Sunday, July 16, 2017

Our Italian Sojourn (A Multiple Part Series) - Part One


Early in the month of March, we decided to finally plan a holiday after  a 3 year hiatus. Our last holiday was to Greece in April 2014. 

There was no such reason for not going except that our little one is not very comfortable in confined environments such as flights, so we wanted to wait till he was a bit older. He is nearly 5 now so we thought better now than never!

As we looked towards European destinations - Italy came to mind. I have always wanted to go see the Leaning Tower in Pisa, and the ancient historic sights of Rome. But the south of Italy is said to be beautiful and very picturesque - the Amalfi Coast is very popular with tourists.We spent a few weeks of debating whether we should visit the south of Italy or the north . We had only 10 days in hand - and ultimately we decided on the North.

So we chalked out a route which would be Rome - La Spezia (Cinque Terre in the north west) - Florence and finally Milan. The plan was to fly into Rome and fly out of Milan and our dates were June 23rd - July 4th. 


We landed into the Fiumicino Airport and we were aghast to see the horrific queues at Immigration. About a 1000 odd people crammed into the hall and obviously the airconditioning was not able to support the load so it was sweaty and hot. There is no priority for elderly folks or families with kids - we requested them but we were turned down. We did see Australian and US passport holders being fast-tracked - no idea why.  If we were warned beforehand, at least we would have kept some extra food and water for the kids. Eventually when we were an hour away from the counters, we requested a lady ground staff and though she was quite rude, she fast-tracked us. 

We checked into the Mediterraneo Hotel at the Central Termini, which is a beautiful location to stay. It's very close to the Metro line and all major locales such as the Colosseum, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain etc are just 2 stops away. The hotel also has a lot of cafe style Pizzerias all around so there's no dearth of choice for meals. The Central Termini is full of branded stores and it also has a nice McDonalds that does stock the McVeggie burgers. We needed a break from pizza by the 2nd day, so this was a nice option for us to refuel. 

We thoroughly enjoyed our half day tours of the Colosseum, the Vatican and we explored the Spanish Steps etc by ourselves. The Colosseum is exactly how you see it in photos - huge, imposing and the history of this space literally pours out of each facade. Our guide led us through the history of this arena, and the way she was explaining it, we could imagine the scenes in our minds.

The Vatican City is inside Rome and has its own entry point demarcated by a huge wall. The tour we went on basically covered three points - the Vatican Museum, St Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. The Museum is filled with paintings from that era and plenty of frescoes. There is a lot of walking and stair climbing which is ok but it got uncomfortable due to no air-conditioning. The St Peter's Basilica is enormous, with beautifully carved gates and columns; but indeed the Sistine Chapel is the best of the 3. Serene, tranquil and it houses the best ceiling frescoes painted by Michaelangelo. In those days, without any equipment and just using vegetable dyes - he has truly painted masterpieces, some of which are 3D. The intricate detailing of each painting there literally gave us goosebumps!!

We got stuck in a heatwave that hit Rome - temperatures hit 35C which is not very high if you consider the heat in the UAE but it was HOT outdoors.
Luckily, the evenings were very pleasant and post 4 pm it was quite nice to be outdoors. Considering that sunset is only by 9:00 pm , we had quite a lot of time to tour in the evenings.


After 3 days in Rome we headed to La Spezia. There is a direct train (Trenitalia of course) from the Central Termini and the journey is about 4 hours through the picturesque north western terrain. I highly recommend getting the Eurail pass, we got ourselves the 4 day pass and it was quite useful. The trains are extremely comfortable and there's enough space even for big pieces of luggage.  

As the train approaches La Spezia, the glorious seascape comes into view. Imagine the turquoise languid waters that gently splash over the rocks ashore - bliss!! La Spezia is a small scenic village and it is through this station that the train departs towards the Cinque Terre (the 5 villages). Many tourists like to hike through to the villages, it's not too far. 

We stayed at the CDH La Spezia, a 10 minute taxi ride from the railway station. This hotel is right at the central square, just minutes away by walk and there are ruins of a castle in front of it.  The village square is a delight to just stroll around, there are little shops everywhere and even a small kids play area. Overall, we were enraptured by the ambience and the vibes all around. A village is a village - wherever in the world you go ! :)

We took the little train to the 5 villages, but got off only at Vernazza and Monterosso. The village of Monterosso has a nice small beach. Oh and if anyone prefers cruises, there are day cruises that depart from the dock at  La Spezia too.

After La Spezia, we visited Florence - keep watching the blog for further posts!


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