Sunday, September 25, 2011

Italy 2011

For our next holidays Vivienne had decided that she wanted to have a cappuccino in Italy for our next holiday so being a man who always listens to his wife off we went.  We prepared by taking Italian lessons and I read four of the detective novels by Donna Leon which I can highly recommend.  They are set in Venice and give a good insight into the Italian character.

We flew Austrian Airlines, who were giving the best deal in business class, and started with three days in Vienna staying at the Nestroy Wien arriving early in the morning.  I had missed out on a trip to a Heuringer Inn the last time we went and this time I was determined to go.  So off we went taking the tram on a Friday afternoon to Heiligenstadt a pretty village outside Vienna.  Unfortunately no inns were open (they open around 5pm) and Beethhoven's house was closed.  We found a pub called Joe's Sports Bar, had ham and eggs for lunch and returned to Vienna city.

After that inauspicious start we had a great time.  We had done the major sights last time in Vienna so this trip we went to the Albertina Museum and Schloss Belvedere.  Both times we had lunch at the museum restaurants which were very good, particularly the Albertina.  The other highlight was attending a concert on Saturday night at the Hofburg Palace.  There are a number of kitsch concerts offered in Vienna but this was terrific.  No quasi Mozart costumes and the hall was packed with about 80% of the audience local Austrians.  A great night.

Monday we flew to Italy, hired a car and GPS and started our trip.  The first part was comprised 5 nights ticking boxes in the bucket list.  We visited Perugia, Assisi, Urbino, Ravenna and Bologna.  We soon learnt the drill which was to drive straight into the town to the hotels, disregarding any signs saying restricted entry.  We unloaded luggage and got permission from the hotel to park in the centre, and generally overnight parking at 33% of the cost.  The order of the day was arrive at the hotel in the afternoon, freshen up, walk the town and perhaps see one sight, have a drink watching the passegiata, dinner, wake up the next morning, see a sight, check-out and drive to the next town over lunchtime.  Ratings are out of 5

Brufini Palace 5
La Taverna 10/5 best meal we had in Italy
National Gallery of Umbria 5
La Fortezza 4 great if you like hills
La Fortezza 4
Duomo – lots of catholics great Giotto frescos
Italia 4
La Taverna del Leone 4
Palazzo Ducale 5
Centrale Byron 4
Capello 1 overpriced and not that good
The mosaics 10/5
Orlogio  4

Plazza Magiore 5

All the above towns are worth a visit but I was particularly taken with Ravenna.

The next stop was Segrimonio in Monte a small village outside Lucca where we were staying in a luxury farmhouse complex with two other couples from England, our good friends the Arnolds and Mayers.  We took trips to Pisa (must see but lots of tourists) , Viareggio, Barga, Villa Reale and walked the walls of Lucca.  We had three great meals: Osteria Veccio Pazzo near Villa Reale, Restaurant Ricardo in Barga, and Osteria Baralla.  Everyone recommends Trattoria de Leo and it was packed when we went but I thought it overrated.  However to me the highlight of the stay in Lucca (along with the town itself) was having three evening meals in the villa dining al fresco in the Italian style.  Ann and Jan did great final meal and I cooked everyone an Australian BBQ and my spaghetti bolognaise.  The weather was brilliant, blue skies 35 degrees plus during the day and 25 degrees plus in the evening.

We then took off to Amalfi staying in the centre at the Hotel Lidomare.  The drive along the Amalfi coast was spectacular, if somewhat tortuous.  The original plan was to use Amalfi as a base and drive to various locations.  However we decided two drives along the coast was going to be enough (one in and one out) so we ending up changing our schedule.  We took a coach up to Ravello the first day, boat trips to Capri and Positano the next two, and stayed in Amalfi for the fourth.  Capri was probably the highlight (think Mykonos with Italian style) but the other places all had their highlights.  Unfortunately the Blue Grotto in Capri was closed because of the weather but we had a good lunch at Verginello.  We lunch at the Cafe Bruno in Positano (the fish antipasto and view are brilliant).  Amalfi is more of town and has a good passegiata.  We had two great meals at Il Tari and the Trattoria de Gemma is worth a visit (but reserve a table if you want to eat on the balcony.)

Then it was on to the final leg: Rome.  On the way we up we stopped at Pompeii.  Unfortunately when we arrived the ticket collectors were on strike and although we tried to game the system by going to another entrance (and failing miserably) we finally got in along with another 10,000 tourists.  I was disappointed with Pompeii which comprises lots of red brick ruins.  The good stuff (the mosaics and frescos) have all been moved.

Using the web I had found an apartment to rent Vibiana owned by an Australian, Jennifer Pudney, who was a former lecturer in English literature at La Sapienza University founded in 1303 and the largest university in Europe.  The apartment was located near Termini rail station, on the junction of Vias Bixio and Giovanni Giolitti.  Gritty is how would describe the area but the apartment was clean and spacious and inexpensive and close to the university area in San Lorenzo. 

The first day we hired a guide, Peter Kilby, on the recommendation of a golfing associate Charles Vowell.  You can learn about Peter at the following website  He picked us up at 10am (somewhat bemused at our location as I am sure most of his clients stay around the Spanish Steps and took us on walk around the less visited places in Rome.  He is very informative and very good.
He has also a number of audio files which on his website which you can download.
On our tour we covered some of the Pigna Rione walk and the Capitoline Museums in the Piazza del Campidoglio.  My favourite story from the walk is that the unbelievable bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius on his horse (copy in the square original inside) was only saved from melting down by a Pope was because for centuries the Catholic Church thought it was a statue of Constantine, the first Christian emperor.  Any we had a great time in particular visiting a number of churches that are famous in history but relatively free from tourists.  The next day we went to the Galleria Borghese using Peter’s tapes as our audio guide.  The two tapes are probably his best in that he takes you to the major sites in the museum (you are only allowed in for two hours) and gives a tremendous insight in to detail of the sculptures and paintings.  You must book on the internet before you go the Galleria Borghese – we went on Saturday and people were going there to be told the next admittance time was Tuesday.  Even if you don’t use Peter personally, if you are going to Rome, download his Galleria Borghese tapes and go there.

We then ticked off various sights.  We went to the Colesseum, which had a queue over kilometre long.  The trick as outlined in Lonely Planet is to first go to the Palantine (10 people in the queue), buy the joint ticket, walk through the Palentine park and then straight into the Colosseum  The Trevi fountain was packed, standing room only, but we threw in our coins.  The Pantheon is well worth a visit.  Piazza Farnesi is stunning, Piazza Navona and Campo De Fiori have degenerated into tackiness.  We went across the Tiveri river to visit Castel San. Angelo but given the number of tourists in Rome we decided to give the Vatican a miss.  On our last day we visited the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme which holds the finest collection of Roman remains in Italy.  Only a smattering of visitors but probably one of the finest collections of statues, mosaics and frescos I have ever seen.  You really got an insight how rich and opulent Roman society and how much the decline into the dark ages really was.

So there you are; four weeks in Italy and we did not visit Venice, Florence or the Vatican.  It was hot but thankfully we were there when the A$ was at a high so relatively cheap.  Great trip and I now have Italy out of my system.
Chris Golis Australia's expert on practical emotional intelligence website: Linkedin: blog: mobile: +61-418-222219

1 comment:

  1. Sorry the great meal we had in Lucca was not at the Osteria Baralla but at the Trattoria Canuleia. Anne found it on Trip Advisor where it was highly recommended.