Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Italia

So finally my Italian adventure is at an end. I think I've seen a fair bit of the country: Rome, Pompei, Amalfi Coast, Perugia, Pisa, Florence, Ravenna and, of course, Venice. I've passed through many other places but those are the main places I explored to some degree.
I'm not sure yet what I think of Italy as a whole - the whole experience will take some time to digest I think.
The overwhelming impression I have is one of shabbiness. But then, Italy has been around for a very long time so I suppose it's a bit unrealistic to expect it to be pristine. However, looking beyond the surface is so much more rewarding. The history, culture, art.... the art!.... it just goes on. I think the only thing I haven't seen that I really would have liked to is da Vinci's Last Supper. It's in a convent in Milan (I think it's Milan) and you need to book for your 15 minute viewing at least 6 months in advance. Needless to say I'm not that organised. Nevermind, I've seen enough incredible things to keep me satisfied.
Geographically, Italy is far more mountainous than I expected. Even now, at the end of March, many of the alpine areas are still covered in snow. Driving from here to there and then on to wherever has been an integral part of the trip. There aren't many empty spaces and towns are very close together - though I suspect that's typical of everywhere other than Australia and North America. Driving through the mountains is nerve wracking at times but the views are spectacular. Times like that I wished someone else was driving and I could just look, and take photos.
From a history point of view I'd have to say that Rome was the highlight. The remains of the Forum, the Colosseum - I was just continually in awe at seeing these things I've rabbited on about for years and years. Coming out of the dungeon that is the metro to be confronted by the Colosseum, right there in front of me: something I'll never forget.
Apart from the history, Rome is a place I could do without. It's noisy, crowded and not at all relaxed. The traffic is nightmarish and pedestrians really do have to have to have their wits about them, 1000%. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy my time there, I did. There's just so much to see, you can't help but be enthralled.
The Vatican City, geographically in Rome but politically independent, has to be seen to be believed. St Peter's I only saw from the outside. I probably should have done the tour inside but it didn't happen. I missed the Pieta as a result. The Vatican museum is unbelievable. So much wealth and artworks from start to finish. Some of it was so over the top. Nonetheless, a marvellous collection. Of course, the highlight there is the Sistine Chapel. No words can adequately describe that ceiling. A true marvel.
Pompei was probably the shabbiest city I visited. But again, the history made it all good. The ruined city is fascinating to wander through. Ancient Rome as it really was. It was a really good feeling to stand in the same spot as Pink Floyd too (the amphitheatre).
The Amalfi Coast is so picturesque - real postcard stuff. Driving it is a bit stressful but the views are wonderful.
Perugia has faded in my memory a bit. I remember I liked being there and the old town centre was great to wander through, but nothing is standing out in my memory as "must see this" material. Mind you, I'm sure that when I look back over the photos I'll be jolted back there in a flash.
Pisa was perhaps the disappointment of the adventure. The cathedral, baptistry and Leaning Tower were as magnificent as expected but the town itself didn't endear itself to me. Get there, see the tower, leave - that'd be my advice.
Florence. Florence has the art. Florence has David. The Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi, the statues everywhere. I saw so many wonderful works of art in Venice - da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, etc. It's just a fantastic place to wander and look and soak it all in. At the time I thought Florence was my favourite place to be. It has David after all.
Ravenna was a pleasant surprise. I stopped there just because it was convenient but I'm glad I did. The Byzantine mosaics in the churches there are a real treasure. They're rated as the best in Western Europe and it's easy to see why. Magnificent detail and colours.
I originally booked for 5 days in Venice but ended up staying for 9. Magic. It's the most expensive place I've been to but, jeez, it was worth it. No traffic, leisurely pace, the canals, the boats, the gondola, the architecture, the food, etc etc. I cried when I had to leave. Of all the places in Italy, in fact in Europe that I've seen to date, Venice is the jewel. I don't know what it is: the history's not as good as Rome's, the art is not as good as in Florence (or Paris for that matter). It's the ambience I think. It's just a lovely place to wander, sit, catch a waterbus across the lagoon or along the Grand Canal and look. It's almost impossible to get anywhere in Venice in a hurry and I think that's what I loved the most.
The last two days have been mostly driving: Venice, down the Adriatic coast to Senigallia, near Ancona and then further down the coast a bit more, then turn right and head across the country to Rome. Using the motorway (autostrada) it takes about 2 hours to get from one side of Italy to the other - east-west, that is. Tonight I'm in Fiumicino, a couple of miles from the airport.

Italy is expensive, particularly Venice, if you stick to the tourist haunts. In St Mark's Square you can pay 10, or more, euros for a coffee (I paid 16 for a glass of ordinary white wine!), yet not too far away, down a few streets, across a few canals, you can get the same coffee for 1 or 2 euro. And a whole bottle of vino for 12. It pays to look around. Many places will charge up to 5 euros (cover charge) just to let you sit down, even if you're just having a coffee.
Petrol is around 1.50 euro a litre - it's cost me about 200 to keep the Fiat going and I think that's a lot given I didn't drive at all in Rome, Florence and Venice.
The hotels have all been pretty good but they often have hidden charges. In Rome I was charged 10 euro a night just to have the car parked there, in Florence it was 15 a night. The hotel on the Lido wanted to charge me 5 euro an hour for wifi access and that's just outrageous. In that regard, the Astoria in Pompei was, by far, the best hotel: cheap rates, free wifi, free parking, home cooked food, friendly people (even though they spoke not a word of English), and within walking distance of the ruins. Can't go wrong.
Lido, by the way, is Italian for beach. So, Lido di Venice is, in fact, Venice Beach.

I'm sure I have more to say but whatever it was has deserted me now. I should go to bed anyway as I have a 9.30 flight to catch in the morning and a car to return before that.....

Later...

Monday, March 28, 2011

Overheard...

Outside St Mark's, Venice: "So, the Sistine Chapel is in here, right?"

Venice continued....

Venice is definitely the highlight of this Italian adventure. I've extended my stay here by three days because I just wasn't ready to leave. I liked Rome because of the history, I liked Florence because of the art and culture, but I wouldn't choose to live in either place. Venice is completely different. It's Italian and yet it's not. It runs at a different pace. I suppose it's the lack of traffic (and it's resulting noise). Although, there is traffic on the Lido but it's still not the same - no constant honking of horns, no pushing and shoving to get to the front. It's that lack of aggression that makes the difference I think.
One thing I've noticed about Venice is the lack of cats. There are dogs everywhere, on leashes usually, but I haven't seen a single cat. I can't believe there aren't any - though they don't generally like water, so maybe that keeps them away.
Edit: Haha, saw some cats yesterday on Burano.
I'm not sure what the "road" rules are on the water but everyone seems to know where to go, who has right of way, etc. It's quite peaceful out on the water, watching the world slip slowly by.

If you are visiting Venice then it's worth buying a bus pass: 33 euros for 72 hours, 50 euros for a week. Much much cheaper than paying 6.50 for a single trip. Going to Burano, for example, without a pass, would cost 39 euros, there and back. 3 buses there, three back. You'd be mad not to get a pass which gives you unlimited travel for the duration of the ticket.

Touristy stuff:
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is interesting. Her house, right on the Grand Canal, has been converted into a gallery to display the art she'd collected over the years. Most of it is early 20th century work: Picasso, Dali, Klee, Kandinsky, Ernst, etc. Not really my cup of tea but interesting to look at. Picasso's 'The Poet' kept drawing my eye, as did pieces by Yves Tanguy who I'd never heard of before. There's a Jackson Pollock there too - absolute rubbish if you ask me.
There's an olive tree in the sculpture garden, a gift from Yoko Ono. The Wish Tree. Sweet.
On one of my jaunts in to San Marco I discovered that the bell tower has a lift. Woohoo, up I went! Magnificent views over Venice in all directions.

Venice

St Mark's Basilica is also worth a visit. Its many domes (4, I think) are decorated with mosaic in the Byzantine style. The overwhelming impression is of gold. Because the backgrounds of these mosaics are just gold they're not as interesting as the ones in Ravenna with their detailed landscape backgrounds. Impressive in their own way though.

The central area of Venice is dominated by the Grand Canal. It's a busy thoroughfare with a constant stream of vaporetto (waterbuses), taxis, working boats, private boats and gondolas. There are four bridges that cross the canal, the Rialto being the oldest and most famous.

Grand Canal bridge

Like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, the Rialto bridge is lined with shops. They're enclosed within the bridge though, rather than hanging off the sides! There's also a market in the area to one side of the bridge - fruit, veg and fish. Great seafood in this town!
People go to San Marco square to take pics, see the palace and basilica, etc., but the Rialto area is where Venice really happens. Until the 19th century, this bridge was the only way across the canal on foot. Hence it became the centre of most activity - the market, shops, restaurants, etc. It's probably the most constantly crowded part of Venice.

There are over a hundred islands that make up "Venice". The Lido, where I stayed, is one. Murano and Burano are two others I visited. Murano is the home of specialist glass factories and is full of shops selling glassware. I'm not a fan of coloured glass, never have been. It always looks a bit tacky to me - though I did see some lovely chalcedony glassware in the museum and "milk" glass, which looks almost like porcelain. Lots of people must like it though as the shops seemed to be doing good trade. It's not cheap either!
Still, it's a lovely place to wander around.

Murano

Burano is a tiny island about an hour and a half from Venice central. It specialises in the manufacture of lace. The main street is lined either side with restaurants and lace shops.
The most striking thing about Burano though, is the houses. They're all painted in bright colours: red, pink, yellow, blue, green, purple. It's exceptionally pretty.

Burano

I spent a lot of time just wandering through Venice. I'd catch the bus to San Marco or the Rialto and take off in a random direction. It's impossible to get lost as eventually all streets lead back to the canal. The streets are narrow and there are endless canals and bridges to cross. It's quite enchanting really. There are plaques everywhere to show where famous people have stayed or lived: Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Byron, are some I saw. It's easy to see how such people would have been inspired by the place.
Away from the canal you see more of ordinary Venetian life: people sitting outside cafes in the afternoon, kids playing football in the small communal squares, people just going about their business.

Lunchtime

Venice is a wonderful place and I'd love to stay longer.

Bridge reflection (again)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Venice day 3

Today started off at Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, or Salute as it's known here. It's a huge church across the canal from San Marco. The outside is extremely ornate with statues and carvings all over. the inside is more sedate - some large paintings on the walls but otherwise quite restrained.

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

As far as Italian churches go, that is.

From there I headed for the Peggy Guggenheim gallery. It's on the same side of the canal and is supposed to have a good collection of works by Picasso, Dali, etc. Except it's closed on Tuesdays. As soon as I got there I remembered I'd read that earlier.
No matter...onwards and upwards as they say.
Next stop was the Accademia - lots of artworks by Tintoretto, Tiepolo and other Venetians. Some nice stuff. The difference about Venetian artists is that they often paint about Venice. Makes a refreshing change from the endless Madonnas, Magi and the rest. Not that they don't appear, but it's not all about them.

After the gallery it was time for lunch: spinach gnocchi in a tasty pesto sauce with the added spectacle of a couple of wandering buskers.

Lunchtime serenaders

I suspect these guys go from restaurant to restaurant, play the same couple of songs each time and make a fortune. Good luck to them, they were fun.
Another guy, not far away, was playing My Way on his accordion. I heard him before I saw him and slung him a couple of euro too.
See, I don't mind giving away a few bucks to people who do something for it, like the buskers. Unlike the woman who was begging outside that first church I went to - as I walked past she grabbed me by the arm, shook her cup at me and yelled in my face. Sorry, but no chance lady. Especially not outside a church that's got more money than you could poke a stick at.

But anyway...
After lunch I wandered and wandered through the streets, over bridges and canals. Spent a small fortune on silk scarves. Took some nice pics of reflections in the canals.

Venice is sinking

At one stage I was headed down a street and a man coming the other way stopped me, 'cos I clearly looked like a tourist with no idea where I was, and he kindly told me I was headed for a dead end. He led me back to where I could find my way to the Grand Canal again and off he went. Nice.
So eventually I made it back to a bustop and caught the bus back to the Lido. Just in time to catch a cool sunset.

The waterbus

Later...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Venice

Venice is not the place to be if you suffer in any way from seasickness. Luckily I don't. I caught the waterbus across to Venice proper this morning - about a 15 minute trip to San Marco. I got off there as it seemed the obvious place to start exploring. Using my Venice card I skipped the lines and got straight in to the Doge's Palace.

Doge's Palace

This 14th century building was the home of the Doge, the elected ruler of Venice, as well as the seat of government. Inside, the rooms are all decorated to some degree. The main rooms are huge and have enormous artworks on the walls and ceilings. Unlike other places I've seen, the art here is not primarily religious, although there are some pieces of that nature. Most of the work chronicles important events in the history of Venice.
During the Renaissance Venice was a major power, mainly based on its vast naval and trading empire. The artwork highlights a lot of that power - lots of naval battles, VIPs doing important stuff, etc.
The Palace was also home to the law courts and is joined to the prison by the Bridge of Sighs. The name supposedly comes from the sighs of prisoners as they were sent across the bridge to prison. It's a small bridge and quite narrow. Spooky.

Bridge of Sighs

From there I wandered into the Piazza San Marco, St Mark's Square. Quite possibly the most expensive place to sit and have a drink. But, you have to do it.
The Basilica San Marco looks interesting but I didn't go in today. Tomorrow or the next day for that.
Instead I wandered off at random through the streets - they're narrow and and punctuated by bridges across the canals at regular intervals.

Another canal and bridge

Gondolas are everywhere, which of course brought on another Monty Python moment - if anyone remembers that travelogue spoof they did as the intro for Life of Brian. I had just started watching it on youtube, to add to yet another ******* (expletive deleted just for you Mum) gondola shot when the free wifi I'd hooked into disappeared. I had a ton more pics to upload too. Bummer. (I'm typing this on the hotel's computer.)

Eventually I found a bookshop, though don't ask me where it is - I doubt if I could find it again - and bought a couple of books. Since the kindle died I've been starved of reading material. There wasn't a huge range of English titles but I bought an Alexander McCall Smith and a Margaret Attwood.
Further wanderings brought me to the Rialto bridge. This spans the Grand Canal and is, therefore, much bigger than the usual bridges over the smaller canals. It's quite steep too. And full of people.
I found a space in a canal-side restaurant and had pizza, of course. Expensive pizza but it was pretty tasty.
Then I caught the bus back to the Lido.
I had plenty more pics I wanted to upload from today...

Later...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Carabinieri

I forgot to mention my encounter with the Ravenna Carabinieri (police) the other day.... I got pulled over on the road into Ravenna, for doing 60 in a 50 zone it seems. The cop asked to see my driver's licence. He looked at it and then went over to his partner. They both looked at it. Discussed it for a while. Cop #1 came back over and checked the car's rego. Registered to Hertz. They discussed it some more. Eventually he came back, gave me back my licence and waved me on my way.
I guess the paperwork wasn't worth it.

Yesterday I drove to Venice. I completely uneventful journey: flat and reasonably straight. I caught the ferry across to the Lido and parked myself at the hotel. The ferry is 18.50 euros for car and one person - much cheaper than paying for parking in Venice itself. The Lido (Italian for beach) is a long narrow island just across from Venice proper. I walked around today and checked it out. The Adriatic Sea side is where the beaches are - most are private though. I strolled on to the public beach but wasn't impressed. It may be perfectly fine but grey sand always looks dirty to me. The lagoon side is more interesting. The main bus station is there, on the water, and there's a nice walk along the waterside towards San Niccolo. Being Sunday, the church was occupied so I didn't go in. Being Sunday, most shops and even some restaurants are closed.
Nice views across to Venice all along the "Riviera".
Tomorrow I'll go across to Venice and start exploring. I've got my Venice Card (40 euros for entry into the Palace and ten other museums and churches) and a three day bus pass (33 euros, as opposed to 6.50 one way). I need to find a bookshop that stocks English books. Damn that kindle and its broken screen!
Internet in the hotel is a sham. There's a free computer in the lobby but I can't use that for flickr and it won't let me access yahoo mail for some unknown reason. Good for facebook and tourist research and that's about it. To use the hotel's wifi costs 5 euros an hour. That's just outrageous. However, someone close by has an open wifi connection that I've tapped into. It's not available all the time though, so uploads and updates might be a bit haphazard this week.

Later...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ravenna

I learned today that there are eight World Heritage listed sites, mostly churches, in Ravenna. All but one are in the original part of town. The old part of town is not very big: that's a lot of World Heritage per square inch! They're listed because of the Byzantine era art that is still fantastically preserved - particularly the mosaics. I took myself off to view two of the eight: the Basilica San Vitale (in town) and the Basilica Sant' Apollinare in Classe (just out of town).
Both churches were built in the late 540s, not all that long after the collapse of the Roman Empire.
Sant' Apollinare is bigger and more airy but San Vitale has the better mosaics. According to Wiki they're the best Byzantine mosaics outside Istanbul. Makes me think I should go to Istanbul.

Sant' Apollinare:
Basilica of Sant' Apollinare in Classe

San Vitale:
Basilica San Vitale mosaic

The colours and the incredible detail have to be seen to be believed. There are some repeated motifs that appeared in several mosaics in both churches: the lamb of god and the hand of god in particular. It took me a while to work out why there were so many sheep in the mosaics!
Even the marble pillars, especially in San Vitale, are beautiful.

Basilica of San Vitale

In between churches I had a bit of a wander round the old town. It's quite small compared to places like Rome and Florence. Much less crowded too. There were a few tour and school groups around but, apart from them, the place was relatively empty. Suited me fine :) There is also almost no graffiti. I did see a couple of scrawls but, unlike other places, it's not always there in your face. Refreshing.

Tomorrow I'm off to Venice.

Later....

By the way...

Yesterday, March 17th, was the 150th birthday of the Italian Republic. 17th March, 1861 was the date of Italy's unification as a republican nation. I only found out by watching BBC World News on TV. I had seen a few Italian flags hanging out of windows but there was nothing else to indicate it was a special day. According to the news it's no big deal in the north of the country. I got the impression that many places would prefer to go back to the independent city-states of yesteryear.
Mind you, Italy has never been known for the stability of its politics.

Florence to Ravenna

On my last day in Florence I found where the panoramic views of the city are: the Piazzale Michelangelo, a whole five minutes from the hotel. Figures. There's yet another David in the middle of the square, but this one is bronze and a home for pigeons. He's not nearly so handsome covered in pigeon poo.
Nevertheless, the views of the city are sweeping. The buildings that stand out are the cathedral and Santa Croce church. They pretty much dwarf everything else.

Santa Maria del Fiore

Florence is crowded, noisy and not particularly clean. But if you have any interest in art, particularly of the Renaissance period, then it's a must see town. I spent five days staring in wonder at this, that and the other and I'm sure I missed more than I saw. The stand out piece, by a mile, is Michelangelo's David. Everyone's seen it in photos, etc, but the real thing is something special.

Michelangelo's David

From Florence I headed for Ravenna on the Adriatic coast. Of course I chose not to take the direct route and soon found myself winding my way up steep, twisty roads again. Have I mentioned that Italy is mountainous? I started to get a bit nervous when I started to see snow piled up along the roadside. The views from the top were excellent though, if a little cloudy. And chilly.

Up in the clouds

Ravenna seemed like a reasonable place to rest up before my assault on Venice. I ignored the intermittent rain and ventured to the marina/beach area for lunch yesterday. There are restaurants all along the beach (which goes for about 30 kms along the coast) but they all seemed to be closed. Probably open in the evening only. Those not on the beach were open so all was not lost. I had a plate of mixed local fish and prawns. Not bad at all! Then I walked a couple of miles along the pier, or one of them, alongside the marina. There are these strange contraptions alongside the pier which I assume are for some sort of fishing.

Some sort of fishing contraption

At regular intervals a large net is lowered into the water and, after a while, raised up again. They all seemed to be coming up empty though.

That was about it for yesterday. I'm being lazy again today, though I'm going to head into the old town centre later. The churches here are noted for their Byzantine mosaics so I better go have a look.
Then tomorrow, off to Venice.

Later....

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Florence #3

Yesterday I set off for the Galleria del Accademia only to find that it's not open on Mondays. Haha, the lack of a queue should have given me a clue. Mind you, a few other places were closed too. A lot of the smaller galleries and museums seem to close at 1 or 2pm on most days. So off I wandered up and down random streets and eventually came to the Basilica Santa Croce, the Church of the Holy Cross.

Santa Croce

The facade is like a similar, but plainer, version of the cathedral. The rest of the building is plain brown stone though. Inside is really interesting. The high altar end was completely closed off due to restoration work: scaffolding everywhere! I could see glimpses of stained glass through the scaffolding and drop sheets - hinted at something magnificent. The open area is still worth a look though. There are huge paintings on the walls by various artists, most I'd never heard of but that means nothing. Between the paintings are some incredible tombs and funerary monuments. There are some really famous people buried in this church. The tombs include various influential Florentines from the past as well as such luminaries as Machiavelli, Galileo and Michelangelo.

MIchelangelo

There are also monuments to Dante and Marconi amongst others.
I can imagine them all gathering in the middle of the night - what conversations there'd be!!

Basilica di Santa Croce

Marconi: I have this idea for transmitting sound to the masses.
Galileo: Let me do some calculations on that. Hope the Church doesn't ground me again for it!
Dante: I can do some poetry readings, yeah!
Machiavelli: I can use this. Oh, the power!
Michelangelo: I'll design the case. Marble or bronze?

Anyway.... up around the closed off section are lots of smaller chapels with some excellent fresco work. Some are done by Giotto but I'm not sure which. They are all in excellent condition though.
Santa Croce also has a museum where they keep art and religious icons not used in the church itself. There apparently used to be a lot more but they lost a lot in one of the many floods that Florence is subjected to. I noticed today that, after a couple of days of rain, the river was running pretty high and fast.

From Santa Croce I made my way to the Piazza San Lorenzo. The church there is where Lorenzo di Medici is buried. The Medici family virtually ruled Florence during Renaissance times. The tomb is inside a huge pillar that pretty much holds up part of the church. Donatello is also buried in the crypt there.
Outside there's a huge street market that lines both sides of a couple of streets leading off the piazza.

Street market

A lot of the stalls were selling identical stuff - the mass produced souvenirs and imitation clothing. I had a look around but wasn't tempted by anything. The bag I got in Rome will do as far as genuine Italian leather goods go. Besides, you need to be less than size 10 to fit into anything that's on offer, in markets and proper shops both.
If you're into boots and shoes, Florence is for you. Even I was tempted by the boots on offer. But again, they're for skinny feet only.

Today I finally made it to the Galleria and saw the real, original David.

Michelangelo's David

I got told off for taking this shot, but at least I had the flash turned off.
This is just a magnificent piece of work. 5 metres tall and carved from a single block of marble. A block that had, by the way, been rejected as flawed by another sculptor. Yeah right, he just wasn't genius enough to realise its potential. It took Michelangelo only two years to create David. The story goes that one of the local politicians, or church persons maybe, objected to it and said the nose was too big. Michelangelo climbed up on his scaffold, sprinkled down some marble dust he had in his pocket, came down and asked if that was better. Yes indeed, all fine now. It was originally displayed in one of the piazzas for all to see but was moved into this specially built part of the Galleria many years ago. Just as well probably, as it is safe from environmental, and other, damage now.
I must be thick because it wasn't until today that I realised that what he's actually holding over his shoulder is his sling. Duh!

The rest of the Galleria is quite small - even smaller at the moment as the whole first floor is closed for renovation. The shop is open though. It's called "David Mania". Probably why they don't want you to take your own photos.
From there I did some more random wanderings and came across the Leonardo da Vinci interactive museum. It's just a little place between the Galleria and the cathedral. It has a whole series of models made up from Leonardo's designs - the flying machines, the armoured car, the oil press, worm screw, helicopter, machine gun, time piece, bicycle, etc etc etc. I know a couple of people back home who'd love this little exhibition.

Tomorrow I'm off to Ravenna for a couple of days. It's not far from Florence, on the Adriatic coast. I figure I'll have a couple of days r&r there before I tackle Venice.

Later....

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Florence #2

Woke up this morning to discover the rain is back. Bummer. Made it easy to decide what to do though - definitely an indoor kind of day.
I caught the bus to the Ponte Vecchio and walked over to the Uffizi. Decided I'd better have an early lunch first, in the Piazza San Giovanni of course. I finally got in the Uffizi queue at 12.30. It wasn't a very long queue, as queues go for this sort of thing, but it turned out that length is irrelevant. Only a certain number of people are allowed inside at any one time so.... as one group comes out, the next lot are let in. I was in the fourth lot (since I got there) to be let in - at 2.15. Turned out I spent the rest of the day there. It costs 11 euros and there's proper airport type security to go through as well. Photography is not allowed in the galleries and the guards are very vigilant in that regard. I snuck a couple but mostly didn't bother. Just as well that I'd left the big camera behind today - it'd have got very damned heavy around my neck doing nothing.
The Uffizi is nowhere near as big as the Louvre. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in quality. There are two long galleries that flank the courtyard. These are lined with classical statues, mostly Roman. I did a double take when I saw 'Laocoon and his sons' at the end of one corridor because I was sure I'd seen that in the Vatican - turns out to be a Renaissance era copy made for one of the popes.
There are over 40 rooms that lead off from the main corridors and these are where the paintings are displayed. It follows chronologically from late Medieval through to early 18th century. Some of the rooms are closed, however, due to building and restoration work going on at the gallery. The early works are, of course, all religious in nature - in fact, the majority of the whole collection is the same. The first thing that really caught my attention was a whole room of Botticelli paintings - including, of course, the Birth of Venus. It's one of the famous art works and understandably so. The colours are not strong or vibrant but more pastelly, more peaceful somehow. I love the colour of Venus' hair. Looking round the room it seemed to me that all of Botticelli's women have vaguely the same face and same dreamy expression.
There are three da Vincis on display. You can tell his work a mile off. Just a class above. The Adoration of the Magi is a large square piece that was never finished. It's a very dark, almost sepia, piece, mainly because the type of paints Leonardo was experimenting with (egg based I think, if I remember rightly) deteriorated very quickly. The finished piece would have been absolutely stunning with the amount of detail he had planned. It would have been a masterwork of perspective. Many of the faces are completed and each one is an individual. This is where da Vinci really stands out for me - the attention to detail and the deliberate individualisation of each character he painted. Outstanding.
Another extremely important work on display is Michelangelo's Doni Tondo. I didn't realise until today that this is the only (known) painting by Michelangelo that can be moved - all his others are on walls and ceilings. I managed to sneak a snap while mingling with a Japanese tour group so the guard didn't notice:

Doni Tondo

Just on the tour group thing: if you want to have a decent look at the paintings you have to time your viewings between groups. They come into a room, usually 20 or so people, and plonk themselves right in front of the artwork. The rooms aren't big. If there are two groups in a room at the same time, you haven't got a chance of seeing anything till they zip off to the next "must see" exhibit. Patience is required.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if you follow the exit signs without investigating the rest of the rooms beyond it, you'll miss the Dutch rooms with three Rembrandt portraits on display. His use of light and dark has always fascinated me.
Similarly downstairs, if you follow the exit signs you'll miss the Carravagios tucked away down there.
I eventually wandered outside to discover it was almost dark. It didn't feel like I'd been in there that long. An excellent way to spend a day.
It's been raining really heavily all night now. Hope it doesn't continue.

Later...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Firenze

aka Florence.
I decided I'd start my Florentine excursion with a wander round the old part of town. I caught the bus, intending to get off at the main station which is near all the good stuff. Before then, though, I noticed a certain bridge and decided that'd be as good a place to start as any.

Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio is probably the most interesting bridge I've ever seen. It spans the River Arno at its narrowest point and it's probably a good thing it's not very long. Except for a short stretch in the middle, the bridge is lined, either side, with shops. Most of them are jewellers. They were all originally butchers apparently - back in the Middle Ages. Must have been a stinky place. The shops hang over the edge of the bridge in a quite haphazard way. I don't know what holds them up.
There's a bust of the sculptor Cellini on one side of the central open section. I think this is my favourite photo from the day:

Benvenuto Cellini

A short stroll along the river brought me to the Uffizi Gallery. Originally built for Cosimo Medici in the 1500s as magistrate offices it's now one of the art galleries/museums in the world. I didn't go in today but will before I leave. The outside is fascinating enough. There's a long rectangular courtyard that leads into the Piazza san Giovani which has some interesting statues along it. Leonardo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo, just to name a few.

Genius

I'm looking forward to seeing some da Vinci, Michelangelo, etc, over the next couple of days.

Entering the piazza the first thing I noticed was the crowds of people, all with cameras, all looking the same way. Look right: Michelangelo's David. This one is, however, a copy. The original is in the Academy of Fine Arts, which I also intend to explore. Copy or not, it's certainly an eyecatching statue.

Whatsisname

There are several other statues in this piazza, all of them worthy in their own right, but it's the David that keeps drawing the eye back. To me, it's the simplicity of it. It's not overly dramatic or full of movement, there's not even a lot of detailed bits and bobs to contemplate. Maybe that's the secret. Elegant. And quite handsome.
I had lunch in the piazza; very nice spinach and ricotta ravioli and the obligatory rough red. Expensive because of its location but a pleasant place to sit for an hour and just look around.
After lunch I picked a direction at random and wandered off down the narrow streets.
The central parts of Florence are relatively car free, unlike Paris and Rome, and that makes it far more pleasant to wander around. After a short while I turned a corner and found myself face to face with the dome end of the cathedral: the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. Talk about jawdropping! I've seen a few churches and cathedrals now but nothing like this one. Inside is quite plain but the outside - wow! It's all pink, green and white marble and it just looks incredible. It needs a good wash though. Around the front end, facing the Piazza del Duomo, is the Baptistry of St John and the Campanile (bell tower) is built alongside the front.

Santa Maria del Fiore

The baptistry is the oldest of the three structures, dating back to the 11th century. Unlike Pisa's round structure, this one is octagonal. It's more squat as well, not as pretty as the one in Pisa. Inside though.... the domed ceiling is covered in a fantastic huge gold coloured mosaic. Apparently it tells the story of the Last Judgement.

Baptistry dome ceiling

The cathedral building was started in the 1290s and took nearly 200 years to complete. It's quite plain inside, although the domed ceiling is richly painted. Only the back half of the cathedral is open to tourists so the dome is not fully visible. You can view it if you go round to another entrance, pay a fee and climb four hundred and something steps. Nah. It's supposed to be the largest stone dome anywhere.
The free standing bell tower is the youngest of the three buildings. It's 14th century and was designed by Giotto. It's 85 metres tall and straight as a die.
There's some place around where you can get a proper shot of the whole cathedral complex - must see if I can find it.

After that I wandered for a while but the other churches and buildings kind of looked ordinary after the cathedral complex. I found a cafe and ordered a coffee then discovered that the people next to me were Aussies, so we chatted and swapped stories.

I spent hours today just gawking at stuff. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Later....

Friday, March 11, 2011

Pisa

Cathedral and Campanile

Pisa

Woke up this morning with a sore back from the uncomfortable bed and that kind of put me in a bit of a mood. Serves me right for not paying proper attention and booking a hostel instead of a hotel. Still, it meant I was up and out pretty early.
Thank all the deities, real or imagined, for satnav/GPS. It would be an absolute nightmare trying to drive around Italian towns unaided. TimTamTom makes it easy - it knows all the one way streets, the dead ends, the bizarre forks in the road. An absolute essential piece of equipment!
What it can't do though, is find an empty parking space. Shame about that. I did find a spot though, about 5 or 10 minutes walk from the Piazza dei Miracoli, the Square of Miracles, where the Leaning Tower is. I turned the other way first and had a look at the river, the Arno. Like the Seine and the Tiber in Rome, it's a sludgy greyish green colour. I don't know if it's pollution or minerals leaching from the stone walls that line these rivers, or what, but they all look pretty murky. Not at all like the pristine Yarra, hahahaha!
From there I headed back to the piazza. I wandered down the street, came round a slight bend and, bang, there's the cathedral right at the end of the road. In that short walk I was offered at least a dozen "Rolex" watches by various hopefuls. Umbrellas in Rome, Rolexes in Pisa. I wonder what's on offer in Florence!
The whole Piazza dei Miracoli is a wonder. From where I stood the Baptistry was on the left, the cathedral in the centre and the bell tower on the right. A pretty amazing sight. All three are built from marble, with white stone also in the cathedral. Construction began way back in the 1060s. And they're still standing, although only just in the case of the bell tower.
It costs 6 euros to get into both the baptistry and the cathedral. The tower is 15 euros but I passed on that. I knew I wasn't going to climb all those stairs.
I visited the Baptistry first. Inside is pretty plain; a huge baptismal font, an altar and some chairs. There are some small stained glass windows and huge arches holding up the domed roof. The acoustics inside are remarkable though. The place generates a long sustained sort of echo. Apparently you can sing in harmony with yourself if you get the timing right. Pretty embarrassing if you have to blow your nose though.
The cathedral is more impressive inside. Very little stained glass but the walls are lined with huge paintings depicting various religious stories. These are late Renaissance works and are replacements for the original Medieval works that were, sadly, destroyed in a fire in the 1590s. Above the altar is a huge fresco of John the Baptist. It fills the cupola ceiling and is the original work.
The Campanile, the bell tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is interesting. It's taller than I was expecting. Subsidence underground has caused it to sink on one side, thus giving it the lean. From some angles it looks almost straight but from others the lean is quite pronounced - especially when you have something straight to compare it with. It looked quite twisted at times - the bottom has sunk one way but the top seemed to lean the opposite way towards the cathedral. For a while the tower was closed to the public as the engineers worked to stop it falling over completely. They seem to have stabilised it and people can, once again, make the trek to the top.

After that I decided I'd had enough of Pisa. The town itself is quite shabby and there's graffiti everywhere. Most of it seems directed against the neighbouring town of Livorno - don't know why, possibly football related maybe? It's just scrappy scrawly stuff and really diminishes the overall look and feel of Pisa.
So, I got back in the little Fiat Box-on-wheels and drove to Florence (Firenze). Took just over an hour so nothing too strenuous. I passed some nice photo opportunities along the way - little towns on hills, farmsteads, castles on hills, etc. However, it's been a very hazy day so wouldn't make for good shots. There'll be plenty more such chances.

The B&B I'm in is a little way from the city centre but there's a bus stop just around the corner. A 15 minute ride apparently. The room is like a little studio: bathroom, kitchenette, couch, table downstairs; beds and TV upstairs. Marilyn and James Dean on the walls. I'm here till Wednesday. Gives me enough time to check out some wonders in town. I think I'll pre-book a ticket for the Uffizi and go on a later day as the queue, I've heard, can be 5 hours long.

Later....

Dammit, I forgot to put in the photos. They're over on flickr if you're interested. Sorry.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

More driving and a great lunch

Nowhere near as much as the other day though. Phew!
Not far out of Perugia I came across a huge lake so went to investigate. I discovered the lovely little town of Passignano which sits right on Lake Tresimeno. Just the place for lunch!

Passignano

The lake was very hazy and that kind of made it look almost ethereal at times. I found a nice little pizzeria overlooking the lake. Pizza, a glass of vino and great views. Not a bad lunch!

Lunch with a view

After a couple of hours of rest and relaxation I got back in the car and drove straight through to Pisa. Looking forward to exploring tomorrow....

Later...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Perugia

Yesterday I took off from Pompei at about 10.30am and finally arrived in Perugia at 7.30pm. I stopped for an hour in Terracina for lunch and a stroll and had a couple of coffee breaks further on, but otherwise it was driving, driving, driving. Of course, it'd have been much quicker if I'd taken the motorway all the way up. But that would've been boring.

Temple of Jupiter Anxur

Terracina is about 80 kilometres south of Rome and looks like a perfect weekend/summer getaway place.

Today I investigated Perugia itself. I had the choice of 1.50 euro to take the bus into town or pay 1.50 euro per hour to drive and park the car in about the same place the bus stops. I took the bus.
Perugia is a wonderful town. Some parts - the Etruscan Arch and the remains of the aqueduct - date back to the Romans, other parts are medieval and renaissance.
The bus stopped at the bottom end of town and it's a fair hike up the steep hills (it's in the mountains after all) to the interesting bits of town. But, the Perugian authorities, in their wisdom, have installed escalators to move the likes of me up the hills.
The first stage of the escalator goes through the basements of the Rocco Paolini which was, back in the day, a huge fortress. Only the basements remain now, which is a shame as they're pretty impressive. Can only imagine what the fortress was like!

Basement of Rocca Paolini

The most interesting part of town is the Piazza IV Novembre. I'm not sure of the significance of November 4th. In the centre of the piazza is the Maggiore fountain. Not as spectacular as Trevi but impressive nonetheless. Beyond it is the Cathedral San Lorenzo. It doesn't really look like a cathedral from the outside - which proved to be my undoing as it turned out. On the left side is the Palazzo dei Priori which houses the town council and the National Gallery of Umbria. (Umbria is the region/state that Perugia is in.)

Piazza IV Novembre

I decided to visit the National Gallery first.
The gallery's exhibits start on the third floor and make their way back down through a very structured series of rooms. There's no option to go your own way. Consequently, you get taken through a chronological exhibit of Perugian art history. The vast majority of works on display are medieval and renaissance pieces and are, therefore, religious in nature. Variations on the madonna and child and the adoration of the magi feature heavily.
I was interested in the way the techniques and representations developed through those periods. Figures become more lifelike, perspective becomes more realistic, faces become more individualised, etc as one moves through the collection. It's easy to see that development because of the way the gallery is set out.
From the gallery I went in search of lunch in a restaurant with a view of the piazza. I ordered gnocchi with truffles. I suspect the truffles were really just ordinary mushrooms diced up. Good gnocchi but no special truffle taste to write home about. In fact, the most pronounced taste I've experienced so far in Italy is of salt. Don't know if it's the cheese or what, but everything is really salty. I'm not a fan of salt.

Just on the food thing: I've been to quite a few places now and eaten in them all, and I can honestly say that the best place to go for food, of any kind, is Melbourne, Australia. And that's a fact. Except maybe for Cumberland sausages.

Back to Perugia....
During lunch I studied the map (right way up) I got from the hotel and discovered that the other side of it had photos of the interesting sights. That was when I discovered that the cathedral was, in fact, a cathedral. So off I went across the piazza. Closed. Damn!!
So from there I wandered through the streets at random and found the Etruscan Arch.

Etruscan Arch

This is on the north facing side of the old city and is the entrance through what would have been the original city walls. It dates back to the 3rd century BC. It's an enormous structure.
From there I got hopelessly lost but eventually, with the excellent assistance of an English speaking resident, made my way back to the bus station and, from there, to the hotel.

Perugia is not one of those places that was recommended as an Italian place to see. But I now recommend it, to anyone who's interested, as an Italian place to see. Fabulous.

Later....

Monday, March 7, 2011

Amalfi Coast

This area had been mentioned to me several times as worth seeing. I looked on a map and it's only 20 or so miles from Pompei, so off I went. From Pompei I drove to Salerno: 20 miles and over an hour. The road goes through built up areas all the way so traffic is slow. The road is in poor condition too. In fact, this whole area of Italy around Pompei, including the town itself, is rather shabby.
But once you get to the coast all that is forgotten. What a spectacular drive it is. I went from Salerno along the coast to Positano, then across to Sorrento then back to Pompei.
The coast road is in very good condition, but narrow and extremely twisty. It hugs the mountainside all the way. The little Fiat struggled with the steep, and not so steep, inclines but really came into its own on the tight corners.
Dotted along the coast, around each spur of the mountains, are numerous towns. Signage isn't good in Italy so I was never sure exactly where I was. It doesn't matter though because the scenery and views all the way along are just fabulous. The sun was out too! The Tyrrhenian Sea is a wonderful blue and very clear.

Amalfi Coast

I stopped for lunch in one of the towns. I thought I was in Amalfi but I wasn't - possibly Maiori or maybe Minori. Anyway, I had Panini Classico (which translates as a ham and cheese roll) and a glass of rough local red. A bit further down the road I stopped for coffee in a restaurant that sits right on the harbour.

Itchin' to get out there

The towns are all built right into the mountains as there's no flat plain areas between mountains and sea. There are plenty of cafes, restaurants and churches, as well as small forts - either right on the water or up the hillside. Italy was a major sea power during the Renaissance and it's clear that they kept the coast well guarded.
Positano is the town at the end of the coast run. It's a picture postcard place, though I didn't get the shot sadly. I think it features in numerous films.
From there the road heads across country to Sorrento which is on the northern side of the small peninsula that this area sits on. From there it's a short trip back to Pompei. Coming through the town of Seiano was a bit of a nightmare though. It was peak hour and the little streets where chockers with traffic. First gear, stop start, stop start, all the way.
I can imagine that in Summer this whole area would be crawling with tourists. There are a few beaches, which I imagine could get pretty crowded as they're quite small. It's the sort of area where you stroll the promenades, sit in cafes, and just drink in the wonderful scenery.

Amalfi Coast

Today I'm heading north to Perugia and from there on to Pisa.

Later....

PS. Amazon have agreed to replace the kindle, no problems with that. The new one will be sent to Liverpool though.

One funny story and one disaster

Funny: The family who run the hotel in Pompei, where I'm staying, do not speak any English at all. My Italian is pretty non-existent, apart from those common words we all know, like pizza, pasta, cappucino, etc. Anyway, the lady decided to use Google translator to let me know what's on the menu for dinner. She typed in "spaghetti".

Disaster: My kindle is broken. The screen has scrambled itself and made it totally unusable. Awaiting a reply from amazon.co.uk.....

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pompeii

Today started with one of those episodes which only serve to prove the stereotype. My 10 minute walk to the entrance to the ruins turned into half an hour because I had my map upside down. The day got better though :)
Scavi Pompeii, the Pompeii ruins, cover a huge area: it was a city in its own right back in the day; up until 24th August 79AD when Vesuvius erupted and covered the town with ash and other nasties.
I started at the amphitheatre end of the ruins. You know, the one where Pink Floyd recorded Live At Pompeii. It's nowhere near as big as the Colosseum of course, but more intact I think. I wandered round it for a while with Echoes and other Floydisms running round my head.

Echoes of Pink Floyd

From there it's a case of wandering up and down streets looking at the remains of the houses and whatnot. Most of them are closed to the public and you have to look through metal gates. Some are open though and it's interesting to wander through them trying to work out what the various rooms and spaces would have been used for. Some walls have the remains of frescoes still. How they survived is a marvel.
The gardens have been replanted with the same sorts of plants, vines, trees, etc that were originally there. These were all burned away, as were the people, but archaeologists found that were they'd been was now empty space. So they filled the spaces with plaster and got casts of what was there originally. From the casts they could work out what sort of plant to regrow. As far as possible, they've replanted in as close to the original position as possible.
There are also casts of people who were caught in the eruption. I only saw one of these. That was enough.
As I said, most of the houses are closed off and so are many of the streets. In some cases that's because the structures are unsafe but it's also to try and minimise damage. Areas have been progressively closed off since the 1960s when a lot of damage occurred.
The theatre was interesting. It's pretty much intact as it was always an open arena. I had a real Monty Python moment as I looked across at the small groups sitting around on the steps: the Judean People's Front, etc.

A Monty Python moment

From there I came across the remains of the forum and the main temples. Vesuvius can be seen lurking in the distance. However, shrouded in cloud as it was today, it didn't look very threatening.
I've got hundreds of pics from the day but haven't posted many yet. The houses all start to look the same after a while, particularly the closed ones. However, it's a fabulous overview of life in Ancient Roman times.

I walked around Pompeii for about 6 hours but only saw half of it. I was really hobbling by the time I got back to the hotel - which I managed to get to without going the wrong way! But it was worth it.

And it didn't rain!

Tomorrow I think I'll go for a drive. I'm done walking for a while. The Amalfi Coast is just down the road.....

Later...

Saturday, March 5, 2011

How could I forget....

Drove past a couple of orchards today.......blossoms!!

So...

Checked out of Rome about 10 this morning. I dialled Pompei into TimTamTom, avoiding motorways, and it brought up a route down the coast. 5 hours. That's okay, I thought, I'm in no hurry. Ha, Pompei is 2 hours away. The other 3 hours are the time it takes to negotiate through the back streets of Rome to actually get out of the city. I gave up after about 40 minutes and headed for the motorway. No sense of adventure, me.
I was hoping the weather would improve as I got further south. Instead it steadily deteriorated. Rain, rain and more rain.

Welcome to Pompei

This is the street I came off the motorway on to. Sheesh!

I'd never really registered how mountainous a country Italy is. I could see mountains both sides of me all the way. Many were snow-capped too. Would have been really pretty if not for the rain. The mountains look like they were thrown up in a hurry: very steep and pointy. That's the official geological term by the way.

The plan for tomorrow is to spend all day wandering the ruined city. Don't know what I'll do if it's pouring down. Fingers crossed.

Later....

PS. Oh yeah.... not taking any more toll roads. 13 euros. Should've stuck to the back roads!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sistine Chapel

Shhh!

Rome #4

Rome #4
Thursday 3rd March: Clare's birthday. The worst birthday ever I think. Over breakfast I got the news that old Tash, after 16 and a half long and loved years, had finally passed away. I suddenly felt very far away from home. All I wanted to do was rush to Clare, and Georgia, and hug them. Even now I still am very weepy. Can't imagine how Clare is coping. Hugs and much love to you sister dear.
I think all the stress and frustration of the last couple of months has found an outlet. I'm feeling really drained by all the tears and am lacking any enthusiasm to do anything.

However, I did go to the Vatican museum and Sistine Chapel yesterday, seeing as I'd already paid my 26 euros for a ticket. I managed to negotiate two lines of the metro to get there and found myself outside the museum. The meeting place for the tour was outside St Peter's though, so I had to walk all around the walls to get there. Then the group was walked all the way back around the walls to the museum. It's not really all that far but it didn't help improve my mood. Being part of a tour group did mean that we didn't have to wait in the endless queue, so that was a positive.
Once inside we were, thankfully, left to out own devices. I went to the cloakroom to offload my jacket but found that you can't leave any sort of clothes there, only bags. You also have to hand over your passport or driver's licence to get an audio guide. No thanks.
The first part of the museum I saw was a long room full of classical statues and busts. Probably more in that one room than in the whole of the National Museum.
Each room of this vast palace has something to offer. The ceilings are all decorated: some with tiles or patterns, most with paintings. The walls are also full of stuff to stare at: statues, busts, painted maps, tapestries, etc. There are no empty spaces anywhere! One long room (more of a very long, wide corridor really) was just mind boggling. The walls are covered with large painted maps, mostly of regions of Italy. The ceiling, however, is just amazing. It's covered from one end to the other is all sorts of paintings and other decorations. The paintings are framed and I was amazed at how everything was curved to fit the deeply curved shape of the ceiling. It's all spoilt though by the souvenir stalls along the walls.
There are endless corridors and rooms like this: each one has something new to look at. Except for the classical pieces, most of the art is religious of course. I came to realise though that a lot of it was not really about the glorification of Christianity but more about the glorification of the various Popes who'd acquired and displayed all this work to enhance their own standing. The wealth on show is astounding. Meanwhile, there are beggars outside and that made me a little bit angry.
Just on that: I saw more beggars around the Vatican and St Peter's than I saw in the whole of Paris. Unlike Paris though, they don't seem to be from other EU countries here – Italians (though I couldn't swear to that 100%), old women mostly. I offered one the sandwich I'd bought but didn't really want but she declined, just wanted cash. After I came out of the Vatican I took to saying; “Go ask il Papa, he's got plenty of money!” I saw one guy give an old lady some money and, in a flash, he was surrounded by several people with hands outstretched.
But, back to the Vatican: eventually I came to the Sistine Chapel. Wow! It really is incredible. Michelangelo's masterpiece and no mistake. It was crowded with people all staring at the ceiling, like myself, with their mouths open. It really does take your breath away. It's the one area of the Vatican where photography is not allowed. There are several officious men in uniform wandering around saying “Silence! No photos! Silence! No photos!” Of course, I ignored them and managed to get a few shots of the ceiling while they weren't looking. I managed to find a seat around the walls and just sat there for the longest time, just looking at what Michelangelo has created. There really are no words to describe it adequately.
After that experience, the rest of the Vatican kind of pales into insignificance, even though there's nothing insignificant about it.
One completely different exhibition was tucked away in the basement, near the cafes and toilets. It's called Rituals of Life (or something similar) and is a collection of Aboriginal and Papua New Guinean artefacts. Apparently these particular artefacts are of better quality than the usual because they were made with tender loving care for the missionaries - you know, those guys who came to improve their lives. Right, the guys who took the children from their families, replaced their traditions and 'false gods' with an even falser god, etc. I better stop there and not turn this into a rant.

Today (Friday): I wandered over to the Piazza Navona for lunch. The piazza is a long rectangular open area with a fountain at either end and the big Fountain of Four Rivers (I think) in the centre. It features an Egyptian obelisk in the centre. It's a wonder there are any left in Egypt! At one end of the piazza a Renaissance play was being staged while there were some Renaissance musicians playing at the other. In between were a whole range of artist displays with paintings for sale. Plus the usual array of fake Prada and Gucci stuff. And umbrellas. Some of the artworks were being sold by their creators but most seemed to be mass produced and sold on commission. Still, it makes for a pleasant outlook when sitting in one of the many restaurants that ring the piazza. It's an expensive place to eat though. 50 euros for a pizza, a tiramisu and 2 glasses of vino.
Actually (I nearly forgot!) it was an expensive day anyway as I bought myself a genuine Italian leather bag on the way to the piazza. Not Gucci or any name brand but a very nice little bag: perfect for the kindle, baby camera and other such junk that I carry round.
I walked back to the Colosseum (still impressive) via the Victor Emmanuel monument and the Imperial Forum. Then caught the train back to the hotel.

Tomorrow I'm off to Pompeii for a couple of days.

Later....

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Rome #3

I wasn't really in the mood today for various reasons.
I did pay a visit to the National Museum which houses statues and busts, mosaics and frescoes - all recovered from the Ancient era. It was all interesting but a bit lacking in variety. The mosaics are in good condition, surprisingly so as they're usually used as flooring. A couple of the frescoes really caught my eye as well. I took some pics but haven't taken them off the camera yet.
I've got my Vatican ticket so I'm off to check out its wonders tomorrow.
The weather is shite. If one more man from an ethnic minority tries to sell me an umbrella I'll wrap it round his head.
Hoping for a better day tomorrow.

Later....

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Rome #2

I hopped on the metro to the Colosseum (still just as impressive) and was intending to walk to the Trevi Fountain. It was drizzling quite a bit though so I decided to take one of the double decker tour buses instead. 15 euros for 1 day, 17 for 2. Pricey but better than getting wet and possibly lost. One of the stops is the Vatican so I decided to get off and have a look. The queue for tickets was literally a mile long so I had a bit of a look around the Square and then wandered back to the bus stop. Later in the day I noticed a place that sells tickets for the Vatican so I'll grab one tomorrow and do the proper tour later in the week.

St Peter's Basilica

Next stop, for me, was the Piazza Venezia. I'd seen the roof statues of this yesterday from the Forum and wanted a closer look. Dominating the piazza is a huge building that's mainly a monument to Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of united Italy (1800s). Statues, bronzes, bas-reliefs, marble, columns, the eternal flame... you name it, it's there. All very patriotic stuff.

Vittorio Emanuele monument

From there I walked to the Trevi Fountain. It took a while to get a clear shot without the millions of other tourists getting in the way. It's impressive though. I've yet to see a better fountain. I threw a coin in the water and made a wish......

Fontana di Trevi

I found a little cafe/restaurant around the corner and had lunch there. Best pizza since I left home. 7 euros for a small glass of wine made it an expensive meal though! At the hotel I get the whole bottle for that price.

Lunch

Then off down some more narrow side streets to the Pantheon. It's not much to look at from the outside: colonnaded portico and rotunda. But inside is special. It was originally built, by Marcus Agrippa, to honour all of Rome's gods but is now a catholic church. Victor Emmanuel is entombed there as well as Raphael, the Renaissance artist. The dome is the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. The centre is open to the skies. Not so good on a day like today. The central area of the floor was roped off and very wet. It's all slightly sloped inwards so that rainwater runs to the centre and then drains away through a couple of drainage holes in the marble. Those Romans were clever! There are several chapels at various points around the interior and all have statues and art works to adorn them. It's really quite beautiful inside.
From there I started to make my way back to the Piazza Venezia and the bus. It started to rain more heavily so I ducked in to the Church of St Ignatius Loyola, which I just happened to be passing. Jaw dropping! I've never seen anything like it before in my life. Every inch of wall and ceiling is decorated in the most ornate fashion. I just had to sit and stare.

Church of St Ignatius Loyola

Makes me keen to see the Sistine Chapel now. Excessive in the way that only the Catholic church can be.
After that extravaganza I made my way back to the bus and a metro station. I thought about getting off at Termini, the central station where all metro lines meet, but it all looked too big and scary so I stayed on the bus to the Colosseum. By now it was peak hour and the train was, in a word, crowded. There's no etiquette when it comes to grabbing a seat. First in best dressed and no-one gives up their seat to anyone once they've claimed it. Too bad if you're old or infirm and not quick enough. However, it's not as bad as trying to cross the road on foot. Even with a pedestrian crossing you put your life on the line. I just wait till someone brave enough makes a start across. Most drivers will ignore that it's a pedestrian crossing but eventually one car will stop (usually reluctantly), forcing others to do the same. Then the pedestrians scurry across as quickly as possible. Scary!
It's raining heavily now but I'm hoping it'll have eased by tomorrow. If not, then it'll be an inside day: museums and such like. There's plenty to choose from.

Later....