) day 1 began with the Colosseum. After a faltering start trying to buy tickets (unfortunately this is where we realized that basing our plans off a 2001 guidebook might not always be the best plan) we decided to book a guided tour which got us tickets in, skipped the massive line and also got us a tour of the Palatine Hill. I was pretty nervous about being scammed (as we gave up quite a bit of cash and all we got in exchange was a green dot sticker) but by the end we really felt we had got our money’s worth after having two great guides.
The Colosseum was really cool. We had read in some places (I think it was Lonely Planet) that it wasn’t worth going into, but I would disagree. Standing in the stands looking down on a place where thousands of men fought to the death and tens of thousands of exotic animals appeared and were killed is somewhat sobering. It’s also an amazing insight into our distant history. Also it’s incredible that it’s still standing, most places where the Romans were (e.g York) are lucky to have a few crumbling bits of stone to show for the Romans habitation, and here we have a massive stadium.
We were finished at the Colosseum by about 12:15 so we grabbed an overpriced roll from a vendor outside the Colosseum and ate it while we waited for our next tour of the Palatine Hill at 1pm. The tour was great, covering the hill as well as Constantine’s Arch and some of the forum. The guide was a crackup, even stopping to get us all free orange juice from a promotional campaign obviously not targeted towards tourists!
Following the tour we headed through the forum and then walked via Capitol Hill to the Pantheon.
My experience of the Pantheon was fairly unremarkable. Lot’s of people, pretty cool space but more than anything I’ll remember it for the comment I made when entering “I feel like I’m at Mecca” for the weird flow of people entering in a huge, tight packed group and circling the space before exiting. Oh yeah, and we also had REALLY nice Ice Cream at a place on the road just to the left of the Pantheon.
The last two destinations for the day were the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. However because this was a Saturday and at the most perfect time weather-wise for a trip to Rome, both attractions were more notable for the ridiculous hordes of people than their somewhat noteworthy beauty. We picked up some groceries from the excellent superette (called “drug store”) in Termini and headed back to the camp ground for dinner, a drink and a nice bit of rest.
Day 2 was all about the Vatican City. We happened to be in town on the last Sunday of the month, when all museums are free. So we had deliberated whether to go on Sunday and face massive crowds or go on Saturday, pay 28 Euro for entry and face potentially somewhat smaller crowds. Since we were going to have to face some level of crowds anyway, and the exact volume was uncertain we decided to just go as early as we could, plan on queuing for hours and make the most of it.
After two and a half hour of queuing (about 9:30am till 12:00) we got in.
The Vatican Museum is mostly about displaying the Vatican’s massive collection of art in the form of paintings, sculptures and tapestries. As I’ve said before, we don’t have the highest level of art appreciation between us, but we still managed to really enjoy wandering through the galleries and pretending we knew what we were looking at.
But by far the highlight for us was the Sistine Chapel. Again, with so many people there, it was somewhat diminished, but looking at the photos and hopefully the video you get a real appreciation for how amazing the painted walls and roof really are.
After exiting the Vatican Museum we headed around to St Peter’s Square. After giving some Australian tourists some spurious advice about the length (likely time) of the queue (good on-ya Megan) she joined the queue and I went to fetch drinks and our daily Ice Cream ration.
St Peter’s Basilica was amazing, huge, magnificent…I could pick a hundred words to describe it. It was probably my favorite place we saw in Rome. Looking at it and through it you can’t help but be amazed at the wealth and power of the Roman Catholic Church here on Earth.
That pretty much draws day 2 to a close. At this point, I’m going to take a break, and given we’re only at day 2 of 9 maybe you should take one too. Maybe make a sandwich 🙂
It’s an often mentioned fact that people like to leave Rome. Almost from the start we felt this, we had three full days planned in the Cinque Terre National Park, and while we knew we had to see Rome, we were looking forward to getting to the calm, natural surroundings outside of Rome. So day 3 began by packing up the tent, making our way back into the city and jumping on a train up to Pisa.
The train took about two and a half hours, which is great compared to driving (I think about five hours). The trip was scenic and smooth and before we knew it, we were in Pisa.
After checking our luggage in, we decided to walk to the leaning tower rather than take the bus. We were glad we did, since this gave us a chance to see a little bit of the Italian character, culture and architecture which was hard to absorb in Rome because of the constant mayhem.
Once at the tower, we took a couple of photos and then had lunch. We sat there laughing at all the stupid people and their cheesy posing for photos. Little did I know I was going to be compelled 🙂 It was only fair since I compelled Megan to do something similar on video…
After another Ice Cream we headed back to the train station and boarded our train to our Cinque Terre home, Deiva Marina. We got to the train station at about 5:30 and were picked up by the camping ground’s free shuttle pretty promptly. There are a bunch of camp grounds in DM but we stayed at one called Camping La Sfinge, probably solely because they had a well maintained web site.
So we spent four nights, three days in the Cinque Terre National Park. Cinque Terre means “five villages” and as you would expect, features five villages tucked into the cliffs along a beautiful section of coastline. The villages themselves are gorgeous, but there are well established walks between them which are what really attracts the tourists.
The five villages (from our direction Southwards) are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.
More for our future records than your pleasure, these are the walks we did on our three days:
- Day 1 – Monterosso to Vernazza and Riamaggiore to the Church on the Hill
- Day 2 – Vernazza to Corniglia, Riamaggiore to Botanical Gardens and Riamaggiore to Manarola (and back to Riamaggiore)
- Day 3 – Levanto to Monterosso and Corniglia to Manarola (and on to Riamaggiore)
In case you’re wondering how we jumped from village to village, this is via the train that connects all the villages together. This is handy if you don’t want to do all the walks in order on the same day and also if you can’t find an outdoor restaurant serving Pizza with olives for lunch in Monterosso you can head to Vernazza!
We loved Cinque Terre. Three days is a long time to have there, but we needed the break to recuperate from work. Except for the first day, the weather was great and the temperature was perfect (not too hot for walking, but warm enough to go for a swim…just).
The final leg of our trip was to travel to Nice (France) stay a couple of nights, visit Monaco and then fly back to Newcastle.
Nice was quite a culture shock after spending three days in tranquil regional Italy. We stayed in a relatively cheap hotel just off the main drag a little way away from the beach (everything, including McDonalds is more expensive closer to the beach).
On Friday evening we took a walk along the Promenade Des Anglais and had a take away dinner (burgers) looking out to the sparkling blue Med.
The next day we made a leisurely start to the day and caught the cheapest international bus in the world (1 euro each) to Monaco. We spent the morning and early afternoon exploring Monaco including the Casino, the hundreds of super yachts, all the stuff setup for the Grand Prix later this month and the castle before heading back to lie in the sun on the beach and take a swim.
And so, we come to the close of our holiday. The next day, Sunday, yesterday, we got out of bed nice and late and headed to the airport (again for the insane 1 euro each) for our early afternoon flight and about two hours later were in Newcastle.
We’re not really sure whether there will be any other European holidays before we head home, but if that is it, then we’ll certainly feel like we ended on a high note.