Lovely Florence, Michelangelo’s David and an Italian bridegroom.

Continuing on with my Italian trip in October last year:

After leaving Capri, we took the ferry back to Naples, and experienced the first rain of our trip. Fortunately, we were travelling by coach for most of the day, so it didn’t matter at all. We started off on our journey to Tuscany, passing settlements of shack dwellings on the outskirts of the city. This pic was taken through a rain spattered window in the coach.

I can’t think where that old saying, “See Naples and die,” came from, as it didn’t strike me as a place I would want to spend any time in. The streets looked dirty, and the buildings in a bad state of repair. Maybe we just had to drive through the less salubrious part from the docks in order to get onto the highway. That phrase was most probably coined during the city’s “Golden Age” in the reign of the Bourbons. I believe that there is a royal palace at Caserta, which has been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO. It has 1,200 rooms and is one of the largest and most opulent buildings to be built in Europe during the 18th century.

Our coach was very comfortable with lots of leg room, as there were only forty seats, unlike most, which have fifty-five. The sun peeped through the clouds as we drove along the highway, with the Apennine mountain range on our right, and on our left, small towns like this one perched high up on the hillside.

When we stopped for a comfort break, our guide suddenly produced trays of fresh Santa Rosa Sfogliatelle, a delicacy of Naples, which our driver Fabio, had collected from the bakery early that morning.

These delicious baked pastries are shaped like a lobster tail, filled with yellow custard and topped with cherries. So delicious, but impossible to eat in a lady-like manner. Fortunately, serviettes were also provided to wipe our sticky paws.

We arrived in Florence, ‘Firenze’ as it is called in Italian, in the mid afternoon, and were taken to the ‘Hotel Brunelleschi’ which is a magnificently restored historical building, under the ‘Dome of Mary of the Flowers’, right in the city centre. The Paggliazza Tower which forms part of the hotel, dates back to the 6th century, and is the oldest standing structure in Florence.

Our room was lovely, but not nearly as big as the one in Capri, and despite being really grand, there was not a single drawer to put anything in, and the wardrobe had no doors on it. The marble bathroom was gorgeous, but had not a single shelf or surface to stand any bottles, so my lotions and magic potions had to be relegated to the floor.

We had a guided walk around the ‘City of the Flowers’, and as we emerged into the main street, we were amused and delighted to see this exuberant bridegroom-to-be, being transported to his wedding by his enthusiastic groomsmen.

In the Republic Square, was a grand parade of men wearing ancient soldiers’ uniforms, celebrating the anniversary of the founding of the city’s police force.

This is only a replica of Michelangelo’s David, the original having been moved to the museum, to protect it from pigeon poo and vandals.

The Italians do love their statues. and they were everywhere;  famous scientists, philosophers and astrologers, as well as this one of the Roman god Perseus, holding the severed head of Medusa, with her corpse at his feet.

The Ponte Vecchio, the oldest of Florence’s six bridges, is one of the city’s best known images and is lined with expensive Goldsmith’s shops.

Our guide told us that in this area a small one-bedroomed apartment overlooking the river, can cost in the region of 800,000 Euros.

At the entrance to the bridge, we saw a whole collection of padlocks. Legend has it that if you and your loved one attach a padlock to any surface of the famous bridge and then throw the key into the Arno River below, your love will last forever. Millions of couples have come to the Ponte Vecchio for expressly this reason, to lock in their love and throw away the key for eternity. Most of the padlocks had to be removed by the city council, as they were spoiling the bridge’s beauty. Nowadays to discourage this practice, there is a hefty fine for anyone seen doing this, so some couples just come to touch the remaining locks and make a wish that their love will last forever.

The beautiful Gothic style “Duomo” in Cathedral Square, begun in the year 1296 and only completed in 1436, is 110m high and has four hundred and sixty-five steps to the terrace at the top; no lift of course.

Florence is absolutely infested with sculptures, like this Neptune figure whose face is said to resemble Cosimo I de’ Medici. He stands on a high pedestal in the middle of an octagonal fountain, the middle of which is decorated with many more mythical figures. This was the first public fountain in Florence and is in the Piazza Della Signoria,

No photography was allowed inside the museum, so you are spared more statue pics, but we did see the original ‘David’ which weighs in at 6 tons. The story behind this masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture, is that Michelangelo stole cadavers from graveyards at night, to use as models for his statue. He looked like a perfect specimen to me, but our guide pointed out that there is an iron fault line in some of the marble, which has resulted in him having blue veins in his legs, so take heart ladies, even the magnificent David has ‘varicose veins’.  😉

Wishing you all a great weekend. Next week, I’ll take you all to see the beautiful Tuscan town of San Gimignano.

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.