Transition Day, Expect the Unexpected, Day 26

•June 17, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Start

On the morning of our departure we are served our breakfast by our another new older Italian woman. No cold milk for the cereal. No toastah policy applies. We do a final pack and check the weight of our main luggage using a device given to Sue by her good friend Gail. Clearly under the Aegean Airline limit of 23kg for each of us. We have to be out of our hotel by 10, so we have around three and a half hours to do a final cruise around Roma before zipping off. We stowe our luggage in our hotel in an little area set aside for this purpose, complete with bathroom. Very thoughtful. The retail therapy dynamic kicks in again and I submit to my desire to pick up yet another pair of desert boots. Shop shut. Are you kidding? Next trip. Nothing like a pair of of European desert boots man. Another coffee? Why not? I think those two words sum up our day to day trip mantra. Indeed, why not dude? Back to our hotel and before we know it we are on our way  to Fiumicino Airport. We suss out the airport and settle in for a bit of a wait, consistent with our “get to the airport early” approach of this trip. Great bookshop. Might pick up that copy of Classic Rock. A mega edition. Oh no, its in Italian. We grab a coffee and kick back.

Middle

Time to go down to the boarding gate area. Through customs and (as it transpired) into a travel black hole. As I indicated on FB on someone else’s post, with travel it appears you’ve got to literally expect the unexpected. Really expect the unexpected. We are scheduled to fly to Athens at 5:40pm, but it ain’t happening on the board. We are stuck in terminal 3. In comes a massive thunderstorm. Apparently our plane has landed but at another airport. It was circling our airport for a while. We are encouraged to use our boarding passes to get some food. Not alot on the menu that I feel like at the moment. The thunderstorm appears to be clearing. But hey, what about our connection to Santorini? We are not going to make it. The island doesn’t know what is going on with its most valued VIPs? The hours pass by. The departure screens don’t have any info on our flight. Aegean Airline staff cannot answer any questions or provide any information. I strike up a conversation with an older man called Francis who actually lives on  the Greek Island of Poros (appropriate name for a Greek Island given the battering they have received by the GFC). Francis is Scottish, has lived in Canada for a long time, and now calls Greece his home. He now works as an Art Historian and has just come off a cruise with his partner Pamela, an artist/ author, where they were both employed freelance to talk about their respective areas. Francis puts the whole contemporary Greek Economic Tragedy into perspective, whilst partner Pam shows us some of her art work, and indicates how she got to be living now on a Greek Island with a former Art Historian Professor. Apparently she stopped by the Greek Isles on her way to Heathrow. She was stranded for 3 days transport wise and never went to Heathrow. A really interesting couple. Pamela has just self published a piece of fiction called Greekscapes. Not bad at 66. We get to know some other people, as we all wait for the departure info.

pamela rogers book

pamela rogers book

 

http://www.pamelajanerogers.com

End

Finally at about 10pm we get the update. We will go to Athens at 10:50pm. On to a bus and on to the plane. I talk to a woman sitting next to me from Melbourne. Just taken the package at Vic Roads. Just been around Europe on a similar path to ourselves. Its her time she says. Finally we are airborne. Off we go to Athens. We get to Athens at about 1:30am and immediately get new boarding passes. We opt for a 5:15am  flight to Santorini, knock back a hotel stay for the early hours and check in our luggage. More waiting time. At 4:45 we board our flight and whammo we are going to Santorini. As we come into Santorini the sun rises and we get a great look at the  housing, the colours and the distinctive light. Touch down. Big day.

 

our plane just landed

our plane just landed

 

view 1

view 1

 

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Goodbye Roma, Day 25

•June 15, 2014 • Leave a Comment

After yesterday’s historical expeditions we  have a slow start and and move off, after our supplied breakfast. Our current breakfasts are being brought to us by a very cheerful young Italian woman who doesn’t speak a word of English. We decide to check out a Medici site not too far from us. The Medici family were the commerce hotshots in Florence between the 13th and 15th centuries. I’m intrigued. In order to get to the place, we have to go up the so called Spanish Steps not too far from where we are based. These steps were built between 1723 and 1725, in effect linking a Spanish embassy below to the church at the top of the stairs. At the top of the stairs is another roadway leading to the Medici villa. Once we get to the villa we suss out that the villa  has been owned by the French for a long time and is being used at the moment for some obscure educational purposes. Expedition cancelled. We take some beautiful shots from the top of the Spanish stairs and then come back down the stairs and see a lost Roman soldier. Lets get a pic. We ask how much. Strange reaction. Another costumed dude appears, grabs our iphone and starts setting up for some pics. We have lost control and are are ushered into position for photos. At the end of this little charade, the hand goes out for cash. We clearly pay too much for the privilege of some quirky shots with a lost Roman soldier. Not happy. Rip off two for the trip. And we were going so well. We opt for an early brunch, and then flick into shopping mode before making our way down to the Piazza Del Popolo, the people’s square. A lot of activity here, including young families, street performers and so forth. For many centuries this square was a place of public execution, the last one being conducted in 1826. Ummm, rightoe. We wind our way back to HQ, kick back for a few hours, and then its out to dinner, again………I’m going to miss this. A pretty cruisey last day in Roma, with the exception of our little Roman soldier. Off to Santorini.

 

Piazza Del Popolo

Piazza Del Popolo

 

Piazza Del Popolo 2

Piazza Del Popolo 2

 

a lost Roman soldier

a lost Roman soldier

 

Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps

 

 

Villa Medici

Villa Medici

 

 

Romah Blowsah Ma Mindah, Day 24

•June 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Breakfast delivered to our room, but no toastah. Ah well. After calling our Melbourne office representative about a car insurance matter, we then call representative number 2 for a brief update. All good. We decide to nosh down. Love our accommodation. Quiet, secure, discreet but very comfortable except for a lack of either CNN or BBC. Anyway, let it goah. We kit ourselves out and head out whilst the weather is good, to a Hop On Hop Off  Tour. Tour office around the corner, 35 Euros each. Two tickets please. As we get on to the top level of our double decker bus we start chatting to some Californian dudes just finishing off a bottle of red. Pretty hot up here in the sun. 34 in Rome today. They seem to be winging it around Italy for 3 weeks. A lot of Californians over here. I suppose its only a 6-8 hour flight to the USA from here.

Cannot believe the scale of the older buildings and the ornate detail embedded into them. Extraordinary. As if our minds were not blown enough, we then hit the Colosseum area, which as it turns out was sort of a Roman Capitol Hill/ central district. We quickly suss out an authentic walking tour and join a little group ready to start. We jump the queues and zip into one of the most incredible things I have ever seen, the Colosseum. We are able get a fix on how the place operated: the animals used by the gladiators and where they were housed; where the mortuary was for those christians and others that were slaughtered; where the politicians and emperors entered the stadium, and where the aforementioned used to sit; the games that the punters used to play in between the entertainment, etc. Wow!

At this point we exited the Colosseum and moved up to nearby higher ground to get a panoramic view of a massive number of historic sites. Too many names, too many sites to remember. We’re gasping for air its that hot. I do remember as I said before the mention of the words Capitol Hill.

A bit of further research required on my part. Perhaps the lasting impression for me will be of seeing such a huge volume of sites that were once an integral part of a highly evolved Roman Empire. It really was the most incredible thing to see.

Back on to the hop on hop off bus, and we make our way to the Vatican. We walk up close to where the Pope delivers his weekly Wednesday address, observe the Vatican guards and take some pics. There’s the balcony. Seats out. All pretty organised. Of course the whole of the Vatican thing is behind a wall. They have their own systems, their own way of paying taxation and so forth. The line for the Sistine Chapel would have to been on its way to half a kilometre long, so we make an exit to the hop on hop off stop and cruise back to HQ, stopping off on the way for an iced coffee and a cappucino and some retail therapy. I pick up some new Italian desert boots. Lucky me. Out to dinner we go. Cannot get over the begging, and the attempt to flog you stuff (eg water, umbrellas) at the major tourism spots. Mindah Blowingah!

little artefacts  belonging to the Colosseum punters

little artefacts
belonging to
the Colosseum
punters

 

colosseum 1

colosseum 1

 

colosseum 2

colosseum 2

 

Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill

 

Vatican Balcony

Vatican Balcony

 

Roma, Day 23

•June 13, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The challenge for this morning was to get back to Florence from Monteriggioni in the Merc. On the way to breakfast we chat with a whirlwind of an Italian lady who has been heavily involved in the Winnebago Conference. Turns out that she is actually coordinating the Conference on behalf of Fiat and that she is 30 percent up on budget for this year. Nice one. Wish we could measure the effectiveness of service based industries as easily as this.

After our supplied breakfast we head up to reception and settle our bill. Then its time to bring the vehicle  around, throw in the luggage and hit the road. Before we actually put the foot on the accelerator, we fire up the sat nav. This really has to work if we are going to get back to Florence. We drive out of our rural setting, cover the car in dust and start tuning into Miss Sat Nav. On to the motorway and then……….zippo. Turn the unit off, fire it up again, off we go, and then zippo. We are connected to the charger, whats the deal as Jerry Seinfeld would say? We finally work out that its the battery, man. The rental dudes either forgot to charge up the battery properly, or the battery itself is faulty and operating at such a low level that Miss Sat Nav can’t speak. As we get to to the outskirts of Florence, we manage to get the unit going again. We only need 5-10 mins out of the thing and it actually hangs in there. As we scoot through the narrow one way streets and head into the Avis garage we both give a huge sign of relief. Time to sort out the money owing. We’ve put a small scratch on the hub cap. No liability. I indicate that I’m not paying for the sat nav. Its written off the bill. We square up a small amount of money and head for a coffee zone. Done.

We walk our luggage up to the Florence station. We’re early, but that’s cool. Train to Roma. As we are putting our luggage on the train (always a bit of a bunfight) another young female passenger seems to be helping, until I realise that this person is not  a passenger. And the hand goes out. I give her a couple of Euros, smile to myself and we take our seats. We get up to 240kph. The countryside is spinning by. I read Duff McKagan’s (Guns ‘n’ Roses) account of life in the early 1990s and develop a new found respect for the guy. From the prospect of death to Mountain Biking to Martial Arts to business courses to a new family. Pretty impressive. At the Rome station we navigate our way to the exit, wave away more help from randoms and hail a taxi. Sue makes sure that we get off the train first before others board, with a hearty “excuse me”! 10 Euros later we are at our hotel. The way to go. We dump our stuff and start walking. We are right in the heart of Rome. Our travel agent has been brilliant in putting us into really nice secure and  very comfortable central locations. We grab a meal at one of the many bistros, buy a few things from the supermarket and head back to HQ. No CNN. No BBC. Whaaaat? We find an English version of  Law and Order, SVU. Another big city. Tuscany to Florence to Rome. In one day.

 

armani junior

armani junior

 

classic view up one lane

classic view up one lane

 

piazza  mignanelli

piazza
mignanelli

 

 

 

Practice for Santorini, Part B, Day 22

•June 12, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Before breakfast we take a call from our daughter at our Melbourne office. A few admin things sorted. Done. Last night a conversation with our Melbourne office revealed an apparent need to engage some sort of animal whisperer upon our return. Sounds like a good idea, start a  clean behavioural slate upon our return. We also make another call at our hotel main desk to our ANZ cash card people. Righto, 4 days to transfer some cash into our card? Are you kidding? Is it being done through an old dial up modem?

Breakfast. Still no toast in Monteriggionio. How do these guys survive? They don’t know what they are missing out on. Not much on the agenda today apart from oasis/ pool type activities. The Winnebaygo thing is still going. Sue speaks to a NZ couple who have been coming here for this Winnebaygo Conference for the last 3 years. Classic stuff.

After breakfast we decide to sit by the pool. Really hot. We check back on some domestic events. The first time we have really done this. Jobe Watson. Hip. Out. Richmond Football Club. Gone. Tony Abott. Invented a new nation called Canadia. Very funky. Pretty slothful afternoon. Lunch followed by more poolside sitting. Can’t believe the temperature, it would have to be 33-35 C. Swimming and reading. I jump back into Francis Wheen’s biography of Karl Marx. Apparently he spoke with a lisp and relied heavily on Engels (a smart cotton based entrepreneur based in Manchester) to keep him afloat financially whilst he wrote seminal documents such as the Communist Manifesto. Didn’t realise Engels helped Marx behind his father’s back in the family business. Sounds a bit childish. A bit of a tough read. I check out Jeff Beck’s Official Site and the bios of his current band members. A more active day tomorrow as we head back to Florence and train it to Rome where we will stay until Sat. A bit of a Girl From Ipanema scene around here man.

 

 

outside poolside

outside poolside

 

beautiful courtyards

beautiful courtyards

 

da pewle

da pewle

Practice for Santorini, Part A, Day 21

•June 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Lovin these late starts. Great breakfast, but no toast. What is going on with the European Union with regard to toast. An attempt at toast production was experienced in Florence at the Diplomat Hotel, but at Monteriggioni no attempt at all. Oh well as Fleetwood Mac would say, get on with the day. We choose to stroll around the grounds. Pretty stunning gardens in this former Palace zone. Alot of maintenance required. Done to perfection. Twenty to thirty Winnebago type vehicles loom in front of us. Lets check out these bad boys. Very nice, well appointed with great sleeping quarters, TV, shower. Wouldn’t mind getting one of these units back home. I could use my lunchtimes at work to sleep, watch TV and chill out. How good would that be? I could even sub-let it out for other staff. Could even be profitable.

Anyway, we take the Merc and head out to try and find that castle that we saw coming in to this area. A bit of confusion, we don’t even try the sat nav at this point (the local map looks like something drawn up in the 1200s), and we find ourselves at a little spot called Graccianno (?). What, no castle? We jump out, have a walk around, buy some food (a shop keeper apologises for overcharging us initially) and head back to our resort. We seemed to get back fairly efficiently. Time for lunch. Lucky that we get in early because the Winnebago conference people have flooded in. Alot of deal making going on. As I might have said before, this type of leisure/ retirement industry is probably a significant industry across Europe. A quick check with our youngest daughter back home confirms that things are in hand, except that one of cats is now catching mice. Great! Thats why we have cats. Hmmm. Next we aim for the pool. How good is this.? I order a drink whilst reclining in a banana lounge and feel really guilty about it. Currently reading a biography on Karl Marx. He wouldn’t be happy with my casual indifference to the human condition and this kind of servitude. Back to HQ. Out to dindydoodles. All great practice for Santorini.

 

oasis shot 1

oasis shot 1

 

oasis shot 2

oasis shot 2

 

da pewle

da pewle

 

ya Winnebaygo

ya Winnebaygo

 

 

Mercedes to Monteriggioni, Day 20

•June 10, 2014 • Leave a Comment

A late start in Florence after yet another breakfast with the most illogical toaster that I’ve ever seen. We don’t have to be out until 12. Nice one. Out we go into the heat, yes I said heat. It was 32 degrees celsius at 10:30 this morning. I believe it was -1 degrees in Bright in North Eastern Victoria this morning. Apparently there is some sort of heatwave sweeping through is part of Europe at the moment. Most unseasonal.

Off to the rental car office. A little tricky to negotiate the Italian language at times, but we get there. We are focused on the sat nav as the one in our previous car in Nice simply didn’t work and we were left to our own devices. Way too stressful, particularly with the congestion of the city areas. We input the address of our resort in Tuscany and then also make sure that the address of the rental car office is inputed. Right then. We are offered a bit of an upgrade on the car. Ok we’ll take that. We’re also offered an option on some insurance. No thanks, our travel insurance will do the trick.

Sat nav in place its time to hit the road in our brand new black Merc. Why am I driving a car like this? Hate the eco feature in these cars that literally turns the motor off when the footbrake is engaged. Climate be damned, turn it off. These cars are too smart for their own good. Sat nav is working well. We manage to get out through Florence. Gee the streets and roads in these European countries are narrow. Driving on the right hand side of the road is a challenge. Whats this? The sat nav stops talking to us as we blaze away towards Siena on the motorway. May be its taken exception to our language as we have had a few freakout driving moments. Here we go again.

As we turn off the motorway and head for our little provincial area of  Monteriggioni near Siena (population 9165) we are again forced to rely on our own navigational skills. So sick of this. Crazy. Will possibly never do the rental thing in Europe again. Countryside looks great but we are unable to take advantage of the views. Alot of communes in the countryside in Tuscany. It would appear that Monterriggioni is a mediaeval walled town/ commune built in 1214 by the people of Sienna as a front line in their war against Florence. We stop several times to talk to some helpful locals (once at an old castle/ commune) and then there it is, our resort (Borgo San Luigi, a renovated 17th century palace) for the next 2 days. Pretty warm at this stage. Our new digs are pretty salubrious. Its a palace, dude. Sort of an oasis. Pool, restaurant, green lawns, MTV playing in the background and, a Winnebago conference with more Winnebagos than you could poke a stick at. Winnebago conference? Apparently various countries have been represented here over the last few days. France, Netherlands.  They must be Winnebago dealers. Hmmm. Ok. We manage to get some late lunch and a few cokes, then repair back to our accommodation to freshen up. Dinner is a sophisticated affair around the pool. Back to our room. We check out the only English speaking channel on the TV, CNN, and reflect on another crazy rental car day.

 

the rental car

the rental car

 

borgo san luigi pool

borgo san luigi pool

 

borgo san luigi  buildings

borgo san luigi
buildings

 

Music to go with our renovated Palace?  Windham Hill’s Alex De Grassi playing Causeway (early 1980s)