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Anna is currently in Auckland.

We loved Siena.
In fact, we loved it so much, that rather than only spending an evening there as planned, we stayed a whole extra day so we could get a decent look around.
Siena doesn't look much from the train station. It's only when you drive through the big city walls and suddenly find yourself in a confusing maze of tiny perfectly cobbled streets, where buildings, roofs and cobblestones are all terracotta shades, that you get it. I think it helped that it was late afternoon when we arrived, to find that our hostel was perfectly situated, with our room overlooking a beautiful busy little piazza right in the centre of the town. The piazza was about the size of a 2 tennis courts, (the town is tiny... you can walk it in about an hour).
Then as the sun set, Siena started blushing in peachy pinky hues. Tuscan sunshine has to be seen to be believed, you just don't buy it from the US movies that show it. Dusk means everything goes hazy, pink, soft-edged, and atmospheric.
Sheena and I hit the streets, me feeling like a bag lady (Kathmandu doesn't really cut it amongst the well-heeled in Siena). The shops were unbelievable. Sheena and I were drooling over shoes and handbags so exqusitely beautiful and carefully crafted, I am very lucky I am the offspring of an accountant or I would have blown my entire travel budget in one evening. It is not a nice feeling to be surrounded by very pretty things, many of which are looking even prettier being worn by people on the street, especially while one is feeling crumpled and trampy and not at all pretty. So when I happened to see a beautiful handmade Italian leather belt, which they adjusted on the spot to fit me perfectly, for much cheaper than in New Zealand, I splashed out. The belt also happened to be a beuatiful crimson red (my favourite colour).
Anyway! Sorry for too many fashion details, boys reading.
We went for dinner in the main Piazza del Campo, which was such a great night, relaxing just sipping our wine and people watching. The piazza comes alive at night and people of all ages meet there to hang out.
The next day we headed for the Duomo, which is spectacular. The whole thing is elaborately decorated in green, red and white marble, with statues seemingly in every nook and cranny, gold, frescoes, bronze... you name it. Incredibly, this is continued inside, so when you walk in, you're not actually quite sure where to start looking first. The baptistery downstairs is more subdued, but I felt it was more beautiful in its simplicity (it wasn't really simple, still wall to wall frescoes, but simple compared to the Duomo), and we also discovered the crypt, where on display were 12th century frescoes they'd uncovered. They also had an amazing museum where I fell in love with Siennese art. Incredible.
The green-red-white combination of marble is everywhere, and seeing as Italy was only united as a country quite late, a good many centuries after most of these buildings were completed, I'm assuming the Italian flag colours are a result of this. It's echoed through all their food too, the most basic pizza being tomato, mozzarella and basil topped.
Anyway, after a last lunch, again, splashing out to sit in the piazza (the atmosphere is worth every penny) - different restaurant, still yummy food and great wine - we grabbed our packs and headed once again into the sunset, this time for the Cinque Terre. Stay tuned...
Posted on 16 Apr 2007 by Anna
Trains, planes and automobiles
Well, coming from a country where I think I've caught the train twice in my life (the first a ceremonial town to Remuera return "lets go on a train" outing as kids with my Mum, and the second to the U2 concert) I'm starting to get pretty good at catching the darn things (thanks in huge part to Sheenz, who is a mass of knowledge due to her English experiences).

Sheena and I have also felt a lot like we're part of the Amazing Race sometimes, with some very close calls in catching trains (not our fault, honest! Allowing heaps of time, we are constantly being stuck in queues! Or one train will be late, which means we have to run for the second connection). This culminated in a mad dash in Venice yesterday with one very heavy suitcase with a broken handle, one enormous pack, three plastic bags, 2 handbags, a poster tube, some highly amused and entirely unhelpful guards, and two very flustered and unfit kiwi girls sprinting flat out down an entire platform in Venice station because we HAD to get on the train to Florence or forfeit our tickets, and pay for an extra night in Venice, then us both getting the giggles and the stitch simultaneously halfway. Must have looked completely nuts, but luckily no one knows us over here, and whatever they mutter we can't translate :-) Anyway, we caught the train :-)

Now in Florence, where they have 24hour free internet (yay! Locanda Daniel is great! Thanks Bex for the recommendation!) So either tomorrow or Sunday I will update everything and hopefully load some pictures if I can work out the fandangly cord thingy.
Anyway, have just had an amazing day, a choca schedule of Florentine art at the Uffizi and the Accademia, beginning with a delightfully cheap hot chocolate this morning that was the best one I've had in Italy so far, basically an entire cup of pure liquid 71% cacao, sans milk, like chocolate sauce, washed down with two custard pastries, mmmmm ;-) and then ended with homemade lasagne dinner with a great house wine (unfortunately, we've found often the 'house' or 'local' wine equates to 'scraping-the-bottom-of-the-cheap-bins-at-the-supermarket' but tonight was a delightful exception) and an incredible tiramisu (they seem to think tourists like it with packet custard, so we've learnt to be wary and check, and tonight got a great one with lots of alcohol soaked sponge, proper mascarpone, and proper coffee, and lashings of real choclate chunks).

Bliss. Very full.
Thank you all so much for your comments, I will reply in due time, and Ciao, I promise I will write soon.

Posted on 13 Apr 2007 by Anna
Rain in Sorrento!
Well, our hostel in Sorrento was in a town about 5 minutes bus ride from main Sorrento, called San'Agnello. We arrived to torrential rain, dark, and biting wind, and had to get ourselves down a maze of what turned out, a few days later, to be tiny picturesque little alleyways, big enough only for Vespas, to our hotel. We arrived soaked, and cold. The room was beautiful, tiles and shutters in vivid greens, overlooking a lemon orchard. Would be beautiful (and packed) in summer. We ventured out for food, dashing down the road through the rain to the local taverna, where I had amazing pizza and very cheap and good and much needed local white wine.

The next day was rainy, bitterly cold, and after arriving in Sorrento to find that the ferries to Positano and Amalfi weren't sailing because it was too rough, and the road to Positano was closed due to a landslip caused by the rain, and it was too awful a day to go to Capri, we accepted defeat and had a chill-out day in Sorrento, which turned out to be timely. We did a good load of washing (industrial dryers shrunk 2 of my tops though, eek!!), had a wander around the shops, a young pizzaria guy made us panini at 5pm even though he was officially closed, and we went to bed early.

Our last day on the Amalfi Coast was a bit nicer. We had an incredible breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, fresh fruit, croissants, cereal (gosh you get sick of just croissants and coffee for breakfast! I didn't think I would, but we've both been craving veges and fruit, and the plain old cereal was bliss!) and then set off. The boats still weren't running, so we caught the bus to Amalfi, along with a busload of tourists including an incredibly loud bunch of English middle-aged ladies, who complained loudly at how long everything was taking and pushed like there was no tomorrow. The bus ride was testing... the whole way it was hairpin bend after hairpin bend, and someone was sick halfway there, so we had the lovely smell of vomit to contend with for the rest of the 2 hour journey.
The landscape though was incredible. Houses perched on the most precarious bits of cliff, with pocket gardens crammed with orange and lemon trees or grape vines. When we all gratefully got off the bus at Amalfi, Sheena almost ran to the sea (she hadn't seen the ocean in a year, living in London) and then we went for a ramble around the beautiful streets. Very touristy, but so picturesque, crazy little alleyways and washing hanging out, geraniums, fruit stores and ceramics all brightly coloured, houses packed together and an amazing church with gold leaf all over it on the outside and frescoes of the saints. We had a leisurely lunch in the main piazza, for me a calzone to start, then a gelato, and then a wander along the seafront. Miraculously, the sun had come out on our way there, so we had brilliant warm sunshine. Still no boats going back to Sorrento, so we had to reluctantly hop back on a bus, this time going via Positano, now that the roads had finally opened again. This journey was better, no vomit, and less hairpin bends, and we got to see a bit of Positano, which was quaintly pretty too. Just picture postcard style, like you wouldn't believe.... the old men DO stand around in the evening gossiping, in full vests and hats and dress jackets, the old ladies DO wear full length furs and pearls out shopping, the vespas are EVERYWHERE, they DO have strange little yappy dogs, the women wear high heels EVERYWHERE, no one seems to ever repaint their buildings, everything is pastel coloured, the pattiseries and gelaterias and enotecas (wine shops) look like movie sets. I keep expecting to see Paris Hilton wandering by, or Juliette Binoche. Fantastic.

Anyway, back to the hostel, on the train, and off to Sienna.... which you'll have to wait for in the next exciting chapter :-)

Ciao, Anna
Posted on 08 Apr 2007 by Anna

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