Best of Italy Tour 2018 – Tuscany

PISA

Day 10 of our Tour saw us travel through the plains of Lombardy passing by rice paddies and the forested Apennine Mountains. We caught glimpses of Genoa as our destination of Pisa in Tuscany approached. On our arrival we caught a tourist train to the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles). We had been warned about the hawkers selling all manner of wares and souvenirs but it really was a sight to behold. After pushing our way through we joined the throngs of tourists keen to get their first glimpse of the Leaning Tower. To enter the walled Square you have to enter the Lions Gate a huge wide steel structure.

Inside the Square of Miracles
Pisa Bapistery
Leaning Tower

Declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 the magnificence of the Monuments including the Cathedral and Bapistery, have been admired for centuries. Inside the edifices the significance of the religious history is evident. Paintings, sculptures, gold artifacts, figurines on the ceilings and walls, stained glass windows are breath-taking. You can climb to the top of the leaning tower but there was a queue and there wasn’t time.

Pisa Cathedral
One of many paintings
Art and design of the exterior
Interior Feature
Artwork
Alter
Note the 12 Aposles

Making our way back through the crowds of tourists and hawkers, we boarded the tourist train back to our coach. Next stop Florence, capital City of the Tuscany region of Italy.

FLORENCE

I was in no way prepared for this fascinating City. From the history, art, culture to the Cathedrals, churches, sculptures, shopping, food I was mesmerised. Also known as the ‘birthplace of the Renaissance’ and ‘Athens of Italy’ the most known landmark Is the domed Cathedral Santa Marie del Fiore. Beautiful bridges dot the City traversing the Arno river which courses through the City. All but the Ponte Vecchio were destroyed by the retreating germans towards the end of WW11 in a bid to prolong the war.

View over Florence, Italy

Michelangelo, sculptor, architect and poet, famous for his painting of the Sistine Chapel and the Sculpture of David among many other significant works of art was born here but lived most of his life in Rome. Sculptures abound throughout the City on almost every corner.

Upmarket shops line the streets selling a diverse range of merchandise including leather goods, jewellery, silk scarfs, designer clothes shoes and boots and so much more. Truly a shopper’s paradise. I could not resist. We were given a demonstration at a world renowned leather goods store. I bought a burgundy leather jacket with contrasting collar and cuffs and a tie belt. An indulgence but one I will treasure and I know it will wear well. I also bought a matching wallet both initialised.

Burgundy jacket on model. I bought similar.

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Sights and sounds along the narrow laneways and cobbled streets with tourists ambling around and taking advantage of the outdoor restaurants, searching for souvenirs and designer label shopping is exhilarating.

One of the many narrow streets
Tour of the City

I went into the interior of the incredibly beautiful Basilica Di Santa Croce (Cathedral of Florence). The sheer magnificence took my breath away. I was so moved many times I stood in reverence and awe at what I was seeing. The frescoes (a technique of mural paintings) used in Roman times and by the great Reconnaissance Italian painters, the sculptures, the figurines, the stained glass windows, the floor and ceiling paintings and mosaics and so much more; photos cannot do justice to the mastery, skill and beauty represented here.

Cathedral of Florence

Early Italian Fresco
The Alter just glorious
Sculpture and art fill the Cathedral

The floor is covered with mosaics
Brilliant domes in the ceiling
Gardens within the Cathedral grounds
Before making my way back to the Hotel, taking photos, I was mingling with the crowds of people. I. had a cross body bag. I was asked if I wanted my photo taken by a well dressed young man. He was with several others. I said no and moved on. I cannot be sure but I believe it was then I was pickpocketed. A little later I noticed my wallet and phone were missing from my bag. Luckily a cheap phone I had bought in the States and a cheap wallet with just a few Euros but one of my credit cards was in the wallet. Luckily I always carry two. Apparently they crush up against you in the crowds and are so experienced you don’t even know. Lesson learnt and we had been warned.

My impressions of Florence – a visual extravaganza, exploding all of the senses. To get a real sense of the essence of the City zoom in on the photos. I. enjoyed my time there immensely. However I felt we only just touched the surface. So much more to explore. I hope in the future to return.

Thanks for sharing my journey. Next stop the captivating Tuscan hill Town of SAN Gimignano.

Rhonda – the Australian Travelling Nomad.

Best of Italy 2018 – Italian Lakes; Lake Como, Lake Maggiore and the Borromean Islands.

The beautiful Italian Lakes
In the Gardens on Isola Bella

This was another part of the Tour I had so been looking forward to. The two days we spent here was so relaxing and the scenery impossibly spectacular. Breathtaking! The only way to begin to describe this part of northern Italy. Our awesome hotel overlooked the lake with views across to the Borromean Islands. Sculptures and paintings adorned the reception and foyer of the Grand Hotel Bristol. Watching the sun set the first evening of our stay was surreal.

Grand Hotel Bristol overlooking the Lake
Foyer in our Hotel

View across to the Islands

We had the choice to take optional extra tours and I am so pleased I did. The first a cruise along Lake Como, gave us views of elegant villas and gardens mostly owned by the rich and famous including George and Amal Clooney. Well hidden behind a hedge of trees their villa is only just visible.

The second boat cruise across Lake Maggorie to The Isola Bella (Meaning beautiful Island) one of the three Borromean Islands was incredibly beautiful. Visions of the harbour, the shore line, across to the Islands, a sculpture and fountain on the Lake and much more, such a spectacular blend of nature and man-made formations.

Cruising around Isola Bella it soon became apparent that this would be another highlight of the Tour. The Aristocratic Borromeo family were merchants and bankers in the early 1300s. Descendants of the family became famous as Cardinals and Bishops of Milan in the 1500s. The Borromean family has owned the Islands since the 16th century. Between 1650 and 1671 Vitaliano Borromeo built a summer palace on Isola Bella for his wife Isabella. The terraced gardens were later added.

Exterior of Palace

The gardens are jaw-droppingly beautiful. Visiting this place took me back to what normal every day life must have been like for the people who lived here. Beyond imagination. Incredibly beautiful gardens blend with sculptures and the crowning glory is the striking white peacocks roaming freely. I enjoyed my short time here so much. A feast for the eyes and one to remember always. Again words cannot do it justice. I hope these photos do.

Before returning to our hotel, we enjoyed a Be My Guest dinner experience on the Island. Great food and wine, great fun, great views and good company topped off an amazing day. My photos of the dinner are again on my DSLR camera so I am looking forward to retrieving them on my return to Australia.

Next stop Tuscany and Pisa. Look for my blog soon.

Rhonda – Australian travelling nomad.

MAY 2018 Best of Italy Tour – Verona

City of Shakespeare’s star crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet; dominated by the Roman amphitheater built in the 1st century AD; Renaissance architecture and art; imposing sculptures and figurines the World heritage City of Verona is a tourist’s delight. Exclusive shopping, piazzas attracting people to restaurants, gardens, parks, fountains attract the young and old. Each year the Amphitheater holds festivals in the Arena attracting thousands of people to be entertained by the Opera and theatre performances.

Arena of Verona
Arena Verona
Inside the Arena

Walking through a huge domed structure filled with exclusive shopping you come out into one of the Piazzas (City Squares). The magnificence of the Cathedral and Basilica dominating the Square has to be seen to be believed. No photo or words can do the exquisite works of art adorning this large imposing edifice justice.

Domed shopping walkway
Verona Cathedral and Basilica

Carved figures

A highlight of our visit to this incredible City was standing in the internal courtyard of Juliet’s building dating back to the 13th century. In the corner stands a bronze statue. Visitors vie to touch her breast to bring luck in love so the legend goes. Looking up there is the balcony where she stood with Romeo serenading her.

Bronze statue of Juliet
Juliet’s balcony

Sculptures in large numbers can be seen seen as you walk around all representing history immortal. The photos below are scenes of interest in this fascinating City.

So much more to see in this fascinating City but, due to time restraints and the need to move on to the next location on our journey, I reluctantly returned to our Coach taking photos and memories with me.

Next blog beautiful Lake Como. Some of us kept asking ‘can it get better than thus’. The answer not better but different. Our magnificent Tour continued.

Rhonda – The Australian Travelling Nomad

MAY 2018 Best of Italy Tour – Venice and Burano Part 2

While in Venice we had the choice of 3 optional extra tours. I did all three. One of these was the Venetian Lagoon Cruise to the Fisherman’s Island of Burano by private boat. Burano is known for its multi-coloured houses and lace work.

Enjoying the sights along the canal

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After a couple of hours enjoying the sights and sounds and souvenir shopping we enjoyed a delicious meal and drinks at a famous seafood restaurant. I was very disappointed as I was unable to take photos due to a flat battery. However I had taken one of the exterior of the restaurant earlier. Suffice to say a great time was had by all. We were very merry on the boat and then the walk back to the hotel.

Some of the sights seen walking around.

Back at the Hotel I decided to go for a walk to the Sea just a short distance away. Very exciting to stand in the Mediterranean Sea. A lovely area with nice homes and quaint shops.

A swim would have been nice but no time.

Two wonderful days had drawn to a close. Memories to last a lifetime.

And so the Tour continued on to Verona, Milan and Lake Coma.

So much more to share next time on my WordPress Blog.

Rhonda – The Australian Travelling Nomad.

MAY 2018 Best of Italy Tour – Venice and Burano Part 1

What does one say about the City of Venice? How do I condense such a dream come true experience into a few paragraphs? I had been so looking forward to arriving here and, once again, I was not to be disappointed. We had two nights in the Grand Albergo Ausonia & Hungaria Hotel. Very opulent. Food and cocktails awesome. By this stage of the Tour we had formed friendships making the day tours and evening dinners even more enjoyable.

The first day we were taken by a private water taxi along Venice’s Grand Canal. I was certainly educated about this fascinating City having previously no idea what to expect. I thought there would just be long narrow canals traversed by boats and gondolas. To my surprise the Grand Canal is huge. It forms one of the major water corridors in the City. We travelled past buildings dating back to the 13th to the 18th century. Renaissance architectural motifs appear on many of the buildings.

Stepping from the water taxi we admired the palazzi (former Palace now Museum) walked to St Mark’s Square and the Piazza SAN Marco. The sheer splendour and magnificence of the buildings comprising this Square including St Mark’s Basilica (Christian Church) took my breath away. I just kept mouthing WOW!

And now time to board our gondola and glide along Venice’s narrow waterways. Not as romantic without a partner to share the experience with but incredible just the same. Tour members clambered into individual gondolas for this experience of a lifetime including being serenaded.

The second day we woke to rain but, undaunted, several of us took the optional tour exploring the maze of streets which make up this unique City, escorted by a local guide who gave us a brief insight into Venice’s past and present. Very difficult when one is hearing impaired to partake fully in this kind of tour even though we were equipped with speakers and ear pieces. However I managed to get the gist of the conversation and found what I did hear fascinating. We visited the Basilica of St Mark. There is no way to describe the size, opulence, magnificence, mosaics, statutes, figurines, images throughout the vestibules which are spread four ways representing a cross. We were told that for its opulent design, gold ground mosaics and its statues as a symbol of Venetian’s wealth and power, from the 11th century on, the building has been known as ‘The Church of Gold’.

No photography was allowed inside the Basilica. The following photos I have chosen from a website. The second one is mosaics on the interior domes looking eastward.

So much more to see in this captivating City. I will write more in Venice, Part 2.

I hope you are enjoying reading my blogs as much as I like to write about my travels and experiences.

Rhonda – The Australian Travelling Nomad.

MAY 2018 Best of Italy Tour – Amalfi Coast and Isle of Capri’

From Pompeii and Cassino we travelled south through Naples towards Sorrento. We passed some of the most beautiful coast line I have ever seen. Azure seas under towering cliffs with the landscape dotted with homes, churches, historical buildings. Everything was so green. A stop along the way allowed us to enjoy and take photos.

I had chosen to take the optional tour to visit Positano known as an exclusive artists paradise. Positioned on the Mediterranean Sea and a shopper’s mecca I wish we had had more time there. Clothes, shoes, beautiful glass, artworks and ceramic pieces, lots of places to eat and to have a gelato. I bought some souvenirs and, with another couple of tour members, walked down to the Sea to plunge the obligatory toe in the warm blue waters. The sand however is black and stony. Did not seem to deter the locals and tourists who were sunbathing and enjoying the hot sunny weather.

After a great dinner at our Hotel in Sorrento the next morning we took a boat ride across to the Isle of Capri.

As we approached I was struck by the colour of the water, the towering cliffs, the homes, shops, vineyards and more perched high above us. The town of Capri is drawn together around the Piazzetta, a bustling Square filled with locals and tourists shopping, eating and enjoying the ambiance. The Clock Tower and Church of Saint Stefano are tourist attractions. Taken on the Capri Funicular (cable car) to this main shopping and gardens district once again we found the views spectacular.

We were greeted by small alleys and narrow streets branching off and intersecting again with an abundance of shopping and restaurants.. The Gardens of St Augustus are beautiful, a floral vision from where a magnificent view to the Sea below is a photographers delight.

I had opted to take the optional all round boat trip of the Island from the Marina Grande the landing place of Capri. Passing by spectacular cliffs plunging into the turquoise waters, and seeing the green and blue grottos were highlights. Coastal and oceanic landforms called faraglionies rise high above the Sea. The boat,s skipper took us through a large opening in one.

During my walk about Capri a friend on the tour said I had to try the refreshing drink Spremute Di Arancia which includes lemon, blood orange and lemonade. Also a limoncello, lemon flavoured liquor. Bottles of all shapes and forms containing this liquor are for sale. Both absolutely delicious. The lemons are large, full and juicy and are plentiful throughout Italy. I was amused by the art depicting the female form in one store.

I had been so looking forward to the visit to the Isle of Capri and I was not disappointed. Truly a kaleidoscope of moments to remember.

Next in my Tour of Italy was Venice. Once again I had been looking forward to this part of our Itinerary. So many highlights of two days spent in this fascinating City.

Until my next blog.

Rhonda, the Travelling Housesitting Nomad.

May 2018 – Best of Italy Tour – POMPEII & CASSINO

POMPEII

Once again I was not prepared for the sheer size and magnitude of what was once Pompeii City. This large archeological site in southern Italy was once a thriving, vibrant Roman City, buried under meters of volcanic rock and ash after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. The first two photos show Mt Vesuvius in the background. The third our guide explaining the ruts in the roadway made by horses and carts pulling heavy loads over time causing this phenomenon. Fascinating!

The City remained frozen in time until discovered by a surveying engineer in 1748. The discovery and ongoing excavation is a fascinating insight into the lives of Roman people. Excavation continues today but is hindered by politics, finance, weather and erosion. Walking through the preserved streets and structures imagining the people going about their daily chores before this catastrophic event is disturbing and haunting. Particularly fascinating was a plaster encased body of a victim who was buried by the ash. 1700 years under 30 feet of mud and ashes and skeletal, these victims remained entombed until excavations advanced and they could be preserved for scientific research.

I took so many photos. It seemed ‘around every corner’ there was a new discovery, the separate bathing area, the ovens, the pillars, the huge walls, the cobbled streets, just some of the many photos depicting a look back in time.

I cannot conclude this brief synopsis of our visit without sharing a story told to us by our guide and born out during our walk through the buildings and along the cobbled streets. We were guided to some former structures which were ‘houses of pleasure’ I.e. brothels. Along the streets were phallus’s (erect penis) to guide the men to the brothel! The ‘beds’ were just concrete slabs and on the walks there were erotic paintings still visible today. However much of this artwork has been removed.

CASSINO

Our visit to the Commonwealth War Cemetary in CASSINO was very emotional. Situated underneath the Benedictine Abbey and featuring the Memorial which commemorates over 4,000 Commonwealth servicemen who took part in the Italian Campaign in WWII, it is simplistic but beautiful in design and so well maintained. There is a separate section for each Country with the Italian servicemen buried in another location nearby. I was moved to tears reading some of the inscriptions on the headstones. So many, so young.

Once again I hope you have enjoyed sharing my travel. Thanks for taking the time to the blog.

Next Isle of Capri one of my favourite places.

If you would like to read any of my former blogs just go to the end of this one and it should direct you to the link.

Rhonda – Travelling Housesitting Nomad