Next morning our sightseeing started with vistas of the beautiful Piazza Venezia and the Roman Forum; we visited the Colosseum and heard about gladiatorial combats and early Christian martyrdom; afterwards we proceeded via Circus Maximus and across the Tiber to Janiculum Hill where we saw a panoramic view of Rome, and finally visited the monumental St. Peter's Square and Basilica. We went to the Sistene Chapel, and couldn't believe the extent of the paintings on the walls and the ceiling of the Chapel - we had seen photos of the ceiling, but it was just so much more impressive in real life. Michelangelo's work is unbelievable!
That afternoon we left Rome and headed towards the Pope's summer palace, Castelli Gandolfo, in the hills south of Rome, where we had a wonderful meal in a little restaurant in Frascati - the home of Italian white wines. It was really a memorable evening, with live singing and music and a real insight into the rural Italian life style.
We passed through a kaleidoscope of Italian landscapes on the way through the fertile Italian plains. An interesting detour took us off the highway into the vine- and olive-clad Tuscan hills, home of the popular Chianti wines. When we got to Pisa we saw the famous leaning tower. It is so much more impressive in real life - I couldn't believe that it could remain upright at that angle! Dianne bought a leather handbag from a little market stall in Pisa.
After an early start, we drove to Florence, cradle of the Renaissance, and saw the magnificent Santa Maria del Fiore, Giotto's Bell Tower, the Baptistry's heavy bronze "Gate of Paradise". To top it off, we admired Michelangelo's celebrated David in the Gallery of Fine Arts. We also checked out the shops, with Florentine leather goods and gold jewelry everywhere. After a lunch break we headed north towards Venice.
We started the day early, and after catching the bus to the main port area, we travelled in style on a private boat which took us through ancient canals to meet our resident local guide.
On our walking tour we visited St. Mark's Square and the Byzantine splendor of St. Mark's Basilica, saw over the lavish Doge's Palace, and the Bridge of Sighs. There is nothing romantic about the Bridge of Sighs - it was a very dark, dreary covered bridge along which condemned prisoners were escorted from the court in the Doges palace to the primitive cells where they were to be imprisoned. We also watched Venetian glass blowers fashion delicate glasses and ornaments. Later we walked around Venice at our own pace, but found it dirty, noisy and crowded. We were glad to leave and return to the hotel.
We saw the lavish terraced gardens of Prince Eugene's Belvedere Palace, and then went for a drive along Ping Boulevard, past Emperor Franz Josef's Hofburg Palace and the State Opera. Next we saw the Prater amusement park with its giant Ferris wheel, featured in Orson Welles's classic film "The Third Man", and later saw where the ultra-modern United Nations City lies on the banks of the Danube River. We visited St. Stephen's Cathedral, and saw the midday parade of historical figures at the musical Anker Clock.
Just after lunch we were looking for one of the Mozart museums, where he used to live and where he wrote the famous opera "Figaro", and I found 150 schillings. There was nobody around at the time, so the money came in handy - it was used for lunch and to cover the cost of the Figaro Museum.
On the way back to the hotel we saw the golden statue of Johann Strauss in the memorial park.
That night we went to a famous restaurant near Grinzing - on the Marchfeld Plain - in the Heuriger wine district. There was live entertainment and the food and wine was excellent ... a memorable night.
We left Vienna early in the morning, and the bus drove through the "Sound of Music" lakeland of the Salzkammergit, by lovely Lake Wolfgang as we proceeded towards Salzburg. After a morning stroll through the historic center of Mozart's hometown, over a shaky footbridge to where we admired the exquisite Mirabell Gardens and the Baroque Horse Trough. We also saw the Great Festival Hall, St. Peter's Churchyard, and the monumental Domplatz, and after a short lunch break we visited Mozart's birthplace in the charming Getreidegasse.
After leaving Salzburg on our way to Switzerland we travelled to Innsbruck, Austria's Olympic resort in the Tyrolean mountains. We enjoyed a pleasant walk through its quaint medieval lanes to see the balcony where Emperor Maximilian's Golden Roof is situated. It was a religious holiday there, and we saw a parade of almost everybody in the city in their native costumes with bands and singing and chanting. Many of the town's shops were shut. This is not unusual on a religious holiday, apparently.
We arrived in Lucerne to find that there had been a mix-up with our hotel bookings. When that happens, the tour company is obliged to provide alternative accommodation "of equal or better standard". This meant that we were moved to the most expensive five star hotel in Lucerne - the Palace Hotel, shown here.
One of the things which we saw while sightseeing in Lucerne was Thorwaldsen's Lion Monument, a memorial to the Swiss guards who lost their lives during the French Revolution. They were employed as bodyguards by the French king, and were trying to protect him from the people as they swarmed the palace. The Swiss guards were literally torn apart by the French mob. Mark Twain once visited Lucerne and referred to the Lion Monument as "the most moving piece of rock in the world".
Another well known feature we saw was the famous covered wooden bridges which date back to the 12th century, and ornate patrician houses of the walled Old Town. Afterwards we browsed through shops looking at Swiss watches, cuckoo clocks and Swiss Army knives. I chose a knife from a huge range of about fifty on display. While some of our companions climbed a local mountain by cable car and took a cruise on the fiord-like lake, we had lunch and a folklore party at a local restaurant, with yodeling and alphorn blowing and folk dancing and other forms of alpine merrymaking.