After having walked past a few times already, today was the day we would visit the famous Duomo and related buildings. We got an early start (there were only a handful of people in the piazza at 8am – in a couple of hours it would be a madhouse) and visited St. John’s Baptistry first:

Next was the bell tower – or the Campanile, which Chris climbed all the way to the top – I stayed at the first platform. Lots of great pics from the various viewing points. The stairs were pretty steep but Chris was a trooper and climbed all 414 steps!

Front of the Duomo on our way to the tower:

View from the glassed-in first platform:

From from the 2nd:

One of the stairways – pretty steep:

View of Santa Croce:

View down into the tower – you can see me in the green top:

More stairs!

The very top – all caged in for safety reasons:

Gorgeous view of the Duono from the top:

These are the steps to the top. If you have claustrophobia, may not be your cup of tea:

Next we visited the Museo dell’opera which housed Duomo-related art and plans for the building. This was a Β pleasant surprise as well.

The doors from St. John’s Baptistry:

Another of Michelangelo’s Pieta – this one was meant for his eventual tomb, however, he took a hammer to it because he found a flaw in the marble. It was eventually put back together and is now on display in the museum.

Many exhibits about the building of the Duomo and plans and ideas for the facade; this whole wing was very interesting.

Gorgeous and HUGE:

With me, for size perspective:

By this time, it was 10:30 and there was a line at the Duomo that we didn’t want to wait around in, so we decided to come back at end of day (and waited only 5 mins!). For now, we continued on to the Pitti Palace, which took us over the Ponte Vecchio:

Β Β 

Palazzo Pitti:

We visited the Palatine Gallery and Royal Apartments:

View of the gardens from the window (more on those later):

(Sorry for the Game of Thrones reference – but – we found a painting of Bran in the palace!)

The Medici symbol was everywhere in Florence:

Onward to the Boboli Gardens right behind the palace. We only did a fraction of them – they are very large and our feet were killing us at this point, but we wanted to enjoy some green space.

We sat on a shaded bench and were quickly approached by several birds (looking for food most likely) – sorry buddy!

Me holding my leather purse purchase on the Ponte Vecchio. Swoon.

After this, we headed back over to the Duomo to see how the line looked and we got in very quickly! For all the intricacy of the outside, the inside is rather simple.

We wet down into the crypt underneath the church:

This wasn’t actually on display but with my awesome zoom and strategic placement between metal bars, we got a pic of some unlucky fellow:

Night shot:

For dinner we had reservations at the Club Culinario Toscana da Osvaldo and it was fabulous. We shared the fried zucchini flowers to start. I had fresh pasta with pork rib and Chris had the lamb stew. Delicious. For dessert, Chris had the tiramisu and I had a chocolate raspberry tart (it was warm! yummy).



We took the fast train from Rome to Florence (1.5 hours, very efficient and modern) and dropped our bags off at the hotel, then off to pick up our Firenze Card and over to the Accademia to see David. πŸ™‚

This was the view outside of our hotel πŸ™‚ Great location down the street from the Duomo.

The Galleria dell’Accademia had some nice art, the main draw being Michelangelo’s David but there were other works of note as well.

David – 20 feet tall, much larger than expected:

View with people to provide some perspective at the size of the statue:

Next stop was the Medici Chapel – where the tombs of the Medicis are. This was a pleasant surprise – very beautiful.

The massive size of the tombs showed beyond a doubt how wealthy they were:

Restoration going on:

With me in the photo – just to provide size perspective. They are massive.

Next stop Santa Maria Novella:

I wasn’t sure that the pics of the stained glass would do it justice but they turned out pretty good!

See the line on the floor that ends to the left of the door? That’s the line of the Tropic of Capricorn (more on that in a second).

This was in the middle of the floor with a line running from it to the left side of the main door. At a certain time of year – solstice (day, hour, minute), the sun comes through the window and illuminates this sun. Neat.

The area outside the church (cloisters) was beautiful as well.

We had a very filling lunch at Za Za and were too full/tired so skipped dinner! Chris raved about his spaghetti carbonara and my ravioli with tomato and basil cream sauce was pretty tasty too!

Today, we booked a skip-the-line tour of the Colisseum and the Roman Forum. It was amazing. The information we learned about how the Colisseum was built and what it was used for was amazing. Our guide showed us pictures/drawings of how it would have looked back in the day and described the types of games that took place (animals, gladiators, etc.) as well as the architecture of the building itself. Fascinating. Made me want to watch Gladistor again just to visualize the building, etc.

When we visited, they actually were preparing for a concert (charity show by Andrea Bocceli) so the equipment normally wouldn’t be there (ha!). It took them 7 years to build the Colosseum – that in itself is incredible.

Notice the roman numerals above the arch – that indicated which section you were seated in. This one shows XVIII. The people of Rome had a membership and were assigned a “section”, but not a seat. Folks arrived and spent all day at the Colosseum to enjoy the games with their families.

When the roman empire fell, many people lived in the Colosseum and eventually, they took apart all the pieces that they could sell for money, specifically the metal. So, where there used to be metal “clamps” holding two blocks together are now holes in the walls. Eventually most of the marble and all of the metal used to build the Colosseum was looted.

A piece of original floor:

Under the floor was where the men who fought, the animals and the gladiators – it was dark, smelly, torch-lit and generally unpleasant. It cost thousands of dollars to bring one exotic animal to fight in the games. They wanted to show the reach and power of the roman empire so the more exotic animals they were able to bring back to Rome, the more they demonstrated their reach and their wealth.

There are conflicting stories about whether men and women (same family) sat together or not. Gladiators were the “studs” or “rockstars” of their day and one story says the men and women sat separately; the women sat in the very top rows under the awning, as far away from the Gladiators as possible. However, because the awning equipment was quite complicated to maneuver, apparently sailors had to be hired to work the system of pulleys and ropes so although the women were kept away from the Gladiators, they were close to the sailors… LOL πŸ™‚

The vestal virgins used to sit where the cross is below. Young girls were selected (it was an honor for them to be chosen) to be a Vestal Virgin and for 30 years, they served in the role. They took a vow of chastity for the duration and they were not allowed to have children. They also trained the next set of Vestal Virgins. If they broke one of the rules, they were buried alive. No mercy in those times.

Public bathroom – all located on the ground floor of the Colosseum. Everyone shared a bench and used sticks that were left in a gutter in front of the bench that had running water to clean themselves after going to the bathroom. Ew.

After the Colosseum, our guide continued on to the Roman Forum.

This is the view from the back and shows the inner ring; the outer ring was destroyed in this area. You can see the base of the outer ring still on the ground (it looks like a white curb/sidewalk in the photo below) but that’s really where the outer ring would have been:

Notice how high the door is from the ground in the below picture. That’s because back in the day, the ground actually was at the same level as the door. The columns were buried several feet in the ground to make them more solid. They never got looted because the roman people were unable to pull them down with ropes (see the indents of rings in the columns a few feet below the capitas – those were made by ropes) because they were so solid.

The bottom steps show a children’s game (getting stones in the right circle) that the kids used to play while they waited for their parents to do their shopping and socialize at the Forum.

This was interesting. At the bottom is the ancient town hall ruins and the new one was built on top of it. For 2000 years this building was used as a town hall, old and new built in the same spot:

We had lunch at Ginger Salute e Sapori; for dessert we had the best tiramisu ever.

After lunch, off to the Pantheon we went to see the inside.

View without people:

View with people:

We visited Sant’Ignazio di Loyola specifically to see the trompe l’oeil dome. The church didn’t have funds to build a dome so they hired a painter to paint one to show the effect of a dome instead.

Painting of a dome:

The last stop was a stroll to the Spanish Steps. In our confused navigation, we ended up climbing a back staircase only to find ourselves at the top of the Spanish Steps and then we climbed down them. πŸ™‚ I was winded!!!

For dinner we found a spot called Ai Tre Scalini and it was fabulous. We sat at the bar and enjoyed a glass of wine and aperitivo (snacks) while we waited for a table.

Today we had an all day tour to Naples and the ruins of Pompeii. Naples was a short city tour and wasn’t super interesting. The city itself seems to have a ton of infrastructure issues with traffic, construction, run down buildings and just too many people to accommodate everyone comfortably (excluding tourists). Β Not impressed but the main stop in Pompeii more than made up for it.

I only took a few pics of Naples:

View of Mount Vesuvius:

After a forgettable lunch in Pompeii, we finally arrived at the ruins and our guide gave us a great tour of the highlights:

Entertainment area with roman theater in the background:


House of a wealthy family:


Many bodies were preserved in the position in which they died. Very sad.

This was hilarious – a house of leisure πŸ™‚

When you walk in, there were pictures on the walls of positions/acts like a catalog so the men could select what they wanted. It was hilarious!

Bed inside the house – normally there would be a mattress on top of the stone base:

After getting back to Roma, we found a great spot for dinner (craving pizza) called “Grazie a dio e venerdi” (Thank God it’s Friday). πŸ™‚ After dinner, we crossed the street and had gelato (again!).

We had booked a tour to skip the line to visit the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. I don’t know what expectations I had really, but what we visited blew me away. We took the subway (easy to navigate and free with our Roma Pass), then walked along the Vatican wall to the tour meeting point. (Lots of pics – couldn’t help myself – sorry! But none of the Sistine Chapel – not allowed).

What I loved learning was that many of the ceilings are painted – there is no structure / molding. What you see is a painting made to look like there are reliefs with shading, etc. Absolutely beautiful.

One of my favorites was the map room with accurately painted maps along the walls and a crazy beautiful ceiling:

On our way to St. Peter’s Basilica next door:

Michelangelo’s Pieta (the first of 3 on this trip):

After this, we stopped for a quick lunch nearby, then headed over to Castel Sant’Angelo. This fortress was originally designed to be Emperor Hadrian’s mausoleum (and his family) and also became a place for the Pope to flee the Vatican in the event he was in danger (via a covered passageway).

View of the Vatican from the fortress:

A nice surprise was a cafe up along a curved side of the fortress where we stopped for dessert and coffee:

That evening we had also booked a Food Tour which consisted of several stops to taste traditional wine and food from Italy. This was awesome. We got to try fresh mozzarella di buffala, sundried tomatoes, pesto, lots of cheeses, truffle oil, various prosciuttos, pizzas, gnocchi, ravioli, calamari, gelato…I’m sure I’m forgetting some, not to mention lots of vino! We were a small group and we had a blast all evening. It’s official: Everything tastes better in Italia.


At long last, it was finally time for our trip to Italia. We made final preparations on Saturday and had an overnight flight landing in Rome at 10am the Sunday morning. They had the new entertainment system on the plane and we had fun playing games (trivia, etc.) and watching movies (I watched the Queen of Katwe – pretty good) and managed to snooze a bit. View from the plane:

We picked up our Roma Passes at the airport and met our driver (arranged a pickup from the airport to our hotel), checked into the hotel, unpacked, and went out exploring right away. Best way to beat the jet lag is to get on local time ASAP so when we have an overnight flight, we stay up as long as possible and go to sleep as close to local bedtime to feel good the next day. View around the corner from our hotel:

We walked over to the Piazza Navona, saw the Pantheon (outside only – for now) and the Trevi Fountain and enjoyed the neighborhood exploration and looking at all the buildings and ruins everywhere you looked.


Piazza Navona:

Trevi Fountain:

We stopped for lunch at a recommended spot right next to the Pantheon called Antica Salumeria and it was fabulous.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped for our first taste of gelato. The first of many. πŸ™‚

Found our way back to the hotel, finished unpacking, took a shower in a very tiny shower (seriously, dropping the soap was not an option) – but our room was clean and had everything we needed. The off to bed to get an early start tomorrow.

Holy moly – I haven’t posted in months!!! So sorry. πŸ™‚

What started out pretty slow in the garden due to all that rain we got this summer turned out pretty good nonetheless and we’re now having trouble keeping up with the tomatoes! Here are some pics I took between April and August showing how things went as well as some of the harvests along the way.

I started my seeds back in March/April. for the first time, I staggered them based on each plant’s growth rate compared to the local frost date, etc. Honestly, I can’t really tell if that made much of a difference…

I also direct-seeded some cool-weather tolerant ones (lettuce, radishes, onion sets).

Transplanted the tomato and parsley seedlings in May.

Tried growing carrots for the first time (amazing!!). Tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, onions and carrots doing well. Also plant marigolds (corners near the fence) to keep the bugs away.

First radish harvest! πŸ™‚

Had to replace one of my parsleys with a transplant from the store (mine didn’t make it).

Bought basil transplants as well – they do better than when I try to grow them from seed for some reason. Tomatoes and marigolds doing OK. Stuck a pepper seedling in there too (middle) but nothing came of it this year – just a plant, no flowers, no peppers.

Mini harvest to add to salad – radishes, lettuce, basil and parsley.

Planted beans in 2 batches, one seeded in May and one to replace the radish planting when harvested. Tomatoes took forever to ripen – possibly due to all the rain. It seemed like everything was a month behind.

Basil, parsley and cherry tomatoes all doing well.

First harvest of carrots and green beans. I’ll be growing carrots going forward for sure – they were delicious. And green beans are so easy – love them.

Early August – I pulled up all the basil to make pesto and to make room for the fall crop plantings. πŸ™‚

One tub for the fridge and 7 mini containers for the freezer. Love having fresh basil year round. I tried various combinations this time: pine nuts, walnuts, basil, parsley in various ratios. I blanch it first (stays greener that way), then prepare it in batches in the food processor, add it to the container then pour olive oil on top to cover.

We can’t keep up with the tomatoes. They seemed to all start ripening at once! The only ones not yet ripe are the Thai Pink Egg cherry tomatoes but there are lots of very pale yellow (almost ivory) tomatoes on the vine – can’t wait to try them once they turn pink. This is from the second batch of green beans.

And more! Loving the tomato salads we’ve been having. πŸ™‚

Meanwhile, I’ve planted seeds for fall crops: turnips, beets, carrots, spinach – all are sprouting nicely. Once the rest of my crops are done, I’ll plant radishes, kale and chard seeds. Can’t wait!!