Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Vatican , Pantheon, and the Trevi fountain.

The Vatican 
. . . Wow what can you say . . . 

We had a pretty early start, Gadget booked us into the Pristine Sistine tour, which basically meant we were whisked through the entry and down several long corridors directly into the Sistine chapel.  The Sistine chapel was AMAZING I would loved to have shared some images with you but sadly the Vatican sold the copyright of the images to a Japanese television company for 20 years, to gain money to assist in paying for the restoration of the chapel. fortunately for those of you travelling to Rome in 2019 you will be able to photosensitive the copyright expires then. For me they will forever be etched in my mind.  I would love to say that the pristine Sistine tour was great, but to be honest I was a bit disappointed, the chapel was supposed to be pretty empty but it was pretty crowded . . . But Gadget tells me that when he was there 2 years ago it was very very crowded in there later in the day, like body to body contact . . . So I guess it was bent too bad. 

After the Sistine Chapel we were guided back down the corridors we had previously been rushed through. The image above is the roof of the Map room, a very long corridor with detailed maps of the various areas of Italy. The Maps are frescos painted in 1580, so they are over 400 years old. Each Fresco has a detailed map of its capital city . . . You should see Rome . . . It was very small. What I learnt at the Vatican, which I never knew was that frescos are painted onto wet plaster, and this is why they last so long.

One of the beautiful frescos painted around the time the current St. Peter's Bascilica was built

A courtyard in the Vatican City, the antenna in the distance is for the Vatican radio which can be heard in all five continents, in 39 languages.

A small snapshot of one of Raphaels paintings in the Raphaels rooms, if you zoom the image you can see the man wearing the grey outfit with the white collar, behind him is a young man looking straight out of the painting . . . This is believed to be a self portrait of Raphael.  Raphaels paintings were amazing , sadly however these rooms were packed and it was quite difficult to move around in them and we had to move on far too quickly to really take them all in. We travelled through many areas within the Vatican , Raphaels rooms, several rooms with modern art in them we passed back through the Sistine chapel briefly to exit into the nearest entry to St Peters Bascilica.  The tour was really interesting.

Saint Peters Bascilica

This is the absolutely stunning amazing "Pieta" carved by Michaelangelo in 1499. Michaelangelo carved this sculpture from just one piece of Carrera marble.  It is truely the most amazing piece of sculpture and it has the notoriety that it is the only sculpture that Michaelangelo signed. The story goes that, the sculpture was on display and was receiving a lot of admiration, Michaelangelo overheard some admirers discussing the sculpture, when he heard it was attributed to another artist he felt annoyed, so late at night he returned to his sculpture and carved his name into the fold of Mary s dress, he later regreted his vanity and never signed another sculpture. The Pieta is just inside the doorway of the Bascilica on the right hand side, sadly behind and protected by bullet proof glass as it was attacked in 1972. 

This is the main nave of St. Peter's Bascilica, up in high alter area you can see a dark brown almost black canopy. This canopy or  baldachinno is positioned over the Papal alter directly over the burial site of Saint Peter and stands twenty-six meters high It is was designed and created by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and was crafted from bronze that was partially taken from the ceiling and pediment of the portico of the Pantheon. It took 3 years for Bernini to create this his first masterpiece for St Peters Bascilica. When you consider the height of the Baldachinno and you see how much higher the roof of the Basilica is it gives you some perspective on the enormity of this church. It has the longest aisle in the world. As an interesting tidbit, on the centre nave floor is a list ( in marble) in order of size of the longest aisles of Catholic church's in the world I was pretty excited to see that Sydney came second . .

The outside of Saint Peters, as you can see it was pretty stormy, and it was starting to rain.

However this phot was taken just 1 km down the road about 25 mins later, the weather changes 
quickly here. This is the Graceful Tiber river.

After the Vatican tour we headed towards the 


This was another of those just " WOW" moments , you know, things are old but when your hand touches marble that was carved almost 2000 years ago you just think . . . I really don't know how to explain it other than just WOW. 

Taking a photo inside is a bit challenging, huge crowds ect, but it's really lovely. The wall and floor are covered by the most lovely marble in a variety of colours and shapes. In the niches around the walls are religious chapels and the tombs of two Italian kings and the artist Raphael (with his fiancée buried beside him) I was surprised to see he died so young, just 37 years old.

The amazing concrete dome, it was wonderful being inside the pantheon on a cloudy day as we had the opportunity to see they play of light as the sun went behind the clouds, it was really lovely. They say that it's amazing being there when it rains. 

After the pantheon we headed off to see this cute little guy "Bernini's little elephant". This little guy was designed by Bernini and execute by one of his students Ercole Ferrata. The elephant supports an obelisk that dates back to the 6 th century BC. It has a really cute little story or it's possibly more of a myth really. The story goes that this sculpture was commissioned by a cardinal, Bernini wasn't particularly fond of this cardinal so he designed the statue and had it positioned so that when the cardinal looked out his window , he looked directly at the elephants backside  . . . . LOL

Not far from Bernini's little elephant is this well known fountain, the Trevi fountain. This delightful fountain was designed and built in 1762 by Nicola Salvi. In 1629 the Pope requested Bernini to design a fountain, however Bernini's design was never realised, the architect did use many Bernini styled features.  Again another quintessential Roman sight, it is so pretty, and whilst we were there a couple got engaged right there in front of us, to the cheers of the whole crowd when the future bride said yes . . . . 
It was a little busy there on the day we were there but I am hoping to return early in the morning when it's a little less crowded and I can hopefully get some more wonderful photos.

A wonderful day filled with seeing some absolutely amazing sights, Rome is amazing


Googy Girl

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Hadrian's Villa and the Villa D'este ( Tivoli gardens)

Today we met up with our tour guide for Rome, Amy for the first of our planned adventures.
we stepped back in time , way back in time to around the third decade BC

Hadrian's Villa

Hadrian's Villa was commenced around the second and third decades of the 2nd century AD.
At the time of the construction of this Villa Rome was a city teeming with people, officially they say the population was around 900 000 but that wouldn't have included the slaves and illegal immigrants from other countries so the population was probably closer to around 1.5 million people. So as you can imagine it would have pretty crowded, busy and noisy. A lot of the wealthier Romans built villas outside the city. The emperor Hadrian had a particular passion for architecture so he continually improved his villa, throughout his life right up until the time of his death in 138 AD.

The villa is predominately in ruins now but thanks to computer technology and a wonderful book Amy had we were able to see what they believe the buildings would have looked like.  
The building below is from the area known as the Hospitalia, and were the guest rooms of the Villa.

The above image is believed to have been a shrine room, to Gods or deities or the emperor  I love how the mosaic floor is still so intact which is pretty amazing considering  the age of the villa.

Another floor in the villa, lots of patchwork / appliqué inspiration here . . . . 

Hadrian's Villa had three bath area's the "thermae with Heliocaminus" , the "little thermae" which was believed to be used by women and the " great thermae". These bath areas were very social areas and were used for gym workouts, massages and lectures. They believed that despite the title the little thermae , the women's area, was no less, grande than the mans area.
The above image is part of the "great thermae" In Hadrian's time these bath areas included a palestra ( open air gym ), a calidarium (hot bath area) , tepidarium ( tepid bath ) , laconicum ( sauna room) and a frigidarium ( cold water pools) the above image is of the Frigidarium. 

This area was known as the "Canopus" and would have been a entertaining area, with people milling around socialising. At the opposite end of this pool was an enclosed area , which would have been used for official dining.

This area is known as the Poecile, and was originally surrounded by a wall and a partial roof allowing Hadrian and other residents of the villa to exercise at any time of the day either in the sun or in the shade as they chose. Hadrian's believed strongly in the importance of a healthy body, makes a healthy mind.
The left side of this area was built up to provide a large flat area and this structure created what was called the hundred tiny rooms , which are believed to be the accomodation for the slaves. Throughout the complex is a series of tunnels ,called crypto portico's , it is believed the slaves used these to enter and leave the various rooms, therefore reducing their visibility within the Villa.
It was very interesting and because of the images of how they believed it looked ( both digital and in a book our guide carried) it allowed us to visualise the grandness of this huge villa.

This is a model of how they believe the complex looked.

Villa D'Este

Was conceived and commissioned by Ippolitto D'Este the son of Lucrezia Borgia and Alfonzo D'Este. The villa itself was originally a Benedictine monastery, Ippolitto was used to a much more luxurious lifestyle, and he found the monastery a bit spartan so he set about redecorating it and creating its spectacular gardens filled with the most amazing fountains, all powered by the flow of the river.

This was originally a fountain, dedicated to Venus. This fountain is within the courtyard of the Villa. The villa itself was beautifully decorated with frescos throughout, most of which were inspired by the surrounding area.  It is believed that a lot of the marble, statues and decorations used in the Villa D'Este were " borrowed" from Hadrian's villa which had been abandoned many many years 

The view from the portico of the villa across the valley.

The isle of a hundred fountains, this beautiful area actually had more like three hundred fountains spurting water in a beautiful symphony. Beneath the foliage are carved marble images, behind the foliage of the middle tier the images are episodes of Ovids Metamorphoses.

This image shows the fish ponds, with the fountain of Neptune and the fountain of the organ in the distance.

This is the fountain of the organ , if you zoom in you can see organ pipes within the centre area of the fountain. At certain times of the day the organ plays a selection of tunes. What is spectacular about this is that the organ was totally hydraulic and the "organ" was not played by a human, but by gust of air created by water flow. It was truely ingenious and was at the time and continues to be one of the wonders of the Villa.

The fountain of the Bicchierone ( large drinking glass) was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, was actually added almost a century after the gardens were created. Originally it was much taller however as it obscured the view of the portico it was reduced in height. 

This is the fountain of the Ovato (oval) this was a popular area for relaxing and socialising, you can see the foliage covered columns, behind these columns was a walkway where people could enjoy the 
cool air the water provided and perhaps a lovely secluded spot to meet with a beau. The statues are all significant but to describe them all would make this already long blog post even longer.
The two sites we visited today were both so magnificent I took so many photos that I could easily have created several individual posts for each site.  This post is really just a snapshot of both sites. 
These sites truely came to life because of the enthusiasm of Amy, she explained in great detail what was at the villas and how they were lived in "everyday" during their periods.
It was a wonderful day and a great introduction to the beautiful historical sites of Rome.

If you are interested or need a tour guide in Rome or for other areas in Italy you can contact 
Amy at her website listed below.


Googy girl 

Chianti , San Giovanni , San Gimignano and Monteriggioni

After spending three wonderful nights with Gadgets 2nd cousin in Arrezzo we moved to his 2nd Cousins house in the town of San Giovanni.  Again we were met with great enthusiasm, by not only the immediate relative but by all of his family including his mother in law. We entered an extremely busy household probably not unsimilar to our own.  I volunteered and was quickly put to work in the kitchen ,which was great, along side the matriarch of the household and as a result have now gathered even more wonderful recipes to try out in my kitchen when I get home.  Again we ate like kings and I am still totally amazed that I can still fit into my jeans ( only just ) the food was soooo good that it was very hard not to have seconds, or thirds..... LOL

San Giovanni 
Was founded in around 1296 by the Republic of Florence. back during the medieval times in Tuscany ( and probably all of Italy and for that case anywhere in the world) it was all about power and land ownership. So San Giovanni was built as a walled city and was part of Florence, where as later I will talk about a place that was under the protection  of Siena.

This is the town centre, here there is a wonderful little church and a very cute little museum with a lovely painting of the annunciation. 

The other side of the town square. Whilst the town centre was not huge it had some lovely shops and the locals seemed to be very friendly.
We then visited some of the youngest members of the family and I got to have some baby snuggles . . . Then after a wonderful lunch we headed off to visit  the town of Radda in the area of  Chianti, unfortunately the weather finally gave up on us and we had our first serious storm , including hail, the first in our whole trip.  

The beautiful views , albeit with rain and storm clouds from Radda. 
However as they say every cloud has a silver lining and this one definitely did. Gadgets cousin knew the owner of one of the local hotels so we popped in there for a glass of . . . . . What else but Chianti . . . . And as luck would have it, the owner was at the hotel so he took us for a short tour.

We went up to the sitting room, which was totally covered in frescos, on the main wall was the image below.

 This fresco was created by the then owner of the villa to celebrate his future marriage, it includes the coats of arms of both families, however the wedding did not go ahead . .  The bride discovered that the future groom was having an affair with a married woman with children and called the wedding off but the interesting part of this fresco does not end there.

During world war 2, A German solider was in this room and he had an Italian partisan up against this wall , with a gun to his head . . . . He was trying to get information, after multiple fruitless questioning the Soldier in frustration fired his gun, the bullet whistling past the partisan 's shoulder

He informed the partisan that if he didn't start Talking he would receive the same treatment as the Angel ( look at the above image) . We are unsure of the outcome of this altercation, but let me tell you the Angel took a fairly significant injury.

San Gimignano

Is a lovely little walled town in the Provence of Siena, Tuscany. San Gimignano is famous for a few reasons , it's production of saffron, it's lovely white wine , vernaccia, but mainly because of its skyscraper skyline.

This gorgeous medieval village town was renowned for its tower houses. The houses were created to safe guard the wealthy families. With the elevated housing they were able to ensure the were unable to be attacked as they were able to remove the external stairs, ensuring their attackers could not reach the household. Whilst tower houses are not an unusual feature of medieval times, San Gimignano is fortunate in retaining 12 of these architectural gems.

One oft the the tower houses.

The beautiful hills surrounding San Gimignano, this is the moment when you truely know you are in Tuscany.
Whilst visiting San Gimignano we were fortunate to visit the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria 
, this lovely little church was filled with the most beautiful frescoes, depicting biblical scenes. I actually had my hand smacked here. I took a photo of an assumption fresco in the portico outside the entry to the church. There were no visible signs indicating that photo s couldn't be taken ( some churches do some don't , as I am currently in Rome I can tell you that taking photos in St Peters Bascilica was totally okay) anyway I was chatted, I apologised and took no further photos. 
Despite this I totally enjoyed the church and its murals. We did have audio guides which made the whole experience so much more interesting as it provided an understanding not so much of the images but of the painting techniques and also of the chapels within the church and the different architectural periods.

Below is pretty much just some of the beautiful Tuscany countryside, I wanted to share with you.

The walled Village of 


Is in the province of Siena, Tuscany. It was built in around 1214 AD by Siena as a front line of defence against Florence during the period when the two cities were constantly at war.  Florence was never able to breach the walls and the garrison remained safely in the hands of the Sienese. However In 1554 the Sienese mistakenly placed control of the town's garrison in the hands of Giovannino Zeti, who had been exiled from Florence, not long afterwards  in an act of reconciliation with the Medici family he simply handed over the keys and the Florentine's gained control.

Today Monteriggioni is an excellently preserved example of a medieval fortress. It has a church, several cafes, shops and a museum where you get to try on some armour, I got some great shots of gadget in armour. . . . 

We had some super yummy gelato and went for a walk along the wall , you can see the walkway above.

This is the view from the wall.  

I had a wonderful time with Gadgets family,  They all worked so very hard to provide us with wonderful meals, fabulous experience s but truely the most magical thing was the unconditional love they gave us because we are "family".


Googy Girl 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Arrezzo , Assisi and Sienna

After we left Cinque Terra we travelled by train ( four of them ) to Montevarchi where we were met by a very enthusiastic relative of Gadgets. We were quickly whisked off to his home where a huge meal awaited us.  As soon as we had finished eating he packed us up in the car along with Gadgets mother and stepfather ( whom were also on holidays  in Italy) and drove us to meet other relatives. 

On the way, he stopped off here.  If you have seen the Italian movie " the beautiful life" directed by Roberto Benigni this is the barn that the lead female actress falls out of and into a hay stack and the lead actor instantly falls in love and declares her his "principessa ".  The gorgeous old farmhouse beside it was abandoned .... Ohh wouldn't it be amazing to get an old house like that and renovate it.
Over the three days we spent with the family in Arrezzo we visited several lovely towns.

There are two distinct areas of Assisi the modern town and the old walled city above it. We did visit the 
Basilica of santa Maria degli angeli , ( this is where Saint Francis of Assisi was baptised) in the modern town but then headed up to the walled village. Assisi is believed to date back to around 1000BC.

This is the Bascilica of St Francis of Assisi. This monumental church actually has three levels, a crypt, the lower and the upper church.  The crypt contains a sarcophagus containing the remains of Saint Francis, both the upper and lower churches have magnificent frescos. In the upper church the Frescos contain images from the life of Saint Francis. Sadly the  Basilica was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1997, during which part of the vault collapsed, killing four people inside the church. It took two years before the church could be re opened and rather than replace / recreate the frescos they lost they have returned what they could and left the gaps bare, so that the earthquake and the loss of lives will always be a visual history of the church.


This is the entrance to the upper church.

One of the gorgeous old streets, lined with wonderful little gift shops, cafes and gelateria's.

This is the Bascilica of Santa Chiara ( St Clare), this lovely church was very simple in its decorations, however the use of soft pink and white marble throughout gave the church a very definite feminine feel. It was also damaged greatly during the 1997 earthquake and has been restored. The crypt beneath the church contains the remains of Saint Clare, a gown that she made ( with the most amazing needlework) a skein of cotton that she spun and a glass reliquary filled with her hair.

This is the beautiful view across the valley below the walled city.

Siena, like other hill towns throughout Tuscany was first settled in the time of the Etruscians around 900–400 BC. It is one of the area's biggest tourist attractions. Siena is famous for its beautiful medieval streetscape, it's food and of course the Palio. The Palio is a traditional medieval horse race 
which is run around the piazza del campo ( the main square) twice a year. The city is divided into 17 
contrades ( areas ) and 10 of the contrades compete for the Palio , a painted banner depicting the image of the blessed Virgin Mary. The contrades are so serious about this race that the horses are taken into the churches were they are blessed by the local priests. The jockeys ride without saddles and there are very few rules, allegiances are formed by contrades and they are allowed to knock the other jockeys off their horses. However the winner is the first horse across the line, regardless of whether there is a jockey or not.

This is the Palazzo Publico, or the town hall of Siena. This building faces directly onto the Piazza de Campo, where the Palio is run.

The Piazza de Campo

The Siena Cathedral was  begun in the 12th century, Its main façade was completed in 1380 and contains influences from French gothic, Romanesque and classical architecture. The original plan called for an ambitiously massive basilica, the largest in the world,  However, the scarcity of funds, in part due to war and plague, resulted in the project being reduced and the Sienese created a much more subdued version from the original plan's. 
The interior of the church is visually striking with black and white stripes on the walls and columns 
and the church is filled with many beautiful sculptures and the inlaid marble mosaic floor are just stunning and are considered to be among the most elaborate in Italy. 

In Contrast the Bascilica  of Saint Catherine of Sienna, is striking in it's simplicity.  St Catherine of Siena is one of the two patron saints of Italy.  She was instrumental in the return of the papacy to Rome. She lived outside but in accordance with the Dominican order. She provided care to the sick, and was known to abstain from taking food for considerable  periods.  The Bascilica contains the mummified head of Saint Catherine, whilst the remainder of her remains are interned in a church in 

One of the gorgeous medieval streets.

Arezzo is a lovely town and was used for several scenes in the movie, "life is beautiful". It has a huge church, that was quite lovely and lots of very interesting antique shops and cafes.


This is the beautiful central square, it would be a lovely spot to sit and sip coffee. I think there is probably a lot about Arrezzo that I have yet to discover, but that is an opportunity for another time. Throughout our three nights in Arrezzo gadgets family, encased us in the warmest of love, they provided us with huge meals, they took us where ever we wanted to go it was just the most wonderful experience. Language was sometimes an issue , mainly for me as gadget understands a fair bit of Italian.


Googy girl