Fab Photo Friday – Winter is coming

Yes. Winter *is* coming. It might not officially begin until the winter solstice on December 20 but it’s getting colder and colder and today was the first day the wind made the temperature feel like double digits – below zero that is. Other parts of Canada get much, much colder and far more snow than we do here in Halifax but that first really cold day is still a shock to the system.

We haven’t had a very snowy winter for a few years now but in 2004 we had a blizzard that shut down the city for several days. This was the view outside my window before people started digging out.

After "White Juan"

To counter that, here’s a photo I took while driving through the small province of Prince Edward Island. The house was clearly abandoned but there was a well-kept garden in front of it. The contrasts were amusing.

peihouse

A Word a week photo challenge – Celebration

This week’s challenge is Celebration. With the holiday season coming up, there will be plenty of that. We will celebrate the season in many religious ways (Christmas, Hannukah being the two best known), we will celebrate the New Year.  It’s fascinating to see how cultures other than our own celebrate their er..cultures with festivals and feasts throughout the year. That’s a great part of travel.

On the home front, we celebrate birthdays, holidays and anniversaries. We celebrate successes. We celebrate who we are. We celebrate births and weddings, and even, when there’s a death, we try, through our tears,  to celebrate a life.  We celebrate with gifts, with song, dance, and most definitely with food.

Here then, are some photos of celebration

Celebrating a wedding

Celebrating a culture

Celebrating a sacrifice

Celebrating Victory

Tourist Traps: Come one, come all

Crowds at the Colosseum in Rome

People look down on the most popular spots in a destination, calling them “tourist traps”. They say these places are rip offs, scams, and attract throngs of crowds. All this can be true. But on the other hand, many of these places are of interest for various reasons, be it historical, architectural, religious or otherwise. Many of these places are iconic to the destinations. Does that mean you *should* avoid them?

Not necessarily. Some of them I do avoid, but many of them I visit anyway. It all comes down to personal choice and there are always ways to minimize the “trap”.

If the attraction has a very expensive entry fee, you have to decide how important it is to see it. If you can get the experience from viewing it from the outside, then it’s free. You don’t have to buy from the souvenirs or eat at the restaurants on site or near the site. If it’s that iconic, you can get souvenirs and postcards of it anywhere. Just compare the prices before you buy.

If it’s the crowds that put you off, go early in the day, or late in the day. If you can travel off season in the spring, fall or winter, even better. Chances are, there will still be lots of people but it won’t be claustrophobic.

I mention all this because I’ve just come back from Rome and believe me, there are quite a few iconic tourist destinations there that attract crowds. The good thing is that many of them are free or aren’t exorbitant in price.

So what did we see of these sites?

Vatican Museums = 15 euro for an adult entry.  Colosseum  = 12 euro for an adult entry. We paid a bit more because we booked a tour for both of them. In both cases, you see the highlights (Sistine Chapel!) but you can then stay on and wander around at your leisure. We were there in mid November, too, so though there were still lots of people, the crowds did not make us feel closed in.

The real “trap” feeling of the Colosseum is all the vendors in the area around it, both with booths set up or walking through the crowds attempting to sell you things they’re carrying. That can be really annoying. There’s also a few “gladiators” in costume and if you want your photo taken with them or want to take a photo of them, they expect cash payment. You can always take a photo from farther back with your camera’s zoom! The queues for tickets can certainly be very long. If you can pre-purchase them either online or from another agency, you will be able to use a much shorter line. We sailed through that one.

You see all the people in the photo with this post? This was taken on a November mid afternoon after we’d left the building. None of them are in queues to get in. They’re all just milling about looking at the structure from the outside. The day we were there, there seemed to be far more people outside than inside. Some are part of organized groups but most aren’t. Many, I’m sure were inside or were going to be.

St. Peter’s Square and Basilica are free and on Wednesday’s for the Pope’s “audience”, the square can fill up with thousands of people so keep that in mind.

Other famed tourist spots in Rome are the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps, and the Pantheon and piazza outside. The worst crowds we encountered here were at the fountain. There’s a tradition that you can toss a coin into the fountain to ensure a speedy return to Rome and it’s one that a lot of people take up. We did go, because the Baroque fountain covering the wall of a building really is lovely but we didn’t stay too long.Most of these are public squares or Piazzas so of course, they’re free to visit.

We visited all of these but my favourite is the Pantheon.  It was originally a temple and now a Christian church. The round domed structure is really beautiful inside. It, too, is free to enter and when we were there, not overly crowded though busy.

What seems to make an attraction a “tourist trap” is the sense that it’s not worth the price of admission or that it’s overpriced and far too crowded. The souvenir shops and restaurants tend to be overpriced. The food often of lesser quality (at least the ones by the Colosseum were, the other squares, maybe the quality doesn’t suffer but they ain’t cheap, even just for a cup of coffee.)

Some places you go are “visitor centres” and some of these really feel like rip offs. Some are very good with lots of information about the site but some are set up like a cheesy “experience” and you get little bang for your buck.

I wouldn’t avoid popular tourist attractions. If you’re going to Paris, why wouldn’t you want to see the Eiffel Tower? You don’t have to pay the price to go up, you can see it from most places in the city. You can walk across Tower Bridge in London for free. You can see the Statue of Liberty from the free Staten Island Ferry in New York.

Some attractions have a free entry day once a month or are discounted if you enter late in the day or on the evening opening. Expect more crowds but it’s a way to see or do something you might not want to pay the full price for otherwise.

It all comes down to your own interests, priorities and budget.

London: Getting around

London cabs are great. But they aren’t cheap

London is enormous. It’s very much spread out and though it’s walkable and fairly flat, it’s quite a long way from the Tower of London to Big Ben and Westminster and all points in between. What’s the best way to get around London?

Everyone talks about the Underground or Tube and it is indeed efficient and fast. It’s also crowded and hot and sticky at times. The bus system is quite good though can also be pretty crowded sometimes.

Obviously the Tube is faster than a bus which has to contend with traffic. The underground network  has a lot of stairs and not that many of the stations have elevators or are a combination of stairs, elevators or escalators. If you have mobility problems or are just like me, not that fit for stairs, the bus is better and you get to see more. The underground network is really good and it’s not difficult to use.

It’s not cheap, however. You really *really* should get at least a day travel card/pass. It pays for itself in 3 trips on the tube.  It will be a bit more expensive if you include all types of travel but if you decide just to take the busses everywhere, it’s cheaper.

For stays longer than a few days, get an Oyster card which is a smart card you can load up with a travel pass for a few days or a week. You then just tap it on the big yellow pads on the underground gates or on the busses as you get on. You never pay more than the cost of a one day travel card each day you use it, no matter how many times during the day you tap it. I have two cards that I got when my mom and I were in London for a week. We’d loaded them with a bus pass each and that was great for us. I have kept the cards and use them with a “pay as you go” top up whenever my partner and I go to London and I’ve lent them to friends as well who have used them.

I think you do have to pay a deposit on the card but when you leave London, you can take it to a transport booth in the train stations and they will refund your money and any funds leftover on the card.

The Transport for London site has a good map with the bus routes on it for all the tourist attractions.You can find that at the bottom of this page, and it’s got a good visitor guide included in the PDF file.  Also on that page are links to other useful maps and services.

There are so many diverse areas and neighbourhoods in London, walking around always finds a new shop or pub to discover.  I like walking in London because you can always find little hidden spots like a park built around the remains of a bombed out church behind an office building in the City (the old original part of London near the Tower of London).  Covent Garden is wonderful to wander. There are lots of little squares and narrow streets with little shops to discover. One of the oldest pubs in London, the Lamb and Flag, is tucked up at the end of a little alley. They do a nice Sunday roast lunch!

Most of London is fairly flat, too.  That makes it easier to walk distances.

And what about taxis? The traditional black cab may or may not be black anymore but the style is instantly recognizable. You can flag one down if it’s roof light is on. Black cabs are not altogether cheap but they’ll get you where you need to go.  If you can, phone a ‘mini cab’ which is a private cab company. They generally have cheaper rates. This is useful if you are booking a cab to go to the theatre at night. It’s not always easy getting a cab after the theatre. Though there are lots of them around, there are also lots of people looking for one. Prebooking might be a good  idea.

Now, just a little aside info:

When  you get on the bus, enter from the front, but get off at the back door, not the front one if you can as others will be getting on.

When you are on an escalator, stand to the right. Chances are very good that other people will be climbing the escalator stairs and want to get by you. If you stand in the middle, you’ll definitely get scowled at and rudely nudged aside. There are many tube stations with escalators so you will definitely run into this if you travel underground.

A travel pass is also good on the rail within the same zones that the pass covers. Most tourists will only need a zone 1 and 2 pass; that covers the central part of London but you could also get a commuter rail train to Greenwich which is on the edge of zone 2. A travel pass is cheaper to buy if it’s not going to be used in the morning rush hour. What you want to ask for is an off-peak travelcard which you can get for one or seven days. You can’t use it before 9:30 a.m. You can also load the travelcards onto the Oyster card. A regular travelcard covers the tube, busses, DLR (light rail) and National Rail within the zones it covers. You can get passes for busses only.

You can get travelcards at news stands as well as in the tube and rail stations. I think you’ll have to get the Oyster cards at the stations.

Oh. And if your travel agent tries to sell you the travel cards before you go, double check the prices. In some of the package tour brochures I’ve seen, they charge you 1o or 15 percent more than if you bought them in London. It might be convenient but I don’t see the point in paying their fees on top of the regular cost.

The Tube stops running at night about 11:30 or midnight at the latest. There are busses that run all night though you may or may not find that comfortable as they are often filled with people coming home from clubs and pubs and can be a bit rowdy.

Weekly photo challenge – Green

Following on the weekly challenge from here, this week’s word is Green.

Green is organic. It’s all around us in nature. Green, these days, also refers to conservation and environment. Reuse and recycle. I’ve decided to post photos that are mostly not organic aside from one because the colours in that photo are so awesome.

The little green guy

Green can mean minty cool

Rocking the green

In the Roman Baths museum, Bath, UK. The reflections in a plunge pool

Green is popular for cars. Even the classic ones.

The Amsterdam, docked in …. Amsterdam

A Word a Week Photograph Challenge – Flower

We’re back to normal scheduling and trying to fit into my usual routine. That’s always difficult after a good holiday!

A Word a Week challenge this week is Flower.

I never used to take all that many photos of flowers but my friend Carole loved flowers and gardens. I have written about her before, actually. We traveled together a few times and she took lots of photos of plants and flowers while I focused my lens on architecture. But I find myself more and more often taking photos of flowers and plants these days.

Using flowers to frame the photo works well. I like taking photos of flowers in market stalls or shops. Even a faded flower at the end of its life can be an interesting photo study.

Winning Dahlias

Lavender frames the garden chairs

Roses in a Copenhagen market

 

The last rose of the year

Thanks to the Travel and Luggage Gods

Nutcrackers at the Manchester Christmas Markets

Nutcrackers at the Manchester Christmas Markets

Now, where was I? Oh yes, we’d seen Rievaulx Abbey on the way home from our road trip. I only had one more day to spend with my fella before heading home. This weekend was the opening weekend for the Manchester Christmas Markets and I wanted to go.  We parked in an NCP garage and walked over Deansgate to St. Ann’s Square where some of the markets were.

The Manchester Christmas Markets are spread over a few streets from the Exchange Square by the Triangle shopping centre, behind the new Selfige’s and M&S over through St. Ann’s Square, down King St., up Brazenose St. and then filling Albert Square in front of the Victorian Town Hall with it’s soaring clock tower and massive glittery Santa looking over it all. They have small wooden huts set up for all the vendors and many of them are internationally themed, such as French or German to echo the markets on the Continent. We arrived by about 11 a.m. in hopes of seeing some of  it before the worst of the crowds hit but we weren’t too successful.

There are lots of nice things to see and even more nice things to eat and drink. My fella wasn’t overly impressed, he didn’t think there was all that much to appeal to him, or men in general (his opinion). He may be right I suppose, depending on your interests. There was a lot of Christmas decoration and toys, handmade items, jewelry, ceramics and the food ranged from meats, cheese, wine, beer, and lots of sweets. They had a few cafes and beer gardens set up and some stalls selling a variety of mulled hot drinks which they would serve in a souvenir mug. They charged £2 as a deposit on the mug but you could keep it if you want or get the money back if you returned it. I did try one and kept the mug though wasn’t as keen on the mulled wine I tried.

How many kinds of fudge can you imagine!

By the time we got to the Town Hall, the crowds were thick. They always seemed to be heading in the direction against the one I was walking, naturally. We ducked into the Town Hall because I had heard it was very nice and it was except there was also a market in there for the vendors from the Northern Quarter market, Affleck’s. That’s the place you want to go for goth, punk, hip, club gear, and all kinds of off the beaten track stuff. But the problem was that in there the bottleneck of humankind was even worse! We didn’t last too long and got out alive. From there, the crowds were just too much and we left. Yeesh!

We thought we’d drive into the countryside for a nice pub lunch at a place G. has liked for years. We’d gone there a few years ago and it was very good food with lovely views over the West Pennines. We found it, but it seems to be closed and possibly they are rebuilding but I’m not sure. It was a disappointment. We headed back into town a different way and got a bit lost (we had left the SatNav home!) but we found a motorway eventually and made it back.

Thus my trip was over. Monday was traveling day and we had to be up at 4:30 a.m. or “Stupid O’Clock”. My flight was 7:20 and we had to return the rental car as well. Got checked in, we stopped for a coffee to keep ourselves going. G. had to go back to town to work so he had a long day too.  Time to say a few prayers to the Travel Gods. The trip over from Canada was not very pleasant with crowded planes and long queues. I was really hoping the return journey through terminal 5 to 3 in Heathrow wasn’t going to be similar.

The Gods heard me this time. The flight to Heathrow was actually not too uncomfortable even thought it was full and I had the middle seat. It felt as if the seats were just a little more roomy and that made all the difference. The transfer was smooth and there were no long lines at the airline desk where I had to get my boarding pass for the next flight and even the security line wasn’t bad at all. I had a snack and a cup of tea in the large lounge in Terminal 3 but I didn’t walk around and browse in the shops because it would have cost me money! The gate for the flight wasn’t at the back end of beyond and the best thing, there was an empty seat beside me and it stayed that way!

The flight was mostly smooth and what turbulence there was wasn’t too rough. Food was decent. Movie sucked but I chose the Woody Allen “To Rome With Love” and I knew I wouldn’t like it. I only wanted to see a last glimpse of Rome.  I did try to sleep but probably just dozed a little here and there. Ah it was good to touch down in Canada!. The Luggage Gods were kind and my bags arrived with me.

We always look ahead to our next visit or more. I may be going back over in mid January for a long weekend for an event I’ve been invited to and if it goes ok at work, I definitely will make the plans. It’s a bonus visit with G. and even if it’s just a few days, it’s quality time together. G. will come to Canada in May and we are thinking about a visit to New York City. Next fall I will go to the  UK and we are talking about a road trip to Scotland.  It’s hard to come back because we only get to see each other twice a  year as a rule. With the constant contact through the net, we keep the bond strong but it isn’t a substitute for real face-time. But it is what it is for now.

Until the next time.

Down with York, Up with Rievaulx

Rievaulx Abbey, Yorkshire

The beautiful and historic city of York is one of our favourites so we thought we might enjoy a day trip. We headed out from Salford under iffy skies, it could clear up, it could rain. But that’s typical of  Greater Manchester weather. We often liken it to Mordor, the grim and depressing location from Lord of the Rings. Weather-wise it’s not often really nice when I’m here but otherwise, the comparison isn’t really fair. Manchester is a nice place. Really! (The cities of Salford and Manchester are right next to each other, only separated at the city centre by a narrow strip of the River Irwell.)

It’s a little over an hour across to York. We parked in a Park and Ride lot and took the bus into the city center stop closest to the mighty York Minster. That is one awesome cathedral in the literal sense of the word. It is the seat of the Archbishop of York who is the most important church leader next to the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The Minster is very large and very old with beautiful stained glass windows, soaring high and dramtacially into the vaulted ceilings.

Sadly, the Minster was closed to the public today because it was being used for university graduation. Bummer! We had a look in St. Michael le Belfry, the parish church next to the Minster. It was charming, with some interesting points. It was also the church where Guy Fawkes was christened. He’s the guy that was the scapegoat of the Gunpowder Plot and his death and the triumph over the anarchists is celebrated with fireworks and bonfires every year in Britain on November 5.

We walked through the narrow streets and found a nice pub for lunch. That’s a great thing about York, there are lots of historic old pubs and all of the ones I’ve been in are atmospheric and all have served very good food and ales and beers. This one was called the Golden Lion.

I wanted to go to the Yorvik Viking Centre as i’d never been there and had heard good things about it in the past. They have a lot of exhibits, some gruesome and some rather smelly (depicting the actual smells of a medieval Viking village). The north and northeast were prime targets for raiding Vikings in the 9th and 10th centuries and lots of the names in this area have Viking origins. Anyway, we paid nearly 10 pounds each as an entry fee. There’s a bit of an exhibit and a glass floor over a model of the area of York where a lot of Viking artifacts and remnants of a village were discovered. The museum is near that site now. There’s a little cart that you sit in and ride around a recreated village with an audio track describing what everyday life was like in the villages. No gruesome. No smells. But with animatronic figures that speak in ancient languages while the audio track translates. It’s all a bit simple and sanitized and “Disneyfied” and we weren’t very impressed. There’s also a few rooms of exhibits of artifacts found and that’s it. Overpriced and underimpressive.

We walked around a bit more but decided we’d had enough disappointment for one day. Oh yes, and my camera, only a few months old, packed it in! Not happy over that either.

East transept of Rievaulx Abbey

Our overnight trip to Sunderland in the northeast was far more successful. We drove up and across the Yorkshire Dales National Park through some lovely scenic areas. High hills and bare bleak moors dotted with farms and lots of sheep. We stopped in a market town called Hawes for lunch. We didn’t have the time to properly explore the town because we still had a ways to go but it would definitely be worth visiting again. It’s in the heart of the area that produces Wensleydale cheese and they have a creamery where you can watch them make the cheese. There is also a ropeworks and a country museum and the town has a lot of nice little shops and a few very nice pubs.

We stayed with friends in Sunderland which is on the coast just south of Newcastle. We dined out and spent an enjoyable evening with them. The next day we decided to visit the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey in the North York Moors National Park. It was really good! In addition, the sun was shining! We used a provided audio guide and wandered around the grounds. Rievaulx is a Cistercian Abbey and was founded in 1138 and was an important Abbey in the north until the Dissolution of the Monasteries closed it down in 1538. The audio guide was very interesting and they also had a little exhibit on the life styles of the monks and how the abbey was run. We tramped around there for well over an hour listening to the information and taking photos. We also had lunch in the cafe and that was excellent as well.

All in all a very good road trip! Much more enjoyable than our visit to York yesterday. York will still be there, though and we’ll go back again.

We arrived back home just as it got dark, about 5:30. Tomorrow’s my last day here! It always comes too soon!

Back in the UK, the holiday continues

Gunner turret from a Wellington bomber
Imperial War Museum North, Salford Quays

Our journey back from Rome was uneventful. The flight to London was late but we had lots of time between connections. I did stand in the short non-EU passport line for far longer than you might expect considering there were only a couple dozen people in front of me. The EU passport line had hundreds and it was moving steadily much to my chagrin.

Our queue only had three agents to deal with the travelers. One agent had these two women there at the desk almost the whole time I was waiting. I kept expecting them to be taken away  at gunpoint or something!  Another agent left the desk to deal with people that were driven from their plane on one of those airport go-carts. Finally the long queue cleared and everyone in our queue could take advantage of the rest of the agents and we finally sailed through. Sheesh!

We had something to eat while waiting for our flight to Manchester which was on time and quick. The car rental for the Manchester Airport is now down the road a bit but there’s a free shuttle bus straight there. They have a shiny new rental centre for all the companies and a secure parking lot for the cars. Our car turned out to be a wee little Fiat 500. There’s not much room in the back “seat” for an adult but then we don’t need it for that anyway. It’s surprisingly roomy for the two front seats and I always have the seat back as far as it can go anyway. G. is doing all the driving anyway and he loves it! We only have a small place to park it so it fits in nicely.

Sunday was a nice, easy day. The weather seems to have turned Novembery, clouding over, drizzling rain. I’d say it’s typical Manchester but it’s like that at home in Canada too. We met a group of friends at a pub in Cheshire that had a carvery set up and enjoyed the food and the company immensely. We visited G.’s dad when we got back and then spent the evening in relaxing. Our feet are still tender from all the walking in Rome so we really just need to recharge our batteries and spend quality time together.

Monday was another rainy, cold day but we went out anyway. We decided to go to the Imperial War Museum. There’s a Northern branch here in Salford at the Quays that opened 10 years ago. I’ve never been to it nor to the one in London though I will be making the effort to see that one when I get the chance next. The War Museum has displays and artifacts from various wars that the UK has been involved with over the past 100 years, starting with WWI. There are a lot of personal items donated, too, from military personel and civilians affected by war.

There was a video presentation on the effects of war on children  that was projected on all the walls of the large exhibition room which was lined with school kids yesterday.  Letters and statements were read by both actors and what sounded like real people telling their memories. They talked about being evacuated from the cities during WWII, about what it was like when family members didn’t return from the war, and what it’s like even now living in war conditions. It was very moving at times.

The exhibits were all very interesting and we could have spent more time there but we did have other things to go. I would highly recommend it and I’m definitely going to make the effort to see the main one in London. We had a hot drink in the cafe and also went up in the tower of the building to the viewing platform for a look over rainy Manchester. A lunch break and then to the grocery store to stock up and we went back to our nest and relaxed.

Rome Day 5

Part of the ceiling of the Sistine ChapelWe slept in this morning and didn’t get moving until mid-morning. We basically hung around here until about 11 or 11;30 and then walked to a Metro to take it to the stop by the Vatican where we are later to meet the tour group for the Vatican Museums. We had lunch in a little cafe. I enjoyed my lasagna but the paninis  G had weren’t that appealing to him because he found the bread dry and crumbly. We also notice that they don’t put butter or dressing on the sandwiches by default.

We were early for the tour meeting spot in Piazza di Risorgimento and decided to have gelato and sit in the sunny square. The gelato was beautifully creamy and the sun was warm. The square is just outside the walls of the Vatican City which is a state/country of it’s own. If we had been visiting anywhere in it beside the museums and basilica, we would have to go through passport control. I believe the official name of the country is the  State of the Vatican City.

We were to meet our group and guide in front of a store on the square and made sure we were there 15 minutes early. It was a group of about two dozen maybe and we ended up being split into two, our group was guided by Sussana and the tour was given in Spanish and English. We had another of those radio thingys with a single earbud which worked better than the phone style receivers we used at the Colosseum.

We walked down the block and into the entrance halls where Sussana had the tickets printed. There were marble stairs up a floor and from there we went out into a courtyard, the courtyard of the acorn and yes, there’s a large sculpture of an acorn on one side. (The bronze acorn used to be near the Pantheon, they think and think it was moved here to the courtyard in the early 1600s) In the middle is a large brass ball/sphere sculpted by Arnaldo Pomodoro in 1990. Along one side are a series of panels for the guides mainly. We stood there for about a half hour while she explained the highlights of the Sistine Chapel because you can’t talk inside there. She explained some of the more important panels along the sides including one or two by Boticelli, and some by (Perugino) one of which is very important as he was the first to use perspective in a painting.

She then talked about Michelangelo and the history and story behind his painting the chapel ceiling  and the Last Judgement many years later when he was old, cranky and disillusioned. It’s interesting to find out the way the frescos are created (wet plaster, outline from a “cartoon” etched into holes, then filled in with paint). Michelangelo did the first three panels of the ceiling with one format, various scenes from the story of Noah and the Ark but then realized that from the floor, the figures in the panels looked too small so he did the rest of them with fewer people in the scenes and larger so they would be seen better from below. The last few panels were done without the cartoon outline, just straight painting onto the plaster.  The ceiling panels are all Old Testament stories, no references to the Christian era at all.

Before we get to the chapel, though, we have to walk quite a long way, through several large galleries, the Candelabra, the maps, the tapestries. A couple of them also have little gift shops along the side, naturally, and there are also cases and statues and sculptures dotted along as well. The maps are a bit less interesting we felt.  We also ducked into one room that had high, high ceilings and was completely covered in painted scenes. It was very impressive. We weren’t able to go into the Rafael rooms though. I guess it’s just not part of the tours which are mainly to get you through to the Sistine and out again. There are 17 km of galleries and museums and I’m sure it would do you in trying to see it all in one day.

Finally we come to the main event. The Sistine Chapel was built in the end of the 15th century for Pope Sixtus (thus, “Sistine”). While it is famous now for being the location that the Enclave of cardinals goes to elect new Popes, it wasn’t always used for that. Sometimes, yes, but often it was in any location where the Pope happened to be when he died. In the last hundred or so years, though, it’s always done here.

By now it’s 4:30 and the light outside is fading into night. The windows in the chapel are blocked and only ambient diffused light shows inside. This saves the paint from deterioration. You see, for the first 500 years, this was used regularly as a church and all those centuries of smoke, candlelight, incense, oil lamps and people had coated the painting with soot and dirt. A Japanese company paid millions in the 1980s to have the artwork cleaned and it took something like 16 years. When I was here before in 1996 they had just opened to the public again.

The chapel is dim inside, partly because of the lateness in the day and partly because it’s not directly lit from outside anyway. We had 20 minutes to look around and up. You are not supposed to take photos even without a flash. That always annoys me because if there’s no light, there should be no damage caused. You can take pictures elsewhere in the museums without a flash and there are very valuable paintings there too. Anyway, even though I shouldn’t have, I still managed to sneak some stealth photos and they mostly came out pretty good with a little brightness and contrast adjustment.

Our feet, legs and back were really taking a punishing through all this and we still had to walk all the way back up to the entrance/exit. Apparently not one of the tours that get guided right into St. Peter’s Basilica through a back corridor like I thought I’d booked. We did get to walk down the double spiral ramp/staircase though, which was neat. After that we had to walk all the way around  to the Basilica, go through a security xray check and by this time I was a wreck. I told Graham to go on ahead since I’d seen it and he hadn’t and I’d catch up. By the time I dragged myself to the stairs to go in, he was already at the top. A guard noticed me and I must have looked pretty bedraggled because he offered me the chance to use a lift. The problem with that was that I didn’t know where I would be inside and Graham wouldn’t find me so I struggled up the stairs which were mercifully not steep.

The Basilica closes at 6 and we only had about 15 minutes by this time. We made sure to see the Pieta, my favourite ever. She’s right by the entrance. We walked a bit through it, didn’t go all the way to the Berninni bronze canopy but could see it. The ceilings are so very high and the decoration is all very lavish, between the painting, the frescos, the mosaics and statues. It’s the largest Christian church in the world and there are markings on the floor from the entrance showing you where the edges of some of the other large cathedrals and basilicas would reach, including St. Paul’s London and the Duomo in Florence. I forgot to look for the markings to show Graham. He’s not religious at all and though it’s quite a sight to see, thought it was an awful lot of expense and effort to go to to build something dedicated to something that doesn’t exist!

We left the building just before the six o’clock bells rang and saw a changing of the Swiss Guard in their colourful uniforms. When I say “changing of the guard” don’t expect an elaborate ceremony like you might see in London. It’s just 3 of them changing their posts with a bit of marching and such. We were there at the right time to see it though and got some pictures.

Right. I wasn’t even sure I could feel my feet except for the pain radiating from them. There was no way I was walking to see if we could find a bus stop now. Taxi time again. We saw a stand at the back of the huge St. Peter’s Square. One taxi drove up and we tried to get in but a group of people pushed past us insisting they were waiting first. Fine. Another one came and a woman grabbed that out from under us too. When I third one came, I was ready to fight for it. We didn’t have to and got in. The group of people that nabbed the first cab were still milling around looking confused and glaring in our direction. I don’t know if there were too many of them or they had too much luggage or what their problem was but I didn’t much care either. We were in the cab and we weren’t getting back out.

We decided to go back to the restaurant down the road where we had that delicious steak after a rest of about an hour. I hobbled down and we got seated. Right in front of a family with small children. Now, the children were fairly well behaved but kids have this high pitched voice when excited that goes right through you when you’re not used to it. Mercifully they left when we were about half way through our meal. Their parents, to their credit, did quiet them when they got too loud. I enjoyed my meal just as much though Graham still thought the steak the other night was not to be bested. He did enjoy his meal very much. I made sure I had room for dessert this time and it was a little torte of ricotta and pears with a powdery top, presented on a plate with chocolate drizzles and a bit of whipped cream on the side. Heaven!

We returned to the hotel and caught up on computery things before bed when we finally collapsed. I think my feet and ankles were still throbbing. I did manage to roll my aching feet on a glass bottle of juice from the mini bar (yes, I wiped it down after!) which helped a little.

Thus ends our week in Rome. We had spectacular weather and though we tired ourselves out every day with all the walking, we enjoyed seeing all the famous sights of the Eternal City.