The Retirees Go Abroad – Museo Nazioanale Di Castel Sant’Angelo

Standard

Unfortunately lunch was a bit disappointing but the afternoon held the promise of a visit to the Castel Sant’Angelo now a museum.
Part of the benefits of the Omnia pass is the use of the Roma Christiana Bus tour for 3 days. This is your usual “red bus” or open top bus tour of the major attractions in the city only this time the bus is painted yellow. So we boarded the bus to do the tour and finish at stop 1 to visit the castle. The tour, as with all such tours, gave us a good understanding of where things were and the distances between them.
Arriving back at the castle we were at first taken back by the shape which is a large circular tower with a further tower inside it. Castel Sant’Angelo (English: Castle of the Holy Angel), is a towering cylindrical building in Parco Adriano, Rome, Italy. It was initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The building was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum.
Entering the castle the usual Italian thing happens – you realise there is little guidance about how to view the building or what it is you are viewing. So we followed our noses and ended up in a corridor inside the centre tower going up the middle of the tower. De je vu! This was very much like the Keep (tower) in Windsor Castle except it did not have a cannon pointed at you as you climbed the stairs. We saw the passage the Popes could use to evacuate the Vatican and hide out in the castle and we crossed over what appeared to be a means of securing the inner tower by drawing up the bridge.
We came out onto a deck serving as a patio between administrative rooms and the Popes apartment. Here was a large sculpture of an angel (if the Pope was staying here he needed an angel to protect him). This was once the tallest building in Rome and the views from the castle were pretty spectacular. On this level there is a café with grape vines growing over it. It looked very pleasant and after a nature call I found Kerry had made a friend (see its photo). As you would expect the Papal apartment was well adorned and they had a bloody big money box for all their jewels.
We continued to climb leaving aside the myriad of side passages through the various rooms of the papal apartments until we came to the roof deck with a colossal avenging angel hanging above us. In medieval times this platform would have given a commanding view of the whole of Rome. We could clearly see Victtorio which we visit later in our trip. You can see the Basilica, the river, in fact all around.
We walked down a different path to exit the castle. This was more like the “tradesman” with a wide path for deliveries. Between the inner tower and the outer tower we found a section of paving which had been dated back to Hadrian’s time.
After seeing the castle we decided to walk along the river again to see what we can see. We passed the Courts and poked our heads in and a friendly guard allowed us to poke in a bit further but no photos allowed.
Back on the footpath we noticed that it is not all smooth sailing for all Romans – some still live pretty rough.
As we strolled along we came across a service station Italian style – two bowsers and the cashier – that’s it.
Finally we arrived at Ponte Cavour and the modern fountain of Henri Cartier- Bresson where we rested our tired feet and slaked our thirst with water. By the way a tip for all travellers. When in Rome you will pass public fountains just running and spilling over the footpath. These are perfectly safe and you should fill up your water bottle at the fountain whenever you can.
Rested, we walked up Via Tomacelli into Via Condotti on our way back to the Spanish Steps. On our Vatican tour the guide had tipped us off that we can identify the date of things by papal insignia and she gave the example of the three bees for the Barberini pope and the fountain at the Spanish Steps. Sure enough when we inspected here was the insignia. We had been walking all day but according to Kerry we had to climb the Spanish Steps. Why? Because!
So we did. We climbed the steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, and we realised that behind the scaffolding was the Trinità dei Monti church dominating the top of the stairs. We went inside and found the choir was singing so we sat to listen. They were signing in French which struck me as strange then the priest got up and he too spoke in French. We had stumbled across a French church in Rome. As we left the Church we were struck by the pretty sunset. I have shared here the best of my photos of the sunset.
Below the church reminded me of Montmartre with the artists scattered around. We found two pretty sketches of things we have seen bartered heavily with the artist and purchased same. At the top of the stairs we found a plaque stating that the monumental stairway of 135 steps was built with French diplomat Étienne Gueffier’s bequeathed funds of 20,000 scudi, in 1723–1725, linking the Bourbon Spanish Embassy, and the Trinità dei Monti church that was under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France, to the Holy See in Palazzo Monaldeschi located below. That made it clear why this area was so “French”.
As the sunset indicates once again we were in the city after sunset with no particular plans for dinner. However close by was an alfresco restaurant on the roof of a building and because we were at the top of the Spanish Steps we could walk across a bridge to the Restaurant. The night air was cool after an unexpectedly and unseasonably warm day, so sitting on top of Rome with a cool breeze a glass of wine and pizza seemed even closer to heaven than in the Basilica. There we met briefly a couple form Florida on a brief holiday getting away from the kids. We shared the evening and atmosphere agreeing that getting the Italians to do anything was like herding cats.
We ended the evening with a trip on the Metro and the bus back to the hotel. The lights of the Jolly Pizza were still burning but we were tried and in need of a rest. So ended day 2.

Advertisements

The Retirees Go Abroad – The Vatican City

Standard

The Vatican City
Before relating our visit to this most unusual palace state I thought it best to give a general background to what is the Vatican. Here is what Wikipedia says:
“Vatican City State, a walled enclave within the city of Rome, with an area of approximately 44 hectares (110 acres), and a population of 842, is the smallest internationally recognized independent state in the world by both area and population.
It is an ecclesiastical or sacerdotal-monarchical state ruled by the Bishop of Rome—the Pope. The highest state functionaries are all Catholic clergy of various national origins. Since the return of the Popes from Avignon in 1377, they have generally resided at the Apostolic Palace within what is now Vatican City, although at times residing instead in the Quirinal Palace in Rome or elsewhere.
Vatican City is distinct from the Holy See which dates back to early Christianity and is the main episcopal see of 1.2 billion Latin and Eastern Catholic adherents around the globe. The independent city-state, on the other hand, came into existence in 1929 by the Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and Italy, which spoke of it as a new creation, not as a vestige of the much larger Papal States (756–1870), which had previously encompassed much of central Italy. According to the terms of the treaty, the Holy See has “full ownership, exclusive dominion, and sovereign authority and jurisdiction” over the city-state.
Within Vatican City are cultural sites such as St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. They feature some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculptures. The unique economy of Vatican City is supported financially by the sale of postage stamps and tourist mementos, fees for admission to museums, and the sale of publications.
Popes gradually came to have a secular role as governors of regions near Rome. They ruled the Papal States, which covered a large portion of the Italian peninsula, for more than a thousand years until the mid-19th century, when all the territory belonging to the papacy was seized by the newly created Kingdom of Italy.
For most of this time the popes did not live at the Vatican. The Lateran Palace, on the opposite side of Rome was their habitual residence for about a thousand years. From 1309 to 1377, they lived at Avignon in France. On their return to Rome they chose to live at the Vatican. They moved to the Quirinal Palace after work on it was completed under Pope Paul V (1605–1621), but on the capture of Rome in 1870 retired to the Vatican, and what had been their residence became that of the King of Italy.” (Source Wikipedia)
We travelled by Metro to Ottaviano on the A Line, this being the closest Metro stop for the Vatican. Arriving about 9.00am, we headed directly down Via Ottaviano to take us to St Peter’s Basilica and the meeting point for the Omnia office to pick up the tour. However we were intercepted by a street vendor offering guided tours of the Vatican. Now our Omnia pass got us into the City with an audio guide without having to wait in line but the deal being offered seemed far better. We were able to agree a discount in the cost of the tour and changed course into Via Germanico and the offices of Maya Tours. Whilst waiting for the guide I checked out the entry into the City and even at that hour the queue ran from the entrance in Viale Vaticano into Via Leone IV around the corner almost to Via Vespasino (a long way).
Our group was about 17 strong and we were supplied with head-sets and our guide Debra (a very Roman lady despite her name) had a microphone so that we could all hear her commentary and you knew when you lost sound that you had also lost your group. Entrance went very smoothly. Despite it being low season there was still quite a crush of people. Having Debra to guide us into the City was so easy. If we had gone it alone with our audio tour I am certain our stress levels would have accelerated. Italians are hopeless at organising themselves and the confusion at the entry was enough to confirm this (Debra later admitted this was a true statement).
Our first stop was outside the new entrance where Debra briefed us for our visit to the Pinecone Courtyard. The dome of the Basilica could be seen in the distance and the Papal rooms could be seen behind scaffolding. Debra challenged us to spot the chimney from which the white/black smoke emanated for papal elections. Of course there is not one. A special stove is brought into the Sistine Chapel as no one wants to poke a hole through Michelangelo’s ceiling.
The Pinecone Courtyard is a large court which served as a recreational area for the Popes and clergy. Each Pope set about filling it with some monument for his aggrandisement (my view) to the detriment of other cultures (of course the Popes are not the only leaders to have pillaged from the defeated). Below are a series of photos showing the courtyard. One of the more miraculous (again in my view) was the globe in the centre of the courtyard. Passing from the courtyard into the museums we went through a smaller courtyard called the Octagonal Courtyard displaying statutes from all periods but there was one in particular that Debra wanted us to see which she stated was a favourite of Michelangelo, Laocoön and His Sons excavated in Rome in 1506 by a farmer who then donated it to the Pope It shows the Trojan priest Laocoön and his sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus being attacked by sea serpents. It is said that Laocoön was a Trojan priest of Poseidon who was killed with both his sons after attempting to expose the ruse of the Trojan Horse by striking it with a spear. My picture of it does not do it justice as the sculpture is very dramatic when seen in real life.
Another sculpture of note is the Belvedere Torso which Debra said so influenced Michelangelo that he gave everyone in his Last Judgment a “six pack”. The Belvedere Torso is a fragment of a nude male statue, signed prominently on the front of the base by “Apollonios, son of Nestor, Athenian” and is now believed to be a copy from the 1st century BC or AD of an older statue, which probably dated to the early 2nd century BC. Wikipedia notes “The contorted pose of the torso and musculature were highly influential on late Renaissance, Mannerist, and Baroque artists, including Michelangelo and Raphael. Michelangelo’s admiration of the Torso was widely known in his lifetime, to the extent that the Torso gained the sobriquet, “The School of Michelangelo”. Personally I found it difficult to admire such a broken piece of what it once was to be as awed as Debra.
I have included some other photos of things I saw (too many to mention them all) but I was impressed by the red porphyry Sarcophagus of Constantina that was once house the body of Constantina, daughter of Constantine the Great (died 354), and a similar sarcophagus for her mother and the giant statues of Hercules in bronze.
Then followed the Tapestry Gallery. These tapestries were enormous. Ilaria Marsili writes in a blog http://www.ilariamarsilirometours.com/blog/the-gallery-of-the-tapestries-in-the-vatican the following:
“It’s a 75 meter long gallery with a splendidly vault decorated in trompe d’oeil executed in 1789.
On the walls are displayed tapestries belonging to two different periods and manufactures:
On the left wall there are tapestries woven in Rome by the Barberini workshop and commemorating important moments in the life of the Barberini pope Urban VIII.
On the left wall the important tapestries woven in the 16th century by the workshop of Pieter van Aelst, the best in Europe during the renaissance period, based on cartoons by the pupils of Raphael
and depicting episodes from the life of Jesus. Particularly worth of notice are the Adoration of the Magi, the massacre of the Innocents and the Resurrection of Christ. The last one is one of the best example of ‘moving perspective in the history of art, and the best executed on a tapestry.”
I agree with Ilaria, the tapestry “the Resurrection of Christ” is amazing. As you walk past it the eyes of Christ follow you and the slab in front of the cave appears to move so that it is always pointing toward you. My photos certainly do not do these tapestries justice.
From there we went onto the Gallery of Maps. Pope Gregory XIII was both an astronomer and astrologer and as such was interested in terrestrial mapping as well as astrological mapping. According to Debra he ordered this Gallery to be constructed so that when he passed through he would travel from the north to the south of Italy (or visa versa depending which way he was going). I have provided you with pictures of the ceiling of the gallery rather than the maps as you can see the maps any time but unless you visit the Vatican you will not see the ceiling of the Gallery. “The galley was commissioned in 1580 by Pope Gregory XIII as part of other artistic works commissioned by the Pope to decorate the Vatican. It took Danti three years (1580–1583) to complete the 40 panels of the 120 m long gallery. (Source Wikipedia)
There are much more extensive museums in the Vatican than the few I have outlined but without spending every day of a week in there I could not hope to remember anything I saw.
In the Pinecone Courtyard Debra had by reference to various display panels outlined what we would see in the Sistine Chapel. No photos could be taken and we were allowed 5 minutes to walk through. She spent some time explaining how Michelangelo agreed to paint the ceiling (remember he was a sculptor) and of the interplay with Raphael. She also discussed how he came at the end of his life to paint the Last Judgment.
I have found that Wikipedia has a most readable description of many of the things I observed and as I cannot remember the statistics given by the guide (I don’t think she gave us too many) I have resorted to that source so that my memory is not tried for its inaccuracy.
“The chapel is a high rectangular building, for which absolute measurements are hard to ascertain, as available measurements are for the interior: 40.9 metres (134 ft.) long by 13.4 metres (44 ft.) wide, the dimensions of the Temple of Solomon, as given in the Old Testament.
Its exterior is unadorned by architectural or decorative details, as is common in many of the Medieval and Renaissance churches of Italy. It has no exterior façade or exterior processional doorways, as the ingress has always been from internal rooms within the Apostolic Palace (Papal Palace), and the exterior can be seen only from nearby windows and light-wells in the palace.
The ceiling of the chapel is a flattened barrel vault springing from a course that encircles the walls at the level of the springing of the window arches. The barrel vault was originally painted brilliant-blue and dotted with gold stars, to the design of Piermatteo Lauro de’ Manfredi da Amelia. This was entirely replaced when Michelangelo came to work on the ceiling in 1508.
Of the present scheme of frescos, the earliest part is that of the side walls. They are divided into three main tiers. The central tier of the walls has two cycles of paintings, which complement each other, The Life of Moses and The Life of Christ. They were commissioned in 1480 by Pope Sixtus IV and executed by Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Cosimo Roselli and their workshops. Beneath the cycles of The Life of Moses and The Life of Christ, the lower level of the walls is decorated with frescoed hangings in silver and gold. Above the narrative frescos, the upper tier is divided into two zones. At the lower level of the windows is a Gallery of Popes painted at the same time as the Lives. Around the arched tops of the windows are areas known as the lunettes which contain the Ancestors of Christ, painted by Michelangelo as part of the scheme for the ceiling.
The ceiling was commissioned by Pope Julius II and painted by Michelangelo between 1508 to 1512. The commission was originally to paint the twelve apostles on the triangular pendentives which support the vault; however, Michelangelo demanded a free hand in the pictorial content of the scheme. He painted a series of nine pictures showing God’s Creation of the World, God’s Relationship with Mankind, and Mankind’s Fall from God’s Grace. On the large pendentives he painted twelve Biblical and Classical men and women who prophesied that God would send Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind, and around the upper parts of the windows, the Ancestors of Christ.”
Debra our guide informed us that if you look closely at the face of the Prophet Izaiah Michelangelo used Julius’s face to influence him to give him the free hand he wanted. But the angels on Izaiah’s shoulder are making the Turkish sign for “Up you pal” (the finger) as the artists statement of his opinion of Julius. I looked but without my glasses and with the ceiling 3 stories above me I could not see it.
“In 1515, Raphael was commissioned by Pope Leo X to design a series of ten tapestries to hang around the lower tier of the walls. The tapestries depict events from the Life of St. Peter and the Life of St. Paul, the founders of the Christian Church in Rome, as described in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. Work began in mid-1515. Due to their large size, manufacture of the hangings was carried out in Brussels, and took four years under the hands of the weavers in the shop of Pieter van Aelst. Raphael’s tapestries were looted during the Sack of Rome in 1527 and were either burnt for their precious metal content or were scattered around Europe. In the late 20th century, a set was reassembled from several further sets that had been made after the first set, and displayed again in the Sistine Chapel in 1983. The tapestries continue in use at occasional ceremonies of particular importance. The full-size preparatory cartoons for seven of the ten tapestries are known as the Raphael Cartoons and are in London.

This was disrupted by a further commission to Michelangelo to decorate the wall above the altar with The Last Judgment, 1537–1541. The painting of this scene necessitated the obliteration of two episodes from the Lives, the Nativity of Jesus and the Finding of Moses; several of the Popes and two sets of Ancestors.”
Debra stated that the artist by this timing knew the end of his life was near and he made some important statements in his painting. One was to show all figures naked as that is how we are born and that is how we pass into heaven. According to Debra Carafa put up quite a stink but until Michelangelo died the figures remained naked. The genitalia in the fresco were later covered by the artist Daniele da Volterra, whom history remembers by the derogatory nickname “Il Braghettone” (“the breeches-painter”).
“The Pope’s Master of Ceremonies Biagio da Cesena said “it was most disgraceful that in so sacred a place there should have been depicted all those nude figures, exposing themselves so shamefully, and that it was no work for a papal chapel but rather for the public baths and taverns,” In response Michelangelo worked da Cesena’s semblance into the scene as Minos, judge of the underworld. It is said that when he complained to the Pope, the pontiff responded that his jurisdiction did not extend to hell, so the portrait would have to remain. Michelangelo also painted his own portrait, on the flayed skin held by St Bartholomew.”
At this point in the tour we were offered to stay and view the other museums or proceed onto the Basilica. At this point the tour had run for 2.5 hours and we had had enough so we proceeded to St Peter’s. This is truly enormous. Built to be the centre of Christianity for the world it is completely awe inspiring. I will leave you to view my pictures which barely touch the surface of what makes up this temple. We finished our tour with a visit to the crypt where many of the past Popes have been laid to rest. On departing we had our first glimpse of the Swiss Guards in their traditional costume. These blokes are serious guards of the Pope and there are some 130 odd of them. In addition the Vatican has its own Police force again about 130 of them.
As we left we took photos of the grand entrance (St. Peter’s Square) which strangely Mussolini built for the Pope following the signing of the Lateran Treaty between Italy and the Vatican. Time to return to Via Germanico collect our Omnia passes and grab some lunch.

The Retirees Go Abroad – Roma, the Eternal City.

Standard

I arrived home (Long Eaton) on October 13 after the Long Commute back to Australia to prepare for our trip to Roma in 3 days time.

However before travelling, there is time for a little more renovation then the morning working bee at the church. A few minutes to pack then we are on the bus to the airport, picked up our Euros at the airport which we had booked on line then through security and having breakfast at the airport. That simple.

The flight was uneventful and arriving at the airport was surprising because it was so small. Ryanair tends to use the secondary airports. The main international airport Leonardo da Vinci International Airport is Italy’s chief airport and is commonly known as “Fiumicino Airport”, as it is located within the nearby Commune of Fiumicino, south-west of Rome. However we flew into Rome Ciampino Airport which is a joint civilian and military airport. It is commonly referred to as “Ciampino Airport”, as it is located beside Ciampino, south-east of Rome. Collected our luggage and then went out to find a way of getting to our hotel. Hello what’s this? A chauffeur with a notice board reading “Senor and Senora Young”. That us Kerry cries. What a pleasant surprise. No worrying about how to get there just jump on board the chauffeur driven van and we are there at the hotel.

We booked in and thanked the receptionist for sending the chauffeur. “No Senor we did not send the chauffeur perhaps the agency”. The penny drops. Kerry looks at me and says she must have booked it with our flight. Later we check and sure enough for a little extra we had booked the chauffeur. Well worth the cost.

Now a little bit of history courtesy of Wikipedia to set the scene.

“Rome is the capital of Italy and also of the Province of Rome and of the region of Lazio. With 2.9 million residents in 1,285.3 km2 (496.3 sq. mi), it is also the country’s largest and most populated commune and fourth-most populous city in the European Union by population within city limits. The urban area of Rome extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of around 3.8 million. Between 3.2 and 4.2 million people live in Rome metropolitan area. The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, within Lazio (Latium), along the shores of Tiber River. Vatican City is an independent country within the city boundaries of Rome, the only existing example of a country within a city: for this reason Rome has been often defined as capital of two states.

Rome’s history spans more than two and a half thousand years, since its legendary founding in 753 BC. Rome is one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in Europe. It is referred to as “The Eternal City” (Latin: Roma Aeterna), a central notion in ancient Roman culture. In the ancient world it was successively the capital city of the Roman Kingdom, the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and is regarded as one of the birthplaces of Western civilization. Since the 1st century AD, Rome has been considered the seat of the Papacy and in the 8th century it became the capital of the Papal States, which lasted until 1870. In 1871 Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, and in 1946 that of the Italian Republic.

After the Middle Ages, almost all the popes since Nicholas V (1422–55) pursued coherently along four hundred years an architectonic and urbanistic program aimed to make of the city the world`s artistic and cultural centre. Due to that, Rome became first one of the major centres of the Italian Renaissance along with Florence, and then the birthplace of Baroque style. Famous artists and architects, such as – to name just a few – Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael and Bernini, made the city the centre of their activity, creating masterpieces like St Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, Raphael Rooms and St. Peter’s Square.”

So after 2,500 years of history I was excited that in one place I might see pieces of those parts which influenced the Western world as we know it today. Even with this knowledge I was surprised (both pleasantly and not so pleasantly) with what we discovered.

Now the hotel was not what we expected. When booking the hotel we knew that it was 3 star but we did not ask what the standard of a star might be. The hotel looked uninviting with rubbish bins at the front spilling onto the road part of the road did not have kerb and channel and parts of it looked abandoned. From reception we were told to find our room we had to go outside up a flight of stairs through the door and our room was 101. A little unusual but we did this and got lost because the door looked for all the world to be a service door not the entrance to a set of hotel rooms.

The building containing the hotel is built in a “U” shape and has a deck between the two small towers, a ramp at the open end going down to the bus stop and a wall and covered walkway at the other end making the bottom of the “U”. We walked out onto the deck but could not find any door that would give entrance to the hotel. Ultimately we tried the service door and “Voila” we found the room. The room was basic like a prison cell is basic (the air conditioning does not work until the ambient temperature is unbearable), the shower leaked, the floor tiled throughout and the furniture spartan.

Now to travel to the old city of Rome we had to catch a bus to the Metro then into Rome. It is a bit like living at Redland Bay catching a bus to Carindale and then into the city. After a few times this became routine and we would travel with the Italians going to and from work each day.

On the positive side the cost to use the bus, train, tram and the Metro (all on the one ticket) was 1.50 euro per 100 minutes (we needed about 20 minutes on a good day and 1 hour on a bad day to get into Rome). The bus stopped immediately outside the hotel except on Domenica (Sunday) when we had to walk down to the main road about 500 metres away. There is a trick to all this. Don’t catch the bus to Grotto Celoni but catch the one to Anangina but it is hard to tell when both buses are a 507 and the bus destination is shown as Anangina even though it is going to Grotto Celoni. So on our first attempt we ended up at Grotto Celoni and had to catch the 511 back to Anangina.

When you get to Anagina, after witnessing the most fluid abuse of road rules by every driver on the road, you arrive at a bus station that must collect people from miles around as there are row upon row of stops and the enterprising Italians have set up a market which operates from 5.30am (when the Metro opens) to God only knows what time (it seems to vary) but you know when they have left because every bit of packaging and rubbish lies scattered around. On top of this is the car parking which never seems empty and in fact is supplemented by the illegal use of road side gateways and double parking. There was even a burnt out van there which seemed to the Italians no more unusual than the thousands of people making their way to the Metro.

There are only two Metro lines. The A line from Anangina (Yes we were at the end of the line in the south) and Battistini in the north and the B line from – well we did not use it much but it generally runs east west intersecting with the A line at Terminii (which is also a bus station and Rail head).

There was the ever present para military Carabinieri, the local Polizi, then someone else in uniform all carrying guns and walking around importantly. Even more ever present were the beggars and the street sellers (it felt like Nadi in Fiji). Some definitely would not take no for an answer.

Our first trip into the city was to collect our Omnia passes. If travelling to Rome these are well worth looking into. I suspect this is actually owned and operated by the Vatican because at one site we got a sales pitch for Christianity. Have a look on the web site http://www.romeandvaticanpass.com.

There are two collection points and because we were unfamiliar with Rome we chose the one closest to us at Piazza San Giovanni as it seemed easier than the other at the Vatican. Well of course it wasn’t. After taking the bus to the Grotto instead of Anangina we went the wrong way many times before understanding how street directions work in Rome. The collection point was inside a door unmarked with any identification but next door to the “mother church” St John’s Lateran. We probably spent an hour trying to locate this place and when I said to the guy at the office “well we passed the first test – we found you” I got a surly grin and he launched into explaining how the passes operated.

We decided that our official visit would start the next day as the passes are for 3 days and once you start using them (even if it is a minute to midnight) that counts as your first day. We knew that there was very little to go back to at the hotel, so we took to the Metro and made our way to the Spanish Steps (we will talk more about these later). Crowds of tourist awaited us (and this was the low season) and we wandered in the general direction of the river just to see what we could see. In this area the roads are unofficial malls but of course the cars and scooters did not stop weaving their way through pedestrians. From Piazza Spagna we strolled down Via Condotti into Via Tomacelli where, to Kerry’s delight, we found the Magnum Shop. Here they take an ordinary magnum ice cream and make it decadent. Words cannot describe the result so I will leave it to the photos.

After tasting the delights of the Magnum shop we continued our stroll down to Ponte Cavour. The sun was setting and we took photos and decided it was time to make our way home. However we could not go back the way we came we had to go a different way. With the benefit of a street map I can say that we got lost but saw the Palace Borghese, some other Piazzas, some other churches, missed the Fontana de Trevi, and stumbled upon the Metro in Piazza Barberini. I doubt we could ever find that path again. It was now passed 8.00pm and no dinner yet.

So we returned to our hotel along with the thousands of workers going home (yes even at this hour the Metro was packed) and experienced an attempted pick pocketing in the Metro. These were kids. One blocked my way and whilst I tried to push past him the other sought to lift my wallet. I was lucky and they failed but the lesson is not to carry a wallet in a pocket and be aware that pick pockets are there you just don’t realise it until too late. When we reached the bus station at Anagina the traffic was horrendous and the bus crawled its way back to our hotel.

We arrived back at the hotel around 9.00pm not having any plans about dinner. In fact I thought we were going to bed hungry. But like a star in the night the lights of the Jolly Pizza shone brightly at us as we walked up the ramp to the back of the hotel. The Jolly Pizza is a crude little eatery which serves good tasty food at reasonable prices and has a nonchalant atmosphere (basically they ignore you except when serving you and they carry on with the life of making and delivering large numbers of pizzas ordered by telephone). My first attempt at ordering was a shambles. We ended up sharing a pasta dish and finishing with two nutella crepes instead of one. Oh well at least we were not hungry and this little gem was to become a regular place to eat. After returning we fitted into the routine and appeared to be accepted as part of the furniture.

So that was our first day. We learnt a lot. Took some pictures. Planned the next few days adventures and then off to bed.

Retirees Go Abroad – Oxford and Cambridge – On Our Own Again

Standard

Retirees Go Abroad – Oxford and Cambridge

On Our Own Again

Rod and Kerry were up early to catch a flight to Spain out of Stansted while we snored away but they were kind enough to sound their horn to inform us of their successful departure. We rose leisurely and got ready to vacate the room. The day was fine and for some reason Kerry wanted to go to the beach. The feeling passed and went to breakfast in a small café in the village (I’m sorry this is a town not a village). But it really does feel like an old rural village, untouched by the industrial revolution and reminiscent of earlier times. We finished breakfast and the need to go to the beach returned. So out came the National Trust Handbook and we found Blickling Estate at Aylsham in Norfolk.

The National Trust Handbook says of Blickling

“Nobody ever forgets their first sight of Blickling.  The breath-taking red-brick mansion and ancient yew hedges sit at the heart of a magnificent garden and historic park in the beautiful Bure meadows.” It is true. This is a stunning house in equally stunning gardens.

The Hand book goes on to say “Explore the house, with its nationally important book collection, and hear the real voices of the servants who once worked ‘downstairs’. Blickling’s owners have used the estate as a place of quiet refuge, while playing their part on the world’s political stage.  From ambassadors and airmen, to kings’ mistresses, its complex and sometimes tragic family history has been tainted by debt and social ambition.”

The Estate played a key role in the 2nd World War. RAF Oulton was a bomber base created on the Blickling Estate in 1939. The station was instrumental in winning the war, as documented by the Luftwaffe themselves. You can visit the museum and see artefacts from that period.

The manor of Blickling is recorded in the Domesday Book. Its owners have included Sir John Fastolf and Geoffrey Boleyn, grandfather of Anne Boleyn, the ill-fated wife of Henry VIII. The present red-brick mansion was built 1616-24 by Robert Lyminge (the architect of Hatfield) for Sir Henry Hobart, 1st Baronet, Lord Chief Justice to James I.

A tour of the house includes “upstairs” and “downstairs” but the house is best known for its library the finest library held by the National Trust. It is made up of 12,000 books collected mainly between 1720 and 1730 in the great book sales that took place in England and Europe at that time. It is held in the Long Gallery, a 123 foot long gallery built by Sir Henry Hobart in 1629 for exercise during bad weather. The Long Gallery is outstanding for its elaborately intricate Jacobean plasterwork ceiling. The bulk of the large library was collected in the 18th century by Sir Richard Ellys of Nocton. The Fist Earl of Buckinghamshire who had inherited the library from his distant relative had the bookcases installed to hold the library in or about 1745 relegating the full length portraits he had commissioned for the gallery in 1729 to the rest of the house. There is plenty more to know about this house and estate and you can read this at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/blickling-estate/.

Lord Lothian Ambassador to the USA at the time of WWII was the last private owner of the house. He was instrumental in persuading President Roosevelt to enter the war against Germany and the Axis Powers. On his death the house and the estate were bequeathed to the National Trust.

We took a walk through the gardens. It was very serene. The gardens have been set up with formal paths and interesting informal paths and each sector although containing the same mixtures of trees and bushes seemed to have its own identity. I’ll give you a tip – the secret garden is no secret any longer – it is sign posted. I will let you enjoy the photos.

Aylsham is close enough to the East Anglian coast to justify Kerry saying “Let’s stay at the beach!” We got some local knowledge from one of the assistants at Blickling and headed to Cromer, a typical English beachside resort town with a pier. We drove into the town around 4.00pm as we had been told that it would be no trouble to pick up cheap accommodation as the summer break had finished. Well I don’t know on what facts that advice was based but it was far from true. We drove around Cromer twice without any luck (except for one place that wanted 169 quid for the room for the night). I even tried phoning the proprietor of one B&B who had left a message on the front door that he was away for the moment and to telephone him. Two days later he called back – he had been away on holidays!

Anyway, we drove along the coast to Sheringham, a pretty seaside village with no pier but it did have accommodation and views of the sea. So we dropped anchor and took a walk around the beach defences (all concrete rocks and pebble beach with timber breakwaters/groins) into the village. Kerry restrained herself until we had walked all through the village to return to the penny arcade where we spent a fortune (well a lot of time) feeding tuppenny coins into the machines. She got so carried away nearly all the cafes and restaurants had closed so we went to the Lobster Hotel where they did not have any Lobster, but we got fed and watered. The next morning after another walk along the sea front and booking out we walked up to the rail station for the North Norfolk Steam Railway. The website http://www.nnrailway.co.uk/ will give you the story but here is what it says about the railway;

The North Norfolk Railway offers far more than just a train ride, experience yesterday tomorrow with a day out travelling through some of Norfolk’s stunning coastal countryside.

The railway operates both steam and diesel trains, see the timetable for dates and times, and make a day of it with our great value rover ticket!

There’s lots of other things as well as the train ride, including meals aboard The North Norfolk maneducation days, numerous special events throughout the year. This is all helped by our supporting charity, The Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway Society.”

They have 10 steam locos, 9 of which are in service. If you get excited about steam engines then have a look on the website. We bought a return ticket to Holt and jumped aboard the train. The restored station included all the usual baggage and paraphernalia you would expect a café, gift shop and history room. The rolling stock was impeccable and the locos restored to within an inch of their lives. The journey was enjoyable and brought back memories of the journey through the Yorkshire moors from Whitby to Pickering (Heartbeat country) http://www.visityorkshire.com/attractions/north-york-moors-steam-railway-pickering-north-yorkshire.

When the train ride finished we had a 4 hour trip back to Long Eaton. If there is one thing to know about the East country (Lincolnshire and Norfolk) there are no motorways which makes travel times longer but the scenery is grander.

 

Retirees Go Abroad – Oxford and Cambridge – An Education at Cambridge Day 3

Standard

Retirees Go Abroad – Oxford and Cambridge

An Education at Cambridge

Our trip to Cambridge was somewhat harrowing. Kerry took a wrong turn on the roundabout to the service station at Peach Tree Park and Ride and was told by Tommy to “turn around when possible”. Rod and Kerry aware that Kerry had taken a wrong turn took a different wrong turn on the roundabout and found themselves heading toward Cambridge via Buckingham (due east). To remedy Kerry’s error we had to turn around and the queue onto the roundabout extended for about 2 miles. So we were half an hour behind Rod and Kerry.

We remained in contact via mobile phones. Tommy set us a course south onto the dreaded M25 and then due north before Maidenhead. About an hour into the trip Rod and Kerry hit road works and were delayed 50 mins whilst we made excellent progress. When we learned that Rod and Kerry were free of the road works we encountered “long delays” on the M25. These delays were similar to those encountered on our arrival into the UK. NOTE TO ALL TRAVELLERS – AVOID THE BLOODY M25!

In the end Rod and Kerry arrived at Saffron Waldron 5 mins ahead of us but due to the one way streets in the town we actually drove out of the town to turn around to get a car park. We registered and got the keys to our rooms. This is an old market town and the hotel is a renovation of a renovation. Our room was quite acceptable but Rod and Kerry drew the short straw and there was some considerable upset and debate about the accommodation. Once that was resolved we pulled out the cheese wine and beer and drowned our sorrows.

Next morning I was up early to move our car to the public parking as parking in the High Street was forbidden after 8.00am. We took breakfast in our room (Rod and Kerry had accumulated packets of cereal and bits and pieces). After breakfast we moved down stairs as we intended to use Rod and Kerry’s hire car to drive into Cambridge. I noticed the meeting room down stairs had been set up for a Rotary meeting so I went in and immediately noticed a Woolloongabba Rotary banner then a Stones Corner banner followed by South Brisbane and Brisbane banners. Kerry and I would call on the meeting later that evening.

Without the aid of Tommy but using Kerry’s IPhone we looked to park at the Trumpington St Park and Ride but nary a sign to direct us. So we ended up in the Grand Arcade extremely well placed for a visit to Cambridge. The only difference is the cost. Ultimately it cost us twenty pound for parking for four hours but the location in the heart of the city made up for it.

According to Oxford, “In 1209 a local woman was killed by a scholar. Seeking revenge the townsfolk hanged two of the scholar’s colleagues leading others to flee in fear. Some went to Cambridge where they founded another university” (Oxford Visitor’s Guide, Edition 5 2014).

According to Cambridge, “People had been living there for over 2,000 years. The Romans were there in AD 43 and the Saxons built a bridge across the River Cam in the 8th century followed by the Vikings who established a thriving river trade. 1209 saw the arrival of a rebel group of scholars who had been forced to leave after violent quarrels with residents of Oxford. These were the early founders of what is now the University” (Cambridge Official Map and Mini Guide).

In 1284 the foundations of Cambridge’s oldest college Peterhouse were laid and more colleges followed.

We started our exploration at a coffee shop before going onto the Information centre and purchasing the mini guide for the directions for the self – guided walking tour. The Information Centre is in Wheeler St and from there we proceeded to St Bene’t’s church, the county’s oldest surviving building with a clear Saxon influence (the bell tower was very much like the tower in Oxford). We then proceeded down Free School Lane passed the old Cavendish Laboratory where DNA was first unravelled and the atom split.

From there we found Pembroke College (many of the colleges share the same names as appear in Oxford). Cambridge seems to take a more open and non – commercial approach with there being no entry fee or barriers here. Pembroke was founded in 1347 by the widow of the Earl of Pembroke Mary de St Pol. In 1662 Bishop Matthew Wren kept his promise made whilst a prisoner in the Tower of London to build a new chapel for his old college and he roped in his cousin Christopher Wren to help. He, Matthew not Christopher, is buried in the crypt of the Chapel.

It has a luxurious court of grass surrounded by the ancient buildings forming the college. Here we were allowed into the chapel without restrictions (other than to respect the premises). The chapel is constructed with seats facing each other in “collegiate style” as was the case in all monasteries and followed by the colleges. In the ante chapel there is a beautiful 15th century alabaster depicting Virgin Mary and Archangel Michael with Mary giving judgment on a soul.

Outside the Chapel is a memorial to the past members of the college who died in the First World War. We were also allowed to walk in the gardens viewing the changing architecture over the years.

Across Trumpington St and down the way a few hundred yards is Peterhouse College. Access here was also readily offered. The chapel bore its age well but was clearly from an earlier time than the other buildings. We also were allowed to view the dining hall even though there was a lunch being held in there.

We then walked down Mill Lane to the river and had our first encounter with Cambridge Punt Tour sales people. This is the jump off point for the tours and they were not pushy at all.

We were now making up the tour as we went. We made our way to Queens Lane and into Queens College. Here we had to pay a fee of 3 pounds each but it was worth it. The college was founded by two Queens (Stephen Fry may have been a member but he was not one of the founding queens). The wives of Henry VI and Edward IV Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville respectively founded this college commencing in 1448. The buildings were very elegant and the dining hall exceptional but who ever allowed the 1970’s architecture of one of the newer buildings into the college needs to be called to account. While we were there a new building sympathetic to the old style used elsewhere in the college was being constructed so there seems no explanation for this incongruous architecture being introduced. Walnut Tree Court especially caught my attention with a large walnut tree and pretty bulbs flowering underneath it

Onto Kings Parade and the impressive and iconic Kings College. Built over 100 years and presided over by 5 kings including Henry VI, VII, and VIII this building is one of the finest examples of gothic architecture in Britain. It is also 7 pounds to enter and lunch is more important at the moment. This is where the Canal tour spruikers gather in numbers and are as annoying as bush flies from road kill on a hot summer’s day. Now the canal tour does look to be superior to Oxford and better value but we had to chase these bastards away – some were very persistent and annoying and would not take “No” for an answer.

We moved on to the square “Market Place” and true to its name there were markets selling all the usual wares. Unusually there were two bike repair shops set up in the pavilions and doing very brisk business. Lunch was a couple of pasties at 2.30 pm sitting in the sunshine which had decided to visit that afternoon but only for a short time. Lunch over, Rod and I prowled the market and found fresh figs the size of cricket balls. That is one thing very noticeable is the preference for seasonal produce. By 3.30 pm we were thinking about getting home not sure about the traffic and what the parking would cost us. Of course as we drove out of Cambridge all the Park and Ride signs jumped out at us. For some reason they all faced the driver leaving the city. Very strange!

We made it back to Saffron Walden and called into the hotel dropped our gear off and proceeded to look around the town. This is an old market town in Essex. It retains its rural appearance and contains buildings dating from medieval period onwards. There is evidence of settlement since the Neolithic period with a Romano British settlement followed by a monastery and after the Norman invasion a settlement the de Mandeville family (Earl of Essex) built a castle in the town. The castle was “slighted” by King Stephen in 1157 but the town remained within the confines of the old castle bailey battle ditches were dug further south and the town developed to the south and Market Square and in 1295 the Tuesday Markets were moved from Newbury and have been conducted at Saffron Walden ever since. The town claims it has the largest parish church in Essex and it certainly is large. St Mary’s the Virgin Church is dated from the end of the 15th century. The old buildings and jumble of shops makes the streets of the town very pleasant to stroll around.

We had dinner at Cross Keys a Tudor hotel and I suspect a more pleasant place to stay than our chosen hotel. The proprietor of the hotel has a relationship with D’Arenberg Wines from MacLaren Vale so good Australian wines are on the menu. The town is worth visiting and there are a number of other features I have not mentioned. If you want to check out Cross Keys visit www.theoldcrosskeys.co.uk. The town has had different names and gained “Saffron” when the growing of saffron brought fame and fortune to the community.

Arriving back at our hotel “Hotel Saffron”, we remembered the Rotary meeting and dressed in shorts and smelling of the dust of the road, we were dragged into the meeting and warmly welcomed by all. The story about the banners was that one of their members had visited relatives in Brisbane and had gone to meetings at each of the Clubs. So we were able to pass on greetings from Woolloongabba and Nottingham.

Here is the photographic proof.

 

Retirees Go Abroad – Oxford and Cambridge – An Education at Oxford – the Second Day

Standard

Retirees Go Abroad – Oxford and Cambridge

An Education at Oxford – the Second Day

Our second day in Oxford. The B&B was comfortable (The Conifers) and the breakfast was good. The sun was shining and Oxford was waiting for us. We parked our cars at the Peach Tree Park and Ride and caught the bus into town. One pound for 24 hours parking and our 24 hour ticket from yesterday could be used until 12 noon today. The public transport is truly easily accessible.

The Oxford Visitors Information Office provides (for One pound 50p) a visitor’s guide which is a good investment. Inside is the information on the main colleges and a self – guided walking tour. With the benefit of our knowledge gained the previous day we elected to follow the self – guided tour. But before that we visited England’s first public museum the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, cnr. Beaumont and St Giles St opposite that old Morse drinking hole the Randolph Hotel.

Founded in 1683, there is no entrance fee to a museum of wonders. Sure there is the usual Greek and Roman antiquities sprawling across the gallery on the ground floor (many of which were donated by Lord Arundel a person who may have some special interest to me but I may say more about that in the future if research supports myth), but the museum has created a path for you to explore the different civilisations with examples of life for ordinary people as well as the Rulers/Gods. We set ourselves a time limit and I had not got off the ground floor within the time set and there are 4 floors. The most dramatic was an image of a boy mummy from one of the Egyptian periods created from a CT scan and laid on 133 glass sheets so that when you looked at the glass sheets you saw the mummified remains in full and side on all you saw was the edge of the glass panels. My photo did not do it justice but I have included others I found interesting. Kerry meanwhile visited the English Embroideries Trail. Before photography there was embroidery. Just as the Bayeux Tapestry recorded the events leading up to and William’s victory over Harold, there are tapestries of both religious romantic ideas and other works on display. Kerry also ran out of time.

We reconvened at the coffee shop after which we started our walking tour in Cornmarket St where we found Oxford’s oldest surviving building a stone Saxon Tower being part of St Michael’s Church. It was part of city walls and is over 1,000 years old. You can climb to the top of the tower for a fee and on the way up you can see the old door to the goal which imprisoned some religious heretics (Queen Mary trying to restore Catholicism to England had these three gentlemen burnt at the stake in Broad St) and the bells of the tower. On the roof you get very good views over the city – there are no high rise in Oxford.

Unlike yesterday we then continued down Cornmarket into St Aldates and passed Christ Church College entrance on the way to Christ Church Meadow and the Broad Walk to the river. We were supposed to find the shop where Alice Liddell (Alice in Wonderland) bought her sweets but all I could find was a Curry shop. How things change. I wonder if Lewis Carroll would have had Alice drop in for a curry.

We strolled down the meadow lane passed the visitors entrance to Christs Church (7 pounds 50p entrance fee). Across the fields we could see Corpus Christi and Merton Colleges until we reached the river (the Cherwell I presume). We emerged in front of Magdalen College decorated in some unique grotesques and saw that there was a punt ride available under the bridge across the river. We chose a chauffeured half hour cruise for twenty five pound and glided quietly (well we were quiet but the kids at play in the school yards adjoining the river were not) along the river. Our chauffeur was a female student from Brighton having just completed her degree in anthropology and working part time during the term break until she could pick up a job in her chosen profession – event management would you believe!

We left the river to walk along the High St past St Edmund College and into Queens Lane and into New College Lane past Edmund Halley’s house (you know Halley’s comet), under the Bridge of Sighs and into Catte St. Here we diverged from the walk and passed All Souls College, around Radcliffe Camera, to the door of Brasenose College (and this time I got a photo of the nose) and into the Bodleian then back to St Mary the Virgin and down that passage across the High Street into Alfred St and down to the Bear for a well – earned drink. There was another reason to lead Rod and Kerry to this pub and that is the quirk for which it is famous or infamous. The walls and ceiling of the hotel are bedecked with the ends of gentlemen’s ties. A former publican collected different ends of ties by shearing the end of the ties of his customers off and displaying it on the hotel walls.

Time was getting away and we needed to be in Cambridge (or more precisely Saffron Waldron just outside of Cambridge and closer to Stansted Airport). So after a pint and a Pimms we set sail for Cambridge. By the way they made the Pimms identically to the Turf. That and the fact that the name of the same hotel group was on the wall confirmed that the dispute about the oldest pub was in the hands of the same owner.