Istanbul felt like a totally different world…

29 06 2011

OK – so I felt totally unprepared for Istanbul without my trusty Lonely Planet guide.  You see, I didn’t buy a guide book on Turkey as I was only really going to get to spend a couple of hours in Istanbul…  so all I had was a city map and some word of mouth advice as to what would be good to check out.  Also, I have to be honest and admit that I don’t really know much about Islam, which is the predominant religion in Turkey.  So I think that made it a bit difficult for me as well.

Istanbul is unique in that part of the city resides on the Asian continent and the other part is in Europe.  The city is split by the Bosphorus strait – which is basically a narrow channel of water.

Because my time was so limited (just a few hours between my flights), I decided to focus on the following three sights:

1. Topkapi palace
2. Blue Mosque
3. Grand bazaar

I actually stopped off at the Blue Mosque first, but they were closed for prayers – so I headed off to check out the palace before the next opening slot for the mosque was up.   So Topkapi palace was the residence of the Ottoman sultans for over 400 years.

Front section of the palace… loved the detail

The palace had tons of interesting rooms that has been converted into mini galleries where you can see cool stuff like the ceremonial kaftans the sultans used to wear and the jewels the women used to wear on their heads.  There was also this crazy set of gold and jewel encrusted candle stick holders weighing in at a whopping 48kgs per piece!  Another piece that I found fascinating was this golden baby crib that they used to use for when a new prince was born.  Sadly you aren’t allowed to take any pictures in these rooms and the security is super tight, so I didn’t even want to risk it.  You’ll just have to go there some day and check it out for yourselves. 🙂

Back of the palace, overlooking the Bosphorus strait

There are all these golden fascades on various sections of the palace, like with this consulate meeting area:

A lot of bling there…

The inside of this meeting area was just as impressive:

You can never have too much gold trim I say!

The palace was very cool – but I was really desperate to see the Blue mosque (otherwise known as the Sultan Ahmed mosque),  so I wrapped up there and ran back over to catch the last opening slot.  From the outside you don’t really get why they call it the Blue mosque – there’s absolutely nothing bloody blue about it!

The only blue thing here is the sky people…

But once inside it becomes clear… it gets its name from the ceiling tiles inside the mosque:

Ah, I totally get it now!

Important to note:  you have to take your shoes off to enter the mosque.  Also, ladies have to have their shoulders and legs covered.  They have pieces of material there you can use to wrap yourself up if you don’t have anything appropriate.  They have tons of lights suspended from the ceiling, which is very pretty when standing below looking up:

Seriously impressive…

After those two cultural experiences, I figured it was time to do some more shopping!  So I headed over to the Grand Bazaar – Turkey’s largest covered market with 4000 shops!  Woohoo… a shopper’s paradise indeed…

Check how packed it is…

Here you will find anything your hear desires, from carpets and homewares to jewellery and clothing.  It’s all there under one roof!  Yes, there is a lot of repetition. But that makes for good bargaining I reckon.

Just another shot of some of the shops…

Being a total shopaholic, I couldn’t resist making some kind of purchase here. (obviously) Just look at these beautiful bowls I bought:

Ta da! All hand made and each one totally unique…

And what visit to Turkey would be complete without trying out some Turkish delights right? I popped into a little shop specialising in this little treat and I got a selection of all the flavours on offer – everything from rose and ginger, so strawberry and a variety of nut options.  It was soooooo good…

Yum yum yum!

Here’s a quick street view of Istanbul, with their tram system as well:

Most people seem to use this tram system…

And then I also passed the Hagia Sophia – a former Orthedox basilica, then a mosque and now a museum:

Didn’t have time to go inside… but was so pretty with the fountains in the foreground.

I have to admit though that I did not feel at ease in this city… I was constantly harrassed by guys everywhere!  Every guy I passed wanted to know where I was going, why was I in such a rush, don’t I want to see their shop?, etc.  Also I had a couple of guys who would just start walking next to me saying that they will show me around – it got a bit scary, especially when you’d say “no thank you” and they just wouldn’t leave.  At one point I felt like just having a total melt down in the middle of the street – just screaming at the top of my voice “Leave me the hell alone!!! I don’t want to see your shop and I don’t need a bloody tour guide!!!”… but luckily I kept my cool.

The only real star was my taxi driver from the airport.  He couldn’t speak English, but somehow we communicated just fine.  He even gave me his mobile number so he could come pick me up again.  He was really worried about my welfare and getting me back to the airport in time.

In my opinion, it would probably be better to see Istanbul with a male travel companion by your side.  I wouldn’t recommend it for a single female traveller.  But as I said, I didn’t have much time there – maybe that was just unfortunate that I got bombarded like that.  It is still a very exciting city and totally worth checking out!

And that ladies & gentlemen is the last post to my little travel blog!  A big thanks again to all the seriously cool people I met along the way – I had such an amazing time in Italy, will definitely be going back again at some point.  There’s just so much more to explore. 🙂

Anyhoo, I’ve had such a blast doing this travel blog that I’ve decided to continue my love affair, but this time with my home city of Cape Town at Cape Town My Love – I’ll share some general ramblings & thoughts, info on stuff I like doing here and places I love going to, cool finds, shopping tips, etc.  If that sounds like your cup of tea – then please follow me there.  The more the merrier!

Been great sharing my trip with you guys! Lots of love and smiles. xxx

My final moments in Italy… getting all teary-eyed now…

26 06 2011

Firstly – a correction to my post from yesterday:  That iced lemon drink I had is called “Granita” (not “Ganita” as I thought).  Weirdly, I noticed it EVERYWHERE this morning in Sorrento.  Isn’t that weird how you can pass something tons of times and never really take notice… haha.   If only I had known earlier, would have gulped down litres of the stuff.

So… this morning I spent my last few hours in Sorrento exploring the parts of town that I hadn’t really had time to see.   First I headed to the area that overlooks the harbour… I had been there once before, but at night, so I had no idea that this was going on down below:

Ah, they made a mini beach area... on the rocks... sweet man.

You see Sorrento doesn’t really have beach areas – but this seems to me like a “boer maak ‘n plan” moment. Haha.  Here’s the other side:

All the little dots on the pier - that's people tanning as well!

If you zoom in you can see people lying on these blow up bed things in the water– connected to each other by rope:

Seriasly desperate to get their "tan on"

So funny.  But it did look like a laugh though.  Sorry I didn’t know about that earlier.  It all seems to be connected to various restaurants – so I guess the deal is that you get to swim & tan if you buy drinks & food.  That’s fair.  Oh and this is just a pretty shot of the walkway I was on:

Lined with cute little cafes...

Next I decided to have my last taste of gelato, so I popped into Gelateria Antonio Cafiero.  They claim to have over 80 flavours – obviously not all on display at once – but pretty impressive nonetheless.  I looked down to decide and what did I see?

Ah, William and Kate's kiss! Now that's not cheesy at all!

How could I not go for the royal kiss one huh?  Haha.  It had everything in it – wafer, caramel, chocolate bits, nuts, nougat… you name it, it was in there.  And it was very very yum.  Good way to end off my gelato craze.

Lastly I popped into a bikini shop I hadn’t seen before… I was actually very nervous to do any kind of shop browsing this morning as I had no more space in my luggage for anything else.   I mean just look at it now:

My bags turned into fat asses...

Do you remember from my first post where I explained my packing strategy?  Check it out here:  Well you can see in the picture that:

  1. The suitcase has reached is maximum expanded size
  2. The Guess weekender bag is jam packed with stuff and VERY HEAVY.
  3. The 3rd bag which was hiding in the Guess bag previously is now out and also FULL.

But I figured, a bikini is sooooo teeny tiny right?  I’m sure I can find one more little hole. Surprisingly I did!  Where there’s a will there’s a way I guess…

After that, I figured it would be safer for me to just get to train station – far away from any more temptation. 🙂  On the way I just had to take a snap of a typical street in Italy – lined with scooters, cause over here – scooters are king!

How bloody cute is that? My sister, Christell, would love this...

So I took the “ghetto train” back to Naples again.  From there I took a taxi from the centre of town to the airport.   So I got to see a bit of Naples, the birth place of pizza apparently…  Actually several people had told me to avoid Naples as it’s dirty and crime ridden.  But one of Saverio’s friends was from Naples and they tried to convince me how nice it actually is if you can see the city with a local.  That same night I was watching the Italian news (because there are no English channels here right) and they had a piece on Naples and how the whole city is practically buried under rubbish.  I was like “yeah, really want to go there now!”. Haha.   So today was a good opportunity to see for myself how bad it actually is…   Well let me tell you guys, it’s pretty freakin’ bad.  Every street corner is covered with rubbish bags, most of them are open and loose rubbish is just blowing around in the wind.  Luckily my window was up – because I really didn’t want to smell what it smelt like outside.  The advice I had gotten while planning my trip was clearly spot on.  And I wouldn’t really advise anybody planning a trip to Italy to stop over in Naples either.  Avoid, avoid, avoid people!

From Naples airport I took an Easy Jet flight back up to Venice – the flight was delayed by about an hour, but I guess I should have expected that with a budget airline.   Also they nailed me 35 euros for having a second check-in bag – even though overall I was only 3kgs over the 20kg limit.  Rediculous!!!  Luckily on Turkish airlines I can take 30kgs, so I will be totally safe.

Tonight I’m staying at the Anthony Palace Hotel – yes that’s right “Palace”!  It’s a 4 star hotel and it’s costing me only 88 euros for the night.  Which is surprisingly cheap considering my first hotel was didn’t have a star rating as I recall and that cost me 110 euros per night.  So why so cheap?  Well simply because this hotel is close to the airport and therefore the location for tourists is less desirable.  But for me it is absolutely perfect, because I just needed a comfy place to rest my head, as tomorrow morning I fly out to Istanbul.

Look how fancy the lobby is:

Ta da! Some Merano glass chandeliers... nice...

And my room is pretty decent as well:

I did however get the "twin beds pushed up together to look like a double" treatment... must be because they knew I'm only a "single". haha

The bonus is that there’s a bath tub. Yay!  I’ve been dying to have a nice long soak… I had pre-booked dinner with my room at 20 euros extra – a 3-course set menu kinda deal.  So I went down to the restaurant at 9pm.  I told the waiter that I wasn’t very hungry and asked him to bring me “piccolo” (small) portions.  He smiled and then proceeded to bring me this:

Just a "small portion" of "light" spaghetti in a fresh tomato sauce...

Then this:

I actually thought I had selected scallops... but turns out my Italian is worse than I thought and it turned out to be veal!

And finally this:

Coconut flavoured panacotta with chocolate sauce...

It was all so delicious – but I only managed to half eat every course.  And STILL I have a massive pot belly now! Haha.  That’s OK – I’ll walk it off in Istanbul tomorrow…   So the plan for tomorrow & Tuesday is as follows:

  • I check out here pretty early and head to the airport.
  • From there I fly out to Istanbul.  I’m going to head out for a few hours and see some of the most popular sghts, like the Blue Mosque and the Covered Market.
  • Then my flight to SA leaves Istanbul just before midnight and I’ll be back in good old Cape  Town at 11:40am on Tue.

So I won’t post anything tomorrow as I won’t have Internet access.  But I’ll certainly do one last post on Tuesday to show you guys what treasures I found in Istanbul. 🙂

Chat soon guys. Xxx

Positano – easily the most amazing spot in Italy! (and did I mention the burning bus?)

25 06 2011

OK,  so today’s blog post is seriously late… pretty much because of this:

Um... I think there might be something wrong with our bus guys... haha

But more about that later… 🙂

My daily blog hits keep climbing and climbing… clearly you guys are just as mesmerised by the south of Italy as I am!  And for good reason, I mean just check out this beautiful pool bar at the Grand Excelsior Vittoria Hotel (Piazza Tasso 34), where I had sun downers last night:

Now this is how I roll!!!

This was another one of Saverio’s (my friend from Rome) suggestions – boy does that guy sure know he’s stuff!  He’s been spot on every single time.  This place had a very swanky, up-market Camps Bay feel actually – with a DJ in the background playing chilled house tunes.  That’s probably why he figured I would love it.  🙂

I wasn’t really in the mood for a big dinner, but then I saw that they had a tapas menu, so I figured that would be the perfect option.  I opted for the 3 piece seafood tapas plate.  Just look at how beautifully presented it was:

Yum, yum & YUM!

In the back salmon with a piece of deep fried pineapple.  In the middle is seared tuna with spicy mash potatoes.  And in the front is a seared scallop in this weird fluffy yet crunchy coating with a beetroot salsa.  It was soooo good!!!  I paired it with a champagne based cocktail called a Bellini.  Good choice as well.  Together it did come to 29 euros… but the setting was so beautiful and everything was so carefully put together, I really didn’t mind.

The only down side was that it was really empty and the people that were there were… um… “quite mature”. I guess it’s mostly used by the hotel guests and I don’t expect very many young people can afford to stay there.  Or the younger Sorrento crowd just don’t know that you can go there.  They just need to organise one or two cool pool parties and that place will be rocking.

Afterwards, I decided to continue with my decadence theme I had kicked off and popped into a shoe store that I’ve been walking by every day, but I’ve been too scared to go in thanks to the prices in the window.  I figured I should at least have a look.  THEN, I found my “soul shoes”… they were so beautiful and quite reasonably priced actually – in the same line as what I’d pay for a pair of shoes at Nine West for example.  So I tried them on and fell even more in love.  But then, I noticed that the left shoe had a mark on it!  Nooooooooo… and it was the only pair in my size.  Sob…  I guess they were just not meant to be… sob again…   To fill the whole in my heart, I got these:

Come to mama babies...

The berry tart and the lemon cream éclair were devilishly good.  The other one with the coffee bean wasn’t worth the kilojoules, so I left it.  But two out of three is a pretty good score.  And it did make me feel better.  So the evening ended on a high note at least.  I actually shopped until really late, because on weekends most of the shops stay open until midnight.  Score!

OK – so I know you’re all dying to hear all about my trip today to the beautiful Amalfi Coast town of Positano.  So let’s get to it then…

There are three main towns that form part of the Amalfi coast:  Positano, Ravello & Amalfi.  My Lonely Planet referred to Positano as the “pearl of the group”.  So I figured, I only have time to check out one Amalfi coast town – why not make it the prettiest one!

The bus trip to Positano takes about 50min and a return trip from Sorrento costs you 7.20 euros.  The trip there is very scenic & very exciting… it’s kinda like Cape Town’s Chapman’s Peak drive, but on some serious steroids.  The roads are very narrow and high up on cliffs and there’s tons of hair pin turns.  How the buses manage on this route is still massively intriguing to me.

I got off at the Positano Sponda stop – which is almost in the centre of town.  From there it just a 15min walk to get down to the beach.  But it was the best 15min I have spent here in Italy… why?  Well because Positano is just so bloody stunning.  I made sure I walked really slowly so I could take it all in.  I mean, words can’t even describe how amazing it is… so get ready for lots of pics people!

Here is the view as I got off the bus:

Ta da! Isn't that just plain awesome!?!

Here is the little road I walked down to get to the beach:

You guys know me by now... I'm a sucker for a pretty street...

Before hitting the beach, I needed a quick snack for breakfast.  So I popped into La Zagara – a cute little spot on the right in Via Colombo.   I just had a cappuccino & a croissant, but what made this place really special was the setting…

Aaarggh, what a horrible view... meh 🙂

And then I also made friends with Matteo, my super friendly waiter.   Within minutes he gave me his number and offered to go for drinks after his shift ends.   He also paid for my breakfast!  I guess to seal the deal… but it worked, I told him to text me when he’s done and then we could meet up.

The only real tourist sight in Positano is the Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta:

Pretty... but not the main attraction I assure you!

But seriously, this town doesn’t need tourists sights – it’s freakin’ gorgeous just as is.  I always tell people that I will never live anywhere other than Cape Town.  But now I’m thinking maybe I should do summer & spring in Cape Town and then the rest of the year here!  I just need a rich husband to sponsor this new plan of mine.  CV’s can be submitted to my gmail account – thanks.

There are two beaches in Positano – the main one is Spiaggia Grande and then there is a smaller one, Spiaggia del Fornillo.  I opted for the main beach.  They have an open area, but that was quite crowded.  Then they have the cordoned off areas where you can rent a beach chair & umbrella for the day at 12.5 euro and then you have access to this little private area on the beach.  I took this option – it was boiling hot today and I really wanted the option of hiding under the umbrella if needed.

Now I’m going to show you my surroundings on the beach.  In front of me was the water:

Oooh, and that water was just the perfect temperature... cold enough to cool you down, but not freezing like our water back in CT.

To the left I had this:


To the right:


And behind me:

So hot... it's burning my eyes...

Pretty freakin’ awesome right?   Yeah… I chilled here for about 3 hours before I started getting hungry again, so I consulted my trusty Lonely Planet guide for a good restaurant suggestion.  I picked Lo Guarracino (Via Positanesi d’America) – purely cause they promised insane views.   It was midway between the two beaches on this beautiful path that connects them.   And views it definitely had:

Bam! Look at that!!!

I had a lovely fillet of sea bass with some roast potatoes.  It was light and delicious.  I highly recommend this spot.  The only down side was the waiter… his name was Mattea  (not to be confused with Matteo btw – he made that very clear – the two names are miles apart apparently… um OK then).   He wanted to take me dancing – I was like “dude, I’m hot and sweaty from the beach… I don’t have any other clothes other than my shorts & bikini and I’ve already told someone else I would meet up for drinks.  Well, this guy almost threw a hissy fit… he got so grumpy that I had dissed him, he sent someone else to wait on my table after that!  Clearly this guy is a bit of a player and I had now dented his ego.  Whatever… if that’s his attitude, then I’m glad I wasn’t stuck with him for an entire evening.

After lunch I headed back to the beach.  On the way I snapped this awesome shot of the bay:

And the awesomeness just goes on...

And then this shot of the shop area right on the beach:

... and on...

I did kinda apply some sunscreen at one point – but then I went swimming, so that probably neutralised any effect the sunscreen had… so needless to say, yes there are parts of my body that now glows in the dark.   It will settle into a nice bronze colour I’m sure… well… I hope… 🙂

I left the beach at about 5:30pm and got myself some “Ganita” (I think that’s what it’s called… I kinda forgot… sorry!).  Anyhoo, it’s this fine crushed ice drink that comes in flavours like lemon or strawberry.  As this is lemon country, I opted for that:

This stuff will rock your world... just watch out for the brain freeze

It’s kinda like a Slushpuppy… but lighter and more refreshing.  Was the perfect thing to have after a long day on the beach.   Then I popped into a shop to buy some Limoncello to take back home – everyone had told me that Positano is the place to go for the best Limoncello.  The lady at the shop gave me a free tasting and promised that it was made by genuine monks from the area or something.  So I was like – SOLD!!! Haha.

After that I met up with Matteo and we went for drinks at La Brezza, which is right on the beach front.  They were doing one of those amazing happy hour deals where you get free food if you order a drink.  As I didn’t get pictures of the kind of food you get when I did this in Florence, I thought I’d take a quick snap today to give you an idea of the crazy selection you have:

OK, so I can't tell you what half of it was... but it was all good!

We had a good chat – Matteo is great – but I didn’t want to get back to Sorrento too late. PLUS I wasn’t looking & smelling too great after frying like a piece of bacon in the sun all day.  So I desperately just wanted to have a shower and lather myself up with copious amounts of body lotion (for the sunburn).  Matteo was nice enough to drop me off at the bus stop! Such a sweetheart! Actually he offered to drive me all the way back to Sorrento… but I was like “that’s just stupid, I’ve already got my return ticket and these buses are soooooo super reliable”…  So off I went.

The bus was packed, so I had to stand.  But I didn’t mind.  I started chatting to these three American guys (Pat, Eddie & Ian) that have been living in Florence for 6 weeks on some study program through their University – don’t you bloody wish our Universities back in SA did that!?! Anyways we were chatting and chatting and all of a sudden the bus stops and people start pouring out.  I still went– “no guys, this is not our stop, we shouldn’t get off”… Then Eddie was like “maybe they need us to take a connecting bus or something”… That reasoning seemed pretty sound to me, so we got off… and  bloody lucky that we did!  Only realised once we were outside that the back of the bus was smoking pretty badly… then it started sparking… then it caught on fire.   We had to run to the other side of the road, but if that fire had gotten to the gas tank – we would have been gonners.   So THAT is how that first photo came about…  oh and the American guys asked me to add this:  Jared Marshall, this really happened!

We had to wait there on the side of the road until they could organise another bus for us.  I had to laugh because stuff like this always happens to me… my friends always joke that if something is going to break or go wrong, it will be when I’m around.  Or if we are in a room with thousands of people, the biggest creep there will be talking to me. Haha.   Hey, it makes life more interesting!

Even though I was buggered, burnt and smelly by the time I got back to Sorrento… I still managed to do some last minute handbag shopping on my way back to my room.  Weird how my energy levels rise when I have the opportunity to make a purchase… hmmmm…

So tomorrow morning I’ll hang around here in Sorrento.  Then I have to catch the train to Naples in the afternoon.  Followed by a taxi ride to the Naples airport.  Then an Easy Jet flight to Venice.  I should be at my hotel in Venice by about 8pm – staying close to the airport this time though as I figured that would be less hassle for my flight to Istanbul on Monday morning.

OK, gonna have a shower now and get to work with the body lotion (again for the sunburn – don’t let your minds go back into that gutter guys). Haha

Ciao ciao.  xxx

Soaking up some sun & exploring Capri!

24 06 2011

OK, so my new Sorrento friend, Massimo, took me to see this very secluded beach hideaway yesterday…  It was quite a mission to get there.  First I had to survive his crazy driving skills, there were moments where I was just holding on, closing my eyes and hoping for the best!  The 10min drive out of town took years off my life… haha.   Then it was about a 20min steep walk down to the beach, followed by another 10min of rock climbing.   Was it worth it?  Hell yeah… just look at this view from this cute little beach bar nearby:

I know, I know... just horrible isn't it...

OK – the beach did have some minor flaws:

1. There’s no sand to lie on.  You have to chill on the rocks.  Massimo actually made fun of me for asking for a “sandy beach”?
2. A portion of it is a gay beach – so you have to deal with old men with their kit off  (don’t worry – there are no pictures of that!)

The water however was a perfect temperature.  We swam out between the rocks through this little gap, which Massimo assured me as perfectly safe.  But then when we wanted to come back in, the waves were a bit too choppy and we were almost bloody stuck out there!  I was like “DUDE, first you almost kill me on your scooter, then you bring me to a bloody gay beach and now I’m probably going to drown out here!!!”  He thought I was pretty funny…  Then I told him that my guy friends back home would now have serious ammunition for their “all Italian men are soooooo gay” argument.  He’s not gay – but he doesn’t mind the background scenery here, because the beach is so beautiful.  I see his point.  But at least if they were young and hot – I wouldn’t give a damn either!  Nobody ever needs to see out-of-shape old guys in the nude… NOBODY!!!

Chillin' on the rock face... what other option did I have exactly? haha

We chilled here until 7:30pm – the sun is still super strong at that time over here – and then decided to head back for some sundowners.  I just had to snap another shot of that cute beach bar to show you guys what it looks like from the outside:

Don't you just want to spend days and days here at this little bar?

I have to tell you guys though – the walk back up was way harder as we now had to climb a steep hill and tons of stairs.  Massimo did not deal with this very well.  So I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to get him back for the hell driving, almost drowning & naked old men.  With my extensive stair climing experience I’ve built up here in Italy – sometimes even while carrying heavy luggage – this was a piece of cake for me.  I started hop-skipping-and-jumping up there without even blinking… turning back every now and again to say stuff like “You OK waaaay back there?” and “You need a little break? It sure is hot out here…”.  Was awesome to see his face – he was trying to keep his macho composure soooo bad, but you could see he was taking some serious strain.  At one point I even offered to carry his bag!   Shame, I did feel a tiny bit bad for like 30 seconds or something. 🙂

After finally making it back up to the Vespa, we headed to the Sant’Agnello area (same area as where the cooking school is) and found a spot with a roof top terrace & bar to have some cocktails.

I know, I know... yet another horrible spot. I hate my life... haha

We chilled here until the sun set – and this was the perfect spot to do so it seems. Some bonus points to Massimo for showing me this place.  Was amazing, my camera just didn’t do it any justice unfortunately.  Sorry guys.

Because I had such a MASSIVE lunch at the cooking school, I decided I only had space for one last thing as my dinner… can you think what that could be?  Gelato of course!!!  Massimo dropped me back off in town and I decided to walk over to what’s apparently Sorrento’s best gelato spot – Gelateria David (Via Padre Reginaldo Giuliani 41).  I opted for a 2 scoop cone – one was Smarties flavour and the other was my new favourite flavour, Nocciola (basically hazelnut).   It was very good – but was it the best I have had in Italy?  Nope, sorry… it just didn’t cut it.  That Ciampini gelato I had in Rome still rocks my world.  In a way I’m sad I had it, because now – nothing compares.  But I will keep trying to find something that beats it, don’t you worry! 🙂

On to today… I headed down the steeps stairs to the harbour and jumped onto the ferry to go check out the island of Capri.  What’s Capri’s appeal exactly?  Well it’s a beatutiful limestone island, surrounded by crystal blue water and geared for the super rich & the famous.  If you need a new Rolex watch or you want to meet up with George Clooney for some drinks, this is where you’d go.

As I got off the ferry in Capri though, I noticed a boat just about to leave for a tour around the island which includes a visit to the Grotta Azzura (Blue Grotto).  I had read about the Blue Grotto in my Lonely Planet, it’s apparently Capri’s single most famous sight.  Basically it is a cave illuminated by a stunning blue light.  So I figured I might as well get all that out of the way before I head to Capri Town – the area where all the shops are.

The boat tour cost 15 euros, but then you still have to pay 12.5 euro extra to enter the Blue Grotto. About 15min into the boat trip we stopped outside the Blue Grotto and took our place in the queue of boats waiting to get their passengers into the cave.

You can see people moving from bigger boats into the row boats here

This is how it all works:

  • They have a system of row boats that take 4 passengers into the cave at a time.
  • You have to pay your row boat captain the 12.5 euro (he then pays the guys that run the show)
  • Once in the row boat, you have to get down low because the gap to the cave isn’t very big and the water is quite high.
  • The driver then pulls the row boat through using chains that they have connected to the rock face.    Yes, that is a bit hair raising, but it’s so worth it when you get inside!

How freakin' awesome is that!?!

You only get to spend 4min inside, and while inside the row boat captains serenade you (obviously for a little extra tip at the end) – but it was all very cool.  Apparently it is the sunlight passing through the cavity combined with the reflection on the white sandy bottom that creates this amazing blue colour. I’ve never seen a colour like that in nature before…

After the Blue Grotto, we headed off again and spotted some mountain goats:

They reminded me of "Heidi" - I loved that show as a kid...

Then the Punta Carena light house:

Just a pretty shot...

Then we went to another cave with an interesting colour scheme, the Green Grotto, so named because of the greenish colour the rock face takes on:

The green doesn't show up that well on pictures... but you kinda get the idea.

After that we passed the three limestone colossi that soar 100m out of the sea just off the Punta Tragara on the southern coast.  The middle one has a little hole at the bottom that boats can pass through and it has been named the  “Tunnel of Love”.  The tradition is that as you pass under it, you have to give your partner a kiss to ensure you will love each other forever.   Come on people… say it with me…. “Ag sweet man!”. Haha.

There's the love tunnel in the middle... we actually went through it with our boat.

Then I just wanted to add two more shots of the coast line so you can see more of the crystal blue water and the interesting cliffs:

The water colour is just insane...

It reminded me very much of Thailand actually:

Thai thai... is that you? 🙂

OK – so the whole boat trip took almost 2 hours in total (incl the wait at the blue cave).   So then I decided it was time to head up to the main shopping area and have some lunch.  Now there are several options for getting up from the harbour to Capri Town:  1. The Funicolare (like a tram service); 2. The bus; 3. A seriously steep walk.    Clearly, in 30 degree heat with so much humidity that it felt more like 40 degrees, I wasn’t too keen on walking up.  So I was actually trying to find the Funicolare station and followed a bunch of tourists up the wrong way.  Before I knew it I realised that I was doing way too much walking to just be going to the tram station…  I had in fact taken the wrong route and was now on the walking path.  Then I thought “ah well, I’m already partly up, how bad can it be right?”  The answer:  PRETTY DAMN BAD.  🙂  I do not recommend this to anyone when it’s this hot.  I was half dead by the time I made it up… I think I lost about 5kg’s just in sweat.  Not funny.  I had to go into a shop and act like I wanted to try something on, just to stand there enjoying their aircon a bit.

After cooling down a bit, I headed over to a Lonely Planet restaurant suggestion, Verginiello – Via Lo Palazzo 25.   I don’t know what came over me, but I ordered the crumbed prawns.   Those who know me well know that I can’t stand whole prawns on my plate – I get totally freaked out by those beady little eyes staring back at me.  But in my head I had pictured something more like tempura prawns where they come without the head & legs and you just get to enjoy the tasty meaty parts.  Anyhoo, this was not the case here…   on the plus side, I ordered a glass of white wine which arrived in a glass that looked more like a fish bowl! Haha. That helped ease my nerves a bit.  I fiddled around with the prawns for a while, trying to get some of it down so I didn’t look like a total idiot. And this was the first time that I actually made use of the massive bread basket they bring to your table – as I was still starving!  Live and learn I say…  The restaurant was actually very nice and had a great view:

OK, maybe this painful walk was worth it...

After lunch I headed to the main square – Piazza Umberto I – which is lined with cafes where you basically pay insane prices to have a drink and be seen.  I did not feel the need to settle here. Haha.

Pretty... but it comes at a price...

Just one more snap of the side of the square:

Isn't that just too cute?

Then I walked down two of the main shopping avenues.  First Via Vittorio Emanuele:

Couldn't shop here... so sad...

And then Via Camerelle:

Couldn't shop here either... even sadder...

They have every luxury brand you can think of here.   Valentino, D&G, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Prada, Roberto Cavalli to name just a few.   I obviously couldn’t afford to shop here, so instead I just pressed my little hands & nose up against the glass and dreamed of what it would be like to just walk in and have that Pretty Woman moment (where Richard Gere’s character takes her shopping and the shop assistants basically kill themselves to make her happy).   Ah, one can dream… 🙂

Funny thing I noticed as I was wandering around is that all the restaurants post photo’s of all the celebrities who’ve eaten there in their windows – kinda to brag a little I guess.  Everyone you can think of are on those candit snaps of the owerns/waiters posing with them. It’s pretty cool I guess.

Next I headed to the Giardini di Augusto (Gardens of Augustus).  From here I got a beautiful view of the bay:

Wish I was chilling on one of those yachts...

And just look how pretty the garden is:

Just look at all the colours!

To wrap up my time in Capri – I had some Gelato!  I tried the “Capri Fantasy” flavour and it was soooooo good!  Yum. I’ve totally forgotten the name of the gelato shop, but it’s moved up to my number 2 gelato find in Italy. If you ever need to find it, I can explain to you on a map how to find it.

Then also, lucky for me, I stumbled upon the tram station.  Yay – that was the best 1.4 euro I’ve spent!  Only took 5min to get back to the harbour and I was nice and cool.  Sweet.

OK – so that was my Sorrento beach experience and Capri island exploring all rolled into one.  Not sure what I’m doing tonight yet… maybe some drinks at one of the luxury hotels they have here which overlook the bay.  Hmmmm. BUT tomorrow I’m heading to Positano – known as the prettiest town on the Amalfi coast.   So that should be really good…

Keep well guys. xxx

Cooking up a storm in Sorrento

23 06 2011

First – I have to tell you guys, I got my highest number of hits yesterday – 170! Woohoo.  So cool that people are enjoying it.  Makes me smile. Was mostly just doing this to avoid long explanations on my return to Cape Town. haha. Oh and I also got a shout out on my friend Leigh’s blog – Lipgloss is my life.  Love ya! (yes – her nickname for me is actually “Karis piss” – but I call her “b!tch face” or “whore bag” – so it’s all good).  I’ve actually had a couple of features on there for all the shenanigans we get up to when attending events for her blog… lets just say we’re very very bad together.  I’m starting to really miss her as well as a lot of my other really good mates back at home…  (my family lives in PE and all over the world – so I only get to see them once or twice a year – I miss them all the time of course. 🙂 )

So, it turns out this sleepy town really comes to live as the sun sets. People come out in hordes and they close down the main street to traffic:

Where'd you all come from!?!

She shops stay open until 10pm!  Yes – that means tons of shopping time for me.  Yeah baby.  Last night I snapped up some really nice jewellery pieces:

Ta da!!! 30 euros for all three items together.

And at Mango, they had a special on:  if you bought 3 items, you got 40% off the total.  I was like “phulease, that is such an easy peasy challenge for a professional like myself”. haha.  Was in and out of there within 5min – my 3 items and 40% discount in hand.  Take that!

I walked down to the water’s edge and got to see the sun set, just look at this beautiful setting I have here:

Ah, what a tough life I have...

Dinner was at a Lonely Planet recommendation – Inn Bufalito (Vico I Fuoro 21).  The place was packed with a good mix of locals and tourists.  In fact – I had made a reservation for 9pm, but still had to wait 20min to be seated.  But I took this as a very good sign.  I wasn’t feeling too hungry though – so I opted for their mixed antipasti platter of local cheeses, meats & veggies with some focaccia bread.  Turns out this was quite a spread and I couldn’t even finish it!  Very tasty though…

2 types of cured buffalo meats; 2 types of cheeses; artichokes & broccoli (yes - usually I HATE broccoli, but this was cooked differently)

While there, I got a dinner guest.  His name is Massimo and he runs tours in this area.  His tour group was around the corner watching a show,  and he just wanted to pop in for a quick bite while the show was on.  As the restaurant was pretty damn full, he needed a seat.  So I told him he could join me at my table.  Was really cool cause it turns out he is quite a fun guy and he gave me some good tips on the area.  Also, to say thanks for letting him sit with me he offered to take me to the beach outside of town on his Vespa.   Score! 🙂

Oh, also important to mention – the house white wine which they server in 1/2 litle carafes for only 6 euro – is awesome.  I got nicely sozzled on that. haha.  Very good for curing flu I have heard.

So on to today – I am starting to feel better again – yay! And I finally did my Italian style cooking course!  I know my close friends have been anxiously awaiting this moment as I’ve been to their homes several times for dinners and I now seriously owe them big time!  I can actually picture them reading this blog post with a fork in the one hand and a knive in the other. 🙂

I headed off to the Sorrento Cooking scool which is based at the Esperidi resort which is in Sant’Agnello, just outside of Sorrento.  They sent a guy to come and collect me here though, so I didn’t have to mission to get there.

Just to show you how pretty the resort is - it's 4 star, so I couldn't afford it...

The class cost 60 euros per person and we started at 10am and finished up at about 1:30pm.  I actualy thought we were only finishing at 4pm for some reason – I think I might have gotten it confused with some of the courses I was looking into in Florence.  Anyhoo, turned out better as that gives you the afternoon free. Cool stuff.  The class consisted of a family from Maryland in the US, a guy from Frankfurt – Germany and then little old me.

First off we made some pizza dough from scratch.  This is me hard at work:

Nice and calm... looking like a pro. That's the chef on the right and her English interpreter in the back.

They taught us that we could use this dough for normal pizzas which you make in the oven, or for frying them in hot oil.  I was like, “what – you can fry them in oil!?!”.  So the chef proceeded to show us how it’s done:

Just like that - and you have crispy pizza heaven!

She also taught us how to make a traditional Italian tomato sauce which could be used for both pizzas and for pastas.  We used this to top our fried pizza bases – along with parmesan cheese & some fresh basil.   She also showed us how to make mini calzone pizzas with our pizza bases – using a cheese, ham & basil filling.  Just look at the yummy end result:

Hmmmm... so yum!

We also had some fried pizza with a olive oil, garlic & rosemary topping – but I didn’t even get a picture of that cause it was snapped up in seconds.  Also very easy to make and soooooo delicious.

Then we moved onto the ravioli.  We had to make the pasta from scratch and by hand – no machines here baby!    This is us rolling out our pasta dough:

Putting some elbow grease into it...

We used a mix of 3 cheeses for the filling – ricotta, mozzarella & parmesan cheese.  And just look how pretty mine turned out!  (Turns out OCD does have it’s plus points huh)

Ah, how pretty is that!

Basically you let them rest for a while, then you cook them in boiling water for 5min.  And the end result (with the tomato sauce we made earlier) looks like this:

I actually made that!

Important tip for boiling water to cook your pasta in – let it get to a boil first, then add the salt.  Don’t add the salt right in the beginning.  I did not know that –  and neither did any of the other people in the class.  So take notes people!

Next she showed us how to make a very quick & easy – yet super tasty – lemon sea bass & potato dish.  This is what that looked like:

It was sooooo light & fresh & yum

Another important tip with cooking fish in lemon – don’t add it in the beginning because it makes the fish taste bitter.  Add it after the fish is cooked and then let it rest in the oven with the lemon juice for another 5-10min (oven must be switched off at that stage).

On to dessert!  We made the Italian classic, Tiramisu. 🙂  I have to apologise for a comment I made in a previous post where I might have dissed some SA folk for using those finger biscuits in their recipes.   Turns out the Italians either use a sponge cake (like in the two instances I’ve tried at restaurants so far) OR they use the finger biscuits.  That’s what we used in our recipe today.  So sorry guys!   Here is me, grinning proudly from ear to ear with mine:

I look like the bloody Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland in this shot! haha

So I guess it is obvious that we got to sit down and enjoy all the food we made.  But even though I had planned ahead and skipped breakfast, I still couldn’t finish it all.  AND I now have a massive pot belly.

So I’m back at my room to just lie down a bit and give my belly some time to rest and flatten out again.   Oh wait, on my way back home I popped into a corner shop to buy some water and I found these babies:

Yeah, I love Mojitos!

OK – so there’s no actual alcohol in there, hence the “virgin” part – but it still tastes pretty damn good. 🙂

OK, that’s it for now.  Meeting up with Massimo at 4pm to go check out that beach he promised.  Then tomorrow I’m going to check out the island of Capri.  Really looking forward to that.  Hope everyone is still good back at home!

Chat soon.  xxx

More Sorrento action and the Pompeii ruins

22 06 2011

OK  first off… my shower is so complictated, you need a bloody PhD just to operate it, just look at it:

I mean, seriously!?! haha

Who the hell needs all those nozzles !?!  I turned everything that could be turned to try and get water to come out… but got nothing…  so I just kept fiddling with stuff and all of a sudden water started coming at me like it was the Victoria falls!  And from all angles!  I got such a fright, I jumped back and water started spraying all over the bathroom.  Then I had to fight the the water currant to get to the nozzles to switch it off again  – not actually knowing what I had done to switch it on, it took quite a while to get the situation under control again. Haha.  I just had a swim on the bathroom floor instead. 🙂

I did make it to dinner in the end – even though I was still feeling like death.  And Saverio’s restaurant suggestion, o’ Parrucchiano – Corsa Italia 71, was 100% spot on as usual. Just look how pretty it was:

Those are actual lemon trees in the background...

They have 3 dining areas all together – I sat in the garden area, which was perfect for a hot summer’s night.  And then the food was seriously good.  I opted for the star shaped ravioli with prawns and an orange & lemon sauce:

Do you see the cute star shaped ravioli?

And then finished my meal off with my 2nd attempt at Tiramisu:

A+ for presentation, B+ for taste

I think the Tiramisu I had in Vernazza still beats this one.  But this one had a better presentation and was still really tasty.

I must say – throughout this trip, I’ve had periods where I’ve had to have dinner alone and then periods where I had company.  Obviously it’s more fun to have someone to share a bottle of wine with, but eating on my own does have it’s advantages.  Firstly, the waitors and owners are extra extra nice to me and go out of their way to make me happy.  And secondly, I ALWAYS get free Limoncello.  Pretty sweet. 🙂  Btw – I don’t think I’ve explained exactly what Limoncello is:  it’s an Italian lemon liquer with about 35% alcohol and it packs a punch. 🙂

At the end of dinner, my waiter asked: “You are beautiful woman… why you eating alone?”  I thought, good bloody question actually.   Maybe it is time I hang up my single girl shoes and find someone to share a Tiramisu with…  I had a good innings doing what I please.  Just have to find the right person now, i.e. someone with a bum like Michelangelo’s David! Haha… I’m soooo easy to please.

So today I headed off to Pompeii to see the ruins of a city that was buried under a layer of volcano ash after the volcano, Vesuvius blew on 24 August AD 79.  It sadly killed about 2000 men, woman and children – but today it is a very valuable archaeological site.  Excavation work started back in 1748 and still continues today.  I had read and seen a lot about Pompeii before this trip, so I was very excited to finally see it… even though I’m still feeling like crap and it was hellishly hot today…

It costs 11 euros to enter and it’s a easy 2min walk from the Pompeii Scavi train station.  This time I DID NOT fall for the option of an English guided tour! haha.  I was like, no thanks – in this heat, I am definitely doing my own thing buddy!

Plus, my main mission was to find the “Lupanare” – what is that?  An ancient brothel of course!  My trusty Lonely Planet guide promised “raunchy frescoes” and I wasn’t going to miss out on that, now was I!

But to find this brothel turned out to be challenging, especially because all the bloody roads look the same.   During my hunt, I saw some cool stuff though.  Like the basilica:

This was the Pompeii church

And this seriously old statue with total “creepalicious” eyes inside the Temple of Apollo:

You lookin' at me?

And the Temple of Jupiter:

Not much left - but you can imagine it would have been something featured on "MTV Cribs"

This kinda gives you an idea of what their streets looked like:

I think the middle piece used to contain water - I say I think, cause I cheaped out and didn't get the audio guide. haha

Then I stumbled across the old Forum Granary which is now used to store hundreds of old artifacts and then also body casts.   The body casts were made by pouring cement into the hollow areas left by disintegrated bodies…

That's actually a cast of a dog on the left, lying on it's back. Then wine containers on the right.

It was actually really sad to see the body casts in real life, you just keep thinking what you would have felt like if that happened to you…

This is someone trying to cover his/her face from the volcano ash...

And this is a man that had fallen over:

Close up you can actually see the fear on their faces... so incredibly moving.

OK – had to move on to less depressing things… like this beautiful dome inside the Casa del Fauno:

It had pretty mosaics, and it was so nice with the light coming in through that little hole...

And it has these cute little men holding up the ceiling all around:

Welcome to the gun show ladies! haha

BUT THEN!!!  The magical moment finally arrived… I finally found the brothel with the dirrrrty pictures on the walls, are you ready?

Some girl on top action...

And one more, cause I know you guys are enjoying this way too much:

Sies! Wat doen julle!?!

Classic…  now get your minds out of the gutter people!  This is a cultural experience! haha. At that point, I decided the heat had just gotten too unbearable, so I headed back to the main entrance.  On the way I snapped one last shot of a busy little neighbourhood:

The houses are quite close together, much like you'd see in Venice for example.

Back in Sorrento I actually had to go do some laundry this afternoon.  I surprisingly really enjoy the whole “do it yourself” laundy thing.  It costs about 4 euros to use the washing machine and then another 4 euros for the dryer – and in total it only takes an hour.  Easy peasy.  But I always meet interesting people… like today I was chatting to a 70+ elderly couple from Nebraska in the US.  They’ve given me tips on the best gelato place in town and also a restaurant with an insane view.  Nice one!  Will be hunting those down.  Thanks. 🙂

So tomorrow is a BIG DAY.  I am going on a full day cooking course… yes yes, I will finally be able to make something other than toasted sandwiches. haha.  Well, we hope…  an update on that tomorrow evening then.  Say a little prayer for the poor teacher please.

Ciao ciao my lovelies. xxx

Farewell Rome my love… but hey there Sorrento, how you doin’?

21 06 2011

OK – first off, I’m rotten with flu!!! I haven’t been feeling that great the last two days, but figured it was just my allergies or something.  But this morning when I woke up I felt like I was hit by a bus…  (and no, this is not just another hangover. haha) Bloody awesome – stupid weak immune system!  So this made my journey today a very slow and painful one… purely because of how crappy I was feeling.   I also know for sure that I look like crap, because people on the train were staring at me – and not in a good way. 🙂

Anyhoo, let’s just recap my last evening in Rome:   I managed to buy yet more stuff from Zara – weird thing is that Rome has like 4 or 5 different Zara shops and they all sell different lines.  I think I successfully managed to purchase from each one!  But seriously, Zara is awesome because it’s still relatively well priced in SA terms and their stuff is also of a great quality standard.  My suitcase has now reached the “expanded out to the max size” level.

Then Soverio picked me up on his Vespa… I realised I never showed you guys how cute it is:

I also want one now! Tan leather trim and all...

We first headed off for some drinks at a friend’s place in town.  Then at 10pm we headed to yet another amazing dinner spot – I keep forgetting the names,  sorry!  But it had a great view and really yummy food.  After dinner there was still time for one last Vespa city tour so I could take in my last bit of the Roma magic.  We stopped on this hill top lookout point to get a panoramic view of the city and I must admit I felt very sad at that point, knowing that it would be last evening that I spend there…  I will just have to come back again some day!

I have to give a HUGE ASS shout out to my friend, Saverio!  He took me under his wing and made sure I saw only the best of Rome.  Thank you so much!  You made my stay so memorable. I loved every minute. xxx

This morning, after taking about 2 hours to drag my germ filled body out of bed, I headed to the train station to start my journey to Sorrento.  I first had a Eurostar trip (that’s the super fast, top of the range trains) to Naples:

Journey time:  70 min
Jouney cost: 36 euro

Then from Naples, you have to use a local train service called the Circumvesuviana which only costs 4 euros.  But you soon find out why… this is what I would call a “ghetto train”. haha.  It was super dodgy, super slow and it stops at every little stop known to man.  The train was jam packed and there’s no fancy reserved seating like on the Eurostar.  So I had to resort to sitting on my suitcase in the open area close to the train door.  Brilliant strategy actually because I had lots of space, it was more comfy than the actual seats and this way nobody could steal my stuff!  It took just over an hour to get from Naples to Sorrento.  Followed by a 5min taxi ride to where I’m staying.

Upon arriving at my accomodation, the Blu Rooms, things started really looking up.  My room is the nicest room I’ve had so far… ironic, because it also happens to be the cheapest by far at only 50 euros per night  (remember my Venice hotel was 110 euros per night – and Rome was 100 euros).

Pretty sweet...

And I have an awesome little balcony with a really nice view:

Not too shappy hey...

And the wifi works!  The wall plugs were a bit tempremental at first, but the owner was so sweet and he brought around all different kinds of plug options until we found one that worked.  Awesome of him.  Also, he’s so jacked up – he gave me a little map of the town as well as all the train/bus/ferry schedules for any day trips I want to make.  No wonder this place got a really high rating on Venere (I usually do most of my hotel bookings through this website, it’s brilliant).

Still feeling like poo… I decided to just do a quick walk around town to familiarise myself a bit before lying down to see if I can shake some of this flu.

Picture perfect!

It really is one of those perfect little sea side towns where it seems time stands still.  There is no real beach here, but you are right on the water:

I feel more steep stairs coming on... 🙂

The main square is where all the action is – my place is only a 5min walk away:

Some cafes in the main square Piazza Tasso

So what have I got planned for my stay here?  Well tomorrow, I’m hopping back onto the ghetto train to go see Pompeii, it’s only a 30min train ride.  So a nice & easy day trip.  Then on Thursday I have booked a cooking course.  On Friday I want to check out the island of Capri and on Saturday I want to head out to the beautiful Amalfi coast town called Positano. In between all of that (and on Sunday) I will have more time to properly explore Sorrento as well.

Actually a harsh realisation today – next Tue, 28 June @ 11:40am, I will be back in Cape Town.  I fly back to Venice on Sunday eve.  Then fly out from Venice to Istanbul on Mon morning and then back to Cape Town from Istanbul on Monday evening… Time sure flies when you’re having fun.

So gotta make this last week a great one!  I will have to force myself healthy again…

Tonight I’m going to check out a dinner spot highly recommended by Saverio.  It’s called O Parrucchiano.   Maybe a good, hearty meal will shape up my system again (with some good red wine of course).

Chat soon. xxx

Soaking up some culture Roma style

20 06 2011

OK, so yesterday – despite the crazy heat and my hangover, I did finally make it to the ancient Rome sights.  My first stop was the Colosseum.  The avenue that takes you there was jam packed with tourists and lined with tacky souvenir stands.  Also there are tons of those mime type people, dressed in crazy costumes, standing dead still.   Still a pretty stupid phenomenon to me to be honest… haha.   Oh yes and then the guys dressed up as Gladiators who charge you to have your picture taken with them.  But… I’m going to try to put this politely… these guys weren’t exactly what I had in mind when I think of a gladiator – they certainly didn’t resemble Russel Crowe in Gladiator… so I decided to give that a skip. 🙂

The Colosseum from the outside

12  euros gets you inside – but then that also covers your entry to the Palatine & Roman Forum.  The queue was very long, but luckily it moved quite fast.  I think in total I only queued for about 25min.  In the line I was chatting to a guy from Japan who’s doing a whoping 9 countries over a span of about 2 months.  He told me he had never met a South African before, I thought that was quite funny.  Once inside you can see how all the action used to go down…

Bring on the show!

There used to be different levels of seating, depending on your social standing & importance.  Then the arena floor was wooden and covered in sand (so the gladiators wouldn’t slip).   You can see part of the floor on the picture above.  Underneath the floor was a maze of passages & rooms where they used to keep the gladiators as well as various animals that were used in the battles.  They would lift the animals up through a complicated pulley system.  Apparently they would use elephants, lions and such for the battles.  Shame man… I thought that was cruel, but I guess people used to do seriously weird stuff for entertainment.

My next stop was the Palatine – my Lonely Planet describes it as the “Beverly Hills of ancient Rome”.  Basically you get to see the ruins of all these old palaces built by Rome’s most affluent citizens as well as emperors and aristocrats.

A renovator's dream...

It’s quite a leafy area and I found a spot to chill under the trees for a bit to escape the harsh sun.  I then headed over to the Roman Forum.

Here you see part of the Palatine in the foreground and part of the Roman forum in the back

The Roman forum was basically a covered market, civic centre and religious complex all rolled into one.  This area is basically one big archaeological site.  You kinda have to walk around and imagine the incredible structures that used to stand here. 

Doesn't make for the best pictures though...

I wanted to spend more time here… but the heat just got unbearable.  So I wandered around town instead, at least there you could take refuge under the shade of the tall buildings.  Rome is pretty dead on a Sunday as mostly everything is closed.  So I couldn’t really do much shopping or anything.  I was really tired though, so I headed back to my hotel for a quick nap and ended up sleeping for 3 hours!!  I know, I’m an old lady now… haha.

Last night I joined Saverio and his friends from Brazil for yet another amazing dinner.  We kinda just let him do his thing and order for us as he knew the menu back to front and that way I got to try some really interesting and delicious things.  Mmmmmm… just thinking back to it makes me happy. 🙂

Then today I decided to go check out Vatican City.  Did you know it’s the smallest country in the world? It ony stretches a 1km area, but it has its own postal service, currency, newspaper, radio station and army! I knew it was going to be a long and painful day as this is the top tourist attraction here in Rome, but I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the masses and masses of people I had to fight my way through.  The walk from my hotel took about 20min and it was quite pleasant.  But then as you turn into the road leading up to St Peter’s square, you start getting that “I’m part of a hurd of cattle” feeling.  

St Peter's square

I got into the first queue I saw – wasn’t even sure where it was leading to, but it was so freakin’ long, I figured it had to lead somewhere worth seeing. haha.  Turns out I was in the line for St Peter’s Basilica.  They reckon on a busy day about 20,000 tourists pass through this church.  The dress code is strict though – no shorts, miniskirts or bare shoulders.  Once inside, this church manages to take your breath away:

Look at all that gold trim!

And then there’s Michelangelo’s dome which is 119m high and situated above the altar area:

I'm doing that in my lounge for sure 🙂

I actually bloody missed Michelangelo’s Pieta… I forgot that I read it was housed in here and only realised it again after I had already left the church.   The floods of people in there was just so dense, I didn’t even see it!  Oh well.  I decided to let it go as I was certainly not going to stand in that queue again.

My next stop was the Vatican Museum – from where you can also visit the Sistine chapel.  I had heard horror stories about the queues there… and I couldn’t pre-book a ticket in time as I didn’t have access to a printer.  So I was worried… then this lady approached me about joining them for a guided tour.  Usually I would HATE the idea of something like this, but I guess the promise of no queueing was what made me fall for it in the end.   Normal entry is 15 euros, with the guided tour it was 45 euros.  (In hind sight – that was a total rip)  They also promised the tour would only take about 2 hours – so I figured that wasn’t too bad.  

Reality was that yes, we did not have to queue, but now I was stuck with a tour guide that felt the need to stop and talk about every damn sculpture.   About 2 hours into it we hadn’t even made it to the Sitine Chapel!  So I gave her my headset and jumped ship.  Best move I made all day! 🙂   I did get to see some cool stuff though – and to be fair, she did know quite a lot of facts.  Like she explained how the marble statues actually used to be painted and they had real looking eyes with jewels.  When they were found many many years later, the people who sold them off would steal the eyes and bleach the statues because the paint would have faded, etc. and it was easier to do that than try to repaint them.  Here’s an example of the jewelled eyes:

Personally, I think the eyes make them look pretty creepy...

And we saw this beautiful baroque styled room:

You need your shades for that golden glare! haha

There it is people! Was so amazing to see…

And I also got a snap of his equally famous piece, The Last Judgement, which spans the back wall of the chapel:

Equally impressive

At that point all the queueing, bumping & shoving had finally taken it’s toll on me and I was pretty much ready to punch someone in the face.  So I decided to find the exit and get outta there!   Even trying to leave was a bloody mission – they force you through several book shops and souvenir shops before you can finally leave.  Trying to squeeze every last cent out of us poor tourists hey!  Very naughty…

On the way home I stopped for some gelato to calm my nerves, that worked like a treat. 🙂 

Tonight is my last night here in Rome.  Tomorrow I’m heading south to Sorrento.  From there I will explore the Amalfi coast & Pompei.   Rome is such an exciting city – it’s been non stop adventures since I got here.  Will be sad to leave – but I think a couple of days chillin’ by the sea side is just what I will need to finish off this trip.

Not sure what my plans are for tonight yet.  But I’m definitely going to try do some last minute shopping before the shops close.  That’s what I do best!

OK, that’s all for now.  Chat soon. xxx

When in Rome…

19 06 2011

OK, so yesterday I had big plans to go and see all the sites of ancient Rome… but the lure of being able to chill by the pool was just too big for me to resist! So I gave in and decided that this would be a better option in 30 degree heat, while nursing a hangover…

Saverio belongs to this men’s only country club – yes, that’s right, only men can be members… and yes, that did erk me big time, but I really wanted to lie by the pool, so I decided to let it slide. haha.  It’s quite exclusive, you have to be voted in as a new member, you can’t just join.  Women can only be on the premises as a guest of a member… so that’s how I got in. 🙂

Cool by the pool...

It’s a pretty cool setup.  There’s a gym, the pool, a restaurant and all kinds of other sporting activities.  And the grounds are massive.  Anyhoo, we spent the entire afternoon there, just soaking up the sun.  Then on the way back into town, we stopped for some gelato at Ciampini.  But this was not just any gelato, it was the nicest & fanciest gelato I have ever had!  Just look at it:

Sooooo cute and sooooo delicious!

Oooh, and I also snapped this shot of the impressive Castel Sant’ Angelo.  If I have time, I want to go back there and climb the dome, apparently the views from up there are insane.

The castle of angels…

After that, I did have plans to go have a quick power nap.  But once I got back to my hotel, I just couldn’t fall asleep.  So I decided to go do some exploring in the area behind my hotel.  On route I found this beautiful balcony:

How beautiful is that, huh?

My first stop was the Piazza Farnese, home of the Palazzo Farnese – which currently houses the French embassy – and also this beautiful fountain:

Pretty cool water feature they have there...

Pretty much next door you have the Campo de Fiori – another popular piazza with a little flower market:

I risked my allergies for this shot! haha

It also houses the monument of philosopher Giordano Bruno and lots of little cafes.  This square seemed to be a popular one amongts the locals, because for once there wasn’t swarms of tourists clenching their maps and guide books. haha.

Campo de Fiori

I managed to fit in a bit of shopping, but then I had to rush back to my hotel to get ready.  You see… I had agreed to go with Saverio to a wedding.  But not just any wedding people, it was taking place in a freakin’ castle!!!  Luckily I had bought a pretty cocktail dress in Florence and I was clever enough to pack some nice shoes, so I was good to go.  We had to head out of town for the wedding, it was about an hours drive.  Antonio, Saverio’s brother was kind enough to drive (we couldn’t exactly get there on the Vespa now could we!).

When we got there, we were first based in the garden, which was beautiful, but not nearly as impressive as the inside of this castle.  Just look at the ceilings on the inside:

Ta da!

And this was what the interiors looked like:

And more Ta da!!

And this is one of the passage ways:

And even more Ta da!!!

In Italy it’s apparently quite common to only invite your relatives and very close friends to the ceremony and dinner.  And then you invite absolutely everbody you know to the after party.  We were part of the after party crowd – which personally, I thought was pretty sweet.  You get to just rock up have some snacks & drinks and then hit the dance floor. haha.

My sweet & dashing Rome chaperone... Saverio

We danced the night away and then had to hit the road again back to town.  I think I got in at around 3:30am.  So yes, pretty tired again today.  But I am heading to see the Colosseum now… 100% sure, totally promise. 🙂  Better get moving.

Ciao ciao. xxx

Hello Rome! Where have you been all my life?

18 06 2011

I arrived in Rome around 1pm yesterday.  My luggage is getting a bit on the heavy side now, so decided to get a taxi to my hotel.  That did cost me 12 euros, but I reckon that was money well spent. Haha.  My hotel, Pomezia, is perfectly situated in the Centro Storico area, which is within walking distance of most of the sights here in Rome.  My room is pretty cool:

Not too shabby... and I have a city view!

There are however 3 small problems:

1. The power points are seriously old, so I can’t charge my netbook!
2. The wifi is dodgy – you basically have to hang out the window to pick up a connection.
3. There is a shower curtain in the shower… I freakin’ hate shower curtains.  It’s sooooo bloody gross. 🙂

So I have resorted to an Internet cafe now… but the shower, I just had to grin and bear. haha.

After I settled in yesterday, I decided to head out and start exploring.  This city is just so massive and I only have 4 days here.  So much to do, so little time!  At first this city is very overwhelming and you’re left leaving totally out of place… but after about 30min of walking around, you realise just how special it is and you totally get sucked in.  I have to note though that there are TONS and TONS of tourists here.  I don’t know how the locals put up with it.  It is quite insane.

Anyhoo, my first stop was Piazza Navona, which is supposed to be Rome’s most iconic square.  It contains a palace and 3 very impressive fountains, as well as lost of cafes and shops.  The middle fountain was my favourite, it’s called the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi:

That's a pretty mean ass fountain...

And here’s the palace – Palazzo Pamphilj:

Yeah, that's like my place. No big deal...

I decided to settle at a little café there to get a bit to eat and to take in the beauty of this piazza.  Because I have been eating such rich foods, I opted for a salad.  No most people would be thinking “BORING…”, but just look at it:

Ta da!

It was so good and I left feeling energised and ready to see how many sights I could fit in before the sun sets.  I headed towards the Pantheon next, it’s free entry for some weird reason… but cool for me!  Basically the Pantheon is a Roman temple dating back about 2000 years…

Outside the Pantheon - please note the swarms of tourists...

The inside is the most impressive part though, the detail is just so beautiful:

I think I stood in the middle of the marble floor and just stared at the inside of the dome for like 15min without blinking once.  It was just quite a lot to take in.  My next point of interest was the Tempio Adriano with its 15 meter high Corinthian columns:

I tried to get a nice arty angle 🙂

The streets here are beautiful, just like every other city I’ve been in I guess… but Rome is just on a much larger scale.

Just a pretty street view

Interesting thing is that the Romans were in love with Egypt.  So there are a couple of these Egyptian style columns which are quite impressive in size.

Obelisk of Montecitorio

I know I have said it a lot in this post already, but Rome is truly beautiful.  There are surprises around every corner.  For example, you’re walking through what just seems like a quiet residential area and then BAM! there’s some massive ancient palace that makes the other buildings around it look like dollhouses.  And then there are also little things, like just look at this courtyard I walked past:

Don't you kinda wish that was your courtyard?

Next I stumbled upon the Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II (or the National Monument of Victor Emmanuel II).  Victor Emmanuel was the first king of a unified Italy and this monument was built in his honour.  The entire thing is made out of white marble and it really takes your breath away.

Just look at how small that tour bus in the back is compared to the monument!

Next up was the Trevi Fountain – the largest Baroque fountain in the city, standing 26 meters high and 20 meters wide.  It is also the fountain where Anita Ekberg made a splash in the famous movie “La Dolce Vita”. This place was so packed with tourists, I had to climb onto the back of a bench just to get this shot!

It was so hot, I just really wanted to take a dip in that water...

From there it was just a hop, skip and jump to the Spanish steps (also jam packed with tourists as you will see on the pic).  Interestingly, it was actually built by a French man…   at its base is Piazza de Spagna named after the Spanish Embassy to the Holy see (a Catholic church term referring to when a Bishop can act like a Pope – or something like that, I don’t really understand it that well).

People just seem to chill here for hours on end…

Sjoe, so after all that sight seeing… what do you think I did next?  Shop of course!   There’s a street here called “Via dei Condotti” that is home to every single luxury brand you can think of.

Maybe one day I will be able to afford something tiny from Prada...

I obviously didn’t shop here!  But a few streets on I had massive success at Zara.  Yeah baby! 🙂

Then last night, I met up with my friend Saverio.   He took me on a Vespa ride through the city and I got too see some of the sights all lit up.  I actually didn’t think this city could look more beautiful, but at night it really comes to life! He also showed me this little secret spot where you can look through the key hole of the massive door of the Priori dei Cavaleiri di Malta and see the dome of St Peter’s Basilica, perfectly aligned at the end of a hedge-lined avenue.  So awesome!

We went for dinner at his regular spot, close to where I’m staying – everyone there knew him and he also knew exactly what was the best to order.   As an appetizer, we shared a squid dish and for our main we had some sea bass with local style veggies.  It was all soooooo delicious!  And it was also cool, cause I would have never tried those things on my own – I usually stick to the safer sounding options. haha.  After dinner we met up with some of his friends at a bar for some drinks and then after that we still had energy left to go do some dancing!  I don’t recall what time I got back to my hotel, but what I do know is that I had one hell of an evening.  And needless to say I’m feeling a bit rough around the edges today.  I slept in this mornig… but my goal is to go check out the ancient Rome region to see things like the Colosseum and the Roman forum, etc.  Then Saverio has some connection with a pool… seeing as it is 30 degrees here, I’m loving that idea a lot…

OK – I think that’s it for now.  Hope everyone has an awesome day!

Chat soon. Xxx