Florence and Nice

“Bonjour I have to say that. We’re in France. After spending a few very rainy days in the Tuscany region of Italy we arrived in Nice, France, last night. Not surprisingly, it’s, um, nice. Anyway more about that later. This is what we’ve been up to since we left Venice. Caught the bus to Florence in Italy and arrived at around lunch time. The area is really nice, the countryside is green and lush and it is really very nice after the bare Greek landscapes. We stayed in a campsite in a cabin which was really cheap (especially compared to Hotels in Italy) and was only about a 20 minute bus ride to the city. We went into the city the afternoon we arrived, checked out the Duomo (a big church) and a few of the other sights. Michangelo’s David statue is also in Florence, but we only got to see the replica because the museum was closed when we went to have a look on Sunday. After a few hours of walking around the city we decided to catch the bus back to the campsite, which was a bit of an adventure because the bus driver decided to change the route number after we got on and the bus went in the opposite direction. After a long time we passed some very familiar sights, and we realised that we were heading back into the city. We stayed on the bus and met some Kiwis who had got on the same bus for the same reason. We got off in the city and caught another bus, which luckily stayed on the correct route and we got back to the campsite, but not before it started pouring. So out came the waterproof jackets from our day packs, wow, what a good investment! The next day we took a day trip to another Tuscan town, Siena. I don’t want to sound like I’m gushing, but this place is awesome. The town is pretty much how it was a few hundred years ago, and the best thing was that it has a church which is absolutely MASSIVE and every corner of it is decorated by works of art (many by Ninja Turtles, ie: Donatello etc). The ceiling is lined with busts of hundreds of people, all different, and all in perfect detail. The outside has the same thing. The floor has a huge mosaic in it, the walls are adorned with famous religious paintings, there are statues all over the place. We spent a good few hours in there and couldn’t have possibly seen everything. Apart from the fact that it was raining heavily outside and we didn’t want to go back out, this place coulod keep you entertained forever. We saw some other stuff in Siena, but it all seems pretty insignificant compared to that church. That night we went back to the campsite and cooked some spag bol in the campsite kitchen, which seems to have become a habit because that’s what we’ve had every night since! The following day it was still raining so we just hung around the campsite until it stopped at around lunch time. We stupidly thought that it wouldn’t rain again, and as a result we got wet for the 3rd day in a row! The church itself was closed, but we did get to climb the 414 stairs to the top of the bell tower. I can’t believe they make you pay to do that. The stairs are payment enough! Although it was raining and the viewing platform wasn’t under cover, the view from the top was pretty spectacular. We went back to the campsite and left on the bus to Nice the following morning. The bus went via Pisa, so we got to see the leaning tower which is on much more of a lean than we expected. We took some obligatory stupid touristy photos of us holding up the tower (they’ll be on the site soon). The road between Florence and Nice has something like 200 bridges and 200 tunnells. It’s not good if you’re afraid of heights, because some of the bridges are a few hundred metres above the ground. It’s pretty amazing. We haven’t really done much in Nice yet. We cooked our spag bol last night, and then went to the supermarket this morning for obligatory supplies of baguettes and croussaints (sp?). I was accosted by another bum this morning. Needless to say, French bums only speak French (not like the classy ones in Vienna)! Today we’ll check out Nice, tomorrow we’re off to Monaco to meet the Prince and get a stamp in our passports! Might hire a car and do the Grand Prix circuit! The following day we’re off to Lyon (also in France) and then we’re heading to Switzerland which we’re pretty excited about. We reckon that although we’ve been way under budget so far, Switzerland might just sort that out! Overall we’re having as great time. Thanks everyone for your emails and keep in touch! Jane and Jon”

"Blue roofs, and more about those floating rats"

“Hello from beautiful Santorini in the Greek Islands! Sorry I didn’t get to finish the last email. Chances are it will happen again! We have some photos uploaded to the site now. We haven’t seen most of them yet, so I have no idea what is there! Should be interesting. http://www.sytone.net By the way, we have decided to photograph all the McDonald’s shops that we see and have a Maccas gallery on the site. Don’t ask me why, but it seemed like a good idea at the time! Well, I was up to Venice. Venice is beautiful but very polluted. Some of the people who we met on our trip went on a Gondola ride and saw amongst other things dead floating rats in the water and also other bits that you might find floating around Bondi beach! So after we checked out of our expensive hotel we went to the train station and set about working out how to catch a train to where we had to meet our tour. After lining up at several information desks I finally worked out how to get the tickets so I decided to be very smart and ask for them in Italian. It all went well until she told me how much they were in Italian. I then forgot any sembalance of my newly-found Italian language skills and said “”What, how much?”” I left without even saying thankyou because my confidence had all disappeared. We got on the train bound for Mestre which is one station out of Venice. That all went well. When we got off the train we had another epic of finding the right bus and then finding out where to but the tickets. Just a tip: you can’t buy bus tickets at the ‘Tickets’ window, you have to get them at the cafeteria (how silly of me!) We waited for the number one bus to Fusina (which is basically the Penrith of Venice) where the rest of the tour group had stayed the night before in a camping place. After an hour at the bus stop and meeting another group of Australians from Leeton which is near Wagga who were headed the same way we got on the #1 bus which was packed with campers heading to Fusina. But the bus driver turfed us out when we got to the turn off because apparently this bus didn’t go all the way. We never did find out why. So us Aussies banded together and decided to walk. “”It can’t be far”” we said, but were not convinced when the street sign said that our little stroll is 6km. To make matters worse it was about 35 degrees, humid, we were carrying our packs (at least 15kg each) and we only had an hour to get there. We weren’t convinced that the next bus would be any quicker than the last, so given the options, walking was still our best bet. (WARNING: the next section may scare some parents!) After walking about 2km of the optimistic 6, we saw another couple who were on the bus go past in a local car. Hmm, not a bad option. Let’s hitch. Shortly afterwards some lovely young Italian boys with radio blaring picked us up without having to even raise our thumb. Luckily the road was quiet because they were driving at twice the speed limit in the middle of the road. We thankfully arrived at our destination unscathed with 25 mins to spare! A few minutes later the other 3 Aussies arrived in the back of a ute. Geez Aussies are a resourceful bunch! After meeting the tour guide and being told that we weren’t leaving for another hour, we sat and had a beer (what else was there to do). We then got onto an empty tour bus as we were the only ones joining the group at point, and proceeded to backtrack our steps basically back to the same spot we had left 3 hrs earlier. Bugger! At this stage we met the rest of the group. Although they had been travelling together for a while they were happy to welcome us into their fold. They are a really nice bunch of people with an average age of about 28. We are the youngest people on the tour, which is good because it means that we haven’t got a whole stack of 18 year-old people who just want to party and couldn’t care less about looking at any of the sights. The group has 2 South Africans (both of whom have been working in London for a while), 4 Kiwis and 9 Aussies! Our tour guide, Flora, is Greek Australian and grew up in Melbourne. She’s fantastic and we’ve been having a lot of fun. She’s moving to London after this tour and has invited us to use her floor until we can find our own place. Anyway, from the Venice port we boarded the huge ship to Patras in Greece. We had an amazing view of Venice on our way out, there are some photos on the site. We were supposed to share a tiny cabin with another couple and their huge Samsonite suitcase, but they decided that the room wasn’t big enough for the 5 of us so upgraded and left us in the room by ourselves. Bewdy! The cruise took 2 days and 2 nights and was a lot of fun and very relaxing. We then caught a bus to Athens. I’ve gotta tell you. Athens is a dump. Our Hotel was near the local meat market which is out in the street in the boiling weather, and is completely un-refrigerated. At the end of the day whatever isn’t sold is lumped on the streets in the hope that the street cleaner will come and scoop it up! Hmm, yum. They scoop it up with big loaders and then put it in dumpsters which stay on the streets for a day or so until they’re empty. I guess the reason it stays there is because what else would the hoards of stray dogs and cats in the city eat? There were 2 good things about Athens. Our Hotel had a rooftop pool with a view to the Acropolis, and we had a nice time watching the sun go down from there. The only thing is that Athens is basically built in a ditch, and the pollution is amazing. The sun actually disappeared behind a cloud of smog before it went behind the mountain! The other good thing is the food. Greeks really know how to cook. We have taken quite a liking to Greek salad and yeeros. Oh, and there is one other good thing, there is lots of old stuff. The Acropolis is amazing. It is on the top of a hill and looks huge. It is truly an architectural masterpiece. We went to the Olympic Stadium which is the site of the 1st modern Olympic games (who said we left the Olympic city). >From the ground it looks quite small, but from the top it looks huge. >It is built entirely from marble. We also went to the temple of Zeuss and a few other spots. Oh, and the Athens Metro station has to be the cleanest in the world. It also doubles as a museum because they dug up some other old stuff when they were digging the underground. They have armed guards keeping the dog and cat population and other undesirables out. So we had pretty much seen all Athens has to offer when the bad news came that we had to spend another night there because the ferries were striking and we couldn’t get to Santorini. The drivers in Athens are mad. They don’t stop for red lights or pedestrians. We saw an old women knocked down in the street. Her head was lying in a pool of blood but she was still alive! The ferries were still striking the next day, so our tour guide organised for us to fly. We got to Santorini a day late, which meant that we either stayed for only 2 days or missed out on going to Ios (another island). We decided that the former option was better, so we opted to stay in Santorini. Santorini is exactly what you see in postcards. The blue and white buildings are perched on top of cliffs and the weather is hot and sunny. Our hotel, also a blue and white building was really nice, but in the middle of nowhere. It would take us ages to walk to the beach or catch a bus, so we needed transport! After consulting our insurance policy which wouldn’t cover us for motorbikes (scooters and mopeds included), a car was the best option. We opted for the jeep which was a small Suzuki with no top. When I say no top I mean it. Even if we wanted a roof they didn’t give us one! Lucky it never rains! Drivers in Santorini are mad. They overtake on blind corners (they just beep their horns to let people know they’re coming), they park anywhere they can, they drive fast. The law says that people who ride motorbikes etc have to have a helmet with them, but there’s no rule about wearing them! But I was brave and decided to try out the right side of the road, after all, when in Santorini, do what the Greeks do. We drove around most of the Island, following some of the other members of the group who braved the scooters. We took New Zealanders, Darren and Sarah (pron. Dirrin and Sirrah) stopping from time to time to look at the view from atop a cliff, or to go for a swim in a beautiful spot in crystal clear waters. Every beach has a different coloured sand, black, red, black round rocks, or just boulders. It is really varied. We even went wine tasting. Grapes are Santorini’s main crop. They are everywhere around the place, but they don’t string the vines up to posts, they just lie on the ground in the barren, dry soil. The Greeks on Santorini also know how to cook. Our first meal was breakfast at Momma’s. Momma is quite a character, and she is well known amongst the locals and also the tourists. Her catch cry is “”Momma loves yous babies””, and she yelled it out at least 3 times during our breakfast of omlettes and inch-thick pancakes. We’re off there for dinner tonight as well (breakfast was on Tuesday). Today we took the car back at 11am (btw, I got pretty good at Santorini driving) and went on a tour of Santorini’s volcano Island. It is at least 40 degrees today, and I’m getting pretty burnt and Jon has a heat rash all over is hands and feet). We walked down about 2000 steps to the port, all the way battling with donkeys (you can hire a donkey to ride up or down the stairs). The stais are made from marble rocks set in cement, which are shined and made slippery by the donkey poo and their hoofs as they go along. After a boat ride, we trekked up the inactive volcano, nearly died from heat exhaustion and pretty much all we saw was a few deep holes in the ground and a bit of Sulphur coming out of the ground. Afterwards the boat took us for a well-deserved swim in the hot springs (which are hot because of the Volcano). When we got back we decided that by far the best option was to fork out the 5 bucks for the cable car back up the cliff. Wow, what a view. We all were pretty burnt (we went with 2 people from the tour group) and were lectured by an obnoxious American who told us to go to the pharmacy to get some Aloe Vera for our burns. Little did she know that the two girls we were with are a doctor and a pharmacist. Geez some people are obnoxious! Well, now I’m up to date. I’m in the net cafe and writing this letter. We’re off to see the sun set from a cliffside bar followed by dinner at Momma’s. Tomorrow we’re off back to Athens by ferry (assuming they’re running) and we have to spend another night there before embaring on 3 days of sailing around the islands. It’s tough . . . Go unemployment! Now here’s the personal messages: *Mum and Dad, thanks for taking care of the phone shenanigans and look after the cat! *Hello to Barbara and Derek *Tham, I met a girl on our trip from Leichhardt, she has the best job- she works for the department of defence. Her job is to look at units and buy them for Army staff to live in. She buys a few every week! Thanks for your long email too. Hope you’re enjoying the Olympics! Say hello to all the OzEmailers for me. *A big Hi to Malinda. Thanks for all your emails. *Nick, thanks for your email too. Hope you’re not missing us too much. Could you please forward this to Jen and Marty, they haven’t signed up yet. *Mim and Gus, congrats on the expected arrival. Don’t forget to name the baby after me. If you want to reply, please reply to our normal addresses. Jon’s is sytone@sytone.net and mine is jane_bullen@hotmail.com We’ve stopped the replies from going to everyone on the list. If you want to make comments there’s a place on the site. Keep in touch. Jane and Jon”

Meat sandwiches, floating rats and the REAL Olympic city

Hello everyone,

We thought it was about time that we wrote to you all. We’ve been so busy and having a lot of fun, and the only reason that we have enough time today is that we are stuck in Athens because the ferries are stiking and we can’t get to Santorini (we were supposed to leave last night). more about that later, here’s the adventure so far.

If you see that anyone is missing from the email list, please forward this on. So I don’t have to search through our address book every time for everyone, could you please all sign up to our email list so we can just send it to one address. Instructions on how to do that are at the bottom of this email.

Anyway, enough of the formalities, here’s what we’ve been up to.

We flew out of Sydney a week ago on Monday night. The plane left pretty much on time despite nasty rumours that the airport would be packed because of the Olympics. Customs was a breeze and we did a bit of duty free shopping before we boarded. The plane went backwards to Melbourne (that’s what you get when you go on a cheap flight) and then onto Kuala Lumpar.

We got off the plane in each place for an hour or so to stretch our legs, but by then we were pretty tired because it was about 4am Sydney time. The flight was really long, and even longer in the stretch when our lights, video monitors and radios shorted out and it was pitch dark so we couldn’t do anything. They fixed them eventually, so we watched a few movies and watched the flight cam which shows the view from under the plane. Pretty much every time we dozed off they came along with a meal and it seemed very strange to be eating lunch in the dark. Apart from the long flight time, the broken video etc and the strange eating times the rest of the flight was quite good.

We arrived in Vienna at about 11.30 am (which was pretty much on time), collected our bags and walked straight out onto the street (customs seems non-existent in Austria).

Had my 1st problem with the language barrier when I asked for 2 drinks at McDonald’s and only got one. Caught an airport bus to the area we were staying in, got off, got lost for about 1/2 hour which wasn’t fun carrying our backpacks in the 30 degree heat.

Got to our hostel, which was pretty good. We went out immediately to avoid the trap of going straight to sleep and feeling the effects of jet lag the next day.

Vienna is a beautiful city. It is very clean and the people are lovely. We blew our 1st day’s budget on a horse and carriage ride around the city where we saw all the beautiful old churches and palaces. Took stacks of photos which will eventually be on our website http://www.sytone.net

Vienna has no highrise at all, so everything seems so neat and even. Stacks of people seem to have dogs, although I have no idea where they keep them as there are no backyards! We grasped German pretty well while we were in Vienna, although there is really no need because pretty much everyone speaks English. I even had a one-toothed bum in a wheelchair in the street ask me for money in German, and when I murmered something about not understanding in English, he quickly asked me if I had any Schillings for him. He also gave us some travel tips. Even the bums are nice in Vienna.

We decided that we should have a traditional Austrian dinner that night, so where better to head that the schnitzel shop. We had no idea what we were ordering, and we ended up with a plate of 3 schnitzels each, one chicken, one veal and one pork! Hmm, nothing like meat i the afternoon . . . Actually the Austrians eat a lot of meat. You can buy a slab of meat in between two slabs of bread from vendors on the street. Meat sandwiches.

The jet lag beat us at 6pm when we couldn’t stay awake any longer and we crashed out. Pretty tired the next day, but not too bad. We then got a train to Venice on which we met a really nice (surprise surprise) American couple who were a few years older than us. They had just finished law school and were having their one and only holiday before they embarked on the life of being LA Lawyers. They will probably never have another holiday again! We had a great chat with them for most of the 9 hr journey and pretty much set them straight on Australians and kangaroos on the street.

From the train we could see beautiful mountains and also castles on the top of hills. It was really amazing. We also met and Italian guy who assured us that we would get good food in Italy. Got off the train in Venice at 11pm at night, and we stupidly thought that we would find a cheap place to stay without booking. We ended up paying around $200 Australian for a 2 star hotel whcih was ok, but not the Ritz, I can tell you.

When we got off the train, although it was late at night it was still about 30 degrees and very muggy. The air in Venice is very thick and always smells like cigars. The place is beautiful and amazing, but at the same time is polluted and crumbling. Wouldn’t want to live there, but a great place to visit. After checking into the hotel we went out for dinner (at this time it was about 11.30 pm), but the place was still a buzz with people and I had my 1st real spag bol.

In the morning we got up and went for a walk before we checked out of the hotel. We got completely lost which I think is the best way to do it because you see a lot more. We were truly amazed when we walked through a tiny alley into a massive square complete with a 100m church tower. We attempted to buy some fruit from a woman on the street who yelled at us for touching the fruit, which is apparently offensive in Italy. Bought some beautiful nectarines and apples before heading back to the hotel to check out.

The story continues but I’m running out of time. We have to get back to the hotel to find out whether or not we’re going to Santorini today. The story will continue . . .

Catch you all later.

Jane and Jon

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