A Travellerspoint blog


Saturday April 16th Today is Monaco day!! I know when you think of Monaco, most people think Grace Kelly, James Bond movies, or maybe you just think the worlds super rich. All of those are correct, to top it off it's just a small yet beautiful country. Lucky for me it is a short thirty minute bus ride west of Ventimiglia.

Pretty much everyone I told I was hoping to go to Monaco told me take pictures of the casino and did you visit the casino? I had other reasons for wanting to go to Monaco though. One it's beautiful, and has the look of a tropical island even though it's nestled on the coast of France, two I wanted to see the Oceanographic Museum, and three I wanted to see the Prince Palace. Since Vatican City in Roma counts as it's own country, that means that Monaco is the worlds second smallest country. I want to see as many countries as I can so this was my chance to see Monaco. Though now I need to plan a trip to Nice, France so I can come spend one or two more days here.

When I got off the train it was super easy to figure out where to go because they have a wonderful you are here map in front that then shows you which way to go to get to all the top visited locations. Plus every couple of blocks while walking there are more signs telling you which way to go which makes getting lost very hard to do. As is my style I slowly made my way in the relative direction of the Palace first. I had all day so I could wonder and meander to my hearts content.

I toured the Palace, when you buy the ticket it includes an audio guide which is kinda nice. I must admit I was a little disappointed in how little of the Palace you actually get to see. No photos, videos, or cell phones are allowed in the Palace. Fine by me, that means no distractions from actually seeing what you're looking at. Don't get me wrong I like taking pictures of where I go, and things I do as visual memories, but sometimes I think people get so busy taking pictures that they don't actually see what they are looking at, and only get half the experience of where they've gone. Sometimes it's nice to just put down the camera and enjoy being in the moment.

When I left the Palace I stopped at the gift shop to buy a model Ferrari for a friend, and of course a magnet for me. Then I set off exploring headed in the direction towards the Oceanographic Museum. I gotta say I love aquariums and the fact that the basement level of this museum is a small aquarium almost became the best moment of the day for me. I'd bought a combo ticket at the Palace(Saves you money this way, and you can choose Palace and either the Oceanographic Museum or the Royal car collection.) In the aquarium I found Nemo, and sharks, and turtles( my two favorites), as well as lots of kinds of fish, a mean looking yellow eel. I also found a weird little Koosh ball looking type of jellyfish I think, that suctioned to the glass so that the waves didn't knock it around. It was a very interesting looking little creature.

Up in the museum itself there are items from cultures that live along the waters edge from all around the world. A few beautiful pieces of abalone shell that were amazing carved, some coconuts that were carved, and possibly burned to get images on them. Lots of animals skeletons, stuffed ones, pictures of some, everything you could think of to do with the ocean was somewhere in that museum.

On the roof there is a restaurant, and if you follow the turtle stickers on the ground you can find African Spurred Tortoises. There were even babies, you could pet the adults, and you cannot pet the babies. The babies if I recall where a different type of Tortoise, only the adults were African Spurred Tortoises.

To eventually exit the museum you go can go out the front door, or through the bookshop. If you go out through the bookshop you have to walk through the room with a tank to get to the bookshop. The tank has some small sharks in it that you can pet. There is an employee stationed at the tank to tell people how to properly touch the sharks. Only on their backs and sides, not the head, fins, or tails. Of course I had to stop to touch the sharks too.

This museum has one of the best book shops I've seen in a while. I like buying books about the places I go because I know I'm not going to remember all the information I've learned from each location I visit. A lot of the places I have visited on this trip in Italy though only have books in Italian. If they have a book in another language there is literally one or two books offered in French, English, Spanish, and German, and dozens in Italian. I will have to search Amazon when I get home to try and find books on most of where I've been that are in English since I couldn't find very many here.

The casino that everyone loves is on the other side of the train station and I had spent enough time wondering around this side of town that sadly if I wanted to get back to Ventimiglia before dark I needed to take a train back soon. So I did not visit the casino this visit, it had to wait till my return visit some day. It's okay though because I saw the places I really wanted to and learned a little about Monaco as well.

The train ride back to Ventimiglia was as easy as getting here had been, I'd even bought my return ticket in the morning so I just had to validate it before hoping on a train. I did a little window shopping on the way to the flat, got dinner since I can't figure out how to make the gas work right, and called it a good day.

Posted by Bonnie7825 06:26 Archived in Monaco Comments (0)


Weekend get away to the shore

Friday April 15th I returned to Torino last night with no problems. I got a very warm welcome back from the boys. Luisella had messaged me while I was gone telling me that Vittorio was sad because Kay's sons had "stolen their Bonnie" so they were happy to see me. I asked Luisella if I could possibly get the keys to the flat in Ventimiglia for the rest of my time off (Friday till Sunday.) She doubled check I knew I had to be back Sunday sometime because the children have no school Monday and she would be away all of the next week working in Napolie.

Upon my assuring her yes I would return Sunday she left the keys for me. But then she gave me the children's schedule for Friday asking if I could pick them up from school and take them to a party afterwards until she arrived. I wasn't going far so I said of course I can get the children. Then she returned to the house a little before noon Friday to show me where the gift was, realized I'm still supposed to be off and asked her father if he could get the children. Their grandfather is the sweetest guy he helps out all the time, and even when I am at the house makes sure I'm comfortable being with all of the children before he leaves them with me and heads home.

I checked the train schedule, realized if I want to get to Ventimiglia before dark I need the next train. I packed very quickly, and ran out the door. The bus comes into Rivalta on the other side of the square goes around the town, and picks me up at the last stop. I saw it come in, thought to myself okay ten more minutes, 25-30 minute ride to the tram, and so on double checking that yes I should be able to catch the train I want no problem. When I realized F*** I forgot the keys to the flat in the house. I speed walk to the house(I don't run unless I really have to) grabbed the keys and as I was closing the door the stupid cat who was in heat and constantly trying to escape did. I had to catch her and get her back inside, which I managed to do but not with out getting a rather large scratch on my arm for my efforts. With the cat safely locked in the house again, I take off back to the bus stop and make it just in time. Damn I cut that close, thanks to having to chase down the stupid cat.

I got to the train station and once again used a kiosk because lines are huge to deal with a real person, plus the machines never ask "just one ticket? You are alone?" Ventimiglia is the last stop so once I'm on the train it's basically smooth sailing until I arrive. Once I finally do arrive in Ventimiglia I used Google Maps to see how far from the train station the flat is. It's a six minute drive or a twenty minute walk. The sun is going down, I don't know the town, neighborhoods, or anything so lets find out how much a taxi will cost. You can always walk up to a taxi driver tell them where you need to go and ask about how much it will cost. So far they have all told me a price that ends up coming with in €2 of what they told me. This taxi driver tells me €7, deal.

He drops me off on the one way street a little past the flat because its hard to read numbers on buildings. I walk back down the street a few buildings, and find my way through the complex to the door. Now what I didn't take into consideration was that there are like nine keys on this key ring and I need one for this front door. Fourth time is the try, Yay! Take the tiny elevator up and then I know it's the flat funky key for the front door. Once I'm inside though I realize there is no power, water, or gas. Damn I have to text Luisella to figure this out. While I wait for a response I open all the storm shutters to let in the sunlight, these will stay open till I leave. As I've mentioned I like natural light. Turns out in Italy flats have like three switches in the flat to turn power for that part of the flat on/off. So I go through and turn the power on to the areas I'll use. No need to turn it all on. There is a handle in the bathroom to turn the flats water on/off, alright water on. On the patio I have to find the box for the gas, I get that on. I turn on the stove and can smell the gas but even using a match I can't get the burner to light. Forget this, I'll eat the chips and crackers I brought with me for dinner. I never did figure out how to get the gas to work properly so the next morning I just shut it off. After all of this adventure I'm tired and call it a night. I'm not sure how sitting on a train for four or so hours can be so exhausting but it is.

*Saturday will be a separate post for my day in Monaco*

Sunday April 17th As I've said I like natural light so today I woke to the sun coming in the windows. After repacking the few things I've taken out of my bag, I decided to wander my way through town to the train station and take the first train to Torino. When I get there this time I end up with a train that requires switching trains part way through. No biggy, I can handle that. The train stations I've used are pretty small so you just get off the train, take the stairs down and walk one or two tracks over to the next train. I get back to Torino early afternoon sometimes, and catch my tram back to Rivalta to spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing in my room. I have a feeling the children may be a little wild tomorrow being home from school and no mom to tell them to behave so I better relax while I can. Plus after these last nine days of whirlwind traveling relaxing for an afternoon/evening sounds like the perfect ending.

Posted by Bonnie7825 04:40 Archived in Italy Tagged italy traveling au_pair Comments (0)

Lucca Day 2

Thursday April 14th Yes I have titled this entry Lucca day two even though if you count this is my fourth day in Lucca. I'm calling it day two because as you can tell from reading I haven't actually been in Lucca, I've just been using it as my base of operations to see this part of Italy. Sadly today is the day I leave Lucca to return to Rivalta di Torino for a bit. However my bus doesn't leave until 1330, Kay is off today and has very nicely offered to drive me to the train station(my bus departs from in front of the station) which means I have all morning to see anything in Lucca I haven't seen yet.

After I grabbed breakfast I set off for the Guinigi Tower. This is a brick tower on a nothing fancy street, however this particular tower itself is special because it has a cluster of Oak trees growing on top of it. This tower is one of the few remaining within the city walls. The ancient trees are Holm Oaks symbolizing rebirth and renewal. The tower dates from the 1300's when a number of wealthy families were building bell towers within the walls of Lucca as status symbols. The views of the city from the top are pretty nice, and who doesn't like to visit unique places? I saw the tower on my first day but did not want to climb the 230 steps hauling my bag with me. When I left the tower I walked around a little more trying to soak in as much as I could before deciding to head back to the house to grab the bike and take one more leisurely ride around the walls before getting my stuff and heading to the train station.

Lucca is a small city but it is full of history and has great location for seeing other parts of Tuscany, if you are looking for a city to visit but don't want huge crowd so of tourist like in Florence, Roma, and Venice I highly recommend Lucca. Less crowds is one of the reason I like Torino(Turin) so much, though it the case of Torino it does mean that less locals speak English even those who work at places like museums and palaces. I've found enough who speak English though that communicating has not a problem.

Posted by Bonnie7825 04:11 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Cinque Terre

Wednesday April 13th, today is my last full day in Lucca and before I got here I booked a trip through viator.com to go to Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre is a national park made up of five villages, most people know these villages by the look of them but not by name. These are some of the rainbow colored villages on the cliffs on the coast of Italy. Most people have seen post cards of these Villages, at some point. Before I start telling you about my day let me just tell you it's gorgeous and if you have a chance to go you should.

The tour offers hotel pickup but because I was staying at a house and not a hotel I declined, therefore the default place for your private driver to pick you up from is in front of the tourist information center in Lucca. I rode the bike along the wall and the visitor center is right there next to one of the walls gates, making it super easy to find. My private driver took me to a gas station Cafe out on the highway so it would be easier for the big bus to just pull in and pick me up and keep going.

Once I was on the bus I started talking to the couple who sat behind me they said that the rest of the people on the bus started off in Florence except one couple that they stopped to get somewhere between Florence and me. On our drive up to the Cinqua Terre area our driver gave us a bunch of information on the area. We passed the marble mines on the side of the mountains where White marble has been mined for hundreds of years and still is. In fact that area is where the marble used to make the famous statue of David came from.

Our first stop was the second of the five villages called Manarolo. The bus dropped us off and we walked down the hillside. We had about half an hour to spend here and then we all took the train up to Village number four Vernazza.

In Vernazza we had again about 30 maybe 45 minutes before we were to meet at the end of the dock so as to take the ferry from here to Village number five Monterosso.

Monterosso is the biggest and most famous of the five villages so we had two or so hours to spend here. During that time those who had paid for lunch went to get lunch first then had a free limoncino tasting. The rest of us had the Limoncino tasting first and then we could get lunch, walk around, shop, or go to the beach, or do anything else we wanted. All throughout the day I kept talking to the couple who sits on the bus behind me, G & M, on the ferry from Vernazza to Monterosso the husband asked me where I was from. I told him I'm from California. He told me that they are also from California, but that I probably don't know where Vacaville is. This is hilarious because Vacaville is exactly where I am from. Although we consider it a small town, we have a hundred thousand people and yes we consider that a small town in California, I have never met someone from Vacaville traveling around America let alone all the way in Italy. Yet here's this couple who works and lives in the same town I do who I have never met before, all they way over her in Italy on a tour of 40 people with me. It is occasionally an extremely small world that we live in. We had lunch together, and went shopping, and kept talking about how small the world is and what a coincidence that we ran into each other so far from home. It turns out that M actually works with two of my friends back home!

When time was up we all got back on the train and took it all the way down to village number one Riomaggiore. Here we had about 30 minutes to see the village and do any last shopping we wanted to do it. This is one of the smaller villages so 30 minutes was enough time. However M and myself had seen a couple things back in Monterosso that we wanted to buy but didn't want to carry around, then ran out of time to go back and buy. That means we were on a mission to find those items here before we had to get back on the train. We found everything we were looking for and still had time to stop and grab a soda and take some photos before we had to meet at the train station to leave.

From here we all took the train 2 stops out of the city where we met the bus Which took us back to our designated pick-up/drop-off spots. My driver was waiting at the same gas station that he dropped me off at to pick me up and took me back to the tourist information center. I got back on my bike and rode it the opposite way around the wall to get back to the house, because as I've mentioned before Lucca's just such a pretty city I wanted the extra time riding up on the wall to look at everything before going inside for the night.

Posted by Bonnie7825 04:05 Archived in Italy Tagged italy traveling au_pair travel_europe_cheap Comments (0)

Pisa & Florence

Tuesday April 12th, this day my plan was to take the train to Pisa and after that to take the train to Florence. Everyone says you need multiple days to see Florence and they're right you do need multiple days however I didn't have multiple days so I figured a couple hours cant hurt. Since I was doing this on my own time I decided I'm going to sleep in.

I don't know about you, but I hate waking up to an alarm. I love waking up to the morning sun coming in an open window. Which is why I left my shutters open overnight, and therefore woke up to the sunlight coming in this morning. Kay and her husband are being nice and letting me use Kay's old bike while I stay with them. I rode the bike through the village to the train station this morning. Italians ride bikes, and walk down streets like they drive: no blinkers, no telling you which way they plan to go, and it gave me a couple of mini heart attacks but I made it to the train station. I bought a ticket to Pisa, and off I went. When I got to Pisa because I knew I was on a time schedule instead of slowly walking around and eventually making my way to the tower I took a taxi. Thankfully it wasn't too expensive. I saw the tower, the cathedral and then bought a ticket to climb to the top of the tower. Even though you know it's a leaning tower, every single one of us was not paired for the slide that you do when you first step inside. You step in expecting a flat floor and your foot slides a little bit towards the right then everybody left because we all do the exact same thing. Going up the tower there is no way to not know what side of the tower you are on because it's lean is sharp enough that when you're going up the stairs you're like everyone slides this way on the steps, then you go around the curve and everybody slides that way on the steps, it was entertaining. The views from the top or fantastic and I actually did not know that there are seven bells on top of the tower.

Once I left the tower I caught another Taxi and took it back to the train station so as to save time. I bought a train ticket and one off to Florence I went. I think the best thing about the Florence's train station is that it's in the center of the city. This means it's very easy to get off the train and just go without having to walk a couple of blocks to a bus station, a taxi stand, or anything else, everything's right there. I technically have no time limit to return to Lucca however because I'm staying with a family that I know wakes up early in the morning out of respect I didn't want to get there at 10 p.m. I only have a few hours so I decided to use the hop-on-hop-off bus to ride around the city. In Florence the bus has 3 routes, one of them was an hour-long, the other two are an hour and a half long. The train from Florence to Lucca is like an hour to an hour-and-a-half on the train depending on how direct your route is. I wanted to get there at a decent hour. So I decided to take the one-hour route listen to commentary take pictures and then when it dropped him back off at the center Station I caught the first bus to get there for the other two routes and decided which everyone got there first I would listen to the commentary on that one and that would be it. Let me mention here that I do plan on returning to Florence one day and spending at least 5 days there to fully explore the city this time I just wanted to see whatever I could. Well I got lucky and the first bus to arrive was one that also goes around part of Florence but then it leaves Lawrence and goes to a tiny village up on the hill called Fiesole, so I got to see and here about there as well.

When the bus drop him back off at the center station, I walked across the street to the train station and used a kiosk to buy my ticket. Lines for a person were too long and the kiosks at the train stations in Italy are all the same; fast and super easy. They all offer you the service in at least five languages; French, German, English, Italian, Spanish, and there might have been another option. I didn't see the point of standing in line to talk to a person who may or may not understand me when in 2 minutes I could just use a machine.

When I got back to Lucca that night I decided I was going to take the bike along the wall to get back to their house instead of through the village because riding in the village was just crazy. Riding on the wall is beautiful plus their house is literally close enough to the wall that I can lean out my window and if I raise my voice a little bit I could have had a conversation with somebody on the wall. I absolutely love their house!!

A beautiful, quiet ride at sunset along the wall was the end of my wild Pisa, & Florence in one day adventure. People said I couldn't do it, or I was crazy to do it but you know what it worked out well enough, I had fun and that's what counts.

Posted by Bonnie7825 05:35 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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