Thursday, October 8, 2009

Italy (Day 5) – Vatican City

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After having our breakfast at the hotel, my wife and I got into the bus to Vatican City. A territory enclosed by stone walled or buildings within the city of Rome. It’s the smallest country and population in the world. How ironical. At least, something to put into my travel profile. The city is ruled by the bishop of Rome; guess who…it’s the Pope who is the head of state and head of government of this city. On our way to Saint Peter’s Square, I saw this impressive round structure was once a castle called Castle San Angelo. Today, it's a museum and a place to explore.

View of Saint Peter’s Basilica from the nearby street, unfortunately the weather that day was not so good, it’s was drizzling. So we literally have to put the umbrella aside while asking someone to snap a photo of us.

On the square, lies the amazing covered wings curve structure of 100++ columns each on both side. Try to notice, that there were a total of 140 Colonnade Saint statues on the top of the columns.

This obelisk was from Egypt and it’s about 25m high. It is also a sun dial, its shadows mark noon over the signs of the zodiac in the white marble disks in the paving of the square.

One of the fountains in the square, there was another one built symmetry on the other side

Finally I managed to get a full view of the Saint Peter’s Basilica with the dome

Basilica with the Statue of St. Paul in the foreground

There another Statue of St. Peter on the left hand side

Apostolic Palace which is actually a group of buildings including the Papal Apartment

This is the Papal Apartment which occupies the top floor of the Apostolic Palace. The top two right windows are the study and bedroom of the pope. On Sundays at noon, the pope usually appears at the second window from the right to pray the Angelus and bless the crowd in the Square.

Swiss guards in their traditional uniform. They were recruited by Pope in the early days and still continue to protect the Pope as a personal bodyguard. Swiss Guards at this entrance will let you pass if you have business in the Vatican, or if you have reservations for the Scavi tour.

Before entering the basilica, we need to undergo a security checking on our belongings on the right entrance. After the security checking, you can rent an audio tour of the basilica. While waiting for my wife, I went to the other side and notice there’s also Swiss Guards at this entrance. I wished I could go nearer, but I can’t.

Here are some of the photos I took while inside the basilica. Saint Peter's Basilica has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world. It is the symbolic "Mother church" of the Catholic Church and is regarded as one of the holiest Christian sites. Below is the photos interior of the basilica.

Lot’s of time and research have been done to identify the altars and monuments of each photo.

Altar of Pieta

Altar of St Jerome

Below the Altar of St Jerome is the body of John XXII who died in 1963 and you can see the face clearly

Altar of Falsehood

Altar of Immaculate Conception

The Papal Altar and rising above it is the Baldacchino

A closer look at the Baldacchino, a type of canopy supported by poles

Monument of Leo XII

Monument of Benedict XIV

Monument of Alexandar VII

Monument of Pius VIII

Monument of Innocent XI

The bronze statue of Saint Peter

St Andrew statue at the Entrance to the Sacristy of St Peter

View of the dome inside the basilica

Confession area

While waiting for our tour guide at the square, I bumped into the priest and nun.

From the square, we walked quite a distance to our bus, but at least we managed to have a good view of Vatican City.

Next up on our trip will be out of Vatican City and heading to Rome.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Italy (Day 4) – Florence & Pisa

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Our journey to Florence begins right after breakfast at Prato. It’s just another day to visit the churches, squares and some other attractions. On reaching Florence and the bus parked at the parking lot, my wife and I took a short walk to Basilica of Santa Croce. What so interesting in Basilica of Santa Croce? According to the tour guide, it’s the burial place of Michelangelo and Galileo; and also the largest Franciscan church in the world.

Statue just outside the Basilica, inscripted A Dante Alighieri L’Italia on the base. He was a poet of the Middle Ages. This stature is placed high on a base surrounded by lions, and he is clutching his robes around his body and has an eagle at his feet.

Opposite the Basilica, there were 4 stories buildings and shops selling leather goods and souvenirs. To my surprise, I saw few Chinese ladies from China or even gypsies selling cashmere or begging for donation here. We were told that these gypsies might spur black magic at us if we stared at their eyes. It’s just an urban legend. We just ignored them and proceed with our tour.

During the brisk walk through the narrow lane and road, we saw this mini car which is a common sight in Italy due to limited parking space.

Then we came into a magnificent Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore which is the cathedral church of Florence. The construction started in 1296 and completed in 1469.

Main huge bronze door in front of the cathedral

Statues next to the bronze door at each side

Largest brick dome ever constructed

Giotto’s Campanile or bell tower of the cathedral

The astonishing golden Gate to Paradise, east door facing the Duomo

St. Giovanni Baptistery opposite the Duomo

The queue to visit the cathedral interior was freaking long and we did not waste our time queuing, but I was told the interior look amazing and impressive till your jaw started to drop. It’s always best to tour on your own rather than followed a guided tour due to limited time.

From here, we walked to Piazza della Repubblica or Republic Square which is a city square in Florence. The square consists of many cafes, a merry-go-round and the Column of Abundance on the left. It’s a place for street artists and exhibitions.

A stone throw away; there were many stalls under this building, mainly selling souvenirs, leather goods and snacks. I bought few fridge magnets only as the other leather goods were quite expensive for an unknown brand, maybe I’m not branded savvy.

I guessed this is an auspicious wild boar made of bronze to bring brisk business to the shops owner here.

The famous gelato ice-cream for Euro 2.50

The highlight of the visit to Florence is the famous Ponte Vecchio (means old bridge) built in 1345, was Florence's first bridge across the Arno River and is the only surviving bridge from Florence's medieval days (others were destroyed in World War II).

View across the bridge where there’s still shops selling mainly jewelries, art and souvenir.

Overlooking Arno River from Ponte Vecchio

Along the Ponte Vecchio, there is a statue of Benvenuto Cellini.

Previously there were many padlocks locked to the railing around this statue and threw the key into the river, the couples will become eternally bonded just like the one in Seoul N Tower. Since the enforcement to give penalty of Euro 50 to those caught locking the railing, the railing seems to be free of padlock. Its okay, a photo of me and my wife will do the same :-)

The river also used as a water recreation activity like kayaking and people chilling on the grass next to the river.

Then we walked through the small lane passing by an under renovation library.

Inside the building, there were few statues of Galileo, Michelangelo Bounarroti and Leonardo da Vinci standing proudly inside the column

A street artist at work

Behind the library is Piazza della Signoria. It’s an L-shaped square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio building. It’s the famous waiting place for the local and also tourists. In front of the Palazzo Vecchio building is the Fountain of Neptune.

Statue at the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio building

First courtyard of Palazzo Vecchio building

Courtyard with Putto with Dolphin on the right hand side.

The famous statue of Michelangelo

Another statue of Hercules and Cacus

Open-air museum with various statues

The Rape of the Sabine Women statue inside the open-air museum

The equestrian statue of Cosimo Medici

Photo of my wife with the two smartly dressed police officers

As we wandering around, we entered into one of the pizza shops and tasted the origin Italian pizza. There were around 20-30 varieties of pizza displayed at the counter. Spoilt by the choices, we simply ordered two slices of different flavours pizza before the cashier heated the pizza by putting into the oven. Each slice cost Euro 3. Darrell and Joey were also part of the tour. Sorry guys and girls viewer, both of them are married couple.

It’s about lunch time and I still have room for it though had a small bite of pizza. We headed to Antico Ritrovo restaurant, located up on the hill near the magnificent Piazzale Michelangelo.

The interior of the restaurant is nicely decorated with arts displayed on the wall.

Fresh fish courses with vegetables on the side.

Without wasting too much time in the restaurant, we quickly headed to Piazza Michelangelo. It’s a famous square with magnificent panoramic view of Florence. The square here can be accessed by any vehicles or you can take a stroll by walking up the stairs.

View of Ponte Vecchio

View of Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore

View of Ponte Vecchio (left) and Duomo (right)

After we had a breathtaking view of one of the most beautiful city in the world, we onboard the bus for a merely 2 hours ride to one of the famous icon in Italy, the Leaning Tower of Pisa which is a bell tower of the cathedral of Pisa. It started construction in 1173 and completed in 1370. The tower started to lean in the early stage of the construction due to the poor foundation on the soil. We need to take a shutter bus to this place, probably there’s limited parking place for buses.

The Baptistery on the left

Duomo and the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Closer look how tilt the tower is and the entrance door to the bell tower. Many efforts have been put in by the government to prevent the tower from toppling.

Outside the entrance of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, waiting for the next shutter bus to arrive, we saw many African selling souvenirs. I have no idea why so many of them here.

Once the shutter bus leaded us back to our tour bus, we left to Rome in a miserable 6 hours bus ride due to heavy traffic and highway speed limit. We reached Rome almost 8pm, quickly had our dinner at the Cristoforo Colombo hotel, back to our room settled down and jumped on the bed for a good night rest.