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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 ) 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.











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  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 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 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 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 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


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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Cochem: The Town

Our bus returned to the castle to take us back down the hill,where we joined our guide for a walking tour of the old town. I saw no evidence of the bombing that took place during the second world war, but the condition of the buildings is too perfect for them to be several hundred years old.

Narrow streets, timber slats on walls and a minaret instead of a steeple

Narrow streets, timber slats on walls and a minaret instead of a steeple

Nevertheless, Cochem is a photographer’s dream: stone cobbled streets, timber slatting on walls, (similar to that used in Tudor England),

narrow streets suitable only for walking or bike riding and roofs that are covered with grey tiles, which I assume are slate.  Some of the roofs appear to undulate so that I wonder what sort of structure supports them.

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1332 seems unlikely

1332 seems unlikely


Stone buildings that appear to be very old, butt up against the more common plastered variety, but 1332 above a normal looking doorway, had me questioning the likelihood of that being true, even allowing for a restoration date of 1960   on the other end of the doorway.

Like other European cities, Cochem has its ground ‘slab’ in the form of a grate,

Proudly Cochem - pity about the smokers.

Proudly Cochem – pity about the smokers.

unfortunately, now used for cigarette disposal.

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England has its famous red letter boxes, but in Cochem we found these cheery boxes on walls, in blue and yellow.

Passageways for short people in the old town.

Passageways for short people in the old town.

In old Cochem people could walk between streets via low and narrow passageways instead of having to go around the block of houses and shops. We saw this kind of thing in many European towns and cities – obviously for much shorter people than are common today.

Our ship was moored on the residential side of the river so we walked across the bridge from the business side and looked back to the castle towering over the city.

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Cochem – Reichsburg Castle

Cobblestones on a steep walk up to the castle gate

Cochem is a pretty village situated on both sides of the Moselle River and dominated by the Reischburg Castle.

View from the castle to the far side of the river.

View from the castle to the far side of the river.

Fortunately we caught buses up the hill. Our instructions were to wear sturdy shoes, which meant ‘Be prepared for steep, cobble-stoned streets.’


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The Door

When my late husband died I felt very alone, as we all do while dealing with grief. My home was sold shortly before he died, I couldn’t find a suitable replacement and spent several months with kind friends. This idea of searching for a new life, where I would find peace and contentment came to me then.

The Door

Its surface is rough and blistered

the handle is shaky

blackened with age.

Like Alice

I need to find the magic words

but I’m afraid

that never-ending loneliness

waits beyond this door

that drifting in a world of grey

is not the life for me.


I summon up courage

and paint on a smile

prepare to wait

it could take a while

for the door that’s right

to appear.


Coloured like jewels

from the brush of Gustav Klimt

it opens to melodies

of Mozart and Lizst.

With angelic voices

we sing Gregorian chant

while walking through forests

and resting by streams.


Clothes are floaty

no cares of fashion

even the old

wear beauty with grace.

Sex isn’t an issue

nor ego.

Faces are smiling

we fulfil our dreams.


I write my story in the air.

Words float away

like the music of birds

not recorded

cherished for the moment

in which they’re created.

Later, I’ll find them


like the sounds of a symphony

or the trace of a touch.


I’m still alone

inside this brightly coloured zone

but have no fear.

Friends In My Garden – Exotic Bird

This poem was written for a friend with a lovely singing voice. She is also a good listener who has often been the one I call in times of trouble. She’s not the sort of person to want centre stage but she definitely stands out from the crowd. I hope you have at least one in your friendship garden.


Exotic is my little bird

gorgeous her plumage

of brilliant emerald

and sapphire

and the richest ruby red.

She’s something of a loner

rather shy

and quiet until she sings,

then she leads the chorus.

Her voice fills my garden

with the sound of crystal music.

I love to sit and listen

not only to her song

her words are never wrong.

We share a tranquil moment

rest for a while on a bench

chat about friends and daily affairs.

A peck on my cheek

a feathery wave

and she flies home to her nest.

Friends In My Garden – Maiden Hair Fern

Feathery fronds

of delicate design,

maiden hair fern

softens quiet spaces.

Gentle she grows

pleasing to those who wander by

bravely facing unexpected blows,

attacks from slugs and slaters

or a sizzling from the sun.

Fate seems unfair

to this fragile fern

but her endurance prevails.

A little care

a sprinkling of kindness

and she’ll persevere

lacily greening the shade in my garden.

Favourite Books from 2015

What were your favourite reads in 2015?

The Writer’s Festival in the grounds of the University of Western Australia is always a feast for me and this year’s selection in February, more than lived up to past presentations.

Liz Byrski spoke about her non-fiction book, ‘In Love and War,’ which I have only recently read. Her fear of the injured men who returned from the war, many with faces so badly burned that they appeared to the young Liz as almost inhuman, made me hesitate. I love Byrski’s fiction, particularly her ability to draw me into the lives of her characters. This latest book is nothing like them and I felt that it dragged a bit, but it was worth the effort to stick with her journey in revisiting the site and interviewing as many of the survivors and the nurses who cared for them, as she could find.

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