Searching for locations: Niagara Falls, Canada

We visited the falls in winter, just after Christmas when it was all but frozen.

The weather was freezing, it was snowing, and very icy to walk anywhere near the falls

DSC00755

Getting photos is a matter of how much you want to risk your safety.

I know I slipped and fell a number of times on the ice just below the snowy surface in pursuit of the perfect photograph.  Alas, I don’t think I succeeded.

DSC00754

DSC00758

DSC00767

DSC00768

DSC00761

The mist was generated from both the waterfall and the low cloud.  It was impossible not to get wet just watching the falls.

DSC00771

Of course, unlike the braver people, you could not get me into one of the boats that headed towards the falls.  I suspect there might be icebergs and wasn’t going to tempt the fate of another Titanic, even on a lesser scale.  The water would be freezing.

Searching for locations: Mount Ngauruhoe, New Zealand

Mount Ngauruhoe is apparently still an active volcano, has been for 2,500 years or so, and last erupted on 19th February 1975, and reportedly has erupted around 70 times since 1839.

The mountain is usually climbed from the western side, from the Mangatepopo track.

This photo was taken in summer from the Chateau Tongariro carpark.

In late autumn, on one of our many visits to the area, the mountain was covered with a light sprinkling of snow and ice.

On our most recent visit, this year, in winter, it was fully covered in snow.

It can be a breathtaking sight from the distance.

Searching for locations: Venice, ships come and go

Through this window, which wasn’t one of those floor to ceiling, walk out onto a balcony type windows, we saw big ships, little ships, small boats, and then huge ocean liners.

And when that wasn’t enough, sunrise and sunset, or just the sight of Venice in the sunshine

The many vaporettos that came and went

It was simply a matter of watching ships go by, or watching the Venetians go about the daily business

Ferries that would arrive in the morning, and leave at night, small

and large

Small ocean liners

Very, very large ocean liners

And everything in between

And, whilst COVID 19 would make it a very difficult decision to take to the sea in one of these large ships, before that time, it was a matter of picking a destination and a day, for ships came and went every day, to Athens, to the Mediterranean, to Turkey, anywhere really.

All you needed was the money and the time.

And, as for plots and writing, it is a writer’s paradise, where you are limited only by your imagination.

Searching for locations: The Castello di Brolio, Gaiole in Chianti, Tuscany – The Old Castle

The castle is located in the southern Chianti Classico countryside and has been there for over ten centuries, and owned by the Ricasoli family since 1141.

Like any good castle, it has strong defences, and I was looking for a moat and drawbridge, but it looks like the moat has become a lawn.


The very high walls in places no doubt were built to keep the enemy out

The castle has been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the last 900 years.  It was part of the Florentine defenses, and withstood, and succumbed to many battles with Siena, which is only 20 km away.  More recently, it still bears the scars of artillery fire and bombing in WW2.

The room at the top of this tower would have an excellent view of the countryside.

Here you can see the old and the new, the red brick part of the rebuilding in the 1800’s in the style of an English Manor

We did not get to see where that archway led.

Nor what was behind door number one at the top of these stairs.  Rest assured, many, many years ago someone wearing armor would have made the climb.   It would not pass current occupational health and safety these days with a number of stairs before a landing.

Cappella di San Jacopo.  Its foundations were laid in 1348.

Renovated in 1867-1869, it has a gabled façade preceded by a double stone staircase.  The interior, with a crypt where the members of the Ricasoli family are buried, has a nave divided into three spans with cross vaults.

The 1,200 hectares of the property include 240 hectares of vineyards and 26 of olive groves, in the commune of Gaiole.

We have this sport called Australian Rules Football

In Melbourne, it’s an institution even a religion.  Traditionally it is played on a Saturday afternoon and luckily for us, we were attending such a game.

Of course, this was last year.  This year, with the COVID 19 virus everything, including football has been called off.

Except now we have ‘flattened the curve’ football can start again, only without the spectators.  Social distancing means we can’t pack the stadium, or go to a game.  For a while, it was just be from our lounge rooms, watching it on the TV.

But, as some of the states began to get on top of the virus, football teams moved from Victoria, and played in Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, and the Northern Territory.

And as the Victorian situation got worse, the decision was made to move the grand final, which had never left the MCG in Victoria, to Brisbane. It was like America never losing the Americas Cup, until they did.

But, below, is the atmosphere that we have been missing, and has returned in a limited sense as coronavirus restrictions eased (but not completely), a game we attended last year:

The stadium is the MSG, one of the biggest and best in Australia.  Shortly after the start, I’d estimate there are about 40,000, but eventually, we were told there was 53,000, spectators here for a clash between the two Melbourne based teams.  It is not unheard of to have in closer to 90,000 spectators, and the atmosphere is at times electric.

For the die-hards like me who can remember the days when there were only Victorian-based teams,  in the modern-day form of the game, to have two such teams is something of a rarity.

However, it’s not so much about the antics on the field as it is the spectators.  They are divided into three groups, the members, the private boxes, and the general public.

But in the end, there is no distinction between any of them because they all know the rules, well, their version of them, and it doesn’t matter who you are, If there is something that goes against your team, it is brings a huge roar of disapproval.

Then there are ebbs and flows in the crowd noise and reactions to events like holding the ball attracting a unified shout ‘ball, or a large collective groan when a free kick should have been paid or by the opposite team’s followers if it should have been.

It is this crowd reaction which makes going to a live game so much better than watching it televised live.  The times when players take marks, get the ball out of congestion, and when goals are scored when your team is behind and when one is needed to get in front.

This is particularly so when one of the stars goes near the ball and pulls off a miracle 1 percent movement of the ball.  These are what we come to see, the high flying marks, the handball threaded through a needle, a kick that reaches one of our players that looked like it would never get there, an intercept mark or steal that throws momentum the opposite way.

This game is not supposed to be a game of inches but fast yards, a kick, a mark, a handball, a run, and bounce.  You need to get the ball to your goal as quickly as possible.

That’s the objective.

But in this modern game, much to the dismay of spectators and commentators alike, there is this thing called flooding where all 36 players are basically in a clump around the ball and it moves basically in inches, not yards.

It is slow and it is ugly.

It is not the game envisioned by those who created it and there is a debate right now about fixing it.

Here, it is an example of the worst sort.  This game is played in four quarters and for the first two, it is ugly scrappy play with little skill on display.  The third shows improvement and it seems the respective coaches had told their players to open it up

They have and it becomes better to look at.

But this is the point where one team usually gets away with a handy lead, a third-quarter effort that almost puts the game out of reach.  The fourth quarter is where the losing team stages a comeback, and sometimes it works sometimes it does not.

The opposition gives it a red hot try but is unsuccessful.  Three goals in a row, it gave their fans a sniff of hope but as the commentators call it, a kick against the flow and my team prevails.

It is the moment to stay for when they play the winning teams song over the stadium’s loudspeaker system, and at least half the spectators sing along.  It is one of that hair raising on the back of your neck moments which for some can be far too few in a season

We have great hopes for our team this year, and it was worth the trek from Brisbane to Melbourne to see it live rather than on the TV

Leaving the ground with thousands of others heading towards the train station for the journey home there is a mixture of feelings, some lamenting their teams, and others jubilant their team won.  There is no rancor, everyone shuffles in an orderly manner, bearing the slow entry to the station, and the long lines to get on the train.

Others who perhaps came by car, or who have decided to wait for a later train or other transport, let their children kick the football around on the leaf-covered parkland surrounding the stadium.

It is an integral part of this game that children experience the football effect.  Kicking a ball with your father, brothers, and sisters, or friends on that late autumn afternoon is a memory that will be cherished for a long long time.

It’s where you pretend you are your favorite player and are every bit as good.  I know that’s what I used to do with my father, and that is what I did with my sons.

But no matter what the state of the game, it is the weekend the football fans look forward to and who turn out in their hundreds of thousands.  It is a game that ignites passions, it brings highs and it brings incredible lows.

And, through thick and thin, we never stop supporting them.

Searching for locations: Florence, Italy

Florence is littered with endless statues, and we managed to see quite a few,

If those statues came to life I wonder what they might tell us?

Like castles on the shores of the Rhine, there are only so many statues you can take photos of.  Below are some of those I thought significant

2013-06-17 09.16.14

Michelangelo’s David directs his warning gaze at someone else.

2013-06-17 09.16.24

The impressive muscles of Baccio Bandinelli’s Hercules from 1533. The worked-out demi-god is pulling the hair of Cacus, who will be clubbed and strangled.

2013-06-17 09.17.13

Achilles with Polyxena in arm, stepping over her brother’s body

2013-06-17 09.18.08

Menelaus supporting the body of Patroclus, in the Loggia dei Lan

2013-06-17 09.18.28

Statue of Hercules killing the Centaur by Giambologna in Loggia dei Lanzi. Piazza della Signoria.

On the back of the Loggia there are six marble female statues, probably coming from the Trajan’s Foro in Rome, discovered in 1541 and brought to Florence in 1789

Searching for locations: Murano, Italy

The first time we visited Venice, there was not enough time left to visit the glass-blowing factories on Murano.  We saved this for the next visit, and now more comfortable with taking the Vaporetto, boarded at San Marco for the short journey.

The view looking towards the cemetery:

The view looking down what I think was the equivalent to the main street, or where several of the glass-blowing factories and display shops were located:

Looking towards a workshop, this one costs us each a Euro to go in and observe a demonstration of glass blowing, and it still surprises me that some people would not pay

The oven where the glass is heated

And the finished product, the retail version of the horse that the glassblower created during the demonstration:

Then we bought some other glassware from the retail storefront, a candle holder

and a turtle.

Searching for locations: Somewhere in Tuscany, Italy, a hilltop town

It’s a town we visited in Italy when on a private tour.  Of course, I wrote it down on a notepad app on my phone at the time, and, yes, not long after that, an accidental reset lost all the data.

Now, I have no idea with the name of the town is, just that it was a picturesque stopover in the middle of a delightful private tour of Tuscany.

2013-06-20 10.12.54

There are narrow laneways that I suspect no one 300 hundred years ago planned for cars

2013-06-20 10.17.36

Narrower walkways that lead to very dark places

 

Walkways on the side of the hills that look down on the picturesque valleys

2013-06-20 10.15.27

And rather interesting hillsides, some of which provided inspiration for Leonardo da Vinci

2013-06-20 10.15.48

Or maybe it was this landscape, though it is difficult to see what could be found as inspiration in such a bland hillside

2013-06-20 10.15.55

A lot of houses, some of them quite large, nestled in amongst the trees

2013-06-20 10.17.41 (2)

Gardens, of sorts, balcony’s, not so big, and hidden doorways

2013-06-20 10.17.53 (2)

Even not so secret passageways between houses.

All in all, it was an interesting visit, and it made me wonder what it would be like to live here, all crowded together, rather than living on our relatively isolated quarter-acre blocks.

Searching for locations: Florence, Italy

Apologies now if I have misspelled any street, piazza or any other names.

The first time we arrived in Florence was by train, from Innsbruck in Austria.  We had been booked into the Hotel Brunelleschi, based on the fact it was built over part of a 12th-century monastery, it was conveniently located, and was a luxury hotel.

We took a taxi, not knowing how far it was, and found it tucked away in a street, via Sant’elisabetta, not far from Florence’s cathedral, the Duomo.  The taxi barely fitted through the streets.  First impressions, it was old, second impression, the room we were given was amazing, with a view over the main street, and wafting up from a food shop below, the aroma of newly baked waffles.  We had to have one.

Words cannot describe how amazing it was to wake up that first morning and look out at the bright sunshine and blue sky.  We were in for a hot day, but that wasn’t going to deter the tourist in us.  Of course, after we had a great breakfast.  I particularly liked the crispy bacon.

The first place on the list to visit was the Piazza del Duomo, where the cathedral is located, and the Porta del Paradiso.  We went into the church, and also did a side trip down into the crypt.  We did not climb to the top of Brunelleschi’s cupola.  We tried the pizza, and hearing that the gelato was very expensive in the main part of the city, ventured further afield and found a gelato vendor that was inexpensive.  As the day was very hot it was a welcome relief.

The Ponte Vecchio, the bridge that crosses the Arno.  We walked to the bridge, taking in the views up and down the river before crossing to the other side, then back towards the Piazza Santa Croce.  On our most recent visit there was a football competition, Calcio Fiorentino, in progress that had taken over the whole Piazza, and during the day there was a parade where all the teams and others dressed in the historic clothing dating back to the 15th century.

The Galleria dell’Accademia was also high on the list of places to visit, and we left the hotel early as we had heard the queues are long to get in.  They were right.  We were at the end of a very, very long queue stretching back to Via delgi Alfani.  We were in the queue for about an hour and a half and it didn’t seem to move very quickly.

Then some people passing by said that we could go to the Museo Di San Marco, and purchase tickets to enter the gallery at a particular time.  We had also read or heard something similar, and, taking a risk we left the queue and went in search.  We found it at the Piazza San Marco, purchased tickets for 13:30 and had time to have lunch before turning up at the entrance for our timeslot, and sure enough, with others who had also purchased tickets, we went in.

Just out of curiosity I went back to the queue to see when the people in front of us were, and they still had an hour before gaining admission.

We saw everything that was recommended, including the famous statue of David, though I had a lot of trouble taking a photo when people kept walking in front.

The Piazza Della Signoria has a large number of statues, including another of David, the Marzocco, the symbol of Florence, Il Perseo, the fountain of Neptune, Poseidon, Perseus with the head of Medusa, and a hall of statues adjacent to the Palazzo Vecchio.

Florence is old, the roads are cobbled and narrow, and there are many trails one can follow and discover something new at the end of every twist and turn.

I have to go back, other than the fact I need a new wallet and belt made from Italian leather.  My wife loves the purses and handbags, also leather, though the scarves have only recently been added to her list of most wanted items.

But, in reality, I want to simply soak up the atmosphere, relax, eat the pasta and drink the endless supply of Moretti’s.

Searching for locations: Greve-in-Chianti, Tuscany, Italy

When we first planned to stay in Tuscany for a few days, we wanted to be in a central area.  We had thought of staying in Florence and making daily treks, but the tour operator we selected told us it would be better if we stayed closer to Arezzo.

We picked Greve in Chianti, and a place called Antico Pastificio, we booked a standard apartment with two bedrooms, and it was about as authentic Italian you could get.  The building we stayed in was the yellow pasta factory, and the apartment named ‘Iris’.

It was only steps away from the main square, shops, restaurants, and at the opposite end, the quaint ringing of church bells at various times during the day.

Gaining access was through a very narrow arch which required some deft driving and then up the road.  There were villas and two large apartment blocks.

You can just see the archway at the end of the road.

This was the entrance to our room,

along a passage and up the stairs, turning left at the top.

Going straight ahead through the gate to the car park,

and access to the grounds behind the buildings.

This was the view from the lounge/living room.  The days were hot, and on several evenings it rained, breaking the heat and making the evenings sitting by the window cool and refreshing.

And the last view is looking towards the town piazza and the church

 

© All photographs Charles Heath 2015-2020