To be a pilgrim!
It has been a full on week in Italy this week! We started with a second day in Verona. Thankfully the weather picked up a bit, and we made the most of it with lots of sightseeing around the city. We had a good look around the main piazza, saw the Arena, and countless beautiful small streets. We also joined the hoardes of people to see Juliet (of Romeo and Juliet)’s house. There is a statue there of Juliet, and legend has it if you touch her right breast you will have luck in love. Andrew was too scared to get his photo taken with all of the people around, so Lisa had to take a hit for the team and get the token squeeze. Juliet’s house is also famous for its graffiti – thousands of people write on the walls asking Juliet for love advice, an ancient agony aunt. We also had a big walk up the hill to a lookout, before heading back to the van for an early dinner in preparation for the big final. We ended up watching the game surrounded by Germans at a restaurant in the main Piazza, and their celebrations with the win didn’t let us down!
After a cup of coffee at Andrew’s favourite café in Verona, we began the drive south to Tuscany. We stayed at Monteriggioni, a medieval walled commune village near Siena on a hilltop. It is a spectacular place, with beautiful old buildings and Piazzas. We enjoyed a hugely overpriced artesan beer in the square, and learned that the town was on the San Francigena pilgrimage route. We had seen lots of people walking a pilgrimage route in Spain heading towards Santiagp Del Composta so thought we would see what the fuss was all about. The next day, armed with lots of water and leftover pizza, we set off on a 20km walk towards Siena. It turned out to be a master stroke move, the Tuscan countryside is absolutely beautiful. Most of the path was off the main road, and we walked through olive groves, past castles and some beautiful churches, and through villages that we would never have seen from the campervan windows. We were amazed how green it was in Tuscany, and how much of the time we were walking through forest. While walking we saw some great grafitti 'The best things in life aren't things' was our favourite (Andrew intends to remind Lis of this in regards to future jewellery purchases). After about 4 hours of walking we were pretty stoked to arrive in Siena, and sat down in the main square to enjoy a well deserved gelato, feeling like very good pilgrims. It wasn’t until the next night when we looked up Siena on google that we realised we had missed seeing the cathedral in Siena, which apart from St Peters in Rome is meant to be the most popular and beautiful church in Italy! There’s always next time I guesss….. We caught the bus back to the campervan and headed back towards Florence. We were planning on stopping to see San Gimignano, which is also meant to be a spectacular medieval village with 14 ancient towers. But the parking gods were against us, and we weren’t overly keen to walk another 10km round trip, so we put that on the list for our next trip too and kept on towards Florence.
Google really paid off for us in Florence, we managed to park in a guarded park complete with fresh water and waste disposal for the van for just 12 euros per day. We really ate and walked our way around the city – on the first day we ate Panini with a glass of Chianti for lunch, had a stop at a delicious wine bar, ate pizza on the steps of a church. In between eating and drinking we also explored the food and leather markets in the streets, spent some time at the Ponte Vecchia, an old bridge which is lined with lots of jewellery shops. That night, we went to a choral concert and listened to Brahms and Beethoven in a grotto in the gardens of a palace. It was magical. Not so great, however, was getting completely lost on the way home. Our phone had run out of battery, and we ended up turning a 30min stroll into a nearly 4 hour mission. Our feet were very happy to make it to bed at 2am when we finally got back.
The next morning we were up early(ish) the next day, to see the main cathedral. Things had changed a bit since we were last there, and we didn’t realise we had to buy tickets outside the church. We also lined up in the wrong line! Not a great start to the morning. Instead of walking up inside the huge dome and then getting an amazing view of the city from the top, we had a nice look around the inside of the church itself. A little annoyed with ourselves, we gave up on the duomo for a while and had a delicious lunch of bruschetta, home made pasta, chocolate torta. Rejuvenated, we ventured back to the duomo. The correct line was massive, and it was a hot day. After over an hour in a queue, we made the 463 step journey up to the top. It was worth the wait and the climb, we were rewarded with spectacular views over the city. Andrew liked the view so much he made us walk up the bell tower as well, which was about 50 steps less but equally tough. We managed to not get lost walking home, and did a mountain of washing before jumping in the van again and heading south.
Andrew found us a gem to camp the night at. We stayed in a town called Bagno Vignoni, which is famous for its hot springs. We found a swimming hole, which was fed by a warm waterfall for a swim the next morning. Sounds and looks idyllic right? Until Lisa was innocently sitting in the pool and saw a snake swimming towards her. She made a very quick and probably not very graceful exit from the water, and it was toes in only after that.
We stopped for gelato in a pretty town in Umbria called Spello during the drive the next day, and stocked up on local pecorino cheese, some super concentrated jam, porcini mushrooms and walnut olive oil biscuits. We stayed the night at Lago di Scanno, a beautiful place by a lake in the mountains. In the morning went ran around the lake and went for a swim, no snakes this time! The drive to Bari was long and hot, while heading south the people and drivers got progressively more crazy. By the time we hit Bari there was complete disregard for any kind of road rules, even red lights. We made it to the ferry in one piece. Tomorrow Croatia! We are on the overnight ferry tonight, heres hoping for a smooth crossing and some sleep, we can't wait to hit the beaches.