Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Day 109

Day 109. Sat 17th July

Today’s destination is the medieval hill town of Orvieto and its famed Duomo. The car park has a very civilised run of escalators, through blissfully cool, solid rock, up to the town, we love it already.
The façade of the Duomo is a sparkling dizzying riot of decorative insanity. It shouldn’t work but somehow it’s a delight. The spectacular monochrome marble interior is somewhat restrained till you get to the Last Judgment fresco cycle in a side chapel(no pictures). Energetic, gory and gloriously lurid with more bare buttocks than ought to be allowed in a house of god.
Lunch was a disappointment; I had to send my chicken back, it was so dry. The disappointment was ameliorated by my sense of achievement at complaining in Italiano and getting it taken off the bill. Even Andy was impressed.

Classic Umbrian hill town.
The Facade.
Spiraling out of control.
This is my Dry Chicken face.

Day 108

Day 108.Fri 16th July
Assisi: round 2. ding ding

Learning from our earlier mistake and nervous to avoid a repeat performance, we make a very early start for Assisi.
It’s almost cool at 30oC when we climb the hill and walk through the town to the Basilica. The early bird gets the worm and we enjoy the famous Giotto frescoes in an almost empty space. Absolutely no photography so you will just have to go. The lower church is a real gem and a visit to the saint’s tomb proves especially moving. Always the most inspiring of catholic saints Frances has had an enduring influence. The fist great humanist and the first to point out the divine inspiration of the natural world and its connectedness to our essential humanity. He was by all accounts a cheerful, charming, witty and eloquent man.
We spend some quiet time meditating in the dark space, contemplating absent friends and relatives.
Hold them close my darlings, when they are gone, its forever.

In the immortal words of James Taylor.
“Shower the people you love with love, show them the way you feel”
Back into the centre for a visit to the local art gallery, they have some beautiful frescoes, removed from churches and it’s good to get a close up. Find a wonderful restaurant for lunch and two happy hours later waddle back to the car for the drive home.

Half way up.
In front of the Basilica.


Day 107.Thursday15th July
Tarot Garden.

Created by artist Niki de Saint Phalle (wife of Jean Tinguely) between 1979/1996.

Though technically it’s more of a sculpture park than a garden (the planting seems scrubby and incidental and its hard to detect the hand of a gardener in the place). But what sculptures, over 20 Giant mosaic statues representing cards from the tarot. Some are so large you can live in them and she did. A most joyous creative space with more exuberant invention per square inch then we have ever seen, the scale is breathtaking. It’s the most fun you can have standing up, (after skiing of course) We come away fired with enthusiasm and ideas and suddenly realise one of the shortcomings of travelling, it is essentially a passive experience and we both miss the actual act of creativity.
Back to the lovely Bolsena and a trip down the medieval high street to the local shop. All fruit and veg are locally grown delicious and cheap as chips (the volcanic soil is immensely fertile). We discover a local peach that is flattened like a doughnut and has the most luscious pale flesh that fits so nicely in the hand, we make complete pigs of ourselves.

The Sorceress.
No idea what they are but arnt they fab?

Great fo kids of all ages.
The Devil (one on the right)


Day 106.Wed 14th July
Talking ?

Sulking is so exhausting and at some point in the night the Berlin wall of pillows was demolished and cuddles were resumed. Followed by a rapprochement of a more physical nature. All three adventurers enjoyed a glorious long swim in the immaculate lake (from our out of town hideaway) with black volcanic sand at the shore and sparkling clean water. This would be a perfect spot for a lakeside summer retreat. The area is very striking, lush and green only an hour from Rome and right on the borders between Lazzio, Umbria and Tuscany. We can all dream


Day 105.Tuesday 13th July

The silence around the wang was deafening all day. At least Molly had lots of very log walks that day. From us both, individually.


Day 104. Mon 12th July
Assisi (almost)

An early morning swim in the lake with our girl was cut short by a tongue lashing from one of our tiny hosts.
Dogs are in no circumstances allowed in the lake. Though when she calmed down she did say we could walk a couple of Km out of town and swim her there.
So a late start and a long drive on the hottest day so far (43oC. that’s an abrasive 107oF). Parked the car and made the blistering, vertical(not quite) climb up to Assisi. By now we were both very sticky, very snappy and we had an equally blistering row in the main Corso. I stormed back down the to car and sat fuming in a total lather and so we drove home right away in furious silence.
(Ps, Andy wants to add that it was my entire fault)
(Pps, I want to add it was all his!!!!!!)
(Ppps, Molly wants to add the obvious)

Assisi dissapears behind us.


Day103. Sun 11th July.
Villa Lante.

Villa Lante is located in the centre of Bagnaia and impossible to find. Up an unassuming street with signs covered by foliage.
It’s a total joy when you discover the entrance and at 2-euro admission the bargain of the trip.

Created by Jiacomo Barozzi da Vignola for Cardinal Gambaira in 1566. More clipped box and fountains than you can shake a stick at. Symmetrical and perfectly balance, brimming with classical statues and architecture, it tastefully adorns its sloping site.
By total contrast the garden at Sacro Bosco (by Pirro Lagorio for Vicino Orsini in 1552) is the grossest, anti art and unnerving visit so far. It lay neglected for centuries and was only rediscovered in the 20C. Giant, ugly, carved figures wrestle in the undergrowth. Faces leer out at you and enormous mouths open wide to gobble you up, houses lean disconcertingly and everything is ugly ugly ugly but what fun.

Villa Lante.
The Crayfish Rill

Sacro Bosco. Giants fighting over Andy.
Qute a mouthfull.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010


Day 102.Sat 10th July.

It’s only possible to do anything physical in the cool (25oC) of the morning so were off at 7am.
A lovely easy trip and arrive at our lakeside site by 10.30am. There are several lakes in the area, formed in the craters of extinct volcanoes and Largo de Bolsena is the largest. It’s a tiny site with deep shade and a view over the lake. Run by two diminutive sisters who are friendly but volatile, Classic Italian temperament.
Its just as hot as Rome but the large expanse of water creates wonderful refreshing breezes and the lake is free from the pesky Mozzies that plagued us in Rome.
At last we can sit out in the evenings and enjoy the cooling airs.
Set up camp under the trees and jump in the lake for a swim.
Bolsena is home to the famous EST EST EST vino and at 2.80euro a bottle a delectable snip.
This part of northern Lazzio is located right on the border with Perugia so were basing ourselves here to explore the region.

Let me in the water.


Day 101. Fri 9th July
Villa Livia.

Time to move on and were preparing to break camp today.
Discover why all the caravans and campers disappeared when they did.
The cost of staying on the site jumped from 15 euro a day, to 35 euro a day. Quite a hike and likely to be the going rate everywhere for the next two months.
We learn to our surprise and delight, our current lactation (Prima Porta) is the site of Villa Livia.
It was only discovered in the 50s and home to an amazing underground room with the most beautiful wall frescoes of a garden. The emperor’s wife had her country house here.
We take molly for a look and like all the archaeological sites discover the paintings have been removed to a museum. It’s a great park though not much to see of the Villa.Our destination tomorrow is a volcanic lake 140K north of Rome that promises to be tranquil and cool. Just like us.

Wall fresco
and another

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Day 100

Day 100. Thursday 8th July.
Villa Adriana.

Emperor Hadrian built his country villa 20k from Rome on the outskirts of Tivoli. For Villa read small town. He lived there for the last 3 years of his life with all the attendant servants and slaves.
Systematically plundered for hundreds of years its now and enormous hot dusty load of old ruins and at 15 euros a pop is a bit steep. A great traveller and art lover he designed much of it himself and when he overheard a respected architect of the day taking the piss he had him banishes and killed. Serves him right.

Hadrians private island apartments. (entry by drawbridge)
The Canopus.
Get yer coat youve pulled!.


Day 99. Wed 7th July.
Vatican Museum

After 2000 years of plunder and extortion the Vatican galleries are a must see art horde.
We arrive just before the gallery opens at 9am and already the 4 deep queues are round the block. This being the Vatican, we are whisked to the ticket office in no time at all and against my better judgement hand over our 30euro contribution to Vatican coffers.
It’s a daunting prospect, many of the rooms are the length of a football pitch but we make a B line for the Sistine chapel, the Pinacoteca (painting galleries) and the rooms decorated by Raphael.

The ceiling of the Sistine chapel by Michelangelo is epic and heartbreakingly glorious. All but ruined by some shortarse tick of a guard loudly shushing the room of stunned fellow art lovers.(what is the collective noun for a gallery full of people)?
For goodness sake, no one is there because it’s a chapel. Were here to be awestruck by the most viewed painting in the world and we have paid 15 euros for the privilege so please allow us a few gasps of astonishment and pleasure.
Directed back along the football pitch to get to the Raphael Stanze. Enveloped by the astonishingly beautiful paintings on the walls and ceilings, you feel you are inside the painting. Directed along the football pitch (and gift shop) again, now I know how a rat in a laboratory maze feels. To the Pinacoteca, full of the glorious and the gruesome, magical masterpieces that are a joy and privilege to behold.
As this was to be our last visit to Rome, lunch in our favourite restaurant, Ostella alla Concordia and get uproariously drunk, it’s too hot to remain sober. Thank goodness we were drunk, the heavens had opened, trains were cancelled and the ones running were awash with rainwater, in the carriages. Nothing for it but enjoy the drenching walk back to the Wang. The awning had collapsed with the sheer volume of water and we merrily took it all in our stride.

Clay head by Bernini (1 m High)
WOW Raphael
The Gardens from the gallery.


Day 98. Tuesday6th July.

Too hot to do anything so headed for a nice air-conditioned shopping centre. Big food shop and stocked up on DVDs to help pass the sweltering evenings with as little movement as possible.

Have you ever seen me look so happy.


Day 97. Mon 5th July
A walk in the park.

A day devoted to relaxation. We drive Molly to the park at Villa Borghese. On our visit to the gallery we noticed it was the place Romans walked their mutts. I use the term walked in its loosest interpretation. They relax and chat under the shade of trees while their mutts lie and scratch, roll on their backs and sniff the occasional bum. Molly exploded this sylvan revere with a couple of high energy chase me chase em’s. Though soon enough she succumbed to the heat, another 40o day, and lay scratching with the best of them.

Day 96

Day 96. Sun 4th July

I wanted to save the Vatican visit for a Sunday and my dearly departed mams birthday seemed an auspicious day.
When I first came to Rome 30 years ago early Sunday mass was spectacular, with a cast of thousands and very moving.
St Peters Square at 7am is deserted. Luckily we have a good wander while the queues start to build in the square. Sadly only a handful of people at mass (less than 100). Though the scale of the place is impressive and the interior, dauntingly magnificent, the atmmosphere is cold and impersonal,to me it seems little more than a cherry on a turd.
I was a good catholic schoolboy of the 60s and an altar boy when the church was in a period of great progression.
I feel the last two Popes have set the church back 100 years. Ultra right wing, reactionary, conservative and highly politicised. Their stance on birth control and homosexuality is the cause of global misery for millions. Without the glorious creations of homosexual artist over the centuries the Church would be a much poorer thing indeed. oops, sorry about that, off my soapbox.
Walked in the shimmering heat to the Castell St Angelo, like sightseeing in a traditional wood fired Pizza oven. Across the bridge of the same name to Piazza Navona. Full of cod art and great fountains.

Lunch in the highly commended Gusto, (great food shame about the service, I can forgive poor service but not when I have to pay a 15% service charge for the privilege)
The interior from the dome.
Andy and other cherubs
St Marks Square from the cuppola(quite a climb)
Ponte St Angelo


Day 95. Sat 3rd July

Another oven hot day with the thermometer hitting 40o but we don’t mind because were in the Villa Deste, converted from an old convent by Cardinal Ippolito Deste in 1550 as his country retreat.
The spectacular water garden makes the most of its cliff top location. The sheer exuberant inventiveness of the water features is infection, we want to run and splash, skip and laugh our way around the garden.
Get back to a thunderous rainstorm that manages to bring the temperature down a few degrees. Phew.Fountain of Neptune
The long pond(or the long ponder)
The walk of 100 fountains.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Day 94

Day 94. Fri 2nd July.

How he did it I don’t know but Andy has managed to catch a cold (its 35 o in the shade). Runny nose, sore throat and a slight temperature, which of course he interprets as malaria. (we are being eaten alive by the mozzies)
He gets up to speed with some paperwork (accounts).
Celebrated finishing them with a dip in the pool. Come to think of it, he probably caught the cold from the pool. Its so overused and warm, like swimming in a giant incubator of floating protein.

Day 93

Day 93, Thursday 1st July.
Terrorism at the Galleria Borghese

The timeslot for our visit to the Galleria Borghese was 11am to 1pm, dire consequences awaited those who did not collect their tickets in the half hour before the visit. No refunds, no re allocation. So we arrived in plenty of time.
If the staff at the ticket collection desk were condesending and curt, the ones at the audio guide desk were positively rude, in the café they were vile and even the lady in the loos terrorised one old couple to tears, she (the lavatory attendant)wouldn’t let them in (to the TOILET)unless they produced a ticket, which as they were part of a group they didn’t have.
This severe attitude problem must come from the top, unless they only recruit staff from the people-hating workforce of Rome, It may even be a requirement.
Such a shame, it’s a knockout gallery, stunning rooms with some of the finest collections of paintings and sculpture we have seen. I have never been in an institution so hell bent on making our visit as unpleasant as possible. A measure of their success is we quickly became cultured out and found the place a great indigestible slab of excess.
Cleared our heads with a walk through the park to the Spanish Steps. Historically a poser’s paradise where all the bight young things wait to be discovered. It must have been their day off as all the people there looked like they were waiting for cryogenic re animation.
Lunch in our favourite Rome restaurant, Ostella alla Concordia. An old hangout of the Italian film director Fellini.
Great food, great service, great atmosphere and cheap as chips
. Gallery Garden(only place you can take a picture)
A poser at the Spanish steps
Me getting all Fellini.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Day 92

Day 92.Wed 30th June.

The temperatures are rising in the city and were wiped out so have a day by the pool. The campsite demographic has changed a lot in the last week. Most of the aging northern european touring community have moved out, as have the caravans and tourers, we are beset with young backpackers with tents. They are a friendly (they all want to play with Molly) nosier bunch and leave the showers and loos in a filthy state.

None of them are housetrained, I blame the parents.

Day 91

Day 91.Tues 29th June.
Villa Borghese.

Feel the need for a green space so head to the Villa Borghese. Rome’s largest open space and filled with statues and fountains, leafy glades and imposing vistas over the city. Home to several important museums including the Museum of the same name.
Galleria Borghese was the summer residence of Cardinal Scipione Borghese and built in early 17C to house his vast (and unsurpassed) private art collection.
We innocently wandered in and asked for a pair of tickets.
You would think we had requested the soul of their fist born. Oh no you cant buy a ticket, you must book a timed visit, online, and they are sold out for the next two days. A big fat lie.
Online you could have bought tickets for that afternoon but at least we had some idea what we were up against.
Instead wandered down to the Villa Giulia dedicated to Etruscan Art (pre Roman empire) a much friendlier set up and beautifully displayed.
An imposing vista.

Leafy glade.
What an Urn
An etruscan bronze( moments before my camera was confiscated)


Day 90.Mon 28th June.
Doria Pamphilj

The Doria Pamphilj gallery, in the Rococo palace of the same name is packed, wall to wall, floor to ceiling, with the most personal and enjoyable, collection of paintings and sculpture we have seen so far.
The hands down star of the show is the terrifying portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velasquez. It’s an image that is so familiar, but to be in the same room, well that penetrating stare cuts right through you.
A private collection, Innocent X is an early ancestor, with a gripping family history. We enjoy paintings by Titian, Caravaggio, Brueghel and sculptures by Bernini, a knockout collection.
A thoroughly relaxed audio commentary by Jonathan Pamphili (current heir apparent), manages to be learned, charming and highly informative.

Embroiled in a bitter family feud over inheritance, his wicked sister is trying to disinherit his (and his male partners) two adopted children. Civil partnerships and surrogacy are still illegal in Italy. Thanks to Papal string pulling, are likely to remain so for some time.
Popped into the Parthenon on the way home (as you do) a thrilling space but at 40degrees C, to hot to handle.

Berninis Elephant Statue.
Pamphilj Courtyard
The bathroom in the Wang?


Day 89

Day 89. Sun 27th June.

Utterly exhausted from Friday and Saturdays exertions. We have a slow start, followed by a long rest, followed by a snooze. Followed by a big food shop, we get bits and pieces for the wang (battery charger) and that’s all folks.