How many old buildings can we see in one day? Monday 30th August
Our day started at the Lourve museum on the hunt for the Mona Lisa painting. Once we found the painting we were a bit underwhelmed- pretty small painting and we didn’t know what the excitement is about with this painting especially when there is an amazing painting covering the entire wall right behind the Mona Lisa. Anyways we moved on as we decided art and statues were not really how we wanted to spend our day in Paris. Next stop was the St Chapelle church- part of the Justice Courts. It is full of wall to wall stain glass windows that capture all the light. A very beautiful church. Then it was a short walk to Notre Dame church- again an amazing massive old church. We then headed back to the future to the Modern Art Gallery- a pretty cool building with all the inside fittings on the outside and a cool fountain- but a massive queue to get inside. So after a few photos we were off to McDonalds for lunch. A cheeseburger and Big Mac later we were on our way to the Eiffel Tower but first we had to conquer two Metro train system of Paris. We managed to make it to the Tower and get through the gauntlet of people trying to sell us dodgy Eiffel tower souvenirs to get some photos of the tower from the grass lawn.
Next stop was the Arc de Tromph via the Metro. This is a monument in the middle of a crazy roundabout with 8 roads coming onto it- so we took the underpass. We then made our way down the Champs de Elyss avenue looking at the expensive shops. We then made our way back to Port d Ivry via a French Patisserie for the best vanilla slice ever.
That night we headed to the Moulin Rouge for dinner and a show. It was very impressive- but so overwhelming after a big day of sight-seeing so Keat kept falling asleep.
The road to Lyon
Tuesday 31st August
Next day we hit the road at 9:30 for Lyon. We stopped in Fort to see the a big mansion used by the rulers as a hunting shack. We then attempted to find a toilet inside a café before we were back on the bus. After a quick lunch stop at a service centre we went to the Contiki Chalet in a famous French wine district for some wine tasting. An hour or so later we arrived in Lyon- the second biggest city in France. Lyon is a very old city with some beautiful buildings on the river. We checked into the hotel and went out for dinner. We went to a traditional French restaurant and had snails! They were interesting- a cross between oysters and dirt we decided. James had a chicken liver pate entrée, followed by duck leg and a lemon tart. Keat had sausages for entrée then salmon and a lemon tart.
Bring on Barcelona
Wednesday 1st September
Another early start with an 8:30am departure for a long drive to Spain. First stop was an ancient roman aquaduct called Ponte du Garde which was pretty impressive given it was built in BC times. A few hours later we went through the border crossing between France and Spain. This was a little disappointing as nothing happened- we just drove through what looked like a toll centre- no checking or anything. In Barcelona we went to “Sagrida Familia” which is a church designed by Goudi and has been in the progress of being built for over 200 years and is still a long way from being finished. A very impressive church none the less. Dinner in the hotel that night was great- a good selection of fresh salad, pasta and chips. We made a quick stop to a small supermarket / convenience store / cheapest bottleshop ever! They had 1L wine for about $0.80 and bottles of vodka for $4. We then headed out on the Metro train to a very cool bar inside the Wax Museum. It was called the ‘Fairy Bar’ and had fairy lights, waterfalls and trees inside. We had our first taste of real Sangria in the bar- it was great
The Invisible Cable Car, the hidden restaurant and the missing laundromat- our day in Barcelona
Thursday 2nd September
Our free day in Barcelona started out well with our coach ride into town to have a walking tour of the Gothic area. The area was built in the 13th century and is amazing- you could spend an entire day wandering around this area- all the narrow streets feels like a maze (just how much of a maze it would be was not discovered til later in the day). We were able to go into an area surrounding a church where nuns lived for hundreds of years. It was very captivating. We then went into an ancient square. We were told this was where massacres occurred hundreds of years ago- and the indents in the stone bricks were actually bullet holes. We then made our way to La Rambla- the main shopping avenue in Barcelona. At the end of this road was a monument to Christopher Columbus overlooking the harbour. We wandered around this area and saw the ‘Steve Irwin: Sea Shepherd ‘ boat that attacks all the whaling boats in Antarctica. It is a big boat and the crew on it, looked like scary pirates. They boat had a listing of the ships it had sunk painted on the side.
We decided while we were in the area we would catch the cable car up to the cliffs in the Olympic Park area. Well after walking a long way to what looked like a cable car station- we saw cable cars going through it- we discovered this station was not open. Looking on the map the other cable car station looked relatively close and we headed off in that direction. After 1 ½ hours of walking we still could not find the cable car station nor could we even see the overhead cables. We ended up walking up the steep hills and many stairs to the top of the cliffs- still no cable car sighting. We took some photos of the views over the ocean and had a cold drink. We decided to gave up on the cable car dream and headed back down the cliffs for some lunch.
Doing some googling the day before we had read about the oldest restaurant in Barcelona- running since 1786 and thought it would be a great to eat lunch there. We had the address and thought how hard could it be to find it. We were wrong. It was located back in the gothic area- the maze of Barcelona. Walking up and down looking for the street name with little success. Eventually we found it- hidden up a small laneway. It was worth the search. Three courses each and a whole bottle of wine for $15 euro each. James had seafood paella, veal stew and whisky ice-cream cake. Keat had cannelloni, grilled salmon and sorbet. The meals were awesome and the atmosphere in the restaurant was great- very old and traditional.
We then went to the fresh food market were you saw lollies and chocolates right beside strange meats and seafood. We headed back to the hotel a little earlier to find the local Laundromat to dry our clothes we had washed the day before. We asked to concierge for directions and he gave us a map with a circle marking. After an hour wandering around and asking directions we realised that this Laundromat did not exist and carried our wet clothes back to the hotel.
We headed out to see a Flamenco show and dinner. On the way our coach went by the Olympic Stadium from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and we stopped to get some photos. At the Flamenco show we had gazpacho (a cold tomato soup) followed by a salad, cannelloni and a yummy baked custard. The best part was the bottomless jugs of Sangria! The Flamenco dancing and singing was awesome- the dancing is very strong and passionate- a good night out. On the way back to the hotel we went by the Magic fountains in front of the Palace. These are huge fountains that pump 2400L every second. They are only turned on twice a week so we were lucky to see them. Lights and music are turned on to match the water flows.
A nice day for Nice
Friday 3rd September
We arrived in Nice on the French Riviera at around 4pm. The drive along the Meditteranean was great with lots of beautiful ocean views. We checked into Hotel Busby in the middle of Nice and in close walking distance to the ‘beach’. We went down to the ‘beach’ to discover all the pebbles and no sand. Getting into the ocean was a challenge with a steep drop-off. Getting back up the pebbles with slippery feet is a challenge as well.
Earlier in the day we picked up a map at a service station and noticed that Nice appeared very close to the town of Cuneo over the border in Italy. It was then that we started hatching our plan on how we would get to visit the town. We considered the hire car option but decided with driving on the other side of the road and having to navigate the roads we may potentially not make it there. The train option seemed a lot better. We visited the Nice Ville train station and an hour later we managed to walk out with tickets for a train trip to Cuneo.
That night we went to a local restaurant for a group dinner- it was delicious quiche, turkey schnitzel and chocolate cake- very filling. We then made our way with the group to Wayne’s Bar to watch a live band sing covers- it was a fun night.
The Cuneos visit Cuneo
Saturday 4th September
Next morning we had an early start with a 6am alarm to give us enough time to walk to the train station and find our platform to catch the train. This was difficult given everything was in French and the platform does not appear on the signs until just before the train arrives- but we made it. We changed trains near the Italian border onto an Italian train and continued on to Cuneo. The train ride was very scenic travelling between mountains and through many tunnels. Though we discovered that Italians are in no rush to be on time- with the train getting more and more behind schedule. We even stopped at one point for the driver to get out and have a smoke break before we continued on.
Cuneo was a big town with lots of historic buildings and many pizzerias and gelato shops. We had pizza for lunch followed by the best gelato ever. There were lots of cool shops full of chocolates and lollies. We took lots of photos in front of Cuneo signs and then made our way back to the train station.
The train back to Nice was interesting. The first leg of the train trip was fine with everything running fairly on time. At the change over station we were told that the next train we had planned to catch per the timetable apparently did not exist. The only option was to catch a train into Monaco and then change trains again to get back to Nice. Nearly 4 hrs later since leaving Cuneo we arrived back in Nice.
Living it up with the rich and famous in Monaco- Saturday 4th September
We quickly got ready for our night out to Monaco and Monte Carlo. The driving around the roads between Nice and Monaco is very scenic. We went to the Palace where the Monaco royal family live and had a group dinner in the restaurant there. Then we checked out all the expensive boats before making our way to the Monte Carlo casino. On the walk there we saw a mega fireworks show over the Meditteranean Sea. The casino was pretty amazing and very classy, however the sights outside the casino are just as good. Parked out the front of the casino were an endless amount of luxury cars- Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Maseratis and Bentleys everywhere.
Perfume and Verona- Sunday 5th September
We left Hotel Busby and made our way to a French Perfumery in Monaco called Frontgard for a tour. The perfume is hand made and smells very nice. Keat bought two bottles as the price was very good. It was a long day of driving- over 6 hours with not many sights to see along the way.
Verona is the home of the Romeo and Juliet play by Shakespeare. We walked down the old streets to Juliet’s balcony to take some photos and then had Gelato before the drive into the Venice hotel.
Venice- the city with no cars or roads – Monday 6th September
We had an early start catching a bus to a port to get on a boat to travel into Venice. The city of Venice has no streets for cars and was built hundreds of years ago. There are 75 bridges joining all the islands over the canals. We visited a lace factory to see how they make lace by hand. It was very beautiful. Next stop was a glass blowing demonstration which was amazing to see how quickly they can create a glass vase by hand.
We then went on a walking tour with a local guide who told us some interesting facts about Venice and pointed out some of the amazing buildings and architecture. It is hard to believe that the entire city is built on reclaimed land made from millions of wooden pillars pushed into the mud. We found a pizzeria to stop for some lunch before heading off to explore some more of the sights. Venice is like a never-ending maze with narrow back streets and it is very easy to get lost there as we discovered. With only 15 minutes until we needed to be back in the main square to meet the tour group we realised we were very lost and had been walking in the wrong direction for a long time. We ended up running past the crowds in the busy lanes and made it back just in time.
The gondola ride was awesome and very relaxing to travel through the canals and see Venice from a different view. Our gondola driver told us he had been driving gondolas for 33 years. He said there were 425 gondolas in Venice. After our gondola ride we headed to dinner with the group. It was a traditional Italian meal, with Brushcetta, the antipasto cold meats and vegetables, followed by risotto, pesto penne, gnocchi and spaghetti carbonara. Then there was gelato for dessert. We were extremely full by the end of all the courses. The restaurant had an Italian guy playing a clarinet for entertainment. We headed back to catch our boat back to the port where the bus was parked. It had been a very long day of walking but it was a great experience.
Tuesday 7th September
Today we arrived in Florence, Italy. The city is very old and is famous for the many artists who lived there, including Leonardo Da vInci, Michaelangelo and Gallileo. We first went to a leather factory to see a leather making demonstration. The shop also sold jewellery, and we bought a ‘Nomination’ bracelet each. These bracelets have flags on for all the countries we have visited. Then we went on a walking tour with a local guide to see some of the famous sights in Florence. We saw the ‘David’ sculpture replica- it is really tall. We also saw a church which is about 1,000 years old, and beside it is the 4th largest church in Europe- it was massive. Then we went to a restaurant for some pizza and gelato.
We went to the hotel to check in and get ready for our Tuscan dinner. On the way to dinner we stopped at a look-out over-looking Florence for a group photo. The Tuscan dinner was great- we had antipasto meats and bruschetta, followed by pasta and lasagne, then Florentine beef and potato. Finally we had biscotti for dessert. While we were eating dinner, there was a singer in the restaurant to entertain us. He looked very much like Meatloaf and sang some interesting Italian versions of songs, included John Farnham’s ‘You’re the Voice’.
After dinner we went to an electronic disco in Florence called ‘Space’.
Pisa- the leaning tower- Wednesday 8th September
We arrived in the town of Pisa and it was pouring rain. We got off the bus and we bombarded with people selling umbrellas. The walk into Pisa was very crowded, but it was worth it to see the Tower. The leaning tower of Pisa is actually the bell tower to a church. We took some photos in the rain and then rushed into McDonalds to get out of the rain. On the way back to the bus we got caught with the train crossing and had to wait for a train. Then it was on the road again headed for Rome.
The rain in Rome
Wednesday 8th September
Driving into Rome, it did not seem that the rain would stop- and we were right. We saw the Colusseum first up on the walking tour. The rain started to turn into a torrential downpour and the walking tour was post-poned. We then went and had dinner at a local Rome restaurant while we waited for the rain to pass. After dinner, the rain had cleared and the sun was coming out for a nice Rome sunset. We wandered around and saw more of the monuments of Rome at night. It was a great time to take photos as the lighting was perfect. We stopped at the Trevi Fountain and did the Rome tradition of throwing a coin in the fountain for good luck. Finally we made it to the hotel for a late check-in. Our hotel was an apartment so it was very spacious with a kitchen, lounge-room and a bed room.
Rome in one day
Thursday 9th September
The morning started early with a bus ride and metro into Vatican City. We had a guided tour of the Vatican Museum, into the Sistine Chapel and then onto the famous St Peter’s Basillica. There were many sculptures and stone monuments in the Vatican Museum. The Sistine Chapel was extremely crowded but we could still see all the beautiful paintings on the wall and roof. These paintings were done by Michaelangelo. The Pope was not home when we visited- he was in his summer holiday home. St Peter’s Basilica is one of the largest churches in the world and inside are many marble sculptures and monuments.
We then bought stamps from the Vatican Post office and used them to send some post cards home. Next stop was Vatican Pizza for lunch. The pizza was weighed to determine the price of each slice. It was delicious pizza and very cheap. We then made our way to the Metro stop to head to the Colusseum. We paid for a guided tour to get into the Colusseum and beat the large crowds. The Colusseum is massive and very impressive for a building that is so old. Inside the Colusseum we took some awesome photos. Next stop was Michaelangelo’s Keyhole. This is a little known monument in Rome and it is just a plain wooded door and keyhole near a church. The view through the keyhole is impressive as you can see back towards the Vatican and St Peter’s Basillica.
We then made our way to the Capucian Monks to see their tombs. This is a very unique place to visit as you see hundreds of bones arranged in patterns and designs. The bones are hundreds of years old. It is a little creepy, particularly the phrase on the final crypt: What you are now, we used to be, What we are now is what you will be.
We walked towards the Spanish Steps- which are famous as they were owned by three countries- Spain, Italy and France. The steps are full of many people and are known in Rome as a meeting place. We then headed down the main shopping street of Rome towards the Pantheon. The Pantheon is a building nearly 2,000 years old and is very impressive. The dome is an open roof and the floor has pinholes in to help with drainage. Many famous and important people were buried in crypts below the floor of the Pantheon.
Finally we headed back to the Trevi fountain for some more photos in the day time. We then met some of the other Contiki people for an Italian dinner. We made our way back on the Metro and waited for a bus back to the Hotel. After waiting nearly an hour for a bus, we decided to catch a taxi home as there we no buses coming.
Isle of Capri and Sorrento
Friday 10th September
We caught the ferry from Naples to the Isle of Capri. Naples is a very dirty and over-populated city ruled by the Mafia. The Isle of Capri is a massive rock about 1 hour by boat off the shore from Naples. Capri is a very popular holiday destination and was very crowded with tourists everywhere. We caught a venicular (cable car on rails) up from the marina to the main town area about half way up the mountain. We took some photos of the ocean views and then wandered around to find somewhere to have lunch. We found a great little restaurant in a side street. The restaurant was on a cliff overlooking the ocean. We had pizza and ravioli and it was great. We looked at some shops and bought some Lemoncello drink, like a lemon liquer. We bought some gelato and headed back down the mountain on the cable car.
We then caught another ferry over to Sorrento- a beachside town built into cliffs. We had to climb many stairs to get from the marina to the city. We looked around the main streets of Sorrento and had dinner in an old family Italian tavern- pizza and tortellini Bolognese. We then headed to our hotel for the night overlooking the ocean.
The next morning when we woke up there was a beautiful rainbow and you could see the end of the rainbow in the ocean.
Saturday 11th September
We arrived in Pompeii for a walking tour of the ruins. The city of Pompeii was from 800 BC and was covered in ash when a volcano Mt Suvius erupted. The ash preserved the entire town when it started to be uncovered around 1750. We saw the amphitheatre, a house and shops. We even saw the casts of humans and a dog.
We are leaving for a Greek Islands Cruise tomorrow so will probably not have internet for another 4 days so will update you all then.
Keat and James