Saturday, August 29, 2009

When in Rome.....

So we have finally made it to Rome! Rome is say the least. Everywhere we go there are ruins, literally everywhere! Some random column standing in the middle of an alley, a new building built side by side with a really really old one. Not only are their ruins everywhere, but there are also churches, vespas, and of course tourists!

Our days have been absolutely filled with things to see. We have taken the opportunity to sleep in every morning, but from 11 to about 7 everyday, we are walking through the streets of Rome.

We started out with a bang with the Colosseum, the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. We spent hours going through each site reading everything that was offered. The Colosseum was incredibly impressive, but also depressing. While you can imagine the noise and energy it must have had in its heyday, the building itself is in ruins.

Some of the most impressive ruins we have seen were the Baths of Caracalla that could hold 6000 people at one time. The structures were composed of massive domed vaults of which every inch would have been covered in marble with mosaic floors. The Pantheon was another impressive site to see. The dome is amazing and in amazing condition especially since the open oculus has allowed the interior of the building to be open to the elements for 2000 years!

We made sure to throw in tons of pennies for our families and friends into the Trevi Fountain! The fountain was one of our favorite sites despite the crazy amount of tourists. At one point, a woman next to us got pelted with a penny someone was trying to throw in!

We have been to an incredibly amount of churches off all different sizes, shapes, and styles. We have been in round churches, oval churches, classical cross shaped churches, churches with Michelangelo statues, Raphael and Caravaggio paintings, Bernini sculptures, old mosaics, and of course gilded everything! Some of the smallest churches are the most ornate while some of the larger ones are much more simplistic. No matter what church we enter, we are sure to find an amazing piece of art.

Of of the best surprises so far was an art collection from a single family, the Doria-Pamphili's who have been collecting art for the last 400 years. Their family was incredibly powerful, had a pope and several princes and princesses as well. Their collection was extensive and amazing with works from all of the great Renaissance artists.

Tomorrow we are heading to the Vatican! We have heard that the pope usually addresses the public on the last Sunday of the month, but then we have also heard that he is at his summer home during these unbearably hot days. But no matter what we will be able to see some of the greatest paintings, sculpture and architecture in the world!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Another amazing day!

Unfortunately our photos from climbing Mount Vesuvious were deleted from this computer before we were able to load them. But we were able to load some photos from exploring Herculaneum. The ruins at Herculaneum were found much more recently than those from Pompei and have been kept in better preservation than the famous Pompei.
Pompei and Herculaneum were completely covered in ash and other volcanic materials when Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79. The towns were wonderfully preserved in the volcanic ash and now show what life was like 2000 years ago!
Roads were lined with covered porticoes so pedestrians could walk protected from the carts and weather.
Although the town appeared pretty small, it was quite a network of streets and walkways. Herculaneum was known as a vacation retreat where many of te wealthy business families had summer homes.

What we believe might have been some sort of kitchen with beautiful countertops made from various pieces of marble. The large pots are now filled with pyroclastic flow rocks from the volcanic explosion.
An amazing mosaic that is still vibrantly rich in color. The craftsmanship back then was absolutely superb and stunned us! Mosaics were found in the richest of homes while every wall and ceiling was decorated in colorful frescoes.
The very sunburnt couple in a small piazza in front of a very famous relief sculpture in the background.
Half of a statue preserved that was on an incredible 2nd story piazza that would have overlooked the ocean. The shoreline has since moved 200 meters out and you can't even see the water from this point!
A shot of the ruins of Herculaneum with the newer Ercolano in the background with the volcano Vesuvius in the far background.

Mission Impossible!!!

So yesterday we decided to go to Capri which is an unbelievably gorgeous city. I know we have said that many times before but this one may take the cake. It is a relatively small island set amongst a mountain in the ocean. It is where very rich people live and tourists go to see the amazing sites. Most people who have heard of Capri have heard of the Blue Grotto. It is a tiny little cave set in the rocks and would be very easy to miss as the opening is about 4 feet wide and 0-5 feet tall depending on the waves.
Anyways, to start the day off we knew we wanted to visit this island paradise and looked up the times to leave. To get to the Blue Grotto you need to take a ferry from Sorrento to the port in Capri, a funicular to the top which is actually Capri, a bus to Anacapri and then a bus down the other side of the island, and then you finally walk down a flight of stairs which leads you to an impressive "beach" and the Blue Grotto.
So we started the day out running down the hill of our hostel to catch the tram which takes us into downtown Sorrento. From there we booked it to the marina which is down a cliff, no joke, Erika just happened to find a flight of stairs, to race to get a ticket when we find a long line of people doing the exact thing we are. We had less than ten minutes til the boat left, as the next one was 4 hours away, to buy our ticket and then board the boat that was at the end of the dock quite far from us.
After running there, while sweating profusely, we make it on the boat just moments before they closed up. Naturally we high fived our good fortune. Thinking we had made it easy for ourselves we realized how much more was involved before we got to our actual destination. We took the funicular up just before it had filled up completely and we would have waited 15 minutes. We then followed the rest of the busses to our destination and found it was more than worth it. The beach is set on the rocks and you have to take stairs down to the water, or you can jump off the sides of the 1-7 meter cliffs. Either way you are in extremely blue, refreshing water where it is easy to see the hundreds of fish swimming around you.
After spending hours there enjoying the sun and jumping into the water we headed over to the Blue Grotto. You have to take a small boat that fits four and the boatsman. To get into the cave, which I mentioned how big the entrance is, you have to lay down on the floor of the boat. Then boat by boat a group is rushed into the cave before the waves get too big. Once inside we were treated to a phenomenal display of glowing water. Because of the way the sun shines in, it looks like neon blue lights are shining deep below us. We could see amazing fish, some striped like leopards, and the eerie glow all around us. Very cool but unfortunately we couldn't spend very long in there as we were taken out just minutes later.
All in all a wonderful day and that alone was worth the trip to Europe! We will post tomorrow about our trip up the mountainside of Vesuvius, yes we walked part way, and to the amazing ruins of Herculanium.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A day in the life of a Greek

After a very long and hot train ride, we arrived in the Almafi Coast in Solerno! Our hostel is well....different. But have really enjoyed the past two days and have spent plenty of time at the beach under the sun! The hostel is really open and has an unusual amount of older people hanging around.

Today was absolutely magnificent! We headed to Paestum where ruins of an entire Greek/Etruscan/Roman city are including three gigantic Doric temples. We got off at the train station that was nothing more than a small waiting room and a tourist information office and set down the road in front of us. After about 10 minutes, we emerged in front of a giant field and there were these huge ancient buildings in front of us!

The largest was by far the Temple to Neptune but the others, the Temple of Hera and the Temple of Athena, didn't fail to impress us as we walked around the ruins. In between and around each temple were remains of homes, shops, pools, markets, arenas, political chambers and an ampitheater. The site was rather large and we spent well over 3 hours wandering around, taking pictures, and of course, finding some rest in a few shady spots.

We were so glad to have an air conditioned train for the ride back, but the sun had completely drained us! After eating dinner rather slowly, we put on our swimsuits and headed to the beach to relax. From the beach, the views are amazing of mountains all around us. Last night, during a walk, AJ pointed out some lights way far out in the distance that couldn't be stars and today, we saw in the haze a mountain at least 30 miles in the distance.

Tomorrow we are heading to another coastal town, Sorrento where we will be spending 4 nights before we go to Rome! As usual, we don't know about internet access. This might be our last post before Rome where we can hopefully catch up on photos!

Miss everyone! And can't believe the summer is almost over!

P.S. We are glad everyone enjoyed our Pisa pictures!

Monday, August 17, 2009

It's Tanning Time!

Hey everyone, we just wanted to post before we left for the Amalfi Coast. Perugia was wonderful even though we didn't get to spend enough time here! Assissi was unbelievable and Perugia was really cool with 360 views of all of the surrounding towns. The duomo in Florence was massive and really cool to look at from the outside. Inside it was actually quite bare but has an unbelievably massive dome and was so impressive in its day, and it still is, Florence passed regulations saying no building could be built higher than it.
A copy of the famous David statue by Michaelangelo in the Piazza Della Signora.
The baptistry in Pisa had an amazing sound effect in the inside. It had two levels and when a note was played or someone sang a note it had this crazy reverberating effect that was beautiful to hear!
The cathedral at pisa was quite cool with views of the Leaning Tower and a museum in the background.
Oh AJ!
Tons of people were posing on the lawn for pictures. We had quite a long photoshoot that including asking a couple of other tourists for help!
Every summer in Siena the town fills this square and they have a horserace. We missed the horserace by one day, but after seeing pictures of it, we realized how crazy of a day it would have been. It looked as if every person in Siena came to cheer on their favorite horse!A very hot day in Siena led us to a large cathedral that housed an actual head of a martyr, Saint Catherine. It was very creepy to stare at a 700 year old head that had shrunk over time.
San Frencesco in Assisi, beautifully placed on top of a hill and full of very famous frescoes.
Random street in Assisi, every inch of the town was picturesque.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Chica chica what?

Okay so maybe tomorrow we will have pictures. We will try very hard to do so and we FINALLY have free internet!!!! Unfortunately, we have no food. Literally everything in Perugia is closed for the weekend. Tonight we scrounged on pasta left by past guests and beer. It was very modest but fun all the same. AJ is starving and has had to move his belt one notch smaller since the trip started but somehow doesn't seem to mind when in the presence of duomo's and museum's that take one's breath away.
Things open tomorrow so we can shop again which is very nice and breakfast, with eggs, is included so we will surely be in very high spirits as we explore the countryside of the infamous Tuscany region. It is famous for chianti wines, which we have explored, and exceptional views of beautiful rolling landscapes. We have a pool at the hostel which is perfect for cooling off during the day or at night!
The heat is quite extraordinary and hard to describe other than to name it unreal! Even when we walk in the shade it is well over 90 degrees! The humidity comes and goes but still we struggle on! It is all a wonderful journey and we really do enjoy every moment of it regardless of the hardships we encounter.
The plan is, when we get back, to put a sort of slideshow together and show family and friends what we did and where we've been so everyone can appreciate our trip. We have taken several thousands of pictures so it will be hard to sift through and I am sure we will take a ton more in Rome and along the amalfi coast. We had to buy a new memory card for the camera to house all the pics but it is totally worth it!
From us in the heart of Umbria,
AJ and Erika

Friday, August 14, 2009

Leaning on Pisa photos! But fantastic day! We woke up and decided that today was the day to go to Pisa to see the famous Leaning Tower.

It was quite a hike from the train station, we were wandering through small streets, big streets, then all of the was right there in front of us! The tower is just one part of an entire complex of four buildings that date to the 1100s, the Cathedral, the Baptistry, a Palace, and the Bell Tower (Leaning Tower). The entire square was jam packed with tourists from all over the world, but it didn't detract from how beautiful everything was.

Pisa was a very powerful port city and you can see the influences from Spain and elsewhere in their architecture. The site that the four buildings was actually the ocean at one period of time and excavations have uncovered several ships in the area. So the Tower was built on land that actually has water underneath it which has caused it to sink and lean. It began leaning during the construction of the fourth level. After a short period of time, it was completed although it continued to lean.

In 1991, the Tower was closed to do massive reconstruction work because the Tower was inevitably going to collapse.

Today we spent lots of time, with everyone else, taking funny pictures with the Tower. Pushing it over, holding it up, blowing it down, etc.

Today we actually ate out as well! Big spenders! We enjoyed a nice lunch in a restaurant just around the corner from the complex. Two types of tortellini and they were both delicious!

All in all, wonderful day and we wish we could post some of the photos! Tomorrow we are heading to Sienna to see some of the Tuscan countryside!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Half Way Around the World in 20 Days!

Hi Everyone,

No internet once again :( We left Stuart in Arenzano and we headed to Bologna for three nights. We stayed in a little bed and breakfast near town. Stuart was kickass and we missed him the moment we left. He had some of the funniest stories ever and we distinctly remember laughing for over an hour straight the first night!

We did a day trip to Ravenna which was a last minute surprise. The churches in Ravenna have some of the most beautiful mosaics in the world dating from the 6th century. We stared at them for over half a day!

Now we are in Florence watching the most beautiful sunset as we are typing this. We are not quite sure where we will end up within the next few days, but that is part of the adventure. We are planning on spending the next three days here, then Sienna, Asissi, the Almafi coast and we will be in Rome on August 25!

Just to let everyone know, we are not sure about internet access for the duration of our trip, hopefully we will be able to post a little something something throughout the next few days.

20 days to go!!!!
We love and miss everyone!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Great food, Great people, bad jellyfish!

August 5 & 6, 2009
On Wednesday night we arrived in Genova after a very long train ride from Venice. We met up with our couch surfing host, Stuart and before dinner we went for a swim! In the Mediterranean! We walked down to the water, hopped on a kayak and headed out to see the coast from the water. Before jumping in we told Stuart how we don't like open water, but he insisted it was safe :)
We swam for almost 45 minutes, watching the full moon rise over the water! The water seemed irredescent and the moon was so brightly lit. Heading back to shore, Stuard decided to swim while we kayaked. Halfway there, we stopped next to him to allow a boat to pass by us. Suddenly Stuard literally jumped out of the water and into the kayak. Both of us thought it was a joke, that he was messing with us and our fear of water. But then we saw his arm! A jellyfish had swam up and got caught in his arm while he was swimming! The welts were amazingly red and lumpy and we decided not to go swimming again!
The full moon over the water!
The view from Stuart's balcony! Perfect! We have enjoyed so many glasses of wine on this balcony!On Thursday, August 6, we took a tour of the town Genova, about a 30 minute train ride from Stuart's home. Genova has the largest aquarium in Europe, but passed because of the $50 admission! Instead we wandered! Here we are resting in the center of town. Genova and the towns around are so unique, on one side you have the sea and on the other, mountains!
The Duomo of Genova with the black and white stiped marble exterior.
This inside seemed like two different cathedrals, the first half looked like it had come out of the movie Beatlejuice, and the second half was gilded up to the wazoo!
Christopher Columbus was from Genova! And they are really proud of him! There are statues all over town and this is a reconstruction of his house!
Along one of the main streets in town, there are several old palaces that are now used as government buildings or they house museums. The buildings themselves were amazing works of art, there would be a large courtyard in the centers with gardens or in this one, a beautiful fountain! While walking down the street, we kept stopping to take a peek inside each palace.
On our way back to the train station, we hopped into this church just to take a look. What we found was so surprising and amazing! The entire ceiling was painted in frescoes with gold leaf detailing all over!
Each night has been amazing. Our first night we met two other couch surfers from Portugal who had several really funny couchsurfing stories! Last night we met a friend of Stuart's and stayed up late drinking, talking and lauging on the balcony! The past few days have been more relaxing and oh so enjoyable!
We are planning on staying here for another 2 nights, then we might be off to Bologna and Florence!
Make sure you read all of the posts we did today! All 7 of them! Whew!

A city in the water!

August 4, 2009
VENICE! It was amazing! We arrived the night before and didn't get to see any of the city. But we woke up early and spent the entire day wandering around one of the most beautiful cities we have seen!
One of the most famous buildings in Italy, the Duomo. When it was built, it was considered the Doge's (mayor of Venice) chapel so that the government could control the building, not the church. It is magnificant and shows the Venitians love for oppulance and grandeur. Every inch is decorated and there is no possible way to see everything!
After awhile, we gave up looking at our map and just wandered through the town. Every street was a surprise, there might be a little 3' wide ally to walk through, or a canal to cross, or a huge square!
There are no cars allowed with the exception of the busses that transport people from the mainland onto the islets. But they are only allowed into one square near the train station. Getting around Venice is either done by foot, private boat, or you can take a water bus or taxi! To hail a water taxi, you go to the edge of the canal near a dock and whistle!
The Grand Canal! It was full of old beautiful palaces built 400 to 500 years ago, tons of people, old bridges, boats, and shops!
Piazza San Marco is the square in front of the Duomo and it is gigantic! At night, the cafes had live music and we spent a couple of hours enjoying the water front and the music!
Us on the Grand Canal!!!
Next to the Duomo is the Doge's Palace. Because all Venice did was trade, they were influenced by cultures all over the world. You can see the all of the different styles used throughout all of the buildings.
Another shot of the duomo!
We weren't allowed to take photos in the duomo and it was strictly enforced. AJ managed to sneak this shot in order to show how the entire ceiling is covered in gold leaf mosaic! The entire ceiling! The mosaics are made with tiny pieces of glass and so the surface just shimmers as you walk around.
One of the islets, Murano, is where glass blowing originated in Venice. There were mainly three different types of shops in Venice, glass shops selling tons of jewelry, vases, and figurines. There are tons of cafes and of course designer clothing stores! We spent hours wandering in and out of glass shops, we wanted to buy everything! Every store would have something unique not found in any other shop.
Titian's celebrate Asumption of the Virgin, one of the reasons Erika wanted to go to Italy! And it lived up to her expectations! It was huge, charged, colorful, and emotional!
While we saw everything we wanted to see in Venice in one day, we could have easily spent another day wandering around.
Keep going....lots more to read!

Oh Verona!

August 3, 2009
Verona! Verona was much more touristy than the previous towns we had just visited. But it had good reason to be! It was beautiful and full of things to do. We bought a VeronaCard, a pass that let us into any of the sites we wanted. Visiting just 2 sites paid for the card!
In Verona, our couchsurfing fell through, so we stayed at this cute bed and breakfast and this was our room! The place was new and the owners offered some unique things in addition to breakfast. We got a packed lunch for the day and bus tickets to help us get around town.
Our first stop was the Roman Arena that is in excellent condition and still used for concerts and performances today!
Wow! It was really impressive and there used to be an even higher level above but it has since been destroyed. There is a small section of the upper level that still exists but it was getting some restorative work done while we were there. You can see the stage set up for a performance.
It was a cloudy and much welcomed cooler day in Verona. We were so thankful to have a cooler day!
You had to pay to enter most of the churches in Verona as well as the other sites. Thankfully our VeronaCard covered the entrance fees to churches as well. This church had a wooden ceiling shaped like the bottom of a boat.
Under one of the cathedrals was this ancient chapel with really old frescoes. They were even able to excavate a little under this chapel and found remains of an even older structure! Every so often the floor would be glass so you could see the old remains underneath.
Amazing architecture!

Juliet's house! The Capulet and the Montegue families really did exist and live in Verona but the story of Romeo and Juliet is completely fictional. Both houses are still standing and can be visited. The bottom floor of Romeo's house now has a bar but Juliet's house is a museum and the courtyard is always crowded with people.
All over the walls people were signing and drawing hearts, we added ours! You can see the tiny heart with 'A E 09' in it!
In one of the squares was this tower that you could climb to get panaramic views of the city. It was free to take the stairs, so we took the stairs!
Almost to the top!!
We made it! This was just one of the amazing views of the city at the top of the tower.
Yes, that wall is really leaning like that to the left! Actually, not an uncommon site in Italy!
Storms were rolling in as the evening came and the cool wind felt so good! Here we were on our way to a castle and museum. The colorful houses are so beautiful. We really love the towns because they aren't filled with modern buildings. The only clue that we are not in the past are the vespas and cars racing through the streets!
Keep going! Lots of posts today!