We flew into Rome on another scorching hot day and were greeted by our good friend from NZ, Ursh, who would be joining us for 5 nights in Italy. After settling into our hostel (which was far more like a hotel) we ventured out to visit the monumental Colosseum. Joining a walking tour we were able to skip the line and get a whizz bang tour of the Colosseum which was completed in AD80!! It was amazing to be there but we expected it to be a lot larger in size, likely due to how it is portrayed in The Gladiator. The tour then took us through the ruins of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. It was just mind blowing to hear the stories and then to view the ancient remains of the Roma Republic.
Day two was another monumental day of walking. We headed across town to the Vatican City stopping along the way to view more stuff such as the Pantheon and a visit inside the Castel Sant Angelo Museum which provided us with an excellent roof top view of the city.
Next was St Peter’s Basilica and Square which was swarming with thousands of tourists all eager and pushy to see the same things we were. Fortunately we waited in line for only half an hour to enter the Basilica. Once inside we were able to see the impressive Michelangelo-designed dome that soars 120m above the main alter, this was just out of this world. With such incredible detail in every facet of the Basilica you could easily spend an entire day here. We also ventured through the catacombs of the Vatican to view the tombs of previous Popes including that of Pope John Paul II, a special moment indeed. Next we strolled through the gigantic 5.5 hectare Vatican Museum complex and viewed the main highlights which culminated in the Sistine Chapel.
We have certainly learnt the true significance of ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’. It seems everything that draws the tourist to Rome is just incredible (I am aware of the overuse of adjectives!). Photos do not do it justice, you just have to see it for yourself!
From Rome we travelled up to Florence for a three night stay. With the ability to walk everywhere in Florence and after the intensity of Rome, we all thoroughly enjoyed this smaller city. With temperatures hovering close to 40 degrees each day our pace here was very slow, but we still managed to cover the main sights and attractions including a visit to Michelangelo’s David. This marble creation was very impressive and well worth the one hour queue for tickets. Florence also had the best markets we have seen yet, selling mostly leather goods but also an incredible range of fresh Italian produce. Unlike most markets the products here were of a very high quality. With the opportunity to barter the price down we all purchased a leather item or two.
Making the most of our stay in the Tuscany region we took a day trip to the coast. Heading west we visited both Pisa for a very quick look at the leaning tower and then on to Cinque Terre National Park.
Cinque Terre is a remaining part of the Italian Riviera and a Unesco-listed site. It takes its name from the five fishing villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. The villages are joined by a 10km hiking track which weaves upwards along sheer cliff tops and back down to each of the five villages below.
The track was hard work in the intense heat but the magnificent views made it all worthwhile. Feeling incredibly jaded and slightly battered after some swimming amongst the rocks, we rewarded ourselves with a beautiful seaside dinner before heading back to Florence later that night.
Parting ways with Ursh in Florence we headed onto Venice for one night. We arrived to a sweltering 46 degree day (!) so spent most of our time slowly wandering the streets and taking in the gorgeous Venetian lifestyle. This vehicle-free city felt deliciously peaceful in comparison to all our previous destinations allowing us to wind down and sift through the streets.
We also discovered real Italian pizza here which we had struggled to find in Rome and Florence. Naturally we made the most and ate it for two meals a day. Soo good!
Boarding our overnight train we head to our next destination, Paris.