Monthly Archives: August 2013

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The rest of Rome

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Category : Seeing the World

We booked the Vatican museum for our Saturday in Rome. Just one thing, a light day… Har-de-ha-ha. Seven kilometers plus of incredible works of art and at the end of it we still wanted to pop over to that basilica, you know, St Peter’s.

One lovely bit of one of Raphael’s rooms of paintings.

Seriously old art.

Elena and Saint Elena.

Mosaics! I’m inspired to break some plates.

The dome of St Peter’s from below.

St Peter’s Basilica. And lovely fountain spraying cold water at us.

We had no further capital P Plans for Rome but Luuk had an idea to go out to some lesser known ruins near the coast for a kind of leisurely Sunday day trip. Ostia Antica was the big port town, but the port was problematic and eventually abandoned (river changed course, everyone moved to Rome, etc.)

A couple thou years later, when we got there, the eftpos machine was broken. So I sun blocked the kids while Luuk trekked around (new)town for cash. THEN we went gallivanting around the ruins.

Elena and Luuk in an old Basilica.

It was incredible to walk among the remains of what was once a thriving town. Now, it’s a working excavation. They’re piecing things together and it’s fun to imagine what places once were. Felt like some kind of Indiana Jones type… Except for wrestling the push chair along the treacherous remains of a Roman road… tired arms.

We took turns waiting with the buggy, and whichever kid slumbered within, while the other of us explored. Got very dusty and thirsty but avoided injury in the form of wasp stings or broken wheels. Found a cafe and museum (of some artifacts from the excavation) just in time for much-needed ice cream, bathroom and air-con break. Then back to Rome for pizza and sleep.

Must say, kids are enjoying the food, all pizzas, pastas and daily doses go gelato. We’re walking so much I’m not concerned. Drinking a LOT of water.

Tomatoes and basil are veggies, right?

We only meant to see the Pantheon on our last day, but then I discovered what the Pantheon actually is (a church) and decided to figure out what else was nearby.

Inside the Pantheon. Very cool, and different from all the many many other impressive churches, and the largest unreinforced concrete dome there is. Anywhere.

We found piazza Navona nearby, which has a glorious fountain. Louis soaked himself before police came and cleared away the crowd of people doing the same. Most of the fountains are accessible but not the famous ones, I guess. There’s also an art market there and I found a gorgeous little watercolour of the usual, everyday and every other corner, Roman drinking fountain, which were a great delight (to Louis) and relief all week long. A week which was basically over. We returned to our apartment, though first to the gelato vendor downstairs, and the next day we were for Napoli!

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Rome: ruins, art and not quite ruined art

Category : Art , Seeing the World

There’s the colosseum, of course. But talk about the tip of the buried treasure. We pre-booked a ROMA Card (discounts and freebies, including public transport), which was a bit silly, turned out, as you can buy them all over the place. That first day we went round in circles quite a bit, actually, but we did visit the colosseum, found the Trevi fountain and went to bed feeling like we had saved our messy gong-show of a day.

The Colossus itself.

Under the floor, where they kept the beasts, and other prisoners.

Trevi, Elena and me!

For thursday we had reserved entrance to the Borghese gallery, repository of Berninis and Caravaggios in abundance. This was stunning. The house holds the gallery of paintings and sculpture, including just jaw-dropping stuff and awesome ceilings too. Lucky for our art-fatigued kiddies, the grounds are also something of a marvel. We picnicked after an overpriced little ride on a vehicle resembling a train, then grabbed a coffee (standing at the bar… cheaper and requiring no patience from preschoolers) to fortify us for the afternoon.
Louis got his fortifying drink at a fountain. They’re all ‘potable’, ie. drinkable water. So great!

The colosseum ticket is good for entrance to the roman forum and palatine hill (whole swarthe of ruins adjacent to colosseum) and allows 48 hours to enter both sites, so we made for the ruins.

Toddling on Palatine hill.

The Roman Forum (town centre, basically.)

Louis slept through a good part of it and Elena probably needed to but it’s hard to nod off when constantly being adored. New and interesting passers-by of different nationalities and languages are fascinating, and some of them are also slightly mad, but that’s fun too.

On Friday Luuk said he’d take the kids to the Zoo, which we stumbled upon during our not-a-train trip around Villa Borghese. Luuk’s gift to me: a whole day to myself! In Rome!

A friend had recommended Villa Medici but access is solely in guided groups, and following a guide, with a group, erases the smidgen of flexibility requisite when traveling with a newly-potty-trained toddler who likes to run, and a chatty baby who likes to walk… and squeal. The English language tour goes at midday so I got to villa Medici in time, after getting slightly confused and accidentally finding the Spanish steps.

The tour was mostly through the gardens because the house is the inhabitance of artists and possibly a few very rich tourists. The outside of the house is beautiful and there are some amazing statues in the garden and out-buildings.
The Villa Medici, and Vatican beyond.

Shade-hugging on the Spanish Steps.

After that I wandered leisurely down the Spanish steps, admiring the views, and found a restaurant for lunch, which I made last for, oh, ages! ‘Twas wonderful. I sketched, I even ate desert. Then I thought I might browse the shops, scout out a summery dress for the beachy part of our holiday, but Piazza di Spagna is where you go for Prada And Gucci, not cheap beachwear.

The temp was well over 30C so I aimed for a museum nearer our apartment, the Museo Nazionale Romano. I wandered through a gorgeous church and around several blocks (oops, wrong way) before finding this treasure trove of sculpture and mosaic. There was one floor set up as close as they can manage to the actual layout of a house, where they’ve transplanted the frescoes and mosaics in so it’s set out similarly. One room felt like being in a garden. It had a long, wide seat so I lay down… briefly.
My garden room. I want one.

When I got on the bus to go back I managed to, somehow, be on the same bus as luuk and the kids! So we went home together. What are the chances?

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Florence for kids… or close enough.

We flew out of Orly on Friday evening and arrived in Florence late enough to justify (to our weary selves, at least) taking a taxi, even sans children’s car seats. When in Florence… We did consider the bus, but were very happy, turning out the light in our air conditioned hotel room half an hour later, not to be only just getting on the bus.


Two minutes at the bus stop, enough for us softies.

Saturday, we had tickets reserved for the galleria dell’academia, wherein lies (stands) this dude.


Dave. The replica. No photos allowed in the gallery.

He was bigger than I was expecting, and no, not in that way. But he wasn’t the only attraction. There were stacks of other remarkable statues (some of which have replicas in Rome) and many paintings, icons and some frescoes too.


We grabbed a tourist-trap lunch, expensive but Louis’ pasta was fab, then the kids, and me, indulged in a grande siesta. So grand, in fact, that we were too late to see Santa Croce, one of numerous jaw-dropping churches in the city. But we did wander through piazza signioria, where David’s replica stands, where the real deal once did, and marveled at the abundance of other statues there.


Statue, bro?

Sunday, we visited the Baptistry of Saint John, with its spectacular ceiling. Worth sitting on the floor for that view. But my phone was playing up so the pics are on the camera and not (yet) accessible. Our ticket was a 24 hour pass for the cathedral, tower and crypt, but the church was closed to tourists for the morning, it being Sunday, so we climbed the tower. Hm. 400+ steps carrying kiddies, and they only get narrower as you go up. We said, at the bottom, ‘we don’t have to go all the way up,’ but of course it seems like you might as well, when you’ve already climbed a couple hundred steps. I almost fainted at the top. But the view – wow.

It’s all on the camera. You’ll just have to take my word. Tuscan fantasy on the hills around abouts, like out of ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’

We tried to give the kids a nap but that bombed, so off to the Uffizi gallery, where we’d also pre-booked tickets. Worthwhile that, btw. Has saved us hours in queuing already and we’ve only been on hols for a week.

Uffizi gallery was spectacular with sculpture and paintings, including ‘The Birth of Venus’ and numerous others.


The Florence Cathedral.

Our 24 hour ticket was good till 10.40 and the cathedral opened at 10am so we got in line early and went straight to the crypt for my daily dose of mosaics and frescoes. The remaining foundations of the old church lies beneath, and there were ancient bits and bobs on display too, even a couple of sculls. Creepy-cool.

We over-churched our remarkably patient kids that day. After exploring the cathedral we returned to Santa Croce and walked length and breadth of the church, where Michaelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Dante, and many other big names are entombed. Then there was the cloister and frescoes, and more mosaics. Spectacular, but rough on our low-mid market buggy with all the cobbles and steps. It’ll be a miracle if it survives Rome.

We grabbed a cheap pizza lunch then let the kids terrorize (throw stones around) an empty playground while I talked luuk into going back to the hotel for a rest. Of course, when we got there, the sleepy rat bags discovered their second wind. But then they slept. Luuk went out for a walk on his own, then I had a turn and discovered a market and a great spot for dinner.

I got me a sun hat, and a sketch pad, and returned to find all three amigos sleeping. Dinner was fab, several courses and pretty cheap really. Then we played soccer in the square behind the Medici Museums till Elena got impatient for bed.

We spent our last day in Florence at the Bobilli gardens, walking our feet off. The statues and meandering paths were gorgeous. There was an alarming moment when three mosquitoes were eating one of my legs at the same time, but mostly it was fantastic.


View from Bobili gardens, across Florence. More sweat than skin at this point. Time to go south… Oh, wait, wrong hemisphere.

We found lunch then in a fit of indecision walked almost the length of the city before settling down to an entirely liquid (and not a drop of alcohol in it) picnic in a park. I read a book, vaguely attending Elena, while Luuk kicked the ball and scoped out the goldfish pond with the wee man.

We hid out at the otherwise empty hotel bar (yay for air conditioning) till we had to catch our train… to Roma! Elena was over-tired, ratty as a sack of rats, but Louis ate our meagre picnic-ish dinner then drew pictures, and as we arrived in the capital taught our English neighbors how to roll that Roman ‘R’ just right. Cute kid almost made up for the squealer.

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who’s there?

I have developed something of an anxiety about the telephone since we’ve been in France. There are a handful of english-speakers who call me, friends and family for the most part, and then there are the french callers. Most of these are sales-people and other spam-equivalents. Occasionally I assume it’s something important, but it’s hard to be sure because my earnest declarations of, ‘J’apprends encore le francais. C’est un peu trop vite. Repetez s’il vous plait…’ they just race right on. Usually it’s not worth the struggle and they give up. Hopefully it’s nothing important.

Increasingly it’s just friends. I’m guessing we’ve been crossed off one or two call-lists. And we have more friends than we used to.


The kids know about phones. Louis used to play with any remote control or phone-shaped object as if it could communicate with Gran or Dad. Now he talks on the actual phone rather effectively. Elena is mastering stage 1:

But you can imagine how a phone conversation with a real person goes. Assuming she doesn’t accidentally hang up on them, it’s rather brief/confusing/frustrating. But that’s okay. The cell phone is probably bad for her baby-brain cells.

I had to phone a bookings line in Italy today. Luuk and I have been spending some of our evenings planning our trip – booking buses and trains and ferries, booking museums famed for atrociously long queues, reading up about where we’re going so that we don’t accidentally miss the best attractions.

And resigning ourselves to missing out on plenty. Rome is kinda a big deal, turns out.

So I put off the phone call, and then I had coffee group, people might arrive any moment. And then they did. And then there were people here. And then it was lunch time. And then it was Italian lunch time. And then I was making today’s book cover. And then I asked Luuk where the phone number was. And then I phoned them.

It was easy. And now it’s done. All that dread for nothing.

I do love ticking things off lists, but phone calls most of all. This week I’m not only ticking off the things I have done; I’m ticking off the things which, realistically, are just not going to happen. It is possible, if the kids sleep and/or play nicely together in their room, I might finish adding snippets of brilliant, transporting description into chapter one of my regency period novel. It is no longer likely that I will finish reading it aloud and recording it.

We will definitely finish up all the food in the fridge. We’re almost out already, so I’ve started on the freezer. No point buying fresh veggies when we’re out of here in two days (yikes!) so tonight we finish the green beans, and tomorrow, perhaps, the carrot puree. It could go in risotto, with stacks of garlic and onion. And the frozen seafood (it might be scallops, I’m not sure) on top. Lots of lemon, because they’re about to walk out.

And then we’ll walk out too, all jam-packed into one suitcase: four people, for three weeks, in one big fat bag. I see some tough decisions ahead. I think I’ve resolved not to take trousers. I’ll wear my long sun dress to the Vatican (where modesty is requisite) and put a scarf around my shoulders. Should I take anything with sleeves at all? Seems wise, but I suspect they won’t leave the suitcase.

Anyway, rather than deal with that, I’m going to escape into a glittering ballroom, and see if I can get away with describing it as a glittering ballroom.

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the two day pass

A two day pass is a good kick in the bum – way to get us out the door by 9am on a Sunday, to make the most of it. There’s no way we would have been otherwise. We went to the Jardin des Plantes on Saturday. We’ve been before, but were a bit rushed, and under the influence of train strikes…

This time we were determined to see it all – or at least the bits that struck our fancy. There’s quite a bit there…

map of jardin des plantes, parisWe started at the Austerlitz metro, on the bottom left hand corner of that map, and stopped first at the Galeries d’Anatomie comparée et de paléontologie (12). In other words BONES! Gargantuan whales, elephants, crocodiles, narwhals, the lot!


galeries d'anatomie comparee et de paleontologie

Lots of bones.

Including human foetuses. And conjoined twins. There is a monsters section! And then specimens in formaldehyde. Fantastically freaky animals preserved with their gullets on show, lots of brains, intestines… so very disgusting and awesome.

After lunch we walked through the gardens. Historically these gardens were a collection of all the different types of plants they could get. It included a medicinal herb garden and was funded by the king. Now, it’s mostly flowers, shrubs and small trees, arranged predominantly by colours and frankly spectacular, though my photos don’t do justice…

Jardin des Plantes, Paris

At the end of the garden is the grand gallery of Evolution, but we saved that for Sunday.

jardin des plantes and grand gallery of evolution in background

Gorgeous shady avenues line the sides but the gardens are in full sun. It was worth a little baking to see it all though.

Next stop, the Menagerie. We visited this last time but Louis just adores animals and we’re fostering Elena’s interest. We raced through last time so it was definitely worth a second visit. We got to see ALL SORTS, including red pandas and little brown bears, who were sleeping so we did a photo op and moved on:

louis and a very old bear

Louis riding a hundred year old bear. Climbing NOT ALLOWED but he didn’t climb it. Technically.

We went to the orang-utans for their feeding time (the youngest rascal stole most of the apricots – un gourmand) then on to the big cats – panthers and leopards who were all dozing, not that we could blame them.

spotting the cats, jardin des plantes menagerie

Spotting the leopards. See him?

keas in parisAnd then there were our compatriots! Keas, destroying the features inside their Parisian cage rather than rental cars in Arthur’s Pass.

Actually, there were quite a few New Zealand birds, but these were the only alive ones. There were kiwis, huias, and others in the gallery of endangered and extinct species in the Gallery of Evolution, but that was Sunday.

After a refreshing ice block we went to the Grandes Serres (glass houses) and wandered through all the many spaces. The first space is the largest and oldest, a spectacular glass palace, and you can walk up three floors to view the canopy from different angles.

tequila cactus There were cacti of all varieties, including the ones they use to make an important ingredient in a frozen margarita, which was just what we felt like, cooking in there.

mosaics in grandes serres

It wasn’t all natural wonders. There were mosaics everywhere! In the train station, a spectacular mural I hadn’t seen before, and then these marvels are just dotted about, on fountains and footpaths and anywhere they fancy, I guess. A lot of them are dated in the 80s – a mosaic revival? I’m storing up pictures for when I, one day, make my own mosaics.

baby in the metro

We took the trains home, with Louis asleep, and Elena charming anyone who caught her eye. She certainly knows how to ride the metro. Always holds on tight…

Day 2:

jardin des plantes We got off the metro one stop earlier on Sunday morning and took a different entrance, through a maze of paths and big trees. Louis was most-excited about the railings he could swing on… like an orang-utan.

We climbed up some big tree-roots and then up a labyrinth to a look-out, from where we could see many trees… and then on to the grand galerie! The gallery of Evolution.

galerie de l'evolution

There were models and taxidermied animals of a thousand types. On the ground floor, the fish, crabs, corals and a Narwhal – like a whale crossed with a unicorn. Awesome. Upstairs there is a huge display of Asian and African animals, quite the march of beasts.

grand galerie de l'evolution

The two floors above that look out over the rest. There is a fascinating exhibition about evolution and about how humans have influenced it by thwarting natural selection.

huia, in the gallery of extinct and endangered species

Huia, one of numerous extinct NZ birds.

And then there was the extinct and endangered species. Fabulous (and of course very sad). The model dodo lives here, modelled after the munted one which got over-fed and a bit mangy travelling back to Europe on a boat. A stuffed Quagga, an extinct cousin of the Zebra, lives here. It is the museum’s oldest specimen, dated 1798.

grande galerie de l'evolution

The whole building is a marvel, and we were very glad to have saved it for the second day of our visit. Sure, it’s all a bit morbid, but fascinating and stunning to go with it.

After that we went for lunch and were running very low on energy. Walked back through the gardens and stopped in at one more tiny gallery about the history of the gardens. This building was next door and we didn’t go in.

the one we missedIf we ever go back, I don’t think I’ll have too much difficulty finding this one. As if the gardens weren’t enough, the architecture is fantastic.

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Underground sights from above

Canal Saint Martin was a gorgeous walk, peppered with interesting sights. We haven’t been in Paris so long that we can’t take visitors to places which are also new to us. This area has the added bonus of being away from the hustle and bustle of the more touristique sights in Paris.

Fountain at Republique

The fountain at République.

The canal goes underground from Bastille to République and we learned that lesson the hard way: last time we started at Bastille and went the wrong way. But this time we took the metro all the way to where the canal comes up above the pavement again, saving our legs for walking along the actual canal.

First stop, however, was a flea market. These dwell on the footpaths and clog the walk-ways with everything from expensive antiques to utter trash… But I picked up a chunky glass vase for one euro! Luuk’s cousins were scouting for a record player but the old ones were no good and the good ones weren’t very old…

Alors, on va au canal:

Lock on Canal St Martin, Paris

Just as we arrived, two boats were being lowered in a lock. We saw several more boats and locks, some times together, as we made our way.

Dutch boy, Dutch boat, French Canal

Louis walked some of it, but his wee bike wasn’t much use on the rough cobbles, so Luuk carried him a lot. I wrestled the push chair, not too bad on the cobbles but the paths can be far from accessible… Lots of breaks, curbs, obstacles. And then there are the metro stations, many of which have neither lift or escalator. So we get to do weights with our cardio… needless to say, we were worn out and in great need of an ice cream once we reached Paris Plage, nearly at the end of the canal.

Today, the kids have a lovely babysitter and I’m off to Paris on my own – well, to meet a friend. We will have lunch, explore a cemetery, and talk French. This particular cemetery is gargantuan and numerous famous people lie there.

Pere-Lachaise cemetary, Paris

I was pleasantly surprised in that it is beautifully shady, ideal for a hot day like today. We meandered among the old oaks and jumble of graves, some near new and others falling to pieces

grave with crank - Pere-Lachaise cemetary, Paris

Strange and haunting epitaphs line the paths. Beneath a wrought iron frame, this grave has its own crank. For raising the dead, or lowering them? Hm.

Pere-Lachaise cemetary, Paris

And then there are the celebs… Edith Piaf, Proust, Oscar Wilde, Chopin, Jim Morrison and many more.

here lies Oscar Wilde

Here lies Oscar Wilde, ou peut être, ici réside Oscar Wilde.

How’s that for a theme. The canal, and the graves, are predominantly underground, but I saw the bits above. And that’s enough for me.