A visit to the Blue Grotto, and an idyllic day on Capri.

Continuing on from my Pompeii post and subsequent arrival on the beautiful Isle of Capri: The next day after a sumptuous breakfast, we got into a minibus taxi to go helter skelter, heart in my mouth once again, back down the hill to board a speed boat at the docks.

 

 

We were off to experience the wonders of  ‘The Blue Grotto’ (Grotta Azzurra), a noted sea cave on the coast of the island. Our guide told us that due to sunlight, passing through an underwater cavity and shining through the seawater, there is a blue reflection created, that illuminates the cavern. The boat journey was quite smooth, and when we arrived at the entrance to the cave, we were greeted by the sight of lots of little rowing boats which each took a maximum of four people. When I gingerly stepped over the edge and onto the rowing boat, I was told to lie flat in the bottom. I must mention here that the previous evening we’d been shopping, and I had been persuaded by a charming Italian boutique owner, into buying some rather elegant cream linen bermuda shorts and a crisp white shirt, so lying in the bottom of a rowing boat, wasn’t quite what I had in mind when I decided to wear them that day. 😉 An Australian woman, somewhat larger than myself, followed me into the boat, and she also had to lie flat, which meant she was lying right on top of me. We had become good friends on the tour, so I really didn’t mind as she was such a sweetie. I couldn’t help wondering though, as I struggled to breathe under her considerable weight, what my pristine outfit would look like after the ordeal, and wishing she’d got in first. Hubby and her 6’4″ son, lay in the other half of the boat, and we were expertly maneuvered through the very low and narrow opening into the grotto.

 

 

Once inside, we could thankfully sit up again, and marvelled at the beautiful deep blue of the water.

 

 

The boatmen all started singing that old Italian song, “Volare,” and everyone joined in. The sound echoed around the cave, and it was all very jolly. The words of the song are “Nel blu dipinto di blu” (In the blue, painted blue), most appropriate.

On the way over to the grotto, we saw the ancient ruins of a villa built by Tiberius Caesar, now standing right at the edge of the water.

Once back on the mainland, we went on the Funicular railway,

up to the town of Capri, where we were to have lunch at a restaurant on the Via Roma.

The most famous hotel on the island, is ‘Quisisana Capri’, originally built as a health retreat in 1845 by Scottish doctor George Clark. In 1868, it became a quaint ‘pensione’, but today, it’s one of the world’s most exclusive resorts, frequented by movie stars, royals, politicians and heads of state when they decide to spend a vacation on the Island of Capri,  When they were excavating in the early 1900′s to enlarge the hotel, the remains of a Mammoth from the Paleolithic era, was found.

 

The day was very warm, and perfect for sampling the delicious home-made gelato.  My choice was limone and fragola in a waffle cone, which was so superb that I just didn’t want it to end.

 

At the top of a few flights of steps, are the exquisite Caesar Augustus gardens overlook the Marina Piccola Bay and the Faraglioni Rocks.

 

There are beautiful villas set into the cliffs all around the island. Here are just a few and the one almost in the middle with the four pillars, belonged to Versace, and was inherited by his sister Donatella when he died.

Apparently many famous people, including Sophia Loren and Armani, own properties here. We had free time to wander around, and walked down the most famous street, the Via Camerelle, which has the most expensive designer clothing boutiques, perfume shops and jewellers.

I didn’t see any celebrities though, as apparently they only go there once the season ends, and the ‘Hoi polloi’ have all gone away again.

It was an idyllic day, then it was back to our Capri Palace hotel in Anacapri. We had a very early wake-up call the next morning, and after breakfast, we had to endure another scary taxi ride down the long and winding road, to catch the ferry back to Naples, from where we were to travel to beautiful Florence.

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dream

My answer to this weeks photo challenge, is this dreamy photo taken at Victoria Falls a few years ago. I love the way it’s framed by the foliage, and the cascading water creates a mist which gives it a dreamy quality.

Just for fun, I thought I’d pop in these next two photos of my dreaming grandchildren.

This one of my daughter’s two, was taken a few years ago on Christmas eve. I’m sure they were dreaming of what Santa was going to bring them. 😉

This is my son’s daughter who tired herself out, racing around the park. She was off to dreamland almost as soon as she was put into her seat on the back of the bicycle.

Jake’s Sunday Post: Solid

Jake’s Sunday Post theme this week, ‘Solid’, immediately brought to mind that old saying which I believe must be a universal idiom, “As solid as the Rock of Gibraltar.” This term is used to describe any person who is totally reliable and trustworthy, or any thing that has strength and endurance that is indestructible.

The Rock of Gibraltar, which is the Crown property of the UK, was known to the Romans as Mons Calpe. This enormous rock is 426m high and is the northern of the two ‘Pillars of Hercules’, which in ancient times, according to the Phoenicians, marked the limit to the known world.

We visited the Rock when we did a tour of Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Gibraltar, a few years ago. The charming Mediterranean town’s main street was jammed with pubs, restaurants, cafes, tiny shops, as well as a handful of famous British chain stores such as Marks & Spencers.

We had a minibus ride right to the top of the Rock, stopping en route to see the ‘Tower of Homage’, Gibraltar’s first permanent settlement, built around 711. This castle was rebuilt after the second period of Moorish occupation, in the early 14th century.

Here I am with my friend, who didn’t want to miss the photo opportunity.

No this isn’t my travelling companion, but one of those cheeky Barbary Macaques which seemed to be everywhere. We were warned not to have any food visible, as it would be snatched, and sure enough, one of our fellow travellers was followed onto the bus, and just as she was about to enjoy her packet of chips, it was stolen right out of her hand by one of these fearless bandits.

Here is our farewell view of this massive rock, as the ferry transported us across the Straits of Gibraltar to Morocco for the next leg of our tour. Looks pretty solid to me.

Side View’s weekend theme: A grand entrance

My friend, Side View, has as usual, given us a weekend theme to interpret in our own way. “A grand entrance,” reminded me of our 1995 visit to my Sister-in-law’s wonderful 18th century Georgian home in Co. Kilkenny, Ireland.  This mansion used to belong to the Waterford Crystal family, and was very grand indeed, although in need of a little TLC.

The feature I loved the most, was the gorgeous staircase which led down into the vast entrance hall,

in which was housed a wonderful Concert Grand piano, which of course I just had to try out for myself. 😉

I was imagining how many people in beautiful evening dress, had made a grand entrance down this staircase, as they made their way through to the ballroom which she had converted into a dance studio.

 

The wonders of Pompeii, and on to Capri.

After bidding a sad farewell to Bella Roma, our coach took us out into the countryside, and past the Frascotti vineyards, where the Pope has his summer residence, the Castel Gandolfo. Our guide was really excellent, and knew her Italian history and geography back to front and inside out. It was our turn to sit right in the front of the bus, so we had a really good view of where we were going. We were on our way to Pompeii, and after a little over two hours, we saw Mount Vesuvius rising in the distance. It looks like a mountain with the top missing, because the summit is just one huge crater. Here is a pic of it, taken from the town square of Pompeii.

The really big eruption on 24th August 79 AD, resulted in the city of Pompeii being buried under twenty-seven feet of volcanic ash. The ruins were discovered in 1748, and in 1865, excavations began. It’s amazing to see what has been uncovered since then, and it has become a popular tourist destination, with almost 3 million people visiting it every year. Pompeii was built in 300BC, and had about 20,000 inhabitants at the time of its destruction. We were able to walk on the original roads, which still have the ruts in them made by chariot wheels. You can see them clearly in this picture, along with the stepping stones which were a sort of pedestrian crossing.

There were two open air theatres. One was a small music theatre, where they used to have poetry readings and musical plays. It had the most amazing acoustics, demonstrated to us by our excellent local guide, Enrico. The city councillors would recline on sofas on the first four wide steps, eating and drinking in comfort, whilst the ‘peasants’ had to squeeze up on the much narrower crowded rows above. I’m thinking that not much has changed in 2,000 years. 😉

There is also a much larger arena where the gladiators used to fight, and also where Pink Floyd performed a live concert in 1972!

Water was brought in through lead pipes on the ground. There were forty-seven public water fountains, like this one. They didn’t know about lead poisoning in those days, and this was a very common disease. Life expectancy was only about forty-one years.

This ancient bakery has it’s grinding stone and oven still intact.

Twenty-five brothels where slave girls were put to work, have been discovered in Pompeii. This one was a Taberno, a restaurant with a brothel upstairs. Here is one of the beds, not looking any too comfortable for the job in hand.

Many wall paintings advertise the “specialities of the house.”

Plaster casts have been made of some of the victims of the disaster, and are perfect reproductions of the bodies which had been encased in the ash. The actual bodies decomposed, leaving the imprint in the solidified ash. Here is one of a person who must have mercifully died in his sleep.

This one, which I found very moving, is of a person who looks in total despair, sitting crying.

It was  such a fascinating place to visit, but very sad to think that a whole thriving city full of vibrant people, was wiped out in just a few minutes.

After lunch, we got back on the coach, and travelled on to Naples. I was surprised to see squatter camps on the outskirts of the city, just like the ones we have in South Africa, and the driving was far worse than our notorious taxi drivers, if you can possibly imagine that.

The main landmark in Naples is the medieval Castel Nuovo which was originally built in 1279, but has been renovated and added to, over the centuries.

Happily for us, despite the crazy drivers in Naples, we did arrive safely at the port, and boarded the hydrofoil to Capri.

We arrived on the ‘Beautiful Isle’after a forty minute crossing, and were transported to our hotel in one of the rather large, open-topped cabs which are to be seen everywhere in Capri.

The vehicle seemed to be much too long, as we whizzed up the winding, almost spiral lanes at great speed. The road was so narrow, I though it must be a one way, but soon found out that I was sadly mistaken, when I saw vehicles bearing down on us from the opposite direction. My heart was in my mouth for a good ten minutes, until we eventually reached the top of the hill, and I could swallow it again.

Our hotel, “The Capri Palace,” was magnifico beyond description, and we were delighted find that that we had been allocated the “Afrodite Room,” with a beautiful canopied bed, two bathrooms and a sitting room, as well as our own private terrace.

That evening we dined in the hotel restaurant, and had a superb meal with great Italian wine. Breakfast was a sumptuous buffet with everything from fresh fruit to smoked salmon. I just wished I could have eaten more to do it justice. Then we were spirited off down the hill again by scary-cab, to take a boat out to the “Blue Grotto,” which will be my next episode.

The colossal Colosseum and more ruins

After leaving Vatican City, we got back on the coach and crossed the Tiber River to visit the Colosseum, which was originally named, “Flavio’s Amphitheatre.”

This colossal place took only 3 years to build, but that was because they used 40,000 slaves to do so. Completed in AD 80, it is probably the most impressive structure of the Roman Empire. It could accommodate 55,000 people, had 80 entrances, and was covered with an enormous sun awning, called a velarium, which took 1,000 men to install.

Above the ground, there are four storeys, the lowest tier being reserved for the privileged prominent citizens who it was considered,  deserved the best view of the proceedings. The upper seating catered for lower class citizens as well as women. No comment!

This photo taken from the very top, demonstrates how high the building actually was.

Below the ground were rooms with mechanical devices, and cages containing wild animals. The cages could be hoisted, enabling the animals to appear in the middle of the arena.

In this arena, the Emperor entertained the public with free games, which helped to increase his popularity with the people. The games started off with a few circus acts, but usually ended with fights to the death between wild animals and gladiators. To mark the inauguration of the building in AD 80, some 9,000 wild animals were destroyed. Here you can see the vastness of the place, and the compartments where they kept the animals; tigers, lions, elephants and crocodiles. There was a wooden floor over the top of the cages, on which the gladiators fought the animals. I would hate to witness such a spectacle, wouldn’t you? This sport was however hugely popular in those days.

In 847, an earthquake felled the southern side of the Colosseum, and parts of the building, including the marble facade, were used to construct later monuments, including the St. Peter’s Basilica.

When we emerged, we saw several jolly gladiators, who for a fee, one could pose with for a photograph.

This young girl seemed quite taken with them. 😉

After the Colosseum, we had a walk around to look at a few other ruins of ancient Rome’s city centre. In the middle of this place is where Julius Caesar was murdered.

This triumphal Arch of Constantine, was built in 315 AD to commemorate Constantine I’s victory over Maxentius in the battle at the Milvian Bridge three years previous.

 

It was such an interesting day, and in the evening, we took a walk down to the Piazza di Spagna to see the Spanish Steps. There are 138 steps, and it is the widest staircase in Europe. At the top, is the Trinita dei Monti church, built in the 16th century. The last time we were there in the late ’80’s, the sides of the steps were beautifully decorated with pots of colourful Bougainvillea, but I was disappointed to see only people decorating them this time around.

I hope you enjoyed our tour today. Next time we meet, I think we’ll all be off to Pompeii.

Ad visits the Pope’s place.

The second day of our Italian trip was very hot, and by the end of the day we were totally exhausted after walking for hours, up and down many steps, both in the Vatican City, and the Colosseum. It was really fascinating though, and we saw such a lot of amazing sights, and took many photos.

Here is the outside of the Vatican fortress wall. It’s really high, and I’m sure not even Spiderman could manage to scale it. We were told that there are about 20,000 visitors per day. Vatican City has 850 inhabitants and is a separate country from Italy.

It’s guarded by the Swiss Guard, and also has it’s own police force.

The gardens were really beautiful and well kept, as one would expect.

Here is a pic of the 136.57 m tall St Peter’s Dome, viewed from the Vatican Gardens. It’s the tallest dome in the world, and looked so magnificent as it glistened in the sun against the blue sky.

Here is the inside of the Dome looking up.

The entrance to the Saint Peter’s Basilica is decorated with a myriad statues!

Once inside, there were so many photo opportunities.

This sculpture by Michelangelo is entitled “The Pieta, It’s the first of a number of his works on the same theme, and is the only one which he actually signed.

This one, executed by a team of artists under the supervision of the sculptor, Bernini, is Pope Alexander VII’s tomb. It shows him kneeling on top of his grave, surrounded by the four virtues (Charity, Truth, Prudence, and Justice). Death is underneath the shroud and is holding up an hourglass.

The vast proportions of these beautiful marble pillars and sculptures are truly breathtaking.

We really did see so many wonderful sights, too numerous to show you here.

My head was bobbing up, down, and round and round, trying to take in all the beauty from marble floors,

to magnificent walls and ceilings.

When we entered the Sistine Chapel, no photography was allowed, so here is a photograph of a photograph of the end wall depicting the “Last Judgement.” We were told that Michelangelo had superimposed the faces of some people who had given him a really hard time during his career, on those folk relegated to Hell at the bottom of this “Judgement Day,” scene.

There are 1,100 sq m of paintings in the chapel, and it’s beauty is astounding. One isn’t allowed to talk at all, and every few seconds, a pre-recorded and rather loud “Sshhh,” came over the speaker system, to remind everyone to keep QUIET. 😉

We marvelled at, and wondered about the meaning of this interesting bronze sculpture outside the Vatican museum. It’s called “Sfera Con Sfera” (“Sphere Within a Sphere”) and was created by Arnaldo Pomodoro. I read that several such sculptures of varying diameters, are to be found at other places around the world, including the UN Headquarters in New York.

Inside were so many statues, which were all white, but here is a replica of what they would have looked like originally; very colourful indeed. I was so surprised, as I  didn’t imagine that they had once been painted.

We visited the many galleries in the museum, and looked up in absolute awe at the beautiful ceiling frescos in the “Map Gallery.” These, and so many others were absolutely magnificent.

It was about here, that hubby almost lost me forever. It was very crowded, and I’d wandered off on my own, which is always a mistake.  Not seeing him and the rest of our group, I decided that they must be ahead of me. In a bit of a panic, I went charging off to catch them up, not realising that they were still way back. My guardian and protector eventually managed to catch up with me, and lead me back to the safety of the fold, giving me strict instructions to stay close. 😉

The Tapestry Gallery was also a wonder to behold. The mind boggles just imagining all the work that must have gone into creating these enormous tapestries.

There were statues everywhere we looked, and I think I saw enough to last me for quite a while; in fact I believe I actually overdosed on statues that day.

As we were leaving the museum, we passed the private entrance to the papal apartments. How I would love an invitation to enter through that glass door.

Well I think that’s quite enough photo downloading for today, so you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to wander around the Colosseum with me.

AD goes roaming in Rome

Buongiorno everyone. I decided that it’s time I shared my Italian trip with you, and Gilly did ask so nicely, so for the next few days my posts will be about will be about all things Italiano.  Last October, we were on our way from South Africa to Florida, and after a stop-over to see my MiL in England, we decided that a little detour across to Italy would be rather nice.

We arrived in Bella Roma, on a late afternoon flight from Heathrow, and took a taxi to our hotel through the Sunday night rush hour traffic. It was dark by the time we arrived, and we were most impressed when we pulled up outside the Boscolo Hotel. I had no idea it was going to be so magnificent.

The lobby and lounge were equally grand; so much marble everywhere!

After unpacking our cases, we went out in search of dinner, and found a little Pizzeria, run by Egyptians. We were offered lobster, and were introduced to the two choices, either Peter or Michael. I felt sorry for those poor little lobsters, and so we decided that they could “Die another day.” I wasn’t going to be responsible for depriving either of them of their best friend in the tank, so we settled for a pizza instead, washed down with a bottle of Frascati  wine, which was very tasty indeed.

The following morning, after a sumptuous breakfast, we strolled down to the Trevi Fountain, and of course I did what all tourists must do; I threw in a coin and made a wish.

On our walkabout we passed this lovely sculpture of Romulus and the wolf.

The narrow cobbled streets are quite a challenge for both cars and pedestrians alike. There are so many scooters around, which isn’t really surprising, as they are much easier to park, and to drive around. We remembered from our last visit here, that to cross the road, you just have to walk purposefully, and fix the motorist with your “I dare you to run me over!” look, and they will stop for you.  There are so many leather shops, and quite reasonably priced too, although I really didn’t think I needed to add to my luggage so soon, so we rather concentrated on the beautiful architecture.

This building is the Pontificia Studiorum Universitas, and was definitely worthy of a pic. It looked so magnificent against that blue sky. I wish I could have moved that white van out of the way. 😉

This typical example of Italian architecture, had been turned into a restaurant.

As we were on our way to view some archeological excavations, I heard beautiful music and went to investigate. There, under a shady tree, was a young clarinetist serenading the passersby. People were literally dancing past, and dropping a few Euros into his hat. This elderly couple, obviously still very much in love, stayed and danced for quite a while, as he played “Besame Mucho.”

I saw something I hadn’t seen in ages;  a roast-chestnut seller on a street corner. I didn’t like to take a pic unless I bought some though, and I just wasn’t hungry enough, but they did smell good. There are very few new buildings in Rome. Most are either old or ancient, and many have been built on top of old Roman ruins. Some are being excavated now, and here you can see all the bits and pieces of beautiful columns and statues that they are discovering.

Later, we went to meet our tour guide and the rest of the group, over wine and snacks. There were forty of us, from all over the world. Many folk had just flown in from the USA, Canada and Australia, and were somewhat jet-lagged, but when we all went out for dinner, they seemed to recover, and we  had a lot of fun and an excellent meal at The Cabiria Restaurant on the Via Veneto. We ate a four course dinner, sitting up on the roof deck overlooking the city. The evening was so mild and there was fortunately no wind either; a perfect meal, lovely company, and even an Italian singer/guitarist to serenade us.

When it was time to leave, rather than wait for the lift, which could take only seven people at a time, some of us opted to go down this spiral staircase. I counted 186 steps…. a long way down. Imagine falling over the balustrade as they sometimes do in the movies!

Tomorrow, I’ll take you to the Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel, as well as the Colosseum and Michelangelo’s steps, so for now, it’s “buono giornata,” everyone. 😉

Jake’s Sunday Post theme: Silence

Jake’s Sunday post theme this week, is “Silence.” I thought long and hard over this one. Should I put up one of my many awesome ‘silent‘ sunset photos from far away places, like this one in Tahiti;

or maybe a serene scene taken whilst silently cruising down the Li River in China.

Then I remembered a photo taken on our first of many visits to New York, of the lady with the lips which have been forever silent, but who has never ceased to proclaim a message which has inspired and thrilled so many people across the world, not just Americans who are so proud of her, as she stands there for all to see as one flies or sails into New York City.

The inscription on a bronze plaque, mounted inside the lower level of the pedestal of the Statue, is a sonnet written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus, and reads thus;

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Ailsa’s Travel theme: Night #2

This weekend our seaside village had a “Winter carnival.” Many people travelled down to our bit of coast, as on Saturday was the “Durban July” horse race at the Greyville racetrack in Durban. This is an annual event, and the main attraction for the Press, if not the punters, are the ladies who go all out to be noticed in their OTT outfits, and especially the hats.

The other event was a rugby match played on Friday night at the Kings Park Stadium, between two of the country’s top teams, ‘The Sharks’ and ‘The Blue Bulls’. Of course our local team, the Sharks won. 😉

Many holiday makers were here for one or both events, and there was a jazz festival advertised in our local newspaper, for Friday evening.

Hubby and I decided to go up about 9pm, to check out the jazz, but were quite disappointed to see that it was just one group playing in the street near to the car park. ‘Beat-Route’ is described as a “traditional funky swing jazz combo, but we weren’t terribly impressed, and the only way to hear them, was to stand in the street, not more than a few yards away.

We thought we would be able to sit and have a drink at one of the bars or cafes whilst soaking up the jazz, but each establishment was so noisy, with its own canned music blaring out, that we gave up, and just took a few night photos for this weeks travel challenge.

Umhlanga’s favourite tapas and wine bar, “The George,”  was full to overflowing with very merry customers.

The lovely aromas were very tempting as we passed the ‘Bangkok Wok’, and ‘Luigi’s Pizza & Pasta’ looked so inviting inside, with candles flickering on the tables. Unfortunately for them, we’d already eaten dinner at home, so couldn’t be tempted.

The ‘Ponta D’Ouro’ Portuguese/Mozambican restaurant is another great place to eat, and above this, is a new Cuban restaurant, which I think we’ll try out whilst our son is here next month. ‘Little Havana’ has already got a great reputation for its wonderful cuisine.

Right next door is ‘Angelo’s Trattoria’, which boasts “the wickedest dessert menu in Umhlanga.” That really does sound like my kind of eating place. Why do I cook at home, with all these interesting restaurants on our doorstep? Probably because hubby always says that he enjoys my cooking the best. 😉

So, after listening to the jazz, and inhaling the delicious food aromas, we decided that it was past our bedtime, and went home. It had been great to be part of the night vibe in our lovely village for a while.