Roaming Through Rome

Rome, renowned as the Eternal City and capital of Italy, was fascinating in its bustling energy as a modern metropolis surrounding timeless vestiges of its tumultuous political, cultural and religious heritage. Our 1987 bus tour group revelled in the joys of seeing world famous landmarks – the Coliseum, Roman Forum, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican – and various other attractions.
The Coliseum ruins were almost disappointing – no gladiators or roaring lions to be seen – but just being there brought ancient history graphically to mind. It was thrilling to wander by the ancient Forum, located at the center of the ancient city of Rome and the location of important religious, political and social activities. Historians believe people first began publicly meeting in the open-air Forum around 500 B.C., when the Roman Republic was founded.
Ruins of many public buildings still stand in the Forum, while scores of cats may be seen throughout the area.

The beautiful Trevi Fountain was not to be missed, nor the practice of tossing coins into its waters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A tour of the Vatican allowed us to marvel at the splendour of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica.

 

Modern architecture was also to be admired in viewing the enormous white marble Victor Emmanuel II monument, honouring the first King of a united Italy.
Sports fans were in for a treat when we visited what is known as the Stadium of the Marbles, lined by 59 Carrara marble statues in classical style portraying athletes performing various sports activities. The hockey statues were our favourites.

Walking the streets of Rome left ladies in our group more than a little annoyed by the arrogant tendencies of local menfolk to strut determinedly along the sidewalk, forcing women to step aside as lesser beings.

 

Three of us ventured to a place we might well have missed – it was a bit scary! The Catacombs proved every bit as spooky as imagined, especially when we learned that its labyrinthine underground passageways – all burrowed through dust-like loose earth – went on for miles. Make a wrong turn and you could be wandering for hours, or even forever!

Traffic on Rome streets was so busy that parking spaces were hard to find – but some took inventive ways to fit in.

Climbing the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Pisa was another delightful destination on our 1987 introduction to Italy bus tour. Our visit was short, only a few hours, but we had a beautiful sunny day and were able to climb up into the famous Leaning Tower to catch the view, and just to say that we had been there.
Everyone posed for the usual pictures, some trying to suggest that the tower was leaning on them, but at a very safe distance.
We all climbed the tower and felt very brave, looking out through those huge pillars and, for some, hugging a tower as if for dear life.
Not long after, because of fears about the tower’s stability, a ban was placed on letting people into the tower, so we were lucky.
The tower was closed to the public three years later in 1990 when engineers began a major project to stabilize the structure. It took ten years and millions of Euros, but the project was completed successfully, allowing the tower to reopen in 2001.
Construction of the tower began in the year 1174 but was halted when only three storeys had been built because it was sinking into the ground. The building was completed 90 years later. A spiral staircase of 294 steps rises to the top at the eighth storey.

The Magnificent City of Florence

Florence, capital of Italy’s Tuscany region, is renowned as the cradle of the Renaissance. Our 1987 bus tour of Italy was immediately and totally enchanted by its natural beauty and the splendour of its magnificent heritage of artistic, architectural and cultural masterpieces.
An immediate attraction was the majestic Duomo, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fioro, one of the largest Cathedrals in the Christian world. Built in the 14th and 15th centuries, it is noted for its magnificent terracotta-tiled dome built by Brunelleschi. The facade of the Cathedral is relatively new, having been constructed in the late 19th century. Doors of the adjoining Baptistry are world famous, decorated with scenes ranging from Adam and Eve to Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

Flanking the Cathedral and Baptistry is the 14th century Giotto Bell tower.
The political centre of Florence, the Piazza della Signoria, seemed like an open air museum with its many statues. Those of Hercules and Perseus holding the head of Medusa were most impressive.

The Galleria dell’Accademia display of Michelangelo’s superb “David” sculpture was a popular attraction.

 

We spent two full days in Florence, being entirely on our own after a Saturday morning guided tour. For us the best part of being there was the pleasure of walking everywhere with no vehicles allowed in the city centre during the daytime.

The entire inner city is honoured as a World Heritage site.
The galleries like the fabulous Uffizi and the Pitti Palace, former home of the Medici family, were wonderful to see but mind boggling at the sheer number and variety of great paintings and sculptures. Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” and da Vinci’s “Annunciation” were among numerous masterpieces on display.

Outside the galleries, we were dazzled by the beauty of the Ponte Vecchio, the arched medieval bridge adorned with goldsmith, jewellery and souvenir shops. Happily, it emerged undamaged from world war devastation, the only bridge over the river Arno to do so.

Bus Tour to Italy

A kind invitation to join in a military-sponsored bus tour to Italy in 1987 proved a delightful adventure shared with closest family members. Brothers Mike and Ed Davis were serving with Canadian Forces in Lahr, Germany so they gladly booked passage for wives Peggy (Madeline’s sister) and Miriam, and asked us to go along.

It was a top notch itinerary – busing through Germany and Switzerland to a first stop in Florence, moving on to Pisa, then Rome, and further south to Pompeii. Breaking up the homeward run was a few days resting at Lake Garda in the northern Italy lake district.
We flew to Frankfurt, Germany and went from there by train to Lahr.

Borrowing a car for a few days we got to see parts of Germany and the Alsace-Lorraine area of France. A highlight was driving up a steep and scary hill to enjoy spectacular views from a nunnery perched on Mont Ste-Odile, and see Stations of the Cross etched into the rock face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An offbeat point of interest along the homeward journey was a memorial marking the infamous Maginot Line, a massive defence system erected by the French after the First World War but totally overridden by German tanks in the early days of World War Two.

Our two week bus tour took us through Switzerland, traversing the extremely long St Gotthard tunnel, and landing us in the beautiful and exciting city of Florence.

Memorial Day at Ypres

On November 11, 1987, we had the extremely emotional experience of attending a Memorial Day service at the iconic Menin Gate in the Flanders Fields town known as Ieper in Belgian and as Ypres in French. It was from this spot that the thousands of World War One soldiers set off to battle in what was known as the Ypres Salient.

Old Soldiers marched proudly while bands played and crowds surged to share in remembrance of all who had fallen.

Built in 1927 in the form of a Roman triumphal arch, it stone walls are engraved with the names of nearly 55,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers lost in the field of battle but with no known graves.

Canadian names were prominent but none were seen from Newfoundland although the Nfld Regiment – including Madeline’s father, Richard Roche, also fought there.

Buglers have played the Last Post on this site at 8 p.m. every day since the Memorial Gate was erected.

Poignant moments marked the showering of poppy petals into the Memorial.

 

A nearby site of special interest to Canadians is the St. Julien Memorial and park located in the village of Saint-Julien, Langemark.

It commemorates the Canadian First Division’s participation in the Second Battle of Ypres of World War 1 which included fighting in the face of the first poison gas attack along the Western Front. The tall imposing structure is surmounted by Frederick Chapman Clemesha’s sculpture, The Brooding Soldier.

Driving through that whole area and the valley of the Somme was a sad and sobering experience, seeing almost countless numbers of headstones in huge memorial parks, honouring those who had fought and died in what was supposed to be the war to end all wars.

(Note: This is a re-posting of an earlier blog because of some technical problems.)

Mailing is Failing

Canada Post boxes

As a medium of communications, the old fashioned snail mailing of letters can be worth trying, but here’s one example of how unproductive it can be.

Keen to promote awareness of the booklet “The Waddens: A Family History” which I self published early this year, I decided to try a mail out to every Wadden name I could find in Canada Post listings. It came to just over 100, for all of which I included postal codes. They were scattered across the country, with the largest single block in Cape Breton. One full month later, here is the score: four positive responses, all of which resulted in a booklet sale, for which I am most grateful; but as many as 19 have been returned to date by Canada Post. Some were indicated as moved or unknown, while many addresses were shown as incomplete. Returned letters trickled in, one as late as yesterday.

Lessons to be learned from this exercise :
1) my booklet is no best seller
2) Waddens aren’t great readers
2) Canada Post address listings are sadly out of date
3) Snail mailing of letters is a lot more obsolete than I ever imagined.

Memorial Day at Ypres

On November 11, 1997, we had the extremely emotional experience of attending a Memorial Day service at the iconic Menin Gate in the Flanders Fields town known as Ieper in Belgian and as Ypres in French. It was from this spot that thousands of World War One soldiers set off to battle in what was known as the Ypres Salient.

Old soldiers marched proudly while bands played and crowds surged to share in remembrance of all who had fallen.

Built in 1927 in the form of a Roman triumphal arch, its stone walls are engraved with the names of nearly 55,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers lost in the field of battle but with no known graves.

Canadian names were prominent but none were seen from Newfoundland although the Newfoundland Regiment – including Madeline’s father Richard Roche – also fought there. Buglers have played The Last Post on this site at 8 p.m. every day since the Memorial Gate was erected.

Poignant moments marked the showering of poppy petals into the Memorial.

 

 

 

 

A nearby site of special interest to Canadians is the St. Julien Memorial and park located in the village of Saint-Julien, Langemark. It commemorates the Canadian First Division’s participation in the Second Battle of Ypres of World War I which included fighting in the face of the first poison gas attacks along the Western Front. The tall imposing structure is surmounted by Frederick Chapman Clemesha’s sculpture, the Brooding Soldier.

Driving through that whole area, and the valley of the Somme, was a sad and sobering experience, seeing almost countless numbers of headstones in huge memorial parks honouring those who had fought and died in what was supposed to be the war to end all wars.

 

Lost Weekend – Without TV

blank TV Set

Memories of olden days when family grouped around the fire place, digesting supper and listening to evening news on the standup cabinet radio, came flooding back on Hallowe’en weekend. Just idle thoughts really, brought on by an unexpected and quite unprecedented event – we had no TV to watch.

 

Think of it! Five nights running with no television to while away those leisure hours, reclining snugly in lazy boy comfort before images of nightly news, serial drama (Chicago Fire, Midsomer Murder, Paradise Island, Murdoch Mystery), and humour (Still Standing, Doc Martin, Stephen Colbert).
Daytime TV is rarely viewed in our house, except maybe for golf, CNN and Canadian news channels. Computers get far more attention. But evening hours are TV times, so a blank screen is seldom seen.
Doing without it, while strange, has its compensations. More time for reading – books, that is, not just crosswords and sudokus.
Even dug out the old Scrabble Game and kept at it all one evening.
Cause of it all was apparently some fatal disorder in a Bell Fibe wireless receiver. Consultation with knowledgeable and courteous Bell staff tracked down the source and an order was placed for delivery of a replacement unit. Thankfully received Monday and skillfully installed by my 80 plus wonder woman spouse, it did the trick, and our wide screen TV is back in business.

 

Beautiful Bruges

Bruges Guildhalls

Once a port of international standing, Bruges was founded as early as the 7th century on the banks of the Zwin River, growing up around the Burg fortress built by the Counts of Flanders. Economic decline began with silting up of the river in the 15th century, but the city soon regained its former splendour as the seat of the Dukes of Burgundy. Its ancient architecture and superb collections of works of art are only part of its rich heritage.

 

Bruges canal

From the 14th century onward its mastery of wrought ironwork, tapestry weaving, embroidery and lace making has been world famous.
Unlike other European cities, Bruges was spared from destruction during two world wars.

 

 

The 20th century building of the Zeebruges canal re-opened access to the sea, further ensuring its continued prosperity. A network of canals winding through the city adds greatly to its many charms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Belfry and Market Hall and the market square in front of it have been the hub of city life since the 14th century.
The colourful corbie-stepped gable topped buildings were originally guildhalls, identified by their rooftop symbols.

 

Michelangelo’s wonderful Carrera marble sculpture, “Our Lady and the Child Jesus” is one of the artist’s few works to leave Italy. Reposing in the Church of our Lady, it was donated to the church by a Bruges merchant in 1506.

 

 

 

 

A memorable macaroni and cheese dish featuring four most delectable cheeses – first consumed on an earlier Bruges visit – drew us back for seconds to this fine eatery.

Belgium By Ways

Winding up our 1997 dream trip to Greece with a leisurely driving trip from Holland to Belgium couldn’t have been more enjoyable. We had seen much of the Netherlands some years earlier and just had to return to Bruges, our favourite European city.

After stopping inside the Dutch border at Amersfoort and Breda, we made a sight seeing visit to Ghent, a city noted for its medieval buildings and rich history. In the early middle ages it was the second largest and richest city in Europe. Notable buildings included the 12th century Belfry Tower, offering fabulous views of the city centre, and St. Bavo’s Cathedral.

 

 

 

Ghent is a city and a municipality in the Flemish Region of Belgium. It is the capital and largest city of the East Flanders province, and the third largest municipality in Belgium. Its architecture ranges from medieval to modern. It is regarded as one of Belgium’s most beautiful communities.

Most rewarding was our leisurely four days in Bruges, relishing fine weather which allowed ample time to explore its splendid medieval treasures.

We were told that, for all the destruction German armies inflicted upon cities in two world wars, it left Bruges virtually untainted because of its remarkably well preserved medieval heritage.

Mennin Gate

An especially poignant side trip brought us to Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Mennin Gate in Ieper (better known by its French name, Ypres), Belgium. Thousands of Canadian names are etched into the hallowed walls of this extraordinary Great War monument.

And, just because it was so near, we had to drive a few kilometres over the French border to stop by the signpost to Armentières. But no such luck. Nary a mademoiselle to be seen!

Flying from Amsterdam to Montreal we did it really in style as Business Class seats were at the last minute confirmed. First, we each got a personal toiletries bag. Next, a choice of orange juice or a glass of champagne. I took the champagne. A delicious seafood meal was accompanied by top quality red or white wine. And as a final KLM touch, a gift to take home: Bols gin in a blue delft model of a typical Dutch dwelling. Ahhh, luxury indeed!