A Travellerspoint blog

Sunday we packed and started our trip home

sunny 24 °C

We were woken on Sunday morning at 5.30am by our beeping alarm. Time to get up and get ready for the taxi that was due at 8.00am to take us to the airport.

Breakfast, showers, final packing and we were ready which was fortunate as the taxi arrived early. Off we set, 45 minutes later we were at Rome airport. We checked in, went through the departure process and then waited for our boarding call at 11.55am.

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The flight from Rome to Singapore was good. The meals were good, the movies had been updated since our trip over which pleased the girls and we all managed to get a little sleep. We arrived in Singapore at 6.00am the following day to 24 degrees. Straight off the plane and into our transit room for 11 hours for some much needed sleep. We slept for about 5 hours then headed out into the airport terminal to find something to eat. After "lunch" we looked around the terminal for some last minute duty free shopping and the girls had a leg massage.

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We boarded the Singapore plane for Christchurch at 7.45pm all quite excited as we were getting closer to home. Again, the flight was good, great meals, inflight entertainment and we all managed a little sleep.

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9.00am on Tuesday we landed in Christchurch,cleared immigration and went to collect our luggage before heading to customs. Three of our four bags we on the turnstile but one was missing. A bag the same as Mackenzie's was on the turnstile but when Mackenzie took it off she realised it wasn't hers. The same bag, same coloured ribbons on the handle but not Mackenzie's! A baggage claim noticed Mackenzie's perplexed look and came over to help out. She checked out the back of the turnstile and said there weren't any other bags like that to come through. She took the name off the case and paged the owner over the airport intercom. No response. She told us to wait a minute and she would see if she could find the lady. Five minutes later she returned with Mackenzie's bag - the lady was just about to get into a taxi when she found her. We were all relieved and thankful that it happened in Christchurch and not overseas somewhere.

Following that we headed to customs which was fine then we had to have our bags x-rayed - a new experience for us. All passengers off the flight clear immigration, customs then have to pass their bags through the x-ray before exiting the airport. Great to know that we have such good security.

We had a three hour wait in Christchurch before our flight back to Invercargill. A text to Jan and a phone call to Mum to let them both know we were home in New Zealand safely then we headed to get a cup of tea and wait.

The time passed fairly quickly and we were on our way home. Fantastic to arrive in Invercargill and be greeted by Mum and Jan. Three of Mackenzie's friends were also there to greet her - fantastic surprise and such a nice thing to do (Thank you to Simone's Grandmother for taking girls out there).

Back home to Gimblett Street, a quick bite of lunch with Mum and Jan (all ready for us with heaps of baking too!) then out to pick up Sam the pup from the kennels. He looked well cared for and was pleased to get home too I think.

We had a wonder trip filled with new and exciting things, met some wonderful people -we have all learnt so much.

We all had input into our trip on what we would like to do and see but Peter organised it all - such a huge job. Thanks Pete for all your work - it was a trip of a life time and has given us all such wonderful memories as a family. What an awesome experience for the girls - something they will always remember.

It sounds a bit cliche but there is truly nothing quite as good as home. Familiar surroundings, fresh air, a backyard, speaking a language that everyone understands, great food and last but not least family and friends. A lot things we tend to take for granted.

Posted by Touringteamf 20:55 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Saturday was our last full day in Rome

we went to the Vatican, sight seeing, repacked and out for diner

sunny 30 °C

It was our last full day in Rome and we had a “Skip the Queue” guided tour of the Vatican and St Peters booked.

We were up early and went down to the local taxi stand and got a taxi to St Peters. We got there about 8.30 and the place was virtually deserted.

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I read the booking form and of course we needed to be at the entrance to the Vatican museum, which was about 5 – 10 minutes’ walk away.

The Vatican was anything but deserted. There were long queues and even the skip the queue line seemed long. Maybe we should have booked the “skip the skip the queue queue” tour.

Anyway by the time our group we got kitted up with our usual radio receiver and headphones, and presented ourselves at the allotted time, we were straight in.

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Our guide started off with an overview of the Vatican, and explained the history behind the painting of the Sistine Chapel. Once in the Sistine Chapel there is no talking, so she gave us the run down on it before we entered.

The ceiling was painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512. Michelangelo turned down the commission 3 times, as he did not consider himself a painter. He preferred sculpturing.

Michelangelo’s rival, Raphael, had persuaded Pope Julius II to get Michelangelo to paint the ceiling. Raphael knew Michelangelo preferred sculpting, and he was trying to set him up to fail.

The main panels down the center depict scenes from the Book of Genesis, from the Creation, to the Fall, to shortly after Noah's deluge. The iconic image of the God’s and Adam’s fingers almost touching depicts the creation of Man.

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Then 25 years later Pope Paul the III got Michelangelo to paint The Last Judgment, on the altar wall of the Chapel. The work took four years to complete and was done between 1536 and 1540.

In the painting Michelangelo depicts the various characters as either being in Heaven, Purgatory or Hell. This work became extremely controversial, with most of the figures appearing naked. This scandalous piece of work was considered inappropriate for a Papal church.
The Pope’s advisor Biagio da Cesena, strongly criticised Michelangelo’s work saying:

“this work suits bathhouses and taverns but not the Pope’s capella.”

Michelangelo was none too pleased with this criticism, and painted Biagio into the Fresco as being in hell, naked and being attacked by a snake in very uncomfortable fashion.

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Biagio pleaded with the Pope to have Michelangelo paint over his image. The Pope is reputed to have replied:

“If he had placed you into the purgatory, I would have attempted getting you out of there, but he put you into the hell – my power does not extend that far”.

With a full explanation of the Sistine Chapel tucked under our belts, we set out on our tour. The museum is massive, and plenty of art work to be seen. Our guide stopped off at the important works and described the story behind each one. The crowds of people were huge.

Last year 24.0m people visited the Vatican.

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Finally we got to the Sistine chapel. No talking and no photography. The Vatican sold the copyrights to the Sistine chapel to a private investor in return for a full restoration. It is a beautiful piece of art work.

A couple of photos from the internet are shown above.

Then it was on to St Peter’s Basilica. Again a very impressive church and dome.

The first thing we saw was Michelangelo’s The Pietà completed in 1499 when he was in his early 20s. He completed this prior to David in Florence.

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We saw the crypt of the now St John Paul II. Plus several others. John Paul II’s is very modest compared to the crypts of Popes from 1400 – 1800s. Some of the Popes obviously thought highly of themselves.

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Then it was back out into the sun and time for lunch.

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We had had our fill of pasta and pizza over the last week, so we looking for something slightly different. We made our 3rd visit to McDonalds of the trip.

We should have booked a skip the queue option. It was packed. I think the 20,000 visitors from the Vatican all had the same idea.
After lunch we had a few last things to do:

Walk up the Spanish Steps.

Throw coins from Margaret Waide into the Trivi fountain

Repack our bags for the trip home

Head out for a final dinner out.

At the top of the steps we saw a Ferrari and a Lamborghini.

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The Trivi fountain was closed for restoration, but they had a temporary “fountain” to throw coins into…. Those Romans think of everything. Right hand over left shoulder.

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We then walked back to apartment rested up, updated the blog, and repacked.

Then it was out for dinner for our last night out. The owner of our apartment had left a few suggestions for us to try. We tried the one about 200m from our door.

It was great. The girls had pasta and I had the best fillet steak I have had for some time.

The owner, an elderly man sat in the corner all night counting his money. It is obviously an old and well established restaurant. The walls are covered in signed photos of Italian and international celebrities, eating at his establishment. I offered our portrait, but he declined. I don’t think he recognised me.

It was a lovely meal, on a lovely evening, at the end of a great holiday.

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Back home to bed, ready for 43 hours of traveling.

Posted by Touringteamf 18:06 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Friday we went to Pompeii

but we couldn't climb Mount Vesuvius for fear of being struck by lightening.

sunny 25 °C

At 5:30am we got up and started getting ready for our 13 hour tour of Pompeii!

Pompeii was on my top 5, I couldn’t wait to get onto the bus and start our big day ahead.

When we got on the bus at 7am we got the news that we were going to climb up Mount Vesuvius. Mount Vesuvius is an active volcano and some scientists say the next eruption will be big. This sounded so cool and I knew it was going to be an awesome day.

After an hour or two, we stopped at Cassino for a coffee and donut. Cassino is where a lot of New Zealand soldiers were killed in the war.

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Then we got back on the bus. I had just said to Mum and Dad that I couldn’t wait to climb the Volcano, I was super excited!

But as usual I spoke too soon. The guides just got a phone call that they had closed the volcano because of the weather forecast. Last month a student from France got hit by lightning on the top of the Volcano, he was put into a coma. Now they are very cautious because of it.

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The plan B was to go to a museum in Naples….

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Can you imagine? Going to a museum instead of climbing an active volcano! Yeah my thoughts exactly.

We spent 1 1/2 hours just looking at the museum in our own time. We saw some pots, pans, cups, plates, combs etc that used to belong to people in Pompeii and around it. My favourite things in there were the dice and knuckle bones. Two things that we play with today. Nothing has changed.

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We also saw some very impressive glass wear.

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These really interested dad. Some of them had beautiful paintings on them, some had patterns on them and carvings. We also saw some pretty impressive muffin tins. They are exactly what Grandma needs!

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We also saw lots of art. My favourite pieces of art were the mosaics. Some of the pictures used over 1million little pieces of coloured tiles. I really enjoyed looking at them.

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I was starting to get very hungry. Good thing next stop was lunch! You may not know but, I am really over pizza. I have pizza for lunch AND tea almost each day we go out. I have been eating it so much that I am starting to look like one!

Guess what was for lunch? Yep pizza.

After lunch we went to the Archaeology site of Pompeii. Pompeii was a seaside town of around 20,000. It was also a rich farming town. In 79 AD, Mt Vesuvius erupted. Firstly the gas poisoned everyone and then the ash settled and buried the town under 20m of ash. Pompeii remained hidden and preserved until 1778. Our guide said Pompeii is still like a town today. You can walk through the streets and go into spas and theatres.

First we saw a cemetery. It was just cubbey holes in the ground. Families got cremated and were put in there together. They were the size of a toaster.

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We walked in through a gate to get into the actual city. We could see the big Amphitheatre and Mount Vesuvius.

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The guide told us about Pompeii and how they used to live. He also showed us the only dog who survived the eruption. Of course it was just a tourist’s pet dog!

We walked around to the small amphitheatre that was actually an early opera house. The bricks were all originals.

Then we walked into the big amphitheatre where they held comedies and shows. Pink Floyd played there in the 1970s. The guide said… they put another brick in the wall. If you would like to watch just put “Pink Floyd Live Pompeii” into Google. Some of the seats in the amphitheatre were original marble seats.

From the top of the amphitheatre you could have a very clear view of Mount Vesuvius and some of the town. We were very lucky, because one of the tour guides sung some fantastic opera for us in the amphitheatre.

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We wondered out onto the street to find the whole shape of the city left almost as it was in 79 AD. There were main roads, side alleys, houses, workshops and Villas in the town. I really liked the pedestrian crossing because it has a cool meaning to it.

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In 79 AD they didn’t have sewerage systems so the “waste” went down the road. They people walking who had to cross the road didn’t want to stand in it. There are 3 stones between each pavement so the people could get to the other side without stepping in waste.

They also had take-a-aways in Pompeii. They cooked the meal in a big terracotta pot and people used to get some to have at their houses for tea.

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We had a look at a female and male spa. In the male spar we could see petrified people and original ceiling paintings.

In the Females bathroom we could see the thickness of the walls and the original mosaics floor.

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People died in the street from the gas poisoning. Their bodies were then covered in ash. As the bodies slowly decayed over the centuries, they left perfectly shaped cavities of their bodies. When these cavities were found, they filled them with plaster, and now they have molds of the dead people. They even have one of a dog.

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Then the guide pointed out were the town market was. Sort of an open air mall! Mackenzie seemed very interested in this area, so Mum and I had to join her.

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We had some free time to take some photos then we got back on the bus to Rome.

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Pompeii was so much fun.

Posted by Touringteamf 01:05 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Thurdsay - the ancient sites of Rome

with torrential rain, thunder, lightening and steaming heat with blue skies

storm 26 °C

Our first full day in Rome...how exciting. We were up early and ready for our two tours for the day...one in the morning to the Colosseum and Roman Forum the other in the afternoon seeing the main sights in the city of Rome.

We headed off on foot down to the scheduled meeting spot just beside the Colosseum. Rain had been forecast for the day so we were prepared with our trusty umbrellas and attractive plastic ponchos in various colours. The tour started on time with a very informative and humorous guide. We were amazed when we entered the site to see the centre of the arena occupied by tall brick segments at a lower level. It was quite different to the one we had seen in Nimes (France) which had the arena at ground level, covered with sand. The brick segments in the Colosseum were the remains of the stalls for housing the animals and such like that “performed” in the arena. These stalls were actually underground from the arena. What was missing was the ceiling on top of these stalls which as actually the floor of the arena. The ceiling/floor was originally made of wood it has since rotted away over time. The restoration team have reconstructed some of the ceiling/floor so we can have some idea of what it was like originally.

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The Colosseum was used for Gladiator Battles, mock sea battles, animal hunting and public executions of criminals.

The building of the Colosseum was started in 70AD and finished in 80AD. It is constructed of brick, stone and concrete and is the largest Roman amphitheatre in the world, it is thought to be the best examples of roman engineering and architecture. Our guide made a point of reinforcing this point by telling us on several occasions how ingenious the engineers were building the Colosseum using arches – there are roughly 40 arches in the Colosseum. It stands at about 48 metres high and is an oval shape 189 metres by 156 metres. It is thought to have seated approximately 50,000 to 80,000 people.

It is certainly an impressive building, amazing to think how they constructed it so long ago and it is still standing. Pieces of the Colosseum are missing though – not through earthquakes or poor workmanship but due to “recycling” and thieving of materials. A lot of the marble for example was removed over the years and used in new buildings such as churches. The iron was looted from the site and melted down for other uses.

Like so many other iconic buildings we have visited on our trip, the Colosseum is currently undergoing restoration and cleaning. Amazingly this is not being funded by the Italian Government but by a citizen, Diego Della Valle, the billionaire owner of a shoe and leather company Tod. The restoration work is estimated to be costing 30m Euro! Similarly, the Trevi Fountain is also undergoing restoration work which is being partly funded by another citizen who owns Fendi Fashion to the tune of 2.1 m Euro.

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While we were looking around the Colosseum the weather was inclement, raining off and on occasionally. When the sun did come out it was really hot.

We finished at the Colosseum and walked over to the Roman Forum, Temple of Julius Caesar, and the Palatine Hill. At this time, the weather decided to pack it in with thunder, lightning, pouring rain and wind. It wouldn’t have been too bad but the cold wind made things a little bit tricky. Our guide advised us that because the area we were visiting was in ruins there was no shelter to speak of and he could understand if any of us wanted to leave the tour. Two couples did but the rest of us boxed on. We had our trusty ponchos and umbrellas so we were ok – sort of! Eventually the rain stopped and the sun came out which was great.

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The sights were very interesting but unfortunately not that photogenic as a lot of the marble and stone has been removed and “recycled” like the Colosseum for other projects around Rome – St Peter’s for example.

Our guide had a historical book which he referred as his silly book. It had the current photos of each historical site and an overlay with what it looked like back in the day. We all found it very useful to help us visualise what each building would have looked like when it was first constructed.

Our last stop was the on top of the Palatine Hill which over looked the Circus Maximus. This was an ancient chariot racing stadium which is believed to seat about 150,000 spectators. With the help of the guides "silly book" we were able to see what it was like when in full use...amazing. Admittedly it is very hard to imagine it from the photos.

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After the tour finished we walked towards town passed a monument known locally as the "wedding cake". It's formal name is The Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) it is a controversial monument built in honour of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy. (1870)

We stopped off at dry and warm restaurant where we shared pizzas for lunch, and continued our walk into the middle of the city.

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The afternoon tour was of Historic Rome. This tour walked us around the city describing the times of Bernini, Raphael and Michelangelo.

We saw the Trevi Fountain...currently under restoration

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the Pantheon, complete with it's amazing dome and marble floors

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the Spanish Steps,

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Bernini’s Fountain of Four Rivers

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the Oblique’s that were used as markers for the pilgrims to the city, and various churches ( there are over 1000 churches in Rome!). Together with this the guide gave us all the history behind each monument...the creator of it, the style in which it was made and why it was built.

By the time of this tour the weather had truly cleared up and was now quite hot! To help break the tour and give us a rest the guide took us to a gelato shop for an ice cream each. They were well received by us all.

We finished the tour about 6.30pm, it would be fair to say by this stage we were all tired and ready for home. It was a very informative day with some challenging weather but well worth it.

Posted by Touringteamf 09:31 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Wednesday was our final day in Florence

with thunder, lightening and our arrival in Rome

storm 22 °C

We awoke early. Florence had decided to show its anger at our eminent departure with a VERY localised and spectacular Lightening and Thunder show. The Roman gods must have been very upset we were leaving, and let us know about it.

The lightening lit the room, and the thunder was directly over head. Then the rain.

This was our last day in Florence, so we had to check out. We packed up our bags and left them in the corner of our apartment, as we were booked on a full day’s guided tour of Florence.

We had our 4 umbrellas, and headed for the Accademia Gallery for the start of our guided tour.

We meet up with our group, and prepared to go into the Accademia. This is when the action started.

We were a group of 25, standing out in the rain. A dodgy looking African street hawker was trying to sell umbrellas and ponchos to anyone and everyone. In your face almost threatening style. One of our group, an American, told him to “Go away, and go away now!!”

Our African friend did not re-act too kindly to this forceful piece of advice. A tirade of Italian abuse erupted. The American just stood his ground, picking at his teeth, as if nothing had happened. This did not help. The tirade went up a notch. Another street vendor, more of Italian origin, chimed in with his penny’s worth. I think he also tried to tell him to go away, but slightly more diplomatically.

This also did not go down well. Next thing the African’s mates joined the discussion, and all the time the American just kept looking at them non plussed.

Just as I started to flex my muscles and roll up my sleeves, our guide hastily shepherded us into the Accademia. Boy those Africans don’t know how lucky they were.

Inside, out of the rain and the raging Africans, we took in the sights of the gallery. It is a small gallery really, with one major draw card.

But before we saw him, we were shown other works of art and most interestingly musical instruments. These included early Stradivarius violins and pianos.

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Then into see Michelangelo’s David.

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But before we could get close our guide walked us through about 8 other Michelangelo sculptures. The “unfinished” sculptures. Michelangelo believed that in every block of marble, there was a human shape, just trying to escape. This was very effectively shown in these sculptures.

Then we walked up to David. The masterpiece of masterpieces of the sculptures. Michelangelo was only 26 when he started sculpturing it, and it took him 3 years to complete. He used a stone of marble that several other artists had started on, but had discarded because of flaws in the marble.

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This was his first claim to fame and it shot him to instant stardom.

Then onto the Cathedral Del Duomo. This was our first time inside. A massive church with art work, frescos and of course its huge and impressive dome.

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By then it was lunch time. We headed back to our apartment, to rescue our luggage.

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We dragged it up the street in rain, to the management offices of the apartment for safe keeping for the afternoon.

The rain was getting worse, so we bought a couple of ponchos, and headed into the cover of a Pizzeria for lunch.

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We had just enough time to have lunch, have one last look at the leather markets, where I proudly bought a leather Man Bag…. watch out Invercargill!!

Then back to meet up with the afternoon group for the second part of our guided tour. The Uffizi Gallery. Sorry Florence and the art loving world.

Sadly after 8 weeks of travelling, numerous museums, galleries and churches, this was just one bridge too far.

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Our tour ended in time to gather our luggage, get a taxi to the Train Station and head to Rome.

We arrived in Rome at about 8.15 pm. We got a taxi to our apartment. We got ripped off. We got an official taxi. We were staying in a small street and the taxi driver had to consult his map several times (while driving), and finally deposited us outside.

It was only a 10 minute walk if we had known where to go. The taxi ride probably took longer, and he was at FULL speed. We had our luggage, and we know they charge for luggage as well, but at 45 Euro, we were ripped off.

We were in no state to argue.

Into our apartment, and our host was there to meet us. A great apartment, but the best thing was she had provided the basics for us to cook our own diner and breakfast.

Pasta, a pasta sauce, bread, jams etc. God bless her.

A quick dinner and we collapsed into bed.

Posted by Touringteamf 14:33 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Tuesday and we headed to Venice for the day

melted in the sun, fought the crowds and high tide.

sunny 32 °C

We had a full day ahead of us. We were taking a 2 hour train trip to Venice, to do a tour, and return.

We made our lunch, and we were out the door by just before 9.00, and walked to the station, and boarded the train to Venice. We arrived in Venice around 11.30. We joined the throngs of people walking from the train station to St Mark’s square.

Talk about a labyrinth street system. Narrow, no apparent pattern and seething with people. We went through narrow streets lined with very high class looking shops. Anytime someone stopped to window shop, everyone else behind them had to stop as well.

The first major land mark was the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal. Steep steps lined with shops, and street souvenir sellers. To say it is crowded would be an understatement.

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We carried on, towards St Mark’s. Thankfully the way is arrowed, because if we had to rely on the map, we would still be there. The other method of navigation would be to follow the crowd.

Finally we arrived in St Marks Square, where we found global warming was taking its toll. Two thirds of the square was flooded. For those who are global warming sceptics, then we shall simply blame a spring high tide on a full moon. Take your pick. I will go for the full moon version. Apparently, this was a minor full moon flood.

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Our next job was to find a dry place to sit down, in the shade to have our lunch. We sat on the steps long enough to almost finish our lunch, before the “step sitting” police did their rounds and moved us and everyone else on. We then noticed signs everywhere in Italian and English, saying it is prohibited to sit on the steps. We moved slowly on as we munched down the last of our lunch.

We wandered ‘round to the Doges Palace on the Lagoon water front. Man it was hot. Even the boy from Poolburn was starting to melt. We wandered along the water front, over 3 - 4 bridges, looking at the street wares.

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Finally it was time to meet our guide for our 3 hour tour. The first hour was taken up with a water taxi ride through the side canals. The tide had started receding, which meant the water was low enough to go under the bridges. The taxi was a grand looking boat. Inside the boat was like a glass house, but outside with a bit of movement was quite pleasant. The guide talked nonstop about Venetian life. No cars. Everything delivered by boat. She pointed out the police boats, the water ambulances, and we had already seen a DHL Courier boat.

Venice is made up of 118 islands, and nearly 400 bridges. It was originally settled mainly by fugitives who were escaping mainland wars. As Europe continued its consistent “middle ages” wars, the Venetians set about building trade with the East. Silks, spices, gold etc. The merchants became rich and powerful.

Anyway we went through the middle of Venice, from the Lagoon to the other side. She pointed out nearby islands, including an island which is the Venetian cemetery. We then entered the Grand Canal, where she spoke of some of the historic families and pointed out their Palaces.

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We ended up where we started, and we spent the next hour looking at the Doge’s Palace whilst learning about the historic system of government. For 1,000 years they maintained a very inclusive style of Government. Each year a new council was elected from the Merchants. Their role was to govern for the betterment of Venice. They were not paid, and they lived in the Doge’s palace away from any interference. At the end of the year, they returned to their families and their business’s.

Meanwhile a figurehead for life was elected. The Doge. He had no power, and would enforce the Council’s law. On his death, a new Family was elected to be the Doge. This way no one assumed power over their fellow Venetians. Making money from trading was more important than power. I’m sure there was still corruption. After all, they were humans.

Then we went inside St Mark’s Basilica. Another beautiful church, decorated by glass and gold mosaics. The church was paid for by the merchants. They didn’t mind flashing off their wealth for effect. But where the effect was minimal, away from the commonly seen parts, it was just brick!

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Mackenzie’s shorts were a bit too short, so we had to buy a fashionable shawl to cover her up.

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One of the astonishing things we saw, was the 4 horses. As part of the Crusade, the Venetians built the boats. But when payment was forthcoming, they claimed a lot of the plundered treasure. These horses date to at least 500 years BC.

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The final hour was taken up with our guide wandering around the back streets, observing and further explaining Venetian life.

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Finally, the tour was over, and we found our way back to the train station, just in time to get the 6.30 train back to Florence. We had a substandard meal at a restaurant beside our apartment, then went home and crashed into bed.

Venice was neat. So different and interesting, with a good guide, but boy it was hot. Global warming maybe?

Posted by Touringteamf 12:12 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Monday and we did a half day tour of Florence

and headed to Pisa in the afternoon

sunny 32 °C

We were up and keen to get into exploring Florence proper. We had a guided tour of Florence booked as seen through the eyes of Dan Brown’s novel Inferno, which in turn was partly inspired by Dante’s poem, The Divine Comedy. We had not read the novel, nor the poem. But we had googled Dante and his poem, so had some background.

The tour was basically a guided look through the Palace de Vecchio, or as it also known, the Old Palace. Part of the tour included some of the hidden passages within the Palace, which were described in Dan Brown’s book.

The Palace has had several uses over the centuries, but is probably best known for being the Palace of the Banking and Merchant family, Medici, who became the self appointed Dukes of Tuscany, until their lack of heirs, bought an end to their reign. It is now both the Town Hall/ Council chambers and a museum.

The main hall, was a beautiful room, full of sculptures, frescos on the walls and a wooden fresco painted ceiling. The bulk of the art work was done by Giorgio Vasari who also engineered the “false” ceiling, to not only support the roof, but also hold up the wooden panels.

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Part of our tour included climbing up into the ceiling to see the supporting structures. Each panel is independently supported, and can be removed individually to be cleaned.

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The inside of the ceiling is an important part in the novel.

We then made our way down to see Dante’s Mask, which was also a very important part of the book.

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We then walked the streets of Florence to the Church where Dante first saw and met the woman, Beatrice Portinari, with whom he instantly fell in love with. He only ever met her once again, so his love for her was never able to be acted upon.

It is this woman Beatrice Portinari that it is thought guides Dante through heaven in his poem, The Divine Comedy.

We then moved onto the Baptistery of St John the Baptist, the oldest building in Florence, opened in 1128. This is a separate structure from the Cathedral del Duomo. As the name suggests, this is where Florentine christians were baptised to allow them the right of passage into del Duomo. The door through which they pass as the leave the Baptistery to cross the Piazza into the Cathedral is known as the door of Paradise.

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The mosaics within the Baptistery are thought to have inspired Dante to write the Divine Comedy.

By then it was time to go back to our apartment to make our lunch, to eat on the train on our way out to Pisa, which is about an hour out of Florence on the slow moving regional line. As we made our 30 minute walk to the tower, Pisa was instantly nominated for the prize of being the worst town we have visited. It had that same lingering aroma that wafted gently on the breeze that reminded us of Avignon. But 10 times worse. The town looked to be in decline, and was full of some dodgy looking characters

The girls did not feel comfortable.

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Then we saw the Tower. It really is a must see. It has been beautifully cleaned, and the setting within the church yard, and the rest of the church itself was well worth the visit. It was 30 degrees, we were tired, and had no desire to go into the church or up the tower.

Instead we took the obligatory photos, then collapsed on the grass in the shade of the tower.

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Threw off our shoes and rested up for 20 minutes or so, before the sun reappeared from behind the the tower.

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So we walked back to the train station, sat down at a Gelato selling shop and sampled their wares in the shade of a balcony, with clean smelling air.

Then back on the train to Florence.

Pisa in spite of its beautiful tower is not a place to linger. Must see the Tower, yes. But see and go…. so we did.

Back to our apartment, for ham, salad and spuds. Not sure why, but we had a late night, and finally fell into bed around 11.00 pm.

Posted by Touringteamf 10:18 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Sunday we wandered the streets of Florence

and bumped into George Clooney

sunny 28 °C

Sunday

On Sunday morning we woke up with no food in the house. Dad set off to find a grocery store. An hour later he returned empty handed – like one of his many fishing trips. It turned out that no food stores are open on a Sunday morning.

But never fear, McDonalds was near.

So we set out in a hurry as they were about to stop serving breakfast.

After breakfast we headed across the road to the train station to change some of our tickets. We had booked a guided (Florence in a day) tour, but this had been cancelled. So we thought we should change our train tickets to Rome on Wednesday. If we went later in the day on Wednesday we could do the tour then. We wandered around for a while until we found a help desk. We saw the line, which didn’t seem too bad, they had plenty of desks open. Then we realised we needed a ticket from the machine, which gave us a number. A number was then put up onto a screen, then you would go forward. Our number was 412, and they were in the 340’s. They were also taking their time.

Dad stood in the queue while we girls had a look around the shops nearby. When we returned they were going quite fast and were up to 400. Then... they slowed down again. We waited another 15minutes before we were on our way again.

We then wondered about Florence taking photos at numerous places. Such as;

Pont de Vecchio Bridge,

Palace De Vecchio,

del Duomo Cathedral

And the leather markets.

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We had a quick look around the market to find an open food stall. There was one, but it was a mad house. At this point we were quite hungry so we got some buns and had them at our apartment with a cup of tea.

Whilst having lunch we decided that it would be worthwhile doing a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. We walked to our nearest stop and rode the bus all the way up to a pretty little hill-top village, Fiesole, where we got off, looked around for 5 minutes and got back on the bus.

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The bus then took us to a Piazzale Michelangelo which had a nice view of the city.

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It was a half hour walk home so we walked down the hill until we passed Palace De Vecchio, where there was a big crowd and fancy looking people. A red carpet event. We had no idea what it was for or who would be there. As we squeezed our way past, we heard whispers of George Clooney and Julia Roberts. We asked around and thought we would wait for a couple of minutes to see what happened... Well... we waited... and waited... and waited until it had been an hour. We were just about to leave when we heard people start to scream and yell... quite loudly. IT WAS FINALLY GEORGE CLOONEY! He pranced up and down like a pony and waved at the top of the stairs. Unfortunately, we got no good photos of George.

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But here are some other photos from our event.

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Lionel Ritchie

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Italian singer Laura Pausini (Google Laura Pausine and Michael Buble)

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And finally Andrea Bocelli

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The event was a Gala evening hosted by Andrea Bocelli to support his Foundation to help poor people. Tickets to the event were rumoured to cost $50,000 euro each!

Madison and I got some Ice Cream where you put your own toppings on and pay by weight.

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We went back up to our apartment where we relaxed and figured out where to go for tea. We went to a restaurant right beside Palace de Vecchio, so we pretty much had tea with George Clooney.

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Our tea wasn’t the best, so we went back to the ice cream shop for dessert. We wandered up the street to take some photos of Florence by night.

We saw a busker on our way, so we sat down on the side of the street for 30mins and watched him.

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The Cathedral didn’t look as nice as we thought it would so we went home to bed, ready for the next day ahead of us.

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Posted by Touringteamf 22:32 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Saturday was Au Revoir France

Ciao Italia!

sunny 30 °C

Well after a lovely week in Avignon we were packed and ready for the next stage of our journey. Marie the owner of the apartment arrived at 7.50am to check the apartment and return our bond. After a discussion of our week's adventures and a fond farewell we were on our way to the car rental depot and the train station.

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We left Avignon at 9.50am bound for Florence - arrival time 8.55pm! A long day of traveling ahead of us. Not all the time was going to be in the train of course - we had some stop over times at various stations when we needed to change trains. We stopped in Lyon and Chambery Challes in France and Torino Porta Susa in Italy before arriving in Florence. We passed some beautiful country side on our journey both mountainous and fertile farming plains.

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The trains were all good but the last one from Torino Porta Susa to Florence was great - it hardly seemed to be moving at all but was traveling at a top speed of 300km.

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We arrived in Florence around 9pm and joined the extremely long taxi line.

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Having said that, it didn't take long for the queue to move and we were in a taxi and on the way to our apartment. On the way to the apartment we passed a lot of great looking shops and sights. The apartment, once again is on the third floor up some very steep winding stairs - luckily this apartment building has a lift...fantastico!!

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The apartment is lovely and spacious and bright- great to see after a long day traveling.

We dropped off our bags and headed out to find somewhere to have tea (10pm!) Just down the road we found a great pizza and pasta restaurant. The pizza, risotto and ravioli were all delicious. We then had a quick look around the area where we are staying. Within about 3 blocks of the apartment we found a lot to look at....and not all shops. surprisingly enough! Two artists painting with chalk on the road - amazing. They living in Florence studying art. The art had been started at 10am in the morning and were not quite completed at 10.30pm the same day.

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Also a brass quartet entertaining a large crowd, a guitarist playing in the Piazza della Signoria right beside huge statues (including a replica of David. The girls thought his shadow looked better) and the del Duomo Cathedral (No photos yet) and the Old Palace.

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First impressions of Florence are brilliant - it looks like an exciting place to explore, very vibrant.

Posted by Touringteamf 00:41 Archived in Italy Comments (4)

Friday was our last chance to see Avignon

heat, historic sights, swimming and more false starts than a garage full of Holdens

sunny 32 °C

It was our last full day in France, and we didn’t rush at anything too quickly.

The girls wanted a last minute bit of shopping and Marg traipsed round after them. Meanwhile, I took a trial run out to the train station. Tomorrow we have to get there, drop off our rental and get the train for Florence. I’m pleased I did because I took a few wrong turns, even with Helen’s help, who must have had a late night, because she was quite hesitant at barking out her instructions. Either that or I wasn’t listening.

Anyway the girls and I reunited at the “Supermarche” to buy up our last supplies, headed back to our apartment, made lunch and headed out for our last sight seeing trip in Avignon.

This time we drove across the Rhone to Villeneuve-lez-Avignon. To those keen historians, or readers of our blog, you will know that “back in the day” the west side of the Rhone was French territory and the east side was Italian.

Being the frontier town, the French needed forts and walls to keep an eye on those pesky Popes and the rest of those dodgy Italians.

First stop was the Chartreuse Pontifcale du Val de Benediction. (Don’t worry, we don’t know what it means either) It is a Carthusian monastery founded in 1356 by Pope Innocent the VI. He donated the land and founded a monastery on the French side of the Rhone. Motivated by politics or religion I can’t be sure. Bear in mind a French abbey founded in the 10th century was next door.

The Italian abbey was built for 12 monks initially and expanded 50 years later to accommodate 24. During the revolution in the 1700s it was abandoned, and the art and library were sold, and the accommodation units sold off.

Since the late 1800s, a project has been in place to re acquire ownership and return the historic site to its former glory. It is no longer an abbey, but is a good museum to show what live was like. The main chapel has a collapsed end, but the rest is has been well preserved or restored.

We saw into one of the monk’s quarter’s. A bedroom, an office, a workshop and access on to a garden. Each unit had a service hatch through the thick walls, where their meals and instructions were delivered each day.

The abbey had several “cloisters” or gardens/courtyards, where they could be at one with God.

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It has been lovingly restored and most of the “units” have been renovated and rented out to artists, to find a different kind of inspiration.

Also of note, it is the final resting place of Pope Innocent VI.

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Then it was on to the neighbouring and older abbey. Abbaye Saint Andre and the surrounding fort, Fort Saint Andre. We thought we had tickets into the abbey as part of our entry into the previous abbey, but that was just trickery, or a misunderstanding. We did have access to the fort, but not the abbey.

The abbey (Saint Andre) was foundered in the 900’s, but the fortification wasn't built until the 1200s with the Italians starting to exert their authority of the east bank of the Rhone.

The abbey (St Andre) looked much bigger and nicer but we passed up the offer to buy tickets for another 10 euro each, and just looked at the fort. Initially we thought, “lets just go”. We had promised the girls another trip to the pool. But we forged on in the searing heat and were pleased we did so. Initially it gave us some great views over Avignon, particularly the Palais de Papes.

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We eventually found our way to the top of the wall, and it gave a us a great outlook over Avignon, on the other side of the Rhone, the previous abbey and the ramparts of the fortification. So it was well worth it.

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We then headed for the pool. Much deserved too I might add. I persuaded the “boss” of the pool to let me in, in my trunks, and not speedos. He agreed. I think his memory of me from earlier in the week was fresh in his mind, so he quickly agreed. The women folk seemed equally as pleased.

It was much quieter, as it was mid week, and we think the schools have gone back after their summer holiday. The two hours in the pool was marvellous. Madison went off the 3.0m diving board, on the promise I would go off the 5.0m board. Madison hesitated at the top, but took the plunge. Thereafter she was like a lemming, throwing herself repeatedly off the board…..and loving it!

So up to the 5.0m board I manfully strode. My golly gosh it’s a long way down!! Several false starts and then I flew through the air with the grace of a hippo falling of a cliff.

Mackenzie and Madison were both bribed with double scoop ice creams, and hot chips if they too, took the 5.0m plunge.

After more false starts than a clapped out Holden, Mackenzie took the plunge. Slightly more graceful than I. Madison also broke the Holden record for false starts, before finally refusing.

As Mackenzie licked lovingly at her ice cream, Madison strolled purposefully back to the pool. Stared the 5.0m board down to size and confronted her demons. To give her courage she jumped off the 3.0m board first, then ascended the 5.0m board. One false start then off she went. (Obviously a Ford)

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Ice cream and hot chips never tasted so good.

By then it was 7.00 pm, and time for home.

Tomorrow we are on the train bound for Italy.

Posted by Touringteamf 13:52 Archived in France Comments (1)

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