Sunday, April 30, 2006

Les Saintes-Maries de la Mer

Left Arles at 7.50 this morning on the bus for Les Saintes Maries de la Mer. Saintes as in plural: we are going back to early Christian times here and the spread of the gospel straight from Palestine basically- these Saintes were mothers of various apostles or similar though I don't quite have the story - tricky reading it all in French!
Anyhow I went out to this Estuary area beside the sea to catch the flamingoes mainly. The Rhone is on one side and the little Rhone is on the other side of this big delta kind of area known as the Camargue. I arrived to find a seaside holiday area full of holiday places to stay, and a little later in the morning saw more camper vans than I have ever seen!
I headed into town hoping to organise a place on a 4x4 safari. Decadent and touristy I know, but I was working it as a day-trip. I could have hired a bicycle and lots did, but I thought it was too windy - though it was actually a lot less windy than in Arles overnight. Others took horse safaris but I didn't feel like learning that new skill!
Had a bit of time before the safari place even opened so managed to post off the pile of postcards I had been carrying around. Then had time to have a quick look in the church which is actually a very important place of pilgrimage which seems to be a big thing in this part of France. They had a dressed up statue in there that represents St Sarah and they have a big weekend later in May apparently when the gypsies all come to town and she gets paraded around.
Time came for my trip. We headed along the sea frontage first and the first flamingoes I saw were flying in the air. Next we headed more inland in the little Rhone area. Lots of birdlife and breeding season for some. We were going too fast to see them all I know....... We also saw horses and bulls. When we came to some foals I don't think most on the trip had ever seen any.
The best stuff came last. We went to an area where heaps of flamingoes were doing their thing in the estuary water, or taking off and flying above us. So beautiful and so good to see them in the wild.
Then we saw the fortuitous sight of what looked like a proper Camargue group out riding (rather than a line of tourist horseriders). They rode in formation and some of the men had long poles. It was quite a show-stopper out on the sand and in the water and it didn't pay to be in a hurry on the adjoining section of road.
Holiday weekend here for May 1, and due to be very busy tomorrow and Monday. Heading to Montpelier around lunchtime so hope I find accommodation OK. Am hoping for a few more nights in a cheap hotel to completely heal my nose up, but we shall see!

Saturday, April 29, 2006


Caught the bus to nearby Tavascon this morning as it had looked very pretty when we drove through it the other day. Equipped with map from Tourist Office I began exploring. Went briefly into church of Collegiale Sainte-Marthe, which had been beautifully restored, but people were arriving for a funeral so left. Thought about going into the nearby Chateau but decided to cross the river Rhone instead (feeling like a traitor to the Tourist Office Map!) Good choice as it turned out.

Bells started tolling from the church, the first bells I had heard in France after so many in Ticino. They were very mournful and were obviously funeral tolls. I started crossing the river though and soon could no longer hear the bells as the sound of the Mistral rang in my ears on the bridge.

I reached Beaucaire about which I knew nothing. I could see it had a Chateau and a church, just like on the other side of the Rhone. I followed the river for a bit then dived into the streets. I was in a real maze of narrow streets with houses several storeys high. There were low gates between sections and it all had a very medieval feel. The twisting shapes of the streets seemed to protect against most effects of the Mistral. The streets were quiet and about all I saw at first were boys who seemed to be of Algerian origin, playing soccer in the streets.

Suddenly I stumbled into a square with all manner of interesting buildings. No surprise then to see an artist sketching in a chair at a cafe. I am no artist but needed a toilet so stopped at the cafe for a hot chocolate French style, my favourite way. Given the medieval feel of the place, I guess it was no surprise that the toilet was squat style. But it was very clean and smelt only of disinfectant! Lovely service from the cafe, sets you up to sit like Lady Muck and relax and enjoy the hot chocolate.

I was soon wandering past a whole lot of listed buildings that were very well restored. I wondered who came to see them as there were very few tourists around. Maybe in summer the Michelin guide car travellers come here.

I then headed up to the ruined Chateau, little knowing I was about to stumble into a place of some Cathar history. (Thank you Marina for the book you gave me some years back.) I was soon reading a plaque to Raimond, local hero, who had regained this place from Simon de Montfort. I cannot remember the details now and will need to reread the book, but I have a feeling that one of these men was responsible for an especially bloody massacre in one town. The Chateau was destroyed later for another offense to a king.

Tomorrow hope to get to the Camargue and see some horses and flamingoes.

More on Arles

OK a bit more on Arles. Internet more affordable here, but using French keyboard has its challenges, eg keep getting q for a!

I was really impressed with the Musée de l'Arles et de la Provence antiques. Modern very well designed building full of local finds starting with neolithic. There is something special about seeing flint arrowheads knowing they were used nearby. And simple pottery beads. Then it moved through time and there were beads of glass and metal locks and metal pipes for carrying drinking water, and needles made from bone. The funerary monuments were especially impressive, from first five centuries AD. Some really elaborate carving on sarcophaghi from early Christians, and poignant tombstone messages not much different from what we might record today.

A highlight at the Ampitheatre was the view you got from climbing the tower. I had been to the Cloister Saint-Trophine on a previous much busier day-trip to Arles when a Feria with bull-fighting was on and the crowds were thick. I guess I wasn't so desperate for the calm today!- but it is still a lovely peaceful place.

I have been enjoying speaking in French sentences instead of my single word efforts in Italian. I have forgotten a lot but mostly can work out how to say what I want. People have all been very helpful. My experience of the French is one of incredible politeness.

Really enjoying some short breaks on my hotel balcony as well, which seems to be protected from the Mistral direction! Most people seem to come to Arles on q day-trip and it is quiet in the evening.

Friday, April 28, 2006


Yesterday I travelled from Locarno to Arles. I was really quite sad to catch the train out of Locarno as I had really enjoyed all my walks in the spectacular landscape of my forebears. But I was soon immersed in the spectacular scenery of the Centovalli rail trip to Domodossola. Then it was a swift trip to Geneva. Looked stormy over the Alps. Was amazed by the incredibly intensive grape cultivation on some slopes: no spare bit of land left. At Geneva, basically walked onto a different platform and was in France. For this trip on TGV I had a "prison seat" with no view. Luckily I was able to move until Lyon and it was lovely wooded scenery, with signs of people few and far between. We followed the river in places.
Was thinking it looked like nice rolling cycling country when I was a bit fitter. Then saw tree branches moving from Lyon, and some wind turbines. Sure enough, emerged from the train at Avignon into the Mistral which was surprisingly warm when I had just seen the snowy Alps.
Had no accommodation booked for Arles. Knew the hostel was eight bed dorms and am a bit past that, especially with needing to blow my nose at night at present. Arles station very quiet at 6.15pm in the evening and no sign of hostel's supposed bus connections anyhow. So wandered into town and within ten minutes was in no star hotel, cheap for 2 at 30 Euros but beyond my usual hostel spending. But I am so glad I went there. The bed is so so comfortable. When I needed to blow my nose I just drifted straight back to sleep. People running the place very nice and I have my own balcony overlooking Place Voltaire where I had my lunch. No cleaning hostel lock-out is great too in a compact place like Arles.
Went to the Musée de L'Arles et de la Provence Antiques first off. Very well laid out. Began with stone chipped in prehistory and moved in time to actual waterpipes and glass and metal lcoks and keys. Then explored Roman Arles. Great clambering on the Arena with very little in the way of crowds. The Mistral continues. Very warm in the sun but can get a few chilly blasts. Time to finish for now;

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Madonna del Sasso

After getting showered and changed out of my wet clothes, I headed back down into Locarno. I took the funicular up the hill to Madonna del Sasso. If there is a church that should take the prize for most spectacular site, this should be a candidate. I am not sure if this is the church whose bells announce that it is 6.45am, but I imagine it might be. It stands tall above the town. It is when you get close on the funicular though that you realise how truly amazing its site is. The church seems to sit on sheer rock, the kind of sheer rock that runs alongside Val Verzasca. There is a Via Crucis that approaches from down the hill, and tall trees with spring green surround it. It is hard not to feel giddy when you stand outside the church and look down over the view of Locarno. (Yes you could see the view : it had stopped raining as I wasn't walking!)
Inside the church was full of paintings and plaques that individuals seem to have given in gratitude for some deed. There were groupings of people in sculpture like the Last Supper, and the descent of the Holy Spirit, and placing Jesus in the grave. These were lifesize tableau and I have not seen anything like them before.
I caught the funicular down again, glad I hadn't fallen off that mountain!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Sonongo to Lavertezzo

Second time lucky with this post: there was a warning in German last time, maybe that Blogger was undergoing maintenance but of course I could not read it!- so never saved the post to e-mail or anything.
Yesterday was another great day. Caught the Postbus up to the end of the Verzasca Valley to Sonongo. It was misty and overcast and began raining at the end of the valley so I never hung around at Sonongo to explore but headed off down valley. The track was on the right hand side of a small river looking down the valley to start with. Another lovely track with trees in spring verdure and rocks and waterfalls. The waterfalls were really pretty and full, maybe with all the warm weather of the past few days melting snow, plus the bit of rain.
The rain soon turned to just drizzle and the track crossed over to the other side of the river. By the time I got to Brione, what had been a calm little stream had become a raging torrent over some huge rocks. The track crossed again to the right hand side and as it was warming up there were as few lizards escaping as I walked by their rocks. Wildflowers came out again as the sun began shining too. So very pretty with all the flowers at present.
End of walk was ruined by a pervert who was using the road side of the valley to appear at various intervals across the river from me half-dressed. Not so nice and I rushed to get on to Lavertezzo and the crowds always at the bridge there as it crosses the river full with huge rocks and the lovely green water.
Today is my last day in Locarno and I imagined a lovely walk up above the city, getting all the views. I had had these wonderful views the other day as I had climbed up to Mergoscia on the bus. But aha ha, it has to rain everywhere sometime and I never took my raincoat despite the cloud. I took the Mergoscia bus as far as Contra (Posta). Armed with a map from the tourist office of the higher walk, I began, and so did the rain. Drizzle first, but soon continuous rain. Just as well I was only planning a two hour walk on this occasion! The walk was still a great one but where I had imagined views there was only hazy misty things in the distance. Seats placed at spots where you could get a view did not get much use this morning! The Swiss are spoiled for all these great accessible walks.
I got a bit lost when I should have only had about 15 minutes of downhill walking left. I ended up heading uphill on a trail I should have instantly realised was too hard for the kind of track I was doing. Turns out I was headed up Mont Bre. No harm done, just in wet clothes a little longer.
I had envisioned finishing the walk with a trip along the ridge to a church then taking the cablecar downhill. Instead it was back to the hostel for shower and complete change as fast as I could. Luckily, as always it seems in the Locarno area, there was an alternative to the winding downhill roads, and I was soon on some steep steps taking me down to Locarno a lot more swiftly. Now it is 1.30pm, and I have actually found a slightly cheaper internet where I can actually sit down, and use a proper mouse, so here is a longer post for once.
Head off to France in the morning. Have a train ticket as far as Avignon, but if I am not too tired when I get there will take the bus then for Arles. First night I am not 'booked' for accommodation on this trip. Bit scary to be a 'real' traveller again!

Monday, April 24, 2006


This morning I discovered something everyone who comes to Locarno should do: take the bus up to Mergoscia. It was a sunny calm earlyish morning, and I think the views were probably the most stunning I have seen on a bus ride anywhere. We zigzagged our way up the hills above Locarno and the views down over the lake were just stunning.
Then I took the walk above Mergoscia in the direction of Corippo. I don't know if my ancestors often took this walk or not, but it felt like I was walking in their footsteps. Again, stunning views to mountains and down to the River Verzasca. Talked to some German speaking people staying in Corippo about my Giuseppe Scettrini, born 1835 in Corippo. Then walked on to Lavertezzo and over its bridge before catching one of the limited number of Postbuses back on a Sunday. Now doing laundry and escaping some sun.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Lago Maggiore

Let the boat do the walking today and took a day pass on the Lago Maggiore. Began early when there was hardly anyone out. By mid-afternoon boats had lot.s on them. Great views. Mountains and houses all round the lake. Went to Brissagio first. Found a wonderful little suntrap on seats in a grassed area beside a medieval church. Could have stayed there all day. Went to Botanical Gaardens on Isolo di Brissago - had New Zealand plants there that I have in my garden. Anscona was almost too picture perfect on a warm siesta type afternoon with all the umbrellas out on the restaurants on the waterfront.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Valle Maggia

Tried walking in a different valley today, Valle Maggia. Went by Postbus to the end. Lots to explore up there by car in other side valleys. Missed the track at first but enjoyed bush walking once I found it with a bit of help from a craft house stall owner. Then got to know how the yellow signs worked. Waterfalls, snowy mountains, stone houses, lovely. Town of Cevio especially beautiful. Old churches and bell towers in every village. Not many other walkers. More industrial as I got back down and they were extracting granite from the mountainside and cutting it to various sizes.
Internet 16 NZ dollars an hour so can't write much.

Friday, April 21, 2006


Got up this morning to make the 9.05am Postbus up into Valley Verzasca and I remembered the sight of the village of Corippo from my last visit, sitting up against its mountainside. I perhaps enjoyed this return visit more: I was less over-excited at the sheer beauty of it all and was able to take in every little sight. There were more little waterfalls - melting snow I expect.
The Church was able to be opened. Someone, maybe a Scettrini, had freshy decorated the altar with flowers. I had time to look at the baptismal font etc that my family would have been 'done' in. Then I wandered up and down and around the houses. I sat by the mill down by the stream. And I had lunch on the track to Mergoscia, looking back at the village as the midday bells sounded while I ate my lunch.
I then walked up the valley to Lavertezzo and had quite a few good convos with Swiss walkers along the way.
Greatday. Short account. INternet expensive and hard to use. Catch ya later.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Via Appia Antica

Decided I would head outside the walls today for my last wanderings in Rome. Discovered a straightline road that led from S.M Maggiore to St John Lateran. From there managed to use the map to follow a few busy roads until I was on the road for Porta S Sebastiano. If I had imagined I was going to be on a quiet old rural road, I soon had that thought squashed as I clung to the side of the road, hoping the Roman traffic did its usual thing of avoiding the pedestrian! Soon I was passing under the gate and outside of the old city walls.
The Via Appia Antica had an 'old' feel to it: it was narrow, had cobbles, and many of the properties along it had older walls. But that traffic kept on whizzing by! I was soon at a church called Domine Quo Vadis, and then carried on walking along the road to S Sebastiano catacomb.
At S Sebastiano catacomb I had to wait for an 'English' guided tour. I think that was basically for everyone who wasn't Italian. It was explained that we would see three kinds of tombs: single Christian tombs, family Christian tombs, and three pagan Roman mausoleums. We descended into the tufa and followed a few of the many tunnels that were carved out. Quite a few of the tombs were small, and our guide pointed out the child mortality was high. The Roman pagan tombs at the end were remarkably well preserved, with frescoes and stucco still plainly visible. Our guide pointed out that they had been buried for so many centuries and had been quite forgotten.
Various early Christian symbols were visible and the guide pointed out some graffiti that mentioned Paul. Tradition says that both Peter and Paul were buried here during a time of persecution of early Christians, before their bodies were moved to their respective Roman churches.
I carried on walking up the Via Antica for a while, passing a variety of different ruins. The road became more peaceful and there was a section with huge big old cobblestones. I had some lunch at a place along the way then it started raining lightly. For once I actually needed the raincoat I was carrying - though the rain was light and the temperature remained warm.
As I got back to the edge of the city, the walls became more obvious as the modern road travelled alongside them. Ancient and modern, side by side - a typical Roman sight.
This has been my last day in Rome. Tomorrow I leave for Locarno in the south of Switzerland, via trains to Milan and Bellinzona. Not sure how affordable internet will be in Switzerland, but you can be sure I will be enjoying some mountain walks!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Easter Monday

Rome on Easter Monday has lots of people out wandering in the streets again. Weather again has been pleasant.
I began the morning by calling in to the neighbourhood Santa Maria Maggiore, where again a sung Office was happening in a chapel somewhere in the distance. Alleluia sounded beautiful echoing in the church. I forgot to mention the other day the beautiful tenor singing at the Easter Vigil here ( and at St Peter's on Sunday.) Part of each service involved the most superb tenor voice doing a solo of various parts of the Mass. A privilege to listen to.
I then headed downhill towards the Colisseum and the Forum ruins. I was surprised to see how small the grassed area I had spent some time on with others on Friday night actually was. In the dark it had seemed full of pilgrims, but in the day it seemed quite small and empty.
I finally got to the Circus Maximus which I had always missed before. I don't know why I thought it had ruins on it - it mainly didn't. It was the oval shape that was still there, mostly now covered with grass. It was interesting to walk its length.
I soon got to the river announced by the spring trees. I walked up a hill and saw the Teatro di Marcello. This would have to be the most amazing building I think I have seen in Rome. The bottom part of the building seems to me to be the same age as the Colisseum - same style. But on top in more recent centuries it has been built upon. Only in Rome........
I climbed the stairs today to S.Maria in Aracoeli. Lots of stairs! Ancient columns inside: this is one of Rome's older churches. You walk the floor over very old looking tombs.
I crossed the river to explore the Trastavere area, full of restaurants and people eating out for Easter. The church here, S Maria in Trastavere, is said to be on the site of the oldest Christian church in Rome. The mosaics above the altar are very beautiful.
Over and out. Time to get out there amongst the Easter holiday crowds and do some more wandering! Ciao.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Easter Vigil- Santa Maria Maggiore

It was my experience with the music at the Christmas Mass at Santa Maria Maggiore three years ago that made me want to be in Rome for Easter. It wasn't so much the music that blew me away this time, as the whole thing with candles and light. All the actions were deliberate and planned. From darkness the church gradually emerged into light. The Paschal candle was huge. Then the altar became bathed in light with many candles. It was a night of great beauty.

St Peter's Square: Easter Sunday

I set the alarm this morning to be sure of setting off early across from the hostel (near Termini) to St Peter's Square. The streets were fairly quiet just before 8am as I set out, and it wasn't until I got near St Peter's that I became more aware that I was walking with others.
I arrived at St Peter's just before 9am. There were quite a few people already in the seated area, but I could still see spaces in the front row of the barricade at the back of the seats. People were passing through bag-checks / security nearby and most seemed to be flashing blue tickets for the seating. Wasn't sure if I was supposed to go through there yet, but you learn not to be backward with queues in Rome! I joined the queue and was able to go through. Soon I was standing in place, ready to get a good view of proceedings.
I had an hour and a half to wait but there was plenty to see going on. Before long a family from Milan were standing next to me and they were my companions throughout the morning. We shared enough language to work out where we each lived and they wanted to know how long it had taken to fly from New Zealand. (10 hours to Singapore plus 13 hours to Frankfurt: they were suitably impressed!)
People were arriving with flags etc. People of all ages and nationalities were arriving. The seats in front of me were filling up, and soon the rows of people standing behind me were getting thicker and thicker as well. It was quite a help to have the barricade to rest on. I was thinking about various people in New Zealand I know who would have loved to be standing where I was. I tried to enjoy it all on their behalf and not to feel too guilty about my lack of church attendance!
It turned out to be a gorgeous morning and it was very festive in the sunshine watching people arrive. Some singing began and it was in English: an American group I think.
As the time came for the Pope to arrive, it was clear the whole ceremony was going to be very beautiful. St Peter's steps themselves were bedecked with yellow and white flowers that the Pope later acknowledged had come from Holland - to wild cheering from the Dutch in the crowd! The ceremony had everything you would expect. There was dignity and deliberate actions. One of the readings was actually in English. The prayers of the faithful were in different languages, and people of varied cultures took up the offerings. The singing was beautiful. Mostly it was easier to watch the action on the big screen as the altar was a long way away, but you still can't beat being there for the atmosphere! And at the end of the Mass, I received my second Papal Blessing.
There was a short break at the end of Mass, before the Pope appeared at a window above to give his talk. It was in Italian, but you could tell he was talking about troubled places in the world. He dwelled on Africa a bit, and also spoke about Iraq. People cheered for what he said. People there wanted peace. He gave greetings at the end in a huge range of languages. My friends from Milan clapped with me when he spoke in English. (I never tracked down another Kiwi the whole morning!) There were huge cheers from the crowd when he spoke in Spanish, and also the Romanian pilgrimage group cheered loudly. The Phillipines was another country that cheered loudly for their own greeting. At the end I received my third Papal Blessing. From none to three in a couple of days!
When the Pope had gone, people still mostly hung around the Square for a while. There was something about being there that made you want to keep being there together for a while.
But eventually I left and wandered in the direction of Piazza Navona. There were so many people on the streets. People were walking slowly, or eating in the many restaurants on the streets. Easter in Rome in the sunshine.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Walking in the sunshine

I love it when I have enough time in a place to wander somewhat aimlessly. I seem to see more snippets of the 'real' city that way. Rome is certainly a city that rewards this kind of 'getting lost' as there are little surprises to be found just around little corners.
My main aim this morning was just to clarify my foot route from the hostel (near Termini) to St Peter's. The Pope gives his Easter address in the Square tomorrow morning at 10.30am which doesn't leave me time to get lost, and I doubt that the metro will be working.
But that aim left me plenty of space for little deviations!
I called in at the 'local' St Maria Maggiore's first. What struck me this morning as I walked in was the sheer variety and exuberance in the mosaic patterns under my feet. Their slight uneveness was testament to their age and how many people had walked over them before. The office was being said up the front and then a psalm was sung. Beautiful sound.
I passed another church en route where people were putting flowers inside for Easter, an absolute riot of white blooms. Seemed to be a well used local church - certainly had many people working on the floral arrangements and cleaning. Near there, just uphill a little, I saw a little fountain with the sun just playing on the water. Near it was a local flower stall with the sun just touching and brightening all the blooms.
I walked past the Imperial Forums where they have been excavating. The huge engraved column of Trajan took my eye here, and proved to be a useful direction finder here where I had to 'change roads'. Always a place I had walked unneecessarily long ways before!
One other nice thing that happened today. I was buying a sandwich. As I bent to get my money, my nose started bleeding ( grr). The lady serving me was instantly offering me ice. I was not a tourist who was a problem: - I was a human being who needed some help.
Time to go. Hope you all find those little suprise 'flower markets' to brighten your worlds over Easter.

A road to remember

There are always special roads to remember on the trip. Last night was the Via dei Forum Imperiali - actually the spelling can't be quite like that - but I don't have the map with me! But it was the road I walked down with thousands of others at the end of the Via Crucis at the Colosseum.
Security was very tight for the Pope's presence and the metro right across the road had been closed hours earlier, and traffic stopped. Police with earpieces were watching as the crowd arrived, and access points in and out were limited. It meant that at the end, everyone had to walk away from the venue together.
Having just all received the blessing from Pope Benedict together, everyone then walked together, and with no cars to worry about, this usually busy road was filled with people. I knew a slightly more direct route back to Via Cavour but there were few people on it. I wanted to stay with the crowd of thousands on the road for as long as I could!
Before long I was off on Via Cavour, in a much smaller trickle of the crowd. But I had enjoyed the special crowd walk first!

Via Crucis - Colisseum

I know a lot of good observant Catholics who would love to have done what I did last night. Well, I tried to think of you all while I was there - honest!
I think that the Via Crucis might usually be a candle-lit affair that the Pope attends each year at the Colisseum. But with all the media focus on this being Benedict's first Easter, there was television lighting as well.
There were loads of people there. I could not see the Pope until the very end, when I caught glimpses of his brilliant red outfit through some tree branches as he gave a speech and blessing.
I was there early enough to get the booklet they had printed off. Mostly the words were in Italian, but the Pater Noster was in Latin at the end of each station. Each station was ilustrated. (This booklet coming your way in a few weeks Fran.) From what I could make out of the Italian, the words seemed pretty positive in the sense of looking at what we have and haven't done and how that affects others.
The crowds kept pouring in. There was a big bunch of Romanian pilgrims near me. A group of young Spaniards ( I think) were playing guitar and singing while waiting, which was very pleasant. Some were playing cards while they waited, or picnicking. I kept moving back (as I need to feel 'clear' ear with my blocked nose!) and ended up beside an Italian speaking nun who was devoutly praying thoughout. Later, a younger woman who wanted to sit on the ground and concentrate, ended up on the other side of me. With me standing there, others were less likely to step on her. It was quite an island of movement around where we were through the entire time - but that is often how Mass seems to be in an Italian church I have noticed!
Each station was announced in about seven languages, English being third on the list after Italian and French. I never tracked down another Kiwi the whole evening but ya musta been there so Gidday!
Even though there is so much about the Church emphasis on the Cross that I don't understand or share belief in, I was glad to be part of what was going on, even being there in place of some others I know would love to have been there. The blessing from the end from Benedict I valued: and at that point I felt quite Catholic for once!

Saturday, April 15, 2006


Maybe my dreams are always vivid but I sleep through them. With all this sinus trouble though, and disturbed sleep, the last few nights of dreams have been a revelation of how my brain seems to be trying to make sense of the whole Italian experience.
Last night I was convinced I was in medieval Florence. The wardrobe was part of a castle battlement. I was part of a crowded scene. I had to make myself wake up properly to realise I was actually in a hostel room in Rome, one of four asleep there!
Two nights before in Naples, my brain had turned the bunks in the room into some kind of Gothic cathedral. There were saints, including St Barnabas who talked to me, and angels flying around in the heavens. I was quite ready to join them. All a bit dangerous when you are on the top bunk so that was another vivid dream I had to bring to an end!

Being a Catholic tourist

OK, so I am not much of a church attender, and there are Catholics I know who would have far more right to be here in Rome for Easter than me. But it is Good Friday today and I have been to a few Catholic places one way or another.
This morning I went into San Pietro in Vincolo where they have the chains that bound St Peter in prison. (How this is verified I am not sure.) They also have the statue of Moses that Michelangelo sculpted for the tomb of Pope Julius. Such a powerful work. Moses looks really alive, especially contrasted with the accompanying sculptures completed by others, that just lacked the life Moses did.
I then headed downhill to the Colisseum. I had heard that the Pope led a Way of the Cross here on Good Friday but I had no idea when. It was clear something was afoot though, with TV vans etc out there. I found out it is at 9pm this evening, but that people gather from 6pm. Usually I would be afraid to be out this late by myself, but I discovered last time I was here for Christmas that the streets are just full of people. So I am sure I will be fine. Good that the weather has been so settled today too. Just need to wear clothing for warmth but not rain!
At Santa Maria Maggiore they were having reflections etc for Good Friday. But I never stayed too long. I had noticed that there was some music by Haydn which is what drew me. And certainly the (not visible) musicians did the mournful music very well. But there were also several longish sermons/ exhortations in Italian so I opted for outside walking again!

Giuseppe's restaurant

Ate out properly yesterday evening. Some of you know about my ancestor, Giuseppe Scettrini, an Italian speaker from the village of Corippo in Ticino. So I guess it was a foregone conclusion that a restaurant with the name of Giuseppe would be a good choice.
There was an older man outside but he moved away so I could read the menu boards which did have some English translations. I decided to go in and went down the stairs. The 'old man' was the waiter as it turned out and he soon had me seated and with some water to drink. I chose 'Fish' and he was instantly delighted (a change from tourists ordering pizza I guess!) and pointed out a menu item that he said was particularly good. It was fresh fish grilled, and it was totally delicious. The waiter was quietly attentive in the meal and it was a lovely experience eating there.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Rome and Naples

Any faithful followers will have noticed a gap in the blog over the last week, partly due to the lack of internet points in Naples, and partly due to me feeling really lousy with sinus and not sleeping or having appetite etc!
I will try to quickly make up some ground here. My sinus woes really started the first night in Rome after the day in Assisi. Whether it was all the altitude changes in the train on ears that already had a cold, or whatever, I don't know. But anyone who was waiting to hear lots from Rome or Naples, life has been relatively quiet here the past week!
I did go to the Vatican Museums on the Friday as planned. Glad I did, but very claustrophobic when you have a blocked nose. Should have gone a few hours later when the queue had disappeared and the place was less crowded!
I had seen the 'School of Athens' by Raphael, as well as the Sistine Chapel some 25 years ago and was keen to see the restoration. I was interested to find that I thought the Sistine Chapel, and Michelangelo's Last Judgement wall were smaller than I had thought, but that all the creation /Noah paintings etc on the ceiling were a lot longer! Michelangelo was certainly such a master to do all this, with such originality and fluidity of form.
I went to Palm Sunday Mass at Santa Maria Maggiore, round the corner from my hostel, where I heard such wonderful music on Christmas Eve three years ago. There was a procession of all the clergy /choir etc out of the sacristy and out to the front of the Church. Followed by a brazen tour guide with a stupid toy, who swept her group out following the clergy, video cameras ready for action. So when everyone began waving their olive branches, her silly toy was waving up there too. Modern tourism huh.
There was of course some joyful music as they processed in for Hosannah. There was a mournful, plaintive kind of tone to the rest of the singing, all unaccompanied. Quite unlike anything I had heard before.
I left for Naples Sunday lunchtime and stayed at the youth hostel there. I shared the room for three nights with three absolutely lovely young women from Denmark. They had just finished school and are taking a few months to travel. They were great friends and gave me a lot to laugh at.
Next day, despite sinus, I decided I had planned to walk along the crater of Vesuvius and I was going to do it! Caught the train to where the Erculaneum ruins are, then 10 Euro for the return shuttle bus trip to the top, plus 6.50 Euro to walk the crater. Ride uphill was interesting in itself. They took some steep back streets. People were cultivating on the steep slopes. Best thing about the local shuttle buses was we got to park right by the entry. I was tired and lacking energy, but I walked slowly and got to the crater rim. Very nasty looking crater: you could see how the mountain had been ripped so violently apart. Then you could look down and see the city of Naples perched quite nearby on its slopes.
I explored the ruins of Herculaneum next and really recommend these to anyone. A pyroclastic flow swept through here, suddenly burning and burying, so there was not all the damage from falling scoria etc first causing collapses as at Pompeii. So a lot more of the buildings are taller. There are lots of fresco bits still there and evidence of suddenly blackened timber. The ruins are surrounded by present day houses. There must be more of these ruins underneath them. I don't think I could live there knowing that!
After a day's rest I tackled Pompeii. Had been there once before, but on a quick guided tour on a wet cold winter's day. So it was nice to have some sunshine, even if there was a chilly breeze. The site is immense. I wandered in and out of all sorts of villas and gardens, then down the the gladiator's theatre at the far end of the site. I ate lunch in some peaceful sunshine, trying hard not to be disturbed by the AudioGuide account of the animal and human gladiator fighting that occurred here! A great place to explore for all ages. Not too crowded at this time of year. Had a really touristy glass of fresh squeezed orange juice outside to finish off with and it was delicious!
Now back in Rome. Hope I will manage to do and see more over the next few days. But want to be in the best of health for my week in Ticino, so may pace things.
Easter wishes everyone!

Saturday, April 08, 2006


For only the second time in my life I am taking Actifed to cure a decent dose of sinus. Had to get someone at the hostel to translate the instructions for the dose. Hope to be on the mend soon.


Had a wonderful day in Assisi yesterday. Took the 8.09 local train from Firenze and went directly to Assisi on a train going to Foligno. Deposited luggage at the friendly bookstore in the station which performs the function and was off on a local bus for St Francis' Basilica. This is quite huge, courtesy of a Pope, and has two parts, one lower and one upper. The lower one has Francis' tomb in the crypt, and some relics of his, including a much patched tunic. (I was just a bit amazed how many tunics seemed to be around in the course of my time in the town.)
The upper part of the Basilica has a superb series of frescoes by Giotto with scenes from Francis' life. I spent quite a long time gazing at them, and they really did give an insight into his life. I know there was some damage to these when Assisi had an earthquake a few years ago but the damage seems largely repaired. The first fresco showed St Francis as a rich young man, for whom someone laid their cloak across a puddle. But ah ah, then the angel came to him and his life changed completely. You could tell he was the saint because of the halo, so that helped work out what was going on in the frescoes.
There were a couple of modern sculptures in the upper church. One had St Francis sitting down beside a tabernacle with the Eucharist. They always are able to portray him so sympathetically as a kindly man - as opposed to the many statues of the rich and famous around.

The best part of the day was yet to come. I headed up hill and really did seem to have 'wings on my feet' as the uphill came easily. As I climbed higher, there was more evidence around of green spring growth and birds were singing. This was the part of Assisi I could imagine St Francis outside enjoying. A lot of the town's buildings had quite uniform appearance in a older style, I guess after earthquake repairs. But there were still medieval lanes to wander, and I could imagine St Francis on such a day enjoying the sunshine.
I reached the fort at the top as black clouds threatened. Sure enough, there was a thunderclap. As I didn't want to meet my end even if it was on the haunt of St Francis, I headed down and had a quick bite to eat before the heavens opened. Just as well there were some more churches, including that of St Clare, to hide in!
More later.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Finally the Uffizi!

My last day in Florence and I have finally made it into the Uffizi! I listened to my hostel room-mate Johanna who arrived in the queue at 8.30am yesterday and was in the queue for four hours. By the time she got in the building she was dehydrated and hungry and not able to really appreciate it. So I aimed to be there at 7.30am this morning. (It opens at 8.15am). Anyhow it worked. There was only one English girls' school group there and one young US tourist in the queue ahead of me. The English girls were the best behaved group I have seen anywhere in Florence and seemed genuinely interested in what they were about to see.

So, without too long standing in the queue I was able to enjoy what I saw. I wandered through in awe at the liveliness of the paintings. Again some of the earlier work appealed to me. The flat clear medieval designs appeal for some reason. The room with a lot of Botticelli in it, I spent quite some time in. And I was really intrigued by the Florentine settings for a lot of the religious biblical themes. Lippi I also enjoyed.

By the time I came to leave the gallery, boredom had clearly set in in the queue outside and you could all sorts of shouts and cheers arising from the young groups below. There are times it is worth setting the alarm a bit earlier.

It had not cost me anything to get into the Uffizi as part of the Culture Week. So I was feeling rich and went next door to the Palazzo Vecchio. An insight into the lavish living of the privileged in another era. There were huge battle scenes on the walls of the first large room. The picture I found most interesting was one of medieval Florence with its walls around it, nestling in its bowl of hills, clearly under imminent attack or siege with numerous tents in the countryside outside the walls.

There was also a fascinating map room with a huge globe in the middle. Around the walls were a lot of maps of the known world in the Renaissance time. Positions of mountains were clearly marked. No mention of KiwiLand or our eastern island neighbours of course.

There was a group of 4 -5 year old children at the Palace while I was. Some of them had trouble getting their little legs up parts of the steep stone staircase. There was some drama in the presentation for them. First I saw someone dressed in simple medieval dress addressing them. Later I walked into a room where a young woman was dressed as a Queen/Duchess, sitting on a chair. The children were listening well, as you do in the presence of a Queen! Then there was question time. Judging by the looks on the young teachers' faces, they asked the same kind of questions our five year olds would ask: eg "How do you go to the toilet in that dress?"

I have been lucky with the weather in Florence. Until now it has been sunny and warm. But this afternoon there have been some spits for the first time. I hope it does not rain the whole day I am in Assisi tomorrow as it did when I was in Kutna Hora but I guess it is springtime here!

I did not realise that San Marco Museum closed early afternoon so I have missed out on that. But I am now off to the Duomo Museum to see the unfinished work Michelangelo was wanting to go on his own tomb. Tomorrow morning I leave for Rome!
Ciao tutti!

the wisdom of advance reservation

There might just be times when some advance reservation is useful! (Take note all you future visitors of Florence!) I arrived at the queue for the Academy, where the real statue of David is held, at 8.30am. Luckily they have a couple of copies dotted around the city I have already seen. I waited in the queue that was already very long for two hours and moved about 50m. I think there was about another 50m to go. Trouble was, hardly anyone was entering the Academy from our queue as all the pre-bookings lined up back the other way from the door were going in. So I gave up to go and see a few more of the places I still had on my list to see! I wonder what my queuing experience will be at the Uffizi tomorrow. I will make sure I buy some fruit to eat for breakfast and get there even earlier!

It was a chilly start so I needed my jacket to start with in the queue. At least the people watching was entertaining. A young US woman kept the cardboard-salesmen in employment. She bought a rather gorgeous scarf. Then she bought some sunglasses. The funny thing was that the whole side fell off the first pair she picked up, indicating what kind of quality they were: but she still bought a pair! In fact her whole group bought some, part of the entertainment while waiting. They inadvertently set off a "turf war" between the illegal sellers - one had clearly usurped the earlier position that the other one usually held.

I was next to a lovely older couple from the US in the queue. They thought of their grandchildren sleeping at 3am back home. I hope they persevered and got in when I ditched the queue!

One of the other places that I visited today was San Lorenzo, where Donatellos remains are in the crypt, and an impressive memorial monument stands. (Sorry no apostrophes - on Italian keyboard too hard to work them out!)

Beautiful and sunny this afternoon. T-shirt weather again. Finally joined all the tourists across Ponte Vecchio, then walked on past Pitti Palace. Yes Sue, I saw the padlocks! Came back via the next bridge along which goes into Via Tornabuoni, street of all the designers. I passed Georgio Armani, I walked past the REAL Guchi etc. And I would just like to casually mention that the little street I am staying on (Trebbio) runs off this exclusive street. Only motorbike and cycles can fit down our street though: all the advantages of location and none of the crowds!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Firenze on Sunday

Florence is a little less crazy on Sunday morning it seems as they actually stop tourist visits to the churches while Masses are on, and a large number of the shops are shut. Bells seem to ring a lot, maybe as a Mass finishes in some places, not sure.
I decided to be a Catholic tourist and went to Mass at the Duomo. (Don't choke!) All in Italian of course. At the beginning this lovely older priest got up the front and gave an animated talk about Christianity complete with Italian hand signals in all their glory. You could tell he was asking people to move up closer without knowing the lingo. Then he went down the aisle talking to some of the multi-national congregation.
I then started walking Itinerary 2 from my book. Couldn't go in the Lorenzo Church as Mass was on. Went around the back to the Medici Chapel which had free entry as they are renovating. This is where Florence just amazes me. These Medicis had loads of money, but they did commission some amazing art from artists. Michelangelo's works figured largely in the new sacristy, and I found something especially powerful about an unfinished face, only partially hewed from the marble while the rest of the body had such power and anatomical correctness. There were sketches by Michelangelo on a section of wall too, that kind of made you feel he was in the room.
Donatello, Cellini, Brunelleschi, Giotto.... you just keep coming on sculptures and paintings by them all the time. The queue outside the Academy today for the real David by Michelangelo was huge. Maybe I will try earlier another morning!
I found a pasticceria with affordable lunch right by San Marco Square, and bought a filled roll for 2 Euro and a yummy fruit pastry for 90 cents or centimes or whatever. Plus with an apple from the market it was an affordable option. Sure have to watch the budget here in Firenze. San Marco Square was a lovely peaceful place to sit and eat, actually on seats.
I got to a beautiful big square with the church of St Annunziata. (Sorry about spelling - poor lighting in here for me to read the map!) Mass was beginning at 13:00 and there seemed to be a crowd. Good time for Florentines to arise! There were beautiful Renaissance porticoes on three sides of this square. Under one of them beside a column, a woman dressed very provocatively was having a series of photos taken. I can only guess it might be intended for porn somehow and left before she lost too much clothing. And this was all going on just outside a large church!
Had to get into some lighter clothing yet again! Decided to go for a wander without any cash but soon discovered that was a mistake as even the next two churches I went into wanted 2.50 Euros entry. (You could go and pray in a quiet chapel though, and they did explain that funds went to restoration etc. I mean most tourists are there as if it is a museum of art.)
Visited Santa Maria Novella, which is near the main train station and very close to the hostel I am staying in. (Actually, it is not really a hostel, more of a family home where they let rooms and it is lovely and quiet, and very central, and the family are very welcoming.) The art in Santa Maria is also very impressive, but I guess the main things in here were some crucifixes. A spectacular wooden painted one by Giotto hanging over the main part of the church. An older one by Brunelleschi on the wall, very tortured. I cannot understand all this side of Catholicism/ Christianity at all, but this art shows a lot of passion.
Outside the church was a market for Sunday Florentines instead of tourists, a bit like the Christchurch Art Centre one. There was lush grass on the square with some daisies flowering. Signs said to Keep off the flower beds, but people were lying out there sunbathing in the warm sunshine.
Found this internet cafe nearby in which is obviously a more Arabic part of town. I had to provide a card for identity that got photocopied. I was glad I had learned from someone on another trip to have an expired drivers licence in my wallet for just this purpose!
Bye for now!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Firenze on Monday

I found another lovely "local" pasticceria this morning and had a delicious Florentine pastry for breakfast. Then I found the Bargello using my guidebook (which like an idiot I then managed to abandon somewhere nearby!) and made the fortunate discovery that entry was free. (I overheard someone talking about a Cultural Week when all museums are free. That might be a fortunate thing if true!)
The Bargello had quite an interesting history as a building. After a glorious beginning it had a period as a terrible prison, but has been restored for some time. There were early and later works there by Michelangelo. There was a lot of work by Cellini. And a lot of glazed terracotta work by della Robbia that I find particularly attractive. The figures tend to be white and the background blue. Often there is a border with green leaves and yellow lemons. You see quite a bit of this on buildings around town as well.
My next stop was to Santa Croce and the entry fee of 5 Euro came as a bit of a surprise, but they are restoring it big time. The tomb of Michelangelo is in there - relatively simple sculptures for this famous son compared to what he himself did in his lifetime. Everyone was making a bee-line to this particular tomb. Right near it was the tomb for Dante which had a suitably sombre version of Dante looming large upon it. Outside the cloister by Brunelleschi was lovely. There was something about the harmony of the arches and the square in the middle that was instantly peace-giving. A Renaissance gift. The overgrown lawns were not mown: I wish I could spread this lovely European custom of delighting in spring growth back to New Zealand!
For lunch I again found a "local" place and got some vegetables I could afford. Am eating a heap of fruit to chase away a cold I got in Prague.
Later this afternoon I joined the long queue at the train station to get some train tickets for Roma via Assisi on Thursday. Very nice helpful man at the train station, but now I see I have got return tickets back to Firenze instead! At the hostel they have suggested changing them at Assisi, but I think I would rather be sure of my times, so it is back to the queue! (You need to factor in queue times to lots of the things you plan in Firenze!)
Ciao tutti!


Had a great couple of flights from Prague to Munich to Pisa. Had a window seat for both flights. From Munich we just took off straight south over the Alps. Discovered the real wilderness in Europe: the snowy mountains just went on and on. Beautiful.
The bus trip from Pisa showed that spring is quite advanced here: lots of blossoms and light green leaves. Familiar Tuscan scenes from films etc. Also industrial sights.
Very welcoming hostel in a family run place just five minutes walk from the Station here in Firenze. Leonardo's (was Trebbio when I booked on the internet.) Three of us sharing a room. Had to find the supermarket to get some cheaper food as the tourist food is predictably expensive!
This morning I was exploring some of the main areas in town. Took fright at the queue for Ufizzi and thought that could wait. Went into the Duomo and explored the crypt under it which had remaining foundations from a much earlier church. Standing under Brunellesci's dome is awe-inspiring. Went into the baptistery and learned that the octagonal shape is symbolic of eight days and the Risen Christ. I also went into Orsanmichelle which had a lovely icon of Mary and Child.
Felt myself getting sunburnt as I ate my lunch outside so came back to the central hostel to get on a t-shirt I never thought I would need for ages. Then headed off across the river to climb up Piazza Michaelangelo for a wonderful view back over Florence. Also a Franciscan church near there, and another one at the top of the hill which is apparently the best example of Florentine -Romanesque architecture around. I had never seen anything like it. Had steps up and down in and out of crypts and elevated sections. Congregation could not see priest but could see huge mosaic of Christ at the top. I know they had lots of separation like this in Spanish churches but I think this was perhaps because it was attached to a Benedictine monastery.
Gotta go for now. Internet very expensive in Florence generally so you might not hear much from here. Lots to explore though and walking is free!