Italy · 7 Days · 39 Moments · September 2017

Ebony's tour through Italy

29 September 2017

We picked up our luggage and walked back to the train station. When we got there, our train hadn't been announced, so we took some time to re shuffle our bags and chill before the ride. When we got on our train, we were instantly upset! The rooms were TINY, there was no sitting room, no wifi and it was confirmed that we would have someone else in our cabin. But we turned our attitudes around pretty quickly after we opened the windows and cooled the room down and became accustomed to our living space for the next 14 hours. We lay on the bottom bunk and listened to another podcast from our devotional and spent some time catching up on journaling and other stuff while we waited for our other person to arrive. Elizabeth was lovely, but very quiet and ready for bed when she arrived. We also had a funny 'camp warden' (as we called him), our carriage director who seemed to pop in at hilarious times and had a great sense of humour. He made the trip bearable and helped break up the monoto
We bought our ticket for the water bus, but realised while we were sitting and waiting for it, that we were gonna be pushing it to be back in time for the train, so we hopped on another water bus and figured we'd get off when we felt like it and would investigate it when we got there. We ended up just getting off at the train station and decided to just take a really slow walk back to the hotel. Along the way we had gelati, bought scarves and glass blown objects and sat down for an early wine and cheese platter, followed by dinner. We enjoyed the sights and honestly just soaked up the views and atmosphere before we had to leave. Neither of us wanted to go, but eventually admitted defeat and paid for dinner and started the walk back to the hotel. During the arvo, we stopped at a Murano glass blowing shop. The girl there is the daughter of some of the owners and she LOVES her job and is passionate about what they do. We talked to her for a long time and bought way too much!
Along the way, we stopped at an artists studio. His stuff was amazing! We stood and listened to him talk for a long time and both had to buy one of his paintings! They were gorgeous pictures of the Venice views. St marks was stunning inside! The detail of all the paintings on the ceiling was just gorgeous! We weren't allowed to take any photos, but just remember, it was impressive! We then had lunch at a place on the way from st marks to the water bus. The waitress was crazy and worked the floor, sprooking, taking orders and giving out food all by herself. She tried hard, but we waited a while :p while we were waiting, there was a lovely couple of old ladies sitting at the table next to us and we imagined that we would be like that in 60 years. We got chatting to them and they were really lovely.
We got us and threw some clothes on so we could go and have breakfast in the hotel dining room. Hannah was excited to have her first cup of tea since leaving home and I stupidly asked for a coffee (yuck!). We enjoyed a quiet breakfast and then headed back up to our room to get ready to check out. Because the crows were in the grand final, my parents had driven to Melbourne and were staying in Hannah's room. So we went to a cafe next door to our hotel (so we could still connect to their wifi) and had a Skype date with our parents. It was so lovely! It was the first time we'd spoken to our parents 'face to face' since we left. It was really lovely. We spoke to them for about 45 mins, and then we left. We intended on heading straight to the water bus so we could head out to one of the islands, but we kept getting distracted by views, shopping and the inside of st marks basilica, that we didn't quite manage that.

28 September 2017

The water bus was a great way to see Venice! But it was also super crowded. I loved seeing the lights on the water and just watching the world go by and feeling removed from it. Venice is just such a beautiful place. We hopped off at a stop near where we're staying and walked to find somewhere for dinner. We found a cute little place, with a lively waitress and glass blown ornaments. We really enjoyed our dinner and the atmosphere. We headed to the shops to grab some snacks and wine and walked back to our hotel via a gelati shop. We then sat out on our patio with our gelati, wine and biscotti and did another of our devotions. The weather on the patio was just perfect! It was a still, clear night and it felt as though the world didn't exist around us! We had trouble opening the wine again... doesn't seem to be our friend. By the time we were back at the hotel, we felt like we'd had a good introduction to Venice and that we'd seen most of what we wanted too. I had an early night
The man at the hotel told us about a local gondola ride we could take for 2€ instead of the usual 80€. It was just a river crossing, but it was a lot of fun! We continued walking and found Ponte de Rialto at sunset and then found another Disney store and st marks square! It was stunning!!!! The detail in the artwork was incredible and told the story of Jesus' death and resurrection. The hotel guy had also suggested that we have a spritz at one of the places on the square, but he also gave us the tip that if we sat down that they'd charge us for a concert (they have amazing live music happening all around the square), so we should have a drink at the bar- so we did! And it felt quite grown up! We then walked along the water front and waited for a water bus to take us back home.
The moment we arrived at our hotel, we were in love! The front office area wasn't anything special, but the room was spacious and beautiful, but the best part was the patio we had attached to our room! It was stunning and overlooked the ghetto. Turns out Jewish Ghettos are a thing. It's spaces where Jewish people were confined as the Italian people believed they were gaining too much power. The one we were staying in was one of the oldest! It is still used as a beautiful meeting place now for families and young people alike. It seemed to always be buzzing with people. We settled in our room for a while and then went for a walk. We went and adventured to see what we could find. We were stunned time and again by the views and spent a lot of time stopping to take photos.
We got back to the hotel and to the train with no problems (in fact it all went off without a hitch)! We arrived at he station before our platform had been announced, so we went and got chocolate and a few gifts for family. We got on the train and enjoyed the views and relaxation for the 2 hour trip. The moment we pulled into Venice, we knew we were in love!!!! We left the train station and were in awe of the view. As we stood there taking it in, a group of kids approached us and asked us where we were from. When we said 'Australia', they celebrated and asked if they could borrow us for a few mins. They took us over to their teacher and they proceeded to ask us questions in English that their teacher told them to in Italian. It was gorgeous! When we were finished, one of the boys shook and kissed our hands. We then set off on our own to find our hotel. It took us 15 mins to walk there and was fairly straight forward until we arrived in the ghetto. One of the girls had to direct us
We took the morning easy as we weren't pushed for time. We checked out of the hotel at 10:30 and wandered till we found somewhere to eat for breakfast. We had some lovely savoury focaccias and I had an Italian hot chocolate. We then lined up to go inside the Duomo. When we walked in, we weren't super impressed by it all, but when we got to the front, we were able to see what the fuss was all about! The painting on the ceiling was just stunning! I could stare at it for a very long time! We then raced to H&M to replace the jeans I ripped on the train ride here and then back to the hotel to pick up our bags. we also found a Disney store that we just HAD to pop into :) We stopped for a slice of pizza on the way by.

27 September 2017

We finally felt like food again about 8:30, so decided it was time for dinner. We headed out to 'the place for dinner' and enjoyed some good old classic spaghetti pomodoro and wine. We enjoyed soaking up the sights for our last night in Florence. We then went on the merry go round in the square and enjoyed feeling like kids again! We headed back to our room and started Downton Abbey together, but both fell asleep not long into the Ep.
Once we finished the course, we headed off on our own from there. We walked the streets and enjoyed taking in the sights. We went back via the Duomo (line was long so we just looked at the outside) and did a bit of souvenir buying and sat down for some lemonade. I REPLACED MY SUITCASE AND WAS IN LOVE WITH MY NEW WHEELS! We were both exhausted, so had a bit of a nap and got organised and then began our first real small group study together from our book. It was a confronting, but beautiful fine together- it's going to be a real challenging study I think!
After our break, we got back to the kitchen to begin making our pesto for the gnocchi. We used a mortar and pestle to grind garlic, salt and pine nuts and then Giuseppe taught us about how to stop basil from going dark and bitter. By using a cold blade or mortar bowl and working quickly with it, it stays a lot fresher and becomes less bitter. We then made eggplant parmigiana, which I'd never had before, but was amazing! The plain pomodoro sauce here is excellent!! Tomato, garlic, basil- what more could you want...?! We tidied up and set the table ready for eating. I was amazed at how great all the food turned out! It was so simple and beautiful! And of course there was more wine! When we got to the end, we were awarded with a certificate and given a cookbook and guide to Florence. It was honestly a beautiful day! We were so full though that we ended up taking our biscotti home.
Once we got to the restaurant where we were cooking, we washed our hands and put on our aprons. It was a lovely restaurant with a small, but well equipped kitchen. We began by making biscotti. Giuseppe told us that biscotti literally means 'baked twice'. You roll the mixture into a snake and bake it, then take it out, cut it into biscuits and bake again for a few mins to help dry out and harden up. Often we have biscotti with coffee or chocolate, but initially it was invented to be had with sweet wine- hence its lack of sweetness. We then made potato gnocchi and I was pleasantly surprised at how simple it was. I know it'll be difficult to replicate at home, but I enjoyed the simplicity of it in that kitchen. After that, we had a bit of a break for a while with some local wine and some Tuscan nibbly bits (cheese, olives and prosciutto). Was a lovely time of getting to know the others in the group.
We then walked to a local fruit and veg store where we learnt about some of the fruit that was in season and what to look for in good fruit. As a group, we had a basket and were allowed to fill it with fruit for us to eat along the way. I'd certainly been missing fresh fruit and veggies, so it was nice to eat some again. We continued on to an olive oil store where we tried some different olive oils and balsamic vinegars (these weren't from the area). I really don't get the hype with oils and eating them with bread! To me it just feels like eating oily, fatty foods. The balsamic on the other hand, was gorgeous! So delicious and I could really taste the differences between them. We had some that had been ageing for different numbers of years and some with different flavours (orange, etc). Was really lovely having some great, fresh produce! Giuseppe also pointed out a sign that showed just how high the flood waters rose in 1966!
Despite having had a good night sleep, waking up was hard. We got ready and headed down to where we were meeting for our cooking class. When we got there, they informed us that we had been upgraded (for free) to the masterclass instead! This meant that we had tastings along the way, a smaller group and a more advanced menu. We met our group (made up of a family of 3 from NYC and a step mum and daughter from San Fran Cisco) and headed off for some fun. Our guide, Giuseppe, was great fun and had a quirky sense of humour. We went to a local cafe for breakfast (pastry and coffee as always) and had a chance to chat and meet each other a little more.

26 September 2017

We headed home, both a little weary, but glad to have seen the sights. We both knew it was time to do a load of washing coz it had certainly been a lot hotter than we'd expected so far. So I headed down to the laundromat a few doors down while hannah had a shower. I'd never used a laundromat before and found it to be a little exciting. There was an older couple there who had clearly never used a laundromat before, coz they asked 101 questions of me that I had no idea of how to answer. With clean and dry clothes, we headed out for dinner to a restaurant recommended by one of the hotel staff (Trattoria za za). It's clearly very popular because there was a line and a waiting list. Once inside, we could see why people loved it! It had colour and atmosphere!! We decided to go all out and ordered a aperol spritz, entree and mains. I wasn't blown away by the food, but it was a good night none the less. We sat and talked for hours. Just enjoying the atmosphere. Came back exhausted.
The bus took us up into the hills, to a place called Fiesole. We stopped there for lunch and it was just stunning! The view out over Florence was beautiful and it was much greener than anywhere else we'd been. We enjoyed more good food and then hopped back on the bus. This time on the roof. We enjoyed just sitting up there and watching the world go by :) we decided to hop off at the Piazzale Michelangelo to see the statue and the stunning lookout. We spent some time taking in the view, before hopping back on the bus to head back towards home.
Along the way we visited Piazza Della Repubblica where we saw the merry go round and some street buskers. And then headed to see some statues (some good and some weird...) and Ponte Vecchio. The view of and from Ponte Vecchio were just stunning! When we finally got to the hop on/hop off bus we had to wait a while for it to arrive. We decided that we were mostly happy to watch the world go by from inside the bus and just see the sights from our seats. There was nothing really around that we were desperate to see.
We both woke up really sore and weary from all the dragging the day before. It took a long time to get moving, so we gave up on the idea of getting down to breakfast at the hotel (which finished at 9:30). When we were finally ready we headed off to a place just down the road for breakfast- croissants, coffee and juice. From there, we walked to find the hop on/hop off bus but found plenty of distractions along the way. We found some adorable toy stores, book stores, stationery shops, markets and other sight seeing places. We loved the markets! The sights and smells and interaction with the workers were great! More people speak Italian too us here which is nice and fun! We were particularly taken by a man at the dried fruit stall who was particularly friendly and generous but spoke no English to us. We enjoyed taking in the sights along the way, and fell more in love with Florence.

25 September 2017

After we had a bit of a chill out/lie down, we got ready for dinner. We found a lovely place with a beautiful atmosphere. The waiters were obviously paid to schmooze the customers and they did a good job!! We both had pasta dishes that we fell in love with and the atmosphere was gorgeous- down to the 3 piece busking band that came in and gave us a show! We then went for a walk around the area and fell in love with the quaint streets and cute shops! We noticed considerably less rubbish in the streets than in Rome. When we got back to our room at 9:30, we were well and truly ready for bed! We both fell straight into a deep sleep instantly, despite the small, creaky, hard beds.
When we got on the train, we managed to put Hannah's suitcase in storage above the seats, but mine was too big. I had to stand at the back with mine... The drive was gorgeous! We were travelling at 300 km/h through the Italian countryside! It was beautiful!! After the final stop, I was able to sit down in the seats with hannah for a while and soak up the views. While we were on the train, I spoke to Bri about replacing the suitcase! Both hannah and I agreed we didn't wanna do that again in a hurry. Once we arrived in Florence, we got a lost while trying to find our hotel, so what should have taken us 10 mins, took nearly an hour! Between getting lost, dragging my broken suitcase and being in direct sunlight, it was a LONG trek! We had a few helpful onlookers laugh at us 'young girls with too much to carry'. When we finally made it to our hotel, I had worked up another marvellous sweat and couldn't wait to collapse on my bed! We certainly regretted the soda water in our bags!
When we got back to the hotel to grab our bags, we honestly thought we had heaps of time to get to the train station (and in theory we did), but we were proved wrong... The wheels on my suitcase were broken and the 25kg in it made it VERY difficult to drag through the streets (in the direct sun), onto a PACKED train and then all through the train station. What should have taken 15-20 mins, took much closer to 40-45... we missed our train!! Now it wasn't just a 1.50€ train, it was a prebooked $150 train!! We bought another (expensive) ticket and headed for the next train. It was only then that I admitted defeat and let hannah help me for a while... then she realised what I had been complaining about and what had taken me so long!! I was literally shaking and sweating profusely!! We got to our carriage (the very last one) and climbed aboard. My jeans didn't survive the trip... they ripped as I climbed onto the train! 😭
The mamertine prison has so far been a highlight. It was so humbling and crazy to see! It is the prison where Peter and Paul spent a bit of time in their later years and Paul wrote some of his famous letters from there! While we were down in the dark, tiny cell they would have shared with 20 other men, we couldn't help but feel incredibly challenged by the passages he wrote about being joyful in all circumstances and being thankful for the challenges he was facing! It was a true, life long challenge that I don't think I'll forget! Certainly puts our 'light and momentary troubles' into perspective. Hannah and I just stood in silence as looked around. There was a church there also, that had been planted there in the years after it stopped being a prison. It was pretty cool to see and look around. After that, we felt quite stirred for the hours that followed. We hopped back on the train and headed back to get some snacks, cash and souvenirs. Before heading to the hotel to head off.
We then chose to take the underground train to the colosseum so we could walk to the Mamertine prison. Along the way, we stopped to admire some of the other buildings and structures. It's so hard to believe it's all been there for well over 2000 years now!
Because it was the last morning in our hotel, we packed up our stuff and went over to the cafe for breakfast. While we were packing up we each decided to put 2x1.5L bottles of sparkling water in our bags coz we didn't wanna waste them... We enjoyed watching how the locals do it- they stand at the bar for coffee. They have espressos so they can take the shot and go. It's a very quick and social experience.

24 September 2017

After chilling at the hotel for a few hours, we decided to go out for dinner. We went to a place just down the road in an open square. The waiters were lovely and there was a man playing the piano accordion at the restaurant over. Was a lovely evening. We then had gelato and wandered through the shops (bought some make up at sephora). We headed back to our room for some wine (gosh opening that was a serious battle) and curled up in bed to start our devotional together.
We were exhausted when we got back on the bus, so were happy to sit down and watch the world go by. We saw the Vatican and a few other places, but nothing quite stood up to the wonder of the colosseum, so we chose to stay on the bus and continue towards home. We hopped off the bus at the Spanish steps and walked down them on our way home.
Both of us were in complete awe when we got to the colosseum, roman forum and Palentine hill. The splendour of the architecture and the concept that some of the bible had been written near by and that the buildings had been around for so long was just amazing! Words cannot describe the beauty and wonder of these places and photos don't do them justice! There were some carvings at the colosseum depicting the crucifixion of Jesus and the layout of Rome. Incredible! We spent hours wandering around, taking it all in, but the sun and walking certainly took it out of us. So we were more than ready to get back on the bus when we did.
We got on our hop on/hop off bus only to discover it had a 30 min break before going forward just after we got on... so we found another one ready to go sooner and enjoyed watching the sights go by. Again, we saw a lot of places I’d only ever dreamt of seeing! Was really cool
We had a lazy start to our day and just enjoyed waking up in Rome. We went and had our complimentary breakfast at the cafe near the hotel and then went to find our hop on/hop off bus. It was really cool at breakfast to see how Italians do coffee. It’s like a bar, they come up to the bar and order a coffee and drink it’s there. It’s a no wonder a lot of them drink espressos.

23 September 2017

After our day of walking we were exhausted. We collapsed on our bed and watched the prelim final we'd missed on the plane. Crows won and were into the grand final!!!! We then went out for dinner to a cute restaurant near by our hotel and had wine and yummy Italian food. We came back for an early night and slept well.
We then stumbled across the Trevi Fountain and discovered it was a 5 min walk from where we're staying. It was stunning but I also couldn't believe how many people were there! It felt so surreal being there and seeing something I’d only ever seen in pics or movies before! Felt a little like Lizzie in the Lizzie McGuire movie 😂
From there we went off on an adventure. We didn't really know where we were going or what we planned to do, but we felt confident enough to wander and explore. We stumbled upon many gorgeous buildings and saw a lot more of Ancient Rome Centre. It was hot and sweaty work (we stopped for a drink along the way), but was well worth the walk.
Next was some true Italian pasta! So simple, yet so delicious. We noticed that they tend to cook their pasta less time than us. It is a lot firmer than how we tend to cook it. We ended our tour with some delicious gelato! Not much else to say except, yum.
We then went and tried cheese and suppli (like arrancini)- Italian street food originated from WW2. They only had rice left, so some of the men went to local farms to get any left overs of animals. They combined them and created balls from them. Still made today. We then had some incredible cannoli! Truly a highlight. The ricotta inside was beautiful and the biscuit on the outside was delicious. We then went and had some cheese and wine. Both were lovely. It was a humbling experience seeing the Jewish Ghetto- gates designed to keep Jewish people in a tiny space as they were seen to be gaining 'too much power'. There are plaques commemorating some of the people who lost their lives there.
We started the day with some coffee at a cafe in Piazza Navona. It was stunning inside! I had a macchiato because 'when in Rome'... Massi then told us about Piazza Navona. It was first built for races. We then walked to Campo Dei Fiori and went to a bakery on the square. It was incredible! We had blanc pizza, rose pizza and Margherita pizza. CDF was initially a flower market and although it has been built up over the years, there are flower markets (and general markets) there during the day and becomes more of a party area in the evening. The pizza was so simple, yet absolutely delicious!! Massi told us that Margherita pizzas were named after the queen of Rome a long time ago whose husband discovered pizza and then had a big party with pizza makers at their castle. The queen wanted her name to last forever, so named a pizza after herself.
Began the day in Rome! Checked in and went out on our own to see the sights. Had 20 mins to get where we needed too. So raced in the direction we needed too and accidentally stumbled across the Trevi Fountain!! We met our group for the food tour. Our guide Massi was very charismatic and genuine in his love for Rome. There were 10 of us in our group- 6 ladies from the Netherlands (on a girls weekend in Rome), a mother and daughter from the Netherlands (daughter working in Italy and mum came to visit for the weekend) and an older couple from Brazil who have lived in France for 20 years. Everyone was lovely and excited for us and our trip.

22 September 2017

We arrived at our hotel, and from the front it certainly didn’t look like much! But the big wooden doors opened up into our beautiful hotel! There was a man waiting for us, and he took us up to our room. Our room was gorgeous, and there was a cute little coffee area just outside our room. We both squealed a little because we couldn’t believe we were finally in Rome! We were finally on our European trip!! We unpacked a little and showered to wash the travel off us and climbed into bed and fell asleep well. We were both exhausted!.
At the end of our 37 hour trek, we were exhausted. But then we ended up having to spend 2 hours in the immigration line. It was hot and sticky and there were so many people and lots of pushy people. It was an awful experience and we were both so over it all by that time!! We just wanted to be in bed and clean!! We had booked a driver through our hotel, and he was waiting for us once we got through immigration (we were afraid he may have given up after having to wait so long). So we jumped in his car and he drove us to our hotel. Instantly we were shocked at how pushy and fast he was... and we struggled to get used to them driving on the other side of the road- particularly passing other cars on the left hand side. There were multiple times I was concerned he was gonna run into the back of another car or something, coz he wasn’t slowing down for anyone! I loved taking in the sights as we drove! We were finally in Rome!!