A Travellerspoint blog

Florence - Pisa - Siena

Emily - Florence was beautiful and scenic with elaborate museums and churches. We bought a guide book and re-discovered Renaissance Florence - we toured the famed Duomo, checked out the jewellery stores on the Ponte Vecchio, visited the Ufitizi Museum and ate same fantastic geltati! Tuscany provided the perfect backdrop for scenic photos so we took the opportunity to visit a couple of lookouts to take in the architectural beauty that is Florence.

We also managed to do a couple of day trips to Pisa and Siena. In Siena we visited the church that houses St.Katherine's head and finger as well as visiting another Duomo and the Piazza del Compo where Jez and I had a gelati. In Pisa we took plenty of happy snaps of the leaning tower and marvelled at the street hawkers selling rolex watches for sixty euros...............supposedly they provide a letter of authenticIty but I'm still not sold :P

Jeremy - We decided not to worry about seeing the Academia Gallery as Emily had already been and the main attraction was copied all over the City. I had already seen the Statue of David at the shopping centre on the gold coast anyway :)

The street hawkers were actually really funny to watch. It is illegal for them to sell the copies of big name brands and there are signs all over warning tourists not to buy copied products but it's hardly enforced. They play this comical drama (similar to that dive from the italian striker in the last world cup that cost us a world cup final) that involves the hawkers laying out their wears on a white sheet at tourist bottle necks around the central streets. The sunglasses sales men have engineered cardboard boxes that can be folded up and stashed under an arm at a moments notice while the handbag salesmen can wrap up the sheet and be off in a flash. There are also belts, pictures of famous artworks, silly flying light thingys and even strange dancing cardboard characters (a clever use of magnets). The strange thing is that there seems to be an unwritten rule that when the police pass the salesmen, they all pick up their wares and run around to the next street corner. While the police simple pass buy in their car, not bothering to give chase, and then the salesmen return. Its like a mutual agreement to play a game for the benefit of the tourists and concerned locals. One can't help feeling that there is a "special" agreement.

It follows that one must now dispel the myth that florence is a romantic city. The cobbled streets are a nightmare to travellers, there are thousands tourists and lines for everything, the river is muddy and looks like an oversize irrigation canal and its expensive. That said i'm afraid my experience was a little distorted by the continuing appearance of little bites. I spent most of the time there trying to work out if is was still getting bitten or the evidence was slow to materialise. In the end I threw out my sleep sheet and the problem was solved. By the way bed bugs come in one of two colours clear or red, I'm still not sure why Kathmandu sells only red coloured sleep sheets....

Emily - I disagree with Jez, I thought Florence was quite romantic! And think our pictures speak for themselves :)

Also speaking of relics (St.Katherine's head) we visited the crypts under the Medici private church that held the tomb of Donatello (the ninja turtle with the stick) and found an expansive collection of tiny bits and pieces of hundreds of different saints and holy people. All placed in elaborate display cases and labelled with the persons name. My understanding is that the more of these relics collected the more legitimacy the church/basilica had and so they went all out! Not to be out done by the relics the architects and builders of the regions churches/ basilicas did an amazing job. Particular favourites were the Dumo in Florence and Siena...

The Santa Maria del Fiori Cathederal (Dumo) Florence
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Perseus with the head of Medusa, on the right in bronze
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A local enjoying the river
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Outside the Medici crypts with relics
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Florence skyline from Piazzale Michelangelo (with its own "David" copy)
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The little Italian
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At Pisa's famous leaning tree
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"Il Campo" Siena
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Posted by jezems 15:26

Venice - in a day

semi-overcast 22 °C

We arrived in Venice at 7.30am after a another long train ride, stored our luggage and eagerly stepped out of the station to get our first glimpse of Italy. The city was just starting to wake up as we saw shop keepers opening their stores and unloading their daily produce from trolley boys who were running deliveries around. In true Italian style Jez and I found a local cafe and had our first coffees ordered in Italian. After the waitress corrected our grammar we had perfected a phrase we would use for the following twenty four days," Vorrei due cappuccini."

We then hurried along to the Doge's Palace in San Marco's piazza as we had be warned by Rick Steves (an american guide book Jeremy had "found abandoned") that the lines to most tourist attractions would double by midday, if we weren't organised we'd see nothing.

We arrived in San Marco's plaza and noticed something unexpected, it was almost empty! We hurriedly got a couple of photos and then made our way to the Doge's palace. As we arrived we witnessed the arrival of the first wave of tourists appearing over the little bridge to the north of the gondola docks and they seemed to just keep coming, (all with numbered stickers on their chests, a favourite form of crowd management by the cruise ship operators). As we queued, this mob joined the line next to us, the special group entry line. This line extended around the corner of the palace and as they were waved through we wondered whether we would ever get in

We weren't the only one an elderly american couple were verbalising the same thoughts and their disgust at being refused a senior citizens discount because they weren't citizens of the EU.
An interesting quirk of the new "United Europe" is that EU citizens get free entry to museums and gallery's while the rest of us support this great policy by paying full price.

Finally,we (and the american couple) made it in and spent the rest of the morning viewing art and learning about life and politics in Renaissance Venice before heading to the Basilica San Marco.

Inside the Palace we saw the numerous rooms that held the various levels of government and legal proceedings that kept Venice running. It was interesting, particularly the huge hall that housed meetings of the largest group of local politicians (the lowest level, which consisted of the big wig families of Venice. Of course the whole place was lacking any furniture and the paintings on the wall all seem to have been added after the Doge's had left (as we found this is common in Italian sights), at least the architecture was the same. The Basilica was more impressive though packed to the gills with fellow tourists. Perhaps this explains the floor, which resembled a wave pool rather than church floor. Years of floods and sinking earth had left its mark.

By midday we were stuffed (mainly from lack of sleep) so we headed to the local pizzeria for oversize pizza slices to refuel. Our train left at 5.30pm to Florence so we still had a full afternoon of sightseeing ahead of us. We wandered the canals and streets, visited a couple of churches with famous art works (and the tombs of famous artists).

We also dropped in on the city museum as it was included in the entry fee for the palace, and we could see why they did this. We had our photo taken at the Piazza and watched in amazement as people fed and handled the local pigeon population, had they not been warned about the germs carried by flying rats??? By now we had made it across the city about 4 times! Before we knew it it was 5.30pm and we had boarded our train for Florence and farewelled the Venetian winged Lion (what a formidable creature), tired but happy that we had made the effort to spend sometime in Venice. It being Italy our train was late and we arrived in Florence at around 10:30pm.

Empty Venice
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Here they come...
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Not sure if the bird knows whats coming...
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Posted by jezems 14:56 Archived in Italy Tagged backpacking

Ljubljana


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This place was a surprise! It was not bad at all. After a long train journey from Budapest (it actually went into Croatia before turning back towards Slovenia) we arrived ready for a long walk to the hostel. It in fact took no time at all, this place was tiny. Our hostel was not actually finished being renovated, which turned out to be an excuse for crappy facilities and this was not the worst of it. But I will come back to this later as I don't want to overshadow the city with this experience.

As the Capital of Slovenia it was the political centre but it was more of a university town. We found a cool cafe called La petit Cafe and found ourselves spending a entire afternoon there! As it provided free wi-fi we took the opportunity to book most of our Italy trip and a flight to Portugal from Marseille (trying to fit as much of europe in to three months as we are able). The prices in Ljubljana had yet to reach the point of ridiculousness as they had only had the Euro for less than a year. No doubt prices would soon rise to equal their EU neighbours. But for now we could enjoy coffee and food at real world prices, and so we indulged. We spent some time walking around the city and headed up to the castle on the hill top via the funicular (they're are everywhere over here) and then went to grab some dinner.

The next day, feeling a little guilty for spending an afternoon on the net we caught a bus to Lake Bled in the Alps region of Slovenia. We were rewarded for our efforts by a crystal clear lake with a spectacular alpine backdrop, in the centre an island with a church and steeple completing a view made for postcards. The water was a deep blue and in parts you could see right to the bottom! You could actually see the fish swimming and there were hundreds. Evan and Couch you guys would have loved fishing here. Although, we passed some blokes camping at one end with at least three rods each. Didn't see them with that many fish though. I guess the water is so clear the fish can see the line and hook! We managed to fit in a walk right around the lake as a storm was rolling in across the mountains, it was great having thunder cracking across the mountain sides around us as we soaked up the view.

After lunch we bussed it back to Ljubljana in time to pick up our laundry (14 Euros!), eat dinner, pack and wait for the 230am train to Venice.

It wasn't until the next day on arrival in Florence that the welts started to appear, but while in Ljubljana I got intimately acquainted, one could even say slept with, some blood thirsty locals. These were not mosquitoes, those guys I could handle, it was in fact a family of every backpackers nightmare... Bed Bugs! On arrival in Florence I found I had lines of welts appearing on my arms, legs, back, hands, stomach and even my eye lid! It was fascinating but creepy to see where they had walked over me in the night stopping along the way to have a little bite here and there. I was glad I was wearing jocks not boxer shorts or i may have been telling more of a horror story. Unfortunately (looking back now) I didn't take an photos of the evidence, it was a little depressing at the time, but it has taken a couple of weeks for them to disappear!

see the monster fish lurking below

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I was thinking about having a swim

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Its got the thumbs up from Ems!
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Real Coffee
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the city from the hill
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Posted by jezems 03:36 Archived in Slovenia

Budapest


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Leaving Vienna for Budapest felt like leaving one world and entering another, we arrived to a very old station where ATMs didn't work (and money changers ripped you off massively; and they were the legal ones), drunks were chilling out on the platform like it was their local and the only available toilet had seedy pimps standing outside waiting for their drug addicted working girls to re-emerge (this may have been our first encounter with sex slavery).
Outside of the train stations Budapest was actually a nice city and the staff at our hostel were really friendly - one even bought out a bottle of vegemite for Jeremy to use at breakfast, though she seemed to forget about offering it to me when Jez wasn't around! (Another sounded like Borat and after a few drinks over dinner entertained us with his candid reflections on the gypsy population.)

We saw heaps of Budapest and learnt all about their communist past - we visited the Museum of Terror, which was excellent, it detailed life under the Nazi occupation and under Communism. We also visited Statue Park which houses all the old communist style propaganda statues that were found in public places prior to 1989. This was outside of Budapest and actually quite small (lame) but we got some good pictures.

Needless to say, Hungarians look back at this time as a period of oppression and terror - 1 in 3 families during this period had a member of their family incarcerated by the secret police! It really highlighted how communism was corrupted to become (or perhaps always was) an inhumane nightmare for those it purported to free.
Budapest also has a Palace up on a hill over looking the river that divides Buda and Pest. This had a great view and a few national museums and galleries that we explored (although quite quickly as they were not of profound quality).

Before departing Budapest Jez and I indulged in one final local tradition - Hungarian Thermal Baths. The experience was lost on me as it felt more like a warm dip in the local swimming pool, but again this experience was ruined by the roaming british stag party, a guy old enough to be my father was trying to give me a flower in exchange for my bottle of water, thinking I was a local he spoke to me in broken english. At first I ignored him but he persisted with his broken english and was being egged on by his equally repulsive stags but when when he discovered I was Australian (I gave him a few choice words) he slinked off with a red face!

(While this was going on I was in the hottest outdoor bath enjoying a shoulder massage from a statue that was spitting water out. It was like a big public pool, but I don't share Emily's fear of public pools having grown up swimming in other peoples snot from a young age :) It was probably a good thing that there was chlorine in the pools though, it needed the disinfectant, particularly because of its popularity with the beloved british stags. I enjoyed the baths so much I stayed in to long and got sunburnt, or maybe I had been slowly cooking in the hot bath....)

The joys of hostelling, Emily is on her bed and I am on mine (a matteress on the floor)
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The statues at Momento Park
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The view from the Palace grounds (another Unesco site)
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Emily greeting her loyal subjects
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another view of pest

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It rained a bit while we were here, this was our street after we got back from the baths. Where I'd got sunburnt...
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Posted by jezems 15:56 Archived in Hungary

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