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Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Papal Audience

The 23rd of May this year was more special than ever. Birthdays have always been a big deal for me…but this birthday had been in the planning for a couple of years (almost 3 )!We were up and out of the hotel by 7 :30 am for our Vatican Visit. Why visit so early because every Wednesday the Pope himself would greet the crowds, pray with them, bless them and talk to them and this year WE were part of that incredible crowd!

My birthday fell on a Wednesday and divine help with a little extra nagging my husband allowed me to take the trip I had been dreaming about. I am not Catholic. And yet that day will still etched as one of the most incredible days of my life!

Vatican City is not far. It was barely a 20 minute bus ride. The tickets for the Papal audience are FREE but it is wiser to book through Viator or another agent so they can pick you up from your Hotel and organise the tickets for you once you get there. Our bus stopped at a Tourist shop but we had already been warned that if you’d like something to be blessed by His Holiness you might as well buy it elsewhere as prices were sky high for even the smallest of trinkets.

From the drop off point you travel by foot with the scores of visitors towards St. Peter’s Basilica and then you go through minimum security and rush to find a seat!

Tip-: Find a seat close to the barricade because the Pope’s car drives by there and you will be inches a way from him.

Grab a seat and then wait. The Papal Audience generally starts between 10 am and 10:30 and you will probably get in at least an hour and half to two hours before with your Tour Bus so do carry water and something to snack on as it is a very warm sun and quite a long wait!

The crowds are enormous- thousands of people- children,newlyweds, nuns, priests, tourists and many locals all gather for the Papal Audience. This is an occasion where His Holiness speaks to the crowds and blesses the scores of people who are here to listen to him!

I also particularly loved the Swiss Guards who were there to guard the Pope. Their colorful uniform just added to the excitement of this visit!

And then His Holiness gets driven in and thousands clap , cheer, hoot and pray! He smiles benevolently at all and does 2 whole rounds before going to the Pulpit and addressing the audience. The next hour is about blessings and prayer and no matter where in the world you are from or what faith you follow- the lessons are wonderful, the prayers perfect and the moments you spend during at the Papal Audience ethereal.

During the blessings different Christian groups from countries all over the world are acknowledged and blessed and the blessings are in several languages so no culture or country is left out. The Pope is cheered on like a rock star and you’ll hear shouts of “Benedicto! Bendicto!” still ringing in your ears long after the Audience with the Pope finishes.

The morning was so spectacular because of the incredible positivity you felt engulfed by. Even far away from my home and family, I was surrounded by love. What could be better than that?

Price Factor-: About $40 for a Papal Audience visit- should include a pick up from your hotel and a drop back to the centre of the city (if not to your hotel).

Papal Audience days-: Wednesdays

Dress Codes-: Ladies must have shoulders covered and ensure that all outfits are longer than knee length. No shorts permitted for men or women. Bring hats, sunscreen and water as it does get hot in summer!

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Splendide Roma (Day One Travels)

To do justice to glorious Roma can never take just a single post so bear with me while I go on and on for a bit and then still dream of going back and exploring some more! I’m going to break my trip in Roma up by days , but promise that each post will be completely and totally unique. I also know the next time I go there will be completely different too because that’s what Roma celebrates- the more you see- the more you learn. The more you think you’ve seen it all , the more you’ll be surprised! Roma is a treasure trove for travel enthusiasts and it was one of my creates travel adventures ever!

The Rome trip had been in planning for a while. I had dreamt of the romance of Rome and it’s splendor and to be able to stay in Rome on my birthday (which I did btw), was easily the most special celebration ever!!!

So after a perfect stay in Florence we were up and out early to glorious Rome. Now we were told several times to watch our luggage, watch for crooks, pickpockets etc – but I have to say we did NOT have one single bad experience! The train ride was a quick one 1 hr. 23 minutes and we were in Rome!

This post will only cover Day 1 or the eve of my SUPERB BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION…so you’ll have to keep coming back to see some incredible photographs and hear more about this marvelous city!

Here we stayed at the Spanish Steps at the very quaint Hotel Splendide Royal part of the Small Luxury Hotels. Now I was a little worried about this hotel, what with all my expectations having been so built up in Capri and me not really loving that hotel. But here my worried were unfounded. The Small Luxury Hotels got this very cute hotel just right and it was pretty, charming and very central! Our room had been upgraded to a suite and we had a wonderful sitting room and a charming bedroom and my only complaint was that you got lost in all the reds and golds of the room! It was not very well lit and I often couldn’t find something especially if it by chance fell on the plush carpet or the wonderfully soft, uber plush bed cover! I wish there were more lights in the room! The hotel also has the Mirabelle Restaurant, said to be one of the finest in the city! But best of all is the fact that you’re walking distance form the famous shopping at Via Venetto and the marvelous Spanish Steps.

We checked in and then we were out to explore! The Spanish Steps were a 3 minute walk and the day was perfect. We were on top of the Spanish Steps which made walking down easy and fun! The 138 step climb with shopping later in the day proved to be a little less fun! The Spanish Steps are filled with tourists , young couples and lots of life! Couples hang out on the steps and watch the world go by. Tourists use the steps for fabulous photographs and often a much needed rest stop.  The Steps start from the Piazza Trinità dei Monti dominated by the Trinità dei Montichurch at the top and lead to  the Piazza di Spagna at the base. We had a quick bite to eat at the wonderful , highly recommended Canova Cafe and the most glorious cappuccino and then it was off to walk towards the Trevi fountain!

I was very waylaid in my walk though because I kept finding these incredible boutiques with superbly priced clothing that I just had to , had to , had to have! So what would have been a 15 minute slow walk took us a couple of hours because of my insistence to explore small bylanes and small shops! The clothes however were beautiful, the weather perfect and this for me was the best way to explore Rome- leisurely and allowing a complete indulgence of your senses- because there is so much to smell, see, feel, touch and do!

The Trevi Fountain was glorious! I threw several coins in a fountain believing in the superstition that if you threw a coin in the Trevi fountain you will return! I do hope to go back several times and I wished hard hoping that the Fountain Gods would hear me!

Dinner was at a small cafe in the Theatre district and was absolutely perfect! But an early night Day 1 was almost done and the big birthday blow out was tomorrow! Surprises galore and a trip to Vatican City for a special Papal visit…. but more on that next week!

Till then Ciao!

Price Factor-: Between $ 300- $ 500 but book something CENTRAL …cos the only way to explore Roma is to do it by foot!

Best times to travel-: May- October

Splendide Roma (Day One Travels)

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via Splendide Roma (Day One Travels).

Splendide Roma (Day One Travels)

To do justice to glorious Roma can never take just a single post so bear with me while I go on and on for a bit and then still dream of going back and exploring some more! I’m going to break my trip in Roma up by days , but promise that each post will be completely and totally unique. I also know the next time I go there will be completely different too because that’s what Roma celebrates- the more you see- the more you learn. The more you think you’ve seen it all , the more you’ll be surprised! Roma is a treasure trove for travel enthusiasts and it was one of my creates travel adventures ever!

The Rome trip had been in planning for a while. I had dreamt of the romance of Rome and it’s splendor and to be able to stay in Rome on my birthday (which I did btw), was easily the most special celebration ever!!!

So after a perfect stay in Florence we were up and out early to glorious Rome. Now we were told several times to watch our luggage, watch for crooks, pickpockets etc – but I have to say we did NOT have one single bad experience! The train ride was a quick one 1 hr. 23 minutes and we were in Rome!

This post will only cover Day 1 or the eve of my SUPERB BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION…so you’ll have to keep coming back to see some incredible photographs and hear more about this marvelous city!

Here we stayed at the Spanish Steps at the very quaint Hotel Splendide Royal part of the Small Luxury Hotels. Now I was a little worried about this hotel, what with all my expectations having been so built up in Capri and me not really loving that hotel. But here my worried were unfounded. The Small Luxury Hotels got this very cute hotel just right and it was pretty, charming and very central! Our room had been upgraded to a suite and we had a wonderful sitting room and a charming bedroom and my only complaint was that you got lost in all the reds and golds of the room! It was not very well lit and I often couldn’t find something especially if it by chance fell on the plush carpet or the wonderfully soft, uber plush bed cover! I wish there were more lights in the room! The hotel also has the Mirabelle Restaurant, said to be one of the finest in the city! But best of all is the fact that you’re walking distance form the famous shopping at Via Venetto and the marvelous Spanish Steps.

We checked in and then we were out to explore! The Spanish Steps were a 3 minute walk and the day was perfect. We were on top of the Spanish Steps which made walking down easy and fun! The 138 step climb with shopping later in the day proved to be a little less fun! The Spanish Steps are filled with tourists , young couples and lots of life! Couples hang out on the steps and watch the world go by. Tourists use the steps for fabulous photographs and often a much needed rest stop.  The Steps start from the Piazza Trinità dei Monti dominated by the Trinità dei Montichurch at the top and lead to  the Piazza di Spagna at the base. We had a quick bite to eat at the wonderful , highly recommended Canova Cafe and the most glorious cappuccino and then it was off to walk towards the Trevi fountain!

I was very waylaid in my walk though because I kept finding these incredible boutiques with superbly priced clothing that I just had to , had to , had to have! So what would have been a 15 minute slow walk took us a couple of hours because of my insistence to explore small bylanes and small shops! The clothes however were beautiful, the weather perfect and this for me was the best way to explore Rome- leisurely and allowing a complete indulgence of your senses- because there is so much to smell, see, feel, touch and do!

The Trevi Fountain was glorious! I threw several coins in a fountain believing in the superstition that if you threw a coin in the Trevi fountain you will return! I do hope to go back several times and I wished hard hoping that the Fountain Gods would hear me!

Dinner was at a small cafe in the Theatre district and was absolutely perfect! But an early night Day 1 was almost done and the big birthday blow out was tomorrow! Surprises galore and a trip to Vatican City for a special Papal visit…. but more on that next week!

Till then Ciao!

Price Factor-: Between $ 300- $ 500 but book something CENTRAL …cos the only way to explore Roma is to do it by foot!

Best times to travel-: May- October

Leaning on the Tower of Pisa!

The Leaning tower of Pisa is something I had always wanted to see and when you’re in Florence , Pisa is a measly 45 minutes by train and we knew we just HAD TO , HAD TO go!

If you want to climb the Tower, which is what we wanted to do, it’s better to book online so you don’t have to wait in cues or worse still miss the opportunity completely because the slots are totally full.

So up we were on a gloriously rainy, romantic Florence morning and after a hearty breakfast we took a 5 minute cab drive to the station. Now most of the trains in Italy are pretty wonderful, but the ones that take you to places very close by , like Pisa are just okay. We headed aboard and before we knew it we were in Pisa.

All the websites we had read said that you can see the Tower of Pisa from the station and it was really easy to get there once you arrived.

THIS IS WRONG!

You CAN’T see the Tower from the station. It is NOT  a five minute walk a way from it! It is NOT easy to find!

Pisa is a lovely little university town with cobbled lanes and quaint houses. The Tower is quite a walk a way (it took us over 30 minutes) especially if you have no idea how to get there! What is infinitely better is to take one of the many busses which head straight from the station to the Tower and which leave at regular intervals. These are local buses which make a few stops but get you to the Tower or back to the station in approximately 10 minutes. Take these buses! It’s a much less frustrating walk , especially if you had a booking time confirmed to walk up the Tower and we were so afraid we’d miss it!

The Tower is white, perfect, beautiful and very, very tilted!The Piazza del Duomo in Pisa,is also known as the Piazza del Miracoli or the Field of Miracles is where you will find the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It is dominated by four great religious edifices: the Duomo (cathedral), the Campanile (the cathedral’s free standing bell tower/ The Leaning Tower ), the Baptistry and the Camposanto.

We just made it in time to rush into the end of the line and be ushered in.

The narrow winding staircases broken with the occasional small landing where you could see the glorious University town below made for beautiful photographs and though the climb was steep, the steps uneven and the corridors occasionally a little confined because of the number of people going up- the climb to the top was well worth it! The gorgeous clouds almost touched us as we reached the top and you could see why Gabriele d’Annunzio described the adjoining building and the Tower as being part of the Field of Miracles- the beauty was astounding!

The trip to the top was an experience and the view spectacular. It is a definite MUST DO!

In the Piazza below you will see tons of tourist shops with funny t-shirts and lots of small knick-knacks to commemorate your visit to Pisa. You can also stop and have a cappuccino or food at the many cafes in the Piazza.

Once our climb was completed we took a while to explore the beautiful college town and then took a BUS back to the station and was back to Florence in 45 minutes!

The afternoon was beautiful back at Florence and we explored the narrow cobbled roads and the quaint , family-owned cafes and I shopped! The shopping was wonderful, the people were friendly and the city was a from a time lost that I would have loved to be a part of!

It must be said again the Firenze or Florence was my favourite Italian city and when you do go there go climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

Price Factor-: 17 Euros per person! Well worth it!

What to Wear-: A jacket as the weather is a tad confusing- rainy one moment, bright sunshine the next! Wear comfortable shoes as it’s quite a climb !

Best times to travel-: May- October

Romance in Florence

Florence also known as Firenze is easily the most romantic city (save for Venice that we visited).

I must say the name of our hotel Hotel Rocco Forte- Savoy did not sound either impressive or grand and this was definitely the city I was least looking forward to traveling to! We arrived early in the morning as we were only spending 2 nights and wanted to make the best use of our very short trip! The hotel was barely a 5 minute cab drive away and the streets looked quaint and original… maybe our day could turn out to be pretty great!

We had arrived quite early and with a broken suitcase in tow- not exactly the ideal start to a super 2 days. As we entered the hotel and the room was not ready! Wow after a long train ride, no breakfast and carting a broken suitcase- this day was wasn’t getting any better. And then we went outside- a perfect Piazza (Piazza della Republica) complete with a musical merry-go-round and the nicest cafes surrounded us. With grey skies, threatening to rain sitting in a cafe with a warm cappuccino suddenly Firenze became the most romantic city in Italy- I guess when we were less hungry we actually appreciate the subtle beauty, the calm perfection of this very old yet extremely modern city! We finished a leisurely breakfast and headed to the a multi brand super store, – Rinascente in the Piazza open perfectly early- and lo and behold , we found the perfect suitcase.

We dragged that back to the hotel , only to have been met by a very apologetic General Manager. We should have been shown our room immediately, he apologized. After all what was the use of being A Leaders Club Member if we couldn’t be treated special. Room upgrade in place with a fabulous view of the amazing Piazza della Republica , Day 1 was about finding the Statue of David. I had bought these tickets online and this really helped. The day was rainy but the Gallery in the prestigious centre of the Scuola Grande of Santa Maria della Carità, one of the most ancient lay fraternal orders of the city. This meant we passed yet another beautiful Duomo (Cathedral). The destination was close and in 5 minutes we reached the Uffizzi Art Gallery. The Gallery was a celebration of art and colours and Masters and had an enviable collection of  Venetian paintings from Veneto as well, from the Bizantine and Gothic fourteenth century;  but I have to admit, I was keen on seeing Michaelangelo’s David.

This was a 10 minute walk the other way (our Piazza being almost a central point) and the line to see David was very long. However since we had our tickets which we’d exchanges at the Florence Accademia there was no line at all and we saw envious glances of those huddling up in the line , cold and wet because it was such a rainy, rainy day!

David was magnificent. Strong, posed and perfect, he stood confident and majestic. The guards there allowed a few photographs but none with flash and I was delighted to have been treated to this remarkable sculpture! On the way out you see a fake David with coloured hair and neon body parts staring at you and you can’t help but be overawed by the simplicity and beauty that you had just witnessed! And then it was time for gelato on a cold , rainy day and some fabulous shopping!

Hotel Rocco Forte is in the centre of the city and surrounded by high-end boutiques and fabulous Italian designers. Spoiled for choice the rest of the evening was about trying clothes, shopping and indulging our little extravagances. A few hours later we found a beautiful restaurant and with a nice warm drink and some bubbly and some impeccably made Italian food we treated ourselves to a personal, perfect romantic dinner.

Florence was perfect. Luxury and romance lived together on perfectly cobbled paths and we fell in love again with not just each other but the most artistic city we’d even been to!

We’d had a long day but we felt more alive in Florence than we ever had! The next day we were off to Pisa…and then we planned to rush back home to enjoy our last evening in this paradise… but more on that next week!

Price Factor-: About $300- $500 per night for a 5 star hotel. But remember most cafes also have a basic cover/sitting charge even if you are ordering a full meal.

Best times to travel-: June- October

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