Hello again…. I think I’ve finally (almost) completely organised our next trip to bel’italia. I managed to find a lovely apartment in the Ghetto area of Rome for the first part of the trip. It was very reasonable, although I think it has no windows facing outwards onto the street ~ which for some people would be a problem, but I don’t mind one bit, as it will mean no road noises. Then we’ll be renting a car and travelling northwards. I’m not sure how sensible it is to pick up a rental car from Rome and then try to drive out… but I’ll let you know.
I’ve never been anywhere in Lazio other than Roma, so this is our opportunity to see whats out there, so to that end we’re staying near the little lake Bracciano, about 45 km’s from Rome.
I had a little chuckle to myself when I looked at it on the map. Its 45km’s from Rome, well in the countryside. About the same distance from the CBD in Sydney you’d still find yourself in the outer Sydney suburbs. Anyway, I found a lovely little apartment in Bracciano near the lake. After that, we hope to spend a little time in the Maremma (northern Lazio/southern Tuscany) so that we can visit the thermal springs in Saturnia and le Vie Cave, and the abandoned town of Montemerano. After that we have a week in Florence, then… well, I’ll leave the rest as a surprise.
This trip we’re scouting a little, as we hope to spend a few months in Italy next year, and I suspect that northern Lazio might be a good place to be, being so close to Rome, and close(ish) to Florence too. Funny how us Aussies have such a different concept of what constitutes ‘close’.
Anyway… I’ve started thinking about what to pack for this trip too, as it will be cool in November, and this being Italy there will be lots and lots of walking. Actually I suppose we should be prepared for anything at that time of year. With the bones still healing in my broken foot I will be restricted to flat and very comfortable shoes, and clothes that are comfortable and easy to wear, and that don’t need a shoe with a heel. Luckily I have a really comfy pair of flat soled boots ~ which have already made the trip to italy once before. But I think I might have to invest in a pair of comfortable and stylish italian shoes when I get there. Happily Rome is the place where I can find a shoe that is both comfortable AND stylish.
Maybe ten years ago I bought a pair of Nero Giardini shoes in Rome. They were unlike anything I had ever seen before, but I noticed that lots and lots of italian women wore them. Styled like fashionable shoes, but built and soled like trainers. With a bit of a heel. Perfect for negotiating cobbled streets and walking all day long.
I know there are sneakers and trainers with heels out there now, but I’ve yet to try on a pair that are as comfy as those Nero Giardini shoes were. They looked fabulously good on the italian women, particularly on those who aren’t teenagers any more. Nothing like those dreary Homy-Peds, and not like I’ve stolen my daughters shoes either. I’ve only just thrown them away, so my first shopping expedition in Rome will be to find a replacement pair.
I just searched the Nero Giardini website and here are my two choices. I hope they still have some in stock when I get there!
These don’t look so stylish in the photo, but are fairly similar to the ones I had. Its not so easy to see, but they’re actually quite finely made. And I like the little bronze details.
These are so cute too! I’d be happy with either pair, although these are maybe more fashionable.
I had coffee last week with a dear friend of mine who was flying to Stockholm the following day. She told me she was absolutely dreading that flight. Not because of the terrible events of last week, but just for the thought of having to sit, cramped up in economy for 22 hours, and arriving feeling dirty, tired and clogged up.
I told her I had just been re-stocking my in-flight bag and I was actually looking forwards to the next flight so that I could try some of the goodies I’ve put in it. She was intrigued, so we did a little shop together to help get her in the mood.
Firstly, here in Sydney, we almost always have a relative humidity above 75%. That means that a little moisturiser goes a long way. Europe is not the same. In fact I’m always amazed because I usually have fairly oily skin and hair and so the first few times I packed for Europe my toiletries were all oil-free, dry-shampoos and so on… I’ve since learnt that 22 hours on a plane will completely dry me out, and I’ll be in desperate need of moisturising products when I arrive.
So the first stop for me is always Aesop. A few years ago my husband bought me one of their travel packs — I think mine was the London one, filled with little travel sized versions of their products. Some of the products I absolutely loved and have re-purchased, others, not so much… but the thing I most like about Aesop is that they’re very generous with their free samples. And they’re what I take on-board with me. The rest of the kit goes in my luggage.
Either before I board or as soon we reach altitude and the seat-belt sign is off I take all my make up off, using Aesop’s Parsley Seed Oil Cleanser. Its gorgeous ~ but beware: it’s not a particularly viscous oil. The first time I ripped open the little sachet I spilt the entire contents onto my leather handbag. I thought it would stain the leather, but it didn’t. Fortunately it smells lovely and they’d given me several.
Then I apply their Parsley Seed Anti-Oxidant Serum, or their Parsley Seed Facial Treatment. I love everything about both of these products, especially the smell. They always makes me feel calm and relaxed and ready to sit back and read my book. These are actually products that I would buy and carry with me ~ and trust me, I won’t carry anything that I don’t have to ~ but one of these is worth carrying. The Treatment comes in a tiny 15ml bottle, so no need to decant, but my preference is for the Serum. I’ll almost always carry their tiny tube of moisturiser on board with me too.
They’re very clever offering these little sachets… I’ve tried various products and returned and bought the ones I like, and each time I buy something, they give me more sachets to try, and I usually find something else to come back and buy… so I always seem to have a little stash of sachets to take on a flight with me. Gotta love that!
But getting back to my flight list… There are a few other things I cannot fly without. Lip balm would be one. I love the Burts Bees ones, specially the tinted ones, as they have a slight minty fragrance. I know it sounds stupid, but I almost always find that I chip or break a nail when I’m handling my luggage, so I have to have a nail file with me. I buy a cheap pack of those disposable nail files before I leave and keep one or two in my clear plastic baggy.
The other must-haves for me are eye lubricating drops and nose lubricating spray. I have terrible sinuses, and almost always find I end up with a sinus headache and puffy eyes from dry blocked sinuses. Yes, it’s a bit hard to do discretely, but not impossible, and believe me, it makes a difference to how you feel on arrival. A mini hairbrush, my own toothbrush and toothpaste is essential… and I always carry an eye patch and ear-plugs too, in the hope that I might get some sleep… and I do find they help. I might also take a mini deodorant too, particularly if I’m transiting through a hot city like Singapore.
I wear the bare minimum of make up when I fly, but I always take a BB cream, mascara and one lipstick to apply before I arrive. My current fav BB cream is Uvidea XL by La Roche Posay because I like the texture & coverage, and that it comes in a flight-friendly 30ml tube. I almost always take a concealer too, usually Touche Éclat by YSL. Those are my makeup absolute minimums. Except for the hairbrush I can actually fit all of these things into one of those little clear plastic baggies, which double as insurance against spillage. Bonus!
But, to be honest, I think the most important things that really make a difference to how you feel when you arrive can’t be bought or packaged. They would be to drink as little alcohol as possible, but as much water as you can manage, and to get as much sleep as you possibly can. And when you’re in the airport, don’t take the travelator, get up and walk as much as possible. Stretch your muscles and move. Knowing exactly where you have to go to get into town or wherever you’re going can ease your anxieties about arriving, so ALWAYS have printed out and ready the address and directions for your next destination.
If you can arrive with a smile in your mind you’ll always look your best.
Anything I’ve forgotten? What do you take with you on-board?
- Parsley Seed Oil Cleanser
- Parsley Seed Anti-Oxidant Serum or Treatment
- Lip Balm
- Lubricating eye drops
- Lubricating nose spray
- Mini hair brush, nail file, toothpaste and toothbrush
- Eye Patch & ear plugs
- BB Cream
- Mascara, lipstick & concealer
- mini deodorant
If, like me, you go to Italy and dream about owning a beautiful Italian-made handbag or wallet by Gucci, Fendi or Ferregamo but can never quite stretch to spending those outrageous sums of money, then allow me to let you in my big lux secret: The Mall.
The Mall is located just north of Florence, Tuscany. Last October, I was lucky enough to go there for the second time. Do you know it? Its not really a secret ~ but I’ve never met anyone else who has heard of it, certainly not any fellow Aussies. I don’t know why. It’s definitely the best designer label outlet centre I’ve ever been to, bar none. And I’ve been to quite a few outlets. Who doesn’t love a bargain?
Its an outdoor mall located about a half an hours drive north of Florence, nestled in beautiful open countryside. I have to say the setting is just beautiful. According to their website there is a special coach that picks up and drops off from very close to the Santa Maria Novella train station in the centre of Florence, on Via Santa Caterina da Siena 17… although I’ve never taken it.
Both times I’ve visited we’ve hired a car and driven there, in order to be able to do it on our own schedule. The first time we went was perhaps six years ago. We hired a cute little Fiat Punto, and managed to navigate our way from Florence into the car park… and we were stunned because the carpark was like a super car showroom. There were Lamborghini’s, Ferrari’s, Porsches, one after the other in the car park! My first thoughts were “oh no… we can’t afford this place…”
…and then we walked up the perfectly manicured street into the Mall itself. It was gorgeous… and the people! the customers! Oh my goodness…. just as stunning! they all looked like supermodels or pouty Victoria Beckham look-alikes. I thought well, if nothing else, it’ll be a great place to people-watch. Having hired a car and navigated our way there, we pressed on.
Just about every high fashion label is there; Dior, Ferragamo, Prada, Armani, Tods, Burberry, Fendi, Bottega Veneta, Diesel, Alexander McQueen, the list goes on and on. I would suggest allowing a good few hours to look through them all. Most of them are larger than your average city-centre label shop would be, but the building (temple) dedicated to Prada and the one dedicated to Gucci are huge. The Prada shop is more like a department store. Its over two levels and the shoe department alone is huge. Of course there’s ladies and gents perfume, handbags, wallets briefcases, satchels and so on, and up the sleek shiny escalator is clothing… everything from jeans and T’s, to casual dresses and stunning evening dresses, mens suits, leisurewear and so on. It was quite busy both times I’ve been there, but not crazy-lady grabby-busy. Quite genteel and ordered.
It seemed to me that most of the stock is simply unsold or excess stock, and not necessarily out of season, as I was there late summer and there were summer and trans-seasonal pieces throughout all the shops. They say that the discounts are at least 20% off the original prices, but I can tell you right now, that must be the absolute minimum, because I bought a beautiful Balenciaga day dress reduced from €1300 to €175. Nowhere on the ticket did it say the original price, but that evening I did an online price check and found the dress had been listed two years before with a very well known pret-a-porter site for €1300. My husband picked up a fabulous hand embellished biker jacket at Alexander McQueen for €375. Definitely not super-cheap, but a one-off purchase… not something he’d ever pay full price for.
There are certainly some pricy things there. But there are definitely some incredible bargains there too. The first time we were there, my husband picked up a lovely Black Label Armani shirt with the faintest dirty fingerprint on the hem. It was the only one there, and it happened to be in his size. I think he paid for €10 or €20 for it. It wasn’t much. The tailoring and quality was impeccable, and he got so many compliments every time he wore it that when we got home to Sydney he sent me in to Armani in the city to get him another one. I told them what I wanted and in very hushed tones they ushered me into the private viewing area, handed me a glass of champagne and had a lovely male model try them on for me… That’s when it hit me that this must really be a very fancy shirt… so I asked how much they were… AU$500 each!!! Ouch. I didn’t buy another one in Sydney, but last year Armani had a whole rack of them. In mauve.
As a non-EU tourist we are also entitled to a (currently) 20% VAT refund for purchases above €155. It can be several smaller priced items – as long as they are are billed together in the same receipt at the same time and from the same shop and add up to more than €155. Don’t forget to ask the sales people for the receipt because they won’t do it unless you ask, and you must have your passport with you to prove that you’re not an EU citizen. Don’t forget the passport. For maximum convenience, you can even process your refund(s) at the designated office located at the foot of The Mall, although we didn’t bother as there was quite a queue, and we knew that we would have to go through the whole process at the airport anyway with other things we’d bought. I must say though, its a laborious and painful task to do at the airport, and you MUST show the items BEFORE you check in, so allow plenty of time to stand in those queues. There’s one queue to show the goods, and another queue to submit the paperwork…. we bought quite a lot between us, so it was worth the hassle, but if you know you’re not going to claim anything else then I would do the paperwork right there.
There’s a restaurant upstairs on the grounds too, very shiny and clean, where you can fan your poor husband who might suffering heart palpitations and feed him gelato and a nice cold beer, while you sip a glass of wine and work out your budget and buying strategy.
I bought a lovely little leather handbag in Prada for €300. With the VAT refund it ended up costing €240 — plus the exchange rate at the time was pretty good, so I think it ended up costing me about $315. Its not super cheap, but that is a whole lot less than some handbags I’ve seen in some Sydney chain stores. And my Balenciaga dress ended up costing me about $150 after the tax refund. Really. Bargain!
For more information, check out their website:
One of the greatest things about travelling slowly through a place is being able to do things that not every tourist does, so I’ve started making a list of some of the things I’d like to do when we have time to spare in Italia. It’s a bit of a strange list, filled with things not usually frequented by tourists, and I haven’t come across lots of information about them. I’m hoping to learn more about them before we go next year ~ just having them on my radar means my ears are alert whenever someone mentions them.
The first is the Tomb of Cicero. Marcus Tullius Cicero was a great politician of the Late Republic and gave many great speeches around the time of Julius Caesar. I read a lot of Ciceros writing, both in English and in the original Latin when I was studying for my degree. I felt I’d come to know him quite well.
Cicero grew up in Arpino, which is a small hill town about 100km south-east from Rome, in the province of Frosinone. After becoming enemies with Marc Antony, he was hunted down and killed at his villa in Formia in 43BCE. I clearly remember the lecture where we were told how he’d died, first having his hands cut off ~ a symbolic gesture, since they were the hands that had written against Marc Antony ~ then his tongue was cut out and then his head.
I felt like someone in my family had died! Images of his death haunted me for days, and I recall sleeping very restlessly and weeping in the night ~ my poor husband wanted to know who Marcus was and what on earth had happened to him!
Anyway… Arpino is on my list, as is Formia. Formia is a pretty seaside town, with a well-built Roman port, it seems a lovely place to linger. Somewhere in the hills behind Formia is where Cicero had his summer villa and farms; its where he escaped to when he realised his days were numbered. Just outside of Formia on the ancient Via Appia is a monument traditionally attributed to be the Tomb of Cicero. Its not really known if it is indeed his tomb; there are no markings, nor is there any historical evidence to corroborate the story, but a little further along the Via Appia towards Formia are the remains of the tomb of his daughter, Tulliola. I’m not sure that this tomb is even marked ~ I’ve heard its difficult to find. Personally, I’d have thought they’d have been interred in the same mausoleum, and perhaps Cicero’s remains were first placed in his daughter’s mausoleum and then moved at a later date because of his fame. Who knows. I know Cicero loved his daughter very much and was heart-broken when she died in childbirth.
I could quite happily do a Masters thesis on this subject, but whether it would contribute anything to our knowledge of the Classical world is debatable.
Have you been there? Do you know any more? Feel free to message me or leave a comment if you’ve been to either of these places ~ I’d love to know more about them.
Being married to an Englishman we’ve made the trip back to the UK quite a lot since we’ve been together. London has always had a special place in both our hearts because that’s the place where we met and fell in love. Yorkshire ~ where my husband grew up ~ is a lovely part of the country, but it’s not exactly a must-see yearly holiday destination, and even less so for someone who’s lived there. So each time we’ve gone over, if we could afford it, we’ve usually tried to incorporate a little side trip just for us. We’ve stopped over just about everywhere in Asia and done more day trips and side trips that I can even count over the almost 25 years of our marriage.
When we were younger and childless all our holiday funds would be spent paying for the long-haul flight, so we would regularly bunk down with family or friends. But as we’ve grown older and had our son travelling with us we’ve needed and relished having our own space. When he was smaller we could get away with him bunking in our room on a roll-away bed… But as he grew up I learnt that it made sense to book a larger room so that we would have room for our luggage and space to chill without falling all over each other. Once he grew over six foot tall we had to start booking him his own room and ensure he had a full-sized bed. That means paying for two rooms… making a hotel quite pricey.
Balancing his needs with our needs often comes down to where we’re going, and whether we’re having a ‘holiday’ (or a ‘vacation’ as the Americans call it) or ‘travelling’. If we’re going somewhere for a holiday (Bali, Phuket, or the Cinque Terre for instance) then we might choose a hotel resort so that all our needs can be taken care of. But if we’re travelling… experiencing a new city, exploring a new place then the choice has always been this: Do we stay in a centrally located hotel for just a few days, or stay in an apartment for longer? We almost always choose an apartment. Here’s why.
The advantage of staying in a hotel chain is the predictability of the rooms and the service. But even with that predictability, you can still end up in a room that looks nothing like what you saw in the brochure, particularly if you check-in late, and they know that you’re tired, and although you might complain, you’re unlikely to go elsewhere. Its true, the same can happen when renting an apartment. But in my experience, its in reverse. Apartment owners don’t usually engage a professional photographer to take the photos, they usually take the photos themselves ~ so in my experience the apartment usually looks better in reality than in the photos. Nice surprise, huh! In fact, I’m often a bit wary if I see professional photos.
It certainly is comforting to have the security of knowing that there’s someone at the front desk who will call an English speaking doctor for you any time day or night ~ specially if you have children. This is a very legitimate concern for people travelling with kids, or with elderly people, or for anyone with health issues. It makes really good sense if you’re worried to do a quick search on-line before departing to get the name(s) of one or two English-speaking medical centres nearby.
I also know plenty of people who are wary of interacting with local people and therefore won’t consider going anywhere where they might have to speak the local language. They like to have a city tour organised by the hotel that picks them off and drops them off again, so there’s no stress of having to rely on yourself to find your way around. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. If you’re one of those people, then an apartment is probably not for you. But having said that, with a little bit of effort, its really not difficult to find your nearest hotel and organise a tour from there. Or to organise a guide to pick you up from your apartment.
For us, if we’re planning on staying somewhere for more than a couple of nights, we always choose an apartment. We like the extra space. I love being able to try out local produce, and the flexibility of choosing what to eat and when. Yes, I’m one of those guests who really doesn’t like to rush down to breakfast at 9am only to find everything half picked over. My son and I don’t eat breakfast cereals, nor do I want to eat a cooked breakfast every day while I’m on holidays. In a hotel, that means paying for a breakfast that we don’t eat very much of.
Over the years we’ve rented some really great places. The two most memorable ones in Italy were in Verona and Lucca. The first apartment I ever rented online was in Lucca. I chose it for its location, close to the train station but inside the town walls. I had paid a deposit and been given the address and I’d checked it out on Google Maps, but I was still afraid that when we turned up it would be a construction site. I needn’t have worried.
It was gorgeous inside, spacious and comfortable and it had the loveliest views overlooking the walls of the town. Sure, it had no lift and unreliable wifi, but it was really reasonable, and we’d stay there again in an instant.
The other really memorable one was a little apartment we rented in Verona that had a balcony overlooking the river Adige. It was maybe an 8 minute walk from the town centre and from the nearest Bar but was comfortable, quiet, and had one of the loveliest views ever, and it was very reasonably priced. We stayed in that apartment for 3 weeks for less than the cost of a hotel in the centre of Verona for one week.
Over the years I’ve learnt a thing or two about choosing holiday apartments.
Use a reputable website. There are lots of websites out there ~ I’ve used VRBO, KnowItal, SlowTravel and Sawdays and a few others. I’ve used HomeAway many many times for Italy without a problem and I’ve only dealt with one person who didn’t seem trustworthy. I particularly like Homeaway because it notes how long a particular place has been listed with them. Be wary of a place that is newly listed, or with a calendar that shows its completely free or isn’t up-to-date. The longer its been listed, the more reviews there will be, and the less likely it’s a fraud.
If I have any doubts I always ask for additional photographs. If the apartment is a scam or fake place then its very difficult for a scammer to access & send extra photos. The one untrustworthy person I dealt with got quite angry with me when I questioned the photos he’d sent me ~ they looked nothing like the photos on the website. The floorboards were bare in one photo and carpeted in another! Needless to say I left that one well alone.
Always do a background check on the property, the name of the person you’re dealing with and their email address. Type their details into a search engine. Read anything that comes up. Read all the reviews. Including those on TripAdvisor ~ good and bad.
It seems obvious, but once you get the contract, ask for the address of the place and check it out on GoogleMaps. Ask for their phone number and call them. Do they sound like they know what they’re talking about? Trust your instincts.
If you have any reason to suspect the person you’re dealing with ~ or if it seems too good to be true ~ move on. There are always lots of places to choose from.
Never pay the full amount before you turn up. I’ve never been asked to pay the full amount before we arrive. The deposit can vary but in my experience is never more than 50%. Check that your insurance is in place before you book.
If the owner offers an airport pickup service we usually take it up. That means the driver will know where to go, and will usually call the owner to say that you’re on your way to ensure they’re there when you arrive, so you avoid standing outside some random address after a 24 hour flight in the cold and rain, wondering if you’ve got the right place.
If the owner offers a cleaning service we usually take that up too. After all, I’m on holidays too!
Finally… Before you go, check online for the name of a local English speaking doctor and dentist, and any tours you might want to do. Take printouts with you. Take printouts of the location, city guides, a packet of crackers, tea bags, DVDs… anything that will make your stay more comfortable. And enjoy!
Each week I venture over to the italian suburbs of Sydney to pick up the essential italian ingredients that cannot be found in my area. Usually this is un po’ prosciutto, formaggio, pane, pasta fresca fatta a casa (fresh home made pasta), prosecco and a few other things.
Lately I’d been craving Cacio e Pepe, that classic Roman pasta dish that we ate so often in Rome. I’d read many recipes but no matter what I tried, I just couldn’t manage to make it taste anything like how I remember it… until…
Last week I came across La Pixie Dust’s YouTube videos. Nadia inspired me to make her authentic lasagna, and then, to my surprise, she did the recipe for Cacio e Pepe.
Here it is:
Her videos are funny and very enjoyable to watch, (specially with my Friday night Prosecco or Spritz), her observations on how foreigners mangle Italian recipes are hilarious!
Anyway, she mentioned that the Pecorino cheese cannot be just any type of Pecorino… it must be Pecorino Romano. Ah-ha!!! It proved a little tricky to find, but I did, in the end, at Five Dock, at Ranieri’s Delicatessen on Great North Road. He has two types, an Australian version and a robust Italian kind, which he suggested would be the right one for Cacio e Pepe. Here’s a picture of what’s left of it:
He was right. Nadia was right too. The right cheese makes all the difference.
Ponte Sant’Angelo is one of my favourite bridges in Rome. I’ve walked across it so many times ~ but had no real idea of its history until just recently when I had to do a talk about it for my italian maestro. It’s so pretty with all those angels… I’ve often wondered why they’re there, but never have I heard of its gruesome past… so I thought I’d share a bit of its history.
Ponte Sant’Angelo ~ or Pons Aelius as it was originally called ~ can’t really be talked about without looking at mausoleum directly in front of it. The Mausoleum is the reason the bridge is there. They were both built by the Emperor Hadrian between 125-139 CE after being inspired by Augustus’s Mausoleum, which had been built about 100 years before. Hadrian decided to build his own, larger mausoleum across the river.
At the time, there was already a bridge just a few metres south, built by Nero some fifty years before, so there was already reasonably good access from the ancient city centre to the right bank of the Tiber River, so Pons Aelius was really only intended to be a ceremonial bridge, probably for funeral processions to the Mausoleum… but we know from the ancient author Prudentius that some time before 400CE the Neronian bridge had collapsed, which made Pons Aelius far more important than had ever been intended.
The bridge today has three large arches over the river, and one smaller one on each side linking the main part over the water to the land. However, originally it had eight arches ~ three smaller arches from the left bank to the main part of the bridge, then the three large arches, and then two smaller arches to the right bank, in front of the mausoleum.
Following the Sack of Rome in 410CE by tribes from the north, the Mausoleum was converted into a fortress in order to protect the bridge, since the bridge by then was such an important northern access point into the city of Rome. The Mausoleum/Fortress also provided a place of safety for the Popes, who resided on the Vatican Hill outside the ancient city. It was in their interest to maintain the Mausoleum as a Fortress and to maintain the bridge to allow Christians safe access to worship.
In the seventh century the Pope claimed that he saw the vision of an angel on the top of the Fortress signalling the end of the plague that was ravaging Rome, thus giving the name ‘Sant’Angelo’ to both the Fortress and the Bridge.
Just over one thousand years later in 1450, Ponte Sant’Angelo was the scene of a terrible disaster. A crowd of pilgrims was trying to cross the bridge to get to the old St Peters to be blessed and surged, breaking the balustrades. One hundred and seventy-two people died that day, suffocating or drowning in the river. Afterwards, the Pope ordered new balustrades for the bridge, and two little chapels and a piazza to be built at the end of the bridge, partly in remembrance of those who died and partly to allow pilgrims a place to wait to cross safely. Construction of the grand Basilica of St Peters commenced a short 56 years later, and the two little chapels were dismantled and the marble taken for construction materials.
In the 1500’s around the time St Peters was being built, the Pope converted the Fortress into a Castle, adding sumptuous apartments for himself ~ but at the same time maintaining its use as a fortress and garrison and prison. He decorated the bridge by adding statues of Saints Peter and Paul, as well as Noah, Moses, Abraham and Adam; of these, only the two Saints are still there.
Following the Sack of Rome in 1527 the Castle began to be used as a place of execution ~ and for many centuries afterwards, the bodies and heads of executed prisoners were exposed on pikes on the side of the bridge as a warning to others. It was said of the bridge that:
Ce so’ più teste mozze su le spallette che meloni al mercato’
‘There were more heads on the shoulders [of the bridge] than melons in the market.
Pope Clement IX added the ten angels, five per side in 1668. Each of the Angels holds an instrument of the Passion of Christ.
The smaller side arches were completely destroyed and replaced when the high river banks were built in the late 1800’s, each replaced with one arch. So the first and last arch of the bridge that we see today are relatively new, and only the central three date from Roman times.
As a side note ~ the Castel Sant’Angelo did not stop being used as a prison and military barracks until 1901. Its amazing to think that this building, originally intended as a place of rest for Hadrian and his family, continued to be used in much the same way for 900 years.
The next time I walk across the Ponte Sant’Angelo I will look at the balustrades in a completely different way.
Over the years we’ve travelled fairly extensively in Italy, and each time we go, we tend to stay for four or five weeks at a time, staying in one or two places, so we can really try to get a feel for each place. We always stay in apartments, buy our food at the local markets, and just live. As a family we haven’t yet spent any time in Italy during the summer months, mostly because its the middle of winter in Australia, so we’re limited to the mid-year school holidays, which are not terribly long. But besides that, its a lot of money to spend on a peak-season airfare if you’ve only got 12 days to spend there.
For us, the shoulder season (April or September) or in winter represents much better value. There aren’t so many tourists, its just a bit easier to get around, and its cheaper to travel and to stay. The other thing is that as Aussies – we have long hot summers. We have great beaches and lots of time to spend at them. We don’t go to Europe for the beaches and hot weather – we go for the art, culture and history. All the things that we don’t have at home.
So last winter, we spent most of December in Rome, and then a couple of weeks in Orvieto, in Umbria. It was our first time in Umbria, and we had a bit of time to spare, so we decided to go on little reconnaissance and look at some properties while we were there.
As a Sydneysider, I’m used to hugely expensive property prices. In Sydney you’d be hard-pressed to find a 2 bedroom apartment anywhere close to the city for $500,000. There wouldn’t be much to choose from at that price, and you’d be competeing with every other first home buyer and investor for those few places. And those precious few apartments that are in that price range tend to be in areas with irregular public transport and probably wouldn’t have the convenience of being within walking distance of any shops or amenities.
On the fringe of the city or in rural areas, half a million dollars goes much further. The problem, for me, is that once you drive out of Sydney you say goodbye to decent coffee, restaurants, any kind of cultural life, social life, bookshops, or delicatessens. You become totally dependant on a car to get around, and the distances can be huge. If you love nature and isolation, its perfect. But that life is not for me.
In Umbria, a buyer with budget of half a million dollars (or around €320,000) to spend can choose the position they’d like to be in. An apartment in town? On the edge of a town maybe with a view, or with land around you? The choice is yours. We didn’t really know what we wanted when we started looking, and we still aren’t totally sure.
So, one day while we were in Orvieto, I contacted several estate agents, and it was Filippo from CasaItalia International who we decided to go with. We were clear from the start that we were not in a position to buy, but that we just wanted to see what was out there. After discussing our price range and hypothetical requirements with him, he chose a few properties from his books to take us to. They ranged in price from €230,000 to €500,000, with the most expensive apartment in need of the most work, and the cheapest needing only minimal work. It was a really interesting exercise, and we were very grateful for his time and expertise.
First, Filippo took us to see two apartments in Spello. He drove from his office in Spoleto to pick us up in Orvieto. Being in the middle of winter it was a very chilly misty day. We had looked on the map at the distances and they didn’t seem that far… but what we had completely failed to understand is that the Umbrian mountains are quite a barrier to east-west travel, which meant we had an hours drive or so to get back towards Spello, where the first two apartments were located.
We had never been to Spello before, but we’ve had friends go there in the summer and love it. That cold morning that we went, it all seemed eerily quiet, but incredibly clean and beautiful.
We looked at two homes in Spello. Both were family homes ~ both were far more spacious than any apartment I’ve ever seen in Sydney, with big windows, high ceilings and lots of storage space. They were both in good condition. We found in general that the central stairwell in both apartment buildings were very clean and spacious, and both had space to store a bicycle or two in the ground floor area. We asked who maintains these common areas, and were told that generally everyone looks after the common areas together. Its a communal effort. Wow!
Then we drove on to Spoleto. It’s a town built on a hillside, and has 11 escalators that take people to the upper heights of the town, while the train station is down the bottom of the hill.
We had two apartments to look at there, both needed work, but were very different propositions from the homes we’d seen in Spello. Both apartments in Spoleto had lots more original features, quirky arches and spaces, but they both required quite a lot of work to get them up to date.
What was really interesting was that we felt far more at home in Spoleto ~ there was much more happening there, more cafés, more restaurants open, more people about.
The last town apartment we looked at was in a recently restored mansion building, with what seemed like only one other home in the building, owned by an elderly lady, and it faced towards the Town Hall. It had been a ‘noble apartment’, meaning it had been originally built and owned by a Duke of Spoleto several centuries ago. It had been in their family for generations, so all the rooms were of very generous, grand proportions, with huge stone fireplaces, beautiful wooden panelled ceilings, internal and external shutters…. and it was filled with decrepit and filthy but gorgeous antique furniture (which if cleaned up and sold in Australia would probably fetch a small fortune) but it had stood empty for many years and was layered with years of dust and debris. It was difficult to see much as the electricity had been switched off and because it was such a grey day, but even in the dim light we could see the proportions, the beautiful original features.
It also had a huge cellar or workshop area, which once cleaned up would provide a great workshop or studio or music or games area.
But the whole place needed rewiring, new central heating, new windows, and lots of restoration work. Filippo told us that its very easy to get builders and tradesmen in Umbria and that they really needed the work, (just a crazy thought for us because in Sydney its just the opposite! Tradesmen are very expensive, can charge what they like if they turn up at all) so that was not going to be a problem at all.
This apartment hit all the right buttons for me, because it contains everything that is impossible to find in Australia. We liked that it had space for a studio or workshop, we loved the fine original features and the high ceilings. We liked that we could walk to get a coffee, or a meal, or a light bulb.
It really helped clarify for us what we want ~ even if that particular property itself required too much work for us to take on ~ that we want something with some original features, and within walking distance of all the things that makes Italy so wonderful for us.
That evening we parted company with our agent and walked back to Spoleto station to take the train back to Orvieto. We had much to talk about and were looking forwards to getting home ~ but once again, we didn’t factor in those lovely Umbrian mountains… we thought the train wouldn’t take too long… boy were we wrong! What we didn’t realise was that its impossible to take a train across the mountains, so we would have to take one train all the way to the south of the mountain range, get off, and then take another train on a different line north again to Orvieto. I think it took us almost 2 hours to get home that evening ~ and it really made us think about the logistics of getting around in Umbria. Such a beautiful place with those rugged mountains, but so difficult to get around. We clearly had to think about this a little more. Hmmm….