Archive | April, 2012

Venice

29 Apr

Venice
Nice scenic bus ride through the mountains to Venice. The weather has as usual been raining. Not letting it worry us though, there’s still heaps to see. The mountain ranges are majestic and look very similar to what you see in the movies, the big scenic views of snow covered mountains right next to us. The few times we did get to stretch off the bus it wasn’t cold, just mild, and wet.
Venice is built on an archipelago of 118 islands formed by 177 canals in a shallow lagoon, connected by 409 bridges.The classical Venetian boat is the gondola, although it is now mostly used for tourists, weddings, funerals, or other ceremonies. Venice is Europe’s largest urban car-free area. Venice is unique in Europe, in having remained a large functioning city in the twenty-first century entirely without motorcars or trucks. During the 20th century, when many artesian wells were sunk into the periphery of the lagoon to draw water for local industry, Venice began to subside. It was realised that extraction of water from the aquifer was the cause. The sinking has slowed markedly since artesian wells were banned in the 1960s. However, the city is still threatened by more frequent low-level floods that creep to a height of several centimetres over its quays, regularly following certain tides. In many old houses the former staircases used to unload goods are now flooded, rendering the former ground floor uninhabitable. We got to see that first hand after watching the obligatory demonstration of glass blowing before being allowed to roam round the city. The water started creeping into the bottom floor of the building we were in.

The main driving force of economy is tourism, with the manufacture of the famed Murano glass, which depending where you buy and if it’s authentic can be dirt cheap or dam right ludicrous. Everyone should do a gondola ride though the canals. Unfortunately for us we were packed into the gondolas 6 people each. Normally I think it’s 4. Our sailer was not impressed, we were seated that still, we couldn’t really move for fear of overbalancing and tipping, he had his work cut out for him. As per ruling conditions for the tour as soon as we were seated guess what?? It started raining. Up go the umbrellas and swish there goes our views. The champagne helped, sort of.
Back on a dry water taxi to the bus and off to the next motel on the mainland.We are excited when we arrive, there is a laundry in the hotel, we won the race and clothes are now clean. For dinner there was bread, pasta and fish. I had the chicken. Once again really nice table settings and waiters are dressed up in their suits.
Back into Venice for our free time of shopping and dunch ( early dinner, late lunch). We walked up to the realto bridge which was full of graffiti and to be honest not as nice as I expected. The views were quite good from the bridge though. Walking round through the people is at times a struggle, it must cost a fortune for movie directors to have these places crowd free, it’s nothing like the movies such as James Bond in Casino Royale.
Lunch was a little quiet island called burano, not many people here, this is where they make the nice lace garments & tablecloths. Lunch was nice, we introduced ourselves to some other people from our tour great and much wine, food and grappa was had. Back on the boat to the bus and goodbye to Venice. Quiet night get your own dinner.

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Pompeii to Assisi

25 Apr

Pompeii to Assisi
Today was for sure an amazing day. A quick drive to the remains of Pompeii for a guided tour. It’s right next to the city where we were staying. Market stalls everywhere with knick knacks of all different varieties.
I won’t go into to much of the story of Vesuvius other then to say everyone knows it buried the city of Pompeii with ash resulting in the world forgetting it was there. It was found many centuries later and in fact they are still excavating, very slow process. There are Arenas, theatres, bath houses and even a brothel which still has art work of the different suggestive activities that can be carried out. Quite saucy. It was the first time I’ve visited one of these places of ill repute, and surely the only time my wife was happy to photograph me being there. Many jokes ensued. The villas have much to offer historians in getting a glimpse of how a typical roman house ran. There are still many frescos and mosaics throughout the villas. The bath houses were amazing to see. You are told about the cold, warm and hot plunge into the different baths. The engineering was quite complex when it came to plumbing. The water was piped underneath to warm the tiles.
Out in the forum ( city centre ) it’s explained where the different temples and sacrificing of animals for different reasons, ranging from harvests, religious days, going to war and the like. There aren’t many columns in the forum but it’s described in a way that is easy to see columns surrounding the whole square. Off to the side is many excavated objects like vases, plates, cups, carts and even the plaster casts of the few actual people who originally died. In one of the villas there are a few skeletons displayed, they were grave robbers who decided the pickings were ripe. They died due to the toxic fumes still trapped in the enclosed burial ground. Once again it has to be seen to be believed, it’s just one of those places.
Back on the bus. Again. We were treated twice in one day today. The Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi was next on the tour. I was impressed with St. Peters but this was something else. St. Francis was quite a rich young nobleman of the time coming from very rich parents. He lived like any young rich man does at that age. As he got older he realised the error of his ways and gave his possessions and clothes back to his father and decided to start doing thing for other people. He started a following of people like minded people which still exists to this day. When he died at a much older age his followers decided to build a basilica in his name where he is entombed. Once again you are not allowed to take photographs, which is good as you can stop and smell the roses as some would say. Total silence ensued other than the massbeing held. It’s one of those places that captures you heart and soul. Even for those that are not religious this is a place that must be visited. The marble and frescos that is throughout is I will say even better than St. Peters. You will feel quite moved. Even the little village attached to the basilica is beautiful and very old.
For the night we stayed in the little village below the mountain os assisi. Our tour director has told us about the basilica in the the town centre. It was St. Francis’s original chapel but it you have to go inside to see it. The four of us had a spare half hour and decided it was worth a look even to stretch out the sore tired muscles. We managed to get inside before closing and I am so glad we went. Inside the basilica is a lot of beautiful sculpture and frescos in the very middle though is the original chapel. It’s very small with only enough seats on the side for 4 people on each side. It’s very place where St. Francis died. His followers built the basilica around the church. It still has its original frescos and solid timber doors even. I sat down for a few minutes just to take it all in. It was inspiring. We only spent a little while inside, I was wanting one last look and stayed an extra minute, my wife and 2 friends walked out ahead of me. When I was satisfied I reached the door, oh oh! They locked the door. I panicked for about five seconds and realised there was another door on the other side. I discreetly ran for the exit. To my relief Tony opened the door with a big grin. He told me as they walked out the door had been locked from outside, when he tried to explain all he got was a shrug of the shoulders. Luckily he also remembered the other door.
For me this church would be my favourite one to visit. If you ever get the opportunity to go there please don’t forget about the other.
When we returned to the hotel I thanked our tour operator for telling us about this little piece of beauty, he seemed quite pleased. As it turned out only the 4 of us went to the trouble, quite special indeed. That night we gave the others on the tour a performance on how good Aussies enjoy great food and vino Rossi. On the menu was bread, pasta, salad and pork. I had the fish. Salute!!

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The Bay of Naples

24 Apr

Bay of Naples to Capri
Heading south to the bay of Naples this morning. Very long bus drive with plenty of rain. It seems to be following us around on and off. We travelled past the Abbey of Monte Cassino on the top of the hill. One of the oldest abbeys in Italy. At the bottom is a beautifully kept war memorial honouring many serviceman that died in the second world war. There are many different nationalities represented throughout.
Off to the side of the road at certain places there is a long strip of pine trees that follows the coast called the Appian way. This is the original road from road dating back over 2,000 years. Much of it is still the same cobblestone. When Spartacus army was defeated by the roman general Marcus Crassus he decided as a deterrent to any further slave uprisings to crucify a slave every half kilometre or so on one side of the road from one end to the other.   Crassus forbid the taking down of the executed slaves until they were only rags and bones. Slave owners would then take disobedient slaves to show them the consequences of such actions, needless to say there wasn’t many more slave uprisings for some time.
Our hotel is situated right on the riverside with spectacular views unfortunately spoiled by large amounts of litter including boats and various car parts on the shoreline. Off to the left on a clear day you can see the dormant volcano Vesuvius, famous for hiding a city called Pompeii. After checking in we went for a walk around the little town and found a cafe. Espressos are tasting very nice but we have wondered why they keep offering us cups of fizzy water? Later we ask and its to cleanse your palate. The cost really surprised us, .90 euro each, thinking we received a great deal we’ve left rather fast. We learn it’s actually a normal price. Dinner in the hotel was quite classy with nice table cloths, silver knives and spoons and waiters dressed quite nice in their dinner jackets. As usual there was pasta, chicken and cake for desert. I had the fish.
Open the curtains in the morning, yes, we will need umbrellas again. I’ve been dubbed the Rain God. Everyone has started looking at me in a different light. There is talk of petrol and matches. Let’s sacrifice the Rain God. An interesting bus drive to Sorrento for the boat ride to the island of Capri. The streets are very narrow and there are many close calls with trucks, busses, cars and many scooters. The views are truly magnificent from above, a quick stop for photos and we are on our way again. Sorrento grows many lemons that is turned into one of the best forms of alcohol. Lemonchillo is a digestive drink for after dinner. We didn’t care to wait for dinner, let’s just say anytime of the day after lunch is good. Another fruit grown in large amounts is olives. There are trees everywhere with nets at the ready to protect the fruit from the birds. The port of Sorrento has many hotels above it on the cliffs and look rather expensive to stay in. The boat ride is not long to Capri.
There are 2 sections that we visited, Ana Capri which is located up the top and then the lower part which is called Capri. The top area when sunny offers views that we were unfortunate not to experience due to the rain. Still very nice. Some great photo opportunities later and it’s time for lunch. Ravioli with feta cheese which has been the nicest pasta I’ve tried. Just outside the restaurant is a little shop selling lemonchillo of various different flavours, a few tastings later and a few bottles purchased for consumption back in the room. The lower middle part of the island has an area similar to the rich avenues of Milan and 5th ave of New York, with really nice hotels. There are some nice beautiful gardens to look at as well.
Capri has had many types of residents, one being emperor Tiberius who was known to be a rather cruel and immoral man as he aged. There are stories of different poets who tried to entertain the emperor, some who weren’t so lucky got the pleasure of exit right straight of the top of the cliff.
Back at the hotel dinner is once again like the previous night. This time there was pasta, fish and a coconut panacotta. I had the chicken.

The Sistine Chapel

24 Apr

Up very early this morning as it gets crowded quickly for the Sistine chapel. The entrance is off to the right of St. Peters square via the museum. As most people are aware Michelangelo painted the frescos in the chapel even though instead he wanted to create sculptures. When the Pope says jump you would generally say how high?
There are many different types of artwork to look at ranging from frescos, sculptures & beautiful tapestries. Even the floors are something to behold. The works displayed start from early roman period through to much later times. The amazing thing about the ceilings would definitely they look like carvings when they are actually painted, the shadowing effect is used superbly. Even in the photos they looked carved.
Once you enter a certain zone you are not allowed to photograph anything of the chapel, silence for what there was is golden and occasionally the guards will clap loudly and ask for SILENCE!! It lasts all of a minute and a half and the room is buzzing. The ceiling of the chapel was designed to represent the flow of history from the genesis from which God created day, night, life the universe and basically everything through to Noah and his boat to the drunkness of Noah. This is displayed through the middle of the ceiling from end to end and best viewed walking backwards to read the story properly. Then there is the depiction of the prophets including Jonah & Ezekiel and many more. There is also the famous fresco that everyone knows, the act of God reaching to Adam with his finger giving him the breath of life. It’s quite small and I always believed that it ordained a whole wall when in fact, it’s rather underwhelming in size.
On the rear wall Michelangelo has painted the end of time with Jesus and Mary in the middle with people rising to heaven with aid of the angels, and the dammed on their way  to hell with angels pushing them back down as they try to escape. There are different saints represented with various implements that they were executed with. St. Paul with a sword, St.Peter was crucified upside down has the keys to heaven. One of the saints was skinned alive, his picture has him holding what was his skin, the skin has the face of Michelangelo as the form of his signature. Another saint has a broken wheel with spikes, she had her body broken with a wheel of spikes before she was killed. The representation of the devil was Michelangelo’s form of sarcasm. The person depicted was a certain cardinal that didn’t like Michelangelo and went to the pope who had commissioned the painting to have him change it, the pope said its a one thing to do things on earth but he has no sway what happens in heaven or hell.
All in all the actual chapel is quite small, I was impressed but unfortunately not as much as I wanted. I’m going to download some photos from the internet to attach to the holiday snaps.

St. Peters Basilica

19 Apr

St Peters BasilicaFirst day in Rome on tour, early start to beat the crowds. Heading off to see St Peters basilica and a tour of the colosseum. For today we have a local guide called Cynthia who was great with explaining what everything is and where it’s from. The guides are only allowed to speak outside they are forbidden to use their little radio headsets inside due to the fact you have to be silent. We were told where the best things to look at first and then look around. Before going in the metal detectors screen you, there was only a short wait, maybe five to ten minutes and we were in, later coming back out the line is 3-4 hours long. Best advice is to go with a group as early as possible.
It’s quite surprising to be able to take photos inside, the problem is when to stop? There is so many paintings ( frescos ) it lives up to its name, even the floor was beautiful. Sculpture by Michelangelo with Jesus and Mary is one of the few that he actually attached his name to. It’s now displayed behind glass thanks to an attack by someone with a hammer which resulted with damage to Mary’s nose and her fingers. Such a shame as its hard to take a good picture.
There are areas sectioned off for people attending mass and there was even someone in a booth giving their confession. And then there is a mass of security out the front of one of the little rooms, inside is a small alter with some people praying. Well I took a photo of this bloke called benedict… Who? Yes the Pope is within range to throw a tennis ball too, I assumed this would never happen. A few questions later and it’s confirmed. I’m not a religious person but none the less it made the day quite special. Back outside you get an idea of how smart it is to go with a group and very early, the line is huge.Back on the bus and we travel through the city to see the Arch of Titus. It’s a another beautiful structure with carvings depicting the first showing of an art form called perspective. We were then taken a short distance up the sacred way and you get an amazing view of the ancient forum, certain spots for me to find and photograph was the spot were Caesar was assassinated by Brutus and his followers. The views surrounding the area are well worth the walk up the cobblestone road which has groove marks in the path left by chariots. Above us in the royal palace they’ve recently found the mythical room built by Nero which was rumoured to turn, archaeologists have proven it did indeed turn in a circular motion. Once again it’s a classic example of building on top of buildings.
It’s now time for the tour through the majestic colosseum, it was a originally a lake area that was totally drained by emperor Vespasian to build, 40,000 something slaves were used the build and many more died whether they were gladiators, executions to the killing of the Christians. It recent years it’s suffered earthquakes and the normal weathering of age. Its definitely something everyone should do, once again go with a organised tour, much faster and the lines are just as long. I was lucky enough to come across a certain number of which I photographed and will post when Internet permits.
A little rest at the hotel for a few beers and back into town for the Trevi Fountain tour which was not surprisingly just as busy, we are thinking of heading back at end of tour for the night time when it’s lit up, brought some more souvenirs and a catchup with the tour and a stroll down to the Pantheon.
The Pantheon is one of the few remaining pagan temples left intact after the Christian conversion of Rome, how? The powers that be blessed it and now it’s no longer a pagan temple, presto. The columns here are huge and beautiful, inside it has examples of where the marble was taken away and where the rest is still there. The master artist Raphael remains are entombed as well the the king Vittorio and his wife. In the ceiling there is a huge hole in the dome which when it rains collects on the floor and drains away in many holes. The dome in St Peters Basilica was made slightly smaller than the Pantheon deliberately, which when the ruling Pope found out was furious and then redesigned parts which is why the dome in St. Peters is now not easily seen.
Our tour guide Cynthia has given us a mission whilst inside the Pantheon. It’s due to close in 15 minutes, try and be in the crowd of at least the last 100 people when they shut the doors, or try and be the last, but please dont say which guide told you to do this as they can pull her guide licence. Its very hard to do as the security are quite aggressive pushing everyone out. The left hand door closes 5 minutes before 6 then they start herding everyone out. What better time than now to display some Aussie stubbornness? It was a bit of a challenge as a few from our tour group were up for the contest. If anything, it was good to quickly snap off a few photos while there is no one else in they way. I was satisfied to be one of the last 100 but then it was even better as I shuffled my feet claiming ignorance of the language. YES!! I was the last person to exit the Pantheon that day amid much cheering. I refrained from shouting the typical chant, AUSSIE AUSSIE AUSSIE!!! I was on high for quite some time afterwards believe me, I felt awesome, I managed to do something I will remember for the rest of my life.The tour for the day was basically finished which allowed us some time to find a nice little place to eat in Piazza Navona, there are many eateries in this square including many souvenir shops, go up one of the side streets you will be rewarded with great food and terrific vino at a more than suitable price.Salute!!
Back to the bus via a short walk across the Tibur river, splendid views guaranteed after dark when everything is lit up, my good friend Tony has taken some fabulous photos even after we drank a substantial amount of wine, and for the rest of the night it’s a battle of willpower and skill to be the last on the bus.
Crashed and very burnt out but well worth it.

First day in Rome

19 Apr

First day in Rome My brain has been buzzing all night. Can’t put into words all the emotions and satisfaction being in this country has given me just today. After crashing and burning last night we headed down for coffee and for our troubles the 4 of us were rewarded with a free breakfast. Let me say this once. “coffee in the hotel is crap.” Frak me, I tried at least three different styles, American, cappuccino & espresso from the machine. English breakfast tea tomorrow, no doubt about it. We decided to have a little look around Rome while we have most of the day free until the tour starts officially. Directions obtained, bus stop found for the tube. Tickets are good for only 75 minutes would you believe? For 1 euro it was actually great value. English speaking gentleman gave us a few tips on where to get off and also watch your belongings at all times. There’s lots of pick pockets apparently in Rome. There is only a small railway network due to the fact the Romans are now still discovering many old buildings and ruins below surfaces and modern buildings. The common theme seemed to be, “We no longer use that, rip the marble off it, destroy what’s left or bury it for future generations to spend time excavating whilst asking why did we do that?” The mind truly boggles when you see the repercussions of these decisions. The Italian government say’s they’ve run out of money for future preservation & excavation. Maybe they need a better system, who am I to say? Stepped off at the station Terminus and started walking. First on the agenda is real coffee. The tip is to drink your espresso standing at the bar, its much cheaper, if you sit down you pay through the nose. We sat. It’s been raining on & off all morning so we find a spot in the square of the Basilica Saint Mary degli Angeli e dei martiri. It has a beautiful fountain in the middle of the square. Coffee finally. We went for a look in the Basilica, it’s quite beautiful inside with sculptures and frescos. I didn’t know where to look first, totally breathtaking. After an hour we went looking for the famous Trevi fountain.
Following the map it was eventually located, the streets are so narrow it has to be seen to be believed. Set in a little sort of crossroads. When it’s raining as it was for us, it’s a bugger to get a decent photo without a single umbrella. The story goes if you want to come back to Rome throw a coin in, if you want to fall in love 2 coins & for a third you will be divorced. I thought why not toss a coin in and get it on video via the iPhone? Much hilarity later as video will attest I threw in 2 coins. I will return. Fortunately I’m already married. I will not throw a third in as I don’t wish to be divorced. Plenty of souvenir shops nearby, if you are going to buy don’t compare after you have done so. Just be smart, it’s not that dear.Followed another street with rest of the crowd and ended up at the start of the ancient forum and the palatine hill. Oh my god! This is what I’m here for!I’ve had the pleasure of reading many different pieces of fiction over the years from the likes of Colleen McCullough’s masters of Rome series, to Steven Saylor’s Gordianus the finder & Lindsey Davis’ Falco. Nearly all different time periods that gave me an informed ideas where everything was and how it looked. The first thing I recognised was Trajan’s column depicting his many battles and victories. What was amazing is the level of modern day Rome to ancient Rome, there is at least 3-4 meters from the top of the pathway for viewing to the bottom where the columns stand on the old level. Along the road to the colosseum there are various statues of the different caesars. My favourite was Augustus, it’s said he found a city of brick and timber and left it marble. Sadly most of the marble now ordains floors and walls of Saint Peters Basilica. Being careful to keep an eye on the time we headed down to the colosseum for a quick look and into the train station so that we don’t miss the orientation for the tour. For this part of the trip we chose trafalgar tours, it seems very well organised and our tour director Giuseppe who we met earlier in the day is quite efficient. There are many things on the tour with optional extra things included eg a typical Italian meal which has set the tone of the tour, fantastic. Much food and wine later we are once again about to crash and burn. I’m having a few troubles attaching photos but some will be uploaded as we go, to see them go to look up thewombatjedi on Facebook, I will also tweet the best ones.

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Day 1 Sydney to Rome

15 Apr

Sydney to Rome
Day 1, Friday 13th April, 2012.
Spent the night at Formula one motel chain last night, seeing as we are going to have an early start for tomorrows flight. It’s not bad for a cheap overnight stay, very basic amenities.  We dined at some quality Restaurants last night. 1st being coffee at Krispy Creme Doughnuts, crap doughnuts but nice coffee. When our friends turned up we dined at McDonalds, once again crap.   It was decided an early night was in store as our alarms were set for 2:30am. Too early really for normal sane travellers. Not that we really did get any sleep. Budget motels will do that to your body, so uncomfortable.   First disappointment of the trip experienced was the revelation the travel agent didn’t book the four of us together. In fact we were seated some 20 rows apart. Not very happy. Otherwise it was a painless check in and off to departure lounge.   We booked to fly with Air Emirates with a flight from Sydney to Dubai, followed by transfer from Dubai to Rome. The flight out was roughly 14 hours and it was not helped by unhelpful staff. There was a long gap between breakfast and what they called lunch. It took an age to be served for any type drink and we found the overall flight crappy.   Dubai to Rome with Air Emirates was a different story, nice polite staff plenty of food and alcohol served. Only about 5 1/2 hours. Unfortunately as we landed we weren’t given splendid views of the city, it was raining, it looks to stay that way for some time.    Once we landed we were put through the unusual customs practice of checking your passport before we claimed our luggage. When flying into Australia they screen your luggage before you leave customs.  Quick bus ride to motel, check in, quick dinner that was forgettable and into bed, crash and burn.