Friday, 6 September 2013

In Italia: Venice, Florence, Rome and Pompeii

Our first stop in Italy is Venice, you know the place with the gondola's, water filled canals and pretty narrow cobblestone streets you see on postcards. Well imagine that but packed FULL to the brim of people, like you’re in a crowd at a festival or something and every second shop is a mask store (like masquerade masks). It’s funny I’m starting to realise that all the places I was most looking forward too that looked like the best places in all the pictures are actually not my favourites. Don’t let me make you think I don’t like Venice it’s not bad, it’s just different (stole that saying from Lucian).
One of the cool things about Venice is there is literally no other forms of transport apart from by boat or walking, no cars, no bikes no trains no nothing, even the ambulances are speed boats!

We start in St Marco Square and first thing we do is a gondola ride with some of the Contiki crew, Ewan, Jodie, Benn and Michael, yep we all fit plus the driver. Its crazy the little canals have these sharp corners and tight squeezes and not once did the driver bump into something, precision gondola steering! The driver of the Gondola in front of us is singing at the top of his voice for all to hear. I was a little devastated after seeing a few friend’s pictures of them drinking Champagne in their gondola's to find out they very recently brought in the no drinking in gondolas rule. They are quite strict on it too so we weren’t even allowed to pull a sneaky one.

No drinking woe's aside we take a walk around Venice to find the old external spiral stone staircase of Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo (basically a very old small stone palace) the stairs were built in year 1499 pretty amazing. Next we take a walk over the Rialto bridge which is famous because it is the oldest bridge over the canal that separates San Marco and San Polo districts again it was packed full of people so you have to be quick if you see a free spot along the edge to get a photo.

Kyle and I decide to get out of the crowds in the streets and take a helicopter ride for 75 Euro each over the Venetian Islands. Best 75 Euro I've spent so far, the view was amazing and as an added bonus the driver did a trick for us and sent the helicopter flying head first towards the ground (ha ha ha right... NO) making me say a very rude word into my microphone before he pulled the helicopter up straight again and having a good laugh at our reactions.

Me, Kyle, Kat, Drew and Michael then took a dip at Lido beach (this is the Venetian island the helicopter takes off from) the beach water is practically warm like a bath and doesn’t really cool us off but its better than toughing the crowd in the heat of the main islands, did I mention it’s like 35 degree's?

Tonight we are having a masquerade party at dinner in restaurant just off St Marco Square with our Contiki, Venice is known for it’s hand made masks and there are some beautiful ones available but considering I have two months of travel left and it most likely wont make it home in one piece Kyle and I buy a cheap 2 Euro mask's just for the night. Dinner was typical Italian style, so many course's you cant count them, the ones I remember are; cured meats platter, squid salad, roast vegetable salad, risotto, carbonara, spaghetti with tomato sauce, gnocchi, pesto linguine and chocolate pudding, this is all washed down with plenty of red wine. Actually that's one thing I've really enjoyed in both France and Italy, the wine and champagne, even the cheaper bottles that came with our pre booked Contiki dinners (I'm just assuming they are cheap because its Contiki, who would give a bunch of kids on Contiki top of the range wine, doubt it) are smooth and not horrible like most of the cheap wine at home. I don’t normally drink Champagne at all but I could have finished a bottle in France of whatever they served me at the cabaret!

That night some of our Contiki mates organised a little meeting in the outdoor lounge area of our hotel where we all snuck a few bottles of booze we brought pretty cheap in Venice to. I brought a bottle of Bellini which is peach wine that Venice is famous for making, as well as spritzers, I wasn’t a huge fan of Bellini it didn’t taste bad but the texture was almost like drinking thick wine, Spritzers were awesome but if you don’t like Vodka Soda Lime you won’t like them because they are not sweet, its more of a bitter but easy to drink flavour. Anyway that's enough about booze... Moving on, the party was nice and chilled, Tim sang some more songs for us and we pretty much hit the hay by 1am!

Next stop: Florence

On the way into Florence we each had to make a Contiki dare for the person next to us and write it down on paper for Lucian to read them out to the group, however there was a twist, the dares were reversed, so whatever you wrote down for the person next to you, you had to do! The dares can be completed anytime in any country as long as its before Contiki ends, ill add them in my blog as and when I witnessed them.

So on the way we stop by the Leaning Tower of Pisa for a token pushing it over/holding it up photo as you do. A few dares were carried out, Lyndal had to rip her top off at all public attractions (clearly a dare meant for a boy but when on Contiki) so she has a picture in her bra with the tower of Pisa, Jack had to get on the ground and bark like a dog at strangers and while he was barking at some innocent Pisa tourists he managed to piss off someone's dog who stared barking back at him and Ebony's was to bomb tourists photo's at the Tower of Pisa... see below, real subtle Ebs haha! Then straight out to dinner after dropping off our bags at the hotel, dinner is a massive bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese, and then off to a Karaoke bar with our Contiki to see who is brave enough to sing!

Next morning in Florence we did a walking tour to see the replica Michelangelo, David statue which stands in the exact place the original did until it was moved to the Accademia Gallery. Benn ran to the front of the crowd of tourists taking pictures of David and started doing star jumps shouting ONE, TWO, THREE as he does them (Contiki Dare). We saw the Ponte Vecchio, the one bridge that during WW2 Hitler did not blow up because it was his favourite, the bridge is now lined with gold shops, there is some rule that only gold shops are allowed to open here. The gold shops are super expensive, there is no discount because of all the competition it’s the opposite where they think it’s a novelty to say you brought gold from this particular bridge so they can jack the prices up. Lastly we saw the apartment where Michelangelo lived.

Sooo for lunch i couldn’t help it, i had to visit Pizzeria O'Vesuvio, for those of you who dont know, that my friends is the Pizzeria that the cast of Jersey Shore worked in for a season, and although i went there to see the Jersey Shore memorabilia (snooki’s bra is hanging from the roof and a bunch of other clothes, pictures etc.) the pizza was actually DELISH! So boys if your girlfriend drags you along don’t complain there is light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a big woodfire fresh pizza! Oh jeez im drooling thinking about it again!

Tonight is our Contiki Group Photo, Tuscan Dinner and Space Disco. (anyone on Contiki going through Florence and has the "Tuscan dinner" as a "me time optional" Do it!) We take our group photo with this amazing background of a view of the whole city, I’ll try have the photo scanned in and post it on here so you can put names to faces im waffling on about. Now Tuscan dinner is brilliant, (seriously, I should turn this into a food blog already right?) there is a live Opera singer who has the hots for Kari and takes her for a slow dance in front of about 100 people dining, a live band who is getting people up to join in for the Macarena and similar "everyone knows them" songs and the food... THE FOOD, Italians eat so much food, to start: a variety of mini toasts with olive pate, cheesy tuna or tomato and motzarella, then: tomato penne and potato ravioli (I'll be attempting to make this at home, carbalicious), then: thin slices of rare cooked steak with rocket and parmesan, crispy potatoes and finally ice cream cake with a thin layer of frozen coconut cream on top! MWAH *kisses finger’s* Delizioso! Oh i forgot to mention the 3L of wine on our table and glasses of champage with our ice cream aaand a cocktail on arrival. Considering there was only Me, Kyle, Brandy, Kari, Jodie and Ewan on our table i think we did well to finish it and love every drop!

After dinner most of us head out to a club called Space Disco where instead of paying with money everytime you want a drink you have this little card that they punch a hole in and at the end of the night you pay for how many holes are in your card. Uh Huh, Recipe for disaster and Kyle proved this all too well managing to need three cards because his first two got too many holes. So after a big night of cocktails, dancing on DJ decks, Lyndal copping a "severe eye raping" from some Italiano's, everyone on the dance floor being attacked by a giant rubber dildo our Contiki manager Lucian was chasing people around with (I'm seriously starting to realise why he has such a massive suitcase) "someone" staying on the forth floor spewed big enough from the balcony around the top of the forth floor steps that it managed to seep through the cracks inbetween each step all the way to the first floor. And then somehow there was actually still more spew was left for covering the hotel room. LITERALLY painted the town red. I'm still waiting for the bill for the towels used in the attempt at cleaning up.

Next stop: Rome

Today we drive all day to get to Rome, there are more than a few seedy faces on the bus but only one managed to gain a round of applause for his puking into a bag on the bus. The remainder of today is a sleepy blurr so im going to skip to tomorrow.

This morning we are siteseeing in Rome and Vatican City. First stop the Colleseum, which just became my favorite site seeing experience, I cant believe there were gladiators and they used to fight to the death for entertainment sometimes against exotic animals like lions, tigers or alligators! It's so Barbaric! We then walked through some old Roman village ruins, it was cool but there are only so many ruins etc. you can be excited about, expecially in roughly 35 degree heat still. Next we're off to the Vatican City, world's smallest country, it even has its own postal system so I tested it and sent off 5 postcards, it was a rip, it cost about 15 Euro for the stamps alone, PITS! We checked out the museum and the Basilica (church) thats famous for Michael Angelo's paintings on the roof and being the place where each new pope is decided upon using the different coloured smoke to deliver the verdict of a decision being made or not each day to the people. Also inside the main church part where the people come to pray there is a few mumified popes bodies in clear caskets on display, why anyone would want a popes dead body next to them why they pray is beyond me but they say that the bodies are so holy they dont decompose, I dont know if this is true or not because they have covered the faces and skin on most of the hands with wax masks so you cant tell but it sounds like a load of BS to me. Just sayin.

After a lunch break we left Vatican City and got back on Roman soil to check the museum/crypt of the Cappuchini Monks it was pretty creepy apart from the artifacts you expect to see there are these 5 rooms decorated completely with monks bones the chandalier is made of bones and there is a wall entirely covered in skulls! Your not allowed to take photos so I brought a postcard with a picture of them on it and I'll scan it into my blog.

After we headed off to check out the famous Spanish Steps and then had dinner with Carrie, Kat, Nat and Drew, in true Italian style of pizza and pasta! On the way back to the hotel we checked out the Panthenon and Trevi Fountain which was really pretty and they say if you throw 1 coin over your left shoulder will ensure you will come back to Rome, 2 coins means you will meet an italian man in Rome and 3 coins means you will marry one!

Tonight we are heading out for a few goodbye drinks at the Drunken Ship Bar because some of our Contiki mates finish their tour in Rome, the night ended up fairly late but nothing exciting to tell, well Brandy did manage to puke on the dining room Piano in front of the bar owner which was pretty funny but apart from that we are all behaved, that I know of.

Oh and little Italian tip: if you want a cheeseburger on the way home you have to pronounce McDonalds to your cabby like so: Mick-a-Dornalds (basically just McDonalds with an italian accent) just saved you the 10 minute's miming eating a burger for your taxi driver.

Last Stop: Pompeii

After getting home at 3am-ish it wasnt so bad being on the bus all day because we got to sleep before arriving in Pompeii for a quick tour. We head with our local guide Francesco for a walk around the ruins of the city that stood before the Vesuvuis volcanic eruption in AD79 which destroyed most of the city. First of all I'll tell you about Franchesco, we loved him, picture this mid 30's happy as they come italian guy dressed in all white including a beret who speaks good english but with a classic Italian accent (almost as an Italian Simpson character would sound) and is very enthusiastic about the things he is showing you and the information he is giving you, most photo stops end with Franchesco proclaiming, Fantastico, lets go, in his thick italian accent! First Franchesco takes us through the gladiator training camps, Pompeii was known for its large gladiator camp that included different types of training areas, a small arena and a barracks where the gladiators ate and slept. We then took a walk through the ruins of old Pompeii city, its pretty amazing where you can see the wear marks still where carriages where drawn down the stone road and funnily enough the deepest wear marks happen to be down one particular road, the one that leads to a brothel! We take a walk through the brothel where some of the old art is still in tact, there is one picture outside each door that depicts a sex position, this is apparently the menu and you would pick what style of sex by the image outside the door. We then take a stroll past a house where the path leading up to the house still has the mosaic "beware of the dog" sign in-tact in the ground. This is believed to be the worlds first beware of the dog sign. As you walk around the ruins occasionally you find a penis carved into the stone of the road or on the stone front fence of a house, back in the day the penis was a luck symbol and was used around the town to protect and bring luck... Men. Some things never change.

Tonight we are supposed to catch a 2am overnight ferry to Corfu however it is running late and we dont even board until just after 4am, pretty exhaused considering we didnt get home till after 3 the night before!

That's all from italy - K

Contiki Masquerade Party in Venice
Me on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge


Classic Pisa picture
 Ebony jumping/dancing/photo bombing at Pisa....
Real subtle like
 Jumping for Joy on the Spanish Steps :)
L-R: Michael, Random sitting lady, Drew, Nat, Benn, Kat, Kyle, Carrie & Mason
 Francesco explaining Penis carvings in Pompeii (see the willy?)
Pompeii is famous for their GIGANTIC Lemons

The Menu.