A Travellerspoint blog

June 2011

When in Rome...

"Rome has not seen a modern building in more than half a century. It is a city frozen in time." - Richard Meier.

sunny 26 °C
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Civitavecchia is the heart of Italy as this is a really big and important port and harbour. Civitavecchia, which means "ancient town", is about 80kms away from Rome. Walking on the port is not allowed, so a shuttle bus from the ship takes us into town where we take the 1.5 hour train ride into Rome.

1. Civitavecchia harbour wall
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Rome has a few different train stations as the city is so big. We decide to buy a ticket for one of the hop-on-hop-off bus tours. The bus stops at 12 major points in Rome and you get earphones to plug into a little box where you can listen to interesting facts. These type of buses are a really quick and cheap way to see the city when you don't have a lot of time.

2. The map and our stops
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As the bus drives down Via Labicana you see the Colosseum coming towards you. When we round the corner we also see the sea of tourist surrounding the popular fighting grounds of Ancient Rome. We walk around, take some photos and then proceed up Fori Imperial, past some beautiful buildings and ancient ruins.

3. Thank you Mr. Obvious, we almost didn't see the Colosseum there
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4. Entrance gate to the Colosseum
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5. The Colosseum
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In the distance you can see the Il Vittoriano and it takes your breath away. The Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II is a monument build to the first king of a unified Italy, Vittoria Emanuele. It is visible to most of Rome as it is so large, but is regarded by most as too pompous. To me it was just one magnificent structure. The building is made out of pure white marble and it just dominates everything around it. Not even the rude gladiators can ruin the mood.

6. Il Vittoriano
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Everywhere on the streets there are men dressed as gladiators and you pay them to take a picture with them. We ask the one which way we should walk to get to the fountain. He rudely replied: "Why should I speak English to you. I am standing here and I am hot in this outfit and you don't even want to pay me for a photo." We then just use our own little map and figure the way out on our own.

The square in which the fountain is situated is so crowded that we cannot even reach the edge to throw in some coins. Throwing in a coin will, according to Roman legend, ensure that you return to Rome one day. In the end I climbed on a step just to get a photo. The Fontane di Trevi really is very beautiful. This should not be confused with the Fountain of Love that can be seen in the movie, When in Rome as this is a made-up fountain. We then make our way down to Stop 12 and come across the Pantheon without even searching for it. The Pantheon was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa as a temple to all the gods. Vittorio Emanuele II is also buried here. Today the Pantheon is used as a Catholic church.

7. Trevi Fountain
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8. Pantheon
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Stop 1: Citta del Vaticano. Arriving there, the queue to get inside is at about 2 hours. We have no time to stand in this queue, so we just take some pictures of St. Peter's Basilica, the dome, and then get some ice-cream. We sit on a bench and wait for our bus to come back so we can take the train back to Civitavecchia. The ice-cream melts immediately as it probably has the same density as milk. You eat so fast, just to avoid getting melted ice-cream all over yourself. This being the first relaxed moment we had all day, I just sit in wonderment at the busy Roman street in front of me and the beautiful view of the Vatican to the right. The Vatican City has a population of about 800 people and it is ruled by the bishop of Rome, who is of course the Pope. It is the sovereign territory of the Holy See, which is where the jurisdiction over the Catholic Church presides. It is thus the central government of the Catholic Church. The current pope is Pope Benedict XVI, the 265th Pope. He is of German descent and holds both German and Vatican citizenship.

9. Pope Benedict XVI
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10. Outside the Vatican
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Rome is a big and magnificent city. Even though there is so much more to see in Rome than in smaller cities like Florence, Florence is much more beautiful. Rome is dirty at best and there are so many people everywhere that you get crushed wherever you go. Rome is just such a big city that you really need about three days to experience it properly.

Next stop: Palermo, Sicily.

Posted by Anja Fourie 10:46 Archived in Italy Tagged italy rome vatican colosseum vittoriano ice-cream trevi_fountain rude_people Comments (2)

Florence and Pisa in one day

"A man who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see." - Samuel Johnson.

sunny 29 °C
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When I got up this morning we were docked at a beautiful little town called La Spezia. La Spezia has a small harbour which made it another tender dock. This meant that the little shuttle boats had to take you to shore again. The entire town is set against a steep slope into the mountain. La Spezia is one of Italy's main commercial harbours and hosts one of the biggest Italian military industries, OTA Melara.

For 6 euro, a little train will take you to the town centre as the harbour is at the bottom of the mountain and a little way from the attractions of La Spezia. At La Spezia's station, I buy my train tickets for Florence and Pisa. I will be travelling in a lopsided triangle. From La Spezia to Pisa, from Pisa to Florence and from there back to La Spezia. The next train leaves in 10 minutes and after a hour we are in the centre of Pisa. I buy a bus pass for 1,10 euro. It takes me the Field of Miracles.

1. Even the McDonald's in Italy is stylish
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2. Entrance to the Field of Miracles
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The bus stops right at the square in front of the Square of Miracles. From outside the wall I can already see the Tower. I wish I had time to see more of Pisa's architectural wonders, but the Piazza dei Miracoli will have to do for now. It is also known as the Piazza del Duomo and is a walled area which contains the four great religious buildings of Pisa. This square has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. The first thing you see when you enter the square is the large Romanesque dome of the Battistero (Baptistery). The other two buildings are the cathedral (Duomo di Pisa), and the Camposanto Monumentale (cemetery).

3. First sight of the complex
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4. The Field of Miracles
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That famous tower hides behind the massive cathedral and as you round the marble steps of the cathedral, the Campanile, the loose standing bell tower of the cathedral comes into full view. We all know this as the Leaning Tower of Pisa (Torre pendente di Pisa, or simply Torre di Pisa). The tower seems smaller than what I imagined it to be, but it is still magnificent in real life. Not a fan of the cliche, I decide that the tower can hold itself up for once and I just get some regular tower photos. You are allowed to enter and climb the tower once again as they have found a way to keep the tower from leaning. To gain entrance you just need to hand over your life savings and probably be weighed as well. Italians don't want any fatties to tip over their precious heritage.

5. Sinking base of the tower
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6. Me, myself and Mr. Leaning Tower
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Unfortunately my time in Pisa is up and I take the bus back to the station, just in time to catch the 12:00 train to Florence. Florence is an hour away from Pisa and 2 hours away from La Spezia. Florence is bigger, busier and dirtier than calm Pisa. I get a map to orientate myself and decide to walk down Via de Panzani towards the Piazza Giovanni.

"Everything about Florence seems to be colored with a mild violet, like diluted wine.” - Henry James.

Somewhere I take a wrong turn and end up at the Capelle Medicee. The Medici family was a very influential and important family for Renaissance Europe. They commissioned thousands of works of art which helped keep the Renaissance alive. Catherine de Medici (1519 - 1589) was the wife of Henry II of France and she ruled after his death. She was to the 16th century what Queen Victoria was to the 19th century. Her three sons were three different kings of France and her daughter in law was Mary Queen of Scots. It is believed that without her France would not have become Europe's first nation state.

7. Capelle Medicee
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Walking around the corner of the Capelle, you see the giant cathedral looming at the end of the street. It takes your breath away before you even get to the Duomo Piazzo. As you round the corner the massive cathedral and it's brilliance cannot even be described. The cathedral is topped by Brunelleschi's dome and it is the third biggest Christian church in the world today. It really is magnificent and you cannot seem to tear yourself away from this holy sight.

8. Duomo Piazzo
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When you walk up a side street it takes you to the Galleria dell' Accademia. This is where the real David by Michelangelo is housed. I am dissappointed at the very long queue as this means that with my limited time I will not be able to see the David. It is almost time to catch the train back to La Spezia, so I just decide to slowly make my way back to the station. As I'm walking through the beautiful streets of Firenze, my stomach starts growling. For 10 euros I get to eat an amazing multi-layered lasagna with a roasted chicken and vegetable salad. The lasagna is amazing and I never want it to end. But this is Italy after all, the birthplace of pasta.

The 15:53 train takes me back to La Spezia. The train ride will take about 2,5 hours which means I will only arrive in La Spezia at about 18:20. This doesn't leave much time to get back to the harbour to catch the last shuttle boat which leaves at 18:30. I don't worry about it just yet.

The train stops at La Spezia at 18:19. There are no taxis at the station. The little train I took up to the top is nowhere to be seen. I look down at my sandles and decide that I'll have to make a run for it. I've never been much of a runner, but the adrenaline pushes me down the hill like a mad person. Italians jump out of the way. The 25 minute walk has to be completed in 10 minutes.

I am unsuccessful. I arrive at the harbour at 18:40. I have about 500m still to go, but my legs are weak and my chest is burning. I can see the shuttle boat is already half-way towards the ship and they are packing up their gazebo. I run faster than I've ever ran. The officer sees me and screams for the shuttle boat to return. It's actually a scary thought when you think that the ship waits for no one. Laraine meets me in the room and freaks out that I almost missed the last boat as those who miss the ship's departure, have to make their own way to the next stop. The ship waits for no one.

Next stop: Rome

Posted by Anja Fourie 10:11 Archived in Italy Tagged food bus train italy pisa florence cathedral david leaning_tower la_spezia field_of_miracles Comments (2)

The Principality of Monaco

Royal playground of the rich (and a little bit of Cannes)

sunny 30 °C
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Aah Cannes! City of movie festivals, red carpets and holiday spot of the rich. I feel a little excited jump in my stomach as I walk down the deck and the city of Cannes begins to unfold before me.

Cannes is a tender port which means that the harbour is too small and the water too shallow for big cruise liners to dock here. The ship docks a little way out of the harbour and you then take little shuttle boats towards the shore.

1. Yachting galore
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2. Octopussy
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It takes about 10 minutes to get to the port and as you come closer, you realise how small this harbour really is. I decide to walk the 15 minutes uphill to the train station. It takes me directly along the Cannes film festival route. As the film festival already took place in May, the red carpet has long been removed and all that remains is the hand prints along the route. I see the handprints of Julie Andrews, Meryl Streep and Sylvester Stallone, who's hands are really massive! I see the Claude Debussy Theatre, the ocean, Cannes boardwalk, lovely shops and beautiful French people. It does appear that the fame of Cannes is mostly based around the film festival and I am happy to wave it goodbye from my seat in the train.

3. Claude Debussy Theatre
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4. Grand Auditorium of the Cannes Film Festival (steps minus the red carpet) DSCF0262.jpg

5. Famous handprints
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The train races along the French Riviera. We pass beautiful beaches, countryside and small stations along the way. At 10.26 we arrive at Monte Carlo.

6. Monte Carlo arrival
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The whole of Monaco is built on the side of the mountain. The roads are steep, but this doesn't seem to bother the Monagasque women who briskly navigate the steep streets with their very high heeled Louboutins.

7. Monte Carlo Casino Royale
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I idly walk through the streets, with no specific plan in mind. I arrive at the casino without really realising it. A magnificent mirror ball grabs my attention in front of the casino complex. When I arrive at the casino it looks quite small, but there is a magnificent mirror ball in front of the casino complex. The Monte Carlo Casino is a very famous entertainment complex in Monaco, but it's residents and citizens are forbidden to enter the gaming rooms of the casino. Identity Documents are checked at the door. Apparently I am also forbidden to enter the casino. I am still standing at the entrance, admiring the architecture when a security officer comes running towards me, waving his arms and pointing at me. Sun dresses showing your knees are apparently too informal for the casino.

I browse the little shops around the casino instead and then just decide to walk further down towards the lookout point over the harbour. A billion yachts are lined up there, but this is not what catches my eye. Along the main street South African flags are flying together with the flag of Monaco. All this is in honour of the South African girl that Prince Albert will be making his princess this coming weekend.

8. Proudly South African moment
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The Prince's Palace of Monaco is on the other side of the principality. The local bus stops at the entrance of Monaco-Ville as busses cannot maneuver the small old European streets of this part of Monaco. Preparations for the wedding of Prince Albert and Charlene Wittstock are already underway and tours into this 800 year old palace have been cancelled for the time being. I walk around the corner towards the Cathedral. Here, silence is an absolute must and a sign of respect for this very holy place. This is something that the big tour groups have a little trouble with which infuriates the poor security guard. The cathedral is very peaceful and very beautiful. You can view the graves of Prince Rainier, the previous prince of Monaco and his wife, the famous Princess Grace. Fresh flowers are still placed on the graves as a sign of respect. Many other Grimaldi graves can also be found here.

9. The Saint Nicholas cathedral
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10. The graves of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace
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11. Narrow streets of Monaco-Ville
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12. The palace
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The people in Monaco are crazy drivers. This is most probably due to the fact that they have Grand Prix in their blood. There are a lot of small French car brands, such as Citroen, Renault and Peugeot, whizzing around the small and tight corners in Monaco. There are also those residents who drive something more eye-catching such as a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. Then there a billions of Vespas or Scooters who are everywhere and just want to kill pedestrians. The bus drivers are just as crazy and steer those big busses really fast around the corners. For such a small country, they really have a lot of drivers. They also don't have many traffic lights, but people just give way to pedestrians and other drivers, which can be very confusing. Pedestrians just start walking and the cars stop, a practice which can be a little nerve-racking, because those Vespas are out to get you. When talking to residents I just say 'Bonjour' and 'Merci' enough to keep everyone happy.

13. I've got a lovely bunch of scooters, there they are a standing in a row
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14. Small cars make parallel parking easy
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15. Lovely view of a lovely country
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After getting a sandwich I decide to eat it on the way back to the station. The Cannes-Monaco train operates every hour and I am just in time to catch the 3pm train. The train was so full that I had to stand all the way to Nice, which is halfway between Monaco and Cannes. I also almost got crushed by a family of Spanish gingers. When I finally got a seat, I didn't dare fall asleep in fear of missing my stop and ending up somewhere in Germany. The train finally pulls into the station at about 4:20pm and as the ship only leaves at 7:30pm I still have a lof of time to walk down towards the port and see a little of Cannes. I buy a hat at a Senegalese street vendor. He gives me some discount on account of us having an African bond. I arrive back at the ship and take a little nap before dinner.

Here are some vital mistakes made by tourists. Spot the mistake.
1. Standing in front of the palace in Monaco, a boy asks his father: Dad, who lives here. Oh, Prince Rainier he replies.
2. Sitting in front of the bus, an American family climbs on and buy their tickets. They all proceed to thank the driver by saying: Grazie.

Next stop: Florence and Pisa.

Posted by Anja Fourie 03:15 Archived in Monaco Tagged bus palace train cars cathedral vespa cannes monaco sandwich royal_wedding princess_grace prince_rainier prince_albert Comments (1)

Ahoy Mateys!

Embarking on the Grandeur of the Seas

sunny 29 °C
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While waiting for the taxi to arrive I sit outside the hotel on the little wall and do some people-watching. Men wear small speedos and women only wear bikinis as they walk down the road. Liberal Europeans are definitely not afraid to show their bodies.

1. I am half-naked on the street and I can, because I am European
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At 11am the taxi arrives at the port. I go through the security check and board the ship. I look at the ship map and quickly take the lift up to Deck 9 where the spa is situated. This is where Laraine works. She takes me down to the room, but it is not long before she calls me up again. Having a friend who works in the spa does have its benefits. On the first day of the cruise, they have demonstrations and a tour of the spa for the guests. She arranges that I be the girl who the facials are demonstrated on. Turns out, it's a hot stone massage and I'll only covered with a little towel while guests have a look at the spa. But... it's a free hot stone massage. I'll take it.

The dry, salty air does work a number on your skin. Sometimes your skin feels really dry and sometimes it feels sticky from the sea air. The key on a cruise: Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise!

2. Laraine hard at work in the Spa
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3. Some cathedral in Majorca you could see from the ship
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4. The ship's centrum (fancy word for the middle open part)
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5. More of Majorca from the ship
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On the first day I watch the ship leave the harbour and explore the different decks. If you walk in the opposite direction than what the ship is cruising in, it feels like the ship is moving at the speed of light. N At 9pm, the sun is still high in the sky. I also have no sign of motion sickness yet. I have a stronger stomache than I thought.

Next stop: Cannes/Monte Carlo

Posted by Anja Fourie 18:56 Archived in Spain Tagged sunset ship cruise fruit spa cannes ice_cream burger monte_carlo grandeur facial Comments (3)

Cala Mayor, Mallorca

sunny 26 °C
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The little beach town of Cala Mayor is about 10 minutes drive from Palma City, the capital of Mallorca. Here the sun sets at 10pm in the summer, girls tan topless, the Mediterranean feels like a heated pool even at 9pm at night, and everyone is Spanish. Oh so very Spanish. The water is drinkable, but don't...it tastes like soap. Everyone's favourite car here is the convertible CitiGolf.

1. Sunrise over Europe
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2. Snowy French Alps
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Cala Mayor has one main street where all the shops, cafes, karaoke bars and tattoo parlours are. No architectural wonders here. Cala Mayor's biggest attraction is its quaint little blue flag beach. It is afterall a beach town. If you want to see old style Spanish houses, churches and museums, then you should rather venture into towns such as Petra and Sineu. Unfortunately I cannot testify for this myself, but the pictures in the brochures look magnificent. My hotel, Playa Cala Mayor is walking distance from the beach.

3. Room with a slight view
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4. The streets of Cala Mayor
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5. Cala Mayor Beach
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At 7pm I eat dinner at the Picadilly Cafe. It still feels like the middel of the day as the summer sun here only sets at about 10pm. After this I head down to watch the sun set, but after sitting on the beach for two hours with no sign of a sunset, I head back to the hotel and jump into bed. Still dead tired from the flying, I fall asleep immediately; ready to start my cruise with Laraine.

Next stop: Cannes / Monte Carlo

Posted by Anja Fourie 13:47 Archived in Spain Tagged beach car spain mallorca cala_mayor blue_flag Comments (1)

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