Rome at Night

Despite its size, Rome is a very walkable city. Given the amount of traffic, it’s sometimes preferable to simply pull on a good pair of shoes, preload a Google map of the area you want to explore on your phone (GPS works even if you don’t have cell service), and then head out with a few others to see the sites that aren’t included on your tour. For two nights, we did this, racking up miles on our pedometers while seeing some attractions that appear far more romantic at night.

basicila beyond river

We had to cross the Tiber River to begin our tours, but the view of St. Peter’s Basilica is breathtaking at twilight.

Fountains are Fab

Over two-thousand fountains can be found in the Eternal City—more than in any other city in the world. Fifty of those are considered monumental fountains. We made it our mission to visit as many as we could.

The Fontana del Pantheon can be found directly in front of the Pantheon in the Piazza del Rotunda. Atop the fountain is the Egyptian Obelisk. Commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII and designed by Giacomo Della Porta in 1575, the fountain was sculpted out of marble by Leonardo Sormani. The redesign of the fountain in 1711 by Filippo Barigioni added the the Macuteo obelisk (originally created during the period of Ramses II) set in the centre on a plinth with four dolphins decorating the base.


The Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) can be found in the Piazza Navona. Designed in 1651 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for Pope Innocent X, the fountain stood in front Innocent’s family palace, the Palazzo Pamphili. It depicts the Gods of the four great rivers in the four known continents of the time: the Nile in Africa, the Ganges in Asia, the Danube in Europe, and the Río de la Plata in America.


At the north end of Piazza Navona is the Fontana de Neptune. This was once called the Fontana dei Calderan because a nearby alley was home to blacksmiths and those who made metal pots and pans.

fountain of neptune


The Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Boat), is a Baroque-style fountain found at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna. This one has a particularly interesting history. According to legend, as the River Tiber flooded in 1598, water carried a small boat into the Piazza di Spagna. When the water receded, a boat was deposited in the center of the square. When Pope Urban VIII commissioned Pietro Bernini in 1623 to build the fountain, Bernini was inspired by the story. He designed the fountain to be the shape of a half-sunken ship with water overflowing its sides into a small basin.

The source of the water comes from the Acqua Vergine, an aqueduct from 19 BCE. Bernini built this fountain to be slightly below street level due to the low water pressure from the aqueduct. Water flows from seven points of fountain: the center baluster; two inside the boat from sun-shaped human faces; and four outside the boat.


At the top of the 138 Spanish Steps is the piazza Trinita dei Monti and the twin-tower church, Campo Marzio. This church has an interesting ceiling in that it’s not decorated with frescoes. The entire sanctuary is bright at night because there’s nothing to absorb the light.


Designed by the architect Giacomo Della Porta and constructed by the Fiesole sculptor Rocco Rossi, the Fontana de Piazza Colona is located near the Column of Marcus Aurelius. This Roman victory column is Doric and hollow. The exterior features a spiral relief of the emperor’s successful military campaigns against the Quadi across the Danube between 172 and 175 AD, while the inside contains a spiral staircase. Similar in appearance to its predecessor, Trajan’s Column, it’s not nearly as tall. However, its base has never been excavated—and up to seven meters is below the ground! Back in the 4th century, it was said this column stood 175 feet.


The most grand of all the monumental fountains is the Trevi Fountain in Palazzo Poli. Designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Giuseppe Pannini and several others, this is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome (161 x 86′).  Yes, we threw a coin into the fountain, but we’re not sure if we did it right (you’re supposed to use your right hand to throw it over your left shoulder). The act of doing so means you’ll come back in the future. An estimated 3,000 euros are thrown into the fountain each day.

trevi fountain

While on our trek, we passed by some unexpected sites, like this colonna (collonade) left from the Temple of Hadrian.


On the way back to the hotel, we walked along the river and had an entirely different view of the night lights. A quick check of our pedometers showed we had covered over seven miles on this trek. Time to put up our feet and have a glass of prosecco!

Next up: The Vatican

Ruins in the Heart of the Roman Empire

As an author of historical fiction, we’re fascinated by the places that still exist, even if they aren’t quite all there. The Roman Forum is one such place. Once the heart of the former Roman Empire, it featured a number of temples and government buildings that are now in ruins.

The first half of our day was spent traveling by bus from Florence to Rome, a comfortable trip with picturesque scenery. Early spring in Italy means everything is green—farm fields, vineyards, and trees.

After we checked into our hotel, we made our way to an outdoor lunch spot near the Forum. Our guide for this portion of our trip, Linda, was well-versed in the politics and archaeology of Ancient Rome. As we stood beneath the ruins of the Palatino Domus Severiana, she described the daily life of Romans and those who were important to the rule of Rome.


The Roman Forum spans a huge area.  Two large arches are featured: the Arch of Septimus and the Arch of Titus.


Ruins of the Basilica Aemilia, once strewn across the grounds, have been lined up to show the location of the foundation as well as the placement of the columns.


The House of the Vestals was once home to the Vestal Virgins. Statues of them line the walkway in front of this ruin.


The Imperial Forum is a mere shadow of its former glory.

imperial forum

The Temple of Antonius and Faustina is one of the best preserved of the structures, likely because it’s been used as a church, while the Temple of Castor and Pollox, the Temple of Saturn, and the Temple of Vesta have only a few columns left standing.



A short walk past the House of Vestals, and soon you’re in the shadow of the Colosseum. This structure was built between 72 and 80 AD from stone and concrete.


Once the home of gladiatorial combat and spectacles, the Colosseum at first feels small—how could this arena have hosted crowds of up to 87,00 people?—but once you climb the concrete steps and emerge into the arena itself, the scale changes completely.


It’s HUGE (and the largest amphitheater in the world). With 80 entrances and an efficient layout, thousands of people could make their way to their seats in a short amount of time. Fifty-thousand people would have been seated in the tiers that reflected their status in Roman society. On hot days, a retractable awning, or velarium, would cover the spectators.

On the day we visited, over half of the area beneath the level of the original arena’s floor was covered due to ongoing restoration work, but the visible areas provide a sense of the elaborate tunnels, passageways, and rooms that would have housed animals and gladiators during games.

As for that Roman concrete, there’s a reason it’s still intact—it grows stronger over time.  The Romans were known for producing the perfect concrete using volcanic ash, lime, and seawater. Mixed together with volcanic rocks, it was spread into wooden molds that were then immersed in more seawater. As the seawater percolated through the concrete, it dissolved components of the volcanic ash and crystals, creating new binding minerals to grow. Within a decade, a very rare hydrothermal mineral called aluminum tobermorite (Al-tobermorite) and a porous mineral called phillipsite formed in the concrete. Those minerals gives Roman concrete its strength.

Although these days those minerals can be made in a lab, they very difficult to incorporate into concrete. And to achieve that added strength? It takes centuries to achieve.

Even given the growing strength of the Roman concrete, only one-third of the Colosseum is original. The other two-thirds were damaged due to earthquakes, vandalism, and fire.

On the way back to our hotel, we passed by the Castle Sant’Angelo, better known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian. Originally built by Hadrian to be a mausoleum for him and his family, it was instead used as a castle fortress by popes and is now a museum.

Castel Sant'Angelo

Next up: Rome at night!


Leather! Gold! And Gelato with a Side of Siena!

On a day that was as perfect as could be in Tuscany, our group of travelers were all (finally) together in one place. Or rather, several of them. For this was the day we did a walking tour of Florence that included a leather factory store and the Ponte Vecchio.

ponte vecchio

Florence and the area around it are home to Italy’s largest leather producers, so the city hosts a number of leather factories and boutiques that carry the beautiful results—wallets, bags, belts and jackets—in every color imaginable. After a quick video describing  how leather is tanned and cut, we were let loose in one such factory store.

Let’s just say a number of souvenirs were purchased  (and not always for friends or loved ones).

Then it was off to Ponte Vecchio. Located at the narrowest point of the River Arno, this medieval bridge was originally home to butcher shops. The only original Florentine bridge (all the others were destroyed during World War II), Ponte Vecchio is now home to a number of jewelry shops, souvenir shops, goldsmiths, art dealers, and more jewelry stores featuring gold. Lots of gold. Unlike the wares sold in the shops, the view from the bridge is priceless. Although all the other bridges over the Arno have been built since the war, they were done as reproductions of their originals, so they retain their Old World look.

arno from ponte vecchio

Like most European cities, Florence features lots of thin streets and alleys that boast all kinds of fun finds, including boutiques, fruit stands, gelato shops, and … statue makers?

Most of the outdoor statues featured in and around Florence are reproductions. The originals are safely stored somewhere indoors, and not always in Florence, so an entire industry exists just to reproduce the priceless treasures. In the shop shown above, the sculptors use laser cutters and other fine chisels to recreate an original to exacting standards.

An Excursion to Siena

Having completed our quick morning sightseeing tour, it was time to make our way to the bus station to catch an express bus to Siena.

The center of this Tuscan city has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Brick buildings surround the fan-shaped central square, Piazza del Campo and include the Palazzo Pubblico, the Gothic town hall, and Torre del Mangia, which features a 14th-century tower. Stores and restaurants make up some of the other businesses that line the plaza. We had a late lunch in one of them, and the soup was amazing.

Oh, and there’s a storm drain that’s probably the most decorative one you’ll ever see.

Here’s a shot taken from inside the courtyard of the Pubblico and the entrance to the museum-like interiors.


A multitude of treasures await inside the Pubblico, including huge frescoes, paintings, sculptures and more. Shown below are Simone Martini’d La Maesta, a fresco along with some of the gorgeous architectural details, the sculpture Tristitia, commonly known as Il Doloreand, and the ceiling of the Room of the Risorgimento.


As for the gelato, we had an easy time fulfilling our goal of eating some every day. Instead of coffee shops on every corner, Florence features gelato shops on every corner.


Next up: Ancient Rome

The Palace of the Masters of Florence

1280px-Palazzo_Medici_Riccardi_by_night_01One of the little-known museums in Florence is that of the Palazzo Riccardi Medici, and yet it contains one of the most interesting and renown frescoes in Italy. The 10-euro entry fee was well worth an early evening spent touring this Renaissance-era palace and a special exhibition.

Completed in 1484 at the behest of Cosimo Medici (he was head of the banking family by this time) and designed by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo, the palace was known for its stone masonry, which includes the architectural elements of ashlar and rustication. The picture above shows how each story of the building decreases in height while a horizontal stringcourse clearly divides them. The cornice, common in Roman buildings of the time, is unique in design. The modest exterior design is intentional; sumptuary laws prevented one from openly displaying their wealth. Cosimo instead spent some of his wealth decorating the inside. The details in the interior rooms is amazing.

Completed in the 1680s, the Hall of Luca Giordano is a masterpiece of Florentine Baroque art and features panel after panel of painted mirrors topped with a frescoed ceiling, Apotheosis of the Medici Dynasty, done by Giordoano. (This space can now be rented for conferences!)

Fillipo Lippi and Botticelli both enjoyed Cosimo’s patronage. The Madonna of Palazzo Medici by Lippi enjoys a place above a huge console at the end of one hall.



Throughout the part of the palace that is open to the public, furnishings, statuary, and paintings of Medici family members are on display.

The heart of the palace is the Magi Chapel. Covering the walls are frescoes done by Benozzo Gozzoli. The scenes portray the best known personalities of his time playing the parts of the procession of the magi. Each generation of Medici partiarch features in a different panel. As with any chapel in Italy, you have to be sure to look up!

Once we almost completed our tour (almost, because it was closing time, and we were the last ones inside, and we really wanted to take just one last look around), we found ourselves locked in the palazzo’s main atrium! The entrance gates at both ends of the Courtyard of Michelozzo were closed and padlocked. A police station is located just off the atrium, though, and the officer on duty let us out by way of his office.

Being stuck inside this particular courtyard would not have been a hardship, but it is better viewed in the daylight. At one time it was completely open and colonnaded at the far corner of the palace but was walled in during the 16th century. Three-hundred pieces of ancient art have been placed on the walls of the courtyard. Potted orange trees, statuary and a fountain make this an oasis right in the middle of the city.

courtyard fountain w mosaicsmedici courtyard statue

We made a quick trip to the hotel before meeting with the others at the Cosimo statue in Palazzo della Signoria. Then we headed to a local restaurant for a traditional Italian dinner. Later that night, the rest of the tour group finally arrived in Florence. We could hardly admit to all the sights we’d been able to enjoy when there would be no opportunity for them to do so. Out of thirty, we were the only one to visit the Uffizi.

And if you’ve ever wondered how Italian women keep their figures, we know the secret. According to our iPhone, we walked 8.6 miles on this day. Time for a glass of prosecco.

Next up on our itinerary—a walking tour of Florence.


This entry was posted on April 23, 2019. 1 Comment

An Afternoon at the Office

uffuzi ext

One of the great things about Florence on a Sunday is that the museums are free. However, you have to have a ticket to get in, and tickets for the Galleria degli Uffizi (which is “office” in Italian) sell out quickly. Not knowing all this turned out to be a good thing. When we finished taking pictures of several of the statues that decorate the exterior of the building—a series of famous Italians are mounted at the second story level, including DaVinci, Michelangelo, Galileo and Amerigo Vespucci—we approached a ticket-taker asking where tickets might be obtained. We were told they were out. “How many are in your party?” the agent asked in broken English.


Being alone for the afternoon proved fortuitous. He gave us a ticket!

One of the world’s top museums, the Uffizi features art from the Italian Renaissance. The building didn’t start out as an art gallery, though, but was commissioned by Cosimo Medici in 1560 as offices for the magistrates of Florence. As with any Italian building, it’s important to look up. The ceilings are works of art.

The top floor originally featured Roman sculptures and was a gallery for family and guests of the Medici. Now the entire floor, which forms the shape of a U, is lined with statuary. Those shown here are Venus, Leda, ApolloNeriad on a Seahorse, Centaur and Pan, and Amore and Psyche.

Cosimo’s son, Grand Duke Francesco I, commissioned the architect Buontalenti to design the Tribuna deli Uffizi, an octagonal room to display series of masterpieces in one room, including jewels. Completed in 1584, it became a highly influential attraction of a Grand Tour. Although you can look into the room, you cannot go in as the entrances are cordoned off.

When the house of Medici died out, their art collections, including these two works by Botticelli (Birth of Venus and Primevera), were gifted to Florence by Anna Maria Luisa, the last Medici heiress. In 1765, the Uffizi was officially opened for the public to tour, although visitors could request entry as early as the sixteenth century.

Renovations in modern times increased the number of rooms and the space for displays, most of it payed for by the Ferragamo family. (Shoes are their works of art.)

Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo has its own alcove.

doni tondo


Virtues by Botticelli and Antonio del Pollaiolo takes up an entire wall in one of the galleries. Pollaiolo’s La Carita is shown in close-up.

And what’s a gallery without a bunch of busts? Shown here are Constantine, Nero, Agrippa, Augustus, Titus, and Tiberius.

When we finally finished this masterpiece of a museum, we treated ourselves to a gelato. The museum’s restaurant is located on the roof of the Loggia della Signoria and has the most interesting view. We were told the man on the ledge is a temporary installation as he’s not real popular with the locals.

man on ledge

Although the light was starting to fade, we still had one more museum to visit before we were to join our tour guide for dinner. Next up: Palazzo Riccardi Medici.

A Trip for Education Rather Than Vacation

Two years ago, we flew to England to spend twenty-four days in pursuit of more information about the time in which our books take place. To visit the places we had already used as settings and to research new ones for future books. And to take photographs. Lots of photographs. (That trip is detailed on this blog in posts dated April 2017 and May 2017.)

Since then, we’ve finished six Regency-era books and one based in ancient Greece and Rome. We were in the midst of deciding where (and when) to place the rest of the books in the Stella of Akrotiri series—stories about an Immortal couple who first meet on a Greek Island—when the opportunity to tour with a local college group came up. We signed on for EF Tour’s “Intercultural Studies in Italy and Greece” the day after we learned of it. Since EF allows travelers to delay their return, we arranged our own travel plans to add that Greek island to the itinerary. By doing so, our flights to the first stop on our multi-city tour were different from the rest of the group.

We wouldn’t discover just how fortuitous that arrangement was until we reached Florence.

Although twenty-one of us flew on the same plane from Billings, Montana to Denver, the rest of the group were scheduled to fly to Florence by way of Frankfort while we were routed through Munich. Scheduled departure times out of Denver were about the same, although our flight left first.

By over eight hours.

We reached Munich on a Sunday morning and met up with the eight students and a  faculty advisor from the University of North Carolina’s School of Arts who made up the rest of our tour group. Our flight to Florence was quick—too quick for our luggage to make the plane, but with an overnight bag, we were set for a full day in Florence.

Our EF tour director, Katia, met us at the airport, informed us of the delay for the rest of my group, but assured us they would arrive later that night. After a short bus ride to Hotel Athenaueum, we checked into what had to be the largest room in the hotel and had a few minutes to freshen up before we hit the ground running.

studentshotel room

Or walking, rather. The 1.4 kilometers from the hotel to the Piazza della Signoria takes only 17 minutes. On the way, we stopped at the Duomo, also known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore or the Florence Cathedral. Begun in 1296, it wasn’t completed until 1436, when the dome was finally erected. The exterior of the basilica is a masterpiece of detailed artwork, faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink and bordered in white.

For a dramatization of what it took to finish the dome, check out the first season of Netflix’s Medici: Masters of Florence TV show starring Dustin Hoffman and Richard Madden.

The Baptistery of St. John is opposite the Duomo. Constructed between 1059 and 1128, it is one of the oldest buildings in the city. This octagonal minor basilica boasts three sets of bronze doors. The east doors shown here were designed by Lorenzo Ghilberti and were dubbed the Gates of Paradise by Michelangelo.

Then we were off to the Piazza della Signoria, where statues of David, Hercules and Cacus, and Cosimo Medici share the backdrop of Palazzo Vecchio, the townhall of Florence.

The Loggia della Signoria, also known as the Loggia dei Lanzi, can be seen in the far corner of the Piazza della Signoria beneath part of the Uffuzi Gallery. The open-air Loggia houses an impressive array of statues, including Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines (1579-1583). Installed in 1583 at the behest of the son of Cosimo I, Francesco I, this statue
is over 4 metres high and was made from the largest block of marble (and an imperfect one at that) ever transported to Florence. It’s the first group statue representing more than a single figure in European sculptural history to be conceived without a dominant viewpoint, meaning it can be viewed from all sides equally.

The other statue shown here is Menelaus supporting the body of Patroclus, originally discovered in Rome. From the Flavian era, it was copied from a Hellenistic Pergamene original of the mid-third century BC.

When our tour of the piazza was complete, our guide released us with instructions to take in as much as we could on our own and meet at the Cosimo statue later that evening to head to dinner.

Next up: Free time means an afternoon at the Uffuzi.


Stella of Akrotiri: Deminon Blog Tour

Stella of Akrotiri: Deminon
by Linda Rae Sande
Genre: Fantasy
Love can last a thousand lifetimes when you’re an Immortal… or so they thought.
What’s become of the Immortal Darius? His wife, Stella, worries about his
fate as she rules over their city-state of Deminon, especially when
she learns he’s been the victim of treachery. She’ll do anything
to get him back.
Enslaved as a traitor to Rome, Darius is forced to fight gladiators as part of
the funeral rites of powerful Romans. His years of experience on the
battlefield serve him well in the arena—until he’s forced to
fight Marcus—a younger, stronger gladiator who is unaware of his
own immortality.
Sure he’s about to suffer a defeat by the hand of Marcus, Darius is
forced to make a decision that will change his future and
Stella’s—preserve his essence by allowing his body to die so that
he can live on in Marcus. His two-thousand years of memories and life
experiences should be powerful enough to overcome the essence of the
untested Immortal. Allow him to return to Stella and resume their
life together, even if she won’t immediately recognize him.
But Marcus isn’t giving up so easily. Especially when he meets Stella.
Will Marcus help Darius take revenge on the one whose deceit led to his
arrest on charges of treason? Or will Darius’ essence slowly be
subsumed, the memories of his nearly two-thousand-year lifespan—and
of Stella—fading away in the mind of Marcus?
These Immortals once had all the time in the world.
Now it’s suddenly of the essence.
**On Sale for only $2.99!**
A self-described nerd and lover of science, Linda Rae spent many years
as a published technical writer specializing in 3D graphics
workstations, software and 3D animation (her movie credits include
SHREK and SHREK 2). An interest in genealogy led to years of research
on the Regency era and a desire to write fiction based in that time.
A fan of action-adventure movies, she can frequently be found at the
local cinema. Although she no longer has any fish, she follows the
San Jose Sharks. She is a member of Novelists, Inc. (NINC) and makes
her home in Cody, Wyoming.
Follow the tour HERE
for exclusive content and a giveaway!


This entry was posted on February 21, 2019. 2 Comments