The Leaning Tower and the Wall

Today was the day that we got our bums out of bed before 6 AM and caught the train to take a look at another iconic site – The Leaning Tower of Pisa. We were absolutely amazed to see how much the tower is actually leaning. We bought tickets to go inside and of course the floor is slanted which is a pretty weird feeling when you first walk in. We took the spiral stairs to the top and you can see where people have leaned against the wall to support themselves from the lean. The stone steps are worn from the number of feet that have taken them.  This tilted, free standing bell tower overlooks the Cathedral and Plaza below and the view is amazing. We spent several minutes at the top taking pictures, exploring the bells themselves and just drinking in the beauty of the town and countryside surrounding it. And let’s face it – we needed some time to catch our breath from the long climb up!

Satisfied that we had taken enough pictures, we made the long climb down and headed to the Camposanto on the southside of the Cathedral Square. We didn’t really know what it was but it was included in our ticket so off we went. As it turns out, it is a mausoleum of sorts and “Campo Santo” can be literally translated as “holy field”. It is said to have been built around a shipload of sacred soil from Golgotha, brought back to Pisa from the Third Crusade by the archbishop of Pisa in the 12th century.  The rectangular building  surrounds an open courtyard. The floors contain many buried tombs (you are literally walking on the gravestones) and there are many statues and sarcophagi along the walls. From what we could tell, it is mostly holy men that are buried here – from the 12th century through to the 21st. However, the most striking feature of this building was the frescoes. The walls are covered in artworks from the 12th to the 16th centuries displaying Old Testament stories as well as the Crucifixion and the Last Judgement. These frescoes are being slowly restored to their former glory after being damaged during World War II.

From the Camposanto we headed to the Baptistry. Named after Saint John the Baptist, construction began on this building in 1152, was completed in 1363 and is the largest Baptistry in Italy. The centrepiece is of course the Baptismal font with a beautiful pulpit off to the side. We took the worn stone steps to the upper mezzanine floor for a unique view of the font below. We also had a great view of the cathedral  which we visited next.

The main portal of the Baptistry leads directly to the doors of the Cathedral. This is symbolic in that once being baptised one is now set upon the path of following Christ. We followed this path into the stunning interior of the Cathedral. It is the first building erected on this site with construction beginning in 1063. After seeing so many churches, cathedrals and basilicas, you would think that we had seen it all and would not be impressed. Such is not the case. Again, the artwork on the walls, the architecture, the chapels, the pulpit, the altar is absolutely amazing. You have to see it to believe it!

As we exited the church, the sun was shining and the sky was blue. The plaza was now full of people and we wondered how this place actually looks in summer. The crowds must be huge!! We left the plaza and noticed that our stomachs were rumbling a little. We stopped for a bite to eat at an outdoor cafe with a perfect view of the tower. It doesn’t get much better that that.

The day was still early so we decided that rather than head straight back to Florence we would take a detour over to Lucca. We had read that this old city was surrounded by a wall that you could walk or bike on. It sounded enchanting so off we went. We did indeed walk along the wall, looking over the quiet old city within the walls and over the hustle and bustle outside the walls. Two separate worlds, removed from one another by a giant wall. We also walked through the old city looking at the shops, plazas and churches that make up this unique town.

Our train arrived back in Florence at 6 PM. Though tired from a day of walking (10 miles) and train travel, it had been another wonderful day in the land of Tuscany.

Crossing a bridge on our way to the leaning tower on a beautiful Tuscan morning.

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The Leaning tower……

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Doing my best to set it straight.

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Looking up into the center of the tower upon entry.

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On our way up.

As you can see the steps are quite worn out.  Some of the very worn out sections have been replaced.

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From the top.

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The Camposanto Frescoes.

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The Baptistry.

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The Cathedral..

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As Col mentioned we found a great location for lunch.  I would venture to say that this was probably the best ambiance or environment we have been in to share a meal.  Just look at the view we had.

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Lucca.

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I took this last picture as we were walking the wall. I noticed a couple of old timers leaning on their balcony railing chewing the fat.  They gave us a nice big wave after they noticed me taking their picture.

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San Lorenzo

The Monday morning dawned clear and bright. Richard headed out in search of some coffee and we settled in to wait for the DHL driver to come by with our Eurorail passes. After much deliberation and number crunching, we decided to buy this pass to help cover our train and bus journeys for the next two months. Unfortunately, it was not an online pass which is why we were actually sitting and waiting for the courier guy to show up. And he did so – at about 2 PM. Even though there was not much of the day left, we headed out anyway and were able to catch a couple of sights.

First up was the Basilica of San Lorenzo. We had seen it yesterday and thought it looked interesting as well as very old. It was indeed originally built during the fourth century but was rebuilt in the Romanesque style in 1045 and then again by the Medici family in 1429. The Medici family had a long and powerful influence in European history for hundreds of years. They were well known for their banking prowess and are synonymous as an unparalleled patron of the arts during the Italian Renaissance. They sponsored and encouraged such artists and scholars as Donatello, Michelangelo, Galileo, and da Vinci. Their history is very interesting and if you ever get a chance to read up on them, you would be quite amazed at the impact that they had. The Basilica in its present state is another beautiful work of architecture and art. Each side altar carries an original canvas or art form from the Renaissance period. There are two pulpits at the front of the church designed by Donatello and are unlike anything that we have ever seen. The altar itself was absolutely gorgeous made of semi precious stones.

From the church we went down to the lower level which is now a museum and displays chalices, altarpieces, dazzling altar cloths, processional crucifixes, episcopal brooches and other precious sacred treasures once displayed in the church. It is also a mausoleum housing many of the Medici family as well as the artist Donatello.

Just as a side note for anyone who is familiar with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Until today we did not put together their names as all being Italian artists during the Renaissance. Donatello, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo – how clever….

Anyways, a day isn’t complete without a glass of wine and a couple of nibblies while sitting out on the street at a cute little trattoria, so that’s what we did. The Europeans love to sit outside even though the temperature is not really conducive to do so. However, when in Rome… or Florence as the case may be. Another great wrap up to the day. Tomorrow we are off to Pisa to see just how much that tower is leaning. We’ll let you know.

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Col and I were admiring one of the side chapels when we looked up and noticed that the dome was a fresco of stars with some of the zodiac symbols portrayed.  Not something you see every day in a cathedral.  According to the plaque in the chapel it was a representation of the stars over Florence at that time in the 15th century.

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I found the following to be quite interesting in the museum.  Unfortunately I only have pictures of four of them.  Not being very artsy I thought the the fifth one was just a piece of wood.  I know, I am a createn.  

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Florence, Italy – Birthplace of the Renaissance

We arrived a couple of hours late on Friday due to a delay in Genova, where we changed trains. According to the announcements that I could understand, there was a strike and this was causing delays all along the routes. Regardless, we made it to Florence and had a bit of a mixup finding our BNB because apparently, some street numbers are duplicated, with businesses having red numbers and residences having black numbers. We, nor Google Maps, could tell the difference and we ended up standing outside a restaurant at 122 Guelfa wondering just how to approach the waiter and ask if he was expecting a couple of overnight guests. As it turns out, our 122 was a couple of blocks down the street. Once we got that all figured out and settled in, we took to the streets again in search of some supper and a few groceries to cover us for the next couple of days. Like the other European cities that we have been to, there are restaurants, cafes, bars and little grocery stores tucked in everywhere up and down the streets. We didn’t have to go far to find a nice, little place that suited our palate and our budget.

With supper complete and groceries stored in the refrigerator and cupboard, I headed off to bed as it had been a long day. Richard came to bed a little later but he was restless and ended up getting up during the night. Unfortunately, he seemed to have caught a bit of a bug and had a tough night. Saturday was a quiet day as Richard rested and I babied my foot. By the end of the day, we both felt better and knew that we would do much better on Sunday.

Sunday morning we headed off to church. This time to the Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore or more commonly known as Florence Cathedral. It is one of Italy’s biggest churches and is famous for its dome which is the largest brick dome ever constructed. Construction on the church began in 1296 but was not completed until 1436.  There are actually three buildings in Piazza del Duomo – the Cathedral, the Bell Tower and the Baptistery. We were astonished by how large this complex really is. The buildings seem to go on forever. Richard took a number of pictures but I don’t think that that he was able to fit everything into one picture. So, you actually have to buy tickets to tour the Cathedral and surrounding buildings but because we were attending mass, we were given a free pass. I have read in travel blogs that if you want to experience local people in their most private, yet public, moments, you should attend church services. In all the services that we have attended over the last few months, we have definitely seen the heart of the community in the music, in the light banter before and after service and within the service itself. Today, inside this very large, very old and very ornate church, we again found all these things. The mass was in Latin and Italian, the choir sang Gregorian chant accompanied by a large pipe organ and we enjoyed every minute of it. I wonder if church will seem a little humdrum once we get home….

We walked home through a number of street markets selling many things but especially Italian leather goods. We vowed to come back later and scope out the area but headed home for a late brunch and to do some trip planning. After booking a few more legs of our journey and talking to some friends and family back home, we got back out late in the day for a stroll, and a bite to eat. A glorious evening to end a very glorious day.

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The dome from the inside. 

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Some local Pizza that we sampled tonight.

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Au Revoir France, Ciao Italy!!

We spent our last day in Nice just bumming around, walking through La Vieille Ville and sitting down at the waterfront along the Mediterranean.  The weather was fairly warm – about 13C – with just a little breeze coming off the water. The sky was clear, the water was very blue and we breathed in the fresh, sea air. We felt relaxed and content. We enjoyed our short time in Nice and now understand how the Riviera is the favorite vacation spot in Europe. I cannot imagine how busy this area becomes in the summer!!

Today we are on the train to Florence, Italy. We will be spending 10 days in the city, making side trips to Pisa and other surrounding areas.  Florence is in the center of the Tuscan region so we are hoping to see as much of it as we can.  Or we may relax more than run around, time will tell.  The train itself is very relaxing and the entire boarding process is so much easier than the plane. We have lots of legroom, we have all our bags with us without any extra fees, there was no crazy security (though a sniff dog just came through the car), and the scenery is absolutely beautiful. We are looking forward to this ride and many more during our time in Europe.

See you in Florence!!

As you can see from what Col said above there is a lot of room on the train.  It is so much more comfortable then flying.

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Monte Carlo, Monaco

Bright and early this morning we caught the bus for Monaco. It cost us just 1.5 Euros each – about $2.25. Sure beats a tour bus!! With the sun shining brightly and not a cloud in the sky, the 45 minute ride along the amazing coastline went by quickly. So quickly, in fact, that I thought we might miss our stop and in my rush to get off the bus, missed the first step. Luckily, I had a hold of the hand rail but I did bruise my hip and shoulder a little. Don’t worry, there is more to come….

After stopping for a big coffee and a bit of breakfast, we tackled the hill up to Prince Albert II’s castle. He is the son of Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace Kelly. We knew he was at home because his flag was flying from the top mast but he did not answer the door when we knocked. Hmmm….However, we were just in time to see the changing of the guard.  Not quite as much pomp and circumstance as Buckingham Palace but it was kind of neat, just the same.  From the castle walls, we checked out some of the beautiful views of the Mediterranean and the mountains and then headed towards the church where Princess Grace and Prince Rainier were married and are buried. I was spending a lot of time looking around and unfortunately missed a step. Again, thankfully, I was holding the railing but it did not stop the fall completely. I must have looked pretty funny because Richard couldn’t stop laughing for quite some time. This time, I scraped my knee and hurt my foot – a long ways from the heart but it kept me limping for the rest of the day. Richard wanted to name this post – Legends of the Fall or Colleen’s BIG trip. As you can see, I named the post. And before any of you smartypants ask how many glasses of wine I had, the answer is none – it was still before lunch!!

So, off to the church – so very beautiful!! A few pictures here and we headed back down to the marina to take a look at the monstrous yachts that we had seen from above. We had also noticed a lot of hustle and bustle below but we couldn’t figure out what was going on. Once down at the waterfront we saw what the fuss was all about – it was a Monte Carlo Antique Car Show. We took a few pictures but know that will not be enough to satisfy the car buffs out there – you know who you are Richard and Wyatt Wileman and Garrett Anderson!!

We walked along the waterfront and took some pictures of the boats as well. One was for sale and though we don’t know the price of it exactly, we did see posters for others that were selling for just shy of 7 million Euros – or 11 million Canadian dollars!! Ah, the lives of the rich and famous – it will never be us apparently. We had a lovely lunch along the aforementioned waterfront and then headed up another hill searching for the famous Monte Carlo Casino. After a couple of wrong turns, we finally found what we were looking for. However, it was a little underwhelming. The building in itself is beautiful but somehow we were expecting so much more. We were also not allowed to enter the gaming floor unless we paid an entrance fee – pay money to lose more money – so that ended our self guided tour of the casino. As it was already late in the afternoon, we joined the queue at the bus stop and headed back to Nice.

A nice quiet night at the apartment, nursing my foot and my bruised ego and I’ll be set to go again tomorrow. Have a great day everybody!!

Looks like we are here…

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The castle where Princess Grace lived.

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The Monte Carlo Rally Car Club…..

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Even Herbie showed up…..

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The Monte Carlo Grand Prix statue.

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Our lunch along the Mediterranean in Monte Carlo. 

Col and I shared a potato lentil soup which was very yummy and I tried sea mussels for the first time along with a local beer from Monaco.  As per normal Col had her standard lasagne and red wine or as they say in France, Vin Rouge…..

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Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

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The Monaco Cathedral where Princess Grace was married and buried.

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The Fabulous Monte Carlo Casino…..  As Col said it was a bit of a let down.

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Col with her favourite products.  We were heading to the bus stop and we came upon a mall that specialized in high end items.

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La Riviere de France – Part Deux

Today we headed towards the Notre Dame Cathedral but before we got there, we stumbled on another Yellow Vest parade. As you recall, trams, buses and trains were not running today due to strikes. We also learned that schools and some government offices were closed as well. Anyways, we made it to the Cathedral but the doors were closed until two. We grabbed some lunch at Subway and then walked a few extra blocks to the largest Russian Cathedral outside of Russia. It is beautiful! It was built in the early 20th century when Tsar Nicholas II visited Nice and fell in love with the area. We were not allowed to take pictures inside the church but we did get a few outside. As a side note, there was a group of senior citizens outside the church taking part in an art class. It was so inspiring watching them paint and draw. They looked like they were having a ball!

On our way back to Notre Dame Cathedral, we stopped off at the train station to check out the layout. We are taking the train for the next leg of our journey to Florence and we want to make sure that we know where we’re going once we get to the station early Friday morning.

Notre Dame did not disappoint. This church is one of the first structures built after France annexed this area in 1860. The building is known for its beautiful stain glass and simple lines.

Being another gorgeous day, we finished the afternoon back down along the waterfront. We stopped for a drink, then grabbed some groceries and made a wonderful steak supper with all the trimmings. Another perfect day with the love of my life. Can’t wait for tomorrow!

The Yellow Vest March….

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The Russian Cathedral

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Notre Dame.  Not the real one, that is in Paris.

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French Cuisine….

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The French Riviera – and it is spectacular!!

We arrived at our BNB in Nice, France on Saturday morning after taking a very early flight out of Barcelona. Our hostess was very gracious and let us in early, providing us with a breakfast of croissants and coffee and leaving us with some travel tips for the area. We settled in and even though it was raining, we grabbed our umbrellas and rain jackets and headed off down the alley to see if we could find the supermarket. The streets were busy with Saturday shoppers lining up at the butcher shops, fish vendors, spice markets, vegetable stands as well as for staples such as shoes, sweaters and other clothing. We made our way through these crowded, narrow streets, bumping into people with open umbrellas and shopping trolleys. We found the supermarket, bought a few supplies for the week and returned home through the shopper gauntlet. Richard headed out later in the afternoon to grab us a hot, cooked chicken (we had seen them earlier in the street) and ran into a Yellow Vest demonstration. He says that they were singing, dancing and marching but he walked through their parade to fetch the chicken. He was not harassed or beaten and made it home safely.

We started the day on Sunday by going to church at the Cathedrale Sainte-Reparate, more commonly known as the Nice Cathedral. This Baroque style church was built between 1650 and 1685. The French mass was filled with music as much of the service was sung. The large pipe organ was used for the opening and closing hymns while the rest of the worship was conducted from a smaller organ near the choir and altar ?. Though we understood very little of the liturgy, we found the entire service quite wonderful. We spent some time after mass admiring the church and later found out that this cathedral is on the “must see” attractions list in Nice. We may have to go back later in the week to take a better look!! We spent the rest of the afternoon, researching cities and transportation for the next portion of our journey.

Today we walked out our front door with no real plan in mind and started walking towards Castle Hill. Though nothing remains of it, the Castle of Nice was a citadel used for military purposes. Built at the top of a hill, it stood overlooking the bay of Nice from the 11th century to the 18th century. The climb to the top was not terribly taxing as the slope is gradual and there are many switchbacks. There were also many places to stop and take in the breathtaking views of the Mediterranean and the Promenade des Anglais below. The day was beautiful – 15 degrees and a clear, blue sky (sorry Manitoba), so we spent a lot of time just enjoying the sunshine and the warmth. We descended the hill and walked along the Promenade, listening to the waves crash along the beach and watching a few people attempt a swim. We stopped for a snack and a drink at a cute little seaside restaurant, walked another kilometre of the 7 kilometre promenade and headed for home. We stopped at the tourist centre to ask about buses to Monaco as our plan was to travel there tomorrow. We were given the information that we sought but were told that the buses and trams would be on strike tomorrow. Damn those Yellow Vests!! So, we’ll have to come up with a new plan for tomorrow – maybe another stroll along the beach and a picnic lunch. Doesn’t that sound nice?

Last Day In Barcelona

We headed out and jumped on the subway for one last look at Barcelona before skipping town.  Barcelona turned out to be a beautiful city that should be on your list if you are ever thinking of visiting Spain, but we both agreed that even with the amazing architecture and sites it didn’t have the same feel and vibe as Lisbon.

 

A modern shopping mall that used to be a bull fighting stadium.  Pictures are before and after.

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There is a circular walkway on the top of the mall, so we were able to snap a few photos from above.

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The Barcelona Art Gallery.

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Olympic Stadium from the 1992 Olympics.

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We are now off to the Nice France and the French Riviera for a few days.  Merci beaucoup, passez une bonne journee.

Barcelona, Spain

We sadly left Lisbon Wednesday morning and arrived in Barcelona later that afternoon. For whatever reason, we ended up taking the wrong exit out of the arrivals gate and completely missed  the  luggage carousel. We had to work our way back in to the baggage area but other than being delayed a half hour or so, we still managed to catch the subway into the city and arrive at our BNB before dark. And what a beautiful apartment!! Probably one of the nicest that we have stayed at so far.

Today we took the metro to La Sagrada Familia, the most popular tourist attraction in Barcelona. Walking out of the subway, you immediately see why this is so. The structure is huge and so very different from anything that we have seen so far. The Basílica is a large unfinished Roman Catholic church, designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. In fact, there are many buildings in Barcelona that were designed by him. The project was started in 1882 and at the time of Gaudi’s death in 1926, the building was only a quarter complete. After a number of work stoppages over the years, the building is slowly getting to the final stages, It is anticipated that the building can be completed by 2026—the centenary of Gaudí’s death. We did not take a tour inside today but plan to buy tickets online tonight and take the tour tomorrow.

We got back onto the subway and rode a couple more stops to La Pedrera – the home of the aforementioned designer Gaudi. Another odd looking building but we took some pictures and started to walk towards the Gothic Quarter. Along the way we saw the outside of the Casa Batllo (another Gaudi creation with a large entrance fee), the outside of La Catedral (a beautiful church but they were also charging an admittance fee so we could not bring ourselves to pay it after seeing so many FREE churches along the way). walked past the Museu Picasso (sorry Leah!), and stopped for a few minutes at the Placa de Catalunya (the centre of the city and the beginning of the Gothic Quarter) where Richard thought it would be fun to film the pigeons – EWWW!! We continued down La Rambla, a very touristy, esplanade that ends at the Columbus Monument by the Mediterranean. The monument is a tribute to Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas and was erected in 1888. We sat for about a half hour at the wharf, enjoying the sunshine and watching the boats come in and go out.

As the sun started to sink  in the west, we headed for home, happy that we had another wonderful day enjoying this beautiful planet….and the dream continues….

La Sagrada Familia

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Casa Batllo

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Placa de Catalunya

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La Catedral

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The Columbus Monument

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The Famous Tram 28 And A Few Last Stops.

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The delightful Remodelado trams date from the 1930s, and in any other city they would be housed in a museum, but in Lisbon, they are an integral part of the public transport network. These historic trams are still in use, as the 28 route is completely unsuitable for modern trams, due to its numerous tight turns and steep gradients.

A ride along the entire 28 tram route provides one of the best tours of the capital and is often a highlight of any holiday to Lisbon.

Today we headed out to board the famous Tram 28 for one last look at Lisbon.  On our way Col felt the need to experience Cod Fish A La Portuguese before we left so we sat ourselves down in one of the many restaurants for another culinary experience.  The fish was very tasty other than she needed a rake to comb the bones out of the Cod…

Once we were done with lunch and Col was done with picking the bones from her teeth  it was time to hop on the Tram to see a part of Lisbon that we had yet to explore.

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The inside of the Tram still has the original wood and you can tell that it is well taken care of.

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The Cod Fish….

Mine is the shrimp salad with the tomatoes in it, so……. Col’s Cod Fish is naturally the other one.

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Another Basilica.

We had no idea that we were going to come across this Basilica on the Tram route and believe me we have seen our share of Churches already, but this turned out to be one of the best.  We were glad we stopped to take a look.

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This was just a picture of an Arch that I thought was nice.

img_2280 We came across this Old Baba hanging her laundry so I thought it would make for a good picture.

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Finally, by far the best value in Lisbon was this one litre box of wine that we could purchase for about $1.40 Canadian.  We only purchased one box (today).

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