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LATEST BLOG ENTRIES

Irises in My Garden

Irises fill me with joy when their vibrant blues, p1080468-640x355purples, lemons and whites burst forth outside my windows. I have to grab the camera and snap away, almost as if I fear that they will disappear if I don’t capture their beauty immediately.

This gorgeous p1080455-640x370display comes from the bulbs that I almost tossed in the bin. Last year they produced so few flowers that I thought they were past their use by date and I did discard most of them. Then I found these, in a cardboard box in the garage – stored through the heat of summer, with no protection, surely useless, I thought. This bed, in front of my lounge room, needed something to fill the space where I removed a few straggly shrubs, so, rather than toss them in the bin, I tossed them in the ground.

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Jealousy

 

Jealousy is insidious.

Its poison drips

twisting thoughts and crippling hearts

of those who feel its wroth.

Jealous souls

are whipped by demons

cruel

and all consuming.

Their eyes are blinded,

minds devoured

by the smouldering flame.

Destruction is the only path it follows

and the ones who suffer most

are those who give it freedom

to ruin their lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florence: The Duomo

Main Entrance to the Duomo

Main Entrance to the Duomo

Most of the crowds had left by the time we reached the Duomo so Susanne and I could photograph the stunning facade without too many people in the way.

Campanile

Campanile

We approached the main door, thinking that would be the point of entry. Directions in Italian didn’t help, so we moved to admire the Campanile, designed by Giotto in 1334 but not finished until 1359, after his death. Part of the facade is clad in marble, making it almost too beautiful. We must have walked the whole way around the cathedral, before finding access into the building.

Main entry side

Main entry side

Side wall

Side wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Grey

Grey is the colour of sorrow

of hopelessness

and long abandoned dreams.

It’s a life that’s wasted,

an old man

sleeping in a cardboard box

clutching the bottle

emptied

drained into the greyness of his being.

Grey is the colour of hearts devoid of love.

A colour that confines

and crushes

grinding the spirit into a pile of dust.

 

Florence: Leonardo da Vinci

dsc01927-640x425From Fra Angelico we walked to the Museo del Opera del Duomo. According to my calculations we still had at least three hours to closing time for the museum which houses the most valuable works of art from the Duomo. But, again we were faced with ‘Florentine time.’ That museum was closed for maintenance. We couldn’t find anyone official to ask, but a wandering priest assured us that it would be open again tomorrow. There was no point in dallying, so we headed for the Duomo.

Ducking down an alleyway, hoping it was a short cut, we nearly walked past a small sign with a picture of Leonardo da Vinci on it. The place looked like an insignificant residence, certainly not a museum, but we decided to take a look.

The first flying machine?

The first flying machine?

Da Vinci's tank

Da Vinci’s tank

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Florence: San Marco and Fra Angelico

San Marco was on our itinerary for the 4th May, but as it was close to Accademia, we headed that way next. Before leaving Australia, I had noted the closing time as 2pm; once in Florence we were told 4 or 5 pm.  We were getting into the swing of Florentine time.

dsc01903-640x425The convent of San Marco was founded in the 13th century, and thanks to Cosimo il Vecchio was enlarged and rebuilt in 1437. He reserved two of the cells for his own peace and spiritual sustenance.

For me though, the frescoes, painted by Fra Angelico, were the main reason for our visit. Having been raised as Catholics, we knew the story of The Annunciation very well; Archangel Gabriel appears to Mary to tell her that she will be the mother of God’s son, Jesus Christ.

Fra Angelico's Annunciation

Fra Angelico’s Annunciation

We walked to the top of the stairs in Museo di San Marco and my favourite painting of the Annunciation wowed us. Fra Angelico has created his Mary with the face of innocence and an air of humility and acceptance of God’s will. Even for unbelievers this surely has to be an image that draws the viewer in. Single blocks of colour, Fra Angelico’s style for most of the paintings, are part of the appeal in that I’m not distracted by details. Painted in 1445 (or thereabouts) the picture is still pure, clean and simply beautiful.

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Florence: Galleria dell’Accademia

David and me

David and me

Our plans for Florence – see all the great galleries and churches in four days – didn’t go quite according to my meticulously organised itinerary.
First stop on the morning of the 3rd May was to find the Tourist Office ‘Just down the road,’ according to the lovely Cristina, but with such a small sign we walked past it several times. Procuring two Firenze travel cards, the aim of our visit, took even more time as cash was the only acceptable payment. ATM’s don’t always work in the suburban streets of Florence, as we soon discovered, but about twenty minutes later, cashed up, we got our passes for three days with a warning from the man behind the counter. ‘Some galleries are closed today because of rolling strikes; possibly all this week.’
Stunned, I asked for more information. He didn’t want to phone any galleries because it wouldn’t help. ‘They can walk off at any moment,’ he warned, ‘but the Accademia is open until 2pm.’

Galleria dell'Accademia.

Galleria dell’Accademia.

Michaelangelo’s David was, of course, high on my list, so we set off on the first of many brisk walks around Florence. The front of the building was closed, with nothing to indicate where one should try to enter. Around the corner we found a long queue which didn’t seem to be moving, so I left Susanne in line and went to investigate. Down the road and around the next corner was another line and the entry for Firenze card holders. By this time 2pm was getting too close for further dallying. We politely but firmly made our way to the front of this line and were allowed into the building.
‘Where is the painting called Madonna of the Sea, by Botticelli?’ I asked our ticket inspectors. Three of them didn’t understand English, although I think they understood ‘Botticelli’ and wanted to direct me to another of his works.
After several attempts I was permitted to enter the closest gallery, only to discover an empty space where my favourite Botticelli should have been.
‘It’s in Paris, on lone,’ I was informed by a forth attendant when I returned to the ticket counter and my puzzled sister.

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Eucalypt Leaves

Eucalyptus tree in my garden

Eucalyptus tree in my garden

I was inspired to write this poem many years ago, when we lived part time in London. It was a damp, depressing November day. I had finished shopping for groceries and was feeling homesick for sunny Perth. As I walked out through the doors, wheeling my trolley and hoping to find a co-operative taxi driver, I was overwhelmed by the scent of gum leaves. The trolley was discarded as I raced towards that smell, so evocative of Australia.

 

 

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Florence: Actor and Diva Suites

Arriving in Florence with no-one to meet us, I was nervous about getting from the station to our B&B, Florence Relais Grand Tour which sounded very grand for a B&B but was absolutely delightful. The taxi rank was exactly where Christina, our hostess had told me to go and the driver found the tiny street in less than ten minutes.  Double doors, two steps up from the pavement, displayed the number 21. After a couple of rings on the bell we were greeted by the charming Christina and our cases whisked inside and along the stone paved passage to our suites – Diva and Actor.

Diva Suite

Diva Suite

Actor Suite

Actor Suite

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rome to Florence by Train

En route to Florence

En route to Florence

On May 2nd this year, we said goodbye to our friends at the Hotel Farnese (lovely hotel if you’re staying in Rome, see them at http://www.hotelfarnese.com ) and set off in a private taxi for the Central Railway Station. Richard, our driver, parked a long way from the entry. After waiting inside for half an hour, I understood why he had chosen that cheaper spot and was grateful for his willingness to remain with us.

Susanne and I had no way of knowing where our train would come into the station, and at 10.40 am, with departure time still listed as 10.45 am, we started to panic, despite the assurances offered by our patient assistant.

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Spring Has Sprung in the Hills

'She always wears a hat.' The sculpture of me was created by my daughter, Stephanie Burns

The sculpture is of me, created by my daughter, Stephanie Burns. On rainy days I seem to frown, but today, I’m happy in my garden.

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My first daffodil bloomed on the first day of spring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Grevilleas grow amongst my rock walls.

After such a wet, cold winter, to walk out of my back door and bask in gentle sunshine, filled my heart with joy and my body with warmth. My fingers were itching to plant and dig, to gather my harvest, or just get down and dirty.

Birdsong filled the air as my feathered friends darted in and out of grevilleas that grow amongst the rock walls tumbling down from my house.

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My camera was busy that day, capturing colour.

A day earlier I spotted a bright blue wren, the first of the season to land on my patio—a  young male, eager for his first mating season, attacking his image in the glass doors. Unfortunately I couldn’t capture him on camera, but when one appears, I’m ready for the rest.

 

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Rome: The Capuchin Crypt

After our visit to the Domitilla Catacombs we were taken by bus to the Capuchin Crypt, which turned out to be the most unusual of all our Roman adventures.

Still operated as a spiritual community run by the Capuchin Franciscan Friars, the Museum and Crypt, as well as the chapel, are places of quiet, contemplation and respect for the dead. Although the information put out by Viator Tours (see them at  http://viator.com)  for this part of our afternoon tour didn’t try to hide anything, I hadn’t really expected to see human skeleton parts, especially not in the sort of arrangements that greeted us.

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Morning Sparkle

P1080355How do I capture raindrops

in early morning light

as rays of sunshine burst

through misty haze?

 

From  solitary shafts they hang

 

 

 

 

 

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Catacomb of Domitilla: Rome, May Day

After our special mass in St Peter’s on that Sunday, May 1st, we took an underground train to the station near Piazza Barberini where we had to meet Barbara from Viator Tours. Again we were very impressed with the intelligence and enthusiasm of the guide provided by this company. See www.viator.com for small group guided tours if you are planning a visit to Rome.

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Rome’s underground rail service.

My legs were aching as a result of so much walking. Thank goodness I had packed my ‘shooting stick’- a walking stick that turns into a seat at the touch of a button. I had seen travellers from UK and Europe using them on previous trips and was determined to find one here in Australia. They’re made from lightweight aluminium and fold down to fit into a case or even a backpack. I was the envy of every other tired traveller.

Catacombe Di Domitilla 1-DSC01779was our first stop, a short distance from the piazza. We entered a church-like area, not far below ground level, then followed our leader along narrow passages and down steep, uneven stairways, many of them lined with burial spaces, now empty. At school we were taught that the Christians used the catacombs to hide from their Roman persecutors, but being so close to the surface and so obvious to the Romans, it soon became clear that this was a fiction told to us by gullible nuns.

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St Peter’s Basilica: Papal Blessing on May Day in Rome

In front of St Peter's in Rome

In front of St Peter’s in Rome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May Day, the 1st of May, is celebrated throughout Europe. Initially to welcome spring, it is now, at least in Italy, a holiday for the workers and called Labour Day. My sister and I decided to join the crowds at mass in St Peter’s before our planned tour of ‘Crypts and Catacombs’ with Viator tours that afternoon.

A mass of people crammed into the central aisle

A mass of people crammed into the central aisle

We are in this crowd at the back section of St Peter's.

We are in this crowd at the back section of St Peter’s.

Inside, the cathedral was packed with onlookers, crowded into the rear section as mass was in progress and tourists were not welcome at that time. Having been raised as Catholics we had no trouble convincing the guards that we intended to participate in the mass, not use our cameras, and generally conduct ourselves with decorum.

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The Vatican: Museums and Sistine Chapel

Our guide for the private tour of the Vatican Museums1-DSC01692 (640x426) and the Sistine Chapel, met us in the foyer of the Hotel Farnese at 9am on Saturday, 30th April. Having a guide isn’t necessary, especially for those who were raised in the Catholic school system, but we were promised a short cut from the museums and chapel to the basilica, so it seemed worth the price.

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Decorated floor as we entered the museum corridors

 

 

Once inside the museum, Annalivia insisted on providing a twenty minute history lesson about the church and the papacy (most of which we knew) and describing the sections of Michelangelo’s ceiling, because, as we discovered later, speaking is not permitted in the chapel. One interesting snippet that I didn’t know, was that St Peter’s Basilica was only built after the popes returned from Avignon. Started in 1506, it was opened in 1626. Before that, the main papal church was on the other side of the river, in St John’s, which (I hope I’ve got this right) is still part of the Vatican territory, even though it’s outside their walls.

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Rome: Forum and Palaces of Augustus and Livia

After leaving the Colosseum we walked towards the site of the ancient Forum but on the way we stopped at a ‘digs’.

Archaeologists at work.

Archaeologists at work.

It seems that whenever anyone wants to undertake a new building in Rome, (or probably even do any renovations)

Before building, this area will be inspected for historical treasures

Before building, this area will be inspected for historical treasures

the archaeologists have to be consulted as treasures might be found anywhere, particularly around the Colosseum and other ancient sites.

 

 

 

 

Palatine Hill and Roman Forum

Palatine Hill and Roman Forum

The idea of using Viator Tours, visit them at http://viator.com was partly to avoid queues, but waiting here, outside the gate to ‘Ancient Rome,’  I was so excited that the wait didn’t matter. Once inside, there was so much to see and Lucia was so enthusiastic and informative that I found it impossible to record her words, take photos and have any chance of remembering more than what were, for me, the highlights.  So, for those of you who are Roman history buffs, please excuse my mistakes and fell free to correct my efforts.

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Rome: Colosseum

 

Inside the Colosseum

Inside the Colosseum

On Friday we again negotiated our way around Rome’s underground railway system, to meet up with Lucia, our Viator  guide and the rest of our tour group. I had booked two Viator tours from Australia, partly because they promise a maximum of only fifteen per group and because you avoid the queues to get into the famous sites. On both days we had a delightful, enthusiastic and very knowledgeable leader, so I thoroughly recommend them. Go to www.viator.com/tours/Rome and scroll through their list.

That icon of ancient Rome, the Colosseum, built between 72 and 80AD is huge and impressive on the outside, but once we were inside its former glory was revealed, especially when we walked through an archway to what was once the giant Flavian  Amphitheatre.

The lower level reserved for the emperor and senators

The lower level reserved for the emperor and senators

The lower levels of this vast stadium were for the state leaders, with the best position, in the middle of the long curve on the eastern side, near where we entered, reserved for the emperor and his entourage. Marble originally decorated these areas and slaves brought in comfortable seats for their masters, the senators. The equestrian classes and wealthy citizens were also given special treatment according to their status, but, and this surprised me, everyone was free to come along and enjoy the emperor’s gift.

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Rome: Santa Maria Maggiore and the Big Bus Tour

P1050760 (640x444)Day two began with a leisurely breakfast, (included in the price, and catering to our dietary requirements) in the rooftop cafe above our hotel. I must digress here to give the Hotel Farnese a plug. Small, convenient and quiet, with staff who seemed genuinely happy to help with all our requests. I felt confident that if we were seriously lost, I could phone for help and a taxi would arrive to deliver us safely back to our little Roman home. Check them out at www.hotelfarnese.com and if you say we recommended them I’m sure you’ll find them as helpful as we did.

In front of the Vatican

In front of the Vatican

Rome, like many large European cities has The Big Bus Tour, so, with a selection of tour companies and routes to choose from, we headed for the local underground metro station, armed with the appropriate tickets (about 3 euros each for the return journey) and with multiple crosses and arrows on the hotel’s map, courtesy of our helpful concierge.

Finding our way out of the underground to the correct exit did test the bonds of sisterly love a wee bit. ‘It’s that way.’ ‘No, we need to go this way,’ but we managed a photo stop in front of the Vatican (sister looks pretty pleased) and eventually found the bus, bought our tickets, struggled with the earpieces and, after moving a few times, found two widely separated seats with radio connections that worked.

With cameras at the ready, we swept past remains of the original Roman wall, (built to protect the city way back then), a glimpse of the Borghese gardens, then around the Piazza Barbarini several times, making a figure eight around a huge fountain.

This site greeted us as we entered the Basilica

This site greeted us as we entered the Basilica

The Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, a short walk from our last stop was well worth waiting for. I had seen it before but had forgotten the details that make it, in my opinion, one of the most magnificent  churches in the world. Photographs (the best ones were taken by my sister) tell the story better than I can, but as far as I can work out, here are a few details about its history. The original church was built between 432 and 440; I couldn’t find any trace of that one. Like most of the ancient churches in Europe, exact dates are hard to follow, but this one appears to have been initially built and decorated in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Frescoes above the main altar

Frescoes above the main altar

The frescoes above the

Detail of the frescoe immediately above the altar

Detail of the frescoe immediately above the altar

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The ceiling is decorated with gold.

main altar date from some time then and are still vividly coloured, quite breathtaking to behold. The ceiling, which dates from 1492 – 1503 is said to have been decorated with gold brought back from America and donated by Isabella of Spain. That’s the sort of opulence which has been used throughout Santa Maria Maggiore.

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Exquisitely detailed marble floors

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Looking up this is what we saw.

 

 

 

 

 

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ROME: 27th April 2016

In April this year, my sister and I left Western Australia for our second European holiday together. Arriving in Rome at the Fiumicino airport, we were greeted by our driver and whisked away to the Farnese Hotel which is situated in a quiet residential area, away from the central bustle, but close to

Situated in a quiet residential area - the view from our hotel window

Situated in a quiet residential area – the view from our hotel window

a metro station and good quality restaurants, where the locals ate and where I had to use my limited Italian or hope for one English speaking staff member.

Tired after our long flight, we unpacked our cases and, with directions from the concierge, headed for a mini-mart nearby, intending to buy a bottle of wine for me and diet-coke for my sister, plus something simple to eat in our tiny suite as we were too tired to bother going out that night. The mini-mart was about to close, so, back to the hotel we went. With further directions from the concierge, we walked for several blocks in the opposite direction, ready to sit down and eat wherever we could find a place open. It was after 6pm, people sat outside several bars, drinking, but food wasn’t yet on the agenda.

Eventually (probably only about ten minutes down the road, but I was staggering with fatigue after a sleepless long flight) we found the second promised mini-mart. The site and smell of prosciuttos and cheeses, roasted and marinated capsicum, eggplant, artichokes, olives and crunchy breads delighted us. The whole shop was smaller than my kitchen, but from floor to ceiling it was crammed with everything that a busy worker might need to grab on the way home.

‘Parla Inglese per favore?’ I asked the pink cheeked, grandmotherly lady behind the counter. I’m not sure what she said, but, thanks to her apologetic tone and her hands waving about like  flustered birds, the meaning was clear – ‘I’m very sorry, no. Do you speak Italian?’

And I had forgotten to take my pocket sized English/Italian language book with me.

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