I really enjoyed this book. Real, honest, relatable female lead. Beautifully and descriptively written. Pictures painted with finesse, informative and fun to read.
This is the debut novel by my cousin and I am so excited for her to be a ‘published author’. Go get yourself a copy of this book and enjoy!
Vote on goodreads too if you want to. Categories – Debut Novel, Mystery & Thriller and Fiction. Scroll to the bottom of the voting pages and add Direct Action JD Svenson in the box and vote! Only 5 days to go!
Click on the green Direct Action to read the publisher’s blurb.
The Vatican Museums are Christian art museums located within the city boundaries of the Vatican City. They display works from the immense collection amassed by popes throughout the centuries including several of the most renowned Roman sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world. The museums contain roughly 70,000 works, of which 20,000 are on display, and currently employ 640 people who work in 40 different administrative, scholarly, and restoration departments. Wikipedia
We paid top dollar for the privilege of getting in to see the Sistine Chapel ceiling and doing that at 7:30am before the general public. It was worth it.
We were given instructions to meet on the stairs across the road between two places, a restaurant and a pub. We thought,”how will we find the guys in blue we are supposed to meet?” but we did, along with about 30-40 other people who had done the same thing as us. We booked on line through YourGuide.com
We were divided into groups and had chosen a one hour tour before we had free reign in the museums for the next 6 hours if we wanted it. We joined one of those groups we saw all over Florence following talking guides with poles with flags or scarves or teddybears on top.
We were given green headphones and a blue plastic receiver with a green lanyard attached which we hung around our necks. It was quite comical with the allocation of who went with which guide and then all of them trying to get going first. We were in the first group after a group of 2 people and their guide ahead of us in a private tour.
Our guide, who’s name escapes me, was thorough and knowledgeable with photos to show from a folding picture collection and an ipad. He had humour and was able to answer any question asked of him. He had a lovely sense of humour.
We went into the Museum building which was revamped and remodelled for the millennium in 2000. The stairs, that take us to the first level, were a long curving marble staircase. There are paintings and all the security you would expect. We collected our barcoded tickets and fed them into the turnstiles. Then we began the long walk to the Chapel. We passed a lot of artifacts and paintings from various centuries ago. There are no photos allowed in the chapel itself and you have to be very quiet and respectful. We arrived and they turned out the lower lights and then turned on the ones which shine towards the ceiling.
We had had a little incite into the politics of the day and how well regarded Michelangelo was at the time and how much contempt he had for the establishment at times. Very interesting and to see the ceiling was amazing and to think it has been there for 400 hundred years. It’s mind boggling that it has survived so well.
This is the amazing spiral staircase in the Vatican museum in Rome, Italy. This double helix staircase was designed by Guiseppe Momo in 1932. This looks like one big spiral staircase but, in fact, it is two spiral staircases … And magically enough, when two persons use the different sets of staircases at the same time, they can see each other going up or down, yet never meet. Google 27-10-2019
After about 9:45 we left the museums having been amazed and impressed by the huge collection, including some moon rocks given to one Pope by President Nixon. We were fed through our third gift/bookshop before we found ourselves wandering down the spiral staircase at the exit.
We spoke to a guy before we went to St Peter’s who told us where the bus stop was to catch the bus. He said it would be an hour before the bus returned so we had time to go to the St Peter’s.
Once at St Peter’s we watched the people queueing to get in and then we took a selfie – entitled, “Guess who’s in Rome”. We had a lovely time and then headed back for the Hop on Hop Off Bus. We chose the Green Line – our hotel, Hotel Rimini, said we would get a discount. Would have had the same discount wherever we went because everyone knocked €3 off the price on the brochure.
So we toddled off to the Basillica along a very well worn footpath around the outside of the vatican museums with towering walls above us to St Peter’s and then came back, and on the way back we were approached by a guy who gave us a route map of the HOHOBus and said there was an office to buy our tickets and he waved in a general direction. We thanked him and then bought a bottle of water from a food van and headed back to the first guy. As we approached the traffic lights to cross over to go to the bus stop another spruiker approached saying he was a volunteer and he would get us tickets on the HOHO Bus. I said we have an arrangement with another guy over there, pointing to the side where the bus stop was, but he kept coming and saying how much we would be paying and how he would give us a discount to €18 – which was the same price as the first guy. So once we crossed the road I said again that we had an arrangement with “him” pointing to our guy. Then they go into a battle about who was who’s client. We walked purposely to our bus stop and left them to it.
Anyway ,we got on and had a marvellous time, and took thousands of photos and I tried to get all arty, and took some in black and white.
I’m a people watcher and l love seeing people in their ‘natural habitat’ doing ‘normal’ things.
We went out to dinner at a restaurant just in the next block called Ristorante Donati
It was a lovely restaurant with good food fast and for a reasonable cost, but beware they charge for the bread sticks/basket so if you dont want it tell them. Ivana was our main contact there, she was really helpful and spoke English and we got by with some Italian.
After our first day in Cortona we were off to collect our car from the nearest car hire place which was about half an hour south south west in a lovely town called Chiusi. We caught the bus from outside the hotel in the piazza near Garibaldi’s statue and it dropped us at the stazione Camucia-Cortona. We caught the train to Chiusi-Chianciano Terme.
From there we caught the train – we had tickets from Firenze that we bought before we left there. Chiusi is a bigish station with 6 platforms and modern signage and even braille on the signs showing which platforms to go to. Oh, and lifts which when you have cases is a boon. But this time – no bags.
Once we were out of the station we crossed the road and – being a sucker for a market – we saw one – so our plan for a cuppa was postponed until we had wandered around the stalls of amazing things.
All very practical stuff, clothing and homewares, kitchen tools and fashion items. There were fruits and veg and plant stalls too in another section. It all took up a block or so of space outside other places which were closed. There was something for everyone and a large range of stalls – about 50 stalls in all. We found a couple of things for ourselves for gifts and a wonderful delicatessan with hanging hams, cheese and breads. Just wonderful stuff. After that diversion we went to find our coffee place.
We sat outside at Bar Italia and had a coffee for 💶1.70 and 💶1.30 for tea which is the cheapest so far for Tea and Coffee. Generally we are paying 2-3 💶 per cup in more touristy places essentially. Chiusi is a decent sized place but not spoilt yet.
This becomes a little obvious when we are walking around and older women take a long time to take us in. They watch, intently, as we go about our day. It has happened in other places too – at a restaurant Cafè Braceria Chianina Via Laurentana SP10/B, Camucia Arezzo, near to where we did our laundry the other day, in Cortona. We went to Easy Wash & Easy Market, Cortona to do our laundry and then had lunch two doors down in the same strip of businesses.
The restaurant had sides of beef hanging at the end of the room and the guests in the restaurant were enjoying large serves of meat in many styles, along with pasta and the freshest salads. Just a lovely restaurant and from the outside it appeared as if no-one was inside until we open the door. It was ‘heaving’ – well there was certainly a lively crowd inside.
We then found our way to Avis in Chiusi (pronounced like choosie but more like the oo sound in book). And after a discussion and a look at the car we were getting, we asked if there was an automatic – well this is our first time actually driving on the opposite side of the road in a manual car???It would have been majorly weird changing gears with your left hand as well as driving on the right. We wanted to improve our odds and make sure we did all we could to stay safe and cause no-one else any injuries.
The journey home(back to Cortona) was about 40 mins or so but as it was nearing lunchtime we drove about 20mins north east to the lake called Lake Trasimeno in the Province of Perugia. (Map to be added)
We found the restaurant we had chosen on google maps was closed so drove further around the lake and found a pizzeria with an extensive menu – so we shared our first Italian pizza of this trip. It was awesome. I loved it. We chose the Matador. It was a lovely place , very summery, like it was the type of place where people go in the summer with families and grab a pizza and cross the road and eat it, skim stones and play in the Italian sunshine. The pizzeria is called Peperosa – Restaurant and Lounge Bar on Via Lungolago 4, Castiglione Del Lago.
We drove Siena and the countryside was lovely. The highways, which are fast, are to very badly maintained. They are rough and not wide enough, where no-one seems to abide by the speed limits posted on the roadsides.
Once we arrived, we found our way to the old city and drove through an archway which may have indicated that it was a restricted zone for only motorbikes and taxis.
We parked there and just as we were getting out of the car it started to rain. Very disappointing, because we had not seen rain in the forecast, so did not have any rain attire with us. This meant we returned to the car and drove to another place to park which didn’t look so illegal. After the change, the weather did too, and we saw no more for the remainder of the day.
We walked further into the old town along winding roads and then had lunch.
We then started our journey into the old city a little further. The closer we went to the centre of things like the Piazza Duomo, the more the tourist shops thrived. The selfie-sticks and the crowds increased. The place we were heading for was the large arena where the Palio di Siena (horse race) is held in the piazza called Il Campo – twice a year and it was crawling with people.
They were everywhere, some sitting on the ground in the centre of the red brick arena, others standing taking photos and more eating at the many restaurants circling the piazza. The noise was remarkably loud with so many restaurants and the vendors selling everything from scarves, t-shirts, caps and trinkets. We took a video and the playback showed just how much noise was bouncing around the huge open space in the middle of this town. I had not been there for 40 years and it seemed smaller this time. “Ain’t it the way”?
The walkway into the arena was very incredibly steep, with polished stones which made it ‘feel’ scarier. It was about 20 metres long and going slowly down it was the only way to arrive safely. It was very funny walking down the road, which of course made it more dangerous.
Once our destination had been achieved it was time to wend our way back to the car. At the Duomo Piazza, I had purchased for 1 Euro a map of the city, so we were able to find our way back to the car. It was uphill and on cobblestones, so it took a while, but we did it. There was another steep decline too which was quite testing but fun. And the rain stayed away.
The drive back was fast until we approached the base of the town of Cortona where the roads are scarily skinny. Some vehicles seem to think they own the road and travel at frightening speeds around curves on the wrong side of the road. But caution prevails and so we survive. It certainly is rather stressful driving on the “wrong” side of the road in a car you are unfamiliar with albeit a Mercedes C180 and on roads that are too narrow for two cars to pass it seems – even though that is actually an illusion, you just have to be respectful and keep on your side.
We caught the train to Cortona from Florence after getting on the right train at the correct platform and had a lovely relaxing 80 mins to Cortona and walked out of the station towards the taxi rank, where a German woman was standing waiting for a taxi. The taxi arrived, the driver asked us if we needed a taxi etc etc so anyway the German couple said they were happy to share the ride so we went in their taxi to the top of the hill to Cortona. 💶15.
Once there, we checked into our lovely hotel called Hotel San Luca.
The view from the hotel on all sides is breathtaking. The staff are lovely and the location is fantastic. It is just around the corner from Via Nationale where lots of shops and restaurants and , a supermarket, a wine seller and buildings whose history is enthralling.
A twisting road descends the southern slope of the town to the Renaissance church of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Calcinaio, also called the Madonna del Calcinaio, a beautiful domed building on a cruciform plan by Francesco di Giorgio Martini of Siena. It was built to house a miraculous image of the Virgin, originally on the wall of a limestone quarry (calcinaio), belonging to the local Tanners’ Guild and now on the high altar. Built from 1485 to 1513, this is one of the most architecturally important Renaissance churches in Tuscany.
We found the town enchanting and quaint. A little too touristy but there are benefits that come with that. The number of restaurants and shops is great. The food was fantastic and we had a new place to go each of our 4 nights and so we did. Well we did go to one place twice because it just asked for it. It was #Taverna Il Gozzoviglio, Via Guelfi 9 52044 Cortona AR. The staff fabulous, the food fast delicious and the right proportion. We tended to eat just the entree or Primo size, in case we felt like sweets. The house wine was always wonderful. We ordered it by the quarter litre. The other great thing about Italy is the way dogs are just ‘part of the furniture’ and so dogs barking under a table near us made us feel very rustic and comfortable.
Our last meal in the town was Cassarecce Arrabiata and Tagliatelle alla Ragú Chianina. So yummy!(images to follow)
There is a Canadian University in Cortona. We didn’t see it because the streets in the town are mostly uphill and hard to walk on for long periods. We had to park down the road and there is a carpark below the hotel with escalators to the top. Very modern.
During our stay in Cortona we of course had to visit Bramasole the renovated home from the movie Under the Tuscan Sun and for a mere 💶40 (approx A$65) you can tour the property – ha! so we drove by and photographed a possible scene making balcony and drove on. All very disappointing really, but Frances Mayes the author at 79 still lives in Cortona. We didn’t see her.
Just around the corner from the property which was not offering itself to be looked at.
We today was ‘David’s day and what an interesting day it was. We had booked tickets to see David in the morning. Our booking was 8:30am and we were asked to collect our tickets at 8:15am.
The Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, or “Gallery of the Academy of Florence”, is an art museum in Florence, Italy. It is the home of Michelangelo’s sculpture David. It also has other sculptures by Michelangelo and a collection of Renaissance paintings.
There was a strike on so we were asked to come back at 9:50 to collect our tickets. So off we went for breakfast. Then after that we headed back to the Galleria dell’Accademia and collected our tickets, only to discover that all the people who had booked after us and at the same time and some from the next block of people, were all crowded into the street outsie the gallery. We had to then join the queue which was about 70metres long, down the street and around the corner. Looked bad but we actually moved in very quickly.
Next we spent some time with David and some of the other pieces in the gallery.
Our next a reacquaintance for me with the Duomo. And a few Kms on cobblestones and mingling with the crowds some more.
We walked through Piazza Signorina, and saw a carousel. The sun was shining and we walked past some amazing shops, Like Dolce &Gabbana, Zara, Apple. We had lunch in the piazza. One Minestone, and Spaghetti with bolgnaise sauce.
After lunch we finally found our way to the Ponte Vecchio. It was crawling with tourists and it was the end of a lot of walking on rough surfaces. Google maps was not very reliable that day either and we covered a lot more ground than we had hoped to.
It was not a long walkabout (3kms) in the scheme of things but it was a warm day and it was time to go home for a rest, so along came a taxi and we were pleased to take advantage.
The next stop is Cortona south east of Florence, where our next adventure will involve driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road!
Monday 7th October – My dad’s 90th Birthday-We are travelling to Ballybraid Co, Wicklow – 2 days in a cottage with no traffic, or cold and no wifi, – we didn’t know we had to pay until after we got there and then could not contact the owner so left it at that .
We had a great time driving from Doolin to Limerick, and Tipperary to our final stay in Ireland at Ballybraid.
The day was planned to be a 4-5 hour drive across the country from the west to the east. So goodbye to Storyteller’s Cottage.
We left the Burren , in County Clare and headed across the island to the ‘garden’ of Ireland, County Wicklow.
First we went to Limerick and then Tipperary.
So Limerick was a lovely stop on the drive, where we had morning tea and a wander.
Our journey was unhurried and full of new villages and fields and sights for me to photograph.
The lunch was terrific, vegetable soup and brown bread. The bread is heavy and wholesome and so tasty with a nuttiness I wasn’t expecting. It is the norm, with soup here, it appears.
At one stage we passed a dairy farm and the road was closed with a gate opposite us and a procession of black and white cows were meandering across the road from the milking shed to their night accommodation. It was lovely watching the young woman in charge move around her charges and a young boy employed to move cones and ropes off the road once they had passed. Just lovely to see.
We drove from Doolin to Glenmalure – to a lovely cottage called Ballybraid in the Wicklow mountains near to the Wicklow Mountains National Park. The trees and undergrowth are thick and constant in this area. We found the drive in once off the motorway to be long, winding and narrow. We stayed on the N76 as it zig-zagged across the country. The last hour was on narrow winding roads and we were very pleased to arrive at our accommodation.
We had an ‘air code’ to put into google maps to find the cottage. We arrive and started reversing out of a very narrow lane, and our hostess arrived just in the nick of time and lead the way up a very potholed steep driveway to our little cottage. It is a lovely spot on top of a hill looking down into the valley across dark glossy green fields dotted with white sheep with blue markings, who eat incessantly and move around all over the incline outside our door.
The cottage is two-story with a steep wooden staircase at the back of the house. There are three bedrooms upstairs with an en-suite in the master. It is centrally heated and it is so warm and cosy. Each of the windows has shutters inside to close over the 18 inch window sills. It’s very effective at shutting out the light, sound of the wind and cold.
The interior is clean and there is wood panelling on the ground floor ceiling, on open fire with exposed brick to the roof on the wall where where the fireplace is located.
There is a washer and drier so we caught up with our laundry. We have been self-catering for about 5 days now so have all the food we need to stay ensconced in this lovely place and get some rest.
The only flaw in this plan is that we will have to drive back along the long and windy road – maybe not as far because we are going in a different direction – towards Dublin for our 8:40 flight during the dead of night. We have found that Google’s estimates of how long routes will take to drive is not accurate and usually only half the time it will take. So, we plan to allow four hours for our journey so that we are well on time for our flight.
8th October 2019
The cottage is part of a working farm and this morning the sheep were taken to be drenched. The farmer arrived with two black and white border collies enthusiastically rounding up the flock. It took about two minutes for all the sheep to be in a group and moving forward towards the drenching area.
One of the sheep stayed sitting down in the grass and one of the dogs went back to get it. It stood and staggered forward as if its front legs were damaged. It then sat down. The farmer instructed the dog to leave the animal where it was, and he then went and looked more closely, again it struggled to its feet and then collapsed and the farmer left it there and went towards the job to be done.
Afterwards, the dogs came just inside the driveway gate with the farmer and milled while another man in a van appeared with a brown and white border collie on the edge of the driveway. The brown dog was herding his flock down the driveway with the man in the van close behind. The farmer signalled to his two, now filthy dogs, to stay with him while the sheep were processing down the race.
Soon they were gone, and the farmer’s mob were back grazing where they had been this morning.
Such a great show to observe from the kitchen window in our cosy cottage at Ballybraid, Glenmalure.
The hostess of the cottage has written a history book about the area called Glenmalure: The Wild Heart of the Mountains. A valley and its People by Carmel O’Toole, Glenmalure, County Wicklow, Ireland. It took her 5 years and it is magnificent.
It is a fascinating read and I am hoping to get a copy in due course.
Printed in Ireland by Colourworld Print Ltd, Kilkenny. Edited by Richard Beeler.
A decent drive today – 251 miles = 404kms and it took 9 hours and we only stopped for lunch and morning tea! Its not like Australia lol.
Ireland is wonderful – in spite of the weather. No-one seems to care and just gets on with their day. It’s a little uncomfortable at times, but hey, life’s like that. Everyone has a jacket or an umbrella so there is really nothing to complain about. We are very well equipped and have not suffered much so far. My high tech pants just let water sit on them until I stamp my feet for it to get off. They dry in a very short time. Very weird but clever.
We had a weather warning to consider yesterday – Hurricane Lorenzo was heading our way, at 3pm. We were heading into the storm for a while and then went south – as planned – and avoided most of it. The roads were wet and windy but we were not staying in its predicted path so it was all ok on the day.
This is the track of Hurricane Lorenzo and we drove across the top from Belfast to Sligo then south and we are staying where that black dot is, so only a little way south and the winds have been relentless.
I slept through it, I might add, but have been up since 5:30 am and they keep blowing ferociously. This house is solid and cosy so no dramas really but it certainly is windy!
Long drive – but so much to see.
We hit the road earlyish around 9am to avoid too much of the peak-hour traffic. At the beginning of the trip we were on the M1 and made good progress through lovely green fields and good quality roads.
We did see a lot of farm animals and found those roads you hear about that are narrow and tricky to pass on. Well add rain, wind, fading light, unfamiliarity and its quite a challenge. But we were up for it!!
Morning Tea in Enniskillen
There seem to be two parts to Enniskillen – one old, traditional and one more modern and commercial looking.
We found a Tesco store and fuel and bought what we needed and headed to Jenny’s Coffee House and Bakery. The best!
Onwards to Sligo and we found a lovely pub called The Harp Tavern.
Lunch in Sligo
Then we continued south,, towards County Clare, and along roads made for smaller vehicles than two of the modern sort. The roads are pretty good, albeit a few cracks, potholes and flooding. We made good time in spite of our newness to this type of driving.
Rally driving without the gravel.
The speed limit on the skinny roads was 80kms but in the rain and conditions generally neither of us got over about 60kms per hour. Safety first!!
But then you round a corner and happen upon sights that just don’t seem real.
Kilmacduagh sits at the edge of the Burren, dominating the rural landscape some 5km south-west of Gort, in Co. Galway. In the medieval period, it was the most important church of the Uí Fiachrach Aidhne, a powerful local dynasty who held lands that stretched from the Atlantic coast to the mountains of the Burren and Slieve Aughty. By the twelfth century, Kilmacduagh had an enclosed settlement with the main church at the centre, at least three subsidiary churches, a round tower, the grave of the founder, Cólmán mac Duach, and a well dedicated to him. The settlement was transformed when the main church was enlarged as a cathedral and a monastery for Augustinian canons was established in the thirteenth century. http://monastic.ie/history/kilmacduagh/
Don’t ever believe the Garmin SatNav – it lies. We ended up travelling for and hour and a half to cover 18 mins worth of distance. We knew this because we had done it correctly the day before. Later we instigated the google Maps app instead and found it to be superior. But really we didn’t care, we were looking around at the scenery anyway, and we had no time restrictions so we enjoyed the detours too.
We drove between our place and through to Ennistymon again but then went on to a different coffee place in the Main Street.
Had a great day driving around Clare County. Some of the roads are a little tricky to navigate but patience and concentration is required.
The weather was better today and we headed out towards the Cliffs of Moher and decided we had seen enough from the Doolin jetty so decided not to pay for the parking and walk in the blustering wind for half a mile to look at cliffs. So on we went, the sat nav must have taken offence at our lack of inclination to pay to see cliffs so sent us on a long and winding road to Ennistymon – where we were yesterday. But today there was no rain, so clearer pics and more fun.
After morning tea we headed north as we had planned to and arrived about 40mins later. We found Galway lovely. Lots of old traditional buildings and decorated streets. So glad we went to see it.
Some lovely buildings all over Ireland and the blue stone appears all over the place. It really looks solid and long lasting.
Weather today – foggy 15°C Drizzle – It is Ireland 🤪
We went to Doolin today which is the village 3 miles down the road. One the road through Doolin there are lovely shops and a pub called …. where there is live music every night of the week.
Further down the road is the ferry to the Aran Islands and a view from the carpark towards the cliffs at the start of the Cliffs of Moher.
After that we went into a couple of stores which sell Aran Jumpers from the Aran Islands and there were lots of choice but none for me. I would like one but haven’t found ‘the one’ yet.
Next we drove to Ennistymon (Ennistimon) – depending on the sign you are looking at. The rain was constant but my resolve is strong to get images for my blog and my memories.
During our time in Ennistymon we bought some bananas from a stall in the Main Street. It was a smallish stall but it had a large range of fruit and veggies. But the thing that intrigued me about the place was the HUGE range of countries that the food came from.