Italia – A visit to Pompeii

We finally had a lovely, sunny day to do some sightseeing on our trip to Italy the day we went to Pompeii. I have always wanted to go to Pompeii since I learnt about it in history when I was at school. The tale of what happened is legendary; what an intriguing place and history.

 

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Mt Vesuvius – standing quietly at the moment overlooking the ruins of Pompeii

Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and surrounding areas were buried under about 6 metres of volcanic ash and pumice when Mt Vesuvius erupted in 79AD. It is such a fascinating story; what did the people of those towns think and feel on that fateful day, on 24th August 79? How did the 8,000 – 10,000 inhabitants of Pompeii live? What were their everyday lives like?

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The remains of one of the many bakeries

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A penis in the pavement pointing the way to the brothel

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Pictures of what’s available in the brothel.

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Now this is a rock hard bed!

Pompeii lay abandoned until it was first rediscovered in 1599 and remained relatively untouched until 1748 when explorers looking for artefacts found that the ashes of Mt Vesuvius had acted as a wonderful preservative. Pompeii is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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While excavation is limited these days – this was happening in the bathing area

The archaeological site that has developed over the past 300 or so years is simply amazing.  The site is vast (an enthusiast could spend days here), with apparently only about two thirds of the 170 acre area having been excavated. While there is still more to discover, what has been unearthed so far is unlike anything else you will see.

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The streets were wide enough for chariots, and are deeply grooved as a result. The stepping stones provided access for pedestrians

The small theatre (Odeon)

The small theatre

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How impressive are these columns?

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At the bottom of the hill, where the poorer people lived.

We did a half-day tour from Naples (and while this was great, the tour guide and information provided was excellent), for me it wasn’t enough. If you just want a taste of Pompeii, then a half-day tour is well worth it. If, however, you are more like me and hungry for more information and keen to see more and discover more on your own, then do this trip independently (it is totally do-able).

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ITALIA continued – Napoli (Day 16 & 17)

Leaving Roma behind, we travelled next to Napoli (Naples), again on a fast train; the journey took just over an hour.

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At almost 300kph (we were slowing down coming in to Napoli) – definitely a fast train

We arrived in to Naples and the weather was fine. We were keen to do some exploring. Once we arrived at our accommodation (very nice room):

NapoliRoomand settled in, we determined to set out and wander around. Of course, the heavens decided to open up and it rained; proper rain, not just a drizzle or light, bearable rain; this was “prepare to get wet” type of rain. It didn’t stop us though; we just rugged up and put up the brollies.

Trudging around in the rain probably is not the best was to see any city, but I don’t think it added to the appeal of Naples. My main reason for staying in Napoli was as a base to visit Pompeii (I’ll cover that in my next post).

 

Walking the streets of Naples is definitely an interesting experience – the things you see:

and the washing hanging out to dry:

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and some churches and some unexpected frescoes (you never know what you will find when you walk around a city):

Some of the things we did manage to see in Napoli included:

  • the medieval fortress, Castel Nuovo (13th century) with its 5 towers located in front of Piazza Municipio and right by the harbourside port.

Quite impressive:

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The castle’s entrance

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As we were leaving – I saw this!

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How’s this for a door? Isn’t it wonderful?

I really did want to visit catacombs whilst we were in Italy – so we did a guided tour here – and it was fascinating. San Gennaro is the patron saint of Napoli and was at one time buried here. There are no skeletal remains here any more as they were removed during the French occupation and removed outside the city walls. These catacombs date back almost 2 thousand years, exists over several levels. The graves sites were fascinating and the frescoes were in great condition considering their age. If you happen to ever visit Napoli, I would recommend a visit to the catacombs.

– we did this at the end of a very long day and I can say it was very much worth the 8euro admission price. The museum is open from 9:00am until 7:30pm – and we stayed until closing; there is a lot to see.

Like some very impressive marble statues:

and some impressive mosaics:

The Neapolitans appear to be obsessed with sex and the penis:

Some other highlights from the museum:

There are some interesting aspects to Napoli and plenty to see, but I found this city the least appealing of all the places we visited in Italia. The traffic is exceptionally crazy – worse than anywhere else in Italy; and if you know anything of Italian traffic, you will appreciate my meaning. The city is also dirty, with lots of rubbish about, rather “unclean” there is a lot of graffiti, it’s noisy and I felt just a little uncomfortable – perhaps the time of year and the weather didn’t help, but it was almost like the Napoletano took no pride in their city. I also found eating out a more difficult experience in Napoli and the waiters tend to just take what they think you should give them as a tip – so be aware. At one restaurant we were told they wouldn’t take a card (luckily we had some cash on us), but when the waiter returned with the change he just kept the 4euro in his hand and claimed it as “service”. Of course, not everywhere was like this (we got caught out twice though) and we had an exceptionally nice dinner at Pulcinella Casoria.

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great atmosphere and great food

Putting this slight inconvenience aside though, we still enjoyed our limited time in Naples.

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Ah, Roma, Italy 🇮🇹 (part 3) – the rest of Roma

In Roma, I did invest in a Hop-on-hop-off bus ticket (which I highly recommend for any city you visit; it’s a great way to get your bearings and to see what the city has to offer – and you can go back and see what you’re interested in later); we spent an afternoon doing a full loop of the city. It also offers great photo opportunities.

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Previously a stadium, now housing

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The Forum

We did do an awful lot of walking in Roma and after the extensive walking we did in the Vatican, we ventured out and explored, pretty much just following our noses. We managed to visit:

the Trevi fountain,

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the Pantheon,

Piazza Navona (which we later returned to and took a look at the underground, where the remains of the Stadium of Domitian exist).

Our last full day in Roma (and it rained all day) we visited the church that sits at the top of the Spanish Steps – Trinita dei Monti.

We walked aimlessly through Villa Borghese park – saw some famous people:

We went to the Villa Medici – guided tour only available.

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There is so much to see in Rome – it’s a big, old city. Here’s a few random shots:

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One other thing we managed to do, and that was do a pasta making class at a local restaurant. It was great fun and I can’t wait to try making my own.

Because it rained so much, we were a little limited in what we were able to see and do in Roma and we didn’t get to see The Forum or Palatine Hill. Maybe next time (I did throw a coin in the Trevi fountain after all)!

And just because I like squirrels – I’ll sign off this post with an Italian squirrel:

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Ah, Roma, Italy 🇮🇹 (part 2) – a visit to the Colosseum

What is Rome’s most identifiable site? I think everyone could recognise the Colosseum when shown a picture.

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We caught the metro down to this most famous stadium. As you step out of the metro station, there, looming large right in front of you is one of the best known ancient monuments still standing. No matter how many pictures you see of this ruined building, it’s just not the same as seeing it person. The Colosseum is literally awesome!

I am glad I did not book in advance for this one. As it happens, the first Sunday in the month and the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill are all free to enter. And as an added bonus, it wasn’t raining (as it did every other day we were in Roma).

We arrived just before 9am, and there was already a huge line to get in. We were offered skip the line and a 45 minute guided tour tickets by the MANY individuals representing various tour companies who were charging 25euro per person. We politely declined and were told we would have to wait in line for 2 hours. We joined the end of the queue anyway. The line moved quickly and 20 minutes later we were inside the Colosseum. You need to spend more than 45 minutes here – I’m so glad I didn’t buy one of those “skip-the-line” guided tours! Although we didn’t have any commentary, (I did buy a book later), there is lots to read and we spent hours here.

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It is possible to get tickets for tours to the underground area and the top tiers of the Colosseum, but I guess these were not available on the days that there is free entry.

Afterwards we sat opposite the Colosseum for lunch, admiring the view and people watching; watching all the posers trying to get that perfect shot of themselves in front of Rome’s most famous antique!

Firenze, Italy

After 5 nights in Milano, we boarded a fast train to Florence in Tuscany.

These trains are fantastic, and I wish Australia had one or two of these. Very comfortable – and fast (~260km/hr fast)! You even get a drink and a snack for free on board.

Once we arrived in Florence (Firenze), we caught a taxi to our home for the next 5 nights (Stone Lion Exclusive apartment – very nice by the way and definitely recommended). After checking in, we hit the streets for a look around. Saw lots of interesting buildings and architecture and wandered across the Ponte Vecchio,

before meandering through some markets.

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Anyone who has been to Florence will tell you, there is at least one leather outlet on every block and plenty of market stalls to buy your leather goods. There is plenty of variety and prices, I believe seem very reasonable. I picked up a lambswool lined leather coat (as it was freezing), a couple of pairs of shoes and a couple of hand bags. The leather rush may have gone to my head!

Firenze was amazing, I loved it from the moment we got there, even though the weather wasn’t kind. So many little streets and great architecture.

Our first full day in Firenze, we wandered aimlessly and visited San Lorenzo (the oldest church in Firenze, consecrated in 393).

On the way back to our apartment we managed to get lost. The streets of Florence twist and turn and I found it easy to become disoriented in this city, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Day 2 we did a day trip to San Gimignano, Monteriggioni and Sienna, which also included a stop at a local family run winery for some wine tasting and lunch.

Day 3 we went to see David at the galleria dell’accademia,

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Michelangelo’s David

and checked out the Duomo (which I thought was more spectacular on the outside).

Day 4 we woke to snow ❄️ it was a freezing day, with snow, sleet and rain. We managed to visit the Bargello museum and see some more impressive sculptures.

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Donatello’s David

 

Later we went through the church across from where we were staying, the Basilica of Santa Croce, where Michelangelo, Rossini, Machiavelli, and Galileo Galilei are buried. This was an amazing church and very impressive (I personally liked it better than the Duomo).

And finally, did you know Pinocchio was born in Florence?

It would be lovely to one day return to Firenze, and spend a whole lot more time there, as there is so much more I would like to see.

Our last days in Milano, Italy

There is of course plenty to see in Milan, as in every large city. Just 5 days is not enough to discover all there is to see. I had a list of a few things that I prioritised as things I’d like to do. As I love history, and I’m a fan of old architecture, I thought a visit to Castle Sforza and a viewing of Leonardo’s Last Supper painting were worth the effort for me.

Day 4 – we really had nothing planned, so we caught the metro to Cairoli station, which is just a short walk to Castello Sforzesco. It’s free to get into the grounds and just €5 to get into the museums.

Heaps to see here, and the music museum is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, quite extraordinary.

I also particularly liked the tapestries!

Day 5 – what an interesting day for our last full day in Milan! First on the agenda was a visit to Leonardo’s Last Supper. If you want to see this famous painting, I highly recommend you book a tour. It’s a bit more expensive, but worth it; you get a good commentary on the painting, it’s history and restoration. To view the last supper, you are allowed into the room where it is displayed in groups of 30 people at a time (don’t worry – there is plenty of room and readily viewed from anywhere in the room) and for 15minutes only. Because visitor numbers are limited – this is another reason to book a group tour ticket. LastSupper-1LastSupper-2

After viewing the painting (which is housed in the refectory of theSanta Maria delle Grazie church), we took a look inside main church.

During our walk home we stumbled across some of the craziness that is fashion week in Milan.

And immediately after, we were witness to some street protest march (?political rally).

It was an event filled 5 days and we had a great time in Milano. Next stop Firenze!

A trip on the little red train!

Day 3 of our visit to Italy.

I had heard of a reputedly great train trip –  the Bernina Expressa (the “little red train”), which travels from Tirano in Italy through the Swiss alps to St. Moritz; this is what I chose to do for my birthday.

It was an early start to the day – 7am from the visitors centre in Milan for a bus trip to Tirano. We had a reasonably small group (~25 of us) and the coach was comfortable with large panoramic windows. We travelled from Milan up passed Lake Como (it was a very grey day, with a lot of cloud, so we didn’t see too much) and stopped at the Ristop Bar in Piantedo for breakfast/ morning tea. We arrived in Tirano (the last Italian town before entering Switzerland) around 11:00am. We had a look at the church there, had lunch and wandered around the town before boarding our train to St Moritz at 12:45pm.

We departed Tirano at 1pm and headed for the alps. The train passes through 21 tunnels and over 52 bridges. The maximum slope is apparently 70%. We passed by a lot of snow.

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What a great trip! It was freezing and I’ve never seen so much snow ❄️, but it was fabulous. A great way to spend one’s birthday!

 

A Taste of Italy

I thought an overseas trip would be a great way to celebrate a significant birthday. I love Italian food (my favourite) and I love history, so Italy seemed like a good choice. I’ve done all the planning and bookings myself (anyone else who has organised their own holiday will know just how time consuming that can be).

So, first stop was Milan. We arrived after about 35hours after leaving home, and although we managed to do some exploring soon after arriving, saw some markets,

did a walk down Corso Buenos Aires (which included a lovely lunch at Sabatini where I had Milanese style risotto – delisio!). To walk off lunch we took a stroll through the park by Porta Venezia.

Once we made it back to our apartment, we didn’t last too long and crashed late afternoon and slept until the next morning.

Day 2 we jumped on a hop-on, hop-off city sightseeing bus, which is always good to get your bearings. After once around we decided to first visit the grand Duomo! What a cathedral!

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This was awesome, and my highlight for Milano. This is a must see, and if possible, you must pay the extra and go onto the rooftop terraces. Spectacular. You could almost spend all day here, there is so much to see; and so much detail.

We also managed to visit the World of Leonardo exhibit. I am a great admirer of Mr da Vinci, and after this visit, even more so. The man was a genius! Unfortunately there were no photographs allowed, but this also is worth a visit, and again, you could spend hours here.

We stayed at Apartmento Vitruvio42 in Milan

Newcastle – A New Perspective

Over the weekend I took part in my first Meetups activity and partook of a street photography walking tour of Newcastle City. We only covered about 2 blocks in about 1 – 1.5 hours and I must admit it, it was something of an eye-opener. I took time to really take notice what was around me; to look up as well as what was in front of me and to really see (I got so immersed in my photographing that I was nearly run over).

We started our outing in Market Street, by the new Post Office and walked east up the mall to Bolton Street and then back along Scott Street to complete the loop.

Newcastle has some amazing architecture (I’ve always known that),

The once glorious old sandstone post office building:

oldpostoffice the art deco buildings:

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gloriouscolumns but there is also some great graffiti art:

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There is so much development going on in Newcastle at the moment – it’s a great opportunity to get out, explore the city and to document some of those changes, and to see things you perhaps have never noticed before.

Like the sandstone figures adorning the old Longworth Institute building in Scott Street:

I feel like this some days!

I feel like this some days!

I actually really enjoyed my afternoon out – I meet a couple of new people who share an interest in photography and I saw my city from a different perspective.

Here are a few of my favourite images that I thought I would share with you.

Who doesn't love an orange door!

Who doesn’t love an orange door!

 

 

A Stairway to Heaven?

A Stairway to Heaven?

 

Reflected buildings!

Reflected buildings!

 

I really do love the city in which I live, and I feel privileged to live right amongst it where it’s not too far to walk to anywhere really.

It’s been quite a while since I have posted anything on my blog (there have been a few reasons for that, which I may include in future blogs, but for now, it’s good to be back writing again). I hope you enjoy it and come visit again!

Steaming into life…

A visit to Steamfest, Maitland 2016

It’s been quite a while since I last did a blog post (3 months, in fact). I could name any number of reasons why I haven’t posted; in moving back from the US, I found my life had returned to being something like ordinary, mundane, boring even. I felt like there was nothing interesting happening, no adventure in my life and thought I had nothing worth writing about. However, when it comes down to it – I just couldn’t bring myself to do it – the fact was I was feeling a bit low and found I was struggling a little with settling back into life in my own hometown – not being able to move back into our own home didn’t help matters either. I found myself starting to move into depression despite efforts to look for all the positives in my life – I still had a job, and I wasn’t living out of my car, for instance. Anyway, moving past that I am trying to get back to the life I want to live. This weekend we did something interesting and went to take a look at “Steamfest” – I thought I might share some of the experience with you.

Steamfest signage at Maitland train station

Steamfest is a festival celebrating steam, of course. But the highlight of the festival is the return to the railway tracks of the old steam locomotives, which brings thousands of visitors to Maitland railway station and surrounds. The event brings by steam engines from the Canberra Railway MuseumPowerhouse Museum and Trainworks Railway Museum and rail motors from the Rail Motor Society.

Steamfest began in 1986 after the last coal operated steam hauled freight service in Australia on the South Maitland Railway Line closed in 1983. This year marked the event’s 30th anniversary. Steamfest is held over 2 days in April every year at Maitland in the Hunter Valley region of NSW. There are plenty of activities to keep everyone in the family entertained, but especially those who appreciate the age of steam on the railway tracks.

Steam Engine 6029 - “The Garratt”

Steam Engine 6029 – “The Garratt”

During the festival, over both days, it is possible to take a trip in one of the old steam trains. From Maitland train station you can take a trip to Branxton, Barrington, Singleton, Broadmeadow and do the Port Waratah Coal Run. Next year I would really like to do one of these trips – maybe the Port Waratah Coal run!

There are some great steam displays, featuring antique machinery, market stalls and of course, the wonderful steam engines as well as some of the old Rail Motors, including the old “red ratlers”.

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A “Red Ratler”

You can also take a helicopter joy flight over the area. On the Sunday there was also a Show’n’Shine featuring classic cars, hot rods and motorbikes as well as live music and rock and roll dancing.

The highlight of the festival every year is the Great Train Race between one of the steam trains and a Tiger Moth; this year however, there were four steam engines involved – racing each other, as well as four Tiger Moths in the skies above.

2 of the 4 Tiger Moths taking part in the Great Race at Steamfest 2016

2 of the 4 Tiger Moths taking part in the Great Train Race 

This had never been done before on such a scale. It is possible to buy tickets and take part in the race on the trains; however, if you miss out on a ticket you can view the trains from any number of vantage points (overhead bridges, train stations and pedestrian overpasses) along the route. I didn’t get a ticket (maybe next year), so I watched them go by at a nearby train station; what a great thrill it was to be able to witness a part of it.

3 of the 4 steam engines approaching the station

Only 3 of the 4 steam engines visible as they approach the station

I can recommend a visit to Steamfest, and the best thing – it’s free. You only have to pay for tickets for a train ride if you want one, or a nominal $2 charge for entry to the Rally Ground where all things steam were on display, including:

a genuine steam roller-

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a steam wagon-

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“Sooty”, the steam tractor-

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and miniature steam trains that the whole family can take a ride on-

So, if you ever find yourself in the Hunter Valley region of NSW in April, why not go along!