Italy – March 2024

We had talked about going to Italy for a while, and finally got around to it at the beginning of spring. We had hoped to escape the incessant rain and enjoy a bit of sunshine.

Friday 22nd

An early start meant that we landed in Pisa late afternoon, with plenty of time to enjoy our first evening in Italy. A short shuttle ride took us from the airport to the railway station, with our hotel a short walk away.

After a little confusion we spotted the sign, down a narrow side street and into a vary dark and seedy looking arcade. It didn’t look very promising. Although the entrance was in the arcade, it was much grander than its surroundings and opened up into a surprisingly pleasant foyer. The Hotel la Place, was pretty dated, but clean, comfortable and gave us a pleasant night’s rest.

After a quick shower and change, we headed over the river in search of a meal. We had a couple of beers in a small square, before having a lovely meal in a family restaurant that Jill had found on Google. IL Prosciuttaio was great value and well worth the visit.

Saturday 23rd

We had time to kill before getting the train to Rome. Pisa didn’t really have an awful lot to offer, but we walked quite a distance along the river, and explored some of its many narrow winding street and alleyways.

Then it was off to the station and time to rest during the 3 hour journey to Rome.

The apartment was easy to find, although we did walk past it twice because the number 1 was missing from block 13 next door.

The owner, Monica, was waiting to greet us and to give us an induction which we thought would never end. She was elderly, and struggled with some of her English, but went into great detail about everything she could think of.

The place had a large bedroom in which the aircon didn’t work; a small kitchen diner in which the cooker didn’t work, and a bathroom so cramped I had to step outside to get dried after a shower.

On the plus side, the place had loads of electrical sockets. But most of them were so old they needed an adapter to plug anything into.

I had to break the lock on my case to get a change of clothing. I’d somehow managed to lock it without setting the code properly and the only way to get in was by brute force.

The evening was spent with another superb and great value meal at La Vittoria restaurant a 10 minute walk away.

To finish, we took a late stroll around the Vatican before heading off to bed.

Sunday 24th

We tried to create a breakfast before heading out. Monica had left a couple of yogurts in the fridge, and we had picked up some bread and butter from a small supermarket on the way home the previous night. There was no toaster, the oven didn’t work, so I had to make do with a portable oven tucked away under the sink. I attempted to make toast by waving bread back and forth under a single element until it finally reached a pale imitation of what it was meant to be.

The main aim of the day was to visit the colosseum. Before our allotted time slot we spent plenty of time exploring the Palatine Hill and the expansive Roman ruins. It’s amazing when you walk through something like this to imagine an ancient civilisation which somehow disappeared despite once ruling most of the known world.

The colosseum was packed. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait long to get in, but the crowds inside made it difficult to get the best out of it. An audio guide we’d paid for proved to be not very easy to follow, so we ended up going the wrong way round. I have to say that I was a little underwhelmed by the experience. Perhaps because I’ve already seen it so many times before in TV documentaries; but the Palatine Hill and its history was the highlight for me; we both wished that we’d had more time to explore there.

Palatine Hill

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The evening saw us heading through St Peter’s square, on the way to a pub Jill had found on Google. We’d had a large lunch so weren’t really hungry. We were pleased to find that the pub actually had cask ale on. A lovely porter from a local brewery. We sank several before giving in to the temptation of a late burger and fries and one more beer. The Saxophone Live on Via Germanico is highly recommended.

Monday 25th

Today we had a walking tour planned; it was something Jill had taken from someone else’s blog.

Through the Vatican to the banks of the river Tiber, we headed to the Castle Sant’Angelo. We were disappointed to find it closed but still enjoyed a walk around it.

The weather today was scorching, and the first time I had my shorts on.

Then it was on to the Piazza Navona. It was a large pedestrian area, with several large fountains, artists, buskers and restaurants. We spent quite some time in this lovely place, listening to a guy playing Pink Floyd on a guitar, then enjoying a tasty lunch.

I had to go buy another baseball cap to add to my collection as the sun was belting down, and I’d left my favourite old fedora in Pisa.

The Pantheon was next up. Despite the crowds we didn’t have to wait long, standing in the shade of its huge and impressive facade. Signs prohibited people wearing shorts or ladies with skimpy tops, but looking at the people who were coming out it looked as though the rules were not being enforced. Neither was the ban on photography inside. It’s an amazing building considering how long ago it was built.

On to the Trevi Fountain, and we’d managed not to get lost once yet. The area was teaming with tourists, and touts selling junk. I’d got bored now of being asked if I was from Africa and just brushed them aside.

After lingering for a while, taking the obligatory photos and selfies, we set off in the direction of the Spanish Steps. Apparently you could now face a €400 fine for sitting on them. Had anyone bothered to enforce this they would have been raking in tens of thousands. We were both tired by now, but still we climbed all the way to the top and back down again.

Castle Sant'Angelo

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A stop for a refreshing pint meant that we were presented with the compulsory table snacks. This plate though had sandwiches too and we felt guilty not being able to eat it as we were still full from lunch. It seems impossible to sit down at a table in Italy without someone shoving a plate of food in front of you.

We tried to get something to cook a meal at the apartment, but the nearby supermarket was closed, and all we managed to pick up on our travels was a box of eggs, a small loaf, a bottle of wine and two beers.

Still, I enjoyed the beer while sitting on the balcony, watching a large gull bouncing around on car roofs as it tried to figure out a way to deprive a stray cat of its dinner. There was also some interesting variations on how not to park…

Evening meal was at nearby I San Pietrini, a restaurant that had plenty of good reviews. The service was terrible. I was served cold meatballs which I had to send back. By the time they came back, ridiculously hot, Jill had finished her meal. We were also charged for 2 slices of stale bread we hadn’t even asked for. It was an overpriced and totally forgettable experience. We both posted negative rviews on Google, to which the owner responded by suggesting we go for psychiatric treatment!

Tuesday 26th

We managed a breakfast of scrambled eggs and slowly part-toasted bread, before heading out into the rain. The weather a complete contrast to the day before.

We had originally planned to visit Ostia Antica, a huge area of ruins of a once great Roman port. But we didn’t fancy walking about in the rain that was forecast to be heavy all day.

Instead, we opted for an indoor museum day.

First one was the Leonardo da Vinci, in which we saw models of many of his inventions. It was a fascinating look into the mind of a genius.

Next was the Capitoline Museum. We had to queue for quite a while, probably because so many tourists wanted to get out of the rain. It was worth the wait though. We spent a good couple of hours wandering around the rooms laden with rich murals and tapestries.

Da Vinci - Hanglider

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Back at the apartment, we were trying to decide where to go for our meal. The Dai Miei had lots of recommendations on Trip Advisor, but a look at its menu showed ‘typical Roman’ food offerings of tripe and calve’s intestines. We chickened out after the I San Pietro experience and returned to the Vittoria instead.

Then it was home to pack, ready for our return to Pisa the next day.

Wednesday 27th Pisa

After the train journey back to Pisa, we had a bit of walk to our apartment. Google maps took us along a long, dark, and smelly alleyway and it wasn’t looking good. Thankfully we emerged into a much nicer area and found the address.

The apartment was even more basic than the one in Rome, and all thoughts of self-catering went out the window.

Once we were settled in, we headed to a great little bar called Enobirreria L’Etrusco, that sold craft ales. Then went in search of a repast. The weather wasn’t great so we went into the first place we saw; there was no-one else there. Once our food arrived we realised why it probably wasn’t very popular; it was really not very good. We had some strange pinkish spread on toast masquerading as bruschetta, followed by a stodgy pizza. The Bortelino was definitely one to avoid.

We did a little shopping at a nearby supermarket and headed back to our digs. It was only when we got back in that we realised it was only 8:30. We couldn’t be bothered to go back out so just chilled out with a bottle of white.

Thursday 28th

Another rainy day. We stayed local, visiting the tower, cathedral, and another museum. Dodging in and out of the showers, and having lunch at the apartment.

As the rain stopped, we’d hoped to walk the walls in the afternoon, but high winds meant that access was closed off.

Instead we visited the botanical gardens, spending an enjoyable hour or so exploring the grounds.

In the evening we hit a couple of craft ale bars, then headed back across the river to IL Prosciuttaio, our favourite restaurant. We made the mistake of having a full bottle of wine and at least 2 limoncellos, before heading for home feeling far from sober.

There it is!

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Friday 29th – Lucca

I woke up covered in painful mosquito bites, with a series of lumps across my head. The daily garlic capsules that someone had recommended having no effect whatsoever.

Part way to the train station I realised I’d left my phone in the apartment. I had a very brisk walk back in the early morning heat and made it to the train in plenty of time for the twenty minute journey.

We were met with a huge wall as we exited the station in Lucca, but spotted a curving path which led us through into the town.

A medieval town, Lucca was a maze of narrow cobbled streets surrounded by tall buildings. It wasn’t as attractive as I’d expected but was still an interesting place to explore. We also walked for quite a distance along the walls. The path atop the huge mound was so wide however, that we could have just been walking along a tree-lined avenue. Not quite the experience we’d hoped for.

Back down to the centre we enjoyed a drink in the attractive main square. Then it was back to the station and home to Pisa.

Walking the walls

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Indecisive about what to do for our last evening, we opted for a couple of beers and then a visit to a restaurant near the tower. We were looking forward to a steak instead of the usual pasta and pizza. The tiny space inside was full, and the dropping temperature meant that we didn’t want to eat outside. It was getting late, so we ended up with rather unpleasant chicken kebab and a glass of wine in the apartment.

Saturday 30th – Home

Our hosts were away for Easter, and we were told to leave the key on a desk inside the apartment. A second door to the outside landing clicked shut behind us. Halfway down the stairs I realised we still needed the key to unlock the main door to the street. The door back to the apartment had locked. We were expecting a taxi and Jill went into full panic mode! It was only 7:20am but I had to wake up a neighbour. After a few minutes, a middle aged man peered through the partly opened door, wearing only a t-shirt and underpants. I tried to explain our predicament but he didn’t speak a word of English. He said something before closing the door. I waited patiently in the hope that he had gone for a key. I could hear muffled conversation and a dog barking. Eventually a woman came to the door and I tried to explain again. She had a few words of English, led us downstairs, and somehow opened the door without using the key I’d thought we needed. Feeling rather embarrassed, we thanked her profusely and left the building with a sigh of relief.

Our journey home went without a hitch, and as always we were pleased for the comforts of home again.

It had been a tiring holiday; some days walking up to 10 miles, with lots of hills and steps thrown in. We were disappointed not to have reached Ostia Antica. We had also postponed a planned circuit of the Cinque Terre on our final day. These five very attractive coastal villages had been recommended to us, but the travelling involved from were we were stationed just proved a step too far for us. But there is always next time…

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