45. Dublin // Limerick // Cork // Ireland

We hadn’t worked for a total of nine months and the inevitable was looming like an ominously black cloud. Our savings were dropping like the mercury in a coldsnap and London was calling for us like a classroom rollcall.

Thankfully, we had become rather adroit at procrastinating and utilised those newly acquired skills one more time. Our good friends Michael and Nicky were at the opposite end of their overseas adventure and were due to leave Ireland in three weeks time. We had already gotten in their hair the day they landed and figured why not bookend their stay and gatecrash their farewell also?

Before I get to Dublin, I need to talk about the flight. The skies over Western Europe is high traffic and I literally lost the run of myself as I saw another plane speed past outside my window. As I was excitedly pointing out the window and telling Elisha with the animation of Will Ferrel in Elf, I saw another one! This was insane. Sometimes you could see one on the horizon. Sometimes one would race diagonally across below you. Sometimes one would wizz past in the opposite direction. At its peak, I counted a total of 13 planes in my line of vision at one time! The skies were literally a superhighway for planes and something I had never seen before.

Nicky had already hosted her sister Nat and Nat’s boyfriend Dan prior to us arriving. And their apartment acted as bit of a hostel as Nat and Dan played tag team with Elisha and I in using Michael and Nicky’s blow up air mattress. We’d been pretty desperate to reacquant ourselves with some quality friends and it was a real welcome to see those guys again. M&N had actually participated in the grueling Tough Mudder that morning – something I couldn’t even comprehend in 4 degree weather! So they were obviously keen to start drinking instead of replenishing themselves with water and protein. We kicked off the party with some immediate pints of frothy Guiness in Temple Bar and it wasn’t long before we were tapping our feet to an Irish jig and Michael and Nicky were engaged in an internal battle between bed on a Sunday night and just one more pint. The Guiness spilled late into the night and, after our fifth “just one more pint”‘s, we wiped the smiles from our faces and grabbed a cab back to Smithfield. Although Michael and Nicky had to go to work throughout the week (looking very much like wagons) we contemplated our immediate plans and began planning for our soon-to-be life in London. However, every evening seemed to finish the same and we would again find ourselves painting our tongues with the famous black cream.

Nat and Dan were due to return on the Wednesday so Elisha and I made plans to head south and visit the little town of Limerick. Apart from its awesome name, there wasn’t too much to write about. Notably, we read the town had the biggest problem in Ireland for violence. As the sun set, it wasn’t long before all the 18 and 19 year olds were out in their skimpy outfits (oblivious to the fact it was freezing) and transformed Limerick into Knacker Central. Fun times.

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Come Friday, we left Limerick for Cork, an enchanting town at the very south of Ireland that we’d heard plenty about. Some Irish claim Cork is the true capital of Ireland and we were eager to finally see what all the fuss was about. Michael, Nicky, Nat and Dan weren’t due to arrive by car until late Saturday so Elisha and I booked ourselves into a cosy room in a Hostel. As the bus pulled in, the rolling hills and colourful terrace homes quickly ingratiated themselves with us. Google provided us with a list of bars to check out over the next 24 hours and Elisha dutifully compiled a list of cafes. Companies like Amazon and Apple have offices based in Cork and, as they require non-English speaking representatives, this attracts a lot of Spanish who are seeking work. Second to that, there is a strong student population. This culminates in a thriving night life, an inspiring music scene and some innovative businesses.

We checked into another hostel on Saturday afternoon and waited for the convoy to arrive from their day trip around the South West region of Ireland. After a quick freshen up, we went for a quick ale around the corner to meet n greet everyone, before moving on to one of our favourite finds from the day before – Franciscan Well. This was one of several breweries in the township and we tasted and sipped our way through their various lagers, ales and stouts. Elisha was very thrilled to find an unfiltered beer there – something that was quickly becoming a favourite. Whereas Galway had proven to be electric 6 months earlier for my birthday, Cork seemed to fizz at midnight and, although we were eager beavers to continue on, we found no bars wanting to take us in and had to disappointingly settle for the flask of Tullamore Dew I was carrying with me in the common area at the hostel.

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We began the next morning with an above average coffee and then followed it up with a below average brunch. Nat and Dan decided to continue on in Cork for one more night, allowing us to grab their seats in the hire car and join Michael and Nicky on an old couple’s Sunday drive through Kinsale. Kinsale is an old port town with links to the Spanish. It’s green and hilly and lined with tight, winding streets. We found an Irish pub and sat down for lunch and a pint. The bar tender lit up when he found out we were all from Australia as he was doing the complete same thing – he’d sold all his stuff and was due to fly out to Melbourne in several weeks. We were all pretty exhausted from our stints travelling so it was refreshing to see how passionate and elated this guy was who was still at the very start of his dream. We arrived back in Dublin around 9pm and, as Michael and Nicky weren’t keen to repeat their wagon states from the week before, Elisha and I were left to conclude the weekend with a quiet pint at the new local.

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The following weekend, Michael and Nicky surprised themselves when they realised they actually had a blank calendar. This meant the four of us could do one last run around Dublin and visit all the cafes, brunch spots and bars we had grown to love. Roasted Brown was the place for a coffee, Brother Hubbard proved the spot for brunch, we found a street not too far from Smithfield where we could grab a Korean Bibimbap and a Vietnamese Pho Bo. Michael and Nicky introduced us to one of Dublin’s greatest implementations and that was their bike system. A lot of cities have these but I was surprised to see how well it worked in Dublin. The roads aren’t too busy and the traffic moves slow so the threat of an accident is minimal. The bike stations are regularly and conveniently placed so its easy to use bikes like taxis and drop them off very closely to where you need to go. We had lots of fun and used them to get around everywhere that weekend. We also followed them out to Phoenix Park where, sadly, there were no deer, but there was an impressive vastness of parkland (the second most in the Northern Hemisphere.) Great weekend champs!

Midweek, we organised to catch up with Collette, Brid and Aoife – the three Irish girls we met back on the Blue Cruise in Turkey. The girls generously paid for an assortment of tapas (Irish tapas where everything was huge and mostly potato!) at a ritzy restaurant where we feasted and shared stories. The night quickly turned into a pub crawl and before we knew it, Elisha and I were struggling just to keep up drink for drink with them. Weren’t they supposed to go to work the next day?! It’s no stereotype that the Irish know how to drink and know how to have fun and I’m sorry to say to all Australians back home that they beat us hands down – Ireland 1 : Australia 0. By about 2am, and may I remind you again that they had to work the next day, the girls called it a night and we said our farewells. Crazy cats. I have no idea what Aoife was going to teach her pupils the next day at school. If she could even get out of bed that is! Or any of them for that matter.

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When we weren’t out socialising with the Irish, Elisha and I tried to keep our days pretty simple and an afternoon coffee at Roasted Brown or Brother Hubbard was usually the only highlight of the day.  Apart from that, we went to the cinemas for the first time since we left Australia and watched both Gone Girl and Boyhood.  Elisha also caught up on Game of Thrones and I got to take a plethora of photos during the Red Wedding scene.

The next weekend soon approached and Michael and Nicky had planned a grand night out in Temple Bar for their farewell and their London friends, Jules, Nina, Yoonie, Duncan and Karen, had flown over for the celebration. With a big one scheduled for the Saturday night, things began rather slowly with some quiet drinks at Oscar’s and a communal dinner of lollies before we all retired to bed.

The next morning we attempted to get 9 people a table at Roasted Brown where their breakfast menu had not looked all too bad. This was likely to be an impossible challenge yet, as we climbed the stairs on that Sunday morning, the place was completely empty and we had no problem pulling up a pew, unanimously deciding we’d all go for the breakfast bruschetta and bombarding the barista with an onslaught of specific drink orders – “Double shot, half sugar!” “Latte with no milk!” “Do you do Bloody Mary’s?” “Chai please!” “Latte with soy!” Although some of us had to wait while others were already finishing theirs, the breakfast bruschetta was unbelievable and the fact a sole, stressed lady was making these individually on a one gas burner left us singing praises for the rest of the morning.

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Chokka-full of avocado and poached eggs, we made our way to the Guinness Storehouse, famous for its fifth level bar that provides a panorama over Dublin (and I guess also famous for the little stout they make.) As expected, it was a touch commercialised but it was fun to see their old commercials from the 1950’s, the brewing process and to receive an official certificate confirming I could now pour the perfect pint of Guinness! Whatever fears I had about finding work in London were eased and I added the accomplishment to my Linkedin account.

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The Guinness was flowing freely at the bar and it took a little while before we managed to move ourselves onwards. The girls managed to sneak in a salad from the nearest Fresh in between pubs and we next found ourselves back up in Michael and Nicky’s apartment doing suma shots, Jameson shots, and Irish car bombs (shot of baileys in a half pint of Guinness.) Needless to say, it was getting borderline messy before we even made it to Temple Bar. To be fair, I can’t exactly remember too much regarding the events (I’m happy to put this down to writing the blog 10 weeks later though :)) There was a moment Duncan was denied entry. Michael became the dish pig with everybody’s left over drinks. We stopped in at the Whelans Bar – renowned for its usage in I Love You. We purchased a bottle of wine that no one could open – after every male in the vicinity had flexed their muscles but failed, we found the alpha male who managed to unscrew it. I bailed and made it home by around 2am, hoping to catch some sleep before our flight to London. I believe the rest of the group went back to the hotel, ordered a pizza, waited two hours for it, decided they didn’t want it when it arrived, paid for it anyway, ate it anyway, and then abused the concierge for not saying goodnight as they left.

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You can just imagine the state everyone was in come morning and I was suddenly feeling extra chipper about my decision to head home early. Michael and Nicky were bed ridden – and Elisha wished she could have been bed ridden. But alas – in a catatonic state she gingerly packed her bag – looking a total wagon – and dragged herself to the LUAS tram stop. A marathon was on that morning and we feared this might block our path to the airport bus. Alternatively, we caught the LUAS to the other side of the city where we then had to run with our backpacks (Elisha loved this whilst wanting to chunder) in a desperate bid to stall the departing bus. We did make it. Just. And we managed to drag ourselves to the airport with plenty of time. We farewelled Ireland – a country that had strangely become our second home due to Michael and Nicky’s hospitality.

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Ireland – thanks for all the fun – the craic – the laughs – the dancing.

I’ll finish with Poge Muh Hone!!

44. Bologna // Modena // Italy

Bologna is home to Italy’s rustic culinary contributions, namely ragu (bolognese), tortellini, lasagne and mortadella. Needless to say, we couldn’t wait to arrive and eat ourselves into a food coma before departing Italy for our second visit to Ireland. Home to enough landmarks to keep you interested, Bologna is also a student city which tends to usually mean good, cheap food and a thriving nightlife. We arrived at our Air BnB where we were to stay five nights. It meant having our own private room but sharing the kitchen and bathroom with another couple who were staying in the other room. This didn’t prove to be bad at all as they ended up being a lovely young couple who’d spent the last 2 years living in Edinburgh and were now on their way back to Australia. I think the major drawcard of using Air BnB is that you can easily obtain local knowledge from the host and Sylvia was most generous in ensuring we had all her favourites dotted on the map as to where to eat. I won’t detail every meal we had but I will highlight those most memorable.

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Our favourite restaurant ended up being Ostera la Matta Soc Osti, where we frequented four times in total. It just so happened to be fifty metres from our apartment, which proved convenient, but also meant it was well removed from the restaurant hub in the inner part of the city. Most importantly, Sylvia told us the old lady who works in the kitchen still makes the pasta fresh each day . . . and we didn’t listen to anything beyond that – as we were sold! The menu was always changing, handwritten on the wall and seemed to feature whatever the chef had been inspired to make that morning. We dabbled in several ragu’s (bolognese but on fresh freaking pasta) a tortellini in brodo di carne (meat-filled pasta in a steaming broth), scallopine with mushrooms and a marsala sauce, a carbonara and dolce semifredo for dessert. I recently heard a conversation between two twats who were belittling Italian food, unable to understand what the fuss is about and simply labelling it as “processed wheat.” Most likely, they’ve probably only been served up dried pasta drowned in sugar-laden Dolmio’s because, after the meals we’d dug into at this little restaurant, their statement sounded absolutely preposperous! When it’s done right, Italians do get food. It’s about it being simple. But using fresh ingredients. And using quality ingredients. Quality over quantity. And for those few days in Bologna, we were treated to that mindsight and lifestyle and assimilate ourselves in a value that is sometimes difficult to find in the rat-racing western world. The other lifestyle we again got to enjoy was the all too familiar “service tax.” Interestingly, we only saw this on our first bill and then, after seemingly becoming “regulars,” never saw it again. This annoyed me greatly because it just reconfirmed it is nothing more than a tourist tax.

We also visited Osteria Dell’Orsa on a few occassions. This seemed to thrive on the student population and was noticeably cheaper. Presentation seemed to be replaced with “value” but the quality had not been skimped on. When we weren’t twirling a ragu around our forks, we were instead trying some other dishes, like a bread-based soup or a pesto pasta, eating slowly and late into the night with a bottle of Montepulciano.

On another of Sylvia’s recommendations, Elisha entered gelato heaven where they served them with dripping chocolate in the bottom of the cone and continued to indulge in her new favourite – the pear, walnut and ricotta combo. Trattoria del Rosso is a little touristy (which meant the service tax was back in a big way) but an old institution and we got to try both Bologna’s take on a lasagne, as well as tortellini with butter and sage. Yum! Their “salad” however proved to be disappointingly a plate of lettuce and nothing else. Actually, the lasagne was quite cold to think of it also. Hmmm maybe stay away from that one. We did also go for a pizza one night – and I guess to be fair it was still a good pizza. But I think you’ll forgive us when we say we were discussing how much better Napoli is on more than one occasion during that meal.

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I think one of the real highlights was the Bologna street market. We walked through this on a Saturday morning and it was shoulder to shoulder with visiting people and the fruit and veg looked absolutely stunning. As we approached a butcher, we were intrigued by the line outside. Then the smells of a sunday roast tickled the nostrils. And then I saw someone walk past with crackling. The butcher had a whole roasted pig out the front of his store, carving through the crispy skin and juicy fats and serving it either on bread or in a container. It reminded me of the Grampians Food and Wine festival where, if you’re quick enough, you can snag a roasted pork sandwich and spend the next year dreaming of that moment again. I thought of myself as Tyrion Lannister as I stood in the market and decandently sucked and chewed on this tender pork, unashamed as oil and fat ran down my chin.

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So there you have it. After initally promising not to bore you with a detailed account of every meal we ate, I’ve still somehow managed to do just that.

As I said at the start, we had the pleasure of getting to know Josh n Karissa a little as they made their return trip to Oz. They were obviously missing Edinburgh already and the home they’d built there and focused their attention on trying to convert us from making London our future home to giving Scotland some serious consideration. They made some valid points, such as how much quieter and cheaper it was. However, I still kind of felt at that time that if I was to live in the Northern Hemisphere, I’d want it to be the biggest and greatest city I could be in, using it as a launch pad into surrounding countries on weekends. We spent several nights with them, sharing travel stories over a 2 two litre bottle of Nero D’Avola. Josh had become a keen pipe smoker which I thought was really unique. He’d purchased himself a handcrafted pipe in Denmark and explained how you pack the tobacco and need specific matches in order to light it. I couldn’t afford to spend $200 to join him, so instead we went to the store and bought a 2 euro cigar each. I’m not really a smoker and so when after 45 minutes I still hadn’t gotten halfway through, I called it quits. Those things are like Energiser bunnies – they just keep on going! Mildly humerous but mostly frustrating for me, we were in the kitchen one morning innocuously chatting to Karissa as I waited for the Espresso machine to finish brewing on the stove. Completely unexpectedly, we were midsentence when there was suddenly a loud hissing explosion and we were all covered in hot liquid and sticky black powder. What the hell? Somehow, the machine had blown its top and scattered its contents around the entire kitchen. A roomful of babies with explosive diarhhea couldn’t have made more of a mess. That took a good hour of scrubbing to get clean. I put the espresso maker back on top of the cupboard which, now that I think about it, probably wasn’t a great idea. I dare say 20 other visiting couples have probably now also had the same story.

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To give an example of how good the quality of food is in Italy and the level of quality they expect at a price point, we bought some San Daniele proscutto one day but were surprised to find it was only 4 euros. This is sold in Australia but for the same quantity, you’d probably pay the equivalent of 10 euros. The marbling was also incredible in this cured meat, meaning that before they even started the curing process, a top grade cut of pork had been selected.

Bologna is full of students and has a thriving nightlife. There is a decent outdoor scene and we spent one of the nights strolling through this region where, I think it was on a Thursday night, people were just starting to get going. Interestingly, there also appeared to be a different approach to liquor licensing here and all the off licenses seemed to be closed in favour of the bars. To get a roadie, we had to walk for almost a kilometre to a far away pizzeria who happened to be selling them. This was a contrast to most of my bitching through Europe where I applaud their mature approach to alcohol as, it seemed, once you were back in a student area, the approach had to be altered to curb possible violence.

And, of course, I can’t ignore the espresso’s. It’s such an intricate part of their daily existence – dropping into any conveniently placed cafe and smashing an espresso at the counter, ordering a pastry and eating that on the way back out.

Bologna isn’t too far from Maranello and, if like me you have a mild interest in Formula 1 or fast red cars in general, you’ll recognise it as being the home of Ferrari. Surprisingly, this tiny, tiny town that’s not much more than a village boasts international brands like Ferrari, Masserati and Alfa Romeo. The Fiorano Test Track used by Ferrari (Sebastian Vettel did his first ever Ferrari drive there just a week or so ago) sits on the outskirts of the town. And it doesn’t take long before you hear the impressive sound of a Ferrari accelerate past, and see the affluent men with tiny penises enter the ferrari factory. In order to get to Maranello, we first had to catch a morning train to Modena, another small town renowned for exceptional food and restaurants. We grabbed an espresso at a cafe we passed, then headed to the bustop where we were to catch a bus to the nearby town of Maranello. The drive was awesome as it takes you through the small villages of Italy. 60 million people live in that tiny country and there really is no unnocupied land. You forever pass residential development. As you arrive in Maranello, you first pass the Fiorano Circuit and, although there was no testing on that day, I pictured myself as Fernando Alonso in the F138 racing around on the tarmac. I swear everyone who lives in that town works for Ferrari and it was amusing to pass many people dressed from head to toe in red, looking like they belonged in the pit lane, on their lunch break. If you are incredibly wealthy, have a small penis and own a Ferrari, you can be invited to walk through the Ferrari Factory. As a pleb, however, I had to continue past this and enter the Museum where we had purchased tickets for online. The museum features a lot of different models, both old and new, and brags about their latest technological developments. I didn’t really care too much for that. Predominantly, I wanted to see some F1 paraphenalia. It was pretty cool to see the trophy room of all their success and a few of their former F1 cars, seeing how the design has changed so dramatically and how complicated the steering wheels are. After a bit over an hour, we decided to head back to Modena and went to grab the bus. This part was a little confusing because we caught a different bus number to the one we arrived on but thought it would be ok as it was heading to Modena. I have a suspicion it may have been a school bus though as I looked as old as John Howard in contrast to everyone. The driver also couldn’t process our payment so we tried our luck and rode back for free, jumping off a stop earlier than the terminal just in case they could then process our payment.

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I’d actually been quite drunk when I purchased the tickets online so, while I really only cared to see the F1 side of things, I’d somehow purchased a combo ticket for us both which meant we also had to go to some crappy museum that had just opened in Modena celebrating the life of Enzo Ferrari. This was a complete waste of time and showcased a bunch of Masserati’s confusingly and the house where Enzo grew up. About as much of a money grab as Anne Frank’s house is. “Please pay us money to see where someone wrote a diary.” Anyway, that part sucked. And Elisha scolded me for buying tickets whilst drunk. But I can now say that I know . . . umm . . . no I can’t really even say I learnt anything there.

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Back in Modena with a few hours to kill, we went to check out a market area Elisha had read about. This proved a big win and again we got to go for a quick walk through this incredibly fresh food market. Just outside of it, we dropped into a small cafe selling wine and panini’s. Because of the exceptional quality of ingredients, these paninis were outrageously good! Panini’s aren’t a trend. They have never been in or out of fashion. Right here in Modena, people just ate them because it was their life.

Bologna had been a great way to finish Italy. Italy has its frustrations but there’s certainly a lot to love about it. For us, I think we were fortunate to see enough places to be awestruck by its history, to explore its food and to see its landscape. I will miss it and hope to return one day, especially considering we have all of the south to do. We boarded a plane in the afternoon with Aer Lingus for Dublin and immediately got the giggles as we heard the Irish captain talk over the PA. As much as we loved it, I don’t think we were going to miss Italy for too long as we were soon reminded that it would only be a couple of hours before we were back in the land of good craic, creamy ales and some desperately missed good friends.

43. Pisa // Lucca // Italy

We said goodbye to beautiful Siena as we trudged along with our backpacks to the local train station. Next stop was Pisa and I was quite excited as I’d heard about this leaning tower as a little girl and could not believe I was actually going to see it! Our train journey was humorous as we watched a lady in front of us try and take photo after photo of the country side on a moving train. We’ve seen this quite a few times and just don’t understand why people try and try again to get that perfect snapshot whilst moving. Obviously its going to be blurry!! I couldn’t help but smile as she kept trying, and became increasingly frustrated with herself for not getting that postcard perfect shot!!

Pisa is a relatively small town on the right of Central Italy with the River Arno running  in between. It is home to just over 88 000 residents, and has more than 20 historic sites that were mostly financed from its history as one of the Italian Maritime Republics. We had just booked one night here, as we were really only here to see the leaning tower in all its glory, and honestly, even thought this was too much time. If we didn’t have our 40kg backpacks to work with, we’d have been happy to visit the tower for a couple of hours and then move on. After dumping our said backpacks at our accommodation for the night (not too close to the train station this time) we made a quick stop at a local supermarket and picked up some supplies for a picnic lunch by the tower. The tower complex is much larger then I originally thought and the learning tower is part of the Piazza del Duomo which also houses the cathedral, the Baptistry and the Cemetery. But everyone was really only here to see the tower, and so we found a little spot on the grass, and watched all the tourists try and do the token Pisa photo while we feasted on fresh bread, roasted chicken and sundried tomatoes.  This is one of those locations in the world which draws everyone and, following AFL Grand Final day, it wasn’t long before we saw a dad and a son kicking a Hawks footy back and forth across the grass.

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After spending our time at the tower and completing our own obligatory Pisa shot, we decided to in fact have a walk around the town of Pisa. We had been told that this was a university town and so were expecting the university vibe of other cities we had been to which usually resulted in lots of art, cheap drinks, cheap eats and general fun. I don’t know if all the university students were actually in class but all we could find were some overpriced beers in some stale looking restaurants. We dropped by the supermarket to get some supplies for dinner and were surprised by the homelessness problem that seems to exist in Pisa, and in particular close to the supermarket. We observed a group of homeless people go in, buy a goon bag and then fill up there now empty coke bottle and sit close to the supermarket yelling profanities at passers-by. We saw many beggars dotted around the city, with many just drinking and lying around with nothing to do.

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We headed back to Pisa at night time, and enjoyed the views of the lit up tower without the hoards of tour buses from the day.  Clinton, much to my amusement, spent some time posing in front of a rubbish bin with Pisa in the background, to which I found incredibly funny and laughed for hours. I indulged in my new found love for cheese and fruit gelato whilst strolling along the Arno and discussing the highlights of our trip so far.

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The next morning we raced out of our accommodation and made the walk to the train station to get to our next destination Lucca. Unfortunately though, we had missed the train and the next wasn’t for over an hour. We made the walk back towards town and stopped for a Cappuccino and cake at a local deli. I had been wanting to try the Panforte in Siena but had not been able to find one that met my expectations. Within this local family run establishment, I found a homemade Panforte that I was very interested to try. Much like a very dense Christmas cake at home, this panaforte was filled with a variety of nuts, spice and candied fruit. Interesting to try, however I don’t think I’d voluntarily try this one again. Especially when we got up to pay the bill and this small piece of cake had somehow cost 10 Euro on its own. It’s the one thing that has really annoyed me about being in Italy. You think you are going somewhere with a little bit of family history, a quaint establishment away from the tourist crowd, and then they get you!! It’s the western version of a spruiker and you just don’t expect it. So disgruntled, and with Clint a little mad at spending 15 Aus on a piece of fruit cake, we made our way back to the train station and onto Lucca.

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Lucca is a small town only about an hour from Pisa. We had decided to spend a night here to check out another small town and eat some more Tuscan food before heading onwards to Bologna. Perhaps our expectations were too high after spending time in Siena but Lucca kind of looked like the poor estranged sister of the Tuscan region. Although the city walls are still intact of this small town, it really is about the only drawcard. Bikes seemed to be the big thing here, allowing you to ride right around the walls, however we could not really find anywhere to rent a bike. It was a lovely sunny day while we were there, and we spent a little bit of time looking around a very expensive, very tourist driven market before calling it quits in search of a drink. This seemed to cause a further problem, as either most of the restaurants were closed for an afternoon nap, or there generally were no corner stores to buy anything. Hungry and thirsty, we walked out of the city walls and into the district of Lucca in order to find some refreshments. This was met with no success. So we walked back into the city walls and settled for a piece of terrible pizza and a beer at the only place that seemed to be open. After eating pizza just days before in Naples this was disappointing to say the least! I went into blog world and tried to find us somewhere half decent for dinner. Unfortunately, this failed as well. We had probably the worst meal of our Tuscan adventure and finished it off with a terrible tiramisu. Luckily, the limoncello was not too bad. It seems the city of Lucca although may have its city walls in tact, does not use this old town for its real trade, and perhaps the old town is left for the tourists. In any way, we booked a train for early the next morning to get outta there and head to the food capital of Italy, Bologna!!!

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42. Florence // Siena // Italy

Ever since we had first considered planning our trip, we couldn’t wait to arrive in Tuscany. Known for its rolling hills, picturesque wineries and stone villas, Tuscany was a major drawcard. We arrived in Florence by train, already enticed by the lushiously green countryside and vine-covered lots along the way. Our Air BnB was only a few hundred metres from Ponte Vecchio and before we dropped our bags, we’d already traversed the stunning Arno River that carves Florence in two. When we met our host, we had instant flashbacks to Dublin as I was almost certain it was the Italian doppelganger of Battye standing right there before us. Unfortunately, due to the nature of asking for a photo of a complete stranger being on the creepy side, we don’t have evidence. We had either three or four nights in Florence, we “think” four, and our apartment was self-contained and provided all the kitchen essentials for us to pretend we did in fact live in Tuscany and could in fact cook all our own favourite Italian meals. Our host gave us a quick list of all the flavourless restaurants to avoid and recommendations on where he would eat. But most importantly, we learnt where we could stock up on our own temporary pantry and cook with ingredients we’d go broke over trying to live on in Oz.

Florence isn’t necessarily a place where a plethora of attractions demand your attention. Although there is plenty to explore, the main reason we were there was to get back to cooking. We rarely eat out when we are in Melbourne and Elisha loved spending her weekends simmering sauces on the stove or slow cooking some lamb. There’s no better way to spend a Sunday then with a good wine with your partner and the aromas of a roast filling the house. As such, we thought Florence was a good spot to reminisce and attempt to emulate our former life.

In all my travels so far, I don’t think I can say I’ve seen a market, let alone a generic supermarket, that sold the quality of produce we found in Conad. Aisles were filled with world-class wine, regions I’d never heard of before, parmesan and mozarrella, marbled prosciutto, freshly rolled and cut pasta, homemade pasta sauces, freshly baked bread, bowls of black and green olives, of anchovies, of grilled aubergines, red-ripe tomatoes and an abundance of fresh fruit. We were about as excited as Kermit arriving at a Muppets reunion as we roamed each section, slowly filling our basket with more items than we could ever dream of eating in 4 days. Considering the quality, it was surprisingly inexpensive for the simple reason that I don’t believe Italians will settle for anything less. We trundled home with our bag of goodies and within minutes, we were stirring aromatic pesto sauce through a saucepan of perfect pasta, drizzling it with some good olive oil, seasoning it with a twist of salt and some cracked pepper and chowing it down with a glass of chianti. So incredible. Florence was giving us a ripper day outside and the terracotta rooves looked as remarkable as an oil painting against the sunny blue sky. Our next three days followed in much the same way, gorging on fresh pastas and salads, drinking Aperol Spritz, prosecco, chianti and bruno di montalcino and enjoying the aroma of freshly chopped garlic, shredded basil and picked oregano.

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That experience aside, Florence (or Firenze) had plenty to offer outside of our apartment as well. It’s a beautiful Tuscan town, dating back to about 200 BC, known mostly as the home of the Renaissance. Both the Medici family and Michaelangelo called Florence home. When you see the spectacularly golden sunset from the Ponte Vecchio bridge, you can understand why an entire generation of inhabitants might have been inspired in the way they were during the 14th and 17th centuries. With yet another Rick Steve’s audio guide, we spent one afternoon on the Renaissance trail, a brief 20 minute walk that takes you from the Duomo to the Ponte Vecchio.

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The Duomo is another sight in itself. And I’m sorry to do this but I’m going to reference Assassin’s Creed II again. Firenze is one of 3 main cities that appears in the game and, in fact, is where you commence playing. You actually learn the controls standing on the Ponte Vecchio. The Duomo is the first major challenge and, when I played the game several years ago, I got stuck trying to get inside because of the guards patrolling the area (the trick was to climb a neighbouring building and then jump across onto the roof so as not to be seen – very assassin-like.) As was the story in Venice, I was uncontrollably jubilant to be seeing landmarks I’d come across in a video game.

Others might also be familiar with Florence as it is the home of the statue of David (a giant 17 metre statue of a naked man and his willy.) The line was a little daunting and the price a little steep so we elected not to join the hords of visitors. Besides, I’m practically a giant myself and don’t need to see a 17-metre-tall man’s willy. What was funny, however, happened as we were observing the line. Florence (like most tourist cities) is full of immigrants trying to sell junk and, in this case, paintings. To prove that they weren’t all that valuable and, I assume, to also provide a quick grab n run in the event of police, the sellers would have their generic artwork displayed on the dirty ground. Desperate to catch up on some sleep, I’d taken a Valium the night before and was still experiencing the after effects, dazed like a deer in headlights. When a seller approached me as a potential buyer, I casually waved him away. Well! He seemed to take great offense to this and began waving his arm back at me, yelling “mamma mia!” I was still struggling to work out the simple things in life, like walking, and so waved my arm again. We repeated this process three times before I matured and moved on . . . by staring, intently interested, at one of his paintings. By now he’d had enough of me and showed his maturity by turning the painting over so I could no longer look at it! No worries. I simply glanced my eyes across to the next of his 8 paintings. No surprise his reaction was the same – turning that one over too! Surely, I couldn’t frazzle him by looking at a third painting, could I? I casually shifted my eyes and, yes! Painting three turned over! I didn’t want to point out that he was doing himself a disservice for, even if I wasn’t going to buy a painting, now no one in the queue could see his paintings for sale and, even if they could, they would now know they’d been sitting facedown in the dirt. I don’t know if it was that funny or not but, still groggy on valium and with nothing else to do with my time, I’d quite enjoyed the interaction.

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There’s plenty else in Tuscany other than Florence to see though and, after (we think) four nights, we left the golden sunsets and pure blue skies behind for Siena, an enchanting medievil town that sits high up on a hill. Its centre is a beautifully preserved warren of dark lanes and is protected by its enclosing city walls. During the middle ages, it acted as the artistic and architectural challenger to Florence. Even though the town now only houses 54,000 people, we instantly fell in love with it. In no way did it present the same culinary experience we had had in Florence, but it charmed us in other ways. Our days were spent meandering though endless laneways and passages that rolled up and down steep hills. At night, the township came alive and rigorous conversation and laughter could be heard from nearby restaurants, people eventually spilling into the streets. A cultural exhibition was on the weekend we were there and this meant an assortment of entertainment was on, including a brass band with classically dressed participants dancing before them and a massive show in the Piazza del Campo.

The Piazza del Campo is a brilliant area regardless of whether a show is on or not. The next day, when everything was packed up, we went again in the midday sun and sat amongst a throng of other lazy travellers, visitors and locals. The piazza is in the heart of the city and the square slopes down from the semi-circle of restaurants to the Palazzo Comunale at the bottom. It has been the civic and social centre for almost 600 years and still hosts the annual Il Palio, a horse race marked by the outskirts of the square. You couldn’t help but lap up a sense of culture and history as you ate a packed lunch and shared a glass of vino as everything went on around you.

Something I still struggle to get my head around with is Globalisation. On this particular occassion, we were in a part of Tuscany, Italy that I hadn’t even heard of until a week before, a town occupied by just 54,000 people and, in truth, wasn’t exactly on the traveller’s map. Yet even so, at 5.30 in the morning and when the square outside was still pitch black and freezing, we were able to find a bar that had chosen to open for us and 6 other Australians to watch the AFL Grand Final match live. Quite bizarre. For what was probably the first time in our life, we agreed it was probably a little too early to have a beer and settled on a coffee instead. I won’t lie. Seeing the cash-strapped Sydney Swans lose to Hawthorn despite having Buddy Franklin in their lineup was as satisfying to me as seeing the Miami Heat lose to San Antonio despite having LeBron James. A team can always beat talent.

All in all, Siena was incredibly beautiful and was one of those places you were just happy to slowly pace your way through and to simply be there. Florence had woed us with its splendour and food and Siena had won us over with its charm. With a few more towns still to visit, Tuscany was in every way standing up to its hype. Not many places get to say that.

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41. Rome Part II // Vatican City // Italy

We had failed to visit the Vatican upon our first visit to Rome. Considering we had to pass back through it from Naples to make our way up to Florence, we booked two nights for our “stopover.” We returned by train late in the evening and checked into our room not too far from the station, delighted we no longer had the cloud of immenent Naples stabbing looming over our heads. Unlike our first enchanting night in Rome, it seemed our second visit was to be slightly less enjoyable and we first discovered this when we were charged extra to be provided with wifi. We felt a little stung, so swung the ledger back in our favour by nobbing a bottle of sunscreen from the bathroom (this has proven very prudent now that we are in the scorching Balinese heat.) With only two nights to try and recapture the memory of our first visit, we ducked out in search of some dinner. But again, it was still Sunday and everything was closed!!! We walked several kilometres to a number of potential gems but gave up after the third one was shut. Instead, we waddled into the horrible tourist zone where of course every restaurant was open, spruikers dazzled you with their generic menus and rotten wine was used to bait you in. First night back in Rome was very sub par.

The silverlining from this was it motivated Elisha to spend that night compiling a self-guided walking food tour for the next morning. We began the day with a quick espresso from Lant Eustach, another establishment featured in Eat, Pray, Love. The suit rush was already over thankfully so we were able to drink our espresso over several moments instead of the standard 3 second timeframe you might otherwise be granted.

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There is a market in the Piazza Navona most mornings and we took a second to explore all the produce and pastas on display there.

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A mozzarella bar was nearby and we stopped in there afterwards for a mozzarella, basil, rocket and smoked ham sandwich.

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Any meal deserves dessert and we paid a visit to Grom for some gelato just around the corner.

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A little walk away and we were back in the old jewish quarters where an old bakery sorted us out with some sour cherry cheesecake.

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And by that time, it was then lunchtime. We had no guide for this but were looking for something on our way to the Vatican when we stumbled on Hostaria, a small family restaurant whose menu was all hand written on a tiny piece of scrapbook paper in Italian. Charming to say the least, a handful of Italians were midway through their minestrone soups, dipping their broken bread in and sipping from a small glass of wine at their tables. We just love how the Italians treat food. Their entire life revolves around eating and they take time out of their busy days to sit and enjoy and treat themselves to good food and good wine. It’s quite different to our world back home where, although people claim they love food, they are always in and out and eating on the run and substituting quality for quantity. After seeing us make a feeble attempt at reading the menu, a waiter did approach us and helped us select a cherry tomatoes and pesto pasta, as well as a rabbit dish. It was a lovely meal and a really cool and intimate experience in an otherwise tourist driven market. Having said that, I’m pretty certain they could still tell we were tourists and prime for a tablecloth robbery or something similar. To our surprise, the waiter also brought out two plates of rich, chocolate cake with a spoonful of wipped cream on the side. And not to our surprise, our total bill seemed to be noticeably more to what we’d expected, presumably because we had been billed for this “generous” freebie.

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The world’s longest line of people exists outside of the Vatican and, to avoid this, you can purchase tickets online for an extra 4 euros each. We managed to head to a designated area where we could collect our tickets and walk right in. I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the Vatican. The crowds had mostly thrown me from ever wanting to be inside and I get really angry whenever I see a mammoth construction of opulence that has mostly been created through the exploitation of religion. But it seemed wrong to go to Rome and not throw more money to an organised religious establishment. Inside, the Vatican is a bit whatever, whatever. Lots of ornate sculptures, lots of gold, lots of paintings and detailed artwork. There’s such a complex exhibition of human achievements and intricate detail that its hard to know where to direct your focus and to really be awestruck by what it is you’re looking at. For me, it was too much awesomeness to take in and it was easy to find yourself rushing through – otherwise you’d be there for 78 years looking at each and every piece. What I did really like however was the Ancient Egyptian section. I had not expected that. I’d seen so many ancient things in Italy and now I was staring at mummified Egyptians and heiroglyphic texts from 4,000 years ago!!! Again, it was that moment of seeing something that you were familiar with from text books but then, there it was right before you. Based on that alone, I was really glad I’d visited the Vatican. Among a billion other impressive things to see, the obvious ones are the Sistine Chapel where Michaelangelo’s David is painted on the ceiling and a few rooms before that where Raphael’s artwork is presented. Being an avid fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles since childhood, I will admit I got goosebumps hearing my favourite Ninja Turtle’s names being mentioned. On top of that, knowing the turtles only had three fingers made all the brushwork that much more impressive. We’d had enough for one day so didn’t bother joining a slow-moving line to enter St Peter’s Basilica. Instead, we sat out the front and listened to an audio guide where we learnt a lot of incredible trivia but that has since slipped my mind.

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It was our last night in Rome and we had planned to treat ourselves to one expensive meal to finish the city off with. We thought we’d go home first to freshen up and made our way to a bus stop. The transport isn’t the easiest to understand without some local knowledge but we worked out the number 60 could get us closest to home. So we sat, and waited. And waited. And waited. Was it coming? We’d seen a 60 pass in the other direction so knew they existed. We ended up waiting an entire hour before it eventually pulled up at the top of the platform. We were fairly disgruntled at this point already but I can’t express to you enough just how much I will pull a knife on that driver if I ever meet him after, to our complete astonishment, he drove away within seconds and we were stuck at the bottom of the platform trying to get through the people to catch it!! Unbelievalbe. I let out a few expletives in the general direction of Rome and we angrily chose to grab a drink and mutter how much we were hating Rome the second time around.

Dinner, when we finally got there, was at Da Danilo and we were seated downstairs in a dimly lit room. We selected a starting plate of assorted items, one last carbonara and a braised beef orriccette, as well as a “you only live once” bottle of expensive Chianti. All in all, it was really good but the price point seemed to manage to rub the taste buds raw before the food even arrived.

The last thing we were left to see in Rome were the Spanish Steps. We managed to walk to these late in the night where a few cleaners were sweeping the mounds of rubbish collected throughout the day and several groups of teenages huddled with grampa’s cough medicine. We walked down them, got to the bottom and then walked back up. Not quite the shrill you’d get on the Tower of Terror but then again, they are just steps. Probably from the Spanish.

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We got up early the next morning and grabbed breakfast on the run (because sometimes you do just have to eat on the run – for example, when you are late for your train.) One of the things I do like about Italy and most of Western Europe are trains. I felt like Sheldon Cooper as I arrived in the station and boarded our train heading to Florence direct. Bye Bye Rome. Mostly good. Sometimes bad. But probably time to leave. Although all roads lead to Rome, it was nice to know some train tracks lead you back out of it again.

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40. Naples // Pompeii // Sorrento // Italy

Remember that time in Athens when we stayed in the “AVOID AT ALL COSTS” dodgy area of death and needles? Well, we did it again. This time in Naples. Our hotel was 5min walk from the train station and we were quickly learning that areas near train stations were synonomous with both cheap accommodation, as well as an increased likelihood of getting stabbed.

There’s only one reason you’d go to Naples – and that’s for the pizza. The scene from Eat, Pray, Love, where Julia Roberts gorges on the best pizza slice you’ve ever seen, is filmed in Da Michele and that particular restaurant is one of many in the region that make la vera pizza napoletana or “the real Neapolitan pizza.” If they don’t have this sign out the front – you don’t eat there. And to get this sign, you need to have a 3 year apprenticeship in kneading dough! There are generally just two pizzas served – the Margherita (olive oil, tomato, mozzarella and basil) and the Marinara (olive oil, garlic and oregano.) And it’s all about the, as Homer Simpson would say, the ‘D’oh!”

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After dropping our bags at our hotel that stood at the centre of many, many dark streets and corners, we grabbed our research and headed off for our first neapolitan pizza. Naples is extremely gritty, extremely unsafe and prone to crime. So although we didn’t really know it at the time, we were a little cautious as we walked through the main hub to Il Pizzaiola del Presidente, a place claiming pizza seniority because Bill Clinton had once dined there. With pictures of a smiling former President all around us, we dug into our first Margherita, instantly impressed by the quality of the dough and equally amused by the sheer frustration the few Italians displayed with their wild gesticulation and animated language as their Napoli football team failed to score on the tiny tv. (They weren’t actually playing on the tv, it was just being broadcast. The game itself was played on a football pitch.) Of interest, the Margherita pizza came about when in 1889 Raffaele Esposito created a pizza for Queen Margherita and used the three colours of the Italian flag (red, white and green) by using mozzarella, tomato and basil.  It certainly makes for a very good story but it was probably just as true that a pizza maker who was very good at conjuring up a story had very little in his pantry one day. Until you try it of course. And then it’s like just impossible to think of ever eating a pizza anywhere else in the world again and you don’t care what the story is. When the owner, Ernesto, had a spare moment during halftime of the football match, he noticed I was wearing a shiny Tag Heuer watch. He immediately became very protective and, despite knowing zero English, gestured that I was to take the watch off and keep it safely in my pocket. I wanted to tell him it was only a $20 ripoff from Turkey but knew only one phrase in Italian but thought “Mama Mia” probably wasn’t going to benefit the situation. It seemed I had no choice but to take it off and put it in my pocket before he eased up. What was clear was the area certainly wasn’t safe for this sort of dire instruction from Ernesto and we made sure we walked home extra quickly and with our hands in our pockets, firmly wrapped around our wallets and phones. Even though we’d noticed it before, the white tape masked around the door of the hotelroom beside us suddenly stood out and we began considering whether it was in fact a crime scene?

When daylight broke the next morning, we began to feel safe again. The included breakfast was a little disappointing but, with Da Michele on the cards that day, we weren’t too upset. We’d heard crowds can grow quickly outside of this tiny pizzeria. Friends have since told us they have waited 2 hours to get in. Keen to outwit this small problem, we thought pizza at 11am would be the solution. And it was. We didn’t need a number or a ticket stub. We were able to go straight in. We sat next to a couple of visiting Italians who were already halfway through their pizza and our mouths immediately began to water. A charismatic man, dressed from head to toe in white with an apron and a little hat, enthusiastically took our order (we grabbed one of each) surprisingly still proud of the quality food they produced here and giving no indication he was completely over the influx of people that visit each day. As we sipped on two pre midday beers, we gleefully watched the men work tirelessly behind the counter, rolling dough, sprinkling mozzarella, stocking the woodfire, paddling the pizzas. Because everything is made so fresh, the pizzas are in the woodfire oven for no more than a couple of minutes. It’s amazing. And when they come to the table, the freshly made tomato sauce is still bubbling on the slightly charred base and the aromas of basil and mozzarella engulf your senses. The middle of the pizza soaks the incredible oils and melting mozzarella. The dough is like nothing else and I don’t know how to describe it. Except it’s fresh. It’s airy. It’s crispy. It makes sense you’d kneed (pun ha ha) 3 years experience to get that right. Every pizza since now seems to lack perfection in the base. It’s amazing and you could say a craft. And did I mention the price? With the name these guys have, they could be charging anything they want. But we only paid something like 4euros. Insane yeah? I think the key is they’ve never sold out for the tourist. Because they are so good, they welcome so many of their own and as such, don’t apply the tourist tax you might sometimes find. Anyways, that was Da Michele and in no way was that going to be the last time we ate there. Easily the only place in the world to eat a pizza.

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As we left at around 12 o’clock, the crowds were already building and there were probably already 40 people outside queuing to get in. Insane. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking into all the territories that seemed a No-Go zone at night and discovered many laneways of bars and eateries. It was a stark contrast to Rome. Although the architecture was just as grand, everything was dishevelled and grimy. It gave the city a real personality and left you feeling excited and protective at the same time.

We explored another pizzeria that night which had also received high reviews – Di Matteo. They are known as a no frills pizzeria that also dabble in fried snacks. As such, a massive mob of people were sitting out the front of here as well, giving the illusion that you’d never get in but alas, they were just drinking beers and eating arincini balls and we were able to head straight in for a table. As Battye and Nicky have recently learned from their visit to Venice, Italy has this terrible habit of charging extra to sit you at a table, to give you a tablecloth, to bring you a menu, to bring your food etc. They charge for everything they can. It’s the behaviour you’d expect in Vietnam but, whereas in Vietnam it only costs you 60 cents to play their game, in Italy it can mean $10 and is not to be sneezed at. I think it is because of this reason that Naples has this interesting nightlife where masses of people mill outside pizzerias where they can still eat incredible food, drink from an off-license and socialise without being robbed at the same time. We were from out of town though so we were happy to eat in and get robbed. Di Matteo also provided pizza that was better than any where else in the world. However, all you need to know is it wasn’t as good as Da Michele and, as such, I don’t need to write another essay trying to articulate what my taste buds were doing but failing miserably in trying to do so.

The next morning we woke up and packed our bags so we could head off to visit Sorrento and explore Pompeii on the way. The choice between eating the disappointing but included breakfast or visiting Da Michele again was as easy as getting the four points by playing the Dees. We checked online and yep, open at 9am! Fantastic. So we rushed down to Da Michele and entered an almost empty restaurant, our company comprising a couple of camera-happy Japanese tourists who equally didn’t think it was strange to be eating pizza for breakfast. Once again – an incredible experience. I wanted to wrap it up and post the package to Australia so I could do it again for when I returned. And yes, we did have a beer again. And yes, I realise it was 9am.

We knew we could catch a train to Sorrento that stopped at Pompeii on the way. So our plan was to spend the first half of the day exploring ruins, spending the afternoon exploring the coastal home of Limoncello and returning to Naples for another pizza. Arriving in the station, an old man approached us and asked “Pompeii?” Assuming he was a government paid help point, we followed him to a ticket desk where he waited as we purchased our return tickets. He then pointed us to the correct train station before holding his hand out expecting a tip?? As I’m writing this, I’m still yelling at Elisha for throwing him a euro because, you know, the guy basically walked 10 metres and we were in a train station – we were going to flipping work it out anyway. So a euro poorer, my inability to let things go meant I was bitching about that for the next 7 hours. That aside – Pompeii. And to be fair, Italy did counterbalance that lost euro by allowing us entry into Pompeii for just a euro. Normally 20 euro’s each, entry on the day we just so happened to be there was only a euro due to it being some national museum heritage holiday or something.

Pompeii is a word I remember from my Ancient History lessons. Before arriving, I couldn’t tell you a thing about it. Maybe it was the place where Zeus was born? Or I think the Spartans and Athenians fought there? Both wrong. Both Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed when Mt Vesuvius erupted on the 24 August, AD 79, killing 2,000 residents and submerging Pompeii in pumice stone and Herculaneum in mud. Having a date recorded like that in a historical context makes it sound as significant as 9/11. It’s strange to have a specific date. Both sites have since been excavated and provide remarkable models of working Roman cities, complete with streets, temples, houses, baths, forums, taverns, shops and brothels. We’d been to some ruins already, such as Ephesus and My Son, but nothing had me ready for this. I had expected a few streets. I had expected some remnants of buildings. But this was huge. It was seriously like stepping into an abandoned city, almost intact. Without numbers, I’d estimate you could be walking for 3-4kms in a straight line down ancient roads. There is still vibrant paint on the inside of some walls, some of them detailed murals. The brothels still contain images of sex, the baths still display intricate designs, the houses still showcase colourful frescos. It’s absolutely stunning and was the closest thing I’ve ever felt to experience life 2,000 years ago. At the edge of the town stood an incredibly preserved ampitheatre. Unlike the Colosseum thats been eroded with age, this appeared as though someone had picked it up from 2,000 years ago, timetravelled to today and plonked it right here in the 21st century. We had an audioguide to explain a lot of stuff to us and we were able to deeply understand life in this city and what day-to-day would have been like. In a lot of parts of the city, Mt Vesuvius is in view and as you felt yourself walking in their shoes, you could almost feel the sheer terror of seeing the top third of the mountain explode into the air and an avalanche of ash descend upon you. At the very entrance to the city, you enter through this tiny gate. This seems obscure because you’d expect a gate to a city to be much larger. But the reason for this is because it used to be a dock where boats would arrive. Amazingly, water used to come right up to that very spot. It’s all land now but you could locate the poles and rings where the boats would pull up before entering through the gates we were now entering. It was such a cool experience and, even though the city was nothing special in its day, its provided a huge framework of information for archaelogists on Ancient Roman culture and city design. You could even walk along the eroded grooves in the road from the chariots! Like the Margherita, Pompeii deserves an entire blog on its own.

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Totally speechless, we caught a train to Sorrento where we planned to spend a few hours on the Western coastline of Italy. It was a brilliantly sunny afternoon and it didn’t take long before we found ourselves perched at a table (probably paying for the tablecloth and menu etc again) for one of our favourite Italian pastimes, the Aperol Spritz. We walked some more lanes afterwards and looked over the side of the cliffs where the road below serpentined around the steep coastline. There was a LOT of limoncello available and we went from store to store tasting their free samples. There’s not a lot to say from our few hours there but it was a beautiful afternoon and not a bad spot for a holiday.

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We caught a late train back to Naples where we had hoped to grab another Da Michele experience. However, it was near midnight by the time we got home and most of the city was already a No-Go Zone for us many hours before that. Instead, we tiptoed to the much closer Di Matteo for some more pizza and incredibly cheap 4 euro wine. In no way was it bad though. I love Italy because wine is just a part of their life and restaurants don’t have a 400% markup on alcohol. This time, we tried what is called a battered pizza where they essentially fold it in half and then fry it in batter – kind of like a pizza pocket. It was a bit much and sort of gave us that feeling you get when you eat from a bad fish n chip store. But had to be done. We also tried the arincini ball which was probably the best we’ve ever had. For half a euro as well, I now understood the mill of people outside the night before.

We had to leave for Rome again the next morning but were excited to get one more Margherita into us. However, to our absolute and utter disgust, we were to learn that most of Naples shuts down on a Sunday and Da Michele was, oh no don’t you say it, closed! Curse you Italy! Incredibly disappointed, we instead ate some cleansing salad at the always trusty train station (please never eat there if you can help it) and caught the afternoon train back to Rome. Naples and Pompeii had been amazing – two things I’ll probably never get to repeat but will forever be telling stories about. It should hopefully help the bank account out though because I just don’t think I’ll ever be able to bring myself to paying for a pizza again after knowing la vera pizza napoletana exists out there somewhere.

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