Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Florence - a final fling

Having changed hotels last night, we are now further out of the City - not a bad thing. We catch a local bus into the Stazione this morning from one block down the street. Tickets are reasonable and time based, so that you buy a ticket and can use it on however many buses you need to for the following 70 minutes. Not a bad idea - especially when you need to change buses on your route. We catch the Bus 22 which runs regularly throughout the day, every day, every 12 minutes and then change for the 57. We are headed to the San Marco Accademia to have a look at Michaelangelo's famous sculpture David. We missed visiting it with Helen as the museums are closed on Mondays!

From where we alight from the bus at the Piazza San Marco and follow the directions of the bus driver to arrive at the Piazza Della Annunziata just a block away. Hmmm, no Accademia here, but there is the Ospedale degli Innocenti (Hospital of the Innocents) which was the first orphanage in Italy and is adorned with medallions of babies wrapped in swaddling. Michael asks directions and we walk on for another two blocks, almost bringing us back to where we got off the bus - the driver had the wrong street!

The San Marco Accademia is set in an unpreposing building in the middle of a pedestrianised street. And there are the marks of the thousands who, like us, queued in the hot sun because we did not have reservation tickets. The walls of the building on two panels are covered in graffiti. You know the sort - John was here, Mary loves Paul etc. A little disappointing perhaps, but it is also a form of new art that even today we heard more debate about its legitimacy and at least demonstrates that people are visiting the Museum!

We wait for about half an hour. We are being let in in small groups - I guess that way they can control over the number of people in the Museum at any time. As soon as we enter, there are signs telling us everything we cant do! Including the anticipated 'No photos'. Oh well, we expected that here of all places. We pay our admission and then also hire an audio guide - there are some plaques, but the commentary gives us much greater insight into the collections.

Almost all the art is of a religious nature as the museum (art gallery?) was established to house paintings from the churches of Florence and elsewhere in the time of the Reformation?
You enter the Museum through a large chamber filled with original paintings from the 15th to 17th centuries including some by Boticelli. And in the centre of the room is a copy sculpture of the Rape of the Sabines that dominates the central space just as much as the large paintings do the walls.

From this room, we continue into the gallery from where you can see the statue of David at the end under its own skylit tribune. The gallery is dedicated to Michaelangelo's works and houses the huge statues of the Four Slaves. Originally commissioned by Pope Julius II to grace his tomb planned for St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican they were to show the struggle of pagan man without knowledge of the church. He died before it was completed and after a period of continually changing commissions with less and less money, Michaelangelo completed the sculptures as man's struggle to free himself from whatever binds him. These statues are quite amazing - they are huge blocks of marble from which is emerging the figure of a man. The four unfinished statues here represent the Beardless Slave, the Slave Awakening, the Blockhead Slave and the Cross Legged Slave. Two completed statues - the Dying Slave and the Rebellious Slave are located in the Louvre.

The statue of David is based on the biblical character of David who slew Goliath. It stands over 14 feet tall and is impressive without being imposing. His right hand at first glance seems a little too large for the symmetry of the body, that is until you walk fully around the statue and realise that he is clutching a rock that belongs in the sling he is holding over his left shoulder. It is an imposing and masterful piece of work and so easy to see why people call it the greatest sculpture ever carved. Crowds gather to gaze in contemplation at the naked beauty of David. I can't help but wonder who it was who modelled for Michaelangelo! He sure was a beauty. And it would be good for the fashion models of today to study this character and see that there is so much beauty in a body well formed, and not starved.

David has long toes, strong calves and thighs <sigh>, a long straight back topped with shoulders in direct proportion. And his butt, Helen? Cute and tiny - like he really does not have much of an ass at all! His hair falls in soft ringlets and he gazes somewhat pensively, looking way beyond the beauty of the artworks that surround him.

You stop and stare, walk around him, take a seat on one of the benches around the edge of the room so that you can take it all in. And sitting close by is one small employee that would outdo any policeman with a bullhorn as she shrieks "no photos" from time to time when some hapless person forgets where they are! Once we have had our full so to speak of David, we continue into the annexes surrounding to see precious artworks that date back to the 12th century. We also visit the Plaster Room to admire the original busts and castings for many famous statues. Its quite surreal and most of them have the metal spacing pins still visible, giving them the look of chicken pox!!! Finally we exit through the bookshop having spent almost 3 hours there. And yes, got the bum and shoulders postcard to send to Hels!

Its then back to the bus stops in the Piazza San Marco where we board a small (8 seater plus some standing room) electric bus for the trip across the river to the Ponte Vecchio. Now, these buses travel the back, back streets of Florence where not even the motorcyles, mopeds or bicycles can pass. They just travel along behind the bus, patiently waiting every time it needs to stop. There are few cars in these streets! The surfaces are cobbled and the bus trip very very jarring.

We have asked the driver if the bus goes to Ponte Vecchio and are answered with a nod and a stream of very fast Italian that we don't have a hope of understanding. Michael takes the map out to follow our journey, so we have an idea of when we are nearing our stop. And all of a sudden, everyone is an expert and wanting to help. The map is passed around, people comment all the time and at one point there is a heating exchange - obviously with both parties thinking they are right! And then there is a man who gets on the bus just as others are getting off who appears to be talking to himself until we realise that he is calling out the names of the main Piazzas and monuments and churches, as if to help us. Finally we can see the bridge and as we make a move to get up to leave the bus, he excitedly points - "Ponte Vecchio, Ponte Vecchio!"

The late afternoon light is lovely and I manage to get a few nice photos of the bridge with the river in front. We then walk down past the bridge tower and onto the bridge itself where, just like in Venice (Rialto Bride), it is lined with jewellery shops and top label clothing and accessory shops and people, lots and lots of people. One we are over the other side, there are beautiful streetlights in straight formation begging to be photographed like their neighbour. Of course, I am collecting photos of lamp posts along with the window boxes, so I am happy to oblige them!

We are both quite hungry by now and head off in search of somewhere to eat. It is after 6 pm now. We find ourselves in the Piazza Della Signoria in the shadow of the Palazzo Vecchio. This refined Piazza is home to a number of statues:
- At the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio, a copy of Michaelangelo's David that we saw this afternoon
- The bronze equestrian statue of Cosimo I by Giambologna (1594)
- The Fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati (1575)
- The Lion, referred to as "il Marzocco" with a copy of the Florentine Lily a copy of the original by Don
- Judith and Holofernes, by Donatello (copy)
- Hercules and Cacus, by Bandinelli (1533)
- The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Giambologna - we have seen a few copies of this statue in the last couple of weeks and the original is now here in front of our eyes.
- Perseus with the Head of Medusa, by Cellini (1554)
all which make it a veritable art museum in the open air!

We sit having dinner at the Ristorante Pizzeria Il Bargello and watch the receding light climb the walls of the Palazzo up to its heraldic badges and then higher and higher until even the tower is in darkness. Powerful lights from all corners of the square then begin to gleam, softly lighting the edifice. This restaurant is popular and people seem to make a beeline for it from all the entrances to the Piazza. Our choices were very delicious:
Mozzarella Caprese (Mozzarella cheese, fresh tomatoes and basil) Michael
Brushchetta (Italian toast with tomatoes and basil) Maria
Osobuco alla Toscana con i funghini porcini (Osso Bucco with Porcini mushrooms) Michael
Saltimbocca (Italian veal topped with Proscuitto and sage and cooked in a tomato sauce) Maria

Our waiter was able to provide directions to the bus stop for the Bus 22 back to the hotel. This is great because it saves us having to go as far back as the Stazione and a change in buses. So we set off on foot, walking en-route through the Piazza Della Repubblica with its impressive gate. In the dim light we can just make out the fine detail in the bronze model of the city of Florence sits quietly to one side of the Piazza.

Ah, down one last street and we can see the bus stop - and with a 22 bus waiting. Thankfully he is not in a hurry and we manage to get on and get seats for the rough ride back to the hotel. Its a little before 10 when we finally are back in our room, well satisfied with our day. That now gives me a little time blogging as I am desperately trying to bring it back up to date! Thanks everyone who has asked "what has happened" and yes also to those who have begged "please update the blog"! Hope you are all happy now!!!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The colours of Florence

We all had a terrible night's sleep last night. Helen mainly because the voices in her head (reminding her of everything she must do to ensure she and her luggage gets home safely) would not shut up - bit much to ask really given that she herself is a Queen of the Gift of the Gab! Michael and I didn't sleep because our bed was the worst we have had on this trip. It kind of had two spoon shaped depressions with busted springs and a hard ridge between. Between that and keeping an eye on the alarm clock to make sure that we did not sleep in, there was not much sleep at all in the room.

Breakfast however was great - if, as Hels remarked, you felt like eating! Think she is a little excited to be going home - she has missed Greg and the girls no matter how much of a brave face she put on. Don't get me wrong, I think she has loved the holiday, but without those you love to share it with, it's a poor second!

We could have had a range of cereals including Coco Pops which you don't see very often here, cold meats and cheeses, rolls, croissants and cakes. Fresh fruit and juices. And completed with very nice coffee. We finish and return to our room to finalise our packing.

On the road in good time. We leave the Hotel Stella Mary with its lovely big room just after 9 am to walk around to the garage where the car is parked about 3 blocks away. With Helen's luggage now totalling 2 suitcases, we all haul one each over the cobbled streets (<groan> how I hate cobbled streets). The fellow we saw here last night is not working and the man in charge speaks no English. He seems to take his time and I am about to tell him to hurry (aerporto and point to my watch!) when he finally comes down the drive with our car. I wonder how they feel about the right hand drive?

Kate does not have the Florence Airport in her databank by name - how odd. But we checked with the hotel staff last night and they tell us it is Aeroporto Amerigo Vespucci. Kate however, and the Airports of the World have it listed as Peretola Airport! Go figure. All the road signs are for Vespussi too. Go figure again! Anyway, the hotel staff marked our map with the location so Helen gave me a street nearby as a starting point. We are all a little concerned however when she directs us away from what I think is the logical direction (and the road signed direction). Never fear however, Kate is on the ball. I had asked her for the fastest route and she obviously knows that the motorway is very busy on a weekday morning. We link back with the motorway about 2 kms from the Airport and despite the hotel staff telling us to allow an hour, it has taken less than half an hour! Go Kate!!

So we are there in plenty of time to get Helen all sorted. Initially we make our way upstairs to the Al Italia desk only for her to be told she is in the wrong place. I am sure that her heart is in her mouth, when the airline clerk continues that she needs to check in at the Air France desk downstairs - whew. They however don't open for another half hour. Oh well, nothing to it, we just have to wait, frustratingly.

Finally Hels is all booked through and sans much of her luggage. She has opted to take all her gifts with her in a new small suitcase. She is pretty sick of wearing the same clothes over and over during the past five weeks, and I get the feeling that if they go missing, it wouldn't be the end of the world - unlike what would happen if the pressies she has bought the girls go astray! That plus her neck pillow, a jacket and a couple of books will keep her hands full. She has to run a marathon to get home: Florence to Paris, Paris to Copenhagen, Copenhagen to Bangkok, Bangkok to Sydney, Sydney to Brisbane where Greg and the girls will give her a very warm welcome on Thursday morning. Whew. Methinks she will be very tired and sick of planes well before she gets to Brissy.

One last shared coffee, hugs and kisses and a few tears and we are waving her off through to the gates. Michael and I go back to the car. It seems so empty all of a sudden.

We turn back for Florence, having decided to stay another 2 nights. We are changing hotels though and will be a little further out. But first there are two bus tickets that we need to finish using. We take the car up to the Piazzale di Michelangelo as we noticed plenty of parking when we were here yesterday. It was created as part of major restructuring of the city walls, the terrace is typically 19th century. Giuseppe Poggi also designed a monument base dedicated to Michelangelo. The monument itself was to be composed of copies of Michelangelo's works, including a bronze copy of the famous statue of David and the Medici chapel sculptures from San Lorenzo. Renowned for its panoramic views of Florence and the Arno valley, this terrace is popular spot with locals and tourists. And today is no different - there are at least three Japanese weddings taking place here today - complete with over the top photographic choreography! Who can blame them? The views are simply stupendous.

We get a few more photos ourselves while we wait for the bus to arrive. We also buy a small watercolour from an artist who is busily sketching away. She shows us a huge array of her works - all scenes of Florence skylines, or of Tuscan landscapes. She sure knows what appeals. They are simple and neat and she has a great flair for capturing the perspective accurately. I wanted a trio of miniatures with examples of both, but she groups them as one or the other. Eventually I settle on one that shows the city skyline - it is so memorable and ever so stunning. I can see why it is one of Italy's top ten tourist drawcards up here looking down on all the domes. It is stunning to see the shades of red from up here, high above the city with the quieter yellows and whites beneath these perky caps.

Our first thought was to go and have a look at the Pont Vecchio first, but given that it is on the inner city bus tour, we decide to first go and have a look at the Duomo as that stop is before the Pont. And there went the plans. We spend the rest of the afternoon at the Duomo where Michael climbs firstly the Bell Tower's 414 steps and then realises that you can also climb the dome of the Cathedral - 308 to the first tier and a further 155 to the top of the dome (which the ticket seller didn't tell him!) So his calf muscles are shagged tonight!

This Cathedral is the 4th largest in the world. The space is huge and open and the seating that is used during services has been removed. leaving only some pews around the outer walls. Why?, do I hear you ask? Well, the floors in this church are the most amazing we have seen yet. Beautiful inlaid and mosaic marble floors, they lie testament to the remarkable skills of the local stoneworkers. And while they are fascinating, there is more. The whole of the exterior of this cathedral is a mosaic of candy cane coloured marble giving this building it's famous facade.

Once we have finally had our fill of the Cathedral, we say goodbye to Kath and Frank from New Jersey in the US, to whom we had been chatting. They are off to Rome for three days tomorrow - have a great time guys! We have spent so long in the Duomo that our tickets are will expire in the next half hour meaning that we dont have time to go around to Ponte Vecchio tonight. So we walk across the inner city to the closest stop where we can pick up the bus on the other route to return to the car up on the Piazzale di Michelangelo.

We are changing hotels and so set out for the Vivahotel Fleming Novoli on the other side of the city from where we were previously. Funnily enough it is really close to the airport! Again we are caught in a web of one way streets, at one time turning right where we should not, only to have a local gesticulate madly as he is driving towards us! As soon as he realises we are tourists - because I as the driver am on the other side of the car, he becomes more helpful straight away and points to the street we should use.

So we book in for an early night. The hotel advertises a limited restaurant both on the website and in their in-room compendiums, so we are not impressed when the surly young girl at Reception tells us that the don't have one. Michael goes for a walk, only to return to say that there is no real options for dinner anywhere around here. So it is doner kebab takeaways. Not bad actually, just not what we expected! And then to bed.

Monday, September 28, 2009

And so to Florence

We manage to get away from the Hotel Domidea in Rome a little after 9 am. It has been a pleasant stay and the staff have been as friendly and helpful as any we have found!
There is one last stop we need to make before we leave the Eternal City. We are off to find the Appia Antica Regional Park and the remnants of the Acquaedotto Claudio (one of the largest viaducts in Rome) that it safeguards amongst other ancient treasures. En-route we pass through the auto wrecking and spare parts area of Roma. It is grubby and untidy - as they are all over the world. Guess that not too many tourists come down this road on their way though the city!

This water system was a wonder of early engineering and planning and stretched for 69 kms of which 15 were raised in this acquaduct. It was built over a period of just over a hundred years, and before all you council people start to make snide comments about it taking so long, please remember that the whole thing was built with bare hands and what might seem simple tools today! And the source of the water that fed this part of that system is still issuing forth today, but now just drains into a large open pond that then filters away.

The aquaduct is a part of the local landscape today, safeguarded from demolition or development thankfully. It is surrounded by a large open space where there are lots of older Italians riding, jogging, practising tai chi or just sitting, chatting in the morning sun. It does seem incogruous though that this has not always been the way and we pass under one of the once restored sections that passes right through the centre of the suburban landscape here! Still, no time to dally, we have a half day drive ahead!

Thank goodness we are close to the motorway and do not have to get into too much heavy traffic - right! Hah, motorway traffic is as thick as and we move slowly, not often getting up to the actual speed limit for the first hour of the journey. And roadworks are the order of the day here - just like in much of Europe - guess that with the harsher winters, their time to do repairs and maintenance is more limited.

Now, the speeds on the motorways in Italy range from 110 to 130 kph, depending on what is around (exits etc). But very few people seem to pay the limits any regard. In fact, there are many time when we may as well be on the German autobahn rather than the Italian Autostrade given the speeds that some motorists are doing. So we are hardly surprised when the traffic starts to pile up and there is a warning vehicle about a smash up ahead. And we are not too far from the smash - a Mercedes sitting forlornly with its entire front end sitting on the road with the engine having being sheared from its brackets. There are a couple of police berating the stunned driver - and no sign of what it is he has hit! It seemed to be a direct front on hit though. It was on us and passed before we had time to get a photo.

We are passing lots of fortified towns on our way, but it is difficult to get a good photo with the large safety barriers on the motorways obscuring the opportunities for clear photos.

We hit the turn off to Firenze (Florence) just before 1 pm and drive in towards the centre of the City where our accommodation is located, through the outer suburbs. Florence is a little cleaner than some of the large cities we have seen recently (particularly Napoli and to some degree Milano). It is better laid out here in the outer areas too. But as we get closer to the CBD the streets narrow and become much more congested with evidence that parking is again difficult. The main ring road that encompasses the inner city is a bit of a mess with work progressing on the installation of yet another tram system. I have Kate programmed for the Tourist Information Centre and as we pass the nominated point we find a lone parking space - right outside the Florence office of PriceWaterhouseCoopers - for whom Helen's sister works! Talk about a small world.

Grrr, this Tourist Office is closed - only open until 1 pm. Kate tells us that the other one that they nominate for information on their gate is right in the centre of the City, so we decide to go around to the Hotel Stella Mary, knowing that parking is close, not at the hotel itself. Now, they advertise that they are close to the train and bus stations, and they sure are - just a short side block away. So you might be able to imagine the chaos that the traffic is in this area! I have to double park (like everyone else it seems) while Michael dashes in to find out where the parking is. While he is gone, buses squeeze past until one driver is a little more beligerent and insists that I move. I go a couple of hundred feet and pull in to a bus parking area only to see Michael sprinting up behind us. Ah, the parking is about 400 m as the crow flies - a tad longer by road! It is a private garage, leave your keys, we park etc. So we haul out our gear and trudge the cobblestones around to the hotel.

There is a definite benefit to booking somewhere like this - we are literally around the corner from all the transport connections, including the open top buses. Again we have a couple of choices and decided on the Florence Open Tour service. Our, well Helen's, time to explore is limited to the rest of the today only and so we jump on the first available bus. Hels really wanted to see Michaelangelo's David, but her hopes are dashed when the guide explains that all museums are closed on Mondays.

They do two routes - one in the inner city and the other that takes a wider route and it is this one that is leaving first. As it turns out, we could not have chosen better, because once we have passed through some of the area on the river flat, we find ourselves climbing up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, high over the city with panoramic views of the city and the Arno River. And lo and behold, there is a bronze cast of the Statue of David - here where the original stood overlooking the city vista. And Helen does get the opportunity to pinch David's bum, even though she could never do this at the real statue behind plate glass panels and with no photos! The bus stops up here for 10 minutes - just enough time for us to get our first fill of the panorma that is Florence and to get our bearings!

Our ten minutes done, we are back on the bus and headed back down the hill passed luxury homes and beautiful open parks filled with mature trees of many descriptions including a huge variety of fir trees. We are headed back to the Station and stop 1 where after a half hour wait we can join route 1 through the city. This takes us passed most of Florence's most beautiful sites - the Duomo, the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Baslica di Santa Croce, the Ponte Vecchio and the Palazzo Pitti. But we have not time to get off. We at least want Helen to be able to view all the main attractions. And as we finish our tour, the light is fading fast. No more of this light until 10 or 11 pm any longer as we are well into autumn! Once we have returned to the Station it is time to get some dinner so that Hels has time to pack for home a she leaves tomorrow. :-(

We decide to walk around to the Duomo about 800 metres away. This is the most stunning looking building with its exterior of white marble intersperced with coloured pieces. And that dome for which it is so famous just gleams into the night with its subtle lighting. A truly beautiful and majestic building for sure.

Down one of the side streets leading away from the Duomo we go, searching for somewhere a little nice for dinner - somewhere that has a menu that is more extensive than just pizza and pasta (the national dishes to be sure!!) We find the Giannino in San Lorenzo filled with people and with a nice atmosphere. So, no tables out on the sidewalk, we enter in and sit at one of the last free tables. Our waitress soon bustles along - a lovely young lady called Irma who spent some time in Melbourne studying law at Monash University (they have a campus in Florence!) We laboured over the menu but finally chose:
Finocchiona 'sbriciolona' e carciofini in olio (Tuscan salami and artichokes in oil) Michael
'La ribollita' (Vegetable bread soup) Michael (yes, two!)
Crostini toscani de fegatini (Chicken liver pate on toast) Helen
Pecorino de Pienza e miele al tartufo (Pienzu tuscan cheese and truffle honey) Maria
Scaloppine di vitella ai funghi porcini (Veal escalope with Porcini mushroom sauce) Michael
Crespelle alla fiorentina (Florentine savoury crepes) Helen
Scaloppine di vitella al limone (Veal escalope in lemon sauce) Maria
Zuccotto all fiorentina (Florentine Ice Cream) Michael
Panna cotta ai frutti di bosco (cream pudding with berries) shared by Helen and Maria
Topped with a nice rose from the region and finished with coffee and a lovely chat with Irma - along with invitations for her to visit should she get back to Australia sometime!

Then its back to the Hotel Stella Mary and Helen's re-packing! She bought a second small suitcase in Pompeii and spends a couple of hours shovelling things from one to the other. She plans to take the new one on the plane with her as carry on (or rather, as wheel on!) luggage and has packed her gifts for the family, not wanting them to get lost, as well as some clothes for her mammoth five-leg trip home. That done, we all settle into bed for the night - or try to!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Roaming in Roma

A new record today - with both our camera and Helen's being pushed to their limits we exhaust all the batteries and accumulate a combined 1261 photos! IN ONE DAY!!!!

When our time in any major centre is limited (and when is it not?) we try to take one of the hop on, hop off bus tours. And today is no exception. We purchased tickets at the stop for St Peter's Square last night that can be used today as well. So once we have got the hotel shuttle in to the station and joined the surprisingly large number of people on the train (for a Sunday!) we alight at the Termini station to join the bus. The one we have tickets for is actually government run, cheaper than the rest and more regular - got to love beauracracy from time to time!

The Trambus Open 110 route takes us close to all the main points of interest within the city. We get our first glimpses of the major attractions from the top open deck of the bus. Rome streets are filled with classic architecture as you might imagine - but the streets are wider than most that we have encountered to date. Got to love the early Romans and their love for planning too! The morning is cool but not cold and the light is perfect for taking architecture photos - clear, sharp outlines against a clear blue sky. Take a look at the link above for all the things we saw - if I try to talk about every one of them on the blog then I fear I might collapse the site!!!

As the bus came around past St Peter's Square and we see the crowds lining for tickets in the warming day, we are glad that we followed that advice we were given and went last night - you know we didn't need to queue at all! So anyone contemplating a visit - do it after 5 pm guys.

After we leavethe station the next stop is at Piazza del Quirinale that is on the highest of the seven hills on which the ancient city of Rome was built. We continue in a circuitous route that takes two hours to complete - about twice as long as any of the others we have been on. The first time we alight from the bus is to go and have a look at the Trevi Fountain. This beautiful construction is too large for us to get the whole thing in one photo - mainly because of the thousand plus people who are crammed into its terraces and the square it faces.

From the crush of people at the fountain, we walk down a few of the back streets, dodging a tour group that seems to have become glued to us, around to Piazza Venezia (named after Cardinal Venezia who in 1455, ordered the construction of his own Palace (Palazzo Venezia) that later became the seat of 'Serenissima' -the Republic of Venice). The Palace was one of the first Renaissance structures in Rome and incorporated the ancient Church of St Marco built in the 4th Century AD. Oh, and quite a bit of the material to build the Palace came from the nearby Colosseum - a common practice then. Yep, some seriously old stuff here!

But as impressive as the palace might seem, it has nothing on the stunning Monument of Victor Emanuel II built between 1855 and 1911 to celebrate the Italian Unification on the southern side of the Piazza. This has to be one of the most majestic monuments we have seen anywhere. Within it now lies the Tomb of the Unknown soldier making it a monument of national significance just like any of these. Mind you, when it was constructed there was a lot of disgruntled people as it necessitated the destruction of a medieval neighbourhood. Still, it revered by most.

The monument is guarded by almost fanatical guards frantically blowing their whistles should any hapless tourist sit on the steps, or appear to eat, drink or even just stay too long. Many people tell me, "don't sit there - there is a bench up the steps" and as we are leaving we find ourselves telling another group who are oblivious as we were to the meaning of the whistles and gesticulations! I won't bore you with all the stats about it - find them here if you want to know! (Yes Hels, I can skip the history lessons sometimes!) Michael climbs to the top level to get some great photos looking out across both the ruins of the ancient Rome, and the newer City.

And as we leave to walk towards the Colosseum, we hug the shaded cool marble of the monument and discover inside a door near the base on one of the sides, the War Memorial museum, filled with interesting stuff - like the 'Chariot' a two man underwater submarine used in WWII against the British Fleet near Gibraltar!

From here we walked between the Forum and the Palataine towards the Colosseum that was looming at the end of the street. Michael kept dashing from one side of the street to the other to take photos of different relict sites. Helen and I on the other hand sauntered along, stopped to listen to a classical guitarist and followed the shade as much as we could. Sure, we are interested in what we see, but Michael is the Ancient History buff amongst us for sure. We stop for a drink and toilet stop at the official visitor centre in the area before we reach the Colosseum. Just as well as there are maybe tens of thousands of people there.

There is a celebration of the arts in Rome at the moment and entry to this monumental museum is free today. We would have to still had to queue for tickets, but Helen has struck up a conversation with a young American guide who is touting for tour guides inside and just as we are about to join the longish queue for those tickets, she takes pity and gives us tickets to get in! Go Hels! And thanks Larena! So, what can we say about the Colosseum? Well, its big. Huge in fact. And so much of it is still standing. In the centre of the arena, the roof over the rooms and alleys beneath (the floor of the arena) has been destroyed allowing us to clearly see the layout below. There were cages, small rooms, alleys connecting them and much larger rooms. Michael will give a detailed lecture on the layout and the purpose when we get back. Advance bookings open now - seriously though, it will take too long to describe all of it here. Want to know more know? Click here.

Next to the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine that was constructed from masonry taken from other monuments. Beyond that, we can see lots of other ruinous remains, many of which are still the subject of obvious archaelogical investigations.

So after walking about 3 kms once we had alighted from the bus all those hours ago, we decide to call it quits and head back to the hotel. There is a metro stop just across from the Colosseum and it is on our line - yahoo! We meet up with three Germans who are currently working in Rome and staying at the same hotel and we all get the same train back. Back at Rebibia Station we phone the hotel only to find out that on a weekend the courtesy bus begins at 7 pm and its only 5:45 pm so we cross the road to wait for the #447 bus. Our mates tell us that they are working in Rome because the factory where they would normally come to from time to time was destroyed in the earthquake at L'Aquila in April this year.

Too tired to go out for dinner, we phone in Pizza to our motel room after our long day in Rome. Even we can't finish it all and Michael takes the remainder to some very grateful reception staff. Didn't get photos - the batteries needed recharging. Early start again tomorrow for our three hour drive to Florence and for Helen's last day on tour with us.