Travel theme: Gardens

My visit to the Giardino degli Aranci got me pondering the subject of gardens. There were no flower beds or herbaceous borders in that gentle garden on the Aventine, but there was an intimacy and charm within those walls that made it feel like a sanctuary. Perhaps that is really the essence of what a garden is; a place to lose yourself or find yourself or just be. The word ‘garden’ derives from an ancient term, gard, referring to an enclosed space. There are traces of its ancient etymology in place names such as Stuttgart in Germany, Graz in Austria and Borujerd in Iran.

A love of gardening runs deep in me. Wherever I go, I find some small way to garden; growing tomatoes and the hottest of chili peppers on a windowsill, gathering seeds and propagating cuttings, adding a border to a friend’s garden. I love the smell and feel of earth and marvel at the sight of a new seedling rushing towards daylight. On my travels I seek out gardens to wander through, so here are a few gardens I have visited along the way.

It’s no secret I am in love with the work of Piet Oudolf and the romance of prairie planting, with feathery grasses and dried seedheads creating the most achingly delicate winterscapes. I spent many a winter’s day wandering through his garden creations in New York’s Battery and High Line parks.

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I remember the serenity of the Zen Garden in Bainbridge Island’s Bloedel Reserve

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… the lush simplicity of a tiny bottle garden at the US Botanic Gardens in Washington DC…

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…the playfulness of cottage gardens in the Hamptons…

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…and the drama of exotic gardens in Guatemala, where I saw the gasp-inducing Jade flower for the very first time.

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Get your green thumbs at the ready for your interpretation of this week’s theme. If you would like to join in (everyone’s welcome!) here’s what to do:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: Gardens
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes. Sign up via the email subscription link in the sidebar or RSS!

Lead me down the garden path!

xxx Ailsa

Won’t you come into the garden? I would like my roses to see you. – Richard Brinsley Sheridan

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. – Marcus Tullius Cicero

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View from the Orange Grove

What comes to mind when you think of Rome? Spectacular art, ancient ruins, palaces and fountains top the list, but for me, my abiding memory of Rome will be of oranges. My friend Karen invited me to stay with her in her apartment overlooking the Campo di’ Fiori, which translated means ‘Field of Flowers’. It is an ancient marketplace right in the heart of the Centro Storico, the historical centre of Rome and early in the morning it really does look like a field of flowers when vendors set up their stalls filled to bursting with fresh blooms and the best vegetables in the city.

After a sleepless night, a 2am bus ride and an early morning flight, I landed at Ciampino airport and took a series of crowded buses into the centre of Rome. I should have been exhausted, but as Karen led me up the stairs to her apartment and out onto her balcony, any trace of tiredness was swept away by the glorious view that spread out before me. Her balcony was the perfect homage to all things Mediterranean; fringes of rosemary and lavender with beautifully sculpted lemon, olive and orange trees in terracotta pots. My first view of Rome was through the branches of an orange tree and it is a memory that will live with me forever.

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But the orange association doesn’t end there. One of the loveliest views over the city can be found in an unimposing little orange garden high up on the Aventine. As I was making my way from the Mouth of Truth to the secret keyhole at the Villa del Priorato dei Cavalieri di Malta, I found this unexpected gem of a garden skulking quietly behind ancient walls. I wouldn’t have even known it was there if it weren’t for a few fallen oranges that told tales of what lay hidden behind the walls. Around the corner a graceful archway afforded a glimpse of the gardens beyond.

Parco Savello, Giardino degli Aranci, Orange Garden, Rome, Italy, travel, travelogue, photography, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

Recent rainfall gathered in puddles around stone benches…

Parco Savello, Giardino degli Aranci, Orange Garden, Rome, Italy, travel, travelogue, photography, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

…and a slender walkway wove through the grove, leading to a terrace with a panoramic view of the Eternal City. In one direction, the age-old palazzi of Trastevere dotted the skyline; on the other side the meandering curve of the Tiber led my eye over the rooftops and domes to St Peter’s Basilica and Vatican City off in the distance.

Parco Savello, Giardino degli Aranci, Orange Garden, Rome, Italy, travel, travelogue, photography, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

According to legend, a bitter orange tree was planted in the cloister of neighbouring Basilica  di Santa Sabina by the Spanish saint, Father Dominic, who brought the plant from his homeland in 1200 AD. Bitter orange trees are held to be the world’s first cultivated oranges, brought to Europe via the Middle East. The sweet oranges we enjoy today didn’t reach Europe until around the 15th century, probably brought here by Portuguese traders from the Far East. While St. Dominic’s original tree has long since expired, a sapling from the original tree took root and grows there to this day. The park itself used to be monastery gardens belonging to the Dominican Order and more bitter orange trees were added at a later point to compliment the original tree planted by St. Dominic. Officially named Parco Savelli; this park has come to be known for its orange trees and is often referred to as Il Giardino degli Aranci (Garden of Oranges).

In summer the gardens are host to a variety of outdoor theatre productions and a popular picnic spot, but in the off-season it is a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of big city life. It is the perfect spot to go for a wander, take in the view and maybe read a book underneath one of those glorious orange trees.

Parco Savello, Giardino degli Aranci, Orange Garden, Rome, Italy, travel, travelogue, photography, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

If you fancy a wander through the orange grove next time you’re in Rome, you can find it on the Via di Santa Sabina on the top of the Aventine Hill. It is open from 7am until sunset.

xxx Ailsa

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Travel theme: Tempting

As the witty wordsmith Oscar Wilde once said, I can resist everything but temptation. I have been failing miserably to resist the temptations Rome has to offer, indulging in decadent pizza…

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… and luscious gelato.

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There are many other things I find irresistible, like the call of the ocean on a hot summer’s day…

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…building a snowman in the first snowfall of the year…

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…the lure of the open road…

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…and the promise of what lies hidden around the next corner.

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I hope I can entice you to create your own interpretation of this week’s theme. If you are tempted to join in (everyone’s welcome!) here’s what to do:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: Tempting
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes. Sign up via the email subscription link in the sidebar or RSS!

Don’t try to resist this week’s challenge. ;)

xxx Ailsa

Yield to temptation. It may not pass your way again. – Robert A. Heinlein

I never resist temptation, because I have found that things that are bad for me do not tempt me. – Mark Twain

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La Bocca della Verità

At the foot of Rome‘s Aventine Hill, not far for the Tiber River, lies a medieval church by the name of Chiesa di Santa Maria in Cosmedin. It was built in the 8th century but revamped in the 12th century when a beautifully ornate seven-storey bell tower and portico were added.

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The portico is home to a most unusual and extremely popular sculpture – La Bocca della Verità, otherwise known as the Mouth of Truth, which came to worldwide attention in the classic movie Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. The term ‘Bocca della Verità’ was originally a term applied to public letter boxes in the Middle Ages, where people could anonymously drop letters accusing fellow citizens of sinful behaviour, but it has since evolved to refer to this sculpture in particular.

The Mouth of Truth is a huge marble mask which, according to historians, started out as something functional, although nobody is entirely sure what that function might have been. Suggestions include manhole or well cover, part of a fountain, a surface where sacrificial animals were drained of their blood or a water collector in a temple that had an oculus; an opening in the roof that would let in the rain. At some point over the years, however, the mask found a new purpose – that of an ancient lie detector. Locals believed that if you put your hand in the mouth and told a lie, the mouth would close and bite your hand off. In earlier times, those suspected of perjury or adultery were dragged kicking and screaming to the mask and asked to admit their wrong-doings with their hand in the mouth.

chiesa santa maria in cosmedin, la bocca della verita, mouth of truth, roman holiday, italy, rome, travel, travelogue, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

Legend has it that the Bocca della Verità was outwitted by a savvy Roman lady whose husband suspected her of adultery. He was quite correct; she was indeed having an affair, and when she was brought to the mask, her lover rushed from the crowd and kissed her, declaring his undying love. She denounced him as a madman, saying she’d never seen him before and sent him packing. Without skipping a beat, she stuck her hand in the mouth and declared proudly and truthfully that she had never been kissed by any man other than her husband… and the madman who had just kissed her. The Bocca della Verità lost all credibility and hasn’t bitten off another hand since.

Nowadays, no coercion is required; people line up eagerly to place their hand in the mouth and pose for a photo. I don’t know how many of them willingly risk their hand by telling a lie, however, because that glowering face with its fierce eyes, flowing mane and gaping mouth is still pretty unnerving close up.

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If you fancy chancing your arm (and your hand) next time you’re in Rome, you can find La Bocca della Verità at Piazza Bocca della Verità 18/Via della Greca 4. Opening hours: Winter 9:30am to 4:50pm, Summer 9:30am to 5:50pm. Admission is “free” but a donation is suggested (€0.50).

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Travel theme: Ancient

Rome is filled with antiquities and you happen across them when you least expect it; rounding the corner of a narrow cobbled street and suddenly coming face to face with a ruin that dates back to centuries B.C. At night, the Forum of Augustus is illuminated and its splendour will stop you in your tracks when you first catch sight of this ancient complex, which was officially inaugurated in 2 B.C.

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On the other side of the world, here are the White House ruins; cliff dwellings of the Ancient Pueblo Peoples found in Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly.

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Further south, one of my most memorable experiences in Guatemala was watching the sun set over the jungle in Tikal, seeing the tops of ancient temples peeping out above the tree canopy. It is quite overwhelming to see how expertly nature has reclaimed an area that was once a thriving metropolis.

stone temples, tikal, mayan ruins, maya, ancient temples, guatemala, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux- mooney, photography

Now it’s over to you for your interpretation of this week’s theme. If you would like to join in (everyone’s welcome!) here’s what to do:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: Ancient
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes. Sign up via the email subscription link in the sidebar or RSS!

Show me your most decrepit, worn and torn, antediluvian shots!

xxx Ailsa

“Let others praise ancient times; I am glad I was born in these.” – Ovid

“Knowledge is ancient error reflecting on its youth.” – Francis Picabia

Posted in Photography, Travel, Weekly Travel Themes | Tagged , , , , , , , | 146 Comments

A rose by any other name

You can’t get very far in Rome without being offered a rose.

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rose scam, rome, italy, piazza del popolo, trevi fountain, spanish steps, travel, travelogue, travel photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

While the unexpected gesture may bring a smile to your face, it is actually a rather notorious Roman scam, unsurprisingly dubbed the Rose Scam. A man with a huge bouquet of roses will hand a rose or two to a passing female tourist, wait a beat and then ask for a euro or two for the rose. The most successful scenario is when the girl is accompanied by a boyfriend or husband, who, when asked for money, has the option of paying up or appearing like a scoundrel for asking his beloved to return the rose.

That may have worked when the scam was first dreamt up but these days most people are wise to it. As I sat on the Spanish Steps watching the world go by, my eye was drawn over and over to those guys with their bouquets of roses and noticed not a single euro changing hands. Most women smiled but politely refused the rose or returned it when asked for money; some were outright rude, yelling at the rose bearer to get away, and one girl sauntered off with a rose, ignoring the man who followed her halfway down the street before giving up.

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rose scam, rome, italy, piazza del popolo, trevi fountain, spanish steps, travel, travelogue, travel photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

I made my way up to the Piazza del Popolo where two more rose men (as I had christened them in my mind) were busy plying tourists with flowers. At the centre of the piazza is a grand obelisk, surrounded by four fountains, aptly named the Fontana dell’ Obelisco. Each fountain features a majestic lion atop a stepped plinth and one of these lions caught my eye – he had a deep pink rose in his mouth.

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Piazza del Popolo, fountain, Rome, Italy, travel, photography, travelogue, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

As I was standing there wondering how the rose had arrived at such an unexpected location, there was a splash in the pool of the fountain next to me. One of the rose men had dropped his bouquet in the water to refresh the fading blooms.

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I watched as he retrieved his precious bouquet and carefully tended to the delicate blossoms, rearranging them into a pleasing bundle and gently shaking the water off them. The whole event lasted less than a minute, but somehow I felt like I was witnessing a secret, intimate ritual; a small insight into the life of a rose man. When he was finished he glanced up and met my eye, flashed me a dazzling smile and hurried off after a group of English-speaking tourists who were heading towards the Spanish Steps.

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Posted in Europe, Italy, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 54 Comments

Travel theme: Work

I was sauntering through Rome‘s Campo de’ Fiori when my eye was caught by this cheeky vendor.

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So I went looking through my photos for other images of work that I’ve caught on my travels. Here is laundry day on the shores of Lake Atitlan.

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Still in Guatemala, this chap made log-carrying look easy. I was in awe of the speed at which he was walking with such a heavy burden.

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This guard had the difficult task of stopping people from running headlong through the tulip fields at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.

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Behind the scenes, in fields not open to the public, tulilp pickers spread across fields of unopened tulips gathering armloads of plants for future sale.

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, washington, usa, travel, travelogue, travel photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

Do you have an interpretation of this week’s theme that you would like to work on? If you would like to join in (everyone’s welcome!) here’s what to do:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: Work
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes. Sign up via the email subscription link in the sidebar or RSS!

xxx Ailsa

“Work is a necessity for man. Man invented the alarm clock.” – Pablo Picasso

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

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3 nations through 1 keyhole

High up on Aventine Hill, overlooking Rome, lies a most unusual villa. It is the Villa del Priorato dei Cavalieri di Malta, belonging to the Knights of Malta, otherwise known as the Knights of St. John Hospitaler.

Villa del Priorato di Malta, I Cavalieri di Malta, Rome, Italy, travel, travelogue, photography, keyhole, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

What makes it unusual is that the grounds of this ancient military order’s villa are recognized by the state of Italy as a sovereign nation. The villa serves as embassy for the Order of Malta to Italy and the Holy See. Three separate nations and three national capitals exist side by side within the boundaries of the city of Rome – Italy, the Vatican and the Knights of Malta.

More unusual still, you can view all three nations through one single keyhole, and that keyhole is found in the door to this villa.

Villa del Priorato di Malta, I Cavalieri di Malta, Rome, Italy, travel, travelogue, photography, keyhole, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

As you peer through the tiny peephole your eye traces its way along an elegant tree-lined pathway in the grounds of the villa…

Villa del Priorato di Malta, I Cavalieri di Malta, Rome, Italy, travel, travelogue, photography, keyhole, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

…across Rome, to the dome of St. Peter’s basilica in Vatican City, in perfect alignment with the neatly manicured cypress hedges and the keyhole.

Villa del Priorato di Malta, I Cavalieri di Malta, Rome, Italy, travel, travelogue, photography, keyhole, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

Now that’s what I call a view!

If you would like to see it for yourself, the villa is located on the top of Aventine Hill along Via di Santa Sabina at the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta.

Posted in Italy, Photography, Travel, Travel tips | Tagged , , , , , , , | 59 Comments

Travel theme: Romance

The first mention of Valentine’s Day as a celebration of romantic love dates all the way back to 1382 when Geoffrey Chaucer penned his ‘Parlement of Foules’ and that well known verse “Roses are red, violets are blue” had its first outing in 1590 in Edmund Spenser’s ‘Faerie Queene’:

“She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.”

Nowadays, Valentine’s Day has been co-opted by big business and all of the romance that once existed has long since been traded for consumerism. This year maybe we could eschew the boxes of overly sweet candy and the Hallmark cards with soulless verses and instead, reclaim the romance. What do you find truly romantic – a glance, an unexpected gesture, a stolen kiss?

Rome is one of the world’s greatest romantic cities and it is perhaps the most alluring because it doesn’t show off. There is no fanfare; you make your way through a warren of narrow cobbled streets that stretch for miles and suddenly you round a corner and are faced with the impossibly ancient Parthenon or the utterly romantic Trevi Fountain. I didn’t have to look for the romance in Rome; the romance found me.

Piazza del Popolo, fountain, Rome, Italy, travel, photography, travelogue, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

carnival mask, venetian, Rome, Italy, travel, travelogue, photography, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

coffee, caffe latte, italian coffee, Rome, Italy, photography, travel, travelogue, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

Pincio Gardens, Rome, Italy, Piazzale Napoleone I, travel, travelogue, photography, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

I’m hoping you fall head over heels for this week’s theme because I’ve had an awful lot of fun with it. If you would like to join in (everyone’s welcome!) here’s what to do:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: Romance
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes. Sign up via the email subscription link in the sidebar or RSS!

Romance me!

xxx Ailsa

“Romance is the glamour which turns the dust of everyday life into a golden haze.” – Carolyn Gold Heilbrun

“Romance is everything.” – Gertrude Stein

Posted in Photography, Travel, Weekly Travel Themes | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 115 Comments

Rainy days in Rome

I’ve spent the past week exploring the ancient streets of Rome. Despite occasional rain showers and thunderstorms, it was deliciously warm; mild enough to amble around in a     t-shirt, with an umbrella at the ready. When clouds gathered and thunder threatened, ancient monuments seemed to grow in stature and glow, almost as if the stormy skies released in them some sort of inner luminosity. In between cloudbursts, the sun came out and I took some time to capture a few reflective moments in this most magical of cities.

Pools of rainwater gathered in and around the Circus Maximus as I rambled by, creating breathtaking mirror images of the Roman Forum beyond.

Circus Maximus, Ancient Rome, Roman Forum, travel, travelogue, photography, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney, Italy

Circus Maximus, Ancient Rome, Roman Forum, travel, travelogue, photography, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney, Italy

Circus Maximus, Ancient Rome, Roman Forum, travel, travelogue, photography, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney, Italy

The cobbled stones of the Piazza Navona made a delicate backdrop for reflected architecture.

Piazza Navona, Rome, Italy, photography, travel, travelogue, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

And the medieval streets of Trastevere glittered like precious gemstones in the pitch of night.

Rome, Italy, Trastevere, travel, travelogue, photography, Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney

With sights this delightful I am quite content to get soaked by a sudden downpour.

xxx Ailsa

Posted in Europe, Italy, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 52 Comments