angels and martyrs

If I hadn’t been told about this amazing church by a work colleague before leaving for Italy, I’m sure we would have missed it. The façade is somewhat disguised amidst the opulence of the Piazza della Repubblica.

1.facade

The Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri (St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs) was built in part of the remains of the Baths of Diocletian, the largest public baths in ancient Rome.

2.facade

It absolutely boggles me that this massive structure was completed in the year 306. It took them seven years but where is that talent and temerity in this technological age? I digress! The siege of Rome brought an end to the baths in 537 when the water supply from the aqueducts was cut off. A priest, wandering through the ruins in 1541, had a vision of angels which Pope Pius IV interpreted as a message from God. He thus ordered the building of the church on the site, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the angels and the Christians who died during the construction of the baths. The old wooden doors were replaced in 2006 with a very impressive bronze pair by Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj. The right hand one depicts the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, while a risen Christ emerges from the left hand door.

In 1563, Michelangelo was commissioned to design the church but, unfortunately, he died the following year and the work was completed by his student, Jacopo Lo Duca. Stepping through the doors, the sheer magnitude and beauty of the interior was breathtaking.

5.transept

There was so much to take in, around as well as above.

6.dome

The dome originally had an opening in the top to allow rain to fall into the bath waters below but is now filled with a fabulous work of stained glass by Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata.

8.Light and Time

The church is built in the shape of a cross, a magnificent altar at the end of each section.

9.altar10.altar

One of these is the Chapel of St. Bruno,

11.Chapel of St Bruno

the left hand wall filled with a spectacular cherry, walnut and chestnut organ built by Bartélémy Formentelli. Inaugurated in the year 2000, the organ has 5,400 hand-made pipes and is often used for concerts.

12.organ

I can imagine listening to the incredible sounds while slowly dissolving into the ceiling.

13.ceiling Chapel of St Bruno

There was so much to absorb, from stunning stained glass windows

to statues, frescoes, ceilings and the 3D design of the marble floor.

23.marble floor

Following directions to the sacristy, we passed through a room with exhibits displaying the history of the baths before entering a tranquil courtyard. We were greeted by an imposing bronze statue of Galileo Galilei, a gift from China designed by Professor Tsung Dao Lee, winner of the 1957 Nobel prize in Physics.

24.Galileo Galilei

On completion of the church, it was given to the Carthusian monks who built a monastery next door. It is thought that this courtyard may have been the garden and the back of their cells.

We were very happy to avoid the crowds and queues at the more well-known sites in Rome, very few tourists seem to be aware of Santa Maria degli Angeli.

Belfast

We had a lot of ground to cover after leaving Newcastle, and so spent only a brief time in Belfast. The inclement weather didn’t encourage us to explore too far but what we did see was extraordinary. Founded in 1868, this fabulous wedge-shaped building was originally called the Shakespeare, the clientele mostly from the theatre. We should have ventured inside Bittles Bar but it was a bit early for a pint, even for us. The traditional Victorian Bar is apparently adorned with interesting artwork and portraits of Ireland’s literary and sporting heroes.

1.Bittles Bar

Adjacent to Bittles Bar was a rather ornate bright yellow drinking fountain. The Jaffe Memorial fountain was erected in 1874 by Otto Jaffe, Belfast’s first and only Jewish Lord Mayor, to commemorate his father. Daniel Joseph Jaffe was a merchant from Hamburg who came to Belfast in 1850 and set up a linen export business. He was quite the philanthropist, funding the building of Belfast’s first synagogue and Otto followed in his footsteps, giving much to the community. This is without doubt the most spectacular drinking fountain I have ever seen.

2.Jaffe Memorial fountain

I did not expect to see a giant Ferris wheel in the centre of the city. Belfast’s answer to the London Eye, the Belfast Wheel opened in 2007. There was much controversy over the location of the wheel, it had been built around and on top of the Titanic Memorial on the grounds of Belfast City Hall. Following objections from the Belfast Titanic Society and the Environmental Agency, the Belfast Wheel closed for business in April 2010.

3.The Belfast Wheel

The criticism was based on the location, not the wheel itself, it had proved to be a great tourist attraction. It did seem out of place next to the majestic City Hall for which planning began in 1888 after Belfast was awarded city status by Queen Victoria and construction was completed in 1906. Built mainly from Portland stone, it covers an area of one and a half acres. The four copper-coated corner towers and central dome are the distinctive green seen on other Victorian buildings.

4.Belfast City Hall

The 53 metre lantern-crowned central dome dominates the city skyline.

5.Belfast City Hall

There was so much more to see in Belfast, we may have to return one day.

Newcastle, Eire

We left Edenderry early morning and headed for the east coast to embark on our counter-clockwise crusade of Eire. We had no accommodation booked, no firm destination. November in Ireland is not a popular time for tourists. We arrived at Warrenpoint around Guinness time and related our previous days escapades to the very friendly barman. He advised us to stick to the coast as, “there is nothing in the middle worth seeing.” Warrenpoint is in Northern Ireland, separated from the Republic by the Newry River. It was the scene of the deadliest attack on the British Army during the 30 year conflict between north and south. Eighteen British soldiers were killed and six seriously injured by two roadside bombs, aimed at their army convoy. The Warrenpoint ambush occurred on the same day, 27 August 1979, that Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed by an IRA bomb aboard his boat at Mullaghmore. The pervasive tranquility belies the violent history, the views across Carlingford Lough were stunning.

1.Warrenpoint looking west2.Warrenpoint Beach looking east

I wouldn’t mind living in one of these apartments.

3.Warrenpoint

The barman suggested staying the night at Newcastle, only twenty miles further up the coast. We called in at the tourist information office for some advice on accommodation. Most of it was quite pricey but there was one hotel that was awaiting star status so, for now, could only be considered one star. We were happy to have a look and found the Avoca Hotel, though not terribly attractive from the outside, was clean and comfortable and they served an amazing breakfast the next morning.

4.The Avoca Hotel

Overlooking Dundrum Bay and the Irish Sea, there were no complaints about the scenery, either.

5.Dundrum Bay

Newcastle became a popular seaside resort in the Victorian era following the arrival of the railway in 1869. The gorgeous buildings along Central Promenade are testament to that time.

6.Central Promenade

They all seemed well cared for, apart from one ‘renovators delight’ in the middle of the row.

7.Central Promenade

The Mourne mountain range, home to Northern Ireland’s highest mountain, Slieve Donard, lends an impressive backdrop to the town.

8.Newcastle, Eire9.Newcastle, Eire10.Newcastle, Eire

As the sun was descending in the western sky,

11.Dundrum Bay

our thoughts turned to refreshments. We had passed a place on the promenade and returned to ponder the menu. O’Hares had a welcoming, rustic atmosphere

and after a Guinness, we advanced upstairs to enjoy a superb meal. On second thought, there may have been more than one Guinness.

15.O'Hare's Guinness

Elizabeth Quay

While in Perth, I spent a perfect pre-spring day with a very special friend. We first met thirty years ago when we worked together and hadn’t seen each other for seven years. The wonderful thing about lasting friendships is the years just slip away when you are together again. After a morning coffee and shopping in the city, we indulged in a superb lunch at Zafferano, overlooking the beautiful Swan River. http://zafferano.com.au  Replete and relaxed, we could have stayed all afternoon but some exercise was required to ease the conscience. We made our way to Elizabeth Quay, a waterfront precinct created between the city and the Swan River. Officially opened in January 2016, public opinion was divided on the $440 million development. Making our way from the car park, our first vision was the eight-story high sculpture, Spanda, designed by WA artist Christian de Vietri. Spanda is a Sanskrit word that means ‘divine vibration’ and the artwork represents ripples or orbits, connecting to the ripple design of the pavement. Some have unkindly named it the Big Paperclip.

1.Spanda

At the river end of the 2.7ha inlet, a 20m high suspension bridge connects the western promenade to an island, which then leads to the eastern promenade and back to ‘The Landing’ (and Spanda).

2.suspension bridge

The ferry terminal incorporates another interesting work of art. The Blue Waves depict the motion of the wind billowing around the sky coloured canopy.

3.Blue Waves

A little further on, at the end of the quay, a 5m tall cast aluminium bird in a boat glistened in the sun. ‘First Contact’ was created by indigenous artist Laurel Nannup and was inspired by the local Noongar When the first European settlers arrived in Perth, the local Noongar people’s first visions of the European settlers. From a distance, the sailing ships looked like floating birds bearing the spirits of their ancestors.

4.First Contact

The design of the suspension bridge is even more impressive close up.

5.suspension bridge

Crossing the 110m to the island, the views of the Swan River

6.Swan River

and the city of Perth were stunning.

7.Perth8.Elizabeth Quay

The glass spire of the Bell Tower was built in 1999, long before the conception of Elizabeth Quay. There are 18 bells altogether, the largest 12 are from the church of St Martins-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square, London. Quite an interesting story. In the early 1980s, St Martins planned to melt down and recast the ancient bells. A Perth businessman, who also happened to be a bell ringer, found out about the plan and campaigned to bring the bells to WA. After much negotiation, St Martins were given enough copper and tin to cast new bells in exchange for the old ones, which arrives in Perth in the late 1980s. After refurbishment and the creation of six new ones to complete the set, there was no tower big enough to house the nine tonnes of bells. After ten years in storage, the tower was built as part of Perth’s millennium project. Unfortunately, the 30m high copper sails enveloping the bell chamber are now dwarfed by new construction. With three levels of dining and a rooftop bar, The Reveley has prime position when those bells start ringing.

9.Belltower & The Reveley

We returned to our starting point

10.Spanda

with one more mission in mind. What better way to end the day than a handcrafted gelato? Using traditional techniques learned in the Italian town of Bologna, everything is made from scratch in small batches. It was the best gelato I have ever had.

11.Gusto Gelato

Thank you, Hilary, for a fabulous day and wonderful memories. I hope it isn’t another seven years before we meet again.

Shakespeare’s Stratford

Stratford-upon-Avon is a wonderful town and no visit would be complete without a slathering of Shakespeare. It seemed logical to begin at the birthplace of the brilliant bard. William was the third of eight children born to John and Mary who owned the largest house on Henley Street.

1.Shakespeare's Birthplace

The early 16th century building also housed John Shakespeare’s successful glove making business.

2.Shakespeare's Birthplace

William lived here with his wife, Anne Hathaway, for the first five years of their marriage. After John’s death in 1601 William inherited the house and leased part of the property as The Maidenhead Inn. Photos of the interior weren’t allowed but they were as beautifully restored and maintained as the gardens and exterior.

3.Shakespeare's Birthplace4.Shakespeare's Birthplace5.Shakespeare's Birthplace

Of course, we exited via the gift shop.

6.The Shakespeare Gift Shop

We wandered along Henley Street, the shop windows already shining with Christmas decorations.

7.Henley St

The magnificent Tudor buildings have stood the test of time, despite many of them being destroyed by fire four times between 1594 and 1641.

We turned into High Street,

10.High St

the intricate timber frontage of The Garrick Inn was stunning. Dating back to the 14th century, the oldest pub in town is reputedly haunted.

11.The Garrick Inn, High St

Next door, Harvard House had an equally impressive façade, adorned with various carvings.

Crossing over Sheep Street, High Street changed its name to Chapel Street. The 4-star Mercure Shakespeare Hotel dates back to 1637 and each room is individually decorated and named after a Shakespearian play or character.

14.Mercure Stratford upon Avon Shakespeare Hotel, Chapel St

Shakespeare’s granddaughter, Elizabeth, married Thomas Nash in 1626 and they lived in a lovely Tudor house in Chapel Street

15.Nash's House

with a gorgeous traditional knot garden filled with herbs and aromatic plants.

16.Nash's House knot garden17.Nash's House garden

There were several sculptures depicting characters from the Bard’s plays and poetry.

18.statue Nash's House

I don’t know if Thomas enjoyed an ale or two but his house was conveniently close to The Falcon Hotel, built in the early 16th century with a second floor added in 1645.

19.The Falcon Hotel, Chapel St

Further on, the road name changed to Church Street where we encountered a row of almshouses. Built in 1417-18 by the Guild of the Holy Cross for old or needy members of the guild, they were transferred to Stratford upon Avon Corporation in 1553 and enlarged to provide 24 homes for the elderly. Following refurbishment in the mid 1980s, there are now 11 self-contained units .

20.The Almshouses, Church St

It wasn’t far before the Shakespeare story continued. William and Anne’s eldest daughter, Susanna (Elizabeth’s mother), married a local physician, John Hall in 1607. The rather impressive Hall’s Croft, built in 1613, was their home.

21.Hall's Croft22.Hall's Croft

We were running out of time and so, only briefly stopped at Anne Hathaway’s cottage. Anne was born here in 1556 and lived with her family until she married Shakespeare.

23.Anne Hathaway's cottage24.Anne Hathaway's cottage

It would have been nice to linger in the beautiful gardens but we were on a mission to visit Mary Arden’s Farm…. but that’s another post.