Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Free Self-Guided Driving Route of the Burgundy Region of France

The starting point of this self-guided drive is Beaune and continues to Aloxe-Corton, the Canal de Bourgogne, Vezelay and finally Autun before returning to Beaune. Straight driving this route will take about 4hrs.

Beaune is the center of the Burgundy wine region. The old town center, which is enclosed within ramparts, holds the Hotel- Dieu, Hospices de Beaune where its multi-coloured glazed roof tiles, iron works, and gabled dormers make this more a wealthy mans house then a place for the poor. On the third weekend of November there is Les Trois Glorieuses, an annual festival, culminating in a charity wine auction held at the Hotel-Dieu, which sells the wine of the wineries owned by the hospice. But there are many other sites and squares that fill the city which should not be missed.

Take the D18 north from Beaune towards Permand-Vergelesse. Just before the town turn right/ east on D115D to Aloxe-Corton.

Aloxe-Corton lies in the center of the grands cru of Burgundy. There is a signed drive through some of the best wineries in the Cote du Beaune. The Route Touristique des Grands Crus de Borgogne. Though there are numerous caves and cellars within Aloxe-Corton, which sell these delicious reds.

Return to the D18, the latter part of D18 follows the banks of the Canal de Bourgogne. Stop in the town of Vandenesse en Auxois. Here take a stroll, or cycle, alongside the canal where the countryside offers a lush backdrop. Walking north-west for about 3.5kms there are numerous locks that lead to the beginning of this section of the Canal de Bourgogne. Walking south-east you again have numerous locks but this time against the backdrop of the feudal castle of Chateauneuf.

Continue on the D18 and join up with the autoroute A6. This is a toll road. Head north towards Paris. Take exit 22 towards Avallon and merge onto A646. After the roundabout bear right/ west on D50 and D606. At the roundabout take D957 towards Vezely.

Vezely is a hilltop hamlet that is a medieval time capsule. Believed to be the finial resting place of Mary Magdalene it was once a great pilgrim site of the Christian world. It was here that was the rendezvous point in 1190 for the 3rd Crusade to expel the Sacrens from Jerusalem, drawing such notables as Richard the Lion Hearted and King Philippe of France. The 12th century Romanesque Basilique Sainte-Marie Madeleine is only just smaller then Notre Dame in Paris, and is a wonder of spires, carved figures over doorways and pillars engraved with biblical scenes. The town is closed to all automobile traffic and can only be visited on foot.

Take the D957 back to Avallon and turn right/ south on D606 and D906 in the direction to Saulieu. In Saulieu turn right onto D980 direction to Autun.

Autun was founded at the end of the 1st century BC by the Romans. It was a very important which is shown by the size of it amphitheatre, capacity for 20,000, which was one of the largest anywhere at that time. Before you reach the town, on the right/ west are the remains of the Temple of Janus. Not to be missed is the Cathedrale St Lazare, a Gothic/ Romanesque wonder of carvings and colour. The area around the Cathedrale hold many wonders such as the fountain in the Place du Terreau and the Musee Rolin, a private collection of religious artwork and Gallo-Roman artifacts.

Take the D973 all the way back to Beaune.

Straight driving this route will take about 4hrs

Click here to experience this drive in Burgundy yourself with a short term apartment or villa rental with European Home Rentals, specialists in renting weekly short-term vacation rentals apartments, houses, cottages and villas in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, England, Ireland, Scotland and Greece www.europeanhomerentals.com

The Burgundy Driving Route in its entirety on Google Maps

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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Luberon

The Luberon is a mountain range of rugged hills and mountains located in the southern region of France, specifically in the department know as Vaucluse . These hills and mountains of the Luberon, are famous for their stone-housed hilltop villages for which the area of Provence has been made famous by the British author Peter Mayle.

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The department of Vaucluse in southern France

The Vaucluse is a department in southern France, more commonly known as “Provence”. In 1790 France was divided into 96 departments for administrative purposes. The central government in Paris is represented by each department, as well as a local government which overseas the department.

Vaucluse is bordered by the Rhône River to the west and the River Durance in the south, Mountains and rugged hills occupy a significant proportion of the eastern half of the department. It is these hills and mountains range called the Luberon, which are famous for their stone-housed hilltop villages, one of the more special attractions of Provence.
Fruit and vegetables are cultivated in great quantities in the lower-lying parts of the department, one of the most fertile plains in southern France. The vineyards of Cote du Rhone and Gigondas lie in the north-east corner of the Vaucluse region and offer some of the top wineries of the world.

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Friday, 26 April 2013

Self-Guided Tour of the statues in the main square Piazza della Signoria of Florence, Tuscany, Italy

The Piazza della Signoria is a must see experience in Florence as it holds numerous famous and artistically significant statues. Even though many of the originals have been moved from their original settings in the Piazza della Signoria and replaced with copies the grandeur is still present. However the originals can be viewed in the various museums in Florence.

The most famous statue is located at the entrance, on the left, of the Palazzo Vecchio, is a copy of David. David is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture sculpted by Michelangelo from 1501 to 1504. Unlike previous depictions of David, which portray the hero after his victory over Goliath, Michelangelo chose to represent David before the fight contemplating the battle yet to come. It came to symbolize the defense of civil liberties embodied in the Florentine Republic, an independent city state which was threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states and by the hegemony of the Medici themselves. This interpretation was also encouraged by the original setting of the sculpture outside the Palazzo della Signoria, the seat of civic government in Florence. The completed sculpture was unveiled on 8 September 1504. The original is being kept at the Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts.

"Hercules and Cacus", by Bandinelli (1533), to the right of the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, depicts the demi-god, Hercules, who killed the fire-belching monster Cacus during his tenth labor, is the symbol of physical strength, which juxtaposed nicely with David as a symbol of spiritual strength, both symbols desired by the Medici. This marble group shows the basic theme of the victor (the Medici) and the vanquished (the republicans). The pause suggests the leniency of the Medici to those who would concede to their rule, and served as a warning to those who would not, as this pause can be indefinite or simply temporary.

Taking a step back from the Palazzo Vecchio, at the far northern end of the Piazza della Signoria, stands the Equestrian Duke Cosimo I by Giambologna (1594-1598). Designed to resemble the equestrian statue of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, which stands in the Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome, it draws parallels between the power and might of Rome to that of Medician Florence. The three bronze relief’s on the base commemorate the key events of Cosimo’s life in Florence: the Florentine government granting him title of duke in 1537; his entering the conquered city of Siena in triumph in 1555; the bestowing of the title Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1569 by Pope Pius V

The Fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati (1575). This work by Bartolomeo Ammannati (1563–1565) and some assistants, such as Giambologna, was commissioned on the occasion of the wedding of Francesco I de' Medici with grand duchess Johanna of Austria in 1565.
The Neptune figure, whose face resembles that of Cosimo I de' Medici, was meant to be an allusion to the dominion of the Florentines over the sea. The figure stands on a high pedestal in the middle of an octagonal fountain. The pedestal in the middle is decorated with the mythical chained figures of Scylla and Charybdis. The statue of Neptune is a copy made in the nineteenth century, while the original is in the National Museum.

"The Lion", referred to as "il Marzocco" with a copy of the "Florentine Lily". The il Marzocco is the heraldic lion, sculpted by Donatello in 1418–20, and is the symbol of Florence. The lion is seated and with one paw supports the coat-of-arms of Florence; the fleur de lys called il giglio, the lily. Donatello’s original, sculpted in the fine-grained gray sandstone of Tuscany called pietra serena, has been conserved in the Bargello since 1855. The version still exposed to weather, to the right of the fountain, in the Piazza della Signoria is a copy.

"Judith and Holofernes", by Donatello is a bronze sculpture created at the end of his career (1460). A copy stands in the sculpture's original positions between David and “the Lion”, in the Piazza della Signoria, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. It depicts the assassination of the Assyrian general Holofernes by Judith. Judith is considered the symbol of liberty, virtue and victory of the weak over the strong in a just cause. She stands powerfully with a raised sword, holding the head of Holofernes by his hair. The statue was originally gilded. To facilitate the gilding the bronze was cast in 11 parts and is remarkable for being one of the first Renaissance sculptures to be conceived in the round, with its four distinct faces.
It stood in its place together with David, both depicting tyrant slayers. These two statues are among the earliest freestanding Italian Renaissance statues. The original can be seen in the Hall of Lilies (Sala dei Gigli), in the Palazzo Vecchio

Loggia della Signoria, or the Loggia dei Lanzi as it was where lanced Swiss guards were stationed, is a three arched open space that is filled with some minor and two major sculpted works. The most important works are those that face into the Piazza della Signoria.

In the left arch is the bronze "Perseus with the Head of Medusa", by Cellini (1554) and is Cellini’s attempt to surpass Michelangelo's David and Donatello's Judith and Holofernes. The statue was cast as a single piece and as such caused Cellini much trouble and anxiety because of the size involved. It was said while it was being cast Cellini through every bit of available metal from his house into it, including all the forks, spoons and pewter mugs. The result was the fully complete cast piece, except for three toes, which were added later. As a result it was hailed as a masterpiece as soon as it was completed. Cosimo I, who chose to represent himself and his rule with the figure of Perseus the classic Greek hero who defeated chaos and restored peace, commissioned the statue.

"The Rape of the Sabine Women", in the right arch, by Giambologna, is an episode in the legendary history of Rome in which the first generation of Roman men acquired wives for themselves from the neighboring Sabine families. (In this context, rape means "kidnapping" [raptio] rather than its prevalent modern meaning of sexual violation.)
The sculpture by Giambologna (1579–1583) depicts three figures (a man lifting a woman into the air while a second man crouches) and was carved from a single block of marble. This sculpture is considered Giambolona's masterpiece. Originally intended as nothing more than a demonstration of the artist's ability to create a complex sculptural group, its subject matter, the legendary rape of the Sabines, had to be invented after Francesco I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, decreed that it be put on public display in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Piazza della Signoria, Florence.

Each of these statues is considered a masterpiece of Italian Renaissance art and seeing all of them within one hundred feet of each other is truly a must see experience.

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Here are the locations of each statue from Google Maps

View Self-Guided Tour of the Statues of the Piazza della Signoria, Florence Italy in a larger map

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Not to be missed sights of the Vatican in Rome


Since 1929 the Vatican City has been is own sovereign state with the pope at its head. The Vatican City is the world's smallest nation at108.7 acres, and has a population of about 820. Vatican City is separated from Rome itself by ninth-century walls, and has it own post office, bank, currency, judicial system, radio station, shops, a daily newspaper and an army of Swiss Guards.
1. Vatican Museums - the museums are housed in palaces originally built for Renaissance Popes. There are 13 museums and 14 private apartments and spaces of Renaissance Popes including the Sistine Chapel.
2. The Vatican Gardens - open for guided tours, make up a third of the Vatican’s territory.
3. Raphael Rooms – In 1508 Pope Julius II hired the relatively unknown Raphael to fresco his Belvedere palace private apartment. Raphael’s frescos representing Truth, Good and Beauty made him an instant rival to Michelangelo, then painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
4. The Sistine Chapel – was built as a private chapel for the popes in 1473. In 1508, Michelangelo started work on the ceiling of the chapel. The work is made up of 9 main panels, which chart the Creation of the World and the Fall of Man. Though the ceiling is the most famous, the walls are not to be overlooked. They were frescoed by some of the most famous artist of the 15th the 16th centuries with the culmination of the great alter wall in 1541 by Michelangelo.
5. Dome of St Peter - Through the use of large proportions the eye is “fooled” into thinking the interior is smaller then it is. Michelangelo’s dome is 448 ft high and the mosaics of the four Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, who are holding up the “pillars of the church”, are huge with their quills alone over 5.7 m (19 ft) high.
6. Michelangelo’s Pieta – the Pieta was created in 1499 when Michelangelo was only 25. The Virgin Mary embraces her son’s lifeless body carved from immaculate white marble and is the only sculpture to bare his signature. It has been protected by shatterproof glass since 1972 when it was attacked by a man wielding a hammer.
7. Necropolis/ St Peters Tomb – Enter through the Excavations Office on the south side of the basilica. In the necropolis there are Roman graves as well as the likely burial spot of St Peter, a climate-controlled space where visitors as allowed about 30 seconds each. Reserve well ahead at scavi@fsp.va. In the grottoes below the main alter is the final resting places of 18 popes including Pope John Paul II
8. the Holy Door – Every quarter century the Pope ritually open the Holy Door to signal a papal Jubilee Year and closes it at years end.
9. Piazza San Pietro – laid out by Bernini between 1656 and 1667 the two sweeping semicircles of four-tiered colonnade show the beginnings of the overwhelming scale on which St Peter’s was built.
10. The Obelisk - taken from Egypt the obelisk was erected in Rome in A.D. 37
11. Via della Conciliazion- the main road into the Vatican City is lined with shops selling “kitsch” holographic images of the Popes, and Saints, religious statuettes with rolling eyes and oversized crosses.
12. Castel Sant’Angelo - The castle began in 139AD as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrain. In medieval times it became a citadel and prison. During times of unrest it provided a place of safety for the Popes. A secret corridor links it with the Vatican Palace providing for an escape route and the castle was equipped with comfortable apartments.

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A Self-Guided Walk of the Famous Gelaterias of Florence

Some people go to Florence and Tuscany for the art and history, some for the food and wine and others for the shopping. Whatever your reason for visiting, the one thing that you should not miss is the Gelato.
The exact origins of gelato are a bit of a mystery as some credit the ancient Egyptians, Chinese emperors, Alexander the Great or the Romans for being the inventors, but what everyone generally agrees is that the modern gelato, as we know it, began in the 16th century in Sicily when a cook of a noble family added milk to a mixture of ice and flavouring. It was an instant hit and gelato became a culinary rage. Supposedly Catherine de Medici of Florence had the finest collection of recipes in all of Italy and as a result, even today, people look to her city for revolutionary gelato.
How does gelato differ from ice cream? Primarily it is much lower in fat. Cream is never used. Low-fat milk is preferred as it is much less dense in texture. Less air is pumped into the final mixture and it is cooled at a lower temperature so it is less frozen to allow more robust flavours to emerge.
When you enter the gelateria the first thing you do is pay for your order. One, two, three or four scoops are served in a take-away bowl with a spoon; you are also able to get cones, but you are better off with the bowl in order to get as many different flavours as possible. You then hand your receipt to the server behind the counter and let the selections begin!

This self-guided walk will bring you to some of the top gelaterias in Florence and therefore, some would argue, the world. Perche No? (Via dei Tavolini, 19) Bar Vivoli Gelateria (Via Isola delle Stinch, 7) and Carabe Gelateria (via Ricasoli, 60)

Begin at Perche No?, literally translated as “why not?”. This gelateria has been around since the 1940s and has a large selection of different gelatos. It is located in the heart of the walking district of central Florence at Via dei Tavolini, 19-red 50122 Florence. From here, after you have made your selections, we will walk to Bar Vivoli Gelateria.
1. Head east on Via dei Tavolini toward Via de' Cerchi
2. Turn right at Via de' Cerchi
3. Turn left at Via della Condotta
4. Turn left at Piazza di San Firenze
5. Slight right at Via della Vigna Vecchia to Via dell'Isola delle Stinche
The walk from Perche No? to Bar Vivoli Gelateria is about 5 minutes

Bar Vivoli Gelateria is located in the San Croce district at Via dell'Isola delle Stinche, 7, 50122 Firenze, an area of narrow streets, small piazzas and shops, which serve the local community rather then tourists on the whole. Vivoli on the other hand attracts large crowds and its walls are covered with press clippings and photos of the people who have enjoyed its world famous gelato. Again after our selection of gelato we will walk to our last stop Carabe Gelateria
1. Head northeast on Via dell'Isola delle Stinche toward Via Ghibellina
2. Continue onto Via Matteo Palmieri
3. Continue onto Piazza di San Pier Maggiore
4. Continue onto Volta di San Piero
5. Turn left at Via Sant'Egidio
6. Continue onto Piazza di Santa Maria Nuova
7. Continue onto Via Maurizio Bufalini
8. Continue onto Via dei Pucci
9. Turn right at Via Ricasoli
The walk from Bar Vivoli Gelateria to Carabe Gelateria is about 11 minutes

Carabe Gelateria is owned by a Sicilian family who prides their gelatos as been made with authentic techniques and ingredients. Carabe Gelateria is located at Via Ricasoli, 60, 50122 Florence, just south of the Galleria dell’Accademia, which houses David.
This is by all means not the end for your self-guided tour of the gelaterias of Florence. These three gelaterias are just the starting point. Who knows, your favorite gelato could be from the espresso bar just around the corner from any of these gelaterias.

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Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Paris' Vineyard

On the Northern slope of Montmarte, in the 18th arr, is one of Paris’s most secretive gardens; Paris’ only remaining vineyard.

Vineyards came into Paris over 2000 years ago with the Romans. Regarded as a profitable crop there came to be many vineyards throughout the city of Paris, though by the 18th century the quality was very poor as quantity was being favoured over quality.
By the beginning of the 20th century the pressures of urbanization gradually forced the vineyards out of existence, until in the early 1920's, when there was a public outcry began against the urbanization of Montmartre. Led by the artist François Poulbot in an effort to save the garden of singer and comedian Aristide Bruant (best known as the man in the black hat and red scarf in the famous Toulouse-Lautrec poster) from a real estate development plan, the Clos Montmartre was established as public land, and planted with vines in 1933 to honor the history of Montmartre’s vineyards. Today public access is not allowed except for special occasions, such as the "Festival of Gardens", when the grapes are harvested, held each October by the mayor of Paris. The sale of the wine of the Clos Montmartre goes to charity.

The winery is on a small plot of land located between Rue Saint Vincent and Rue Cortot and runs along the Rue des Saules. The best view is from the corner of Rue Saint Vincent and Rue des Saules where you are able to look back up into the terraced field of the vines.

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While you are on the Rue des Saules, across from the vineyard, there is an old guinguette, a garden restaurant dating from 1860’s: the Lapin Agile. The restaurant is one of the few remaining meeting places of the Bohemian art world of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Artists who were living in the Montmartre and were relatively unknown at the time, poets such as Verlaine, Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire and painters such as Renoir and Picasso, gathered in this restaurant
The establishment took the name Lapin Agile, or "The Nimble Rabbit", in 1886 when Andre Gill painted a picture of a cheerful-looking rabbit, with a glass of wine in its hand and one foot in a cooking pot it has just escaped.

To discover the Clos Montmartre vineyard and the Lapin Agile, take the #12 Métro to Lamarck-Caulaincourt and follow the signs for the Musée Montmartre, approx 250 m uphill.

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