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.

Charming, Quaint and Worth the stop – Spring Bluff

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After leaving Toowoomba we drove down the mountain via Crow’s Nest. It was a short trip to Spring Bluff, a beautiful valley tucked in the ranges north of Toowoomba and best known for its picturesque railway station.

It’s worth visiting Spring Bluff any time of year, just for the interesting drive down the range off the New England Highway through to Murphy’s Creek. The road meanders through lush bushland, following the path of the creek.

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Spring Bluff

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Spring Bluff

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Spring Bluff

Spring Bluff has a quaint Railway station well worth visiting. It is a heritage listed site located on the main railway line between Ipswich and Toowoomba. Its significance stems from 145 years of railway history. The resident caretaker does an amazing job of planting beautiful spring flowers for the Carnival of Flowers.  Everything is so neat and beautifully kept.

Historical Spring Bluff is a fantastic visit during spring time with all the colour and excitement of the steam train during the carnival of flowers in September. The Railway Station features a cute cafe in the station master’s cottage or you can take your own picnic.  There are lots of picnic tables and chairs plus electric BBQ’s and a large grassy area for children to play. There are also public toilets and you can read a bit of the history of the area in the railway station.

There is no better time to visit Spring Bluff than a sunny day in September with the place a blaze with colour from the flower beds dotted all over and of course the quirky and charming railway station itself

Inner city beauty – Laurel Bank Park

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Every so often I visit a place outside of Italy that I cannot resist writing about on my blog and sharing the photos.

This happened last week when we went to Toowoomba for a mini break. Toowoomba is a city about an hour and a half drive west of Brisbane. It is in an area known as the Darling Downs which is also part of the Great Dividing Range.

On this particular day, we visited the Laurel Bank Park which is beautiful parkland close to Toowoomba’s city centre, featuring spectacular manicured gardens, a scented garden, a playground, picnic area and croquet greens.

Each year the gardens are designed with a theme.  This year’s theme for the main floral display was rock music of the 70s. This tremendous creative effort made a display about various pop and rock groups.

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Music Theme

There were many clever shapes made in the flower beds including a keyboard, Michael Jackson,  a trumpet, a guitar, treble cleft and many others.

 

There is an abundance of green open spaces to sit on, lie on, run or play on with huge shading trees strategically placed to picnic under and the most beautiful & aromatic gardens for your eyes and noses to feast on.

Although you are almost in the heart of the city, this park and its gardens have peacefulness about them. You could easily spend the day here, bring the family to picnic and play in the park or enjoy the food from its neighbouring cafe’s.

The gorgeous Wisteria walk was one of my favourites and the hanging baskets in the trees were stunning.  Well positioned in many places around the park were perfect little statues.

Laurel Bank Park is an exquisite park any time of year but is at its best in the spring, especially during the Carnival of Flowers week showing off its beautiful display of cleverly trimmed and shaped hedges and lovely flowers in every conceivable colour.

A definite must see if you are in Toowoomba, even if you only have a little time.

“Life is Beautiful”- Piazza Grande, Arezzo

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Just a quick walk from the Arezzo train station, albeit a little uphill, is the Piazza Grande.

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Arezzo Train Station

After arriving in a town or village, one of the first things I do is locate and walk to the town’s main Piazza.  This gives me a feel of the town and also the proximity of where many of the must see’s are. Also, if there is an information centre in town I will visit it.

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The centre piece of Arezzo is without any doubt Piazza Grande. The piazza itself is not very big but it has so much to offer. The best way to enter is through the galleria on the east side which is filled with several (good) restaurants. On the South and West side you will find a selection of shops.

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The Piazza Grande is the most noteworthy medieval square in Arezzo.

This piazza is really an interesting place to see due to the fact that it is built slanting and also it is surrounded with amazing buildings, the most noted is the Santa Maria delle Pieve.  An interesting fact of this piazza is that some scenes of the famous film La Vita e Bella were shot here.

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There are no cars to deal with which adds to the peaceful, convivial nature of this spectacular place.

This beautiful piazza is framed by fine restaurants, antique shops, and an old well along its lower slope.

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I chose a cafe to sit. My timing was perfect. Just as I was taking in the view, in rode a group of “veteran” cyclists who were in town for the Giro d’Italia. The atmosphere was exciting. I could see that these cyclists were from Australia and New Zealand and I soon learned that they were all ex Olympians or ex Commonwealth games participants.

The Piazza Grande is for me one of the most beautiful Piazze in Italy. I guess mainly because it is not over crowded like so many others in Italy and it is a great place to enjoy a coffee or a glass of wine.

This charming town was not crowded even though the Giro d’Italia was arriving later that day.

Steeped in history – a beautiful place to find a cafe.  

Relax.  Enjoy.

Cute, bumpy train ride around Verona

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It had been many years since I last visited Verona so I thought it was time to return when I was in Italy recently.

I had booked a room in a BnB close to the main entrance to the the old wall city. After checking in to the bnb, I grabbed my camera and headed in to the city.  I walked through the main entrance in to the popular Piazza Brà.  Mama mia, I was not prepared for the crowds that were there.  After spending most of my time now days in the regional areas and smaller towns and villages of Italy, Verona was a shock.  But, of course, that is to be expected of Verona.  It is popular, as it is so famous and so very beautiful.

On my previous visit to Verona, I had visited all of the most popular places including the Arena/ Anfiteatro and Casa di Giulietta, so this time I spent time just wandering around the city exploring and visiting whatever was in my path.

After my leisurely lunch in the Piazza della Ragione I walked up to the Ponte Pietra and sat on the wall taking in the loveliest views of the river Adige and the surrounding hills.

 

dscf9007Late in the afternoon I returned to the Piazza Brà where I spotted the cute little tourist train getting ready to go for its next tour of the city. I was tired so this was a perfect opportunity for me to see more of Verona and rest my legs at the same time.

The 25 minute train ride cost 5 euro and I can easily say, it is the best 5 euro I have spent in Italy in a long time. Sure, it was a very bumpy ride on the old cobblestone streets but it was fun.  I took lots of photos and also laughed a lot as we hit many big bumps just as I was clicking the camera. The train does look a little goofy and touristy but I am so pleased that I went on it.

This Tour of Verona by train provides a good orientation of the city to enable you to plan what you want to see. Sit on the left side if you want to take photos as most of the major sites are on this side. However, you don’t get long to see the sites as the train goes past most of them quite quickly. Nevertheless, there are some quite nice views as you cross the river.

It is an interesting journey passing close to all major monuments, the most beautiful squares, and famous places including the Castel Vecchio, Porta Borsari, Duomo, Piazza Erbe, Balcone di Giulietta, Chiesa di San Fermo, and the Arena.

After a very interesting and fun excursion we returned to the Piazza Brà

This ride around the central city is a great way to get a feel for the town and see some major attractions.  

The alternative is the hop on/off bus which does go further afield however most is accessible by foot, so save the cash and have a little fun on this cute little train!