Friday, September 17, 2010

The Last last post

Here is my favourite pic of the trip. Coming home tomorrow

The last Post

Of all the statues and busts we have seen this is my favourite. Sitting inside one of the Vatican Museum's many rooms. All they need is a pitchfork and an Amish hat and we have the timeless American family pic. Just proves everything is timeless.

Yesterday was the biggie, a trip around St. Peter's, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. All very enjoyable and breathtaking. In a previous comment it was noted that the Italian churches seen on this trip were not as ornate as those seen on other trips in other countries. Obviously St. Pete had told us "COme and see my place!" We did and it was Maaaarvelous.

Finishing the day, after fighting the crowds on the Metro, it wasn't quite the rush hour when we arrived on that leg, we ended up relaxing on an hourlong boat cruise on the River Tiber. One of the sad things about seeing Rome is not being able to miss the amount of 'tagging' and street graffiti, it mars the nobleness of the place.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Antiquities day

The Coliseum, the Forum and a couple of other ruins; that was the first part of the day.  A very hot day and we were almost done in but we persevered and saw it all.

A view of the Forum
Starting the day on the streetcar we then found the bus stop and alighted at the Coliseum. The problem with Rome and the guide books don't tell you this is that there are very few signs on the ground so one does get lost easily. We did quite often. Anyway back to our day, we got past the lineups, signed up for  a guided tour and proceeded to roam around the Coliseum. Thirty minutes later we were on our own. Finding the exit was tough - bad signage - we moved to the Forum. Another wrong turn and the Main entrance to the Forum was missed. A few more walks and we were in.

At the end of the Forum we were supposed to find steps to take us to the Capitol Hill but excavations blocked us and we were stymied again. As we wanted to visit the Mamertine Prison we had to walk around the long way, getting there we claimed to be over 65 to get the seniors discount and we were in.

Cries of "No more ruins or stones" we found refuge in a restaurant, did I tell you folks that the midday meal is the big one over here, Well we had a big one and a few brewskies. to boot Just enough to set off for more shopping - we found it and the women were off. Purses and boots were the options of the day. As I told Doreen last night - "You do the shopping and I'll do the drinking" So far the bargain is holding up!

Tourist Day

The Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and the shopping area - all must things for the tourist and we did them all. Took some doing, many wrong turns and a few cuss words at the miniscule maps that we had to work with.

We arrived at the Trevi Fountain, tossed in the obligatory coin and we will win the lottery when we get back (at least I will; my wish will come true won't it?) at noon, just before the tour groups and it was crowded, but on the return trip, in our many circlings of the area the place was packed at 3pm.

On to the Spanish steps and more of the same lots of crowds and vendors hawking souvenirs. Doreen and her sister - Louise, were mighty impressed as this place was on the top of their lists.

Off to the shopping area but unfortunately what was on the shopping lists did not appear on the streets, so another trip will be coming!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Don't take the Tour

The Gladiators' practice field
Our first big mistake - we bought a guided tour to Pompeii and Naples. You know the kind, go to a central point get on a bus, drive to a destination pf your choice and don't see what you really want to see because the organizers take you to places (restaurants and artisans factories) that you don't want to see - you just want to see the sight - because they get a kickback. Anyway to cut along story short we didn't have enough time at Pompeii to see what we wanted to see and we spent too much time wasting time in  an abbreviated and useless tour of Naples. 
What we should have done was to take the train and follow our noses, but not enough drive to do it that way.

The 'small' theatre
Anyway what we did see was impressive. The place was excavated in the 18th Century and work continues today. When you are told that 30 feet of volcanic ash had covered the place and then you see how much has been uncovered (4\5ths of the Town) you get a feeling for the immense task involved. We stayed on the site for the two hours allowed and admired the stones (well I did, Doreen told me tomorrow is shopping!)

Entering Rome at 9pm we saw the City of Lights in its true form.

Today it's the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps and the shopping cruise in that part of Town.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

We've seen it - the Coliseum that is

Caesar's last stand
It will not be the last look at the place, it's an eerie feeling looking at something that is nearly 2,000 years old. But well worth it. After finding the way to tomorrow's start point - it's a daytrip to Pompeii, we went for a tour on a doubledecker bus and saw, fleetingly, the Coliseum. We navigated the bus system and public transit and feel confident about getting where we have to go. At the end of the streetcar route we found ourselve in Largo Argentina. Apparently in the 20s Mussolini decide to go excavating and after evicting hundreds of Romans from their homes he found four temples and a part of the Senate, local lore tells of the place being where Julius Caesar was stabbed - another fascinating tale.
Took 174 pics, some of which will end up in the slide show if I can ever make it work.

Tomorrow is a trip to Pompeii and Naples and is a late return so the post may be late.

If it's Saturday it must be Rome

A three hour road trip and we are back at the airport to drop the car off. 84 euros spent on a couple of thousand kms and the investment was worth it. Howcum spending money is referred to as 'waste' or 'investment'? - Toryspeak!

Anyway after succumbing to the wails and pleading of a shuttle bus driver - "Taxi drivers charge for all the bags so forty euro is not forty euro (the fare from the airport is regulated) - my price is all-in!" we boarded his van, with a couple of Australians and we were deposited right outside the green door, of the apartment building, we had looked at so often on Google streetsview. A quick look around the apartment, opened the bags and then to the first order of business - food (how did you guess?). Not one block away there are six or seven eateries, we picked the one with the cheapest prices, ordered a liter of Bianco and enjoyed another thin crust pizza. We were told by others, who had visited Italy that they did not enjoy the food, they must have gone to another Italy, the food is fine here. 

Another streetscape on the right what the pic doesn't capture is the funny feeling of claustrophobia when one is walking in the alleys, seven storey buildings ten feet apart can do that. This is the good kind of phobia as we don't get to see these sights in Cobourg. 

Tomorrow, after eating the welcoming complimentary breakfast, the landlord greeted us with we will have a family conference to decide what to see first - the Pantheon, the Coliseum, the Forum - to heck with that we might just sit on the pavement and drink wine!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The walled city - San Gimignano

A trip to the finest example of a walled city is a both a trip back in time and a visit to a theme park. San Gimignono was, like all of Tuscany, devastated by the "black plague" and as populations were severely reduced the infrastructure was abandoned in places. This left many towns and villages suspended in time. This place was one of them. The City walls remained in place and the whole place has been restored as an example of a medieval city. Consequently the place is overrun by tourists. And there is a lot to see.
A Town square complete   with the Town well, Town walls with the required number of gates and alleyways and a lot of hills to climb. Bit it is a magnificent place to see. 
Mr Frommer, who has been our guide for the week didn't steer us wrong this time. "Go to 'Chiribiri' and have a meal you will eat from a Tuscan menu in a traditional setting!" Not wrong we had the best meal of the trip and at good prices too. A true epicurean experience. Rabbit for me, lasagne for Doreen and dolces (desserts) to die for. The Disneyworld factor comes from the museums in the place - The Museum of Torture, The Museum of Capital Punishment and the Medieval Museum. One could get grossed out quite easily but what else are the kids in your party going to do in Tuscany - panoramic views don't quite cut it  for them.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A day in the village - Greve that is

Greve en Chianti is about 1.5 km from our apartment, which as you know is in a walled village and is for obvious reasons built on top of the hill above Greve. So the walk, which we have not attempted is an easy one down and a bit of a puffer up. Needles to say the walk has not been attempted yet. Anyway back to Greve, the major festival in it's year is the Wine Festival. The 40th version is now on. The square is filled with producers' booths and one buys a glass and tastes whatever wine looks good. 10 euros buys seven tastes but as the guys in the booths sometimes forget to ask for the ticket, that has to be punched, you get more than seven. The quantity of the sample is about half the normal amount for a glass - 1.5 ounces. Seven or eight or nine maybe ten and you've consumed a lot of wine. Mix white, red and rose and one feels it. Now try walking back! We didn't but still got back. Supper in the square - Stuart and me had the one item that has intrigued us for days, well at least every time we pass the menu - wild boar stew. Very good a tangy ham in a spicy sauce, wolf down copious amounts of bread and it's a hearty meal.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Another Italian City - Sienna

Sienna, the city of the horsemen. We drove, and fought the traffic, made a wrong turn and ended up in the old city surrounded by people. Ever had that nightmare where people keep coming at you - well that was today, we got the heck out of Dodge and blundered into a parking lot with free spaces.

Walked back into the walled city and became sightseers. And there's a lot to see. But not interested in all of it, if you were a 10 euro pass would be the way to go, we didn't buy our way into any of it. But as the small streets were filled with stores and sights and were interesting and the Campo was what we wanted to see. The Campo is the main scalloped shaped square that once a year the horsemen race around for regional pride.

The MiraMax movie that shows the horse race is in our minds when looking down into the square - it is a magnificent The square was built in the 13th Century on the ruins of a Roman ampitheatre and the design shows. The square is a square in name only, really a bowl. The bowl is lined with restaurants and shops on three quarters of the perimeter and the back of the bowl is a long building housing administration offices. Very impressive.

Driving into Sienna we went through the hills of Tuscany, hair-pin bends and all. Driving like an Italian made the trip more enjoyable for me but put the wind up the passengers. Views of the area were like postcards but still looked good. We will miss them when we hit Rome next week.

Love the English signs - click on pic to enlarge

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

We are not arty people

And it showed when we hit up Florence today. A very crowded place so the bus was the transport for us. 3 euros each way and no headache with the parking. After being dropped at the bus station we looked for the return pickup spot and naturally it wasn't at the drop off point but we did find it and being secure in the knowledge that we knew when and how to get the return bus off we set to explore. 
Heading for the Ponte Vechio (bridge in pic) we sauntered through streets packed with traffic and sightseeing groups. It is amazing to see that all of the building, at least 400 years old have modern occupants, heritage can accommodate modernism if the political will is there - Canada should take note. Crossing the bridge we entered the area with the sites, the Uffizi, the home of renaissance art, where the entrance lines were only a couple of hours long, the main Piazza ringed with statues of the gods and others wound around to a lunch spot and then into the Duomo (the cathedral). Both of us remain unimpressed with the interiors of the churches we have seen so far, definitely not up to the opulence of the Belgian ones we saw a few years ago.
On our way back to the bus, about four o clock, we noticed a stop for the City bus tour. 10 euros each and an hour on the bus showed us all the sights, including Galileo's house (in the pic).
Back to Greve - the bus trip was longer as the workers had to get home on this bus and it delivered them to visiting all the small villages between Florence and Greve. 
A quick trip to the bake shop and it was tea and cakes for supper.

Sienna tomorrow

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A bit of a bent!

Pisa - the home of the leaning tower, was the destination for today. Driving in Tuscany is a challenge as the roads tend to be smaller than usual and the GPS works in a strange way. However it does get us out of trouble when we turn the wrong way. The metallic feminine voice saying "recalculate" does grate at times.
Pisa is impressive, larger than one's impressions before arriving and not too commercialised. Strange thing; all of the the vendors retailing watches and jewelry are Africans, perhaps marginalised people but black all the same. No white Italians in this business.
We visited the Baptistry and the Cathedral as well as looking at the Tower, looking id free but a combination ticket for the two visits cost 6 euros each.

The end of the day was spent in the Town square at Greve, sipping wine and watching the workmen put up the booths, that will fill the square with wine producers offering tasting experiences in the forthcoming wine festival later in the week. 

Florence tomorrow.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The first day

Sunday was spent exploring the town of Greve en Chianti, the main town of the region. There was a gathering in the town square, as near as we could discover the festivities were to celebrate the regional differences and pride, very loud speakers and lots of local dancers. Breakfast was taken at the only place that was open at 10am  - very good but food prices are high.
One of the activities was a cycling event, cheered our hearts as the event must have been a Masters, all the participants were fogies! Very fit oldsters.

Driving through the area we are struck by the smallness of the country and the way agriculture takes up every inch of the earth, the terraces that the live trees sit on are very impressive. According to the local pamphlets the vines that are all over the place have replaced mixed farming, I guess grapes pay better than milk and pigs.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

We'eeeeeere here

Montifioralle,  our home for the next seven days. The walled village, one of the finest examples of such a place, is 1.5 kms from the Town of Greve en Chianti. But that 1.5 kms is all downhill, as the landlady says the walk down is good but coming back will be a bit harder - we'll be going in for breakfast by car!