Monday, May 30, 2016

Traveling in Beautiful Rome, Italy. Part 1

Last time I was in Florence, Italy(click the link to read about it), hopping on a fast train bound for Rome. I arrived, which brings us to me traveling in beautiful Rome, Italy. This is part one of three parts. Hey! I have over 45 photos for you to look at, I have to break it up. Keep in mind there will even be a separate post about the Vatican, but I think I can keep it to just one.

As I mentioned last time, you can say what you want about Italian trains but Trenitalia's high-speed trains, the Frecciarossa, scream across the countryside at over 150 mph (that's 250kph to my Eurotrash friends) and you can't even tell when you're on the train. I've gone over 150 mph before on a motorcycle, don't tell my folks, and it is a completely different experience. I will say this: If you want to go that fast, take the train.

As Stefano, my Florentinian inn keeper told me, Rome is a big city. He understated it, but his command of English, while good, might have played a roll. Rome is gigantic and there is almost no way to see all of it in one trip, unless that trip lasts a few years. I've heard people who live in Rome still haven't seen all of Rome. I believe it.

Colosseum in Rome Italy

So let's not pussyfoot around and just start with the Colosseum. There is a metro entrance 50 meters away from this thing and it will give you pause when you come from the bowels of the Earth and see it for the first time. The first time I actually saw it was at night on Good Friday and there were thousands of people there because the Pope participates in The Passion of Christ there on Good Friday. That was also the first time I saw the Pope in person, from a mile away, in a huge crowd, in the dark. He looks much bigger on TV, provided it was him. I couldn't tell. I left before things really got started. 

Colosseum in Rome Italy

I got pretty lucky the first night that I actually went to go see and photograph the Colosseum. There were some brilliant clouds and amazing light. So it looked like a postcard, and a little HDR processing doesn't hurt either. Sadly, it was closed when I finally made it there the first time, so I had to go back. It's not really that sad, and it's super easy to get to. 

Colosseum in Rome Italy

See, the photo just up there is no where near as cool as the other two even further up. It's really too bad for the nice Australian guy living in the Netherlands who asked my to take his photo in front of it for him. We sat for a while and talked while we waited for the light to get better. It didn't really, but I took his photo again anyway. I finally did return to the Colosseum when it was open and went inside.

There are tours of the Colosseum, and I will take one someday, but I went solo my first time. There are a few points that are important to know before you visit this place. The first is that you will stand in line for about 45 minutes while you wait to get in. The second is that people will try and sell you tours and accelerated entrance while you are in that line, many of those people are trying to scam you. The third is that there are QR codes around the Colosseum where you can purchase accelerated entrance legitimately with your mobile phone -- provided you have mobile data. Or you could just use the photo of the QR code I've provided below and buy the "Skip the Line" tickets from the comfort of your hotel, over WiFi.

Colosseum in Rome Italy skip the line QR code

Please don't let this QR code be the only reason you come back to my blog. 

Once you're inside the Colosseum it is spectacular to say the least. I'm sure I would have been even more impressed had I taken a tour. I did however get to eavesdrop on a few tours, one of my favorite involved a 60 something female tour guide explaining that there was once a fountain out front where winning gladiators, glistening with sweat and oil and wearing mere loincloths would go and bathe themselves to wash off the blood. She seemed to have a remarkably vivid picture of this in her mind. It was raining, so I found a snail. 

Colosseum in Rome Italy

I did take this photo inside the Colosseum and it is a snail crawling along the top, or base I'm not sure, of a Roman column that is a few thousand years old. I suspect it was once flat. I really wanted a photo of a column head from the Colosseum and I got one. I just don't like it very much and this is my favorite Colosseum column-head photo. 

Colosseum in Rome Italy

At the end of the day this place is really just another stadium, only a few thousand years old. To be honest I've been in more impressive stadiums. Also, some of the stadiums I've been in were looking pretty ragged at 80 years old. Jerry Jones seems to have built a nice one in Texas, but there is a lot more glass in that one that the one you see above. 

Colosseum in Rome Italy

The other thing to consider is that the Colosseum has been fairly substantially restored -- a few times. If you walk over to the Circus Maximus, which hasn't seen nearly the attention the Colosseum has you'll get a better idea of just how much work has gone into keeping this ancient stadium standing. It's still a very impressive structure and it was amazing to be there. Like I said, I'll get a tour next time. There is one that lets you go onto the wooden "stage" part as well as underneath, but you need to book well in advance -- and pay a lot. The friendly Aussie I mentioned before took that tour and he said it was worth the 110 EUR. 

Colosseum in Rome Italy

See, I told you it's just another stadium. Really, the stair part you see here is so similar to every other stadium I've ever been in that it is a little depressing. Here we are, the most advanced that humans have ever been in history, so advanced that we decided to change our name to Homo Sapiens Sapiens, and yet we're using a design several thousand years old for sports stadiums. Maybe it says more about sports? It's hard to say. 

The Colosseum wasn't the first place I visited by a long shot. That was in fact, the Vatican but you're going to have to wait for that. I spent a pretty good amount of time wandering around Rome and I have to say each part of the city is different. It is broken into districts and I haven't the foggiest clue how they are determined, but they are different. There is one district that is a lot like Florence with narrow streets and whatnot.

Talking statue Rome Italy

That district is where I found the statue above. She is very important because she is essentially the first lady of free speech in Rome. It is Pasquino in the Parione district of Rome. If you don't want to read the Wiki the deal is this is a Hellenistic statue from the 3rd century B.C. About 100 years after it was unearthed a cardinal draped the statue with a toga and decorated it with Latin epigrams (whatever those are). After this it became common to criticize the Pope in verse written in the Roman dialect and attach it to this statue. Those poems were called pasquinades. 

I'm a huge fan of free speech and this was very cool to me. Unfortunately, free speech is generally the realm of drooling idiots and there were a lot of critiques of the then recent bombing in Belgium attached to the board on the right there. There may have been some impressive poetry about something, but my Italian sucks and my Latin is even worse and honestly if you're criticizing Pope Francis you are a complete bastard, the man is practically a living saint. Pasquino is the first of the "Talking Statues of Rome" which I didn't know until I returned. There are others and I want to see them. 

Classic Fiat 500 in Rome Italy

Rome, Italy has a lot to offer aside from old buildings and statues. Like awesome classic Fiat 500s. There were tons of them and they are very cool. I didn't take photos of all of them. I took a photo of this one because it's blue in front of a yellow wall and there is some art stuff involved there. Like color wheels and things. The other thing that is rampant in Rome, and most of Italy, is the scooter. Holy cow they are everywhere and in Rome, Italy they drive like bats possessed by demons. Speaking of demons, let's get back to churches.

Church in Rome Italy

I really just stumbled into this church and absolutely loved it. I loved that Jesus was there and the Penitent Thieves were represented as well. Especially on Easter, which I think was the point. I have more photos of the church but this is my favorite. It's the Oratório de São Francisco Xavier and from what I can gather, one of the few churches that offers and English Mass. If I lived in Rome, this would be my church -- hands down.

Fountain in Rome Italy

Wow! Look at that a photo of a fountain with no segue whatsoever. Rome has fountains all over the place, I'd say more common than gelato shops, and most offer potable water. No kidding, I carried the same plastic water bottle for five days in Rome and just kept refilling it from fountains all over town. I didn't have to sneak a fill up in a restaurant bathroom like in Germany. This particular fountain is near the Pantheon. 

The other thing I want to point out is that the fountain above bears the S.P.Q.R mark. This is the mark of the ancient Roman government and, evidently the mark of the government of the city of Rome. It is in a lot of places, like on garbage cans and I think sewer covers. 

Fountain in Rome Italy

Since were still on fountains and lacking segues I figured I'd toss this one in. I was wondering around in the Parione District and there was just this random open courtyard with a fountain in it. No real reason, it was just there. It was a little early in the year for it to be turned on I think. Obviously, it was a nice quiet place to have a picnic. Rome is full of these hidden gems. That is why it is impossible to see all of it, even if you live there. I feel pretty lucky to have "discovered" this special spot. 

Trevi Fountain in Rome Italy

One place that was no secret and I surely did not "discover" was the Trevi Fountain. It is absolutely beautiful and absolutely one of the most crowded places in Rome. So crowded in fact I had to go back at night to take this photo, which I don't particularly like but here it is. It was still crowded even when I took this, but you'll notice I left out the seating area around the front of the fountain. Yes, I tossed a coin in the fountain and even without doing so I'm pretty sure I will return to Rome. 

Pretty much every place that is remotely famous in Rome is going to be crawling with people, but I did discover something interesting. The magic hour is 13:00. If you get to places before 13:00 they won't be that bad, look to a future Vatican post for some real specifics on that. 

Fountain in Rome Italy

Look, another not quite so random photo of a fountain. They really are everywhere and it is cool to see them. I have a photo of the Fountain dell Baraccia, or Fountain of the Ugly Boat, at the bottom of the Spanish Steps but it was nearly as crowded at the Trevi Fountain. Also, the Spanish Steps were closed for restoration and didn't exactly make for the best backdrop. About the only good that came of my trip to the Spanish Steps was the gelato shop I found near the top and the fact that I was able to warn two British tourists that they were closed as I was leaving town and overheard them planning their assault on the city. 

The Roman Forum in Rome Italy

I'll finish up part one of my traveling in beautiful Rome, Italy post with this nice photo of some lilacs I took at the Roman Forum since part two will include it. Sure, I may toss in a tidbit here or there without any links, but if I'm writing a multi-part post I figure it's best to link the parts somehow. So, you have the Roman Forum to look forward to in two weeks. 

Wow, you've made it all the way to the bottom and for that I thank you. If you're so inclined you can consider supporting me here Feel free to share that link with your friends too. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Spring in Florence, Part 2

Last time I was talking about Florence, Italy. This is Spring in Florence, Part 2. You can read part 1 here. I'll essentially pick up right where I left of, which was descending from the Campanile di Giotto.

Directly across from the front of the cathedral, and across from the Campanile di Giotto, is the Battistero di San Giovanni and it a a beautiful building. The light inside is magnificent as it streams through the windows around the upper part of the naive. You can really have fun playing with the light. 

Battistero di San Giovanni

Of course it is a light bright in some spots, perhaps too bright for some people.

As I said Florence has a substantial share of tiny streets with all manner of exciting business happening. Florence seemed to be a very active, vibrant city where people were in fact working. Real people live here and that was refreshing. 

On this trip I started to work a little more on my street photography. Why not? Florence was a great place to stretch my street photography legs and start to get back into it. It is vivacious and full of working class people going about their daily lives, yet there are enough tourists to where no one thinks twice about an errant photographer. Like the couple below, next to the cobbler's shop. 

Florence Italy

Of course you have to space things out and wander around a bit and just take cityscapes instead. I suppose cityscape photography is a genre. Far be it from me to say it's not.

Florence Italy

I told a friend of mine that it is difficult not to make good photos in Italy. Sure some areas and places are more difficult than others, but the freshness of perspective I was able to get there made things easy. The other thing I started to notice is that there are many hidden niches and shrines. This would not abate, in fact the further I got into Italy the more of these niches I found. 

 It was great to see so many little hidden places. Some had electric lights in them and others were maintained well with what appeared to be fresh flowers in them. Others were not so well maintained with dusty faux flowers.

Florence Italy

I'm sure if you're a teenager, centuries old statues painstakingly hewn from marble by the masters really lose thier appeal in a hurry. I would say even more so if you live in this place, but at least maybe talking to each other is in order. I don't know, I am not, nor have I ever been, a teen-aged girl -- thank goodness. 

Fountain of Neptune Florence Italy
Very close to the disinterested teenagers there is the Fountain of Neptune in the Piazza della Signoria next to the Palazzo Vecchio. It's great how everywhere has a sexy sounding name in Italy. The statue was created by Bartolomeo Ammannati in 1565. The light on it when I walked by was amazing and I couldn't resist taking a photo. 

Florence Italy

Further wanderings took me to other interesting tiny streets, up a hill across a few bridges and many other places throughout the city. I honestly can't remember everywhere I went. I was just basically stumbling around enjoying spring in Florence. I wandered into the central market though, and had some amazing food upstairs there. Do yourself a favor and eat there. There are a few restaurants on the top floor and they all looked great.

Florence Italy

I did walk to the top of the hill only to discover that Ft. Belvedere was closed. Which was a shame since I like military history so much. I does appear that there are some really nice gardens around the fort though. I didn't explore them and just went back down the hill. 

On my last day though I ignored the advice of my innkeeper and tried to take a look at the other fort in Florence. Exactly like Stefano, the innkeeper, said the fort was undergoing renovations and was closed. He said it is also more of an outdoor venue for events than and interesting historical monument. 

At least it had a moat and some bridges and gates and whatnot. Below you will see a photo I took of the rather impressive stone wall at the fort. 

Florence Italy

At one point one evening while I was wandering around looking for some place to eat I happened to pass this really cool church bazaar. Everything in it was 1 EUR and it was staffed by two delightful old ladies. I think they are delightful, they didn't really speak English. It kind of reminded my of my grandmother working in the local hospital gift shop.

Florence Italy

 And what trip to Florence would be complete without a photo of Ponte Vecchio? It's a bridge with shops on it, there is one like it in Venice too. Most of the shops are high end and I did happen to see a dead rat lying in the gutter in front of the Rolex store. It made a nice ironic statement for me.

Ponte Vecchio Florence Italy

This isn't exactly your typical Ponte Vecchio photo, but it did appear to be very popular to climb out on the bridge supports of the downriver bridge and take in the view of Ponte Vecchio, even during the day. I didn't see the police harass anyone for doing this.

So after two days in Florence I was back on the high-speed train to Rome. Which you'll get to read about next time, or maybe Venice if I decided to go out of order. You'll have to wait and see. 

Wow, you've made it all the way to the bottom and for that I thank you. If you're so inclined you can consider supporting me here Feel free to share that link with your friends too.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Spring in Florence, Part 1

Let me begin by explaining that I will endeavor to make my posts a little shorter. I realize they run a bit long, and honestly I usually have even more material than I can squeeze into 4000 words and 35 or more photos. So, I think I am going to start splitting my posts up into two or three parts. Now, on to Spring in Florence, Part 1.

This year was the first year that Easter weekend was a four-day weekend in the Czech Republic. Good Friday and Easter Monday are now both holidays and there will always be a four-day weekend for Easter, which is great. So, what is there to do on a four-day weekend? Go to Italy of course.

The original idea was to travel to the Vatican for Easter Mass with the Pope. Things just kind of kept growing from there and I ended up with a 12-day holiday for the price of only 6 vacation days. A bargain to be sure. 

I tried to do it as cheaply as possible, which will explain some of my movements.
There are a number of low-cost airline carriers flying to Milan. Why? I have no idea. The thing is, you can fly to Milan for about 550czk ($23) sometimes. Your suitcase however, can not fly so cheaply. It is an odd state of affairs when a lighter-than-a-human bag in a cargo hold garners a higher price than a person, but whatever. That's the way it is.
A quick Google search of "top ten things to do in Milan" will yield something along the lines of "See the Duomo" in the number-one spot and "go someplace else" at a firm seating in the number two spot. 

Duomo di Milano Cathedral of Milan

There is no doubt, the Duomo di Milano, or Cathedral of Milan, is an impressive structure. It is very beautiful. Even Samuel Clemens thought so. Clemens visited the cathedral during one of his trips to Europe and wrote about it in The Innocents Abroad. The thing that stuck him the most about it was the number of statues all over it. 

Duomo di Milano Cathedral of Milan

Every single statue is different. The amount of work that went into this is staggering to imagine. 

Duomo di Milano Cathedral of Milan

Here is a little bit better look. Some of the statues are even upside down. I'm sure they are all saints and scholars and other notable religious figures. Maybe somewhere there is a guide describing each statue, but I didn't put any effort in to searching for such a thing. 

Duomo di Milano Cathedral of Milan

While the back of the catherdaral was a little less exciting, there was this beautiful tree blooming. I say it was a little less exciting, but it is a beautiful structure all the way around. 

Duomo di Milano Cathedral of Milan

The other thing you can do in Milan is shop. I'm not rich enough to do that, so I just wandered around for a little while looking for a restaurant a friend of mine told me about. It doesn't hurt that there is a huge shopping center right next to the cathedral. It's the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

The glass roof is a nice touch and it is a beautiful building. Of course I didn't go into  the Prada or Versace store. There were a few other high-end stores in the same area. If you want to buy a $10,000 watch you can do it in Milan. 

I had stashed my suitcase in a locker at the train station and after looking at the cathedral, grabbing a bite at the recommended restaurant and wandering around a little I made my way back there so I could get to Florence. 

A street in Milan, Italy

There were, of course, some of the expected narrow streets around Milan, but nothing like Florence. Milan seems to be a bit more of a modern city. Maybe I had already formulated my decision about it, but it wasn't my favorite place. I didn't even go in the cathedral, mainly because the line was too long and I would have probably missed my train if I had. It's cheap to get there so maybe I'll go back. 

Say what you will about Italian trains. I personally have a limited experience with trains in Italy. Here is what I do know: the fast trains are remarkable, efficient and run on time. These things scream across the country at around 150 mph and thanks to that I was able to get to Florence in a descent amount of time. 

If the main train station in Florence is your first impression of the place you may not like it so much, but give it a little time. On the whole, from what I saw, Florence was a bit dirtier than Milan but that was alright with me. It was also more interesting. 

If you like churches Italy is the place for you. More specifically, if you like Catholic churches. For my money, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore is one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen. I'm leaving St. Peter's Basilica out of the equation here because that is on an entirely different level.  

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

It is really difficult to capture just how amazing this place is in photos. The outside is inspiring to say the least. So much so that I had to photograph it from multiple angles. 

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

And this is just the front of the cathedral. The back is equally inspiring. The tower over there on the right is the Campanile di Giotto. It's a bell tower and only physically connected to the cathedral by some stabilizing iron rods which I'm sure were added a long time after construction was completed. More on the Campanile in a second. 

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

This is the back of the cathedral. As you can see it's still beautiful. The inside, which I didn't photograph was actually fairly spartan. The day I visited the cathedral was holy Thursday and the church was closed in the morning. Inside they were distributing holy oils for Easter. The tower was still open and as I've said many times before, I love to climb to the top of a tower. 

 Campanile di Giotto

Of course there as a line to get into the tower. I waited for maybe 30 minutes. There is a line to see almost everything of worth in Italy. The secret is to get to places early. From what I could gather 1 o'clock p.m. is when things get REALLY busy. Everyone has goofed off all morning, then had lunch and is now ready to tourist it up. 

So I hiked the 275 ish feet to the top and had a look around. The view of Florence is amazing. 

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

The photo above in your standard view. Below we have the "more creative" tilted horizon view. You can really see the cathedral dome in both photos. In the tilted on you can also see the line for entry to the tower.

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

Why I didn't take a panoramic photo when I was atop the tower is a good question. I don't know. Maybe it is because it was pretty crowded up there. I was really enjoying taking in the view too so, that might be why. 

Florence Italy Skyline

Another shot of Florence. The surrounding hills and all the buildings crammed in together really give Florence a unique skyline, if you can call it that. I suppose it is. It for sure is not like a city in the U.S. such as New York or San Francisco.  

 Campanile di Giotto

The light as I was descending the tower was simply beautiful. It shot into parts of the central chamber where the ropes to pull the bells once were. I assume the iron device in the photo above was something to keep the ropes in line. At least that is what I think it is.

If you're hesitant about ascending the Campanile di Giotto, I can tell you it's not so bad. Use your own discretion of course, but there are several levels where you can rest for a while. You can see them in the photos, it's where the windows are. If you are claustrophobic though the narrow stairs might bother you. 

I'll stop it here and pick things up in two weeks with the second installment. 

Wow, you've made it all the way to the bottom and for that I thank you. If you're so inclined you can consider supporting me here Feel free to share that link with your friends too.