Santa Croce and the Medici Chapels

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Wow, what a day!  Today we spent the morning with Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli, and Galileo, just to name a few.  Really, truly.  We found all their tombs inside Santa Croce, another incredibly beautiful church in Florence.

After a break for lunch we also explored the Medici Chapels which were covered entirely in semi-precious materials such as jade, quartz, lapis, etc.  The workmanship was spectacular.  As always, pictures are the way to go!

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Here’s the outside of Santa Croce.  It’s very similar to the Duomo, but not quite as elaborate.  However, unlike the Duomo, this church is breathtaking on the inside

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This is a view from the back.  It’s quite large and contains many important works of art.  But the thing that impressed me the most is the fact it was literally paved with grave markers.  The entire church is an enormous graveyard.

When we were on the Amalfi Coast, we learned that Italians bury their dead within 24 hours and they don’t embalm them.  A couple years later, the body is exhumed and the bones are put in the family vault where generations of the same family can be found.  I think this church is the final resting place of the bones.

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Here’s the main altar.  It was hard to get a good picture because the sun was shining brightly through the stained glass.  DSC01490

Just to the side of the altar were 10 alcoves, 5 on each side.  Each one was completely different.  You can see Bob here, surrounded by grave markers.

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More of the grave markers.

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And here we have Machiavelli’s final resting place.

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And here’s Dante — the man who wrote the Divine Comedy.

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And here’s Michelangelo.  He lived to be 89 years old, an unheard of age at the time he lived.  He died in Rome and wanted to be buried there, but his body was stolen in the night by several Florentines and he was buried here before anyone in Rome (namely, the Pope) could object.

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This is Galileo Galilei.  I was surprised to find him here because I thought he was excommunicated for his scientific findings.

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More of the grave markers.  They were literally everywhere. Take a look at the floors. Every tile is marked with who’s lying beneath.

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I just liked this poor bored angel.  Although, her long-suffering lion also deserves some sympathy.

Next on our tour was the Pitti Palace, lunch, and San Lorenzos.  But the real show stopper was the Medici Chapels.  They were built in honor of the first several Medici’s who ruled Florence back in the day.  It was also meant to be the place where all the Medici’s would be buried.  To build the chapels, the Medici family sponsored a new kind of art.  They knew frescoes and paintings would eventually fade, so they had the entire inside of the chapels, including all the “paintings” made out of precious and semi-precious stone.  It was stunning. And HUGE!  The main chapel is absolutely enormous.

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Here you can see the scale of this chapel compared to the people on the ground.  Enormous doesn’t begin to describe it.  Above what you can see here is another section of wall just as big, then there’s a beautifully done dome.  Everything you see is covered in perfectly fitting stone.

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It was impossible to get a photo to do this room justice.  Also, half of it was covered by scaffolding because of restoration work.  Apparently, all that precious stone is held in place with nails and a large panel fell out of the ceiling in 1999.  Since then, renovations have been on-going.

Just in case it wasn’t clear before, the big tomb-like things are . . . tombs.  They hold the first two or three Medici’s that ruled Florence.  They were the good rulers.  The next several (the ones who built this chapel) were real tyrants and hated by the people.  Luckily, they got better after that.  : )

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Each of these is close to 2 feet on its long side.  So they aren’t very big, but the colors and detail are stunning. They are made entire out of precisely cut gem stones. There is no grout, they stones fit perfectly together.

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Here’s some close ups of the details.  Every color is a different precious or semi-precious stone that’s been cut to fit precisely with the stones around it.  If you ran your hand over the pattern, it is completely smooth. (Except for the last picture where the stones were purposely three dimensional.)  The workmanship is exquisite.  The benefit is the ornamentation will never fade and the chapel will never lose its splendor.

We saw so many other awesome things today, including more at Santa Croce and the Medici Chapels, but it’s just too much to share.  Plan a trip to Florence!  I’m sure you won’t regret it.

Top of the Duomo

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Wow, what a trip!  Not only does the top of the Duomo offer an incredible view of Florence, it is also an architectural miracle and we were allowed to climb all over it!

The only way to describe this adventure is with pictures.  But, for perspective, here’s what we did.  Inside the church is a little door that leads to a staircase that climbs straight up.  Up 5 steps, turn, up 3 steps, turn, up 5 steps, turn . . . FOREVER!  It’s about 460 steps to the top; I think that’s the equivalent to a 20 story building.  At some point, the staircase turned into a spiral and when we reached the dome, it got pretty creative.  Keep in mind the stairs were built in about the 1400s when the church was built.

So, here we go!

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Here’s the outside of the church.  It has a long part in front and the dome in the back.  Off to the right side in this picture is the tower, which is not attached to the church.   It’s hard to tell that since it is decorated exactly like the church on the outside.

By the way, that little, tiny part sticking up out of the dome — that’s our destination.  It’s called the lantern.

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You enter the church through a side door and go through this door.  It’s the one that gives you access to the stairs.

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The stairs are narrow and the ceiling is sometimes low.  They highly recommend you skip this if you’re claustrophobic or have a fear of heights.  Very good advice!

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The first stop is the balcony, just below the large circular windows.  It gives you a much better view of the ceiling frescoes. Here area a couple of pictures.  The balcony goes all the way around the dome, but only half of it was open.  You had to go around to the other side to pick up the stairs that go up the side of the dome.

To give you an idea, if you look back at the picture of the outside of the church (the one above) you can see one of the round windows at the base of the dome. We were on a balcony just below those windows in the pictures above.

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Ha, ha!  I little late for this sign : )  That’s 500 years of graffiti!

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Thankfully, we had to stop often on the stairs, especially toward the top.  They pack quite a few people in, so it’s crowded.  Also, at the top, the stairs are shared by those going up and those going down.  Unfortunately, the stairs aren’t big enough to accommodate everyone so you have to find a side niche to stand in while the traffic going the other way passes.  It was quite a shuffle!DSC01407

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As you can see, the stairs get tiny in places.  They’re also uneven, steep and they aren’t uniform.  Of course, the lighting is dim, so watch your step!  In the second picture, the one with the person in the red shorts, these stairs take you between the inner dome and the outer dome. You can see how the roof and the floor both curve in the picture.

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While waiting for some downward-bound traffic to pass, we got shuttled into a little side area where I saw this room for the people who work up here.  It was tiny.  And God knows where that odd door on the right goes!

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Finally!  We made it!  We are standing at the base of the lantern, which is the lynchpin that keeps the dome from collapsing.  In actuality, there are two domes.  The inside one pushes out against the outside dome which keeps it in place.  As I said, it’s an architectural miracle that I don’t completely understand.

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Here you can see the rest of the church and the tower beside it.  The rib running down the dome is one of many and they are the weight-bearing part of the dome.

Okay, after cooling off, catching our breath, and soaking up the sights, it was time to head back down.

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After climbing down the ladder, we ended up here, in a little room between the inside and outside domes.  We had to go through the tiny door.

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Then down this staircase.  We had to climb down one exactly like it and luckily we don’t have to share it with those coming up.  This is the part that follows the curve of the inner dome, so it was quite steep.

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On the way down, we got to stop at the upper balcony, the one above the round windows. (The other balcony was below the round windows.)  From here, the frescoes were very close.  The figures were huge, so much bigger than they look from the ground.  You don’t think about how big all the figures have to be painted when you’re standing on the ground.

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Here’s a picture from the ground that shows where we were.  See the balconies just below and above the round windows?  We were there!

I tried to video some of the stairs to give you an idea of what it was like.  See what you think!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVjLiruupfo&feature=youtu.be

Uffizi Museum and the Vasari Corridor

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Since we didn’t have a tour planned for this morning, we thought we’d go to Mass.  Unfortunately, our usual luck followed us and it was a big no-go. Those of you who’ve followed this blog in the past know our efforts to go to Mass have become sort of a joke.  We just can’t seem to pull it all together. We had a chat with  the concierge last night to find an English Mass and he was happy to look them up for us.  He found two . . . but both were on Saturday and we’d already missed them. There were two German Masses today, but no English. Maybe the Germans are more faithful?  I just can’t believe there’s isn’t one English Mass somewhere in the city on Sunday given how many tourists are here.  Oh, well.  Sorry, Mom!

Even though it was Sunday, Florence was open for business.  In fact, there was some kind of run this morning so the streets were full of contestants and their families enjoying the beautiful weather.  We spent several hours wandering all the streets, getting lost, and finding the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flowers again.  It is so beautiful.  In front of it is the Baptistry (which is completely wrapped in scaffolding and plastic because it’s being cleaned.)  Luckily, the very famous bronze doors, completed in the 1400s, are still there.  The picture above is a close up of a couple of the panels.  They are stunningly beautiful.  When Michelangelo saw them, he declared them perfect and that they must be the doors to paradise.

Speaking of Michelangelo, remember the other day when I was telling you about the medieval building that sort of set the standard for buildings in the future?

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Yup, that one.  Well, first I have to say the benches built into the building all the way around are a GOD SEND!  Thank you ancient architect, you were very thoughtful.  What I really wanted to tell you about it is it was originally the palace built by the Medici family when they first came to power in Florence.  They lived here when they recognized the genius of Michelangelo when he was only 12.  In fact, they brought him to live with them in this building.  So, this is the place where Michelangelo grew up.

After about 100 years in this palace, the Medici family sold it to another wealthy family and moved into the Palazzo Vecchio.  This is the place where the Statue of David stood for many years and it was also the seat of the government.  So, the Medici family lived in the same building where they worked.

Apparently, it got old after awhile and the mistress of the house coveted another house just across the Arno River.  It had a garden and she wanted to enforce some private family time on her husband so he wouldn’t always be working.  She eventually got her way and the family moved to the Palazzo Pitti.

The problem was the guy in charge had to walk several blocks from his house to his office and it wasn’t very safe.  He always needed an armed escort and he had to cross the Ponte Vecchio which caused traffic problems.

The solution?  He asked the architect Vasari to design a private corridor from his house to his office.  By then, the office was on the top floor of the Palazzo Vecchio, so the corridor begins on the third floor, crosses a bridge to the Ufizi (which was an office building at the time), crosses to the Ponte Vecchio where it was placed on top of the small businesses that line that bridge, it continues over the roofs of several buildings and crosses through a church before it arrives at the Palazzo Pitti.  It was built in only 5 months and over the years, the Medici family lined the walls with paintings, a practice that continues today.  You can read more about the corridor here.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasari_Corridor

In short, it permitted the Medici family and their very close friends to travel from home to office in complete privacy.  It is said they even sometimes made the trip in their jammies : ) I have some pictures below. It’s closed to the public, but we were able to walk the corridor with the tour we took.

As for the Uffizi, I didn’t take too many pictures; it was VERY crowded.  If you want to see the works of art in the Uffizi, they’ve been kind enough to put most of them online.  I think this link is a good place to start if you’re curious.

http://www.uffizi.com/virtual-tour-uffizi-gallery.asp

So, now for the pictures!

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Some of the little places to eat in Florence are quite charming.  Here, we have what appears to be a French Fry Pizza.  It’s not even close to the weirdest pizza I’ve seen.  I think the tuna pizza, the pumpkin flower pizza (yes, that’s flower, not flour!) and the sliced hard-boiled egg pizza were a little weirder.

In the second picture, you can pick up gelato or pizza and then head upstairs to eat it.  All very cozy.

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Here are the famous Baptistry doors.  They are truly spectacular.  You can learn more here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_Baptistery#Baptistery_doors

Okay, so we have to start at the beginning with the Palazzo Vecchio.  Remember the building with the scary staircase in the tower?  Same place.  Here’s a picture.

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The picture below is what the front looks like.  See that building right next door?  That’s the Uffizi.  Uffizi means “office” and it houses many government offices, both then and now.  The museum is on the third floor.  If you look down the alley between the two buildings, there is an enclosed walkway/bridge between the third floors.  That is the beginning (or end?) of the Vasari Corridor.

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Here’s what the main hallway in the Uffizi Museum looks like.  The second picture is a close-up of what the top of the walls and the ceiling looks like.  Most of the art is in the rooms that line this hall.

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This is the view out the window of the Uffizi.  See the yellow building with the narrow tiled roof?  That is the Vasari Corridor leaving the Uffizi, turning toward the Ponte Vecchio (the bridge) and you can see where it crosses the bridge on top of the little businesses that line that bridge.

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Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the Ufizi.  Our tour guide when on, and on, and ON about this painting but did he ever tell us its name?  I don’t know, I was zoning out. : (  Seriously, it was incredible to look at it.  The colors popped out and it is interesting to note that Michelangelo designed the frame, too, and it is meant to be part of the interpretation of the painting.  It’s hard to tell, but it’s probably between 4 and 5 feet in diameter.

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Here’s an interesting lady.  She’s the very last Medici.  The family died out in 1743.  It was her Will that helped to make Florence the bastion of art that it is today.  She left the entire Medici collection to the City of Florence on the condition that none of it ever leave.  In fact, the Uffizi Museum was started a short time later to house some of the masterpieces.

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A view down one segment of the Corridor.

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A view from one of the many windows along the Corridor.

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Here’s a view of the shops on the Ponte Vecchio from the Corridor.

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Here’s the church as seen from the Corridor.  This part reminded me a little of the Disneyland rides that used to drive through the gift shop as part of the ride.  It was a little weird.

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The Corridor ended at Palazzo Pitti where I found this in the garden.  I felt a little sorry for the turtle.  : )

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This is another section of the Corridor we saw from the ground when we were walking back to our hotel.

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Along the way we also ran across this interesting art.  It’s hard to see because it’s so big, but there are “people” zip lining from one building to another and there are others climbing the building.  Still others were scattered around on the ground that you could take pictures with.  I have no idea what it’s called, why it’s here, nothing.  It was just really cool.

Cinque Terre

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Wow, what an experience.  The Cinque Terre, pronounced Chinkwa Tear (like tear paper, not cry a tear), means “five lands.”  It consists of five tiny medieval villages that date back to about the 1200’s.  Before 1950, the only way to get to them was by boat.  Each one was (and still is) linked together by cliff-side paths that are popular with hikers today.

In the 1980’s, these tiny fishing villages were discovered by tourists and their popularity exploded.  To protect them and maintain their old world charm, they were included under UNESCO’s umbrella.  Today, they exist much as they did in the middle ages.

Between the five villages, there are about 5000 inhabitants.  In the smallest, there are only 250 people.  They are all built vertically on the cliff face so they were a challenge.  What goes down must go up!  Only one of the villages didn’t have a “beach.”  I use that term loosely and you’ll see why in the pictures.  That village was built on the top of a cliff and has shear drops to the sea.  I should also mention that the water here is a brilliant blue color.  It was a little hazy, so not all the pictures capture the true color, but a few do, thankfully!

So, let’s get to it.

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The drive to the coast from Florence was about 2 hours so we stopped at a rest area.  It was just like a rest stop in the US except I had to laugh at the scrum around the espresso bar.  This spot was more popular than the bathrooms!

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This is a good view of the terracing that is all over the hilly areas of Italy, especially the Amalfi Coast, Capri, and the Cinque Terre.

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We went to 4 of the 5 Cinque Terre villages.  I’m not even going to try and keep them straight, but I’m pretty sure this is Manarola. While they were all the same in the sense that they are very old villages built into cliffs, they are also very different.

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They are still fishing villages, but they’re also famous for their wine.  Grape vines were everywhere and they’re in the midst of harvesting now

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Here are a couple shots of what the main streets look like.  It’s hard to appreciate how steep they are from the photos.  As you can see, they are full of tourists and there were many Italians visiting since it was a Saturday.

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This is a little square in the midst of the village.  Up on the hillside, you can see the permanent nativity they have on display.  The second picture is a close-up.  At night, it is always lit up.

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More of the streets.  I thought it was interesting that they drag their boats up the street and store them outside their doors.

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Here is a view of the “beach” at the foot of the village.  There really isn’t any beach to speak of, but lots of rocky spots.

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But if you look closely, there are people all over the rocks soaking up the sun.  In the top picture here, there’s a handrail to assist swimmers.  In the second picture, you can see the walkway along the cliff.  It leads all the way to the next village (or it did before a landslide a couple years ago).  We walked along the walkway all the way to the point and that’s where the next several photos came from.

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Here are some views of the village from that path.

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In this picture, you can see the color of the water.  It was brilliant blue.

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From the point, you could see the village on your left, but the top pictures are the view to the right.  One is a wide shot, the other zoomed in.  Its the village of Corniglia, the only one of the five villages that doesn’t have a beach–its the one built on top of the cliff.

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Lorenzo, our tour guide, taking us down to the boat dock for a ride to our next stop.  Since Corniglia doesn’t have a dock, we had to skip it and go to the next village down the line.  Once we got in the car again, we doubled back to Corniglia.  Pictures to come!

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Our next stop, the village of Vernazzo.  You can see all the people enjoying the sun on the rocky shore.

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There were lots of sunbathers and some of the kids were fishing.

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A couple views of the harbor.

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This is the outdoor restaurant where we had lunch.  It was so colorful and vibrant.  I think it would be impossible not to be cheerful here.  At lunch we were joined by some of our fellow tourists, another recovering attorney from Manhattan, and three lovely young ladies from Michigan.

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I have no idea what Bob ordered, or what it actually was, but he loved it.  Here are the before and after shots.  I stuck with the ravioli alla scampi, which I thought would be pretty safe.  And it was, except the shrimp were whole– as in heads, antennae, claws, everything.  I’ve pulled a lobster apart before, but a shrimp is tiny by comparison (even though these shrimp were probably 6 to 8 inches long).  I’m afraid all I attempted was the tail.

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More of the sunbathers on the rocks.

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Some of the streets of Vernazzo.

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This cracked me up.  These two ladies were enjoying a glass of wine outside the clothing store.  Every few minutes, their friend came out in a new outfit and they happy analyzed it for her.  What a way to shop.

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The steps up to someone’s front door.

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Here we are back in Corniglia.  This is the smallest of the villages with only about 250 permanent inhabitants.

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Up the little street you saw above is this tiny square.  You can see how these pictures fit together if you look at the church in the background.

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A look at another front door.  It was a few steps down from the main street, which you can see in the picture below.

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It was narrow and charming.

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Another front door.  They were really charming.

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At the end of the road we found this terrace with wonderful views. Here’s a view off to the left, back towards the first village we visited.

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Here’s a look straight down.  Again, the beautiful blue water.

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This is the view off to the right, towards the second village we visited.

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We all thought this doorway would make a good spot for prom or wedding photos.  The little passage under the stairs is the continuation of the road.

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Gelato!  We had to step down several steps inside the shop.  It was good, but not as good as the stuff we found in Florence.  By the way, I had no idea the English and Italian words for the City of Florence were so different.  English: Florence.  Italian: Firenze.

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The final village we visited was Riomaggiore.  It was, by far, the steepest of the villages.  We parked at the top and walked all the way down, then heaved ourselves all the way back up.  You can see a little of the slope in the first photo.

The last photo is my favorite.  You can see the dog on the beach.  As we stood there admiring the view, he ran down the dock beside us, scampered down the stairs, and frolicked on the beach.  He had clearly done this before. He was dancing in the waves, barking, having a really great time . . . until his owner showed up.  She was ticked!  Apparently he had slipped his leash and she had to chase him all the way down.  He didn’t give up easily, she had to literally muscle him out to of the water and drag him up the stairs.  Both were drenched, of course.  The joys of dog ownership!!  I still miss Mel. : )

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A couple of shots in the dock area.

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Yummy, looks a lot like Bob’s lunch.  I’m sorry the photo quality I had to use isn’t good enough to see the little fish eyes looking at you, but they’re there!

Okay, now for the nitty-gritty.  Sanitation is an interesting subject in these very old little villages.  Why they don’t choose to install real toilets, I’ll never know.  It couldn’t be that hard!  But no, they apparently prefer something called a “Turkish toilet” which is really nothing more than a whole in the floor.  I walked in, saw the deal, and decided I could hold it.  The poor ladies from Michigan made another choice, however.  Thankfully they were all wearing thongs (on their feet!) so the misfires were easily cleaned up!

I talked to Abby about it last night and she said they’re common in Spain, too.  I asked her how to use it properly because the likelihood of disaster seems high. Rather than getting into the details, she sent me to youtube.  If you’re curious, here’s one of the videos I found and I agree with all the advice, even though the video refers to conditions in Asia, not Europe.  Another word of advice, this is one time where wearing a skirt has a big advantage.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7KBbjtan9Q

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This is a view of La Spezia.  It isn’t one of the Cinque Terre villages, but it is the city they’re linked to via the new road that was built in the 1950s.  La Spezia is a ship building port and was almost completely destroyed in WWII, so most of the buildings are much more modern than in the rest of Italy.

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Curious what Italians grab when they want a snack?  Here’s a display we found at the rest stop on the way home.

Once we got back to Florence, we were beyond exhausted.  We found a little pizzeria near our hotel and I tried the local specialty: bread soup.  It was really, really good.  I can see why it’s popular, especially in the winter.  It’s thick, hearty, hot and savory.  Perfect comfort food.

While we were eating, another couple were seated at the table next to us and we discovered they are from Calgary.  After a little more chatting, we found she was another recovering attorney who’d turned to writing anything other than legal documents for a living.  She’s even published a romance novel and is a member of RWA.  I felt like I’d met a long lost sorority sister!  We’re hoping to catch up at next year’s national convention : )

Florence!

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Florence is both ordinary and absolutely fantastic.  At first glance, it is a little dull,  a little dingy, and everywhere we looked things are surrounded by plastic sheeting and scaffolds.  However, look a little deeper and the real gem is revealed. Many of the buildings are medieval, built in the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries.  These buildings are simple, but if you look closely, there are details worth noting.  For example, look at the original palace built by the Medici Family in the mid-1100’s.

DSC01014 I know, it doesn’t look like much, but look again.  Start at the base of the building where you can see between the cars. There is a bench built into the building along its entire length.  Believe me, as a tourist today, I really appreciate such thoughtfulness!  It’s hard to see in this photo, but above the benches are rings where horses could be tied and on top of these are brackets for torches so the walk would be well lit.  The architecture of this building may seem commonplace, but that’s because its been copied all over the world.  When this building was made, it was very unique.  Even the scrolling under the eves were seen for the first time in this building.  Also, notice the brackets in the wall between the windows.  Two of them are being used to hold the flags over the door.  Can you imagine flags in all the holders?  It would be quite festive.

DSC01055 Here’s a close-up of the ring used to tie up horses and you can see the bracket where they stuck the torches.  Notice the very top of the bracket has a little animal head. Of course, there are some buildings that are so breathtaking on the outside, it’s hard to leave the street and enter them.  One of those buildings is the Duomo, also known as the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, or Saint Mary of the Flowers.

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DSC01020 See what I mean?  This building is completely covered in marble.  Mostly white, green, and pink marble.  The building was begun in the 1200’s but wasn’t completely finished until the 1800’s.  The detail is so intricate, I could have spent hours just looking at it. Surprisingly, the inside isn’t at all what I expected.  I thought we’d be overwhelmed with bric-a-brac and elaborate details, but that isn’t the case.  The inside is huge, and its covered in an elaborate and varied marble floor.

DSC01028 See how it’s pieced to produce an optical illusion?  This is just a small section; it varies in design and complexity every 20 feet, or so.

 

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The walls have paintings and stained glass windows and the altar is beautiful, but not as elaborate as others we’ve seen. DSC01033

The real show is the dome.  You can see the light from it above the altar, but until you get under it, you can’t know how amazing it is. Of course, the pictures can’t begin to do it justice. DSC01031

To give you an idea of how large this dome is, the wood rim beneath the smaller round windows is actually a walkway, and so is the rim above the windows and just below the frescoes.  Also, the sunlit spot at the top is called the lantern, and it is also full of people.  It costs 10 Euro for a ticket to climb into the dome, and it’s hundreds of claustrophobic steps, but we plan to do it in the next couple of days. The dome is a bit of an engineering mystery/miracle.  It’s way too complicated for me to explain, or even completely understand, but you can read more here.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_Cathedral

The rest of the city we’ve seen so far is in the photos below.  It’s just a taste, but we have all week to soak it up!

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Cracked me up.  Have a reservation at this hotel?  Too bad, so sad.  No idea where you’re supposed to go.

 

DSC00954 A typical medieval street in Florence.  The cars, motorbikes and buses sometimes go down them, but the side streets are mostly for pedestrians.  Mostly.  You still have to watch out. DSC00955

Bob and dinner last night.  I had to laugh because a couple sat at the table next to us and she was clearly having trouble with her leg.  Bob, always the doctor, asked her about it.  The couple was from Norway and she was having lots of pain.  One thing led to another and before I knew it, Bob was palpating her leg muscles and looking for pulses.  The lady was worried about a blood clot, but Bob was able to reassure her that a blod clot was unlikely.  She was very grateful and they were fun to talk to.

DSC00956 This is the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, the building beside the restaurant.  I was amazed by the staircase so far up there — that doesn’t appear to have a handrail!

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Here’s a full picture of the Palazzo Vecchio, with that tower way up there. DSC00965

The front of the Palazzo Vecchio, which is currently the city government building in Florence.  Notice the statue of David?  Its a copy, but its in the place where the original David stood for centuries before it was moved to the art school (I think in the 1700’s).

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DSC00979 Ever seen a real live Stradivarius violin or cello?  How about both?  Here you go, the nearer one is a violin and the further one is the cello.  They really are properly sized for those instruments, the angle of this shot makes that hard to see.  These are originals and the violin has never been restored.  It is exactly as it was when Stradivarius made it so it’s priceless today.  Every year both of these instruments are taken out of the case and played by some very lucky musicians.

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So, here we go.  This is the original David.  Call me stupid, but I never really understood that the statue depicted David right before he killed the Philistine giant, Goliath.  It was originally built to decorate a church, but because the statue shows the moment where David is considering Goliath and making his plan of how to act, the Florentines of the time felt it depicted mind over brawn, which was much more of a political statement that resonated with them at the time.  So, the statue was placed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, the center of their government.

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The detail is incredible and the proportions are perfect, except for the head and hands, which are a little big.  Since Michelangelo made the statue for a church where it would be seen from a distance, it is thought he made the hands and head bigger to emphasize the mind over brawn theme.

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This is the front and back of a plaster statue made by one of the teachers at the school or art.  The plaster was made to get the details right before it was carved out of marble.  I liked it because of the children.

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This is a clock in the back of the Duomo.  It dates to the middle ages so it’s not a conventional clock.  First, it runs counter-clockwise.  Next, it has all the hours of a day.  Finally, 1 o’clock always depicts the hour the sun sets.  It still works, but it needs to be readjusted every couple of weeks.  Above, the clock shows its about 9 hours until sunset, which was correct at the time.

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This is a view of the dome from the outside.  You can see the large circular windows that were obvious from the inside.  Above them is the dome, which is actually two domes in one. The one here is the outer dome and the one with the pained frescoes on the inside is a separate dome.

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This is three shots of the same market.  It is said if you touch the pig’s snout, you’ll return to Florence someday.

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These are views from the same spot.  The top picture is the left of the camera and the bottom picture is to the right.  Of course, the bottom picture is of the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence, and the only one left standing by the Germans in WWII.  Originally, the shops on the Ponte Vecchio were all butchers because they dumped the “extras” from the carcasses into the river–thus cutting down the smell.  Nowadays, its the center for gold and silver in Florence.

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A view down the Ponte Vecchio.  Every store window was literally dripping with gold jewelry of all kinds.

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Here, a shop lady has to use tongs to reach one of the hundreds (thousands?) of items in the window.  When she got it, Bob applauded and she bowed to him and laughed.

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Did I mention that some of the styles in the shops are kinda questionable?  Here’s a good example of something not everyone can carry off.  Maybe only a basketball sportscaster?

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Gelato was invented in Florence.  O.M.G.  It was heavenly.  I don’t have words.  I barely had breath to breathe.  It was fabulous!

Final note for today:  Doing laundry at a laundromat in a foreign county is SO much more enjoyable if you’re just a little bit tipsy.  Just saying. : )

Capri

Yikes, I’m a little behind.  I blame it on the wine.  By the time I’ve had a glass, I’m not much up for sorting photos and writing a blog.  So, sorry for the delay!

On Sept. 24th, we went to Capri for the day.  We caught a taxi to the port . . . and it finally happened; we were in a car accident.  It was supper minor, the two cars just scraped their rear ends together as they passed, but it sure ticked off the cab driver! It happened in a spot where the road (only about 10 feet wide) made a hairpin turn — and I mean a sharp U.  Even little cars, if they don’t approach just right, will have to back up to properly complete the turn. Did I also mention the road is two-way and only one car can pass through the bend at a time?  In our case, the taxi passed through the U but the oncoming car didn’t wait for us to clear and he wedged himself into the U and started to turn which made the back bumpers of the two cars scrape together.  Given crazy Italian traffic, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner.

Anyway, our trip to Capri was a little shaky because it was pouring rain.  It wasn’t a big deal on the boat, but it was a different story on the bus we boarded to take us from the port to Anacapri.  Unfortunately, the bus had many holes — the skylights, the windows, the door, everything leaked.  It was bad that our tour guide, who was standing in the stairwell by the door, had water up to his ankles!  By the time we got to Anacapri, no one was dry.  Another thing, the busses are designed to move as many people as possible as quickly as possible.  They literally have 7 inches between the seats.  Everyone had to sit with their knees slanted into the minuscule aisle, or up by their ears.  I’m not even sure children would fit well on that bus. It’s a good thing we were with a cheery group!  Luckily, by the time we were ready to explore Anacapri the rain stopped and the rest of the day was sunny and beautiful.

When I think of Capri, I think “beautiful island” and “shopping.”  Well, both are true.  However, the shopping wasn’t very interesting because most of the shops are also common in the States.  I checked a couple of places and found the prices weren’t very different, either.  So, we stuck to wandering around and enjoying the views.  We definitely can’t get those at home!

While doing this, we met some really interesting people.  Actually, we’ve met many people on this trip so far.  Most have been from London or Boston — probably because Bob wears his BU hat everywhere so people stop him on the street to ask if he’s from Boston.  The Capri trip was no different.  For some reason, it is often the case that the people we meet have kids around Abby’s age.  I’ve really enjoyed hearing people from all over talk about their everyday lives and finding they are absolutely no different than our experiences in the US.  People are people no matter their religion or nationality. Of course, I knew this, but it is an absolute delight to see the evidence first hand. My favorite example is the couple we met from Glasgow.  They left their 16 year old son home for the weekend and they were absolutely gleeful about the fact they arranged for grandma to stay with him, sort of against his will.  They had lots of stories of wild parties and stupid teenage behavior, all to familiar to parents the world over.

So, back to Capri.  It’s a small island with rugged shorelines, amazingly blue waters, a couple of old towns (Anacapri and Capri Town), and lots of history.  It’s not easy to get around; the roads are very narrow and they climb steeply up the craggy slopes of the island.  You can walk around quite a bit of it, but that involves literally hundreds of stairs, so wear comfortable shoes!

Here are some pictures to help you imagine.  : )

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Okay, I’m starting with breakfast.  Have I told you about the breakfasts we’ve had on this trip so far?  All of our hotels have breakfast included and the one in Sorrento was exceptional.  It started with fresh-squeezed orange juice (sometimes complete with a seed or two), then fruit, a small Caprese salad, and a selection of cheeses and smoked/cured meets.  After that is a frittata or omelet of the day and a beautiful selection of pastries.  We had to leave early for the trip to Capri so we only had 10 minutes to eat. I grabbed the pastries and brought them with us to enjoy in leisure.  They were still warm and absolutely divine.

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Finally, a view of Capri from Anacapri.  The land in the distance is the Sorrento peninsula, with Sorrento on the left side and the beginning of the Amalfi Coast on the right.

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Some views of what the cities are like.  Like the Amalfi Coast, they are built on a steep hillside, so stairs and steeply sloping walkways are the best way to get around.  It was also very crowded in places.

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At first, I thought this might be a new-fangled Italian fashion (some of them are really weird!) but then I realized it was an art gallery.  : )

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We found lots of beautiful spots walking around the shopping districts.

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These photos were taken from the Gardens of Caesar Augustus.  The shoreline was breathtaking, but the path leading to the next little village along the coast was also spectacular.  The village is just around the first cliff and tucked into the cove. In these pictures, you  can see how the curve in the road in the first picture is the same as the one in the second picture. Together, they fit together to give you a picture of the whole coastline.

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This is more of the same shoreline as the pictures above, but it shows more detail.  If you look closely, you will see a little hut, a stairway hewed out of the rocks, and the roof of a small round structure.  Can you see the two structures and the stairs in the first picture?  If not, I zoomed in for you.

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Another view from Caesar’s Garden. Once the rain stopped, it was a beautiful day!

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I got a kick out of this necklace. I also love jellyfish, so it was tempting. : )

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This is an ad on the back of the bus, but these watches, known as Capri watches, were everywhere in the stores.  They’re kind of whimsical.

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Another view of the marketplace. Just lovely.

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Hot dog and apple pie: American dinner, Italian style.

Pompeii and Vesuvius

Today was the whirlwind tour of Pompeii and Vesuvius.  I’ve wanted to visit Pompeii since I was a kid, so I was excited about this tour.  Unfortunately, it was a little disappointing because I didn’t know that most of the relics and elaborate wall frescoes found in the homes and public buildings were moved to a museum in Naples.  I wish the museum had been near the Pompeii site so we could have visited both.  So, a word of advice, if you’re interested in visiting Pompeii, plan some time in Naples to visit the museum, too.

Pompeii was a port city of about 18,000 people when Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. Many people escaped the city when the mountain started erupting, but not all.  Most of those who died were asphyxiated by the gasses from the volcano.  Many people were overcome in their homes or on the street trying to escape.  When they died, they were quickly covered by falling ash (about 14 feet of the stuff fell in a matter of hours, with much more to come).  Over time, their bodies deteriorated naturally, but the original space they occupied was preserved by the ash.  Archeologists poured plaster into these holes and made casts of each person’s original shape.  Some are quite moving and I have several pictures below.

As for the city itself today, there are parts that are very well preserved, especially the wall frescoes and the floor decorations.  Most of the buildings are just walls with no roof, but many, many clues exist to tell us quite a bit about the lives of the people who lived here.

For example, there were 13 different laundries and there were over 100 fast food restaurants.  Apparently, Pompeii was a big “take away” city.  This was probably because of all the soldiers in port and the fact that many of the poorer homes didn’t have kitchen facilities.  There are also signs supporting candidates for the upcoming election and, my favorite, the “Cave Canem” sign:  Beware of Dog.

As for Vesuvius, its a volcano.  We’ve seen several over the years, and while they sound really interesting, the crater of a volcano is pretty boring.  However, climbing to the top was quite an adventure and the views were spectacular.  I’m pretty sure the entrance to the trail was run by the mafia.  Take a look at the pictures below and I’ll tell you the story.

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This is a view of Naples from the beginning of the trail leading to the top of Vesuvius.

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The mountain has erupted many times and was actually 3 times taller in 79 A.D. when the eruption that ended Pompeii happened.  It is an unpredictable volcano because sometimes when it erupts, it is mostly ash, like when Pompeii was destroyed.  Other times, it spews lava.  No one knows what to expect.

In the picture above, you can see that trail to the top is actually inside the crater of an older eruption.  The jagged peaks in the distance are really the craggy rim of the crater.  The part that looks like a landing strip at the foot of those crags is an old lava flow.

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The trail up was probably about ¾ a mile, but it was very steep.  I needed many stops to catch my breath.  I had to admire the couple above who braved the climb with their portable oxygen.

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See what I mean?  The crater of a volcano is surprisingly boring.  Little to no vegetation, no interesting colors, not usually any interesting shape.  Kinda boring.  In this case, the sheer cliff walls were a little interesting.  Unfortunately, it was so windy at the top, it was hard to even stand.

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Okay, here’s the ticket booth.  It’s a terrible picture, but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself.  The entrance to the trail to the top was blocked and all traffic was diverted through this little shack.  Inside was a guy in really nice clothes sitting at a picnic table. In front of him were large stacks of Euros just piled on the table.  He didn’t have a cash register and there were no receipts or tickets. Beside him were two really big, middle-aged, enforcer types who never said a word and looked sullen and intimidating.  It was like these guys threw up some flimsy barricades and just took over the trail entrance and demanded payment.

We asked the tour guide about it later and she said we were right, it is mafia run, but at least they have a “license” from the government to do so.  However, the license doesn’t require them to pay any of the proceeds back to the government and it doesn’t require them to improve the property in any way.  It’s 100% profit. Hmmm . . .

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I included this picture because we’ve seen a few stray cats and dogs everywhere we’ve visited.  This guy was enjoying a good nap.  I asked Aldo about it yesterday and he said the strays are looked after by everyone and treated with affection.  I have to say, they all looked pretty healthy and happy to me.

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Here’s another picture I included to remind me of something.  Here, the ticket taker is smoking a cigarette while he does his job.  As a rule, there are smokers all over Italy, especially among the young people.  It was almost impossible to avoid the smoke walking the streets of Rome.  Also, in keeping with the Italian’s attitude toward rules, people completely ignored the no smoking signs in the train station in Rome.

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Okay, now we’re in Pompeii.  This is a public courtyard that served as the main entrance to two theaters, one bigger and one smaller.  About 20 years before Vesuvius erupted there was an earthquake that damaged the place where the gladiators lived, so they moved here.  This is where they lived and practiced their art.  Archeologists found lots of their paraphernalia during the excavations.

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These are the two theaters behind the courtyard.  The larger one has been updated and seats about 6000 people.  It’s still used for performances today and is scheduled for a run of Mama Mia in a couple of weeks.  I would love to see that!

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The streets of Pompeii all run downhill because the city got lots of rainfall.  This design allowed them to drain.  The larger stones across the road allowed people to cross when they were flooded and they acted as speed bumps.  You can see the groves made by the chariot wheels between the stones.

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This is one of the frescoes in the entrance to the house of a very rich family.  Directly behind the entrance room is the courtyard below.

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All around this courtyard is the colonnade and behind the columns are the rooms the family lived in.  These include bedrooms and a dining room.

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This is the room in the back corner.  It still has quite a bit of color on the walls.  Also, several people were found in this room and their bones have been preserved here.

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This isn’t what you might think.  It’s a 2000 year-old McDonalds.  The rims are the tops of amphoras (you can see the side of one in the break in the wall in the second picture).  The amphoras were filled with water and a fire was lit under them.  A bowl was placed inside the rim and the food was placed in the bowl where it cooked over the hot water.  As I said above, there were many of these fast food places in Pompeii.

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In Rome, and other places, like here in Pompeii, there are public fountains with drinking water.  When I first heard that the water fountains of Rome contained drinkable water, I thought they must be nuts.  But they weren’t talking about the decorative fountains.  They were talking about the fountains that look something like the one above.  In Rome, there were no spigots, they ran freely because they were often natural springs.  Also, the water was ice cold.  We refilled our bottles several times on the day we visited the Colosseum and that cold water was really refreshing. Above, Bob refills our bottle.

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The state of many of the buildings in Pompeii is a lot like this.

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If you have a low threshold for the randier side of life, don’t look too closely at the pictures above.  These were taken in the brothel and the frescoes were meant to be sort of a picture menu of the available services.  Below the frescoes were tiny little rooms with a stone “bed” in which the deals were sealed.

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Again, don’t look too closely if you’re easily offended!  This carving was on the street and it “directed” the sailors who were walking into town from the port in the right direction for the “services” they were seeking.

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Here are some of the artifacts found in Pompeii.

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And now we get to the plaster casts.  Above is a dog in clear agony.  The dog was chained so that is mostly the reason for his position.  But asphyxiation is a slow and horrifying way to die and this dog proves that.

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Another heartbreaking story with this young man.  They believe he’s about 14 years old.  He must have sat for a moment to catch his breath during his escape and he never got up again.

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Here’s the front of the city, the part that would have faced the sea.  In fact, much of the vegetation in front of the wall would have been under water.  Today, mostly because of earthquakes in the area, the shoreline is several miles away.

The Amalfi Coast

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What a day!  It was, by far, my favorite day in Italy so far.  It started when we met Aldo after breakfast.  He’s the driver we hired and he made the day magical.  (If you come to the Amalfi Coast DO NOT attempt to drive it yourself — yikes!  Hire Aldo instead.  You can find him at Aldo Limos, and yes, he’s the owner : )

I thought the Amalfi Coast would be a lot like the northern California coast line, but I was wrong.  It has a charm, a character, that’s all its own.  Once again, pictures are worth a million words!

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The coastline is spectacular.  Around every bend is a new vista.  The whole drive  is only about 30 km long, but the traffic is heavy and you want to go slow to savor everything.

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I’ll be honest, I’m not sure which town this is, there are many along the way, but I’m guessing it’s Positano.

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Several times along the road, we saw these miniature villages built into the cliff face.  It turns out they are nativities.  This one is empty now, but beginning on Dec. 8, it will be filled with all the necessary figures and decorated for Christmas.

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I’m pretty sure this is Positano.  There is one road that runs through the town and everything else is only accessible via the millions of staircases.  You need to be fit to live in this very vertical town.

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Some of those staircases I mentioned.  In the markets down toward the beach, there were wide lanes instead of stairs.

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These pictures show the lanes lined with shops, as well as a close-up of one of the more colorful shops.  Positano is known for its whisper thin linen and they make everything with it.  The styles are really beautiful, but I wonder how they would hold up to washing.

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Here’s a view up from the market, and down to the next level.  Evrything is built on top of everything else along the sheer mountainside.

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We found the church!  This one had a permanent nativity.  If you couldn’t tell already, I have a thing for nativities.  If you come to my house, you’ll find several scattered around, all year ’round.  You should be happy I tried to show some restraint in choosing the photos for this post.  When we traveled in Canada I found the Nativity Museum and I went nuts.

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These are all pictures of the beach in Positano.  It was so vibrant and full of energy.  I could spend hours here just soaking it all in.

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Here we are, as well as a picture of Bob and Aldo.  This region is known for its fabulous lemons, and they’re huge and a little gnarly.  These are the lemons used to make limoncello, which was created in this region.

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More of the coast line and the city of Amalfi, I think.  As I said, I’ve gotten the pictures a little mixed up.  My advice if you come to this region:  Visit all of them!

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Every spare inch of soil in this area is planted with gardens. The soil is very fertile because of all the volcanic activity over the years.  In fact, the hillsides are heavily terraced, just like this garden.  This is in Ravello.

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Okay, I have to brag a little about lunch.  It was beyond incredible and if you come to Ravello, you MUST come have a meal at this restaurant.  Aldo told us about it and said the owner cooks just like his mother did before she died.  He recommended the vegetable platter and the pasta sampler, along with a bottle of wine.  Divine, absolutely divine.

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Of course, I was so excited about the food, I forgot to take a picture of the platters before we dug in.  Sorry you missed the presentation, it was wonderful.  Most of you know Bob isn’t big on eating vegetables, especially things like eggplant, zucchini, or broccoli.  All of these things were on the veggie platter, and many more, and he ate and loved them all.  I even got permission to serve eggplant when we get back home!  I’m telling you, a miracle has happened.

I should also mention the couple at the next table (he’s from London, she’s from Portland, Oregon) told us they came to this area with the intent of finding this specific restaurant.  He told us the owner is quite famous in the UK, since she is often featured on their version of the Food Network.

Oh, one more thing.  Public bathrooms in Italy are unisex.  That’s right, potty parity is not an issue here because everyone uses the same facilities.  Often, there is a common washroom and then the toilettes are in little rooms along the wall.  Sometimes, they are just stalls with little privacy.  After a couple glasses of wine (those of you who know us, that’s A LOT of wine for the two of us) Bob used the facilities and told me to steer left in the washroom because those were marked for women.  I thought it was strange the toilet had no rim, but whatever. Only after I came out did I realize Bob must have used the women’s side of the restroom and he directed me to the men’s!  C’est la vie!

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I had to laugh.  The Italians hate this building and often refer to it as the toilet paper roll.

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After lunch, we went to Amalfi and wandered around a little.  We came across this display of treats, mostly candy, and had to stop just to admire them.  I’m guessing the little fruit shaped ones are marzipan, but I’m not positive.  All I know is they were beautiful.

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A little farther along we wandered into this church that was restored in the 10th century.  It is the Church of St. Andrew and it’s also his burial place.  You may remember that St. Andrew was Jesus’ first Apostle.  This church was stunningly beautiful and I’m so glad we stopped.  However, I have to say, it felt really weird to be touring a church slightly sloshed.  I really have no business drinking more than one glass of wine at a time!

By the way, I included the picture of the kneeler for all those who think we have it bad in the US.  It could always be worse!

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Me and Aldo!

On the way home, he was kind enough to stop at one of the roadside nativities that still has its figurines.  It will be revitalized on Dec. 8th, but the gist is still here and so are the fish!

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See the fish?  To the people of the town, they must be like sea monsters.  : )

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Here’s the most important part!

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I’m inspired to get all my nativities out this year for the holidays.  Don’t know where I’ll put them all, but it should be fun!

Sorrento

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We found some artists!

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

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

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

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

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Here we are with the Sorrento Bay behind us.

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

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

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More of the cliffs by our hotel

Ancient Roman Ruins

We spent most of the day on Saturday exploring the ancient Roman ruins.  I had no idea so many parts and pieces of the really ancient buildings still existed.  It seems the key to survival was repurposing.  If a building found a new life as a church, it was preserved.  If not, it was allowed to fall down and something else was built on top.  The Pantheon is a perfect example of this.

Another way an ancient building could be “saved” was to be buried over time.  Many of the buildings we saw were completely covered in the 1800s and have only been excavated since then.  It’s really amazing what they’ve found and continue to find everyday.

As is usually the case, pictures tell the story best.  Enjoy!

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Of course, we have to start with the Colosseum, which is a nickname for a building really known as Flavian Amphitheater.  It’s undergoing some renovation so most of the outside is covered in scaffolding.  Mostly what they’re doing is cleaning the marble so it is mostly white once again.  The portion you see here has already been cleaned.

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Inside the Colosseum.  The giant oval would have been covered by a wooden floor and that would have been covered by sand.  Sand in Italian is “arena” and that’s where the word we use comes from.  Of course, sand is great at absorbing excess amounts of blood.  The structures in the middle would have been below ground and there are about 100 lifts that ended in trap doors.  They allowed the ancients to put 100 animals into the arena at the same time.  FYI:  our tour guide said there were many factual errors in the movie Gladiator, but the reconstruction of the Colosseum was exactly right.

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Here we are!  May I just say this was an incredibly hot and humid day? Still no curling iron!

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This is the view from the Colosseum.  We were allowed as far up as the second level.  They are slowly beginning to open the third level and the underground tunnels to tours, but the next available English tour wasn’t until November.  If you’re planning a trip, book that tour early!  It’s really, really popular.

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I’ll be honest, I’ve forgotten whose house this was.  We saw so many; but it was one of the emperors.  Probably Domitian.

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More of Domitian’s house.  This was the private area, with the beautiful gardens and courtyard.  It also had a bath that was beautifully shaped and tiled.

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The view of the area around the forums (yes, there are several forums) from Domitian’s house.  The building on the right with the giant arches was a basilica — a place for trade and commerce.  When the Christians were designing their first churches, they were uncomfortable mimicking the pagan temples, so they were molded after civic buildings.  That’s why many early churches have lots of arches, naves, and side alters.

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This was the arch Hadrian built to honor the sacking of Jerusalem in about 70 A.D.  the frieze on the inside (not shown) shows the Roman soldiers carrying off the booty from the Jewish Temple.  It is said that the jews who lived in Rome during the time this arch was in use refused to pass under it and would always go around.

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This is a temple of Romulus.  It’s not THAT Romulus, however, but that is why it was probably preserved.  It’s actually in honor of a 7 year old boy, the son of an emperor, who was deified upon his death.  Even the bronze doors were saved during a time when anything bronze (including the Collosus and every other ancient bronze statue) were melted down to make cannons.

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This was fascinating to me because I didn’t realize any evidence still existed.  This is the courtyard of the home used by the Vestal Virgins.  Just behind where I’m standing when I took this picture are a couple columns in a partial circle that would have been where the fire of the Vestal Virgins was kept burning 24/7.  Girls were brought here by their families between the ages of 7 and 10 and left here to serve as Vestal Virgins for a period of 30 years.  After that, they were free to leave, but most didn’t.  They were old women by then, given the life expectancy at the time.  FYI: if a Vestal Virgin might happen to have lost her virginity at any time during her service, she was buried alive, no questions asked.