Unexpected Italy

It has been many years since I set foot in northern Italy and my knowledge of it was limited to a trip to Florence in my early teens and crossing the country when setting out on the overland trip to Australia. The object of crossing the country was to get to the border with Asia as quickly as possible.  My faded memories of the country were therefore remembered as seen through the eyes of a backpacking teenager.  My quest for visiting the ancient sights of Italy was probably not as enthusiastic as it should have been, shall we say!  The thought of returning to travel around again this year did not fill me with as great anticipation as it did for my wife.  Boy, was I wrong!!! She had been to Italy many times as a girl with her family and knew the country much better than I did.

Village of Riomaggiore on the Cinque Terre

Village of Riomaggiore on the Cinque Terre

Without talking about specific places, I do not think that I have ever seen a country that gets so many tourists.  Even in mid winter many places were still soooooo crowded.  Rome, Florence, Pisa and Venice especially.  Some of the less well-known places were refreshingly quiet, in fact some were so quiet they were simply closed until March.  Still for those hardy souls who can stand the cold I still think that a winter trip to Italy is well worth it to see the country stripped clean of its layer of toasted bright red tourists from Northern Europe and beyond, determined to catch every last ray of sun, even if it kills them, which eventually it just might.  Harsh words you say but I also realise that I am also one of these hoards of people with voracious appetites to travel to as many parts of the world as my life, and wallet, will permit.  Guilty as charged me-lud.  (For non-English readers, this is the way you could address a judge in England)

So where is this rambling narrative going.  Well, most of the places I have been to in the world including where I live in Australia would long since have become openly hostile to the hoards of tourists, unhelpful, unwelcoming and unfriendly.  Not so Italy, we found all the Italians the complete opposite, helpful, welcoming and friendly.  Endless patience with our slow driving while we tried to find out where we were going.  Thank goodness for our phone, Here Drive+ and offline maps.

What was so good?? the sights were fantastic, food phenomenal and people were charming.  Not everything was sweetness and light, friends and family we were meeting in Rome were robbed just before we met them on the Rome metro and I managed to pick up a traffic ticket for being in the wrong place while being lost in the tiny backstreets of Perugia.  To Quote Ned Kelly, “such is life”

Lastly, thanks to the Italians for being so friendly and helpful, really!

 

 

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Wow, 7 months since my last post!

Where has the time gone, I cannot believe that it has been so long.  Still life has been busy but it is time to restart now that we are back from our most recent trip.  rather than mix this up with travel stories, lets keep this one short with a commitment to write more.

Next one will be on Italy.

Travelling with iPhone, Android or Windows Phone, Which is best???

Phone types are a pretty emotive subject with many people.  I am fairly pragmatic and choose the one that suits me best at the time.  At the moment it is Windows Phone 8.1.  In the past I have used Android, version 1.5 (Cupcake) through to 4.3 (Jellybean).  I have not had an iPhone but have used an iPod which can run a lot of the same apps and my wife has an iPad.  So, over time I have used quite a few different types.  In my opinion when you are on home territory they are all pretty much the same with one phone stronger in some areas that others but on the whole they equalise out.

When you are away from home it can be a different thing though.  Probably no mobile data or even telephone connection.  How does each system fare off the grid?  Below I have looked at each type of system and its good and bad points, in my opinion.  Your views may be different to mine.

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What Phone Should I Travel With?

Gone are the days when you just set off with a backpack and if you were really techy a short wave radio.  Even back in the 90s you could still get away with no internet communications but now as we travel we lug around almost the same weight in copper as clothes, well not quite but you know what I mean.  The flight bag is stuffed full of chargers and wires to feed our power hungry devices.  You need the internet to book hotels, hostels, flights, buses, you know how it goes.

While we still need a tablet or netbook to do this the time is fast approaching where our phones may be able to do just about everything, especially once the “phablet” thing becomes more common.  Will fashion and pocket sizes change to accommodate these monster size phones or will we have foldable or rollable phones to have larger screens but still fit in pockets.  This is all the future but what do I think that we need now in the current line up of phones.  I might split this blog post into two as there is a lot to think about.  This one will concentrate on what a travel phone needs to do rather than specific phone operating systems.  The next post is my thoughts on the different operating systems and my current personal favourite phone and why.

Before I list the needs of a phone, one piece of advice.  Remove your post paid SIM while on the plane and store it somewhere safe.  Insert a travel SIM until you can get a local one.  These days phones go out on the mobile network and suck in large amounts of data, even when you may be doing nothing with the phone.  Don’t come home to bill shock, they can be massive, four or five figures.  At least with a travel SIM you have control of how much you spend.  It is always cheaper to get a local SIM card and use that one while you are in the country.  It makes sense to do this if you are anywhere for more than a few days as SIMs are often free with the first purchase of data or at least dirt cheap.  Which brings me to my first point in the list

Recommendations for a phone to travel with.

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What has Cusco, Peru got in common with Queenstown in New Zealand?

On the surface you may say nothing..  You might say, they are both set in the mountains, correct but they bear no resemblance to each other.  Maybe it is the long history and ancient buildings that draw the two places together? I think not!  Perhaps it is the feel of the place, well maybe, certainly getting closer.

As a rule when I travel I hate crowds and touristy places.  The sight of hoards of travellers flocking to shops or stalls makes me want to walk in the other direction.  That said, somehow both of these places carry “touristy” off.  They are both stuffed full of outdoors shops and art galleries that welcome the tourist dollar.  You cannot go down a street in central Cusco and not trip over a shop selling North Face clothing and equipment, both real and fake.  In Queenstown as well the camping and walking shops abound.

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The problems with long holidays!

You know how it is you go off traveling for a couple of months, you arrive back at work and the pile of stuff you have to do has built up to such an extent that you know you will never catch up. So what happens.. You forget your blog and just try to keep the wheels from falling off at work. I have now been back since January and been away in between for a couple of weeks and still not found time to write about our travels. I will put something up soon. Lots to talk about, Inca Trail, Easter Island and much more.

Altitude

The pressurisation in the cabin started to reduce as we prepared to land in Cusco.  You read a lot about how the effects of altitude are likely to affect you but you never know how it will be until you get there.  The door of the plane swung open letting in the humid Andean air.  We all filed out between the two rows of seats with our cabin bags and up the ramp into the airport terminal.  So far so good!  About 30 metres from the plane my lungs were telling me to breath more deeply as they fought to extract every ounce of oxygen from the thin atmosphere.  It was at that point that I became extremely relieved that we had decided to spend an extra day in Cusco to acclimatise before heading off on our tour and the Inca Trail.

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Back, I know you missed me ;-)

As some of you avid readers may have noticed there have been no posts since November.  Did I lose interest, no, I have been on leave/holiday/vacation (use whichever word fits in your world).  One of the benefits of living in Australia is that because we are so far from what is regarded as the “mother country”, employers are more ready to let their staff go for extended periods.

In my case this was 6 weeks of travel to incredible places.  Slight admission, not all backpacking, but you have to adapt to experience different things.

Over the next few weeks you can expect some posts fondly recounting our recent adventures, not to mention some of my favourite photos…

It was one of those pinch me days

Sometimes when I am at work there are surreal moments when my brain keeps saying this cannot be real.  Last week contained one such day.  Last Tuesday they called for volunteers to help pull cables in for the new antennas.  I stuck my hand up as it got my out from behind a computer monitor for a change.  The weather was beautiful, the sky was crystal clear and I had escaped the IT department for the day.

Wind the clock back more years than I care to remember to a classroom where we were learning about space and the Solar System.  It was the era when men were walking on the Moon.  I still have some of the colour supplements that were printed specially for the Moon Landing.  It was something so alien to our small little world that no one even thought of saying that they would like to work in the industry.  For starters you had to be American, or so we thought and none of us were.  It was just so far-fetched it was never on our radar as a career path. we would probably have been laughed it if we had said it to a careers officer.

Jump forward to today, I have been in the industry for 25 years and I am still amazed.  I ended up here through a series of sliding door moments.  That is why some days I just have to pinch myself to make sure this is real.  Just could not resist taking a photo of the day.

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Italy and Yugoslavia

Were we going to be able to make it as hitchhikers or not, this was our first real test.  How do two hairy blokes with backpacks make it appealing for someone to stop and give them a lift.  It is very different these days, I don’t think anyone would chance it, but the world was more innocent and open back then.  After alighting from the funicular from Trieste we managed to get a lift to the frontier, from there we thumbed a ride to Ljubljana which is in modern day Slovenia.  It was pouring with rain so we decided to give it another go until dark to try and get further on.  Luckily an English truck saw the Union Jack on my backpack and gave us a ride to a truck stop just past Zagreb in what is now called Croatia.  It was dark, cold and windy so we roll out a tent under some trees by the road and got some rest until the morning.  So ended our first days hitching giving little hint of the strange day to follow…

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