Friday, November 28, 2014

A very busy day

Our home is plainly and simply, a big mess right now.

We recently tiled right through the house, from entrance to exit.
There is dust upon dust as a consequence and furniture upon furniture as well.
Today we are having new carpet and underlay installed throughout the three bedrooms and computer room next door to our bedroom, so, these rooms are empty of their furniture which is piled up in the other areas of the house.
We have had a new toilet installed in the second lavatory space and had a painter here to patch up in different places as well.
We're also waiting for the plumber to rock up to fix up our downpipes so it's chaos and pandemodium as we can obviously cannot return the furniture and stuff to its allocated space until all this work is done.
Any wonder I have been feeling off lately. I developed laryngitis not long after returning home from our trip to Europe and whilst my voice has returned I have been left with a nuisance cough and sore throat which is taking forever to shake off.
I am not here to complain though. I merely wanted to state my case and issues, describe the frustration of having the house in complete turmoil and vent my annoyance at not being able to clean properly.
As I write, the painter has been paid and left, whilst the carpet layer is busy trying to lift up and remove the pre-existing underfelt which has over time managed to adhere itself to the slab surface. I sense he is not 100% happy but I am sure this must happen a lot especially with older homes.
We have lived in our current residence since 1999 and it's been a good home. The kids were adolescents when we moved here and were not too happy with the change from our old place at the time, but, they grew to settle in and enjoy the peaceful environment that comes with a lovely big court and a house set well back from the hustle and bustle around.
One can hear the freeway in the distance but the local sounds are that of birds and motor mowers as a rule, so peace and tranquility has reigned here for a long time.
We have very strong memories of our children as they grew from that adolescence into young adults here and those memories both wonderful and sad will remain with us always.
We have held many parties here, especially significant birthdays with Chris's 18th., my 50th., Merryn's 21st., and Murray's 60th. coming to mind. Chris's farewell was held here also all those years ago as well and while much of the nitty gritty of that time is a blur, due to the devastation we felt there are still times when I think of the throng of people who came to celebrate his life, and for that I will always be thankful.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Wedding day..... When young Jacqui got her Mr. Burnes.

Yesterday we stood under whispering pines in anticipation of a union of two like-minded souls.
Jacqui and Ricky were married with just the sounds of the gentle breeze blowing through the pine needles with loved family and friends surrounding them.

This wedding was absolutely amazing for its simplicity and natural beauty. I am not the first to admit that the sight below brought a few tears to my eyes as Jacqui with her Mum and Dad walked the gauntlet through the throng of family and friends to her beloved, waiting patiently with the marriage celebrant.

This young couple had a cross section of family and friends to witness their becoming husband and wife and given the tale we heard about how and where they met, and how their intertwined lives have moved on from that moment, I have no doubt this is a relationship is one that will last longtime.

My first memories of Jacqui are of when she was a very little girl, running around her parent's property with her two sisters and baby brother.

She has grown into a beautiful woman now and has a life, a love and a career all of her own like so many others, but, also, like so many others, different and unique.
Ricky I had not met until yesterday, but through Jacqui I feel like he has been a part of our extended family for a long time. 
I do believe there was not one section of the day where those two were not smiling. Their joy was certainly palpable and they had the uncanny ability to transfer it to all those around them.

There were of course family members there and it was so good to touch base with them and catch up on the doings of busy family life.

Thank you Jacqui, Ricky and Vikki for this splendid wedding celebration.
Thank you for graciously allowing us to be a part of such a fine day.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The bucket list and other tales.

This may or may not be my last post regarding our trip to to Europe.
I suppose it depends on whether or not you would like me to keep prattling on so please let me know if you would like me to continue.
All suggestions will be gratefully received regardless of the outcome!

Our final bucket list completion was to visit a place I learned about in primary school.
Now, some of you may recall if you are as old as me (the original Methuselah) and will have in your memory banks, pictures of deceased humans and puppy dogs who suffered horrible deaths some 2000 years ago following the eruption of a volcano close to the village of Naples , from your Victorian Education Reader Grade 4 or 5.
The village was Pompeii and this eruption occurred approximately 79 years AD and destroyed a whole village, not with lava flow or fire, but with volcanic ash which suffocated the inhabitants of this once thriving village.
Please forgive my lack of knowledge regarding accurate dates etc. but the village was covered and left to solidify for many hundreds of years as there was neither the interest or the expertise to uncover it until approx 1599 when it was initially rediscovered. There was further archaelogical diggings there from 1748 and in recent years the village has been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site with nowadays approximately 2.5 million visitors each year.
I suppose people knew it was there as a whole life form once existed where there was now solid mass, but, life goes on in other villages and there was living to be done. Consequently the reality became rumour for sometime until someone decided to dig and uncover what was left of this once thriving village with its amphitheatre, gymnasium and port.

So, getting back to the here and now, Murray and I decided on our second last full day in Rome to take a bus trip to Pompeii to check out what was once and what is current.
We had to get up bright and early and be ready for our pick up at 6:30 in the morning as the collector was coming by the hotel around 7. So, like good children we were ready and waiting for him.
We hopped on a mini van and I was pleasantly surprised for there were only 5 other people on board. My initial thought was what a great trip this will be...quiet, collective and a focused tour guide.
Alas, my expectations were somewhat thwarted when we pulled up at the tour company depot and had to hop onto a large bus which already had approximately 30 other people already waiting for us.
Down to the back of the bus for us...well half way down the bus at least, we went and waited for one other deposit of tourists and off we travelled for a three hour bus ride to encompass the city of Naples, a 'cameo factory' ( warning warning), lunch in Pompei, then our walking tour of the original Pompeii.
Now just to confuse you, there is Pompeii, the ancient city, and there is Pompei, the current town, adjacent to one another. These are differentiated by the spelling... two i's as opposed to one I!!!
So, on we went with my other half having a quiet snooze within half an hour of being on the bus. We stopped somewhere for a quick coffee and toilet stop as you do in rural Italy and back in the bus till we got to Naples. Naples is a pretty complex city....amazing views from afar which stretch from one side to the other of my photographic capabilities and down by the stormy seas it was quite pretty, but the town itself was dirty with litter and graffiti everywhere. Although there is plenty of graffiti whenever you go in Italy and France, I had not seen the volume of litter and accumulated rubbish I saw lying about in parks and streets of Naples anywhere else.
The place had the feeling of being very unkempt and neglected which is kind of sad as Naples is supposedly a wonderful holiday destination in summer with large marinas and is a port for major cruising holiday vessels. We drove past slums...tent like buildings with people appearing to live in them and not far from their residence what looked to be a rubbish tip with people searching through for whatever they could find.
Fortunately our stay there was short and merely a drive through with our now acquired local guide giving us a quick lowdown on Naples with the great Mount Vesuvius in the background.
We drove up part of the way to Pompeii then, only to stop on the side of the mountain at yet another village which specialises in cameos and such matters.
Now, some of you may know me as being a very impulsive buyer and fortunately I have a level headed husband who is my rock and my sensibility. 
I have been known, when in other countries, to be easily pressured into purchasing items in factories we are encouraged to doonas and their covers in China, pearl earrings in Vietnam to cite just a couple of examples.
You may be pleased to read my friends that this factory visit was no different to previous expeditions as I walked out of there with an exquisite hand carved cameo brooch which can be worn as a necklace featuring the three sisters...'Faith, Hope and Charity'- guaranteed hand carved and gold background carved from blue shell.
Some things are just unchangeable!
Anyways, onwards and upwards we go after this pit stop for another half hour to the quaint now inland village of Pompei (one i) for this is the current village and we disembark from our bust for lunch.
I had thought in my cynical brain that this lunch would probably be one slice of pizza ma'am and that's all but as usual I was incorrect in my assumption and  lunch was a delightful combination of:
Appetizer: a slice of Margherita pizza (tick),
Entree: a plate of two types of pasta, hand made fettuccine and macaroni with bolognese sauce (another tick)
Main: either chicken or veal roasted with sautéed potatoes and spinach (tick number three)
Dessert: fruit salad (fourth tick in a row).
What a pleasant delight this was turning out to be, with the best yet to come.

Pompei City, compared to Naples was clean and tidy. There was a sign in the centre of the town requesting silence as this was a quiet zone with cathedral and square and that people needed to pray.
I might add though as we were returning to our bus, a young woman with baby in tow was begging as was a little child of about 8 so perhaps all is not quite as it seems in this town of contrasts.

So, getting back to why we were here...

The bus took us some half a kilometre back to the entrance to the old city of Pompeii, and before you could say "tickets please", I was there.
It was a real Ripleys Believe It Or Not sensation having wanted to be there for so many years. A bit like walking out onto my first street in Gay Paree not so long ago.... Unbelievable!
So, we walked, and walked and walked for the next two and a half hours, up streets, into houses, into market squares along rutted cobblestone pathways, into bath areas, hot and cold. We entered into Pompeii's version of the colosseum and their amphitheatre.
It was an amazing place, so meticulously restored and well worth the visit. All of this and more with the evil Mt. Vesuvius in the background, just biding it's time and waiting.
There were tourists every which way whilst we were there. Occasionally our local tour guide could shake them off and it was just we 40 odd from the bus but everyone is entitled to see what we saw, so you just have to wear it don't you?
There were friezes on some of the walls that had been meticulously restored, beautiful art work of early roman times. There is, as presumed, an apothecary shop which dealt with penile infections. On a large stone out the front of the shop a penis and testicles are engraved so locals knew what it was for.

We walked through what was known to be a brothel, so indicated because of the karma sutra type pictures on the walls inside that were preserved.
We walked through a wealthy persons abode, with their house fully equipped with hot and cold baths, not to mention their summer and winter gardens.
It was an incredible place and when quiet all you could hear were chirping birds who don't have to pay an entry fee.
We wandered throughout the once thriving village with our tour-guide mostly on our own. Occasionally we would pick up a stranger or two who were reminded we were on a 'private' tour and they were quickly discouraged from continuing with us.
There were market places and meeting places, shopping areas and even a doctor's clinic.
You could almost sense the presence of people here in a former life and I now wonder if perhaps they too wondered about future generations that might visit after their existence on the planet had ceased.

There were families enjoying the sights, mostly Italian speaking. How fascinating to be able to visit such a place for a day trip.
We were very fortunate to have our guide who ensured we all stayed together and every so often as we were walking up a hill or down a hill, he would say..."Slowly, slowly", to ensure nobody fell or got left behind.
I have to admit too, that given my recent ability to connect with cobblestones and pavements, my husband was very protective of me also. I had no desire to further my falling ability in such a place either, so, between all three of us, I made sure I remained unscathed during this little adventure.
Our two and a half hour walking tour all ended too soon and before we knew it, we had returned to the start of the walk, looking out towards the Port of Naples with the beautiful blue sea in the distance.
By the time the tour of Pompeii ended, it seemed most in the group were somewhat tired.
We had a brief rest back at the depot with a toilet stop and a quick drink before boarding our bus again to begin the three and a half hour journey back home to Rome.
Most on the bus dozed off from time to time on the return journey. It was very quiet with the occasional sound of gentle snoring heard above the drone of the bus engine and soft murmuring from the odd person thinking over the day's events.
I watched the sun set over the Isle of Capri as we returned through Naples and it was well and truly past dusk by the time we entered the outer walls of Rome.
Our trip to Pompeii and her surrounds was soon over.
It was a day of lessons, magical sights and one of fulfilment.
Another 'never to be forgotten' day, one of many we have been fortunate enough to experience on this our trip to Europe.
Our return to Rome was relatively uneventful and so dinner was at yet another close by restaurant, adjacent to our hotel. There are so many to choose from in this area we are staying. 
All sell similar foods, but each has their own special touch and flavour we have realised. Bruschetta is different in each restaurant. Some have the crusty ciabatta bread with seasoned tomatoes only. Some have the bread, tomatoes and cheese. Some add onion and garlic to the mix. It just depends on your preferences and your tastes as to what you have. Pizzas are the same here, with different toppings yet similar toppings if that makes sense. Often the difference is merely the seasonings and the cheese and it can make such a profound difference to the flavour as a whole. I have found, the simpler the pizza, the better it is and must apply this theory when I return home.
Even the Gelaterias are different in taste and quality. In the short time we have been in Rome, I have developed a distinct preference for Pistachio gelato, whereas once it used to be lemon and orange.
It now has to be pistachio and a vanilla type flavour, all rather delicious, all rather fattening and all too tempting to deny.
There will be time enough on our return home to return back to a more strict regime of foods, so, whilst there is walking and tasting and savouring to be done, one must enjoy what there is on offer.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sleeping with strangers

 Well dear reader, this time you find me high up in the clouds winging home after almost four wonderful weeks away. By the time you read this I will be home trying to stay awake, trying to reduce the impact of the inevitable jet-lag after 24 odd hours in the air.
Funny how there is minimal lag when you begin your trip, but the blow is quite significant as you return back to your usual normal time frame.
To be quite truthful part of me is happy to be coming home. There are changes afoot in many ways and 'things' need to be done. I miss my friends even though my travelling companion and husband of many years has been a fantastic co-tourist. 
Who else would make sure I didn't fall over more than I did in the cobbled streets of Paris, Rome and Pompeii?
I miss my furred friends especially although I am quite happy to know they have accepted their temporary management without any issues. I miss my family and friends and look forward to boring everyone silly with our stories of what we saw and what we did. I especially look forward to being able to download our myriad of photos and relive our experiences and sights through them.
I miss not having my choice of clothing to wear. Funny how the excitement of living out of a suitcase wears off pretty quickly. I am fairly fussy when it comes to cleanliness with clothing and my usual motto at home is "wear it once then wash it" and/or "when in doubt, chuck it out". On holiday I find I have had to swallow my pride and wear clothing two, maybe three times and some things like cardigans etc., have not had a wash since leaving home. One thing I will not compromise on though is undies..... Have to have fresh ones every day I'm afraid, so consequently every bathroom we have stayed in has been decorated with an array of undergarments, both male and female, hung up to dry on a daily basis.
The poor old washing machine will receive a bit of a work out once we get back. That'll be my domain after a bit of a sleep I think.
We will go see my Mum and reassure ourselves that yes, she can last a good distance without me. I am not the be all and end all when it comes to mother care and love. Am sure my siblings have done a fine job in my absence.

We ended our time in Florence with a very quick and this time, uneventful trip to Rome via the fast train. It was wonderful watching the countryside slip past although we travelled through numerous tunnels the closer we got to the roman capital, but still, the terrain changed and one could tell we were no longer in Tuscany. House shapes changed also and we returned to the formula of high rise inner city living which seems to be the most popular form of residential living in such old cities as opposed to the villas high up on hills, surrounded by olive groves and vineyards.
Rome has (to our eyes) many similarities to Florence but is also extremely different. There is noise and pace in Rome too as we walk from the central station lugging our suitcases to our new accommodation. Fortunately for myself, Murray is an excellent map reader. Trying to decipher where we are and the direction in which we are travelling/walking is for me, quite difficult as the maps do not always give you the street names. Monuments are listed, but obscurely, but he has a good sense and ensures we do not get lost as we find our way to our next abode, the White Hotel.
We walk through a long tunnel that appears to have gardens atop it. The tunnel is actually quite uncomfortable to walk through. Car fumes are very strong, it is dark inside, cars race through at an extreme speed, almost like they don't want to be in there and hurry to get through, and I have this sense of disquiet and insecurity as it is a tunnel for cars with a narrow pedestrian walkway on either side.
It is a little difficult pulling our luggage through there as some people insist on walking on the wall side of the pavement in the opposite direction to us and I am frightened my luggage will spill onto the road and be hit by a very fast car. Of course this does not happen and we make our way to the other side safely enough. It is then time to check the map again and with a little discussion realise our hotel, our oasis as it may be, is just around the corner.
We are so pleased to walk into the quiet serenity away from the hustle and bustle of noise outside.
The hotel is a contemporary building having being redecorated in recent times. We check in, make our way up to our first floor room, excited at the prospect of being upgraded to an executive suite in a 4**** hotel, open the door to our room and are stopped dead in our tracks.
We can hardly move in our room. Our "king" bed turns out to be two very single beds, not even pushed together. The room is the size of A VERY SMALL room. We have been spoilt in Paris, on the boat, The Scenic Gem, and in Florence, with the generous spaciousness in all our accomodation. As we walk in I manage to bang my shin on the corner of the bed due to the lack of room, an action I am to repeat numerous times during our stay here and is something I just cannot quite get used to. There is nowhere to store our suitcases so they take up even more room and we constantly doh-see-doh to get around each other.
The room is bright and white and warm. The air conditioning is not working, we are told, as it was very cold the week before and they turned the cooling off and have not been able to turn it on again. Needless to say the room is hot and like a sauna. Great for drying underwear I might add which is an unexpected bonus! The bathroom is salacious and this is where the executive comes into the room description as this area is quite contemporary with its shower recess, it's toilet and its bidet. All are new and sparkling but we feel we are here for three nights and might end up just a little bit insane if there is nowhere to sit other than on a low bed so we go to management and ask what the deal is given our expectations were quite different from our reality.
I might add at this injecture that management are quite lovely and willing to listen to our issues with our lack of room space etc. but are unable to compromise as the room size is a common theme throughout the building. Like it or lump it, this is our accommodation for the next three nights and so we have to get used to it. It certainly is an encouragement for us to get out and wander around.
Other than the fact you cannot swing a cat, we concede defeat so we decide to go out sans bags and view the local area for a time. There are many food places outside our hotel and as we stroll along we are besieged with people asking us to come in and try the best pizza Roma has to offer. There are stalls and shops outside our door along the quaint little streets with the usual hawkers wanting us to part with a few euros to buy their camera sticks and flashing lights and noise machines. There are occasionally roman centurions who offer to have their photo with us, all for five euros, but we decline gracefully to all for now as all we want to do is explore our new surroundings.
We walk down a walkway, turn this way and that and come across Trevi Fountain (just around the corner, up the street) only to find it is under major repair at the moment like so many other places. There are still hundreds of tourists and tour groups there though and with all this work being done there is a platform one can walk across to get a closer view of the repairs being done. There are signs asking people not to throw money into the fountain as there is no water, but the base of the fountain is littered with coins and the occasional note, not to mention rubbish everywhere as well.
We decide to turn away from this tourist Mecca and walk up a steep path/road, down a number of steps then up a further number of 50 or so steps yet again to discover Le Palazzo Quirinale, home of the current president of the Republic of Italy. We come across an amazing sight which is a military band playing with marching soldiers and people watching and clapping and realise this is a significant place or something as there are very official looking people standing to attention as the music is being played.
There is a conductor orchestrating the music and he is quite a joy to watch as he controls the tempo and the volume from his position with a wave of his hands and even sometimes a look if the musicians are too loud or need to pick up sound. I look at the band and all eyes are attentively on him and it is fascinating to realise he has such control. The music is strong and powerful and reminds me of my childhood when my brother and I would play 78rpm. records of Joseph De Souza's and we would march all around the house.
We eventually wander off as the unexpected concert comes to an end and find ourselves in another part of the city with many people still around, socialising on a Sunday evening.  We walk past a shop that sells just-cooked chips sold in a paper cone and we succumb to them with lashings of unexpected tomato sauce.
 As we wander around a small part of this town with its ancient artifacts, noise, cars, beautiful shops and beautiful people we realise the sun is beginning to set and it might be wise to return to our new abode again before becoming lost in Rome.

I have learnt many things whilst in Rome.
It is not just a bustling city famous for its food and accent, language and ability to gesticulate so well when speaking.
It is a city full of so much history. It doesn't matter what you are walking on when you walk the streets of Rome, you are walking on streets that have an underlying artefact structure dated thousands of years old.
Rome still uses the original aqueducts that were created back in the beginning of civilisation and many people still believe in its history which supposedly began with Romulus and Remus, two brothers who started the story of Rome.
Their mother, so the story goes, was one of the Vestal Virgins. This woman conceived supposedly after lying with an unknown man and to protect herself and her pregnancy, this mother claimed to have had intercourse with the God of War, Mars.
This in turn protected her life as if she had confessed to having intercourse with a mere human she would have been put to death but apparently the God of Mars was different indeed and meant she could stay alive if he had his way with her!
This mother birthed not one, but two children at the same time (twins) and after the birth they were placed in a basket and cast into the Tiber River for no Vestal Vigin could be seen to have had children, regardless of how conception was or wasn't. Now mythology states they were saved by a she wolf who suckled them until they grew into children, but the Latin word 'volpe' for wolf was also a word used to describe prostitutes of the time, so we are told that perhaps they were saved by a prostitute who claimed them as her own and called them Romulus and Remus.
Now these two brothers grew into young men and as there were many wars happening throughout the land decided that they both wanted to found a civilisation of their own.
Even between the two brothers there was fighting for ascension over the other and eventually one of the brothers was killed.
It was Romulus who survived, killing his brother Remus, and thus the civilisation of Rome was born and Roman Civilisation began.

Whilst in Rome, we visit the Colloseum which was one of many ancient ruins to take our breath away on the day. It really is quite strange to be standing in a place that not only has it been there for centuries but is a place I learnt about as a child and have always wanted to go visit just to have that right here, right now feeling of knowing I have been there.
We decided to participate in a guided tour which aided us in skipping the queue which was always interminably long. The queue was extended around the base of the Colloseum it seemed and I felt just a twinge of guilt as we walked past all those people waiting and waiting to get in.
Our 'Jump the queue' tour provided us with a brilliant guide who walked us around the place and spoke of the life back then, be you a wealthy person, a gladiator or a persecuted Christian.
We marvelled at the basement below us, also known as the catacombs, filled with room after room. The was over this a timber floor and sand covered this in turn which provided the floor of the stadium.
Such ingenuity in their time. It's incredible so many things that we use nowadays were created and invented and back then.
One of the bonuses in doing such a tour, is chatting with the likeminded people who are part of the group. This Colloseum tour had two young couples from The Netherlands walk with us and it's always interesting to speak about their work and their holiday if only to compare their life with ours.
Many comment that we have come such a long way with our extended flights as they only have to fly 2 to 3 hours to get to other European cities. They always want to come to Australia eventually too, primarily Sydney and Queensland of. Purse because of the sun and beaches for that is what Australia is renown for overseas. We elaborate about our beautiful part of the world, Melbourne, with its 'young' history, and warmth in summer also.
As a bonus to the Colloseum tour, we are then offered a free tour of the Palantino which is a major excavation site adjacent to the Colloseum which also dates back to before Christ. This was supposedly the site of Romulus's and Remis's birth and the site of the original founding of Rome. Our tour guide here is also extremely knowledgable and is a great story teller as she imparts to us some of the mythology that surrounds this environment.
This walk and talk tour continues for a couple of hours and once it has finished, we then have a bite to eat before hopping on an On/Off bus which then drops us close to the Piazza San Pietro which is a large expanse in front of The Basilica De San Pietro. This in turn is an enormous (dare I call it) church which is positioned outside The Vatican.
I cannot get over the enormity of these places. This church, for the want of a better term, is absolutely gob smacking with its enormity, its priceless artwork, its figurines and its sense of respectful somber religiousness if there is such a word. 
I am not a religious person by any stretch of my imagination, but I was even moved to tears by the profound beauty I found here. Michaelangelo's Piéta is housed inside and I stood there with many others and gazed at this magnificent work of art amongst other statues. We wandered around in all the chambers of the building and marvelled at what we saw until it was time to leave and eventually wind our way back to our new temporary home.
The one thing we could not find, and it was something we looked long and hard for, was the chimney used to announce the decision once the new pope is elected. Murray had asked one of the guards, who told him if he stood at the fartherest peak of the Piazza he would see it, but, alas, somehow I suspect the guard was having a bit of a laugh at Murray's expense as all we could see were albatross/seagull birds and pigeons with the occasional black/grey crow thrown in for good measure as we left.

Did I mention how wonderful the staff are at White Hotel?
They were most understanding regarding the size of our room and would apologise on a daily basis regarding the state of the air conditioning. They were very helpful about organising a large day trip we took to Pompeii and Naples, and for any queries they were quick to give advice and support. So, not all was bad with our last stay. They even provided us with picnic bags to take on our day trip with breakfast foods so we would not miss out on that very important first meal of the day. Even on the day of our departure, because of our discomfort with the room size and lack of air conditioning, the management offered to pay our city tax which was 6 euros a day per person in a 4 star hotel which would have equated to 36 euros for our three nights. 
It amazes me how professional the people are who work in such places in France and Italy. They are gentle, respectful and also very knowledgeable as well as being excellent multi problem solvers. They always dress appropriately, be they behind the counter at a hotel, or waiting in a restaurant or working at a train station.
Like all prospective tourists we had heard many stories of locals being rude to visitors to their land but we had no complaints and no issues at all to deal with.
We found that people would go out of their way to assist us, even the lovely driver who took us to Rome's airport yesterday (or was it the day before). This gentleman was obviously very proud of his city and imparted a lot of history about the old Rome and the new Rome as we began our journey homeward bound.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Last day in Florence

Time passes much to quickly,
When we're together laughing...
(Chicago,  1969)

Well it's now the evening of our last day in Florence.
We have been here for seven days and I have loved almost every minute of it.
The weather has been marvellous, the crowds have been incredible....and this is the low season.
 I dread to think what the streets are like in the high season.
People, well the vast majority anyhow, have been very welcoming and friendly.
Food has been amazing, occasionally expensive but not too bad on the whole.
Pizzas and pasta have been to die for as has the gelato and the bruschetta.
Last evening Murray had veal in lemon sauce and I had chicken in a porcine sauce...melt in your mouth incredibility. I could never make anything like that taste so good.
Fresh pasta tastes so different to the shop bought stuff. It has a completely different texture and combined with garlic and herbs and cream and freshly cooked it has been unbelievable.
Coffee aromas abound every time you pass a shop and it's all I can do to stop myself from wanting one wherever I go. I have to give it to these Firenzians..... They know how to make great coffee.

It is now the next morning.
Our suitcases are full and we are waiting at Santa Maria Novella Train Station. 
It's just gone 10 am. and there are people everywhere in this bustling metropolis of a city.
Firenze is certainly something different to anything I have ever experienced.
We stand up at a bar to drink our coffee. You can sit inside or outside for that matter, but we prefer to mingle with the locals and have a brief respite at the bar, sip our coffee, eat a panini for breakfast and then be ready to leave.
Apparently, you only sit if you have a date or are meeting someone to talk for a long time compliments of a lovely young lady we were standing next to at the bar opposite the station this morning. 
We are catching the 11:04 train to Roma this morning and if Roma is anything like Firenze I will be happy.
What a week we've had. Come to think of it, what a three weeks we've had.
Paris and cruising up the Seine seems like a lifetime ago in a sense.
This week of walking step after step into churches, cathedrals, and museums has enveloped me in the here and now.
There is a large square tower attached to the D'uomo and for a nominal fee you can have the glory of walking up to ooh and ahhh at the view. We walked the 400 odd steps up, great for the cardiovascular system and walked them down again. My legs were like jelly for a couple of hours after but it was well worth it just to be up the top and take in the magnificent views of this city.
This camera of mine will have to give up in excess of 1000 photos when I finally download a program onto my iPad that allows me to transfer via wifi.
Be prepared dear readers for some spectacular shots of places I have only dreamt about until now.

The day before yesterday (Friday I think)... we purchased two tickets for a half day bus trip to Pisa.
The shop we purchased them from was a shabby little place a few doors down from our sumptuous apartment. This chap is a money exchanger of sorts as well as a tourista ticket seller too.
He was eating as we walked in there and the place had the appearance of a very grubby motor mechanics office instead of a shop-like experience we are used to.
He initially 'no comprende' our request for a ticket each to Pisa for the half day tour but after repeatedly showing him the page, written in Italian I might add, he finally got the gist.
After much debate about how I spell my name, a new version was created...Jennifa Ballnaghes written on the tickets to prove to all mankind....and we were prepared for the trip.
He did go to great pains to ensure we knew to be under the black clock at the station at 8:45am. for the 9am. departure time.
We were there with 15 minutes to spare yesterday fortunately. We approached someone who looked like they were part of our tour and he spoke to us in Italian initially. Once we explained our lack of comprehension, he then said follow me and took us on along walk into the station itself, down a platform to a group of innocuous people all standing around looking a little lost like us.
Eventually someone with an important jacket on that said 'My Tours' came up and gave us a sticker for our clothes that said 'Pisa and Lucca tour'.
We waited some more at this spot then were ushered outside the station again to where we were in the first place and shown our bus which we then boarded.
A young woman boarded the bus and after yet another 15 minutes (it was now 9:15) told us we were waiting for some others who eventually strolled up at 9:30 hrs.
She intoduced herself as Luka our tour guide, called the bus driver who was standing outside the bus, smoking, then as soon as he started his engine we were on our way to Pisa.
The initial drive to the outskirts of Florence was fine. I am amazed at the skilfulness of the drivers with these almighty big buses as they weave in and out of traffic, all on the wrong side of the road.
After passing a couple of towns we are told there is an accident up ahead so we are going off the highway as there is a traffic jam preceding it. We went through a couple of agricultural settlements, one of which grows and sells trees...Italian Bonsai trees no less, then proceeded to return to the highway.
We had not gone 5 kms. when up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light (thanks Eagles!).
Bumper to bumper we embraced yet another traffic jam for a good 45 minutes. Our tour guide and I might add, bus driver, make numerous phone calls, all the while speaking in their native language. There are a few exclamations from them (even I understand profanity in another language) as they are on a tight schedule and this delay puts them behind in some way for this trip.
This at least gives us opportunity to gaze out at Tuscany beauty...lovely villages perched atop green hills. 
Luka tells us about the different villages from time to time, when not engaged in conversation on her phone or chatting and laughing with our bus driver.
We are eventually fitted out with walky talky things so the local tour guide at Pisa can speak to us and explain about the local history of Pisa. We drive ever so slowly past the entrance of a town on our right where it is bumper to bumper traffic once again in all exits off our highway and then we are off.
The bus driver proceeds to drive liked a man possessed as the road is now clear and we weave in and out of traffic like this is a little electric car one sees so much of over here.
Going round bends and turning corners we hold our breath as this is done with a speed we have not experienced before.
Before we know it we have arrived in Pisa as have countless others. We walk a distance from our bus to the entrance of the Blessed Square which houses the cathedral and tower and are then informed that because we have arrived so late, we all have to choose to not experience the cathedral or the leaning tower.
As our primary wanted experience was the tower we forgo the cathedral which I am a bit peeved about but, what choice as a temporary tourist do you have.
We gaze at the tower which leans to one side as depicted and my amusement is watching so many people take visual photographs of the tower pretending to push it up or knock it down.
We are told we are not allowed to take bags up into the tower so we have to queue up to place our bags in a locker room.
Once that is accomplished, we then queue up to enjoy the experience of climbing the tower and once again gaze out at the view from utop.
Very quickly we are in the tower.
The initial climb is easy as the tower is sloping downwards, up marble steps that are well worn, we follow the pathway of so many others. Once we get to the other side of the tower though the going is harder as we climb uphill. This is all to be repeated numerous times as we make our way up to the bell tower top.
Whilst we are here the bells chime. The noise is deafening and fortunately the chimes only occur for six repetions which is more than enough for our ears.
The experience of climbing around and up up this tower makes me feel a little giddy and its a good feeling once we get to the top of the tower and walk out onto the balcony. This too is sloped similar to the tower trajectory so on one side you walk uphill a little the other side of the balcony you walk downhill.
I am fine as my trusty sketchers grip the surface well but Murray finds the going a little slippery wearing his running shoes. We are only given a short time up on the balcony-one circumference to be precise then it is time to return downwards again. 
I have to place my hands on the walls as we walk down as the giddiness has returned and the last thing I need is to take a tumble here.
I count the steps as we return to the earth and get up to 235 (from memory).
It is then bag collection time, toilet stop time, then just enough time for an ice-cream-gelati of course and a bottle of water before we return to our designated meeting place with our Florence tour guide to return to the bus.
I had thought that perhaps driving back, if no traffic, would be a calm relaxed ride through the country side, but, alas, no, it's a madcap crazy drive yet again, with our driver talking on his phone most of the time, when not dialling numbers...all this probably to secure his next job, who knows!
We return to Firenze at 2:30 precisely, and that's it for the tour.
We alight off the bus and wander back to our apartment and begin to pack for our trip to Rome the next day.

Last evening we go out to dinner for the very last time (this trip) in Firenze. We have pizza and pasta and it tastes wonderful as always. We go for another stroll along the busy streets and I pay my final homage to Florence by falling over in the street yet again. People around are wonderful and with Murray help me up and make sure I can walk ok.
(Don't tell my doc but that's three falls in as many weeks!)
Skinned knees will remind me of Florence for a while, as much as grazed elbows and bruises on my bottom remind me of France!
Carpe diem!!!