Michael Smit

Joined May 2017Living in: Cabarita, Australia
  • Day27

    Venice - Day 27

    July 26, 2017 in Italy

    On our last day in Venice, we went to St Mark's Basilica, a truly beautiful cathedral decorated with glittering mosaics above vast portals. We were not allowed to take photos inside but could do so from the rooftop balconies. Upstairs there were gilt bronze horses, captured treasure from the Venetian sacking of Constantinople, kept inside with reproductions on the balcony overlooking Piazza San Marco.

    Michael went to the top of the Campanile, a 99 metre tall bell tower with stunning views over Venice.

    After an afternoon of more wandering and shopping, we spent the evening in Piazza San Marco in one of the 18th century cafes drinking the most expensive tea and coffee ever but enjoying the live musical entertainment and the savouring the experience.
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  • Day26

    Venice - Day 26

    July 25, 2017 in Italy

    We had lovely breakfast in the garden of our hotel on a beautiful summer morning. The waiter warned us about leaving our food unattended as the pigeons were notorious for swooping down and taking food from the tables. We had no problems but one of the other diners got caught out!

    Today was all about wandering the streets and bridges of Venice and only getting lost once.

    We mostly wandered around the San Marco and Rialto areas, slowed down by numerous shops and galleries.

    After all that shopping we had built up quite a thirst, so we had a beer in a bar just across from our hotel.

    In the afternoon we went to the Palace of the Doge, an impressive building capturing the splendour and intrigue of the Venetian Republic.

    We crossed the Bridge of Sighs, linking the Palace with the dark cells of the 16th century prison and so named for the sighs given by the condemned prisoners as they saw their last view of the waters of Venice before their incarceration.
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  • Day25

    Monaco to Lyon to Venice - Day 25

    July 24, 2017 in Italy

    Today we were up bright and early for a 5.30am drop off to Nice airport for our flight to Venice via Lyon.

    We had a six hour stopover in Lyon, and so we caught the tram into the city for a brief visit.

    We embarked from the tram in Place Bellecour and walked across the Saone River on the Pont Bonaparte, looking up at the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere perched high on a hilltop, and strolled into the old town of Lyon, known as Vieux Lyon.

    Our first stop was the Cathedral St-Jean in the middle of Vieux Port, built between the late 11th and early 16th centuries.

    We stumbled upon the Museum of Miniatures and Film Sets, a unique museum offering a fascinating look at rare and unusual miniature models including more than 450 items used on film sets. Unfortunately we did not have time to explore this museum but from the displays outside this looked amazing.

    We only had a very brief taste of Lyon but it looks like a beautiful city well worth spending a few days in, and on our agenda if we are to visit the south of France again.

    We arrived in Venice, entering the city in style by catching a water taxi to our hotel, and spent the night wandering the streets of Venice (along with everyone else it seemed).

    We strolled through Piazza San Marco and through the narrow streets to the Rialto Bridge, and enjoyed a nice pasta meal alongside the Grand Canal near the Rialto Bridge.
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  • Day24

    Monaco and Nice - Day 24

    July 23, 2017 in Monaco

    On Sunday we took a day trip by bus from Monaco to Nice. We got off the bus to the east of Nice and got our first look at Nice from a hill overlooking the city and the long beachfront.

    On this hill was the very popular and much photographed #I Love Nice sign. Initially the hashtag was launched on social networks following the terrorist attack on the Promenade des Anglais on 14th July 2016, as a message to the world that the people of Nice, despite such threats still believe in peace and hope. And now the sign has become a symbol of love to the citizens of the French city and the capital of the Riviera.
    N
    ice was quite busy at the waterfront as they were holding an Ironman like competition along the wide, palm lined Promenade des Anglais. It was funny for us to see a beach full of pebbles rather than sand and with no surf!

    We wandered away from the busy beachfront into the Nice’s labyrinthine baroque old town where after some wandering and shopping we had some lunch.

    That night in Monaco we had a farewell dinner with the tour group.
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  • Day23

    Monaco - Day 23

    July 22, 2017 in Monaco

    Today we headed up to The Rock or La Rocher, which is where the Monaco cathedral and Royal Palace are located, and which offered beautiful views over the city, the yacht filled harbour, and the Mediterranean.

    The Cathedrale de Monaco is a stunning cathedral built in 1875 in the Romanesque-Byzantine style. Inside are housed the tombs of Princess Grace (who died tragically in a car accident in 1982) and Prince Rainier (who died in 2005).

    We strolled around in front of the Palais du Prince, the royal palace, where the royal Grimaldi family live, although we did not venture inside. We witnessed the changing of the guard in their white uniforms.

    On our second night in Monaco we were taken to a hilltop village called La Turbie for a dinner. Before the dinner the Australian lady who runs the restaurant with her French husband took us for a passionate tour through the medieval walled town. A very proud resident of the village and a frustrated tour guide we thought. It was nice to see such a town in a more natural state, rather than the more tourist oriented towns.

    The town had a Roman ruin called the Trophy of Augustus which was built in 6 BC to celebrate Augustus’ conquest of the Gaulish tribes between 25 and 14 BC. It exerts the power and protection of Rome.

    We topped off the night with a front row seat to fireworks near our hotel. This was probably the best view of fireworks we had ever had. More were to be held weekly over the next four weeks, including Australia, but the ones we watched were put on by France.
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  • Day22

    Nimes to Monaco - Day 22

    July 21, 2017 in Monaco

    We left Nimes this morning for our journey to Monaco, and our first very brief stop was the city of Aix-en-Provence. Aix (pronounced ex) is rich in culture with two of its most famous sons being the painter Paul Cezanne and novelist Emile Zola.

    Our second stop was the beautiful hilltop town of St Paul-de-Vence, outside of Nice and Monaco. We loved this town and wish we could have spent more than the 1.5 hours allowed. Very touristy and very busy at this time of year but some very interesting shops and lots of art galleries (64 in total!) with fairly unique art items, reflecting the village’s art legacy.

    We arrived at the Fairmont Hotel in Monaco, which was our base for the next 3 nights. And what a base it was, a four star hotel overlooking the blue Mediterranean Sea.

    We went for a walk to the Casino and around the hotel. On returning to the hotel we saw a number of young men with fancy cameras in the front of the hotel. At first we thought they were paparazzi, but then thought that they were too young for that. Then we realised that they were there to capture the expensive cars as they slowed down for the hairpin bend directly in front of the hotel, which was part of the Monaco Grand Prix circuit. There were some flash looking cars in the hotel carpark also.

    We had dinner in the rooftop restaurant of the hotel, the Horizon. Such beautiful food (the truffle pizza was to die for) and such a beautiful backdrop and environment, it had us both feeling like rock stars.
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  • Day21

    Nimes - Day 21

    July 20, 2017 in France

    Today was free of tour activities and so we were free to spend the day wandering around Nimes mostly visiting the Roman historical sites, namely the Arena, the Maison Carrie, and the Tour Magne.

    The Arena is the best preserved Roman amphitheatre in the world. It was built to seat over 10,000 spectators to gladiatorial contests. In addition to being open for visits, it is used for concerts and special events, and controversially for bullfights.

    The Maison Carre is a former Roman temple that has been preserved throughout the ages. Inside a short film is run every half hour dramatising the birth of Nimes as the Roman town of Nemausus.

    The Tour Magne is a remnant of the old Roman fortified wall that surrounded Nemausus, and today offers panoramic views of the city. It was the highest of the 80 towers that were part of the wall, which was built in 16AD and was 7km long.

    Walking around Nimes we saw a full sized bronze crocodile in an exotic fountain in the Place du Marche. We learnt that the crocodile and the palm tree are the symbols of Nimes, deriving from early bronze coins minted by the Romans from 28-27 BC onwards, showing a crocodile (symbol of Egypt) chained to a palm tree (Roman symbol of victory) in celebration of the role of its contingent in the Roman army which defeated Anthony at the battle of Actium in Egypt in 31 BC.
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  • Day20

    Avignon and Arles - Day 20

    July 19, 2017 in France

    Today we hopped in the bus and headed to the walled city of Arles (pronounced Arl) for a brief city tour and for a wander around.

    We passed the two-tiered Arles amphitheatre which was being set up for an evening concert. Built by the Romans in 90 AD, it was capable of seating over 20,000 spectators.

    There were many shops in Arles selling Santons (little saints), small figurines made of clay and hand-crafted with loving care. They started as figures for Nativity scenes, such as Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus and the three Kings, but now reflect the life of the inhabitants and families of Provence showing traditional activities of the working men and women of Marseilles, or famous figures from Arles and the Camargue region.

    Vincent van Gogh spent a lot of time in Arles, and captured the light, the colours, and the landmarks in over 200 canvases he painted there (not a single one of which remains today). Van Gogh painted Café Terrace at Night in Arles in mid-September 1888. The subject of the painting is now Le Café La Nuit in the busy Place du Forum, which was refurbished in 1990 and 1991 to replicate the painting.

    Afterwards we went to Avignon, another walled city that was home to the Popes during the 14th century. It is the site of the Palais de Papes (Palace of the Popes) built to keep the Popes in the manner in which they were accustomed to.

    Avignon was busy with the Festival d'Avignon, an annual arts festival held every summer in July. It is the oldest extant festival in France and one of the world's greatest.
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  • Day19

    Our journey to the south of France began with a fast train, the TGV, from Paris to Avignon in the Provence region, hurtling along at up to 300kmh.

    On arrival in Avignon we hopped on our bus and headed to the pretty village of Chateauneuf de Pape (literally meaning "new castle of the Pope", from the papal residence located there in medieval times), where we visited a winery to hear about and taste their famous wine.

    Afterwards we went to Pont du Gard, a three level arch spanning a river that was built by the Romans as part of a 49km aqueduct system built around 19 BC providing water to the Roman town that is called Nimes (pronounced Neem) today. 35 arches straddling the aqueducts 275m long upper tier supporting a watercourse designed to carry 20,000 cubic metres of water per day.

    We then travelled to Nimes and checked into our Hotel, the Hotel Imperator. Nimes is quite a lovely little city, and our hotel was historic but was quite old and in need of a revamp.
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  • Day18

    Paris - Day 18

    July 17, 2017 in France

    Today we visited Sainte Chapelle, a holy chapel built by Louis IX in 1248, with stained glass windows all around giving it an ethereal feel. The 15 stained glass windows contain 1,113 scenes depicting the story of mankind from Genesis through to Christ’s resurrection.

    We crossed the Seine on Paris’ oldest and most famous bridge, Pont Neuf (ironically “new bridge”), inaugurated in 1607 and linking the Ile de la Cite with the left and right banks of the river. This bridge is also famous for the padlocks affixed to the fences around part of the bridge, with declarations of love.

    We browsed through the legendary Shakespeare and Company bookshop. We bought a copy of Ernest Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon, a book about bullfighting in Spain, forming a nice connection between our Spanish and French travels.

    Afterwards we wandered through the St Germain des Pres area, where Sartre, de Beauvoir and Camus, and later Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Joyce, once hung out in cafes drinking and engaging in earnest debate. These days it accommodates chic boutiques though the legendary cafes still exist.

    We had a pleasant lunch at Café de Flore, one of the oldest coffeehouses in Paris, celebrated for its famous clientele, which in the past included high-profile writers and philosophers. It is located at the corner of Boulevard Saint-Germain and Rue Saint-Benoît.

    Later we strolled through the Luxembourg Gardens, an enchanting park with a large pond, a great place to relax for a while and watch Parisians at play.
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