A Travellerspoint blog

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
View Mediterranean Cruise on Anja Fourie's travel map.

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
View Mediterranean Cruise on Anja Fourie's travel map.

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
View Mediterranean Cruise on Anja Fourie's travel map.

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)

The Leaning Tower of Visa

overcast 16 °C

Ah, the Visa process. This whole process just installs panic and then some more panic. The word Schengen has become a ridiculously hateful word to me. I want to marvel at some European wonders and spend money in the streets of Mediterranean ports, but all these strict rules and regulations for the application of a Schengen visa just takes the fun out of travel.

For the last few weeks the blue and yellow flag of the European Union haunted my dreams, my nightmares and my daydreams. I’ve never dreaded the results of anything so much. Scenarios’ constantly run through my head of officials enjoying tea over my application and laughing at my photo.

I do not have a criminal record of any sort, but what about my numerous speeding fines? Will they see me as irresponsible and capable of burning down Rome? I should probably hide all my photos on Facebook just in case the Consular of Spain has taken up Facebook Stalking.

What is all the fuss about?

The Schengen Agreement is a lovely treaty signed on the river-boat Princess Marie-Astrid in the middle of the River Mosel near the town of; yes you guessed it, Schengen, Luxembourg. Ten years later in 1995 the Amsterdam Treaty was signed, creating the Schengen-Acquis and shaping European travel as we know it today. Without this stamp, you will not see the inside of the Schengen Area. Attempting a secret swim from Algeria would probably be your next best bet.

With a checklist consisting of eight different requirements, I slowly start ticking them off. The list includes basics such as financial means, itinerary and photos, all with their separate requirements. If these Spaniards do not give me my visa then I’ll have no choice but to.... Ok, I don’t know how seriously threats on informal blogs are taken, but I’ll just stop my thoughts right there. Just in case.

Just thinking about the process tires me out, but in the end all the paranoia and anxious pacing was for nothing. I received my visa with a little note saying: Thank you for your beautifully put together visa application. Well, not really... Who has time to write thank you notes anyway?

Now the final countdown starts. I'll be leaving on a jet plane in 16 days.

Spain: See you in 17 days!
Laraine: See you in 18 days!

First stop: Palma de Mallorca, Spain.

Posted by Anja Fourie 12:04 Archived in South Africa Tagged spain visa preparation european_union mallorca schengen_visa Comments (1)

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