All Roads Lead To Rome

Day 82, Saturday November 25, 2017

The Appian Way was Europe’s first super highway. It is the reason for the saying “All roads lead to Rome.” Built in 312 B.C., it connected Rome with Capua (near Naples), running in a straight line for much of the way. Eventually it stretched over 600 kilometres to Brindisi, on the east coast of Italy. Today is Bob’s birthday and we are going to walk the Appian Way.

We take the metro and then a bus to the outskirts of Rome. Before we start our walk back into Rome we walk a bit further in the opposite direction to visit the Villa Dei Quintili. We buy our €5.00 tickets and when we walk up to the building below it is all locked up and under construction!

Turns out this isn’t the villa, and we need to walk along a dirt path behind this building for a ways to the ruins. The Villa Dei Quintili was the largest villa complex in the suburbs outside Rome. It was built by two brothers, who were later executed by Emperor Commodus who took over possession of their villa. It was then expanded and used by emperors until the 5th century. There are boardwalks in many areas but sometimes we are walking on the original mosaics floors! Hard to believe that this is allowed. There are baths here with a calidarium (hot water) and a frigidarium (cold water). Many of the rooms have remains of mosaics and floor tiles. A few even have traces of frescoes on the walls. 

This all covers a huge area and it was all one villa. When it was first excavated it was thought to have been a town!Back on the Appian Way we are ready to start our walk towards Rome, on the same road that was used by Romans almost 2,000 years ago! We are going to walk in the footsteps Roman Emperors, merchants, saints and maybe even St.Peter! Julius Caesar travelled this road along with thousands of soldiers, and now we are too.
Romans did not allow anyone to be buried inside the city walls so many people were buried along the roads leading out of Rome. Wealthy people built impressive tombs for themselves. The remains of many of these tombs are visible today.  Sometimes there is as little as a mound of earth but there are also still quite impressive remains of the larger tombs.These are the original stones that were used to build this road. These stones were set upon a bed of gravel and cement. Lime cement was then used to fill the gaps between the stones and the road was said to have been so smooth that the joints between the rocks could not be felt. In the foreground the ruts made by ancient chariot and wagon wheels can be seen.One of the many ‘reconstructed’ tombs along the Appian Way…and a couple more.

The day started out cloudy and cold but the sun came out and warmed us up.There are many grand modern villas along the Appian Way. This is looking down just one of the many long tree-lined driveways we see along our walk.Getting closer to Rome. It is a bit tiring walking on these original paving stones. The cement that made the road smooth has long worn away. We saw lots of people bicycling along here and it looked bone jarring.                                 

This is a small archeaological area along the road that used to be a farmer’s field. Some of the floor mosaics show where they were damaged by the plows used to till the fields!Fall has arrived. The leaves here were a beautiful golden yellow.Inside the Tomb of Cecilia Metella, one of the best preserved tombs along the Appian way, there is an exhibit of modern sculpture by Paola Cream. I like this bird man…and these vessels. The exhibit sign said the show only runs until November 11th, but this is Rome and not everything is what it says it is.

This is the outside of the Tomb of Cecilia, who was noble woman in the 1st century B.C. Inside the hollow round tower is where her body is thought to have been buried.

That was our last stop of the day. The ruins are closed at 4:00 and we still have a a walk and then a bus and metro ride to get home. we ran out of time to visit the catacombs so we will have to return another day.

Wandering the Streets of Rome and Life Drawing

Day 81, Friday November 24, 2017

It is a nice day for a walk about the streets of Rome. I get my picture taken with this tiny car on the street outside our apartment. It is the smallest car I have ever seen but it sure would be easy to park!

We are surprised at how little traffic we have seen on the streets. I think they limit who can drive in the downtown areas. Evening rush hour is busy but the rest of the day not so much.We have tea in Nuovo Piazza. This square used to have chariot races around its perimeter. From 1652 until 1866, when the floor of the square was raised, it was flooded every Saturday and Sunday in August. The fountains would be plugged so that they wouldn’t drain and the square would become a lake!  I try to imagine the scene, with people boating and bathing and children playing in the water.There is a group of musicians who kindly provide us with musical accompaniment.A detail of the Fontana del Moro at the south end of the square.I am going to a life drawing session tonight so we go to check out where it is located. The studio  is only a couple of blocks from the Piazza Navona. There is a little studio with beautiful watercolours of orchids on the way…and several basket and chair makers on the same street as the studio…along with a great little book store. I love European bookstores, they are usually small, crowded, and piled with books on every available surface. Just what I think a bookshop should look like.We found the studio, I think we might have had trouble locating it in the dark later, so I am glad to know where I need to go tonight. Heading back to Navona Piazza I peek down the side streets. I wish there was enough time to explore them all.

There are people trying to make money whatever way they can.The Fountain of Neptune is at the northern end of the square.I really like this little fellow and his spouting fish on Neptune’s Fountain.

Buildings come in all sorts of interesting shapes and sizes in Rome.Tthis one appears to be right in the middle of the street!We wander about window shopping and see this robotic sculpture who waves his arms and blinks his shining eyes.An interior decorating shop, a store that sells Bonsai trees, another that sells Oriental furniture and one of the many antique shops along the streets we walked. We never know what we might see down a side street. It is a bit of sensory overload at times.We turn the corner by the elementary school and this is what we see: the Tiber River with St. Peter’s in the background.We cross the Ponte San Angelo…walking towards the Castel San Angelo, which is now a museum. There was or maybe still is a secret tunnel that connects the Vatican to this fort so that in times of danger the Pope could escape and hide here.What would Rome be without gladiators?
We head towards St. Peter’s hoping that we might have another visit to see the inside in the daytime.I have no idea how these olive trees manage to grow in pots, even though they are big pots. I wonder if they need their roots trimmed, like bonsai.We have seen quite a few people begging on the streets, but this person was by far the strangest looking.  I have no idea if this is a way of getting sympathy or if it is really the day to day garb of this individual. 

A Christmas tree is being decorated at St. Peter’s square. The line ups to get into the Basilica are very long so we decide to try to visit another day. This is just one of the benefits of spending more than a couple days in a city. We don’t have to try to cram everything into just a few days.
I think these columns are magnificent. There are 284 columns and 88 pilasters (half columns) that flank the square in a colonnade of four rows. Above the columns there are 140 statues created in 1670 by the disciples of Bernini. St. Peters square is one of the largest and most beautiful squares in the world. 

After a rest and supper at home we take the bus back to my life drawing session. While I draw for two hours Bob found a reception at a gallery that he ‘crashed’ and he enjoyed some wine and goodies.

I had a great time drawing.

30 second and 1 minute posesEveryone was welcoming and the model was fantastic. I did all right, some not so bad and some not so good drawings. It has been a while since I have attended life sessions. It isn’t like I forget how to draw but it takes a while to get the facility back.

2 minute and 5 minute poses

I really appreciate the drop in sessions offered at home. Sessions are $8.00 for 3 hours. Here at La Porta Blu art School it was €15.00, or about $22.00 Canadian for two hours, which is about what I was paying when I was in Paris. I did find one other place with drop in life drawing in Rome where but their price was €30.00 and €45.00 for 2 hours! That was just a bit too expensive for me.

2, 5,10 minute and 20 minute posesUnfortunately, the bus we were to take home was very late. We were just about to give up and try walking to the metro, which was a long way away, when our bus finally arrived, just 45 minutes late! We are in Rome after all, and schedules here have a slightly different connotation than they do at home.



Rome’s Zoo, The Bioparco

Day 79, Wednesday November 22, 2017

It was a beautiful sunny day so we went to visit the Villa Borghese Gardens. In 1605 Cardinal Borghese began turning a former vineyard into extensive gardens that now form the third largest park in Rome.

On the way to the garden entrance we pass this interestingly shaped hotel. Note the cars parked in front…they are parked on the road where the two roads on either side of the hotel merge. There are no parking spots here as it is part of the road but that doesn’t stop anyone.There are lots of  interesting animal statues around the Villa Borghese, which is now a museum.  Lots of dragons. The cardinal must have been a fan of dragons!We see a sign for the Bioparco, which is Rome’s zoo and decide that would be a great place to spend the afternoon. It is Seniors Day and the entrance is only €6.  First stop was the chimpanzees and orangutan. Not much to see at the chimpanzee enclosure but at the orangutan’s enclosure Zoe came right up to the glass to see us. She was fairly curious and looked about for quite a while before settling in for a little nap.Her sister, Martina was a bit shyer and only made a brief appearance just as we were leaving.I spent a bit of time sketching Zoe. I held her portrait up to the window for her but she wasn’t very interested. Zoe is 32 years old and Martina is 28, and they were both born here at the zoo.We see bears now and then when we visit the Rocky Mountains but it is usually just a glimpse as the disappear into the bush or they are far away. I enjoyed having the opportunity to observe this big fellow more closely.The big cats are always impressive…but then we turned a corner and met Gladio. This rare white Bengal tiger is an 8-year-old male who was rescued from captivity in a dirty cramped cage.  He had been mistreated and malnourished for years. Gladio was treated at the zoo for physical and psychological problems and he has recovered enough to be introduced to his own compound in May of this year. This was the first time that he had been able to walk on dirt and grass for a very long time as he spent most of his life in a cage on a cement floor. He now has 400 square meter of greenery, grass, a pond, and a lair. Not as good as being free but so much better than a small dirty cage.Just around the corner we spot this little leopard trying to get settled on a stump for a nap while his mother rested nearby. I was a bit disappointed in my photos, a lot of them are a bit out of focus, perhaps because I was often shooting through glass?This Southern Ground Hornbill from Africa was very pleased with himself about the mouse he had for dinner. He brought it up to his fence to show me his prize. He even pushed it against the fence to give me a really good look! Grevy zebras have very large ears. I don’t remember seeing such big eared zebras before.The Montecristo Goat is only found on the Isle of Montecristo in the Tuscan Archipelago. They were almost hunted to extinction but there are now about 250 left in the wild. This was a rather strange assortment of animals sharing the same space, Tapirs, Rheas, and  ROUS’s  (rodents of unusual size ) or Patagonian Cavys.

The Red River Hog from Africa is an interesting looking character. This is the first time we have seen one.The mommy monkeys were taking very good care of their babies… and the giraffes were busy trying to get into their barn.Waiting not so patiently.This is the entrance to the zoo. There were more sculptures but I couldn’t get them all into the photo.  I thought it was a grand entrance. I think we were the last people to leave the zoo.

Siena, and the Museo della Carta e della Filigrana, Fabriano, Italy

Day 69, Sunday November 12, 2017

I really wanted to visit Fabriano and the Museo della Carta e della Filigrana, (Museum of Paper and Watermarks.) Fabriano is known internationally for its quality paper.The only day we could fit it in was Sunday afternoon so today we drove from Florence to Perugia with a short stop in Siena, and then on to Fabriano.

The drive from Florence to Siena was beautiful. Lots of rolling hills with little towns perched high on the hilltops. It is definitely autumn and the trees are turning colour, but as Bob said, it is like our September autumn, and it is November here.We enter Siena by walking though a gate in this wall. You can just see the arch of the top of the gate.We wanted to visit the Sienna Duomo but it is closed to tourists until 1:30. I ask the guard if we can visit for a quiet time to think about Baba and she lets us enter. There is a mass taking place so we sit and have some reflective time, listening to beautiful singing and the Italian sermon. This is the inside of the Duomo with its black and white striped marble pillars and incredible inlaid marble floors.We wander the  streets and pass this little gallery with all the horses. Quite appropriate for Siena as the Palio is held here twice a year. This is a bareback horse race that is held in the Piazza Del Campo. Check out the link for some great photos of this event. I toss a coin and make a wish in this ancient well, and admire the paintings on the ceiling which are outside and exposed to the elements.The streets are narrow with tall buildings on either side…with wonderful sights tucked away in courtyards and…at the end of this long sloping road we enter a large open square. It is the famous Piazza Del Campo where the Palio is takes place.We didn’t have a lot of time here as we need to be in Fabriano this afternoon so all too soon we head back towards our car, which is parked outside the old city. The buildings here are all beautiful shades of sienna and ochre. Loved the horse.There are great views.These six very long very steep escalators were a great help getting us up to and down from the old town. I was feeling a bit weary today and quite happy I didn’t have to climb all those hundreds of steps.  Here we are, leaving Siena, there are no flat roads here!We have time to check into our Airbnb and then drive to Fabriano, almost an hour away. Our tour of the paper mill was at 4:30. We arrived at 4:00, just in time to watch an English video about paper making as the tour was only in Italian!  I didn’t think to check that when I reserved way back in August, however, after our video a very nice woman gave us a tour in English! I think the fellow at the ticket office got her especially for us. She was great, very knowledgeable and very pleasant. This is a photo of her from a show that National Geographic made about the Fabriano Paper mills and paper making. I can’t remember her name, but she was very knowledgeable and spent quite a bit of time with us.We got to see the old hammer mills in operation and a master papermaker came and pulled some sheets of paper with watermarks to demonstrate the process. I just loved the old wooden press. It is just a bit bigger than the one I use at home when pressing my handmade paper. The museum has a fantastic collection of very old papers and papers with watermarks. Their Fabriano Mill makes watermarked paper for bank notes for several countries, but I most fascinated with their with chiaroscuro watermarks .

For those unfamiliar with watermarks, take a quick look at the link above which simply explains what they are and how they are made. For a more detailed explanation take a look at this link from the Museo della Carta e della Filigrana

I get myself a souvenir from our visit to Fabriano, a piece of paper with a watermark of two angels called Il Primo Bacio (The first Kiss) by William Bouguereau. I just need to decide how to display it, as the watermark only shows when it is held up to the light.

Image result for il primo bacio painting
There are a couple art shows in the hallways of the museum and I absolutely adored the work of Valentina Verlato.   This link takes you to her Italian website but if you type her name into Google you will have the option of translating the website into English. Of course, the photos on internet just don’t compare to the actual paintings.
As we left the museum the street lamps lit up the leaves above us.Day 70,  Monday November 13, 2017

We spend a quiet day at home. We have been travelling for ten weeks and I am just a bit tired. Bob did go out exploring the town of Perugia but most of the sites were closed today so he came home early.He did get some great views of Perugia which he said is ‘lots of steps!”

Tomorrow we are on our way to Rome!

Day 71, Tuesday November 14, 2017

Our drive to Rome went well and we arrived at our Airbnb early afternoon. We were very relieved that it is not a ‘smoking allowed’ apartment as that is what showed up when we checked our booking a couple of days ago. I was so worried that it would smell awful and that we would have to find another place at the last minute. It seems that the Airbnb site ‘updated’ and incorrectly listed the apartment as ‘Smoking Allowed.” This was also a surprise to our host who assured us that it was indeed a non smoking apartment. It is a lovely place and I think we are going to be very happy here for the next two weeks.

Day 72, Wednesday November 15, 2017

We spent a quiet day at home today, resting, organizing and planning what we will see and do in Rome.

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. 

Pisa, Italy

Day 65, Wednesday November 8, 2017

The train to Pisa takes about an hour and Bob is happy to relax and watch the scenery instead of concentrating on driving. We cross the Arno River walking into the old town.While trying to decide which way we needed to go I looked up and figured it out. We could just see the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa over the roof tops.It really does lean a lot! It is interesting to see how one side of the tower has sunk into the ground.On our way to get tickets we pass this very large sculpture called The Fallen Angel by Igor Mitoraj. There are windows in the tower as we climb and it is rather disorienting to see pillars at a slant.The marble steps have worn away with more than seven centuries of use.251 steps later and we are at the top of the Tower with the seven bells that chime in the morning and at noon every day.The views from the top of the tower are wonderful.  We spend quite a bit of time up here, just enjoying the views and the fact that we are sitting on top of the ‘Leaning tower of Pisa.’ I remember feeling like I was more tilted when we were here so many years ago and I just realized why. The tower was still tilted at 10 degrees off vertical then and now it is only 5 degrees. The lean was decreased by 14 inches in 2010 so that it was once more safe for the public to climb. We were here in 1981 when it had more of a tilt.
Follow the horizon line along the fence grid and you can see how much of a tilt the tower has.I am surprised that I don’t feel at all uncomfortable even standing so close to the edge of the tower!Here are the steps leading down from the top, just 251 of them!The Pisa Duomo is very impressive as well.This shadow on the pillar caught Bob’s attention…
and I once more marvel at stone pillars that have are polished smooth and shiny from countless hands over the centuries.The church walls are lined with enormous old paintings. The big image of Jesus is actually a covering for an area where restoration work is taking place. It is a replica of the real image that it covers.We always need to remember to look up, and here we are rewarded with a view of this incredible ceiling.I needed to take at least one photo of some of the tourists getting their picture taken “holding” up or “pushing over” the tower. They do look quite comical. We were way up at the railing just at the base of the narrower area where the bells are located.
There is a shop near here called Il Papiro, that sells marbled paper and hand made books. Their paper is pretty but the marbled paper my friends and I make is really just as nice. That was a bit of a surprise and made me feel pretty good.It is starting to get dark as we head back over the Arno towards the train station for our trip back to Firenze.  

We take a bus home from the train station but somehow managed to get on one going the wrong direction!  So the ride home that should have taken a half hour took almost two hours!  We are blaming our mistake on all the construction around the train station, but we really have to be more careful checking we have the correct bus direction before it is too late. Oh well, if that it the worse thing that happens on our holidays I guess I won’t complain.

Firenze, Italy

Day 64, Tuesday, November 7, 2017

There is so much to see in Florence that we are only going to scratch the surface with the week that we have here. Today we visit the Firenze Duomo, the Santa Maria del Fiore. It is the fourth largest church in Italy and the outside is highly decorated. Our first view of it  is quite spectacular, rising above the narrow street.It is impossible to get a photo of the front of this church as there isn’t room to get far enough back because of other buildings. So here are two photos of the front of the Duomo… and  one of the side.We  are actually a bit underwhelmed by the interior. Many of the areas are roped off and there isn’t a lot to see other than the dome by Brunelleschi which was finished in 1463, the tiled floor and the massive pillars. The dome is quite magnificent and of course the photos don’t do it justice. We find a bench to have our lunch and watch men high up on the crane inspecting the tower.
It rained a lot last night and there are puddles on the paving stones that reflect the church.  I loved the reflections…and Bob took this one of me and the cathedral.We walk behind the Duomo and find this view.Nearby is a little purse shop flanked by these two huge statues.On our way to check out ticket information for visiting the Uffizi we come across this sculpture and capture our strange reflections, and…Bob is not impressed with this modern sculpture called Big Clay #4. Thiere is a copy of David near the Uffizi. We should  see the real one sometime in the next few days.In the Uffizi courtyard the military stand guard. There is a fairly strong military presence in the Italian cities we have visited and in light of some of the things that have happened lately I find it rather reassuring.We walk along the  Arno river and see the Ponte Vecchio and in the other direction is the hill top terrace that we remember from our first visit to Florence 40 years ago. 

We walk to the Public Library, the Biblioteca Nazionale, only to discover that we are not allowed inside!  Hopefully if we can return Saturday morning we will be allowed in. We are not having much luck visiting libraries this trip.Construction on the Santa Croce Cathedral began in 1294 and it contains the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and Rossini.This is Michelangelo’s tomb.This is a beautiful cathedral. I particularly like the ceiling above the altar with its dark background. there is a set of stairs and a walkway all around the church high above us.There are so many beautiful details everywhere, including this carved door.There are many other rooms to visit besides the main cathedral, several chapels, the refectory,  a museum and a beautiful cloister. We spent at least a couple of hours here, and did see a Last Supper by Giorgio Vasari. This impressive painting was badly damaged by the flood of 1966 and was just restored and returned to the church in 2006.There is even entrance to a leather workshop from the church grounds and we watch craftsmen making purses and wallets. I liked looking at their tools and patterns.
When we finally finish our visit the sun is setting.
On our way to catch our bus home we pass this little studio with the artist at work and an older man sleeping in a chair. The link is in Italian but it is still interesting.This living wall is on the outside of a car parking lot right next to the bus stop.

Manarola and Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy

Day 61, Saturday November 4, 2017

Manarola is one of the five Cinque Terre villages and it has a population of only 400. We stop here and decide where I will park myself for the afternoon while Bob goes for a hike from here to Corniglia. This is Manarola from the top of the steep 20 minute climb at the beginning of the walk.The coastal trail has been closed for five years because of a land slide that injured four tourists, so the only way to walk between these villages is by a longer route with great views. Way in the distance is Monterosso, which was the first village we visited on Tuesday.This is a view of Corniglia and the train station, along with some terraced vineyards.On the way down to Corniglia Bob had to descend these steps for 20 minutes. He was pretty tired by the time he finished and caught the train back to Manarola.I spent the 3 hours that Bob was gone sitting in a little restaurant in Manarola, drinking lots of tea, drawing in my journal and chatting with some of the other restaurant patrons. It was a very enjoyable afternoon. In the bottom of this photo you can see the ramp that is used to haul boats up to the village because…although there are no cars in the village there are lots of boats parked everywhere.This little fountain sculpture was tucked into a nook. The head is sliced into 4 with the ear on the other side of the textured rock .We catch the train to Riomaggiore. This is an interesting train station as most of it is inside a tunnel because there is no room for it anyplace else.I have no idea how anyone reaches the pots on the ledge in the middle of this photo!There is another long tunnel that goes from the train station into the village of Riomaggiore.It is larger than the other villages with a population of 1700, but it is already 5:00 pm and a lot of the shops are closed.Even though I had a relatively quiet day I still managed to log 39 flights of stairs on my Fitbit.  This is why.There are stairs everywhere!This is part of an interesting mural on a municipal building we pass. We decide not to climb up to the castle on the very top of the hill, we have both had enough stairs for today.But, of course there are several more flights of stairs down to the marina and then up again. We wait for the train home standing in the station tunnel. Here you can see the little bit of flat land between where we were standing and the entrance to the next tunnel. This is photo shows how the machine I mentioned in a previous post is used to transport crops up and down the mountainsides.  I think it would be like riding a crazy roller coaster!

Portovenere, Italy

Day 60, Friday November 3, 2017

Bob called me to come look out our window and this is what he wanted to show me. We thought the driver was crazy to attempt going into this narrow side street but a few minutes later he disappeared around the corner! When we went out to catch our bus we saw the truck coming the other direction. I told Bob never to complain again about driving our little rental car on street that are too narrow!

We are going to Portovenere, but we miss our stop to transfer buses. We go for a 45 minute ride to the far side of La Spezia before the bus starts its return trip to where we needed to be. We finally catch the right bus and Bob is very thankful he is not driving the narrow twisting road to Portovenere. The bus takes up both lanes on the corners, so the driver just honks to let oncoming cars know there is no room for them on the road!  Portovenere is a UNESCO world Heritage Site, as are the five villages of Cinque Terre.The old town gate opens up onto the main street with lots of little shops.We walk through town towards the stone promontory and the black and white 13th century church of San Pietro.The sunlight on the water was beautiful.This is called Byron’s Grotto because it was here that the English poet Byron swam across the Gulf of La Spezia to visit fellow poet Shelley in 1822. The grotto cave collapsed in 1930.There are lots of rugged black rocks and big waves. The waters look too dangerous for swimming.We walk up to San Pietro Church. It is easy to miss the beautiful small details when visiting these churches.These windows give a great view of the coastline. On a clear day it is possible to see the Cinque Terre villages.

On the way to the Castle high above the town we pass these stone walls. The old doorways have been filled in with stone.One of the streets we pass on our way to the castle.We climb all the way up to visit the Castle of Doria and discover that it is only open on Saturday and Sunday!
A view of the promontory and San Pietro Church from beside the castle.There is a cemetery at the base of the castle walls. Yesterday was a day in Italy when families visit cemeteries and leave flowers for the departed so there were lots of flowers on all the graves.
We climb down a very narrow staircase beside the 12th century San Lorenzo church… and find this interesting area just as the church bells start to ring the hour. I thought the huge candle holders beside the door were interesting.On our way back to the Main Street we hear lots and lots of sirens. We wonder if there has been some sort of disaster, or even if it is a tsunami warning. However when we turn the corner we see that it is a funeral procession. There are over thirty ambulances and emergency vehicles parked nearby and several hundred mourners including many paramedics. This street had a very little door at the end of it.I wonder who lives in a house with a door this small?Here are a couple of views of the ‘fortress houses’ that were built side by side to help defend the town. Too bad the sun wasn’t shining.

These narrow tunnels connect the waterfront to the Main Street behind the fortress houses.There are no cars in town but there are boats parked along the streets.
This wreck a building on the waterfront as just been purchased for €6,000,000! It is to be restored as a luxury hotel. I can’t imagine how much the will cost! The roof and many of the floors have caved in and it is in very bad shape, but how wonderful for the town the it will be restored to its former glory.We stopped to say hi to this huge dog sitting on a step…before leaving through the town gate and catching the bus home.

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.