A Travellerspoint blog

Two wheel roaming


sunny 18 °C
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Our day was dedicated to a 28 klm bike tour (assisted electric bike) through Rome to ride on the Appian way and visit the catacombs of St Sebastian. The Appian Way was a road from Rome to Brindisi in the south.

This was a magical day that we shared with our guide and one other fellow traveller from Belgium and we were able to cover much more than the 28 klm with our small group. Leaving the shop we made our way to our first stop outside of the Chiesa Santi Giovanni e Paolo, where we heard that there is a three to five year wait list to be married in the church. We headed back another day and could see why as it is a beautiful church with the nave lined with chandeliers. Across the road there are ruins of what would have been Roman houses and shops along with a monastery. The site of the church has seen many evolutions with a temple dedicated to Emperor Claudius organised by his Agrippina, arches of former buildings at ground level and a beautifully decorated bell tower.


We then crossed and rode along the streets as we headed out of town, stopping to hear about the ancient defence walls and the Porta San Sebastiano, that enabled passage for carriages and the pedestrian gate, along with the aqueduct fountain that would have been a sight as people entered the gate.


Riding past houses we started in our first park, Parco Regionale Appia Antica which borders with Parco Caffarelli. There are many open green spaces so close to the city. We saw many birds, wild sheep, wild rabbits. Riding on paths and off road, we passed a farm with chickens, ducks, geese, sheep and a donkey or two. This was followed by a stop at the Nymphaeum of Egeria, a water feature feed by a natural spring that pilgrims visited created in 2 AD and was actually was a summer place for Herodes Atticus, a Roman Senator and his friends to keep cool and drink wine. This fresh water is still used by locals as we passed a market area where there is an open shed where taps are connected to the stream water and locals were filling up many recycled bottles full to take home.


Up the road from the market and past a military school, we headed off the main road up a lane to the start of the Appia Way which was the main Roman road for military purposes. The large basalt stones the give away and we had the opportunity to ride on the road and then we stopped at at a funerary monument to Caecilians Metella in the 1st century BC, which was repurposed into a fort and then in the 14th century extended by the Caetani family into their villa and church opposite. As the main road at the time, the Caetani family capitalised on their position and introduced a hefty toll to pass. At some point the pope intervened and the Nova Appia, new road, commenced which did not have a toll and quickly became a popular route with the people.


An estate of Emperor Maxentius was next with visible ruins remaining of what was a private circus (horse racing) stadium and a masoleum for his son who drowned aged 7 in the Tiber River. A little further along and around the corner, we visited the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian originally a quarry where Christian burials occurred. Heading underground it was a maze and we saw many empty burial plots, chapels including the sarcophagus which held Saint Sebastian, the mausoleums created and ancient graffiti. We exited the catacombs into the church of Saint Sebastian which holds relics from when he was shot by arrows and left to die and also when he was subsequently killed. His remains are in the church along with a relic said to be footprints of Jesus Christ.


We then headed south alongside and at times on the Appia Way. While it is not in the pristine condition it would have been in years ago, it still holds the strata layers. The road surface was repurposed over the years and we were told that households were doorknocked to see if they had the basalt in their house foundations or courtyards and if so, it was resumed to recreate the road surface today. Again the road and its sidings are well used for recreational purposes and we learnt that the road which was 4 metres wide enabled Roman legions to traverse from Rome to south within fourteen days. The way was just wide enough to allow two carriages to pass and pedestrians on the sidings. At the time, the road was lined by funerary mausoleums with the ruins still visible today with the lovely trees lining the road a more modern addition.


Heading away from Appia way, we rode past another farm that had numerous puppies came over to play around the bikes in the sunshine. Our stop here took in the ruins of the villa of the Quintilii, with the brothers who lived their falsely accused of participating in a plot against the Emperor’s life, so their property could be coverted. Leaving the park, we crossed the busy Appia Nova and headed down a quiet road, to the Parco degli Acqueduct. Riding down the road another wow moment. In the middle of what appears to be nowhere the longest complete Aquaduct, still remaining, that was used to bring water from the Alban hills to the Roman city, including the imperial palaces on Palatine Hill, completed under Emperor Claudius’ reign in 52 AD. The protected ancient infrastructure sits within a modern golf course and a very large recreational park.


After a well deserved afternoon lunch break, we headed back to the city via Parco Caffarelli, passing the Vaccareccia farm that has been in use as a farm since the 16th century. One of the final stops before heading back was the Baths of Caracalla. This was the largest Roman baths and was an all day leisure entertainment centre. The baths were closed in the 6th century when barbarians destroyed the aqua ducts that supplied the baths. The ruins of the bath complex are impressive and would have been a sight in their heyday. The final push home saw us retrace a route of the morning instead uphill and the electric turbo mode helped, before it was downhill in the back streets, onto the main road past the Colosseum and back to the shop. An exhilarating day of Rome, the ancient mingled with the present, that will be remembered forever.


Posted by bonne vie 11:45 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Discovering Rome


sunny 19 °C
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Our day was influenced by a dental appointment approximately 5klm way and not until the afternoon, so we headed off exploring in the same direction.

First stop of the day was the Santa Maria Maggiore, a beautiful Papal major basilica and the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome. After passing through a security check, we entered to find the church filled with worshippers for morning mass and confession along with tourists. The church glows with the mosaics and ornate adornment and underneath the altar there is a relic of pieces of the sycamore used in the crib or manger of the Nativity of Jesus obtained in the mid 7th century.


Being Rome, there are many water features and water flows constantly in fountains, Nasoni (big nose) in the street, along with the old gates to the city, where we passed by Porta Pia and local fruit and flower markets. A lovely lunch in a cafe that had a constant stream of customers as it drizzled outside. With time to spare we wandered around a garden taking in the surrounds watching people on lunch breaks, exercising or walking their dogs.


An eventful and long appointment with the emergency temporary dental work complete we walked home quite a few hours later arriving home about 9.30 pm.

The following day we headed out to find key sights and after walking past the Monument Vittorio Emmanuelle II and down a few streets we came across Largo Di Torre Argentina, a former sacred place of temples and worship, along with the place Caesar was murdered, now in the ruins houses a cat sanctuary.


Walking along the streets and alleys, past the lovely shades of yellow, terracotta and red houses and shops, we entered the piazza to see the magnificent columns of the Pantheon - one of the wow moments. Even though it is an operational Catholic Church the security was quite lax to enter. Words can’t describe what it feels like standing under the dome with its 9 m open space. The church and crypts to former Italian kings and queens are all grand but the sheer beauty is in the building itself.


It was a perfect day, blue sky and sunshine so we wandered the alleyways passing the building Palazzo Montecitorio, where the Italian Chamber of Deputies meet and headed to the Trevi fountain. Lots of people at the fountain and we made our way through to find space to sit and watch the water. Often the shrill police whistle was heard and directed at people with instructions, for example not eating gelato or seating yourself on the fountains edge.


Right opposite the Trevi fountain is a gelato and pizza shop where we had lunch and then meandered through the back streets passing the Temple of Hadrian and undertaking some souvenir shopping to arrive back in front of the Pantheon. The next block or two over is the Piazza Navone which is a large oval shape site formerly a stadium. Lots of restaurants, shops, a church and museum occupy space. The Piazza has a lovely fountain and an obelisk which was once at Circus Maximus.


Walking home near the Monument Vittorio Emmanuelle II most of the very busy roads out the front only have zebra crossings, so not to impede the flow of vehicles. We crossed the first part easily and then stopped at the second, a work man in hi-vis coat stepped out and we went with him. It was crazy as the cars and bikes weave around you while you are on the crossing and the man had a laugh as we reached the side as I said nearly held his hand too. We made it though and continued our walk home along the beautiful Piazza Venezia which is an artery connecting road for buses, emergency vehicles and is filled with people on Sundays.

Posted by bonne vie 09:36 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

All roads lead to Rome


sunny 16 °C
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A lovely fresh morning with the sun shining we left Florence, walking back to the train by the Uffizi, the Palazzo Vecchio and the Duomo off to Rome. We also had the opportunity to have a chat with my wonderful mum to celebrate her birthday. Travelling makes it really clear what is important in life and we would not be able to be here without her, along with others, support to keep things going back home - love you mum.


Train travel in Italy is easy, usually on time and excellent communication when on board. Our trip to Rome was a little longer due to an alternate route, we found out later that night that there had been a derailment accident early in the morning between two trains resulting in fatalities and significant number of injuries. Arriving at the Rome Terminus it is unsurprisingly large, similar to what you would find at an airport with shops and lots of different food options.

After a quick pasta and tiramisu lunch we headed off to find our apartment. We often comment about the gloriousness of google maps, which is on point each time compared to old school - that is getting lost, asking for directions and looking at signs which are our back up. Traversing the back streets, we arrived to a little artery off the Colosseum which is full of restaurants and cafes along with Roman ruins that in its heyday would have supported the games, as a gladiator training school, at the Colosseum. In Rome it appears that there are reminders everywhere of the history of this place. An afternoon stroll past the Colosseum, the Arch of Constantine and explore of one of the local churches was a good way to end the day.


A later start to the morning, including an early lunch as we joined a LivItaly tour, a small boutique tour of no more than six people means you have a more personal interactional experience. The tour visited the Colosseum, its arena floor and underground and we entered the arena through the Gladiators gate. We learnt that the area was repatriated by Emperor Nero after at least a third of the city was razed by fire, potentially or maybe not lit at the Emperor’s orders. Emperor Nero subsequently built a big palace including an artificial lake on the site of the Colosseum which understandably did not endear the population.


The Emperor Vespian commissioned the Colosseum, known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, as a gift to the people of Rome, in essence providing them their land back in a public way that enabled free entertainment for all. In short a political pitch that was delivered visibly and enabled ongoing entertainment as sponsors hosted games. The Colosseum was built within eight years and opened in the year AD 80, by Vespian’s son Titus, with 100 days of games including gladiatorial and wild animal combats. The name Colosseum was adopted as there used to be a Colosseo bronze statue, up to fifty feet high, half the height of the current Colosseum nearby.


The Gladiators gate entry had stairs approximately half way down on either side, along with the arena’s expansive trap doors and pulleys which are mirrored on the other side of the arena floor enabling gladiators to appear like magic. The Gladiator gate is also known as the loser gate as the gladiator (not often) or the numerous animals exited under its arch deceased. Underneath the arena various chambers were introduced as the work house with areas for gladiators, wild beasts and their handlers in niches that had fresh running water and enabled a well orchestrated theatrical show of a grand scale. On each side of the arena there was lift capacity, where they would release multiple exotic animals that had been starved and constantly antagonised ready to attack. Areas for archers are also present should an animal decide it would like to attack the crowd. Tiles with numbers have been found on site which amongst other things could have been used to release the various groupings of animals around the arena simultaneously.


The building has lived through earthquakes, its materials such as seating and blocks being repurposed within Rome and Vatican City with the Northern side the best preserved. The building capacity is approximately 50,000 and could be filled within 15 minutes through its many arches and the incline of the stairs. It is truly a magnificent structure in the day and night and is less than 50 metres down the road from our apartment.


Our tour included some commentary about the Arch of Constantine, a triumphal arch to celebrate Emperor Constantine’s win at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, significant due to the inequity of the fighting armies and the Emperor’s divine vision and actions before the battle. Close by is the Archaeological site which covers Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum which was our last stop of the tour. The sheer scale of ruins across the site is amazing and to understand these were buried underground before their excavation. The significant difference visible in the height of current and yesteryears ground level is reflected in the various buildings and today’s street level. We also visited the two other remaining Roman arches, the arch of Titus and the arch of Septimius Severus, along with viewing columns of temples (some more complete than others and dating back as far as 5bc), the one with the bronze doors framed by Egyptian porfrey below is the original doors from 4bc (the key located thousands of years later and still works), the private stadium of Caesar (what is thought to be the imperial box on the left side) and in the Roman forum standing in front of the very few remains of his palace. While there are some accounts of what Rome was like 2000 years ago, at the archeological site imagination is required to consider what might have stood in place and the adornments of marble, frescos and colour that would have denoted the area.

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Posted by bonne vie 12:08 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Last days in Firenze


sunny 14 °C
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With our stay in Florence drawing to an end and still having many places on our wish list we headed out early. The first stop was the Palazzo Pitti, a grand palace designed by Filippo Brunelleschi In the 15th century for the Pitti family. The Palace was sold to the Medici family in the 16th century and then enlarged. Final additions were added in the 18th century after the palace was purchased by the Lorraine family. One half of the enormous palace displays the historic imperial rooms.

The palace, although heavily renovated throughout history displays grandeur from each time period. Only one room still contains original features from the 15th century, the rest are virtual time capsules of various owners. Most rooms feature frescos that appear three dimensional or panoramic scenery and are based on religious or Roman cultural themes. One room was renovated as Bonaparte’s bathroom and another as King Ferdinand’s throne room. After spending the better part of nearly 2 hours wandering the halls we headed to the other side for the other museums before heading outside.


The costume museum featured clothing dating from the 18th to the 20th centuries, famous costumes worn in movies and theatre. Most interesting for us was the extremely rare 16th century funerary garments worn by Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici, his wife Eleanor of Toledo and their young son Garcia. These were excavated in the early 20th century and pieced together. Moving quickly through the display of mostly Roman style shoes over history we headed to the modern museum.

The extensive collection of paintings and sculptures in the modern museum was to some degree over whelming. Most of the collection was from the late 18th century to World War I. The elegant rooms, which were inhabited by the Lorraine grand dukes we almost as interesting as the works on display.


After a light lunch, we headed outside to the Boboli Gardens, that are the expansive gardens behind and beside the palace, developed by the Medici’s. Walking from the palace we headed through the amphitheater the up the hill to a water fountain. From the top there is an excellent view over the palace and Florence. More stairs lead to the top where there was a rose garden, maze and porcelain museum. We skipped the museum and spent time looking at the view and the steep ramparts apparently designed by Michelangelo.


Our final full day in Florence saw us start the day trying to access the Duomo, with the large lines we headed department store shopping at Coin and headed back to the Duomo at lunchtime when the line was much smaller. The building is impressive both in height and magnitude. The painting on the cupola over the altar was the highlight in what is an austere environment in comparison to other churches. You can also pay to climb the bell tower, the cupola and access to the archeological component and museum. If visiting the church pay a visit to the shop to see the crypt of Brunelleschi, the cupola architectural master who subsequently destroyed the equipment used to build the spectacular dome.


For the afternoon, we took part in the Italian promenade and enjoyed walking by the Arno, across the Ponte Vecchio and dropping into Santa Felicita, the second oldest church in the city also designwhere the Varsari corridor passes through. Our interest was also saying a prayer for family members, here and departed, due to the passing of a family member on 7 February. The sun was setting as we then made our way to Piazza Santa Spirito and the church of the same name. The church of Santa Spirito was designed by Brunelleschi and houses many family private chapels adorned with artwork, along with an early piece of work by Michelangelo. The church and piazza reflect life, a place where locals and tourists merge.

As the light was fading we headed back over the Ponte Santa Trinità, as the truly magical colours blend sky and scenery.


Posted by bonne vie 10:07 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Exploring art and archeology with a heavenly twist


sunny 12 °C
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We have wiled away a couple of hours at the Gallery Uffizi, one of Italy’s equivalent to the French Louvre museum, with similarities in the spectacular painted ceilings, ornate gilding, the purpose of the building, the artwork collections including marbles, bronzes, paintings, ceramics and drawings by so many artisans. As expected and given the different eras, there is a lot of religious art. Favourites include paintings from Lippi, Bottechelli, Michelangelo and an unfinished painting by Da Vinci.



The ticket we purchase provided access to additional museums and even though it was very windy out, we had a late bite to eat and went to the Museo Archeologico. There are a great number of Etruscan artefacts, an ancient civilisation, of Italy on the ground floor and on the upper floor, along with bronze and marble statutes, stunning Eygptian exhibits and a Medici collections of coins, seals and cameos in a corridor similar to the Varsari corridor. The corridor was originally built along with other connected raised passages in the museum, which was a former monastery, for Maria Maddalena, sister to Cosimo II, who was born disabled with disordered limbs and was not baptised until she was nine years old. The corridor hosting the Medici collection of gem seals and cameos, was used by Maria Maddalena and her maids to view and take part in mass at the Basilica della Santissima Annuziata with ease.


Our interest was pipped, we headed across the road to the Basilica which is on a large parcel of land with an interior courtyard. The Basilica is magnificent, as are most of the churches, adorned with religious artworks. We could also see at the back of the church the window where Maria Maddalena and her maids took part in mass.


While in the church, a very elderly man approached us and told us with an offering he would show us the ossuary which was open and another space. An Italian family from Naples, the elderly man and ourselves went through the drapes to the inner courtyard and ossuary and then into another area which is a small and intimate chapel. The chapel is adorned with marble statutes of Illustrious men, Michelangelo, Dante, Raffello, Leonardo, Cosimo Medici, frescos and paintings by some of these including Varsari. We were told that the men used to meet, chat and share a meal and would one day regather at the chapel. The chapel is now used for baptisms and there is a small antique organ. The elderly man broke into song and was joined by some members of the family, it was lovely to hear the echo in the chapel along with the joy this brought to those present. As part of our offering we were provided with a protection blessing.


A lovely afternoon walk home as the sun was setting.


Posted by bonne vie 10:52 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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