Monday, 24 June 2013


By Sanne

We decided to take the motorway all the way to Rome. It ended up costing us 27 euros in toll fees + a 60 euro fine for forgetting to get a ticket at one toll booth. It says on the fine we have to pay within 15 days. We have no intentions of doing that.

We usually prefer to take the smaller roads and stay as far away from motorways as we can but on this occasion we thought it would be easier and more hassle-free as Rome is a big city and from our experience signage in Italy can cause more confusion than guidance. Apart from the cost it was a good decision as it delivered us on the doorstep of our campground on the outskirts of the city centre without getting lost once. We had tried to find a host on couch surfing but I am developing a growing feeling that as a couple you are not as ‘desirable’ as if you were a single girl looking for a couch. This is evident from some of the male hosts who in their profile write things like: “I don’t have a very big apartment so I will have to share my bed with the guest. This is why I prefer girls.” Yeah, you can keep your bed to yourself mate. The requests we sent out were either met with no reply at all or a short: “Sorry, I can’t.” So, the undesirables had to find a place to stay in a city known for its overpriced accommodation. So, as the povos we are, we ended up staying at a campground. Apart from the reasonable price it also had the advantage that we wouldn’t have to navigate Rome inner city traffic as this campground was just off the ring road but with good public transport connections to the city. I really hate these kind of ‘Family Resort Campgrounds’ and this one was also trying to target the younger clientele so you had a weird mix of families and young party seekers in one place. Then there were also a whole bunch of Harley riders still hanging about from the weekend’s celebration of the 110 year anniversary. Right next to the campsite was a massive building site where the workers started their day at 6am so peaceful and quaint it was not. But what did we care, we were there purely for the close proximity to Rome and the following day we went to see the Eternal City with our own eyes for the very first time.

We made it to Vatican City. At first we walked past the Vatican Museum which hosts the famous Sistine Chapel, painted by Michelangelo. That has got to be the longest queue I have EVER seen in my entire life! It was getting close to half a kilometre long, and supposedly you can stand in it for up to 4 hours! For these reasons Mark and I unanimously agreed that we had lived 30 odd years without seeing the Sistine Chapel – we could easily live another 30 without seeing it. Life is definitely too short for queues like that. Instead we joined another queue! This one was for the St Peter’s Cathedral and by Vatican City standards ultra-short. We were in it for just under an hour before we entered the church. At the entrance you go through a security checkpoint like in an airport and after that the women visitors get their outfit checked to see if they are appropriately dressed to enter. Luckily I knew the conservative dress code of Catholic Cathedrals (covered knees and shoulders) but I was surprised to see how many girls didn’t. Loads of them were turned away. And the thing is, this is after they have stood in a queue for an hour. Bummer. The rest of us who got the dress code memo were free to enter the church, which were lucky because: Wow! Now that’s a church. And I am an atheist, we both are. But despite what religious or non-religious belief you have you cannot help but to be impressed by the sheer magnitude and splendour of this place. We even got to join a sermon in one of the chapels of the cathedral where I tried to get Mark (the once-good Catholic boy) to go and have communion but he refused. So we just sat and listened to the choir of boys and girls who sang a song so beautiful that it almost made me all “Go, God!” If it wasn’t for all that other crap that the Catholic Church stands for (sorry Sandra!).

After the church we walked into the old part of Rome and passed by the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. Especially the Trevi Fountain, which was made famous in the movie La Dolce Vita, I have always wanted to see. We very quickly realised that Rome has got to be probably the city with 1. The most historic landmarks, and 2. Probably because of that it has an obscene number of tourists and by the sound of it, most of them American. The Trevi Fountain was beyond impressive but completely surrounded by people and every couple of minutes a police whistle would cut through the air because some people sticking their feet in the water. Apparently you can get a big fine for doing this. I knew that unless we were there at 4.30am there would always be lots of people there but I wanted to see it at night so we decided to come back another day to take some photos and to do the obligatory coin-throw.

The next day we visited one of the most famous sites in Rome: The Colosseum. Built in 70 AD it is the largest amphitheatre in the world (it could hold up to 70,000 spectators) and was the centre of entertainment during the Roman Empire. The entertainment included gladiatorial contests, extravagant plays such as mock sea battles, executions and the hunting and slaying of wild animals. Something for everyone! The brutality of these ‘animal hunts’ was frankly astonishing. The public’s thirst for blood even more so. The Romans would bring back exotic animals from places they had conquered, animals such as bears, lions, leopards, even rhinoceroses and elephants. They then would be placed in the arena together with hunters, so-called Bestiarii and the blood shed would start. In one day thousands of animals would be slaughtered. During the inauguration of the Colosseum over 9,000 animals were killed. This was a way for the emperor to show his wealth and power and to show the Roman power of the whole human and animal world.
The Bestiarii or hunters were either voluntary or prisoners condemned to death by the wild beast. The latter would be thrown into the arena naked and with no weapons and have wild animals set upon them – an ancient death sentence.

The next day was a very special day indeed – it was Mark’s birthday. We took a train into the city and enjoyed just wandering around the streets, eating gelato (oh so good) and in the evening we went to a neighbourhood less touristy called Trastevere which had lots of quaint little streets where we had pizza and pasta at a little restaurant. After this we walked to the Trevi Fountain to find twice the amount of people from the other day but it was evening and it was spectacular. It is without a doubt the most beautiful fountain in the world. It ought to be – it took 30 years to build! It was completed in 1762 and is the largest baroque fountain in Rome. A traditional legend holds that if a visitor throws a coin in the fountain, they are sure to return to Rome. Of course we had to join in on this tradition but we threw a whole bunch of coins in so only god knows what that will bring! Apparently an estimated 3,000 Euros are thrown into the fountain each day!

Walking back towards the metro station we came across a huge archaeological digging site/ruin in a middle of a city square. It was just there and clearly had been since the Roman Empire. The city was continuing its busy life around it and these ruins seemed so naturally part of the city although it was so far removed from present time. For me that encapsulated Rome for me; where the past meets the present and the two manage to co-inhabit the same space.  Rome, truly the eternal city.  

St Peter's Square

This sculpture was made by Michelangelo

Me crossing myself with holy burns!

Some Vatican guards in very colourful attire

One of the many bridges in Rome

Me with the Vatican in the background

Castel Sant'Angelo

We saw these guys all over the city...there's clearly some kind of 
trick going on but we never did find out the secret!

The Spanish Steps

The one and only - Colosseum 

Inside the walls

The Arch of Constantine


The Roman Forum


Alter of the Fatherland

The Trevi Fountain

Mark throwing in a coin

We were not alone!

Ancient ruins in the middle of the city

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Bari, Amalfi Coast and Pompeii

By Sanne

The 10 hour overnight ferry ride from Dubrovnik to Bari in Italy went smooth. It was the first vehicle ferry we had boarded since the numerous decrepit ferries in Indonesia and what a difference! Boarding actually happened in an organised and calm manner, we didn’t have to sleep next to the bikes together with various kinds of livestock and the toilets weren’t overflowing with waste. This was definitely a much more civilised way of seafaring (if maybe a little less adventurous).

We weren’t the only bikers on the boat. A big group of Harley riders from Italy, Germany and Czech Republic were on their way to Rome for a weekend of celebration in honour of Harley Davidson’s 110 year anniversary. They were going to hightail it straight to Rome after getting off the boat where as we had planned on following the coast down south for a bit. We had considered going all the way down to Sicily but we had just recently received some quite annoying information regarding Mark’s allowed length of stay in Europe. We were of the idea that Mark as an Australian citizen would be able to stay in each European country for three months. Luckily Mel, one of Mark’s friends, mentioned that the three months allowance is a total for all the Schengen area which includes approx. 15 countries. This was very unwelcome news as this meant that we now had a deadline to be out of the Schengen area and into the UK (which isn’t part of Schengen) before the 30th of July. This was doable but it did mean that Sicily was now totally out of the question. We would have to start heading north again pretty soon if we still wanted to spend some time in Paris, Amsterdam and Luxembourg and of course our beloved Alps.
That night we were total rebels and sneaked in and got ourselves some reclining seats in which we attempted to get some sleep, which proved a little hard as the room was very, very cold. It was like sitting in a refrigerator basically. However we managed to catch some restless sleep and awoke to the sun rising over the Adriatic Sea.

At 8am we arrived in the port town of Bari. Getting off the ferry was also very smooth as pain free; no manic rush to get off the ferry together with 500 scooters while trucks full of bananas push you from behind, no, completely organised and peaceful. We headed out of town and accidentally found ourselves on the motorway heading south. South we wanted to go yes, but not on the motorway, and especially not with these drivers around! Holy mother, I now understand why the Italian drivers get such a bad rep. A mix of driving very fast, very close and very erratic seemed to be the way down here and we started to think that maybe Italians and Indians are somehow related. The Indian (possible) connection was not only apparent in the traffic but also in the landscape. This was so completely different from the Italy we had seen so far. Down here it was much drier, flatter and dustier with lots of ugly industrial areas and lots of rubbish. Even the coastal route we were following revealed some not very appealing stretches of beaches. And this was marked as the scenic route on our map! Perhaps the maker of our map had marked it scenic for a slightly different reason altogether, because if prostitutes on the side of the road = scenic, then this was definitely Route 66! The road was lined with women, young and old, each one wearing a skimpier outfit than the others and each one trying to outdo one another in the dancing stakes. Because as a prostitute in Italy, apparently it is not enough to just stand there and look “pretty”, no you have to shake that thang like your life depends on it. It was quite comical if not a little tragic.

We had seen enough and decided to cut across the centre and get to the west coast asap. While riding through one city, utterly lost and trying to find our way out, I all of a sudden heard beeping behind me. I thought that it must just be the usual Italian beeping for no apparent reason but when it continued I turned to look only to find that I was staring into the eyes of a police man on a motorcycle. Crap. He was not alone, his partner was coming up behind him and they signaled to us to pull over. Great, just what we need, I thought, a bloody fine. We pulled over and they both got off their bikes. Turns out all they wanted was to ask us where we were from and what we were doing there. After we had told them our story they were very helpful and gave us directions out of town as well as they could in their broken English

It was really hard to find a place to camp that night and with tourism seemingly non-existent in this area (for god reasons I might add) there wasn’t even any ‘proper’ campgrounds around. We ended up setting up our tent almost right next to the road, only just hidden by a small mound. This was definitely free-camping at its sneakiest. The next morning we awoke to the sound of machinery coming closer and closer. When we got out of the tent we saw that only 100 metres down the road were people with whipper snippers cutting the grass on the verge and they were coming our way. Well, I don’t think we have ever packed up this quickly before. Within 15 mins we had packed up everything and were on our bikes out of there. Not that I think we would have gotten into trouble, the workers just looked surprised when they saw two bikes flying out onto the road but in situations like that it’s better to just get out of people’s way.

The next day we headed for the famous Amalfi Coast. It is stunning with the tall cliffs going down into the ocean and the road winding its way all along the coastline BUT having been to Cinque Terre last year which we wrote a blog post about here I will say: give me Cinque Terre over the Amalfi Coast any day. The main problem is that the Amalfi Coast is very busy, so the time you should be spending looking over the ocean is spent focusing on the (still erratic) traffic. It also only goes for about 50 kms so before you know it you have already ridden through it all. Pretty much all the beaches there are private, as seems to be the case with most beaches on the Italian and French Riviera. So, happy to have seen it but I doubt that I will ever go back to the Amalfi Coast.

There was zero camping opportunities on the coast so we continued to Sorrento where we checked out the most derelict-looking campground I have ever seen. We decided Sorrento was not for us and continued on our way. We bypassed Napoli and headed for Pompeii in the hope that we might eventually find something on the way. We didn’t. So we rode all the way to Pompeii , which I was surprised to find is besides being an archaeological site also is an actual city. The modern city is spelled Pompei whereas the ancient one is spelled Pompeii. I guess we hadn’t calculated how touristy this place would be, but lucky for us I guess as right in front of the entrance to the archaeological area were not one but two campgrounds, and we made ‘Pompei Camping’ our temporary home for the next two nights.

The next day we went exploring in Pompeii. And what an impressive site that is. Pompeii was an ancient Roman city that was completely destroyed and buried under 4-6 m of ash and pumice after the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius in 79 AD. The city was lost for about 1500 years until it was rediscovered. The objects that lay beneath the city have been well preserved for thousands of years because of the lack of air and moisture. These artifacts provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city during the Roman Empire. During the excavation plaster was used to fill the voids between the ash layers that once held human bodies. This allows you to see the exact position the person was in when he or she died. 

It is so worth going there for a visit. It really is amazing to be able to walk around these ancient streets and try to imagine what life was like back then. It is also fascinating to see the beginnings of modern civilization as we know it, as back then they had a fully functioning judicial system, a complex water system, amphitheatres and gymnasiums. Of course back then they also had slaves which were sometimes trained as gladiators to fight to the death in the main amphitheatre. 
What surprised me was that it wasn't lava from the volcano that buried the city. No, it was the ash and pumice that rained down on the city for about 6 hours and filled people's lungs and suffocated them. It was total and utter destruction and to see the 'mummified' people and their painful expressions is truly tragic. 
These days Vesuvius is 'sleeping' they say. But apparently it is only a matter of time before it awakes again. Pretty scary as you have millions of people living right below it.
A UNESCO world heritage site for a good reason. 

Mark on the ferry as it is docking in Bari

The bikes

Our sneaky camp - where's Wally...

The Amalfi Coast

Pompeii with Vesuvius looming in the background

The body of a young slave boy who was killed during the eruption

You can still see the bones in his feet

Another person who was found huddled beside his horse, visibly praying

The narrow streets

The main amphitheatre