Archive for June, 2012

Quintessential. (June 2012)

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

The mention of Italy conjures up images in the minds’s eye and Tuscany is probably at the forefront of those visions.

Gently rolling hills covered in a patchwork of crops, olive groves, forests and fields.

Old stone houses with cypress lined driveways.

The Vespa rider’s ‘muffin tops’ shuddering as they career over the cobblestone streets in the towns and small hilltop villages.

This is the quintessential Italy.

We have just spent two weeks on a farm in the heart of the Val di Merse, southwest of Siena. It’s a working property with more heavy equipment than you would see at a Eurora Field Day.

Tenuta di Papena occupies 200 hectares of undulating Tuscan countryside. It’s a menagerie of dogs, cats, horses and an orphaned deer.

We visited the local villages of Chiusdino, Monticiano, The Abbey of San Galgano as well as  day trips to Siena and San Gimignano.

The San Galgano Abbey was built between 1218 and 1288 and is the first Gothic church in Tuscany.

Next to the abandoned abbey is the Hermitage of Monte Siepi. The chapel is a rotund with a classical high domed ceiling.

Siena has a strong bond with Rome as is evident by the statues of Romulus and Remus that are all over the city.

Legend has it that Senio, the son of Remus with his brother, Aschio fled Rome to Siena Vecchio and founded the city after a mythological race known as the ‘Palio alla Lunga’.

San Gimignano is another walled Medieval city, a smaller version of Siena with a central square and cobbled streets. It’s famous for its towers that dominate the skyline. There were once more than 70 but now only 14 remain. One of these towers was featured in M.C. Escher’s famous 1923 woodcut.

Almost as strange as Escher’s drawings are a series of sculptures, of naked men, that are dotted around the town.

Summer has come to this part of Italy and the farm was hard at work. Those fields that had’t been mown were alive with wildflowers, bees, beetles and butterflies.

Everywhere we looked it was, as you would expect, picture perfect.

The Photo Thieves. (June 2012)

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

There is a group that are constantly looking for the great shot – that someone else is taking.

You are standing there framing up an historic monument, city scape or scenic vista and suddenly you get the feeling there’s someone behind you.

And sure enough when you turn around, there they are, lining up the same shot.

Then you realise that it’s not a coincidence, when you walk down the street to take another shot and they are right behind you.

I have to wonder if their snaps are not better than mine?


“Incredibile” (June 2012)

Friday, June 15th, 2012

We are staying at Tenuta di Papena, in Tuscany for a couple of weeks. These are self catering apartments, so we needed to shop.

Wanting to do the right thing by the Italian environment, we decided to buy some green bags from the local CoOp.


Men in pink. (June 2012)

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

There are more men in pink polos, Ts’ and even shorts on the Azure Coast in Italy, than any place on earth.

Well that’s my theory.

Some of them go one step further and match their pink shirt with a pink jumper, of a contrasting shade.

But this all suits the very stylish villages of Rapallo, Santa Margarita Ligure and Portofino.

It’s a picture perfect setting, even with the gloomy skies.

And the splashes of colour, especially pink, make all the difference.


Romania at 50kph. (May/June 2012)

Saturday, June 9th, 2012

We decided to hire a car to travel around Northern Romania.

It was a good decision on two levels.

Firstly we had the flexibility to stop off wherever we wanted and secondly the trip was so slow that we got to see a lot more than expected.

The Romanian authorities are obsessed with controlling the speed of drivers, especially going in and out of the villages.

In theory this is a great idea, as it keeps the drivers at a safe speed.

In practice however, it fails on every level.

We were told by the car rental company to obey the speed limit, of 50kph, in the small towns as many of them have radar.

So we did.

The trouble is that once you leave one small town, driving at 50kph, you find yourself in the next small town.

You rarely get above 50kph.

The locals don’t hold to the speed limit as we continually found out.

To them the 50kph doesn’t seem to be obligatory, especially if you drive a Mercedes, Audi or BMW. Even the Dacias were leaving us in their wake.

By adhering to the required speed limit we got to see a lot of the county side, especially the locals hard at work.

From what we saw, from our slow moving VW Golf, were locals of all ages toiling in the fields, on building sites, repairing roads and even reconstructing forts.

In many respects this is still a feudal country, with much of the hard yakka being done by hand.

Our Romanian road trip took us north from Bucharest to Suceava and the region of the painted monasteries.

First we visited Punta, which isn’t strictly a painted monastery, as it only has frescos on the inside, these were stunning enough.

We then went to Sucevita, Vata Moldovitei and Voronet, where there were two monasteries.

These are Romanian Orthodox churches built in the 15th and 16th centuries, with many being listed as World Heritage sites by UNESCO.

Inspired by Stephen the Great and continued by his son, Petru Rares, the architects of these Medieval churches took the frescos outside and adorned their walls with beautifully crafted and colourful images of Christian belief.

Saints and stories from the Old and New Testaments were depicted as well as frightening images of hell and damnation.

They are like graphic novels in the way they tell their stories, frame by frame. This was perfect for teaching and converting a mainly illiterate community.

We then headed back south to Transylvania and the beautifully preserved Medieval town of Sighisoara home to Vlad Dracul, father of Vlad the Impaler.

More important than Dracula is the Citadel with its many towers that were built by the German artisans and craftsmen who came to settle there in the 16th and 17th Centuries.

We also stopped at Brasov, on route to Bran, it’s another well preserved Medieval walled city with artisan built towers and a fine Gothic church.

It was just our luck that on the day we were in Brasov a local folk festival was underway in the town square.

Romania is as much a country of youth as it is history, everywhere you go there are kids.

Bran boasts the castle that seems to inspire most people who are searching for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

There is a lot of controversy about Vlad the Impaler in Transylvania. There he is seen to be more of a Robin Hood hero, than a blood thirsty tyrant.

On our last full day in Romania we went from Bran to Targoviste via Sinaia.

Sinaia is a retreat town for the rich and the royals.

The Rumanian royal family built a number of Summer palaces there in the 19th Century. They are an unusual architectural style that seems to mix Neo Renaissance with local influences, all set amidst verdant green forests.

Our last stop was Targoviste, which is only 88km from Bucharest. There isn’t much left of its past, except parts of the Royal Voievod Court, the Chindia Tower and a few churches.

But again there were loads of kids, as there was a puppet festival running in the nearby, Chindia Park.