A Slice of Rome (or 7 coins in a fountain)

Roma is a varied and vibrant city with so much to offer the eager tourist and our last day was an easier day so naturally we had some simple things we wanted to do.

An early start and we were off to the Metro station, an underground train network of 2 lines that meet only at Termini, a transport centre of sorts. The metro is separate to the train, bus and tram network but you can use the same tickets for most. We had pre-purchased a day pass so were free to jump on and off as we liked.image

We headed for Vatican City, an odd (in my opinion) section of the city that is sort of like its own country. We had heard the queues can be horrendous, but we arrived pretty early (opening time) and were pretty well straight in.

This visit we planned to look at St. Peter’s Square (which turned out to be round – so I am already confused) and the Basilica.image

After a frisk and bag X-ray we were in and wandered towards the Basilica. The surrounds of the square have unusual proportions, the curved colonnades dwarf people but from a distance create the sense of a space which for many is a holy place that the Pope appears in. When we were there they were setting out sections of seating, we presume it was for the Popes audience tomorrow but we are not sure. Huge video screens and a massive sound system elevate the pontiff to rock star status, making it easier for the faithful to see and hear their leader. There was a papal stage with nice white awning and further up the building a balcony that could be used for orations.image

Although I work in a catholic school, much of the pageantry and spectacle still remains a mystery to me.

We entered the vestibule and then the basilica and were struck with the scale and ornamentation.

The space is huge, like really really big, and every surface is adorned by coloured marble, gold, statuary, pope tombs and inlay.image

One of the things I really wanted to see was Michelangelo’s “Pieta” – a single block of marble breathed into life as the tragic scene of a dead Jesus slumped over the lap of a grieving Mary (at least I think that is the subject). At its simplest it is a mum grieving her son and as such is a definitive study in posture, facial expression and composition. The artistry of this work is breathtaking – regardless of the symbology, the marble has flowing fabric, live flesh and a real sense of tragedy and despair. It was difficult to get close to this work (much like the Mona Lisa) which is a real pity, but it was stunning none the less.image

Walking around in the basilica you notice that each nook and cranny is a separate chapel, most running services but the ambience of the whole space was remarkably quiet. Each nook was elaborately decorated with either altar or tomb, the floor was marble mosaic in large geometric shapes. The morning streamed in to the auditorium elevating its grandeur and scale.

Each dome interior, and there were lots, outdid the next in terms of decoration and sheer eye candy. Gold, mosaic and fresco combined into a huge and awesome space.

The funniest things we saw were nuns and priests with selfie sticks (a modern cancer that has surely reached saturation point – we were pestered by street vendors all over Europe trying to sell us one) grinning like maniacs in front of holy relics – I can imagine the Facebook posts of “I prayed here” and the like.image

We went to the Vatican post office and bought stamps for postcards for the mothers back home and posted them in the city, we are hoping the Colosseum postcards find their way home.

After another stroll around the square we headed home for a rest, dismissing “beat the line” scalpers that came out in force in the area around the Vatican City entry, noticing to our surprise the size of the queue now waiting to get in. It is clear we did the right thing coming early.image

After lunch and a rest we decided to head out and “do the sights”, using a guided walk thing we had, taking us through “the heart of Rome” pointing out important landmarks.

The walk was really interesting, and it started in a piazza called Campo di’Fiori which, when we were there hosted the remnants of a huge open air market. In the centre of the piazza is a huge statue of a depressed hooded figure Giordano Bruno, an intellectual who was burned here for speaking his mind (the heretic!).image

We wended through old streets, visiting gelato and lolly shops, leather and jewellery shops (Jo got a lovely pair of leather gloves). We arrived in Piazza Novono, an oblong open space now with 3 fountains in it, huge gauche marble fiascos that are all very lovely but apparently this piazza was originally a racetrack – Romans loved to gamble and racing was a favourite money waster. The level of the ground is much higher than it used to be – building upon buildings; in past ages they used to flood the piazza with water to make a free pool for cooling off in the summer – viewing an archaeological dig on the side of it and seeing where the original roman floor is it is easy to imagine how flooding it would be possible.image

From here, via a convoluted but interesting set of side streets we emerged at a bustling piazza full of people listening to a brass band, behind them rose the Pantheon (not to be confused with the Parthenon in Greece). This marvel of engineering built by Hadrian in 120AD is still a working church, a service was about to get underway at the main altar when we visited (over the PA we could hear, in 7 different languages, requests for silence that were almost completely ineffective). Based under a huge vaulted dome with an open operculum (there is a central hole in the roof- open to the elements), the marble floors and elaborate carvings all around are most impressive.image

When we were there a circular patch of sunlight was working its way down the inside of the dome- just amazing. Around the inside of the cavernous space were chapels and tombs, marble and gilded wood, quite lovely. We even found the tomb of the guy (and his wife) for whom the “margherita” pizza was named – at last a pilgrimage I can relate to.image

The building was clearly mostly really old, the portico was beaten up and the columns at the front look like they have survived many a siege. What an interesting place.

From the Pantheon, we again wended our way through streets that led past the Houses of Parliament, outside which there was a noisy, flag waiving demonstration that we skirted around. They were grouped around an obelisk that apparently Augustus liberated from Egypt in 6BC.image

In the piazza on the other side of the parliament was a column that dated back to 2BC carved ornately to celebrate Marcellus’ victories – amazing to think it has been here so long.image

Continuing on with our journey, we wove among busy streets, turned a corner and were at the Trevi Fountain. Although it was closed for repair and cleaning (years of lime scale are being cleaned off), we walked over a gantry erected over the fountain and threw coins off it, even though there were signs saying not to do . There was a portly police officer mid way keeping coin tossers to one side, non coin tossers to the other. Clearly they realise people want some symbolic “we will return to Rome” memory so tolerate the behaviour. We managed to get rid of the annoying tiny change Schapelle that had accumulated, thus guaranteeing we will be back.image

From the Trevi Fountain, we wended our way towards The Spanish Steps – oddly covered in potted azaleas in full bloom. We joined couples on the steps, cuddling, canoodling and telling “selfie stick” vendors to bugger off. This was our last stop on the path before finding our way to the restaurant we had booked for dinner – a tiny 10 table place that featured modern spins on ancient roman recipes. The food and wine were delicious and we left with full tummies and empty wallets.image

Returning to our unit, we did a final pack, set the alarm for ridiculous o’clock and slept solidly. The next day was a transfer/transit day with a taxi to the train station (we could have walked, but it was early and we were still tired) and a train trip to the airport, then a little wait before boarding Aegean Airlines for the 2ish hr flight to Athens (where we also, due to the vagaries of timey-wimey wibbly wobbly, lost an hour) meaning our arrival at the unit (a maze of train and mystery alphabet street names) was late afternoon.image

After finding our apartment nestled between The Playboy shop and Guy Laroche, on the 7th floor (gasp) with a lift (huzzah), we deposited bags and headed to the supermarket for basic supplies before settling in and seeking dinner.

We have both developed coughs (we think from the pollution and second hand smoking) but mine matured into hot/cold achey flu symptoms so after some Panadol I had a relatively early night.

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Pompeii and “real” Pizza in Naples

We could have taken a tour, we know, but we decided to organise the day ourself and it turned into a corker. Having sussed out the local trains, metro and tram system, we woke early and briskly walked to the train station, taking an intercity service to Naples, going downstairs to the metropolitan station at Garibaldi and hopping on a service out to Pompeii excavations. It was a bit of travel, but interesting to see the country side contrasted with the inner city sprawl and high density living outside the city.image

Arriving at Pompeii, we successfully navigated the insistent ticket scalpers and bought entry tickets to the ruins at the gate, found free toilets and had morning tea (some crunchy ricotta filled pastries we picked up at the Rome train station supermarket- yeah, I know, weird right. Interestingly our experience of train station food in Australia is miserable, in stark contrast to the fresh and delicious food and drink offerings in Europe – when did Australians and The English stop caring about quality and value for money for travellers?) before heading off to explore.image

We entered the site, along a basalt boulder street into a bathhouse come brothel. We began to appreciate a number of things about Pompeiians – they loved life and liked to party. We saw elaborate painting, heated floors (hypocaust) and baths and bedrooms, as you would expect.image

Due to the rapid and catastrophic nature of the fall of Pompeii (a volcano called Vesuvius adjacent erupted and buried it in meters of ash – you knew that right?) and the amazing state of preservation this ancient and extensive city was afforded by the thick volcanic blanket we were blown away by how much of the city is left.image

Both Jo and I had vague understandings of the town but were amazed and surprised by how much of the working city was so well preserved. Wandering the streets, entering buildings you really got a sense that people lived, worked and played here.image

A well developed road network existed, paved streets and pedestrian walkways, when the streets got manky (markets and animals make a mess) they were sluiced clean, stepping stones allowed people to cross without getting feet or cloths dirty.image

The stepping stones were wide and low enough to allow wagon wheels between them and we saw lots of wear tracks left by well used wagon trails.image

The city had a well developed water system, delivered by aqueducts and lead pipes, using springs and cisterns to allow a relatively water lush lifestyle to evolve. Many of the houses still had the original plumbing intact.image

The city had a well developed market economy, we strolled though piazzas and courtyards that were so obviously markets and shops, vivid frescoes illustrated what was for sale (both in the food/drink markets and in the fleshpots).image

It was easy to imagine bustling food and wine vendors, we encountered marble countertops with holes to warm pots of stew and soup, amphorae to chill wine and vats for oil and vinegar.image

Religious life was clearly important as there were many temples, to all sorts of gods from discrete to monumental, in market squares, in private residences and atop hills overlooking public squares. Most the the statuary has been robbed (for Naples Archaeological Museum) and most of the ornate marble and mosaic floors and decorations have also been relocated but the traces that remain are amazing.image

We wandered main streets, back streets, in and around residences, noticing the minutiae that go to make a working city. We saw a urinary (a place were urine was collected, a tax was paid apparently and the urine was used to tan leather and it had other public works applications – how practical and icky)  and also noticed a number of plaster casts of citizens – eerie echoes of people who had collapsed, been covered in ash and decomposed leaving a skeletal air pocket that archaeologists then filled with plaster before excavating.image

One can only imagine the horror suffered by such a lot of citizens busily praying the gods would calm down but the looming Vesuvius, ever threatening even today, had other ideas. It is clear from what has been dug up that they did not stand a chance and had very little warning of the impending eruption.image

We lunched in a lovely shady garden. We had brought picnic fixings then explored beautiful and newly re-used amphitheaters and other public buildings. Looking at our maps it is evident how little of the city has so far been uncovered – it was a vast metropolis and I am sure it will keep archaeologists busy for years uncovering well preserved clues about life in the roman lifestyle.image

Imagine what would have been had the disaster not occurred. We conjectured that this city, being so centrally located in terms of trade, would have been a major modern force, giving Rome and Florence a run for their money in terms of size and importance.image

We learned about building techniques, how to save money on a roman style build- marble columns are expensive but if you make them from brick and then render them with marble dust stucco they look like marble without having to negotiate a fair price from the Carrara traders. Brick walls filled with concrete make strong buildings but few roofs survived the weighty bombardment and burial.image

By mid afternoon our feet were sore and legs tired out, so opted to return to Naples and visit the archaeological museum, our short stay let us see some of the most amazing mosaics rescued from the diggings and statuary from many places.image

I was really interested in the Roman emperors, and was surprised how flattering 2 statues of Claudius were, given my readings suggested he was a hunchback club footed cripple. Perhaps history has been kind to him as I think he, and Augustus were the best of the lot.image

Before returning to Rome, we had planned to try Napoli pizza, apparently different but the original deal and trip advisor had suggested a little pizzeria not too far from the train station so we trudged there.image

We watched as an old man delicately made the pizza and pan handled it into his wood fired oven. After a few minutes baking on the searing hot stone floor of the oven it emerged cooked to perfection.image

I have a new favourite thing – marguerita; a celebration of tomato and a small amount of mozzarella with some basil to finish – simple delicious.image

Unlike the Florentine pizza we had that was thin and crispy, the dough had a little chew and it was almost soupy in the middle – mmmmmm.image

Jo also had prosciutto on hers but we ate till we were full. I would drop everything and go back again, it was so good. Along with drinks it cost nearly nothing, the shop was not flashy and a little out of the way but wow, just wow.image

Exhausted and a little sozzled we wearily trudged back to the train station to catch our intercity back to Rome. We caught a taxi from the train station to our apartment because the though of more walking was dizzying. We arrived back just after 9pm – a huge day but wow it was interesting.

In no time we were asleep, a relatively easy day tomorrow (our “rest” day in Rome) before we fly out to Athens.image

Postscript 1: I was actually looking for the arena that Pink Floyd played live back in the 70’s, thought this might be it only to discover subsequently that a second site, named “Villa de Mysteri”, has the arena they used – still, I felt suitably close to what was an important musical event for me and a much loved album by Winston O’Boogie and myself (waves to Michael).

Postscript 2: Generally I blog about the day before, so the blog is usually a day late in terms of when we actually do it, if that make sense. This post, for instance, has been the result of a lazy lunch and a third of a bottle of chianti (well, I cannot travel with it and it would be a shame to waste it, and it goes so well with the lunch…). Often it will post the words before I have vetted and edited the photos. My iPad client will not let me post full sized photos so I have invented a rather torturous but successful workflow for cropping / resizing that works but miss my full computer and its file system.

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A Colossal thing happened on the way to the Forum

After a welcome night sleep on a wonderfully comfortable bed we breakfasted and headed out down the road to the Flavian Amphitheater (literally our home base is on the road that leads to it, 5-10 minute stroll).image

Getting there we also walked past the recently excavated section of an adjacent Ludus – a gladiator school, which was connected to the arena by an underground passage. The story goes that there was once a “colossal” bronze statue of Nero outside, the stadium complex inherited the name “Collos-aem” or Coloseum more modernly.image

You do not get a real feel for the colossal scale of the building until you are up close and personal, on one side much of the original outside facade exists (minus the marble and Travertine stone cladding) not on the other most of the outer wall, which had collapsed in the Middle Ages, has been robbed out and forms building materials for many buildings all over Italy.image

We had a guided tour booked and our first challenge was identifying which queue to join to exchange the Internet voucher for tickets, once inside the bottom level a further challenge to find the appropriate ticket office – there were signs, they did not correspond to the function of each window which we were supposed to be able to work out, apparently.image

Armed with tickets and tour stickers we had a small amount of time to browse before our scheduled meeting so wandered the structure in awe, mouth open, more amazed with each twist and turn. We noticed that all the pillars (the structure is a collection of pillars and arches – Romans really perfected these) were pockmarked with holes at major stone junctures – apparently originally most of the stoned in the pillars and some arches were further secured with iron clamps and in the Middle Ages these clamps were robbed as iron was valuable. The resulting instability lead to many collapses and continues to be a challenge for conservators today.image

Inside the stadium you get the sense of the raked seating, 5 or more levels of it. The lower marble levels reserved for the bottoms of rich folk (even a supposed place where they thought the royal box was) leading to the higher seats, wood bleachers, designed for women and poor people. It seems the social class stratification started here.image

The arena floor, now a tangled maze of stone tunnels once was covered by a wooden stage, then covered with sand. You get a very real sense of the brutal spectacles that took place here and the howling mob craving more and more violent blood letting.image

Our tour took us onto the partially re-constructed stage level – from here looking up I can only imagine the terror of contestants battling for their lives for the pleasure of a screaming public. They had also re-constructed a sample trapdoor – as part of the arena stage spectacular, combatants, wild animals and scenery “magically” appeared through a series of 60+ trapdoors and ramps built in to the floor. You do not credit such genius stage mechanics with something so ancient but if you can get past the blood and guts it must have seen many astonishing shows. Certainly all of the emperors, mad or otherwise, loved a good show and their citizens were dying to be in them. Something tells me also that working “backstage” would not be something anyone would have chosen as a career, but I guess it was better than starring in the show.image

We then went below stage level to the stone corridors and tunnels under the arena. When this was a working building this must have been an horrific place to be. Teams of 8 slaves manned floor mounted winches that did the moving and shaking of cages and traps, animal transport and corpse remains schlurping. It was dark, labrinthal and must have smelt putrid – so much so that apparently above ground slaves would splash perfume around for the pleasure of the expensive seats close to the arenaimage

There are, apparently, anecdotal records of earlier under-arena structures made of demountable wood. There are records of the arena being flooded with water and symbolic mock naval battles taking place inside- a number of historical writers mention this but there is no archeological evidence to support it.image

After exploring the “bowels” of the building, we climbed up to the second level and then the third- an amazing viewpoint that seemed to dwarf the stage. We were told of a 100 day spectacle where 6000 animals and countless people were brutalised for entertainment. At the end of the tour we wandered for a while (again with our mouths open) then returned to our apartment for a welcome sit down and some lunch.image

After lunch we returned to the general area we had spent the morning, it is just down the road from us. We walked around the Coloseum towards Palantine Hill- the home of roman emperors. Up the hill and we were amongst substantial remains of houses, piazzas, temples, gardens and more. image

For me, so many names sprang to mind, Augustus’s house, Livia’s garden and private temple, Tiberius’s apartments, Claudius’s Library and Caligula’s palace – all still present, some in remarkable condition, most complete enough to get a sense of the space and purpose of the parts of each building.image

We strolled through recreated gardens, on original surface pavements and were generally overwhelmed by the place.image

We refilled our water bottles from a bubbler that would have originally been fed by an aqueduct through lead pipes, found viewpoints that showcased the Coloseum and below us the Forum and associated buildings and noticed remnants of wall plaster decorations and mosaic floors. You can see clearly why the nobility chose this area as a residence far from the madding crowd – one side of the hill you had the sports arena that was the Coloseum and the other side of the hill was the clearly visible remains of Circus Maximus – the chariot race track that was one of Augustus’s favourite time wasters and must have been awesome in its day.image

When we had had our fill of Palantine Hill, we followed one of the oldest roads that exist still in the original surface (now a fairly rough basalt boulder street, made difficult to walk on by tree roots, earthquakes and a vast amount of time). The road wends its way down from Palantine hill, past temples, basilicas, public works buildings, fountains, gardens and springs, towards the forum.image

The area is littered with marble column bases, laying out rectangular building blueprints and stray beautiful marble fragments left after robbing. Romans are a practical lot and when this area was abandoned (the aqueducts were breached, residents fled almost completely as siege after siege finally spelt an end of an empire), materials that were valuable (marble, bronze etc) became part of other building projects, reducing the cost of having to mill from scratch.image

What was left was a confusing jumble of columns, carved marble decorations, arch fragments from once great basilicas and ancient annexes to more recent churches, Christian and pagan iconography, statues in various states of dismemberment and this jumble came from a really long time in history because the area was used for such a long time. I am not sure how you could better show it off as the combination of signage, audio guides and spoken tours made it a bewilderment of history amongst a microcosm of madness and excess.image

The area in the lower section deteriorated into a jumble of remains and column bases and our feet and legs were in worse shape. Walking on hard uneven stone is hard work, worse on our legs, knees and feet. We reached “ruin overload” or as we prefer to call it, we got “ruined” so decided to head for a restorative gelato at a niche gelato shop called ‘Fatamorgana’ that specialises in ‘odd’ flavour combinations, but our choices were nothing short of delicious, providing the rejuvenating fuel necessary to get home.image

A simple dinner of mushroom tortellini with a fresh tomato sauce, accompanied by some wine we had picked up the previous day was a perfect end to a ruinous day.image

Early to bed because we have a huge day tomorrow in Naples and beyond

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Pisa (it’s just a tilt to the left) and on to Roma

imageAfter a lovely rest day in Lucca, we reluctantly packed, slept solidly and awoke for a dreaded transfer.image

We say dreaded because they are hard work – our suitcases are awkward up and down stairs, in and out of trains and we had a bit of that to do. We called a taxi and in broken italian managed to explain where we were and that we wanted to go to the train station.image

On time he arrived, helped us in the rain get the bags in and headed off. In nearly no time (or money) we were at the train station.image

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We opted for a regional service to Pisa, they are cheap, reliable(ish) and we managed to purchase tickets from a machine so all was ok. I think we were probably rude in that we stacked our suitcases but there was no where really that offered an option. Arriving at Pisa Centrale we found “left luggage” and stowed both suitcases and the biggest backpack, opting to travel light to the Tower.image

From the train station, we took an easy to find local bus to the site of the tower and began the ritual of taking photographs that each were more amazing than the next – you approach the tower by walking a piazza that starts at the Baptistry and right away something about the Baptistry seems not quite “right”.image

Pisa subsoil is very wet apparently, foundations are a problem and the lovely domed Baptistry has a slight lean on it when referenced by the adjacent cathedral which seems to have spread its weight a little more evenly over its foundations. The leaning side of the Baptistry has a lighter roof (zinc or lead) than the other side (terracotta)image

Walking further along the Tower, which is actually supposed to be just the bell tower for the Cathedral but has taken on a life of its own, pokes its head around the far end of the Cathedral. The closer you get the more eccentric the lean becomes and the more hilarious the tourists are also. Taking a photo trying to “hold up the tower” seems something we need to do. It is almost more entertaining watching people do it but we moved on towards the tower.

Originally we had decided not to climb. Since the year our legs broke, Jo has has an uncontrollable irrational fear of slippery surfaces and all research suggested the way up the tower was bannister-less marble. Given our recent escapades up towers of all shapes, sizes and difficulties, the 400 steps of the leaning tower seemed simple, so we headed off to buy tickets and stow our backpack (no bags allowed in the tower).

Managing to secure tickets that let us climb at 10, we headed off the a cafe for breakfast – deliciousa italian hot chocolate and jam-filled croissants. Suitably fortified, we girded our loins, joined the then short 10 o’clock climb line and waited as the sky lightened and the sun fought to come from behind the clouds. Although it had been raining that morning in Lucca, it had stopped by the time we reached Pisa and continued to fine up for the rest of the day.image

When our group was let in we were briefed on history of architect, design and phases of building. Apparently by the first few levels it had started to tilt, architects resigned citing the building an embarrassing mistake only to be resumed later. Adding the heavy bells (oddly the heaviest bells are on the lean side – madness) the tower was complete and continued to lean more eccentrically until it was closed as a hazard.

Relatively recently, structural engineers have slowed the towers lean, reworking the foundations but it is nuts and looks like it will fall over any moment. The tilt it so eccentric that when you climb the steps there are sections where although you are walking up steps, you are nearly getting lower, more obvious on the way down where down steps go uphill. It is a little twisty Turney and you get a little seasick as you climb the stairs that run the outside skin of the hollow tower.image

The view from the top is is wonderful, panoramas of Pisa, the people,on the ground look like models, all contorting while others photograph them helping to hold up,the tower.

We visited the cathedral, a grand and beautifully decorated church and were once again reminded of how these old churches seem to dwarf people, their scale seems to render us unimportant. The roofs were richly decorated as were the altars, niches and other associated parts of a working church.image

Returning by bus to the Pisa train station, we bought a warm drink (and got free wifi for doing that) then retrieved suitcases and found the correct platform for our train to Rome. Our experience of italian trains is that they arrive but so far never on time (retardo 10′ to ’25 meaning 10 to 25 minutes late). We has 2nd class tickets, heaved our bags aboard and collapsed into our seats for a 2ish hour journey to Roma. We both dozed, it is tiring being tourists when you want to,see lots and experience as much as you can in the time away.

Arriving in the late afternoon in Rome, a taxi ride to our apartment, home for the next 4 nights. We were greeted by our host, shown around and given maps and local advice, then we set off in search of the supermarket for supplies and the makings for dinner. We had picked up a fantastic jar of pesto while on the Liguarian Coast and decided simply to toss that through some fresh egg pasta, a deliciousa dinner.image

After dark we set off again, just for a walk around this section of Rome, first stop the Coloseum lit at night in very dramatic ways. We will tour the building as part of a tour we pre-purchased off the internet but seeing the scale and majesty of the building at night was breathtaking. image

We then made a pilgrimage to a gelataria for a frozen fix- properly made the fruit gelato here is simply delicious, with such variety in flavour we are continually spoilt for choice.image

Tomorrow we begin our touring of Ancient Rome – a couple of ruins exploring ancient ruins, we are looking forward to it.

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Bella Italia – Liguria and Tuscanny, not worlds apart

With a base in Lucca, we had planned day trips to the outer regions, to gain some understanding of the surrounding country in this part of Italy. We have discovered fierce rivalry between the regions, a native Luccan walking tour guide wanted to know why we went to Florence, or why we would want to go to Pisa – I think she was serious.image

Wednesday we boarded a minibus with a few other people and headed out through rolling countryside, passed the Carrara marble quarries and over to the Ligurian Coast. It was a lovely sunny day, no wind, sea calm as we were driven to Riomaggiore, a tiny village that clings to unstable cliffs that meet the sea. After a toilet break we refilled on a breakfast cup of hot chocolate (Italians do not understand tea, and their hot chocolate is rich, thick and almost a meal in itself) we headed down to the marina.image

Well, I say marina because that is what they called it, it is really a small block of concrete clinging to a cliff jutting out towards the deep clear azure Mediterranean Sea. To my astonishment, a ferry appeared from nowhere on the horizon and gently nosed close tot the concrete spit. Crew extended a walkway to the shore and we gingerly boarded as everything seemed to move around us. Apparently this is very scary in bad weather – no shit!image

Motoring on the sea was lovely although a little hazy, seeing too far in the distance was marred by a blue haze which we were told would lift when it got warmer. The coastline is rugged, like seriously steep, remote and crumbly but all along we saw boxes of coloured render that were houses gripping onto tiny ridges, miles from anywhere, no electricity and what must have been the very basic of living conditions. image

Apparently the locals are strongly bound to the land (hence cinque TERRE) even though there is a perfectly good ocean for a fishing lifestyle, they opt to construct terraces, grow olive trees, grapes and lemons, and scratch a living that way.image

The whole Cinque Terre is a designated world heritage area, and marine park, so commercial fishery is out of the question but one cannot live on grapes, olives and lemons alone – trade must be torturous as the sea is so remote.image

We motored into Maranola, a little picture postcard town clinging down a small ravine that we did not get out at, another impossible landing point for this type of ferry apparently. We were told of the piracy that these townships had to weather – Turkish pirates apparently ravaged them periodically (we thought we had probably met some of the descendants of these Turks when we were trying to get past shops in Istanbul).image

We motored past Corniglia, a charming town set in a natural rocky amphitheater on the cusp of a small rocky prominence that was inaccessible by sea. As we sailed past it it seemed to open up like a fan, showing a church with bell tower at it’s centre. It looked like a model, then we noticed a train station a little higher that water level – there is a subterranean railway all along this coast that joins the 5 villages to the coast further in both directions. What an amazing feat of engineering. This completed the ultimate model railway, from a distance they did look like toy models.image

Our next port of call was the village of Vernazza, again with a perilous approach but it also had a lovely circular marina and a well developed main street. Of the places we saw and visited I think this was the prettiest, devastated by floods in 2011 (when you build in a ravine, you are the water catchment for the area) they cleaned and renovated the piazza and gained what they called a beach from the sheer quantity of debris that flowed through the town. Although not really a beach by Australian standards (more of a gravel heap), there were adventurous tourists sunning themselves and dipping feet in the water. The harbour of Vernazza was protected by a half circle of boulders, all discards from the marble quarries in every shade imaginable – if they were discards then the other stuff must be truly spectacular.image

Our last stop in the ferry line up the coast was Monterosso, the most developed of the Cinque Terre, with a relatively safe landing point, restaurant and hotel district and a sequence of piazzas that had stores and market stalls, selling tourist things mostly. We had lunch, a reasonable pizza and bought some dolce (sweet treats) from a pasticceria which we ate waiting for our tour group to reassemble. image

We when took a different ferry line to sail back down the coast Nd around the headland to the coastal town of Spieza with an amazing castle on the hill/promontory and a well protected harbour. The tour company had organised a wine tasting, featuring the scarce and expensive wined of Cinque Terre, the whites were complex and interesting, the Reds originated elsewhere. We also tasted a pesto that was so lovely we bought a bottle – it will solve a dinner in Rome later deliciously.

Tired out and a little sunburnt from our day in the Liguarian  sun, we boarded the minibus again and headed for Lucca, home – tired but it was a really interesting day. I was relieved the sea was calm, I get seasick so brought kwells but did not need them as our seats were outside on deck, there was a fresh breeze and the scenery was spectacular enough for me not to notice the boats rocking and rolling. The haze sort of lifted towards the afternoon and the photos going back down. The coast of the 5 ports were clearer than those taken earlier.

Our other day trip was an exploration of the food and countryside of “typical” Tuscany (the Italian English translation system seems to favour that word as it was used frequently during the day), with our guide “Ami” who did not stop talking the whole day – our minibus had us (English speaking) and a group of Spanish tourists that sort of understood Italian. All explanations regardless of how trivial were provided twice, once in each dialect. image

We travelled country lanes, back roads and sW lots of rural scenes, typical farm layouts and fields of vines, blossoming fruit trees and verdant sprouting grape vines. It is spring here at the moment and everything is growing madly – we are not used to seeing so much blossom on stone fruit trees, it really is lovely and reminds me of the cherry blossoms of Japan.image

Coloured rendered buildings with rubbed tiled roofs of red, avenues of cypress pines leading to the main house, olive groves (freshly pruned and in bud) and lush vegetable patches carefully tended as most of the locals are at least partially self sufficient.image

We stopped at a walled city called San Gimignano and were left to explore, given a deadline and return point at the main porta (gate). The town’s main street followed a ridge with side streets up and down from it, twisting and meandering through shops, markets and residences. It was really pretty and would be more so if it was not so full of tourists like us seeking a Tuscan experience. Jo finally found a replacement coin purse, an ingenious pouch design that keeps coins secure but makes selection of the right one easy. image

We also found a lovely pasticceria, purchasing a selection of fruit-slice like treats w had not seen anywhere else, lovely short pastry around drunken sultanas being our favourite (a bit like a currant slice but much yummier).

Views from the walls were amazing, rolling hills covered with the now familiar textures of vines and olive trees, homesteads and hedges, so lovely.image

We re-joined our group (who had opted for a guide, whereas we explored on our own) and headed towards Sienna, a much larger city.image

We alighted our minivan at Piazza Dominico, near a church undergoing extensive repair and renovation after recent earthquakes nearly shook it to bits. We were given a map, and some free time to explore – we headed to the city’s Duomo- it’s main working church as there was a spectacular cathedral and a tower- we were confused as the cathedral bell towers was closed but there was a panoramic climb attached to a tower in the adjacent museum that was a terrifying and squeezy climb but it rewarded with magnificent views.image

We returned to ground level hungry and headed to Il Campo, an amazing amphitheatre in the heart of the city and bought panini and pizza, gelato and something to drink. We then realised w were fairly lost, and little by little made our way back to the meeting point. Siena is a busy place, we saw a little of it but did not really have enough time to explore properly as the distances between pickup point and city centre were too great.image

Our return journey was interrupted by a visit to an organic farm that grew vines, olives, vegetables, saffron and beef – the same breed typically used for a Florentine steak – they looked docile and delicious. We tasted 5 wines, some fruity whites, a refreshing rose and a couple of reds including their chianti. I have grown quite fond of Chianti Classico and worked though a bottle of it at our Lucca accommodation. We also tried their olive oil and green olives which were also pretty nice.image

We were served on paper placemats; being starved of paper folding while on holiday I asked for a clean one and folded our host a kangaroo. I had intended to fold it in transit but started folding and a crowd gathered and they insisted on me finishing before we left, to a round of applause (which was a little weird, you get that).image

We returned late to Lucca, and used the purchased saffron to flavour our evening meal, a risotto cooked with “brown” arborio rice, which was really nice but needed a lot more cooking than the white kind, using the first half of a huge bunch of asparagus we picked up in a local produce store.image

Tired and a little sozzled we slept soundly, the next day was our scheduled “rest” day and we only had Lucca tower climbing, shopping and a bicycle ride around the top of the walls planned for the day, early dinner then a Puccini recital booked for the evening – snippets of famous opera arias, wonderful singing in an ancient church. This provided a perfect end to our stay in Lucca.image

Tomorrow we travel via regional train to Pisa to inspect some rather dodgey buildings and then board an express train to Rome, our next base. We are now quite organised, our suitcases and other stuff is pretty easy to collect and move, we will need to reorganise slightly for plane trips but train where we lug our bags seems to work well without killing either of us too much.

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My name is Lucca…

We planned to spend some time in regional Italy, and the Tuscany region seemed a natural choice coming from Florence out of Venice.image

We chose Lucca as a home base primarily because of it’s location, ease to get to and the peculiar nature of the city. Lucca is perhaps unique in that it is a walled city, with the outer walls still completely intact.image

Built as defence from invasion (most of Europe has a long and brutal history of one important force deciding they want what others have), Lucca’s enemies included Pisa (no one except people from Pisa seem to like people from Pisa) and Florence – the Medici family were hugely powerful, greedy and wanted what Lucca had – silks and brocades. It seems Lucca’s main industry in the Middle Ages was making expensive textiles, like those the pope and his bishops insisted on. As such, it had much to defend, building high thick walls to hide what it had.image

In weird juxtaposition, Middle Ages Italians built towers to advertise their wealth and status- sure the towers are useful defensive position but it seems they were more about status than places to lob projectiles. Lucca had hundreds, today only a few exist and there are remnants throughout the city, holding walls of houses together.image

Lucca, or something like it has been in this spot for a very long time. Australians do not really understand a “really” long time, but supports to the roman sections of some buildings (and the remnants of a Roman amphitheater) date to 4BC and earlier. The locals dismantled the amphitheatre later and used the stone to build their houses. Some walls cause the mind to boggle as it is clear how ages of building stack up on more ancient ones.image

Jo’s research found an architect-designed apartment handy to a main entrance or “Porto”. There are 5 huge multi door fortified gates that are still intact, providing the only access to the inner city. The apartment is comfortable but up a dizzying 3 steep flights of steps, including a half twist (best performed in the pike position). It was a real challenge to get the suitcases up, and at least a twice daily chore to get to ground level. We have all mod cons, modern design and space to spread out and be comfortable. It Is also nice and central for walking and accessing the rest of the city.image

The roads are narrow, cars are not really welcome here with legislated minimum resident car allocations inside the walls, they squeeze through but the most common form of personal transport is the bicycle. All roads are stone paved and are contributing to our aching feet. They divide, twist and turn in fascinating ways, each turn opens up a new and interesting panorama and we have had fun getting lost here as Jo turns the map around and around, up and down to try and work out where the floop we are at any given point.image

Luccahas a long connection to the arts. Art and music have been central to city life, evidenced by the adorned churches, public artworks and the legacy of families like the Puccini’s. image

The shops, houses and services are all jumbled, a butcher is beside a pasticceria but it works, there are schools hidden away and 100 or so churches, many of which are active and the place has a charm and atmosphere that we have found to be unique. The locals and friendly, the shops sell fresh produce and a bewildering array of breads, meats, oils and other yummy unpronounceable things.image

We could happily live here, except for the language- most have little English and we have little Italian, making for some hysterical moments trying to explain the most basic things. From Lucca we have two day trips planned – to Sienna/deeper into Tuscany and into Liguria to explore coastal towns that form Cinque Terre (the 5 lands/villages). image

Our last day is a “rest” day and we will probably cycle the walls – Napoleon’s sister constructed a wide boulevard atop the walls, the circuit is 4.5 km and an easy ride. We will also attempt a tower climb because that is relaxing, right? We have loved our time in Lucca and will be sorry to leave but Rome and beyond calls.

 

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A Taste of Florence (Firenze)

Many of my friends had been to Florence (Firenze) and raved about it, it happened that our transit to Lucca afforded a short visit so we thought “why not”. After a leisurely waterbus to the train station, we lugged our luggage (now I get the name luggage) onto attain, first class of course darling (as it turned out, when we booked it online a few months back, super economy was first class, go figure) and cruised the Tuscan countryside arriving rested and refreshed in Florence in the early afternoon.image

We had booked a Bed and Breakfast (oddly without the breakfast) that was the top floor of an ancient building (3 dizzying flights of stairs up, such a cliff with the luggage) and after a welcoming chat and orientation from our host (which we really didn’t have the time for or need) we set off to find somewhere that would sell us a bus ticket (which turned out to be a pain as it was Sunday and everything was either sold out or closed). Eventually we found a tobacconist (looking for a “T” sign that indicated they were licensed to sell tickets) and boarded a #13 bus for a scenic tour of Florence that let us off at Piazza d’Michelangelo.image

From this hillside vantage point you can see much of Florence. We arrived late so missed the opportunity to hear the Gregorian chanting in the church nearby sadly. image

From here we walked down the hill towards the river, a cliff of stairs and a lovely path wending through old Florentine streets. We headed towards Pont de Vecchio, an ancient arched bridge lined with shops selling gold jewellery – shiny! image

We were strategically wending our way towards L’ Brindellone, a restaurant I had hysterically booked in full Italian a couple of months back in Brisbane. It must have been a memorable phone call because they remembered us and showed us to our table, bustling as more and more people arrived.image

We subsequently heard it was very hard to book. We shared hand made spaghetti with white truffle for starters which was amazing, followed by Bistecca alla Fiorintina (Tbone steak that is the size half a cow, seared outside, rare inside) and some Tuscan beans as a side. We have eaten enough meat for a week but it was tender, juicy and totally delicious. Jo finished with coffee and I was talked into a grappe- an intense sake like spirit that took some time to drink.image

We floated homeward with happy tummies and slightly sozzled brains, stopping for gelato on the way. We did some simple prep for the next day then slept solidly.image

Next morning, we left our luggage in a lockup and headed out to explore Firenze some more. Jo’s research said the Duomo was closed but the adjacent bell tower was open, so we arrived early ready to climb the 413 stairs to the top of the tower. The climb was exhausting, the view fantastic … but we saw people slightly higher at the summit of the Duomo, so decided that must be open.image

After a terrifying descent through narrow passageways and tiny steep steps we congratulated ourselves then joined the queue to climb the Duomo (450+ steps) – madness in retrospect.

The Duomo is the dome over the transept (cupola) of a vast marble inlay church – the outside surface decoration is lavish inlayed coloured marble with carving and relief work near doors and windows only. After a short wait in the queue we were let in as part of a batch and began our ascent in through the walls of the church. Narrow crawl ways, irregular steps and little light made it seem like an adventure akin to an Indiana Jones movie (half expecting to trigger a giant boulder that would chase us along a gallery). image

When we reached to top level of the second gallery, we travelled inside the main body of the church admiring the glorious painted ceilings depicting many levels from heaven to hell, and a cast of thousands in various states of despair – I guess anything that frightens the congregation into less sin is fair game? We entered a narrow and irregularly staired gap between the inner and outer skins of the cupola and wended ever upward, sometimes climbing curved stone stairs that disappeared into the darkness – it was a real challenge. Many parts of the climb we had to contend with people coming down, although unlike the bell tower climb where there was only one way up/down, in the duomo there were many sections that were only one way, making the passage of large numbers of climbers easier.image

After what seemed like an age, at the end of our exhaustion we arrived at a ladder and sunlight at the top – emerging on top of the dome, in a caged walkway around the stained glass lantern was astonishing – not only had we made it but the view was breathtaking (including looking down on that bloody bell tower we climbed earlier). We rested, hydrated, congratulated ourself and girded our loins for the climb back down which I found really hard on my knees and really difficult to see what I was treading down on due to my poor night vision.image

Back on terra firma, our legs like jelly and feet aching like one of the lower levels of hell we had seen so graphically depicted earlier, we trudged to a panini bar for lunch – delicious wholemeal panini stuffed with porchetta/pancetta, tapenade, tomato and a bottle of water – so yummy, so welcome, so restoring (to be honest, just sitting for a while is a welcome relief). We then headed to the central markets to purchase starter provisions for our stay in Lucca. .

imageWe negotiated stands of cheeses, pastas, oils, and vegies, purchased some ravioli and fettuccini that was milled fresh for us, bought some EVOO, balsamico, reggiano and a few other staples that we would add to fresh in Lucca, then headed back to get our suitcases. I would rather not remember the climb up/down with the cases from the B&B – suffice to say I was buggered before I attempted it. image

A quickish trip to the train station, pained navigation of an Italian only ticketing system and we had secured what we hoped were 2 domestic 2nd class tickets to Lucca but had to wait until,5 minutes before departure to learn what platform it was going to leave from (the connecting train was late, we were tired and …. Italy). Interestingly we ran into a teaching colleague (hi again Debbie!) who was also taking 6 weeks LSL but was on a route similar to ours, only in the reverse direction – small world hey?

We ended up seeing quite a bit of art on the street (graffiti is clever and an art form in Florence) and we saw a bit of public sculpture including 2 versions of “David” – I am sure Italians so love that statue (particularly Italian men) because they get a boost of self confidence comparing… equipment.

We traveled well and will talk about Lucca in the next post. We had a brief taste of Florence, saw only a small amount but enough to know we probably would want to return someday.  The weather was warm and sunny, beautiful clear blue skies and the people were friendly (if you ignore the Germans).

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Venice: The very best place to get lost

After an early start and a courageous lift to the airport (well, I say courageous, I mustered strength not to scream at the almost collisions our hurtling driver avoided) we had a bit of a sit before boarding Turkish Airlines flight to Venice.image

You get off the plane and you could be anywhere really, airports are airports, exit lounges taxi ranks and car parks are too. We walked to a “water bus” stop, in a muddy ditch amongst unremarkable mudflats and waited for our ride.image

Once aboard a packed water bus, we leisurely motored around a channel, across a vast lagoon and were transported to another world as a city rose around us, out of the now blueish water, coalescing into canals crisscrossing raised land, buildings joined by bridges, boats of all shapes and colours imaginable. I had read about Venice but nothing prepares you for the actuality.image

We wandered, turning this way and that, trailing suitcases, eyes wide and mouth open, in the general direction of our accomodation, meeting our landlord eventually at ground level, then up 2 ancient flights of stairs to our apartment – a bright, sunny, comfortable newly renovated marvel. After some brief but incomplete instruction (we assumed much, like we would be able to work the heating and washing machine- neither of which we completely mastered) but we were in, comfortable and raring to explore.image

We had maps, but generally just set off in more or less the right direction, each turn offered an amazing and changing vistas of narrow crooked lane or canal. There are no roads, no cars or bicycles, the footpaths are higgletypigglety stonework (hard on tired feet) that open up into squares full of cafes, shops, wine bars and churches.image

This city makes no sense – only a madman would decide to perch a whole city on stilts set into estuary mud just a little above sea level but thankfully madmen persisted and the resultant ancient city is wonderful. Clearly they are having flooding issues, many of the ground floors (no basements here except in the Cousteau’s house) have been abandoned because of damp/flooding. Many streets had stacked raised platforms to make walkways when the tide is extra high. To get around you walk, catch a water bus or if you are made of money you call a water taxi or gondolier. Charges for the latter 2 options take your breath away – private gondoliers begin charging at 60 euro per half hour or part thereof but there are cheaper options if you look. We caught passenger gondolas for nearly nothing and the water bus is a good service that runs until late in the night.image

Our first night we went to an Osteria and had cicchetti (a little like crostini – bread topped with various hot and cold things, we had creamy smoked cod, salmon and artichoke, sardines, stuffed olives and many more delicious morsels) and wine – chianti for me, proseco for Jo. Such a yummy dinner, followed to a gelitaria for some deliciousa gelato. Walking around at night, apart from being chilly this time of year, feels safe, friendly and the majority of the streets and squares are well lit. The city breathes history and romance – we walked for hours and used the water bus to tour the Grand Canal at night, so we could repeat it during the day.image

We had “skip the queue” passes we had bought on the Internet for St Mark’s Basilica – an ancient, crumbling but currently under restoration marvel of mosaic and over the top marble embellishment through which we wandered the interior in awe. It is clear that old churches particularly were designed with a couple of design premises, apart from functional building, the scale seems to deliberately diminish the worshippers, make them seem small and insignificant. The other is to embellish in many over the top ways – St Mark’s from the second level gallery up into the domes has gold encrusted mosaics of astonishing beauty, honestly it is overwhelming looking up towards the heavens. We also took the elevator to the top of the adjacent tower for astonishing panoramic views of the whole of Venice (and the startling realisation that we had walked much of it in the short time we have been here).image

We spent 2 days swept up in the magic that was Venice; shopping, eating and drinking, walking and exploring but early on we both realised we needed to come back and do it at a more leisurely pace. We wanted a taste of Venice, wel liked what we had but want more and vow to return.image

From here, we catch a train to Florence, another adventure awaits us there.

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How Bazaar (or what to do on a “rest” day in Istanbul)

Knowing that travel is exhausting, we have a number of strategically planned “rest days” in our schedule – today was one of them. Our theory, the day can take on whatever form is needed and we needed a sleep in.

After a leisurely snooze, I got up, showered and went to the bakery down the road for a simit and “bagel”, then on to the market for some yoghurt and milk, returning to the unit for a late breakfast. The “bagel” was more like a brioche, but a satisfying breakfast and good start to a cold, blowy and wet day.image

We decided to head off to the Grand Bazaar, a rabbit-warren like maze of markets in the vague hope of finding a Turkish rug that we want to hang on our wall, that we both like and that we could afford.image

After some initial market research a few days earlier, we decided a “Kilm” wast the style of rug we wanted – hand woven, not knotted, and we also had a fairly specific colour palette in mind, so it goes with our polished floors, walls, furniture etc.image

Even looking like you might be in the market for a carpet is a great way to make new special friends. We were cajoled into countless shops, sat down with Apple tea and shown many things that were clearly not what we asked for, were not in the dimensions that would work and were not even close to colours we asked for – they have to try. Leaving the shop is MUCH harder than getting in but we finally began finding styles that were different, high craftsmanship values, striking designs and colours that worked.image

After an exhaustive process of narrowing down things we liked and did not like, it came down to a lovely wool on wool piece with tulips and grains (sorry, not gluten free 😛 ) and then came the haggling. Neither of us are good at this, our normal poker face dissolves into indecision about how far we can push, but are happy that we drove the price down well below that which we has set as our internal budget for the piece.image

Elated we had secured a carpet we both liked (never a certainty), we headed off for some lunch, a type of Doner with large slices of meat on a puffy bread with salad and condiments – delicious. On a side note, we misplaced Jo’s hat and even after retracing steps were unsuccessful at recovering it – I guess that is an opportunity to buy something else perhaps in Venice or beyond.image

We spent a leisurely afternoon getting warm, dry, catching up with family and friends (you gotta get some Skype credit, phone calls from any wifi point to anywhere in the world for literally cents, amazing) and blogging, photo culling and packing.

We have a restaurant dinner tonight (hoping to try Testi kebab/stew – meal cooked in a clay pot and cracked open at the Table) and then leave tomorrow morning for Venice. We have had 2 loads of washing done so are well stocked again with clean stuff, hoping for warmer weather as we head through Italy.

Postscript: Dinner on an enclosed rooftop terrace, a “crackpot” of an ideaimage

The lamb and pepper casserole inside was steamy, succulent and fairly gently spiced, served with bread to mop up the juices – yum.image

Overall a cold and wet day, apparently it is 8 degrees but feels like 3 because of the wind and driving rain. Returning to a warm unit to finish packing what we can and dry out our shoes for tomorrow.image

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A hill too far – Our visit to Gallipoli

We awoke early and waited to be picked up outside our local bakery, it was still dark and cold and we were concerned about the weather. We knew we had a 5 hour journey to Eceabat which was where our tour left from, so packed well – lots of warm things, snacks and activities to while away the hours.

Surprisingly, after a couple of comfort stops, and time to stretch our legs (busses are as uncomfortable as planes for people with long achey legs) we were near, our first glimpse of the Dardanelles confirmed how busy a sea channel it was, with huge container ships plying against the strong current.image

After lunch and a pit stop, we visited the “Narrows” which was the original blockade on the Dardanelles, and saw the cannon placements that, when coupled with the minefields made safe passage impossible through this important straight.

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Most of the original cannon placements have long since gone but we got a feeling for the gun placement and learned of some local Turk valour and courage including adrenalin-fuelled shell carrying when the mechanical lift got blown up.
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After exploring a number of possible landing sites and theories behind what happened and why, we arrived at a tiny beach named Anzac Cove.

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With headland running down to the beach and rugged steep hills as far as the eye can see, one can only imaging the confusion and difficulty the first few waves of troops faced until they began arriving around the point at North Beach. Their aim, head past the third ridge and take the hill, then work down back behind the gun placement at the narrows and take them out.
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Seemingly not the ideal landing place, but stuff of legend none the less.

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We walked through the cemetery, on to the beach and around the headland towards North Beach. In the distance we could see the first of a series of scaffolded arenas being set up for Anzac Day celebrations soon.

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Leaving nothing but footprints, we headed up towards the arena, then into one of the many cemeteries (representing a tiny fraction of the fallen) that are punctuated throughout the area. A number of battle legends help personalise the battle, we saw “Simpson’s Grave” – one of many medics that evacuated wounded (he was famous for moving leg/arm wounded on a donkey).
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Selfies seemed strangely inappropriate, the area was revered by Australians and Turks alike.
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We then visited “Lone Pine” and realised that this was the site where the trenches were closest, no man’s land.  Down the ridge apparently they played cricket during the evacuation to disguise the fact that they were leaving. It boggles the mind to think that the battle lasted here for 9 months when it was supposed to last only days according to Churchill.

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Much to my surprise there are still remnants of allied and Turkish trenches riddled throughout the area, it gives you a grim picture of “Diggers” clawing an existence on a foreign and inhospitable series of hills.
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Near the end of our tour, we arrived at the ANZAC first objective (reach the hill after the third ridge) which was never achieved. It is now a Turkish memorial, and full of Turks taking selfies, kids on school trips.

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The hilltop was cold and blustery – so much so that there was slush an tiny snowflakes landing on the bus window as we were waiting to leave. We returned to base for a pit stop before the long journey back to Istanbul. One of our comfort stops was at a roadside diner – we had a warm comforting bowl of Kofte stew (meatballs, potatoes, capsicum, carrots in a delicious tomatoey jus) which really hit the spot.

It was a huge day, we got back to our unit after 11pm exhausted but satisfied we now new more about the ANZAC legend and had a better sense of the battle theatre. I understand the importance of the objective, it is clear that the Dardanelles was an important passage but the casualty rate and planning of the whole campaign seems, in retrospect, to be a huge waste of life, resources and one hell of a way to “forge a nation”.

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