Ian's Journals

Ian's HomeItaly, March/April 2007Italy, March/April 2007


Italy, March/April 2007

Italy, March/April 2007 |

Still feeling the effects of a few birthday drinks the previous night, Antonia and I escaped a half day of work bound for Italy.

NAPLES 29/3/07 – 1/4/07
Our first impressions of Naples were fairly low: run down buildings, rubbish filled streets and its reputation as a crime filled city. By the end of our three days, however, the good food and character had won us over enough to be my third favourite Italian city after Venice and Rome, and ahead of Florence and Milan. A case for not judging a book by its cover.

The port and main shopping area (Via Toledo) are the nicer areas. The areas around the train station – not so much. The dark narrow bustling streets and ancient buildings create a wary medieval atmosphere.

Thankfully our hostel was at the port end of town with very easy access to transport links for both our day trips to Pompeii and Capri.

Pompeii – I only expected a few ruined buildings, but was pleasantly surprised to discover an entire Roman city: houses with painted walls and beautiful courtyards; statues; columns; mosaics; orderly streets complete with Latin graffiti; and remarkable amphitheatres.

Back in Naples we took in the sights of the Duomo and Gesu Nuovo – the first of many impressive churches we would see. Wandering around the waterfront we also saw the Galleria Umberto I, Piazza Plebiscito, and Palazzo Peale.

Capri – While waiting for our hydrofoil we squeezed in a quick visit to Castel Nuovo to inspect its impressive gates. Getting to Capri was a novel experience – first catching a hydrofoil and then cramming into a miniature bus to be shunted around very steep and winding roads was a little more exciting start than your usual island trip. The steep walk up to Tiberius’ Villa Jovis was well rewarded with amazing views and some relaxing time in the sun, as was the descent via Arco Naturale and the time spent lounging on the pebble beach. A very scenic place to finally begin to unwind.

ROME 1/4/07 – 4/4/07
After an easy and comfortable train trip, our stay in Rome couldn’t have got off to a better start. Our hostel, apparently suffering power troubles arranged alternative accommodation for us: a four star hotel for the entirety of our three night stay at no extra cost. A very pleasant surprise.

Rome is awesome – so much history spread over so many famous sights (especially if you are determined to walk everywhere!). Those worth a mention…

Santa Maria Maggiore – church. The churches in Rome were by far the grandest and most ornate, mostly due to the fact that the art and marble was taken from the wealthy local Roman temples and residences!
Monumento Vittorio Emanuele II – an impressively dominant monument of white marble;
Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain) – amazing
Villa Borghese park – a beautiful and relaxing break from the busy built up stone and brick city
Piazza del Popolo
The Spanish Steps
Piazza Navona

San Pietro in Vincoli – church with Michelangelo’s Moses
Vatican City. When in Rome, prebook your tickets to the Vatican Museum/Sistine Chapel. I had never seen such a long and slow queue. Such was the satisfaction of walking past the stagnant line half way around the Vatican City from St Peter’s to the Museum. After waiting five minutes for our 12pm tour to begin we breezed past people who had been queuing since 8am. The Museum itself was excellent - comprising of a collection of the best treasures of Rome over the centuries. Highlights, unsurprisingly, were Michelangelo’s brilliant Sistine Chapel and Raphael’s School of Athens.
Santa Maria in Trasterere
Area Sacra – Roman ruins and cat sanctuary
Pantheon – one of my favourite sights, an amazing accomplishment for 125AD
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva – a gothic church
Chiesa del Gesu – incredible trompe l'oeuil ceiling

Domus Aurea and Colle Oppio
Arco Costantino
The Colosseum, Palantine Hill, and Roman Forum – excellent and impressive sights of ancient Rome
Back to the Vatican as St Peter’s had been shut for a private service the previous day. A trek up 551 steps to the top of the dome (designed by Michelangelo) – unsurprisingly an amazing cathedral and a great view of Rome
Circus Maximus

We nailed Rome!

FLORENCE 4/4/07 – 6/4/07
Our accommodation, although satisfactory, was a big step down after our four star experience in Rome – the prison cell-like corridor and decorative sun themed room were an interesting change of scenery.

I found Florence to be just OK. Perhaps I had reached art appreciation saturation in more impressive Rome.

The majority of churches cost a couple of Euro (which adds up), the opening/closing times are varied, and the streets are teaming with tourists.

The churches are plainer in Florence than in Rome – still amazing architecturally and artistically, but with comparatively less glitz.

Sights worth a mention:

Piazza Della SS Anunziata – the Rough Guide’s favourite Piazza…nice but I wouldn’t go that far.
The Duomo – amazing inside and out
The Battisero (Baptistery) one of our favourite sights of the trip with its spectacular gold mosaic ceiling
Piazza di Santa Croce
The Ponte Vecchio bridge over the Arno
Piazzale Michelangelo and Chiesa di San Marco al Monte – another favourite sight – an impressive and refreshingly different ‘rustic’ church with un-crowded views over Florence and fresh air
The markets of San Lorenzo

Santa Maria Novella
San Lorenzo
Uffizi – another pre-booking suggestion
Piazza D Signoria
Piazza Del Mercato for an atmospheric dinner

VENICE 6/4/07 – 8/4/07
Venice was our favourite city of the trip. Stepping out from the train station onto the Grande Canal was so refreshing after the stone clad cities of the past few days.

By this stage of the journey we were inclined to avoid further church and museum excursions and were content to wander the narrow streets and cruise the Grande Canal on the ‘bus’ taking in the sights of the lavish waterfront palaces and bustling canal life.

Although hectic with tourists, they were more welcome here, as without them the dark, narrow winding alleys of streets became an eerie maze at night.

Piazza San Marco is the nucleus of Venice for tourists. Staying a minute’s walk from here was an excellent base from which to spend our time wandering the various districts soaking up the sun and unique waterfront atmosphere.

‘Bussed’ the length of the Grande Canal and wandered from the Ghetto to Campo S Margherita and finally back to see the Rialto by night.

Interior of San Marco. Keeping with my queue saving tips, drop your bag at the nearby storage point and receive a ticket allowing you to skip the queue to the church! The golden mosaic covering the ceiling was magnificent, as was the view from the balcony into the piazza below. We then 'bussed' around outer Venice, stopping at San Giorgio Maggiore – a church on an island just off central Venice. That evening we headed back to San Marco for a night stroll with live classical music being provided by the outdoor cafes.

MILAN 8/4/07 – 9/4/07
Arriving on Easter Sunday, Milan was very quiet. We quickly took in the sights of the impressive Duomo with its countless gothic spires and lofty interior, the Vittorio Emanuel II shopping arcade and the Castello Sforzesco, spending the remainder of the day relaxing in the Parco Sempione before gorging ourselves on our final authentic Italian meal.

…and on our final day Antonia took off to France to see her family for Easter and I sat at the airport writing this!

Locations Visited: London, Naples, Pompei, Naples, Capri, Naples, Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, London

Add Comment

Comment Policy:

Only signed in members can comment on journal entries. Please sign in now or register if you would like to leave a comment. Comments are sent to the owner of this journal for approval before being made live on the site.