We are underway to Sardinia doing an overnight because it is 135 miles from the coast of Rome. We're kind of sad to leave mainland Italy because there was so much more we could explore but the season is marching on and we actually have a little over a month before we need to be in Gibraltar. We both had so much anticipation for this past couple of weeks and it was so much fun once we got rolling it was hard to return our rented wheels.
When we first pulled into the marina at Porto Turistico di Roma, they gave us a spacious slip that was easy to get into because it was breezy and they helped push our bow with their inflatable in lieu of a bow thruster which was nice. We tied the boat as tightly as we could and headed straight to Rome for the rest of the day since it is a little over an hour by train to the Colosseum. The actual Colosseum wasn't as imposing as we'd expected it to be since its nestled in among many other buildings including the subway stop but the area around it was full of the old ruins of the forum and beautiful buildings and statues. We walked all over that day doing the things that don't require tickets or pre-planning. Trevi fountain was the highlight for me, the most beautiful fountain I've ever seen. And actually, while on the subject of water, one of the most notable things about Italy in general has been the abundance of interesting, old, drinking fountains everywhere and good water. They just gush out water all the time. I don't know where they get the water at marinas though because it is comparatively bad tasting and leaves big white residue blotches all over the boat. When we returned to the boat that evening the wind had picked up and changed direction so that we were being pushed way back in our berth and the windvane paddle was rubbing on the cement quay. It is dented now but OK. It was hard to tighten the lines with all the wind so we turned the motor on and used the prop to create the slack needed to get the lines even tighter. As a precaution, Jon put the gear in reverse hard to see if we would definitely be held off in anything stronger and it was enough to suck up the aptly called "slime line" that you have to hand over hand up the side of the boat when you are med mooring so you can retrieve the mooring line at the bow that you will tie to. I don't know why anyone would tolerate this system. Anywhoo... that stopped the engine in a hurry because it wound all up in the prop so the next day Jon spent over an hour underwater cutting the line and pulling out the tiny frays that somehow got pulled up into the cutlass bearing. There were 5 previous breaks in the line which tells us that this happens on a relatively frequent basis. He got most of it out and the prop & engine seem OK. We hope.
We then busied ourselves doing a few chores & got ready to leave for a few days in Rome but also took the afternoon to visit Ostia Antica, which is an extensive riverside ancient Roman city ruin from 4th century BC. It was once Rome's major seaport with about 100,000 people living there and a road leading to Rome. It was deserted in the 5th century because of barbarian invasions. Then the river flooded and changed course, filling the area with silt that actually preserved it until what it is today. Our favorite part of this ruin site were the old trees. They provided welcome shade and atmosphere to the old brick building foundations and stone walkways. We both agreed that in comparison, the Greek ruins are prettier to us because the white & cream colored marble is so striking compared to the bricks which don't look that different than today's bricks. A lot of the marble that was on the bricks in Roman ruins was taken once Rome fell.
We took the train back in to Rome and did all the usual tourist things over 3 days. I got a chuckle out of a cat that was standing at the ticket counter at the station like he was supposed to be there. The highlight of Rome for us was the day we did the Vatican- St Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museum despite the fact that the museum was mobbed. We got to the church at 7am and it was lovely & quiet. We both marveled at the sheer size & intricacy of the carvings in the Basilica. All the different colors of marble used made them so pretty and added to their detail. Climbing to the top of the dome was awesome. In the final stages, in the tight staircases with the slanted walls that form the shape of the dome, it was dizzy-ing but all went away when we reached the openness of the outside. You could then see how huge the Vatican museum was. I think if you were going to "get religion" this would be a good place to be inspired. It seemed like every corner of the Basilica had a small, private mass going and there were priests everywhere. Nuns too, looking somber. It was all heavily guarded. We thought the interior was very classy, spacious and impressive. The exterior that faced St Peter's Square I thought was kind of plain. And the outside grounds were beautiful but you couldn't walk in the gardens unless you were on a private tour. I didn't know about the special Vatican guards that dress in the colorful uniforms. We contemplated going back to the square the next day to be blessed by Pope Francis but decided it would be too crowded and we saw a lot of him in calendars at the tourist tat stands. I like this Pope.
In the late morning, we headed over to the Vatican Museum. Oh brother, we were with the masses then! After briefly thinking we would wait in line, we smartened up and got online tickets instead for a timed entry a little later. We thought the museum was amazing. Not only is it huge, it houses the most impressive frescoes we've ever seen, gorgeous statues and just full on color and beauty culminating in the Sistine Chapel. The Map Room was my favorite. It felt like eating a banana split- the works! The only disappointment was that it was so crowded with everyone appreciating the same thing. We got ushered out at closing time well before we were ready. And because the next day was Sunday, the museum was closed and so there would not be another chance for this trip.
On our last day, we did a four-pack of museums, more piazzas, and just soaked up the scene- you know, when in Rome!.... By the end of the day, we were not only wiped, but we were hanging on each other moaning that we couldn't look at another statue. We had "done Rome", except we could do the Basilica and the Vatican all over again. It was fun getting pictures of "Roman" cats & pigeons and we both felt that part of what makes Rome so interesting is the overwhelming amount of detail in everything you look at. It is amazing to contemplate all the time that must have went in to carving or painting every little thing. It definitely wasn't built in a day!
We got back to the boat with everything intact and the next morning got busy wet sanding most of the teak for yet another coat or varnish. It feels like we just did this- oh that's because we did! We did a lot of planning and made an outline of where we wanted to go. The next day I put every bit of varnish I had on and despite the fact that we looked several places to get more, there is actually no varnish for sale anywhere around. The marine supplies in Italy so far have been quite unavailable which is surprising. So much for my replacement cockpit chair.. Plus, I don't know how anything gets done around here because it seems like most of the day, everything is closed! If you look on Google Street view all you see is closed roll down doors on the stores because when they passed through with the video camera, everything is like it usually is- closed! Jon figured out that the problem with the fridge turning on & off was due to a faulty fuse block that was creating low voltage for the fridge but when he looked around to get a replacement there is nothing to buy so he had to scavenge the one off our old heater, which we hope we never need again anyway. So, with the varnish done, we picked up a rental car for a week long road trip to Venice, the Dolomites & Florence. One thing about Europe so far is the car rentals are the cheapest we've ever had, even in peak season. The gas & tolls are not, so just like everything, it seems to wash out.
We drove to Venice the first day, stopping in Bologna for a few hours since it was on the way. In truth, we left before our parking meter was up because the town had a forlorn look and we couldn't see through all the graffiti. There is also an issue with littering in Italy. Jon sat in gum even. Yum! It would have been nice to tour the Ferrari, the Lamborghini or the Maserati factories that are based there but there wasn't time, you had to pay a whole lot for the tour and they weren't giving any free samples!
We checked in to a lovely Air BnB place just outside Venice in a quiet town of farm fields and running paths. The couple had a cute little dog that whimpered to be patted. I wish we could have stayed much longer as it felt like a bit of the real Italy and I really loved the scenery. The husband had quite an affection for the Dolomiti (Dolomite mountains) and said that while he was intrigued with the sailing life, he could never give up hiking in the Dolomiti. We told him we could imagine how he felt.
When traveling like this, we generally like to find places that have a kitchen so that at the end of the day, we can stop at a store and get whatever we're in the mood for and then put our feet up for the night because we've usually had a full day and have some homework to do as far as planning goes. Checking in with all of our disorganized bags, we laugh at what we must look like and Jon always says "this is how we roll..." and it cracks me up. Over the years, we've gotten pretty good at basically living in a car.
It was fun to see Venice, finally. We could have sailed there (more like motored) but it would've taken us forever to get up the Adriatic Sea and meanwhile, we got there in part of a day by car. We spent the whole day walking all over the city, across numerous bridges looking up & down the canals just watching all the goings on. The lines for the museums were long so we didn't even try to go into them. It was enough just to be outside in all the plazas and little parks. They really do a great job with pizza and gelato and even after you're not hungry anymore you still walk around salivating because it all looks so good. We watched some films on Venice the night before going and so already knew that it was "sinking" so to speak. After seeing all the leaning towers and buildings, we felt less like we had to go to see the leaning tower of Pisa! The water level has risen enough so that the waves wash above the marble layer and are eroding the bricks above, which cannot tolerate salt. A lot of thinking went in to building this city and this marble layer was intentional. Some ground floors are already awash because the wood pilings that were used to build Venice so many years ago have sunk further into the mud. I found it interesting that the original start of Venice in the 5th & 6th centuries was from refugees that were fleeing the mainland from barbarian invasions. Over time, Venice & the Venetians developed into a great merchant power and they actually became quite violent themselves. The traditional gondolas are still being made right there but they are mainly for tourists and outboard motors have understandably taken their place for the locals and the wakes from those are reaching the bricks as well. Because we come from a boat and are pretty familiar with how it all works, we didn't feel compelled to ride around in a gondola but it was fun to see them piled up like bumper cars moving through the canals that are actually a bit smelly, as you can imagine. With the summertime swell of tourists like ourselves (Lonely Planet says 20 million/year) and a direct overboard discharge for most of the effluent, the old saying of "the solution to pollution is dilution" doesn't work as well but it is remarkable how much the sea can actually handle and how effective the tidal flow which Venice is so dependent on does move a lot of water to someplace else!
The following day we drove up to the Dolomite mountains which we couldn't wait to see. Another UNESCO site- practically everywhere we go is one and deservingly so in this part of the world. We started out in a cute little town called Cimolais which has a lovely park with some spectacular mountains and alpine scenery. The park road itself was crazy beautiful. Much of the wood that was used to build Venice and its ships came from the Dolomites area. We hiked that afternoon and then the whole next day. The hillsides were full of wildflowers and huge mountain views and very few people around. Then we left there and had a rainy drive further north up toward the Austrian border to get to the Tre Cime area. Even though we were still in Italy, the tidy towns all have German architecture and they speak German too because this whole area was once Austria. We did some shorter walks that day between and ultimately in raindrops, enjoyed strolling around two of the villages and had some strudel to make our visit complete. By evening it was really raining and we had a lot of wet gear. We were worried that our planned early hike of the Tre Cime area to avoid the crowds the following day would be a wash out. But we got up before light and saw the moon!
We did a long figure 8 hike at the Tre Cime area to take in as much scenery as we could for the time we had and getting there early meant we scored one of the few parking spots right at the trailhead. It was amazingly beautiful and the first place we've ever hiked that rivals the kind of scenery that we love so much in the US western parks. There are three impressive rock formations that form the Tre Cime but the whole area is vast & just falls away before you. I had wanted to see marmots and we saw several, the views were something we'll never forget and we were both very pleased to be there & moving. I think when all is said & done, this kind of thing gives us the biggest buzz. There were old WWI handmade bunkers carved into the rocks of the mountains and the trail went right by some of them. I'm used to seeing the ugly WWII bunkers but these were much smaller and discreet. We boogied back to the car and drove 5 hours to Florence that evening. By that time our car had, as our friend Mark says, "that certain je ne sais quoi" smell since nothing really dried from the night before and we were also now in the car too after a long & brisk hike. Oh well, I can tell you that we didn't get reprimanded by the car rental place for more than "daily dirt" like we did in Australia. That was funny!
That night in Florence, we once again put our feet up over happy hour to watch some segments about Florence, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. There is so much history here! And then a full day roaming around seeing it. It has a quieter feel than Rome and I liked the way the Arno River flows through it especially since the place we stayed was right near the river and there was a bike path all the way to town. We were supposed to have bikes available at the place we stayed but we couldn't find the air pump so walked in instead. People say that Rome and these inland cities are hot but we haven't had really hot weather and so have been very comfortable. The hottest we've been is when traveling in un-ventilated, but very reasonably priced buses in Italy so the walk was welcome. If we were going to open a gelato shop we would do so in Florence since it is for some reason a premium price there. We got advance tickets to the Uffizi Museum which houses the impressive collection of Renaissance art of the once ruling Medici family that was bequeathed to the city in 1743. We weren't so advanced that we got an early time however since our slot wasn't till 415pm. But the museum was worth it and we got through all the exhibits. Now that we've been here for a while, we can definitely say that we have seen quite a few versions of the Madonna with child and other typical art subjects of the time and it is funny how different they can be. We've seen many with all different colors of hair. The crucifix is the same way. We joked at how many women had somehow lost a sleeve so that one boob was out or why it was always totally naked men and never totally naked women.
And then the last day had come and it was time to drive back to the boat, get a load of groceries and return the car. That morning in Florence, we slept through an earthquake that happened closer to Rome and were saddened at the losses. It seems like wherever you live, there is some natural disaster that can occur and Italy has had its share of earthquakes and volcano eruptions. But even so, it has a rich history that has withstood the test of time and it is wonderful to see it.
9/1 We have now traveled to Sardinia & Corsica. Headed for mainland France tomorrow. Maybe the internet service will be better there....