Tuesday, 24 October 2017

The Last Leg (Saturday 21th October 2017)

Don’t blink!. That was Friday! And now it was Saturday, somewhere over the Indian Ocean. I fell asleep for quite some time apparently, missing one of the snack runs. Never mind, it’s always better to have the sleep. I got up to stretch my legs and bumped into Geoff who was doing the same. We chatted for about an hour down the blunt end of the plane, much to the annoyance of the chap sitting in the very last row. If looks could kill….

Breakfast came and went somewhere between Perth and Adelaide. Looking for a way to kill the last couple of hours I fired up the Hitchcock classic “North by Northwest” starring Cary Grant. It’s a long film so I only managed to get three-quarters of the way through before we started to prepare for decent into Melbourne. I’ll have to watch the last bit somewhere else.

The flight landed just three minutes late so the pilot must have put his foot down along the way. We waited for just about everyone else to disembark before we did. We found all our bags on the carousel and got through customs was very easily. Then it was onto the Skybus and into Southern Cross for the train to Bendigo. We had just missed the 8:00am train so we had some breakfast and waited in the transit lounge for the next one at 9:02am. Before too long we were on board and on our way to Bendigo. The train pulled in at 10:58. Our neighbour John Trainor was there to greet us as planned. Margaret prepared scones and tea as we related some of the stories of our trip. After lunch John drove us around the corner and we were home. Another great journey was over!

Still on the road to home (Friday 20th October 2017)

Dubai is two hours ahead of Rome so I’m not sure exactly where it became Friday but it was early Friday morning when we landed there. The aeroplane didn’t dock at at gate for some reason so we took the steps to the tarmac. Waiting there was a shuttle bus (standing only) to take us to the terminal from where our next flight would leave.

The shuttle bus took ages to get to the terminal. It was just such a long way. In the terminal we exchanged our remaining Euros for the local currency (Dinar, I think) and went to get some breakfast and a coffee. Our departure gate was not far from  where we had breakfast so there we went to wait some more. For this flight the flight attendants we’re checking every carry-on bag for liquids in excess of 100ml so they commenced boarding 15 minutes to accommodate the extra security check.

On the plane we took our seats, once again amongst the middle seats, and fell I into conversation with our neighbours, Geoff and Christine from Altona who were returning from visiting their son in Manchester. We whiled away the time before take-off exchanging travel stories and travel tips. About 30 minutes late the plane began to taxi and we were soon in the air and on our way again.

On the road to home (Thursday 19th October 2017)

Today we begin the final leg of our 2017 European Adventure – the long journey home. All good things have to end at some time.

We were in no rush today as our flight doesn’t leave until 22:05 – Emirates EK96 from Rome to Dubai. We left our great apartment just before 10:00am and had our last breakfast down in Piazza del Biscione. The location for our stay in Rome was brilliant. Close to everything, set in two lively, adjacent squares with so many dining choices, the market every day and the ad-hoc entertainment at night. The apartment was spacious, accommodating four people easily. We just loved opening up the big windows each night to let the cool air and the noise from the squares float in. We would highly recommend it for any one coming to Rome and looking for an affordable place in a fantastic location.

After our good-byes to our friendly waiter of the last five mornings we wheeled our cases down to Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II and immediately caught the eye of keen taxi-driver keen to avoid the queue at the taxi rank 75m up the road. Rome has set taxi fees to each of its airports. The international airport – Fiociminio (FCO) is about xxkms away. The cost is EUR 48.00. It’s a few Euros more expensive that, the taxi to Roma Termini and the train to the airport but we were happy to pay that to minimise the distance we need to drag our bags.

We arrived at FCO by about 11:30am so we had plenty of time to kill. No drama, as we had decided to make this airport adventure as stress free as we could! I logged into work and got stuck into my emails until the battery on my computer died. Kerry did some needle work. A couple of coffees and some nibbles helped while away the time. On one coffee run Kerry passed a men’s fashion store and found s\\ome things she thought might be good in my wardrobe. Well, 45 minutes later we walked out with three light cashmere pullovers, some socks and two silk ties. The acquisitions attracted a tax rebate so getting that money back killed another 30 minutes.

From there we went straight to the Emirates check-in desk. I’d checked-in online a couple of days ago so it was just a matter of dropping off the bags – four in total. That done we went through security, my belt went off so it came off, nothing more than that. The surly faced customs officer stamped our passports and we were in. The International terminal at Rome is quite modern, very spacious with many choices of places to eat. We chose a bakery and had prosciutto and cheese on a crusty, warm baguette. Kerry has Coke, I had vino rosso. There is an automated train that takes you from here to the embarkation gates. We jumped on that and soon arrived at our gate. I bought UK-Italian converter plug because I’d packed my other one in th case (doh!) and spent another hour knocking off some more work emails. Kerry did more needlework.

After ten hours of waiting it was finally time to board the plane. We settled into our middle seats (21D and 21E) and waited the the plane to take-off on the 5.5hr journey to Dubai.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Arrivederci Roma! (Wednesday 18th October 2017)

Very weary from yesterday’s adventures we put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door and had a quiet morning dozing in the apartment. As it turned out I didn’t turn off the light last night until 2:00am as I was chasing down who I needed to make contact with to start the ferry ticket re-disbursement process. I got an email sent and had received a response later in the morning. So far, so good. I also got a response from the lost bag search company to a note I left them a couple of days ago. Nothing to report there, I’m afraid.

After I’d written yesterday’s blog we got moving. It was now after 1:00pm. Down to the market we went for some cheese and bread and then walked over to Piazza Navona. There we found a marble bench in the shade by a fountain and ate our lunch, keeping the pigeons very happy in the process. With no real plans other than to get some evening photographs of the Trevi Fountain we took the long road to Piazza del Popolo. That is to say, we avoided the main streets at all costs essentially turning right, left, right and so on at every  lane until we reached the square. It’s a great way to spend time, just slowly wandering through the parts of a city you would never see if you stuck to the well-worn path. The large arch on the northern side of this circular piazza is called Porta del Popolo. In ancient Roman times it was called Porta Flaminia and was the gateway through the Aurelian Walls and hence onto the most important road to the north of Rome.
Adjacent to the piazza is the Villa Borghese, one of Europe’s largest municipal parks, sitting atop one of Rome’s seven hills. The park has many fountains, sculptures and monuments and is home to the Rome zoo. We climbed to stairs from the piazza to the park and found a shady tree and some lawn to sit on. Finding lawn to sit on was a really pleasant surprise so we made the most of it abd sat there for 45 minutes, being entertained by the people who were trying to learn how to ride a Segway.

This “great” European park suffers from the same problem that a lot of the rest of the Italian built-up environment suffers from – a lack of continuous maintenance to its infrastructure such as paths, fences, signage, lawns, garden beds and so on and a deplorable attitude to rubbish disposal. Italy is a G7 country so this can’t be because of a lack of funds. It can only be due to the attitude of the people. Not enough of them place enough importance on having a clean environment and well-maintained public infrastructure. That’s a real shame because Italy could be even better than it is. I find it somewhat incongruous that a nation whose economy and reputation is built partly on the beauty of the art created by past masters is happy to present such an ugly, third-world  environment  to its millions of visitors. The government could start by taking all the touts off the streets and providing them with funding assistance to start private cleaning and maintenance enterprises. That’d kill two birds with one stone!

After our rest in the park we walked back down to the Piazza for cool drink at a cafe on the perimeter of the square. The waiters were very nicely dressed and, for people watching, the location was great. I could see a hefty drink bill coming along. I wasn’t disappointed, my expectations were met when we left. We continued our zig-zag route through streets and lanes on the other side of Via del Corso until we reached Piazza di Spagna. Not too far from there we chose a little restaurant where a girl in the front windows was proving to the passers-by that they truly did serve home-made pasta. The pasta and the wine were very good. We got to the Trevi Fountain just as the sun was setting, not dark but getting there. The crowds were still enormous! Dusk, rather than night, photos locked away we headed back towards home.

By the time we reached Corso Vittoria Emanuelle II ten minutes later it was properly dark. After a detour to photograph Piazza Navona at night we grabbed the last gelati for our holiday near Campo de ‘Fiori and went to be entertained by “André Rieu” on the cello again. This time we bought his CD. Can’t wait to hear it.

Our bags are packed, were down to our last few Euros so it’s time to bid Italia and our holiday arrivederci!

Capri (Tuesday 17th October 2017)

With plenty of Roman experiences under our belt we thought we’d go on an unplanned adventure to the island of Capri, just off the coast from Naples in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius.

Last night we worked out the schedule to get the most out of the day. It involved a fast train to Naples, a taxi to the port, a ferry across to Capri and a scooter to get around the island. Then it was all organised in the reverse order to get up back to Rome at a reasonable hour. I booked things backwards, starting with the thing that would present the greatest time restriction – the scooter. That one was easy. We made a reservation at a firm called Oasi Motor, down on the dock. Then the ferry trips arranging it so we would arrived at Capri by midday and leave at 18:10, giving us the maximum allowable time on the scooter (6hrs). Then the fast train from Rome to Naples with enough time to get to the port to catch the 11:10 ferry for the 50 minute cruise to Capri. So we ended up leaving Rome at 9:15am.

The train took an hour to complete the 220km journey to Naples, spending most of the time travelling at 300kph. A cab took us to the ferry terminal at Napoli Beverello, where all the ferries leave from. I was meant to have received by email a PDF document which could be exchanged for our tickets but it never arrived. Understandably, the chap at the SNAV ticket office wouldn’t accept the screen shot of the confirmed booking I’d made so we had to buy four more tickets. I’ll updated you on my refund attempts later, but so far so good.
The ferry arrived at Marina Grande on Capri at midday as expected. We found Oasi Motor and took possession of a crappy, rattling, yellow bucket of bolts otherwise known as a Kymco scooter – a 50cc two-stroke that just screamed whenever it was moving forward and stalled whenever it came to a halt or had to go slowly around a tight, downhill hairpin (of which there are numerous on Capri). But it was only EUR 40.00 and it got us around the island without anything falling off – I think.

Well, what an introduction to Capri we had! The road from the marina just goes up and up and up. It’s very narrow and very busy. Twenty-seater buses service the island for those who don’t have a car or a scooter and take up most of the road. One one part of the ascension to top of Capri we stopped and witnessed two buses passing each other with no more than a couple of centimetres between them. I “dips me lid” to the bus drivers. Kerry was very brave riding pillion in that scary environment while I got to know what the scooter could and couldn’t do amongst the steep, narrow roads and continuous traffic.
We stopped at the first opportunity we could at the village of Anacapri, parked the scooter and went for some lunch – simple plate of pasta and an amber beverage to calm the nerves.

A chairlift leaves Anacapri for the highest point of the island. At 580 metres above sea-level Monte Solaro offers unbelievably beautiful vistas over Capri, Sorrento and Mt. Vesuvius on the mainland and the Tyrrhenian Sea all aound. The sky was blue, the sun was bright and the sea was dead calm. Add in all the boats plying their trade all around the island and it made for a magical view. Worth every bit of the EUR 11.00 each. In fact the ride up the mountain was worth the cost in itself.

Back off the mountain we picked up “The Yellow Peril” and headed for the lighthouse protecting shipping from the western end of the island at Faso. There we found a quite little rocky inlet with a bar, a few dozen sun-lovers and the most magnificent deep, clear, turquoise water. After sitting on the rock for five minutes gazing at the water I couldn’t resist any more, stripped down to my shorts and dived in. It was magic! Kerry couldn’t because she had no bathers. One of the benefits of being a bloke, I guess! No bathers needed for for me. After a short swim and a beer we jumped back on the scooter to find the famous Blue Grotto. Well, we found it, but only because a young couple from Germany pointed out that it was the tiny cavern entrance they’d just swum out of. There is a steel plaform right next to the grotto one can jump off and there you are! If you ever come to Capri don’t catch a “Blue Grotto” sight-seeing boat, just jump on the bus and it will take you straight to this spot. Then go for a swim in thee grotto. Most of the tour boats just sail past without even stopping. Literally, directly above the grotto is the world’s narrowest bar. We sat at a bench on ledge one metre wide and sipped our coffee and at our pistachio chocolate cake and watched the tour boats go by. What a place for a coffee!

Back on the Yellow Peril we started our 30 minute ride back to the marina. It was past 5:00pm when we handed back the scooter, paid our EUR 40.00 and walked down to wait for the 6:10pm ferry. With 45 minutes to spare we still had time for a vino rosso and a coke. On the ferry we realised that we’d not left enough time to get from the Naples terminal to the Napoli Centrale to catch the 7:18pm train to Rome. :( . We thought we’d give it a shot anyway.

The ferry got in two minutes early (a good start), we disembarked quickly and found a taxi immediately (getting better), another passenger bound for the same destination joined us (lost some precious seconds) and told the drier we had to catch the 7:18pm train. Well, off he went! We raced out of the taxi rank like the start of an F1 race. Down the main street we went with the driver grabbing every second he could. The road rules were just thrown out the window – although I suspect hat’s the norm for Naples taxi drivers, well all drivers really. We swung off the main road down into the little, crowded streets, horn tooting, lights flashing encouraging drivers and pedestrians alike to move on quickly. Boy does he know his car! So many times we were so close to other vehicles, cutting off buses included. A mere mortal would be at the panel beaters right now. All the while he was negotiating the fare with the other passenger and exchanging and counting money. He took us to a place where we could dash through a book shop straight onto the main station concourse. I slapped EUR 20.00 in his hand. We thanked each other for the service and the fare and bolted through the bookshop. I looked at the Departure board as I ran and my eye immediately saw our train and the platform. We found the platform jumped in our carriage, sat down and the train pulled away from the platform. Wow! What a ride. That anonymous taxi driver and that ride will forever live in our memories. He is a credit to his profession and his city.

As luck would have it our seats were in first class so we enjoyed our very comfortable seat and the other trappings that come with first-class. After a hour we were back in Rome and decided to walk home through the city’s lit streets and monuments. It was a very pleasant and easy (downhill all the way) 3km walk. Back at our piazza we sat and shard a pizza while we talked about the great day we’d had.

Monday, 16 October 2017

More Ancient Rome (Monday 16th October 2017)

Today started with no really firm plans. We wanted to visit a bicycle and scooter rental shop over on Via Cavour, not to hire a bike (way too dangerous in Rome) or a scooter (even more dangerous for a non-Roman) but because they sold Vespa merchandise and had a little Vespa museum.

Also, Kerry wanted to visit a wool shop just near our apartment. Up Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II we walked on what was going to be another warm day in Rome. Just before the Wedding Cake (officially known as “Altare della Patria” and “Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II”) we look a diversion into some smaller streets, past some more archaeological work, up some stairs which lead us to the bottom of Via Cavour.

This will be a good time to comment on the security presence in Rome. Where Via Cavour meets Via dei Fori Imperiali, the main road from the north-west to the Colosseum the road is blocked two great big  army trucks (the combat type, like the Bushmaster) and four keen-eyed soldiers armed to the teeth. I don’t exaggerate about them being keen-eyed, they are alert and attentive not just having an afternoon off from drill practice. This scene is replicated at every major place where large numbers of people are gathered. They’re supported by the local Carabinieri whizzing around these areas closed to most traffic in their Fiats. At other places armed soldiers working in groups of three walk slowly through the many public squares and meeting places. The presence of armed soldiers walking the streets was also a common sight in Paris and Berlin. It does give one a sense that perhaps the safest place to be is where the tourists gather. Lessons have been learned by the governments of the countries where the tragic events of the last 18 months have happened.

We found the shop on Via Cavour, went downstairs to the Vespa display (Museum is a bit of a stretch) and the went back upstairs to buy a Vespa tee-shirt for Kerry and a couple of other nic-nacs. It was time for a coffee, which we found just up the street. Kerry had spotted a wool and craft shop on the way there so we went to have a look after the coffee. There she bought a couple of balls of cotton and the corresponding pattern book to make a scarf. Now all we need is an Italian who’ll be happy to translate the pattern. Oh, we got stooged by one of those touts I was laking about yesterday. We ended up with a turtle and an elephant which will go nicely on the kitchen bench at home with all the other similar trinkets we’ve collected from holidays over the years.

From here we took some back-streets to the Colosseum to complete our circumnavigation of the monument. We were trying to find the place were I risked  my life darting out into the traffic to take a photo on 1987. But we couldn’t identify the location. The surrounds of the Colosseum have changed a lot in the last 30 years. We set off in search of my church, which logic suggested, had to be on Via di San Gregorio. Well it wasn’t as plainly obvious as one might think it would be so we walked up Viale di Parco del Celia following the tram tracks. To cut a long story, but not the long walk, short we ended up doing complete circle before we found the monastery. I mean, I really should have known that the dusty track leading from the bottom of Viale di Parco del Celia into the rubbish strewn shrubs and trees was the entrance. Shouldn’t I?

Anyway, on the detour we found a nice little garden with some shady trees under which to rest and the church of St John and Paul. There was a bit of action inside the church, like they were preparing for a Mass or something. We were taken aback when we exited to find that indeed they were – a funeral Mass. We waited for an appropriate opportunity, passing by the dearly departed, offering our prayers to him/her and got out of there quick smart.

Enough touring for one day we headed back towards home stopping at an Irish Pub called the Scholars Lounge on Via del Plebiscito (LOL, Emily) for lunch and a pint of a lovely Irish Red Ale called Smithwicks. I mean, what else would I drink?

Kerry found nothing in the wool shop on Via del Baullari, especially service, so we headed home to plan our last two days. After night had fallen we ventured into Campo de ’Fiori, selected a bar with two comfy seats facing the square and watched all the activity activity happening therein over a Vino Rossa and a Coke. Drinks finished, a gelati was required to finish off the day.