Cinque Terre

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Cinque Terre…literally ‘The Five lands’…five small fishing villages perched on cliff edges…like olympic divers ready to plummet into the Ligurian Sea…

Via Dell’Amore…literally ‘Lovers’ Lane’…walking hand-in-hand along the winding path…our nine year old love still ‘young’…

Monterosso al Mare…the most popular beach…exploring the coast by paddle boat…a three-hour hike through the vineyards and lemon groves…

Manarola…the oldest village…a ladder from the rocks into the beautiful fresh deep water…‘Bella’ – ‘Fresca’ – an old Italian woman calls to us as she descends the ladder…

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Love,

H&H

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Venice, the floating city…

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If the rumours are true, Venice will be completely underwater in our lifetime. What a sad sad thought to lose something so unique & beautiful…

We visited Venice with visions of a Disneyland-like cliché, but we discovered something completely different! A city existing, in many ways, as it had hundreds and hundreds of years ago. Genuine Venetians. Proud local cuisine. Quiet laneways. Secret places along the water.

The floating city is built upon foundations, resting upon evenly spaced wooden piles, set within the softer layer of sand & mud, just above the layer of hard compressed clay. It is truly one of the most beautiful places we have ever had the privilege to explore.

Everything you would find in a normal city exists in Venice, except cars (which is a nice difference): schools, hospitals, water taxis, water buses, water ambulances, water police, even water ice cream vans…

Our two nights went by too fast!

We explored Murano, the island renowned for glass blowing. We showed some interest in a vase, which we later found out was priced at 3,500 Euro. Our interest, however, led us to a private glass blowing exhibition, with our own guide and a Murano Glass Maestro. Beats lining up with the crowds to pay for the Glass Factory around the corner!

On our way back to the mainland, we stopped at Isola di San Michele – originally a prison island, now Venice’s cemetery. In the 1800’s Napoleon ordered the Venetians to start transporting their beloved dead across the waters, and it is on this picturesque (& slightly creepy) island that they now rest in peace.

We enjoyed a Gondola ride through the small canals, asking our ‘driver’ to steer clear of the bright & bustling Grand Canal. We floated under small bridges, past Casanova’s home (“Now a school, but not a school for lovers“, our cheeky Gondolier proclaimed), and we splashed along past Marco Polo’s original residence.

Marco.

Polo.

(Fish out of water?)

A secret wharf was our favourite find, a wrong turn down a dark alleyway. The Grand canal splashed at our feet, the sun was warm on our shoulders, and not another soul near us. Bliss.

To anyone who has not been to Venice, and who has the opportunity – andiamo! The memories, like gondolas, will forever  float through your dreams…

Love to you all,

H&H

Florence

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Firenze. Florentine. Florence.

A city famous for its history, for being the capital of Tuscany, and for its beautiful paper…

We visited Florence with only one real plan: to visit the original Il Papiro store.

As many of you reading this will know, I have an obsession for all things paper: books, stationery, cards, printmaking…

In a little Melbourne laneway, tucked between Degraves Street fashion & amazing coffee, is the Australian Il Papiro store. I discovered it a few years ago and still dream of the shelves of handprinted cards & intricately marbled sheets of paper.

We arrived at the Florence store and were lucky enough to be greeted by the worldwide owner, Francesco,  a passionate, interesting & generous man.

I told him how we had visited, and loved, his store in Melbourne. The ice was broken, and he shared his stories, history, and love of ‘all things paper’ with us for over an hour. We watched as he demonstrated the marbling technique, listened as he talked about the five generations of paper merchants & book binders in his famiglia, were intrigued by his experiences with paper – including restoration of important books for international libraries, and were inspired by his passion for his current bambino: an antique typography machine that he is restoring from scratch (parts are handmade, and it is starting to “roar like a great big bear”…)

We left Il Papiro with Francesco’s personalised tour of Florence:

  • Quiet places to discover (with no queues), including the Medici Chapel, where artworks depict the three wise men in the Tuscan hillsides.
  • The BEST gelato store, Perche No (literally “Why not?”), where pistachio gelato actually  tastes like pistachios.
  • Mercato Centrale, a food hall filled with Tuscan gourmet treasures.

What a wonderful way to explore such a beautifully rich city!

Love,

Hayley

PS Francesco gave us the marbled paper that he made while we watched. We also bought a handprinted woodblock image. Both will be framed and hung in our home one day…after our gypsy travel days are over!

Harry’s Birthday

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We woke early on Saturday morning to the sound of the church bells, then quickly slumped back into foetal positions as a result of exhaustion from our trip to Rome and the Amalfi Coast.

At around 8.30am Hayley woke again and forced us both out of bed…it was my Birthday and there was a surprise organised!

We headed into Lucca into a little street on the north side of the city to a motor bike hire shop. From there we grabbed a Vespa, after assuring the nervous lady that we would take good care of it. The conversation went something like this:

Lady: “Here are the keys, and please drop it back by 7.30pm.”

Harry: “Ok, thanks. Now how do I start it?”

Lady: “You press this button.”

Harry: “…and the gears?”

Lady: “You have ridden a motor bike before…haven’t you?”

Harry: “I have ;)*”

Lady: “Please drive on the right hand side of the road…and please don’t scratch it…”

Harry and Hayley: “We won’t…(nanga, nanga, nannnngggggg)…byyyyyeeeee.”

We worked out the rest.

We headed for Viareggio, a beachside village only 30 mins drive from Lucca. 20 mins by Vespa, but 60 mins with me driving it! Our plan was to spend the day on the beach relaxing under the warm Tuscan sun with the sand between our toes. Unfortunately when we arrived we found that of the many kilometres of beautiful flat beach, there was only a sliver of beach around 10 metres wide which was free for public access. The rest was covered in beach umbrellas, and fenced off to paying customers.

Needless to say, we did not in fact spend the day on the beach. We did however have he luxury of finding a couple of flat rocks on the breakwall jutting out between the beach and the marina where we could sit and relax in the seaspray for an hour or so. We finished our day at Viareggio with a late lunch, fish and chips, which we haven’t seen for three and a half months, and gelato (it’s fast becoming a daily ritual).

Cheers,

Harry

One last thing, we drove into Lucca later that night on the Vespa and on a one way street a fire truck happened to zoom around the corner heading straight for us. Hayley quickly dismounted exclaiming she would never get back on the bike with such a crazy driver (she did). Later she realised we were going the right way…it’s just that fire trucks can go which ever way they like!

*The winky face is because I have technically ridden a motor bike before. What the lady didn’t know is that I have only ridden twice before, but neither occasion was on a public road…

…and on one of those occasions, the bike fell over when I stopped.

Coasting Amalfi

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“It bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are
there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.”

~ John Steinbeck, 1953

The Amalfi Coast. A dream of Hayley’s for many years, and one of the most beautiful parts of the world we have ever had the privilege of visiting…

We hired a car in Naples and set off on a true adventure: fear and exhilaration in equal measures. Driving the winding narrow roads along cliff faces that drop to the deep bright blue ocean is a scary prospect. Driving it amongst crazy Italian locals is scarier. In a car where the steering wheel is on the left, the gearstick is on the right, and where the car should be on the left-hand side of the road, makes it downright terrifying.

Harry drove.

Hayley held on tight.

The terror was worth it. We took our time and stopped to take in the views along the way. At some stops we drank homemade lemonade, at others we ate fresh granita al limone. Amalfi is famous for its hillside lemon groves…

The views across the coastline, and looking down over the brightly coloured houses in Sorrento, Positano, & Amalfi, is something we will never forget. We stood in the warm sun and watched the packed tourist buses pass us by, standing room only. It was a shame that the people on the buses would miss the chance to stop off on quiet corners…

Late afternoon we arrived at our home for the night, a gorgeous hotel in Atrani (the village next to Amalfi), the Palazzo Ferraioli. Our room had views across the village and ocean, a jacuzzi, and access to a rooftop terrace. We shared a bottle of Prosecco at sunset, and toasted to this amazing journey.

Later in the evening we wandered up the hill towards Amalfi and discovered Luna Convento Ristorante, a restaurant housed in an old convent on a cliff. The seafood we ordered was impeccable, and the service was kind and attentive. Dessert was in the form of gelato eaten on a wharf in Amalfi: bitter chocolate, cherry, hazelnut & pistachio.

The most surreal memory, and the one that will become ‘beckoningly real’, was our early morning swim in the ocean. A ladder leading from the cliff into the clear, warm, turquoise water…an old man diving in with such peace on his face…an old woman sunning herself on the rocks…and silence.

ROAMING ROME

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We have returned, and recovered, from our recent Italian travels…

Rome was an interesting city – a literal melting pot: hot, busy, religious, touristy, ancient, artistic, friendly, alive.

We pounded the footpaths, along with thousands of other visitors, to the Vatican City, St Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, the Forum, the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain. Each sight was equally overwhelming and beautiful, however we found ourselves pancaking* , and were relieved when we had ticked off each item from our long long list. Rome was definitely not built in a day!

We spent the rest of our time roaming the streets, eating delizioso gelato, and finding shelter from the intense heat in small bars & cocktail lounges – it’s a hard life!

Our favourite place in Rome, for those who may find themselves travelling there in the future, was the Trastevere quarter. The locals of this area consider themselves the original inhabitants of Rome. The laneways are perfect cliches: ivy vines, flower boxes, washing hanging on lines between windows, woodfired pizza ovens & cobbled stones. The nightlife was alive. The locals had ‘sass’, but invited us into their world openly, even just for the night!

Love,

H&H

*Pancaking is defined as similar to the experience of ordering a large stack of pancakes. You are extremely excited & hungry for them, however halfway through the dish, you  never want to see another pancake in your life!