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Ventana - An Enchanting Resort in BIg Sur

Summary: I love Ventana. I highly recommend visiting  and exploring the landscape at Lime Kiln and Andrew Molera State Park which I've blogged about here. Please note this is #notsponsored . Yes, that means we paid our own bill! Lots of details in the following review. including a Post Ranch vs Ventana comparison.  Can you tell there's something exciting beyond this beautiful gate? There's something special about Big Sur, a magic in the light, the presence of the Pacific, the cliffs, beaches, redwood forests and the murmur of the surf. It's one of my favorite places in California. I couldn't think of anywhere else I wanted to be to celebrate turning fifty, because it's a place where there's a sense of nature, space and light and a wide horizon. We've been to Big Sur many times and for a celebration there are two fantastic hotels vying for your attention. The exclusive, modern and very private, cliff top Post Ranch Inn and on the other side of the road the …

Palazzi, Monuments and Churches - Our First Day in Rome

We've arrive in Rome and have started as we mean to go on, with a walk among the sumptuous noble Palazzi. What a pity we aren't staying in one of them! Yes, we're walking to fight the jet lag. You'll be hearing a lot about our different strolls through Rome as we've come laden with four, yes four, different walking guides  and I have to prove to D. that it was worth buying and carrying them all. After all the walking hopefully I'll be able to tell you which book we recommend.

 So, onto todays walk from the unimaginatively titled Rome Walks by the On Foot Guides. We started at the Piazza Venezia at the foot of the gaudy Vittorio Emmanuel monument. From the picture above you can see it's no surprise that it's  known as the "wedding cake." To be honest I've walked through this area many times but haven't really taken in much on either side of the via Corso, today that changes. You can see the balcony from which Mussolini often addressed the faithful below.
We would have gone in to the church of San Marco, which the book tells us has some 9th century mosaics, but as usual we arrived in the dead zone between noon and 4pm, when most churches are closed. After visiting Italy repeatedly and having been turned away by closed church doors all over the country, you'd have thought we would have learned by now - but no, we're like newbies every time. Here's the lunch  which was a great consolation for missing the mosaics, Bombolotti with Red Mullet and Clams at the recommended La Cabana. It's a  bad name, but a plate of good pasta is the way to feel you're back in Italy.

From here we walked through some small streets to the Palazzo Grazioli,  the private residence of Silvio Berlusconi and therefore perhaps a little less infused with nobility than the other palaces we saw.
One of the great things about Rome is that you pass so much history wherever you go. Some  grand, some prosaic - the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, a  statuary remnant of a marble foot placed on the street corner, a Jesuit seminary which has been training and sending out priests for centuries and a charming fountain in the form of a barrel which you'd miss if it hadn't been pointed out. 

We strolled past all of this and onto the Piazza  S. S. Apostoli where we found several important palaces owned by the heirs of various popes, including the Palazzo Odescalchi and the Palazzo Colonna. The the San Apostoli church, which you can see below, is certainly worth a quick visit.
I particularly liked this funereal plaque  by Canova  entitled Amicitia. Grief in the pre-photographic ages doesn't look any less painful.
On the same piazza I was curious to see the smaller Palazzo Balestra (pictured below) the home of  Stuart's  court in exile following James II  forced abdication of the English throne. 
The grandeur of the nearby Palazzo Colonna was a little hard to appreciate from the street, but when we walked around the back and saw the small bridges (linking this palace with it's enormous private gardens) we had a sense for what it means to own this much space in a city like Rome. Hopefully we'll make it back to see the interior which looks spectacular.
On the way we passed through the Galleria Sciarra,  a shopping complex  from the 1880's (pictured below) which was extravagantly decorated with Art Nouveau murals. A clarinetist was playing and the music rose up to fill the space beautifully. I wanted to pull up a chair but there was more to see. I love a walking tour because without the book we probably wouldn't have stumbled upon this.

From here we headed to the picturesque Piazza di S. Ignazio dominated by the  Jesuit church of the same name. We dropped in to see the trompe d'oeil dome which fools you until you're right underneath it. It looks flatter in the photo that it appears in person.

On to Piazza di Pietra and the most elegant Chamber of Commerce I've ever seen. The building was originally a Temple of Hadrian. This is what I love about Rome, incredible building that have been repurposed over the centuries and are incorporated into daily life, functionalism above all else. 
We went from the past to the present and back again with a stop at the Italian Parliament buildings (Palazzo Montecitorio) and the  the column of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, below. It  details his many triumphs but is not as finely wrought  as Trajan's column which can be seen north of the forum  It still takes my breath to imagine these artifacts of another world surveying two millennia, to stand in the middle of a modern city with shoppers, politicians, tourists  milling around.
From here we headed one square over through the shops to the  Piazza de S. Silvestro with a church of the same name. There are some nice Roman fragments in the entry and a small chapel containing the blackened head of John the Baptist,  we saw his head at the Mosque in Damascus so he gets around!

We ended up at the elegant Piazza S. Lorenzo in Lucina with another palazzo and a church, but at this stage we were flagging. I was charmed to see a monument to the French painter Poussin who spent decades in Rome and is buried in the church. I visited his work in the Louvre when we were in Paris and it seemed like a link to all that I had learnt on our earlier trip.  When we emerged from the church I'd had enough  history and instead I noticed the stylish shops, the Christmas tree and elegant cafes filled with gregarious Romans. It's wonderful to be here.

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