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Greg & Ruth Italy 2013

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Wednesday, 24 July 2013

24 July Wed
It's our last day as we fly home tonight. Typing this at Rome airport which is not a great airport by comparison with Singapore and others but it does the job. Had a tour of Vatican and St Peters Basilica this morning and I'm glad it is on the last day. The crowds are almost suffocating and move very slowly. The lineup for general admission is about 1 km long and once again our tour organizer (Ruth) has got it all under control by booking a "Skip the line" tour with an excellent tour guide. It's a bit of a pain chasing a bloke with an umbrella but you get in quick and get a lot of info in a short time so it's the only way to go. 10 million people visit this place every year. That averages about 30,000 every day. Today was no exception. Can't help but wonder at the opulence of this place against the plight of the beggars in the streets. 500 people live tax free in the Vatican in an area of about 40HA with their own tv station and newspaper. It is a country within a country. There are over 23,000 works of art within it's walls including amazing statues, paintings and mosaics. The thing that amazed me most is that the ceilings appear to be curved whereas they are actually flat. By utilizing perspective, the artists created the impression of curvature. I looked very hard at this and was still convinced that the ceilings are rounded but they are not. The artists of these times were unbelievably skilled. Walking past certain statues their eyes follow you, as do those of the Mona Lisa in The Louvre. Michelangelo was not renowned as a painter until he was commissioned by the Pope to paint the wall of the Sistine Chapel. He was a sculptor, famous for the statue of David in Florence. His painting of the ceiling is incredible as are his stautues. What he he did with the tools at his disposal in the 1500s is hard to imagine. I equate it to the efforts of the great classical composers and wonder why it is that the great composers and artists of the 16th to 19th centuries do not seem to have been outgunned since then. 
Ruth decides to buy a Vatican book, available only at the Vatican. For a second I think that she has seen the light and turned all religious on me but she explains that her mum would be interested in reading the story of the Vatican so she would buy it for her.
St Peters Basilica has to be the greatest monument to the excesses of religion I have ever seen. It is a magnificent structure and awesome to see. As I walk out the front door I pretend for a moment that I am the pope waving to the devoted. The Vatican square can accommodate up to about 200,000 people. I wonder why you would choose to be part of such a crowd but I guess if it was for Mozart or Chopin I would probably put up with the crush too.
We get a taxi to Barberini square and Ruth nearly buys a leather bag but she can't quite find the right one. My urging and the shop assistants selling skills still didn't get her across the line. By now I'm almost thinking of getting a man bag. I never thought in a million years I would do that when I have thought they were a bit gay but the Italian blokes all have them. Back packs are obviously bourgeois to the average stylish Italian bloke. If I get one all I would need is a Vespa to get the full Italian look.
We are about to board our flight for Zurich. Our highlights have to be the wedding at Piedmont-a real Italian experience of food, wine, beautiful countryside and a lot of fun with Markus and Isobel along with the Lincon contingent and our new Greek friend. Next came the bike trip where we experienced the real Italian countryside. And for me, the stay in Amalfi topped it all off. Rome was a bonus at the end but the crowds were a bit much.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

23 July Tuesday
Breakfast at hotel ordinary compared to standard of previous ones but still quite adequate. Our hotel  room is only 80€ per night and that includes breakfast as they are at most hotels we have been to.
We walk to Colloseum for our morning tour and find our way to our tour leader quite easily. 3.5 hour walking tour is very hot about 37 we think. We go thru heaps of water. There are plenty of fountains with drinking water in Rome and the fountains are largely fed by viaducts built by the Romans centuries ago. We understand it is properly filtered these days. The tour guide is very good and has a degree in Archeology as some other tour guides do also. They are all very knowledgeable. A reasonable part of the Roman forum has been somewhat preserved. There were 1.5 million in the city at around the birth of Christ. There are about 4 million now. It is a bustling city that runs at a frenetic pace. The crowds at the Colloseum are large but not as bad as I expected. We get through without too much hassle but I would not like to be standing out in the sun for 2 hours in the queue for general admission as it is hot and very little shade.
We walk back to our hotel after the tour and I do my blog, which I subsequently accidentally delete - bugger!! We walk to our next tour which starts near the Spanish Steps and Palazzo Spagna. This is about 20 mins walk and is a vibrant shopping area with all the top brands so it is expensive. Cafes everywhere and people sitting on the steps and buskers. Our tour of Rome at night starts at a restaurant Antico Enoteca where wenhave very nice Horses Doevres and a glass of wine. This walking and bus tour goes for 4 hours and takes us through the centre with many of the major attractions like Fontana di Trevi, Spanish Steps, Piazza Novana, Pantheon. We throw a couple of coins into the fountain and hope for the best. The crowds there are huge and you need to watch for Gypsy pick pockets. We go to a hill to get views of the city at night and St Peters Basillica and then finish up at the Colloseum which is very impressive by night. Rome is very vibrant by night with thousands of people out and about at cafes and just walking around. We walk back to the hotel and have a pizza on the way at about 11pm.

Monday, 22 July 2013

22 July Monday
Spent morning in Amalfi as we get picked up from hotel at 3.30 for trip to Rome. Walked up the road from the hotel to Pogorola, a tiny little village with a couple of churches, as they all do. It is very quiet and dogs barking and roosters crowing echo all through the hills. Checked out and left bags at hotel and Got courtesy bus (it is a warm trip as it is always packed)into Amalfi and picked up a bit of momentum shopping wise. Bought a shirt and pair of shorts. Ruth was tempted to buy a couple of things but it's not easy selling to her. Walked around town then came back to wait for pickup. The courtesy 
Bus is an interesting experience. They drive like crazy on these narrow roads and when buses pass each other they have to look ahead and help each other by stopping in a spot that both can get through. This would ot be allowed in Australia. I don't think they have any OH&S laws in Italy. Cars, scooters buses all go up the main street in Amalfi and it is teeming with people but they just toot their way through. It makes you chuckle when you think that they block off Tasman Tce to traffic at Tunarama when the road and pedestrian traffic is absolutely nothing compared to here and the street is far narrower. The difference here is that everyone seems to be quite patient. You can't go anywhere here in a hurry. The taxi drivers in the main square seem to sit around in the shade and play with their mobiles. I don't know how they survive as they spend a lot of time just sitting around. I don't think there is a peak hour as peak hour is all day. Most people seem to take public transport. The shops here as everywhere else sell heaps of souvenirs of scarves, ceramics, clothes, linen dresses and shirts etc and there are lots of buyers. We hear Aussies from time to time but mainly the people seem to be from Europe but a lot of Japanese also.
Amalfi is a town I would be happy to spend a lot more time in. Some places you really like but you are happy to leave as you look forward to the next place. Would be nice to get a place here and stay for a week or more. Day after day the weather is as good as you could get. A bit hot but nice in the shade. Cool breezes come up the valley.
It's hard to believe the value we got in this trip. 5 days and 4 nights accom in top class hotels with dinners and breakfasts included with all bus travel, trips to Capri and Pompeii all for $800 each. The hotels had all possible facilities and courtesy buses and amazing views over the Mediterranean. The hotel here at Amalfi is truly amazing with numerous bars and eating areas and incredible views. Our room was not part of the original hotel but they acquired some houses just below the hotel and converted them into villas. We were lucky enough to score one of these and managed to experience a bit of what it might be like to actually live here.
The drive back to Pompeii is spectacular. We seem to keep going up and up and at times the road is a bit scary. We go thru sub tropical rainforest and then get to Naples. This is chalk and cheese. Naples is dirty with rubbish everywhere in the streets. There were no beggars or street hawkers in Amalfi but as soon as you get off the bus in Naples you are inundated by them. And some of them are very persistent. There is obviously a 2 speed economy in Italy but Australians would not tolerate the extremes of living standards that are evident here. Rubbish in the streets like Naples would be deemed unacceptable. I didn't see any houses in Naples, just endless kms of mainly shabby looking apartment buildings, many with washing hanging on the tiny balconies. The only really nice looking building I see is a beautiful looking church on top of a hill. I imagine the churches and cathedrals in Naples are magnificent but it appears the people have suffered greatly to allow for these monuments. I'm left with 2 thoughts - firstly we live in a country of great opportunity and should never be ungrateful for what we have and secondly, that religion has a lot to answer for. 
Arrived in Rome at 9 pm. It might be old but at least the streets are clean unlike Naples. It's Monday night but there are people everywhere. Our hotel is not quite up to what we had in Rome but it's clean and the service is good and it's in the centre which is handy. We can walk to the major attractions, including Colesseum etc.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

21 July Sunday
Last day of TDF and Froome has it wrapped up. The boys all tried but he was too good. The only remaining interest is who will win the sprint into Paris. I'm watching as I do this entry and I'm tipping Kittel. He seems to have had an edge this year in straight sprints but I'm hoping Cav will do it again. I don't think Goss is up to it.
Breakfast in the hotel this morning was top class as they all have been. Got the hotel courtesy bus to town (about 20 mins slow trip down and around the mountain). Went into Amalfi and got on the local hop on hop off bus to Revello 25 mins away. Another small village with all the tourist shops etc but nowhere near as busy as Amalfi. Went through Rufolo Villa when we arrived and this was well worth the trip. Very old dating back centuries and has magnificent gardens and views out over the sea. Every year they construct a stage out over the cliff, suspended in mid air and have concerts there. They were getting ready for one while we were there. Seating for about 300 and it seems they have mainly classical and jazz concerts. The Italians love their classical music and they have annual festivals in a lot of cities. Stayed in the town for most of the day and bought a few momentos. Came back about 3.30 to hotel. At about 6 a huge storm came through and lasted about an hour. All the boats made a mad dash for the shore as the storm dumped hail everywhere. It reminded me of the storms that come through Darwin each afternoon and when they finish everything smells fresh and it dries very quickly. Had dinner and get back to the room in time to watch the sprint into Paris, won by Kittel as I had guessed.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

20 July Sat
On the minibus at 9.30 for trip to Amalfi. What a drive this is high up along the cliffs with amazing views out over the mediterannean. Our driver is very skilled as it is a very narrow road with cars parked along it most of the way and buses trying to squeeze past each other. They always need to be looking ahead anticipating where they will find a small gap where they can just get past. It's not a road I would like to drive along. Quite a few cyclists on the road but you have to be skilled and have nerves of steel to ride this road and be able to hold a straight line in very confined spaces. The cars parked along the road don't help but they are allowed to be there as it is the only way they can access the beaches. Here you don't stake your beach out and claim it like we do. You have to pay to get onto the beach and hire umbrellas. There is no sand either, just pebbles. But the weather is awesome. No wind and sunshine, approx 33 degrees. It is very hazy here and impossible to see the horizon. The sea and the sky just blend in together.
Our "Spanish" family travelled with us today. It's just us and them and we have now got to know them. They are actually Brazillian and the dad speaks good English. They are a very nice family but the first drama happened early today. Gramps left his jumper back at Sorrento. The people at the hotel here are very nice and said they would organize to get it for them.
If we thought the last hotel was nice this one lifts the bar once more. It is awesome, high up on the cliffs overlooking the sea. It has a large pool and a bar that is built into a cave in the mountain. The views are as spectacular as you could possibly hope for. Our room is unbelievable. It has its own large balcony with deck chairs and umbrella overlooking the sea. It's actually more like a villa and it is the sort of room we could spend the whole time in and just read or sun bake and look out at all the boats going by on the Mediterranean. We are surrounded by lemon trees, vines and olive trees that are terraced all the way down the mountain. The room wasn't ready when we arrived so we got the hotel courtesy bus to the centre of town. It goes every hour. The hotel is high up on the mountain and it isn't really possible to walk down as the road is too narrow and there is no footpath. There might be a goat track down there so we will do a it of exploring tomorrow. cars and busses have only inches to spare when they go past each other and there is no room for walkers. The buses have to continually toot their horns to let other cars and buses know they are coming around corners. 

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Recent Messages

From Mick Moynihan
G/R: Shouldn't have started reading: the envy hurts, and there's no decent Chianti in the house. Best I can do is spill a drop of Aussie-red-from-the-box and put an olive in it. At least it would kill the taste of the Aussie red.... Your trip must have been more serious this year in Mal's absence. I'd like to try my slow-motion cadence on Johnny's 30 per-center ( vide infra). Next year....

Response: Hey Mike, the Aussie boxed red might not taste that great but it will still do the job and get you pissed. No doubt we would have had quite a few more laughs if Mal was here but we've had a few anyway. All I can suggest mate is that we come over to Colorado next year and bring some of our better product with us (in bottles)
From Johnnie
Greg & Ruth, glad you are over this side of the world. Have a great trip. I am suffering in the Pyrennes, climb the Col de Pailhères tomorrow a few hours before the Tour riders is Stage 8 of the Tour. Corsica was fantastic, very special, had to dismount one section, 30% for 500 meters, first time ever I got off the bike. Enjoy Italy. Johnnie
Response: 30%!!!!! hard to believe. We did a ride yesterday in the hills around here but no 30 per centers!! Enjoy the Pyrenees Johnny. My favorite part of French climbing
Response: Howdy luuuuuvv
Got here ok. We are now in a part of Italy that is just like you think Italy is really like. Rolling hills, vineyards, wine, over 30 degrees, a pool and beers. About as good as it gets!!
From John W
Hi Ruth and Greg, just read your blog through and can see youj have had a great trip. I'd gone to your page soe weeks ago and you had not uploaded any notes, but then I became absorbed in my own trip and found it difficult to maintain my own blog as we were riding average of 120km or more and climbing every day, so I was mostly exhausted and ready for bd each evening.
Reading your blog reminds me of our 2010 trip, and I think the Bikestyle trip has the better balance of the two.
Anyhow all is good. I'm still in Paris and fly home tomorrow, Tuesday, 31 July - it really is time for me to go home now.
Hope to catch up with you both again one day, John W
Response: Hi John. Good to hear you had a great trip. Yes it is very tiring and there was no big sessions on the booze back in the hotel. We are now in Lucerne and fly back to Aust on Thurs. Will keep in touch.
From Sylvia
AAhh Zurich! Still remember the fondu, cake shop & the strawberry & cream sponge I experienced there aged about 9!
Response: Yes they do food here pretty well. All these great little cafes in the back streets of Zurich
From Sylvia
so are you at the Olympics road race now? I remember Dad driving us up Box Hill sometimes when I was fairly young - a significant climb in those parts, and still is I gather!
Response: Hi Sylvia. We didn't go to London but have seen bits of Olympics on TV. Cancellara's fall in the road race was big news here in Switzerland
From Wayne Spencer
Sounds Like a Boy in a lollie shop to me. Must be an awesome holiday, 2 of your great loves in one trip.
Response: Less than a year and you will be in France at the tour. A lot to look forward to
From Sylvia
Thanks Greg - enjoying your 'Tales from the Vienna Woods' and others!!
Response: Hi Sylvia - some interest g stuff ahead so stay posted!!
From Sylvia
Hi Greg, someone thinks they saw Mal in a crows top on a 'summit' last stage (in the crowd) - was he atop a mountain pass or summit then?
Response: Hi Sylvia, Mal did wear his crows jersey to one of the stages but it wasn't a mountain top. It was early in our trip last week from memory. There are thousands of Aussies here so was probably someone else. Also, getting to mountain top finishes is very difficult and once you are there you have to stay really as the Gendarmes won't let you ride your bike back down. It can be a very long (and very cold) wait!!
From Sylvia
O la la Greg! Votre accent, c'est trez bon! Better than mine!! :) It's nice to think of the Port Lincoln contingent in Le Tour mix while I'm watching SBS! Cadel is really up against it now :(
Response: Thanks Sylvia. We were at the KOM today but will be traveling tomorrow to Pyrenees. Keep an eye on SBS. Look out for Mal's crows jersey!!
From Wayne
Hi Greg, wasn't a good day for Cadel today. Think it might be Wiggins's year. I noticed the greenedge guys averaged 31kms/hr for the stage which Matt White said was very slow. I wish I was very slow too.
Response: This was arguably the hardest stage of the tour. 4 major mountain climbs in one day. These were huge climbs and 31 is amazing. I went up what was probably the easiest of these in the morning and averaged 17 and I thought that was really good! To give you some perspective is was very warm at the bottom and quite cool, at the top. We don't get those temperature fluctuations in our hills in Lincoln! It was a tough day in the office for them
From Sylvia
Watching out for Mal in a yellow mankini
Response: Had his Crows jersey on at the race today
From Sylvia
Bon Jour Greg et aussi votres amis! Bonne chance pour Le Tour de France! Que'ca est le nom du votre bicyclette? Cannondale? J'aime a livre votre journale. Merci beaucoup! Allez1 Allez! xx
Response: Bon Jour Sylvia. Bien venue to ma blogge. Vi ve are riding Cannondale velos with shimano 105. Merci beaucoup. Many Fronch peepel call allez allez to me today. I tell zem I m een ze breakaway. How's my French Sylvia?
From Fran
Sounds like you are having a ball. Was so relieved to read that you had been at the pub - was starting to worry about all that exercise and no alcohol!
Response: There's been plenty of wine consumed here Fran but we are all buggered by 10 each night so there hasn't been any kicking on at night. Cycling does have some drawbacks
From Luuvvvv
Update once again informative and funny, tell Mal he best keep his hands to himself, don't want any of u in the slammer haha. It certainly is spectacular countryside. Leave the mankini luv you look much better with clothes on - especially a push bike!! hahaha
Response: Mal's gonna wear his crows top today. Look out for it
From Baggy
Get away from those desserts!!!!
Response: You gotta have the desserts Baggy. Why else does one visit France??
From Liz Akeley
Hi Greg & Ruth, Interesting to read your adventures. It must have been a steep climb if you Ruth, superwoman, had to walk part way! Imagine how hopeless I'd be. Sorry to hear about the knees Greg and I hope they don't hinder your enjoyment tomorrow. Take care of yourselves. x Liz p.s. Mum is remarkably well again with normal blood tests last month! She & I went to KI last week for a break.
Response: Hi Liz. Good to hear from you. Yes these climbs are very steep and very long. We are both trying to get more electrolytes in so we can counter the cramps. Good to hear your mum is doing well.
From Mac and Karen
Greg, sounds like you are keeping up with the theme of "crashing" at this year's event.
Response: Yes it's not a real bike ride in France without a crash. Hope that's the only one. I am now the proud owner of an Alpe D'Huez scar. Stocky would be proud of me
From Wayne Spencer
Hey Greg, Hope the knee is heeling. 16kp average on todays hill sounds pretty good to me. Must be some beautiful scenery, hope you get a chance to take your eyes of the road.
Response: 16 kh was the average over the whole 100km mate!! I hate to think what it was up the climb!!
Lucky to get to 7 or 8 in a lot of sections
From Luvvv n Steve
Hello my luuuuuuuvvvvs
greggy poos you are supposed to be 'uprite' on the bicycle!! You poor thing - it is the 'thud' of hitting the road and the pride that goes with it!! Well done for hopping back on and soldiering on. We have been watching on tellie, getting square eyes!! Take care and enjoy, look forward to seeing you on tellie maybe - upright of course!!! Sending big hugs to both of you xxx keep on blogging - fantastic to know how you are going xx
Response: Howdy Karen. Kee your eyes on the tv. I will put the mankini on
From Steve
Best of luck on the Galibier today boys, take a jumper.
Response: G'day Steve. Sorry I couldn't catch up but I did hear you callout to me when we went past you on the road. That was just after the crash! I see you are doing some pretty big climbs. Plans have changed for us and we are not doing Madelaine
From Trev Garnaut
Not a good start with a fall Greg. I hope that it does not dampen your trip. I did stay at a hotel on top of Alpe D'Huez in 1998. Yes the views are fabulous. Enjoy
Trev G
Response: Yes a great place and the ride out of there was spectacular. Hope all is well with you Trev
Hi Greg, Mum here, sorry to hear about the crash; could have been worse. I am going ok, going out to lunches and enjoying myself. Very cold here. Good luck for the next few days. Luv Mum xxx
Response: Good to hear all is going well Mum. Knee is getting better. Can almost walk normally now. Riding doesn't give me any problems
From Sally Westbury
Hi Greg,

I hope your knee is better. Can you put the video on U Tube so we can view?!!!!
Response: Will see if I can do that Sal. Not so sure I want to see it though!!
From Fran
Good luck guys have a great trip. Look forward to the updates.
Response: Thanks Fran. Will try to get some decent photos. Seems the iPhone is taking better ones than I can do with the fancy gear !