A Travellerspoint blog

Day 10 - Downtown in Florence

We took to the streets of Florence today to explore on our own. Nothing against tourists but there were bloody massive groups of tourists everywhere! More than we have seen anywhere else so far. We set off walking with the aim of making Ponte Vecchio.

First up we went to the church across the square to check out the Fra Angelico paintings. Then off up the back streets to see what we could find. The first big thing was Santa Maia del Fiore - the Cathedral of Florence. Yes Channe another bloody church! The exterior was the most highly decorated busy one so far and is made of marble. The walk to the top of the Dome is 450 odd steps and then the same back down ... so they say as we declined the kind offer. The queue to get into the Cathedral wound around the street so we left it behind and kept walking.

We stopped on the way for Channe to do some shopping and then arrived on the Ponte Vecchio. Walking up onto the bridge you have no sense you are over the river as the shops obscure the views. It is lined on both sides by jewellery shops and the small gap along the way is filled with tourists taking photos of the river. We walked through and then went around the other side of the river and up to the next bridge. From here we had a great view of Ponte Vecchio to one side and up river to the other. An added attraction was a man working intently on a painting. It was the only canvas he had and he slowly and meticulously painted away.

Lunch was at a local café by the river which was frequented by office workers so was a good price and more importantly good food. We walked back towards our apartment stopping in at another church and then eventually the Cathedral. The dome from inside is well worth a look!

Around from the Cathedral we stopped to allow Channe to have a caricature done - it is excellent!

Home late afternoon for awhile to rest up before going out to buy food for this evening.

In late breaking news Channe has worked out how to make the television speak in English!!!!!!!!!!

Channe by Channe

Channe by Channe

Painting the river (photo by Channe Harman)

Painting the river (photo by Channe Harman)

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

Watching the river

Watching the river

River Arno (photo by Channe Harman)

River Arno (photo by Channe Harman)

Ponte Vecchio (photo by Channe Harman)

Ponte Vecchio (photo by Channe Harman)

Cathedral

Cathedral

Votive candles

Votive candles

Inside the Dome

Inside the Dome

Portrait sitting

Portrait sitting

Posted by JHarman 10:12 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Day 9 - to Florence

Today was a travel day with a later start then off to catch the very fast train to Florence. It was very fast - averaging 250 kilometres an hour and virtually no indication of the speed we were travelling at. Beautiful views of the country side - houses, crops (olive trees and vines) carefully cultivated down the sides of hills.

Into Florence to take the short 400 metre walk that the travel agent said the apartment was from the station ...... hmmm long 400 metres. We were met at the apartment by a kind young man who very generously carried our bags up the one flight of very steep (bloody) stairs. He showed us the apartment which includes 2 bedrooms with double beds and ensuites, kitchen lounge, terrace. He also showed us the washing machine - it looks like a dishwasher to us! But there is a real washing machine in a broom cupboard!

We are right on Piazza San Marco so have great views across the square. There is a church across the way so going to Mass was an easy 2 minute walk away.

Florence seems to be a city of sirens with police, ambulance etc screeching around. At one point we saw a bus being given a police escort with cars out the front and back. The front riders waiting for the bus to catch up! Goodness knows what that was about.

Piazza San Marco

Piazza San Marco

Across the square

Across the square

Life on a drainpipe

Life on a drainpipe

Posted by JHarman 12:25 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Day 8 - Rome sojourn is ending!

With a 9 am start we had time for breakfast so we were able to wander down the street to a local café and look at the views!

Day 8 was supposed to be an easy no walking day. Kiron had organised a car to take us to various places that are hard to get to and by having the car we would see them and not have to walk for miles. Hmmmmm ...... so she and the driver pick us up at our apartment and we find out that the first stop is usually the last on the tour and we go around the block1 After promising a day of no churches and walking we start at a church ...... hmmmm!

So St Clements was pretty amazing with at least 3 levels underground of different eras of use. Unfortunately no photos allowed!

It was Saturday in Rome and we had to weave our way around demonstrations and sporting events - if you are prepared to call walking a sporting event. Oh yes over excited parents and coaches torturing kids in some walking comp! The morning ended with looking through a keyhole and taking a (long) walk to the baths!

After this we bid Kiron farewell and went to meet Fr Mark Withoos an Australian priest working in Rome for lunch. Fr Withoos is a good friend of Bishop Kennedy (Jenny's Bishop). So lunch at a local restaurant and Fr Withoos proceeded to lead Channe astray - special after dinner aperitif and expresso ( or as he called it a 'drug').

We then walked to the Trevi Fountain, Channe did some selfies and shopping and befriended a local horse. Back to the apartment time for gathering our wits and out to dinner out our favourite local restaurant. After dinner we went down to see the Colloseum lit up at night .... not as impressive as at day time!

Breakfast

Breakfast

[Through the keyhole

Through the keyhole

Making a wish

Making a wish

New friends

New friends

Good Night

Good Night

Posted by JHarman 12:46 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Day 7 - Visiting a new country!

Today was spent in Vatican City State - adding another country to our list of ones visited.

The day started early with us needing to be at a special meeting point for a tour of the Scavi. So we grabbed a cab, got over there and sussed out where we needed to be with a nice Swiss Guard. Even though it was early there were crowds of people there - including lots of dignitaries going into a special area near where we needed to go. We had time for a quick eat and walk breakfast and then queued to go through the security check point. Learning a lesson from yesterday passports were in our bags! Through security and then we walked around the back of the buildings to a meeting point. Maria an American then took 14 of us on a tour of the excavation site under St Peter's which included seeing many burial areas, the original burial spot of St Peter and some bones of his. During the tour one of the officials came up and spoke to the guard and we could hear the word Harman. Next Maria asked if there was anyone called Harman in the group. She said that at the end of the tour we were to go with her and not exit with the rest of the group. Parts of the crypt area of previous Popes - normally open to the public were closed off but we got to walk through. Maria then took Channe and I back through the crypt area and out to the courtyard. It seems that all the activity in the square and Basilica had closed off where our guide Kiron was going to meet up with us so she pulled in some favours to make sure we were not lost. She also found out it was the swearing in day for the Swiss Guard and one of the Cardinals was saying a special Mass. We could hear the singing from under the Basilica as we walked around.

Kiron then took us on a personalised tour inside the Basilica. In an ironic twist we went through the Holy Door of Mercy which the Pope had opened. Before leaving Australia I had gone through all sorts of hoops trying to register to go through this door - including getting the Bishop to translate the Italian instructions. Even with his language expertise it didn't seem to work and here we were just wandering through - no tickets required.

Things have changed since I was last in Rome. Saint John Paul II, who I met last time, is now buried inside the main part of the Basilica and Saint John XXIII is now on display - kitted out in papal regalia but with a wax mask on his face and hands to stop freaking people out at their sight.

After the Basilica tour we had a break, went and did some shopping nearby and sat and watched the world go by. We then went walking to find a little restaurant up a side street recommended by Kiron where she joined us after lunch and provided a pre Sistine Chapel briefing. Off to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, skipping the huge queue with the pre purchased of our tickets and then through more security (it was Kiron providing today's entertainment!). It took about an hour to walk through the museum hallways to finally end up in the Sistine Chapel. No photos or descriptions do justice to the artworks, sculptures, tapestries and mosaics let alone the history of the place. The Chapel is supposed to be a quiet space and no photographs are to be taken. Absolutely packed with people the noise level was high and punctuated at regular intervals by a booming male voice yelling SILENCE!

A brief tour of the piazza outside the Basilica concluded our day and Kiron saw us into a cab. Well the driver was the most manic of drivers we have encountered and he made all the other lunatics on the road look positively normal! At one point he pulled up and got out - he had been pulled over by an unmarked police car. Lots of animated talking and then he gets back in saying "tranquil. tranquil". But it is not over ... he continues the journey on his phone - no hands free - and occasionally pointed out various sites of interest. We pull up near our apartment and who is behind us but the police car who had followed behind the whole way. We left him at their mercy.

Not a lot of photos today due to bans on taking photos in most of the areas we visited but here are some shots Channe got.

St Peters

St Peters

The Cupola from the side

The Cupola from the side

Hallway in Museum

Hallway in Museum

Posted by JHarman 11:01 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Day 6 - Rome walking

Today we met up with our personal guide Kiron who had been recommended by a friend.

She met us in the morning and took us on a tour of the Forum and Colosseum. Along the way she told us lots of history and stories really bringing the ruins to life. Outside the Forum were the horses and carriages that appear in most cities for tourists and this was unique as a farrier did some running repairs to one of the horses whilst it was still hitched to the carriage!

After the tour Kiron left us to have a lunch and a break but before going she recommended a restaurant in a back street that is one of her favourites. We got there and it was not yet open for lunch so she talked to the owner and we were soon seated at a table. Meanwhile she went off to book a table for herself for this coming weekend! Beautiful food!

After lunch we wandered along the streets to meet up with Kiron at 3 pm for an afternoon tour of churches:

Saint Mary Maggiore
Santa Praessede
Holy Steps - with steps that can only be accessed on your knees - these steps are the ones Jesus went up when he was sent to see Pilate before the crucifixion.
Saint John Lateran
Holy Cross of Jerusalem - the latter has sole from Jerusalem, nails from the cross, wood of the cross, thorns from the crown of thorns and various other relics.

We got great explanations of the history of each church, the artworks, special meanings in paintings or sculptures and she took us to see some of the rarest relics in Rome. Saint John Lateran church is the Pope's local Cathedral as Bishop of Rome and is truly beautiful.

However the real excitement of the day for some people was the fact that Jenny got stuck in a security screening where her passport set off the alarms! This caused much amusement for Kiron and Channe. And held the whole line waiting to go into Saint John Lateran to be stalled as they checked and rechecked what was setting off the alarm. Might have to take a risk tomorrow and leave it at the apartment whilst we are in the Vatican!

Street farrier

Street farrier

Colosseum II

Colosseum II

Looking down at the arena

Looking down at the arena

Posing at the Colosseum

Posing at the Colosseum

Lunch

Lunch

Holy Steps

Holy Steps

Posted by JHarman 10:36 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

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