Tag Archives: architecture

Visiting Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha): Thailand

I have been to Thailand before but for one reason or another I didn’t get a chance to visit one of the famous tourist attractions of Bangkok which is the Grand Palace. (Read about my previous trip here and here). So on our visit there this time, we made sure to go and see the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

One morning we had our breakfast at the hotel and left to catch a boat to the palace. I had read on the internet that we need to dress appropriately to go to the palace. Men must wear long pants and shirts with sleeves — no tank tops and if you’re wearing sandals or flip-flops you must wear socks .Women must be modestly dressed too; no see-through clothes, bare shoulders, etc. So even though the day was very hot, AS was wearing his jeans and I was wearing a sleeved dress.

We caught a train from our hotel to the pier where we were to catch the Chaophraya Express Boat to the Chang Pier (Tha Chang). It was a quite easy to get there but it took us around an hour all up. Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew  (2) Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew  (3)

Once we got off at the Chang pier, we needed to go through the market around the pier and out onto the plaza flanked by old shop-houses. It is easy to get distracted while you pass by these shops selling food and souvenirs.  As soon as we were out in the main street, I could see the white walls of the palace. There were a lot of tourists, busloads of them from everywhere.

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We found the main door and bought our tickets. We had always used guided tours before but this time we took a chance and planned to explore the palace on our own. And I am glad we did as we had lots of fun and got plenty of time to look around and take photos.

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The Grand Palace of Bangkok has buildings with a beautiful architecture and intricate details. The Grand Palace complex was established in 1782 and it houses not only the royal residence and throne halls, but also a number of government offices as well.

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For almost 150 years, the Grand Palace was the home of the King and his court, as well as administrative seat of government. Thai Kings stopped living in the palace full time at the start of the twentieth century but the complex remains the seat of power and spiritual heart of the Thai kingdom.

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 As soon as we started our journey, we saw a Nepali handicraft shop. It was so nice to see that shop as I felt good that Nepali handicraft is so popular.

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Within the palace complex, there are several impressive buildings including Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), which contains the small but very famous and greatly revered Emerald Buddha.

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Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is regarded as the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand. This highly revered Buddha image meticulously carved from a single block of jade. The Emerald Buddha is a Buddha image in the meditating position in the style of the Lanna school of the north, dating from the 15th century AD.

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You have to take your shoes off to go inside the Buddha temple and cameras were not allowed. There were lots of people sitting on the marble floor and praying but we just went in, looked around and got out as it was too very busy.

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We spent most of our time exploring the temple complexes surrounding Wat Phra Kaew. I was really impressed by a model of Angkor Wat. Every detail was covered and it looked really impressive.

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The rich blues and greens, earthy reds and shining gold tiles covering every imaginable surface are stunning and the big balcony with columns that has stone inscriptions, the murals inside which tells the Ramayana epic in its entirety were very impressive. Each gate of the Balcony were guarded by the five-metre tall ‘Yaksa Tavarnbal’ (Gate-keeping Giants), the characters taken from the same epic and looked awesome.

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I loved the colours and patterns of the roof which are embellished with polished orange and green tiles, the golden colour everywhere and the pediments which were made of rich marble. The place was really clean despite of so many tourists visiting every day.

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On our way out we dropped into the weapons museum inside the Borom Phiman Mansion. It was an interesting collection of weapons and AS was more excited than me, naming the weapons and comparing it to one another.

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If you have time, you can spend the whole day there but as we had other plans for the evening, we caught a boat back to our hotel.

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Exploring the most romantic city in the world: Paris, France

I know this post is long overdue but it was in my draft and I had to publish it. This will be my last post from my Europe trip and I will write about my Thailand and Nepal trip soon.

We had awesome time exploring Paris with the guide and also on our own.

Notre Dame de Paris

This is one of the Parisian icons decorated with gargoyles and gothic touches. Located at the centre of Paris and that of France, Notre Dame had witnessed some of the greatest moments in the city’s history. The graceful and inspiring Catholic church has dominated Paris since the 12th century, survived the Hundred Years War, the French Revolution and two World Wars.

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There was a long queue for the ticket there as well but as we were with our guide we got to go in straight away. As we walked in I was really impressed by the architecture and the stained glass made the place look very colorful.

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The sculptures and the stained glass show the influences of naturalism which cannot be found on earlier romanesque structures.

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The beautiful facade is divided neatly into three levels, with three overwhelmingly carved portals guiding the entrance.

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The cathedral has a narrow climb of 387 steps at the top of several spiral staircases; along the climb it is possible to view its most famous bell and its gargoyles in close quarters, as well as having a spectacular view across Paris when reaching the top. The design of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Adelaide, Australia was inspired by Notre Dame de Paris.

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Musee du Louvre

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The Louvre is the world’s largest museum and has one of the world’s greatest art collections in the world. The palace stretches for about half mile between the Seine and Rue de Rivoli. It was originally a fortress built by Philippe-Auguste in the 13th century. 300 years later Francois I replaced it with a Renaissance style building. Many French kings continued to add to the construction and improve it.

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The latest addition to the building is the glass pyramid (also the museum entrance) that sits in the courtyard and was designed by I. M. Pei. The pyramid was unveiled in 1989.

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The Louvre’s collection is overwhelming in size and it includes paintings, drawings, sculptures, antiquities, furniture, coins etc. It is impossible to see everything in one day but most people run to see the two ladies, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and the statue of Venus de Milo. They are always surrounded by a crowd of people.

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We spent lots of time outside the Louvre as well admiring the architecture and enjoying sun. Check out some silly photos we took there  🙂

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Cleopatra’s Needle (“L’aiguille de Cléopâtre”)

The Cleopatra’s Needle (“L’aiguille de Cléopâtre”) is in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. The centre of the Place is occupied by a giant Egyptian obelisk decorated with hieroglyphs exalting the reign of the pharaoh Ramesses II. Along with its twin, it once marked the entrance to the Luxor Temple. The ruler of Egypt and Sudan, Muhammad Ali, presented the 3,300-year-old Luxor Obelisk to France in 1826. King Louis-Philippe had it placed in the centre of Place de la Concorde in 1833 near the spot where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette had been guillotined in 1793.

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The red granite column rises 23 metres high, including the base, and weighs over 250 tonnes. Missing its original cap, believed stolen in the 6th century BC, in 1998 the government of France added a goldleafed pyramid cap to the top of the obelisk. The obelisk is flanked by two fountains constructed at the time of its erection on the Place.

Arc de Triomphe

We were at Cleopatra’s Needle when we decided the next stop would be Arc de Triomphe. As the Champs-Elysées is a straight street, I could see the triumph. So when AS suggested to take a tube, I told him “Lets walk”. I didn’t realise that it was more than 2km away and the street was really crowded. It was a hot day so AS was unimpressed that we had to walk for more than 30 minutes to get there. Anyway finally we made it there and we were in front of the beautiful Arc de Triomphe.

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The Arc de Triomphe sits at the western end of Champs-Elysees. It’s the biggest triumphal arch in the world, about 164 meters high. The traffic around the arch is crazy so when accessing the Arc de triomphe we can’t cross the traffic circle but need to take the underground tunnel instead.

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The base of the monument seems even more massive when you’re standing right under the central arch. Along the inside there are names of 660 generals, with a line below the name if they died in battle.

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On the exterior side, on one of the sides there is face of Napoleon looking very much like a Roman emperor and being crowned with a wreath of victory while holding a protective hand over the city of Paris kneeling at his feet.

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The arch was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to commemorate his victory but wasn’t ready for his bride entrance into Paris, 4 years later. It wasn’t actually completed until 1836, under the reign of Louis-Philippe. Since then it has been used for state funerals and parades.

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 The Arc saw its happiest moments in 1944 when the parade for the liberation of Paris passed under it. You can take an elevator or climb the stairs to the top. There you’ll find a small museum depicting the history of the Arc and from the terrace you’ll get a nice view of Paris.

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Below the Arc de Triomphe lies the Tomb of an Unknown Soldier killed in WWI, which was placed here in 1921. Every evening at 6:30pm the eternal flame at the tomb is rekindled with a ceremony, a tradition that wasn’t even interrupted during Nazi occupation of Paris.

The Champs-Élysées is the widest and the most well-known street of Paris. It’s a boulevard lined with countless restaurants, cafés and stores.

Lunch and chocolate and cookie store

We were so tired walking around all day that we stopped over for lunch at a small café by the side of the road. We had sandwiches and pastries and were really happy to rest our feet.

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Then we went to a chocolate and cookies store a few door down. The cookies and chocolates were freshly made and were yummy. I think we went overboard with our shopping that we had to bring them back to Sydney as we couldn’t finish everything while we were there.

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Opera

The Paris Opera (French: Opéra de Paris) is the primary opera company of France. It was founded in 1669 by Louis XIV as the Académie d’Opéra.

It is an architectural masterpiece of the 19th century, where ballet and opera have been entertaining and evoking overwhelming emotions of a diverse range for years. It took one and a half decades to build the opera house designed by Charles Garnier.

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The Grand Staircase of Palais Garnier, made from different color marbles, links various levels of the auditorium and the foyers. A pair of bronze female statues waving light bouquets welcomes the visitors at the foot of the stairway. The painted ceiling, divided into four sections, features music related allegories. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the library-museum, records opera’s history for three centuries. The permanent gallery exhibits drawings, paintings, scale models and photographs of sets. 

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Hello from the Top of the Eiffel Tower: Paris

I am sure Eiffel Tower doesn’t need any introduction. It must be one of the most recognized structures in the whole world. It is located on the Champ de Mars in Paris and is named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower.

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The tower stands 320 metres (1,050 ft) tall and has three levels for visitors. Tickets can be purchased to ascend, by stairs or lift (elevator), to the first and second levels. The walk from ground level to the first level is over 300 steps, as is the walk from the first to the second level. The third and highest level is accessible only by lift, stairs exist but they are not usually open for public use.

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When we were in Paris, one of the things we really wanted to do was to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. After all, we were in the city of love so there was no reason for us to not to go to the top of the iconic structure and see one of the most beautiful city.

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So with that in mind we went to the Eiffel Tower after we finished dinner with our group. By that time we had seen the tower a couple of times form our bus as well as from a view point which is south of Champ de Mars where you can get beautiful photos of the tower. These are some of the wonderful photos AS and I took on those occasions.

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After dinner, our tour bus took us to another location, Jardins de Trocadero from where the view was even better than from the ones before. We took a few photos there and told the guide to leave us there so we can walk to the top of the tower.

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As we were walking, we saw a few cops talking  on the side of the road we were on. When they looked at us, they smiled. One of them started talking to us and asked if I wanted a photo with them. Of course I said yes and here is my photo with a nice French policeman 🙂

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After that we kept walking toward the tower. The first time we saw the tower up close, it was an amazing experience. It is very beautiful and bigger than any movie or any postcards I have ever seen. We just loved it so much. Delicate and graceful when seen from afar, the Eiffel is massive — even a bit scary — from close up. You don’t appreciate the size until you walk toward it; like a mountain, it seems so close but takes forever to reach.

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We knew that there would be a queue to go up so when we were at the foot of the tower; we were not surprised to see a long queue. We were informed that out of 4 lifts in four legs of the tower, only one was working and it would be a long wait.

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We didn’t mind walking the 600+ steps (we did a nice walk in St Paul’s cathedral in London as well) so AS and I decided we would get the ticket for the stairs rather than wait for the lift.  It took a while for us to get the tickets as we were in queue for the lift for over an hour before we realised that we were in the wrong queue. So another 30 minutes in the right queue and finally we got the ticket. While we were in the queue it started to drizzle (after a great day) so we had our umbrella opened while waiting.

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I was really happy when we got our tickets as the wait was finally over. It cost us around 10 euros (5 euro more for the lift) for the trip. I am sure we could have bought tickets online to avoid the queue but it was a good experience to queue and admire Eiffel tower from close up while waiting in the queue.

The sun had set by that time and the lights on the tower were just lit. It is so true when they say that there is something magical about visiting the Eiffel Tower at night. Every evening, the Eiffel Tower is adorned with its golden covering and sparkles for 5 minutes every hour on the hour, while its beacon shines over Paris.

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So we started our first leg of the journey to the First level of the tower.  For the first 100 steps it was exciting as there were lots of information about the tower on the side walls as we went up. Then when we passed 200 steps it was getting a bit tiring and the rain didn’t help.

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I was huffing and puffing at that stage but we had to push ourselves until we finish another 100+ steps get to the first level. It was a great workout and we did bypass the lines for the elevators. But it was windy as we went to the top and even with my warm coat, I was freezing. After 328 steps, I was ready to rest for a while when we finally reached the first level.

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Looking out from the top over the streets of Paris, you’ll see why Paris is known as the “City of Light.” At street level, seeing the spotlight on the top of the Tower zoom across the Paris skyline and the reflection of the Tower in the Seine are sights not to be missed.

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We walked around the floor and were mesmerised by the beautiful city. On the first floor, there is a working post office from where you can send a postcard home with an Eiffel Tower postmark to commemorate your trip. The floor also has a snack bar, WCs (toilets) and souvenir shop.

We have to climb 340 steps more to get to the second floor. This floor was a bit crowed when we got there but it was still worth it. The best views of Paris were from the 2nd level. You are high enough up to see the stunning panorama of the Paris skyline. Yet not too high; so that you can easily recognize most Paris landmarks without using a map. With a panoramic view over Paris, we stopped there for a while to enjoy the amazing view.

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On this level, there is a restaurant, Le Jules Vernes which is remarkable for its breathtaking views of the city and for its kitchen, which is led by celebrated French chef Alain Ducasse.

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After that we decided to take the lift to the top floor. We followed the signs to the elevator line for the ride to the top. There was a queue so we joined it. While in this queue we saw comparisons of Effile tower with land marks around the world including Nepal. It was nice to see Nepali flag there.

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After we caught the lift, we were landed on top level of the tower. It was even more crowded as the area is small. We walked around identifying a few of our favourite Paris landmarks, took a peek through the window at Gustave Eiffel’s office (he has an American visitor!), and snapped a few photos and took the lift back to the second level.

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The journey back was much better. As I climbed down the steps and finished this amazing adventure I wondered how lucky we were to experience such an amazing adventure.

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By that time it was almost midnight. And when we were just on the bridge in front of the tower, we witness the lights. For 5 minutes, the sparkle lights came on, almost equalled by sparkles from all the camera flashes going off below. Very, very nice aseverybody around us were  excited, and having fun. Even though we had been up in other  tower like Burj Khalifa and others before, it was still very special.

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Some interesting facts amount the tower:

  • The American TV show pricing the Priceless speculates that in 2011 the tower would cost about $480,000,000 to build, that the land under the tower is worth $350,000,000, and that the scrap value of the tower is worth $3,500,000. The TV show estimates the tower makes a profit of about $29,000,000 per year, though it is unlikely that the Eiffel Tower is managed so as to maximize profit.
  • The electric bill is $400,000 per year for 7.5 million kilowatt-hours.
  • In hot weather, it’s six inches taller.
  • Annual visitors : almost 7 million, 75% of whom are foreigners
  • Tall : 324 metres (with its antennas)
  • Weight : 7,300 tonnes of metallic framework, and a total weight of 10,100 tonnes
  • Number of metallic parts : 18,000 metallic parts joined by 2,500,000 rivets
  • Height of each floor :1st floor: 57m; 2nd floor: 115m; 3rd floor: 276m
  • Lighting : 336 projectors (sodium lamps)
  • Sparkling lights: 20,000 bulbs (5,000 on each side) glitter for 5 minutes every hour on the hour, from nightfall until 1a.m.
  • Number of antennas : 120 antennas
  • Number of steps on the East staircase until the top : 1,665 steps
  • Number of lifts : From the ground floor up to the 2nd floor: 5 (1 on the eastern pillar, 1 on the western pillar, 1 on the northern pillar, 1 private lift on the southern pillar leading to the “Jules Verne” restaurant, and 1 goods lift on the southern pillar). From the 2nd floor up to the top: 2 sets of 2 Duo-lifts.
  • Kilometers travelled by the lift : The combined distance travelled of the lift cabins is 103,000 km a year (2.5 times the circumference of the Earth).
  • Surface to be painted: 250,000 m2 of surface to be painted during each painting campaign, every 7 years. 60 tonnes of paint are needed.
  • Thanks to restoration on the Eiffel Tower, the engraved names of 72 French scientists and engineers from the original design are visible again. Most of the scientists were active during the French Revolution and the early 19th century.  The engravings were covered over in the early 20th century and restored for the first time in 1986-1987, and again last in 2010.

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Palace of Versailles: France

France was the last stop in our Europe trip.

I realised during the tour that we were lucky we didn’t need to spend any time queuing up for tickets as all our tours were pre booked and we had a local guide. Otherwise there seemed to be hundreds of people waiting for tickets and to get in everywhere we went.

We started our trip with a tour of the Palace of Versailles. Versailles has been the capital of the kingdom of France for over a century, from 1682 to 1789. Nowadays it is a wealthy suburb of Paris, some 17 km away from the French capital, and remains an important administrative and judicial centre.

The first thing you must do is enter the golden gates. Once inside, the sheer size of the complex will leave you speechless.

This splendid and enormous palace was built in the mid-17th century during the reign of Louis XIV – the Roi Soleil (Sun King) – to project the absolute power of the French monarchy, which was then at the height of its glory. Its scale and decor also reflect Louis XIV’s taste for profligate luxury and his boundless appetite for self-glorification. Some 30,000 workers and soldiers toiled on the structure, the bills for which all but emptied the kingdom’s coffers. The château has undergone relatively few alterations since its construction, though almost all the interior furnishings disappeared during the Revolution and many of the rooms were rebuilt by Louis-Philippe (r 1830–48).

As you enter the Palace from the main entrance, you immediately realize that the Château de Versailles is all about extravagance and luxury. Gold accentuates everything from the gates to the statues ornamenting the exterior of the building, up to furnishings inside. Opulent chandeliers and loads of paintings, sculptures, and tapestries adorn the interiors. Each of the French kings who lived there until the French Revolution, added improvements to make it more beautiful. The major of these, were those by Louis XIV, who devoted many rooms and parts of the gardened to the sun – the monarch’s symbol – or one of the seven planets that revolve around the magical star.

Inside, you will see the Grand Apartments of the King and Queen that include the infamous Hall of Mirrors. It was here that the king crowed his royal power to visitors.

Once we finished with the Chateau, we went outside and start wandering through the garden. The garden is massive; it looked bigger that from Schönbrunn Palace , with flower beds to highlight the castle, statues, vases and busts decorated its paths.

The gardens are stunning and the music coming out from the hidden speakers made the ambience even better.

The section of the vast gardens nearest the palace, laid out between 1661 and 1700 in the formal French style, is famed for its geometrically aligned terraces, flowerbeds, tree-lined paths, ponds and fountains. The 400-odd statues of marble, bronze and lead were made by the most talented sculptors of the era. The English-style Jardins du Petit Trianon are more pastoral and have meandering, sheltered paths.

The gardens’ largest fountains are the 17th-century Bassin de Neptune (Neptune’s Fountain), a dazzling mirage of 99 spouting gushers 300m north of the palace, and the Bassin d’Apollon (Apollo’s Fountain) built in 1688 at the eastern end of the Grand Canal.

We couldn’t get over the size of the garden and the different hidden pathways you can find in it. Although we visited a small fraction of the gardens, you get a sense of their grandeur. While we were enjoying the romantic walk in the garden, out of nowhere it suddenly started raining heavily. There was nowhere to shelter so me and AS ran towards the palace, the way back was long and uphill. By the time we got to the shelter, we both were soaking wet. So we waited in the palace for the rain to stop before going back to our tour bus.

It looked really funny when we got to the bus as the sun was up again and we looked stupid to be soaking wet.

Please click here for more photos.

Tuscany and Florence: Italy

Tuscany is a region in Italy having an area of about 23,000 square kilometres (8,900 sq mi) and a population of about 3.8 million inhabitants. The regional capital is Florence. Tuscany is known for its landscapes, traditions, history, artistic legacy and its permanent influence on high culture. It is regarded as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and has been home to many figures influential in the history of art and science.

Driving from Rome to Tuscany was beautiful. There were lots of farm and greenery. We stopped over in Autogril to have some food. Then we drove all the way to Florence.

Once we were dropped off in Florence, we walked with our guide to  Piazza Santa Croce.

Piazza Santa Croce

Piazza Santa Croce is one of the main squares of the centre of Florence, Italy. The Basilica of Santa Croce, the largest Franciscan church in the world, overlooks the piazza. The basilica’s most notable features are its sixteen chapels, many of them decorated with frescoes by Giotto and his pupils, and its tombs and cenotaphs. It is the burial place of some illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo Buonarroti, Niccolò Machiavelli, Enrico Fermi, Galileo Galilei, Ugo Foscolo, Guglielmo Marconi, Luigi Cherubini, Leon Battista Alberti, Vittorio Alfieri, Gioacchino Rossini, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Lorenzo Bartolini, Pier Antonio Micheli, Bartolomeo Cristofori, and Giovanni Gentile. For this reason it also known as the Temple of the Italian Glories (Tempio dell’Itale Glorie). In front of the Basilica there is famous marble statue made by Enrico Pazzi decidated to Dante Alighieri, and formerly places in the middle of the piazza.

From Piazza we were taken to a leather shop near Piazza Santa Croce where they tried to sell some leather stuffs but to be honest I didn’t like the place as there were pushy salesman trying too hard. So me and my husband got out of the place and enjoyed the outside until everyone was out.

From there we were taken to the tour of Florence with the local guide.

Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore

It is known as Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower in english. The Cathedral is gothic in style, and it features a dome that was to become the model and standard for domes which were built in many other major European cities over the next several centuries.  In this era, the dome was a feat of architectural genius by its designer and engineer, Filippo Brunelleschi.  The exterior is covered with marble panels, which are in shades of green, pink, and white , very appropriate Saint Mary of the Flower.

This cathedral is breathtaking on the outside. You could spend hours walking around it marvelling at the intricate work. The interior is also very nice and a lot brighter than I had expected. It’s marble and empty and echoing. Quiet and reflective, as a church should be. But looking up at the fresco will really take one’s breath away. Its definitely a good way to spend some time out of your day in Florence as it seems that relaxing and enjoying yourself is something that you can do in Florence very easily.

Be sure to see the bronze doors on the Baptistry – known as “The Gates of Paradise” by Ghiberti.  The original doors are in the Duomo Museum and were replaced with replicas due to water damage in a huge flood in the 1960’s, vandalism, and other harmful elements.  These doors took over 27 years to complete, and the ten panels depict the Old Testament.  And, this is hard to imagine, but the doors are the first time perspective was used in an artwork.

It is possible to climb to the top of the dome, but this is not for the faint of heart as it requires a reasonable degree of fitness to manage the spiral staircases, the ladders, and the countless number of steps to reach the top.

For us the last stop was Piazza della Signoria with our guide before we got free time to shop and eat.

Porcellino

Porcellino (Italian “piglet”) is the local Florentine nickname for the bronze fountain of a boar. The fountain figure was sculpted and cast by Baroque master Pietro Tacca (1577 –1640) shortly before 1634.

Visitors to Porcellino put a coin into the boar’s gaping jaws, with the intent to let it fall through the underlying grating for good luck, and they rub the boar’s snout to ensure a return to Firenze which has kept the snout in a state of polished sheen while the rest of the boar’s body has patinated to a dull brownish-green.

We also rubbed the snout so hope we will be going to Italy again 🙂

Piazza della Signoria

Piazza della Signoria is an L-shaped square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy. Florence’s most famous square started to take shape in the mid- to late-13th century when the Guelphs defeated the Ghibellines for control of the city. The piazza’s L shape and the lack of uniformity of its surrounding buildings is the result of the Guelphs leveling many of their rivals’ palazzi. The piazza gets its name from the towering Palazzo Vecchio, whose original name is the Palazzo della Signoria.

Numerous statues designed by some of the most famous Florentine artists decorate the square and the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi, which serves as an outdoor sculpture gallery. Almost all of the statues located on the square are copies; the originals have been moved indoors, including to the Palazzo Vecchio and the Bargello, for preservation.

The most famous of the piazza’s sculptures is a copy of Michelangelo’s David (the original is in the Accademia), which stands watch outside the Palazzo Vecchio. Other must-see sculptures on the square include Baccio Bandinelli’s Heracles and Cacus, two statues by Giambologna – the equestrian statue of Grand Duke Cosimo I and Rape of a Sabine – and Cellini’s Perseus and Medusa.  At the center of the piazza is the Neptune Fountain designed by Ammanati.

Palazzo Vecchio

Florence’s City Hall, the Palazzo Vecchio, is one of the most important secular buildings in Florence and one of the city’s top attractions. Palazzo Vecchio was constructed in the late 13th/early 14th century in order to house the government offices for the newly formed Florentine Republic. The architect of the Palazzo Vecchio was Arnolfo di Cambio, the architect of Florence’s Duomo.

Today, the Palazzo Vecchio still contains the office of Florence’s Mayor and the City Council. But most of building is now a museum.

Entrance

The entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio is flanked by a copy of Michelangelo’s David (the original is in the Accademia) and the statue of Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli. Above the door is a gorgeous frontispiece set in a blue background and flanked by two gilded lions.

Cortile di Michelozzo: The artist Michelozzo designed the harmonious inner courtyard, which contains arcading set off by gilded columns, a copy of a fountain by Andrea del Verrocchio (the original is inside the palace), and walls painted with several city scenes.

Second Floor

Salone dei Cinquecento: The massive “Room of the Five Hundred” once held the Council of the Five Hundred, a governing body created by Savonarola during his short stint in power. The long room is largely decorated with works by Giorgio Vasari, who orchestrated the redesign of the room in the mid-16th century. It contains an ornate, coffered and painted ceiling, which tells the story of the life of Cosimo I de’ Medici, and, on the walls, gigantic depictions of battle scenes of Florence’s victories over rivals Siena and Pisa.

Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were initially commissioned to produce works for this room, but those frescoes have been “lost.” It is believed that Leonardo’s “Battle of Anghiari” frescos still exist beneath one wall of the room. Michelangelo’s “Battle of Cascina” drawing, which had also been commissioned for this room, was never realized on the walls of the Salone dei Cinquecento, as the master artist was called to Rome to work on the Sistine Chapel before he could begin work in the Palazzo Vecchio. But his statue “Genius of Victory” located in a niche at the southern end of the room is worth a look.

The Studiolo: Vasari designed this sumptuous study for Francesco I de’ Medici, at the time the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The Studiolo is decorated from floor to ceiling with Mannerist paintings by Vasari, Alessandro Allori, Jacopo Coppi, Giovanni Battista Naldini, Santi di Tito, and at least a dozen others.

Third Floor

Loggia del Saturno: This large room contains an ornate ceiling painted by Giovanni Stradano but is most renowned for its sweeping views over the Arno Valley.

The Sala dell’Udienza and the Sala dei Gigli: These two rooms contain some of the Palazzo Vecchio’s oldest elements of interior decoration, including a coffered ceiling by Giuliano da Maiano (in the former) and frescoes of St. Zenobius by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the latter. The stunning Sala dei Gigli (Lily Room) is so called because of the patterned gold-on-blue fleur-de-lys – the symbol of Florence – on the room’s walls. Another treasure in the Sala dei Gigli is Donatello’s statue of Judith and Holofernes.

Several other rooms in the Palazzo Vecchio can be visited, including the Quartiere degli Elementi, which was also designed by Vasari; the Sala delle Carte Geographiche, which contains maps and globes; and the Quartiere del Mezzanino (mezzanine), which houses the Charles Loeser collection of paintings from the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods. 

After the tour we stopped to do some shopping and were taken back to the hotel.

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Out and about in Rome

On day 2 of Rome we had the whole day on our own so with fellow travellers from the tour, we took a map and went on a journey to explore Rome, the capital of Italy, by ourselves.

I have read Kathmandu described as city of temples but I didn’t know that Rome is a city of churches. Everywhere we went there were churches, all equally magnificent and beautiful.

Castle San Angelo

I always wanted to see this castle as I saw it in the move Angles & Demons so I was really happy to see the beautiful castle. The castle looked like some of the forts I have seen in India. It is located right by the Tiber River and was originally built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian in 139 AD.

In front of the castle there is a beautiful bridge called Ponte Saint Angelo with 5 angles on either side of it. This is how the castle got its name. The bridge is faced with travertine marble and spans the Tiber with three arches.

On one side of the castle, there was a market that sold souvenirs and food. Also, there was a man dressed as a devil asking money from tourists to take photos with him.

Pantheon

The Pantheon, one of the most fascinating, and mysterious, buildings in Italy. It is a Christian church where they conduct mass every Sunday. The interior of Pantheon is really striking, with its dome a perfect hemisphere and an oculus which is believed to symbolize the all-seeing eye of heaven. At about 142 feet in diameter, the Pantheon’s dome is bigger even than the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

It is one of the best-preserved of all Roman buildings. It has been in continuous use throughout its history, and since the 7th century, the Pantheon has been used as a Roman Catholic Church dedicated to “St. Mary and the Martyrs” but informally known as “Santa Maria della Rotonda.” The square in front of the Pantheon is called Piazza della Rotonda.

The Piazza della Rotonda was filled with tourists taking pictures and people resting on the steps of the fountain. Along the edges of the piazza there were restaurants and coffee shops.

Raphael, the famous Renaissance painter, is buried inside the Pantheon with his fiancée Maria Bibbiena as well as Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy’s first king.

Piazza del popolo

This is one of the most beautiful piazzas in Rome and the effect of the twin churches is amazing. My guide mentioned that the two baroque churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto are not exactly alike, but they do look alike on a first sight and the impression one gets is of something unforgettable.

The piazza was created by Latino Giovenale Manetti in 1538 for Pope Paul III and the twin churches were added in the 17th century. The present symmetry was given by the neoclassical architect Giuseppe Valadier in the early 1800’s. In the middle of the square lies a 3000 years old obelisk framed by four small fountains with lions. The piazza is closed to automotive traffic so you can stroll at your own pace and enjoy the sights.

Trajan’s Column (Colonna di Traiano)

Trajan’s column was built to commemorate military campaigns in Dacia (which is now Romania). The column is a beautiful piece of Roman sculptural art; around the column winds a spiral frieze with over 2500 figures in relief illustrating the battles that took place during Trajan’s military campaigns in Dacia (101-102 and 105-106). At the top the statue of Saint Peter replaced in 1588 a statue of Trajan. The ashes of the emperor and his wife were places in a golden urn in a vault below the column. The column stands in what was once Foro di Traiano (Forum of Trajan) with a huge semicircular market building.

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona was built over the site of the 1st century Stadium of Domitian and still preserves the elliptical form of the Roman circus. Medieval jousts, 17-century carnivals, open-air sports and historic festivals took place here; the piazza was also used as market place from mid 15th century to mid 19th century. Today this place attracts tourists and Romans alike, and the cafes and restaurants lining the piazza have tables outside most of the year.

Three beautiful fountains decorate the piazza out of which the most famous is the central Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (The Fountain of the Four Rivers) by Bernini. Behind this fountain is the church Sant’Agnese in Agone a remarkable example of Baroque architecture.

On one of the days we were in Rome, we sat down and had our dinner there.

Piazza Augusto Imperatore

As part of his massive restructuring of Rome and in celebration of the 2000th anniversary of Augustus’ birth, Mussolini created the Piazza Augusto Imperatore with the Mausoleum of Augustus at its center. He had the densely populated neighbourhoods surrounding the Mausoleum destroyed and new buildings constructed on the 4 sides of the Piazza. Only the churches were allowed to remain. The story of this radical transformation is superbly told in Kostoff, 1978.

Office buildings were constructed on 2 sides and a college on a 3rd. On the 4th side, the new pavilion to house the relocated and reconstructed Ara Pacis was built between the Mausoleum and the major avenue beside the Tiber embankment. Within this pavilion, Mussolini had the Ara Pacis itself reconstructed not at the level of the Via di Ripetta, the ground level of buildings in the area, where it might have retained closer relationship to the Mausoleum. Instead, for added visibility and prestige, he had the Ara Pacis reconstructed at the level of the Lungotevere in Augusta, the top level of the ealry 20th century embankment along the Tiber River.

Palazzaccio

Designed by the Perugia architect Guglielmo Calderini and built between 1888 and 1910, the Palace of Justice is considered one of the grandest of the new buildings which followed the proclamation of Rome as the capital city of the Kingdom of Italy.

The building’s unusually large size, astonishing decorations, and long period of construction created the suspicion of corruption. In April 1912 a parliamentary commission was appointed to inquire into the matter and it presented its findings the following year. The affair gave rise to the building’s popular nickname of Palazzaccio.

Inspired by late Renaissance and Baroque architecture, the building is 170 meters by 155 in size and is completely covered with Travertine limestone. Above the façade looking towards the River Tiber it is surmounted by a great bronze quadriga, set there in 1926, the work of the sculptor Ettore Ximenes from Palermo. Ten large statues of notable jurists adorn the ramps before the main façade and the internal courtyard. The upper part of the façade looking onto the Piazza Cavour is ornamented with a bronze coat of arms of the House of Savoy. Inside the Hall of the Supreme Court, also known as the Great Hall (or on Calderini’s plans as the Aula Maxima) are several frescoes, begun by Cesare Maccari (1840–1919), who became paralysed in 1909 while the work was unfinished. It was continued until 1918 by Maccari’s former student Paride Pascucci (1866–1954)

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