Friday, 14 July 2017

Sing Sing Sing

The past few days have been a flurry of competitions, rehearsals and evening concerts. The highlights have been listening to the European singing styles (so dramatic!), spending some time with Lara and meeting up with our previous au pair Maria! The poor girls and teachers are obviously tired with evening concerts often not starting until 9pm (assuming they start on time) meaning late finishes and early starts with little down time. The girls just scraped into the finals in 9th position out of 12. Yay! Well done for making it as there were no separation between all the various categories which made me wonder why have them at all in the first place?

The chaos that is an Italian organised rehearsal for the gala concert

The beautiful costumes from all around the world. The Taiwanese! I suppose they have an indigenous population?

The Hungarians

The Bulgarians who sang very strong and dark pieces

The finals and gala concert were held at the historic Teatro Verdi. I am glad to be able to report that the Filipinos won! The final concert of Opera arias and choruses performed by the contestants together would have been a lot more enjoyable if the theatre had been cooled by more than 2 lonely fans above the orchestra!!

Tomorrow we start our journey home and as I will be going straight to work...I will write some final thoughts now before this blog in most likelihood will be abandoned again for months before our next trip comes around. There were many blessings and opportunities to be grateful for this trip. First, simply the chance the girls have been given to perform at so many amazing venues. I do hope that they cherish these moments and realise the privilege. And as much as she drove me crazy at times, it was nice to spend some time with my mother and travel together while she is in relative good health. Despite her complaints, her joints held up well! The opportunity to enjoy Italy without crazy sightseeing cannot be undervalued. Wandering small streets at leisure, stopping for coffee and gelato and simply taking a nap when it got too hot was oh so nice! We were also blessed with good weather. Yes I know I complained about the heat but I only had to use my umbrella once the whole trip and that's not too bad at all! And with that, I end this chapter. Thank you Italy! Until next time!


Picked up a second street urchin who was very happy to go shopping and eat gelato together

At the Disney Store

Getting ready for the gala concert at Teatro Verdi

Tuesday, 11 July 2017


Other than being absolutely drenched in sweat due to the heat, the transfer from Rome to Florence went smoothly today. Our base for our Florence stay was conveniently located and Lara's competition and performance venues as part of the Leonardo Da Vinci Choral Festival were all within an easy 10-15 walk.

The opening concert in typical Italian style was rather chaotic. The venue although gorgeous (14th century ex-convent) was too small even to fit all the performers let alone spectators. The performers were apparently called up to perform out of order which caused a lot of delay from shuffling of people in very packed spaces. The music though was wonderful made to sound even better I was sure with the great acoustics. Some choirs were just phenomenal. Some of the European choirs made me feel like I was watching Eurovision. It was simply awesome.

Spoiled by Oma

Let's take a picture in front of the Duomo

Another impressive church Basilica Santo Spirito

Lara was allowed to spend some time with us in between concerts and she made use of the opportunity to score herself treats, new clothes and money! We ended the day with an evening concert at Basilica di Santo Spirito. The string group played superbly, better than the other Australian contingent if I may say so myself...

Monday, 10 July 2017

Rest in Rome

I'm afraid today's post will be rather boring. My PMLE (polymorphic light eruption or fancy term for sun rash) has progressively worsened with the continued sun exposure which unfortunately had me looking like I had permanent severe goosebumps all over. My mother also didn't want to walk too much any more. With that, we had to cancel my plan to do a foodie walking tour of Trastevere which was rather disappointing. Oh well I suppose it gives me a reason to return to Rome. It probably was also  a good opportunity to catch up on some rest as it will be straight back to work on landing in Sydney. So let's enjoy the good life now!

Trevi Fountain not in action

We did a short stroll to shop in the nearby streets and walked past the Trevi fountain which was being cleaned/renovated. No coin toss for us. I don't remember if I coin tossed last trip...but I'm here now! With great shame, I have to admit that we lunched at McDonald's. We were back in the hotel shortly post lunch to avoid the sun and heat. A nap, a book at the hotel lounge followed by a quick dinner ain't too bad in my books.

Sunday, 9 July 2017


Oma went on strike. She vetoed my plans and refused to take public transport to our intended day trip to Tivoli. Thus it was that late last night I booked the most reasonably priced tour available at the last minute to take us to Villa Adriana and Villa D'Este. To be honest, I couldn't blame her. The trip would have required several bus trips and would not have been pleasant in the heat combined with the hours of walking.

The tour left the pick up point right on 9am and surprisingly it did not take us long to get to Tivoli because there was no traffic! Lara, our guide for the day, was great. She was knowledgeable, fun and had the tour going at a good pace. The tour itself was not rushed but that was probably due to the fact that there were MUCH less tourists around. Even though our group was at the maximum of 32, we never felt cramped or crowded at any point.

Our first stop was Villa Adriana (Hadrian's Villa) and as the name suggested was the home of the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 117 AD. "Home" was not your average home but hectares of land with sprawling complexes of buildings. Here was where I had to thank my mother upon insisting on a tour as it would have been hard to fully appreciate the structure and function without our guide. Amongst other things, the mighty ancient Romans had heated floors, two libraries (one for greek and one for latin), "gyms", heated baths, cold water baths, as well as a network of underground tunnels for servants and transport of goods because Hadrian wanted everything to appear seamless and nothing out of place (like Walt Disney Worlds utilidoors!).We spent our first few hours here before the day heated up and headed up to the higher town of Tivoli where it was a few degrees cooler for a lunch break.

The scale of the complex. The original estate had even more land for activities such as hunting

The pecile, a "pool" where people can enjoy the surrounds and tranquility. It had a covered walkway surrounding it which was custom  built for "after-meal walks"

To give you some idea of the scale of the "walkways" surrounding the pecile!

Some of the olive trees on site are ancient being around 1000 years old

Heliocaminus, as the name suggest "way of the sun", these baths are heated by the suns rays

The servants' quarters, what you can't see is that the building holes to indicate where the timber floors would have been (ie it is an ancient apartment block!)

Rare remnant of existing original stucco in the corner

Canopus, inspired by Egypt likely from Hadrian's travels. One of the areas that was a direct inspiration for Villa D'Este

He would have been marble in his original glory

Greek inspired architecture. The current statues are replicas of copies of famous Greek statues that surrounded the pool. 
At the town of Tivoli itself was Villa D'Este, another UNESCO world heritage site. Villa D'Este was built to revive the magnificence of Villa Adriana and it was hard to imagine how much grander Villa Adriana would have been in its heyday because Villa D'Este was mighty spectacular! Being much "younger" at over 400 years old, it was in much better condition with fountains that were still working driven by the power of gravity fed by the River Aniene. The organ fountain ingeniously uses the waters to play an organ. Yup you read correctly. The further downhill you went, the more spectacular the fountains got.

Same features of openings to let light into lower levels found in Villa D'Este were also found in Hadrian's Villa

Some of the marble from Hadrian's Villa were used for Villa D'Este. When they didn't have enough, they would paint the rest. Done so well that you would have to look very closely to tell the difference.

The original marble, some still at Villa D'Este whereas Hadrian's Villa's marble all stripped

Rometta Fountain, dedicated to Rome

complete with she-wolf and twins

Hundred fountains

The oval fountain

The famous Neptune fountain with the organ fountain at the top

Amazing views

Not that people there! 

Our tour ended on a good note, with a bus snooze included as we drove in the air-conditioned comfort back to Rome. We showered and drank our "aperitif" at the Hotel Lounge like the Romans. The finger food was more than enough for our dinner and we were glad to be able to call it a day.

The hotel roof top terrace

Mocktails that came with olives, peanuts and chips

And some smoked salmon!

Saturday, 8 July 2017


St Peter's Basilica, still as breath taking as the first time I saw it

The trains ran on time today! We took the cheaper option of a non-express train for a 4 hour journey to Rome. Our base in Rome was the relatively new Rome Glam Hotel, part of the same chain of Hotels to which the Venice Times Hotel also belonged to. Our room was spacious by European standards with a King bed and new modern fittings. Oma was delighted that the hotel was on one of the shopping streets in Rome and I believe I have worked my way back into her good books. She shopped without restrictions for a good hour (I may have partaken as well...) before we had to make our way to the Vatican.

Some shopping may have happened today...

You would think we would have been able to cope with the heat coming from Australia but we both struggled and so a taxi it was to St Peter's Cathedral. Unfortunately there was no escaping standing under the oppressive sun as we lined up to go through security to enter the Cathedral. The respite once in was greatly appreciated. It was a matter of waiting for the 5pm mass at the main altar where the girls would sing the liturgy. St Peter's even having seen it a few times remained impressive. The scale was mind boggling. Hearing the girls sing at such a an important Christian landmark was a privilege indeed.

Well done Lara!

Pymble Chorale. Well done girls! 

Today was the day that we finally succumbed...and had chinese food! At Mr Chow's! Despite my initial eye rolls, I had to admit it was nice to eat fried rice and Asian braised beef. I just hope my mother never reads my blog...

Friday, 7 July 2017

Sun, Sea & Songs

Our last full day in Cinque Terre was dedicated to relax and enjoy our surrounds. So the post will be rather short! A sleep in. A late breakfast. A morning swim. And then lunch at the restaurant where we ate 7 years ago.
Our morning swim

Same place we ate 7 years ago!

Trofie, the local pasta

Cannelleni bean salad

I had messaged Arba Boat earlier about a "Caves Tour" which included swimming stops at 30 Euros per person. Unfortunately that was not going to run as we were the only 2 interested (Really?!!). Instead Jacobbe offered us private use of a guided motor boat for 40 Euros each. Deal!

He took us to the many small caves dotted around the region where we were able to swim or stop at our own timing. The water was crystal clear, cool and refreshing in the heat. Best of all, there was no one else around us and we did not have to contend with pebbly beaches. It was also a good opportunity to look at the villages from the sea. Jacobbe was born and bred in Vernazza, one of only 320 according to him. His friendly nature made the swimming trip quite enjoyable as he talked about the Cinque Terre and how it is not being maintained/upgraded as he would like. Listening to his personal account of how devastating the mudslide of 2011 was made the event that much more real and tangible.

Pulling up to the first caves

We've found our swimming spot

Looking up at Corniglia from the water

Very soon, we arrived back at Vernazza where an afternoon nap beckoned. It was nice not to rush. We bought tickets to watch Opera at the local church, a great way to end our stay in Vernazza.

Opera in the evening

Not sure how they got the grand piano up all those narrow stairs & alleys...

Opera time

Over and out from Vernazza!