Tag Archives: gardens


This morning we caught the train from Rome to Naples, then we hired a car to take us to Sorrento.  What a beautiful area of Italy.  We walked the streets, had lunch at a cafe where we could watch people come and go, and we explored the cliffs.  It’s a magical place!


I took this on the train because if made me smile.  The equivalent of flight attendants went through the train offering snacks and drinks, just like on a plane, but this cart was set up to make espresso on demand.  Only in Italy!


This was the view of Sorrento along the road from Naples. What a beautiful coast! Here you actually see four little towns; Sorrento is all the way out on the end of the peninsula. It is all completely charming.


This is the view of the square from our table at lunch.  It was beautiful.  We even saw and bride and groom stroll by with a film crew following them.  They could have been locals getting good shots for their wedding video or maybe they were a crew filming a segment about a romantic Italian wedding for Say Yes to the Dress.  Who can say?


A real, honest to goodness, original Caprese salad.  Yum!




After lunch, we decided to wander the shopping district in Sorrento.  No cars allowed; these alleys are too narrow for even motorbikes.  Above are a couple of different alleys, and a little square we stumbled on by accident.


This is an entrance to a private residence.  I liked the little statue of the Virgin Mary watching over it.


We found some artists!


This is a grocery store for the locals.  Apparently, this region is known for its incredible produce, so there was plenty of it for sale.


This is one of the walkways we found back at our hotel.  It’s an old monastery that sits on the cliff.  It’s incredibly beautiful.


This is the pool at our hotel.  When we arrived we startled a cat that was sitting by the pool admiring its reflection.  We’ve seen a few stray animals in Rome and Sorrento, but not a lot.  None of them were neutered.


A view of the cliffs from the walkway behind our hotel.


Here we are with the Sorrento Bay behind us.





This series of pictures shows the staircase that leads down the cliff face from our hotel to the landing below.  It is ancient.  You can see in places where it was once decorated with beautiful tiles and paint, but it is long gone.  At one point, the staircase cut into the cliff face like a cave.  Thank goodness Bob had a flashlight app on his phone or we would have killed ourselves in the pitch black.  At the bottom, everything was closed and we couldn’t get out onto the docks.  Luckily, we didn’t have to climb up — we found an elevator that worked!  What a relief!


Of course, once we were finally back on top safe and sound, we noticed the candles that were kindly provided for anyone who wanted to venture down.


More of the cliffs by our hotel

Tivoli, Italy

A view of the Organ Fountain from below. Villa D’Este.

Today, we took a short day trip to Tivoli, the ancient home of emperors and popes.  There, we saw the Emperor Hadrian’s home. It was a technological marvel, built in the 1st century A.D.  It’s a single home, with many different buildings, that sits on about 120 hecatres. Considering the entire city of Pompeii sits on only 60 hectares, that’s a big, incredible house!

Some quick facts about Hadrian’s villa:  It had two baths, one for Hadrian and his guests (the Small Bath) and another for the nearly 2000 slaves who worked at the villa (the Large Bath).  That’s a lot of slaves and Hadrian couldn’t have them wandering around disturbing his peace, so there are several kilometers of tunnels running under the villa.  In fact, the only entrance to the Large Bath was from this underground tunnels.  Those tunnels are considered the world’s first subway because they were big enough for chariots to make delivers to the various buildings.

My favorite part was the outdoor dining room that could seat 600 guests.  At the front of the room was an alcove where Hadrian and his closest 20 (or so) guests would eat.  If Hadrian wanted privacy from the 100s of guests, he only had to flip a switch and a waterfall would tumble from the roof and provide a curtain between him and his most important guests and the rest of the rabble.  : )

Finally, most of Hadrian’s villa was used as a marble quarry when Cardinal D’Este built his home in Tivoli in about the 1500s.  That Cardinal was an important (and rich!) man since he was the son of Lucretia Borgia and a nephew of the pope at the time.  His home is known for its gardens and the nearly 500 fountains it contains.  It was incredibly impressive and was used as a model for people like the Vanderbilts in the 1880s-1890s when they were building their incredible homes in the United States.  I’ll let the pictures do the talking!


The large bath at Hadrian’s Villa.


This is the outdoor dining room that seated 600 people, believe it or not.  The guests sat all along the sides of the pool (which was NOT for swimming!) and Hadrian and his VIPs sat at the end under the roof.  The only reason any of the statues or columns still exist is they had fallen into the pool and were covered with dirt, so they weren’t noticed when Cardinal D’Este carried away all the rest of the marble for his villa.


A view down the side towards where Hadrian would have sat for dinner.  You can see how the waterfall would cascade from the roof and curtain off the crowds.


Here’s an idea of where the underground tunnels would have looked like.  Of course, they would have been covered in Hadrians day.


Bob actually ordered a Diet Coke with his lunch.  Mark it down! We sat next to a mother and her 19 year old son from England and had a really delightful lunch.  Since Mom was originally from Scotland, we had quite an animated discussion about the Scottish vote for independence taking place today.  That conversation had the Australians across the aisle from us involved, as well.


The fountain in the courtyard of Villa D’Este.  The statue of Venus along the bottom, just above the plants, was probably originally at Hadrian’s Villa.


The gardens at Villa D’Este are built on a steep hill. Here’s a picture of what they originally looked like.  All visitors arrived at the bottom of the gardens and had to climb their way to the top to meet with the Cardinal in the Villa.  We made that climb and I can tell you, it’s a cardiac workout.


A view from one of the terraces on the way down.


This is the Organ Fountain.  The internal mechanism diverts water in a way that air is pushed through organ pipes and water plays over the keys, thus playing the organ.  It’s a little like a player piano, only there’s no finesse.  I thought the music sounded like a child’s attempt.  Here’s a short video, you can judge for yourself!



Here we are in front of the Organ Fountain.  We’re facing the fountain and the picture below shows what it overlooks.  It was so peaceful.


A view from the terrace where the Organ Fountain is.


Not far from the Organ Fountain is this restful grotto.  It was blocked to tourists, but there is a colonnade that runs through the back of this fountain.  On a hot day, it would have been cool and restful.


This is the walkway of 100 fountains.  Again, it was wonderfully cool and an nice break from the heat.


This is the Dragon Fountain.  I’m sorry I didn’t get a better picture of it because it was quite impressive.  From the terrace I’m standing on, two grand curved staircases descend on either side.  Both have water running along beside them and it was very grand.


A view of the Villa itself from the walkway of 100 Fountains.  You get the idea of how steep the hillside is.  It was quite a climb!


I don’t know the name of this fountain, but it has several tiny models of some of the ancient buildings in Rome. Some of them show us what those buildings looked like since they fell down long ago.


I’d kill for a curling iron!  : )


This is the Organ Fountain from below.  It’s a showstopper.

Biltmore Estate

Okay, everything I said about the entrance fees, ignore me.  The Biltmore Estate is worth every penny.  It’s an unbelievable place, and you can see my pictures here.  It took 6 years to build and it was opened in December, 1895.  It was built by George Vanderbilt (the grandson of the railroad tycoon) when he was still a bachelor.  It has 205 rooms and 1.4 million (yes, million!) square feet.  It is the result of a collaboration between the architect, George Vanderbilt, and the landscape architect—who was the first landscape architect.

George decided to marry about 3 years after the house was complete.  Can you imagine coming home from your honeymoon to that house?  Apparently all the people who worked on the estate (there were hundreds, maybe more than a thousand) lined the road leading to the house to cheer when they arrived.

There were only about 30 servants in the house but the estate also had a nursery that sold seeds via mail order, an enormous dairy (100s of cows) and it was a working farm.  So there were many employees and their families that lived on the estate (although, not in the house).

I don’t have pictures of inside the house because I couldn’t take any, but it is mind boggling.  No one knows how much it cost to build, but it had to be millions and millions, even in 1895.  It was a huge boost to the local economy at the time.  Likewise, all the servants were always paid New York wages, which was way more than comparable jobs locally.  Obviously, jobs at Biltmore Estate were prized.

The gardens were spectacular.  They were designed by the same man who designed Central Park in NYC.  In addition to the gardens, he made plans to convert the 125,000 acres of the estate into something beautiful.  He recommended creating the small organized park (which is still beautiful today—see the pictures!), farming the river bottom lands, and converting the rest of the tired farmland to forests.  Toward that end, they planted more than 2 million plants and trees on the property.  Ironically, the landscape architect’s vision is only now realized after 100 years of growth in that forest.  It’s all incredibly beautiful.

The Estate was the Vanderbilt’s family home and they entertained extensively until 1915 when George died.  His wife and daughter (who was only 13) continued living in the house, but they moved into a smaller apartment within and closed off most of the rest of the house.  When the daughter married in 1924, she and her husband lived there and entertained, once again.
When the Depression hit, the family wanted to stimulate economic growth in the region, so they opened the first floor of the house to tourists.  That was in 1931.  The last time a family member actually lived in the house was in 1951. Today, George’s great grandson and great granddaughter (who are brother and sister) both live on the estate grounds with their families.  They run the businesses related to the house, including the winery that was started by their father in the 1970s.

It seems we are running out of time before we have to be in Boston.  We were going to drive the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway, but after spending some time on it yesterday, we realized that will be a tedious trip.  It may be beautiful, but a narrow, two lane road with a top speed of 45 mph is not the way to cover the next 400 miles.  So, stay tuned to see what we decide to do next!

Garden Photos


So, all those flowers I loved in New Orleans, but didn’t know the name of, were azaleas! They come in many different colors from white, to light pink, to this pink, to red.


Doesn’t this look like it should be a puzzle?


Azaleas and holly.



This was an old logging pond the Bellingrath’s cleaned out and fixed up. It seemed familiar to me—I swear I’ve seen it before on a puzzle, or something.



The house sits in the middle of all the gardens.


A courtyard that’s surrounded by the house on three sides. No pics were allowed in the house which is too bad, becasue it was beautiful. This was a close as I could get you. : )


This tree was just starting to bloom and it was stunning.


Another glimpse of the house.


This staircase leads down to the river and the boat dock. Apparently that was a favorite place for the Bellingrath’s nephews and nieces to hang out when they’d spend the summers with them.


This is the boat dock. It wasn’t so appealing on such an overcast day.


Another view of the beautiful gardens.




Here’s part of the home the Bellingraths built. They didn’t have any children and she died about 12 years before he did. He left his millions to turn his home and garden into a public museum in honor of his wife. Today, the entrance fees not only maintain the grounds, they also fund many scholarships and provide income to three colleges the Bellingraths supported.


More of the gardens. The landscaping is really beautiful.


I love this color.




Not only was it overcast, it was cold. We had to change into pants so we woldn’t freeze. (it was in the mid 60s)


The azalea bushes were huge.


Easter liliies, a little early.


Gorgeous orchids.


This hibiscus was the size of a dinner plate. The colors were spectacular.


Not sure what these are, but I loved them.


I liked this one because of the pineapples in the background. They were about 6 inches long. That gives you an idea of just how big the hydrangeas are.



The blue hydrangeas were almost the size of volleyballs.


This is part of the rose garden, which wasn’t blooming yet. In the background is a greenhouse.



This boardwalk goes over, along, and back over the estuary. It’s full of wildlife, including alligators. We didn’t see any, though.


There were even bamboo forests!


The weather worked perfectly for us. As we were getting ready to leave Bellingrath, the rain began to pour. I like this picture becasue of the lilac bush that climbed the evergreen and produced a couple stories of lilac flowers.

Bellingrath Estate

2,250 total miles, so far.

When we left New Orleans this morning it was gray and overcast.  The weatherman said there would be rain.  We hoped to do some exploring despite the forecast.

We found our adventure in Mobile, Alabama.  It was all by accident, really.  As we were leaving the B&B this morning, I consulted the notes I made when my friend Barbara—who was raised in the South—told me all the places we should see.  She recommended the azalea trails in Mobile.  A quick internet search later and we discovered we were right in the middle of the predicted height of the azalea blooming season.  So, off we went.

We found Bellingrath Gardens in Mobile and it was incredible. The pictures are here.  I loved the story behind the place as much as the gardens themselves.  It all started in 1917 when Mr. Bellingrath, the local Coca Cola bottler/distributor, was feeling under the weather and went to see his doctor. The doc diagnosed a classic case of over-working and advised his patient to buy a run-down fishing camp and “learn to play.”  Mr. Bellingrath took his doctor’s advice and over the next 30 years he and his wife built the Bellingrath Estate.

It grew from an initial 3 acres to more than 900, but only about 65 acres are cultivated into formal gardens.  The Bellingraths were inspired during a trip to Europe where they saw the grand estates and formal gardens there.  They came home, hired a landscape architect, and the rest is history.

Mrs. B was also quite an antique collector.  Her collections filled and overflowed her house in town so she built a 10,000 square foot house at their retreat.  It is an incredibly beautiful house, full of elegant rooms and priceless antiques.  It was the height of Mobile society to be invited for dinner at the Bellingrath’s home.  When they built the house, electricity didn’t extend that far out of town but they wired the house for it anyway.  In the years before the electric lines reached them, they ran the lights with generators.
We also learned something about the history of Coca Cola.  It was originally invented by a doctor as a tonic to help those addicted to morphine break the habit.  That lead me and Bob to wonder how much cocaine Coke used to have in it.  The answer: no one knows exactly, but it was only trace amounts.  In any case, after 1929, the recipe was changed and it had none.

I also thought it was interesting that the Coca Cola distributor could make millions of dollars selling soda between 1906 and his death in 1945.

Finally, I like puzzles of beautiful landscapes. I sometimes wonder where such gorgeous pictures were taken. I swear I’ve seen puzzles of these gardens.