Italy: May 2016: Part 3: Florence

The final city on our tour  of Italy was Florence. The heart of Tuscany and the cradle of the Renaissance. The Duomo is the city’s iconic landmark and one of the Italian “Big Three, the others being the Colosseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. So our first destination was Il Duomo (or Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore).


Facade of Il Duomo with St John’s Baptistry to the left

Unike the ornate churches in Rome, the interior of Il Duomo is relatively bare, the relative bareness of the church corresponds with the austerity of religious life, as preached by Girolamo Savonarola.


Il Duomo interior

There is an impressive patterned marble floor and the interior of the dome is decorated with an impressive fresco, started by Giorgio Vasari and finished by Federico Zuccari and a number of collaborators in the mid 16th Century.


Inside the dome

The lines to scale the dome were long and I didn’t fancy clambering up 463 steep stone steps, so after the Duomo we headed to the Archaeological Museum. The Museum houses an impressive Egyptian collection and also many artefacts from Greek, Roman and Etruscan civilisations.

We also visited the garden of the museum, which shows tombs and burial mounds of ancient times. The Etruscan tomb, looked a little like a hobbit house.


Etruscan Tomb in the garden

When the museum was created in the late 19th century, its director felt that it would be incomplete without the actual tombs from which many Etruscan objects were removed, so he had a few of these dismantled and put back together right there in the garden of the museum. We were able to see the great variety of funeral monuments used by the Etruscans. There are tumulus, chamber, and “dado” tombs. The garden is open for visits only on Saturday mornings (and only if it is not raining), but if you can get in, it’s worth the price of admission (4 euro).

We then wandered to the Piazza della Signora with the Uffizi Gallery and a copy of the statue of David, the actual statue by Michelangelo is in The Galleria dell’ Academia. For us the copy would suffice.



Eating at one of the restaurants, on any of the principle piazzas of Florence, was going to be expensive, but we ventured into one, negotiated not to pay the 4 Euro cover charge and tried the Tuscan speciality soup called Ribollita (a thick vegetable, bread and bean dish) in a fancy restaurant on the Piazza della Republica.



The soup was very tasty, even if the price of 18 Euro was a little hard to swallow. After eating, we strolled around Florence marvelling at the medieval architecture, we finally slumped footsore in the Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, where we watched the world go by and listened to a guitarist singing some popular pop covers.

They say if you stroke the snout of the bronze boar on the south side of Mercato Nuovo, you will return to Florence, we hadn’t thrown a coin into the Trevi Fountain in Rome but Khato was game to stroke the boar’s snout.


Il Porcellino

The Saturday we visited Florence was our last full day in Italy. We returned by train to Bologna. On the Sunday morning we had a last look at Bologna and almost got lost on the way back to the hotel. We flew out of Bologna airport after a two hour delay, not that we minded, we got a free snack and had less of a long wait at Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen for our connecting flight to Tbilisi, which arrived as is usual in Tbilisi at stupid o’clock (4.30am).

Italy Part 1: Rome and the Vatican

Italy Part 2: Bologna and Venice


Italy: May 2016: Part 2: Bologna and Venice

This continues from my earlier post: Italy part 1

Italy-map altered

Our Route

For our week in Italy we had booked three nights in Rome and three in Bologna. Why Bologna? Well for several reasons: firstly, Bologna is conveniently located between Venice and Florence, where accommodation is more expensive, secondly, Pegasus have only three flight destinations in Italy: Rome, Milan and Bologna, thirdly because there is a lot to see in Bologna and finally because Bologna is reputedly the culinary capital of Italy (and I love Italian cuisine).

Bologna is nicknamed La Rossa because of its colourful red building and its history of left-wing militancy.



It took a little over two hours to reach Bologna on a fast train from Rome, which reached speeds of 300km/h (186mph) along the way. Arriving at the station, we bought tickets for Venice for the following day, left our bags at the hotel and headed to the centre to see what Bologna had to offer. Bologna has miles of colonnaded walkways, which provide shelter from rain, traffic and summer sun. In the centre there is Fontana del Nettuno (Neptune’s Fountain), a striking bronze statue of Neptune sculpted by Giambologna stands atop the fountain at the corners of the fountain are four buxom sirens representing the four continents of the pre-Oceania world.

We also discovered that it isn’t just Pisa that has leaning towers. Bologna has a pair of leaning towers from the 12th Century. The taller of the two is the Torre degli Asinelli, 97.6 metres high and leaning 1.3m off the vertical, the shorter is the Torre Garisenda, 48m high and leaning a drunken 3.2 m off the vertical.



The Leaning Towers of Bologna

The following day (Friday), we took a slower and cheaper train to Venice. 35 years after I had originally planned to visit Venice, I finally arrived. As had the rain. Our first action was to buy  a Vaporetto Pass and take the Vaporetto (water bus) to the island of Giudecca.


Khato with umbrella on a bridge in Giudecca. Venice is like walking into a history book or a Hollywood set. There are so many historic buildings and all those canals and bridges give it a certain magical quality.

Typical Venetian scene

Typical Venetian scene

We wandered around hiding from the rain in the colonnades around St Mark’s Square, before hopping on a vaporetto  to the Rialto Bridge, which spans the Grand Canal. After a lunch comprising of a couple of slices of pizza, which the pigeons ended up fighting over, we took another vaporetto to the island of Murano. Murano is world renowned for its glass.The tourist shops make a point that their glass is made in Murano and not imported from China. Unfortunately, we arrived in Murano too late for a demonstration of glass blowing but we saw many of Murano’s celebrated wares.

Then, we hopped back on a vaporetto to Ferrovia (the train station stop) and returned to Bologna.

Khato and I in Murano

Khato and I in Murano

Continued in Italy Part 3 : Florence


Italy: May 2016: Part 1: Rome and the Vatican

Italy-map altered

our route

It has been a while since we have travelled outside Georgia, except for annual trips to England and a few excursions into neighbouring Turkey. This year we decided we wanted to see somewhere new and interesting. My wife had always dreamed of visiting Paris and Italy. We visited Paris in 2012, so, now it was time to visit Italy. I’d been to Italy twice before. In 1981, I visited Pompeii at the end of a Mediterranean Cruise with Berkshire Schools aboard SS Uganda, having seen many archaeological sites earlier in the trip (Ephesus, Corinth and Athens), I probably didn’t appreciate Pompeii, as much as I should. That trip was supposed to start in Venice but the Italian Air Traffic Controllers were on strike, so we flew to Dubrovnik, where a coach took us to meet our ship in Split (now Croatia), a nice city but lacking the cachet of Venice.

In 1996, I went with my first wife to Sicily and we saw the New Year (1997) arrive in Augusta near Catania. Sicily, I remember for the best food I’d ever had on a trip (this was before I visited Valencia) , for the amazing Greek ruins at Agrigento and the spectacular Mount Etna.

Rome is one of those quasi-mythical historical cities like Jerusalem and Istanbul/Constantinople. I’d visited the other two and now I had tickets for Rome. We flew with Pegasus from Tbilisi via Istanbul.


flight on airplane monitor

Because our plane left at “stupid o’clock“(4:30am) from Tbilisi, we arrived in Rome around 11am. We had our first taste of Italian food at the airport, before taking a Shuttle Bus to the centre of Rome. After settling into our hotel, we set off to visit the Colosseum.


The lines were less than we expected, there were a lot of tourists, but we were able to get in quite quickly. Following the advice of the Lonely Planet Guide we bought tickets for the Palatine and Colosseum combined and then headed to the Colosseum, mid afternoon the queues weren’t too bad. After we strolled around the Palatino.



Then slowly we wandered back to our hotel savouring the magnificent architecture of the city.

The following morning we got up early to get to the Trevi Fountain before the crowds, and before we’d even breakfasted, when we arrived we saw a wedding photographer in action, also taking advantage of the fountain before the crowds. They say if you throw a coin over your right shoulder into the fountain you will surely return to Rome, we didn’t.

Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain

After a large breakfast from the buffet, we took a metro ride to the Vatican. Approaching the Vatican Walls, we were stopped by a persuasive sales rep, who persuaded us we needed a guide to fully appreciate the Vatican and jump the queues. The guided tour was a steep 55 Euro each, of which entrance to the Vatican was just 16 Euro. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, the queues that day weren’t too long, had we known we could have saved ourselves a lot of money and just gone in by ourselves. As it was, we went in with a group of 30, it seems most of the other visitors to the Vatican were also with tour guides, we carried head sets so we could listen to our miked up guide.

our guide

our guide

We passed through rooms of statues, maps and tapestries, ending up at the Sistine Chapel. Apart from the Sistine Chapel our guide missed a lot of the paintings of the Vatican Museum. If we ever return to Rome, we will see the Vatican Museum without a guide…or at least check to see the size of the queues before going in with a guide. The Sistine Chapel was crowded like the room in the Louvre that holds the Mona Lisa. Photos were not permitted in the Sistine Chapel, although some sneaky tourists were surreptitiously taking pictures. One advantage of the guide was that after The Sistine Chapel, he knew a short cut to St Peter’s Basilica, which saved us traipsing all the way back to the entrance of the Vatican Museum, there we parted company, so we could explore the Basilica for ourselves.

St Peter's Basilica

St Peter’s Basilica


St Peter’s is the most renowned work of Renaissance Architecture, a famous place for pilgrimage and said to hold the burial site of St Peter. In the North Aisle there is Michaelangelo’s sublime statue of the Pietà.

The Pietà by Michelangelo

The Pietà by Michelangelo

Crepuscular rays are seen in St. Peter's Basilica at certain times each day.

Crepuscular rays are seen in St. Peter’s Basilica at certain times each day.

After an hour in the Basilica we headed back to our hotel on foot, walking along the Tiber, some of the way.

Khato on the banks of the Tiber

Khato on the banks of the Tiber

Our third day in Rome we began with the Church of St Maria Maggiore, one of many lavish churches in the capital of Roman Catholicism.

St Maria Maggiore (interior)

St Maria Maggiore (interior)

We continued with St Pietro in Vincoli and the Colosseum again, but just from the outside this time. Walking in Rome, you can feast your eyes on some magnificent architecture from all eras. At Circo Massimo, my hay-fever was a little troublesome, possibly because of the pollen from the trees in that area. We passed the splendid monument to Victor Emmanuel II and finally came to the Pantheon. The building is circular with a portico of large granite Corinthian  columns. The building was completed under the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. Once a temple for the Roman Gods it is now a church dedicated to St Mary and the Martyrs, due to its continual use throughout the centuries, it is today one of the best preserved Roman monuments.

After the Pantheon, we visited the Piazza Navona and a few more churches before heading back footsore to our hotel.

On the fourth day, we headed out of Rome on the train to Bologna….

to be continued….