Thursday, November 29, 2007

Italy Vacation part 2 Pompeii, Vatican, Rome

Thursday morning we headed to Pompeii, an ancient city that was destroyed in AD 79 by an eruption of Vesuvius. The city lay buried under rock and ash until the 18th century, when excavations began and revealed the city frozen in time. Many buildings survived, some complete with paintings and sculptures. We found this place to be fascinating. This was not just a few ruins but it's actually the ruins of an entire huge city! The streets were made with large stones (not very stroller friendly) and they had bigger rocks sticking out where people could walk across the street without stepping down into the mud. You could actually see the indentation in the stone streets from where the Chariot wheels had worn down over time. The girls found great fun rock hopping across the streets. We visited 2 theatres one large one small, temples, houses, and even a brothel. Below you can see the giant arena where gladiators battled, and the theater in tact.

Around 2,000 people died at Pompeii and numerous casts were on display that showed the people in their final moments. Since most of them were buried under a huge landslide of mud, archaeologists found empty spaces in the mud where a person had been, and they filled that hole with plaster to recreate the image of the person and the position they were in. It was both amazing and yet quite sad to see, because the casts were so lifelike.

It was fun to imagine what life must have been like 2,000 years ago. We saw Vesuvius in the distance, (which you can see in the above picture). It is Europe’s only active volcano. We learned a lot and enjoyed the day. Afterwards we enjoyed some yummy pizza and headed to Rome, about a 3 hrs drive.

Friday morning we headed out to see the Vatican City. We jumped on the train near our apartment so we didn’t have to mess with parking.
We went to the Vatican Museum first - we had to wait in line for about 30 minutes to get in. This museum was huge! The museums are housed in palaces originally built for wealthy Renaissance popes. Parts of these were decorated with wonderful frescoes by the finest painters of the age -- especially the Sistine Chapel.

We could have spent much more time here but it closed at 1:30 so after waiting in line we only had about 2hrs (this was long enough for the kids). The kids liked the Room of Animals, it was full of animal sculptures. We also liked the Egyptian Art with the mummies! Yes, this is a real mummy below.The Sistine Chapel is the reason most come to visit the museum. We saw it at the very end and it was packed with people! Here Michelangelo created what has become his most famous work -- the chapel ceiling. He painted the “creation of the World” and “Fall of Man”. After the Sistine Chapel we went out to St. Peter’s Basilica which is Catholicism’s most sacred shrine. The basilica is 615 ft long and took more than a century to build. All the great architects of the Roman Renaissance and Baroque had a hand in its design. We took the lift and walked around the inside of the Dome and we were able to get a good view of the inside of the church. Wow! We have been in lots of churches around Europe but I think this is one of the most impressive. Every inch of this place was exquisitely detailed and made out of the finest materials. We also went to the very top of the dome and walked around outside and were able to take some cool pictures of the Vatican City.

The piazza in front of St. Peter’s is enclosed by a vast pincer-shaped colonnade and is topped by statues of saints. Then we went down and walked around the church on the ground floor-- it is amazing! In the middle is the Baldacchino, which is an extravagant Baroque canopy that stands above an alter at which only the pope may say mass. The altar is sited directly above the tomb of St. Peter in the Grottoes below. After visiting St. Peter’s we walked over to Castel Sant’ Angelo, which looks like a massive fortress. The castle is from 139AD and since then has been a prison, and a place of safety for popes during times of war or political unrest.

We enjoyed walking across the neat bridges and looking at the river. The kids were ready to get their energy out and look at birds and leaves and run around.

Saturday was another action packed day in Rome. We started our day at the Colosseum, Rome’s great amphitheater, commissioned by the Emperor Vespasian in AD 72.
The Colosseum was the site of deadly gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights, staged free of charge by the emperor and wealthy citizens. There was room for 55,000 spectators. Excavations in the 19th century exposed a network of rooms under the arena, from which animals could be released. They had a room where they would take the dead people and the wounded. They would send criminals out in the arena to fight the wild beasts. I don’t think I would be able to watch this gruesome type of entertainment! Beside the Colosseum stands two important Arhces: The Arch of Titus which commemorates the crushing of the Jewish revolt by Titus in AD70, and the Arch of Constantine, commemorating Constantine’s victory in AD 312 over his co-emperor Maxentius. This was an important battle because Mexentius was pagan, and Constantine a proclaimed Christian, so his victory allowed Christianity to flourish thereafter.We saw traces of Ancient Rome all over the city as we walked around, occasionally a whole building, often just a column from a temple. We walked through the Roman Forum, the center of political, commercial, and judicial life in ancient Rome. We walked through Palatine, the hill where the Roman aristocracy lived and the emperors built their palaces.

It started pouring down rain so we huddled under a giant arch with a bunch of other tourists. When the rain finally stopped we walked over to the Pantheon, the Roman “temple of all the gods”. The present structure was built, and possibly designed, by Emperor Hadrian in AD 118. We walked inside and saw a vast dome equal in radius to the height of the cylinder.

A circular opening in the center of the coffered dome, the oculus, lets in the only light.

We stopped for an ice cream break and then walked to the Trevi Fountain.

The area was crowded with tourists. The fountain takes up the entire front of a building, which is much bigger than I thought it would be.

The statues are neat and the kids enjoyed the running water. The central figure is Neptune with 2 Tritons on either side, one triton struggles with a very unruly seahorse, the other leads a tame horse. These symbolize the two contrasting moods of the sea.

Our last site of the day was the Spanish Steps. The steps, combine straight sections, curves, and terraces to create one of the city’s distinctive landmarks. The steps were filled with people sitting, taking photos and watching the passers-by. Our last night in Italy! We really enjoyed the many sites of this beautiful country!
Sunday morning we dropped off our Peugeot rental car and headed to the airport to fly to Athens Greece where we'll spend our last 3 weeks.

Italy Vacation-Sienna, Assisi, Amalfi Coast

The below blog is from our vacation last week. Brett was able to take time off and we headed out into Southern Italy. Monday morning we checked out of our apartment in Florence and headed south to Sienna. We spent half the day site seeing in Sienna. It’s a pretty old town where all the buildings are made from brick. It’s up on a hill so there is lots of up and down climbing, traffic is very limited within the town so we had to park our car outside and walk everywhere.
We saw the big Duomo and went inside. The interior was pretty impressive and very ornate.

The pillars were striped black and white marble, and there were carved heads of the popes looking down as you walked through. The vaulted ceiling was painted blue with gold stars.
We walked around the Palazzo Pubblico in front of the town hall with a huge bell tower, one of the biggest in Italy.

Then we drove to Assisi about 2 hrs from Florence, where we found our hotel for the night.

Assisi is another town with limited traffic and we had to drop off our bags at the hotel and then park the car and walk. We liked Assisi, it was a beautiful medieval town.

The Basilica di San Francesco is the main site to see here as it dominates Assisi.

Tuesday morning we walked around the town and walked through the Basilica. The Basilica was founded by St. Francis who started the order known as the Franciscan Monks. So people come from all over the world to see this church. He traded a life of power and riches for one of obedience, poverty, and chastity, and promoted peace and order. We saw the tomb of St. Francis on an altar in a stone box. They had a display of the tunic and slippers he wore during his last days. It was ironic that he had a very fine church for worship and yet very few personal possessions. We enjoyed walking through the church and the town. We stopped for lunch before we got on the road again at a cool looking restaurant but it turned out that it had the worst pizza we have ever had! We headed out on the road again for a 4.5 hr drive south to Sorrento and the Amalfi coast. We checked into our apartment for the 2 nights and settled in. The apartment was very nice as it ad a big terrace with a nice view of the ocean and the town. The only bad part was they had no heating in the house -- only little space heaters so it was quite cold!
Wednesday we woke up and got the first view of the ocean and the beautiful coastline. We took a very scenic drive along the Amalfi Coast. It was a narrow winding road along towns and cliffs that dropped into the ocean. We stopped and took lots of pictures and enjoyed the views of the coastline, cliffs, villages and the Mediterranean Sea.
Amalfi is the coast’s largest town. We walked out on the dock and enjoyed the views. I think we like the natural wonders and beauty more than all the churches and museums and man made structures. It was nice to be here during low season so there were not many tourists, we heard in the summertime this road along the Amalfi coast is packed with tourists. We had an enjoyable and relaxing day.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

4th week in Italy: Milan and Florence

This week was our last week in our apartment in Legnano, near Milan. I think one month was long enough to be in this place-it was nice overall but I was ready for a change. Nobody speaks much English and children are uncommon. I guess the birthrate in Italy is actually negative, more people are dying than are being born. So a lot of people were very amazed that we had 3 bambinos. We live only 40 minutes from Milan and still had not been into the city so we decided we better visit there before we leave. Milan now has a higher per-capita income than Britain, the saying goes for every church in Rome there is a bank in Milan. The people here seem to be very fashion conscious, and Milan is the international fashion capital.
We went to Milan’s cathedral, the city’s centerpiece, and the third largest church in Europe. “At 480 feet long and 280 feet wide, forested with 52 sequoia-sized pillars and more than 2,000 statues, the place can seat 10,000 worshipers.” We took the lift up to the rooftop to see the fancy spires and great views of the city and the Italian Alps. The church was amazing!

(Above: It seems all monuments in Europe are always under some form of renovation)
(Below: These are all from up on the roof of the Duomo)

Saturday morning we checked out of our apartment and headed south to Florence. Brett is taking all next week off work for a vacation. We checked into another apartment in Florence for 2 nights. We have found it is much easier with small children to rent an apartment for 2 days than a little hotel room. The apartment was also cheaper than a quadruple hotel room. We got to Florence around 2:30 checked in and then headed into the city to see Galleria dell’ Accademia. This was our first experience taking the children to a fine arts museum -- up until now we have avoided them, but decided to give it a try. Michelangelo’s most important works have been in the Accademia since 1873. The most famous of all dominates the collection: Michelangelo’s David. This colossal statue depicts the biblical hero who killed the giant Goliath (but I doubt he was naked when he did it!) We include a picture below... believe it or not - but droves of people stand around the base of this statue just gawking at it.

There was also a musical instrument museum here that the girls liked, they had many different instruments. There were also many fine paintings. The kids did pretty good and they learned a little too. After the museum we walked through a big outdoor market where guys were trying to sell me a real Italian leather jacket. We had a hard time understanding what makes Italian Cows (leather) so much more expensive than any others as the prices were a bit extreme.
Sunday morning we got up and got ready for church but when we found the church building we discovered they were having district conference that day and nobody was at the church, so we went back to our apartment and had our own lesson with the kids. In the afternoon we went downtown and walked along the Arno River and saw Ponte Vecchio-the oldest surviving bridge in the city. There are shops along the bridge and it is very pretty.

(Below: You can see shops built right onto the side of this bridge)We then walked over to the Duomo, or cathedral- it dominates the city with it’s enormous dome. To this day, no other building in the city stands taller than the dome. It was very pretty on the outside with white, green and pink marble. The inside of the cathedral was very big and open but not as impressive as the other cathedrals we have seen. Florence is an amazing city with all the major sites in a compact area so we were able to see a lot in a short time. There are many museums and churches and monuments. We found a few American tourists that we talked to but the funniest are the Asian tourists. The kids become movie stars as the Asians snap pictures while posing with the girls -- we had about 20 of them surrounding us taking pictures one at a time with the kids (see below), it was pretty funny! Addy is shy about it, but Alana thinks its great and flashes her big smile which just eggs them on even more. We should start charging them $ for each photo!So we end another fun week in Italy with one more action packed week ahead!