Sunday, July 11, 2010

Basque Country; Biarritz & Bilbao

The Basque Country of the western Pyrenees spans the border between France and Spain along the Atlantic coast. The French side of this multicultural region is known as Northern Basque Country whereas the Spanish side is known simply as Basque Country. The Basque region has developed its own language called 'Euskara', however French and Spainish are more commonly spoken in their respective countries these days. So there's a quick geography / history lesson for you.

Anyway our first stop in Basque Country was Biarritz, France which is 38km north of the Spanish border. We were delayed leaving Nice due to a refueling strike which was a pain, however all wasn't as bad as it seemed as we were able to catch some of Germany-Argentina game (well Stu did anyway) as well as do a bit of wifi surfing to find out how to get to the hotel once we arrived. At first it seemed that we had no choice but to take a 30 euro taxi, but a review on trusty Tripadvisor came to the rescue and advised that the STAB buses (yes terrible acronym I know) runs "Le Bus Des Plages" which for 1.20 euro would drop us off right outside of our hotel - bargain!

After checking into the hotel and scoring what would be the first of two upgrades in Basque Country (LUCKYYYYY!!), we decided to head down into town for a late dinner and stroll along the beach. Walking down via the cliff walks and later the beach promenades, we were truly able to appreciate the beautiful scenery that we had heard so much about in our planning. For those of your who haven't already seen the photos on Facebook - you must check them out (although they don't quite do the views justice)!

Sitting at the beach after dinner was quite a treat as we were able to watch the surfers catching the last of the days waves as dusk settled in. Quite the change to the calm waters of Nice, Biarritz receives the full brunt of the Atlantic ocean which batters the coastline with giant wave after giant wave. As a result the town has become quite the surfing mecca, bringing surfers from all over the globe - even hosting international surfing competitions! In fact we just missed the Roxy Pro which was being held the weekend after we left! Doh! Anyway as darkness fell the temperature (and our eyelids) started to drop - so it was time to head off to bed!

The following morning we decided we would explore the coastline further by following the mapped tourist walk which happened to start just outside our hotel (that's handy); first stop the beautiful white lighthouse which Stu decided we were going to climb for a better view. 250 steps later we were at the top and were taking in the breathtaking 360 degree view of the rugged coastline and the immensely powerful sea. There was a nice breeze too which was greatly appreciated after the 250 step climb - he he! From here we followed the cliff walk back through the town via Miramar, Grand Beach and Point Atalaye, past the old port which was being battered by waves (how anyone drives there boat in there I have no idea) and out to the amazing Rocher de la Vierge (via the rusty bridge) and finally ended up at Basque Coast beach which was the final stop on our walk. You can see all of these spots in our Facebook photos.

Our next stop in Basque Country was Bilbao, Spain, home of the famous Guggenheim museum designed by Frank Gehry (one of my favourite architects!!). After a 3 hr bus ride through the beautiful countryside of Southern France and Northern Spain, we arrived at Bilbao's Termibus just in time to catch the eco-tram along the turfed tracks to the Guggenheim and our hotel, Hotel Miro. Arriving at the hotel tired and sweaty from dragging our suitcases up the grand Guggenheim staircase, we were surprised yet again with another upgrade to a "Guggenheim View Room" (which I had secretly wanted all along - YAY) and also found out that the Hotel had a complimentary self service bar downstairs for the guests to use! Bagless and our thirsts quenched we headed out towards the Guggenheim for a closer look and to check out the exhibits by Anish Kapoor, Richard Serra, Robert Rauschenberg (as well as the permenant collection also held in the museum). We were able to sneak a few photos in of the interior of the building as well as Richard Serra's "The Matter of Time" before being told "Ola... no pictures"! Ah well! My obsession with the building not quite quashed, we walked around its perimeter and across the neighbouring bridge (also very impressive) for a better look. It's amazing how different the building looks from every angle and in the different lights of day. This is the reason that we have such a HUGE collection of photos (most which are on Facebook) - if you're into you're architecture they're all definitely worth a look-see!

The following day we decided to explore the city further (with another stop at the Guggenheim - sorry I couldn't help myself), walking along the river towards the old town which we had heard was a must see. Unfortunately when we got there not much appeared to be happening, that was until we heard a humongous *BANG*! Realising that it was 12 o'clock and not a terrorist attack, we headed towards the shots to find men dressed in traditional clothes, firing small rockets into the air all the while being accompanied by a 3 piece band! To this day we're not sure what it was for or if this was a daily occurrence, but it was quite amusing to watch! Once the rockets had stopped we headed back over the bridge and into the newer, greener part of town and back out to the river for a walk to the maritime museum. Unfortunately for Stu the museum was shut so we had to make do with the boats moored in the dry dock outside. Stu's disappointment was short-lived as he soon found out about a funicular (cable car) which climbed the hill behind Bilbao center to a viewing platform above. So Maritime Museum forgotten, we headed up there for a look and to take some photos. The view did not disappoint and again you can see all the shots on Facebook.

The following morning (ridiculously early) we were back on the bus headed back to Biarritz to pick up our hire car and start our 4.5 hour drive north. Next stop Coral and Billy's beautiful "Moulin Du Goth", Creysse - i'm so excited!!

To check out our photos of Basque Country CLICK HERE FOR BIARRITZ and CLICK HERE FOR BILBAO.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Ooo das NICE!

Now that we finally have wifi again you are going to be flooded with blog installments - hope your little eyes are ready for all the reading!

Today I'm going to start with Nice, our first stop and home base for a fantastic week on the beautiful Cote D'Azur!

After an epic day on the tarmac and rails (11hrs in total) we finally arrived in beautiful Nice! Both Stu and I were desperate to go for a swim after the miles and miles of tempting azur water that passed us by, however that would have to wait as we had to check into our apartment and meet the oldies and Danny!

It was so lovely to see my grandparents again (and you too Dan!) - I could see their beaming smiles from across the carpark! Once we were all settled into our shoe box (read: studio apartment) it was time to hit the town and few glasses of red wine and dinner (moules frite).

A short stroll from the apartment was the Promenade D'Anglaise which stretches down the entire beach front from the airport to the old port! There is always something to do and see on the Promenade so it was a daily fixture (as you will see in our photos). The beach in Nice is pebbly but the sea is a calm, azur blue - so a swim (or dip of the toes) is a must!

Our first day together we decided to explore Nice further on an open top bus. These tours are always a great way to explore a city if you only have a short time as they point out the main sights (it's also good for the oldies who don't walk far). Starting from the Promenade we cruised past the old port (best place for food) and up into the hills for a spectacular view over the city. From here we cruised back down into town, past the Matiz museum, Massina Square and the Russian church. Once we were off the bus we sought shelter from the blistering heat in a local cafe for some milkshakes and to watch England get smashed by the Germans in the World Cup (very sad).

Day 2 we headed to Monaco and Monte Carlo on the train (only 20 mins south) and again decided on an open top bus tour. We walked around the marina (past row after row of luxury super yachts) to the closest stop. 30 minutes later we were still waiting as every bus that drove past was full - something had to be going on! Ah a cruise ship had jus docked in town that's why! So we headed off to try our luck at another stop (pre cruise terminal) - success! After a lap of Monaco and Monte Carlo along the famous race track - we hopped off the bus to check out the Royal Family's Car Museum! This was a real treat for the boys as there were over 100 cars ranging from the Ford Model T, to the Ferrari Daytona and even the latest Mercedes concept car! From here we headed to the famous Monte Carlo Casino for a flit on the pokies (no winnings I'm afraid)! The casino really lived up to it's reputation with super cars lining it's forcourt - they were even filming a new film called "Monte Carlo" at the adjacent Hotel De Paris! Very flash! With two hours to spare before the train we headed up to the Exotic Gardens to check out the view over Monaco! By the time we got up there we decided to pass on the gardens - settling on a photo of Danny next to a cardboard cutout of the gardens (we named it Jewish Exotic Garden) and a tasty beverage in the terrace cafe! Perfect end to the day!

Day 3 we picked up a hire car and headed east towards St Tropez and Cannes. St Tropez is 130km and a million traffic jams away from Nice. Who'd have though such a popular place would only have one road in and out. When we finally arrived in St Tropez we opted for a drink at a local beach bar to check out the scenery. The beach here is completely different to Nice - while it has golden sand the sea is darker in colour - strange considering were not that far away. Anyway we continued our journey to the port and were again greeted by huge super yachts - they seem like quite the staple in the Med. The port is very quaint and very Italian looking (and rammed full of tourists - explains the traffic jam). We wandered around the port past the local artists and ice cream stands and climbed the sea wall for a better view. From here we headed back towards Nice via Cannes. I must admit we were a little disappointed with Cannes - while the beach is sandy like St Tropez the city is dirty and has a tacky 60s vibe about it. Not as glitzy and glamourous as you'd imagine. Either way it was still nice to see and obviously still as popular as ever.

Day 4 we were back in the car for a trip into the hinterland. My grandparents came to the Cote D'Azur 51 years ago on their honeymoon and had fond memories of a quaint artsy medieval town called St Paul de Vence. While it wasn't located on out map - Vence and St Paul were (2 seperate medieval towns). We first headed to Vence which turned out not to be the town we were looking for but was so pretty that we explored it's walled town anyway. From here we headed to St Paul via Col de Vence a craggy peak 950m above sea level with breath-taking views to the ocean. We finally reached St Paul, a hilltop walled town that hurrah is also known as St Paul de Vence. According to my grandparents the town hadn't changed much in 50 years (only the style of art) - the same restaurant they dined in was even still there over looking the local vineyard! Amazing! This town is definately a must see!

Day 5 and we were down to 4 after Danny headed back to work in London. Now car and driverless we decided to take the train to Grasse - a town famous for it's perfumeries. On our arrival we headed to Fragonard, the most famous of all perfumeries in the area and took their free tour. It was fascinating to learn how scents are extracted and perfumes created. Apparently becoming "a nose" (scent creator) is quite difficult and there are only a few "noses" in the world today (most in Grasse). We of course couldn't leave empty handed and each purchased a memento before further exploring the city. After checking out the small streets, local church and view point it was soon time to head back to Nice and to get the grandparents off to Rome.

Day 6 - the day of rest, sun, sea and sand. With everone gone and a jam packed week behind us, Stu and I settled for some English magazines and a day lazing on the sun loungers of the Opera Plague beach club. We finally got to swim in the azur waters of the French Rivera!

Location:Nice, Cote D'Azur

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Bellagio on Lake Como

After hours.....and hours on trains, on foot and even on a hydrofoil, we had left the hustle bustle, beggars and gypsies of Venice behind us and we had arrived in the lakeside village of Bellagio, located on the shores of Lake Como. The lake is shapes like a giant Y, and Bellagio sits on the peninsular that separates the two different “arms” of the lake, so the views from there in all directions are amazing!

After arriving pretty late in the afternoon on our first day, we checked into our hotel, checked out the amazing view from our window over the lake and up to the mountains, and then went for a bit of an explore around town, and sat down our hotels restaurant for what would be one of the best meals so far on our travels. It was funny because we were sitting at The Suisse Hotel, in Italy, eating French food, so I guess the EU is working!

There was something not quite right about this town, and we could not quite put our fingers on it! The following morning i had a revelation as to what it was about Bellagio that was a bit odd..... rangas..... everywhere.... daywalkers, nightwalkers, and even one unfortunate looking nightwalker that we saw down at the port who from the smell of him had wet himself..... not a pretty smell, and we never again saw him out in the daylight.

On the second day, we realised that if we were to get to Nice the following day we had to leave Bellagio on the 6am bus, catch a train from Como to Milan, and then another from Ventamiglia to Monaco, and then another into Nice, which was a full day of travelling, meaning we only had one day left to explore this amazing little villiage!

Team captain Natasha discovered a couple of walking tours, which guided us through the old streets of the town, and then over the peninsular through a few of the other communities which make up the area of Bellagio! The area is full of gigantic villas that for hundreds of years have been the holiday escapes for the rich and famous of Italy, at present, George Clooney, the guy that owns Guinness beer, and Richard Branson (among others) both have a villa located on the shores!

Bellagio is a small community of about 26 communities, with 3000 residents, and one Australian – my wife” quoted our boat skipper as we took off from the shore to go and check out a few of the villages on the other side of the lake. He was a local who married an Australian woman and he was not short of jokes, some of them were nearly as funny as some of my jokes! When asked where he got the boat from, he convinced an American tourist that he got the boats from IKEA, much to our entertainment, however the Americans just didn’t get the joke, and must have now returned to America searching for IKEA the great boat builder! After a tour around the lake, we arrived at Villa Balbianello, which has been the set of many movies in its day, the most recent of which was the 007 movie, Casino Royale, in which this place plays host to Bond towards the end of the movie. This amazing Villa plays host to millions and millions of dollars worth of ancient art and was left to the Italian Heritage Trust by a wealthy explorer called Guido Monzano, who lived there until he died in the late 80’s. There is a room in the house which is set up as a memorial to his travels with gear he used to get to the summit of Everest, and the North Pole. He was also a bit of a freak, leaving many crazy demands to do with the maintenance of the property, including only cutting the entire garden using hand tools (to stop the noise of powertools), and also that twice a year the crushed white rock, which makes up all of the pathways and roads on the property, is to be raked up and washed so it remains white. These are probably a few of the reasons he died alone with millions of dollars and no wife or kids to leave the estate to!

On our return to the shores of Bellagio, we grabbed a quick French dinner...... at the Suisse Hotel.... in Italy, and called it a day, knowing we had to get up at 5 the next morning to make the 6am bus, and knowing the lack of organisation in the Italian public transport system, hoping that all of the busses and trains would line up and we would make it to Nice the following day!

Check out our Bellagio photos at or CLICK HERE

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Venice; The Floating City

Hello and welcome to the next instalment of ChickenStew’s Travel Recipes from Around the World. As some of you may know we’ve spent the past few days exploring Italy’s floating (or sinking) city; Venice. Regardless of the floating/sinking argument, Venice is and will always be beautiful as you imagine it to be. Stepping out of the train station we were greeted with a bustling waterfront. There were ferries, gondolas, water taxis, delivery barges and even canoes vying for a spot on the Grand Canal. It was very weird not to see streams of scooters, cars and bicycles roaring through as we had seen throughout so many of our Italian stops. Map in hand, we boarded a ferry bound for the famous Rialto Bridge and our hotel. Quickly glancing at the map in between my tourist gawks of the beautiful Grand Canal I decided that we had to climb over the Rialto Bridge to reach out hotel. Turns out I was wrong and after wandering aimlessly for a few minutes, we worked out that I had been reading the map back to front - durr. I would make a rubbish Scout. So we (well Stu) heaved our heavy suitcases back over the Rialto Bridge and in the right direction of our hotel. Turning down a tiny street we started hearing cheers and groans coming from a tiny pub. Turns out we have just stumbled right into the middle of the Italia-New Zealand game. Deciding then and there that we had to return to this pub to catch the end of the game (it’s always fun watching the Italian supporters) we hurriedly checked into the hotel and were back at the pub within minutes of the second half. Stu decided that this would be the one and only time he would support New Zealand in a sporting match (Stu: unless they ever play England!). Once the game was over we headed towards St Marks Square (San Marco) along the tiny back streets and over the canals. Arriving at the square we found it to be completely flooded – now where do we go? Oh well only one thing to do – take off our shoes, roll up our jeans and get wet. We splashed out way though the square towards the Doges Palace and towards higher ground. What fun – was just like being a child again! Anyway when we reaching the waterfront and strolling down towards the parks, we were amazed to see how many gondolas and cruise ships were in the lagoon. They were everywhere. We found a small restaurant for dinner and were surprised to be serenaded by not only the restaurant owner but one of the waitresses as well. How very Venice.

Day 2 we awoke to grey skies and occasional showers (not again!) so we decided that the day would be best spent exploring the streets and checking out the local museums. All in all we had another Lord of the Rings day (see Stu’s blog “How far did you walk today from 0 to Lord of the Rings”). We headed over the Academia Bridge towards the Peggy Guggenheim Museum (highly recommended by Jen as a must do in Venice). The museum was amazing and definitely worth the visit. I got an audio guide (a must do) which explained how the museum used to be Peggy’s home and how she came about to collect so many famous pieces. It also went on to describe many of the pieces within the museum – fascinating stories. One funny story which I have to share was that of the statue sitting proudly on Grand Canal terrace. The statue is of a naked figure sitting upright (in more ways than one) on top of a horse, worshipping the skies. According the audio guide, the sculptor made the figures “member” removable for when discretion was required. Peggy soon had the member welded on when people started stealing it. As such the “member” now stands proud, welded in place for all to see. From the Guggenheim museum we headed around the point (and the statue of the boy with his frog) towards to cruise terminal to check out the boats in port. From here we again got lost in the tiny streets until we found our way back to St Marks Square (flooded again) and the looming Queen Victoria parked alongside the boardwalk. Unfortunately we didn’t get to splash our way through the square this time as the fun police (Stu) didn’t want to get his feet wet. Finding another way around the flooded square we headed for a closer look of the Queen Victoria before grabbing dinner and heading back to the hotel and calling it a night.

Day 3 we awoke to bright blue sunny skies – hurrah! Deciding that today would be best spent cruising the waterways and lagoons of Venice, we purchased a 12 hour ferry pass and boarded Ferry (Line 1) for a cruise down the Grand Canal towards the island of Lido (and the beach). Arriving at Lido we strolled down the main street towards the beach. Lido is very much like Noosa in many ways, the pavements are wide and lined with trees, alfresco cafes and gelatarias. The way of life seems a lot slower here – it’s nice. Reaching the beach we kicked off our havianas and headed past the little beach huts and umbrellas to dip our toes in the ocean. From Lido we boarded another ferry back to the main island so that we could take another to the island of Murano – famous the world over for its glass. Whilst we managed to score amazing seats at the front of the boat, poor Stu was unlucky enough to sit down wind from an Eastern European gentleman who had the worst case of BO we had ever encountered. Poor Stu didn’t get to enjoy the scenery at all, having to look back at Lido Island the entire trip to the main island. Luckily we were spared the company of our new friends on the second ferry and were able to kick back and enjoy the passing scenery as we circumnavigated the main island enroute to Murano. Stu would like me to add here that we passed the cemetery island where rumour has it the Venetians are just dying to get to. Ha ha ha... hmmm. While we were in Murano we strolled the main street checking out all of the amazing glass wares and were even lucky enough to watch a glass blowing demonstration – very cool. From Murano we headed back to St Marks Square to enjoy the live music streaming from the restaurants within the square. I even managed to con a local pigeon to fly onto my arm for a photo op. Stu thinks that this pigeon will come back to get me when I least expect it. I hope not, then again I heard that being pooed on is considered a sign of good luck? Still gross.

Day 4, another bright sunny day in the floating city. Having seen most of Venice over the past two day, we decided to once again get lost in the small maze of streets that is the city and see what we could find. Heading over the Rialto Bridge we wandered through the local markets; stand after stand of colourful, fresh fruit and veg. There was also a fish market where we saw two huge whole tunas as well as numerous different kinds of shellfish. Stu recognised a langoustine (shrimp like crustacean with claws) whose shell he had battled during one dinner in Prague. From here we kept walking (more Lord of the Rings) until it was time to settle down to watch England vs. Slovenia with a huge cocktail at Hard Rock Cafe. One yummy pina colada down, we soon realised that they were only showing the USA vs. Algeria and hurried to our local to watch the game. While at the pub we met a lovely Australian couple from Melbourne who had been in Italy for the past 7 weeks. Getting onto the topic of Italian shoes and then somehow on to Oliver Footwear, we soon discovered that this couple owned Aquila and knew Stu’s old boss. Small world huh? They also introduced us to an Australian drink called “Black and Tan” (must be a Melbournian thing because we had never heard of it) – ½ lager, ½ Guinness. Sounds disgusting but it was actually quite nice. Anyway a few hours later, England and the US had both gotten through to the next stage and after a quick dinner, we were back in the pub to watch Australia thrash Serbia. Turned out to be quite the football afternoon.

Well that was how we spent our time in Venice. As I write this blog we are now sitting on a Eurostar City train bound for Milan where we have to catch our next train to Lake Como and the beautiful lakeside town of Bellagio. Only two more days in Italy before we hit France. Ok time for me to sign off and enjoy the passing scenery. Ciao for now.

To view photos of Venice CLICK HERE or visit

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hmmm Florentine Steak!

Hello Tasha here with another installment of our blog; this time about Florence. As I am writing this Stu is desperately searching the local TV channels for the Australia-Ghana game. Hold on he's hijacking the computer for a TV guide... be right back...

.. Ok it appears that the Italian free to air channels only show the last game of each day - no fun! Guess Stu will have to settle for the live online updates for now. Fingers crossed Australia has better luck this game!

Anyway back to the blog. So today is the last day of our 3 day stint in Florence and what a fantastic time we've had - this place is amazing! I think the best way to describe Florence would be "a quaint Tuscan town with the pulse of Rome". Not sure if that makes sense but what i'm trying to say is that Florence is ancient and modern all at the same time. As Stu mentioned in our last blog, our hotel is right on the Arno river near the famous Ponte Vecchio so we've got a great base camp to explore from.

We arrived by bus around lunch time on Thursday and were greeted with grey storms clouds - oh no! Having a vague idea where the bus dropped us, we headed in the direction of the river dragging out luggage behind us along the small cobbled pavements (and prayed that the rain would hold out). About 5 blocks and 4 dead arms later, we arrived at our hotel and checked in. Dumping our bags we headed straight out towards the Ponte Vecchio when it starts to rain.. hard! Ducking into a cafe for a sandwich the heavens open will full force; rain, hail, thunder and lightening! Lets say we ate pretty slow! Once the weather had died down we headed back out into the streets (umbrella's at the ready) to check out the famous jewellers of the Ponte Vecchio! Amazing stuff there girls...

From there we headed towards the Duomo to climb Brunelleschi's famous dome (al a Kevin McCloud's Grand Tour). As we pay the entrance fee we see a sign "450+ steps to the top" - argh! Heading up the steps everything seemed ok... until we got to the tiny, claustrophobic stone spiral staircase! We kept climbing and climbing the tiny windowless staircase (ok there were the occasional windows but nowhere near enough for my claustrophobic liking) until we reached the platform into interior dome. As we walked through the door we were hit with a beautiful fresco painting on the dome ceiling (see facebook shots). The walkway covered 180 degrees of the dome, giving us a great view of the art work in all it's glory. We were then back into a tiny corridor to continue our climb to the top - and what a climb it was. Up and up we went between the inner and outer domes for what felt like forever until we finally reach the top. What a view - definitely worth the 8 euro and mental anguish (for me anyway). Just now to survive the narrow corridors and stairwells on the way down.... (which we did). Actually I have to add here that on the way down we were almost died... not by falling, not by a claustrophobic panic attack but by a tourist who decided that the windowless, narrow stairwell would be a good time to drop a fart. Lucky there were no children around, it smell so bad that I think it could have killed a small child. Lets just say this fart was so bad it would have turned Stu into an Ambipure air-freshener by comparison! But enough about farts... arriving at the bottom (no pun intended) it was soon dinner time and we decided to hunt out the infamous Florentine Streak! After some google research of the local restaurants we settled on Acqua il 2 and were not disappointed! You must all research the receipe for Balsamic Steak and make it right away... AMAZING! A perfect end to a perfect afternoon in Florence!

Day 2... the day had finally arrived that I had been so looking forward to since Rome... our outing to THE MALL! Eeeeeee (that's my excitement)! We headed back to the bus terminal we were dropped yesterday and bought two tickets to Leccio! Next bus 30 mins... YAY! Boarding the bus I noticed that we weren't the only tourists there... in fact the whole bus was FULL of tourists (mostly women and the occasional stylish male), all with credit cards at the ready! After a quick dash down the Autostrade (read: highway) we had arrived and my shopping adventure began... and continued for the next 6 hours (with a detour to D&G thanks to a local taxi driver). All I can say is thank you Stu for all your patience and for carrying my bags around. Let's just say it wasn't really Stu's scene. He did like the meat platter we got for lunch though so all was not lost right Stu!? Before I knew it (and for what felt like hours to Stu) we were back on the bus to Florence and were planning our evening; aperitivo at the hotel, blog/photo update and dinner / watch the England match. Unfortunately we were not so lucky with our dinner this night (nor was England with their performance) - back to Acqua il 2 tomorrow night me thinks?

Day 3... today was booked in to explore Florence a little more (and to give my credit card a rest). Unfortunately the weather was not on our side and our umbrellas we out for another day on the town. We started our exploration on the otherside of the river, searching for Brunelleschi's less famous mini dome (as seen on Kevin McCloud's Grand Tour). Having no idea where it was we kept walking until we stumbled on S. Spirito, an unassuming church which turned out to hold many amazing art works under the dome designed by Mr. Brunelleschi himself (well he designed the whole church). Lucky find. From here we headed back across the Ponte Vecchio in search of the San Lorenzo food market and hopefully a cheap lunch. One hour and one crappy stylized map later we still hadn't found the market and popped into what we though was a small pizza joint for refuge and a cheap lunch. What a fantastic place this turned out to be! Not only was it not "a small pizza joint" (it was a really cool artsy restaurant) the food was both cheap AND amazing! Best pizza / pasta yet! Tummies full, we headed back out into the rain to check out some more sights; S. Maria Novella church, San Lorenzo food market (we found it), the outdoor markets and finally the Santa Croce, final resting place for many greats; Michaelangelo and Galileo included. The tombs in this church were so beautiful - you can see all the pictures in the facebook link below. Michaelangelo's tomb was the most impressive however as his was made of Porphyry! This is the super expensive marble that we learnt about in the Vatican! A great monument to a great artist and sculptor! Well I guess that's all for now.... we're off to Venice tomorrow! Can't wait! Until next time..... ARRIVDERCI!!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

How far did you walk today on a scale of 1 - Lord Of The Rings?

Hello crew.... Stuart here again... and as i write this i am in Florence, in our hotel, overlooking the Arno River, and into my second bottle of

Well, Siena is one of the most beautiful cities in Tuscany, and we spent a couple of days dodging the rain and trying to see the sights of this place!!! On day one we walked around the Piazza del Campo, saw the tower (unfortunately couldn't go up it as it was raining), went to the Duomo and did a lap of the old city walls which were built many hundred of years ago to keep the rabbits out (very successfully!!)

According to legend, Siena was founded by Senius, son of Remus, who was in turn the brother of Romulus, after whom Rome was named. Statues and other artwork depicting a she-wolf suckling the young twins Romulus and Remus can be seen all over the city of Siena. Other etymologies derive the name from the Etruscan family name "Saina", the Roman family name of the "Saenii," or the Latin word "senex" ("old") or the derived form "seneo", "to be old".

Sorry - a bit of a lapse back into my old University writing days.... (i love cut and paste)

One place of interest which we visited (and were not allowed to photograph) was the Basillica of San Domenico, this church has on display the head of Saint Catherine of Siena....... and her thumb!!!

I think the best description i can offer for our time in Siena is for everyone to simply to look at the photos on Facebook as they tell the story of our Siena adventures far better than i can!! You can view them by CLICKING HERE or at

Sausage Fest and a train to Grosseto!

Hello loyal followers, it is Stuart here again for the end of Rome's blog, the Grosetto blog, and the Siena / San Gimignano blogs..... so the quality of spelling and grama will decline, and the humor will increase again!!!!!

Ok - The Last Supper..... for our last night in Rome, Cousin Nicole and her Italian husband thought we should not leave Rome until we have had a traditional Roman dinner (big difference between Roman food, and Italian food!!) so after an hour blast along the Roman roads at warp speed with Paulo Schumacher we arrived somewhere else in Rome and got the restaurant. After being seated, we had a starter of some form of sparkling red wine at a rate of litres per minute, and 3245345 types of salami, chingali, prosciutto, cheese and roast piggy.... that was followed by a main that consisted of 23525436534 types of the above mentioned meats, a few more tonnes of cheese and a few hundred more litres of booze........ Was a great night out experiencing how the Romans would have feasted a couple of thousand years ago, when Rome was in its "hey-day"!!!

The following morning (with surprisingly operational brains) we farewelled the St. Ange family and jumped on a train north to Grosseto............while on the train at the station we saw one of gods greatest creations....... the gypsy.... taking her pants down and taking a slash on the platform...... in clear view of probably 200 people on the train, and another few hundred on the platform, but it is Italy, so anything goes!!!!!

Zac met us at the train station, and after quickly checking in to the Hotel Bastiani in Grosetto, we were off to the beach for a quick swim... it was blowing a gale and not very pleasant, however i braved a dip in the Med (only because the swim was an easier option than lining up for the toilet...............)

After my "swim" we hit the road for the 15kn journey back to Grosetto............ 2 hours later when we arrived we got changed and were heading up to The Wall for dinner, a few beers, and to watch the Aussie Soccer team get smashed by "zee germans" Fantastic Pizza, Fantastic Beer, Fantastic atmosphere, terrible result for Australian Soccer!!!! We met our new little friend Martina (6 year old Italian girl with very limited English skills) who after the game managed to tell us "don't worry about your country losing, you have lots of friends around you at this table" arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Next morning it was off to Siena with Zac to check into our ac com, then back to Grosetto to watch the Italian game!!! 1-1 the Italians were not happy........ but i guess on a nett level, it is 4 goals better than the Aussie team did.... we got a lift back to Siena after the game with Lorenzo and his lovely finance........Lorenzo was the most sensible Italian driver we had been in a car with yet, still a speed deamon by the Fun Policed Aussie standards, but relatively sensible by Italian standards !!!!!!!