We hope you're all well!! Be prepared, this is a big entry - we've had time on buses and trains to make notes on our travels... Let's get started...
We arrived in Rome to a bright blue sky and a hot sun!! The airport train to the city is called the Leonardo da Vinci Express - cool!
Last time we were in Rome we had so much fun - strolling around the city & its ruins, watching movies, eating great food, randomly ending up at the Trevi Fountain - so we were really excited to return to one of our favourite cities!!
We spent our time in Rome like this...
- on our first day, we decided to stroll around the city. We saw the ruins, the colesseum, & the trevi fountain.
- the second day we started early. we had a full day in Rome and decided to see as much as we could. Our first stop was the Trevi Fountain again -we love this place & it's nice to get in early before the crowds.
We had delicious espresso at a very local cafe in trastsvere, a funky gothic area across the river.
This part of Rome is very different to central Rome! Lots of bars & cafes. It's cheaper here too, however it's a bit further out. Nevertheless, we both agree we'll stay in trastavere next time.
For lunch we went to campo de fiori - a lovely market square. Phenomenal nectarines! Delicious, fresh, warm foccacia with fresh boccincini (just beautiful) & incredible proscuitto - oohhh the proscuitto is to die for!
Then later on, we spent the afternoon wandering around the Spanish steps.
Ciao Roma! Until next time!
We had a 7am flight to Palermo - an awkward time to leave Rome if you ever have to... We couldn't afford a taxi and the airport train didn't start early enough, so... we had to catch a night bus at 3am!!!!!!!!!! Painful!!!!
We arrived in Palermo in around 1 hour - such a short trip.
Sicily, reknowned as the birthplace of The Godfather... When we were waiting for our luggage at the airport in Palermo, a mobile phone rings... and it's the Godfather theme song! True story.
Palermo is a big city and is like no other we've ever been to. The streets are filled with cars, motorcycles, buses, & rubbish. The buildings are all grey/black & baroque. There appears to be no road rules, i wouldnt recommend driving in Palermo! It also seems to be a lot more multicultural than the rest of Italy (lots of Arabic & black African people), and it has a certain buzz that is truly unique.
We spent one night in Palermo as a stop over, but we really enjoyed ourselves there!
Some of the things that we did:
- swarmed to the 3 fresh food markets, including the one that Jamie Oliver went to in his Jamie's Italy series!! We had lunch there, which included a baked ricotta and herbs/chilli slice - the most delicious thing we have ever tasted!!!!!!! Seriously, words cannot describe how incredible it was!
- roamed around the streets of Palermo and saw: the harbour, many churches & fountains, & the old museum building (very grand & beautiful)
- we had our first gelati in Sicily - ben had a briosch with melon and baccio - soooo creamy, refreshing and cheap!! Heidi had a cone with berry yoghurt flavour (divine) & peach (so amazing & authentic!)
- we had dinner at a restaurant near one of the markets and the church - a lovely waiter & owner. Spaghetti ragu, pesto with almonds, & chicken breast with a citrus & boccincini sauce. Beautiful!
The next day we caught a bus to Syracusa, which is on the south-east coast of Sicily. Our friends, Rosa & Michael, told us about this gem and we are so glad we stayed there!!
Syracusa is a big town, its size is probably comparable to a combined St Kilda and Elwood. There is a part of Syracusa that is a little island and it's called Ortygia. This is where we stayed.
We arrived at the bus station and had no map and not much information... We received some general directions and found our way. The walk from Syracusa to Ortygia is quite interesting. You start off in what looks like an industrial area, but as you make your way along the main road to Ortygia, the buildings become prettier. After about 15 minutes you reach the main bridge that connects Ortygia to the mainland. It is absolutely beautiful! There are yachts, small boats, fishing boats and bright blue seawater. Stunning! The smell of salty seawater is divine! Boy is it hot - ~30 degrees, but it feels hotter than 30 back home. Ortygia is absolutely breathraking, both aesthetically and in its lifestyle.
We managed to bargain with an aparment owner and stayed in our own 1 bedroom apartment with a phenomenal kitchen and bathroom!! We got it so cheap! Our very own apartment for 6 days!
We spent our blissful days in Ortygia doing...
- shopping at the local fresh food market, bartering with fruiterers, fish mongers and cheesemen. It was so much fun! We were like locals after a few days. There was an abundance of bright red tomatoes, plump peaches, apricots, cheeses, herbs, chilli, freshly baked breads, and of course, beautiful fresh seafood (tuna, squid, calamari, prawns, & loads more)!!!!
- cooking meals in our awesome kitchen! This was the best fun!! We cooked: flake burgers with homemade garlic aoli; prawn, lemon and chilli pasta (the biggest, fleshiest, sweetest prawns we've ever had! Cheap too.); homemade pesto (basil & pinenut) with pasta (delicious! - our first attempt, too. We were quite impressed with ourselves); fresh fish with beautiful caprese salad & bread with olive oil & rock salt; & prawn, chilli and lemon risotto. Lots of Italian vino, too! Even the cheap stuff is amazing!
- eating at beautiul restaurants. Some of the highlights include a fish lasagne, & pasta with sardines, zucchini and breadcrumbs (Syracusan speciality).
- chilling out at the swimming spot in Ortygia - this small, rock island where all the locals hang out. We had a few picnics here too!! The water was so clear, sparkly and blue!! All the kids jump in off the big rock. Lots of fun!
- running around the island in the mornings (mainly Heidi), & taking in the beautiful sea views & smelling the sea air
- seeing the churches, state buildings and cute houses around Ortygia. The council had recently completed a massive clean up of the main buildings and square, so everything was incredibly white! Thankfully we had sunglasses!!
- eating gelati!!!! We had the best cinamon gelati here - such a refreshing flavour!! Other standout flavours were dark chocolate (so dark it was black! Very delicious & richly coco-y) & lemon (refreshing & icy, not too sweet).
- seeing the Archaelogical Park where there are Roman ruins, including a theatre stage, caves and an ampitheatre.
- visiting another swimming beach...with sand! We ate left-over cold pesto pasta - SO yummy! The water here was also crystal clear and quite warm too. Beautiful!
After 6 nights of a relaxing and food-filled experience in Ortyigia, we had to leave via Palermo and make our way to Tuscany. Ortygia really was a highlight!! So far on this trip, Ortygia has been our favourite place. All the cooking, seafood, beaches and relaxed lifestyle have made us fall in love with his part of the world!!
The train system in Italy is very reliable and quite cheap. After we arrived in Rome from Palermo, we caught a train to Poggibonsi (a small town in the Sienna prefecture). We had time to burn here, so we had a look at the main square and their main church. Both are very nice and a great introduction to Tuscany.
Then, from Poggibonsi we caught a bus to San Gimignano - a beautiul, walled city perched on the crest of a hill, and our home for 6 nights!
On the bus ride we saw vineyards and huge properties that reminded us of Red Hill - it is such a wonderful part of Italy. So picturesque. Exactly what you imagine Tuscany will look like.
Some call San G the medieval Manhattan because of the towers (13 are remaining) that poke up into the sky from within the walled city. A lot of tourists arrive during the day, crowding the shops and streets, then leave in the afternoon, letting the city breath.
We stayed in a room with a shared kitchen (but no one to share it with ) within the walled city in a perfect location.
We spent our time in San G....
- cooking spaghetti bolognese (with pici pasta - a type of thick-is long but curved pasta typical of Siena. Kind of like a fat linguini, but not as long.), pan fried chicken with a tomato sauce, & lemon risotto!
- visiting Siena - a lovely city, but very big. Gorgeous main square, yet not as pretty & quaint as San G. There's a church on the ourskirts of the city walls that houses a saint's head (dating back to the 14th century) - eerie! Also, Ben bought the first Harry Potter book from one of the many bookstores - he's addicted and has since bought many more!
- enjoying the festivities over the weekend in San G. There was a medieval festival taking place. Lots of men in tights, trumpets, drumming, dancing, flag throwing, tug of war, ball throwing, story telling, pork rolls & watermelon! Quite cute & a bit of fun!
- eating gelati from the best (self-proclaimed) gelati store in San G. Lots of photos of the owner with damous people (including Jamie Oliver and Thorpedo) hung on the walls! The gelati was very nice, especially mango, but it wasn't the best gelati we've had... being gelati connoisseurs and all :p
- hiring a red Vespa, town hopping through Tuscany to get to Cortona (in the Umbria prefecture) and riding on a freeway in heavy rain (having to hold on tighter whenever a truck passed)!! We're still unsure if this was legal. We rode for a total of 8 hours - our bottoms were very sore that night! It was so fun and definitely a day we'll never forget!!
Cortona is a beautiful city and has found new fame thanks to the movie 'Under the Tuscan Sun'. There is a magnificent walk up through the tight roads to the highest point of the town where a convent is.
- on our journey to search for an ancient Roman water fountain, we stumbled across a Tuscan vineyard ! It was so picturesue and we took a few photos here.
- tasting Vernaccia, which is a white wine from San G - it is very tasty! Quite dry, very nice.
- eating fantastic pasta at a restaurant recommended by our hostel owner. We had a trio of pasta dishes, which included a wild boar ragu with pappardelle, sausage and mushroom with pici, and an almond/basil pesto gnocci! Our favourite was the wild boar ragu - there were flavours there that we had never experienced with a ragu before!
The next destination in Italy was Cinque Terre - we had to return to Cinque Terre on this trip because it is one of the prettiest places in Italy!
We found accommodation in Vernazza this time and stayed in a simple room on the main street... and our place was opposite the restaurant where we had fantastic seafood pasta on our last trip!! How lucky!?!!?!?!! More on this restaurant is below.
Vernazza comes in as the equal best townof Cinque Terre (tied with Riomaggiore) because of its relaxed vibe, gorgeous, vibrantly coloured houses, enveloping cliffs, sandy beach, seaside church and fantastic restaurants!
We spent our time in Cinque Terre...
- relaxing on the beach in Vernazza and eating many a picnic at the beach
- hiking multiple times to Monterosso and Riomaggiore, smashing the recommended hiking times in half! The flora is beautiful, the terrain is steep and the views of the sea, cliffs, towns and vineyards are breathtaking.
- each of us hired a kayak and kayaked along the coastline for an hour (we were very sore after this!).
- hiking to Monterosso to swim at their sandy beaches, only to find a smallish, beautiful section of the beach that was free to access (the main beach would have cost us EUR10 each - crazy!) The water was crystal clear and there was a funny sounding guy selling coconuts on the beach!
- eating fantastic pizzas - our favourites include a margherita topped with moist, fluffy and melt-in-your mouth mozzarella, and a basil pesto pizza with the perfect balance of pesto and tomato base. Very basily and lemony! We typically ate these on a boat ramp leading to the water - fun! Oh, and the sunset was typically involved too - how romantic! :p
- eating the BEST seafood pasta at our favourite restaurant in all of Italy!! When we first saw the menu we didn't see the squid ink pasta with shellfish that we ate last time, and were a little disappointed... but then, we noticed they had a specials board written only in Italian!! To our delight, the waiter told us there was a "batti batti" (like Moreton Bay bugs in Australia), squid ink pasta dish!! Yay!! It was so perfect!! We went to this restaurant twice - that's how good it was! They also have a great dish of the most al dente spaghetti, clams, mussles, olive oil and parsley! So simple, yet soooo delicious!! We also met a cool Canadian couple on one of the nights we went and chatted to them over dinner - fun!
After about three weeks in Italy, it was time to move on to the next leg of our trip and catch a train to Switzerland!
We really love everything about Italy and we will be back!!
We hope everyone is well back at home and please email us/keep in touch via facebook - we love to hear about what's going on back at home!