St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums – 8/4/2016

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”

Marcel Proust

Our second day in Rome was spent on the religious circuit, with the first stop being St Peter’s Basilica, head of the catholic church.  We started by going up the cupola, the cheats way by catching the elevator to the roof and avoiding the first 231 stairs.  From there we climbed the final 320 steps to the dome, with Tristan and I stopping a couple of times to catch out breaths.  The view over the Pope’s garden, the Vatican and Rome’s streets is spectacular.

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St Peter’s Basilica

Us in front of St Peter’s Basilica and a Swiss guard

St Peter’s Square, Vatican Gardens and the Vatican

We had an early lunch and headed for the Vatican Museums.  We went during lunch time, so the ticket ques were so much shorter.  We spent ages walking through the galleries, of course like everyone we really wanted the kids to see the Sistine Chapel.  You are allowed to take photos throughout the museum, except in the Sistine Chapel.  The crowd in the Sistine Chapel was huge, Andrew explained it to the kids, talking about different parts of it.  You can’t really spend long there as you are moved along and this is the only place in the museum where you are not allowed to take photos.  Josh and Tristan enjoyed it and talked about different things they enjoyed about it, Max and Ava got restless quickly.

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Museum Entrance

St Peter’s Basilica Information:

Cost: Entrance to the Basilica is free, Climbing the dome: walk all the way, 551 steps, the cost is €6, Lift to the terrace plus 320 steps is €8.

Opening Hours: Oct – Mar: 7 am – 6.30 pm, Apr – Sep: 7am – 7pm, The dome opens at 8am and closes one hour before the Basilica.

Vatican Museums Information:

Cost: Adults €16Children (ages 6 – 18) €8, Students (ages 19 – 26) €8, the last Sunday of each month is free, but crowded.

Opening Hours: Mon – Sat: 9am – 6pm (Ticket office closes at 4pm), Sun: Closed except the last Sunday of each month: 9am – 2pm. (Ticket office closes at midday, 12:30pm).

Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon – 9/4/2016

Background on the Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain is a baroque fountain that stands about 26 m high and 49 m wide and is one of the most famous statues in the world.  In 1730, Pope Clemens XII ran a contest to for the design of a new fountain, which architect, Nicola Salvi 1730 had a contest to design a new fountain.  Pope Clemens died in 1740, followed by Nicola Salvi in 1751, before the fountains completion.  After Salvi’s death Pietro Bracci completed the fountain. Pope Clemens XIII inaugurated the Trevi Fountain in 1762.

Legend has it that if you through a coin into the Trevi Fountain then you will return to Rome.  An interesting fact is that over 2000 euros are thrown in each week.  This money is collected and helps subsidize a supermarket for the poor.

We visited the Trevi Fountain on a Saturday in the middle of the day, bad time really as it was so busy.  We grabbed sandwiches from a nearby deli and ate them on a side street near the fountain, before attempting to take photos.  We had walked quite a bit and Max in particular was tired and irritable by the time we got there, so food first was definitely the best option.  I did give the kids a coin each, unfortunately they threw them before I could explain the legend or take a photo, oh well, next time.  Being long term Bon Jovi fans, we later showed them their music video filmed at the fountain for the song, ‘Thank You for Loving Me.’

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We fought the crowds to get this photo in front of the Trevi Fountain.

Trevi Fountain from different angles.

Tourist Information on the Trevi Fountain

Opening Hours: Its open 24 hours a day.

Cost: free

The Pantheon

A Brief History

The Pantheon is considered the best preserved Ancient Roman monument.
The Pantheon began as a Roman temple before becoming a church in 609 AD. The original temple was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during Augustus’s reign (27 BC – 14 AD) and burnt to the ground in 80 AD.  The present building was completed by emperor Hadrian and dedicated sometime between 118 – 125 AD.  The original Latin inscription by Marcus Agrippa still stands and was not replaced by Hadrian.

What is special about the Pantheon?

Well apart from how well it is preserved, it also has the largest unsupported dome in the world, with a diameter of 43.3 m.  Additionally, Raphael, the famous artist, poets and several Italian kings have tombs inside the Pantheon.  There are 16 Corinthian columns that support the front of the Pantheon that each weighs 60 tonnes and were floated on barges along the Nile River to Rome.  The temple was originally to all the gods with statues of the 12 most important deities.  And if all of that doesn’t impress you, come and look around and see it in all its glory for yourself.


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The front view of the Pantheon

Tourist Information on Pantheon

Opening Hours: Mon- Sat: 8.30 am – 7.30 pm, (last admission 7.15 pm) Sun: 9 am – 6 pm (last admission 5.45 pm)

Closed: 1 Jan, 1 May and 25th of Dec

Cost: free admission


What better way to finish of a day or have everyday than with a gelato.

Roman Forum and Palatine Hill – 11/4/2016

Palatine Hill

Rome is made up of 7 hills, one of the central hills is called Palatine Hill and is about 40 m high.  On side of Palatine Hill looks down upon the Roman Forum and another side looks down upon the Circus Maximus.  But the best view is the unobstructed view of the Colosseum. Since Augustus’s time, palaces have been built on this hill.  The ruins are quite extensive and a little difficult to understand what you are looking at.  We were overdressed on this day in jeans and long sleeved tops  and it was very hot walking around.

This is the view from Palatine Hill, on one side you look down on where the Circus Maximus was and on another you look down on the Roman Forum.

The best view from Palatine Hill is overlooking the Colosseum.  I also think its your best opportunity to get a photo with all of the Colosseum in it.

Some of the highlights of Palatine Hill include the Stadium of Domitian otherwise known as the hippodrome.  Domitian was a Roman Emperor who was passionate about sports and developed his own Games similar to that of the Olympic games.  Nearby is Flavian Palace built for Emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus and was completed in 92 AD.

Left: Ruins of Flavian’s Palace. Right: Domitian’s Hippodrome

Tourist Information on Roman Forum and Palatine Hill

Opening hours: 8.30 am

Opening Hours:

08.30 – 16.30 – last Sunday of Oct to Feb 15th 
08.30 – 17.00 – Feb 16th to Mar 15th
08.30 – 17.30 – Mar 16th to last Saturday of Mar
08.30 – 19.15 – last Sunday of Mar to Aug 31st  
08.30 – 19.00 – Sep 1st to Sep 30th  
08.30 – 18.30 – Oct 1st to last Saturday of Oct  

Last admission 1 hour before closing time

Closed: January 1, 1 May and December 25

Cost: Combined ticket for the Colosseum and Roman Forum/Palatine Hill (valid for 2 days): Adults € 12, EU members between 18 – 25 yrs and EU Teachers – € 7.50, Under 18 – Free admission.  The first Sunday of the month the admission for all is free.

You can buy tickets online at an additional cost of € 2.  The official website for tickets is:


Sienna – 18/4/2016

Sienna has a population of about 54, 000 and is a small city in Tuscany. The center of Sienna is a UNESCO worlds heritage site. Sienna is surrounded by vineyards of Chianti and olive groves, it is set on three hills and has winding alleyways through the beautiful city.  It is home to one of the oldest universities in Europe.  Sienna was created by the Etruscans before they were conquered by Ancient Rome.

We viewed the outside of the Duomo in Sienna, a beautiful marble church. also called the zebra church because of the stripes, which decorate both the inside and outside of the church and are made from the alternating white and greenish-black marble.  The outside of the church is also decorated with carved statues.  The church was built between 1215 – 1263.

The Duomo in Sienna with its black and white marble and intricately carved statues and gargoyles.  We unfortunately missed going inside this one but from photos it looks pretty amazing.

One of the many arched entrances to the town and one of the many authentic delicatessens.


Tourist Information on the Sienna Duoma

Opening Hours: 

March 1 – November 2: 10:30 – 19:00
November 3 – February 28: 10:30 – 17:30
December 26 – January 6: 10:30 – 19:00
Special opening hours on holy days, such as Christmas and day of Palio, August 16 

Cost: The cost to visit the Duoma depends on whether you want to go to the Cathedral, the roof, the crypt and whether you want the 3D Mapping Experience or whether you want a family ticket. Prices also vary through the year.  For pricing its best to look at the official website below.

Official Website: 

Written and researched by Ava, Photos and captions by mum


San Gimignano – 18/4/2016

San Gimignano is a small hill top town in Tuscany.  It is famous for its medieval towers.  In 1300 BC the town was found by the Etruscans.  The town was a stopping point in medieval times for those traveling to Rome and the Vatican.

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The view of San Gimignano as you drive towards it surrounded by picturesque landscape.

We visited the beautiful tourist town with views over vineyards, olive trees and beautiful Tuscan homes.  We tried gelato, the ‘best in Tuscany and in the world’.  The town has lots of tourists souvenir shops, delicatessens and gelaterians.  I think it is my favorite Tuscan town.

One of the gelati stores we visited claimed to be the best gelati store in Tuscany and the World.  We couldn’t complain it was good, but we are yet to have a bad one.

The town is surrounded by olive groves, grape vines and scenic mountains.

The town is filled with so many windy roads and each one packed with assortment of shops selling souvenirs, clothing, leather, swords or delicatessens.

Written and researched by Ava, photos and captions by mum

Pisa – 19/4/2017

The Leaning Tower of Pisa was actually just a bell tower and forms part of the religious complex in the Duomo Square. It is known around the world for its amazing tilt so that is why it is one of the seven wonders of the world, it started to lean when it was being built because the foundation was built on soft soil which could not support the weight of the tower. The tower has the height of  58,36 meters and tilts about 5.5° and you can climb the 273 steps up to the top.

Although everyone has seen photos of it before it is still very cool to see it in person.  We were here 20 years ago and you could not climb to the top as they were trying to fix the tilt so it didn’t collapse, glad to see it worked.

You have to get your photo taken in front of this iconic building.

Tourist Information on The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Opening Hours: 

November and February the Tower of Pisa is open between 09,45 -17, 15
On November 1st, it is open 9,00-18,00

December and January: the Tower is open 10,00 – 17,00
From December 5-8, it is open 09,00 – 18,30
From December 21st to January 6th, it is open 10,00 – 19,00

In March → the Tower of Pisa has the following timetable:
Until March 23rd, open 09,00 -18, 00
From March 23rd-29th, open between 09,00-19,00
From March 30th, the tower is open 08:30-20:00

April to September → the Tower has the following timetable:
The Leaning Tower is open from 09,00 – 20,00
Between June 17th and August 31st, the Tower of Pisa is open 08,30 – 22,00.
On June 16th, the tower is open 08,30 – 17,30

October → the Tower of Pisa is open between 09,00 – 19,00 (with some variations at the start and end of the month that overlap with September/November hours

Cost: Tower – 18 each for those over 8 years of age, there are three other monuments the Bapistery, Camposanto and Sinopia Museum.  To visit one of them is 5, two of them is 7 and all three is 8

Official Website:

Written and researched by Ava, photos and captions by mum


Montalcino – 26/4/2016

Montalcino is a small hillside town in Tuscany, its noted for its wine, Brunello di Montalcino. There town is beautiful with its narrow windy streets, arches and stunning views over the countryside. The name, Montalcino comes from a type of oak tree that once covered the land. Montalcino also has a castle at the highest point of the town and was built in 1361.  The castle incorporates some of the earlier town walls, that date back to the 13th century.  Although Montalcino was its own town, it did align itself with Siena and during the wars between Florence and Siena from the 12th century onward it was caught in the crossfire and eventually taken over, while the castle was never taken.  The castle has changed little through the years and remains largely intact.

We went to Montalcino after getting lost a few times, in time for lunch and a gelati. On our way into the town we passed this beautiful church, called ‘The Church of the Madonna del Soccorso’. The church was built in 1330 on the remains of the previous church and has undergone expansion and changes several times over the centuries and this can be seen in the different styles like the facade and bell tower.

Our walk into town took us past the Church of the Madonna del Soccorso and past the wild poppies that grow everywhere in spring in Tuscany.

The town is very beautiful and even has its own castle. We didn’t have the time or the inclination to walk around the walls as it was freezing and we hadn’t brought our jumpers. The castle an impressive, solid structure overlooking the town.  We did walk around the inside and found on the ground a baby owl.  We were not sure if it had fallen from its nest or not, but staff arrived to attend to it as we were leaving.

Walking around the streets of this beautiful town.

The castle at Montalcino with its large quadrangle and the little lost owl.

Written by Ava, Photos and captions by mum


Pienza – 26/4/2016 by Ava

Italy is home to a small town in Tuscany called Pienza, it became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1996. Pienza’s original name was Corsignano. In 1405 Corsignano was the birthplace of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini who became Pope Pius and he re-built the village and re-named it Pienza.

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View of Pienza before you get there.

We visited Pienza, another beautiful Tuscan town, this one had received a lot of bombing during WW2 and you could see the pot marks in the buildings, particularly the church.

Max and Ava on our walk up to the Duoma in Pienza

Walking around the outer wall of Pienza

Photos of the town and the view over the Orcia Valley.