Friday, August 30, 2013

Florence - part 2

On the Monday the conference started. It was held in the old fort in the centre of town. It was a little bit odd crossing the moat and entering the fort each day to go to the conference. The Goldschmidt conference is about geochemistry - of everything and anything. I was a bit surprised how many people there were. It was also great to catch up with old friends who I don't normally bump in to at conferences as they work on volcanoes or soil or metamorphic stuff. It was nice to find out where people have got to and it was really good to see my friend Julie Brown who was doing really well after a rough couple of years dealing with brain tumours. She was on great form and I got to meet her husband Jim.
The entrance of the conference - entering the fort

Julie and Andrea and I having lunch at a trattoria and catching up the last 5 years... 

However, by about Friday afternoon my brain was full and after realising that I hadn't been listening for the last 5 minutes of one talk I realised it was time to quit. There is only so much the brain can absorb and throw in a few late nights socialising with a few alcoholic beverages and it becomes an exhausting week.

So I spent Friday afternoon doing a little more touristing and buying myself a few leather souvenirs. Florence is famous for its shoes and leather goods. I bought myself a pair of sandals, a small bag and a belt, and a new wallet for Aaron. I did find the really expensive shoe shops where they were hand making the shoes... but I can't afford any of those.

One of the many stalls selling leather bags, belts, shoes or wallets

I also climbed up the hill to the San Miniato church. With amazing views down on the city and I the church is spectacular. I spent an hour admiring the outside and the frescos on the walls inside. Not to mention the amazing floor - which looked like lace doilies (the things people put cakes on).

San Miniato church - with an intricate white and green facade

One of the frescos inside

The beautiful floor
Views of the river Arno and Florence from Piazza Michaelangelo 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Beautiful Florence

I arrived in Florence and mum and dad met me at the station. They had been in Florence a few days and had come over to catch up with me as well as an excuse to visit the tourist sites in this spectacular city. We spent the weekend going to a couple of the main attractions. On Saturday we first went to the market which had an amazing array of pasta and other edible goodies... mum was in heaven. She loves food markets. I have to admit I went back several times during the week to get sandwiches from one of the stalls - I do love Italian food!

The range of colourful pasta - the black pasta is made with Squid Ink!

Next we went in to the Duomo, which is spectacularly decorated on the outside with marble and green peridotite rocks. Inside it is decorated a little simpler - except for the painting of the dome. Mum and I climbed to the top to take in the views of Florence.
The green, white and a little bit of red (sandstone) of the outside of the Duomo

The painted dome - some rather graphic images when you look closely - lots of devils, blood and gore!

Mum climbing up the stairs to the top of the Duomo

View from the top looking down on the rest of the Duomo and tower

In the afternoon we went over the Ponte Vecchio to the other side of the river and on to the Boboli Gardens. The Ponte Vecchio is the only original bridge left in Florence after the wars and is lined with jewelry shops. 

The Ponte Vecchio - the bridge with shops built on it.

Lots of jewelry shops on the Ponte Vecchio

The next day we finally managed to get tickets for the Ufizi, the famous art gallery in Florence with a lot of the original altars and paintings from the Italian masters. I don't think I have seen so many paintings of Mary and child...

Friday, August 23, 2013

One short day in Rome

This year I was lucky enough to get funding to go to some international conferences. One happened to be in Italy and I had to fly in to Rome. I have spent very little time in Italy before (one short week skiing in the Italian Alps) so I took the opportunity to spend my first day looking around Rome, before moving on to Florence where the conference was being held.

Fortunately due to jet lag from the time difference - my day in Rome started very early in the morning. I was the first person at breakfast and was out of the Hotel by 7:15am. Which was great as the light was really nice and it wasn't too hot or busy. I was at the Coloseum at 8:30am when it opened and after a short queue I spent an hour there looking around. The structure is pretty amazing and so much crazy history of the gladiators and the Roman emperors.
The outside of the Coloseum

Inside the Coloseum - even down into the dungeons below the original floor level

By 10am it got too busy at the Coloseaum and I moved on to the Forum just down the road. It was still busy but it is much bigger - so didn't feel so crowded. The Forum is a series of areas built over time by different rulers. Most of it is in ruins - but a few features still stand tall.
The Forum with a few arches and pillars still standing

By mid afternoon it was hot and time for gelati, so I headed towards the Trevi Fountain and sat and ate my first Italian gelati amongst the crowds at the fountain before returning to the station to catch my train on to Florence. 
The Trevi Fountain - I liked the way they used the travertine rocks to make some natural features as well as the statues. The water was very inviting on a hot day - but the police stand and watch with loud whistles that they blow when people look like they are going to go for a paddle.

Tiramisu and pistachio gelati

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Helen's Birthday Ski Trip

Aaron organised to take me skiing for my birthday (and weekend) at Turoa on Mt Ruapehu. It was great to go on the Friday as it was much less busy and there were very small queues for the lifts. But also the weather was perfect. Cool and sunny with no wind. There was pretty good snow on the pistes, but off piste it was pretty icy and crusty - a little more challenging. It was great to get back into it and remind ourselves how to ski again as Aaron hadn't been for a couple of years and I had only one day last year.
Mt Ruapehu

Snack stop
On Saturday the weather was still okay in the morning so we got up early - in the hope that we would beat the weather that was forecast for the afternoon. To avoid the crowds we put our skins on and started skinning up the edge of the ski area. It got a little steep and icy and we ended up carrying skis and kicking steps for a 100 m or so. After about 2 and a half hours of going up hill we intersected one of the runs and skied back down - trying to avoid the moving slalom poles (other skiers). 
Starting up the mountain

A little too matching
After our little ski tour, we grabbed our crampons and ice axes and went to play on a steepish slope next to the carpark. Around midday the clouds started building up and the weather front came over Mt Ruapehu. So we retreated from the snow and headed back down the mountain to do a short bush walk to Waitonga Falls. We haven't done much tramping on this side of the mountain before. So it was good to explore a little beyond the ski slopes. 

The end of the nice weather

Waitonga Falls
On the Sunday we woke to pouring rain - supposedly snowing up on the mountain.... But with the flat light and after two full on days, we decided to head back to Wellington. It was nice to get a way for the weekend and play with some of our outdoor toys. We are hoping to do a 5 day ski tour in the south island in October. So we needed to remind ourselves how to do it all. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Skirting boards are finished

I finally finished the skirting boards. The nails have all been punched in, filled and painted. The spare room can now be put back together. Next up is the built in wardrobe in our room. I am going to build a bunch of drawers and then hang some sliding doors as well.

Given the warm winter weather, we actually spent some time in the garden getting it ready for spring. I built some new borders for the garden and turned the soil that is there.

The madarin and lemon trees are doing okay. They lost all their leaves in big storm in June, but the fruit are all still there. Helen has had several mandarin and I think we have had a few lemons as well.

Today I went for a wee bike ride. It was warm enough to ride in short sleeves. Pretty crazy considering it is the middle of winter. It does not bode well for our ski trip next weekend.