Monday, 3 August 2015 – Day 9 – Roma- Florence – Montecatini – (Day 55)

Monday, 3 August 2015 – Day 9 – Roma- Florence – Montecatini (211 miles/340 Kms)  – Day 55

This morning it was 6.00 wakeup, bags out at 6.45 down to breakfast and at 7.30 on coach and heading towards the Vatican. Thankfully, we had our local guide, Flavia again so our tickets were organised so that we didn’t have to queue up with thousands to enter.  Our handbags were security checked and then we entered the Vatican Museum. A huge huge museum with over 2000 rooms and 9 miles of the most extensive collections of art in the world. The Museums are brilliantly decorated and brim over with treasures and history.  Flavia, our local  gave us a commentary before we entered the Museums.

The Vatican Museums  are the museums of the Vatican City and are located within the city’s boundaries. They display works from the immense collection built up by the Popes throughout the centuries including some of the most renowned classical sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaisance art in the world

Pope Julius II founded the museums in the early 16th century.

On our way to the Sistine Chapel we passed the monumental orbs standing tall as the centrepiece of the Courtyard of the Pinecone by Italian sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro, born 23 June 1926 in Morciano, Romagna,Italy and  currently lives and works in Milan.  Arnaldo Pomodoro is known to construct enormous spheres with layers of complexities. The structure titled Sphere within a Sphere, is a bronze statue that appears golden as the sun shines down on it. It is 4 meters (a little over 13 feet) in diameter.

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The Milan-based artist began his series of spheres in the 60’s with Sphere no. 1 and has continued designing the globe-like pieces, each depicting a different map of destruction. Each tremendous ball is fractured, revealing an intricate interior that unveils yet another cracking orb. The design of the internal layers seem to mimicking the gears of a clock or the inner workings of a grand piano, making it appear very complicated.

Because of the sculptural installation’s round shape, it also echoes the form of Earth. It isn’t absolutely clear what the artist’s intentions are, but it gives off the impression that it is reflecting the complexity of our world and how easily it can be torn apart.

We went onto the other side of Saint Peter’s Square or Piazza San Pietro, which is located in front of  St. Peter’s Basilica,  and is one of the best known squares in all of Italy and is an important gathering place for tourists visiting the sights of Vatican City. From St. Peter’s Square, visitors can also see the Papal Apartments, which is not only where the Pope lives but also the perch from which the pontiff often addresses crowds of pilgrim.

We entered the Sistine Chapel .  In 2013, 5.5 million people visited the Museum, which combined makes it the 5th most visited art museum in the world. There are 54 galleries, or salas, in total, with the Sistine Chapel, notably, being the very last sala within the Museum. You enter and just don’t know where to look. It is stunning – Michaelangelo’s masterpiece, which is perhaps the greatest example of art anywhere and certainly the largest contiguous body by one painter. There are also some lesser masterpieces in the Sistine Chapel which are beautiful.

The Sistine Chapel ceiling, with its ceiling decorated by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512, is a cornerstone work of High Renaissance art. The Sistine Chapel, is the large papal chapel built within the Vatican between 1477 and 1480. It was painted at the commission of Pope Julius II. The chapel is the location for papal conclaves and many important services.

The ceiling’s various painted elements form part of a larger scheme of decoration within the Chapel, which includes the large fresco  of The Last Judgement on the sanctuary wall, also by Michelangelo, wall paintings by several leading painters of the late 15th century including Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Pietro Perugino, and a set of large tapestries by Raphael, the whole illustrating much of the doctrine of the Catholic Church.

Central to the ceiling decoration are nine scenes from the Book of Genesis of which The Creation of Adam is the best known, the hands of God and Adam being reproduced in countless imitations. The complex design includes several sets of individual figures, both clothed and nude, which allowed Michelangelo to fully demonstrate his skill in creating a huge variety of poses for the human figure, and have provided an enormously influential pattern book of models for other artists ever since.

Words cannot describe this building.  Even though there were thousands of people, it did not feel crowded. Weird thing to say as this building is just so huge.   What a talented man Michaelangelo was not forgetting the other artists.  I cannot write and describe this wonderful building but it was just such an interesting place with the hundreds of paintings, frescoes and statues. Google will come in handy to read the story of the Sistine Chapel. What was amazing to hear was that some of the “paintings” were done in mosaic. You just cannot comprehend how these very talented artists performed their magnificent artworks. It was certainly a beautiful time being in this unbelievable building.

We passed a couple of Swiss Guards  who are the Swiss soldiers who have served as guards at foreign European courts since the late 15th century and now protect the Pope. The Swiss troops were famous mercenaries for hundreds of years and had a reputation for discipline and loyalty, and employing revolutionary battle tactics and were considered the most powerful troops of the 15th century.  The Papal Swiss Guard (now located in Vatican City) was founded in 1506 and the first contingent of 150 Swiss guardsmen arrived at the Vatican. The Papal Swiss Guard has a bodyguard like role. Often called “the world’s smallest army,” they serve as personal escorts to the pontiff and as watchmen for the Vatican City and the pontifical summer villa of Castel Gandolfo. The guards, who are independent of the Swiss armed forces, are employed by the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of the Pole. Recruits to the guards must be Catholic, single males with Swiss citizenship who have completed basic training with the Swiss military and can obtain certificates of good conduct. New recruits must be unmarried Roman Catholic males with Swiss citizenship, between 19 and 30 years of age, and at least 5 feet 8 inches (1.74 metres) tall; they must have a professional diploma or high school degree and must complete basic training with the Swiss military.

We had our last walk on the magnificent St Peter’s Square and on our way to our coach, Steve decided he would be our “guide” on our way back to the coach. We had to watch out for scarf on the stick as we went on our tours – we certainly looked out for it as we did not want to get to get lost with so many other hundreds of tourists were around.

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We had our last walk on St Peter’s Square and then boarded our coach on our way heading north to Florence (Firenze). One of the impressive buildings we saw  the The Supreme Court of Cassation (Italian: Corte Suprema di Cassazione) is the highest court of appeal or court of last resort in Italy.

We stopped for our lunch and had to have a photo with the cow (for the benefit of my friend’s amusement) We had an easy drive on the Highway of the Sun to Florence.  Again the countryside was agricultural with more paddocks of sunflowers.  Hills were in the background and villages started to appear.  The motorway started to ascend the Tuscanny Hills.

We arrived in Florence  – Italian: Firenze, the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 382,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1,520,000 in the metropolitan area. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982.

Florence originated as a Roman city, and later, after a long period as a flourishing trading and banking medieval commune, it was the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. Florence was home to the Medici, one of history’s most important noble families.

We stopped at the Piazzale Michelangelo (Michelangelo Square) and had a beautiful panoramic view of Florence, Italy, located in the Oltrarno district of the city. The square, dedicated to the Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo, has bronze copies of some of his marble works found elsewhere in Florence: We saw the famous David and the four allegories of the Medici Chapel of San Lorenzo. The monument was brought up by nine pairs of oxen on 25 June 1873.

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We had to move on to take a walk in the Piazza Santa Croce, one of the main plazas or squares located in the central neighborhood of Florence, region of Tuscany, Italy and takes its name from the Basilica of Santa Croce that overlooks the square. We passed the National Central Library and Rotunda. We took a few minutes out to listen to the lovely recital by a violinist.  We then arrived at the Basilica of Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross). The Basilica di Santa Croce, the principal Franciscan church in Florence, Italy, and a minor basilica of the Roman Catholic Church. We did not go in as the queues were too lengthy.

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We then went into a huge leather outlet and watched a demonstration of some leather making. The artist made a leather rubbish bin.  We were then able to go into the shop but it was so crowded we did not stay.

As we done quite a lot of walking here stayed in town with Steve, Gay, Wayne and Lou – a little later on Susan, Kevin and Britt joined us (she had some time off as Andraya was the local guide). Gay and I had a bit of fun on a couple of bikes that were nearby. We said we should have hired some instead all our walking.

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We met up with the group at 6.30. It was onto the coach for our hour’s drive to our accommodation town in the spa of Montecatini at the Settentrionale Esplanade. A lovely hotel.

We had our dinner at the hotel and then Alyssa and I went down to the little market stalls in the nearby street to buy some extra luggage.

I had a bit of a headache so came back to the hotel and intended to have a reasonably early night. Alyssa came home about midnight and wanted to go across the road for a nightcap but didn’t want to by herself so as my headache tablets had taken effect, I accompanied her.  She is a night owl for sure. We had a couple of interesting drinks and finally came back to the room quite late so into bed. So much for my early night but thankfully my headache had eased considerably!!


Sunday, 2 August 2015 – Day 8 – Rome – (Day 54)

Sunday, 2 August 2015 – Day 8 – Rome – (Day 54)

Was quite warm early, so our itinerary was reversed. This morning it was to visit the Colosseum and the Roman Forum before it got too warm.  Was predicted to reach 37.  We were joined by a local guide, Flavia.  There was quite a lot of walking and standing – stairs to climb so I did not venture to the top of the Colosseum.  What an amazing icon.


There was more walking around the Roman Forum – another interesting commentary was given by Flavia but one could not take it all in and remember so best to google.

The Forum Romanum was the center of life in Imperial Rome, evidenced by the many remains of triumphal arches, temples and basilicas. Until 509 BC, when Rome became a republic, the city was reigned by an Etruscan dynasty of Tarquin Kings.
From then on the area became a center of activity and it was the political heart of Rome until the fall of the Roman Empire more than one thousand years later. It was the site of the first forum. Here, triumphal processions took place, elections were held and the Senate assembled. Today, the forum known as the Forum Romanum can look like a disorderly collection of ruins to the uninitiated, but with some imagination you can see the Roman Empire come back to life at this site. Remains of many buildings from different periods are visible; the forum was littered with temples, basilicas and triumphal arches.
Three triumphal arches were built on the forum. They were used by emperors to commemorate their victories. Hardly any remains are left of the first one, constructed by Augustus in 29 BC.  Near the capitoline hill, stands theArch of Septimius Severus. It was built in 203 AD to commemorate the victory over the Parthians.
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Because there was a lot of walking on uneven ground, a lot of climbing and standing I decided I would not visit the Catacombs as scheduled after this.  Susan, Kevin and I went and had a drink, caught a taxi back to the hotel and had a very enjoyable swim. When the rest of the group returned to the hotel, they joined us in the pool as it was very welcome as it was 37 degrees.

Later in the afternoon, we went on the coach for a drive to Lake ALBANO  in Frascati where the Pope’s Summer Residence is.  Was a beautiful outlook over the lake.  We knocked on the door of the Pope’s door, but he was not in. Ha ha ! We had time to wander down the little alleys, had a drink before we left to return to Rome via Frascati.

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Frascati is a town and commune in the province of Rome in the Lazio region of central Italy. It is located 20 kilometres (12 mi) south-east of Rome, on the Alban Hills close to the ancient city of Tusculum.  Frascati is closely associated with science, being the location of several international scientific laboratories. Frascati is renowned for its white wine, Frascati. It is also an important historical and artistic centre. We wandered along and went into the Cathedral of St Peter the Apostle.

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We left Frascati and headed to the CASTELLI Romano Restaurant. We came across a lovely square filled with people taking advantage of the warm weather. There were some interesting shops with superb produce.


I did not have very much to eat as there appeared to be so much and did not feel well so after seeing some of the provided entertainment – as I had a headache it was too loud so, went outside for some fresh air.

Was sitting down, when a little boy and his sister appeared and started chatting.  I asked him where he learnt his English and he replied – In Australia, Tasmania.  His parents appeared and they were visiting the Italian grandparents.  A small world.

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When we returned to the hotel, I went straight to my room and had a very early night compared to some of the previous ones.

Saturday, 1 August 2015 – Day 7 – Venice Area – Assisi – Rome – (Day 53)

Saturday, 1 August 2015 – Day 7 – Venice Area – Assisi – Rome (334 miles/535 Kms)  – Day 53

Today was an early wakeup at 6.00, cases out at 6.45 and on the road at 7.30 after breakfast. We followed the canal and many fields of corn. The countryside was quite flat as we headed south wards across the Po plain.  Lots of agricultural fields – bamboo, sunflowers and we came across a lovely lake.

We had a stop at Pomposa and then headed towards another stop at Porto Giogio and about ten minutes later we were stopped by the police – checking for illegal immigrants!!!

The weather was getting quite hot 32-33.

The drive started to get very hilly and we climbed higher and higher and then thick vegetation and more fields of sunflowers for the oil and fields of tobacco.  Went through several tunnels and each time you emerged, you didn’t know what to expect.

We went through the gentle Umbrian hills to Assisi a town of Umbria region in central Italy, where St. Francis was born in 1181/1182 as Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, but nicknamed Francesco; and started the Order of the Franciscans. Francis of Assisi died on October 3, 1226, at the age of 44, in Assisi, Italy. Today, Francis has a lasting resonance with millions of followers across the globe. He was canonized as a saint just two years after his death, on July 16, 1228, by his former protector, Pope Gregory IX. We visited the world famous Papal Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi which is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Order of Friars Minor—commonly known as the Franciscan Order. The basilica is one of the most important places of Christian pilgrimage in Italy. With its accompanying friary, Sacro Convento, the basilica is a distinctive landmark to those approaching Assisi. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.

The basilica, which was begun in 1228, is built into the side of a hill and comprises two churches known as the Upper Church and the Lower Church, and a crypt where the remains of the saint are interred. The interior of the Upper Church is an important early example of the Gothic style in Italy. The Upper and Lower Churches are decorated with frescoes by numerous late medieval painters from the Roman and Tuscan schools, and include works by Cimabue, Giotto, Simone Martini, Pietro Lorenzetti and possibly Pietro Cdavallini. The range and quality of the works gives the basilica a unique importance in demonstrating the development of Italian art of this period.

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It was 35 degrees now and stopped for lunch and then headed towards Roma. We left the green fields and fields of sunflowers. The drive was very picturesque – hills all around with villages high up the sides.

We got to our accommodation at NH Carpegna about 5.30.  We freshened up and commenced the excursion Treasures of Rome night and dinner.  We had a local guide,  Enrico who drove us up to the Centre and saw where the Trevi Fountain was but couldn’t throw our coins in as was closed for renovations.

We drove past the  Piazza Venezia. The one landmark dominating Piazza Venezia is Il Vittoriano. It was built between 1885 and 1911 to celebrate the uniting of Italy as a nation, and dedicated to the first King of all Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II. The construction of the immense white marble monument was built on the side of the Capitoline Hill in the early twentieth century.

We stopped at Piazza Navona and saw the Santant’Agnese in Agone a 17th-century Baroque church in Rome, Italy. It faces onto the Piazza Navona, one of the main urban spaces in the historic centre of the city. We saw the Fountain of the Four Rivers in the centre of the piazza, dominating the scene with its powerful presence and figures that seem to come alive from the sound of the rushing streams of water. The four giant nudes that form the statue are the personification of the principal rivers of the continents known at the time: the Nile represents Africa, with its veiled head because the source of the river had yet to be discovered, the Ganges Asia, the Danube Europe and Rio de la Plata, the Americas. I couldn’t resist putting my feet in the water at the fountain.

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We then went onto restaurant for our dinner.  The meal was terrific. Our entertainment was a flautist and guitarist. One of the waiters asked me up to dance and then Britt and I danced. Later in the evening the waiter gave me 5 roses and we pretended we became engaged. Before the evening ended, every lady was given a rose. It was a great group here tonight and it was really a fabulous fun night.

Because Enrico was held up in traffic coming to get us, he took us up to St Peter’s  Square to see Rome by night.

Saint Peter’s Basilica, the world’s largest church, is the centre of Christianity. The imposing structure was built over a span of more than one hundred years by the greatest Italian architects of the era. The church is built on Vatican Hill, across the Tiber river from the historic center of Rome. The location is highly symbolic: this was the site where Saint Peter, the chief apostle, died a martyr and where he was buried in 64 AD. St. Peter is considered the first pope, so it made perfect sense for the papacy to build the principal shrine of the Catholic church here.

We finally got back to the hotel at about 11.15 and Kevin and Susan went into the pool in their clothes. I went back to the room to get into my swimmers and just got into the pool when the security guard came out and wanted us out.  The pool hours were only until 7.00 but we said we couldn’t read the Italian. I honestly didn’t see the guard come up to the pool.  At least I did get myself wet. Enrico came to our rescue and then next thing for fun he lifted me up for the obligatory photo.

Once more, another terrific day even though it was long and hot as it was 33 degrees.