We had had ideas about going back to Italy and seeing something of the north and staying put in one place for awhile and almost by accident we came across a course offered by the University continuing education course (Centre for Continuing Education-ANU) for such a group tour so we went along to an evening information session where we were enlightened about the trip held our breath when it came to the cost which fell just within our budget and went home knowing that the first 20 people who paid their deposit would be going. We spent the weekend going over everything and on the Monday morning were the last two people to come aboard (by half and hour). The idea of being met at the airport and having accommodation arranged was very appealing, but I was a little nervous about the steep terrain.
We then waited a few months and finally the group was called together, a chance to eye our fellow travellers off and learn a few more details and a little bit about Tuscany in particular and a little about art history. Our leader "Julie" had been on several previous trips, spoke Italian fluently was very informative and reassuring. We had several meeting like this including a dinner at local Italian Restaurant which was the start of some very serious Pizza consumption.
Well the day finally arrived and we boarded the plane for this new adventure. We travelled separately from the group, about 24hrs with a stopover at Hong Kong and arrived about an hour before the group and duly boarded the bus in Rome and headed for the hotel. We were all very tired and sleep deprived but we found somewhere to have lunch and then went on a little tour including a visit to the Borghese Villa and gardens, very interesting but we were very tired.. Eventually we allocated our rooms- the hotel was great and fell asleep for an hour or two and had a quiet evening.
Next morning after a good breakfast we were taken to the Vatican. The queue was very long but I find travelling exciting and enjoyed the atmosphere and as we had not been to the Vatican previously I found it quite overwhelming. The afternoon was free and I returned to the Trevi fountain (my favourite) and again let myself be absorbed with the wonder that is Rome.
Next day goodbye to Rome, hopefully we may return again and we set out for Montepulciano.On the way we had a stopover at Todi which is a hillside town and we were grateful for the lift to the top where most of the town is., Quaint shops and old church wonderful vistas. We had coffee in a little shop and watched the townspeople go about their everyday business.
We arrived at Montepulciano about 4pm, were allocated our little flat and the group met in the evening for a meal a fine Italian cuisine.
The first thing I noticed about Montepulciano is that being built on a hilltop to get anywhere we walked up and up and up. I marvelled at the locals even the older people who literally took it in their stride, for me it required quite an effort and I soon learned that this trip would involve a lot of walking up steep streets but I must admit that I took a bus when I could sat down when I could and sometimes even said "enough is enough" and let others go on. The week we spent at Montepulciano was a real Tuscany experience. We mingled with the local, shopped at the supermarket ate at the restaurants drank coffee and the coffee shops bought pizza, learnt a little Italian took photos and generally absorbed the lifestyle.
A postcard from Montepulciano
We became quite adept at hugging the wall on the side of the road when a car or bus came and the very fact that we survived proves it.
We spent about 9 days living in Montepulciano and during that week or so we had visits to Siena, Monte Oliveto Maggiore and Pienza visited the local markets this was great fun. We spent an afternoon driving through the countryside and enjoyed the gardens of La Force, the home of Iris Origo a famous writer . We had a visit to Cortona and to Assisi. All sorts of special treats at various places.
The time came for a sad farewell to Montepulciano and we packed up our things and set off our bus.
Our first stop was Orvieto. What a treat. A lift took us and our luggage up to the town and another good hotel. We were quite near the shops with lots of cafes and ceramic shops as well as handbags and clothing shops. Next morning we had a tour of the Cathedral which was quite amazing but we had time to look around the town and we even had a trip to a little countryside town.
After two nights in Orvieto we were on our way to Florence which must be one of the great experiences to any traveller. Another Cathedral a visit to the Uffizi Gallery, mind blowing and for the next day we took ourselves back and being early Sunday morning it was less crowded. We included a visit to Accademia museum. We queued for about an hour to see Michael Angelo's David . This sculpture must be the most magnificent thing I have ever seen and I refused to buy souvenirs or postcards as I wanted to keep the real thing in my mind.
That afternoon to boarded a plane for Palermo in Sicily. Palermo is a meeting of several cultures and in a way Sicily was a bit of a culture shock after the magnificence of Tuscany but it too had lots of wonders beautiful churches and buildings and sculptures. We stayed just a bit out of Palermo at a great hotel where we could sit and look out on the sea and mountains.
After two nights there we departed for Agrigento. On the way we stopped at Segesta with a visit to an Archaeologic Park and we looked over an ancient Temple and other ruins. And then on to Agrigento overnight.
Our last stop was Taormina and other great hotel overlooking the sea.
A Gondola (Sky lift type) took us up to the town. What a wonderful place. My memory of it is full of colour. Shops, cafes restaurants churches and little shops selling the most wonderful marzipan in the shapes of fruit and vegetables. Yes we did buy some.
Leaving is always sad despite the travel weariness but Sicily had one last treat for us. We left in darkness for Catania airport where we could see the red lava erupting from Mt Etna. )On to Rome airport where we split from the group and after some hassles boarded our plane for home.
I have to say the trip was extremely well planned and organised. The group of twenty blended well and just maybe this short resume fo our trip will whet your appetite. Don't just think about it just go.
The Centre for Contiuing Education usually organises these trips each year, if you want to go contact them at the beginning of the year, most who go are from Canberra but persons from other States can go if they want to. The CCE can be contacted by telephoning 6125 2892
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