parcheggio Italiano

It’s no secret that driving in Italy is not for the faint-hearted. It is fast, crazy and a lot of fun. Parking in Italy is something else, an art form that takes years to perfect. The rules are quite simple and the zones are colour coded to assist the unwitting tourist. Blue zones are for paid parking, you can buy your ticket from the machine, display it on your dashboard and be sure to return to your vehicle in the allotted time frame. Alternatively, you can purchase a disco orario, a blue disc that represents a clock, from a bank, tourist office, post office or tobacconist (except for the bank we went into, although the lovely ladies wrote a note in Italian for us to use in place of a disc). You set the hands to show the time you arrived and you can park for free, usually for 2 hours. Parking is free in blue zones during lunch time and on Sundays. Having said all that, it seems parking within the lines is optional.

1.Le Grazie2.Pienza

7.Grotte di Castro

White lines mean parking is free but there may be time limits. If this is the case, it is a good idea to display the time you arrived on your blue disc. Travel advice warns that it is essential to park within the lines to avoid a fine, however, free spaces are often limited and so, creativity prevails.

8.Seggiano9.Orvieto10.Orvieto

It seems to be universal that parking areas marked with a yellow line are reserved for handicapped drivers and delivery zones.

11.Acquapendente

Some towns have pink spaces especially for expectant mothers and those with infants. Parking is not permitted in green zones on working days between 8 – 9.30am and 2.30 – 4pm. Often, there are no parking squares marked and it seems to be a free-for-all.

12.Grotte di Castro

It only takes one to start a trend. Don’t let a roundabout on the main thoroughfare deter you, just follow where others have led.

13.Le Grazie14.Le Grazie15.Le Grazie

If there is no parking spot available, just leave the car in close proximity to your destination in the knowledge that passing motorists will avoid your vehicle.

16.Acquapendente

17.Pitigliano

If all else fails, don’t even pretend to look for a parking spot, just leave the Mercedes in the middle of the road while you go about your business.

22.Pitigliano

If your neighbour encroaches on your space, you are entitled to squeeze him out.

23.Orvieto

Sometimes there are zones that are just too confusing, the colours are random and there is no indication of time limits. This is what you do.

24.Acquapendente

Vergemoli

When we first visited Italy in 2014, we were invited to lunch at the home of friends, Deb and Jim, in the mountains of the Garfagnana. We recalled the drive as being somewhat hair-raising but, when invited again this time, we couldn’t resist. With much trepidation, we ventured forth, stopping in Gallicano for a heart starter coffee and pastry.

The road out of the village certainly fits the description of ‘narrow’,

6.Gallicano

as we passed beneath the ancient aqueduct.

7.aqueduct, Gallicano

It almost made the road to Vergemoli look like a highway,

8.road to Vergemoli

excepting when there is more rock than road.

9.road to Vergemoli

Clouds gathered as we climbed into the mountains,

10.road to Vergemoli

looking back the way we had come, the view was spectacular.

11.road to Vergemoli

The mountains loomed closer and before long we had reached Vergemoli.

12.road to Vergemoli

Turning left at the small piazza, we parked at the top end of the village by the 17th century church of Sant’Antonio.

13.Vergemoli14.Vergemoli15.Chiesa Sant'Antonio

We had allowed time for a stroll through the village before lunch, our first discovery was an outdoor theatre, a lovely spot to watch a play in the summer months.

16.outdoor theatre

We could see for miles across the valley,

17.Vergemoli view

a stone bench perfectly placed to catch your breath after walking up the hill.

18.Vergemoli

The houses were neat and colourful,

some seemed to end suddenly at the edge of the cliff.

23.Vergemoli

There was no shortage of intriguing doorways.

The parish church of San Quirico and Santa Giulitta, in the middle of town, dates back to the 10th century.

27.Chiesa dei Santi Quirico e Giulitta

I’m not sure what this stone monument represents but it is dated 1637AD

28.Vergemoli

and another close by is unidentified.

29.Vergemoli

Alleyways veered in all directions filled with dwellings built at impossible angles.

Some had room for a garden shed

37.garden shed

or a beautifully maintained shrine.

38.Vergemoli

We didn’t see many locals but the four-legged inhabitants were very friendly.

We could see our destination, Casa Debbio, waiting comfortably on the hillside as we returned to the car and drove the track to the house.

44.Casa Debbio45.Casa Debbio

Although the weather was too inclement to dine on the terrace,

46.terrace, Casa Debbio

the vista across to Vergemoli was stunning.

47.Vergemoli

The drizzle didn’t deter us from exploring the garden with its quirky residents

and some of the most fabulous flowers I have ever seen.

From the terrace at the back of the house, there is a lovely view of the wisteria on the pergola

57.pergola

and of new plantings as the garden blends with the wilderness.

58.garden

A few more flowers and treasures

59.garden

and we returned to the house

66.Casa Debbio

with that amazing view

67.Vergemoli

to enjoy a slice of Angela’s hat.

68.Angela

We farewelled Deb and Jim and made our way back down the mountain. If only Australia wasn’t so far away.

69.geraniums

Casa Debbio is the perfect place to escape and unwind for a few days or weeks and is available for holiday rental, take a look.

cani di Lucca

The Lucchese love their dogs. It’s not unusual to see them joining their humans for a meal,

1.breakfast in lucca

though they don’t often have a seat at the table.

1a.lunch

Caffetteria Turandot, in Piazza San Michele, is the perfect location to enjoy a beverage and watch the parade of four-legged lovelies.

2.cane in Lucca

Some are content to wait patiently until their bipedal companions are ready to move on.

4.Golden Retriever3.Piazza San Michele

Others are somewhat reluctant and need a bit of coaxing

5.Italian greyhound

but most are happy to just go where life leads them.

9.Piazza San Michele

12.Piazza San Michele

Being on a leash doesn’t mean you can’t have fun when you meet a friend.

13.boxer & friend

This gentleman was unaware of my subject matter and stopped to pose for the camera, he certainly made me smile.

20.friendly local

Suite Sofia

Anyone who has read my Italian posts will know how intrigued I am by doorways such as this.

1.front door

I could hardly contain my excitement when we arrived at our apartment in Lucca and found this was the entrance.

2.front door

I had booked Suite Sofia on the internet months ahead, choosing it because of location and falling in love with the photos (and price, of course). I am always sceptical that, in reality, some accommodation will not live up to expectations. As soon as we walked into the apartment, all fears dissipated, it was gorgeous.

3.Suite Sofia

The kitchen was compact but well serviced, we didn’t intend cooking anyway.

4.kitchen

The original ceilings have been preserved and added to the peaceful ambience,

while tasteful adornments gave the space a homely feel.

The position was perfect, overlooking cafes in Corso Garibaldi, right above a bicycle hire shop.

17.Corso Garibaldi18.Corso Garibaldi

From the outside, the building was stunning,

19.Corso Garibaldi

no traffic except for the two-wheeled silent type.

20.Corso Garibaldi

Our host, Massimiliano, was lovely, nothing was too much trouble. We will certainly return to Suite Sofia if we have the chance.

21.Suite Sofia from Corso Garibaldi

when in Rome…

When in Rome, it is impossible to not be in a permanent state of awe. With limited time, we overdosed on the history, architecture and general magnificence of this city in one day. Walking from our hotel, we turned the corner at the Fontana dell’Acqua Felice, built in 1587 to mark the completion of the Acqua Felice, an ancient aqueduct that provided the neighbourhood with fresh water. It is also known as the Fountain of Moses, a large statue of whom stands in the central niche and is flanked on either side by reliefs depicting biblical scenes. Four water spouting lions relax in front of the columns framing the niches.

On the other side of the street, two very grand 19th century buildings seemed to line the entire stretch of Via Vittorio Emanuele Orlando. The first is the boutique Mascagni Hotel, then the luxury Dependance Mascagni occupies the top two floors of the second building.

It wasn’t long before we were standing in the Piazza della Repubblica, the majestic Fontana delle Naiads is the stunning centerpiece of a huge roundabout. Constructed in the late 1800s, the original four lion sculptures were replaced by statues of nude water nymphs in 1901. Each figure lies on top of an aquatic animal, representing four aspects of water; a sea horse for the oceans, a swan for lakes, a snake for rivers and a lizard for subterranean streams.

6.fontana delle naiadi

After wandering around the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri (you can read more about that here) I noticed this intriguing doorway. The inscription reveals that this is the portal of the Annona Olearia, a series of wells excavated in 1764 to store olive oil. Pope Clement XIII had the foresight to ensure a supply to the city and thereby controlled the price of the product. Each of the ten wells could hold 44,000 litres.

7.portal of the annona olearia

The morning drizzle wasn’t showing any signs of abating as we bought tickets for the Hop On Hop Off bus and settled in to admire the shops along Via Nazionale.

8.via nazionale

The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, dating back to 440AD,  dominates the piazza of the same name. The core of the original structure has been retained, although there has been much restoration and extensions over the centuries with the present façade commissioned in the 1740s. The bell tower, from the year 1300, is the tallest in Rome at 75 metres and the side chapels were added in 1500.

9.basilica di santa maria maggiore

The back of the basilica, in Piazza dell’Esquilino, looks very different with the semi-circular apse added in 1600. Standing in the centre of the piazza is a 15 metre high pink granite obelisk, originally found at the entrance to the Mausoleum of Augustus and moved here in 1587.

10.basilica di santa maria maggiore

The Princeps Boutique Hotel occupies the fourth floor of this impressive palace, one of the oldest in the district. The view from the rooms must be spectacular.

13.princeps boutique hotel

Travelling down a rain soaked Via Cavour,

14.via cavour

the traffic stopped us alongside an amazing set of steps that disappeared into an archway. The steps lead to San Pietro in Vincoli (St Peter in Chains), a church named for the chains that held St. Peter when he was imprisoned in Rome and Jerusalem and are on display. It is best known for Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, created for the tomb of Pope Julius II. To add more drama, at the top of the steps is an alley where, apparently, the daughter of the 6th king of Rome killed him by running him down with her chariot. Probably no surprise that her husband was the 7th king of Rome.

15.steps from via cavour to san pietro in vincoli

We left the bus at the Colosseum for a couple of hours and embarked on a guided tour, you can see that post here. The Temple of Venus and Roma caught our eye as we sought a venue for lunch. Thought to be the largest temple in ancient Rome it was designed by emperor Hadrian and took twenty years to complete from beginning of construction in 121AD.

17.temple of venus & roma

After lunch, we wandered among the ruins of Palatine Hill

18.palatine hill

from where we had an uninterrupted view of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. Begun in 141AD by the Emperor Antoninus Pius, the temple was dedicated to his deceased wife, Faustina. When he died twenty years later, the temple was re-dedicated to both of them by his successor, Marcus Aurelius. The temple became a Roman Catholic church, San Lorenzo in Miranda, in the 7th century.

19.temple of antoninus & faustina

We could also see two statues atop a building in the distance, though at the time, we didn’t know where they were (stay tuned for that one).

We hopped back on the bus which took us past Circus Maximus, the first and largest stadium in ancient Rome, mostly used for chariot racing and now a public park.

22.circus maximus

The seemingly unassuming church at the top of these steps, Santa Maria in Aracoeli, dates back to the 6th century and houses the Santo Bambino of Aracoeli, a wooden statue of the Christ Child, that is believed to resurrect the dead. The 124 step marble staircase was completed in 1348 to celebrate the end of the plague in Rome. It is believed that those who climb the staircase on their knees will be rewarded with a miracle.

23.steps of santa maria in aracoeli

A quick glimpse of the Palazzo Venezia

24.palazzo venezia

before our attention was drawn to the most impressive façade of the Altare della Patria. The National Monument was built as a tribute to Vittorio Emanuele II, the man credited with the unification of Italy and first king of the new kingdom proclaimed in 1861. The focal point of the huge white marble edifice is a 12 metre long statue of a horseman, a representation of Vittorio Emanuele II. We could now see the location of the two statues we had spied from Palatine Hill. On the right, the bronze goddess Victoria riding on her chariot represents freedom and on the left, unity. They were added in 1927, sixteen years after the monument was inaugurated. There has been much controversy surrounding the monument, the uncomplimentary nicknames include “the wedding cake”, “the typewriter” and “the dentures”.

25.altare della patria

Leaving Piazza Venezia, we passed the Carabinieri headquarters (apparently with limited parking spaces)

26.carabinieri, piazza venezia

and the most enormous gift shop I have ever seen, Sorelle Adamoli.

27.sorelle adamoli

The former Palazzo Strozzi is now occupied by the Marco Besso Foundation. A banker and writer, Besso bought the building in 1905 and set up the library in 1918 while the first floor became the family home. A great admirer of Dante, the library has rare editions of his work, some printed pre 16th century. I would love to explore beyond the doorway.

28.palazzo besso

We passed Santa Maria in Vallicella, also known as Chiesa Nuova, the principal church of the Oratorians. This congregation of secular priests, founded in 1561 by St. Philip Neri, was recognised as a religious group and given the church in 1575.

29.santa maria in vallicella

At the end of Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, we turned right and followed the river, gaining a limited view of Castel Sant’Angelo on the other side.

30.castel sant'angelo

Commissioned by Roman Emperor Hadrian as a tomb for himself and his family, the building was erected between 134AD and 139AD. He also had the travertine marble bridge, the Pons Aelius, built to connect the mausoleum with the city centre.

31.castel sant'angelo

We hopped off the bus at Piazza Trinità dei Monti, where the 16th century church of the same name dominates the top of the Spanish Steps.

32.spanish steps

The 135 steps were built in 1723 to link the French owned church with the Spanish Embassy at the bottom. Yes, there really are steps beneath those bodies and a 17th century fountain in amongst the crowd.

33.spanish steps

At the bottom of the steps, the Piazza di Spagna was heaving with humanity, obliterating any evidence of the stairway. Incidentally, the building on the right is the house where English poet John Keats lived briefly before his death in 1821. It is now the Keats-Shelley Memorial House, a museum dedicated to the English Romantic poets. The building on the left is Babington’s traditional English tea shop, established in 1893 to provide a tearoom and reading room for the Anglo-Saxon community in Rome.

34.spanish steps

There was one item left on the ‘must see’ list. Although Fontana di Trevi was less than a kilometre away, the crowds created a challenging transit. The origins of the fountain date back to 19BC when it formed the end of the Aqua Virgo aqueduct. After many years of work, the fountain, as it is today, was completed in 1762, the name derived from Tre Vie, at the junction of three roads. It was impossible to capture the entire fountain due to the crowds so I opted for some sections.

Just as we were walking away, I saw an opening in the throng and pounced.

39.fontana di trevi

There is so much to see in Rome, and so much more than meets the eye. I think it would take a few lifetimes to even come close.