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Anna is currently in Auckland.

A wee jump ahead of meself - Bonny Scotland
Ok, so you're just going to have to all forgive me for skipping such a big jump, as I know that I haven't detailed Florence, London, Dublin or Edinburgh. Which I will do when I get time, sorry!!! Time has just flown, and I don't seem to get enough time on the internet.

But I thought I should note that I'm now in Scotland, writing this from a hostel on the shores of Loch Ness, which is the pitstop for our Haggis Adventures Skye High Tour today.

I'm loving Scotland.
Yesterday I arrived in Edinburgh quite late after a weekend hanging out in Dublin with Johnny and Bex, and my struggle up the hill with my pack to my hostel was sweetened by the amazing vista of the dark brooding mountain on the hill, and the old dark buildings of the old town. Spectacular.

Last night was a mix of getting to the supermarket, having a stroll around, eating (including a specialty Scotland dessert, which was described as being oatmeal, berries, whisky and cream, which was in fact an entire wine glass of whipped cream, with a bit of oatmeal and some very alcoholic berries scattered through... even I could only get through half of it!), so didn't get to see much of Edibnburgh, but will have a morning there on my return to go see the castle and look around properly.

Today, bright and early, we set off in the bright yellow Haggis bus. Our Scottish guide, Martin, has a dry Scottish humour, and tells some absolutely horrendous jokes ("Wich haerrrry koo (hairy cow) is tae raechest? Kooo Eight!" (Kuwait). Also a great bunch of people, 15 of us in total, one other kiwi, 6 aussies, some germans, spanish, chinese and americans, all super friendly, which has helped a whole heap.

Anyway, we got to see a whole lot of cool spots, Stirling Castle, and the William Wallace Monument, above the ancient battleground where Mel Gibson, sorry, William Wallace, won the battle against the English, a very hairy highland cow, amazing rugged and wild highland cliffs covered in nothing but heather and waterfalls, and, because it rained all day, they all were mist-covered and eatheral looking, a whisky tasting, a museum where the guide showed us exactly how to put on a kilt, kill/gut an englishman scottish highland style, and live in a peat hut. And finally haggis and baked potato for dinner.

Anyway, Isle of Skye tomorrow, which I'm looking forward to!

Posted on 23 Apr 2007 by Anna
Lost in Venice
After a night in Bologne (where we couldn't find anywhere still open for us to eat when we got there, and I got completely duped by a whopping 3.50 euros for a box of tissues for my cold that I paid because I needed them so bad) we left for Venice early the next morning.
Our hostel in Venice was in a pretty good spot, about a 10 minute walk to St Marks, but was a bit of a mission to get there, through a maze of tiny streets and plazzas, but we had a nice quiet room, overlooking a tiny Venetian street, and it was so good to go out and start exploring!
I loved Venice (I feel like I'm saying that about everywhere in Italy, but Venice is in a league of its own). The whole place has a kind of grand old lady feel to it, immense and beautiful, but kind of faded and tired and a little sad. The light is kinda misty and hazy too, so very romantic.
Despite arriving at almost midday, Sheena and I picked up the pace and managed to fit in St Marks Square that afternoon, both the church, with its huge glittering mosaics and topsy turvy floor (it's completely uneven, from centuries of the foundations sinking at different rates into the canal) and the Ducal Palace, which was almost overwhelming in its ostentatiousness; heavy dark rooms, with heavy gold ceilings, exactly what I'd always expected of Venice :-)
That night, tired and hungry, we had our worst experience in terms of service in Italy; after going to one restaurant and being told that of course we couldn't get a table because we hadn't booked, we asked if they copuld recommend another good restaurant around, and were refered to another restaurant up the road. This place though, as soon as we spoke English, the guy frostily told us there were no tables free inside, (even though there seemed to be heaps) and we'd have to sit outside (it was freezing), and that there was only cheese and salami left. It was horrible. We ended up going to a resturant further away again that at least looked busy, but the food was shockingly overpriced and obviously aimed at tourists, with again, very rude service. And the waiter was drunk. Pretty bad.
I've learnt that if you can travel with either someone from the country to show you around, or if you can learn a bit more of the language (I had learnt basics, but not quite enough to understand them back) it would make SUCH a difference.
Anyway, Day 2 we visited a beautiful palace, Ca' Rezzonico that was so elaborate it had made the family bankrupt, and was finished by another family who also had to sell it because it was such high maintenance! It was beautiful though... amazing chandeliers and furniture, a humungus ballroom.... I felt distinctly underdressed :-)
In the afternoon we visited the Academia, where we spent way more time than we'd expected, checking out centuries old incredible paintings.
And then we got lost in the streets of Venice, checking out the seemingly 400 Murano Glass shops, the amazing gelatos, the people and the canals. We ended with a trip on the water ferry (which are incredibly fast and efficient....puts Fullers to shame) up the entire length of the Grand Canal at sunset, craning our necks at every angle to look at all the canal-side palaces. I loved how busy the waterways are... something is always happening! There are the waterbuses, the gondoliers (we never got to go on one, but its something absurd like 100euro for a trip, so unless you have a group its not going to happen), delivery boats, police and ambulance boats, private launches (the Venice version of vespas), and beautiful, highly polished wooden launches that were water taxis, which looked so well kept.
Fascinating stuff. Anyway, I've run out of time, now in London, about to head for Dublin, but will detail Florence soon...
Posted on 19 Apr 2007 by Anna
The Five Villages of the Cinque Terre
No wonder the Cinque Terre is a Unesco-protected heritage site. The landscape is extreme, green clad mountains dropping sharply to the sea. Both the second and third day, there was foggy mist encircling the hill tops.
The five villages which make up the area cling to the cliffs, literally built precariously on rocks, and brightly painted in quaint fishing village style. The area relys heavily on agriculture and tourism. I think they are experiencing a wicked population decline, as there's not a lot to do, and they're quite remote.

We stayed in Riomaggiore, which is a town with a VERY steep central street, up which we needed to walk a good 200 metres, then up steps, to get to our apartment. Sheena's suitcase on wheels has the advantage that it is easy to hand over to a man to lug (as they often ask if you want help). My pack however, is a lot more cumbersome and less easy to offload, and in this case I was incredibly jealous of Sheena while the apartment guy took over pulling her heavy suitcase, while I was left to gasp and stagger my way up the fifty billion steps by myself :-)
We also discovered that the seaside can be incredibly cold. Our apartment was decked for summer, with tiles, no rugs, no heating, no insulation, no kitchen, and one blanket each. We wore about 5 layers of clothes to bed, and by the end of our stay, I'd caught a cold.
Day 2 we set out to walk the trail between the 5 villages. The walk was cheerily described as a "9km long, easy day walk", with every leg of the trail rated either easy or mild. Well, I'm not sure which mountain goat wrote it, but they deserve to be thrown off one of their darn cliffs. The walk was steep vertical climb, then sharp decline, then steep vertical climb etc for 4.5 hours (aparently it usually takes 5 hours). We did this in the heat of the day too, and also hadn't realised it was a national Italian holiday, so there were hordes of people for the first bit (even some Italian women attempting it in high-heels!!!!) Anyway, the crowds died out as the climbs got steeper and the day hotter.
The scenery was worth it... we were walking through plantations of olive groves, citrus orchards and vineyards (the vineyards had a complex lift system so they could haul the harvests uphill without killing themselves with the weight - wish they had a lift for fully-laden backpacks) and then you'd come out onto openings looking down on the villages from up high. Pretty spectacular.
By the end of the day we were shattered. We dragged ourselves into the nearest cafe at the last village, Monterosso, and recovered over a well-deserved wine or three overlooking the beach, where we could people watch, and then caught the train back to Riomaggiore.
The last day, we caught a ferry (nice to see it all by land then by sea) to Vernazza, which had been our favourite village. It has a lovely little enclosed inlet with crystal clear water and is incredibly pretty. We were still shattered, tired after being so cold we couldn't sleep, and I was sick with a cold, so we just mooched, soaking up the sunshine, watching the tourists, (it gets quite easy to pick nationalities... Americans are easy, as are Japanese, and then Germans and British have their own distinctive look too) watching the Italian families who had taken their kids to the beach for the weekend. Italian kids even look stylish when they're messing about in the rockpools at the beach.
Back to pick up our bags, and off again to the station, on route to Venice...
Posted on 16 Apr 2007 by Anna

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