Traveling Europe has been on my bucket list for EVER, so in June/July 2019, we decided to go on a European adventure together. Wayne has been overseas to many different European countries before, but this was my first time. Firstly, let me say, that as a South African, I never realized that things could be SO darn expensive, especially with the exchange rate. I think I’m still trying to financially recover almost a year later, (and this is probably only because we were there during the heatwave of the Universe and I just HAD to drink copious amounts of wine to ‘re-hydrate’ at R120 per glass!). That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!
So our first airport stop was in Nairobi. We were lucky enough to fly past Kilimanjaro during daylight hours and I was in absolute awe! Kili has been on my bucket list for many years and is still a challenge I’d like to do.
Lunch was an ice cold Tusker Beer and a delicious, calabash bowl of ‘Tsiswa’, more commonly known in Kenya as fried termites (IT REALLY WAS!)! Who would have thought that these little buggers would be so tasty?
Our first European stop was Palermo. It is the capital of the Italian island of Sicily. We explored the many busy markets including the central Ballarò street market and the Vucciria, near the port. It was like being on the set of a movie! Walking down bustling, cobblestone streets with local vendors shouting the specials of the day, cars and scooters hooting as they fly past you down the narrow little streets.
We stayed at Ballarò Sant’Agata which is set in the centre of Palermo, about 50 m from Ballarò Market and 600 m from Palermo Centrale Train Station. It is what’s known as a ‘mini apartment’ and is set in a historical building right up on the 3rd floor. Not many of the buildings have elevators, so it’s quite a mission carrying all your heavy luggage up the narrow little stairways, but well worth the view from the top when you open up the windows and peer down onto the busy streets below through the colorful washing hanging on the lines out of each apartment. It’s sort of quaint, and really makes you feel like Julia Roberts in the movie Eta, Pray Love…
We visited the Cathedral
Saw this dude pulling a zap sign hahahahaha
Took pics with all the graffiti
Saw the Teatro Massimo. Giovanni Battista Basile and his son Ernesto built this 3,200-seat theater between 1875 and 1897. It was officially opened on the 16th of May, 1897, with a performance of Verdi’s opera Falstaff, and very quickly became one of Sicily’s-and Italy’s-major opera houses. It is the third largest theater in all of Europe!
We also saw the Quattro Canti. This open circular space was laid out between 1608 and 1620 by the Roman architect Giulio Lasso at the junction of the two major streets in Palermo at that time: Cassarò (now known as Vittorio Emanuele), which leads from the Norman Palace to the harbor, and Via Nuova, later re-named Maqueda after the Spanish viceroy.
The Piazza Pretoria Fountain is the focal point of this plaza that is comprised mainly of charming buildings, churches and Praetorian Palace. Still, the fountain is what draws in the most tourists. It was originally created in the 16th century for Don Pedro de Toledo, but it was later purchased by the Palermo Senate. Even though the work is a masterpiece representing mythical gods and the four Palermo rivers, the nudity of the figures has been controversial for centuries. In fact it was such an eyesore to the local old churches there that they perpetuated a now common nickname for the fountain ( and square itself) as the Fountain of Shame or Fontana Della Vergogna.
Okay, so let’s just get this straight… Taking a day trip to Mount Vesuvius (Yes, the Volcano that absolutely DESTROYED Pompeii!), apparently doesn’t take you all the way to the top! The bus stops halfway and then you are told that you have 2 hours to climb the rest of the way, do your ‘thang’ and get back to the bus on time before it leaves! Now, had I known this beforehand, I would NEVER have left the house in my short summer dress and worn out flip flops. Look, the view is absolutely PHENOMENAL from the top, but trying to hold onto your little summer dress, camera, water bottle, sun hat is no easy feat…not to mention climbing a mountain of slippery stones in the flip flop story. Note to others planning this day trip: Dress appropriately!!!
Oh my…. the “Pink Coffin”, as it eventually became known as… My brand new hardcover suitcase I bought in South Africa before we left, got COMPLETELY destroyed on the journey to Rome. Eventually I was dragging it’s cracked ass with 2 missing wheels along the cobble stoned streets of Sicily, and that just wasn’t working for me, and so… THIS pink thing was the only other suitcase we could find! Well, I’m not even joking when I tell you that it weighed about 28kg!!! Not to mention that I had my 10kg camera bag on my front, another 8kg bag on my back and THIS pink coffin!!! Lugging that lot around has finally taught me to travel light in the future!!!
So, the plan was to get to the quaint little town on Montefiascone and find the old War Cemetery in Bolsena (where Wayne’s grandmother’s brother is buried), go pay our respects and move on to Tuscany by nightfall.
Sooooo….That didn’t really work out as planned! We got shipped from pillar to post all day by either really stupid or otherwise thinking they were funny Italians, got to Montefiascone really late and were hurriedly booked into overnight accommodation by Wayne’s PA back in South Africa. WELL… that alone was an experience I’ll never forget! Welcomed by the owner (who couldn’t fit a single word in between his ’emphasemic’ cough), he took us into his living room/kitchen and sat us down around his little dining table for a glass of water. Behind him was a tower of old, dirty dishes washed so long ago that they looked like they had some kind of scientific experiment growing on them! He then helped us carry our bags upstairs to what appeared to be his bedroom and left us to unpack. The pungent smell of urine almost killed us and when we opened up the bed, we were welcomed by old cigarette butts and sand all over the sheets. By this stage we realized that he was in the little room next door on his sleeper couch! With no lock on the bedroom door, we piled our bags on top of each other and barricaded ourselves inside for the night and slept on towels to avoid catching some sort of disease! By 05:00am the next morning, we were packed and out of there with not even a whisper of a goodbye! Eeeeeeuw!!!
After our escape from that filthy little place the night before, we found a little coffee shop to have a quick bite to eat and a cappuccino. We wanted to hire a car for a few hours so that we could go to the cemetery, and then head on towards Montepulciano. There were no car rental companies in Montefiascone, but after telling our story and about how we had come all the way from South Africa and just needed to get to the cemetery for an hour or so, a kind gentleman gladly lent us his own personal vehicle to use! How’s that for trust!!!
Finding this cemetery was a mission all on its own too… Google maps quite frankly doesn’t have a clue where it it either! We drove and drove and eventually actually stumbled across it by mistake! We visited the grave, returned the car and finally hopped on a train to Montepulciano!
OH MY GOODNESS!!! Montepulciano… (The quaint little Tuscan town where a part of the Twilight Series was filmed). If ever you had those visions in your mind of what a little Italian town in Tuscany looks like, then this is that place. Tucked away on a hilltop in an old walled city, Montepulciano is just every travelers dream. It has winding little cobble stoned streets with a million different choices of shops and restaurants and on the outskirts of the town, the views sweep over endless vineyards. THIS was what I had been looking for in Italy! I would go back here in a heartbeat…
From here we flew over the beautiful Italian Alps to the Netherlands. We didn’t really have enough time to explore and so the natural choice was AMSTERDAM!!! Oh, Amsterdam…It was everything I’d imagined it would be, and my word it’s true… I have NEVER seen so many bicycles in my whole entire life! What a beautiful city, where everything works so well. So much to see and do and you really just feel so relaxed after 8 hrz of breeving in da weed fumz fwumm al da cofffffeeeee shipz… hahahahahahaha
We had an ABSOLUTE blast and explored everything from the Ripley’s Museum, the wax museum, the body museum, Red Light District, Dam Square, Rembrandt Square, Vondel Park, ate ‘Kroketten and stroopwafel’s’ and visited a “coffee” shop or three…
Aaaaaaaaaaaaah Paris… One of those places on every little girl’s bucket list from a young age. It truly is a beautiful city and the Eiffel Tower is absolutely HUGE!!! We also managed to squeeze in some of the main attractions (although never went into places like the Louvre and Notre Dame due to the unreasonably long ques). We did go to the top of the Eiffel Tower which was really magnificent and definitely worth every penny!
The Sistine Chapel ceiling painted by Michelangelo is actually bloody MAGNIFICENT!!! How he didn’t have serious neck problems after painting all that is a miracle! It is a sight not to be missed if you are ever in Rome!
DO NOT go to Rome and miss out on eating Gelato at the Trevi Fountain! Yes I know, it’s ‘oh so touristy’, but really…some things are not to be missed! (And the gelato flavors are pretty damn orgasmic!!!)
The lines to get inside the Colosseum are just plain ridiculous and so we didn’t go inside, but quite frankly the views from the outside are just as impressive. When we got back to our hotel room, I just watched a YouTube video and did a virtual tour online (and got an entire history lesson for freeeeee as well 😉
All in all we walked a total of 182km in 3 weeks! My feet were broken but my bucket list had ticks on it and my heart and soul had memories to last me a lifetime!!!