A Travellerspoint blog

Day 18 - The scary fairytales of Luberon!

Aix-en-Provence and surrounds

semi-overcast 15 °C

I woke up to a spectacular, sunny, blue-skyed morning with croissants (the best of the southern France region I would have), baguette, fresh coffee, homemade jams, the most amazing breakfast cheeses, including my favourite chevre, ham, and of course, being in France, butter. Exquisite butter. My best friend, butter.

After a very leisurely start to the morning, I headed into town via bus from a local parking area (€2.20 for all day parking AND your bus ticket to Aix) to meet my tour group for the trip through the small villages of Provence. It turned out there were only three of us on the tour, plus our guide ‘Florence’, with myself and an older couple from Canada/America…Kevin and Elaine.

We started out towards L’Isle sur la Sorgue, where I was due to return tonight for my accommodation. It is a beautiful little town with a lovely river running through it (the river Sorgue of course!), and it used to have hundreds of water wheels. Now however it only has a couple of moss-covered wheels along the main street, and no doubt a few others I didn’t manage to see. The three musketeers wandered through town, had a look at a few of the shops (it is meant to be an antiques place, but we only say ‘new’ old stuff), then stopped for coffee and a few pastries (lemon curd tart and opera cake). Back on the bus an hour later and we were off to the old (they’re all old!) town of Gordes, as recommended by Johnny D at work!
large_90_P1010912.jpglarge_P1010924.jpg
Gordes is a little commune village build on the foothills of the Monts of Vaucluse, facing the Luberon. It is an incredible little hilltop village, and driving up towards it there are some spectacular views of the whole village, which cascades down the hill face with little manicured gardens and houses all around. We had a wander around the markets, which were on until lunchtime, and battled the wind constantly. Our guide had told us that one of the local specialty produce grown in the region is a melon, similar to a rockmelon, so I found one and bought it (at great expense) and ate it for dessert later tonight.
large_P1010935.jpg
large_P1010941.jpglarge_90_P1010949.jpg
After Gordes we stopped at a lavender shop to hear a little about the difference between real lavender, which is grown above 800m elevation and only has one flower per stem, and lavendine, which is the cheaper stinky stuff which grows everywhere and has three flowers per stalk. I must say, I cannot stand tours which take you to shops with the intention of hanging around buying crap, and thankfully neither could my companions on the tour, so a few minutes later we were out and on our way to Roussillon.

Roussillon is located in the centre of one of the largest orchre deposits in the world, which makes the town a gorgeous red colour, with the countryside dotted with deposits of red rocks. There are apparently 17 shades of orchre, and each house seems to be made out of a slightly different shade, which is spectacular. Reminded me of northern WA. Apparently a local legend is that a princess was married to a wretched older bloke who kept going off to war or something, so she took a lover and fell in love. Her hubby found out about it, and killed her lover, and fed the princess her lovers heart unknowingly. When he told her she was so devastated that she killed herself and her blood discoloured the earth. Not quite the children’s bedtime story I was expecting!
large_90_P1010997.jpg
We wandered through yet another labyrinth of winding cobbled streets, and I stopped to buy some canned fois gras (hope that makes it back through customs!), and some Calisson sweets. These little sweets are a traditional candy made with a smooth, melon and almond flavoured jelly-type-stuff, with a thin layer of royal icing on top. They were originally made in Aix-en-Provence, and are believed to have first originated at the second wedding of King Rene of Anjou. Apparently, he was marrying some little 20-year-old who was half his age, and she was so upset and crying all the time, that the chef decided to make her a little sweet for her wedding day, which would be like a ‘little-hug’.

The next little town we went to was Bonnieux, a steep town with an old church at the top and a newer church at the bottom. We were dropped at the top, almost climbed to the top church, but didn’t [stairs!], and strolled to the bottom over half an hour. It was extremely quiet and pretty, but as with the others, windy as all hell! We stopped at one last little town for the grand total of 5 minutes, but unfortunately couldn’t walk over the castle as it was closed to public strollers. Oh well…another time.
large_P1010987.jpglarge_P1010995.jpg
We were dropped back in town, where I promptly got on a bus to pick up my car, and double back to tonight’s accommodation in L’Isle sur la Sorgue (I would practice and practice the pronunciation of that town’s name, and to a French person still sound like I was drooling). The bed and breakfast was beautiful, on a large property, with a two story stone house, gorgeous room, and an ensuite built into what I originally thought was a wardrobe (they had obviously found some antique wardrobe doors and repurposed them!). There were chickens, a warm but failing sun, and a night of cozy comfort ahead of me.

Daily summary:
Small villages visited - 5
Windy streets perused – 1,000
Fois gras purchased – 85g
Sad medieval tales of lady-woe – 2

Being thankful that I’m not being married off to some old ghoul….priceless!

Posted by jenniferhall 01:42 Archived in France Comments (0)

Day 16 & 17 - Pasta paradise to croissant country

Monterosso to Nice and Aix-en-Provence, France

sunny 20 °C

After a late start this morning having been distracted with calls back home, I was in a perpetual rush! But it didn’t stop me enjoying an omelette and a Nutella crepe for brekky, made by the lovely ladies at my hotel!

I had to drive an hour and a half from Monterosso to Genova, to dehire the car at the airport, then find my way to the train station to get my train to Nice which had been pre-booked for 12:22. Sounds simple enough, and with my high expectations based on the ease of transportation in the last few weeks I thought it would be fine. To cut a long story short, the cops flagged me to slow down (driving) at one point, I endured the scariest taxi ride from the airport car rental drop point to the train station, and in the end my train actually left half an hour later so I had plenty of time! But, I have learnt a lesson in leaving ample time for international travel!

The train journey from Genova to Nice was beautiful, as it hugged the coast line for much of the trip, and the scenes of coastal French towns with the sea stretching out were delightful. I arrived in Nice, and had a horrendous walk for about 30 minutes dragging the luggage to find the airport where I would pick up my next hire car, and was thankfully directed by another solo traveller from London and her trusty GPS! A brand-spanking new Renault with in-built GPS was awaiting me, which would make life a little easier over the next 5 days.

Driving into Nice was a little tricky, with a lot of road works happening, and almost every street in the centre of town being one-way. I missed my accommodation, and ended up on a very convoluted route through one-way streets to eventually get back to the right spot. The hostel accommodation I’d booked was great, however I was in a room of 6 beds on my own! So much for meeting some people to socialise with in Nice!
I absolutely loved the French feel to Nice, and decided to frock up and stroll to the old-town to find a lovely restaurant for my first French meal. So new heels on (purchased in Lucca), and new frock on (purchased in Florence). I made my way up the main Avenue to the old town, with only one smarmy man sidling up to me and saying I had a face like a child, and it was his lifelong dream to kiss an Australian. Not creepy in the slightest. I brushed him off, and made my way to the seaside as the sun was packing up for the day.

I found a restaurant with a three course menu option which appealed, and as I elegantly strutted over looking every bit as European as I possibly could, in true Jen-fashion, I stacked it as big and as boldly as I could, managing the most awkward and flailing recovery at the final moment saving me from hitting the deck, no more than 2 meters from the entry to the restaurant. “Table for one, please”…no bloody surprises there!

I was not disappointed with my first meal in France. Entrée was a soufflé with apple and fois gras, followed by a sliced duck breast with balsamic reduced strawberries, mashed potato, potato gratin, and about a dozen other flourishes on the plate. I tried to practice a little bit of French on the waiter, who was a delight and pandered to my attempts; “Je suis plein. Mais je me rejouis a dessert”. Dessert was a crispy pile of sweet noodle things, with strawberries, cream, and passionfruit coulis, and of course the whole meal was accompanied by a half bottle of red wine from the Medoc region, which I would be visiting in a few days on a tour I had booked.

After a delightful sleep in my own private hostel room, I strolled back to the old town to sort out my French SIM card and have an explore. I'd heard the panoramic view from the top of the hill past the old town was incredible, so I made my way up there to explore the Roman ruins and get some good photos.

In transit up the hill, I asked a non-descript young guy to take a photo for me, which he obligingly did, and continued on my merry way to the top. The guy had started following me, which was mildly off-putting, but I'd assumed we were both just destined to head for the top in any case, so didn't think too much about it. Then he closed the gap, and started stroking my arm and back…he was weird and creepy, and when he went for my derriere, I whipped around and told him not to touch me and he ran off. The whole experience burst my little bubble of having felt entirely confident and safe throughout the last few weeks, and I reminded myself to be more cautious. The joy having been taken out of that little sightseeing adventure, I walked back to town, went to the post office to sort out a package home (7kg for 55 euro wasn't as bad as I'd thought), and was delighted asking the tourist office in French for directions for the Post Office, to the point where I nodded and smiled when they replied in French and I didn’t catch any of the actual directions!
large_P1010889.jpglarge_P1010898.jpglarge_P1010900.jpg
Back to pick up the car, and I was off. The drive to Aix-en-Provence was lovely and relaxed, on great roads, and at a consistent speed of 130km/hr. I’m really enjoying the driving, particularly as I’ve planned it so that there’s no more than an hour or two per day between places.
The accommodation I’d picked was really lovely about 10 minutes out of town, with a comfortable big bed and private en suite on a big beautiful property. I settled in for a nap, then went out to explore the town, but being a Monday most places were closed by the time I got in at around 730 for dinner. I found a little café and had the most tender, flavourful pork I've ever had, again with a barrage of accompanying vegetables and sauces, with a glass of Rose. Back to the accommodation to plan a bit more of the accommodation for the next few days, and get a good night’s sleep before the tour tomorrow.

Posted by jenniferhall 00:55 Archived in France Comments (0)

Day 15 - I hiked in Monterosso! And other local legends...

sunny 22 °C

Last night I had one of my favourite meals in Italy! At L’Osteria, just a moment’s walk from my accommodation, was a delicious traditional Italian restaurant. I sat at what would become a communal table, reading my book “Julia Child: My Life in France”, and enjoyed an entrée of steamed mussels in white wine and lemon broth, followed by the most delicious seafood ravioli with scampi. All this with a spritz, carafe of vino rosso, and finished off with a lemon and basil tart for dessert. Pure indulgence.

After a light sleep, in a somewhat uncomfortable bed, my day got off to a slow start. Following made-to-order omelettes for breakfast, I made several trips back to my room (up a very steep flight of stairs), to get to various levels of preparedness for my day of walking between the town of Monterosso and Vernezza, slightly to the East. I was not generally prepared for serious hiking, as far as my quality of packing goes, so I had just my trusty Merryls, a half way reasonable outfit (I actually brought my gym pants), and my…regular handbag. Hmmm this won’t do. So from a little tourist shop I purchased a cheap backpack, went back yet again to the room to drop the handbag, and finally set out…on to realise I had to hike up the hill to put more money in my car! It wasn’t even 11am yet, and I felt like I’d hiked all morning already.

I purchased a ferry ticket before departing which would allow me to travel between the towns all day after I’d done the walking part, and then set off. The walk was quite difficult by my standards, but probably not too bad by others’, and had a good hour of heading uphill with a combination of narrow, rocky steps, and steep paths. My Dad would no doubt bounce up it like a rabbit, but for me it was relatively slow and steady, with a few little rest stops. However, I must admit given my general level of fitness (or lack thereof), I powered up much more easily than I’d thought I would overtaking several people on the way, probably on account of the hours of walking most days over the last fortnight! Woo hoo…if I keep fitting in my jeans, and keep walking, maybe I won’t come back looking like a sumo wrestler!

There were several absolutely breathtaking scenes from various points along the walk; shortly after leaving, and looking back at Monterosso (the old town where I was staying), and nearing the end when you looked down to Vernezza, with some spectacular ocean (or sea?) views in between.
About half way was a little cat haven on a rocky outcrop where locals had obviously set up a feeding area and shelter for some of the Cinque Terre’s feline inhabitants. A sign read something along the lines of ‘cats to be cuddled and fed by the tourists’, and there were a few kennels around for shelter.
large_P1010818.jpg
large_90_P1010857.jpg
large_P1010869.jpg
Arriving into Vernezza I had only lunch and water on my mind, and I found both quickly in the colourful town. Lunch was a mixed seafood cone, with cod balls, anchovies, squid, and a stick of crumbed mussels…yum, and then it was to the ferry for a trip around the towns. Unfortunately, however, with a 5pm massage booked I couldn’t quite work out how to visit all the towns, and accidentally got back on the boat to Monterosso instead of the other direction. So by the time I arrived back, which wasn’t long, I was exhausted, and in proximity to a hot shower and a cat nap, and it won out this time.

A very underwhelming massage later (who calls 40 minutes an hour these days?), a nap, and a delectable pepper steak, and it was bed for me. But having not had enough water today, and being poked and prodded unceremoniously, I had an epic headache, so a shifty trip downstairs to beg borrow and steal a local ‘Panadol’ (my trusty first aid kit was in the car, and I wasn’t hiking up the hill at 10pm!), and I was finally ready for some sleep.

Daily summary:
Hours walked – 2
Anchovies consumed – 8
Spectacular Cinque Terre towns visited – 2/5
Minutes of hour-long massage – 40
Steaks consumed to alleviate headache symptoms – 1

Appreciating the international sign-language for ‘epic-headache’…priceless!

Posted by jenniferhall 00:45 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Days 11-14 - My napping-adventures through Tuscany!

Siena, San Gimignano, Lucca, and Harry Potter!

sunny 18 °C

My Roman holiday was over and it was time to move back up to Tuscany! My train was headed for Siena, a beautiful little town outside of Florence, and after taking some wrong stairs, more stairs, up the stairs, across and down more stairs, with my gargantuan bags which seemed to grow larger and heavier with each moment, I was on my way!

The train from Rome to Siena was a beautiful, scenic ride of 3 hours which flew by in no time. Disembarking around lunchtime in Siena, I thought a quick taxi ride to pick up my hire car would be opportune before my arvo nap (these are becoming commonplace!). But alas, douche-bags are international, and il wanker-extraordinaire refused to provide me with my car until after 3:30pm because they were ‘closed’, despite 4 or 5 of them standing around doing nothing in the office, so back in the taxi to the hotel first instead.

The B&B, La Chicca, was absolutely amazing, and I was greeted by my hosts very warmly. The room was delightful, with high ceilings, ornate antique furniture, a modern well-equipped bathroom, and flowing lace curtains over an arched high window. It was a short stroll to some beautiful narrow cobbled roads, which I explored for lunch and dinner. Meat and cheese has been my fantasy lunch in Tuscany since planning this trip, and Siena did not disappoint, with a small deli providing the most amazing assortment of prosciutto, finocchiona, tomatoes, mozzarella, pecorino, and salamis I could have imagined, with local red wine and a backdrop of cool jazz.
large_Facebook-20160430-053630.jpglarge_Facebook-20160430-053541.jpg
After lunch it was back to the car rental place with a lift from my host Dario. I’d been packing it, thinking about driving in Italy, but despite the service at Avis being atrocious, the driving itself was pretty easy! I acclimatised to the wrong side of the road and wrong side of the car quite quickly, and was confident I could get through the next 5 days of Italian driving (although driving into the Cinque Terre still had a big question mark over it logistically!)

Dinner was spectacular at a restaurant called ‘Zest’ in a steep cobbled street of Siena. Beautiful Chianti vino rosso, toasted bread with roasted pepper dip and a mashed bean and roasted garlic and truffle dip (divine). Chicken breast wrapped in prosciutto, cooked to perfection, and amaretto white chocolate mousse and a shot of limoncello for dessert. La dolce vita! Bed was calling…

I had the most amazing sleep, in my beautiful big bed, in my beautiful Siena villa, and slept in till 9:00am just for fun. My delightful hosts, Dario and Seiko, put on a delicious breakfast of espresso, fresh made baguette, cheese and meats, and freshly made cafes. Siena had been a delightful break to recuperate, so I didn’t get much of a chance, by choice I guess, to explore Siena. It is somewhere I may have to visit again one day…
I jumped in my car and started what I thought might be a scary and dangerous drive from Siena to San Gimignano, only 45 minutes away. The streets were windy, narrow, and seemingly without a speed limit, but it was amazing how quickly you acclimatise to left hand driving on the right side of the road. After 15 minutes or so I didn’t need to continue my audible mantra of “you’re driving on the right, and it’s ok!” “Stay on the right, stay on the right!” In fact.

Driving through Tuscany is simply fun, and visually stunning. Every scene as you turn another corner is like that from a postcard, and every little house looks like it’s from a movie. Certainly more to see road-tripping than on the train, so I’m glad I made the decision to hire a car at this point. I would later regret hiring a car, but we’ll get to that.

My first stop was San Gimignano, a quaint little town on the top of a hill, where for many years people would build tall towers to ‘out-man’ each other, and for a time I believe there were 72 in the seemingly small region! Now there are only a handful remaining after the years took their toll. I strolled through a maze of cobbled streets, and stopped to try some local Chianti Classico wine at a tasting store. Annelise was my host, and I sampled the olive oil and bread, Chianti Classico (which to be branded as such, must be from one of the 9 small regions in the Chianti area south of Florence, and must have a minimum 80% Sangiovese grapes, after which it gets a little sticker of a black rooster). It was delicious! So I walked out with a bottle for a quiet night in the hotel tonight, and some olive oil and truffle-infused olive oil as well. It didn’t take long to accumulate a few more gifts; two leather handbags, and some porcini mushroom and truffle tapenade.
large_Facebook-20160430-053515.jpglarge_Facebook-20160430-053526.jpg
I was adamant I was going to eat something other than meat and cheese, and hence for lunch decided to try something as Tuscan as I could find! I selected a little café and ordered the mixed bruschetta. Out came four toasted slices of crunchy bread, each topped with something different. The first, which was delicious but very rich, was Tuscan liver. Next, a porcini mushroom, a green olive tapenade, and ‘seasoned lard’! Wow, they aren’t beating around the bush here. It was tasty, but a very strange texture, so in the end, Tuscan-eating box ticked, I left the majority behind and headed on my merry way to Lucca.

Lucca was another 1h45m drive away, but again, relaxing, relatively easy driving through some of the most lush green scenery I’ve ever experienced. The streets were winding up and down hills, and for a time it seemed like every glance at the GPS revealed I still had an hour and a half to go…time was standing still. Not a bad place for that to happen though.

Arriving into Lucca, relying solely on good ol’ Google Maps, was one of the most stressful few minutes of my trip so far. I had put the address of my accommodation into the GPS, with no knowledge that it was near-impossible to drive into the centre of Lucca unless you had a special permit, and one of those teeny tiny tri-wheel cart-car things (which I’ve seen quite a few of around). So, after blindly driving into narrower and narrower streets, I stopped at a dead-end only to be told by a kind guy on a motorbike that without a permit the city cameras would pick up my rego and fine me! He repeated it three times, so clearly it was a big deal. So I begged for assistance getting out, and ended up following him out, with nary a scratch on the rental car! That’s a win!

I eventually found parking outside the cute walled town centre, walked back to my accommodation, which was perfect (essentially a one-bedroom apartment, very comfortable and modern, in the centre of town), and drew myself a bath. Another night of relaxation lay ahead, with a picnic of cheese and meats in bed, and perhaps a movie to relax.

Lucca is such a quintessentially ancient Italian city. It’s full of windy cobbled streets, a few churches and bell towers, and lovely cafes in sunny piazzas to wile away the hours. It’s also a very quiet town at this time of year, I’ve discovered, and so I have continued with Tuscan relaxation.
Waking up the next morning, breakfast was served in the B&B and was delicious; freshly baked pastries, ham and cheese, fruit, and cappuccino. Perfectly fulfilling before going for a wander. This morning I made my way to the best of the two towers in Lucca, one which has four trees living on top, and climbed hundreds of stairs to get the glorious view of town. It’s an ancient walled city, and this is apparent from the summit. I am staying just off the circular piazza, which adds a bit of difference to the scene.

After wandering the streets for a couple of hours, I decided to relax and spend the afternoon with my pillow fortress, napping, and watching Harry Potter. Not very ‘Italian’ of me, although Ciara did suggest I watch it with Italian subtitles, but I have had to remind myself the last couple of days that in addition to exploring Europe, this trip is also the culmination of a very long year and a half of work, study, and general life, and time to relax is well-deserved (or so I’m telling myself). Other than a brief sojourn out to find the best pizza in Lucca, as recommended by Trip Advisor, and some tiramisu and a café for dessert, there is not much else to report.

I woke up on my final morning in Lucca, slow and steady, and got ready to leave for my next stop – Monterosso in the Cinque Terre. I was keen to get back in the car and enjoy what I’ve found to be quite enjoyable driving and spectacular scenery. This was also my first time on the Autostrada, with unknown speed limits, and mystery toll-booths!
I made my way to the booth, and collected a ticket – couldn’t read a word of it, there were no signs in English which I could make out in the short moment I was there, but I couldn’t stick around so headed onto the Autostrada.
Only a moment in, and someone passed me on the left (because the slow drivers stick to the outer right lane), at what I reckon was about 160km/hr! Now I can tell you, I have never known fear, and have never gripped a steering wheel so tightly with sweaty palms, as when I was being tailgated a mere two or three feet behind me going 130km/hr on the Autostrada! Thankfully, everyone except me was no doubt quite experienced at this sort of driving, and after safely passing whatever slow truck I was attempting to get around, I was safely back in the slow lane. However, it was quite a rush, and I think at my peak I clocked 140km/hr for a very short moment (with no other cars around me), and having had my thrills, sat comfortably around 120 for the rest of the 1.5 hour trip.

Finally off the Autostrada, I was on the final leg of the drive to Monterosso, on incredibly windy roads through lush….bush? Forest? Greenery? And coming round a certain turn, I started seeing the tiny little colonies on precarious ledges spotting the scenery, with the blue ocean in the distance. On arriving, I parked my car up the hill, grabbed my downsized overnight travel bag, and headed for another gorgeous B&B which I would call home for the next two nights. A lovely stroll around town to the water (unfortunately there were diggers fixing up the beach, so no sunbaking on this occasion), some of the best gelato I’ve had (creamy Monterosso lemon…apparently it’s a big lemon town!), and back for a snooze.

As part of my accommodation, I get a cheeky little snack of pesto pasta each afternoon at the restaurant next door, and it was glorious! Flavourful, soft delicious pasta, divine! Later in the evening I strolled to a nice restaurant to fulfil the seafood craving which has taken over since being close to the ocean, and it didn't disappoint. Mussels in white wine and lemon broth, followed by seafood ravioli with scampi, finished off with a lemon and basil torte (and of course the now customary house vine Rossi and a starter of Spitz!).
large_Facebook-20160430-053434.jpglarge_Facebook-20160430-053450.jpglarge_Facebook-20160430-053501.jpg
I’ve got a massage booked tomorrow after a planned hike through the five little towns to work off that meal!

Four-day summary:
Delightful Tuscan towns visited – 3
Phenomenal Tuscan lunches and dinners – 6
Cobbled streets visited – 24
Lazy afternoon hours of napping – 10
Life-threatening tailgating experiences – several!
Km/hr clocked – 140!
Overusing the phrase “…in Tuscany”…..priceless!

Posted by jenniferhall 14:39 Archived in Italy Tagged driving italy rome lucca seafood pizza tuscany siena pasta san_gimignano tuscan_sun Comments (0)

Day 10: Roman Holiday Part 2 - The Vatican

Breakfast with the Pope and dinner with Carlos... same same but different!

semi-overcast 12 °C

When in Rome…you must see The Vatican!

Today was a very special, very early start, on account of having breakfast with the Pope! That’s right, a super-early morning (in the rain) of touring The Vatican museum, Sistene Chapel, and St Peter’s church. I’m not much of a morning person, as anyone who’s ever seen me pre-midday can attest, so it’s a pretty concerted effort to wake up in a foreign city, get across town, and be standing bright-eyed (I’m lying, obviously) and coffee-infused by 7:30am in the morning. But indeed, I did achieve this mean feat, and I’m glad I did, because the midday crowd attempting to visit The Vatican was no doubt still twiddling their thumbs at 6pm, and it’s not even peak season! My advice: book an early morning guided tour, suck up the 15 minute wait to get through security, and marvel in the serenity.

We had a delightfully knowledgeable guide, who led us through the previously private courtyard, now adorned with a giant bronze ball statue from a modern artist, which at a slight push spins on its axis. It is apparently the same size of the bronze ball atop St Peter’s church, which is amazing given how large it is from a few feet away. The artist had wanted to achieve an interaction between the church and the people, which is why the statue was developed as one which could be touched and manoeuvred by those who chose to get up close and personal.
Next stop was the start of the vast collection of statues accumulated by the Vatican over the centuries. One which stood out was called ‘The Torso’, an armless, legless, headless…torso (who would have thought), which was the subject of Michelangelo’s cogitations in his later years when in residence at the Vatican, and is thought to have inspired the pose of ‘The Thinker’, and possibly Michelangelo’s ‘Adam’ in the centre of the Sistine Chapel.
large_P1010693.jpglarge_90_P1010702.jpg
Some of the most precious statues according to our guide, were original Greek marble statues, one of which had its hand retrieved by an archaeologist many years after the discovery of the main body of the statue. Another was an original bronze statue (many bronze statues were melted down for their valuable metal), dug up during a city excavation for a new road. One of the most well-known to me, at least, was ‘The Discus Athlete’, no doubt from some high-school art studies back in the hay day. We passed statue after statue, in various rooms, including to my shock and horror one of a small boy strangling *gulp* a goose (!), and incredible floor mosaics of fine detail, and the porphyry sarcophagus of Helena and Constantina, the mother and daughter of Constantine the Great, although the contents had been lost for hundreds of years.

Next in our tour of the Vatican Museum was the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche, or the Corridor of Maps. It was spectacular! An ornate ceiling stretching for more than 100 meters, and surrounded by early representations of the maps of Italy, complete with individual scales, and detail of some of the historic events of the areas.
large_90_P1010717.jpg
Obviously, you cannot visit The Vatican without a walk through the Sistine Chapel, and after a short break for coffee and brekky, it was next on our agenda. The ceiling of the chapel represents nine scenes from the book of Genesis, including the creation of Adam, which is the most famous image from the ceiling. With the description from our guide, it is subsequently a breathtaking piece of artwork to see first-hand, despite the continual barking orders of security…”no photos”…”no phones”. Slight interruption to the serenity. The alter wall, also painted by Michelangelo had quite an interesting story: apparently, he’d painted the majority of the figures nude, but after his death, and at the instruction of one Pope or another, drapery was painted over…ahh…the nudie bits to increase their modesty. Looks like I’m not the only member of the wang-police!

St Peter’s church, the largest church in the world for a time I believe, was next stop on our Vatican tour. Having seen several churches already throughout Venice and Florence, there was initially some thought that perhaps they would be similar. But the mammoth scale of St Peter’s shadows even St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. Apparently 2016 is a holy year, and as such pilgrims from around the world are flocking to the Vatican to enter St Peter’s through the ‘holy door’, which is at other times closed. There were throngs of people flocking to walk through the door, and even the guide had trouble navigating us to a suitable entry. We walked through getting an explanation of some of the funeral memorials of important people, or those who dedicated their lives to the church, and there were even some woman that made the grade, which would have been unusual for the time. A princess who relinquished her throne in favour of her church to which she was devout, and another princess who dedicated her army to the church’s cause, thus winning a war. We saw two of the mummified popes who were on display, which I had not previously known about, one of which had requested he not be mummified, but who had become a ‘saint’ after his death, and apparently had been ‘miraculously preserved’ given the years which had gone by since his death. Also extremely interesting was the paintings, which were in fact recreated as incredibly detailed mosaics with the purpose of lasting ‘forever’.
large_P1010748.jpg
We exited the church, and the tour concluded in St Peter’s square, which is actually oval shaped, to give the impression that the church is ‘hugging you’. A seriously impressive part of ‘Rome’, and overall despite not being a religious person, an extremely worthwhile experience to put on the bucket list.
large_P1010764.jpg
The tour over, it was back to La Forchetta for lunch (this time the ravioli with walnut sauce, a free entrée of zucchini frittata (he must have thought I was wasting away), and a quarter of the world’s largest tiramisu before naptime.

Marta had left this morning, so Carlos and I headed out for a night on the town for dinner and to see the Trevi Fountain (with my new shoes!), and whatever other key sights I had so far missed in Rome. We walked back towards the Quattro della Fontana (the intersection with the four fountain statues), and navigated to the Trevi Fountain to see it in the daylight. Some token tourist snaps and video tossing a coin into the fountain over the shoulder were mandated, and thus it was cemented that I would return someday.
large_20160425_191123_resized.jpg
Headed to dinner at the most incredible restaurant nearby and had one of the best meals so far (think that I’ll be saying that a lot over the coming weeks!). Steak with pepper sauce, cooked absolutely to perfection. Carlos couldn’t stop moaning in delight! And fettucine with wild boar ragu, also delish (but Carlos reckons he’s had better). Complimented with a litre and a half of the amazing house red, and chased with the panna cotta which was ok. Our table mates sitting next to use, Willie and Rob, even let us try their fried artichoke entrée (amazing, crispy, like chips), and their tiramisu dessert. They were from…somewhere in America, and we all strolled back to the Trevi to see it in the dark of night. The other scam on ‘Scam City’ was for ladies looking at the fountain alone at night, a handsome Italian man would sidle up and proclaim how beautiful the fountain is. “Isn’t it romantic?” “Fancy a drink or dinner?” And the poor girl would wake up the next morning with a bill on her bedside! And hence, after our little side trip to see the fountain, I couldn’t stop singing “I’m just a gigolo, everywhere I go…” which contributed to a general night of breaking out into conversation-appropriate songs!
large_20160425_201029_resized.jpg
We said goodbye to Willie and Rob, and headed to the next fountain, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi by Bernini, also spectacular, and then bumped into the Pantheon (as you do in Rome!). Which was lucky, because I hadn’t managed to get around to seeing it yet!
large_20160425_225138_resized.jpg
The night ended with me in excruciating shoe-pain, singing ‘On an evening in Roma’ in a little piazza with a final carafe of red wine before heading back to the hostel for the final Roman sleep!

Daily Summary:
Vatican statues observed – thousands!
Meters of incredible corridors of maps – 121
Minutes in the Sistine Chapel – 12
Minutes getting a snack and coffee – 14
Mummified Popes – 2
Church-hugs – 1
Conversation appropriate songs – 8

The sheer delight in the world’s most perfect pepper steak (and associated moans)…priceless!

Posted by jenniferhall 13:45 Archived in Italy Tagged statues fountains fountain statue italy roma museum dinner rome maps vatican pope corridor trevi steak ravioli goose trevi_fountain pepper tiramisu wangs the_vatican corridor_of_maps Comments (0)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 20) « Page 1 [2] 3 4 »