Hotel Ranieri

Finding affordable accommodation in the centre of Rome isn’t easy. We were fortunate to be able to plan our trip well ahead and booked a wonderful hotel in the historic centre of the city. We had arranged airport transfer through the hotel and enjoyed a very comfortable ride, the driver kindly pointed out some of the sights along the way. Hotel Ranieri is set in a restored 19th century Umbertine palace on Via Venti Settembre.

1.Hotel Ranieri

The entrance is very inviting and almost hidden from the road by the beautiful orange trees lining the footpath.

2.entrance

The hotel has 47 rooms over five floors as well as some privately owned apartments. The staircase is magnificent, whether standing at reception looking up

3.staircase looking up

or on the fifth floor looking down.

4.staircase looking down

The tiny lift was just big enough for two adults with a suitcase each, certainly reminiscent of a bygone era.

5.lift

Our room was very comfortable and we could open a window onto a courtyard (five floors below), no need for the air conditioner. It was also surprisingly quiet, not what we expected on such a busy street.

7.room

Beyond the reception desk and an interesting work of art,

8.art

the lounge bar had a relaxed, intimate ambience, a very pleasant setting to partake of a beverage.

9.lounge bar

Breakfast was included in the room rate, and down the stairs to the basement

was a bright and airy breakfast room.

12.breakfast room

There was something for every taste, a great way to start the day.

Causeway Coast

The coast of Northern Ireland has some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. The present coast road was engineered in the 1830s and is now known as the Causeway Coastal Route, 190km hugging the Atlantic Coast from Belfast to Londonderry. Amidst the geology and greenery, there was the unexpected. Just before we reached Ballygally, a very happy bear appeared out of nowhere. The origin of the polar bear persona is unknown but every year, the locals touch up the paint and ensure his smile never fades.

1.Bear Rock

The village of Ballygally nestles along the shore of Ballygally Bay.

2.Ballygally

At the head of the bay, Ballygally Castle has an interesting history. Built in 1625 by Scotsman James Shaw, it would have been surrounded by four walls and withstood several incursions during the 1642 rebellion. It remained in the Shaw family into the 1800s and then passed through a few different families. In the 1950s, an entrepreneur bought, refurbished and opened the castle as a hotel and further development in 1966 created the hotel as it is now. Reputed to be one of the most haunted places in Ulster, there are a number of resident ghosts. The most active is Lady Isobel Shaw who had been starved and locked in her room by her husband. Tragically, she fell to her death from the window. She now has a habit of knocking on the doors of the rooms and disappearing.

3.Ballygally

The rest of the houses around the bay look very peaceful and undisturbed.

4.Ballygally5.Ballygally

Looking out to sea, The Maidens are visible 9km offshore. The two lighthouses date back to 1829, the lighthouse keepers and their families lived for a year at a time on these islets. The isolation was no obstacle to romance; in the 1830s, the assistant keeper of one lighthouse fell in love with the daughter of the keeper of the other. He often visited by boat until the families had a falling out and her father forbade them to meet. They found a solution, they eloped to Carrickfergus. No longer inhabited, the West Maiden was abandoned in 1903 and the East Maiden was automated in 1977.

6.The Maidens

The Mull of Kintyre broke the horizon, only 10km from the coast of County Antrim.

7.Mull of Kintyre from Glenarm

It was a pleasure to drive the coastal road surrounded by mountains to the left and ocean to the right. This fence line reminded me of Michael’s engineering feats when we lived in the Adelaide Hills.

8.Ballycastle

The next town was Ballycastle,

9.Ballycastle

the sunlight through the clouds illuminated the clifftops of Fairhead.

10.Fair Head

Rising 196 metres above the bay, Ballycastle’s headland formed as a result of volcanic activity 60 million years ago. The upper half of the cliff is composed of gigantic columns of dolerite up to 12 metres in diameter.

11.Fair Head

Further up the coast, rocky islands are scattered throughout the waters of Larrybane Bay.

12.Larrybane Bay

The dolerite cliffs of Sheep Island were magnificent.

13.Sheep Island, Larrybane Bay copy

Remnants of old machinery remain on Stackaboy Island from the days when dolerite was carried on overhead lines to the island and then loaded onto steamboats for the trip to Scotland.

14.Stackaboy Island, Larrybane Bay

I had mentally prepared myself for the heart-stopping walk across the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede, not realising it was another icon that closed down for the winter season. First erected by salmon fishermen in 1755, the 20 metre long bridge is suspended 30 metres above the sea. The waters around Carrick Island were teeming with salmon migrating to the North Atlantic and the fishermen would walk the bridge in all weather and return with their catch. Whether due to changing migratory patterns or over-fishing of the area, there are now very few salmon left and the tradition ended in 2002. Carrick Island is the first bump from the headland (it looks attached from this angle).

15.Carrick Island, Larrybane Bay

These photos may look familiar to anyone who watches Game of Thrones, much of the filming took place along the Causeway Coast.

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.

Carrickfergus

Travelling north from Belfast, we followed the coast to Carrickfergus, hoping to explore the magnificent Norman castle perched on the northern edge of Belfast Lough.

1.east side & keep

We were once again disappointed to find, not only was it closed for the winter season, the imposing entrance was covered, undergoing restoration.

2.entrance under repair3.west side

In 1177, Sir John de Courcy, an Anglo-Norman knight, decided he wanted some lands for himself. He gathered a small army and headed to northern Ireland. After a few battles along the way, he conquered eastern Ulster and built the castle as his headquarters. Strategically placed, surrounded almost entirely by water, the fortress has withstood invasion by the Scottish, Irish, English and French over the centuries. No wonder there is always someone on guard.

4.soldier

We would have liked to wander around the castle and the historical displays that are housed within. We had to settle for a glimpse of the 17th century cannons just visible along the battlements.

5.cannons6.cannon

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.