Missing the boat, or the bridge in this case

Most big cities that attract tourists have famous sights and attractions that the majority of visitors want to see. The “Must do” list, if you will. Paris has the Eiffel Tower. Rome has the Colosseum. New York has the Empire State Building. You get the idea.

So have you ever gone somewhere and totally missed out seeing/doing one of the top sights that you planned to see/do? I don’t count it if you missed it because you really weren’t interested. That’s not the same thing. Sometimes weather gets in the way. Sometimes your itinerary or schedule just isn’t going to allow that one other thing to be squeezed in. Sometimes, it’s just all three with a dose of bad luck thrown in like this story shows.

The Rialto Bridge, Venice

In Venice, one of the sights is the Rialto Bridge. It’s a lovely arched stone bridge with an interior lined with shops and a walkway you can cross on the outside of the shops to get great views of the Grand Canal, the largest and widest of the canals snaking through Venice. This particular incarnation of the bridge has been standing since the 16th century. It’s quite pretty and has an added plus of a market at one end. In addition to St. Mark’s Square and Basilica, it’s one of the things that most people see if not traverse when they visit Venice.

Not me. And I’m not really sure why or how it happened!

We only had a day and a half in Venice. We were going to be joining a bus tour around Italy but we weren’t joining it until the day after we arrived, which was a sunny Sunday. We were staying on the mainland in Marghera and my friend and I headed into Venice by a city bus and took the vaporetto (a public boat/bus) up the Grand Canal.

I can’t for the life of me remember seeing the Rialto though we must have gone under it as we took the boat to San Marco. I certainly didn’t take any photos of it. From there we looked around the square and then walked and crossed the canal to the other side and it must have been at the Accademia bridge. We walked through that part of Venice following signs for the train station where we could get a bus back to the hotel. We completely missed the Rialto (again) though had a wonderful walk through parts of Venice that a lot of tourists miss, I think.

The next day, the day we picked up the bus tour, we got a motorboat ride to San Marco but not up the Grand Canal, we went up around the exterior of the main of Venice, through the  Lagoon instead, I think. It was raining. Really raining! We had a walking tour around San Marco and a peek into the Basilica and of course, the obligatory stop in a glass blowing factory. After lunch, we went to Burano across the lagoon where the houses are brightly coloured and lace is traditionally made. I believe we must have taken a boat again back to the train station (but not via the Grand Canal) to pick up the bus back to the hotel. Again, no Rialto.

We did have a really good tour around Italy after that though the weather wasn’t great the first week while we visited the hill towns of Umbria and through down to Sorrento. It did clear up the second week. Here’s a couple of photos I did take in Venice and there’s a detailed travelogue here.

Looking towards Santa Maria della Salute on Venice's Grand Canal

Looking towards Santa Maria della Salute on Venice’s Grand Canal

Looking down the Grand Canal from the Accademia bridge

Looking down the Grand Canal from the Accademia bridge

The colours of Burano, Venice

The colours of Burano, Venice

 

A Word a Week Challenge – Square

This week’s challenge is “Square” but not in the geometric sense, or, well, it could be if you wanted I suppose but it’s meant in the sense of a public space. A Square, a Plaza, a Piazza. Most cities and towns have squares. They are usually in the centre, often in the older section of the city (town/village etc) where people would gather. They often have public buildings such as the Town Hall and churches or Cathedrals and many have war or other memorials or tributes to someone from the town’s past, a monarch or prominent citizen.  Some have a market set up once a week or at Christmas. Some, probably most these days, allow vehicle traffic but some are pedestrian only with traffic around the edges. They are used for public celebrations, markets, or just a place to sit and enjoy the sunshine.

Some squares aren’t really squares at all, just a major intersection. Times Square in New York actually encompasses about 10 city blocks around the main “square” which is a huge intersection but it’s still the heart of Manhattan these days. Lots of cities that I’ve been to have more than one large square, but also have lots and lots of little ones, both landscaped and green  or paved or cobbled and ringed with shops and cafes and they are lovely to discover when you’re wandering around exploring.

For this challenge, I’ve picked some famous squares and public spaces from the larger cities I’ve been to.

London is full of squares, large and small but probably the best known is Trafalgar Square in the heart of the West End of London. The fountains and massive lions guard Nelson’s Monument. The National Gallery lines the north side of the square, with the Canadian High Commission on the west side. The Mall leads off under a wide stone “gate” up to Buckingham Palace.

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Trafalgar Square, London, Lions at the foot of Nelson’s Monument

Trafalgar Square, London, St. Patrick’s Day concert

Montmartre is the more artsy section of old Paris and this square, Place du Tertre has long been associated with artists who set up here to try to make a living.

Place du Tertre, Montmartre, Paris

While the new Georgian part of  Edinburgh has several lovely leafy squares, this one, the Grassmarket, is in old Edinburg and is seated beneath the cliff on top of which looms Edinburgh Castle.

Grassmarket, Edinburgh

Kongens Nytorv (“King’s New Square”) is one of the main squares in Copenhagen. It’s at the end of the long pedestrian shopping “mile”, the Strøget, and has the Danish Royal Theatre along one side and several buildings used to be palaces. One is now an embassy. Another part of it fronts the famous Nyhaven harbour with the brightly coloured buildings and restaurants. In the center is the statue of King Christiain V on a horse. This is the monarch that laid out the square in 1670. Students celebrate around the square when they get their exam results.

Kongens Nytorv, Copenhagen

Relaxing in Kongens Nytorv, Copenhagen

Amsterdam’s main square is Dam Square, with the Royal Palace, a cathedral and other large state buildings surrounding it. It’s also got the National Monument in the centre and is used for holding public concerts, memorials, and celebrations.

Dam Square, Amsterdam. The National Monument

Rome… Impossible to pick just one. It’s filled with “squares” and piazzas, many of them very well known. The largest is probably St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City of course. Piazza Navona, a long, narrow square built on top of an old “circus” or race track, with the three large fountains, the most famed being the Four Rivers by Bernini. The Trevi Fountian square is very small and is basically just the fountain and surrounding are for the crowds. There are lots of other squares that are large intersections but always with a fountain or statue in the centre, such as Barbarini, Monte Citorio, Piazza Venezia in front of the Vittorio Emmanuelle II memorial monstrosity, and Piazza Repubblica. Then there’s the busy square in front of the Pantheon, the Piazza Rotunda. That’s probably my favourite even though it’s usually wall to wall with tourists. The square is not that big, and is closed in by buildings housing hotels and restaurants. There’s a fountain in the middle with the dome and pillars of the Pantheon on one end. There are narrow alleys leading into it and the square is cobbled.

The Pantheon, Rome

Tourists in the Piazza Rotunda at the Pantheon, Rome

Just to add a little Canadian Content..Toronto’s Dundas Square is the city’s attempt at a mini-Times Square I think. It’s ringed with large shopping malls and stores and close to the theatre district as well.

Dundas Square, Toronto, across from the Eaton Centre shopping mall

Dundas Square, a mini-Times Square wannabe?

Probably the grandest and most elaborate of squares I’ve ever been to so far is the Grand Place in Brussels. Narrow lanes lead to it from some of the more well-travelled streets. You come around a corner and see this  jaw dropping site, a cobbled central square lined with tall, thin guildhouses and several  palace type buildings. One is now the Town Hall and the tourist information office is in the ground floor of another. It’s all lit up at night, too. There are restaurants around the square, a chocolate museum (I think) and they use the square for exhibitions and markets and festivals as well.

GrandPlace guild corner houses

Grand Place, Brussels, some of the guildhouses in one corner of the square

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Grand Place, Brussels, more guildhouses and a palace.

GrandPlace gilded flag

Grand Place, Brussels. With details like this on every building, you’ll get a sore neck looking up everywhere!

 

Word a Week Challenge – Castle

Oooh, this week’s Word a Week Challenge is Castle!  Castles are one of my favourite things to visit, whether still intact or whether there are just ruins left to ramble through.  Many castles started off as pure fortifications but turned into more of a palace, a residence as the need for defence died down. Since palaces are not the traditional “castle”, for this post, I’ll just show photos of the more “industrial” versions with one or two exceptions.

Most of my castle experiences have been in the U.K. where castles are littered all over the countries that make up the United Kingdom. Welsh castles built by Edward I are huge and looming and forbidding. Often these and other castles were attached to walls that would surround a town/city to keep it safe from invasion. These castles were built to intimidate and you can see that they certainly would be.

Inside Beaumaris Castle, Isle of Anglesey, Wales

Conwy Castle, North Wales

There are still a few examples of even older castles. This one, Restormel in Cornwall, dates to the Norman period though became disused and fell into ruins after the English Civil War in the 17th century.

Restormel Castle, Lostwithiel, Cornwall

Edinburgh Castle is perched on top of volcanic cliffs. The old city ran from it’s gates down to the Royal palace of Holyrood. The newer part of the city lies across a loch which was drained and is now the park you see in this photo.

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Irish Castles seem to mainly be boxy looking, one large squared tower.  Blarney Castle is fairly typical.

Blarney Castle, Ireland

Leeds Castle was defensive but remained a residential home through the centuries, into the 20th century. It’s surrounded by a moat which was a fairly common means of defense for castles.

Leeds Castle, Kent

Outside of the U.K., there are also many castles. The Rhine is a popular river for castle spotting from a riverboat. This castle, in the middle of the city of Rome, was the Pope’s stronghold for both security for himself and as a prison.

Castel Sant'Angelo, Rome

Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome

The Tower of London is arguably one of the most famous castles in the world. It started as a Normal fortification built by William the Conqueror after the 1066 invasion. It’s grown quite a lot since the erection of the square middle “White” Tower. It’s been a royal palace, a zoo and a prison.

The Tower of London, contrasting with the new London City Hall across the Thames

This one, in Copenhagen, was more of a palace though is still called a castle.

Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen, Denmark

Weekly Photo Challenge – Masterpiece

This week’s WordPress Challenge is Masterpiece.

I’ve been to a few of the most reknowned museums in the world. Just a few, but I’m working on it. I’ve seen some wonderful pieces of art, classics, masterpieces. I’ve also been in some cathedrals and churches with exquisite stained glass, artwork, sculpture and architecture. I’ve see the Sistine Chapel and though I do have some “stealth” photos, I thought the better of posting them here. Instead, from the Vatican City, there’s this masterpiece by Michaelangelo Buonarotti.

La Pietà, Michaelangelo Buonarotti

This is the Pieta. It’s one of the only pieces he ever signed and he created it when he was in his early 20s. It currently resides in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City.  It was created for the funeral of a cardinal and was moved to the Basilica in the 18th century. It’s sustained damage several times, most recently in the 1970s when a maniac took a sledgehammer to it. Mary’s nose had to be recreated from a piece of the marble taken from her back. It’s behind bulletproof glass now, sadly.

The first time I saw it, I was 18, it was 1977 and probably had only been back on display a short time after that damage was repaired.  It overwhelmed me. I don’t think I had ever seen anything so beautiful in my short life to date. Why did it strike such a chord with me? I don’t really know for certain as it wasn’t the religious aspect.  Was it the touching, emotional expressions? Was it the folds of fabric? Was it the muscles and bones? Was it because all this was carved out of hard mable? All of the above, probably. I couldn’t get over that you wouldn’t touch the skirt and feel real fabric or stroke her face and feel warm skin. How could it be possible to bring that much life out of stone?

I bought a little white replica of it as a reminder, which I still have. My photo that day did not really turn out very well but I got a copy of one a friend took. This photo was taken when I was in Rome during a tour of Italy in 1996. With a careful angling so that there was no reflection on the glass, and a steady hand, I got a pretty good shot. On this most recent visit, I only took a photo from further away though did go up close to have another look. It still fills a little spot in my heart just like it did in 1977.

Traveling through the Movies – The Talented Mr. Ripley (Italy)

index Let’s go back to Italy with Jude Law, Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow in the movie The Talented Mr. Ripley. It’s the story of Tom Ripley, the classic hanger-on, who is hired by the father of a rich young man to go to Italy and talk him into returning to the United States and the family business. Father and Son are estranged and the son, Dickie Greenleaf, played by Jude Law, does not speak to his father. Tom sees this opportunity to belong, to be part of the in crowd and latches on to Dickie and his girlfriend, Marge (Gwynneth Paltrow) after pretending he was an old college friend of Dickie’s though Dickie doesn’t remember him. He accepts him anyway because it suits him at the time but Marge is uncomfortable with this clingy intruder. Tom soon tries to take over Dickie’s life, manipulating and covering his tracks. Matt Damon plays the creepy Tom with hair raising accuracy.

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Bagno Antonio, Ischia, Italy
The Talented Mr. Ripley

The action starts in a little village in Sicily called Mongibello. The real life island of Ischia and a nearby smaller island are the locations used for this part of the movie. The villa, the beaches the water are all drenched in Mediterranean sunshine. Later the action moves to Rome and there are great location shots of the squares, narrow streets and sometimes more famous sights like the Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona or a glimpse of the dome of St. Peter’s.  Tom soon finds things closing in on him and he runs off to Venice. There we get views of the Grand Canal, Piazza San Marco and the faded but elegant palazzos.

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Philip Seymour Hoffman in Piazza Navona, Rome.
The Talented Mr. Ripley

This is another of my favourite films, one I haven’t seen in awhile so I was delighted to catch the last half of it recently on television  (even thought I do own the DVD). I like the cast and the story and the locations are very alluring. I’ve not been to Sicily or to any similar small rural coastal villages in Italy but they make it look so inviting in this film! The views of Rome are, of course, familiar due to my most recent trip and I have been to Venice in the past.

There are more photos and descriptions of all the locations here.

Traveling through the movies – Roman Holiday

Colosseum

Inside the Colosseum

Here’s a classic movie filmed in Rome. The great thing about Rome is that not much changes in the historic city centre. You can see the same things today as you could in the 1950s when this movie was made!

The story is about a princess played by Audrey Hepburn who comes to Rome for a reception. She is bored by all the hand shaking and ceremony and slips out one evening. Gregory Peck plays a journalist and he spots her but doesn’t recognize her at first. She gets drunk and he takes her home and puts her to bed in his flat. The next morning he’s discovered who she is and realizes he’s got a story on his hands.

He takes her around Rome for a “Grand Day Out” and we have loads of views of Rome, both the famous monuments and the streets and bridges as they zip around the city on a moped.

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The Mouth of Truth, “La Bocca della Verità” in Santa Maria Cosmedin

The movie was filmed in 1953 in black and white by director William Wyler and was Audrey Hepburn’s breakout movie. Gregory Peck was so impressed by her that he allowed her to have top billing, a very generous gesture in the actor pecking order of things. She charmed the world and shot to stardom.

It’s one of my all time favourite movies, and is a wonderful “visit” to Rome. Rome is still as interesting a city to visit as it would have been then. Other good films set in Rome include Woody Allen’s latest, To Rome with Love, La Dolce Vita (another classic), The Talented Mr. Ripley, Angels and Demons,  and Only You (which I’ve mentioned before).

spanishsteps

Audrey enjoying gelato and the sunshine on the Spanish Steps

leakyboat

Bernini’s Leaky Boat fountain (“Fontana della Barcaccia “) at the foot of the Spanish Steps.

A Word a Week Challenge – Dance

This week’s Word a Week challenge is “Dance”. Most of the photos I have of dance were taken here at home. One of the videos below was taken at a First Nations gathering on our Halifax Common, and they had dancing and drumming, some amazing traditional costumes and music. Even the smaller kids could dance and all generations participated.

My only nod to travel was a video I took while we spent some time in Piazza Navona in Rome just as the dusk was settling in. There are buskers and artists all over the square and after a delicious gelato, we were making our way out to the street when we heard music and spotted the couple dancing. So atmospheric!

Flinging

Dancin’ the blues away

Traveling via the movies – Only You

Movies – Another type of blog post I thought I might write from time to time.  I really enjoy watching movies filmed in places where I’ve been though sometimes it’s a bit disconcerting. Sometimes one city is used to represent another. Toronto and Vancouver are two of these and it’s weird when you’re supposed to be watching action taking place in New York City and you see the very distintive Vancouver Central Library in the background.

That’s not really what this post is about. The kind of movies I mean are the ones that are filmed in great locations that make you want to go visit there. It’s an added bonus if you’ve been there already, of course.  I tend to prefer movies that take place in one city or region rather than the world-wide locations found in a movie like, for instance, many of the James Bond adventure. You don’t really get a good feel for a place in those which only have a few scenes before scooting off to the next city or country.

One of my favourites of this type is Only You, released in 1994 and starring Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr. It’s a Romantic Comedy and fairly predictable as are they all but I really like it. I always liked RDJ and Marissa Tomei as well.

The premise of the movie involves a woman, Faith, who, when she was a little girl, always believed in soul mates and was told by a Ouija Board and later by a fortune teller, the name of her future husband, Damon Bradley. She believes in Destiny on the whole but never meets him and gets engaged to a less than soul-mate-ish man but just before her wedding, she takes a phone call from someone who says he’s a former classmate of her fiance and his name is Damon Bradley. It’s Fate! It’s Destiny! Faith takes it on, er, faith, that this is meant to be and goes on a wild goose chase all over Italy to find Mr. Bradley, dragging her sister-in-law with her.  Does she find Damon Bradley? Does she marry the boring podiatrist  or does she find that through her quest to find the man she thinks is her soul mate, she will meet her true soul mate? (oh, come on, you should already know the answer to all of these questions!)

Positano, on the Amalfi coast of Italy, One of the locations in Only You

Positano, on the Amalfi coast of Italy, One of the locations in Only You

The locations you see are Venice, Rome, Positano, Sienna and a few more. It’s a wonderful tour around Italy. At the time the movie was released, I had only been to Rome briefly. Two years later I went on a bus tour around Italy and saw many of the places in the film. Now that I’ve recently been to Rome again, I’m going to have to find the movie and watch it again! And if that movie doesn’t make you want to visit Italy, here’s a few more that might:

Summertime, with Katherine Hepburn. This takes place in Venice.

Wings of a Dove with Helena Bonham Carter, which also takes place partly in Venice

Letters to Juliet with Amanda Sefried which takes place in  Verona and Tuscany

Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn filmed in Rome

Those are ones that I’ve enjoyed but there are many, many more.

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.

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.