Friday, October 31, 2008

Are we getting (gasp!) OLD?

Tonight is Halloween and Rich and I are cozied up in the house, just finished a nice dinner and a glass of wine and the kids are coming to the door for their treats (which Rich loves handing out!) I am very relaxed and content right now.

However, there is a part of me that wonders if we should be out gallavanting at a halloween party - dressed up - drinking booze - hanging' with friends....but you know....I don't think so. If that's where we should be - we would be there!

We know enuf people that we can find a halloween party somewhere if we wanted to. And even though i joked to rich on our way home from work tonight that we were "getting old" I wouldn't want to be anywhere else but here right now. With my wonderful husband in our beautiful home. oh ya...and with our loving cat too. (okay....maybe we are getting just a *bit* old). :)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Italy Part III – Roma! (Rome) (Lots to tell!)

The train from Florence to Rome took about 2 hours and had beautiful views during the ride. When we arrived in Rome, our hotel was conveniently located about 5 minutes from the train station, so it was a piece of cake getting there. We dumped our bags and off we went to explore the City. We had 5 nights in Rome before heading home. Our hotel was in walking distance to all of the major sites around the City (well, walking distance for us – we love to walk and probably did about 15-20 km a day if not more).

Our first walk landed us on the famous “Spanish Steps”. Cascading steps that trail down from the Spanish Embassy in Rome and where many tourists sit and sun themselves and drink cappuccinos and talk and just people-watch really. Very cool. From there we headed to the Trevi Fountain. Gorgeous – except SO many tourists that it almost took away from the beauty of the fountain. But I looked past that and was happy to be standing in front of one of the most famous fountains of the world. We went back another time to the fountain at night and it was all lit up – beautiful!

Our hotel in Rome had a small fridge in it, which was great because we went to the supermarket and bought wine and cheese and fruit and salami (for Rich) and crackers and fresh bread, and had a “bed picnic” in our room for dinner our first night because we were out all day and so tired and just wanted to relax. It was great! We also were able to eat breakfasts in our room each morning which saved us money and time.

Day two we went to the Coliseum and Forum of Ancient Rome. I think this had the most impact on me of the whole trip. To be standing in this place that was built in the first century - 82 A.D. – was just amazing to me. The walls have partially crumbled and what’s left is really only the stone foundation or skeleton of what was once covered completely in white marble, but the grandeur and power of what it once was, was still very obvious and you could “feel” what it must have been like for the prisoners and slaves (the gladiators) who were about to have the fight of their lives. In my pictures you can see where the prisoners were kept before the fights and how they were “elevated” through secret passages that lifted them up to the “floor” of the coliseum, where only then, would they see which beast or other gladiator they were about to fight. I believe the fights took place from 100-300 A.D. If you’ve seen the movie “Gladiator” with Russell Crowe – this is what I’m talking about!

Before retiring back to our hotel for the evening, we stopped by the Pantheon. The Pantheon is one of the great spiritual buildings of the world. It was built as a Roman temple between 118 and 126 A.D and later consecrated as a Catholic Church. Through huge bronze doors, you enter into one big circular room. The interior is cylinder-shaped, above which rises the hemispherical dome. The only natural light enters through an oculus in the ceiling at the center of the dome and through the bronze doors to the portico. As the sun moves, striking patterns of light illuminate the walls and floors of granite and yellow marble. The first King of United Italy, Vittorio Emanuelle II, as well as his son, Umberto, are both entombed here. A choir was singing when we were here and the acoustics were amazing. Loved the Pantheon!

Day three was Vatican City! Home of the Pope. We started in the Vatican Museums, which is home to the Sistine Chapel. We were one of the first ones there (we went really early!) so we were able to take it all in before all the crazy tourists started to fill up the room. The ceiling, painted by Michelangelo, was too grand for words. We were not allowed to take pictures of the ceiling, but we did get one of the wall behind the altar which is just as amazing. I am so grateful to have seen this work of art. Spectacular. After leaving the museum, we made our way to St. Peter’s Basilica, which is the largest in the world, and this is where the Pope gives a public mass on Wednesday mornings. The open area in front of the Basilica is quite something. Makes you feel very small, yet welcomes you with open “arms”.

Day four we spent taking it a bit easier as our feet were sore from all the walking and standing at the museum. We walked through the gardens surrounding the Villa Borghese, which is the largest public park in Rome. It was once a vineyard in the 16th century that was transformed into a Park with an artificial lake. It was very beautiful, peaceful and calming walking through here. We also went back to the Spanish Steps and stopped to buy some wine to bring home, and also some olive oil, which is the best I’ve ever had. It was a nice relaxing day.

Our last day in Rome, we decided to take a day trip (about ½ hour train ride) to a city called Ostia Antica or “Ancient Ostia”. It lies in the meadows between the Tiber River and the Tyrrhenian Sea. It was founded, near the 4th century BC, as a military colony to guard the river mouth against seaborne invasions. Later, during the centuries when pretty much all imports reached the Capital via the Tiber, Ostia gained prominence as the domestic landing for cargo boats. By the 2nd century AD, it had become a flourishing commercial center inhabited by more than 100,000 people, whose apartment buildings, taverns, and grocery shops are still intact. We went for a walking tour around this ancient city and it was just wonderful to see the ancient ruins of the city and the theatre and the shops. Our pictures have captured some of this as well.

The other part of the city of Ostia, is the seaside, Ostia Lido, which is on the Mediterranean Sea and the “beach”, which of course I had to see. Rich and I took a short train ride to Lido, made our way to the sandy beach and rented a couple of beach chairs to relax in the sun before heading home the next day. A perfect way to end a truly wonderful vacation.

This trip to Italy taught me so much and I feel more knowledgeable having spent time in different cities and learning about historical events that have happened over the years. There is so much more I want to learn, and this was a good place for me to start. It’s peaked my interest to learn more about the history of the world! That’s why I love travelling so much. I always feel smarter when I come home!

Here are our Rome pictures. Thanks for sharing in this journey with me!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Italy Part II – Firenze (Florence!)

After catching a train (high-speed, “via” type train) in Venice, we arrived in Florence about 2 hours later. This time we knew how to get to our hotel, so off we went by foot (it was only about a 5to 10 minute walk from the train station) and got settled in at Hotel Enza. It was a nice hotel with free internet and a great location.

We had a full week in Florence (7 nights) and lots that we wanted to see and do. When first arriving here after coming from Venice, I was a little overwhelmed because there were SO many tourists and traffic and noise and cars and tour buses…I wanted to run back to Venice! I think I actually said to Rich “get me out of here….I hate Florence”. He looked at my puzzled and said that he’d never heard (or imagined) that anyone could say that. Who hates Florence? Well, I didn’t actually hate it, I just had a bit of a meltdown at the Piazza Pitti, and then I was okay after that. I just had to adjust. And adjust I did!

The first thing we did was take a walk up to the Piazzale Michelangelo which was elevated and overlooked the Arno River and the city of Florence. Here I could also get a feel for the Tuscan countryside (Florence is in the region of Tuscany). It was gorgeous!! We walked around the city, over the Ponte Vecchio (famous bridge) and then settled in for lunch. I think it was here that I fell in love with Italian food. The tomatoes, the basil, the olive oil, the mozzarella…so fresh and so flavourful. I was in heaven. Being a vegetarian, I mostly ate pastas and pizzas, but we literally walked from 9am to at least 7pm each day, so luckily I didn’t pack on any pounds and was able to enjoy myself!

Florence had so much to see…the statue of David in the Accademia museum was awe inspiring. To be 5 feet away from Michelangelo’s masterpiece carved in stone so many years ago. It was much bigger than I had imagined and one of my favourite things to see. We also did a guided hike called “A Morning in Tuscany”, followed by “A Taste of Tuscany”, in which we met with a guide (a young Australian girl) and I think 3 other women, and we did a walking tour up in the hills and countryside of Tuscany.

On this walk, we visited an old quarry where Michelangelo used to come with his step-father when he was young, and also where Leonardo Da Vinci would test out his flying machines. We stopped at a beautiful villa and had lunch in a hill-top restaurant overlooking the beautiful Tuscan landscape. The wine and food was abundant and it was one of my favourite days in Florence.

We found a great Market in Florence close to our hotel and we would go there for our breakfasts (fritatta paninis and cappuccinos) before heading out for the day. The market was full of fresh fruits and vegetables and of course beef, pork and cheeses. It was amazing!!

We climbed up the Duomo (a huge Domed church) that had very tight, dark, winding staircases to get to the top. It was very eerie and a little scary being in there climbing up, but once we got to the top, the views were amazing!

While in Florence, we did two day trips – one to Sienna (beautiful!), and another to Pisa to see the leaning tower! Loved both cities and visiting them made the time in Florence even more fulfilling.

I’m sure I’m forgetting lots of stuff!! So I’ll come back and update this post later on once I find my notes (I kept notes of the things we did because we did so much and I knew I would forget!) But here are the links to our pictures from Florence, Sienna and Pisa!




More to come on Rome when I get some more time! Stay tuned....

Italy Part 1 – Venezia (Venice)

There is SO much to tell about our trip to Italy, that I can’t do it in one post, so I’ll start with our first stop – Venice! We stayed in Venice for the first 3 nights of our holiday. On our arrival at the airport, we made our way to the “taxi stop” to get to our hotel. However, they are not ordinary taxis in Venice. It’s a city built on water – canals and bridges criss-cross every few feet and the streets are narrow and cobblestone, and well….there are no cars to be found! So – we boarded the Water Taxi and headed for our port.

Once we arrived at our port, we still had to walk to find our hotel – which normally would not be a problem, except that we had no map, it was POURING rain, and we had our 30kg packs on our backs! But…we were in Venice! So we were happy, and we sloshed our way through the rain and the maze-like streets until we arrived at our hotel about an hour later. We later realized (once we had a map of the city) that the walk was only about 15 minutes from the port!

Our hotel was in a great location, close to the popular “Rialto Bridge”, and our room overlooked one of the canals so we could open our windows to see the gondolas and boats below. It was wonderful. I’ve heard that “Venice can be stinky” but it wasn’t when we were there. The water is kind of murky/green colour in the canals, but we never saw any garbage or smelled anything bad.

I loved Venice! It is so different than anywhere I have been before. I think because I love the water, I just liked being surrounded by it. We walked all over the city, and our first day out we almost walked right into Yoko Ono! She was coming out of a restaurant with some people and swept right past us. We also went to a couple of little islands off of Venice – Murano (where the famous Murano glass is from, and we watched them making it in the factory there), and also Lido, which was a quaint pretty island that I liked a lot – we stopped by the beach there too, which is on the Adriatic Sea.

We also went to see the Peggy Guggenheim (sp?) collection at her museum, and I also chased all the pigeons away in Piazza San Marco (the famous “square” you see in movies quite often where it’s full of pigeons and people). And one afternoon, Rich and I just stayed on a water taxi for an hour or more and did a tour of the grand canal – it was a great way to see a lot of sights. Great stay, great hotel, great food, great first leg of our trip!

Here is the link to our Venice photos on Kodak Gallery:

I will post on Florence – our next stop – as soon as I can! Ciao.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Back from Italy!!

Lots and Lots to tell.....still trying to get caught up and recover from jet lag but will post soon with some pictures!! Great trip and saw sooooooo much! Stay tuned!