Saturday, 18 February 2017

Pisa: Piazza de Miracoli

Pisa is world famous for its Leaning Tower, but this makes up just one quarter of the historic buildings within the city's beautiful central Piazza.

Leaning Tower/Campanile: 


Piazza de miracoil, pisa

This 56 metre high tower of beautiful white marble is an iconic attraction that tourists flock to the city to see. Originally used as a Bell tower or Campanile, it was built to accompany the Cathedral that dominates the Piazza.  
The tower has never stood upright, and was already leaning by the construction was completed. This was not intentional, but has gained the building far more coverage than it may otherwise have had. 
The foundations of the Tower have been strengthened over the years, with construction work undertaken to ensure that the soft ground on which the tower was built was shored up to prevent any further tilting. The current tilt is around 4 degrees.
This tilt means that here are 296 stairs leading to the south facing viewpoint and only 294 to the north. The Tower, as part of the Piazza dei Miracoli, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The Cathedral/Duomo:
Piazza de miracoil, pisa

Sitting proudly at the heart of the square, this grey and white mixture of marble and stone more than stands up to its more famous neighbour.
The interior of the Cathedral, as you would expect, is no less impressive and contain a number of important historical works, including the Griffin, which, standing at more than 1 metre high, is the largest Islamic sculpture in the world. The pulpit in the building was designed by Italian master, Nicola Pisano.  
Amongst the other Christian treasure within the walls is one of the Jars of Cana, which was the wedding at which, according to The Bible, saw Jesus perform the miracle of turning water into wine.


Pisa Baptistry of St. John:
Piazza de miracoil, pisa This Baptistry is the largest in Italy and stands at 55 metres high. As with its neighbours, it is built with Italian marble, but has a touch more colour in its typically Tuscan style terracotta coloured tiled dome which, when coupled with the interior pyramid shaped roof make the chamber of the religious treasure acoustically perfect.  
The architecture of the Baptistry is a mixture of classic Romanesque at the bottom, with a very Gothic, pointy style towards the upper reaches. This was due to the fact that the structure took quite so long to complete.  
The interior of the Baptistry, when compared to the Cathedral, is somewhat bereft of embellishment. As with the Duomo, the pulpit here was also designed by #Pisano and dates back to around 1260.  
Although the inside might lack some of the wow factor seen the Duomo, the exterior is outstanding, so do try to wander around the outside in a daze while you marvel at the gargoyles keeping watch from their perches above.
Somewhat unbelievably, the Baptistry is actually taller than the Leaning Tower, although because of its width, it certainly doesn't look it. However, it is only by a very marginal distance and only if you include the height of the statue of St John that tops the dome.


Camposanto/Monumental Graveyard:

Piazza de miracoil, pisa

This was the final part of the overall complex to be constructed and is a long building, which took just shy of 200 years to build. Campo Santo means Holy Field and, well, what you see is what you get.  
Heartbreakingly, after a bombing attack towards the end of WW2, the roof of the cemetery building was destroyed by fire and the vast majority of the frescoes, sarcophagi and other artefacts were destroyed. 
There are three chapels within the cemetery and, on occasion, Mass is still held within the Dal Pozzo.   Within the Aulla Chapel is a grander version of the lamp that astronomer, physicist, mathematician and all round brain box, Galileo used to figure out pendular movement. I won't pretend that I've the faintest idea what he was doing, but clearly it was massively important...
Legend has it that bodies of the dead who were buried within the confines of the Campo Santo would rot within 24 hours, such were the powers of the sacred soil which was shipped over from Jerusalem. 

Have you visited Piazza de Miracoli?


Suzanne x












Saturday, 4 February 2017

Grand Canyon: Sunrise Hiking at Horseshoe Bend

There aren't many things in life worth dragging your carcass out of bed at 5:45am for, but this is definitely one of them...


My husband loves taking photos of sunsets. He's not that fussed about where these occur, just as long as he can snap them.  I knew, since we were road tripping close to the Grand Canyon, there was zero chance of me getting out of being dragged into the barren desert at least once during our holiday (twice, actually...) and made to hang around while Les amused himself photographing the fading sun. 
I, on the other hand, spend this time in the desert worrying about all the odd animal noises and trying to decide if coyotes and rattlesnakes are attracted by the smell of apple Chapstick.     
Anyway, my odd fears aside, Les decided that Horseshoe Bend, on the Arizona side of the Grand Canyon, was where he'd like to visit.  Being the agreeable person I am (and knowing I could steal all his photos later on), I agreed.  Also: it was on the way to our apartment in the town of Page, so I didn't really have a choice in the first place. Damn that evil genius and his mad mapping skills. 

Sunset Hiking

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona is a very popular sunset hiking spot and when we arrived around a half hour before the sun faded, the car park was already overflowing. I'm not a huge fan of Other People (Introvert alert...), so I wasn't overly excited about the prospect of sharing a romantic sunset with the population of a small city.  


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Horsehoe Bend (very, very early in the morning)
We quickly decided (mainly due to the look of terror on my face), that we would give up in the whole sunset idea and go for sunrise instead. Surely everyone would be too lazy to get up at 5:45am to come down and watch the sun coming up? Thankfully, they were.  
We drove out in the dark of the early morning, sleepily making out way towards Horseshoe Bend and were thrilled to find just a handful of cars in the lot.     
We strode from the car park and walked the half mile or so down to the rum of the Grand Canyon. There is signage warning you not to wear sandals and these or flip flops are probably not a great idea. The terrain is very rocky and anything that might cause your feet to slide around in your shoes is best to be avoided when hiking. You don't want to be perfecting that selfie and end up taking a long dive for a swim in the Colorado River.


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OK, so maybe it was worth getting out of bed for.  Don't tell anyone I said that, though.  

Hiking Rules
Signs also warn you not to stray for they trail, which is also a wonderful idea. It is very rocky and the trail is clearly identified by being the well trodden path covered in sand. There are no barriers on the rim (would kind of spoil the view and the natural wonder of it all), so do be careful to consider your steps when getting close to the edge.     
Apart from that, and taking water if you're going during the day (it's hotter than hell; even in October), have a lovely time!!  It was well worth getting up at such an ungodly hour to watch the sunrise change the colours of the red rock and watch the Colorado transformed into a green ribbon in the valley below.


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So beautiful
And, in case you were wondering, rattlesnakes and coyotes are not, it would appear, attracted to apple Chapstick. I can't vouch for any other flavour, so you'll have to take your chances.
The USA has so many outstanding beauty spots to hike in (and drive through) which are the perfect escape from the stress of city life. They're also never quite as remote as you think. There's no bad time to visit the Grand Canyon, as well as the Smokies, rural New England (and too many other areas to name), although off seasons is not *quite* as hot as in the summer months and the changing leaves in spring and autumn are absolutely spectacular.

Suzanne x