Going to Pisa on the way to the Tuscan reigon, seeing the tower that really does lean. Laughing at a gorgeous little boy on a tricycle chasing after pigeons in the square. Being bombarded with men trying to sell us umbrellas, watches, fake handbags as soon as we got off the bus (something which happened the whole time we were in Italy). Wandering back through the markets, driving onto our campsite which was definitely the best accomodation of them all. Cute little cabins with fabulous showers, a supermarket, random gift store, swimming pool, bar, restaurant, etc in the site which made us feel a lot more civilised. Eating the best ever pizza & pasta dinner and falling in love with the Tuscan scenery. Everyone being in great moods after a decent shower at last. Wandering the streets of Florence, the artists streets, going on a walking tour with our leader. Walking through more markets, and seeing this amazing display of theatre masks which somehow, made me so incredibly happy and gave me a lot of strength. We lined up to see the statue of David (by Michaelangelo) at the Accadamia and ended up waiting for 3 hours - but it was worth it. I made my first ever 'designer'-ish purchase - a genuine Italian leather handbag that cost almost $300 AU (about 6x more than I would ever spend on a bag previously). Having dinner at a pub with another tour group, and figuring out the beauty of phonecards and payphones that actually work, and talking to Noel for a couple of hours - a much needed saving grace at that time.
Driving through to Siena on the way to Rome, a gorgeous little town which we all agreed we would have loved to have spent longer at. Drinking hot drinks at the counter of a cafe because it costs extra to sit down. Driving into Rome, then catching the train into the center of town. Taking a walking tour past all the main sites, having dinner (more fabulous pizza) and gelati in a side street served by a waiter amed Mario. Spening our free day in Rome, in the pouring rain, and one of the girls on our group getting pickpocketed by gypsies on the train which put a dampener on the day. Being somewhat ho-hum about St Peters Bascilica, but completely awed by the Sistine Chapel, and the hallway leading to the chapel. Walking in the rain right across town to the Colleseum, stopping for lunch in which I ate an entire pizza by myself (first and only time ever). Our spirits were low that day, perhaps because of the rain, perhaps because we were approaching the halfway mark and we were all tired and getting sick. Our tour group decided to have a Mexican party on the 2nd night we were in Rome (go figure - they just wanted an excuse to make Sangria. They made 90 litres of it!) but my friends and I were trying to get laundry done (a huge chore - there was never enough washing machines or dryers, so having clean clothes was really a battle of who had the most patience to sit by the machines so no-one could take their spot). Power failures meant it took us 4 hours to get it all done in the end, but having clean clothes was definitely worth it - not to mention it was a hell of a lot drier inside the laundry room than it was outside in the cook tent.
We drove to Pompeii on a day trip from Rome, a fascinating city which was destroyed in 79AD by a volcanic eruption. The entire city was covered in ash, preserving the remains of houses, streets, even people. Plaster moulds of the bodies & facial expressions of victims made us think what the last seconds of these people's lives were like, and we were led on a tour of the city's remains by a funny man named FoFo who randomly burst into song in the middle of a crowd.
We went through Verona on the way into Venice, walking to the balcony which is supposedly Juliet's (of the family whom the Capulets are based on in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet). We only had an hour in this beautiful 'City of Love', but it was enough time to know that I have to go back there for sure. Falling completely in love with Venice, my now favourite city, with it's narrow roads and canals and endless displays of masks. A gondola ride through the canals allowed us to get another view of this enchanting city, and we saw demonstrations of lace making and glass blowing, 2 things that Venice is renowned for. The rest of the day was spent wandering the many shops in the laneways, buying jewellery and wishing I could take home so many of the beautiful masks I saw. Eating one last gelati - our time in Italy was over.
[to be continued: Austria, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam]