Tag Archives: Italy

Wanna go for a drive?

27 Apr

How about one of the most beautiful drives in the world? Yeah, me, too! 🙂

Just like I said yesterday- that if you ever find yourself in Rome, you definitely need to find a way to make it just south to Pompeii- this is no different. If you ever find yourself in Pompeii, you absolutely must take just one extra day and continue your trek southward to one of the most scenic drives on the planet, the Amalfi Coast.

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So, Rome is just off the top of the map. We took the train directly to Naples, then on to Pompeii just down the A3, and finally over to Sorrento on the opposite side of Naples Bay. Sorrento is the cutest little seaside town known for its seafood, its lemon and orange trees (you can pluck your own from just about any tree all over the city!) and its production of limoncello (YUM!), a digestif made from lemon rinds, water, sugar and alcohol.  It’s also the starting place for the Amalfi Drive.

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So much of Italy summed up in one picture. A beautiful 5-star resort built on top of an ancient abandoned mill that is being swallowed by time.

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Neve being serenaded at dinner…’When the moon hits your eye…That’s amore!’

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The morning we set out on our drive (we rented a car just for the day), Mother Nature was not cooperating in the least. For starters, there was torrential rain. Like blowing horizontally, can’t-see-through-the-squalls kind of rain. And to make matters worse, the GPS took us on every might-as-well-be-a-sidewalk road out of town and traffic conspired against us at every turn.

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Yeah, kinda defeats the purpose of a gorgeous drive when you can hardly see a few feet in front of your face! But all you can do is roll with it when it’s the only day you’ve got to do it! Onward and upward! 🙂

The Amalfi Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage site in itself, is a stretch of coastline that runs the 25 miles between Sorrento and Amalfi high up on the jagged cliffs. Picturesque, quaint little towns are peppered along the windy, narrow road. (Yes, windy and narrow roads mean that a 25 mile drive can easily take 3 hours each way!) Of the picturesque towns, Positano is our favorite- it’s bright and cheery with colorful buildings built right into the cliffsides and friendly people.

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For lunch, we stopped in the little fishing village of Praiano, but before we sat down for some of the best gnocchi of my life, the cutest yellow church with a great mosaic-tiled plaza caught our eyes. And as if the outside wasn’t postcard worthy enough, the inside…Oh. My. Word. It’s the absolute happiest church I’ve ever seen!

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Look at that floor!! I’ve never seen anything like it, especially not in a church! Doesn’t it just give you all the feels?! From there, we grabbed a bite and then…BLUE SKIES! Yes, the second half of our trek was just beautiful, the way God intended the Amalfi Coast to be! 😉

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We even passed a VW van parade…Thought of you, Aunt Julia ❤ (I claim the mint green one!)

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And with that, we made our way all the way to the end of the drive and back again. It turned out to be such a lovely day with the greatest eye candy. Turquoise waters, picturesque towns, cliffs jutting up into the clouds…Ahhh…We could get used to that! Our final morning, we started the long travel journey home- planes, trains and automobiles. Literally! We took a bus from Sorrento to the Naples airport, a plane back to Stuttgart, and a train to our house. Yes, it was a lively as it sounds. Ha! But it was SO very good. Just like I said in the first Rome post- we got home with absolutely nothing left to give. It was the best kind of tired and most definitely one of our most fun adventures in a long time.

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View of Sorrento as we head out of town on the bus…

Bethany, Mark and Norah left us yesterday to head back to the States and yes, we miss them already. I know I always say how quiet the house feels right after any guests leave, but it’s especially true this time- because they took their toddler with them! Ha! I jest, I jest…But seriously, all three of us loved having all three of them here; it was just so easy. (Any of you who have had house guests for any length of time feel me on this one- easy = awesome!) And Neve is already missing Norah something fierce!

But for now, we’re back to a trio, plus pups :), and life is good. It’s been snowing this week (don’t even get me started on that one) and we’ve been hunkering down and reconnecting. I’ll leave you with a simple picture John managed to get in Italy that I absolutely love. It’s us, with me in my happy place…just enjoying it all. Enjoying life. Enjoying him.

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The Lost City

26 Apr

Pompeii. The Lost City. I’m sure that you’ve heard about it before, but in case you haven’t, you’re about to learn all about it! It’s one of the most incredible, yet haunting, places I’ve ever been to. And once we decided we were heading to Rome, it was a no-brainer that we’d make the trek southward to share this amazing piece of history with our guests.

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Norah loves train rides!

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Pompeii was an ancient Roman city near present-day Naples, about 2 hours south of Rome. It was founded in the 7th century BC and grew to become a bustling, affluent city- complete with a complex water system, a gymnasium, an amphitheater and a port- with more than 20,000 citizens.Elegant houses and elaborate villas lined the paved streets. Tourists, townspeople and slaves bustled in and out of small factories and artisans’ shops, taverns and cafes, and brothels and bathhouses. People gathered in the 20,000-seat arena and lounged in the open-air squares and marketplaces.

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Mount Vesuvius, a volcano about five miles from Pompeii, is hundreds of thousands of years old and has erupted more than 50 times. Its most famous eruption took place in the year 79 AD, when the volcano buried the city under a thick carpet of volcanic ash. The dust “poured across the land” like a flood, one witness wrote, and shrouded the city in “a darkness…like the black of closed and unlighted rooms.” Around lunchtime that day, the blast sent a plume of ashes, pumice and other rocks, and scorching-hot volcanic gases 21 miles into the sky- so high that people could see it for hundreds of miles around. As it cooled, this tower of debris drifted to earth: first the fine-grained ash, then the lightweight chunks of pumice and other rocks. By nightfall, as more and more ash fell, it clogged the air, making it difficult to breathe. Buildings collapsed. Then, a “pyroclastic surge”–a 100mph surge of superheated poison gas and pulverized rock–poured down the side of the mountain and swallowed everything and everyone in its path. By the time the Vesuvius eruption sputtered to an end the next day, Pompeii was buried under millions of tons of volcanic ash. Every single person in the city perished, and Pompeii was buried for centuries.  When a group of explorers rediscovered the site in 1748, they were surprised to find that, underneath it all, Pompeii was mostly intact, just as it had been left that fateful night in 79AD.

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Factoid: Geologists categorize the next Vesuvius eruption as ‘imminent,’ claiming that it could happen any day. Just like before, there have been small earthquakes and rumblings in recent years (at the time of Pompeii, they didn’t realize these were warning signs- Vesuvius had been silent for 500 years at that time and was just considered a mountain by that point). Currently, more than 3 million people live within 20 miles of its base.

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Four year old boy, with pursed lips and wearing clothes…

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Found hiding in a corner of a house, covering his face from the ash…

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Dog on his back…

Underneath all that dust, Pompeii was almost exactly as it had been 2,000 years before. Its buildings were intact. Skeletons were frozen right where they’d fallen. Everyday objects and household goods littered the streets. Later archaeologists even uncovered jars of preserved fruit and loaves of bread!

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Ruts left on the roads from constant carriage travel…

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That’s the oven behind the pestle…

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The Villa of the Mysteries is a well-preserved Roman villa on the outskirts of Pompeii, famous for the series of frescos in one room, which are usually thought to show the initiation of a young woman into a Greco-Roman mystery cult. These are now the best known of the relatively rare survivals of Ancient Roman painting. The villa wasn’t discovered and excavated until 1909, long after much of the main city. It is now the best preserved building in the entire city.

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Villa of Mysteries with Mt. Vesuvius in the background…

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Wall paintings…

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You can’t even tell how filthy we all were by this picture! Ha!

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Kitchen counter in one of the wealthiest homes…

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Tile mosaic in an entryway…Considered the unofficial symbol of Pompeii. We have a tile of this that hangs at our front door in Charleston ❤

During excavation of one site, the bodies of thirteen adults and children were found huddled together, making futile attempts to shield themselves from the onslaught of volcanic dust, pumice, stone, and ash. This place, where once stood an ancient orchard, came to be known as the “Garden of the Fugitives.” (*Sorry for the glare on the pictures- since the last time we visited, they’ve put up protective glass walls around the bodies 😦 )

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Ancient signage- painted right onto the building- for a bakery…Neat fact: There were 31 bakeries in Pompeii, proving that it was a lucrative business.

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Each hole would’ve held a bowl with warm food. These ancient ‘snack bars’ were also common in most cities. Surprisingly, it was the poorer people who frequented them because their homes were less likely to have kitchens.

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Vesuvius in the distance…

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Isn’t it incredible?! And I use that word for so many different parts of Pompeii. It’s incredible how advanced people were thousands of years ago. It’s incredible that every single one of these structures was built long before Jesus was born. It’s incredible that that 20,000 people called this city home, then were completely gone in one night. It’s incredible how well it was preserved by the ash and lava from Mt. Vesuvius. It’s incredible that there’s still 1/3 of the city still buried, waiting to be excavated. And most of all, it’s incredible that we get to visit it and learn from it and feel its incredible energy today, 2000 years later. To experience Pompeii is to witness one of the most tragic, horrific, inspiring, liberating, beautiful experiences you’ll ever have. And all you can do is be present. ❤

Tomorrow will conclude our three part series on our southern Italy adventure. You won’t want to miss Sorrento and the most scenic drive in the world, the Amalfi Coast!

 

Ciao da Roma!

25 Apr

Disclaimer: You’re in for a long, juicy, but oh-so-awesome, pretty picture post with this one! What else could you expect? It’s Rome!

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What a fabulous time we’ve had these last 5 days! Seriously. We rolled up into here (home) last night feeling like we’d used every ounce of oomph- and every muscle in our legs- we had and it hurt so good. We couldn’t have covered any more ground if someone was paying us $1 million to do it! That’s when you know it was a good trip! Ha! Although laying in bed after our second day, John and I both agreed that we’re getting older. We’ve always been ‘power travelers’- we go into most trips with a gameplan, research ahead of time, and make the most of our time in any given place- but I’ve got to admit, we’re feeling more like 28 instead of 22 these days! 😉

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We took a train from our house to the airport, flew direct from Stuttgart to Rome, then took a taxi to our apartment in the city. This is waiting for Uber (taxi).

Several months ago, once Mark and Bethany decided on their travel dates, we started giving thought to where we’d like to visit during their time here. They had their Bucket List, so it was just a matter of where to start on it. With it being their first time in Europe, we wanted to make sure that their first side adventure was one for the books- somewhere recognizable, somewhere that makes an impression, somewhere that we could see alot of in a pretty short amount of time. Well yeah, Rome- and southward- certainly fits the bill, right?! And the fact that we’d spent a good bit of time there in the past- we guestimate that John’s been there for work 25-30 times!- really helped in the decision because it just makes things that much easier for getting around- and knowing what’s worth waiting in line for 😉 The icing on the cake? Going that far south means warmer temperature and sunnier (mostly) skies! WOOHOO!

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Our apartment (Airbnb for the win!) was just off this square, probably the largest in the city.

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Standing 86 feet tall, Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome and one of the most famous in the world. (Anyone remember the movie, When In Rome, where Kristen Bell runs out of the church and climbs into a big fountain?) The fountain, originally built in 19BC is actually the junction of three roads that marks the the terminal point of the aqueduct that supplied water to the ancient city. The current fountain was restored and expanded in 1629. It’s made from travertine stone taken from a quarry about 20 miles outside of Rome.

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After dinner gelato at Trevi Fountain. (We sure do make some blue-eyed babies, don’t we?)

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The Pantheon is the best-preserved ancient Roman building and has the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. Dedicated in 126AD, the reason it’s been so well preserved is likely because it’s remained in continuous use for most of its history, having been used as a church since 7AD. The building is circular with a portico of large granite Corinthian columns under a pediment. A rectangular vestibule links the porch to the rotunda, which is under a coffered concrete dome, with a central opening to the sky.

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Standing in the middle of the Pantheon looking straight up through the oculus in the ceiling.

An interesting fact about the Pantheon dome…If you were to put hinges where the base meets the walls and flip it upside down like a bowl, it would be less than 1mm from the ground, making a perfect sphere. Yes, they were able to get that precise nearly 2000 years ago. I can’t even.

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Can you believe these marble floors are 2000 years old?

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It’s tough to get a good shot of such a large, round space, but this gives you a feel for inside. Walking in the front door, looking immediately left.

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Walking back to the apartment after a successful first afternoon ❤

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Random Cathedral we happened upon…Jeez.

Vatican City, the world’s smallest country in both area (110 acres) and population (842), is a walled enclave in the heart of Rome. It wasn’t officially declared autonomous until 1929. Its government, all Catholic clergy led by the Pope, has “full ownership, exclusive dominion, and sovereign authority and jurisdiction” over the city-state.

The Vatican City State budget includes the Vatican Museums and post office and is supported financially by the sale of stamps, coins, medals and tourist mementos; by fees for admission to museums; and by publications sales. The incomes and living standards of lay workers are comparable to those of counterparts who work in the city of Rome. Other industries include printing, the production of mosaics, and the manufacture of staff uniforms. The Institute for Works of Religion, also known as the Vatican Bank, is a bank situated in the Vatican that conducts worldwide financial activities. It has an ATM with instructions in Latin, possibly the only such ATM in the world.

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Walking to the Vatican. The Tiber River is on the left, the Vatican is straight ahead. You can see St. Peters Basilica in the distance on the right.

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Vatican City State, which employs nearly 2,000 people (most are Italian citizens who live outside city walls), operates with a $5 million surplus most years (layman’s terms: you’ve never seen such wealth!) Its citizenry consists almost entirely of two groups: clergy, a very few as officials of the state; and the Swiss Guard. As a result, all of the City’s actual citizens are Catholic as are all the places of worship. Unlike citizenship of other states, citizenship of Vatican City is granted on the grounds of appointment to work in a certain capacity in the service of the Holy See. It usually ceases upon cessation of the appointment. Citizenship is extended also to the spouse, parents and descendants of a citizen, provided they are living with the person who is a citizen. Anyone who loses Vatican citizenship and does not possess other citizenship automatically becomes an Italian citizen by law.

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*Stock Picture just to give an idea of Vatican City as a whole.*

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Pope’s Apartment, top straight across level of the brick building…He had his windows open enjoying the nice weather 🙂

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St. Peters Basilica is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and one of the largest churches in the world. It is regarded as ‘the greatest of all churches in Christendom.’ Catholic tradition holds that the Basilica is the burial site of Jesus’ Apostle, St. Peter, as well as , the first Pope. Because St. Peter’s tomb is located directly below the high altar, many Popes have been interred at the Basilica since the Early Christian period. There has been a church on this site since the time of Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great. Construction of the present basilica, replacing the Old St. Peter’s Basilica of the 4th century AD, was completed in 1626.

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There Pope had held an outdoor ceremony the day before, so there were hundreds of chairs in St. Peter’s Square. 

St. Peter’s is famous as a place of pilgrimage and for its liturgical functions. The Pope presides at a number of liturgies throughout the year, drawing audiences of 15,000 to over 80,000 people, either within the Basilica or the adjoining St. Peter’s Square. As a work of architecture, it is regarded as the greatest building of its age and is one of the four churches of Rome that hold the rank of Major Basilica. Contrary to popular misconception, it is not a cathedral because it is not the seat of a bishop.

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Walking in the front doors of St. Peter’s Basilica…

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Each marble inlaid into the floor is representative of another major Catholic church from all around the world, showing their size in relation to St. Peters.

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Looking straight up..

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An interesting tidbit for this picture, and the previous few if you scroll back up. There is NO paint used in the Basilica. It’s ALL tile. Yes, even this mural in the ceiling dome and everything on the walls…It’s all mosaic tilework. WOW. WOW. WOW.

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St. Peter’s Altar. 

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Looking back from the altar.Another interesting note: the letters around the walls are each 6 feet high. That offers some perspective of the grandeur here…

The Vatican Museums are the museums located within the walls of Vatican City that display the collections built up by the Popes throughout the centuries, including some of the most renowned classical sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world.  Julius II founded the museums in the early 16th century. There are 54 galleries in total, making it one of the largest in the world, with the Sistine Chapel, notably, being the very last gallery within the Museum. Each gallery (they look like beautiful ornate arched halls) showcases everything from sculpture to metalworks to jewelry to tapestries to paintings.  For me personally, you could practically take away the collections and I’d be just as awe-struck by the galleries themselves!

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Neat Factoid: None of the ceilings use any moldings. JUST PAINT and technique. Scroll back up to the last picture with that in mind…WOW. 

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Because everyone needs a little comical relief during a morning of major art inspiration!

The Sistine Chapel is a chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope. Since 1480, the chapel has served as a place of both religious and functionary papal activity. Today, it is the site of the Papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected. The fame of the Sistine Chapel lies mainly in the frescos that decorate the interior, and most particularly its ceiling and The Last Judgment by Michelangelo. Remember a few months ago when I was describing the feeling I get when I see the Eiffel Tower twinkling at night? Standing in the Sistine Chapel, absorbing all of this immense beauty and artistic creation…I feel so much the same way. It’s moving and inspiring and breathtaking. And there’s this huge sense of disbelief that someone would ever have the ability to do such masterpieces.

The ceiling was commissioned by Pope Julius II and painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512. The commission was originally to paint the twelve apostles on the triangular pendentives which support the vault; however, Michelangelo demanded a free hand in the pictorial content of the scheme. He painted a series of nine pictures showing God’s Creation of the World, God’s Relationship with Mankind, and Mankind’s Fall from God’s Grace. On the large pendentives he painted twelve Biblical and Classical men and women who prophesied that God would send Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind, and around the upper parts of the windows, the Ancestors of Christ.

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I purposefully left John’s head in this shot to showcase my mad skill at taking the picture completely blind from my purse! How awesome is this picture?! Photography isn’t allowed, but since that’s only because Japan owns the rights since they did a restoration in the 1980s, I didn’t feel bad about breaking the rules for you guys. Imagine that 😉

The Last Judgement, also painted by Michelangelo, is a fresco on the wall behind the altar. It is a depiction of the Second Coming of Christ and the final and eternal judgment by God of all humanity. The souls of humans rise and descend to their fates, as judged by Christ surrounded by prominent saints including Saints Catherine of Alexandria, Peter, Lawrence, Bartholomew, Paul, Sebastian, John the Baptist, and others. The work took four years to complete and was done between 1536 and 1541, 25 years after Michelangelo  finished the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

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Again, trying to be sneaky, so pardon the bald head and the dude with candle antlers.

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Quick pit stop for lunch before continuing our day!

The Colosseum is an oval amphitheater in the center of Rome. Built of concrete and sand,it’s the largest amphitheater ever built was was completed in just 8 years in 80AD.  It could hold about 80,000 spectators and was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. Its main use during its heyday was weekend gladiator events. Gladiators were typically slaves who offered spectators an example of Rome’s martial ethics and, in fighting or dying well, they could inspire admiration and popular acclaim. They were celebrated in high and low art, and their value as entertainers was commemorated in precious and commonplace objects throughout the Roman world. The best gladiators could sometimes earn their freedom by staying alive long enough to earn their masters huge amounts of money. However, most gladiators lived their lives fighting and would die in battle at some point before freedom was even a thought.

Atypical Saturday would be divided into three events: the morning would have gladiators vs. exotic animals; afternoons would have gladiators vs. gladiators; evenings would have all gladiators and all remaining exotic animals fight to the death until there was only one remaining life in the fighting arena. In the days that followed, the arena would then be filled with water for naval battles as a way to rinse the blood away. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era (around 600 AD), but was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

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The Colosseum is my personal favorite site to visit in Rome. There’s just something about its imposing grandness. It’s heavy and solid and so much still in tack. It commands your attention and your curiosity. Once inside, you can FEEL the energy of centuries past, you can HEAR the crowds roar. I had wondered if I’d still feel this way all these years later and it was an immediate yes. To me, the Colosseum is the most beautiful site in all of the city.

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So the way the amphitheater was set up was very similar to many arenas you’d go to today for a concert. Once you enter, you walked the outer circle until you found your numbered section. There was a small section on one side for royalty, then the knights would have the rest of the ground level circling the fighting stage. The lower levels were for noble people. Midlevel was for middle class. Upper levels were for peasants. At the very top was a section for servants made of wooden benches, as opposed to stone like the rest of the building (they are no longer there, of course). The ground at the center of the arena was actually a false floor. Beneath it was an intricate web of hallways and holding cells where the gladiators and animals would wait to be lifted (yes, they had advanced trap doors with pulley systems) into the arena when it was their turn.

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This gives you a good idea of the false floor and what lied beneath…

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Standing at ground level, looking down into the underneath hidden hallways and holding cells.

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If you look straight across the arena in the center, you’ll see a cross. This marks the birth of Christianity and the demise of gladiator games.

Directly across from the Colosseum is the Roman Forum, the center of ancient Roman life. It was essentially their downtown area- it had government buildings, the marketplaces, restaurants and public spaces. It was where elections were held, parades and processions were marched, and Roman citizens addressed in speeches. Today, you can walk along the streets among the ruins, picturing for yourself what life once looked like here. Coincidentally, Julius Caesar is buried here.

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And at this point, she was still considered pretty clean! HA!

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Caesar’s Tomb

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Capitol Hill, bookending the far side of the Roman Forum.

Can you believe how much ground we covered ON FOOT in just a day and a half in this city?! I can’t either. I plugged it into Google Maps and figured out that we walked just shy of 13 miles, including a toddler and a preschooler! We. Are. Rockstars. We rewarded ourselves with bellies full of pasta and pizza (call us cliche, we don’t care! ;)) and gelato with friends before schlepping our way back to our apartment and falling asleep within 3 seconds of our heads hitting the pillows. Which reminds me! Look who we ran into while we were in Rome!

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Recognize that extra toddler making a beeline for gelato?

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It’s our neighbors! They were in town with family for the week and were headed back to Stuttgart the following morning, so glad we got to meet up ahead of time! Love this family ❤

I told you it was a long, juicy post! Thanks for sticking it out with me. Hopefully the pictures of eons past and neat factoids helped hold your attention a bit 😉 Rome is just one of those cities that can’t be condensed into a nice, neat piece I suppose! Afterall, it’s the oldest city in the Western world! And I just find the history and the stories so, so mesmerizing- everywhere you turn is a ruin or a statue or a fountain or something that just grabs your eye. I love sharing it all with you guys and hope that you enjoy it just as much. There’s really no other city where I feel as much like a sponge, just soaking it all up- WANTING to soak it all up, WANTING my brain to expand to hold it all and to remember…It’s definitely one city I would say that everyone should have on his Bucket List- there’s no place in the entire world like it.

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Stop back by tomorrow as our adventure continues southward to Pompeii, the lost city. I promise you won’t want to miss it.

How about a little Q & A?

6 Feb

Well hey there!  It’s me again, in the midst of Week 4 of our latest adventure that we like to call Miss Neve!  I know I’ve said it in the last couple posts, but seriously…How is it possible for time to go by SO quickly now when it was barely moving as fast as a snails’ pace for the 9 months before?!  I just don’t get it…Anyhoo…as promised, I wanted to get away from the cliche mom posts for a minute and get into some of the nitty gritty stuff…Y’all know me, I like to keep it real, especially now, considering that I’ve got quite a few friends in my same boat (there were about 6 of us that gave birth in January- something in the water last April perhaps??) and a good many more due this spring and early summer (I’m talkin’ close to 10!).  Sheesh!  Needless to say, I think it’s important for someone to get it all out there- the good, the bad, the funny…Although since I know I’ve got some male pals who check in here to keep up with our happenings, I’ll try my best to keep it PG-13.  So here we go!  Lots of this is coming from questions both right before Neve’s birth and in the weeks since…The rest, well…it can just be my own musings :).

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Neve’s means of arrival…So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I have no qualms talking about it.  Any woman who has gone through delivery should be oh-so-proud of herself.  And I mean that regardless of circumstances- vaginal, Cesarean, natural, pain med free, home birth, emergency, planned…However which way that baby that she’s carried for almost a year makes its entrance is cause for celebration…and a pat on the back.  And this isn’t something new for me since going through it myself…No, I’ve always felt this way: that it doesn’t make a woman any more or less of a woman- or a mother!- to choose (or in some cases have no choice but to…) one way or the other.  If you want to do it naturally and without pain meds, great.  If you opt for an epidural, great.  If you have a C-section, great.  Everyone gets a gold star for a job well done as all of these options come with their own unique set of goods and bads.  Remember back in one of my early pregnancy posts when I used the analogy about the journey vs. the end result- you know, we may not like doing laundry, but we like wearing clean clothes?  And how that was my view on pregnancy (more on that in a little while!)- hating being pregnant, but ecstatic about the idea of growing our family?  Well, that sums up my feelings on delivery, too.  It doesn’t matter how babies arrive…just that they arrive and that everyone is happy and healthy…

OK, back to my own story.  I had a C-section and am damn proud of it. 🙂  No, it wasn’t an emergency or anything grand done as a last resort after hours and hours of unsuccessful labor…Although I wouldn’t call it 100% completely ‘elected’ either.  For years, long before I got pregnant, docs had told me that I had a higher likelihood than some of going this route.  For starters, my mom had needed one (and yes, her’s was after hours and hours of unsuccessful labor!), which significantly increased my chances of needing one.  But more importantly, my body shape apparently isn’t the most conducive to vaginal labor, specifically, my hips.  My normal body is about the same width front to back as it is side to side (*sigh* No waif-thin Giselle shape for me)…In other words, if you were to stretch a belt around my hips and take it off, you’ll see a circle…Not an oval.  And by the end of my pregnancy, their width hadn’t changed at all- they hadn’t widened even an inch, which meant that Neve’s shoulders were planted firmly ON my pelvic bones rather than in between.  Now don’t get me wrong, I talked to my doc about my options and had always remained open to either option as both had very definitely pros and cons for me.  And he was very open, too- telling me that he was certainly OK with me trying a vaginal delivery if I needed that experience…that ‘right of passage’ that so many new moms think they need…That sure, it could end up working out in the end…but that he really didn’t think it would and that a probably more realistic scenario would be that I labor all day and still end up with in the OR when it was all said and done.  So in my mind- and in John’s, it was a no-brainer.  I didn’t NEED the experience of a vaginal delivery to validate anything within me…I didn’t WANT Neve or myself to (most likely) be in labor all day getting all sorts of medicines only to end up exhausted and sore before even getting to the OR.  I wanted to be well-rested (that’s almost comical to write because by the end of pregnancy, you’re lucky if you’re getting 3 hours a night! Ha!), mentally prepared, and HAPPY when I met our daughter!  Trusting my doc- and my own instincts (no one knows you better than you know yourself…), I made the decision about 6 weeks before her birth, that when labor started, we would go to the hospital, Dr. Reeves would meet us there, and Neve would be born via C-section shortly after.

And that’s just how it went…We went to the doc on that Monday the week she was born- I was 39 weeks and had been having contractions.  Dilation had started, but not active labor.  Contractions continued for the next few days and on Thursday morning, I noticed some extra moisture down below.  (I told y’all I was going to keep it real!)  Now by 39 weeks, you’re used to some of this and there’s no telling what exactly it is…It’s hot outside (yes, it’s January, but we’re in Charleston!), you might have sneezed, your body might just be adding one more thing to its list of rebellions…You just don’t know!  So at our 10:30a doc appointment that morning, I happened to cough while he was doing his check to which he quickly said, ‘Hey, do that again.’  ‘Do what?,’ I asked.  ‘Cough, I think there’s fluid.’  Long story short? My water had broken- though nothing fancy like you see in the movies, but rather a slow and steady leak- and it was (FINALLY!) time.  ‘No turning back now!,’ he said.  ‘Why don’t you head on over the hospital to get checked in and hooked up to the monitors and I’ll be over later this afternoon so we can have ourselves a baby!’  BAZINGA!!

I know I already posted this one a few weeks ago, but since it was taken just moments after the above conversation, I thought it only natural to post again...Having just driven across the street to the hospital. Neve was born about 4 hours later 🙂

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The actual delivery…And no, not to worry…No need to go too into the details here…But since lots of folks- from expectant parents (possibly) planning for a C-section to older generations who’ve had ’em in the past- seem fascinated with the process, I think it only right that I hit the highlights!  So…we spend the early part of the afternoon hooked up to monitors, taking care of paperwork and meeting the team.  Most important to me?  The anesthesia team.  Now, y’all know I can have panic issues, so the idea of being wide awake and completely numb scared the HELL outta me, so it was important that I talk with these folks BEFORE the fact…

So once that was all out of the way, Dr. Reeves arrived in time to poke his head in for a quick ‘Hello!  See you in there!’, and with that, the nurse (my friend, Melissa) and I headed down the hall to the OR.  (Husbands can’t come in until everything is set up and ready to go…)  It looked different than what I’d expected…Smaller, brighter, colder (downright chilly!) and with way more people.  I’m talkin’ like probably 20 blue scrubs walking around in there!  I crawled up on the table, my legs- complete with their warm alternating compression socks- dangling off the side.  Then it was time for the part I dreaded the most…Dread is probably an understatement- it was more like a petrifying, I don’t think I can do this sort of fear that I’d been wrestling with since the day we made the decision to go this route.  But at that point, all I could tell myself were these two things: 1. She has to come out.  And 2. All these people are already in here.

The anesthesiologist got behind me and began to clean the area on my spine just below my shoulder blades.  Per my request, he announced what he was doing each step of the way to avoid any surprises.  So, I was ‘hugging’ Melissa and pushing my back out like a cat, per his instructions.  Next, he gave me a shot to numb the skin- this felt alot like a bee sting.  And I guess because I knew what was coming next, my panic intensified for a minute as he did the actual spinal tap.  It didn’t hurt at all- just an odd sensation that felt like he was ‘tickling’ the inside of my spine.  And just like that, those compression socks that had been keeping my legs warm- and that I’d been counting as they did their thing- quickly stopped working.  You know where I’m headed with this, right?  They actually hadn’t stopped working…the feeling in my legs had.  And then in my pelvis…my stomach…and even a bit up my rib cage.  As all this jazz was taking place, the team was quickly swinging me around and laying me flat on the table.  I remember them positioning my legs like a frog just before they started to put the drape up- the one that would separate my chest and head from the sterile workspace below…A funny note: since that’s the last position in which I saw my legs, I assumed they stayed like that for the remainder of my time in there.  And I fretted about it!  Several times I thought to myself, ‘Jeez, all these people in here and I’m stuck with my legs like THAT!  How awkward!’  After the fact, though, I asked Melissa about it and she reassured me that my legs had, in fact, only remained like that for about 2 minutes and had then been laid flat.  Phew! 🙂

Within just a few minutes, when everyone was in place and ready to go, in came John- in his sexy scrubs, cap and mask ;)- and it was Go Time.  My panic was under control and we were giddy in anticipation.  No quicker had he sat down by my head and grabbed my hand when I asked the anesthesiologist (also camping out by my head) if we were close to starting to which he replied, ‘Oh we’ve been started, give it just a few seconds…’  Wait, WHAT?  Ha!  And sure enough, within less than 30 seconds, he reached over the drape to push on my abdomen and Dr. Reeves announced, ‘Here she comes…’  And we heard her cry.  Oh my, there really are no words for that moment.  That one single cry…John and I looked at each other and cried ourselves.  Then the doc held her up above the drape so we could see her for the first time.  We just stared…in awe and in disbelief.  That this moment we’d waited for was finally here…That she was healthy and perfect…That that’s what she looked like…That we had a daughter.  John kissed my forehead and whispered, ‘We made that.’  Wow…

The nurses quickly took some preliminary measurements (6 lbs., 8 oz., 19 inches), bundled her up and brought her to formally meet us.  Another moment that will never be forgotten.  We were a family of 3 (actually 5 🙂 ) now and it felt good.  John then went with Neve and the nurses to handle the rest of the ‘just been born’ stuff, while I stayed behind for about 45 minutes (no one tells you how long it takes AFTER the fact!) to let Dr. Reeves wrap things up. 🙂  And he was awesome- great to keep me informed of what he was doing each step of the way.  Melissa and the other nurses kept me distracted in between until it was time to head next door to the recovery room.  John and Neve met me there, followed quickly by my parents.  *Happy Hearts All Around*

Really, this picture can't even begin to capture all the love and overflowing emotions of that moment...

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OK, enough with all the serious stuff!  Let me get into some of the other questions we’ve gotten before I go 🙂

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No, our house is not falling down around us as we forego dishes, laundry, cleaning, etc…From the day we got home, we have both maintained our normal duties and it looks just the same as it always does.  Definitely don’t understand all the stuff about ‘just let it all go and focus solely on baby…’  We would go nuts!

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On that same note…No, I’m not letting myself go either.  Do women really do this??  I have showered twice a day, gotten dressed, put on makeup and done my hair just about every single day since we got home.  In my opinion, ESPECIALLY after being pregnant for 9 months (y’all do know it’s actually 10, right?!), I’m more inclined than ever to look good and feel confident!

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Yes, I am breastfeeding- and pumping- exclusively.  No formula.  Yes, my already giant tatas have once again defied my wildest dreams and increased in size.  Please, Lord, let this be it!  Yes, I hate this part.  But other than that, things on that front have been going pretty smoothly, knock on wood.  We’re definitely figuring it out as we go and adjusting our ‘system,’ often daily, as we learn.  That being said, I view breastfeeding in the same way that I view just about everything else in life.  I definitely see the benefits of it and want to give it a shot.  If it works for us, great.  If it doesn’t, there’s formula.  And my job is to do what’s best for all of us…It’s that simple.  So I set small goals for myself from Day 1.  ‘I will do my best to make it to 3 days.’  (The first ‘benchmark’ for BF benefits).  Then, ‘I will try to make it to 2 weeks.’  (The second ‘benchmark’).  Now, I’m working on getting to next Thursday, the 1 month benchmark.  In other words, it makes more sense to me to set small, realistic goals, (rather than ‘I must do this for at least a year!’) especially during a time that’s already so overwhelming and life changing.  Knowing that, statistically, I’ve already done more than many new moms takes alot of the pressure off.  I won’t have guilt if and when I choose to stop… 🙂  But for now, we’re trucking right along…

My Liquid Gold stock pile in the freezer 🙂

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Yes, we were SO very fortunate that John has been in a position to take as much paternity leave as he wants to.  It ended up being about a month and I truly believe that it made all the difference in this transition…For all of us.  He went back to work in the form of travel to Rome- this past Friday, for about 2 weeks.  Speaking of Italy, they’re in the middle of a frigid cold spell and their first snow (6+ inches when John landed!) since 1985!  Needless to say, John may be a bit underdressed during his visit!  On the plus side, it’s now Sunday which means that Neve, the pups and I survived our first- and now second- solo nights!  WOOHOO!  Coincidentally, about an hour after we dropped John at the airport Friday morning, Neve hit her first growth spurt, right on schedule at 3 weeks.  Jeez Louise, let me tell you that THAT has made for a fun couple of days!  *Totally joking, folks.*  Lots more eating, lots less sleeping and lots more fussiness going on in this house!  Fortunately, my Mom and I had already planned a ‘Girls Slumber Party’ and she came to hang out and spend the night with us last night, so that helped to take the edge off.  I’m so glad that she was able to be part of things like bathtime, playtime, etc.  You know how there’s a very small handful of people who you can do absolutely nothing with yet still consider it time so well spent?  Yeah, that’s us. 🙂

From John...The Roman Forum on Saturday as the snow had just begun...

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Yes, I made it through pregnancy without a single stretchmark!  BAZINGA!  I know, I know…they say it’s genetic, but I totally swear by the daily BioOil rubdowns!  Why not at least FEEL proactive, right?!

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Yes, I do finally know how much weight I gained during the preggo adventure and no, I’m not going to share it with all of you, at least not right now!  C’mon, you should know me better than that!  In a few months, when I’m back in the shape I like to be, I’ll probably share, just to help show all new moms what’s possible :)!  I will say that I definitely never got on the scale facing forward, though.  Instead, I had the nurse write my final pregnancy weight (taken the morning Neve was born) on the back of one of my hospital discharge papers, so I could look at it at home when I was ready.  Then I waited two weeks- no need to weigh when you’re retaining all those fluids they pump you so full of!- and figured it was time to bite the bullet and see the damage.  So I mustered up the courage to not only look at the not-so-tiny number she’d scribbled for me, but also to get on my own scale for the first time since last May.  *SIGH*  And I’m not gonna lie…my mini meltdown in the privacy of my bathroom that morning probably wasn’t pretty!  But it gave me a starting point, an exact number to reach my goal weight, and thus, the control over my body that I’m accustomed to having- and have SO missed, which is a fabulous feeling.  Getting back into the swing of clean, healthy eating and exercise is a bit challenging, of course, but it’s SO worth it…Especially as I watch that number (slowly) decrease :).

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And speaking of exercise, yes, I’m gradually returning to a more normal activity level.  And it feels SO good!  We’ve been walking- with Neve and the pups- since Day 7 and, with my doc’s OK, I started to reintroduce moderate exercise back into my schedule by Day 14.  Now, before you guys start sending me notes about taking it easy and not overdoing, I assure you that all is well.  🙂  No one knows her body better than the person herself and I’m certainly letting my body dictate what it needs, what it’s able to handle each day, what it’s not, etc.  Right now, at 3.5 weeks out, it’s good with long power walks pushing the stroller, about 4 miles on an elliptical, and light weights avoiding the midsection (which sure, that’s a bit discouraging as that’s the part that needs the most work! Ha!)…This week, I hope to include a spin session or two, but we shall see :).

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No, we’ve definitely not become homebodies- at least not any moreso than we’ve ever been!  We got home from the hospital on a Saturday afternoon and our first outing- to lunch and to run errands- was that Tuesday…And we’ve been going strong- and venturing out on our normal routine!- every day since!  Disclaimer: That’s definitely not to say that it doesn’t take an additional 30 minutes to get ready to go and that it can be challenging (even that’s probably an understatement!) to run lots of little ‘quick’ errands!  If only you could crack a window and leave her in the car with the pups! Ha!

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Speaking of leaving the house, yes, we are planning to take our first family vacation- to Hawaii- this spring and will head back to Europe over the summer.   I’d be lying if I said we weren’t a tad nervous about the usual stuff: Neve’s first airplane ride, time changes, overall traveling with an infant…But our excitement and confidence trumps it all, so we can’t wait!  We’ve always known that she’d be a world traveler and that it’s best to start early if you want something to seem like second nature!  Like everything else these days, it’ll be a new adventure and a learning experience for all of us :).

Neve's passport picture. With all the guidelines they give you, it took me 157 attempts, but I got it! 🙂

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(Knock loudly on wood 🙂 ) Yes, we’re actually get pretty good sleep, especially when John’s here to tag team this beast!  Ha!  Granted, we don’t have much to compare our experience to, but based on some of the horror stories we’ve heard, we think we’ve lucked up in that department, at least so far.  Since the first week, she’s only needed one feeding in the middle of the night.  In other words, she eats before we go to bed, wakes us sometime between 3-4a, then eats breakfast when we get up or when I get home from the gym, depending on the day.  Now, I know what some of you will be saying: ‘You’re supposed to feed more often than that!’ or ‘You should wake her every couple hours to eat!’ or ‘This could mess with your milk production!’  And for the first week, we tried it that way, but it just didn’t feel right for us…And I truly believe that’s what you have to go on, folks.  Neve’s simply not hungry quite that often- she definitely prefers larger but fewer meals as opposed to smaller, more frequent ones…And we’ve made that work for us.  Yes, we definitely wake her to eat during the day if we need to, but as for the nights, there just hasn’t been a need to so far.

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Which brings me to a big question we’ve gotten alot from our fellow new parent/soon-to-be new parent friends…Scheduling and routine.  Now, if  you truly know us, you should be able to guess where we fall on this debate!  We are creatures of habit…We prefer order, routine, schedule, etc.  Our philosophy is pretty close to the old school notion that babies thrive when they know what to expect…That they crave ‘normalcy’ just as much as their parents do.  So that’s how we’re approaching this latest adventure- shaping Neve’s world into one that fits into our world, complete with an ever-slightly-changing daily routine…We wake, eat, play and sleep at roughly the same times each and every day…making for a happy Neve and happy parents.  🙂  With her help, we’re creating a schedule that best fits into our schedules, so it’s as win-win as we could ask for.  Oh, and I strongly recommend the ‘Babywise’ and ‘Baby Whisperer’ series for anyone with similar thoughts.

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No, my feelings about pregnancy (ie. loathing it!) have not changed since Neve’s birth and yes, I do remember being pregnant (do people really conveniently forget that??  Yeah, no likely to happen for this girl…Ha!  That being said, I will say that the cliche ‘I’d do it all over again to have her’ definitely applies, but the buck definitely stops there! 🙂  She’s awesome and totally rocks our world, so there’s no need to push it, right?! Ha!

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OK, well I think that about sums things up for the moment!  Things in the Thomas household, as crazy and as different and as exhausting as they are, are WONDERFUL.  Seriously, we are loving this season of our life.  And not just John and me, but our families, too.  Neve has brought something to all of us that we didn’t even realize was missing.  It’s amazing…So profound…

Anyhoo, I hope everyone has had a lovely weekend and I’ll be in touch again soon- this time with lots of pictures rounding out Month 1, I’m sure!  Love you guys!

Buon Giorno da Italia!

5 Oct

Greetings from Italy!  Our longest, busiest, MOST FUN ‘side-adventure’ so far- 6 days, 4 people, 3 cities, 2 pups and 2 countries!, I’ve decided to break it down into two separate posts, so here goes Part 1!

As you all know, one of our favorite things about all of our road trips has been the drives themselves…the beautiful scenery…Well, despite all the ‘pretty things’ we’ve seen over the last few months, NOTHING could’ve prepared us for what our eyes would see en route from Stuttgart (Germany) to Venice (Italy) via Switzerland (check out the Maps page).  In the words of the Beav, ‘Golly jee willikers, Wally!’

Switzerland has HUNDREDS of lakes, of all sizes...

Nestled in the Alps...

After driving all morning, we decided to stop an impromptu lakeside picnic.  The weather was clear- sunny and (relatively) warm- the water was calm and the hills were green…We feasted on sliced chorizo, cubed German butter cheeses, whole grain crackers and the juiciest clementines we’ve ever had…Best picnic ever, hands down!

Could there be a better place to eat lunch?!

Refueled, onward to Italy!  The afternoon’s scenery was much like the morning’s…Rolling green hills, calm crystal blue lakes and snow-capped jagged mountains in the distance.  This was the first (of several) day that the phrase, ‘straight out of a magazine,’ was oft repeated.

A quick note about the blue Swiss lakes…Apparently, the rich, turquoise color is due to the reflection of the limestone deposits suspended in the water…

Maybe the 230492th we passed? 🙂

You can see the edge of the pavement in the lower lefthand corner...That's how close the highway runs next to the lake...No rail...Awesome.

Nearing Italy...Not as many lakes, but pretty mountains...

The Swiss-Italian border...

Italy has long been our favorite European country, of the ones we’ve visited, of course.  It’s a combination of things really…The endless vineyards, the brightly colored buildings with terra cotta roofs, the history (I’ll never forget the first time I marveled at Rome), the people (much friendlier than the Germans, I must admit), the fabulous beaches along the Mediterranean…The list goes on and on…It could also help that we’ve spent so much time there as John works in Naples several times every year.  Of course, that’s not to say that there aren’t things that take some getting used to- workdays starting at 10a, unapologetically horrible drivers, dinners served at 10p…Regardless, you can imagine how thrilled we were to get to share all of this with my parents, who were seeing Italy- and Europe!- for the first time!

The drive to Padova continued…Through Milan, through Verona (yep, of Romeo and Juliet fame)…And while the eye candy was different here than it was in Switzerland, it was still so gorgeous.  Thousands of grapevines filling vineyard after vineyard, churches centering tiny hillside villages, the occasional castle dotting the tops of distant mountains…

Maybe the 192326 vineyard we passed? 🙂

Dulcie thoroughly enjoyed her 'bird's eye view' from her perch on the luggage in the back...Ah, yet another perk of having a station wagon!

Padova (or Padua, as it’s called in Italian) is a small, picturesque town in northern Italywith a dense network of arcaded streets opening into large communal piazze, and many bridges crossing the various branches of the River Bacchiglione, which once surrounded the ancient walls like a moat.  Two claims to fame?  Galileo was a lecturer at the Padova University many moons ago and Shakespeare used the city as the setting for his ‘The Taming of the Shrew.’ 🙂

The Prato della Valle, the largest square (uniquely, it's an elliptical!) in Europe...

Basilica di Sant'Antonio, built in 1230...The Saint's bones are buried inside...

After a delicious Italian meal (*think Caprese salad, pastas and pizzas!) and a good night’s sleep (John had found us the coolest, funky, artsy boutique hotel we’d ever seen!), we hit the ground running the next morning to our FAVORITE city on Earth…Venezia!

Venice, also known as “Queen of the Adriatic”, “City of Water”, “City of Masks”, “City of Bridges”, “The Floating City”, and “City of Canals,” stretches across 117 small islands in the marshy Venetian Lagoon along the Adriatic Sea in northeast Italy. The saltwater lagoon stretches along the shoreline between the mouths of the Po and the Piave Rivers. About 60,000 people live within the city itself.

The Republic of Venice was a major maritime power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and a staging area for the Crusades, as well as a very important center of commerce (especially silk, grain and spice trade) and art in the 13th century up to the end of the 17th century, making Venice a wealthy city throughout most of its history.

Now as you all know, there are no cars in Venice, which means that you have to park in one of the many lots on the mainland and take a boat into the city.  It’s built around the large Grand Canal with lots of side ‘alley’ canals turning off of it (and off each other).

Coming into Venice on the Grand Canal. We opted for a water taxi (instead of a bus) just to make life a little easier...

The bright, multi-colored buildings can't help but make you happy 🙂

On the water taxi...

Lowcountry Pups, feeling right at home on the boat 🙂

Lots of different kinds of boats share the canals...Private, business, taxis, buses and yes, the famous gondolas 🙂

In Venice for less than an hour and already in love with the city!

Don't let the wide-openess of the Grand Canal fool you- this is what all the other 'roads' look like! (Mad boat driving skills, huh?!) Turning off toward our hotel...

And while the ‘roads’ are all water, there are still lots of wide ‘sidewalks’ in between all the buildings, so once you get to stop, there’s really very little need for a boat again until you’re ready to venture back out of the city- which translates to a whole lotta walking! 🙂

A 'sidewalk,' lined with shops, cafes and peppered with private residences...

I just love this picture of John (and Dulcie) on the Rialto Bridge, the main bridge in Venice. Yes ladies, he's taken 🙂

On the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal...

So after checking into our hotel, walking around a bit to get our bearings and grabbing a bite to eat at a canal-side bistro, it was off to see the sights!  First stop, Piazza San Marco, the social, religious and political center of Venice.  A remark often attributed to Napoleon calls the Piazza “the drawing room of Europe,” as it’s one of the few great urban spaces in Europe where human voices prevail over the sounds of motorized traffic. SUCH a neat place!

Piazza San Marco, filled with tourists, pigeons...and music...

The Piazza is dominated by the Basilica of San Marco at its eastern end. Three high flagpoles with bronze sculptured bases stand in front of the Basilica. The Venetian flag of St Mark used to fly from them in the time of the republic of Venice and now shares them with the Italian tricolour. To the north, the Clocktower and to the south, the Campanile. At the opposite end is the museum, the Procuratie. And in between all of the above are the most beautiful (and ridiculously expensive!) shops and cafes, including Italy’s oldest restaurant, the Caffè Florian, and the Gran Caffè Quadri, whose orchestras often take it in turns to play.

An interesting factoid…The Piazza has served as inspiration for other public areas around the world, including the 5-acre Austin J. Tobin Plaza that was located at the World Trade Center in New York City until September 11, 2001.

Basilica di San Marco, considered the best example of Byzantine architecture in the world...Originally the Venetian Rulers Cathedral, it wasn't opened to the city's residents until 1807.

Close-up of a gold mosaic...Millions of tiles...For its opulent design, gilded Byzantine mosaics, and its status as a symbol of Venetian wealth and power, since the 11th century, it's been known by the nickname Chiesa d'Oro, Church of Gold.

The altar in the Basilica...

The Clock Tower is my personal favorite building on the Piazza, just because of how neat it is!  Placed where the clock would be visible from the waters of the lagoon and give notice to everyone of the wealth and glory of Venice, both the tower and the clock itself date back the 15th century.  Starting at the top, there are two great bronze figures, hinged at the waist, which strike the hours on a bell. One is old and the other young, to show the passing of time. The bell is a signed original from 1497. Below this level is the winged lion of Venice, followed by a semi-circular gallery with statues of the Virgin and Child seated, in gilt beaten copper. On either side are two large blue panels showing the time: the hour on the left in Roman numerals and the minutes (at 5 minute intervals) on the right in Arabic numerals. Twice a year, at Epiphany and on Ascension Day, the three Magi, led by an angel with a trumpet, emerge from one of the doorways normally taken up by these numbers and pass in procession around the gallery, bowing to the Virgin and child, before disappearing through the other door. Below again is the great clock face in blue enamel and gold inside a fixed circle of marble engraved with the 24 hours of the day in Roman numerals. A golden pointer with an image of the sun moves round this circle and indicates the hour of the day. Within the marble circle beneath the sun pointer are the signs of the zodiac in gold (original, dating from the 1490s), which revolve slightly more slowly than the pointer to show the position of the sun in the zodiac. In the middle of the clockface are the earth and the revolving moon (to show its phases), surrounded by fixed stars.

The Clock Tower on Piazza San Marco, facing the lagoon...

Adjacent to the Piazza is the Doge’s (pronounced ‘doe-jees’) Palace, a unique example of Gothic architecture.  And in case anybody doesn’t know, a Doge is a Venetian king, except by the 1800s, the Doge no longer had any real power and was merely a figurehead of the Republic..  Since John and I have been visiting grand castles for months now, this ‘residence’ was a nice change of scenery in that it just doesn’t look like all the other royal residences or wealthy government buildings…

What do you think? Fit for a king and his Republic?

Our walk continued toward the lagoon (which actually looks just like a big harbor!) where artists and street vendors lined the edge of the sea…(To my Lowcountry peeps, picture the Battery, only WAY older 🙂 )…From this edge of the city, you can see several of the other islands that make up Venice.  A happy side note…While standing on the flood wall, gazing out over the lagoon, John turned to me and said, ‘You know something?  This is my absolute favorite spot in Venice…right here with the docked boats and the fish smell and the wide open ocean…’  ‘Yep, mine, too.  You know what that is, don’t you?’ I continued. ‘Because it’s the closest thing to home we’ve seen in months.’  ‘I miss home,’ he sighed.  ‘Me, too.’

The edge of Venice...

Gondolas docked in the Lagoon...One of my favorite scenic shots of the city...

Local artists and street vendors...The main items for sale? Murano glass (including imitations!), scarves and Venetian masks...

We spent the rest of the afternoon getting lost in the city…Venturing away from the tourist-laden piazzas and thoroughfares to the back ‘alleys’ and residential districts.  FYI, those are always the BEST parts of any city!

How would you like this for a view on a random side 'street?'

Or a random piazza like this?

Taking a gelato break 🙂

Favorite flavors of the trip? Dulce di Leche (caramel), Fiordilatte (sweet cream), Amarena (cherry), Fragola (strawberry) and 'Schlock' (Almond gelato with caramel, chocolate and toffee) 🙂

Meanwhile, back in the room...Surveying our canal down below 🙂

After a very full day of playing tourist, you can rest assured that we needed a top notch dinner to cap it all off!  Unfortunately, Venice isn’t known for its food (John and I even remembered that from our last trip here) :(, so it just meant a little more planning than normal.  No problem!  Being the foodie that I am, I had already made us reservations at Da Mamo, serving the #1 pizza in Venice, as voted by the LOCALS.  (Another rule of traveling- always pay attention to what the locals are saying- they know best!)  And while I can’t say it was the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, I can say that we had a delicious meal in a great little AUTHENTIC eatery off the beaten bath.  Heck, the owner greeted us at the door, gave us a complimentary appetizer tarts and four small after-dinner aperitifs served in dark chocolate edible thimbles!

Always a favorite for John...Caprese Salad...Sliced tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella with fresh basil and balsamic glaze...Mmmm...

Another of John's favorite (dining) aspects of Italy 🙂

A sample pizza (no, I won't bore you with posting pictures of all 4!)...This was actually Dad's 'Taurus' Pizza (they offer pizzas based on the Zodiac- how cool is that?!)

We decided to spend Day 2 in Venice with a hop (on the water bus) over to Murano, the series of small islands linked by bridges in the Venetian Lagoon, about a mile (25 minute boat ride) from the historic city.

Murano’s reputation for glassmaking was born when the Venetian Republic, fearing fire and destruction to the city’s mostly wood buildings, ordered glassmakers to move their foundries to Murano in 1291. Murano glass is still interwoven with Venetian glass. Soon, the glassmakers were the city’s most prominent citizens- they were allowed to wear swords, enjoyed immunity from prosecution by the Venetian state and found their daughters married into Venice’s most affluent families. The catch? Glassmakers weren’t allowed to leave the Republic.

Murano’s glassmakers held a monopoly on quality glassmaking for centuries, developing or refining many technologies including crystalline glass, enameled glass (smalto), glass with threads of gold (aventurine), multicolored glass (millefiori), milk glass (lattimo), and imitation gemstones made of glass. Today, the artisans of Murano are still employing these centuries-old techniques, crafting everything from contemporary art glass and glass jewelry to Murano glass chandeliers and wine stoppers.

Arriving on Murano...

Unfortunately, the rain arrived, too...But that didn't stop us! 🙂

We loved the buildings...Glass factories and showrooms on the first floors with residences above...

We stopped in a factory to watch a glassmaker in action...SO NEAT!

All types of showrooms...From the largest and widest selection...

...to intimate and very selective...and for the record, it's all as expensive as it looks! Jeez!

Mom and I both loved these Venetian (Murano glass) Balloons! But at 500 euro ($700) each, they had to stay in the showroom 😦

So after another long, TOTALLY FUN, day full of exploring, eating (spaghetti with clams, baked lasagna, calamari and more gelato were on the menu today!) and even a little shopping, we capped off our Venice adventure with a night walk around the city…

Back at the Rialto Bridge...

It took Max and Dulcie a while to get used to the lack of grass in Venice (there is NONE), but even they learned to love it 🙂

And with that, the Venice portion of our adventure drew to a close…The next morning, we were up and at ’em, back on a water taxi and headed for the mainland.  Next destination?  The Swiss Alps!  Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow!

Arrivederci per ora! (Bye for now!)

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