So here we all were in the hotel foyer saying our goodbyes. The Insight Vacations ‘Grand tour of Italy and Sicily’ had come to an end! And we were on our own! No more Brad to lead us into unknown terrtiories. We had to make and follow our own decisions! Ahhhhh! And no more Max! Our trusty bus driver. Big hugs all round again…and a few shed tears and we were off!
Rome to Budapest via Athens! Yes we land in Athens for one hour. I asked the air hostess if the flight was leaving on time as we had another flight to connect with. Her answer was I am sure you will be okay. We land in Athens and are directed to the gate we need to board the next plane…and the gate leads directly to the plane we had just gotten off! Naturally we were going to be okay…it is the same plane!..she could have told me that and then Judy could stop worrying (I wasn’t worried of course!) Anyway out came the cameras and we take as many photos as we can (in the departure gate) to prove that we have been to Greece…even if we haven’t even left the airport!
Our next worry was finding our way to the Hotel in Budapest when we land. But that was easy peasy as well. The airport has buses that run to the various areas of Budapest. All you have to do is pay the fare and tell them where you are staying. We boarded the right bus and away we went. To think that the transit from Rome to the Hotel in Budapest was our biggest concern…and yet it was as calm as anything. All three of us were delighted and ready for the next stage of our journey.
We wandered the local area and found that we were just a few blocks away from a street of restaurants. Entree at one, main meal at one, dessert at the last. And at the end we had savioured food from the local Hungarian dishes. Goulash is delicious and the Chocolate pancakes so yummy!
We decided that the hop on/off bus was the best option to see Budapest the next day and weren’t disappointed. Budapest is lovely and has some amazing buildings and things to see. We found out that Buda is the flat area and Pest is the hilly area across the river. We went over to Pest and took some very good shots of the whole area from a lookout on a hill. We also had a lovely bowl of Goulash there…I could eat Goulash for every meal. It is a bit like a beef stew but a lot runnier…like a soup. Big chunks of veges and meat! Yum!
Teresa had really wanted to go to Auchwich, but we really didn’t have time to go up to Krakow in Poland. When she found out that Budapest had a tour available which was all about the holocaust, we made that our next stop. Once again a very sad but memorable reminder of just how cruel humans can be to each other…when you add prejudice and hatred together! We came out to see a statue of the iron curtain and were just taking our photos, when Daniel and Marysia walked along the path! Yay…now our second part of the holiday was really about to start…and I loved reconnecting with my second to eldest and his lovely fiance 🙂
Today is our first wet day for a month and with good internet I thought that maybe the time could be utilised with some blogging. So here I am in Paris sitting on my bed, listening to the rain outside and relaxing! What..you say! Yes I know…I can hardly believe it myself…but in my defense, the last 2 days have been full on! And, we are all so tired! So here I am in Paris and still in bed at 11am!
Now where did I blog last? Oh thats right…in Sicily, fabulous place that it is! I really can’t believe that our tour incorporated such fantastic accomodation for us there. Tours really are a fantastic option for having the best places to stay, and also quick access to all the sightseeing places. We certainly have been spoilt!
We had spent most of our time on the south west coast of Sicily but now needed to travel up to the North coast in preparation for the return trip to Rome, by boat. Along the route was another place to stop and walk through the ruins of Temples and palaces. The valley of the temples once formed part of the greek colony of Akragas, and we looked at them in awe…and took lots of photos.
On our last day in Sicily, we stayed at Palermo. We wandered through the local markets. Oh how I would have loved to have been able to purchase some of the lovely fresh fruits and vegetables, some of which I had never seen before. Each stand was full of colour, and exuded the smell of the produce available. The fish stands certainly stood out! But these were quite interesting with the many varieties of fish for sale…including many live ones!
We also did the optional tour at Palermo…the Capuchin catacombs! 8000 mummies…yes 8000, all from 1599-1881, and dressed in their pre-18th century finery, and perfectly preserved and on display! All grouped by their class or profession – even a hallway of brides! I was most taken with the 45 monks still in their clothes, but each having a three braded cord around their necks. The three cords represent penance, poverty and chastity. No photos were allowed at this place and understandibly so. They weren’t that lovely to look at…but well worth the visit.
After visiting the Catacombs, we all boarded the bus again and went off on another tour to discover Palermo’s golden age. A local tour guide took us to the Baroque Quattro Canti Square and we also had a glimpse of the fountain of shame. The story of the fountain is that a fountain was built and the designer/artist wanted naked statues placed all around it. The trouble was it was outside a Nunnery and the first sight the Nuns got when they pulled their curtains in the morning was the naked statues…all men! The Palermo Cathedral was awe inspiring…and place where your spirit was just touched by God! Inside the mosiacs depicted the bible story from Creation to Revelation. Absolutely amazing…and so very pretty! And the Palatine Chapel in the Palace of the Normans was huge and completely cobered in glittering 12th century mosaics. Have a look at these photos. They really don’t do it justice. You really have to see it all in person!
The last afternoon was spent at a local farm where we had a fabulous meal together sampling the local foods. The farm itself was high up in the hills and we got a magnificent view of Palermo. The food, the company, and the sights were amazing!
So to get back to the mainland we needed to board another boat, but this time an overnight stay on a ship! The bus pulled up alongside the ship and we got priority entrance and just walked on board (up a scary flight of steps) as a group. Our cabin was just big enough for the three of us but served it’s purpose nicely. I got the top bunk, and I must admit, clambouring up and down isn’t a very glamourish sight at all! My body doesn’t bend like it used to and the roof was only 18 inches above me! But all three of us were like excited teenagers and we made the most of the experience and giggled all night.
We arrived at Naples at 6.30am and had to be ready to walk out as soon as the ship berthed. The Bus took us to a local Hotel and we joined all the other Hotel patrons for breakfast.
We viewed all the sights of Naples from our bus windows as we didn’t have any stops in Naples itself, but headed straight to Pompeii! Yes…I have always wanted to go to Pompeii. I can remember learning all about it as a primary school student. We meandered through it’s streets looking at the ruins imagining how it all would have looked before Vesuveus? errupted. It was also hard to believe that archeologists had spent years unearthing the whole city. I was suprised to see inside a house that was used for prostitution and still see pictures on the wall which described their lifestyle! It was a very interesting place though and I am pleased that I have been there.
Travelling on…we stopped at Cassino. A beautiful memorial and graveyards for fallen soldiers. The grounds were perfectly manicured and the headstones well kept. Such an honouring place for all those men who gave up their lives for freedom for all. We wandered around looking for the NZ section and felt so proud when we found it. Even though we didn’t know any of the soldiers personally, it was a very moving moment.
Moving on we arrived once again in Rome! This time the arrival wasn’t touched with excitement as last time, only 2 weeks earlier. This time there was a sense of sorrow and pending end! The tour was finishing! We were all to fly off in different directions the next morning. Our little travelling family was ending. Emotionally I was wrung out. I loved everything about the tour. It was like a little bit of heaven on earth for me.
So we all celebrated our last meal together and shared many hugs and tears….along with email addresses and Facebook names. Thank God for the World Wide Web!
I had a fabulous time in Sorrento and didn’t think the holiday could get any better. But traveling around Sicily is wonderful. We had to cross the ocean by ferry where the bus drove onto the ferry and 20 minutes later drove off again. You know how you see in movies the roads that snake up hillsides with the corners almost. Full circle, making the roads parallel? Well we had to drive on a road like that to get to our hotel! Fabulous experience! Then again to visit a little hilltop village Savoca, where ‘The Godfather’ was filmed.
And again for a trip to Mt Etna! Talk about an adrenalin rush…I loved it. And the views from all those places were amazing.
Our hotel was on the lower edge of a little town called Taormina. A town that is sleepy in the morning but full of life every night! How we loved to sit at a restaurant and just people watch. Even young families out enjoying the lovely warm evenings and shops that didn’t seem to close.
We had a wander through the local theatre. I’ll add a photo or two. The theatre was ancient and In ruins but has now had a stage added and more seating and is now an open air theatre for operas and plays and any performance. Stunning!
To visit an active volcano was great. The road to get there was pretty good, but the walk around the old crater top was an experience not to miss. All while the now active crater, just above, still smokes away allowing pressure to be released! I know…something else to tick off the bucket list 🙂
Our first LONG trip on the bus. Quite a distance to travel. The Kindle comes in handy along with iPhone games and the bus Internet when you can get it 🙂 Judy Teresa and I have been lucky enough to have a double seat each. I have been able to fold this slightly bigger body of mine up and have naps along the way.
We arrived at Sorrento late afternoon and went straight up to the pool bar to freshen up with a nice cold shandy and good conversations. Tea was a treat for all the senses. We went down to a seaside restaurant and enjoyed a lovely meal flavored with incredible views…just lovely.
The next day was one of my most favourite of the whole holiday so far. We took the ferry out to the island of Capri. What a spectacular Harbour to arrive at! Such a beautiful town. We boarded a second boat to venture around the coast listening to our guide describe the history of the area all whilst taking in the amazing scenery. But the best thing if all was being able to jump off the boat into the beautiful aquamarine/blue clear water and swim! Wow…it felt wonderful, very salty but wonderful!
And after the boat ride we went by Finicular up to the restaurants, shops and gardens and enjoyed Capri from that vantage point! I feel spoilt by seeing so many amazing things 🙂
While in Florence we did a tour of the Amalfi coast. I have always wanted to visit a village built along the banks/cliffs of the sea and also travel around the windy, but spectacular coastal roads. This tour ticked both of those desires! And Postitano the little town was fabulous. We were going to do the long walk down to the coast but after going halfway in the burning heat, Judy and I decided that ice-creams were a much better option. The views were spectacular though. I loved it!
Yay…2 nights here 🙂 and we have a lovely place to stay. I just had to add these two photos for fun 🙂
Another ‘must visit’ place. One of the oldest cities in Italy. Thank God for details on photo files though as I have taken so many photos of similar architecture from all over Italy. But Florence is probably one of my favourite cities to photograph.
Florence is the home of the statues of David. With the original housed in the museum which we were lucky enough to have a tour through. There is another in a big square and also another on a hill on the edge of town but this one is in copper rather than marble. I photographed them all.
We went to a leather shop which sold every imaginable product made with leather. As part of the tour we were shown how they make a wallet and also some of the ladies were chosen to model some of the leather jackets. Now these jackets are fabulous and I would have loved to have purchased one at euro500-1000 and possibly even more!
We were lucky enough to do an extra tour to the hilltop village San Gimignano, about 20 minutes away from Florence. This village is older than Rome itself, built on the 14th century. Talk about architecture that takes your breath away and the view from the surrounding area from the top of the town is amazing. The place is a UNESCO world heritage town, and is considered the medieval Manhatten of Italy die to its towers that dominate the skyline! consequently I took heaps of photos!
For the evening dinner we visited the Abbey Monastry. Four Monks still live at the Monastry but unlike in the past, these monks are able to talk to and see each other. Amazing sacrifice to God I must say! There are little porcelain heads on the top of each column in the middle courtyard and each head is worth millions. After we toured the Monastry we have an amazing meal in the next door building which is where the monks used to make their medicines.
Yesterday I wrote a lengthy and very descriptive blog all about Venice. As I was trying to add a photo (which was taking AGES to upload) I thought I would cancel the upload but ended up deleting the whole post! Hmmph!!!
So here I go again.
We leave Lake Maggorie and head for Venice following the southern fringes of the Alps. On the way we have a stopover at Verona, the setting for one of the sadest love stories. The town of Verona is lovely. We wandered the narrow streets and went to the place where Juliet lived. Her balcony is still there and there is also a statue of Juliet. Rumour has it that if you touch her breasts you will find true love….so guess what all the tourists were doing…perfect photo opportunity for some!
I highly suggest you put a visit to Venice on your bucket list because my description will hardly do it justice. The whole place is a group of islands with all the buildings built with their huge wooden beam foundations rammed into the sea floor. Each building is built right beside the other with only 6-10 foot gaps for walking paths. The tour guide said that if one building is demolished the whole neighborhood houses would become unstable and fall down! Imagined that!
Each area is also divided up by canals. The only mode of transport is by foot or various boats. The grand canal is the biggest canal and it has a huge bridge leading from the train station across to the main island and the hundreds of hotels! Yes it is a huge tourist spot. Actually the tourist trade probably keep Venice alive.
We stayed on an Island near Venice and had to go over the ocean by boat each time we went over to ‘discover’ Venice. Our Hotel was fabulous and the area around the Hotel was a great place to look around. The afternoon we arrived we wandered around and found lots of buildings and neat views to photograph.
The main things you can purchase in Venice are glass products, masks and various items made from lace. We visited a glass factory and watched a man make a vase and a horse by the blowing hot glass technique. The connected shop sold a huge number of items created in the factory from a 10 thousand euro chandelier to a 10euro bead! Hmmm….think I’d need a lotto win to consider buying something from there.
The reason why there are so many masks for sale is because each celebration over the years was a masquerade theme. This was so that each person was on the same level from the noble to the needy. People could hide behind the mask and mix with people the weren’t normally allowed to associate with…including the priests and nuns…so the tour guide said!
As part of our tour we went for a ride on a Gondola. The last time I went to Venice we didn’t go on the Goldolas as they were far too expensive, so to actually have that experience this time was a real treat. I loved it!
There were also some incredible cathedrals. St Marks the most well known and the surrounding square is fabulous.
We also went for an excursion to the island of Burano – a photgrapher’s paradise and famous for it’s lace. Shops selling lace everywhere! We enjoyed a superb lunch sampling local specialities…Judy loved it, me not so much…mainly seafood.
Last time I visited Venice it poured down both days. This time we endured temperatures in the high 30’s. it was so hot and high humidity as well! But still well worth the visit. This time I had a ride in a Gondola as well. What an amazing experience going through the maze of canals and under numerous bridges and watching the hundreds of people wandering the little alleys…and seeing the building as we floated by. I took sooooo many photos. I am not going to forget my time in Venice!
Right now I am sitting on our tour bus, feeling very relaxed and soul satisfied. I have travelled a great distance and learnt so many new things. And the sights I have seen…oh my! I am so blessed!
Our traveling buddies are fabulous people. Variety is the spice of life and I am enjoying the individualness of each person. God is an amazing God to make each person so unique.
I love that the son is so amazingly patient with his elderly father and how he holds him steady with his belt. Making sure that if he trips he can keep him upright. And also how he gently pushes him up the stairs to give him that extra strength to climb up. So cute!
I love the wife who is traveling with her very frail Husband. Who has had about three dizzy spells which have stopped the tour until he feels okay again. Gives us all a scare but also reminds us of the need to be gracious and caring. It may be us in the future. And he is still getting great enjoyment from the holiday. Must be worrying for his wife. Brought me to tears the last time he had a dizzy spell. I’m not too good with the idea that a partner is sick and maybe dying! Love you Robin, my man 🙂
I love the courage of the lone traveller of which we have one. Such a friendly Canadian chap who I thought was actually ‘hitting’ on me because he would want to sit with us every breakfast or evening meal. This chap has Tourette’s and ADHD as he confessed this morning. I had guessed Tourette’s the day before and immediately felt that he was so brave to be on this trip. Life must have been hard for him at times. But here he is seeing the world with a bunch of new ‘friends’
The older American couple give us some laughs. Not in a horrible way, but because of their way if innocently asking questions that the tour driver has just explained. I call them Barbie and Ken. Ken wears a toupee and Barbie is always perfect! But they always have a smile and a camera ready for every new sight. They love Italy.
We have made great friends with a couple from Brisbane. I don’t think that he was very happy of contented with the idea of a tour at first but watching his smile grow bigger each day has been fantastic. We often go out together on the free time opportunities and dine together. They are very friendly.
Now the two ladies traveling together from Melbourne are fabulous! They always have such nice things to say and have quick funny retorts to day. I am enjoying time spent with them. They like me have left their husbands at home. They have been friends for years and are obviously really comfortable with each other. If I am feeling like I’m not dressed for the occasion or say something stupid, both of these ladies make me feel loved and okay immediately. Phew!
We also have on board two American families from New York area. A brother with his wife and two teenage children, and the sister with her two daughters. Now these families have Italian heritage. Their Dad died not so long ago and in his will he left a request and funds for his family to travel to Italy and discover their roots. How amazing is that. They are super people and watching such a large family group relate together is fun. The teenage son is the most loving and caring son I have ever seen (apart from mine of course) and he is loving Italy and expresses his love loudly and with enthusiasm at times. He’s great. It’s neat to have uncontrolled expression around you at times. The Mother of the two daughters is beautiful and single, and the holiday would have a fairytail ending if she found a handsome available Italian man while on holiday.
Most of the rest of out traveling buddies are couples. They are all great and friendly. We are sharing the sights and experiences together and I am enjoying every moment.
Thank you so much family at home for allowing me to be so self indulgent and take this month off from normal life. I would love to be sharing this precious time with you. Maybe one day, but until then, these traveling buddies are doing me well 🙂
Ahhh a little sleep in this morning 🙂 Santa Margherita is a wonderful picturesque town. It is obviously a beach resort that many tourists come to stay at for their holidays. The roads into the place are narrow, especially through the town, but all sorts of vehicles come and go the whole time. The place just buzzes with activity. Our bus driver was extremely clever to drive through the town and not cause any acccidents. We left the hotel at 8.30 to catch a ferry to Portifino – the place of calendar photos of Italy. Wandering through Portifino was soul satisfying – touched so many emotions. I felt full by wonderful sights! Hopefully you can feel the same by looking at some of the photos I have added below…
We left on coach and travelled on the edge of Genoa. How I would have loved to have spent some time there. We bypassed Chinque Terrie??? (Will look up the spelling later) as well and I felt grieved in my spirit about that too! Another trip one day maybe Robin?? There is just so much to see and you just can’t spend time in every place. But I am so very thankful for what I have seen so far
The highway to the lakes district was pretty straight with farmlands both sides, dotted with old farm dwellings. The dwellings consisted of a homestead with 4 or 5 other buildings and then a big stone fence surrounding them all. There were lot of rice fields which were a rich green colour, and also maize and other crops. I didn’t see many animal farms?
The views as we headed down to lake Maggiore was spectacular and there were many ohhhhs and wows from the bus.
Judy Teresa and I spent the afternoon wandering through the little town of Bevino. We came across the amazing little church with a group of local elderly people sitting outside. The Italians are very sociable and seem to love to gather and chat, and are very animated. I think I could fit into the Italian lifestyle quite easy. Out of all the people in the bus I think there are only a few that get excited and bubble over with emotion and I am one of them – along with our lovely American family (that have Italian heritage) Judy is worried that no one will want to sit with us at meal times because we giggle the whole time. I have never laughed so much as this holiday. I am having so much fun. I think the whole experience is enhanced by the people you are on holiday with and the willingness to just chat!
The afternoon was our first downtime. After our walk we went down to the hotel pool and outdoors area. Purchased a drink each and just chatted. We ended up with three others at our table and had a very pleasant afternoon. The hotel itself is like a palace. It is filled with expensive rugs, chandeliers, artwork and statues. The lady who runs it is about 80. She sits behind the desk ruling her reign – and the staff! And she is a multi millioneer!
After another delicious meal we headed off to bed at around about 10 pm. Off to Venice tomorrow. Yay! I love that place 🙂
And the morning began at 4.15! Why are we waking so early even though we are going to bed so late? My head is spinning even before it is filled with all the amazing sights – and they are amazing! Bucket list people! You HAVE to do a trip to Europe in your lifetime 🙂
We leave Rome early in the morning and head Northwards. Our first stop is a winery in Tuscany. The Chianti wines are what make this region so famous. We did a walking tour and then had lunch along with samples of the winery’s produce. I wasn’t that fussed with the wines but I did enjoy sampling them anyway, but oh my goodness I loved the dessert wine, and I managed to embarrass myself rather nicely. Not publishing details though!!! Lets say I was very happy 🙂
After we left the winery we crossed the Arno river and travelled to Pisa. We saw the leaning tower with a million people (slightly exaggerated!!!) in approx 37 degrees! It was still great to see the tower again and the cathedral but family, we didn’t see all the markets and hawkers last time, and I would have been quite happy to have missed that experience this time!
We then travelled on to St Margherita along the coast, through tunnels and mountains on a very scenic roadway. St Margherita is a delightful beach front Harbour town and has the most amazing architecture and views! We have the luxury of staying in a hotel right by the seaside with a pool on the top floor. As soon as we arrived, we had a swim and then joined the rest of the tour party for a lovely meal. I know….we are spoilt!
The day has arrived! We board the plane in New Plymouth and begin our fabulous months holiday. The first 17 days doing a tour of Italy and Sicily. The last 2 weeks we meet Daniel and Marysia in Budapest and travel together back to London. What an adventure! A trip of a lifetime! Our first stop is overnight in Auckland with Jessica. That night is followed by two twelve hour flights, one from Auckland to Singapore, the next from Singapore to Rome…A long trip….but one we have been looking forward to for 10 long months.
The plane trips went smoothly. We tried not to sleep too much on the flight to Singapore as we knew we would need to make the next 12 hour flight be our night time. The four hour stopover in Singapore was a bit of a nightmare….we were soooo tired. Eventually we all gave in and had about a two hour sleep in the airport! The next flight was much better as we slept most of the journey.
We arrived in Rome early enough to be able to do our own ‘discover Rome walking tour’ before our real tour began. And…we found the spanish steps! We also realised very quickly just how hot the weather here is. 39 degrees! We get back to the Hotel at head to the foyer where we meet the rest of the tour party. Then….we are off by bus to have a lovely meal together. During the meal time we have an opportunity to give a little introduction of ‘who you are’ for the other tour members to get to know you better. I had gone downstairs to the toilet…and couldn’t open the door. I panicked….yelled…but no-one heard me. Finally I got the door open and got back to my seat to find out that Judy had introduced me in my absense. I wonder what she said?
After tea we went on another bus ride to have a look at Rome by night. We were taken to see a sample of the places we were going to see in daylight the next day. Unfortunately we were so tired it was hard to stay awake. I think most of us had little naps on the bus…but it was still great! We were so excited! And even though we were tired then next morning we woke at 5am…and did so for three days in a row! Ahhhh the joys of jet lag!
The next morning and we wake up to a very big day. A tour of the Vatican city and the Sistine chapel in the morning and the Colosseum in the afternoon. Now I really can’t describe in words at just how amazing the sights in Vativan city and the Sistene Chapel are…you just have to go there and see them for yourselves…but I will assure you….you would be equally amazed. The artwork in many forms are wonderful…and the buildings as well. There are absolutely thousands of statues as well. I didn’t take photos of them as I did that last time we visited two years ago….and they haven’t changed….hehe. But I couldn’t resist taking more photos of the ceilings…they just amaze me. Hopefully the photos will help to describe the wow factor.
The last place to visit at the vatican city is St Peters Cathedral. Now….that really has the WOW factor. So hard to describe as it is just filled with wonderful artwork, architecture and statues…all with a religious theme. I will add some photos, but I hope they do the place justice. This place really should be on everyones bucket list. You will never forget seeing this place once you go there.
In the afternoon we went to the Coloseum and although I have been there before, I loved it. It is just amazing!….I could go there again! It was fabulous watching Teresa face and reactions as a first time visitor! You can tell people what it is like, but you can’t really comprehend just how amazing it is unless you see it for yourself.
But the highlight for the day for me was the walking tours we did from 4 pm until late at night finishing with a 7 course meal in a restaurant at the place where Julius Caeser was assasinated!…3 floors underground!
The Pathenon took my breath away. You walk in through enormous marble columns and look up to see the hugest dome with an open centre. Yes it can rain in the Pathenon…but when it was built so many years ago…they even made holes in the floor and a drainage system so the place wouldn’t flood.
Now I can’t remember the names of the Cathedrals we went too I will look into them later on and add them to my blog…St Peters at Vatican city was amazing…but the two we saw later on in the day were just as spectacular! We also saw the Trevi Fountain and joined in the hundreds of people to get a photo in front of it. fabulous experience!
Okay…So now I have added a heap of photos of our wonderful time in Rome. I have hundreds more photos so these ones are really only a sample of the sights that Rome has to offer. As I said…Rome is a must to visit….you will love it and never regret the expense it costs to go there. I hope you have enjoyed looking through my sample of Rome 🙂