Pretty and Proud – Spello

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I have been to many dozens of small towns and villages in Italy. When it seems like it is just not possible for the next Italian town to be prettier than the last, I arrived in Spello.

This Roman town is entirely surrounded by walls

Spello is a pleasure for those who love walking,  although the steep streets are somewhat tiring. Three well-preserved Roman stone arches form the entry points to the town; Porta Venere, with its towers, Porta Urbica and Porta Consolare. The Roman gateways into Spello are most beautiful and well worth visiting.

Once inside, the cobblestone streets meander in and out of mysterious alleyways that lead to simple, yet elegant stone houses.  I strolled up and down various paths and found that around every corner there were historic sites, mainly Roman.

Most of the houses had a multitude of plants along the lane-ways and streets with lots of small lane-ways to explore. The green-fingered locals try to outdo each other with their billowing hanging baskets and flowerpots, filling the streets with a riot of colour and scent.

I stayed 3 nights in one of the most refined hotels, Palazzo Bocci in Via Cavour. This four star hotel is the quintessential 18thcentury resting place. The walls and ceilings are enrobed in exquisite original frescos. The bedroom ceilings have huge wooden rafters and deep window bays. From my room I enjoyed sweeping views of the surrounding country side.

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Palazzo Bocci

After checking in to my hotel I ventured out for my first explore. Half way up a steep street I met a local man who invited me to sit with him to catch my breath. After chatting for about 10 minutes, he suggested I walk to the Forum at the top of the town to visit Piazza Della Cappuccini with its panoramic views of the old Roman Anfiteatro.

Spello is a photographer’s dream. I could not help myself from taking dozens and dozens of photos of the proud and very pretty town.

It was an easy walk down to the train station where I took the train to both Assisi and to Foligno.  It was not so easy walking back up the hill but there were many opportunities to stop for a chat, a photo, a gelato or a glass of wine.

If you want to experience the charm of a small Italian village and live like a local for a few days,  then Spello is a beautiful alternative to better known places like Assisi and Perugia,  which are close by.

The Hilltop Town of Orvieto, Umbria

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In addition to the Duomo and the Underground city tour, one of my favorite parts of Orvieto was, Orvieto.

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Orvieto is a city and commune in southwestern Umbria. It is only just over an hour train ride from Rome. Trains depart hourly from Roma Termini so it makes it easy to visit Orvieto just for a day. However, if you have the time, I suggest that you spend a couple of days or more there.

The city is a warren of winding narrow streets and beautiful alleyways. While the city walls and the sheer cliff faces that supported them were ample defense in most cases, the city’s rulers decided not to take any risks. The result is a series of winding streets which while somewhat confusing also do a brilliant job of adding charm and character to the town.

Of the many streets I saw and wandered, there were many more I missed.

Street scenes of Orvieto, Piazzas and  Streets

I spent an entire afternoon exploring many of these streets and the city’s series of impressive walls which were added to the tops of the cliffs to further secure the city’s perimeter.

These walls provide a stable series of walkways and viewing platforms for residents and visitors to traverse in search of one of the many amazing views the city offers.

The Town Walls and Views from Orvieto

I ended my afternoon in The Giardini Comunali  which are near Piazza Cahen and set within the walls of the medieval Fortezza Albornoz. From this garden you can enjoy marvelous views of the Paglia river valley.

Giardini Comunali

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Orvieto’s funicular connects the railway station to the city’s historic centre by overcoming a vertical distance of 157 metres.

Apart from the city inside the walls, Orvieto is an ideal location for relaxing walks, enjoying the countryside, and outdoor picnics. If you have the time to spend in the area there is so much more to see outside these city walls. I met people on the train going to Rome who had  rented a villa down from the hilltop town  in the valley who told me that they had visited the walled city many times during their week long stay as well as exploring many of the areas below the town on the hill.

Christmas in Brisbane

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After living in Brisbane for many years, I finally went it in to the city to see the Christmas lights, in particular the City Hall Lights Spectacular.

We took the City Cat Ferry from Southbank Parklands down the river towards the mouth of the river. What a great way to see the city. As day turned in to evening, it was magic riding down the Brisbane River watching the city lights and bridge lights come on and the changes in the vistas.

The Christmas coloured lights on the Story Bridge were amazing

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There was plenty of room on board the CityCat either inside or outside, up the front or out the back. We leisurely cruised zig zagging across the river with a few stops on the way, dropping off and picking up other passengers.

There are many interesting stops along the way where you can get off.  We finally chose Bretts Wharf to disembark and then we took another CityCat back up the river, where we finally disembarked at North Quay in the CBD.

I absolutely loved getting on the City Cat close to dusk and riding it up the Brisbane River.  The CityCat Ferry is the ideal way to see Brisbane. Cheap, Clean, Comfortable and Fast. A must do if you are visiting Brisbane.

 

After stopping for dinner, we then made our way to City Hall in King George Square. We walked through the Queen Street Mall to see the beautiful shop windows decorated with Christmas scenes.

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King George Square -Daytime

Finally, we arrived at the City Hall Christmas lights display. The Light Spectacular features an exquisite, animated Christmas story.  This year’s story is a playful, Aussie take on The Night Before Christmas. Set in a suburban backyard during a hot, Brisbane summer, it’s bursting with whimsical adventure, cuddly creatures and plenty of fun. City Hall’s clock tower sounds nightly to signal the start of each show.

The light show is quite short, about 10 minutes,  so we stayed and enjoyed it several times.  It was a wonderful festive atmosphere and not very crowded at all.

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Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and a wonderful festive season. Thank you for all your comments, and likes and support over the past 12 months.

Buon Natale

Heavenly Beautiful Devonport

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We arrived in Auckland late morning by coach from Hamilton.  After enjoying a light lunch, we then had a free afternoon in the city.  We explored the Auckland waterfront before deciding to see the harbour and foreshores from a boat. We enquired at the ferry terminal and were told about the short ferry ride to Devonport.

We purchased our tickets, which were $12 round trip and hopped on to the next ferry to take the 15 minutes ferry ride across Auckland Harbour to the seaside village of Devonport.

Not only is the view spectacular as you leave the city but it gets even better when you arrive at Devonport with its beautiful little bay where you are met with enchanting buildings and parks on the waterfront

On arrival in Devonport the views across to Auckland city are spectacular so don’t forget to take the camera.

You can spend a couple of hours here, or all day, whether you’re into relaxing with a picnic on the shore front reserves and beaches or exploring North Heads history and the Navy museum (free). All are easily accessible, with a flat walk from the ferry building.  If strolling around is too much there’s always sightseeing in the horse drawn carriage as a novelty.

 

There are lots of cafes and shops right in the quaint downtown high street of Devonport centre. Or you can take a leisurely walk along the shoreline (approx 1km) to the museum (has its own cafe). If you’re into exploring, you can walk up to North Head where you get amazing views of Rangitoto Island and the Waitemata Harbour.  At the base of North Head is the beautiful Cheltenham Beach, which can be accessed by steps down from North Head, or a flat walk along the road. It is a very safe beach for a swim, or just sit and enjoy the view of the Harbour.

After we finished exploring we popped in to the Esplanade Hotel which is set in a landmark 1901 building overlooking Waitematā Harbour and only a minute walk to the ferry terminal.  A delightful way to finish our short time in darling Devonport.

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Esplanade Hotel

And then we enjoyed the spectacular ride back to Auckland.

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The town of Devonport has plenty of character and history and as soon as you get off the ferry it feels like you’re on holiday. I absolutely loved it and can see myself returning.

The Underground City – Orvieto

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A fascinating perspective on the ‘city beneath the city’ in this marvelous medieval town of Orvieto.

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Entrance to the underground caves

I found the Orvieto Underground Tour (leaving from the Piazza Duomo) was a fabulous way of absorbing much of Orvieto’s history while enjoying a most unusual facet of Orvieto’s history – Life Underground.  This interesting tour was good value for €6

You need to book a tour in your preferred language in advance. This can be done at their office next door to the tourist information office which is opposite the Duomo.  There are only 4 tours per day so reserve early. The English speaking tours were heavily booked.

Our tour guide was very knowledgeable about Orvieto’s geology, history, culture and peculiarities, and made the 1 ½ hour tour memorable.  The tour takes you through approximately 15 subterranean caves which were actually “basements” dug by the families who lived above during medieval times. Apparently there’s more than 1200 spread across the city. It’s truly amazing the work these people did with basic tools. As it turns out the constant temperature and humidity are ideal for storing olive oil.

Our guide was excellent ensuring our safety as well as providing in depth information about the early inhabitants and how each civilisation used the caves, up to today where they are used for storage for wine and olive oil.

This easy trip with only a few narrow stairways will take you beneath present-day Orvieto and 3,000 years into past history to the first inhabitants, who carved out a maze of underground rooms and passageways. Knowledgeable docents will relate its very interesting story, from the Etruscans up until now

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Many of the caves have openings so there are good views of the valley and countryside. Most of the caves include pigeon holes for the pigeons that were encouraged to nest there and produce food for the town. The pigeon rookeries were a strategic source of meat during siege warfare as the birds would fly into the surrounding countryside and forage then return at night. There are no pigeons there now though.

The tour is suitable for all age groups. It was not too strenuous and it was remarkable.                         I highly recommend it.

Beautiful place to visit – A Real Gem

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We spent the entire morning in the magnificent Hamilton Gardens, with our own private tour guide.

Hamilton Gardens is a public garden park in the south of Hamilton owned and managed by Hamilton City Council, New Zealand. The 54-hectare park is located on the banks of the Waikato River and includes enclosed gardens, open lawns, a lake, a nursery, a convention centre and a cemetery.

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Near the entrance to the gardens

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Our timing was perfect, as everything was in bloom in early November. I am sure that the gardens are lovely year-round, but in spring they are glorious. The enclosed gardens are spectacular scenes from countries around the world – each an oasis of colour and tranquility – we were transported to Italy, India, Japan, UK and China.  Each garden is unique and if you take a ‘garden tour’ your guide is able to explain the history of each area

Telling the story of gardens through these themed garden collections, Hamilton Gardens explores different civilisations, and recreates historically important garden styles from the farthest reaches of the world.

We were guided on a journey of discovery along paths leading to mysterious surprises: we stepped from a peaceful Sung Dynasty Chinese Scholar’s garden into an Italian Renaissance Garden, before being enthralled by the grandeur of the Indian Char Bagh Garden. Hamilton Gardens has 21 themed garden areas with more being developed.

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Italian Renaissance Gardens

 

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Twin sons Romulus and Remus

 

The concept of the garden as a story to be told is fascinating and the diversity is incredible. You get carried along because there is always something beautiful and interesting around the next corner.

We were there during the Rose bowl competition and were treated to hundreds of rose varieties all blooming and glorious.

We meandered through the rose, rhododendrons, camellias and lawns.

We finished our morning tour with a visit to the Hamilton Gardens Cafe for a delightful lunch sitting outside, overlooking the lake. Just a short walk from the cafe is a bridge that takes you over to the spectacular Rose Gardens 

You could easily spend most of a day wandering in and out of the various locations within the gardens. There are lots of places to sit and eat and enjoy the scenery.

Entry to the gardens is free however donations are very gratefully accepted so they can continue to improve the facilities.

This could easily be one of the best gardens in the world.

 

 

Magnificent Medieval Duomo – Orvieto

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A visit to Orvieto was high on my bucket list so I decided to spend 2 nights and 2 full days there to have the time to really see the city.

The main attraction for me was the Duomo, but nothing could prepare me for my first sight of it. This is by far the most beautiful Duomo I have ever seen. When I walked around the corner onto the piazza in front of the Duomo di Orvieto, it literally took my breath away. It is so magnificent.

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Orvieto Cathedral (Duomo di Orvieto; Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta) is a large 14th-century Roman Catholic Cathedral  dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and situated in the town of Orvieto in Umbria, central Italy.

This Romanesque-Gothic cathedral (Duomo) of Orvieto is breathtaking with its facade filled with detailed carvings and scenes from the Old and the New Testament and is one of the finest examples of Italian artistry

It is in the centre of this charming city. The facade of the Duomo is worth the trip especially if you can catch the sun reflecting off of it in the afternoon or early evening.

The outside is stripes made of Travertine marble and basalt. There are rose windows, lovely frescoes, and windows made of alabaster — when the sun shines through, they are magnificent.

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It is perfection inside and out with incredible architectural detail. The colours are so beautiful; the paintings are rich and somehow either perfectly preserved or restored.

The frontage of the Duomo is just amazing, the gold leaf shines in the sun, and the colours are vibrant. The detailing of the facade, statues and the bronze doors is unbelievable. The initial reaction when entering the Duomo is its size. There are some wonderful statues and frescoes throughout, but the Capella Della Madonna Di San Brizio is just spectacular with many frescoes attributed to Fra Angelica. The organ loft is illuminated, we were lucky enough to hear a short organ recital whilst we were looking around, but quiet well known classical music was being relayed throughout our visit. There are some beautiful stained glass windows and near the left entrance is the large marble baptismal font with lions and elaborate frieze reliefs

This is the jewel in Orvieto’s crown.   If for nothing else, come to the city to see the façade of this magnificent Duomo. The mosaics alone are splendid.

 

White Kiwi Bird – Pukaha Bird Sanctuary

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Tucked away in the lovely area of Manawatu in the Wairarapa region is the Pukaha /Mt Bruce National bird sanctuary .

This place feels good from the moment you drive in to the car park .

The information centre has plenty of information to get you started and the staff are friendly and helpful.  It was warm  and welcoming on a very cold and rainy day .

Pukaha is sensational with incredible walks and amazing scenery.

The Kiwi house is where we saw the very rare and special White Kiwi Bird. Manukura can be viewed every day in the Nocturnal Kiwi house  which she shares with Turua, a North island brown Kiwi bird. Photographing Manukura was very difficult as the nocturnal cave is dark and the only thing I could really see was a red light.

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We were also introduced to the boisterous native parrots the Kaka . The Kaka are intelligent and adaptable with powerful wings and strong beaks.  When dining in the café it is advised to watch your food as these cheeky birds can very quickly steal what you are about to eat.

If you would like the opportunity to see the rare white Kiwi bird or the Kaka bird, this is the place to visit.

Come Fly with me to Wellington, New Zealand

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Just a short 3 and a half hour  flight from  Brisbane is New Zealand .

Today I  flew into Wellington .  Wellington, the capital of  New Zealand sits near the North Island’s southern most point on the Cook Straight.  It is a compact city ,  encompassing a waterfront promenade,  sandy beaches and  a working harbour .

As we were descending into Wellington, here are some of the magnificent views taken from my window .

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I commented to a fellow passenger how stunning the views were and he told me that was The  Sounds .

After a little investigation I learned that the Sounds are Marlborough Sounds which are a collection of ancient sunken river valleys filled with the waters from the Pacific Ocean .  Today the Sounds are popular for kayaking and hiking ,  there are many tent camping sites ,  also walking tracks ranging from short trails of an hour or two to overnight hikes .

Tomorrow I will be exploring Wellington city.

 

Oldest Osteria in the World – La Brindisi, Ferrara.

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 I arrived by train from Pistoia in to Ferrara to meet up with my friends who were waiting at the station.

After checking in to my hotel we ventured in to the city centre to have our celebratory “lovely to see you again” Prosecco.

From there we explored the city, The City of Bikes, what a gorgeous city.

It was getting late so we spent the last part of the day in the magnificent Duomo.

After the Duomo, rather than return to the hotel, we stayed in Il Centro and decided to have an early dinner.

Some restaurants were open, for others it was too early.  We stopped to speak with one of the waiters outside an open restaurant and decided to have our dinner there.

La Brindisi – restaurant and wine bar which is adjacent to the Duomo.

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This was a super choice. We walked in, without knowing La Brindisi history.  After being seated and chatting with the staff we learned that we were in the oldest restaurant in the world.

This is not a fine dining experience however the food is honest, simple and good.

Our waiter recommended different red and white wines which we could taste, glass by glass. They were all good.

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While you wait for your food to be served enjoy looking around the small room: you will find out how old this place is (apparently it dates back to 1400) and you will have a chance to appreciate all the ancient bottles on display.  Do not miss watching the chef while he is cooking –  a priceless treat in today’s hasty lifestyle. The menu is not very wide, but this is to be considered a good point: the chef can cook those dishes perfectly and with extreme care and passion.

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We all chose the local specialty dish of Cappellacci di Zucca which is a ravioli type pasta filled with Pumpkin. I had mine with the sage and butter sauce and my friends had it with the Ragu sauce. It was excellent.

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We left La Brindisi feeling very pleased with ourselves. We were delighted to find such an interesting restaurant and to enjoy a really nice meal.

If you are in Ferrara for a few days, take the time to visit this historic eatery. its fun to eat in a place that’s been around for centuries trying to imagine all its incarnations.