Santa Maria Maggiori, Rome

Day 74, Friday November 17, 2017

Santa Maria Maggiori was founded in 420 AD.

It still has the original colonnaded triple nave, lined with panels of rare 5th Century mosaics. The ceiling is thought to be gilded with the first gold brought back from the New World, which Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain offered to Alexander VI of Italy. It is a definitely a magnificent ceiling!

This is one of the 5th Century mosaics which line both sides of the main nave above the pillars and below the windows.. One of the side naves. The altar and apse which is covered in mosaics from the 13th Century.Just in front of the altar there are stairs leading down to a crypt. They are on either side of the marble railing in the photo above. In the crypt is a massive statue of Pope Pius IX kneeling before a reliquary shaped like a crib, which contains ancient wooden pieces of the manger where Baby Jesus was laid.

I saw a family bring their newborn baby to this crypt. The whole family prayed, lit candles and made a video of the occasion. The view up into the church is amazing, but then pretty much anywhere I look here is amazing.

Another view of the mosaics behind the altar.This little section of framed marble looked like a strange face when I first saw it.One of the many side chapels.This is another side chapel. I tried taking a panoramic shot that shows the chapel back wall and the dome above.Rome is fascinating. We never know where we will see another ancient building or ruin. We walked under this part of what I think is the old City wall on our way home.It is also a very densely populated city with a population of almost 3 million people in the city proper. The city has a density of 2,232 people per square kilometre! Compare this to Edmonton, with its population of one million and a density of 123 people per square kilometer.

Pretty much everyone in the city lives in apartments. These seven story apartments are near our bnb. There are sixteen apartment buildings just in this one complex! No wonder there is no parking anywhere.

The Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and The Pantheon in Rome

Day 73, Thursday November 16, 2017

The Spanish Steps are first on the agenda today.  They were built in 1723 for King Louis XV and they are a favourite spot for tourists and locals.
This is an image from 1752. The same buildings are still on either side of the steps. The one on the right is the Keats-Shelley Memorial House, where the poet Keats died in 1821.
We climb the steps all the way to the Trinità Dei Monti Church where we find this beautiful statue inside and an Egyptian Obleisk outside. The city of Rome has the most obelisks in the world. There are eight ancient Egyptian and five ancient Roman obelisks in Rome, together with a number of more modern obelisks;

Of course I need my photo on the steps…  but I am not quite as acrobatic as this guy. He stayed in this pose for almost two minutes while his wife fiddled with the camera!This is the view of the street below the steps with the fountain of a sinking ship.The Colonna dell’Immacolata is near the Spanish Steps. Ever since 1854, the firefighters of Rome place a wreath of flowers on the Virgin every December 8th.  We can see the old wreath on her arm but we won’t be in Rome on the 8th to see it being replaced.Next stop, Trevi Fountain.We made our wishes and tossed coins into the fountain over our shoulders, to ensure that we will return to Rome for another visit. This fountain is one of the most familiar sights of Rome, and is often seen in movies. It is also very crowded.While walking  along the streets I peek into a foyer and see these old printing presses. Check out the ‘legs’ that are used to move the press bed.Rome isn’t all beautiful buildings and fountains. It has its share of tacky too.There are lots of stands selling roasted chestnuts. We tried roasting them one Christmas and they weren’t very good. Maybe we should try these to see if they are any better? The Galleria Alberto Sordi is an Art Deco building with incredible stained glass ceilings and lots of shops. In front of the Galleria is the Column of Marcus Aurelius. It is 42 meter high with reliefs  wrapped around it. The bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius was replaced in 1589, with a bronze Statue of St. Paul. The column is hollow with stairs that wind up to the top but it is not open to the public.Just around the corner from this column is another Egyptian Obelisk in front of the Parliament Buildings. I wonder if we will see all the obelisks in Rome during our visit? Maybe we will have to see if we can find them all.We stop at another church on our way to the Pantheon, but the inside is so dark that we can barely see anything.

The sun is setting as we approach the Pantheon and we are treated to this beautiful sunset. The Pantheon used to be a pagan temple, but it became a Christian church in 608 AD.It is very difficult to take a photo to show how huge the Pantheon’s dome is. It is a very impressive building. The dome is the widest masonry dome in Europe and it is exactly as wide as it is high, 43.3 meters (142 feet). The oculus in the centre is 27 foot hole that provides light and the tension around the ring helps support the weight of the dome.The walls are 20 feet thick and the tombs of two of Italy’s kings are inside this Church…and this is the tomb of the artist Raphael.The view from the entrance of the Pantheon, showing the Portico with its16 enormous pink and grey granite columns.The Ramses II Egyptian Obelisk is on the centre of a fountain facing the Pantheon. We sat on the fountain steps and had tea and cookies, people watching and listening to a violinist who was playing In the square. Just before we left he played Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, which I found very moving.

As we wandered towards the metro several blocks away, I looked up and saw this lovely little dragon.

Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Day 68, Saturday, November 11, 2017

We changed our plans to visit the town of Siena today so that we can go to the Uffizi Gallery. In hindsight I think we should have planned for more time in Florence, a week was just enough to be a tease. There is so much more I would have liked to see here. ‘sigh’

It is so easy to miss the small sights when surrounded by such majestic ones. I thought the artist who added his or her touch to the official street signs was very clever, especially David carrying the big white ‘do not enter’ bar.
Florence is the birthplace of Carlo Collodi, the author of Pinocchio. I made a new friend but I think Bob has been telling a few fibs lately!We tried to visit the Library again. We were told we could come Saturday morning and the library is open until 1:30. However when we arrive just after 12:00 we discover that ‘visiting hours’ ended at 11:30! No library visits in Florence for us.

This ‘statue’ on the steps at the Uffizi Gallery surprised a few people when it moved!

We are lucky and there is no line up at the Uffizi Gallery. In the summer the wait to get tickets can be as much as five hours! I discover some Italian artists whose work I really like. These paintings seemed to call to me from across the room, begging for a closer look.This drawing by Bellini from 1500-1506 is about three feet long!I think this incredibly beautiful painting ‘Madonna and Child With Two Angels’ 1460-5  by Filippo Lippi is my favourite. A photograph doesn’t do it justice.

The Uffizi is a ‘U’ shaped building with two long wings connected at one end.
The ceilings of both upper wings of the Uffizi are beautifully painted, each panel different from the next…and they are very long hallways!There are many Medieval paintings…  I particularly liked all the detail in this Adoration of the Magi from 1423 by Gentile Da Fabrianoand the wings of these little angels. They make me think of parrot wings.I was surprised to see this large Roman copy of an original bronze sculpture from the 3rd Century. I drew a sketch of the original bronze when we visited the Correr museum in Venice. Different angle, same boar.We stopped for tea and a yummy fresh fruit tart in the museum café. Two pots of tea and one tart were ‘only’ $30.00 Canadian, but we had a great view!  Rested and refreshed we continue our visit. I saw many paintings that I ‘know’ from reproductions. I feel very fortunate to be able to stand in front of the originals.

Francesca’s The Duke and Duchess of Urbino.
La Primavera, 1480, and…

The Birth of Venus, 1485, both by Botticelli.

Michelangelo’s The Holy Family, known as the Doni Tondo painted in 1507, and…Titian’s Venus of Urbino from 1538. This painting was considered so risqué at the time that it was concealed by a sliding panel until the end of the 16th Century!The ceilings in many of the Gallery rooms were also beautifully painted.We had a great view the Ponte Vecchio from one of the second floor windows.Bob read that this painting was badly damaged by a Mafia car bomb explosion in 1993 and was later restored. I did a bit of research if you want to read about it.There are several paintings by Leonardo Da Vinci in this gallery but I am most interested in The Adoration of the Magi San Donato in Scopeto. Da Vinci never finished this painting so it gives insight into his creative process. I found it fascinating. The painting was being restored for six years and was only returned to the Uffizi in March of this year. This link allows you to zoom in for a closer look.

We managed to see a lot in the 4 1/2 hours we spent at the gallery.  Several of the rooms were closed, which was probably a good thing. We never would have managed to see it all if they would have been open. On the way home we pass this rather small, curious door to apartment #9.

One last view of Santa Croce. We learned that a Spanish tourist was recently killed here on Oct.19th, by a piece of masonry the fell from the ceiling. 

Quiet Day in Firenze Italy

Day 63, Monday November 6, 2017

We are exactly halfway through our holiday and we have been having a really good time, but it is hard work too and I am starting to feel a bit weary.  Today I stayed home and Bob went out and about exploring. It was a grey day today with rain on and off so I think it was a good day to stay put. Here are a few more journal pages. The light wasn’t the best for photographing them but it will have to do.Strange how the pages look so different on the computer than they do in person. I don’t like them as well, the texture of the paper doesn’t show, sometimes the colour is a bit off,  and they tend to look ‘flatter’ that they really are.  I think perhaps if I was able to scan them they would look better but I can’t haul a scanner around with me! Too bad.I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to write a comment.  It is so nice to hear from readers of the blog. If you read a post perhaps you could take just moment to press the ‘Like’ button? I enjoy knowing that you liked the post.  Thanks.

Cinque Terre, Italy

Day 57, Tuesday October 31, 2017

On our way to the train station to visit Cinque Terre we pass street cleaners who use the same ‘witchy’ brooms as they do in Paris. It seems especially appropriate today on Halloween.We are rather surprised that most of the train ride to the Cinque Terre villages is inside tunnels! I guess, in hindsight, that makes sense as these towns are only accessible by train, boat, or walking. We are visiting Monterosso al Mare, which is the town furthest away from La Spezia where we are staying.
Cloths for sale spread out on the sand. There were lots of sellers but not many buyers.We have seen a few Halloween decorations here and there but this is the only real pumpkin jack o’ lantern we have seen.This huge rock was a popular spot. We walked all along this beach… and through a narrow tunnel to reach the oldest historic part of town.
Monday is wash day and we see lots of laundry hanging outside windows.We have noticed that churches in Italy are all quite different from each other. When we were in Spain a couple of years ago the churches seemed much more alike than they do here. These four churches are all in Monterosso al Mare.We walk down this street on our way to find the footpath that leads to the next Cinque Terre village of Vernazza about 3.6 km away. 

We aren’t exactly sure what we were expecting but we were definitely surprised at how many steps are on this path. By the end of the day we calculate we have climbed about 1,420 steps!! and of course what goes up has to come down. That is a lot of climbing up and down! These photos were taken on flights of stairs that had between 200 and 350 steps all in a row. Yes, I had to stop several times to catch my breath and rest my legs, but I did it! I am rather proud of myself.The path is also fairly rough in places and sometimes only just over a foot in width. It was quite an adventure. About half way along the path we found an older gentleman making fresh orange juice for € 2.00 a glass which seemed like a bargain! It was delicious. Way down there is Monterosso where we started our hike.We saw this little rat on the path. He didn’t want to get out of the way, despite being prodded with my hiking pole. I didn’t think he looked very healthy which may explain his strange behaviour.We even crossed a cute bridge over a small creek.There is our destination, the village of Vernazza.We found these little cat houses along the trail along with big containers of food and instructions to fill the cat’s dishes if they were empty. Someone here really loves stray cats.Finally, we are almost at Vernazza, after 2 1/2 hours of climbing up and down, and down and up.It isn’t a very big village and has a population of less than 900 however the Cinque Terre villages see more than 2.4 million tourists a year!I love peeking inside doorways and today I was rewarded with this interesting collection.
We arrive in Vernazza in this narrow street but…we have to climb down one more long narrow set of stairs to reach the main piazza, or public square, where we find an ice cream shop for a much deserved treat. The fruit sorbet in Italy is amazing, so creamy and delicious.Children in Italian towns play in the squares or on the streets, or in small playgrounds. Green spaces are far and few between. I think about how different their childhoods are compared to children at home who spend so much of their time playing outside in grassy yards and parks.After watching the sun set over the we take the train and then a bus home. We need to get off our bus a couple stops early because an accident that has tied up all the traffic. Two young people on a motorcycle have had a collision with a car. It looks very serious as neither of them are moving and there are several ambulances on the scene. It is very sobering to think of how quickly life can change. 

In yesterday’s post look at the windows in the last picture of the boat. One of them is covered in black plastic and duct tape. Not what we expected to see on a boat that costs millions of dollars.

Last Day in Milano

Day 55, Sunday October 29, 2017

After packing the car we take the metro into town to see about lining up at 2:00 this afternoon for last minute tickets to The Last Supper. We have been unable to get tickets anywhere. We find out that these tickets, if we were lucky enough to get them, would be for after 7:00 pm tonight which doesn’t work for us. We have a three hour drive to La Spezia, which is our next destination. Too bad but “oh well.” We should have booked three months ago! I guess we will just have to try to get back to Milano some time.

This is the church where the Last Supper is located. I somehow thought it would be a bigger Church. I couldn’t seem to find a spot where there were no power lines to take the photo.Walking towards the Bibliotheca Ambrosiana I spot this little balcony with an orange tree full of fruit. I’ve never seen that before.We pass a little church and I decide to peek in. We are really glad, because it is absolutely amazing. The Chiesa di San Maurizio was built in 1503. This room is used as a public church and we when we went through a little odd shaped door in the back left corner of this church…we find another church that was used as a cloistered church. I think it was called the Nun’s Hall. There are over 4,000 square metres of pictorial decoration in this church. If you look carefully you will see a painting of the Last Supper on the back wall. We had a little laugh about that. At least we get to see a painting of The Last Supper even if it is not Leonardo Da Vinci’s!Here is a close up of the beautiful painting in the arched area of the above photo. It was stunning!The shops are closed today but we can still window shop a bit. I have enjoyed experimenting with a few different fountain pens this trip, but I certainly can’t afford any of these.We arrive at the Bibliotheca Ambrosia only to see a sign saying we need to go to a different address to buy our tickets. I peek into the door and find someone who explains that the tickets are available at the front of this building, and that this is the exit. Of course there are no signs explaining this to us, or anyone else. This is actually a very nice art  gallery, and not really a library at all. There are 26 rooms of beautiful paintings, sculptures and other objects including an exhibit of Ambrosian Liturgical Codices which is very interesting. The oldest one in the top left corner below is from the 9th century and is usually not on public display.I quite liked this little group of sculptures from the 17th century. They’re about a foot tall.We get to see yet another Last Supper, and …finally we find a room that looks like a library. It contains the exhibit of Leonardo da Vinci’s sketchbook pages that we had come to see.There are 16 pages on exhibit. I am surprised at how small they are. I have a book of Leonardo’s drawings at home and I always thought that the pages of his sketchbook were much larger.  His writing is a special kind of shorthand that he invented himself. Da Vinci also mirrored his writing, starting at the right side of the page and moving to the left, so if you want to read it you must hold the page up to a mirror to reverse it.All too soon it is time to leave. We walk past the Duomo one more time, just as all the pigeons decide to take flight. What a commotion! There were kids laughing and kids crying and adults ducking to get out of the pigeon’s way. It reminded me of the movie ‘The Birds.’I wanted to see the gargoyles on the Duomo. There is so much to look at on this building that I didn’t even notice them yesterday. There are lots of them high on the side of the church.On our drive to La Spezia we pass some interesting buildings, including several of these oddly angled high rises with very strange windows.It was getting dark as we pulled into La Spezia and the very dark clouds were backlit with the setting sun. I have never seen a sky like this before, it was quite eerie. The colours in this photo are true to life, not enhanced at all.Our new Airbnb is very nice and I think we will be quite comfortable here for the next week.

The Milan Duomo and Teatre La Scala

Day 54, Saturday October 28, 2017

On our way to the Duomo we come across a fashion photo shoot. This rather strange man with the oversized sweater and furry slippers was giving the model directions on what to do. He was very bossy!The Milano Duomo, or the Cathedral of Santa Maria Nascente, is one of the largest Gothic Churches in the world. It is very impressive.The view looking towards the altar. 
It is a bit overwhelming, placing my hands where so many other hands have worn the stone smooth and shiny over the centuries. There are 52 of these massive pillars.The stained glass windows are stunning, especially these ones behind the altar.I thought this sculpture was rather unusual. It is Saint Bartholomew, one of the twelve apostles, who was flayed alive and then beheaded. He is carrying his own skin!Looking down one of the side aisles. This church is very big!This is a copy of the Madonna of the Duomo. The original is on the highest point of the church.
There are many large paintings hanging in the church. Many of them look as though they need restoration work.Each of the pillars is topped by an ornately carved capital, and each one is unique.We go into the crypt of St. Charles Borromeo who lies in a crystal coffin below the altar. We  also visit the archeological area which was excavated under the plaza in front of the Duomo. The black and white photo shows an aerial view of the excavations before they were covered by a new plaza.Then we climb 250 steps up to the roof top terraces for a close up view of some of the churches 135 spires!The flying buttresses are beautiful as well as functional. This church is decorated with 3,400 statues, 135 gargoyles, and 700 figures in the marble reliefs, There are decorations everywhere, each one different from the rest. We were thrilled with this visit to the rooftop, but then…we discover that we get to climb even higher, to the very top of the church, 75 meters above the ground below! You can see the golden Madonna statue above us.The views are amazing but it is a bit hazy which is too bad. Apparently on a clear day you can see the Alps in the distance.Looking down at part of the plaza in front of the Duomo. Soon it is time to return the ground far below.This lion looks rather annoyed at all the pigeons who are perched all over him.We walk through the Vittorio Emanuele II Galleria which is lined with high fashion designer stores…on our way to the Teatro La Scala where we get to watch a little bit of a rehearsal, and then we visit the Theatre’s museum.The second floor of the museum is dedicated to Maria Callas and displays many of the beautiful costumes she wore while performing.Back to the Duomo for a couple more photos. Here I am in front of part of the incredible front door.The plaza in front of the church is a gathering place for tourists and locals alike.To really appreciate the size of the Milan Duomo you need to see a three-quarter view of the building..Next stop is the Duomo Museum, which has many of the original sculptures from the church.  They are slowly being replaced by copies so that the originals can be preserved.This room was incredible! The brown sculptures are terra cotta studies for marble sculptures.I love gargoyles so I was delighted to get a close up view of these before we leave the museum and head home.We have been exploring for 8 hours today and we are both tired.

Cremona Italy

Day 52, Thursday October 26, 2017

Thursday we stopped at Cremona on our way to Milan. Bob wanted to visit the Mouseo del Violino which tells the story of five centuries of violin making in Cremona including the violins of Antonio Stradivari. I wasn’t sure it would be all that interesting but I did enjoy it as well. Bob was surprised and pleased to discover an exhibit on guitars as well. This guitar was made by Stradivari in 1679, and it is the only one of his guitars that is still playable of the five remaining today. The frets are made of sheep gut tied around the neck of the guitar. This guitar has five double strings instead of the six strings of modern guitars.There was a room full of instruments, and when we punched their number into the audio guide we heard the instrument being played. It was a really nice feature, and we listened to several of the violins and these violoncellos, some of which were from the 1600’s. I took this photo for my daughter. She has a cello, but it isn’t quite as fancy as this one from 1639 made by Piero Galbani. This is the Cremona Duomo and its bellower, which is said to be the tallest Medieval tower in Italy. Unfortunately both were closed so we didn’t get a chance to visit either of them.There are still several violin shops near the Duomo, in the same locations as in the 1600’s. Here is one of the shop windows we pass on the way back to the car.All the side streets are paved with the old cobble stones and marble paving stones .We arrive in Milan about 3:30 and it took forever to find a place to park our car.  The free parking for our bnb was on the street. We ended up parking bit further away and then moved our car closer later in the evening when there was a space available. We get settled into our Airbnb. and we are both rather tired and happy to stay put for the rest of the day.

Day 53, Friday October 27, 2017

I had a much needed ‘jammie’ day and Bob checked out the metro and got us tickets to the Milan Duomo, which is one of the largest Gothic churches in the world. We wanted to see Da Vinci’s Last Supper which is known here as Cenacolo Vinciano. That is actually the reason we added Milan to our travel itinerary but I totally forgot that someone told me we needed to reserve tickets online well in advance. Well, they are all booked up until sometime in late December! I guess we will have to try to return some day if we want to see it.

I finished a couple more journal pages.

Our Last Day in Venice

Day 48, Sunday October 22, 2017

A week goes by much too quickly in Venice. There is so much to see, and although we wandered the streets and rode the canals I feel like there is so much that we missed. Our day started out interestingly. As we waited for our bus we heard lots of sirens and then we watched a police escort for lots of motorcycles, probably more than a hundred of them! It was quite something to see.We have a few smaller museums that we want to visit.  Ca’ Rezzonico is first on our list. It was the home of noble family in the 1700’s and once more we see room after amazing room. The ceiling in this room was painted by Tieplol in just twelve days for a wedding! It is so large that I couldn’t even get it all into a photo.Bob was intrigued by the two wooden chandeliers in the ballroom. Imagine having a ballroom your home!The top floor of this museum had thirteen rooms of paintings donated from a private collection and some fantastic views of Venice.There were also several pastel paintings by Rosalba Carriera, 1673-1757, one of the few succesful women painters of this time.
Next stop was Carlo Goldoni’s House, which is a very small theatrical museum with a great staircase.

I was worried that a little book store called Rivoaltus might not be open on Sunday.  We visited this shop on one of our first days in Venice and it had the lovely expensive sketchbook I mentioned that I coveted.  The shop was open and see that empty spot on the bottom shelf? The sketch book is now in my suitcase! Here we are on the Rialto Bridge near the book store.Next stop was the Museum of Palazzo Mocenigo, which was a palace that is now a museum of fabrics, costumes and perfumes. This collection of men’s waistcoats was one of the interesting displays. This collection of ‘archive bundles’ is thought to be of some importance although it has not yet been studied in depth.Here is a close up of some of the bundles. I wonder what interesting documents might be tucked away inside?After wandering up and down more streets and peeking inside a church or two we find a Gondola ride. When we were in Venice almost 40 years ago, we thought the gondolas were too expensive so we never went on one. We rectified that today.Our ride takes us along small canals, under many bridges,
and eventually onto the Grand Canalwhere our excellent Gondoliersafely manoeuvred through this traffic jam.The buildings look a bit different for this perspective, low in the water.
Soon we are back where we started and …it is time to leave Venice.

San Marco Basilica, Venice, Italy

Day 44, Wednesday October 18, 2017

Our first day exploring Venice and my FitBit tells me we walked 21,400 steps and climbed 38 flights of stairs. Is it any wonder I am so tired? I am only going to post our visit to the San Marco Basilica tonight, even though we saw so much more today.

We came across this street art on our walk to San Marco PiazzaOur first view of the San Marco Basilica. I think it looks like the people behind me are carrying the tower!I was being good and not taking any pictures inside the Basilica until I heard a guide tell his group “It is OK you can take photos here as there are no guards watching.” So…when there were no guards watching I took some too.We paid to go up to the  Museum and Horse Terrace, and it was certainly worth the 5 euros each. There are rooms of incredibly detailed mosaics…and the original gilded bronze horses from Constantinople in 1204, that were on the front of the Basilica until they were replaced by replicas.This photo is for our oldest daughter. We visited Venice when she was four and she had such fun chasing the pigeons in this square beside the Basilica. I think it was right down between the two columns in this piazza.
Here I am standing on the little terrace with the replica horses…Bob with the clock tower…and a different view of the horses.Back inside for some more of the fabulous 8,000 square meters of mosaics that cover the walls and ceilings of the Basilica.The Pal d’Oro was created in the 10th Century and is covered with 250 panels of enameled Biblical scenes studded with 1300 pearls, 300 emeralds , 300 sapphires, 400 garnets, 100 amethysts and rubies and topazes! This altar piece is the only thing I remember about San Marco from our visit here in 1980.More of the mosaics on our way out of the Basilica.The front of the Basilica with the replica horses standing guard. The terrace we were standing on earlier is on either side and behind the horses above this door.That isn’t fog you see but smog! I still have a hard time with that. I have decide to pretend it is fog and mist and just not think of all the bad stuff we are breathing in.