The colours of Rome

In response to the weekly challenge at Where’s My Backpack (Pastel) I give you the colours of Rome. In fact, most of Italy’s towns and cities have buildings of similar hues. The only place I was startled to find brighter colours was on the Island of Burano in Venice.

Piazza navona

Piazza Navona, Rome

Piazza Monte Citorio building 2

Piazza Monte Cintorio, Rome

The Pope's Jeans?

Somewhere through the wall around Vatican City

Rome building 1

Random walking through the narrow streets finds gems like this

Rome pink yellow buildings

Love the warm colours!

Rome curvy church

Even the churches are painted

Eagle detail

Eagle detail

Rome Balcony

Balconies and rooftop gardens

Traveling through the movies – London and Venice

Wings_of_the_dove_ver1Wings of a Dove – 1997

This is a period piece, based on a Henry James novel, it takes place in Edwardian England, 1910.  Helena Bonham Carter plays a poor relation, Kate, who has been taken in by her well to-do aunt after her mother dies. Her father is an alcoholic and drug addict. Kate’s in love with a radical and political journalist, Merton, played by Linus Roache but now that she’s the ward of her rich aunt, he will never do as a husband. Meanwhile, her aunt is trying to arrange a marriage for her  with a rich man, Lord Mark, rather than let her make the same mistake her mother did, marrying a lower class man. Aunt Maud puts her foot down and forbids Kate and Merton to see each other.

Kate meets a young American heiress, Milly, who is alone in the world aside from a companion, played by Elizabeth McGovern (currently known as Lady Grantham on Downton Abbey). Milly is very, very rich and finds herself attracted to Merton. Lord Mark, though,  he does love Kate, needs to marry Milly because he needs her money after she dies.  It turns out she is tragically and fatally ill. Kate persuades Merton to make a play for the heiress, let her fall in love with him in order to inherit her millions so that they can be together after Milly’s death. As you might expect, things don’t go according to plan.


Arriving in Venice at night

Knebworth Hall standing in for Lord Mark's shack

Knebworth Hall standing in for Lord Mark’s shack

The scene moves from London to Venice when Milly decides to go traveling.  Kate goes with her and Merton is persuaded to go llater and meet up with them there. Kate soon leaves them, thus all the better to get Milly to fall for him but she is jealous and paranoid, suspecting Merton is developing feelings for Milly as well.

London's Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park

London’s Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park


Venice Sunrise


A small back alley in Venice

There are good location shots in various London parks and streets  and in the underground, fitted up with an old train rather than the new ones. The joy really comes when the location moves to Venice. There are beautiful shots of the bridges, piazzas, canals and buildings, with wonderful early morning and evening light much of the time. There is a costume party on a street at night, there are romantic midnight rides  in gondolas, there are sunrises and sunsets over the wonderful Venetian skylines. We see Venice in all types of weather and it makes me want to walk the narrow streets myself.


Merton arrives in Venice


Corner of the Doge’s Palace looking towards the lagoon


Down the Grand Canal


Another Grand Canal shot, you can just see the Rialto bridge at the back


Santa Maria della Salute


San Marco

Traveling through the movies – Light in the Piazza (Italy)

Florence - Piazza Signoria

Florence – Piazza Signoria

Here’s another in the occasional blog posts about movies that have great location shoots. Light in the Piazza is an older movie from 1962 starring Olivia de Havilland, Rossano Brazzi, Yvette Mimieux and George Hamilton. A pretty woman in her 20s, Clara, is traveling through Italy with her mother. They meet a handsome younger Italian man, Fabrizio, and the young couple fall in love. Fabrizio is smitten with Clara and turns up everywhere they go. He’s got the hotel manager on board and the manager lets him know where the object of his affections will be, you see. Is Fabrizio merely in love or is he a gigolo, after a young woman that he thinks is an heiress?

Piazza Signoria - Florence

Piazza Signoria – Florence

Mama Meg is afraid. You see, Clara had an accident as a child and her head injury has left her with the maturity level of a 10 year old but she’s bright enough, bubbly, pretty and full of the joys of life. Fabrizio thinks she’s just refeshingly naive but her mother doesn’t want Clara to be hurt. Seems other men in the past have rejected her when they find out about her condition and Meg wants nothing more than that Clara have a normal life. Fabrizio really does seem sincere in his affections for Clara and Meg starts to think, if he doesn’t find out the truth, Clara could be happy.

Spanish Steps - Rome

Spanish Steps – Rome

Much of the movie was filmed in Florence with a bit in Rome and during a train journey between the two, we get some views of Italian countryside as well.

Italian countryside

Italian countryside


Streets of Florence


Overloooking the Arno in Florence with de Havilland and Mimieux

Luckily, with older European cities like Florence and Rome, very little changes in the historic city centre so what you see on a screen from 1962 isn’t so very different from what you would see if you go now. The movie opens in Florences Piazza Signoria which is filled with statues and a big fountain in the middle. We get to see great views of the Arno river and some of the bridges but not really the famed Ponte Vecchio as much. We see the great Duomo and the narrow streets. It’s a great “walk” through Florence. We also get a bit of Rome including the Forum and Spanish Steps.

Another movie definitely worth watching for the wonderful locations in Florence and the movie itself is pretty good, too.

Ancient and Abandoned

Where’s My Backpack’s theme this week is Ancient and WordPress’s challenge theme is Abandoned. What better way to combine them into one post than to feature some photos from Rome!

Yes, it’s the Colosseum but it’s a different view than you  usually see. This is the “hypogeum”, the tunnels and rooms that were below the floor of the stadium where they would keep the props, the animals, and the gladiators (and probably the slaves they set up against the lions!). There’s a photo from above and a photo from the ground level in the hypogeum. You can book a tour in the Colosseum  now that will take you down there though it’s not open to the general public to just wander about. There are loose stones and areas where it isn’t safe to go.

Colosseum hypogeum from above

The Colosseum hypogeum from ground level

Circus Maximus

Palatine Hill

Trajan’s Markets

A corner of the Roman Forum

Rome’s own pyramid

Traveling through the Movies – Tuscany

under_the_tuscan_sun_verdvdUnder the Tuscan Sun was a book written by Frances Mayes and depicted her experiences moving to the Tuscany region of Italy after a divorce. A movie starring the lovely Diane Lane was made, based on the book, 10 years ago. It’s definitely what you’d call a “Chick Flick”. There’s romance, heartbreak and a happy ending though not the ending you would expect, at least, I didn’t, because I didn’t read the book. I’ve no idea if the book ends the same way as the movie but I won’t say anything either way in case you haven’t read/seen it!

So yes. Tuscany is a beautiful, hilly part of northwest Italy, the region north of Rome and south of the Italian Alps. The largest cities in the region are Florence, Pisa, and Orvieto with lots of little hilltop walled towns and villages as well. The roads wind through hills that are blanketed by vineyards in many areas, with tall cypress trees lining the roads and lanes. The light is golden and the colours are warm with golds, oranges, soft greens, yellowy pinks and sky blues. Towers raise above town walls on distant hills. Villas cling to the sides of the hills or nestle into valleys.  Between the food, the wine and the scenery, You’d be gloriously happy here if you are a gastronome, a wine connoseur, an artist or photographer or just a lover of beauty.

The movie, Under the Tuscan Sun, was filmed in and around the towns of Cortona and Arezzo but with glimpses of Rome, Positano, Florence, Salerno and a few other locations around Italy as the main character, Frances,  travels about a bit. Frances buys a run down villa near Cortona and renovates it with the help of locals who may or may not speak English or even Italian. She makes friends and meets a lover. My favourite moment surrounds the fate of a washing machine!

The scenery is enough to make you want to move there to the next villa beside her or find a little apartment in the town. There are many beautiful areas of Italy but Tuscany is one of the most spectacular. See the movie. Visit Tuscany from home and then book your ticket!

Also see WordPress blogger Palladian Travel’s Insight tour through UTTS Cortona for photos around the real town of Cortona.

tuscan 2

Frances arrives at the run down villa


Grabbed this photo of Tuscany from Google Images. It looked very much like this when I stood on the walls of San Gmignano looking over a valley

Travel Journey of the week: Florence

Ponte Vecchio, Florence

Ponte Vecchio, Florence

The Liberated Travel’s weekly Travel Journey is Florence. This is another place that I’ve visited, albeit very briefly. Florence was the last stop on our nearly two week bus tour around Italy in 1996.

Because we were using a budget company (Cosmos, a subsidiary of Globus travel), our hotel was actually 30 minutes away by train, probably the worst location of any of the cities we stayed in. You don’t mind so much when it’s a small town overnight visit but if you are in a larger city like Florence, it would be nice to wander on your own and be able to easily make your way back to your hotel. “Easily” being the operative word here.  When we were in Rome, we were in the suburbs and there was a public bus nearby. We took that once, and took a taxi one other time. With Florence, we were not taking any chances. More on that later.

Florence!  Too bad in a way that it was the end of our trip because I know I didn’t appreciate it as much as I would have had we started there.  It was a case of information overload and homesick as well.  Three weeks away (this included nearly a week in London at the beginning before the tour) is a long time with so much to do and take in.  As a first impression, I liked the feel of Florence even though on our initial arrival we weren’t in the city centre.  We headed straight to the Piazza Michelangelo which is on a hill that affords an amazing view over the city. There is a reproduction of Michaelangelo’s David and we had a group picture taken.

Then to the center of town where we had a look in a leather factory first (one of those factory visits where they encourage you to buy and the tour guide most likely gets a kickback). We then met a local guide for a walking tour around the main squares of Florence, the political centre and the religious centre by the Duomo and saw the amazing bronze doors on the Baptistery which  are only reproductions as the originals are being restored.

Michaelangelo's David in the Accademia, Florence

Michaelangelo’s David in the Accademia, Florence

D. and I escaped before seeing the Duomo museums (where the walking tour ended anyway) so we could go to the Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David which is so beautiful and so real looking you would think he would take a breath and step right down off the pedestal.  Very very large too!  We left there, found a bar and had a light lunch and made our way past the San Lorenzo market to the Uffizi Gallery about 1 p.m.  Good timing as we didn’t have to stand too long in line.  We bought our tickets and a lovely book on the gallery.

We went through the Uffizi Gallery although the best rooms are closed  for restoration.  The gallery was bombed 3 or 4 years before so maybe that section had more damage. This meant we didn’t get to see the paintings by Michelangelo, Raphael, Rubens, among others.  We kept missing Rafael because the quick tour through the Vatican in Rome bypassed the Raphael rooms as well!  We did see Botticelli and one beautiful one by Leonardo da Vinci though his main room was closed.

There was a couple other art galleries I would have liked to see, the Bargello and the San Marco but we did go into the Santa Croce church which has a lot of tombs and memorials to Italy’s top geniuses like Leonardo, Rossini (composer), Michelangelo, Galileo and I also saw one small one to Marconi.  Santa Croce is quite old in its origins too.

D. was really getting tired and though I felt like I might have my second wind,  I didn’t want to leave her alone to go wandering and go across the Ponte Vecchio so we found our meeting point for the bus and waited for about an hour, resting our feet and chatting to the other tour members as they arrived back as well.  By the time the bus came, I was losing what was left of my energy too. And really, after two weeks of it, I really didn’t want to see another church, painting or statue. We had classic burnout and were tired of living out of a suitcase.

Most of us went back to the hotel tired that day.  The meals in that hotel were cafeteria style and we felt rushed.  There were several groups in the hotel and the staff in the restaurant seemed a bit cranky trying to move everyone along so the next group could get on with things.  We just wanted to go home by this time! We had a very early start the next morning to drive cross country and fly out of Treviso airport near Venice and the bus was very quiet with most of the tour group having a nap.

Florence is a city I’d like to see again with fresh eyes and more energy. We thought about going to Florence along with Rome last year but decided that we always try to do too much and never see enough of one place. I’d rather take my time and have more than a couple of days there, even if it’s just 3 or 4. It’s on the list.

Bell tower of the Duomo, Florence

Bell tower of the Duomo, Florence

Travel Journey of the Week: Venice


From the Liberated Traveler, this week’s “Travel journey of the week” is Venice.

As it happens, I just wrote a bit about Venice recently when I described completely failing to see the famed Rialto Bridge!   But to fill in the blanks for the rest of the trip….

We had signed up for a tour from the Cosmos company, a budget version of Globus tours. The main difference is that you don’t often stay in the city centres with Cosmos, but out in the suburbs or even in neighbouring towns. This was no different and we had a hotel on the mainland in Marghera with a public bus available if we wanted to go into Venice ourselves, which my friend and I did on arrival. It took us to the train and bus termini in Venice from where we could get a vaporetto, a public “bus” type transportation through Venice.

The sun had come out and it was warm for the middle of October. (this was 1996, by the way) We did a lot of walking that afternoon and managed to find the right bus back to the hotel. The organized tour started the next morning. In the pouring rain! We all arrived at San Marco where we all headed to take cover, buy umbrellas and rain ponchos. The local guide took us around St. Mark’s square under the porticos with all the other tour groups crowding in there as well. It was a bit of a zoo but unavoidable at the time.


St. Mark’s Square, flooded.


St. Mark’s Square in the sunshine

I never realized that Venice floods easily but it makes sense when you think about it. The buildings around St. Mark’s square are very heavy and Venice itself is at or just below sea level. When it rains heavily, the water bubbles up through the paving stones in the square. They put low knee high tables up all around the edges of the square and people can walk on those to get around and into St. Mark’s Basilica, which we did!  We couldn’t take pictures as the Basilica was fairly dark inside when we were in it though I heard that more lights were turned on later. It was stunning, with the frescos and the decoration. We weren’t in there all that long though because the walking tour had to continue.

It didn’t go too far, though. Just a few blocks away to an included visit to a glass blowing factory. You get a lot of this sort of thing with organized tours, as they hope you will buy the goods. That gives the tour guide a bit of a kick back, as well. They’re only paid minimally and get the rest of their money from percentages and tips. I don’t buy from these factories because I’ve always found that the prices are a lot higher than you will find in little souvenir shops elsewhere in the same city. It was interesting to see how it’s done but we were less than impressed over all. The demo was short and the sales pitch was long.

From there we were set free. The rain had stopped and we walked until we found a likely place to eat, a small cafeteria style place where we had our first real Italian pasta!

We met back at the pier at the lagoon because we booked an optional (i.e. you pay extra for it) excursion to the island of Burano across the lagoon. This is a fishing community but their claim to fame is the hand made lace. There’s a little church with a crooked steeple and the houses are all painted bright colours, apparently so the fishermen can see them from out on the water and not get lost finding their way back in bad weather. No pastels here like the rest of Italy (Italy’s buildings, if they aren’t brick or stone have a plaster coating that is painted or washed with a colour that reminds me of desert colours, shades of yellow, gold, tan, white, pink, green.  Not exactly pastels, but light warm shades to reflect the heat of the Mediterranean sun. )

Burano, Venice

Burano, Venice

The lace is still made in the traditional manner and we saw several people demonstrating it. The main street is lined with shops selling lace and things trimmed in lace so you are spoiled for choice.  The workmanship is exquisite and we did buy a few things before returning to Venice and back to the hotel for the evening. We could have stayed in Venice on our own but we were damp and tired and a bit wary of trying to get back on a bus after dark, figuring it would be easier to get lost or miss our stop. Looking back now, we probably could have got a taxi from the station but we didn’t think of it at the time.

Our tour group was mainly very nice people though most of them kept to themselves rather than socialize with the rest in the evenings. The tour guide was young and by comparison to a guide I had from another tour, lacking in skill. He’d apparently done it before and this wasn’ t his first tour season but it felt like it.

Tours are not always a bad way to go. The positive side is that you see the highlights, get expedited to the front of the lines, get lots of great information from the guides and local guides. Someone else does all the luggage handling, and all the arrangements for you. The downside is that you don’t really get to spend much time in places you want to and sometimes, more time in places you’d rather not. You do get an overall view and you can then decide where you’d want to go if you get a chance to come back again.

I’m not an adventurous traveler and if on my own, outside of large cities, I’d feel more comfortable with a tour group especially if I didn’t speak the language.  My friend and I did take Italian lessons the winter before so we managed to be able to communicate a bit though most people replied to us in English. I guess it was obvious!

Venice impressed me as a beautiful old city, faded and worn. not in the best repair, but it still has that grace and style about it. Obviously, My only visit to Venice was brief. I may get back there again someday. It would be nice to see more of it, visit some of the museums and get a better look at the things I only saw briefly. And see the Rialto Bridge!

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


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.