It's Finally Raining

We have been in Belfast for a week now and today is the first day of rain. All of Aaron's wishful thinking that we were going to bring the sunshine with us worked, until now.

It has been a while since I have updated this blog. I didn't realise quite a long until I just logged on.

After our short stay in Siena, in the lovely Tuscan hills, we caught the train back to Florence and then onto Venice. Our trip on the Eurostar Italia was very nice and the time flew as we were talking to a very interesting lady from San Francisco who was sitting next to me. Aaron was definitely impressed with Venice when we arrived. I almost got sick of him pointing out all of the boats to me. He was just like a big kid. Our hotel was basic and had no lift which meant 2 flights of stairs each time we wanted to go to our room, but it was easy to find and although on a main street was not very noisy at night. We spent most of our time in Venice just wandering around the street, I mean canals, which was very easy to do. We did catch a boat to the island of Murano which is the home of the glass blowing. There was so many nice glass pieces we would have loved to buy but didn't for fear of not getting them home in one piece. The glass Christmas trees were amazing. We did buy a few small pieces which we think we will be able to bring home without breaking which is good. Oh, and we did go on a gondola ride, which was lovely but very very expensive. We almost had to sell one of Aaron's kidneys to pay for it. (Only joking. The budget is going fine, we are surprisingly under budget. More money for shopping in Paris and Singapore, yeaahhh).

After our 3 nights in Venice we ventured onto Bergamo, near Milan, a city we knew absolutely nothing about except that it has an airport. We were pleasantly surprised by our nice a place it was. It has a charming old town up on a hill which required a ride on a funicular railway to get to. Our 3rd funicular for the trip. We spent a lovely few hours wandering around up there enjoying the views and our last gelato. We made a surprising discovery for dinner of a cute restaurant that served free champagne on arrival and limoncello after dinner. We politely refused the limoncello after our introduction to the horrible liqueur at Jane and Alessandro's in Bologna. The food was delicious and the service was great (and not too expensive either).

The next day, after a few hours wait at the airport (no the plane was delayed it was just us getting there early) we boarded a Jet 2 plane (an airline I knew nothing about but was cheap) with a large number of elderly Northern Irelanders who were returning to Belfast after a package tour of Italy. Hearing all their accents was like being surrounded by hundreds of Aunty Yvonne's (Aaron's aunt). The flight was okay and we made it to Belfast alright. After interrogation by passport control, which didn't take long as we were the only 2 none EU passport holders on the flight we collected our bags and met Aunty Yvonne and her daughter Carol who kindly picked us up from the airport. We have spent the last week in the loving care of Yvonne and her husband Desmond, who have not only cooked for us, but has done washing for us and has driven us around. Well except for Monday when they kicked us out and made us catch the bus into the city. This week as been really nice and relaxing. We sleep in, watch TV (I am loving my English television, East Enders, Emmerdale, Coronation Street, The Bill, Top Gear, you name it I have watched it), go out for a bit, come back, watch more TV, use the Internet, eat, watch TV, sleep. It has been great. We have seen some sights though, don't get me wrong we are not spending all our time at home. We have visited Belfast Castle, Stormont (the parliament house) the city centre (including the oldest library in Belfast) and W5 (an interactive sciencecentre). Today we caused mass truancy among all of Aunty Yvonne's grandchildren when we all went to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. Well, only the transport museum as it is raining and this part is undercover. It was a fun museum to visit as you could climb onto some the the trains and things and it was especially fun going with Kathryn, Brett, Corey, Sophie and Lara, not too mention Carol and Anita (their mums) and Aunty Yvonne of course. It also included a Titanic Exhibition (as the Titanic was built in Belfast) and a Flight Experience thing which was like you were in a small plane.

Tonight we are having dinner with Aaron's Uncle Brian and Aunt Dorothy and tomorrow night with all those we spent today with at Carol's house. It has been really good getting to know Aaron's relatives. They are all so funny.

We then head off to Dublin on Monday and London on Thursday. I can't believe our trip is almost over and I will be back at work in less than a month.

Comings and Goings

I realised that in my last post I forgot to give an update of our itinerary since we had left Italy fairly open.

As mentioned before, we spent a few days in Bologna with friends, then we headed to Florence for 3 nights. We are now in Siena, (still in the Tuscany region) and will be here until Monday 15th. We then we head off to Venice for 3 nights before spending our final night in Italy in Bergamo (outside of Milan). It is from here that we fly off to Belfast on Friday 19th.

I am currently standing in the lobby of our cute hotel in Siena, yet again free internet but I have no shoes or socks on and the tiles are getting cold so I don't think I will be here for much longer.

So here is a quick update. In Florence we went to the Uffizi Gallery (and queued for an hour) and saw Botticelli's Birth of Venus, the Galleria dell 'Academia where we saw Michelangelo's real statue of David, the Gallerie Michelangelo where we saw models made from Leonardo da Vinci's drawings (and got to play with some of them) and for something completely different (and non-religious) the Criminal Museum with a display about serial killers from all over the world dating back to the 14th century. As well as the Duomo (more impressive on the outside that the inside) and the Ponte Vecchio and ate the obligatory gelato.

Yesterday we arrived in Siena around lunch time and the first thing we did after checking into our hotel was eat a huge very nice buffet lunch at the restaurant next door with a glass or two of vino to go with it. We then went on a tour visiting the nearby town of Montelchino and a couple of wineries to taste the local Brunello wine. The first we went to was interesting as it is experimenting with playing classical music to its vines. The second, included a wine making museum and was run by a charming 80 year old man called Mario who loves the ladies. We also tasted olive oil, prosciutto, pecorino cheese, biscotti and grappa. And Mario was very generous with his wine and everybody went home just that little bit schozzled.

Today we spent the day wandering around inside the walled city of Siena. It is a nice small wandering city, slightly hilly but not too strenuous. We also visited the Civic Museum where Aaron climbed its associated tower and the Duomo (much more impressive than Florence's) and its Crypt, Baptistery and Museum. We certainly got a fill of religious art today. Plus we went to one of the Basilica's where we saw the preserved head and thumb (don't ask me why they have her thumb) of Saint Catherine, who along with Francis of Assisi are the patron saints of Italy. That was pretty cool.

Tomorrow we are doing another tour, this time to San Gimignano where we visit yet more wineries.


Since my last post we have left Austria and we care now in our second Italian City.

On our last day in Salzburg we caught a bus to a nearby town where we then caught a cable car up to the top of Untersberg mountain. The views of Salzburg and its surrounds were fantastic. I only walked around a little bit up there but Aaron walked up another part a bit higher up. Up on the mountain we met a nice Canadian couple who we talked to for awhile. After that, we looked around Salzburg's Alstadt again before walking up a hill in the centre of town that has a monastry of the Capuchin monks on it.

The next day we headed to Innsbruck where we stayed at the closest possible hotel to that station. We didn't even have to leave the station to get to the hotel as there was a lift that took us right on up to the hotel. Very convenient. We spent that afternoon wandering around Innsbruck where we saw the Golden Roof, or Golden Awning as Aaron believes it should be called and the River Inn. The next day we caught a tram to a nearby town called Igls where we caught another cable car up another mountain. This one is called PatcsherKofel and again it had spectacular views. This time we spent a couple of hours walking around on top before heading back down again. This time it was only the 2 of us in the cable car which was great. This area has held the Winter Olympics a couple of times and in the cable car we passed over a bob sled course. Aaron wanted to have a go at bob sledding but it is only open in summer and winter. What a bummer. We then had a very nice lunch in a hotel in Igls where I have never eaten so much spinach in my life. The main course was spinach dumplings covered in cheese and served with more spinach. They were very nice though. Arnold Schwarzenegger has eaten there, as well as other famous people we didn't recognise.

On Saturday we left Innsbruck (and Austria, where there are no kangaroos) and headed to Italy. After 5 and a half hours on the train we arrived in Bologna where we raced to another train only to find it wasn't going to leave for another 20 minutes due to a strike (but not by rail workers, according to the driver we spoke to). Eventually after going and stopping and going again we made it to CastellMaggiore (or something like that) where we were picked up by friends Jane, Alessandro and 18 month old Damian. Jane grew up in the same street as Aaron In Wavell Heights. It was nice to have a semi normal life for a few days. We spent a fairly quiet Sunday, doing washing, watching a dvd, playing with Damian, before we visited a nearby ye olde town called Dozza. That evening Alessandro introduced us to some local cuisine which was very nice.

On Monday morning, Aaron and I headed into the centre of Bologna where we spent the day wandering around. We could not find a tourist information place to get a map, nor did we find any public toilets, (thank goodness for fast food restaurants) so we just wandered and wandered and wandered. Bologna is a very nice city, very red.

Yesterday afternoon, Aaron and I headed down to Florence along with Jane and Damian, who came along for the afternoon. After checking into our hotel, we then spent the afternoon wandering around the city for a few hours before saying goodbye to Jane and Damian when they caught the train back to Bologna.

Now it is Wednesday morning and we are catching up on our Internet stuff and accommodation before heading out to see the sights.

The Hills are Alive

with the sound of Aaron singing. You guessed it. We are in Salzburg. After surviving a 7 1\2 hr train journey from Prague (5 1\2 hours of sitting in a train followed by 5 minutes of frantic ´quick what platform to we go to´ when we changed trains in Landshut Germany, followed by another 2 hours hours of sitting) we made it to our small noisy hotel in Salzburg. The next morning our first outing was on a Sound of Music tour. Aaron loves this movie even more than I do (and he hasn't stopped singing the songs since we got here). The tour was good and our guide was so funny. It did shatter some of the movie myths, which I won't mention here for fear of ruining it for others (If you do want to know just email me or ask me later). We had a couple of other die hard fans on our tour which was good, and Aaron did his best to ramp up the enthusiasm. He even sung with the microphone on the bus at one stage.

After the tour, and photos by the fountain in the Mirabell Gardens (another film location) Aaron and I went up to the Hohensalzburg Fortress with one of our tour companions, a women Tash from Melbourne. We could walk up the steep path to the fortress or as we did catch a funicular railway. The fortress itself (and its museums) weren't anything really special but the views made up for it. Salzburg and its surrounds are so spectacular. Lots of photos were taken of course.

After saying farewell to Tash, Aaron and I continued to explore the old town of Salzburg or Alstadt as it is known. There is a lot of horse related statues and things in Salzburg and naturally you can go on a horse and buggy ride as you can in most European cities.

Today, we went to the Museum of Natural History which includes an aquarium, which had great fish including baby clown fish or Nemo's as they are probably more commonly referred as, and a reptile zoo. The rest of the museum was good as well, lots of minerals, stuffed birds and animals, an exhibit about water and one about space. We then did more wandering around the Alstadt and the Mirabell Garden again.

Tomorrow we are going to visit a nearby mountain and go up it in a cable car and then visit the Salzburg Zoo.

Then it is off to Innsbruck for a couple of days and then onto Italy. We are really enjoying Salzburg, Aaron has nicknamed it the place Prague should be. (We have been watching to much CNN (only as it is one of 2 or 3 English speaking tv channels we are getting not because we like it) and they have way too many ads for different countries with slogans, Cyprus`the year round island´ and Croatia ´the Mediterranean as it once was` are 2 examples).