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Koh Samui

Bev had long planned to row the 40th Vogalonga in Venice to celebrate her passing into old age and Rita wanted to experience her heritage - born in Oz but never having been to Italy, although she is fluent in the language. We had been before, but the destinations of Amalfi and the Cinque Terre were new to us all and more than justified a return.


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Victor Emmanuelle memorial

Head Office of the Roman Empire and justification for a visit by the Roamin' Ruins and for that terrible pun. Rome neatly book-ends Istanbul as the capital of the Byzantine Roman empire and wraps up nicely all our other ancient Roman destinations in Greece, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Croatia.

Trivia: (The) Vatican is the smallest country in the world at less than half a square kilometre. It's not only surrounded entirely by another country it is also surrounded entirely by a city. San Marino, the fifth smallest country, is also entirely surrounded by Italy.

The Amalfi Coast

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While not strictly accurate I'll use Amalfi Coast to cover Amalfi, Positano, Ravello, Capri, Sorrento, Pompeii and Hurculaneum, all of which are wonderfully picturesque and fit nicely into the stereotypical Italy and are must-sees. Except for nearby Naples - once glamorous, now dirty, seedy and controlled by the Mafia, who quite obviously have not mastered the niceties of the tourism business. Apart from its hosting of the train terminal there is no reason to go there. Vesuvius would do Italy a favour if it blew again and buried the place - provided it spared next-door Hurculaneum which it covered in volcanic mud the first time and which is well worth an explore, being in even better condition than Pompeii which was smothered in ash rather than mud, the weight of which collapsed its buildings.

Sorrento is an ideal base from which to visit the other locations. It's central, it's large enough to cope with the milling throngs of tourists that can overwhelm the smaller towns like Positano and Amalfi and it has plentiful classy amenities, amongst which is the Hotel Minerva high on the headland with spectacualr views across the Bay of Naples to Naples itself which is far enough away to just look like pretty lights, and to Pompeii and Mt Vesuvius. The terraced hotel has large, sea-facing open areas, with our rooms having dedicated partitioned balconies on which to relax and take in the view. Highly recommended by The Ruins.

Sorrento is an easy half-hour stroll from the Hotel. Capri, Amalfi and Positano are readily accessible by boat with the rugged coast making the trip worthwhile on its own. A road alternative by Ducati or Ferrari would be a treat - the windy road high up the mountain side would be a riders/drivers heaven. We jumped aboard a small tour boat at the Marina della lobra, a short bus ride away.

Positano, Amalfi and Ravello are lovely but the tourist multitudes can make them claustrophobic. Regular buses from Amalfi make it easy to visit Ravello high up on the mountain via multiple hairpin bends and you'd be nuts not to head up, take in the scenery and have a poke around - it's a nice little village with a main piazza, galleries and cafes.

Cinque Terre

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The Five Lands of Liguria in north-western Italy with their villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore spread almost eqi-distantly long the rugged coast of steep hills - very similar to the Amalfi coastline. Each is connected by rail, road, ferries and hiking trails that are a big attraction as became apparent from the large number of walkers kitted out in the full-on hiking regalia. A bit over the top if you ask me. It may be up hill and down dale but it aint Mt Everest when you can stop for a cappucino or a cianti at any of the villages.

The confronting crowds upon our arrival at Manarola had largely dissipated by the following day thank god. Manorola is small. It has one main narrow thoroughfare with a few steep, side alleyways with story-book apartment buildings clustered around it on the hillsides.

The five villages all have their charms, as does nearby Porto Venere:


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Chianti country. We jumped a train for an implusive day-trip from Manarola. Despite the return journey being an equivalent distance to the width of the country it was easily undertaken. Italian trains are good and the country is narrow. Mostly lovely countryside from the train - stereotypical Italian villages and farmland with mountain backdrops. Saw none of the wilderness such as we later saw in Croatia - human habitation was obvious everywhere and grafitti was rampant at train stations but overall it's very pretty.



The gorgeous capital of Tuscany where you can readily imagine the place in the Renaissance. Visually Florence makes it obvious why Italy was the heart of European art and culture. Hisorically its residents have included Dante, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Donatello and the Medicis.

To look across the city from the surrounding hills is to time-travel. Large, vintage Italianate villas with big, landscaped gardens look across a city-scape that must not have changed much for hundreds of years and is dominated by the majestic dome of the 15th century Duomo.

The view from the hills obscures the Mussolini-era train station with it's fascist history and appearance (and the even worse MacDonalds opposite). The station is efficient but it looks like a boil on Sophia Loren's bum.


The Leaning Tower could be dismissed as a tourist cliché but if you're on a train passing through Pisa you'd be mad not to hop off and have a look. It is well worth it despite the tourist hordes, most posing for photos as if they are propping it up, making the grounds appear as one large, uncoordinated tai-chi session.

The Tower is the campanille (bell tower) for the adjacent duomo (cathedral), itself quite impressive. Pisa seems like a story-book, mid-millenium looking town straddling the River Arno. We just shunted through from the station by taxi. Probably worth having an on-foot explore if you are not in a hurry. We weren't in a hurry, we're just old and easily tired


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Venice is one of those places that lives up to every expectation. Any introduction to the place should be by water taxi down the Grand Canal. You don't just look at Venice, you absorb it as you motor past the grand, decaying edifices and towers with the canal lapping at their foundations, the bustle of gondolas and vaporettos, the labyrinthine side canals and scattrered piazzas to explore on foot through the maze that makes up Venice.

Truly stunning, but truly exasperating when the big cruise ships unload. Those things disgorge their cargos by the tens of thousands who then clog the place up and proceed to filthy the place up too. Venice is swept clean every morning and the time to get out and about is the morning; pre-crowds and while the place still looks and feels fresh. Once the crowds hit, it's time to visit the islands like Murano and Burano or head off down the alleyways to get lost and explore.

Our chosen stop-over was the Hotel Rialto at the foot of the Ponto Rialto. This is the eye of the storm when it comes to crowds in looney numbers - it's on the Grand Canal, it's next to the iconic bridge of the same name and it's the cross-over point between the two halves of the city. By god, could those crowd numbers get mental! So why stay there? The pluses outnumber the minuses:

A must-do in Venice is to lose yourself in the maze of back alleys and piazzas. Take a map though because you can easily end up walking in circles. There's something to see down every alley and canal. Despite the claims of Venice Of The East (Bangkok) and Little Venice (Mykonos) there's nothing that could come close to the real thing.

Travel notes