Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Boy and His Red Stallion

There was only one place Gareth insisted that we visited while touring through Italy - the Ferrari Museum in Maranello. Boys will be boys, and this one was giddy with excitement the moment we had parked and the first of the red stallions screamed past us. Apparently you can also pay to drive one of these iconic supercars yourself for a few minutes and the streets of this otherwise sleepy town was filled with the roars of V12 engines. I asked Gareth if he wanted to have a go too, but just the thought of scratching a multimillion-Rand car on a narrow Italian road persuaded him to rather watch from the sidewalk instead.

The museum wasn’t really what we had expected. For some reason we thought it would be a lot more interactive, but instead we were confronted with a number of rooms that had various models of Ferraris on display. Gareth promptly pulled out the SLR and proceeded to take a picture of every single car while I, the exact antithesis of a petrol head (I drive a blue car), was soon bored.

However, I was pretty impressed by the sleek lines of the "La Ferrari" on display in the dark room. I can just picture the two of us cruising around Italy in this beauty, blue skies and sunshine overhead, my hair whipping in the breeze, dark shades on Gareth... Well, a girl can dream anyway, can’t she?

Afterwards, we ambled through the museum’s gift shop, but everything was too expensive for our limited budgets. We walked back to the car, Gareth grinning from ear to ear every time some lucky guy in a Ferrari drove past.

We had parked next to the official Ferrari store and ducked in to have a final perusal of their wares. They were actually cheaper than the museum’s gift shop. Caps, jackets, bags, key holders, notebooks, socks - you name it, all available for sale and proudly bearing the well-known prancing horse. Gareth joked that even if you can't afford the supercar, at least you can don yourself out from head to toe in Ferrari merchandise.

And guess what? Gareth actually managed to take his own Ferrari home!

Are you a supercar fan? Have you been to the Ferrari Museum in Maranello and what did you think of it? Any other car museums you would like to recommend in the comments below?

For more posts in the Ciao Italy 2014 series, click here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book Review: Great Journeys - Lonely Planet

I absolutely loved Lonely Planet's Great Adventures and couldn't wait to get my hands on other books in the series. Great Journeys was published first and, while still a lot of fun, doesn't quite live up to its successor.

The book is divided into eight sections: Overland, Rail, Explorers & Conquerors, Rivers & Seas, Ancient Trade Routes, Literary Journeys, Road, and Walks & Pilgrimages.
In theory, this all sounds terrific. In practice, not so much.

What I liked about Adventures is that it focused on short trips that, should budget and fitness allow, anyone can do as an interesting holiday option. Journeys, on the other hand, is exactly that - long journeys that take anything from three months to three years. You need to be a dedicated traveller to have the time to pursue the majority of the trips mentioned in this book. While I enjoyed reading about them, I knew I would never be able to follow through on most of them. That left me very disappointed.

However, if you're a dedicated armchair traveller and have no intention of getting up from your comfy seat anytime soon, then this book comes highly recommended. There are some editing and proofreading issues (imagine my chagrin when the text for the Istanbul to Cairo overland trip on p26 is repeated on p58 under the Palace on Wheels heading!), and while Adventures has fantastic recommendations on novels for further reading to get you in the mood, Journeys mostly recommends foreign films or field guides.

The full colour pictures and text do not disappoint and there are some incredible journeys that I wish I could undertake, especially the luxury train journeys (think South Africa's Blue Train and Rovos Rail, the Trans-Siberian and, of course, the Orient Express), walking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or the Camino de Santiago, or following in the footsteps of Homer's Odyssey or Jules Verne's classic novel Around the World in 80 Days. There is even one trip that I have already done (South Africa's Cape Route 62) and one that I've partially done (the Amalfi Coast Road), which was a nice surprise.

Admittedly, there are tips on how to do shortened versions of each journey, but that misses the point, doesn't it? Go big or go home, is what I say. And if there's ever a book that can inspire you to go big, then this it.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Florence: Renaissance City (Day 2)

While day one in Florence had been all about art and architecture, day two was mostly about museums, both indoors and outdoors. Here are more of our highlights while exploring this fantastic Italian city.

The Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge, is one of Florence’s iconic sights. The bridge spans the river Arno and is famous for still having all the little medieval shops hanging precariously from its sides. These shops used to be home to butcheries at first, but my mother remembers it fondly as a leather shopper’s dream. When we were there, it was mostly filled with jewellers and goldsmith’s shops. I tried really hard to find something to take home with me, but it was just way too expensive. Instead, we appreciated all the beautiful trinkets from outside the crowded little shops.

Next up on our itinerary was the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens, once residence to the influential De Medici family and later Napoleon. It became a museum in 1919 and now houses the Palatine Gallery, the Royal Apartments, the Gallery of Modern Art, the Silver Museum, the Porcelain Museum, the Costume Gallery and the Carriages Museum. We specifically wanted to visit the Boboli Gardens, but our ticket also included access to the Silver and Porcelain museums and the Costume Gallery.

The Silver Museum contains an incredible display of, you guessed it, silverware. Mostly religious items are on show, such as crosses, chalices and urns containing the grisly remains of various minor saints, but there are also jewellery on display that would make the shop owners on the Ponte Vecchio green with jealousy, and one particularly pretty snail that I wished I could liberate from its glassy confinement. With all that glitters at eye level, it was still the beautiful ceiling frescoes that constantly drew my gaze upwards.

We found the Porcelain Museum a little boring and didn’t even take any pictures. Let’s face it, you need to be a special kind of person to be interested in old, chipped plates. But the Costume Gallery had some interesting period dresses that we rather liked.

Feet aching and eyes unaccustomed to the sunshine outside, we made our way up to the top of the Boboli Gardens where we found a shady spot to have a picnic. There is a lovely view of the city and the Duomo, but it seems like locals and tourists alike come here to escape from the bustle of city for a few hours. We loved the hedgerows, the tall trees, the sculptures and the peaceful atmosphere.


Finally it was time to move on again, and our next port of call was the Galileo Museum. If you’re at all interested in the science of the Renaissance, then this museum comes highly recommended. However, should you not be fascinated by mathematical instruments, telescopes, celestial globes, chemistry equipment or the index finger of Galileo himself, then you’d better skip it. We found it informative at first, but as our feet started protesting again, we soon became bored and spent more time searching for benches than studying the displays.

This was our final day in Florence. Although we had seen most of the major sights, I think we barely scratched the surface of everything the city has to offer.

What sights would you recommend to visitors to the Renaissance city?

For more posts in the Ciao Italy 2014 series, click here.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Florence: Renaissance City (Day 1)

Florence is crowded, smelly and sweltering. It’s also jaw-droppingly gorgeous. We visited for two days and only scratched the surface of everything there is to see and do in this city that was once the Western world’s epicentre for art and culture. Here are a few of our highlights.

Il Duomo di Firenze, or the Florence Cathedral, is free to enter, so of course there is a long queue outside. No matter, because the outside is really what you want to see of this impressive Gothic structure - a white, pink and green masterpiece that was built between 1296 and 1436. Compared to the exterior, the interior is somewhat underwhelming, although I particularly liked the patterned marble floor and the beautiful frescoes of The Last Judgement inside the Dome itself. I climbed the 463 steps of the Dome on a previous visit to Florence and it was a memorable experience that I would definitely recommend. The route winds along the interior of the Dome and at some places you can’t stand up straight, but the effort is unquestionably worthwhile. You can also brave the 414 steps of the bell tower outside, which I imagine should also provide a spectacular view over the city, but Gareth and I had lots of sightseeing to do, so we appreciated it sheer scale from the ground instead.

A slightly lesser known attraction is the Basilica of Santa Croce, which features incredible stained glass windows, but is more noteworthy as the burial place of some of the big names of the Renaissance, including Michelangelo (he of the Sistine Chapel in Rome and the iconic statue of David), Galileo (who first discovered that the earth orbited the sun and not the other way round), Machiavelli (which fellow literary fans will recognise as the term for evil and immoral behaviour) and Rossini (composer of the Barber of Seville). Not only did we also stumble upon a memorial to the great poet Dante, but we were lucky enough to have visited during a sculpture exhibition depicting scenes from his Divine Comedy. Afterwards, Gareth and I took a breather in the peaceful gardens of the cloisters attached to the basilica, momentarily forgetting about the tourist frenzy outside the church walls.

After buying a pair of “stylish” hats to ward off the noonday sun, there was time for gelato on the steps outside the Loggia dei Lanzi in the Piazza della Signoria. The square is home to a copy of Michelangelo’s statue David (the original is housed in the Academia, which I also visited on another occasion), the Fountain of Neptune by Ammannati and Perseus with the Head of Medusa by Cellini, amongst others. It’s a good place to people-watch as you rest your aching feet for a while.

Next up was the Uffizi Gallery, for which we had booked tickets months in advance. Gareth and I aren’t really art-lovers, but we couldn’t visit Florence and not take the opportunity to see some of the world’s greatest masterworks for ourselves. Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Titian’s Venus of Urbino in particular did not disappoint.

A day as hot as this could only lead to rain, and it was pelting down as we stepped out of the Uffizi. Grabbing our hats we dashed through the now-deserted streets back to where we had parked our car at a train station on the outskirts of the old city. We would return the next day to explore some more...

Have you been to Florence? What were your highlights?

For more posts in the Ciao Italy 2014 series, click here.