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Archive for the ‘Historical Sites’ Category

I love visiting the Palace of Versailles. Often the crowds can be a bit daunting but there is nothing better than letting the history of the time come alive in these beautiful rooms with their over the top, opulent decororation.
This time, we decided to go behind the scenes and visit the King’s private apartments. Our guide, Deborah Anthony, had excelled with her tour of the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon as well as Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet, so we were looking forward to this visit.

The interior court of the Palace was looking stunning. The gilt on the roof and balconies had recently been restored and everything was sparkling.

Palace of Versailles

Beautiful Versailles

The Palace of Versailles

Decoration on the buildings

The Palace of Versailles

Detail on the roof

Silhouettes in the waiting room at the Palace of Versailles

Silhouettes in the waiting room

To see the private apartments, you must be accompanied by one of Versailles’s own guides as well as a security guard.
Our guide, Dominic, was extremely knowledgeable. His own personal interest was in the fashion of the time, so he was often pointing little titbits out in the paintings or decorations.
One of the interesting things he mentioned was that after the Revolution, all the furniture and works of art were sold. Whilst some have been returned and gifted back, a lot of the furniture and has been bought back by Versailles. The Friends of Versailles , a group which we happily joined, raises funds for the restoration and purchase of these when they come up for sale.

Guide at the Palace of Versailles

Dominic pointing out Marie Antoinette as a baby in the family portrait

The King's bedroom at the Palace of Versailles

The King's bedroom

In one of Marie Antoinette’s rooms, this beautiful box caught my eye. It was used for storing her babies’ clothes

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The clock room at the Palace of Versailles

The clock room

Both Louis XV and Louis XVI were interested in the sciences
This clock belonging to Louis XV shows the time, the day of the week, the month, the year and the moon’s quarter. It has been designed to last up to 9999!
The planets can be seen revolving around the sun in the chrystal dome on top.

Louis XV clock at the Palace of Versailles

Louis XV clock

The dining room was created originally for Louis XV but used a lot by Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette for their ‘society suppers’. It is called the Porcelain Room not only because of the porcelain on display ( including the paintings) but because each year at Christmas, the King, who owned the Sevres factory, would use it as a showroom where the courtiers could come and buy presents.

The Porcelain Room at the Palace of Versailles

The Porcelain Room

Marie Antoinette's private sitting room at Versailles

Marie Antoinette's private sitting room

Marie Antoinette's Boudoir at Versailles

Marie Antoinette's Boudoir

Louis XVI’s dressing room is entered from a door hidden in his bedchamber. It is quite an extraordinary space lined with wood carving decorated in gilt.

King's Dressing Room at Versailles

King's dressing room

The secret passage from Marie Antoinette's Library

The secret passage from Marie Antoinette's library

Looking at the crowds from behind the scenes at Versailles

Looking at the crowds from behind the scenes

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As we were saying goodbye to Dominic, I gazed at the new modern sculpture at the entrance. Whilst I love modern sculpture, I am not sure that this is the place for it.

What do you think?

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The Queen’s Hamlet, Marie Antoinette’s quaint little village and farm which is also known as the L’Hameau de la Reine, is one of the highlights of Versailles.
Why hadn’t I been here before? I’m not sure how, but in my previous visits, I had managed to miss one of the stars of Versailles. Thank heavens for our guide, Deborah Anthony from French Travel Boutique

The hamlet was created in the style of a minature Norman village. It contained the farm, twelve thatched cottages, a dovecote, mill and tower, all of which Marie Antoinette had built in 1783 by her favourite architect, Richard Mique and landscape gardener, Andre Le Notre.
She loved the simplicity of country life and wanted to indulge in it. She also wanted the farm to help create the illusion that the Petit Trianon was in the countryside.

As you walk through the gate, you do feel as though you are in the country. Goats, ducks and geese roam the grounds around the buildings whilst children gather to pet the pigs in the sty.

Farm Buildings at the Hamlet, Versailles

Animals roam in the grounds

Farm Buildings at the Hamlet, Versailles

Children love to pet the pig

The buildings are beautiful in a rustic way. Left to disrepair after the revolution, they were thankfully restored in the late 1990’s. They all have a thatched roof complete with grasses growing from them and flowering window boxes. Marie Antoinette and her companions often collected the eggs and milked the cows here.

Farm Buildings at the Queen's Hamlet, Versailles

Another beautiful farm building

Farm Buildings at the Queen's Hamlet, Versailles

Another view

Flower boxes on the farm buildings at the Queen's Hamlet, Versailles

Pretty flower boxes

Decoration on the wall of a farm building, Queen's Hamlet, Versailles

A beautifully painted wall of one of the farm buildings

A farmer was appointed by Marie Antoinette to manage the farm, so that it’s vegetable gardens, fields, orchards and vineyards supplied produce to the palace kitchens. You pass these on your short walk to the lake and village houses.

Looking back over the vineyards to the farm at the Queen's Hamlet, Versailles

Looking back over the vineyards to the farm

The vegetable garden at the Queen's Hamlet, Versailles

The vegetable garden

The orchard at the Queen's Hamlet, Versailles

The orchard

The largest house is the “Queen’s House” at the center of the village, overlooking the lake. It is actually two buildings joined by a wooden gallery where, we are told, Marie Antoinette, dressed in white muslin, would watch over the workers.

The Queen's House overlooking the lake at the Hamlet at Versailles

The Queen's House overlooking the lake

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The Queen's House showing the walkway connecting the two buildings

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Another view of the Queen's House

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Balconies at the Queen's House

Most of the houses in the village had their own vegetable garden surrounded by hedges.

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The Maison du Garde-the housekeeper's cottage

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The Mill.

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The Dovecote

The Marlborough Tower, next to the lake, was used as the starting point for boat rides as well as an observatory.

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The Marlborough Tower

This truly is a fairytale village. I can’t wait to come back for another visit, maybe with a picnic lunch, and spend time surrounded by the intriguing history of Marie Antoinette’s playground.

Have you found this special corner of Versailles?

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I had previously visited the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon but this time it was very different. We had as our guide Deborah Anthony from French Travel Boutique. Deborah is an Australian with a love of all things french. After studying french history in Paris, she started French Travel Boutique and now offers an extensive range of fabulous and different tours.

Listening to Deborah relate the history of life at court offered a rare insight and together we unravelled the history of the Louis XIV, XV and XVI and their wives and mistresses.

The Grand Trianon was built during the reign of Louis XIV as a retreat for the king and his family, a place to escape the pressures of court. Using stunning pink Languedoc marble, the two sections are connected by an beautiful open colonnade. The rooms were altered by Louis XV and again remodelled and renovated by Napoleon after the revolution. It is this renovation and subsequent changes made by Louis-Philippe that we see today.

Empress' Bed Chamber at the Grand Trianon, Versailles

Empress' Bed Chamber

Louis-Philippe family room at the Grand Trianon, Versailles

Louis-Philippe family room

Napoleon's Malachite room at the Grand Trianon, Versaille

The Malachite Room where the malachite presents Czar Alexander 1 gave to Napoleon are displayed

Colonnaded walkway at the Grand Trianon

Colonnaded walkway

View to the Garden Room from the walkway at the Grand Trianon, Versaille

View to the Garden Room from the walkway

View of gardens from the Grand Trianon

The gardens as seen from the Grand Trianon

The Grand Trianon, Versaille

View of The Grand Trianon

Outside the Grand Trianon, Versaille

Our guide, Deborah Anthony, leaving the Grand Trianon

From here we walked through the beautiful gardens to the Petit Trianon

Gardens of the Grand Trianon, Versaille

The beautiful gardens

Arbour in the Grand Trianon Gardens, Versaille

Arbour in the gardens

Marie Antoinette, who loved to perform, had her own theatre built a short distance from the Petit Trianon. It’s a small theatre, in fact the stage is a lot bigger than the seating area but here she organized plays and recitals for those privelaged guests who had received a coveted invitation. Most of the decoration seen here is trompe l’oeil- the statues are pasteboard and the marble is painted wood.

Marie Antoinette's Theatre in the grounds of the Grand Trianon

Marie Antoinette

Another view of Marie Antoinette's Theatre

Another view of Marie Antoinette

For me, the most interesting part of the history is that of the Petit Trianon. It was originally built  for Madame de Pompadour in 1761 who died before the interior was finished so it was given to Louis XV’s next mistress, Madame du Barry. When the king died, his successor, Louis XVI  gave it to his wife, Marie Antoinette, as a private residence, which was unheard of for a French queen. Marie Antoinette made it her own personal playground.

The Petit Trianon, Versaille

The Petit Trianon

View of Petit Trianon facing the French Garden

View of Petit Trianon facing the French Garden

The French Pavillion in the gardens of the Petit Trianon

The French Pavillion in the gardens of the Petit Trianon

The French Pavillion in the gardens of the Petit Trianon

The French Pavillion

The best is yet to come!

 

 

 

 

 

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What to do, where to go in Milan?

Milan is the financial and fashion centre of Italy. It can’t compete with the historical sites of Rome or Florence, so it is often added to an itinerary on the second or third visit to Italy or as a stop on the way to Lake Como. I’m not sure why this happens. Milan is one of my favourite Italian cities to which I return year after year.

Here is my list of the top five places to visit.

1. The Duomo
Because of its position in the heart of Milan, the Duomo is usually the first stop when visiting the city. Don’t miss a walk on the roof, wandering among the spires and statues and taking in the breathtaking views.
You can read about the Duomo here.

The Duomo in Milan

The Duomo

2. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele.
This 18th century glass and iron covered gallery is home to many beautiful shops, restaurants and cafes. Look up to see the magnificent central dome. Look down to see the emblems on the mosaic floor representing the cities of Milan, Rome, Florence and Turin. If you want to return to Milan you are supposed to place your heel on the emblem of Turin -the bull- and rotate clockwise!

Galleria Vittoria Emanuele, Milan

Galleria Vittoria Emanuele

The Dome of the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele in Milan

The Dome of the Galleria

Gucci Cafe at the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele in Milan

Gucci Cafe at the Galleria

3. La Scala
It’s an easy walk from the Duomo, through the Galleria and on to La Scala, Milan’s famous opera house which opened in 1778. Here some of the world’s best singers and orchestras can be heard and famous ballets seen. If you cannot book tickets to one of the performances, a visit to the Museo Teatrale alla Scala ( Museum) also includes a visit to one of the boxes where you can look down on the stage. If the theatre is being used, you may not be able to go into the box, so check on the board outside or ask when you buy your tickets

Teatro alla Scala, Milan

Teatro alla Scala, Milan

Rows of private theatre boxes line the walls of La Scala, Milan

Rows of private theatre boxes line the walls of La Scala

Foyer off the boxes at La Scala, Milan

Foyer at La Scala

Poster advertising Romeo et Juliette at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan

Poster advertising Romeo et Juliette

4. The Last Supper
Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, “The Last Supper”, is one of the most famous paintings in the world. It covers a wall in the former dining hall of the monastery attached to the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. In order to reduce deterioration, admission is strictly limited to 25 people every fifteen minutes. Tickets are often sold out months in advance, so buy them online as soon as you know you are visiting Milan. I use Tickitaly

Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan

Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie

Bramante's Dome on the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Mila

Bramante Dome

Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper" in Milan

Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper"

On you way back from here, stop at Peck’s in Via Spadari, to see Milan’s best food store

5. Visit the Golden Triangle
This is the name given to Milan’s famous shopping streets, Via Monte Napoleone, Via della Spiga and those that run between them, Via San’t Andrea, Via Gesù, Via Borgospesso. Home to the country’s famous designer shops, you should come here to window shop even if buying is not for you.
There are also some wonderful shop interiors and window displays to be seen

Gucci on Via Montenapoleone, Milan

Gucci on Via Montenapoleone

Window at Prada in Milan

Window at Prada

Sergio Rossi window on Via Montenapoleone in Milan

Sergio Rossi window on Via Montenapoleone

Lanvin shop on Via della Spiga, Milan

Lanvin shop on Via della Spiga

Hungry! Near here is Paper Moon, a popular restaurant for pizza, salad or three courses in Via Bagutta.

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Milan’s magnificent Duomo stands tall and proud in the centre of the city.
Roads circle the Duomo and radiate out from here. Everything is measured in time from the Duomo. La Scala is 2 minutes from the Duomo, the Brera is 5 minutes from the Duomo, the Last Supper is a 10 minute walk from the Duomo

Duomo in Milan

Milan

Construction began in 1386 and took five centuries to complete.
Learning that there are 135 spires and nearly three thousand statues, you can understand why it took this long

Outside the Duomo in Milan

Outside the Duomo

Closeup of the doors of Milan's Duomo

Closeup of the doors

Inlaid marble floor of Milan's Duomo

Inlaid marble floor

The organ is the largest in Italy. Duomo in Milan

The organ is the largest in Italy

The light streams in through the magnificent stained glass windows

Magnificent stained glass windows in the Duomo in Milan

Stained glass windows

Stained glass window in the Duomo in Milan

Another stained glass window

Whilst there are many treasures inside the Duomo, it is the roof top that is the star.

The Duomo has recently undergone a huge cleanup and once again the magnificent pinnacles and spires that dominate the skyline, sparkle
A walk on the roof is not to be missed. The views are fantastic.
You can choose to either walk up the stairs or take the lift. Tickets for the lift can be purchased at the kiosk outside in the back right hand corner (facing the Duomo) and the lift entry is in the back left hand corner!

Spires on the roof of the Duomo in Milan

Some of the 135 spires on the roof

View of the flying buttresses on the roof of the Duomo in Milan

View of the flying buttresses

View over the rooftops from the Duomo in Milan

View over the rooftops

View from the rooftop of the Duomo in Milan

Statue on the roof of the Duomo in Milan

Statue on the roof

The Madonnina, Giuseppe Perego’s gilded bronze statue, stands on top of the main spire

Madonnina statue on the top of the Duomo in Milan

Madonnina Statue

Looking down on the sculpture in the Piazza di Duomo, Milan

Looking down on the sculpture in the Piazza

The Duomo in Milan at night

The Duomo at night

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It’s time to leave Sicily!
The history, the contrasting landscapes, the people and the food have been amazing.
We’ve loved every minute of our trip.
Here are some of our memories.

Iconic Etna was erupting whilst we were in Sicily. Smoke plumes wafted over the sky for days

Mt Etna, Sicily

Donald, our trusty Fiat Doblo, took us everywhere!

Fiat Doblo in Scicli, Sicily

From stunning Siracusa, with it’s maze of alleyways……

Siracusa, Sicily

Where laundry fluttered in the breeze……

Drying denim in Siracusa, Sicily

To the fishing villages of the south……

Fishing boats, Sicily

Where the three wheeled Apè was constantly in use……

Apè in Mazzara, Sicily

From mountains villages, where rooftops created their own memory…….

Roof tops in Sicily

To the clear blue waters of San Vito lo Capo……

San Vito lo Capo, Sicily

Through fields of flowers……

Olive trees and poppies in Sicily

Dotted with stone walls……

Stone walls in Sicily

Past vineyards……

Grape vines in Sicily

Spotting wild fennel growing everywhere……

Wild fennel in Sicily

To the Nebrodi mountains to see the famous black pigs.

Black pigs of the Nebrodi Mountains in Sicily

We loved the markets with all the fabulous selection of fresh food and fish

Ballaro Market, Palermo

Tasty Pachino tomatoes
Pachino Tomatoes, Sicily

Blood Oranges

Blood oranges, Sicily

Choose your fish.

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With raw ingredients of this quality, we ate at fabulous restaurants, from simple trattorias to Michelin starred restaurants.

Star treatment at La Madia in Licata

La Madia, Sicily

Simple, stunning seafood antipasti at Sakalleo in Scoglitti

Seafood antipasti at Sakalleo in Scoglitti

Sicily’s own pasta with sardines at Duomo in Ragusa.

Pasta wih sardines, fennel and pine nuts at Duomo in Ragusa

Stunningly tomato salad with pasta and mussels at La Conchiglietta in Marzamemi

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Amazing antipasti selection at Zia Pina in Palermo

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Zuppe di Mare at Per Bacco in Siracusa

Zuppe di mare at Per Bacco in Siracusa, Sicily

Pane cunzato at Da Alfredo in Lingua, Salina

Pane cunzato at Da Alfredo in Lingua, Salina

Local festivals were a highlight.
La Festa di Capperi in Pollara, Salina

La Festa di Capperi in Pollara, Salina

La Festa di San Giorgio in Modica

La Festa di San Giorgio in Modica

Meeting friendly locals who were always wanting to know where we were from, what we were doing and where we were going.

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Beautiful Marino in Trapani

Marino the net repairer in Trapani, Sicily

Making cheese with Guilio in the Madonie Mountains

Making cheese with Guilio in tbe Madonie Mountains, Sicily

Everywhere we went, we were surrounded by history

Golden mosaics at Monreale Cathedral, Palantine Chapel in Palermo, Piazza Armerina and the Duomo in Cefalu

Mosaics in the Monreale Cathedral, Sicily

Modica- one of the many Baroque towns of South East Sicily

Modica, Sicily

Temple ruins at Segesta, Selinute and Agrigento

Temple at Agrigento, Sicily

Lets not forget the sweet treats

Granita ni Sciacca

Gelato

Gelato con brioche in Palermo, Sicily

And the best- Cannolo

Cannolo at Mazzara in Palermo

Thankyou Sicily
We’ll be back!

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The Palatine Chapel in the Palazzo dei Normanni in Palermo is one site you should not miss.

When the first of the Norman rulers, Roger II came to power, he restored the palace, originally built in the 9th century for the Arab emirs, and built the Palantine Chapel.
Though it was finished in 1140, the decoration of the interior took a lot longer. The fabulous mosaics were finished at varying times. Over the years, and with successive rulers, the chapel has been restored and the mosaics renewed, the latest being the mosaics outside the chapel which are 19th century

Mosaics outside the entrance to the Palatine Chapel in Palermo

Mosaics outside the entrance

Closeup of mosaics outside the Palantine Chapel in Palermo

Closeup of the mosaics outside the entrance

Inside, fabulous mosaics, a painted honeycomb wooden roof and marble decoration on the lower walls show the mix of the Arab-Norman-Byzantine style of the 12th century

The large mosaic icons of the central apse and cupola (dome) both represent Christ the Pantocrator
In the main apse, Christ appears above the Virgin Mary with St Peter and St Paul in the side apses

View of the main apse and side apses in the Palantine Chapel, Palermo

View of the mosaics in the three apses

Christ the Pancrator icon in the main apse of the Palantine Chapel, Palermo

Christ the Pancrator icon in the main apse

Whilst in the cupola of the sanctuary, Christ appears with angels, archangels and prophets with the Apostles in the four corners

Christ the Pancrator icon in the cupola of the Palantine Chapel

Christ the Pancrator with Angels and Archangels in the cupola

The nave mosaics depict scenes from the lives of St Peter and St Paul as well as scenes from the Old Testament

Christ with St Peter and St Paul in the Palantine Chapel in Palermo

Christ with St Peter and St Paul

Mosaics in the nave of the Palantine Chapel in Palermo

Mosaics in the nave

In the nave stands a 12th-century, fifteen foot high, Paschal candelabra carved with figures, wild animals, and acanthus leaves.

Carved figures on the paschal candelabra in the Palantine Chapel in Palermo

Carved figures on the paschal candelabra

Painted ceiling in the Palantine Chapel in Palermo

Painted honeycomb ceiling

Today, the Palazzo dei Normanni is the seat of Sicily’s regional govenment

The Appartamenti Reali (Royal Apartments) are on the second floor. Even though the Palazzo was rebuilt in Spanish times, the Sala di Ruggerio (Roger’s Hall) remains covered with mosaics depicting hunting and animal scenes as it did in Roger’s day

The Sala di Ercole (Hall of Hercules), where the Sicilian Parliament now sits, is just as it was when used in the Middle Ages.

This floor is only open on Monday and Friday when Parliament does not meet.
Check the opening hours before you visit

On the walk back, you will pass the Cathedral of Palermo. As a result of additions, alterations and renovations over the years, this 12th century Duomo now incorporates many different architectural styles.

Cathedral of Palermo

Cathedral of Palermo

Another view of the Cathedral of Palermo

Another view of the Cathedral

Via Principe di  Belmonte is a pretty street, closed to traffic with flower vendors,bars and restaurants spilling into the centre. We were here for dinner at Gigi Mangia but as Caffe Spinnato was over the road, we stopped for a quick aperitivo

On a beautiful night, sitting outside was the place to be. The restaurant service was perfect and the food matched.

La Cassata di Pesce Spada at Gigi Mangia, Palermo

La Cassata di Pesce Spada

Fantasmagorica-pasta with sea urchin, mussels and prawns at Gigi Mangia in Palermo

Fantasmagorica-pasta with sea urchin, mussels and prawns. Delicious

Grilled Spigola with tomato and olives at Gigi Mangia in Palermo

Grilled Spigola with tomato and olives

Eat

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Gigi Mangia
Via Principe di Belmonte, 104d
Palermo
Tel: +39 091 587651
http://www.gigimangia.com
Gigi Mangia

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