I received tickets for a Half Man Half Biscuit concert as a Christmas present in 2019.
Then Covid came.
The concert was put back a few times until the finalised date of September 2022.
As the concert was taking place in Birmingham, it seemed a good opportunity to head off to see other parts of the country; Bristol, Oxford, maybe down to London.
From London, get the Eurostar…..
….Bit by bit, the trip grew legs.
After much planning and number crunching, it turned out that flying abroad worked out considerably cheaper than a few train journeys in England. A little tour of Italy started to come together.
Fly in to Bergamo, fly out of Rome. In between, fit in Milan, Turin, Genoa, Florence and Pisa.
The Monday morning flight arrived a few minutes late. Exiting in to the Arrivals area of the airport, there’s three windows, one for each of the companies offering bus transfer to Milan. I went for the company with the next bus to leave. Not that they leave on time!
On the journey, I messaged Alessandro who would pass on the keys to my apartment , a lovely large area comprising of living room, breakfast bar, good sized bedroom and a balcony over looking the town.
After unpacking and a quick coffee, headed out for a wander around town ending up in the Darsena area. This felt like it was the ‘evening area’ of Milan. Lots of bars and a nice place to stroll. A small laser show had been set up, presumably to promote something.
A good introduction to Italy!
Tuesday 20th September
After a basic breakfast, headed out to explore Milan. This was my second visit. I had been here previously on a day trip from Bergamo. That day it never stopped raining, today, however, the weather was glorious.
I walked to the town centre and on to the castle (not crowded and grounds free to enter), the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II arcade (large crowds but free to enter) and the cathedral (large crowds and not free to enter) .
There was a lot of walking today, around 31, 000 steps but the main sights were ticked off.
It’s a loud, sprawling city, although the castle park offers respite . I felt one full day here was enough.
Wednesday 21st September
My time in Milan came to an end and I was off to the busy railway station where it’s almost costs the same to buy a coffee as it does to go the toilet (1 Euro) but, at least you get a seat on the toilet unlike the busy coffee shops!
I boarded the 12.15 train for the two hour journey to Turin.
From the mainline station, the Metro took me to Lingotto. A short walk from the station are a number of buildings, once part of the FIAT factory. They now house a shopping mall and two hotels, one being NH hotel where I was spending the night. My room was lovely. Big comfy bed, huge windows, black out curtains, great shower and a few nods to the buildings history.
Above the hotel is the old Fiat roof top test track.
I’ve always owned Fiat and Abarth vehicles. Our family car was a Fiat 127 and I learnt to drive in a Strada, so I was very keen to walk along the hallowed tarmac!
Now known as Pista 500, it is accessible through the shopping mall.
The area contains several pieces of art, a garden, fantastic views and, of course, the original track.
Entry only costs 2 euro and it was a peaceful contrast to Milan.
It also has a surprisingly cheap but very classy coffee bar next to various Fiat 500 memorabilia including the original wooden 500 concept model.
After spending far too long at Pista 500, I headed back in to town for a whistle stop tour and to take dinner, a delicious pizza, at the Turin Brewery.
My time in Turin was far too short, it’s definitely a place to return to.
Thursday 22nd September.
Today’s journey to Genoa started at Turin’s main Porta Nuova train station although later discovered the train also stops at the much closer Lingotto station!
Breakfast was taken at the station’s branch of RossoPomodorro, two surprisingly good rice balls (known as arancini), one ragu and cheese the other salami and cheese . Turin’s station was the nicest of the trip, large, quiet and the advantage of wireless phone chargers on the tables!
The train journey was pleasant, the train itself quiet with plenty of space for luggage.
It was a short walk from Genoa station to H2Ome – Il Cembalo.
This was another good sized apartment.
Someone had lost the WiFi key, the gas hob didn’t work and the bathroom soap ran out, but , the view over the harbour from the large balcony made up for the minor inconveniences.
I took my rucksack in to the bedroom and began to unpack.
The whole building shook violently.
What the heck had just happened?
Did earthquakes happen around here?
They did, and this had an estimated magnitude of 4.4.
Certainly something to remember the Genoa experience!
Friday 23rd September
After a good sleep , I headed out on to the balcony to open the shutters. It’s very odd not having curtains and having to go outside to set up for the day and night!
Today’s plan was to take the Zecca-Righi funicular. The funicular is free (Sept 2022) and runs every 15 minutes.
There are a number of stops along the way but, I was heading to the top station. From here, it’s about 20 min walk to the parks and views, further still to the forts.
If I had more time on this visit to Genoa, I’d have planned a route and dressed appropriately, for the longer walk to see the forts but even on this quick visit, the views were spectacular and it was nice to get a taste of the countryside.
Some people were simply walking their dogs, others were going on more serious hikes. I can understand why this area is so popular after spending time on the loud, polluted roads in the cities near by.
This is certainly an area I could spend more time, although I’d bring my walking shoes next time!
I took the funicular back down to the town, stopping for a beautiful lunch of prawn and saffron gnocchi at La Ville Superbe on the water front.
I popped in to a nearby supermarket for bottles of pop and sat on balcony for a while. The large balcony is a great spot to soak in the sun, watch the world go by and gaze over a submarine!
Dinner was taken at Osteria Pandemonio a fantastic restaurant in the heart of town. I started with “angry” squid (arrabiata) pasta, main was a local beef dish, followed by panna cotta. Delicious!
Saturday 24th September
All too soon, it was time to pack up and head to the station for the next stage of the journey.
After a quick cappuccino, I boarded the 10.30 to Brignole. The train was several minutes late getting in. Luckily, the La Spizza train was on opposite platform and late to leave which meant a quick sprint over a few metres.
The second train was a comfy double decker but, like the first part of this journey, predominantly through tunnels so there was little opportunity to see the coastline we were travelling alongside..
I had an hour or so between trains (less than expected thanks to the delays) so took a short wander around La Spizza
The third train was quite busy but mainly due to the number of tourists with large bags needing twice the number of seats.
It rained for most of journey but I escaped it while walking around La Spizza, however, the rain got far heavier when we got closer to Florence. Thankfully it was a fairly short walk to the B&B Le Stanze di Caterina .
I was allocated quite a classy room. Large, beautifully tiled bathroom, marble walls, art work above the comfy bed and the cathedral right outside the door.
I headed out on the hunt for some food.
Wandered in to a bar that offered burgers but part way though a drink, the heavy rain knocked the electricity out in the road.
It was pitch black in the bar apart from one emergency light and a couple of mobile phone torches.
I scurried out in to the rain to the first place with power that offered food and stumbled upon a lovely pizza restaurant, Braciere Malatesta
Sunday 25th September
Another day, another train trip.
It was an early start, but already Florence was getting very busy. It was certainly the most touristy place on the trip so far.
I was taking the 10.28 train to Pisa. You need to make sure you pick the right train as some can take up to 90 mins, others around an hour or less .
Not surprisingly, this was the busiest mainline train I’ve boarded so far on the holiday. It didn’t take long for all seats to be taken on my carriage.
An hour later, we arrived in Pisa.
I wandered around town then on to the usual sights. Also spent some time at the Keith Haring mural and the slightly tired looking football ground
It was surprisingly empty around the mural and was a pleasant break from the very touristy parts.
Despite the crowds, I still able to see everything and the large empty grass area around the leaning tower ensured every one could get that photo without other tourists in the way of the shot.
After a few hours. the main sites had been ticked off. There wasn’t the time to do a ‘deep dive’ so, shortly after 2pm, took the equally busy train back to Florence.
Dinner was taken at Trattoria de’ Guicciardini da i Bigi e i Birghe
This turned out to be the most expensive meal of the trip but sadly, not the best. The house red wine was lovely as was the wild boar tagliatelle but the main course of deep dried courgette, chicken and rabbit was dry and quite bland.
Monday 26th September
Despite the forecasts, the weather was warm and mostly sunny for a day of wandering around the sites on both sides of the river. This was the only full day in Florence so, once again, a whistle stop tour of the sights.
Florence has many piazzas to explore but Piazza della Signoria is definitely worth a visit with its many statues including the copy of Michelangelo’s David and the impressive Fountain of Neptune.
Crossing the river at Ponte Vecchio, the bridge filled with jewellery stores is another popular attraction, although, personally, I feel this busy bridge is best seen from the banks of the Arno.
Florence is a great place to simply get lost in the winding streets, although an ice cream in one of the sunny squares is highly recommended. As is the pizza at Tamero, My well priced nduja and burrata pizza made up for last night’s expensive meal!
Tuesday 27th September
As per usual, the train from Florence was bit late leaving but is was very comfy and the ticket came with reserved seating, albeit with no notification ok the seats themselves. The trains had free WiFi, charging points and vending machines offering coffee and snacks. There was loads of luggage space above seats.
Reaching speeds of about 150mph, we soon made it to Rome. The English trains could learn a lot from this service!
The hotel was about 25 min walk from the station I would be staying in a former monastery
It’s layout was certainly unconventional with pieces of art and artifacts dotted around the numerous corridors and communal areas.
The room itself was quite small and, unlike all other rooms, no coffee or water bottles were provided. The room was clean though and the view from the top terrace/breakfast area was great
After unpacking for the final time, headed out towards the Colloseum then wandered around town, stopping for seafood pizza at I Fratellini. Came here on a whim after the place originally planned to go to had no staff around at all! Reading the reviews I probably wouldn’t have considered it as an option! A glass vase was knocked over resulting in water and glass over the table then the wrong meal was brought out. Despite this, the first question on payment was ‘how much do you want to tip the waiter?’ They already charged 10% service charge.
Can’t fault the pizza though!
Wednesday 28th September
It was nice to have a fresh breakfast this morning even better having it up on the terrace. Because of Covid, instead of the usual help yourself, two members of staff were on hand, one to get the drinks the other my bread, cheese and ham.
After filling up on sandwiches, headed to the nearest Metro station, San Giovanni and picked up a 24 hour train ticket which does actually last 24 hours, rather than expiring at midnight. This meant I could use the same ticket to get to Termini on the Thursday morning.
Today, however, I would take the Metro as far as Repulica then walk to the Trevi fountain, on to the pantheon then cross over the water to the castle and views over to Vatican. From here, I meandered back though the streets to the hotel for shower and to plan a place for the final Italian meal. Found a few trattorias using Google Maps and headed out, taking the metro to Cavour.
The meal at Taverna Roma was fabulous.
They were fully booked, however, it seemed there was a no show for one booking so got a table after a short 10 minute wait.
I started with pasta with guanciale (pigs cheek), plenty of cheese and black pepper. Main course was oxtail in a tomato. Both were fantastic as was the red wine and coffee. I’d certainly saved the best meal of the trip till last!
Thursday 29th September
A 6.15 start this morning, getting the Metro using yesterday’s ticket to ride to termini. From there short walk to the Terravision bus stop . I’d bought the €6 tickets online the day before using Omio app
We left on time and was only a few minutes late arriving at the airport (just over 45 mins in total)
Fiumicino airport was bigger than expected. There was a short queue at baggage drop then it took only few mins to get through security. The airport has a lot of dead space and once through security there appears to be nothing. My flight was from zone E so decided to head there. Once through passport there were a few shops and cafes but, in typical fashion, not enough seats.
The flight late pushing back then took a long time to get to take off but once away it was a comfortable flight with plenty of clear skies and probably the best coffee on a flight (fresh brew lavazza with a filter in the lid).
Now was a good time to reflect on the trip.
I knew what to expect from Rome, it’s loud, it’s dirty, it’s busy but also fascinating, especially if you get away from the busy tourist sites.
I feel I’ve done Milan. Florence and Pisa were a quick sight seeing exercise.
The real highlights were Turin and Genoa. Very different cities but I’d love to return to both at some point.