Day 130 – 26.09.2016
Nice (France) to Monaco to Pisa (Italy)

After driving for about 340 kms from Monaco, we reached the apartment hotel at Pisa, a city in Tuscany, Central Italy, straddling the River Arno just before it empties into the Tyrrhenian Sea.

We had to call up the housekeeper, who came within 10 minutes, and then showed us our room. It was a lovely apartment with a pantry. She gave us a map and directed us to the bus stop which took us to the Tower of Pisa. We attended mass at the Cathedral which was preached by the Bishop in celebration of some Anniversary.

While the bell tower of the Cathedral, known as “the leaning Tower of Pisa”, is the most famous image of the city, the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles), also houses the Duomo (the Cathedral), the Baptistry and the Campo Santo (the monumental cemetery).

We spent about 2 hours around the square and then had a lovely dinner at a local restaurant with a glass of red wine.

We met Beata Bujnowska from Poland who was serving us at Ristora Pecorino. After dinner we went back to the bus stop and took a bus back to the apartment.

Days 131 & 132 – 27.09.2016 & 28.09.2016
Vatican City & Rome

We left from Pisa around 10.00 am in the morning after breakfast. After reaching Rome, we drove straight to the BMW service centre and gave our car for servicing to BMW Roma Srl, Via Salaria, Rome. Wonderful people, we must admit. Without any hesitation they took the car in for servicing and requested us to wait for two hours. But we said we would come back on the 29th morning to take the car and they readily agreed to keep it ready by then.

We then took a cab and drove to our place of stay for two days in Vatican city. We had booked Airbnb with an old Italian couple. Once we settled down, we left for St. Peter’s Basilica a few hundred metres away from where we were staying.

We had been to this Holy place some years ago, but felt so good to be here once again. Vatican the smallest country in the world with the famous St. Peter’s Basilica, is a pilgrimage destination for people visiting Italy. St Peter’s Basilica the largest and most magnificent church in the world is amazingly beautiful and remarkable. The inside decor is stunningly beautiful with classical architecture, to welcome the Lord’s people.

Almost everything is made of marble with very high ceilings and decorated in three-dimensional mosaic with various motifs, with statues and altars in every corner. On the altar there are 4 pillars. Outside the church is a big open space the St Peter’s Square with a length of 340 meters and width of 240 meters, which can accommodate about 250,000 people, while the Church itself can accommodate about 60,000 people, with blue sky background and the landscape of St. Peter’s basilica made it shine warmly.

The Church is designed principally by the famous Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Catholic tradition holds that the Basilica is the burial site of St. Peter, the Apostle and also the first Pope and that St. Peter’s tomb is directly below the high altar of the Basilica. We understand that there was a church on this site since the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. Construction of the present basilica, replacing the Old St. Peter’s Basilica of the 4th century AD, had started on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626.

We were lucky and felt blessed to be able to attend the audience of His Holiness Pope Francis and obtain his blessing, while getting to see him in person. Heard mass on both the days presided by various Bishops.

Michelangelo’s Pietà, in the Basilica, one of the Vatican’s best known artworks at the left hand of the Church as you enter. We then visited the Sistine Chapel situated in the Apostolic Palace, being the official residence of the Pope, originally known as the Cappella Magna. Today it is the site of the Papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected. The fame of the Sistine Chapel lies mainly in the frescos that decorate the interior, and most particularly the Sistine Chapel ceiling and The Last Judgment by Michelangelo. Between 1508 and 1512, under the patronage of Pope Julius II, Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling, a masterpiece without precedent.

When you walk away from the St Peter’s square you come to a huge Castle – The Mausoleum of Hadrian, usually known as Castel Sant’Angelo in the form of a towering cylindrical building. It was initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The building was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum. The Castle was once the tallest building in Rome.

We then took a bus and went to The Roman Forum, a rectangular plaza surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of Rome. Citizens of the ancient city referred to this space, as the Forum Magnum, originally a marketplace. It was a sprawling ruin of architectural fragments and intermittent archaeological excavations.

We then walked a few hundred metres away towards the eastern side of the Roman Forum and we came across the Colosseum, an oval amphitheatre in the centre of the city of Rome, built of concrete and sand. It is the largest amphitheatre ever built. It had started construction under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72 and completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus. Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).

Although partially ruined because of damage caused by earthquakes and stone-robbers, the Colosseum is still an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome, where early Christians had been martyred. Each Good Friday the Pope leads a torchlit “Way of the Cross” procession that starts in the area around the Colosseum.

We again took a bus and got off near the steps of the Altare della Patria “Altar of the Fatherland”, also known as the “National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II”, a monument built in honour of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy, in Rome.

The Vittoriano features stairways, Corinthian columns, fountains, an equestrian sculpture of Victor Emmanuel and two statues of the goddess Victoria riding on quadrigas, 135 m wide and 70 m high. The monument holds the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with an eternal flame, built under the statue of goddess Roma after World War I.

We also walked up the 135 Spanish Steps climbing a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, dominated by the Trinità dei Monti church at the top.

We had a quick bite at a Caffe and then went to see the Trevi Fountain, standing 26.3 metres (86 ft) high and 49.15 metres (161.3 ft) wide, the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world.

The Capitoline Museums, a group of art and archeological museums, is located on top of the Capitoline Hill in Rome. The statue of a mounted rider in the centre of the piazza is of Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

We decided to call it a day after dinner went back to our apartment after hearing another mass in the Cathedral.

Tomorrow we leave for Padua, another city in Italy.

Day 133 – 29.09.2016
Rome to Padua

We left Rome around 9.00 am after a nice breakfast at the apartment. We had to drive for about 4 hours to cover 328 kms. We arrived at Padua and drove into the narrow lane of our apartment. The moment we got into the lane, we got stressed out as to where we would park our car. We then called the housekeeper who came with the keys and suggested us to park the car a few hundred metres away on payment of Euro 15. We agreed and took the car after removing our luggage. When we arrived there, the place was so narrow, somehow we parked the car.

We then took directions and went to the city centre, from where we were supposed to walk to the Church of St. Anthony of Padua. Padua a city in Veneto, northern Italy, that stands on the Bacchiglione River, 40 kilometres west of Venice. It also hosts the University of Padua, founded in 1222, where Galileo Galilei was a lecturer.

The city is picturesque, with a dense network of arcaded streets opening into large communal piazze, and many bridges crossing the various branches of the Bacchiglione, which once surrounded the ancient walls like a moat.

After a long walk along the tram route, we reached the Basilica di Sant’Antonio, which was built between 1232 and 1450 to the tomb of Saint Anthony of Padua. Saint Anthony was born in Lisbon in 1195 and died in 1231 in Arcella, a district of Padua. It is a Roman Catholic church and minor basilica in Padua.

As we were coming out of the Basilica, we found a priest blessing some people, so we too stood for the special blessing. After the blessing, the priest came out and started talking to us. He was from Kerala and serving in this Basilica since the last 4 years. He belonged to the St. Franciscan Order. It was very nice to speak to him.

We then left from there, walked through the bazaar. After picking up some food for dinner and the next days breakfast, we went back to the apartment. Prepared a quick meal, had some wine and went to bed.

Next day we were leaving for Piran in Slovenia, but after a small stop over at Venice.

Day 134 – 30.09.2016
Padua to Piran (Slovenia) via Venice

We were ready by around 9.00 and Louis said he will go and pick up the car from the parking. When he went down he realised he could not find the parking place, so he called the housekeeper who could take him there. The housekeeper took a good 15 minutes to come and then he went with Louis walking as there was no helmet for him and without helmet he could be penalised. So another about half an hour by the time he came back after damaging the side mirror while taking the car out of the congested parking space.

Anyway we left from that place around 10.00 am after loading our luggage for Venice, a city in northeastern Italy situated across a group of 117 small islands that are separated by canals and linked by bridges, located in the marshy Venetian Lagoon which stretches Parts of Venice. Venice is renowned for the beauty of its settings, architecture and artwork. Though Venice was not on our itinerary, cwe ould not resist the temptation hence we decided to visit Venice known to be the “Queen of the Adriatic,” “City of Water,” “City of Bridges,” “The Floating City,” and “City of Canals”. We had to drive about an additional 45 kms along the shoreline, between the mouths of the Po and the Piave Rivers to reach Venice. In about half an hour we arrived, but could not find any parking so I got off and went around the place, took some pictures while Louis was trying to find some parking.

In about 45 minutes we left as we had to reach Piran, the dream city and also one of the most photogenic cities in the Mediterranean, which has preserved its unsurpassed charm.