Italy Part Two - Rome to Giardini Naxos

30th April, 1995
1st May, 1995
2nd May, 1995
3rd May, 1995

Sunday 30th April, 1995

Drop Cap andaids on my toes we joined the group who got up early to be first in the queue for the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. We had to wait (standing) for 9 o'clock before we could get in which wrecked my feet before we started. Pushing and shoving (when in Rome) our way through the crowd, and it was fantastic but too crowded to see properly. The Sistine Chapel was worth it, though, and we had a very enthusiastic local guide named Maria who was a Michelangelo fanatic and made us the same.

Mausoleum photograph

Pratchettian Mausoleum in St.Peter's Basilica, Rome

Drop Cap t. Peters was even more crowded although there was more room to spread out. Michelangelo's Pieta was lovely as was a fabulous mausoleum featuring marble folded like a cloak or blanket around a gilded skeletal figure with scythe and hourglass, straight out of Terry Pratchett. The "pictures" in St. Peters are all mosaics. It is unbelievable, they look like paintings. The work is incredible. Even high in the dome the skylight lantern is decorated with mosaics. Under the dome is the throne of the Pope and the Latin inscription in letters six feet high. "you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church".

St. Peters photograph

St.Peter's Basilica, Rome

There was a service being held (it is Sunday) and the singing echoed around the dome as if to the angels. Inspiring, even to me.

Drop Cap e then went on to the Colosseum again and past the forum. My feet have just about given up completely so I sat on a slab of marble and waited. We go out to dinner tonight and to Naples and Sicily tomorrow. My feet must improve!


Drop Cap ur highlight dinner at Tivoli was very enjoyable. The first full meal we've had since we arrived. There was music from a couple of guys with guitar and accordion and the guitarist had a fabulous voice. They serenaded us and people danced and a good time was had by all. We got a list of the other tourists and we seem a fairly mixed bag. Americans just outnumber Aussies and there is a sprinkling of Kiwis, Canadians, British and even a pair of South Africans. Some of those who booked in USA or Oz are of Italian descent but the majority aren't. There is a party of eight from Georgia, you-all, and the life of the party so far is Ed from near Chattanooga, Tennessee. He is a scream and a very pleasant man as well. His wife, Betty, is sporting the biggest diamonds I've seen off Elizabeth Taylor. Some of these people have REAL money. Others are ordinary people who have worked and saved for this for years. I don't know if we are the norm or the odd ones out, yet. The majority of couples seem to be retired.

Drop Cap omorrow I have decided to skip the Catacombs and rest my feet before heading to Naples and the overnight ferry to Sicily. A couple we met on the plane told us they had to pay protection money for their luggage to the tour guide's father! and that one of their group was mugged in Palermo after refusing to put everything in the hotel safe. However, so far, so good. Note from yesterday's tour. We passed an old square built Renaissance church of St. John the Florentine which holds an annual service to bless the cats! Lovely idea, take your cat to church.

Monday, 1st May, 1995

Drop Cap alled Geoff today via Australia Direct. Everything seemed OK - no problems, yet. We got through amazingly easily and a good connection, even from a public phone at the Railway Station

Later 11 a.m.

Monte Cassino photograph

Commonwealth War Cemetery, Monte Cassino

Drop Cap eaded out of Rome for our first full day of touring, down the Autostrada del Sole to Naples via Cassino. It was a lovely run to Cassino through hills covered with vineyards and orchards and finally high rugged Appenines with castles perched on top like storks' nests. We stopped at the Commonwealth War Cemetery in the shadow of Monte Cassino Abbey. It was peaceful but the sight of rows of memorials only highlights to me the waste of war. There were a lot of New Zealanders, Canadians and Ghurkas and Indian army troops as well as British. I saw two markers for Australian air crew so we were represented too. Afterwards Pino suggested we try the run up to the Monastery. He didn't know if it would be open because the monks have a siesta after lunch. Up and up the hairpin bends, past a ruined medieval fortress and a modern memorial made out of fragments of artillery, past the Polish war cemetery (there were great numbers of Polish buses bringing people here). Up to the rebuilt monastery, razed to the ground in the battle. It has been rebuilt in the original style founded by St. Benedict, whose tomb is there. It looks massive but is apparently hollow, built around courtyards and cloisters. It was lovely, but not open, so we went on our way towards Naples.

Vesuvius photograph

Mount Vesuvius at sunset, Bay of Naples

Drop Cap aples is a dump!!! Major problems of all kinds, but then it always had. There are castles, very picturesque and Mt. Vesuvius, also picturesque, it hasn't erupted since 1944 so we are about due for one, Pino says. We took our gear and climbed aboard the SS Manzoni for our overnight trip to Sicily. The boat is unbelievably crowded, with school children racing up and down. However, our cabin is very spacious with its own little bathroom and a large window onto B deck. We are 1st Class! We were warned that the self-service buffet wasn't too good, so we bought some rolls at an autostop and coffee from the bar and are looking forward to a good night's sleep. We aren't really that keen on Italy - everything is crumbling, but it is the antiquities I came for, not the modern grunge.

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Tuesday, 2nd May, 1995

Palermo photograph

Cathedral, Palermo, Sicily

Drop Cap alermo! It is a spectacular looking port, better than Naples. We had a good sleep (not shared by many of the others who were bothered by the kids running wild). We disembarked and went on a tour of the city with a local guide. We had breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee and two pastries in a little cafe then saw the Cathedral with the tomb of Barbarossa and others, then visited the Palatine Chapel in the Royal Palace. Talk about over the top! Mosaics from top to bottom like a stone Sistine Chapel and influenced by the Greeks, Romans, Moors, French, you name it.

Temple photograph

Temple of Hera, Selinunte, Sicily

Drop Cap hen we said goodbye to our guide we headed south, through bandit and Mafia country, really spectacular hills, bare of all but rocks and the occasional crumbling building, sweeping down to the clear blue of the Mediterranean. We had lunch at Selinunte at a hotel catering to groups then went to see the remains of the Temple of Hera. A Doric jewel, it was very exciting. There are more Greek ruins in Sicily than in Greece, which is incredible, really.

Agrigento photograph

Valley of the Temples, Agrigento, Sicily

Drop Cap fter a long drive through Pirandello country - (calling a hotel the Kaos, after a film of some of Pirandello's stories seems asking for Fawlty Towers) - when nearly everyone dozed off, we reached Agrigento on the coast, and the Valley of the Temples.

Concord photograph

Doric Temple of Concord, Agrigento, Sicily

Drop Cap here is one, the Temple of Concord, which is the best preserved (not reconstructed) Doric temple in Europe. We had another local guide for this and she was VERY good. Clear, good projection and complete command of her subject. In addition to the temples she told us about the sexlife of the pistachio trees (it takes two) and about the Greeks using carob tree seeds which all weigh the same, regardless of shape, as a measure of weight - therefore we get 24 carats, etc. Our hotel in Agrigento is good, the Jolly. After dinner, which I enjoyed (asparagus soup, veal and choc nut ice cream) we drove up again to see the temples by spotlight. It was magic! A new crescent moon and these columns glowing against the blackness. Really special.

Wednesday, 3rd May, 1995

Enna photograph

Castelli Lombardia, Enna, Sicily

Drop Cap oday we drove first to Enna, which is the highest provincial capital in Italy (about 2500 feet) up narrow hairpin bends and hair raising near misses with suicidal mopeds and three wheel utilities (little trucklets) loaded to the gunnels. I think they are the modern Sicilian equivalent of little old ladies dressed in black. We made it eventually up to Castelli Lombardia, an old castle (600 years), saw the view which was panoramic, and came back down again. On through the wildflowers on the roadsides like in Mary Stewart's Greek books, poppies, daisies, a gorgeous pink and purple miniature sweet pea, marigolds, ice daisies and lots of things I didn't know on to Piazza Armerina and the fantastic Roman mosaics of Casale Romana, an enormous villa or retirement home of the Emperor Maxentius in the 3rd Century AD. We had lunch and a "situation" break here then saw over these amazing mosaics. There were muscular girls in bikinis(!) doing gym things, men hunting and fishing and even a little mild erotica. Fabulous.

Mosaics photograph

Roman Bikini Girl Mosaic, Piazza Armerina, Sicily

Drop Cap e then dozed on our way to Giardini Naxos passing Mt. Etna on the way but it was clouded over. It is the highest mountain in Italy. Then we arrived at Giardini Naxos. The Ramada hotel is Fantabulous! We have a room on the top floor with a balcony overlooking the Ionian Sea, a staircase leading up to the bedroom and master bath. Down here is another bathroom, table and four ornate chairs, TV and heavy, Spanish style furniture. There is a wrought iron balcony to our bedroom area. We can hear the sea. Really great.

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