paris > amsterdam > vancouver

thursday, october 30, 2008

we leave bern on a cold snowy morning. our train is right on time…you expect this in switzerland!

we have a compartment to ourselves and one other traveler, a young french engineer returning from a business trip. he is quite chatty and remarkably cynical for such a young man (he’s 31) but not without humour and the 5 hour trip passes quickly. the first half is quite beautiful as it has snowed heavily and outside is a winter wonderland.

getting into paris is like coming home. it is so familiar and the hotel palym is perfect. we’ve stayed here before and it’s in a great location for travelers. our room has a fantastic view of the gare de lyon and the rooftops of paris. we have most of the afternoon to do as we please, me to shop and rick for one last nostalgic visit to notre dame. yes blair!

supper is at a small family run restaurant specializing in northern french cuisine, basic hearty fare, perfect for a cold night.

we crash early after preparing our luggage for the final leg.

friday, october 31, 2008.

morning comes too soon, we have our last breakfast of croissants and head for the airport bus and the flight to amsterdam.

the time for connecting flights in amsterdam is less than we expect and soon we’re in a line-up waiting to clear security…no time for last minute shopping.

one god awful long flight 10 hours to be exact in crowded conditions, 3 movies, food and drink (and unlike the trip over, very pleasant stewards.) a quick taxi ride home after a very fast trip through customs.

CDG

 

photos courtesy of flickr members

(i’m saving the lost luggage for another day…always take your carry on with you!)

good night! good bye.

addendum: the carry on was returned on sunday night – minus the camera, other gifts and a few books. we’re sad at what we’ve lost. the items we’re stolen from the bag at charles de gaulle airport as the security tape on the bags is all air france which was the connector we took to amsterdam.

 

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bern

bern, as you would expect, is very tidy and not without charm. it is also very uniform in its appearance. in fact the entire old town is built with the same coloured sandstone as a result of a fire back in the 1400’s when the town burned down. in fact every building in the olde town is in the same condition it was some 500 years ago!

after checking in to our quite nice hotel, we head off to use up what little light remains in the day. it is very cold and starts to rain lightly shortly after we set out. this is not a problem in bern however as i suspect they get either a lot of snow or rain or both, because they have built some 14 kilometres of covered walkways down both sides of every street in the old town. i take as many pictures as i can before the light goes. there are quaint fountains and statues in the middle of the streets, or affixed to buildings.

it really is quite storybook in appearance as we work our way down hill towards the river the buildings look progressively more “swiss like” with a jumble of roofs, hundreds of chimneys, the odd one puffing smoke. at the bottom of the hill we discover an old church, open but without lights. what a contrast to the ornate ones we’ve seen elsewhere; it is void of decoration except for an old choir from the 1500’s and 3 stained glass windows. by now we’re a bit chilled and stop in for a hot chocolate and a piece of apple cake mmmmm… good.

as we wend our way back up the hill we pass a glittering display of remarkably modern design in the old stores, whether furniture, fashion or jewelery. we also see a couple of workshops where craftspeople are still at work. of all the cities we’ve been to the quality of items here seem to be the best. we did pick up a couple of souvenirs… chocolates… expensive chocolates! i couldn’t afford a watch 🙂

i’m still searching for blair’s gift and we check out a few clothing stores… this is not rick’s favourite past-time and soon he abandons me for the warmth of the hotel. i have no luck and head back to join him before going out to dinner.

we had seen several restaurants on our walk and decided to head back to one that appeared particularly charming. unfortunately, smoking is still very much accepted in switzerland and i’d had enough of smoke filled atmosphere at a restaurant in saltzburg so we passed on our first choice. we end up at the ratzkeller restaurant on one of the main streets and have a wonderfully authentic swiss meal, including swiss wine and strudel to die for. we paid for this indulgence! it was the most expensive meal of our trip (but worth it.) as we ate, it began to snow, you can imagine our delight as it was a perfect mountain experience in a 15th century setting.

we walked home in the light snow for a good night’s sleep in our feather beds.

our hotel looked over the central square which includes the station, clock towers, old building and a futuristic glass canopy that covers a great portion of the square. it was great to wake in the morning to see everything covered in a light blanket of snow.

bern was a nice place to end our trip. tomorrow paris, before flying home.

guten nacht, buona notte, bonsoir (it’s a trilingual country:) see Bern on my flickr slideshow

venice to bern

up very early to catch the vaporetto to the station, it’s very quiet. though the skies are grey, there is a bit of blue above one of the islands which makes for a great picture with a church and other buildings highlighted by the brightness. the vaporetto goes to several stops, including some unscheduled ones through the working area of venice where supplies arrive by train or truck for redistribution through the islands. it is very much alive with men loading long barge like boats with every conceivable commodity from the morning papers to bags of flour and bottled water.

at the station we encounter what we hope will be our last set of stairs in a public system. it is absurd that there is no ramp, elevator or other means of getting your bags into the station, italy has been the worst for this, however paris comes a close second for dealing with tourists hauling bagage, or worse yet anyone with a severe mobility problem.

we’d hoped to have breakfast at the station but with the extra stops we have less time than expected, and any hope for a sit down breakfast is dashed by discovering only stand up coffee bars with no take-out. we settle for a machine dispensed espresso and a hot chocolate. all aboard and we’re off to milan.

we’re supposed to have an hour plus in milan and look forward to breakfast again as nothing was available on the train. no such luck, another stand-up coffee bar. i find a sandwich shop and buy two egg and cheese sandwiches, bottles of fanta and chocolate cookies….yum.

ok, italy is one big bad joke (or so it feels right now) as we’re standing on the platform in milan with a hundred or so others all wondering which platform the train will actually come in on. the schedule sez 7, however the board and platform signs offer nothing to confirm this. in fact, all other trains and platforms are up but not ours. even the people working on the train have no clue as to where to go!

the train is officially late as they put a 10 minute rettardo sign up. after another 20 minutes of waiting we’re advised the platform has changed to 4. we move en masse hoping an actual train will show up. it does, with the usual scramble to find luggage storage, seats and elbow our way down the aisles to our seats. 30 minutes late we head off for the alps (not that we’ll see anything as it has been raining since we left venice and there is no sign of the skies clearing.)

we must be getting near to switzerland as things are looking more prim. the clouds have lifted a bit and we get glimpses of lakes and treed hills. it quite picturesque as many of the islands in the lakes have old buildings and churches on them.

hello switzerland. bern is very cold, happily our hotel is just across the street from the station.

venice day 3

our last day in venice with most of the places to see behind us we have a chance to explore a little more.

we stop in at american express to get our reservations to switzerland and paris as the rail station is a hassle, and in our experience so far, not too helpful.

there are only two places on our must see list and unfortunately one of them is closed for the next two days. so we decide to visit an historic church, frari, first started in 1330 and completed in 1420. it is famous for a number of its art works by titian, a carving of john the baptist by donatello and so many memorials, alter pieces, gold, and a beautiful though protected cloister, among others. it is also the burial place of titian and montoverdi the famous composer, and rich with floor and wall tombs of the famous from so far back that the names are worn smooth.. the place is super rich in relics including one allegedly containing a few drops of blood from jesus. the marble carvings and medieval design make it quite compelling, so much so that rick soon has to go back to the bookshop to get a guide book before we continue on exploring its vast interior. there are many other churches in venice like this, perhaps not as rich but many have paintings and carvings by well know artists of the renaissance or older.

we stop for a coffee in a small anonymous square where there is a small bar and we grab a couple of coffees from a tough looking but charming woman who runs the place, i think she takes a liking to rick as he gets a little extra service.

we take our coffee outside and as we’re chatting we notice a very small store that specializes in venician carnival masks. they seem to be of a better quality and while waiting for rick i venture inside. the young couple are friendly and speak english easily; they explain the intricacies of the masks and how they are made. they carry only one artist who is well known and not cheap. joining rick for a second cup we decide we’ll have a look together as we have not bought an “official” souvenir of the trip yet. after looking at a few, rick takes a liking to a particularly interesting one but it is very pricey. when they see the sticker shock on our faces they knock a bit off which makes it more acceptable to us and we make a deal. the wrapping takes much longer than the transaction.

back to the hotel to unload and take a layer of clothes off as it has warmed up a bit. we’re still looking for a jacket for blair and wander back to the same square in the direction of the rialto bridge.

the rialto bridge and another euro just to pee. it is a zoo and i’d warned rick of the crowds (which he despises) luck was with us, it was a little less hectic and we were able to navigate it without much jostling. as i explained in an earlier post the rialto was built in the mid 1500’s and is quite beautiful with its high central arch and buildings spanning the grand canal. it has a central passage with stores on each side and two outside passages where you can see the canal and the horrible graffiti sprayed on the back of every store. At the peak of the bridge are two arches connecting the outside passages, this is the spot for the perfect view of the grand canal and it’s difficult to get through the crowd for an unobstructed look (i’ve become adept at pushing and shoving with the best of them.)

rick wants to get back to saint marks square and i want to try and find the store where i hope to find a jacket for blair. this has become a point of contention as the young owner of our hotel had made the recommendation and he’s about the same age as blair. other than frustration it has become a bit of a joke (or i try to find the humour in it) as i get directions to go to the left of the rialto, to the right of rialto, cross the rialto, cross the rialto and go left …. i’m sure you get the picture. everyone knows of this store but no one know where it actually is! i surrender and make my way back to saint marco’s to join up with rick and our last must see, the inside of saint marco’s church. it is free…sort of! the place is fantastic very much of the byzantium school and covered in gold and colourful mosaics (awesome). to see some of the more notable items such as the gold alter, carvings and the roof you must pay 2 or 3 euros per item so we decide to pass (we’re nearing the end of our trip and feeling a bit burned out on the nickle and dime stuff.)

last stop a stroll along the quay of st marks in search of a small carry on that we can put some of the accumulation of books and knick knacks picked up along the way. (i think we need two!) i find one and on the way back add one more item (i can’t resist…and haggle for a knock-off prada man bag…i probably still paid too much.)

we hop on the vappareto back to the hotel for some unwinding and a nap. rick’s pretty tired so i decide i’ll head out on my own for supper. it’s been enjoyable trying different foods and tonight is no exception as i have salmon tartar followed by pasta with something i can’t pronounce (it was slimy), so it could have been mushrooms this is followed by sword fish all accompanied by white wine and a bottle sparkling water (fantastico!) dessert was sooo good, a simple crepe stuffed with apple, surrounded by rich cream and fresh raspberries…heaven! And a strong italian espresso.

there is a warm breeze as i take a late night stroll along the quay where it is incredibly quiet except for a few workers setting up raised walkways as the waves are already cresting the walls. i sit and watch the last cruise ship of the season escorted by tugs as it heads for its berth. the ship is gigantic, it has a strange looking space age appendage high above the rear deck which i think is a disco or restaurant.

as i head back to the hotel i try a few night shots along our canal as it looks so peacful with the lights reflecting off the water.

rick is packed and ready to go, which means i’ll have to move my butt in the morning to get things in order for an early departure. See our day 3 slideshow here

buona notte.

venice day 2

Still beautiful but the colours are subdued today as there is no sun. Our breakfast is delivered at 8 sharp, but a single cup of coffee won’t do it. A quick shower and we’re off to find more coffee and get a pass for the museums before the hordes arrive.

The correo is a museum complex on saint marks square which includes the museums: biblioteque, archeological, the ducal palace and correr(civic) museum. the pass also includes an additional museum out of a half dozen other choices, which we initially decide will be the glass blowing on the island of murano.

Our first visit is the ducal palace. The place is incredible, and intact for the past seven hundred years more or less. The quality is in sharp contrast to the palaces of france or even ludwig in germany. There is a sense of refined elegance about it as opposed to the excess of gilded everything at versailles and others. remarkably many objects have survived, from crystal goblets to fierce looking armaments. the paintings by titian, tintoretto and others are astounding and on a scale hard to imagine as some of the rooms are gigantic. not knowing much of the ancient history of venice it was fasinating to discover the role of the ducal princes, the senate and other bodies that kept everything in order, including an ominous prison reached by crossing over the bridge of sighs (think guantanamo with thicker walls and bars.) torture was big here too.

after yet another cup of coffee we headed for the correo and adjoining museums to finish the morning off. more paintings, sculptures from 200 b.c. to the 18th century, and books and furniture covering at least 800 years of history. though they have an incredible library displayed with originals going back several hundred years it was less than expected as the actual biblioteque held only old photographs from the late 1800’s to the beginning of the 20th century. the rooms however are works of art in themselves from the wooden carved ceilings and the amazing painting, many again by titian and bellini among others.

following the museums we caught a vaporetto to the island of murano, famous for its glass works. it was a 40 minute ride as it made stops at many ports on different islands including cimeteo or cemetery island where there are many large mausoleums and presumably where everyone gets buried. the weather has been quite cold and grey all morning and we’re feeling the chill as we wore only lighter clothing.

we don’t spend much time on murano other then to have a very pricey lunch (apparently we’re never going to learn to double check everything before we order.) we checked out the glass displays which are remarkable for both contemporary design, colour and those with a more ornate look. it is pretty fantastic but does not hold our interest and we decide to head back to the main islands, this time on a direct boat to saint marks square, where we head off to get our reservation for our next leg of the journey on wednesday and rick heads back to the hotel and me for another walk through the maze that is venice (still no luck blair!)

the rialto bridge…it’s only pretty in pictures, and i’m sure they have been doctored or taken many many years ago. it is a zoo! the crowds are horrendous, the shops on the bridge range from tacky to expensive with jewelery and other baubles. graffiti abounds on the outer walls of the bridge’s stores which adds to the overall feel of trashy and tacky. as i crest the bridge the street beyond is too scary to contemplate late in the day. it is covered with stalls and so many people that i’m not sure how they are getting by each other. must be time to head home.

before getting to the boat i’m asked to take a photo by a women traveling alone. turns out she’s from bulgaria so we spend a few minutes chatting and discover she arranges tours there for hapless tourists like me. she made it sound quite inviting and gave me her business card to keep in touch. i catch two boats to get back to our neighbourhood just as the sun is setting. it takes me a few minutes more to get to the hotel as i have to linger and take a few shots of a large cruise ship going down the tronchetto lido di venezia that separates our island from la giudecca.

the final few steps from the main quay to our hotel will give you a good idea of venice. from where we get off the vaporetto on a wide stone quay we turn left crossing over a wide canal on a stone step bridge about 50 feet long. the small street to our hotel leads off from the quay and is about 4 feet wide with tall walls on each side about 30 or 40 feet high. we then cross a small stepped stone bridge over a canal about 30 feet wide to another small quay then a sharp left over a smaller stepped bridge which is our canal about 15 feet wide and final sharp right and 50 feet along we’re at our hotel which faces the canal about 10 feet from our window. it is all too beautfuly romantic if you are so inclined. we hear the boats go by, the chat of people and the slapping of waves against the canal wall.

dinner at a very nice restaurant not far from the hotel which makes for an easy walk home. we’ve really enjoyed the food and wine in italy more so than in france. See our 2nd day in Venice here

buona notte

venice

you never told me it would be this beautiful! talk about a living postcard, this is it. we arrived at 11:30 on a fast train from florence and soon caught a vaporetto going to the district our hotel is in. the vaporetto are the boat buses of venice and have schedules and stops just as transit does. we bought a 3 day pass that allows us to go everywhere at any time, so far we’ve used it twice: once to get to our hotel and the second to do the grand tour around the main islands and up the grand canal. i took so many pictures i ran out of juice and have yet to find a place that sells batteries.

our hotel is a lowly 2 star but is clean, very small, quiet and off the beaten path. it has no phone,tel evision or internet, but someone close by does and that’s what i’m using to update the blog. hopefully it will last through wednesday, when we leave. the hotel is adjacent to a small canal which we look directly onto, it too is picture perfect, in fact we’ve seen a couple of gondolas go by but never have the camera ready. anyway the place is bliss, away from the madding crowd and is truly peaceful; i think we can relax here.

we toured around a couple of the islands on foot, again like florence every corner is a new surprise, without exception a painting waiting to be done. the many former palazzos, old churches and the squares offer an infinite variety of colour, light and space. the granddaddies of them all are saint marco’s cathedral and the doge’s palace. the square is huge, it probably held 10’s of thousands in its day. the whole square is surrounded by a colonnade of stacked arches which make it seem like a large cloister with the shimmering church at the eastern end and the doge’s palace next door enclosing it at the eastern end. as with many buildings on our trip, saint marco’s is also covered with scaffolding in various spots. the biggest disappointment though was to discover the bridge of sighs framed in a large wrap with advertising for lancia, an italian car company who are no doubt sponsoring the renovations.

it does not take us long to get lost; this, however is not a bad thing, unless you run out of batteries for the camera…duh. the place is so spectacular i should try a little painting as it reminds me of so many watercolours i’ve seen over the years. in a way it’s repetitious as the bridges have similar designs and the buildings look alike, but the blend of colours and details make the difference.

after a lengthy walk using the sun to guide us (we’re lost again) we get back to the right neighbourhood and find a supermarket for some fresh fruit, batteries and wine…of course. our hotel delivers breakfast to the room but we’re not sure we can hold out till 8 a.m. so need some munchies.

for dinner we hop back on the vaporetto to saint marco’s to search out a restaurant which is not hard to do in this town as they are everywhere, up little alleys, in back rooms and bordering the canals. the meal is low key, salad, chicken followed by a pear tart and a cappucino. beside us is a lone man nursing his wine and looking a bit forlorn. he starts up the conversation and we’re soon discovering yet another interesting stranger. his name is howard levy and he’s a jazz musician from chicago. to our later surprise when i look him up online, he is quite well known, though he had humbly stated otherwise. he was feeling mellow and a bit road weary having been on the road for a couple of weeks, performing in a new city or country every day. he plays in north and south america as well as throughout europe, he’s also played in vancouver a few times. you can learn more about him here. he gets a call from his girlfriend which cheers him up as he tells us he is flying back to chicago tomorrow. we say our goodnights.

we’ve been fortunate on this trip to meet quite a few interesting people, all willing to spend some time in conversation and share their insights on travel country and habits.

a slow ride back on the vaporetto and an early night. See a slide show of our first day in Venice

gondola at rest

buona notte

firenza day 2

a good nights sleep, other than a few mosquitoes which we’ve not encountered before and immediately brings to mind west nile fever (paranoia.) the hotel has a great breakfast and is not too crowded as we’re first to arrive. we’re still getting used to having prosciutto and other sausages to start the day, along with great breads, florentine eggs and other goodies.

we set of to see the piazza santissima annunziata, a medieval square and ancient church just down the road from us. it features brunelleschi’s hospital of the innocents. this is considered the first renascence building from the early 1400’s.

we head towards the duomo, but are soon distracted by a side streets and end up at the bargello (the national museum) to see donnatello’s david. to our great disappointment it has been pulled for a few weeks for a tune-up (they could have waited until the season was over in another week.) this is one of the oldest buildings in florence dating to the 1200’s; it looks like a palace but was actually an administration building then a prison. along with donnatello it has works by michalengelo, cellini, giotto and assorted knick knacks collected by the medici’s.

lunch…pizza for rick and lasagna for me and wine…of course. both are simple and delicious and the house wine tastes as good as some our better wines.

the duomo is the central cathedral of florence and a work of art on the outside and not so much on the inside (it’s free) except if you want to climb to the top of the dome, which i do, but change my mind when i see the line up and decide to do the tower instead, a couple of euro’s cheaper. the tower is only a few yards shorter and has exactly 414 step…and i climbed them all!! the view is incredible and i took pictures in every direction. rick stayed behind as his ankle is still a problem (or so he claims:) ..kidding, he has done well, all things considered, but decides to call it a day as we have a lot of walking ahead in the next few days. after climbing down, we go our separate ways.

i continue on, looking for a jacket for blair (my son) but still no luck as everyone is quoting prices only the medici’s can afford…too bad blair:) i wander down a few streets before heading off to see santa croce church which is near the arno river. i love just wandering the streets, having no real plan and discovering whatever there is as i go. santa croce is a great surprise, brilliantly white (and newer) on the outside, facing a large piazza where musicians are playing excellent music with a variety of instruments, one of which includes some ancient piano cum xylophone cum zither or harpsichord.

inside the church are the graves of the mighty and famous: michelangelo, donatello, galileo, machiavelli and others. it is quite austere but has a wonderful wooden ceiling and many carved gravestone on the floor. the real magic is outside the church in adjoining courtyards. the first is like a cloister full of modern art by popollo and a building partially underground with floor and walls covered literally with wall to wall graves. there is a very old church by brunelleschi and dome which i will have to do some research on as i could not find any info. the most magical experience though is bruncelleschi’s cloister, so peaceful and serene that people are sitting around in a meditative state. it’s quite intriguing to think that this was used so many year ago and is still in tact and equally tranquil as it was then.

as i head home, still window shopping in hope of finding something for blair, i discover yet more palaces, cloisters and piazzas at every turn. so many turns in fact that i get thoroughly lost. yet again the people here are friendly and i struggle with minimal italian asking directions. somehow they understand and i, in turn, can follow their instructions as i move in the right direction. my final request from a guy getting off his scooter gets me home, as he speaks english and is very kind with his time and explanations of where i need to turn etc.

we’re going out to dinner tonight at a restaurant next door to the hotel as we have an early start tomorrow.

buona notte.

firenza

ok, i’m over my snit about rome and italians. florence has redeemed italy! the city itself is too magnificent to describe, the red tiled roofs, the towers, the architecture in general, the narrow streets, the way too many palaces and medici clan hovels. the museums…there are so many that i think it is impossible to count.

the people here, starting with our hotel, are excellent, they are helpful and friendly; it probably helps that the view from our room includes the duomo and other domes, and classic houses surround us along with lush gardens.

the clerk at the desk quickly arranged reservations for us to tour the uffizi and accademia galleries (lucky for us) as they are on strike the next day to protest something or other.

we wander down truly narrow streets, so narrow that they are almost dark as little sunlight gets down to the paving stones. we discover, with little direction, the duomo, the ponte vecchio bridge, the uffizi gallery and miscellaneous other sights.

lunch is a pizza at a little restaurant, again friendly and helpful. a scottish couple from douglas, just outside of glasgow, join us in a conversation where we share our experiences. they travel often as they are both retired and it’s a short flight to anywhere in europe. they don’t recommend bus tours, however, as their experience has been similar to ours with ‘schultz’ (for the bavarian castles.)

on to our first museum, the uffizi, statues, paintings and icons everywhere. it amazing to see so much work by artists we’ve heard of most of our lives (michelangelo, da vinci, botticelli, raphael, etc., etc.) and suddenly they are real and in front of us.

we have a short time between museums and wander a little further to the duomo and baptistry and the ponte vecchio bridge, which is a real relic of medieval times and fascinating to actually walk on with its rows of jewellery stores, true to its history of gold and silversmith shops since the 1300’s — talk about longevity!

our next appointment is at the accademia gallery, noted for the statue of michelangelo’s ‘david’. it is a relatively small museum and has both paintings and statuary. the first room is full of michelangelo’s statues that appear unfinished (‘slaves’) but are beautiful as the images emerge from the stone. then, david! pick an adjective: fantastic, beautiful, miraculous…. we are in awe. we walked around and around trying to take it in, you want to touch it but of course it is well protected. they keep you well back, so much so that they forbid photographs… you can see mine later as i’ve become quite adept at surreptitiously taking forbidden images.

the museum also had a special exhibit of russian icons dating back to the 1400’s and truly glorious.

it’s been a long day so we head back to the hotel for a nap and a glass of wine. it must have been the wine, but i never woke up until morning. rick, poor soul, stuck around and ate miscellanous snacks we had in the suitcase and others from the bar fridge in the room.

buona notte.

vatican

our last day in rome and rick is holed up in the hotel with a swollen ankle. he twisted it a couple of days ago and then compounded the problem by the amount of walking we had to do in pompei.

i’m off to vatican city and an organized tour with angeltours. unfortunaley we left this to the last day as it is near our hotel, we should have checked it out earlier as all of the things we were looking for in the way of shopping were just a short walk or metro trip away. vatican city is a walled compound, they like to call it a country but it is really a walled fortress, then and now. though it is quite old, the inner city does not have a particularly old or even medieval feel about it. shops and cafes abound and everyone is there to make a buck, the average cost is generally more than in rome proper.

my first real experience when i entered one of the gates to the city (or tried) was to encounter one of pope’s guards, dressed in some blue concoction with black floppy hat and jack boots. i did not really want to enter at that point, just take a picure of his cutesy outfit and some of the buildings; this guy had other plans! immediately he is yelling at me to get out; as i’m not really in i figure he’s got it wrong so continue to take pactures of him and his buddy (the one picking his nose in the photos) and some of the buildings. but now the guy is irate and starts to approach me, ‘senore blah, blah, blah’. so i back up a foot so as not to be in his territory and take some more pictures. he’s still not happy and comes closer, so i tell him to (‘please leave’…usually spelled differently and ending in off) and he does. we give each other a roman hand signal and go our separate ways.

after walking around the parts of the city taking pictures of st. peters square and further around the perimeter trying to get shots of the dome i discover a set of stairs that look like they’ll give me a better view…nope! but i did discover the pope’s personal railway and viaduct jutting off from the walls…ah poverty!

lunch on a bench outside the wall, pizza, a ball of risotto and cheese (delicious) and soda, all the while watching the beggers work, some of them appear to be in terrible shape. most people pass them by. i decided to give one woman some change and some of my pizza when i left, only to discover her basket was adorned with pictures of the pope…i guess she’s still hoping.

time for the tour. our guide is a young irish guys with a degree in art history as are most of the guides in the company, others have background in history and archeology.

the tour takes about 4 hours and covers brief history of the vatican, a tour through the vatican museum stopping only for the highlights as it is second only to the louvre in size and impossible to cover it adequately in a short tour. the items we see are impressive and include marble statues, many of them with their wee wee’s chopped off or have had a fig leaf added.as one of the popes had hang ups…when they buried him they lopped of his legs (what goes around comes around.) the tapestries, wall paintings and ceilings are all incredible. interesting there are several items that provide optical illusions including one of the tapestries which maintains the same view as you move past it.

the next stop is what i came to see, the sistine chapel. it is surprisingly smaller than i expected but overwhelming in the intensity of the paintings. the colours are quite intense since it was cleaned a few years back. ironically all of the paintings are copyrighted by fuji film who paid for the cleaning so you have a bunch of guards either shushing you or screaming at people to put their cameras away, in no uncertain terms. these guys remind me of old images of the kgb and just about as friendly. it always surprises me that most religious organizations have real sob’s keeping everybody in order. regardless i got a lot of pictures taken surreptiously of course. next stop st. peters. big, bigger, biggest! this place is monstrous in scale, so large that you would need a fish eye lens to try capture a panoramic view inside. i took a few pictures in raw and hope they turn out as the program i have does not deal with the format. i was surprised to find several dead popes in glass coffins waiting for saint hood, including john paul ii and the guy who lost his legs. though it would have been an awesome sight, i decided against going to the top of the dome (it was a grey rainy day) and another 7 euros over and above the 14 i paid to get in on top of the tour cost of 25 euros.

back to the hotel and pick up rick for our last dinner in rome. i’m still searching for something for my son and thought i’d get a second opinion on some of the clothes i’d seen near the vat city. sore ankle and all i dragged him along to no avail, we could’nt find anything we were 100% sure of.

as you’ve probably guessed, rome, in fact italy has not been as enjoyable as we’d hoped for. our last meal was good, however the service was so poor we ended having to go find someone to pay the bill.

buona notte.

pompei

an early start to the day. breakfast at 6:30 and onto the metro and termini station for a trip to naples and pompei.

though we have first class tickets the train does not reflect this. our coach was launched in 1975 which was probably the last time the windows were clean. we literally could see nothing clearly and the compartment left everything to be desired in terms of cleanliness. the only service was a young kid who was flogging bottles of water, coke and home made sandwiches…we settled on water.

the country side is very much like kamloops only hotter and bigger cactus and palms. arriving in naples was going smoothly until we were singled out to take a different exit from the train (we should know better by now!) almost as soon as we stepped out of the coach this unassuming older gentleman approached and spoke to us in very good english. asking where we were going etc. he soon offered to show us the way to the connecting train, chatting all the way. i should have twigged in when he bypassed the ticket agents and went to a food stand and picked up return tickets to pompei (all legit and priced the same as the ticket office.) as soon as we passed the turnstile the guy turns into a slug and demands 20 euros (10 each for being so helpful… his words) after much consternation we decided to give him 10 just to be rid of him…we actually thought he was just being helpful until then…. duh… mmm.)

pompei is just a few steps from the station and is incredible at first sight. we toured for almost 5 hours and covered most of the highlights and then some. it is the most amazing sight i have ever seen and really brings home the history, the life and the advancement of such an ancient time. almost all of the site dates from 2 b.c. or older, the oldest being the amphitheatre which goes back to 70 b.c. and is the best preserved and the world’s oldest.

i was surprised at the condition of the buildings, including the mosaics, paintings and intensity of the colours from so many centuries ago. the well off truly lived well and had more privacy with high walls and gardens that separated them from the vast majority who mostly lived close to poverty. the streets, vendors and even ancient campaign posters brings the whole place to life with little imagination needed.

it was an amazing place to visit and worth the long day trip which took almost 6 hours in total. the return train was no better than the first and had even fewer services (no kid flogging overpriced water, even.) take a look at all my picture of pompei

buona notte