The next morning I took the bus and train out East. I headed over one of San Francisco's many bridges and spotted Alcatraz on the way. I've mentioned my interest in survival stories earlier in this blog - and the escape from Alcatraz was one of the ones I'd read about. Unfortunately, despite a well planned and daring escape from the prison, I also think its unlikely that the escapees survived the voyage across the treacherous seas of the harbour. I said goodbye to the Pacific ocean and headed inland. I am impressed with Amtrak - I do recommend it as a way to travel! I went past orchards of cherry trees, plum trees, corn fields, cattle stations. Eventually I started heading into the forest, towards my next destination, Yosemite!
I'm back in the U.S. now so I am starting on some adventures along the west coast. My first stop is the lovely city of San Francisco, surrounded by harbours and close to the Pacific ocean. I met a lovely person on the plane who took me on a fantastic whirlwind tour of her town, a great walk along the coast, to the golden gate bridge and even to see the sea lions that took over one of the piers at the harbour! My accommodation was near the hangouts of the beat poets, so I took the opportunity to have a look at these cafes and bookstores, and to buy a copy of Jack Kerouac's On the Road from the legendary city lights bookstore. The next morning I headed East - on the bus and the train to my next destination!
Before I left Italy, I went climbing in Tuscany, on a limestone crag overlooking Islands in the Tyrrhenian sea. It was a hot day, but the surrounding forest sheltered the crag, and cool breezes blew through the trees. Apparently there is a five day walk in the hills there - complete with huts!
I caught the train out from Florence again - towards Rome. There is so much to see in Rome, with its layer after layer of history. Rome has been populated by human beings since Neolithic times, it was the seat of power for the Roman empire and from 300AD, the centre of the Catholic world. It has ancient ruins, Renaissance art and so many other amazing things.
I saw a lot in one particularly big day of sightseeing.
I started my day early, packed my lunch and headed off towards the Vatican. On the way I glimpsed Castel Sant Angelo across the Tiber river. I headed up towards the Vatican, which is technically an independent country! I climbed up the winding staircase to the top of St. Peters dome, there are amazing views from the top, all the way across Rome. Then I looked around St. Peters Basillica, the art is amazing. I went to the Vatican treasury - photos weren't permitted but it included displays of papal hats and treasures from throughout the ages. I've included a photo of a crepuscular ray of light - the building is designed to allow shafts of light to filter through the cathedral at certain times of the day. On the way out I saw some of the Vatican guards in their amazing brightly coloured costumes. It really is an incredible place to see!
After this I headed towards the Vatican museum. This is the site of the famous Sistine chapel. As I'd heard, there were big queues. To be honest, I didn't find it that bad, in the morning the queue is shaded by a large wall, and I had plenty of water, and a book to read as I waited in the queue. It was still hot however, and a lady in the queue actually collapsed in the heat and was taken away in an ambulance. After 2 and a half hours, the entrance to the museum was in sight! The museum itself was incredible, there were ancient art works, thousands of years old, from greek, roman and Eygyptian times. Sometimes I wonder if in a way, Renaissance artists almost started to worship these times, as they were discovered to be so sophisticated and had a massive influence on the innovations of the Renaissance. The museum also passed through the Boirge apartments, interesting to me, as I had just finished a book on the Boirge family.
Eventually the path through the giant museum reaches the famous Sistene chapel. It really is amazing. Painted meticulously by Michelangelo, it does kind of overwhelm the senses.
After seeing the Vatican museum I took a stroll around the Vatican gardens, had something to eat, and then I took a walk along the Tiber river towards the roman ruins. It was amazing to see such ancient constructions, two thousand years old and still standing. It was such a sophisticated civilization as well, it was amazing to see the remains of roman bathhouses where water was piped, the detailed remains of carved monuments to successful battles, the roman forum, where disputes were settled and decisions made, the temple constructed by Emperor Maximus as a tomb for his son, who died before he did - nearly 2000 years old, the temple still stands, and the lock on the bronze door still works. I also saw the huge Colosseum, the huge stadium that could hold up to 80,000 people. On my way back to the hostel the sun was getting lower across the Tiber river. I had been on my feet for 12 and a half hours and was glad to get back and put my feet up, but what a day it had been!
My friend and I decided to take the train from Florence to the walled city of Lucca for the day. Lucca is an ancient city. On fertile plains surrounded by forested hills, it was first recorded as a Ligurian settlement, then it was settled by the Etruscans, then it became a roman settlement. In the early middle ages Lucca became a prosperous trading town, but over the centuries various walls were created to keep out invaders. In 1605 the last phase of the large defensive walls around Lucca were completed. Unfortunately these fortifications did harm trade with the outside world a bit. Inside its walls, Lucca is like a medieval time capsule.
While we were there we saw the Duomo di San Martino, and we climbed up the steps to the top of the Torre Guinigi. It was a piping hot day in Lucca, and so the cool breezes at the top of the tower were just great. There are also some small trees planted on the top, which provides some shade to admire the views from.
Back in Florence, we took a trip to one of the most famous sights in Florence, the Duomo. The cathedral of Florence, this amazing building is an incredible sight, its hard to imagine how many artisans would have been needed to create this building. The giant stone cupola (red dome) was revolutionary at the time. Views from the top of the building are spectacular, and well worth the hundreds of stairs on the way up.