We changed our plans specifically so that we could return to this beautiful area of Italy. Since we only had 1 night, we decided to stay in the main town of Bellagio in an apartment we found on AirBnb. It was such a cute apartment perched on top of a cliff! We quickly checked-in and headed straight to Bellagio.
Continuing on from the Florence Food Tour which ended at 1:15pm, we decided to join the free Florence Walking Tour which began at 2pm. We arrived with moments to spare and quickly realised how popular the free walking tours were. There were roughly 25 people in our group with 1 tour guide who took us on the “Medici Tour”. The Medici family was a wealthy family who essentially ruled Florence for 300 years. They were involved in banking and were very rich and influential. Our tour guide was from Florence and was noticeably passionate about the tour we embarked on.
We were shown the original house that the Medici family lived in which was in the middle of Florence. They actually built their own private church behind their house. The façade of the church is not as beautiful as other churches as the construction of the façade took place during the Black Plague time period. The Black Plague wiped out a lot of the population and also stopped the construction of many buildings around Europe as money became scarce. The façade of the church actually shows the technique of construction that was used. The marble façade was supposed to attach to the walls that is currently shown. From this church we can see the back of the Medici home. In the medieval time period, families actually lived in towers as a way to protect themselves. The Medici home was considered to be modern as it was the first “home” that was built which was not in a tower.
So we began our journey towards a section of the Italian coast of Cinque Terre. We had read many reviews about the difficult windy roads that lay ahead and about a recent landslide which has closed the entrance from the north side of the area. These reviews made us even more excited to see this area which we imagine would look so beautiful.
Cinque Terre is composed of 5 villages on a rugged steep cliff which overlooks the sea. The attractiveness of Cinque Terre is the ability to view the area by car, ferry, train, bus or as Meagan had found out, by hiking it. This gave us many options but being quite an active couple, we decided to do some hiking. We stayed in a village called Volastra which is just a hike above Manarola, 1 of the 5 villages. We arrived late in the afternoon so parked the car at the B&B and headed out to dinner. We came back from dinner and met the other couples staying at the B&B. I think they were relieved as they were told we were from Brazil, so it was a surprise to them that we could speak English. Anyway, a bit more about them later.
Our tour guide was a Florentine local and took us on our 3.5 hour food journey. First stop, of course, Italian coffee! It is traditional for the locals to order their “café” or espresso at the bar. The locals will receive their coffee and drink it quickly while standing at the coffee bar. Drinking at the bar is usually the cheapest option (around 1 Euro). If you sit within the café the price of the coffee increases and if you sit outside in a square and have a coffee this is the most expensive! Luckily as we were on a tour, we visited Chiaroscuro café and were greeted by a very passionate Italian who LOVES his coffee. He first explained the two types of coffee beans that are used in the coffees at the bar, Arabica and Robusto. In Florence it is roughly 80% Arabica and 20% Robusto. This depends on the particular café in Florence. On the other hand, Naples has much stronger coffees as it is typically 80% Robusto and 20% Arabica. This explains why when I had a coffee in Naples my eyes were twitching and I could really feel the caffeine! We were also told about a type of coffee bean which is very expensive called Kopi Luwak Arabica. This particular coffee bean is special as there is a type of animal that actually eats it then poo’s it out. The coffee beans are then cleaned and sold! I was not volunteering to try this coffee!
To be honest, I have never seen the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, however you can visit the villa in Cortona which is another beautiful town in Tuscany.
On another note, we decided to book in for a full day tour visiting various towns in Tuscany for 55 Euro each which was such a great deal in comparison to some of the other tours which was minimum 99 Euro each. We were a bit hesitant as it seemed to be relatively cheap compared to some of the other tour companies. We gave it a go and are so happy with the outcome. The day before the tour, Michael and I drove to Sienna and did our own exploring, however having a guided tour by a local provided so much more!
We got up at 7am (same time as we would get up for work!) and started our 5km walk into the city. We met up at the Saint Maria Novella Train Station under the big black clock for the tour. We were greeted immediately by the tour guide who spoke great English. We got on a big tour bus and set off on our journey. 1st stop is the small medieval town of San Gimignano which is known for its preserved tower houses. It was roughly a 1 hour drive to the small town, however the tour guide provided some great information along the way. Back in the day, families actually lived in towers as a form of protection. Modern day home structures were not used as families feared for their safety. There were over 70 towers in this small village, however only around 17 remain. Peace eventually was made between families and the towers were still used as homes, however they were opened up. The tour guide explained that there was a “peaceful war” between the families to see which family could have the tallest tower. The families began to build up their towers to have the biggest tower. I suppose this isn’t too different to having the best car or swimming pool in this modern age!
We setoff from Naples unsure if we had accommodation booked. We have found AirBnB to be difficult as you need the host to accept your query and this can take up to 24 hours. As we would often book the night before, it is difficult to get a response from the host immediately. It happened on this occasion that we booked a Bed & Breakfast through Air BnB and on our drive up to Tuscany, we received a text to say that our booking was declined by the host. This was not good news. We were driving around Tuscany with no GPS, it was getting dark and cold and we had nowhere to sleep.
We decided it might be better to go to a bigger city to find accommodation and began the drive to Sienna. While driving, we found a sign on the side of the road that said Olive & Wine Tasting. We thought we would give it a go and drove down a little street until we found Agroturisma Pepolino. We knocked on the door of the wonderfully cared for property and were met by the owner and their baby Pug, Juve. Continue reading Blessing in disguise – Lucignano
We arrived in Naples and decided to stay a little outside the city to avoid the crazy drivers we heard a lot about earlier in our trip. Coming off the motorway, we weren’t prepared for what was coming next. There was one lane on the road but the Neapolitan drivers somehow adopt a policy that 4 cars can fit in this one lane. They also believe that you can turn right from the furthest lane on the left. It was a sight to see and the only way to survive on their roads is to become like them. So here I am honking my horn, sticking my finger up and proclaiming profanities in Italian (I learnt them quickly).
We finally made it to the hotel which was in the industrial area of Napoli. The hotel was cheaper and they offered a shuttle into the city. I wasn’t brave enough to drive in yet. The hotel was in a decent position being only a 10 minute walk to the station and only 2 stops to the city centre.
We made it to the city centre and headed to Meagan’s pick of attractions, the underground tour of Naples. I was a bit hesitant to go, in particular as there was so much garbage on the street, I wasn’t sure what was down underneath the city. In fact, there is a lot of work going into cleaning the city up but there are still many pockets of Naples which is just covered in rubbish and makes you wonder how people live.
Back to the underground tour, and we began by descending down hundreds of steps until we got to a cave below the city. The underground was used as a water aqueduct, bringing clean healthy drinking water to the citizens of Naples and the surrounding areas.
Imagine it is a normal working day and you are going about your business, then all of a sudden a thick black smoke cloud is seen coming out of the top of a nearby mountain (volcano). Little bits of rock start to fall from the sky, however you decide that the homes you live in are strong and that there is no reason to worry. You and your family stick it out and take cover under the “strong roofs”. Little do you know that your decision to stay in the village costs you your life.
We are talking about Mount Vesuvius and the town of Pompeii. Around 16,000 people lost their lives from the Mt. Vesuvius eruption in 79AD. The people that were determined to stay in the village and wait out the eruption were not killed by the hot lava but potentially by suffocating on the ash in the air and were crushed by the collapsed roofs. The ash, mud and rocks actually preserved the town of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Pompeii was covered by roughly 6feet of ash and was only discovered 1,500 years after the eruption. Homes, bodies and artefacts were preserved and tell the story of how the citizens of Pompeii lived.
While planning our trip to the Amalfi Coast, we have read heaps of blogs and research sites recommending to stay in Salerno and to avoid staying in the very touristy town of Sorrento. The blogs recommended Salerno as it is an actual Amalfi town where the locals lived. It would be hard to find the postcards and Limoncello shops here. It also is supposed to be better priced in comparison to Sorrento. I began my hotel research on trip advisor and opted to stay in the #1 rated hotel of Salerno, Hotel Olimpico which is actually situated in Portacatena, Italy (20 minute drive from Salerno main city centre). It was described as the rose in the bush as the actual area where the hotel is located is quite run-down, old and again vacated. The actual hotel was rated highly as being clean and having a fantastic breakfast.
We got completely lost trying to find the hotel as we are relying on google maps (which doesn’t seem to work well in Italy). Somehow we managed to find it and couldn’t agree more with the reviews. The actual area has nothing to offer to tourists except for a restaurant across the street from the hotel. The hotel’s exterior looked very old, however the interior was recently renovated and was very clean. Our room was also very clean and had a large layout. We also booked the hotel as there is a shuttle service into the town which was complimentary however guests are required to book a day in advance. We booked in for the next day and decided to get some food and stay in for the night to do some research for the Amalfi Coast. We went to the restaurant across the street and surprisingly had an excellent meal! Michael had the pizza again and I had a pasta.
We drove from Bologna to Pescara as a transit stop on our way to the Amalfi Coast. We chose Pescara as it seemed like one of the larger towns on the south-east coast of Italy. We actually stayed in a nearby town of Pescara called Giulianova Teramo as there is a Best Western located here. We decided to stay in this chain of hotel as we could count on a clean room and would easily be able to find the hotel as we would be arriving at dark.