Saturday 4 October 2014

The White Cliffs Of Dover

Casey writes:

We knew that we only had four days to get from Marseille to Calais in order to catch the ferry to London. And so began our manic sightseeing frenzy which covered Nice, Monaco, Turin, Zermatt, Troyes and Reims.

It was absolutely pouring rain when we disembarked the ferry in Marseille. Our small umbrellas were fairly useless in shielding us AND all our bags from the wet, so we made a beeline for the car hire outlet from where we picked up the car that would be our transport for the next four days.

Arriving in Nice (still in the pouring rain) we discovered that the hostel we had booked which had advertised that it provided car parking, in fact did not. An hour and a half later, and a massive fee, and we finally secured an underground carpark in the middle of the city for the night. The grumpy half an hour walk back to the hostel in the rain wasn't my favourite moment of the trip!

We debated whether visiting Monaco was worth it. Of course it was! But was it worth another thirty minute walk through the teeming rain, combined with waiting at the bus stop for another twenty minutes? Yes! We travelled the short distance by bus along the coast as the sun was setting (at least I think it was setting behind the dense grey clouds, because it suddenly got dark), and arrived in Monaco in time for dinner. Well, we would have eaten dinner if we could have afforded it. The restaurants were well out of our price range, and had it not been pelting rain, we perhaps would have walked on until we found something more affordable. Instead, we opted to share an ice cream sundae (which, mind you, was still out of our price range), which tasted absolutely awesome, but also made us freezing cold given that we were still soaking wet from the rain. We tried to enter the Grand Casino, but the security guard took one look at us in our grubby wet clothes, identified us as backpackers instead of highflying gamblers, and we were 'encouraged' to visit the poor man's casino next door instead. Suffice to say, we didn't become millionaires by playing the pokies. But our fleeting visit to Monaco was certainly memorable.

Upon returning from Monaco, our short time in Nice was pleasant, mainly because the rain had finally stopped! We ambled through the old town and had a couple of drinks and photo stops, before collapsing into bed near midnight.

Up early the next morning, we headed out of France, and drove into Italy, enroute to the city of Turin. There was no official border crossing, and we only knew we'd crossed countries when the road signs started appearing in Italian (oh, and that it suddenly magically stopped raining). Once in Turin, our goal was to find San Giovanni Cathedral which houses the 'Shroud of Turin', and equally as importantly, to eat lunch. The cathedral was very pretty, and, although the shroud is rarely on display, we admired the replica and learned a lot from the information that was provided. The shroud was last on display in 2010 and will next be on public display for a couple of months in 2015 (who knows, we might make it back then). Lunch was an obligatory pizza before we headed back on the road, bound for Zermatt.

My goodness, Switzerland is stunning! Driving into the Swiss Alps, I had my eyes on the scenery as much as I did the road. The mountains took our breath away, and every kilometre we travelled had a mountainous landscape more beautiful than the previous. We stayed the night in Tasch, a small village with gorgeous old lodges, set in the middle of the mountain range. We had chosen this location as a launching point to get to Zermatt to view the Matterhorn. By dusk, it was zero degrees, a far cry from the 45+ degrees temperatures we were enduring only days earlier in Tunisia.

Zermatt itself is fantastic as well. A ski village for the incredibly cashed up people of the world, we couldn't justify staying overnight, but it was from here that we took a series of cable cars up to just below 4000m, to stand practically face to face with the Matterhorn. Words can't describe this mystical mountain that I have only previously seen pictures of in books. It is stunningly beautiful, and its unique shape means that it dominates the skyline, despite not being much taller than the surrounding peaks. We could see Mt Blanc in the distance, and we could have admired the panoramic views all day, if it wasn't so viciously cold! We were blessed with clear blue skies, making for some excellent photographs of the region.

Leaving Switzerland after only a brief 24 hour stint, we drove back into France and stayed the night in a lovely quaint town called Troyes. It was dark when we arrived, so our only activity for the night was to eat dinner and go to bed. We found a great little restaurant in the old town, housed in a building that was built in the 1400s. We couldn't leave France without eating the local cuisine, so my dinner consisted of escargot in garlic butter, and a plate of cheese, while Richard opted for tripe sausage. We wouldn't normally reach for a plate of snails, pork stomach and intestines, but hey, we were in France! And they were actually very tasty.

Our final day of driving through France took us through Reims. We thoroughly enjoyed the Notre Dame Cathedral (where many a French king was coronated), Palais du Tau and St Remi Basilica. We also perused the wine shops and emerged with an obligatory bottle of French champagne (you kind of have to when you're in the region of Champagne!)

Arriving in Calais in the late afternoon, we drove past an incredibly large gathering of African migrants attempting to secure a ferry passage to England while being monitored by a contingency of surrounding police. A few months ago we were laughing that the media was sensationalising this illegal immigrant issue, but now we are not so sure, as it did appear to be a very real and prominent situation in Calais. We returned the hire car safely and made it easily to our accommodation before dark. A short walk through Calais to admire the world heritage listed Beffroi de Calais (bell tower of the town hall), and a final French meal (and glass of champagne), before retiring to our hotel for our final night of our trip.

And finally, the moment arrived... early the next morning we boarded the ferry bound for Dover, and watched the white cliffs grow bigger and bigger in the distance. Our passage into England was seamless (the long tiring walk to the Dover train station wasn't), but we enjoyed our final train ride before emerging two hours later at Charing Cross Station in the heart of London. We were met by our friends Rosie and Gareth, who helped to make our arrival all the more significant. We were also met by heavy rain that set in for the entire afternoon (I would not have wanted to arrive in London any other way!) To Richard's delight, we ended up at a Wetherspoon's pub for lunch and drinks, before an extremely brief sight-seeing walk through London to Westminster station. 

Mission accomplished! What an amazing feeling! Nearly 70,000 kilometres and 31 countries, without a single flight.

And so our amazing journey has come to an end. We have learnt so much about the world, about ourselves, and about the basics of human nature. We have thousands of memories and have made many new friends. Now, London awaits, and we can start planning our next adventure, whatever that may be!

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Happy Families And A Taste Of The Caribbean (Sort Of)

Richard writes:

We had a few days spare after the end of our Tunisian tour and our ferry leaving Tunis for Marseille. We mulled over options, and had a look on a hotels website for cheap hotels in the Tunis area. We had decided we had seen quite enough Roman ruins and just needed a few days to relax after what had been quite a stressful few weeks (more on that later), so we settled on staying at a resort just outside Tunis. Not any old resort though, oh no, a very special resort called "Caribbean World" (even though it makes no effort to appear or feel Caribbean). We saw the price, and thought it looked amazing, free food, free beer, free internet, private beach, several pools, water slides etc for about $35 a night. We then looked at the reviews . . . they didn't seem to match the glitz on the website however. My favourite review was:

"The hotel is below standard in everything. It needs to be knocked down and rebuilt."

There was countless other negative reviews referring to the poor food quality, how dirty the resort was and the rude staff. So what did we do? We booked! And we have no regrets. We have had a wonderfully relaxed and enjoyable time at Caribbean World, with walks on the beach, free beer at our beck and call and after all the countless negative reviews regarding the restaurant, the food was amazing! A huge amount of variety of dishes in the bay maries, that was tasty and full of veggies (which we have lacked for much of our whole trip). It seems we were not the only guests enjoying the food. During lunch we spotted a woman scooping colossal amounts of food into countless tupperware containers, in full view of the restaurant staff. Nobody seemed to care, so she carried on filling her boxes with enthusiasm presumably to feed her family for the next month! 

Our actual room was basic, but clean, and more than enough for our needs, and considerably better than most of the rooms we have stayed in on our trip. The shower also deserves a special mention, as the quality of showering facilities in the past seven months has in general, been pretty poor, with warm water showers few and far between. However, at Caribbean World the shower was awesome, not that our exertions laying on sun loungers or drinking beer had worked up much of a sweat, the quality shower was very much appreciated all the same! Thank you Caribbean World, you were exactly what we needed after the previous 11 days on our Tunisian tour.

Ok, to start with I will start with the positives of the tour, of which there were many. Tunisia is blessed with some absolutely beautiful Roman ruins, of which we saw numerous examples. Some of which, Casey dealt with in her last blog. Each ruin site had its own characteristics, which made each one worth visiting. For example, the ruins at Sbeitla had a hugely impressive forum, with three largely intact temples at its head. Bulla Regia on the other hand, though not as impressive in terms of structures had fantastic underground houses with brilliantly preserved mosaics. It is difficult to believe that these sites have stayed so well preserved after, in some cases over two thousand years of decay. In my opinion however, the most impressive site was Dougga. There was an impressive amphitheatre, as well as temples, a brothel, as well as countless other structures still remaining. The site was absolutely huge, which we were lucky enough to visit early in the morning, to avoid the afternoon's heat. 



As an extra to our scheduled itinerary, our guide Mohammed, fitted in a visit to a World War II cemetery called Medjez El Bab, filled with mainly British dead. I had no idea that so many casualties had been sustained in North Africa during the war. I am still a little ignorant of the significance that North Africa played in the World War II, but the Tunisians have certainly maintained the cemeteries beautifully, as is the case wherever I have seen war cemeteries around the world.

Tunisia also provided us with a first for this trip. During our trip to the historic town of Le Kef, we were followed everywhere we went by an armed unit of security guards. Upon departure from our hotel to a restaurant in the city, our bus was escorted by security, and the next day we were flanked as we walked around the historic city as well as when we visited the supermarket to buy our lunch! The city was very close to the border with Algeria, and we guessed the increased security was as a result of kidnapping and killing of a French tourist in Algeria the week before. It felt slightly strange to be followed in this way, but I guess if it made the Tunisians feel happier about our safety, then it was a good thing!

Le Kef

Mohammed our guide was a really good guy. He spoke excellent English and was extremely keen to look after the group and deliver whatever we wanted. We did however, have plenty of misunderstandings that often led the group to get frustrated with him. From our point of view though, it was obvious he was trying, despite the growing frustrations from the group, that seemed to get more grumpy and whiney as the tour went on. Our tolerance for the group reduced day by day, and by the last day, the group spirit had completely fractured, making the last night meal an interesting affair. To help give an idea of the level of dysfunctionality of the group by the end of the tour, I will describe some of the events that happened in the last 48 hours together:

- The tour leader told us he required all his powers of restraint not hit one of the more elderly members of the group in the face with his mobile phone. This was after he made a special effort to give us more time than we had had in other places to show us the beautiful town of Sidi Bou Said, and being told it was too long as she wanted to swim in the pool at the hotel. The poor guy was trying so hard, but whatever he did didn't satisfy people and his efforts seemed to be greeted with a chorus of moans at every turn.

Sidi Bou Said

- The princess of the group, accused (completely ridiculously) the tour leader of stealing our tip money kitty. The same girl earlier in the tour had demanded to be driven over 100km to a better hotel as the one we were staying in (which happened to be one of the most interesting hotels I have ever stayed in, as it was carved into rock, with a cave for each room) had no water to wash with as the whole village's water was out. She was also heard wailing to the guide that "these people will steal from us" during one excursion. "These people" basically being Tunisian, and therefore in her thinly veiled racist eyes, were no better than common thieves. She also didn't utter a word to anyone at the final group meal, preferring instead to play with her mobile phone.

-  We also had it reported to us that once back in England, one of the group told another member to "f*** off" eight times during their farewell at Heathrow airport (four of the group flew back on the same flight to London from Tunis).

The negativity amongst almost everybody drove us absolutely crazy, and when we realised we were free of the group on the final morning before getting a taxi to Caribbean World, we felt the tension drain from us and we felt a tangible sigh of relief. The moral of the tale being; do not take tours which rich English people go on, as all they do is moan and moan, even when there is nothing to moan about, and they annoyed the crap out of us.

Caribbean World, restored our faith in the world, ready for it to be tested again on the 21 hour ferry ride to Marseille from Tunis. The amalgam of refugee camp scenes and screaming babies await, but once it is all over we will be in France, ready for a final four day assault of Europe before we reach London after over seven months on the road (or water, or tracks etc, but never the air). Goodbye Tunisia . . . London here we come!

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Out Of Africa

Casey writes:

Why did we add Tunisia to our trip? Because we could! Staring at countless maps over the past few months, we were fascinated by the close proximity of Tunisia (and Africa in general) to southern Italy. Prior to arriving in Tunis, I knew about as much about the history of Tunisia as I know about Metaphysics. Nothing. Actually no, that's not true. I knew how to spell it. I knew the capital was Tunis. And I knew there was a bloody huge expanse of desert between this country and those in west Africa where the Ebola virus hysteria currently exists, and that I could therefore reassure my family that I wasn't going to die.

We arrived at the ferry terminal in Palermo with low expectations as a result of our previous ferry journeys. We were met at the ticket office by a mob of angry, aggressive Tunisian men who had surrounded the ticket counter and were shouting at and intimidating the ticket administrators. With sighs of resignation, we joined the queue and tried to stay as far away as possible from the horde. The ferry itself met all expectations. Trying to sleep in upright seats surrounded by screaming children was tricky. Walking through the corridor in a straight line was impossible unless you wanted to trip over the prostrate bodies strewn everywhere. And finding a seat in the cafe for breakfast? Forget it... the seats were being used as beds by the passengers who didn't feel the need to pay the extra cost for a chair. We were surrounded by men everywhere. Where were the women? This was a good question and became an ongoing theme throughout our time in Tunisia as a whole.  

After twelve hours we arrived at the port of Tunis. The fight to get off the ferry was akin shoppers lining up for the Boxing Day sales, but we survived unscathed and after the two hour process of waiting for my visa, we were in.

Unsure about the security situation in Tunisia and the transport options around the country, we opted to join a group tour for our twelve day jaunt. (Un)luckily for us, this particular tour company attracted a clientele with little in common with us. Sorry, but we were travelling with some arrogant, stuck-up, rich, posh people, who only know how to complain about this that and everything. We sought refuge with Peta (from Perth) and Ruth (from Leeds) - the other normal passengers - and did everything possible to stay away from the holier-than-thou posse. And that's the end of my rant, I promise, because aside from our fellow tourists, Tunisia was just brilliant!

Tunisia is indeed a fascinating place to visit. It's a hybrid of Mediterranean, European and African cultures. It is a country trying to rebuild itself after its 2011 revolution, but unfortunately, the actions of the government and the reduced living standards, have made many locals jaded and pessimistic about their future. Startled by the lack of women everywhere we went, we quizzed our tour leader. Walking down the street, we saw literally hundreds of men of all ages sitting in cafes and restaurants, socialising, and genuinely enjoying their (seemingly endless) free time. The lack of women anywhere in public was obvious. The justification we were given was that women choose not to attend cafes or eat out in restaurants. We were immediately sceptical. After also being told that 52% of the population are women and that there are 44,000 more women than men in the country, we were trying to work out where they all were hiding. We were left to draw our own conclusions. 

Tunis itself is dirty, loud and chaotic. The Medina is grotty, and you really get the sense that life is about the daily grind to make a living (at least for the men). It was eye-opening to wander the old city as we contemplated how life must have changed over the hundreds of years that the narrow alleyways and roads have existed.

The Medina

Tunisia is a haven of magnificently preserved historical sites and relics. A history teacher's dream! The Bardo Museum was a taste of things to come when we visited it in Tunis. It houses one of the best collections of Roman mosaics in the world. From there, over the duration of the tour so far, we have been lucky enough to visit many archeological sites (in varying stages of preservation), all with their original mosaics still intact on the floor, walls and pools. Just beautiful! The most famous site, Carthage, was founded in 1000 B.C.. Fantastic ruins built on a seaside location, it was once known as the 'gateway to Africa' and was a highly sought strategic post when the Romans conquered it in the third Punic War in 146 B.C. I can imagine that the old city must have once been amazing. We were also simply blown away by the Roman ampitheatre ruins at El Djem. The most impressive ampitheatre I've ever seen, with Richard comparing its grandeur to Rome's Colosseum. 

Bardo Museum


El Djem

I've never taken much notice of doors in my life. But suddenly here in Tunisia, I fell in love with the bold vibrant colours and quaint architectural designs of the front doors on houses and buildings. Unique, pretty and quirky... who ever thought that a door could excite me!

Aside from Roman ruins and doors, Tunisia has a rich religious history. Now, a conservative Muslim country, the Islamic, Christian and Jewish populations have all had their fair share of the limelight. In Kairouan, the holiest city in Tunisia, we visited the Great Mosque, which is the fourth holiest Islamic centre in the world after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. We also visited the Mosque of the Berber, which was richly decorated with exquisite patterns and carvings. A Jewish community established itself on Djerba Island during Roman times. Here, we visited El Ghriba (Africa's oldest synagogue) and, completely unrelated to religion, we also visited a pottery workshop which distributes traditional pottery all over the Sahara. 

The Great Mosque 

El Ghriba S

Economically, the city of Sfax is the heart of Tunisia. Its people are obviously more wealthy and it is classed as a more sophisticated place to live. The twisting alleys of the Medina were pretty, and we enjoyed meandering through at our own pace. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some of the most basic living standards we encountered were in a place called Matmata. This 'invisible village' is camouflaged by the sandy undulating landscape, and situated within craters are around fifty hidden underground dwellings. Many of the surrounding caves are still in use today, and our accommodation for the night was housed in an ancient cave house dug out of the earth and rock. Richard and I were in our pure element and revelled in this unique opportunity, but we had to shut out the tantrums going on around us when some members of our group realised that there was no air-conditioning, shared showers, and a town water shortage. One night without showers or air-conditioning... oh dear, for some people it was as if the world had come to an end!


Tunisia is hot! There is no surprise there. We've enjoyed daily temperatures in the mid forties, especially when we visited the Sahara and the Chott-El-Jerid salt flats, where we saw many mirages... and lots of salt and sand! Here, to the pure delight of some in our group, we visited two film locations used in Star Wars... the cave where Luke Skywalker met his step-father, and the magnificent canyon where one of the many airborne battles took place! From there, we briefly went 'sand duning' in four-wheel drives before heading to a local restaurant and eating camel kebabs for dinner. 

Half way through our Tunisian jaunt, I'll now hand the blog reigns over to Richard for his perspectives. I am loving being in such a different country to those we've visited recently. The local people might speak French, but we seem a million worlds away from mainland Europe!

Wednesday 17 September 2014

I See (Sicilian) Dead People

Richard writes:

After an absolutely fantastic time in and around Naples, we set off for our ferry to Palermo for three days in Sicily. Our whirlwind tour of the island, has exceeded our expectations on almost every level, leaving with us with a desire to visit the island again in the future.

Our Sicilian adventure started very well. Unlike our ferry to Italy, where the scenes were reminiscent of a refugee camp coupled with being herded like animals on disembarkation, we had a cabin! It was with great excitement that we boarded, knowing we could escape the great unwashed whenever we liked. This ferry was however completely different, with a very agreeable and calm clientele. We ate our evening meal at the cafe, and watched the ferry leave the port of Naples over drinks before settling in for a good night's sleep to ensure our batteries were fully charged for our day in Palermo.

Almost everything we did during in our time in Sicily was brilliant, with so many interesting natural and historical sites to visit. The most bizarre visit was to the Palermo catacombs. There was a short paragraph in our Lonely Planet about a museum that housed 8,000 mummies and skeletons of Palermo's deceased from the 16th to 19th centuries. There was no other information however, so we decided to take a look, not knowing quite what we were going to find. After a walk into Palermo's suburbs in blistering heat, we arrived. We paid our three Euro entry and descended the steps into a giant cellar to be immediately greeted by walls lined with skeletons, all wearing, what looked their finest outfits. It was very strange and eerie. There was a clergy section, as well as corridors for men, women, children and virgins. We walked the corridors examining the facial expressions on every skeleton, which when you have so many to compare it is actually possible to see differences in expression. As we walked, the question that I could not escape was; why? Why are they on display like this? I googled this later that evening to find a monk had being "buried" like this as a cemetery had become full in the 16th century, and it became a status symbol to receive this after death treatment. As macabre as it sounds we both absolutely loved the place and it represents one of the weirder sites visited on the whole trip. If anybody finds themselves in Palermo, with a few hours spare, I recommend a visit!

No trip to Sicily would be complete without a tour of Mount Etna. The mountain dominates the island's skyline and is simply beautiful. It is still very much active with the last eruption of lava as recently as August of this year. The landscape surrounding the mountain is made up of grains of sandlike black volcanic rock, which makes for dramatic views and spectacular backdrops for photos. To get to the craters, you can either walk or get a combination of cable car and 4x4 bus. We chose the latter due to time constraints, but one day we would love to climb up ourselves. Once at the top we were taken on a tour, where all the recent eruptions were shown to us, with one crater still billowing steam.

Sicily's main tourist sites are the Greek empire cities of Syracusa and Agragento. Both very different, but equally as spectacular. Syracusa was the birthplace and home of Archimedes (of bathtub and water displacement fame). The ancient city houses his tomb as well as an Greek theatre and numerous other ruins. Syracusa also has a gorgeous more modern area that is housed on a small island accessible by a small bridge. The town has heaps of character and a jaw droppingly beautiful cathedral. We were also lucky enough to witness a highly competitive game of canoe polo as we walked to the town.

Syracusa Greek Theatre

Archimedes Tomb

Syracusa Cathedral

Canoe Polo

Agrigento, on Sicily's south coast was also a Greek settlement and it houses some of the most well preserved Greek temples in the world. We paid for a short tour around the site and absolutely loved it, with the Temple of Concordia the highlight due to its well preserved state.

Temple of Concordia

After over indulging on the food front in Naples, we looked looked forward to our Sicilian culinary experience. It certainly didn't disappoint, it in fact exceeded the food we ate in Naples. We did have plenty of pizza and ice cream, but also some Sicilian specialities including Arancini balls and Cannoli. Arancini, are deep fried bread crumbed rice balls, filled with a variety of fillings including ham, mushrooms, spinach and pistachios. We tried several combination of fillings and absolutely loved them. Cannoli on the other hand, is a dessert made from sweetened ricotta cheese housed in a pastry like roll. God knows how many calories they contain, but they taste amazing! Our final Italian food indulgence before our jaunt to Africa was a dessert of a Nutella pizza. Again hugely calorific, but a taste sensation! At risk of stating the obvious, Italian food is simply amazing. After eight days in Italy in total we have eaten so much pizza, pasta, ice cream, cappuccino and other delights. I don't think I could ever get bored of the food here, it is amazing!

The only problem we had in Sicily was navigation. Due to the short time we were there, we didn't bother buying an island map, figuring the combination of my iPad maps and roadsigns would be enough. What I didn't take into account, is that Sicilian signage is terrible and that even when I as navigator give perfect instructions, they are not always acted upon. The signs are horrifically bad. They either don't exist, or when they do, they provide more confusion than if they hadn't been there in the first place. The main area of confusion is that Sicily hasn't discovered that an upwards arrow means straight on. Instead, to indicate straight on, the sign points an arrow towards the road you are on, making you think you about to have to make a sudden turn to to the right or left. Eventually of course you work this out, but then you are not entirely sure if the arrow you are seeing is to indicate straight on, or if there is a genuine turning. Many fraught discussions later we arrived at our destination more often than not. The main exception to this was Catania. We thought whilst driving between Mount Etna and Syracusa we would pop into Catania for a look round. Despite following the centre signs for an eternity, we never made it. At one point we thought we had, and Casey was reading out street names for me to find on the map of Catania we had taken from the hostel we had stayed at the night before. I couldn't find any of them, only to find we weren't in Catania at all!

The navigator is completely powerless, if the driver ignores him. I had perfectly planned our route to our hostel in Giardina Naxos (near Mount Etna) and the plan was going perfectly, until I said to Casey; "don't take the Taormina exit". Casey made sounds suggesting she had understood. A few minutes later, I raise my head out of my iPad map to see that Casey is turning off to Taormina. It seems Casey just hears a key word, and doesn't bother to listen to what one might consider some of the other key words in the sentence (like "don't") and just does what she thinks is best! Forty-five minutes later (when it should have only been five minutes), after a beautiful drive through the quaint city of Taormina, we arrived at our hostel. 

The only problem with our drive through Taormina was that it began to rain. This wouldn't normally provide any problems, but we couldn't work out out how to keep the windscreen wipers on, all we could manage was a single wipe. So Casey could concentrate on the driving the narrow winding roads, I assumed the job of windscreen wiper operator (whilst map reading... who said men can't multi task??). The car had provided many problem solving exercises since we had collected it. The car, a BMW, was too clever for us on so may levels. Every operation seemed difficult. The first challenge was starting the bloody thing. There was no ignition key slot, just a button that said "start engine". This sometimes seemed to start the engine, sometimes not. After some trial and error Casey discovered that it worked when the brake pedal was down. The lack of the need for a key to start the engine startled us as we were told by the car hire company that car theft was common, and even though we had purchased "full insurance", in the event of the car being stolen we would still have to pay 750 euros. We were also worried as we had a bloody BMW, and therefore probably quite an attractive car to a car thief! We therefore conducted an experiment where we tried to start the car without the key anywhere near it, to assure ourselves that someone couldn't drive the thing off if we left the car unlocked. Low and behold the security system was actually very good, and the thing wouldn't start (to our relief).

We both are feeling a very real sensation that this trip is drawing to a close, with only a few weeks before arriving in London. It has been an absolutely amazing experience however, travelling over 60,000km (so far) over land and sea across Eurasia. We are both excited about the prospect of getting to the UK and living in London, though the world of the work place will take some adjusting to! Before that however, we look forward to what will be our 27th country of the trip on the fourth continent; Tunisia. Africa here we come! 

Friday 12 September 2014

Pizza Pizza Pizza

Casey writes:

Fortunately for Italy, they DO make amazing pizza! And after spending a week travelling through Naples, Pompeii, Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi and Capri, I can undoubtedly retract my first impressions of this country. The cities are crazy. The coastline is stunning. The history is fascinating. And the people are simply lovely.

Richard and I have spent six months visiting the many not-so-travelled parts of the world, so suddenly being in Italy has in some ways been a shock. We travel on a strict daily budget, don't splurge our money, and appreciate the opportunities we've had to merge ourselves in different cultures without feeling too much like tourists. Here in Italy however, we cannot escape the mass construction of tourism. Walking through the alleys of Capri, we stand out. We are not carrying a Luis Vuitton handbag, we don't have designer clothes and we haven't had plastic surgery. The tourists here are a whole new breed, and we've endured the same surroundings in Sorrento and along the Amalfi Coast as well. I'm so glad I've had the opportunity to see this simply beautiful part of the world, and to see how 'rich people' travel, but I am not sure I quite fit this mould of traveller!

Naples is dirty, hectic and fascinating. The old town streets are narrow, with scooters whizzing past you in every direction. The churches, monuments and ancient buildings are lovely, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time in the National Archeological Museum. We had a scrumptious pizza along the famous 'pizzeria street', meandered past all types of shops, and admired the relaxed coffee drinking culture indulged in by regular groups of older men, who gather for their daily gossip sessions. The tour of Napoli Sotterranea - the maze of tunnels built 40 metres under the city - was a great insight into the history and workings of the city. We crawled through tunnels barely wide enough for a human, saw how the space was used firstly as an aqueduct and then an air raid shelter, and marvelled at an ancient Roman theatre that was discovered in the basement of an old woman's house (she was given a hefty sum to move out so that excavations could take place). Our walk towards the Naples waterfront was interrupted by our curiosity. Peering over a walkway down to the road below, we saw a mob of people gathering, plenty of police vehicles and a huge posse of riot squad police with shields. We stood watching with other intrigued locals as roads were blocked off; something was obviously brewing but after half an hour of stalled action, we wandered off and never found out what culminated.

I was so excited to be at the site of Pompeii after seeing so many images of it in school textbooks over the years. To stand amongst the ruins of Mt Vesuvius' eruption of 79AD was quite haunting and the intricacies of the old city were immediately apparent. We battled hordes of tourists in the humid weather, but it was worth it. From there we headed up to the crater of Mt Vesuvius, for sweeping views of the Gulf of Naples (except we were shrouded in cloud) and a leisurely stroll around the rim to admire the volcano's grandeur.

When we jumped onto the internet a few weeks ago to book a hostel in Sorrento, we nearly fell over backwards at the price of even the cheapest accommodation! So, after much research, we settled on a simple B&B in San Agnello, a thirty minute walk from Sorrento and only twice our daily accommodation budget, which was a bargain compared to the posher options down the road. To be fair, the seaside views here were simply breathtaking, but so were the prices for food and drink! Our day trip from Sorrento along the Amalfi Coast was lovely. Squashed onto a public bus with other paupers who also couldn't afford to stay in Positano or Amalfi, we weaved our way along the narrow coastal road, arriving for lunch in Positano. Our bus only collided with two other vehicles along the way, leaving significant scratches, which I thought was quite an achievement given the cliff top roads were barely wide enough for two scooters to pass each other, let alone a bus. Lunch at Le Tre Sorelle (courtesy of my friend Adele's recommendation) on the Positano waterfront was exquisite and our meal of pasta was a nice change from our over indulgence in pizza from previous days. On the bus again and to Amalfi, we enjoyed the quaintness of this town clinging to the rocks overlooking the wonderful blue water, and we left the shopping drag full of Luis Vuitton wielding women and visited the Cathedral of Amalfi instead. In the one complex we saw the Cloister of Paradise, the Basilica of the Crucifix, the Cathedral and the Crypt containing St Andrew's skull and bones.

The island of Capri. Where do I start? This island of dreams is famous all over the world. But in all honesty, I could only ever afford to stay here in my dreams. It has breathtaking landscapes, amazing architecture and is in every sense a rich man's paradise. For us though, a relaxing boat ride circumnavigating the island, plus six hours to meander around the pretty streets, eat some pizza and drink some limoncello, was sufficient to ensure we returned home with most of our cash still in our wallets.

Back in Naples for a day before our ferry to Palermo (oh goodness please let it be better than the last ferry catastrophe), we visited the lesser known ruins site of Herculaneum. Smaller than Pompeii, but in many ways more fascinating, because unlike Pompeii which was crushed by the weight of the volcano's ash, the buildings here were  just flooded with lava so they are extremely well preserved.

We've loved this small section of Italy that we've seen in a whirlwind few days, and now can't wait to get to Sicily for a final onslaught of Italian culture, food and history.