Week 1 July 2009:
The first day of this week saw us on the way to Rome in our European tour. On the way we passed large areas of sunflowers. At this time of the year they were in full flower.
We made a stop at the St Francis of Assisi church. A rather impressive structure as were all the churches and cathedrals that we visited.
Arrived at our Rome hotel about 6 pm. In Europe, at this time of the year, the sun doesn’t set until about 9 pm.
The next day we visited St Peters Square and Basilica also very lavish and imposing.
In the afternoon we had a guided tour of the Coliseum. An arresting Roman ruin. We also visited the Forum.
Late in the afternoon we were involved in a more commonplace activity and visited a Roman supermarket.
The next day we visited the Abbey of Monte Cassino. The Abbey sits on a mountain above the city of Cassino. The Abbey was destroyed during the WW2 and has been rebuilt. The Abbey is a sombre place with an adjacent war cemetery where 1000 Polish soldiers are buried. They were killed during the battle to free Monte Cassino. Perhaps the Abbey should have been left in its ruined state as a monument to the futility of war.
In the afternoon we had a two hour guided tour of Pompeii. The guide was well informed and brought this ruined Roman city back to life. We could see Mount Vesuvius brooding on the horizon. This was probably the most interesting part of the tour. That night was spent in a hotel in Sorrento.
The next morning we boarded a small bus that took us to the waterfront. Many of Sorrento’s streets are to narrow for large coaches. From the waterfront we boarded a big boat, with many other tourists, and sailed to Capri. We changed to a smaller boat and sailed around the Island. Beautiful rocky scenery and we stopped for a look at the famous Blue Grotto. There was a commentary about what we were seeing. Unfortunately this was in Italian and our knowledge of the language is virtually non-existent.
We left Sorrento early the next day. Saw two Eucalypt plantations along the road. They were probably grown for as foliage for the cut flower trade. We heard cicada calling and saw pear and fig trees growing in gardens.
Next stop was Florence. Coaches need a permit to travel in Florence streets. This was thought to be a money-making activity. We spent some time walking around and admiring the sites of Florence. In the afternoon we travelled to Pisa and saw, at close hand, the famous Leaning Tower.
Bologna was the next stop and we spent some time walking around the attractive city centre. Not hordes of tourists in Bologna. We also visited the beautiful cathedral.
In the afternoon we travelled into Switzerland and stopped at a hotel in Lugano. This was the most interesting hotel on the tour. Firstly the hotel is built on the side of a hill and the coach let us off at the fifth floor. Secondly a funicular railway runs through the centre of the hotel. From our room we could almost shake hands with passengers on the railway.