Friday, November 26, 2010

11 things...

We liked about Italy:
1. the magnificent structures and churches
2. Fresh pasta
3. Parma ham and Parmesan cheese
4. Waffles and Nutella
5. The transport system
6. The shoes and fashion
7. Everything is conveniently close
8. The food markets
9. The way cars make way for bicycles and wait patiently for them
10. The fact that at 10PM at night you can still wander the streets
11. The most beautiful women in the world

We are happy to leave behind:
1. The small houses that are built on top of each other
2. Being trampled on the public transport
3. The rude and non-accommodating people
4. Really expensive restaurants
5. Help is not very forthcoming if you are a newby to something, like using the metro for the first time etc, they are almost irritated to help you
6. Living on top of the street, no garden, no place to braai...
7. The shoes - else we might go broke, quickly :)
8. The smoke, they smoke all the time and everywhere
9. All TV and books, radios etc is in Italian
10. The rain, and the cold weather.
11. No friends to have a bottle of red wine with!

We had a great time here, great experiences, but at the same time are very home sick and looking forward to going back home. Look forward to driving our car and bikes, riding our bicycles, playing with our cats and seeing our friends. Most of all, having our big house to ourselves, and not having to climb millions of stairs to get to our front door :).

Italy was lovely, but there is still no place like home, in sunny SA!

My (Maria) view of the Italian people

Leon has been in search of why the Italians seem rude and angry and upset, and in his attitude posts has explained all. On our train back to Rome I was watching people talking today. They are definitely more pessimistic in that you must first win their trust and friendship. But once you have it they seem very friendly, chatty and open. They are also a very loving people, and almost everywhere you go you will find one couple kissing and hugging as if no one is watching. My view therefore is that they seem pleasant enough, once you have broken through the hard outside shell they build around them to protect themselves.


We are sitting at the airport in Rome, waiting for our first flight on our way home. Florence was beautiful, relaxing, time spent as a real holiday. We climbed many stairs by climbing to the top of three of the towers, one the Duomo bell tower, the other Santa Maria, and I forget the third ones name. We explored some more churches, and went to the photographic museum and saw MichaelAngelo's tomb. We also strolled through the Boboli gardens.

The rest of our time there we walked lazily through the streets, shopping through clothes, glass jewelry, and lots of shoes. I'm coming home with no less than 5 new pairs of shoes, so my winter shoe shopping days had an early start, but probably also an early end. We spent time on benches next to the road or on stairs eating Gelato or waffles with Nutella. And we spent time in their markets, buying some food and more accessories, gifts or, yes, shoes...

Florence is much more chilled than Rome, and we probably could have utilized our time here better and have seen more, but we had something we rarely have here, a chilled, relaxing, resting holiday. Some afternoons we siesta'd, others we sat in a coffee shop drinking coffee and watching the people. We have learnt a lot of the Italian way, and will take home with us fond and pleasant memories!

And we will be buying a waffle maker, and eat lots more waffles with Nutella...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Attitude - the conclusion

After various consultations, a few failed google searches and a lot of speculation, I eventually managed to extract the truth from a native Italian.

Okay, so maybe it was an Italian from America that now lives in Florence, who was more than willing to enlighten me on the reasons for Italian ppl always appearing angry and unhappy.

The truth is, Italian men aren't very bright. They believe that any women who smile at them, are interested in them and are immediately head-over-heels in love with them. It is so bad that a man would actually follow the girl/woman and make a real nuisance of himself, so therefore all Italian women appear to be angry and unfriendly.

And this also explains the incident yesterday when I nearly danced with an Italian lady as we both kept on selecting the same path to pass one another. I started laughing, and she had a smile appear for about one fifth of a second, before forcing it away, tilting her head down, and swiftly making an exit.

So, Italian ppl are actually very friendly, just cautious. Oh yes, and it helps to keep the beggars away, as it is easy to identify foreigners - they smile.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Crazy little streets

In all three Italian cities we've been, there is a mixture of tarred roads, and then more cobbled type roads. In Firenze there is a lot more of the cobbled type roads. We took a walk over one of the bridges to the other side of the river, and after about 2 or 3 minutes found a street that was winding upwards at a good 7 - 11 degree gradient, all cobbled, and very wet as it was raining. Of course my beautiful smile and batting of eyelashes convinced Leon that it is a good idea to see how far we can get to the top. My only thought while climbing up this road was - imagine how hard it must be to cycle up here in wet weather. The cobbles are pretty slippery, and a lot of the climbing would require standing on a bicycle... Some of the little side roads we took are so narrow that I think a smart car would barely fit through. Even crazier than this is that if you lived in the houses next to these streets, your front door opens directly onto the street, there isn't even a pavement!

We didn't walk all the way to the top since the cold and the rain eventually changed our minds, but even from where we got to we could look out over the whole of Firenze. Must be beautiful on a clear sunny day!


I think today can be classified as our most expensive trip to date. We came to Pisa by train, about 1 1/2 hour trip. Once we hopped off the train, we stopped in a coffee shop to order a cappuccino each and a pastry each. This little breakfast cost us R170! I think we've become used to which coffee shops to go to in Rome and Firenze, and out of habit forgot to check the prices...

The tower of Pisa is actually quite amazing. We arrived at the tower while nothing much was going on yet, so we sat and waited in the better of the two ticket offices. They had a whole movie about the tower. The tower as we know it today is 7 stories and then a 8th with the bells at the top. The top most story was only completed in the 1800s. The first 4 stories were built in the 1100s if my memory serves me correctly. It was then the first time it started leaning. This is due to the ground deep underneath being sand and moist, since they eventually discovered that this area used to be sea - after finding boat wrecks in the ground! Today you can't even see the sea from the top of the tower. In the 13 or 1400s after some investigations they decided to build the last story, after which the tower started leaning some more, and in the 1800s it was completed.

From 1998 to 2001 or so they had to close access to the tower since it's risk of falling over has increased quite a bit. This was due to the fact that the ground on the one side could fall away some more, and the stress that the top levels of the building is putting on the first story was too much for it. They built huge weights from some kind of metal which they attached to the building, which actually decreased the leaning a bit. In an effort to maintain the look of the building without these weights, they then tried to build these weights underground, but this then increased the leaning again. They eventually used machinery to almost pull the lean in a bit. They also attached metal to some of the structures to strengthen it against the stress. Today all of these machines have been removed, and the tower is being monitored very closely by sone pretty nifty software! This includes lot of photography and scientific measures of the ground and environment, but it is still pretty cool!

We climbed the 250 steps to the top, and unfortunately we couldn't get to the front of the queue, so we couldn't sprint it! The view from the top is beautiful! We were lucky enough to have about 2 hours of sunshine, part of it while on top of the tower, so we could see all the buildings in Pisa, the mountains around it and even the snow on some of the mountains! The 250 stairs cost us R150 each, but with all the work that goes into this building I felt it was worth it. And then we had to pay R3 each to go to the loo!

We are now on our way back to Firenze, after strolling through the streets of Pisa for a while. We were double lucky on our way to the train station - we had rain AND sunshine, at the same time!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

5kg of Nutella

Leon loves Nutella. So much so that when he read that Lance eats it during the tour de France as part of breakfast, in true "What would Lance do" fashion he adopted the habit. So imagine his excitement when he saw that here you can buy a 5kg bottle of Nutella! Think we could bring some as carry on?

Lazy days in Firenze

The weather has not been too kind with us, lots of rain the last week already. But it seems the Italians are pretty used to it. There are umbrellas everywhere, and even when you walk into the shop there is a bin for umbrellas. So in true Italian style we each bought an umbrella, although Leon already destroyed one, which has me in stitches just thinking of it again!

We've been inside one church, a museum, and a medieval horror stories place. The horror stories place takes you back to the 1400s to show how dirty the people lived and the ailments they got because of mall nutrition and hygiene problems. It was a little bit interesting, but not worth the value we paid to enter. The museum was one with paintings and fashion art, pretty awesome paintings! The fashion section is not everyday wear fashion, but rather fashion specifically made to take artistic photo shoots. As always, the churches are awesome and inspiring!

Saturday was pretty much washing and grocery shopping day. We met some Americans in the wash and dry, had some interesting chats with them, and was very amused with an Italian girl and man arguing about who should use the dryer first. She eventually convinced him to put both their bundles of washing in one dryer. We didn't understand their words, but expressions here are worth more than a 1000 words. It was quite funny! We went to a pure food market, heaven! And cheap! We bought pasta (fresh), cheese, meat, fruit, and we didn't even pay R500 for it. They sell sheep skin in the meat section, chicken with the head still on it, and rabbit as well, which we only figured out later. It was my experience I've been looking forward to the most.

Other than that we've been wandering the streets, and shopping!many shops, as in Rome,are very expensive. But if you are wiling to do some walking, you find bargains. If we lived here, I would spend every month's salary on shoes! They really have beautiful shoes and clothes here. Even Leon has bought a pair of shoes!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Another form of exercise

I woke up this morning feeling like I swam a 5km butterfly time trial yesterday! Neck sore, shoulders sore, my arms and traps as well! And all of this from pulling one suitcase and a bag full of groceries around in Rome on our way to the train station, and then in Firenze. In my defense, the suitcase does probable weigh a good 20kg or more, and we did walk about 5km, half of it at speed and some of it on cobblestoned roads. If I'm this sore today, not sure if I'm looking forward to tomorrow!

Friday, November 19, 2010

First Impressions of Firenze (Florence)

A long and delayed train trip has brought us safely to Firenze. The scenery out of Rome changed very much from old neglected buildings to beautiful green pastures and country sides with stunning farm houses. In Leon's own words, this is more the kind of scenery you see in the Tour de France coverage.

Immediately when we arrived in Firenze the atmosphere was more relaxed. The people aren't as aggressive or rude, still not that much friendlier, but already better. Cars aren't allowed to drive in many of the streets, so people stroll leisurely in the middle of the road making way for the odd bicycle, scooter or bus. It is also not as busy as Rome. So already I take back my previous words, maybe I'll give Rome a skip next time, and come straight here.

Our apartment is much smaller than the previous one we had, with barely space to unpack our clothes, but this is made up by the fact that it is decorated much better, and the owner has provided much more for travelers. The previous apartment we had to buy our own condiments - sugar, salt, oil for cooking - stuff you have to buy a full packet to only use a little bit of in the short space of time you are here, and I was the one to carry this heavy grocery bag on our 5km walk to the station! In Firenze however, everything you need and more is here. Salt, olive oil, vinegar, spices, tea, coffee, sugar. Even in the bathroom - shampoo, soap, body wash, shaving cream, plasters, cream, enough toilet paper for 3 weeks! The owner even took half an hour of her time drawing all the markets, supermarkets, good but less pricey restaurants, sightseeing recommendations, how to get there, suggested day trips. She was very kind and helpful, and if Leon wasn't in such a hurry to find food I am sure she would have spent a much longer time with us. They have even given us the password for their Wi-Fi connection.

We have done a little bit of exploring already, doing a lot of it in the rain. It seems many people own shops here where they do for a living what they have a passion for. We walked past a wooden furniture shop where you can see the owner busy building the furniture in the back, a guy who covers chairs, a clothing maker, a guy who makes fresh pasta - we'll stop there first!

So in my 5 hours in Firenze I already like it much more than Rome, and I'm guessing I'll be able to fall in love with this region of Italy.

Leaving Rome

Even as we leave Rome, we are constantly reminded of the existence of the ancient city. En route to Firenze, within the city limits of Rome, the darkened rectangular brickwork of the old city ruins are visible everywhere. Even though only partial pieces of these buildings are still visible, they seem to overpower anything and everything around them. Standing there, telling their stories of ages gone by.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The other side of Rome

So my time in Rome was really awesome, but no city is perfect, and to complete my experience I must mention the shortfalls of the city as well.
As cosy and cute as our little apartment is, I don’t know if I could live my life day in and day out in such a small crammed place. Fact is, if you own a car you will pay about R240 a day to park it in the street, and it will be bumped and scratched. Leon could see into our opposite building neighbour’s bedroom, and to make space for their whole family, they have split the bedroom into a double story (if I say double story, I mean they took a standard room, and put a divider as a floor halfway up the room). The parents stay in a bed on the top section, the children underneath. Essentially they all stay in one room. Also, where would we put all our bicycles?
Which leads to my next question – we have seen a couple of bicycles for commuting, say probably 20 in total. But that is it – we don’t see the actual racing cyclists anywhere. So where do they train?
I think also because the Italians here in Rome are used to living on top of each other, they commute just about on top of each other as well. You think our black okes can pack a taxi full – you should see the Metro at peak hour. And there is no such thing as giving way - you have to fight your way in. If you want space, you have to take it, politeness won’t get you anywhere in this city. This is most probably why the Italians in Rome look like they all have an attitude – they are so used to fighting for their spot that it has become a way of life. We interpret them as rude and aggressive, but they still seem to be happy this way!
There are beggars here. You don’t see as many as we do in South Africa, possibly because they are not allowed to, or maybe because there are a lot less of them. We have seen about 6 to 10 coming up to you begging for a coin. Then you get guys in a “band” hopping on the train/Metro to sing a couple of songs, and then the hat comes around for some coins. There was a lady today who pulled a pretty slick trick. As I put my ticket into the machine on the way into the Metro, she slipped past me on my ticket as the doors opened. Fortunately it is no loss for me since I can still go through and it is a 24 hour ticket, but she got a free ride home today. On the Metro an old lady got on, who almost came and stood on top of me, who smelled very badly of alcohol. I moved away, watching our bags etc. careful, no harm done to us, but not a nice sight to see.
They have Sri Lankans or Indians here who are pretty much like our black guys selling stuff on the street corners. They are probably not as bad as our guys, but we were running home in the rain today (purely because we left one umbrella at home and Leon used mine to cover up his camera), and they were in my face all the way home to buy an umbrella.
We also saw a lady who had to clean the glass out of her car because somebody broke her windscreen to steal something inside.
So the fact of the matter is that Rome will remain awesome and beautiful and overwhelming in my mind, and I would probably come back here again one day. It is just realistic to state that it has its problems, similar to SA. It is definitely safer here; we can walk the streets any time of day or night without being killed. We have not seen any of the pick pockets we’ve been warned against, but then again, we were also responsible and split our money into my wallet and another money belt which Leon strapped against his body out of sight. We also locked most of our money up in our apartment, which has NO cleaning service (i.e. we know for sure nobody comes in or out). Public transport, however uncomfortable and packed, is efficient and works and you can live here forever without owning a car. My feet however will need many more weeks of exercise before it will get used to walking this much!

551 steps

Today, our last full day in Rome, we rounded off quite nicely by going to the Vatican City, St Peter and the Vatican Museum. Firstly, for anyone ever wanting to go to these Cities, and even the Collosseo or Pompeii, do not be fooled by the people who tell you that they will help you skip the line and take you through these places as a guide. Collosseo – just get a Roma pass, you’ll be through in half an hour at most. Pompeii – no lines, and unless you want someone to take you to each section and give you a history, you can cover everything yourself. They do have audio guides available, but I have very happily got most of my information from google or the boards they put up at the sites. Vatican City – REALLY don’t be fooled. They sell the whole “do you have a ticket, look at how long the cue is” thing. The fact is you don’t need a ticket to go into the Vatican, or in St Peter. You’ll pay 5 Euro to go up the 100s of steps, and then 12 Euro for the museum. Roma pass does not count here, and except for the first line, there were no lines at the other entrances. The line you see stringing along across the piazza is because you have to put your bag and jacket through an ex-ray machine and walk through a scanner. This cue goes pretty fast – we were standing in a cue of probably about 250 people, it took us 15 minutes to get through. And then the rest is carefree. Once again, if you want someone to give you interesting facts while you’re walking through, you could probably use them, but there is an audio guide as well.
Now, wow, St Peter. Of all the buildings and places we’ve been, I think this one is the best one. The paintings along the walls, in the ceilings and even on the floor are beautiful. The museum has many rooms with statues, paintings, carpets (these were pretty amazing in themselves as well), maps painted against the wall, but to me, the architecture and decoration of each room we went through was definitely more interesting than the actual contents of the room. The first room in the museum we entered only had Egyptian things in it. There seems to be a link between Egypt and Rome, google will have to tell me more.
How much fun we had on the 551 steps! You can climb all the way to the top of the Basilica, apparently it is 551 steps. If you felt like it, you could take a lift half way, and then only climb 320 steps. My CycleLab racing team husband (to my surprise, since usually this is the stunt I would pull), decided that we will see how fast we can climb all 551 steps. The first 320 went pretty quickly, I reckon not even 5 minutes. Then you are inside the basilica, at the top, looking down on the crowds of people inside St Peters. The view here is beautiful, and you get a close up view of the paintings and decorations on the ceiling. Then came the next 321 steps. These take you into the roof and eventually right on top of the basilica to look out over Rome. Tall people should be warned, these steps were definitely not designed for you. The first half is pretty straight forward, normal steps zig sagging up. The second half is a bit trickier. Because you are inside the dome section of the basilica, and the steps are all along the wall (and not in the middle), you have to climb the steps while walking at a skew angle. The last 10 or 20 steps you almost have to pull yourself on a rope hanging down, since they are tiny, go in a tight circle and are pretty steep. But the outside view is worth it! The climb down was enough to make any non-drinking person drunk. Probably the first 200 steps down were in a winding circle down all the time. When you eventually get to straight steps you feel like you are still winding!
Rome has a lot to offer. Two must see sights are the Vatican (and its surroundings like St. Peter etc.), and the Collosseo (including the Palentine). As for the other churches and sights, they are all amazing, and they are all beautiful. But to go and look at church after church and be wowed by each different church is not something I would want to do. You need to take some slow time to really breathe in the Italian culture – stop at the locals’ coffee shop, go walk in the street at night when everyone is out shopping, and take the Metro, often. Go into a Deli shop to buy Parma and Parmesan (which is divine!), and go shopping in a clothing store. To me I will be taking home not only the sights and the awesomeness of the architecture and the city, but also the experience of the people and their day to day living.


A city burnt down by a Volcano many years ago. There are plaster moulds of bodies of some of the people who died in this tragedy, even a dog curled up in what must have been lots of pain. The city is a city of ruins, showing the walk ways, houses, theatres and buildings these people used to work in on a daily basis. Mount Vesuvius was responsible for this volcano, and today is still active, but is being monitored very closely by scientists.
I was touched once again by this little “town”, and seeing that not everything we invented was actually invented by us. Leon was fascinated by what he saw as little penises against buildings and in the streets. There was also a brothel, which was suggested by our dear friend Troye, with pictures of different sex positions above the doors, and the client then just pointed to the position, and effectively the room where he would be “serviced”. How men are fascinated by these things…only they would know.
What stood out for me in this town made of stone and clay is the draining system works perfectly. The streets are a little bit rounded, so the water would run down the sides of the street to somewhere. It was raining while we were there, so I can guarantee that it works.
Our trip to Pompeii took us into Naples (Napoli). It was a good 3 ½ hour trip to get from Rome to Pompeii. Further out of Rome there are quite a lot of farm houses and plot type of houses, these are further away from each other and looks more liveable. Closer to Napoli the area changed back into apartment blocks, although they are not as on top of each other as in Rome. The buildings do however look old and dingy, I can’t say that it would be somewhere I’d want to live.

Rome Culture

We’ve been here long enough to notice some obvious Italian cultural things.
For starters, my initial view of the Italian women ALL looking good and ALL dressing fashionably, is only true over weekends. The not so good looking (or the very few of them anyway) come out during the week, and the designer boots are replaced during the week with flat boots or sneakers. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t make them any less attractive, but obviously the glamour takes over on weekends. Another observation is that their voices sound a lot older than what they are.
Morning coffee/breakfast is a short and small endeavour. We sat in a coffee bar, as they call it, and ordered cappuccino while planning our next two days on Leon’s iPad (we needed the Internet). People come in, with their bags etc. in hand, stand at the counter, order a coffee (which is closer to our espresso), downs it quickly while standing, pays and leaves. One or two will also order a pastry type food, similar to a croissant but apparently less buttery. This is also quickly eaten while standing at the counter. No leisurely large breakfast with cappuccinos as we know it, in and out, quite literally.
Lunch and dinner we cannot really comment on, since we have not yet dared sitting in a restaurant for fear of the price we’ll pay, but I’ve read in many many places, including an informational booklet in our flat that they are not hurried.
Funny in the same vein though, they are very quick to blow their car’s horn at someone who stops unnecessarily or doesn’t drive off fast enough in traffic.
Clothes shopping – they have many, many expensive boutiques, but here and there you do find the odd one that is less than the third of the price. We bought me a dress and another top for R350 both. Same thing with shoes, but we bought me two pairs of shoes, of which one is a full length boot, at a stand on the street corner for R350 as well. What is noticeable though is that the number of cheaper stores is a lot less than the expensive ones and you have to know exactly where to find them or walk many, many, many steps if you don’t!
Italians not only live on top of each other, but there shops are also on top of each other. We have found two stores to date that are like an Edgars/Foschinis, which covers a bigger ground area. All the other shops are small. If you would compare it to one of the boutiques in Sandton City, it is probably half to a third the size. Their fresh vegetable stores are so small that it can only hold a third of the vegetable area in PnP, and then you can’t fit more than two people next to each other. All the shops are this small and smaller.
Types of shops we have found, lots of Food Bars – which is like a Deli, think Bread Basket, where you can buy delicatessen and sweet stuff and/or sit there and eat as well. Lots of Pizza shops – you don’t look at a menu and order a pizza though, you look at the pizza they have available already made in the counter and then choose a size of one of them, which they weigh to give you a price. Lots of Coffee Bars, although some of the Food Bars double up as both. A couple of Gellato shops – we have stopped once now to “do as the Romans do”. The Gellato is delicious, but I wouldn’t say it is something I would get addicted to, unless I just haven’t found the right flavour yet. Many, many small boutiques, and expensive boutiques. You can look at R500 for a simple top, R1200 for a pair of ankle high boots. One or two bottle stores, a couple of bars. Don’t confuse it with our type of pubs though, it is just as small as the shops, and you could probably not fit more than 30 people in the bar. They are also not that packed, people tend to have a drink or two and then move on. Some jewellery stores and some perfume shops. One or two hair dressers, they look very similar to ours. I itch to go into one of them to experience the Italian male hair dresser.
We have been to their Spar/PnP type shop as well. It is very much the same to what we have, products are similar. Biggest difference was that you have to weigh and print the sticker for you fruit yourself, we watched another lady do it and then figured it out. I thought it was quite a cool experience, as usual, Leon thought I was just being childlike and amused by small things _. One thing I need to constantly remind myself of, and have forgotten once or twice and had to endure a nasty look because of it, is that you must place the money you want to pay with on the tray close to the till, and you will receive your change here as well. Apparently it is disrespectful if you do it any different!
One thing is for sure though; the Italians can be just as rude and has no idea what it means to wait your turn. While waiting in line to get our Metro tickets, they just pushed in and if we didn’t LITERALLY fight to get in front, we would probably wait there forever.

La Citi ‘del Aqua

In the Roman times, apparently bathing wasn’t done inside your own house in the bathroom, but you went to another mammoth huge building that was specifically designed for bathing. One of these buildings, or more City by its size, is La Citi ‘del Aqua. I’m not going to write about it too much, since only pictures can explain it, and magnificent and awe-inspiring are again the words that come to mind, which I’m sure I’ve repeated 100s of times already. But just imagine, a building probably covering the same surface space of Sandton City including Sandton Square, but easily 5 or six times the height, built to have heated water in “baths” that are probably bigger than our standard Olympic size swimming pools, with fountains, and toilets, a gym (believe it, they invented them before us!), two libraries and space for small shops on the perimeter. The ruins that are left behind today probably do no justice of what used to be there, but once again the Romans have left an imprint of their history that will remind us for the rest of time of how powerful they really were.

The amazing churches of Rome

The multiple churches in Rome means there is a lot of them to see, I think only churches will keep you busy for more than 2 weeks. We have so far only gone into three, San Giovanni which is quite close to us, Scala Santa in the opposite street, and we came across the church of St Helena accidentally today.

San Giovanni we walk past almost every day on our way out and/or on our way in. The magnificence of the church inside is most definitely not reflected on the outside. St Helena is very much the same, except this church used to hold a lot of items from Christ’s crucifixion, like some of the thorns that was in his “crown”, one of the nails that went through his hands etc. Both these churches are magnificent, pillars that seem to go on forever, paintings in the walls that depict various different scenes. The roof is either painted or has lots of carvings in them. In St Helena, one section of the church had the whole roof covered in a scene that was “painted” all by tiny blocks of tiles, similar to the ones we saw at the Baths that was used on the floor. These tiles are not even 1cm x 1cm, and the whole roof was approximately 55m2 big. Amazing!

Something that has caught both our eyes, in both churches and some of the carvings outside buildings, is that there are symbols and images that aren’t always in place. In St Helena we saw two “angels”, except their faces were sculls. In San Giovanni we saw an image of a half woman, half eagle, but she looked more like something from the devil than from heaven. On some of the statues outside are Egyptian symbols.

Scala Santa was another amazing experience – read Leon’s piece on “Faith like potatoes”. The only words that could come out of my mouth when I read that you can only reach the top of the stairs if you climb on your knees, was “no way!”. I mean, the one lady was probably my gran’s age, which by the way cannot walk without her walking frame. She was climbing these stairs one by one on her knees, praying on each step before progressing to the next one. You must really believe in something very strongly to put yourself through this type of punishment.

I don’t believe in religion as such. I do believe that there is a type of “universe” that connects us all and if we know how to ask of it we will receive. I don’t know if I truly believe in a God, or a hell, but one thing I can say for sure. Each time I enter one of these churches, I get the incredible urge in me to pray. I think it is just so magnificent and overpowering, that I can’t help but feeling different. I have an incredible respect for these churches, for the people who commit their lives to these churches, and for the people who have faith as strong as these people do. Then again, if I went to church every day since I can remember in a building this magnificent, maybe it would be easier to believe in what my parents and forefathers believed in.

An exercise in Trust

Our first stop was Lisbon, Portugal. The first thing we both picked up is that their winters are definitely not as cold as ours, and the weather outside was pleasant. The Portuguese stay up to very late, all the shops were open until midnight. It is very strange to see people with little children of 5 to 10 years of age, walking next to the ocean at 23:30.
The fashion in Lisbon and Rome is mini-skirts with warm leggings or stockings, or skinny jeans. All the ladies wear beautiful boots, either ankle height, or higher. It will be our mission to find me a pair of these beautiful shoes! Here the women don't wear any make up, I have only seen one girl wearing mascara and eye liner, and this was on the airplane on our way here. Their skin is beautiful though, assuming this is attributed to the fact that they don't wear make-up, and could potentially have something to do with their sunshine. This I can't comment on since we were only in Portugal from 19:00 to 7:00. People are also generally well groomed, and skinnier.
We went to Expo 98 to find a restaurant and do a little bit of sight-seeing. The architecture of the train station and the malls and hotels in this section are very modern and beautiful. Apparently this infrastructure was built for an Expo held in Portugal for many countries in 1998, therefore the name. We walked around in Vasco da Gama mall, and also had our dinner (at 21:30) here. We ate pasta carbonara, very tasty. Their pasta was freshly made, and the cream used much richer than what we are used to. We also each had a glass of Sangria. It tastes quite different from Sangria as we know it. It is a sweet wine with a tangy citrus type taste, delicious and refreshing! The speed at which our meal was brought to us was very surprising; I don't think we waited even 10 minutes!
We had to walk back to the airplane (3.4km), which felt like forever, especially since it was 00:30, but it gave us the opportunity to see the living quarters of the people. In the area we walked through, the buildings are old and dilapidated, and look very similar to the hostels I used to stay at in Varsity. There is definitely also not the planning in parking space as we are used to in SA.
Another thing that I have noticed of both Portugal and Rome, is that people don't smile unnecessarily. I.e. if I acknowledge someone or thank them for a service, I usually do it with a smile. The Europeans seem to only smile when there is a joke or some conversation that stimulates laughter.
Highlights for me for this part of our trip:
There is a little park next to the ocean that has musical instruments hanging on structures. There was a gong, triangles, some drum like instruments and more. The kids (and some adults including me) were having lots of fun playing these!
There was a bunch of teenagers drinking and chatting away next to an area where they hang all the flags of the countries that was at Expo98. They did this little dance while all standing together in a circle and singing, very sweet!
We went into a Pick n Pay type shopping centre to get some food for our 4 hours left on the airport. There was a self-service till next to the one we paid out. You scan each of your purchased items, and then you can swipe a credit card or even pay cash (similar to when we pay at a car park). Now imagine something like that in SA. You must have a 100% confidence and trust in the people of your country to allow a concept like this!

The Collosseo & Palentine

Our first historical site to go visit was obviously the Collosseo. Firstly because this is the best building to take pictures of, we have millions already! Secondly, since we live three blocks up from the Collosseo. What a sight it was to walk out of our building and through the narrow street with all the cars, you see this wonderful building in front of you. It was hectically busy, and after being at the Palentine on Monday, we realised that there are a lot less people there during the week as opposed to the weekend.
We had a tour guide talk us through some stuff, eventually we left him to blabber on to go exploring on our own. Some interesting points though:
The Collosseo was always called the Amphiteatre. A theatre in those days was a half circle building; this one is a full circle, hence the name “Amphi”theatre. The name Collosseo was a nick name given to this building after a mammoth statue that was built next to it fell over. This statue falling over was nick named Collosus, and hence the name Collosseo.
The statue next to the Collosseo (I'll have to google who the statue was made after to remember), was 42m high, the Collosseo is 50 something high.
At some point in time, for about 4 years, the Collosseo was filled with water in the centre, and battle ship wars were depicted in this stadium.
The stadium holds 70,000 people, now compare that to Soccer City!
The whole Collosseo took 10 years to build, compare that to the time we built our stadiums, with lots less machinery and technology.
There is so much to say about the Collosseo, it is enormous and fantastic, and so rich in history and events, but words and not even pictures can describe it. I think the sound of a crowd of 70,000 people cheering a gladiator on is something that could give our Vuvuzela competition! We spent probably a good 2 to 3 hours here, just because you need to actually spend the time to feel and experience this magnificent history rich building. I would have loved to go into all the restricted areas!
We went back here in the evening for Leon to take some more stunning pictures, we'll probably go back to take some more!
We went to the Palentine the next morning (quite by accident), which is the Roman city as it was in historical times. Throughout Rome these larger buildings and structures follow the same design and same architecture, but that doesn't make them any less magnificent. Palentine is a very large area, which took us another good 3 hours to explore. It has the houses of the Kings and Queens, a Pantheon (I'll have to google what this was used for), a stadium, gardens, and more.
Highlights of these two sites:
Seeing a photographer with a model trying to take pictures in the Collosseo while it is absolutely packed with people.
Every time I would touch a piece of stone of a fallen building or a statue, I would get this overwhelming feeling of how rich their history is, and how they went through all the effort to preserve it to tell us the story. What story will our buildings tell generations from now?
The size of these buildings is something words cannot explain. A building with a pillar of which the bottom foot of the pillar alone will take me waste height, and then the actual pillar starts, which is probably about 10 stories high. These buildings are mammoth in size, obviously all a show of power.
The frustration of not being able to access all the areas underground and even above ground. I would become an archaeologist only for this purpose!
There was a section written on a plaque about the Gladiator fights. What stuck in mind is that they had a cure for epilepsy – I must tell my brother this! They used to mop up the fallen Gladiator’s blood with a sponge, and drink it!

Gardens in the Piazzo del Popolo

After spending most of our morning at the Collosseo, we had to do some research to see which museums don't close at 16:00. Piazzo del Popolo had many, so this was our next destination. This was also the first time we veered quite a distance from our house. It is the first time in my life I use a Metro, so it is quite an experience to feel like you'll be able to get home without owning a car and depending on someone to car pool you home!
The Gardens close to the Piazzo del Popolo is almost like an Emmerentia, except there is no dam, and it is about 5 to 7 times the size. We got there at 16:00 and only left at 19:00, and still didn't cover the whole garden. There are a number of museums here. We found two...although we didn't work too hard at trying to find them. This seems to be a place where friends and families come for their Sunday afternoons. The children get to play in the parks, there are two wheel thingies (called a Segway – some of our bigger shopping malls has these to drive the security guys around) that you can rent to ride around with. First thing I thought of when seeing them is if I would be able to wheelie it going around a bend quite fast, and that I’m sure Jay would be able to. You can rent something similar to a tandem type bicycle, except the two person one you sit next to each other. It is probably closer to a cart, but there is one where four people can peddle as well. Or you can rent something similar to a go-cart.
There are some beautiful statues in here; a couple of buildings, but the view from the garden out onto the city is awesome! Other than that, it is a perfect place for lovers to sit on a park bench hiding in the dark, go for jog, take the dogs for a jog/walk and friends/family to wind down the weekend before work the next day.
Highlights in the park:
There were a bunch of youngsters, my age and younger, on roller blades. They set cones down in a straight line and then do tricks and manoeuvre themselves through these cones. They are brilliant!
There was a lady in her 100% pure whatever animal was killed for it coat, dressed to perfection with high heels, pushing her baby in a pram together with a friend while chatting. Now I don't get how you would prance around in a park in the latest fashion and high heels, but this seems to be the Italian way!
I was amazed with the fact that you could walk around till whatever time in this park, and it is perfectly safe!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rome -> Napoli -> Pompeii

We got up at 3:45 to be at the Termini to catch our train going to Pompeii. Tip: confirm the operating hours of the Metro before taking the long, wet walk to the station to find that they are closed. Luckily we found a Taxi to take us to the Termini, as it would have been no fun walking for 30 min in the rain.

Now for a relaxing 3 hour train trip to Napoli, from where we jump on another train for a short 30 min ride to Pompeii.

Oh yes, the train was on time ;-)

Data card in Rome

Bought a 5GB data card for €19, and a cellphone card for €20, which includes 250MB data and €5 for calls. The cost for local calls are 16 cents for connectivity, and then 6 cents per minute. Provider = TIM.

Walking in Rome

I have to say, this is the most amazing city to walk around. We got lost this afternoon ... well, not really, we just headed off in a direction to see what we can find.

Throughout the city there are ruins to be found, even if just part of an old building's rooftop. Visitors are constantly accompanied by the old city walls, eroded by years of mother nature's lashings, held together my modern steel strips, now part of the hustle and bustle of the city - gateways for trams, cars and pedestrians.

There is a constant buzz in the city, almost like the locals have somewhere to go in a hurry, but for no apparent reason. The people in the streets walk at a much faster pace than required, followed by an air of importance. 

The coffee shops are not as busy as we anticipated, and also not as over priced as per the advice given before our trip. Don't expect too much smiles from the locals - but sit and enjoy that coffee and don't be in a hurry to leave; they really don't mind, it just looks that way.

One thing to be weary of are the elderly in Rome. They do tend to get frustrated and irritated quickly. Solution : say something in Afrikaans, smile and wave.

Finally, all roads do not lead to Rome, but rather to the Colosseum in Rome, or so we found.

Attitude II

I am still trying to figure out why the italians have such an attitude. Sure, they have a beautiful city, but they are also to blame for the collapse of the most spectacular architecture ever seen. This is evident in all the ruins where the holes are visible due to the extraction of the metal pieces that kept the buildings together.

Can't seem to find anything else in history that they are famous for ... no moon landing, heart surgery or even the discovery of the lightbulb. They do not know how to drive or have any respect for property ... their vehicles look horrendous ...  the city is not very clean, yet they have this unbelievable attitude. ... makes me think of Hitler and his "superior race".

The only real thing they have going for them are their women. Yes, they are beautiful, but also very similar. Long straight dark hair with either tight pants or mini skirts and boots. Not much more to pick from. 

So again, where does this attitude come from?

I will strive to get to the bottom of this. 

Museum excursion

Went to an area called EUR Palasport today, as our booklet showed all these interesting museums. The museums are definitely interesting, if you understand Italian. This was the first area we went to without any tourists or tour guides trying to sell their service ... where are they when you need them?


It is known that Italian women have attitude, or from another point of view, confidence. If it is the prior, my experience in the metro confirms this. The guy standing opposite us sat down as the seat opened in front of him, and left his girlfriend standing. All she could give in return was just a smirky grin. Guess he ain't getting any tonight. Is this the start of the vicious circle?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Faith like potatoes

We went into a church earlier today, and witnessed the most religious event. As you enter the church there is a staircase with about 30 old, wornout, creaky wooden steps to the top. The only way to get to the top of these stairs are on your knees.

There was an elderly lady ascending up these stairs, one slow wooden step at a time. From where we were standing, it was a visibly difficult exercise in religion, but to her a full sacrifice of body, mind and soul.

Discovering Rome

Wow ... We stumbled across the origin of Rome, well, I suppose stumble is the wrong word, as this area is massive! But what it is, is the first buildings ever erected in Rome, or what is left of it. Compared to today's craftsmanship these guys were amazing. These buildings have been around for way more than two thousand years, and if it was not for the Romans digging into their own buildings to remove the metal keeping the stones together, most of it would still be around.

Yes, the Romans destroyed their own cities at the collapse of the roman empire to extract the metal in order to create weapons to defend themselves.

Maria mentioned that she got all tingly when touching the ruins. My hands just got dirty.


I love cars ... Fast ones, classic ones and big ones. My heart is ripped into a thousand pieces. The only way to park in this city is to use your bumpers to open up space. Even if you are driving a Porsche, BMW or Big M Class Mercedes. If I had a car, it would stay locked up in a garage somewhere in France!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Breakfast in Rome

Just another Monday morning in Rome ... What shall we have for breakfast? Mmmm ... Busy walking through a park in the middle of the buzzing city, with the noise of motorbikes, cars and busses filling the air. Here we find two old guys having wine and some bread ... What a way to start the day!

Our own piece of real estate in Italy

We have rented an appartment instead of staying in a hotel. My opinion - it was the best decision ever. We are literally living amongst the Italians. They live very much on top of each other. I've never been to the UK, but I'm guessing it is very similar. Each "apartment block" is against the next, with no indication of where one building ends and the next starts, other than the architectural design. The apartment is small, but still comfortable. The lift are of those where you have to operand close the doors manually, else the lift won't work. In the evenings we go to bed listening to the non-stop babbling of an Italian lady, and wake up to tin the morning.

The women here are truly beautiful, and I'm feeling like an ugly duckling with my short boyish hair that is curling twice as much because of the humidity. In my research before we got here, I read that the women have a confidence here like non-other, which makes them that much more attractive. It is definitely true, however it can easily be mistaken with what we call in SA attitude. Makes me wonder if an attitude is all bad?

To drive a motorbike in SA takes guts, to drive one here takes balls of Titanium! The Italians drive extremely aggressive, and there are a lot more scooters here than SA. Car to scooter/motorbike ratio I would guess about 1 to 3. And we have seen a couple of them almost being taken out. Then again, we have also seen a couple of people talking on the phone while driving their scooters, and even one smoking!

There is a definite problem with parking. Most cars are small and they literally park bumper to bumper. Some are even touching bumpers, and most cars' bumpers are scratched and dented. The cars are parked everywhere. If you've ever been to Melville, Italy parking is the same except it looks like that everywhere, all the time!

Highlights for me in this part of our trip is when we went into something similar to a delicatessen where one of the guys at the counter cut a piece of Parma for us to taste (wow) and then asked Leon to take a picture of them while cutting us some Parma and cheese. Second highlight was having it for breakfast with croissants!

Friday, November 12, 2010


Maria noticed something very interesting - the women here don't really wear any make-up save for some lip gloss and mascarra. It is definitely paying off, as they all have beautiful skin. No, Maria actually mentioned that. Oh, and 95% of them wear boots of some sort.

The weather is very pleasant; we walked next to the beach at 11:30pm and it was 17 degrees outside - not bad for going into winter. We had short sleeved shirts on, while the locals all wore jackets. They must read rule no 5 of cycling.

We had to walk back to the airport, as the last bus was at 9:30pm. It was a very nice 2,6km walk - at 1 in the morning - and it allowed us to see a bit more of the city. Okay, okay - the truth is that I was not going to pay €10 to be driven 2 km. Nothing wrong with a bit of exercise! The city is beautiful, with a nice mix of new and old architecture. Still quite a few old buildings around - almost looks like old university dorm rooms. Someone did mention that accommodation is very expensive. Will post some pics later.

And yes, I am writing this at 3:30 in the morning, as we are waiting for our connecting fligt, and we cannot sleep.

Oh yes, bought a vodafone data card for €15, and you get 10 hours of airtime with no cap. Will do the same when we get to Rome.

Dinner in Lisbon

Just had dinner at a restaurant called "Pasta-Caffe". The pasta was very good, so was the Sangria.

The prices actually compare well to those back home; yes I know, don't compare!

Flight to Lisbon

Just arrived in Lisbon after a very long 10 hour flight. We did not have a lot of turbulence on the way here, but it was enough to help us fall asleep, almost like the steady swaying of a bus.

On arrival at the airport, they had trouble connecting the walkway to the airplane, and it took us about 25 min to disembark. Man, what a walk to get to the passport checkpoint. They initially only had one person behind the desk, but soon realized this was not going to work.

We had fellow South Africans behind us in the queue, and true to nature they were the only ones complaining. Go figure ...

The locals are exceptionally friendly, and we had a young lady help us get onto a bus to take us to the Vasco Da Gama Centre.

Friday, October 29, 2010


Received my iPad and iPhone 4 - just in time for the trip. Now we can blog on the go, and find our way in Italy!


Visa applications handed in - almost time to go fetch the visas. Only two more weeks to go before our trip!

31 Oct 2010
Picking up our visas tomorrow!