Tag Archives: Favorite place

Toketee Falls

Along the way from Crater Lake to the Oregon Coast, we stopped for a short hike to Toketee Falls. The falls were great, but the half mile hike to the Falls was my favorite part.

To begin with, there was an old irrigation project that consisted of a pipeline made entirely of redwood. It ran right through the parking lot like a giant caterpillar. It was completed in 1949 and still carries water to generators that produce electricity for more than 50,000 homes. It was pretty cool looking.

Once we left the parking area and stepped onto the trail, it was like entering a different world. The vegetation was lush and full of ferns and giant plants. It felt medieval. Also, the trees were enormous!  I took a short video to try and show the height of the trees and if I can figure out how, I’ll post it.

Another wonderful thing about the trail is it was full of steps. Some were carved into the rock, other were dirt, still others were man-made. The entire trail went up and down, up and down, so you never knew if the next section was a climb up or a descent. It drove Bob nuts that the number of steps up weren’t equal to the number of steps down. 🙂  all i know is it made the hike interesting, fun, and really scenic.

Here are some of the pictures:



One of the man-made stairs.


The trees were enormous.


Here’s an idea of how big they were around.


The fuzzy caterpillar of an aqueduct. It’s made of redwood and it’s about 25 feet in diameter.


Saw this at the ranger station.




Barcelona is a very beautiful city, thanks in large part to its famous architects.  My favorite is Gaudi, who conceived the Sagrada Família, the church in the picture above, about 130 years ago.  We’ve been through quite a few churches in the last month, but nothing prepared us for this one.  It’s still under construction and won’t be complete until 2026 (they hope!) but it was, hands down, the most spectacular thing I’ve ever seen.  Awe inspiring, humbling, enlightening, staggering . . . these don’t even begin to describe this incredible structure.

But before we get to the Sagrada Família, there are other things to talk about.  Let’s do that with pictures.


Okay, yesterday (the day we arrived in Barcelona) was our wedding anniversary.  We celebrated by finding a quite little restaurant with the Grand Prix race on the TV and these ginormous sangrias.  They were absolutely delicious.


Another thing to check off my bucket list:  I tried paella in Spain.  It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I took Spanish in high school.  I have to say it was … okay.  It wasn’t bad, but I can move on and try something else on the menu.



This morning we took a tour of some of Gaudi’s buildings, including the Casa Battló.  It’s really just an apartment building, but an incredible one.  Can you imagine what the people of Barcelona thought when this was done back in 1906?  It was quite a shock and many people thought Gaudi was insane.




I loved it.  It’s what a Hobbit would build if he lived in the city.  Actually, I’m sure the people who designed the movie sets in those movies were hugely inspired by Gaudi.  The top picture is looking out the windows featured in the pictures above.  I wish more of the color showed in these pictures.  Everything is very colorful and organic.


This picture shows a bit more of the color on the outside of the building.  The whole thing was meant to be a tribute to St. George, the guy who slew the dragon.  In fact, the dragon is on the roof and the cross on top is meant to be the spear that killed the dragon.



All the rooms were different and interesting.  Even the hallways were parabolic arches.  I got a kick out of the “chill out area” sign.


Here’s the roof.  It was used for laundry and it held the water tanks.  I liked the chimneys.




Here are some pictures of the back of the dragon on the roof.  They show a little more of the color.

To see more of this incredible house, take a look at the Wikipedia page; it has many more pictures.    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casa_Batlló

Or, better yet, take a virtual tour.   http://www.casabatllo.es/en/virtual-tour/

They also made one of those “movies,” using the front of the building as a backdrop, in honor of the remodel that was done in 2012.  It’s very good.    http://www.casabatllo.es/en/videos/


Our next stop was the Sagrada Família.  Wow.  You must come here some day.  Bob and I agreed that we’ll be back again.  I really want to see it completed.  From a distance, it almost looks like a mud slide.  But if you pay attention, there’s a ton of detail.



For example, this side of the building is dedicated to the birth of Jesus.  The entire story is told in the facade.  Can you see it?  Here are some close-ups.


This is the Holy Family.  They are at the top of the pillar right above the doors. To find them in the picture above, look just to the left of the date stamp, right at the top of the doors.


To the right of them are the shepherds.


To the left are the three magi.


Above them are the angels.  See the Holy Family on the top of the pillar between the doors?  By the way, the greenish door on the right is the new bronze door that was just hung in the last couple weeks.  An identical one will be hung on the left as soon as its finished.


You can walk up the spires.  It’s hard to see, but there are little balconies where you can sometimes see people standing.


Okay, here’s a close up.  See the lady dressed in white at the dark opening just to the left and above the date stamp?  We didn’t have time to climb up, but I wish we had.  As I said, we plan to come back.


Here we are!

Okay, the main entrance of the church is under construction, so we entered through the side door.


This is what we saw in front of us.  This isn’t even the front of the church, it’s the view of the side transepts.  Gaudi designed the church to resemble a forrest.  Because every tree is different, so is every pillar.  None of them are straight, they all lean.  They also branch off at the top like a tree and they have branching roots under the church, some as deep as 50 feet down.  They need to be very strong because when the church is finished, it will have 18 towers, the largest of which will be three times as tall as any of the towers that have been built so far.



The stained glass windows are beautiful.  They are also modern, having been installed in the last couple decades.  In fact, they are still a work in progress because there are some places where the windows are clear glass, waiting to be replaced with the colored ones.


The ceiling is also beautiful.




More views of the main body of the church.  Can you see the plastic draped around the middle?  That’s the choir loft which surrounds the main space of the church on three sides.  When it’s finished, it will have room for 700 singers.  The church will also have 4 organs.

In the bottom picture you can see the clear windows on the left that will eventually be replaced with stained glass.



This is the front of the church, the view of the altar.  The circular thing is an umbrella that hangs over a large crucifix.  It is all suspended over the altar.


Close-up of some of the stained glass.



These are views of the back of the church where the main doors will be someday.  Can you see the spiral staircase in the first photo?  Not sure if its for the choir loft or one of the towers.




This is the opposite side the church from the nativity entrance.  Here is the story of the crucifixion.  It was only completed in the last few years and it was hugely controversial since it is so different from the style on the other side of the church.

What’s interesting is about 10 years after Gaudi died, his workshop was purposely burned down by a group of anti-religious radicals.  They thought if they destroyed all of Gaudi’s plans for the church, it would bring construction to a halt.  And it did, for about 15 years.  While all of Gaudi’s drawings and plans were destroyed, the clay models he built of various aspects of the church survived . . . kind of.  They were smashed by the radicals and it took the workers about 15 years to piece them back together, figure out what to do, and proceed with the work.

Gaudi knew he would never see the church completed (he worked on it for 46 years of his life) and it was his hope that succeeding generations would add their own spin to his plans.  So he’d probably love what they’ve done on the crucifixion side of the church.


Just behind the church they are building one of the two sacristies that Gaudi planned for the church.


The little chapel/crypt below the main altar is too small for tourists to visit.  But I found a picture.  Here is where Gaudi is buried.



In the museum under the church, we found the workshop where they still build models of what they plan to build.  Every since Gaudi’s day, this is how the church has been built because it is so outrageous, architecturally speaking, this is the best way they can make sure all the math is correct and what they plan will actually bear the weight of the towers.


Gaudi wanted the workers’ children to be educated, so he built this school for them right next to the church.  It looks like a hobbit school and its very charming.


The construction has picked up in the last couple decades because it is completely financed by donations.  That’s why it has taken so long.  Now that millions of people visit every year, the money to finish the construction is finally coming steadily and that’s why they can project the 2026 completion date.

Remember, when it’s done, some of the towers will be three times as tall as the current towers.  It will be the tallest building in Barcelona.

For more, check out these links. http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagrada_Fam%C3%ADlia      or  http://www.sagradafamilia.cat


This is another iconic building in Barcelona.  I don’t remember the name of the building, but it houses the water district.  As you can imagine, the building has a few nicknames.  I don’t know what you were thinking, but bullet and rocket are the most common.  : )


Tapas for lunch!  I tried these little peppers because my mom raved about them after her trip to Spain.  At least, I think this is what she described.


Bob ate the squid.  I’m not normally squeamish, but I’m just not interested in squid.




We found this square near our hotel.  Pigeons were everywhere.  It reminded me of what Abby said about the stray cats in Madrid.  She said there was one stalking a pigeon in a city square there and she and her friends thought he was so cute . . . until he pounced on the pigeon and shredded it!  She said it was more than a little horrifying.




We stopped at the Apple Store on the square because we haven’t seen the new iPhones yet.  I had to laugh because they’d installed these steps with plenty of seating for anyone who wanted to take a break and use the free wifi.  The main floor had all the tables of gadgets to play with and the balcony upstairs had the line to buy the new iPhone.  Well designed.


Okay, this store–El Corte Ingles–is an amazing place.  It sells everything, literally.  It’s also HUGE.  The footprint is at least as big as Costco, but it’s NINE FLOORS!


I love the whimsy found in so many of the buildings.  Here, a tree was built into this brick building.


This one is hard to see, but there are little balls sticking out of this building.  It looks like a pin cushion.




This is a music museum and performance theater.  It’s a monument to artistic tile work.  I loved the little ticket booth.  Again, kinda Hobbit-like.



This store made me laugh.  Everyone could use a happy pill!  If you don’t read Spanish (and I barely do) some of the ingredients of these happy pills include blue sky, British humor, black humor, “I love Barcelona,” ho ho ho, and a good nap.


I really didn’t think I’d like Venice as much as I did.  I’m not a water or boat person, but the charm of this city is impossible to resist.  It started life as a group of about 118 islands that were close together.  As people fled the wars on the mainland (barbarians, Visigoths, Genghis Khan, etc.) each new group settled a new island.  The first thing they built was a church and the town square–called a campo which was really a field in the middle of their houses where the livestock hung out and the dead were buried.  Eventually, they started building bridges to hook the islands together, and finally, they built so many buildings on the islands, they began to look like buildings rising out of the water, rather than buildings sitting on small islands. So, that’s how the canal system developed; they were just the natural waterways between the little islands.  In the last 200 years, many have been filled in and more walkways were created.  Today, you can walk from island to island over the more than 400 bridges and on the walkways that surround the city.

I should also note that Venice is very different now than it was even several decades ago.  It is very expensive to live here so its population is decreasing.  It’s gone from about 200,000 in the middle of the last century to about 58,000 today. Every day 40,000 additional people commute to the city for work.  Each year they welcome 25 million visitors.  The city is completely dependent on tourism; there is no longer any industry or other business in the city.  It’s all tourism.  One of the tour guides referred to it as a city-museum, and that about what it is.  Some of the large buildings along the Grand Canal are empty and they are only maintained for appearances.  It’s kind of sad, really.  Even the glass making on Murano and the lace making on Burano are dying art forms.

Okay, enough of that.  What exists in Venice is spectacular and shouldn’t be missed.  Everyone should come here at least once in their lifetime, it is just so interesting.

We arrived at the train station, which is at the end of a 4 mile long bridge that connects Venice with the mainland.  From there, we took a water taxi to our hotel.  It required a trip along the entire length of the Grand Canal and it blew me away.



Here area  couple of pictures I took of the Grand Canal  from the Rialto Bridge.  It was just amazing.


This is the view out the front door of our hotel.


This area along the Canal has the widest sidewalks in front.  In some places, they’re only a couple feet wide!



Some of the scenes between the hotel and St. Mark’s Square.



And here we go!  St. Mark’s Square was only a couple minute walk from the hotel.  Our first visit was the afternoon we arrived and it was mobbed with people.  There are cruise ships dropping off thousands of people every day and that day, I swear they were all at St. Mark’s!


This is the view of the Doge’s Palace from the bridge in front.


We’re here!


We got up early the first full day to walk to the meeting point for our tour.  We discovered St. Mark’s Square is deserted in the morning.




Some of the things we saw along the way.  The Grand Canal is the main waterway throughout he city, but it is also riddled with little (and I mean tiny!  I don’t know how boats pass each other in some of them!).  In between he canals are hamster trail-like walkways.  They twist and turn and it is impossible not to get lost.  The guide book says there really isn’t an accurate map of Venice that’s economical enough for tourists.  Just go with the flow!

Also, I thought the “stop mafia” sign was interesting.


We found our way back to the Grand Canal.  The colorful boat in the foreground is a vaporatto–aka: a water bus.




While we were standing here, a boat docked that was loaded with boxes of vegetables.  We watched as the guy on the boat literally threw boxes of tomatoes and lettuce to the guy on the dock without losing even one in the water.


One of the side canals.  This one is pretty good sized.




Here are more of the smaller canals.  They vary greatly in size because they were as big as the space between islands.


This building was finished in the 14th or 15th century and today it is the hospital.


With all the parked boats, I don’t know how another one can pass through.


Here’s a picture showing how the buildings were made.  Wood pilings were driven into the bedrock very close together.  In the absence of oxygen, they didn’t rot.  Instead, they petrified and became a very strong foundation.  On top of the pilings are various waterproof layers and the building sits on top of all that.  I was surprised that they don’t need to be replaced regularly.  They are pretty permanent.


The covered bridge in the distance is the Bridge of Sighs, the bridge that lead from the Doge’s Palace (where a prisoner was sentenced) to the prison.  The bridge gave the condemned their last view of the Venice, thus the nickname, The Bridge of Sighs.


St. Mark’s Square is one of the lowest spots in Venice so it often floods.  Of course, the tides rise and fall daily, but they sometimes overtake the city.  As many as 50 times a year Venice floods.  When this happens, they put these low tables down to make raised walkways for people to pass.  The locals often just wear knee (and sometimes hip) boots when it floods.  The floods usually happen in winter.


We climbed to the balcony of the church to get a good view of St. Mark’s Square.  The crowds were much better today.





These are all views of St. Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace.  I didn’t realize that Venice is one of the longest lasting Republics in history.  For hundreds of years (much longer than the US!) Venice was governed by a “congress” of about 2000 noblemen who elected the Doge (i.e. president) from among them.  They had incredible checks and balances in place at all levels of the government and it seems to have worked really well for them.






This is the Rialto Bridge, one of the four bridges that cross the Grand Canal.  Did I mention that nothing with wheels is allowed in Venice?  The only exceptions are dolly’s (to move boxes) and a few kid’s toys, roller skates.


Bob : )


Here you can see how narrow some of the side canals can be.  As I said, I don’t know how boats, even skinny ones like the gondolas, could pass each other in such a narrow canal.


No judging!  After weeks of pizza and pasta, a whopper from Burger King sounded like the perfect lunch.  We got a king-sized meal and split it.  It was delicious. Although, the Coke had no ice.  Not sure what that was about.  : )

I do have to tell you about the cheeky pigeon.  We sat in the courtyard outside and we were surrounded by college-aged kids from all over the world.  At one point, a pigeon jumped onto the table next to me and the guy there shoo’ed it away very aggressively.  I think he startled it because it flew straight sideways into an Asian girl who shrieked and caused quite a seen.  I was still chuckling when the pigeon jumped onto our table and grabbed a fry.  It just stood there looking at me with that fry in its beak.  I didn’t want it to assault the poor Asian girl again, so I shoo’ed it gently but it just stood there mocking me.  So I swatted at it thinking it would jump out of the way.  It didn’t!  Instead, I smacked it in the chest and pushed it off the table and onto the floor!  I don’t think it cared at all, it was busy eating my fry.


More of the views from the Grand Canal.  I think this is one of my favorite pictures.




More of the Grand Canal


We also took a tour of the islands of Murano and Burano.  Here’s Bob on the boat out to the islands.



The Murano glass is really beautiful.  In the past, the different techniques were passed from father to son, but they are slowly dying out.  Only a fraction of the glass workshops from the past are still open.



This is Burano which is known for its lace. Again, the art of making lace is dying out because it can be made by machine so much faster.  It takes forever to make it by hand and I was staggered at the prices.  A small piece, about 8 inches in diameter, that was suitable for framing, took 7 people 7 months to finish.  They were charging 800 Euro which is roughly $1000.


This reminded me of growing up in South Dakota. It’s the volunteer ambulance, only it’s a boat.


This isn’t a great picture, but it shows something I found fascinating.  When there aren’t enough spots for all the boats to dock, the boats line up and hook themselves together.  To get on and off the furthest boat, you have to walk through all of them.  It was all new to me.


I can’t believe I didn’t take more pictures of the little alleys.  This is a large one.  Some of them require you to turn sideways when someone passes going the opposite direction.


This is one of the campos — or little fields.  There’s one on each island, or at least there used to be.  Some have been replaced with buildings.  There’s a cistern under each one that caught rain water and this is the well where people could draw fresh water out.


Here we are on the observation deck of the church on St. Mark’s Square.  It was a spectacular church, but no pictures were allowed.  The most amazing thing there were the life sized (or maybe slightly larger than life sized) bronze statues of four horses.  Scholars debate their age, some say 200 B.C, some say 200 A.D.  In either case, the statues are about 2000 years old.  They were incredibly beautiful and the details were perfect.


This is inside the Doge’s Palace.  It’s a very large building that was the seat of the government, as well as the home of the doge.  When a new doge was elected, he and his family were obligated to live here, sort of like the President and the White House.  It had some breath-taking rooms.


In some cases, the frames are more incredible than the paintings.  Since this is Venice, frescoes deteriorated within a few years.  So, they either had to make everything out of mosaics, or they had to paint it on canvas.  In these pictures, all the paintings are done with oils on canvas.


Now this is an interesting room.  It’s where the 2000 noblemen met and it’s the largest room in the world that doesn’t have columns to support it.  It’s about the size of half a standard soccer field and it was built in the 1500s.  Also, the painting on the far wall is the largest canvas painting in the world.  It’s about 25 meters wide.


Forget the hotel, this is the Museum California. At least they warned you before you got stuck inside!

Finally, I took many videos going up and down the Grand Canal and I put one of them on Youtube.  It’s only a minute or so and it ends with my favorite view on the Canal.  Enjoy!


Top of the Duomo


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!


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.


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


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!



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.


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


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


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.


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!



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.



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.


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.


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.



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.


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!


The Amalfi Coast


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!


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.





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.


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.


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.



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.



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.


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.





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.



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.



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!


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.


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.





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!


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



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.





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!


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!


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



Here’s the most important part!




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!

Papal Audience

DSC00086Here we are in St. Peter’s Square!  What a morning.  We were told the audience wouldn’t begin until 10:30, so we thought we could sleep in a little — not so much. In order to get a seat, they recommended we arrive between 6:30 and 8:00 am.  Everyone has to go through security, all 50,000 of us, so it was a little chaotic.  Luckily, we got through without any problems and were in our seats by 8:30.  Also luckily, it was an incredibly beautiful fall day.  The sky was brilliant blue and the breeze had just a hint of chill in it.  We were told to expect the world’s biggest Catholic pep rally, and that describes it pretty well.  The mood was festive and everyone was having a good time.

Since we expected it all to begin at 10:30, we were surprised when they actually started around 9:45.  I always thought things in Italy could be late, never that early!  It started with announcements of all the groups that were there.  Then, the Pope whizzed up and down the aisles in his suped-up golf cart.  It wasn’t the same as the popemobile, but close.  He stopped often to kiss babies and accept gifts from the crowd.  At one point, he accepted a drink from the Argentinians in the crowd.

I have to say, it was surprise to see people passing their babies from one person to the next to get them to the Pope.  We were told that if someone hands us a baby, don’t drop it!  And pass it to the Pope or one of his guards.  I was more concerned with passing the little ones back–how do you know who the mother is?  It was charming to see the slightly older babies (around 1 year) screaming from the stranger anxiety and Pope Francis consoling them.

Okay, here’s the scoop that all our family and loved ones need to know.  The Pope’s blessing that Bob and I received extends to you, too! (It even counts if you’re not Catholic!) That is especially true of any of you who are dealing with illness.  So, consider yourselves blessed!

Below are a couple of pictures and I’m going to try and include a couple videos.  I’ll explain them below.



Here he is!  I didn’t even have to zoom in, we were actually this close to him.  He was so cheerful, I can see why the world has fallen in love with him.  We were certainly impressed.  Being part of the papal audience is one of the highlights of my life.  I’ll never forget it.

I just tried to upload the short movies of the Pope whizzing by and kissing babies, as well as the video of his blessing, but it won’t let me do it here. Instead, I uploaded them to youtube.  Here’s the link to the Pope kissing babies:


Here’s the link of the Pope’s blessing:


In the mean time, here are some pictures of the place where we stopped for dinner.  Everything was so beautiful and tasty!


This was a wrapped sandwich, almost like a pita or even a burrito.  In Italy, the next closest thing might be a stromboli, if a stromboli wasn’t hot.  It had sliced eggplant on top and looked incredible.


These are just some of the pizzas they had available.  It is so weird to find sliced potatoes on a pizza.  Another on the menu had sliced pumpkin.




And gelato!

Biltmore Estate

Okay, everything I said about the entrance fees, ignore me.  The Biltmore Estate is worth every penny.  It’s an unbelievable place, and you can see my pictures here.  It took 6 years to build and it was opened in December, 1895.  It was built by George Vanderbilt (the grandson of the railroad tycoon) when he was still a bachelor.  It has 205 rooms and 1.4 million (yes, million!) square feet.  It is the result of a collaboration between the architect, George Vanderbilt, and the landscape architect—who was the first landscape architect.

George decided to marry about 3 years after the house was complete.  Can you imagine coming home from your honeymoon to that house?  Apparently all the people who worked on the estate (there were hundreds, maybe more than a thousand) lined the road leading to the house to cheer when they arrived.

There were only about 30 servants in the house but the estate also had a nursery that sold seeds via mail order, an enormous dairy (100s of cows) and it was a working farm.  So there were many employees and their families that lived on the estate (although, not in the house).

I don’t have pictures of inside the house because I couldn’t take any, but it is mind boggling.  No one knows how much it cost to build, but it had to be millions and millions, even in 1895.  It was a huge boost to the local economy at the time.  Likewise, all the servants were always paid New York wages, which was way more than comparable jobs locally.  Obviously, jobs at Biltmore Estate were prized.

The gardens were spectacular.  They were designed by the same man who designed Central Park in NYC.  In addition to the gardens, he made plans to convert the 125,000 acres of the estate into something beautiful.  He recommended creating the small organized park (which is still beautiful today—see the pictures!), farming the river bottom lands, and converting the rest of the tired farmland to forests.  Toward that end, they planted more than 2 million plants and trees on the property.  Ironically, the landscape architect’s vision is only now realized after 100 years of growth in that forest.  It’s all incredibly beautiful.

The Estate was the Vanderbilt’s family home and they entertained extensively until 1915 when George died.  His wife and daughter (who was only 13) continued living in the house, but they moved into a smaller apartment within and closed off most of the rest of the house.  When the daughter married in 1924, she and her husband lived there and entertained, once again.
When the Depression hit, the family wanted to stimulate economic growth in the region, so they opened the first floor of the house to tourists.  That was in 1931.  The last time a family member actually lived in the house was in 1951. Today, George’s great grandson and great granddaughter (who are brother and sister) both live on the estate grounds with their families.  They run the businesses related to the house, including the winery that was started by their father in the 1970s.

It seems we are running out of time before we have to be in Boston.  We were going to drive the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway, but after spending some time on it yesterday, we realized that will be a tedious trip.  It may be beautiful, but a narrow, two lane road with a top speed of 45 mph is not the way to cover the next 400 miles.  So, stay tuned to see what we decide to do next!

Edison and Ford Winter Estates

3800 miles traveled so far.

We spent several hours exploring the winter homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.  Did you know they were good friends and next door neighbors?  They often collaborated with their other friend Harvey Firestone (yes, the tires) on projects.  In fact, Edison spent so much time in Florida that he had an entire laboratory there and it was the primary location for all his efforts to develop a domestic source of rubber so the US wouldn’t be dependent on foreign imports.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.  In 1885, Edison sailed down the river and saw a plant on the banks that he thought would be the answer to his search for a long lasting light bulb filament.  He bought the property that day and had a house built there within the year. It was quite a feat since it was wilderness at the time and everything had to arrive by boat.  There wasn’t even a road.  And it wasn’t just a simple house.  It was two stories with a couple sections and servants quarters and it was surrounded by a wide covered deck.  Then, he had a mirror image of the whole house built right beside the original as a guest house.  It’s very impressive, even by today’s standards.

It turned out Edison was right and the bamboo he saw growing on the banks of the river which did prove to be the perfect filament for his light bulb.  Years later, WWI inspired Edison to find a domestic source of rubber.  If our imports were cut off in another war, the US and its industries would be seriously hampered without a reliable source of rubber.  Of course, this project was very interesting to Ford and Firestone, for obvious reasons.

Toward that end, Edison imported plants from all over the world and planted them on the grounds of his home in Florida.  Many of these still exist and they make the grounds an incredibly beautiful garden.  We really enjoyed walking around because it was so peaceful and colorful.  My favorite was the Banyon Tree that Edison planted in 1927.  It was about 4 feet tall.  Today, the tree is enormous and because of the way it grows, it covers a little more than an acre of ground.  Another favorite is the bougainvillea his wife planted in the 19teens.  It’s now about 30 feet tall.  Pictures of everything are here.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is Edison’s forward thinking.  He wanted to develop a battery operated car (way ahead of his time!) and he was concerned about humanity using up its oil resources.  He thought our future was in the power of the sun.

After lunch, we drove to Orlando.  We wanted to do something interesting for dinner, so we walked over to City Walk, which is sort of the Universal Studios equivalent of Downtown Disney.  We ended up with ice-cream instead of dinner, but what are vacations for?

We also ended up at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  What a kick!  It’s an incredible place, I just wish it was bigger and there was more to explore.  We decided to try the main ride, which is a trip through Hogwarts.  We saw classrooms, the Great Hall, Dumbledore’s Study, the Room of Requirements, the sorting hat, the house points tally machines (I forget what they’re called), the greenhouses, and even the talking paintings, including the Fat Lady.  There was even an interesting discussion between the portraits of the four founders about letting in muggle-born students.  It’s all very well done.  The ride itself was fabulous and lots of fun.  Hermione casts a spell so you can fly and then you fly everywhere.  It was very well done.  More on all this tomorow!

The Dry Tortugas

3365 miles traveled.

Today was a bucket list day for me.  I’ve always wanted to see Fort Jefferson on Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas, and today was the day.  It’s really an amazing place.  To get there, we had to take a boat about 70 miles due west of Key West.  There sits Fort Jefferson. It looks like it is just rising out of the ocean. It is the largest structure built from brick anywhere in the world.  It took 16 million bricks and it was never completed.

Fort Jefferson is a five-sided, two story structure that was made to hold over 400 guns (cannon sized) and 2,000 men.  It was one of the first major undertakings of the Army Corp of Engineers and certainly the first project they built at sea. Construction began in 1846 and went on for 30 years, until the fort was abandoned in 1874.

The fort is built on a 10-acre sand bar in the middle of nowhere.  Why?  Why would they build something so enormous and labor-intensive in the middle of nowhere?  After all, everything needed to be shipped in.  All the building materials, all the food, even the drinking water, had to be shipped.  At the time, that meant wooden sailing vessels.  So, why?

It all began right after the Louisiana Purchase which doubled the size of the US in one fell swoop.  It also gave us the very valuable port of New Orleans and use of the entire Mississippi River as a means of moving goods.  That was worth protecting.  The location of the fort allowed the US to control access to the Gulf of Mexico, thus protecting our trade routes.  Also, the island is the only safe harbor for 70 miles.  It has a natural deep water channel that’s perfect for anchoring a boat and that channel is surrounded by shallower areas.  In a storm, a boat anchored in the harbor is protected from most of the pounding waves by the surrounding shallow areas.  Even today, when a hurricane approaches, the channel fills with all kinds of boats from all over the Gulf because of this protection.  In the 1800’s the fort could deny anchorage to an enemy vessel and leave it to the mercy of an approaching storm.

While the fort could, in theory, train 125 guns on any target, no matter the angle of approach, and it could fire a shot 3 miles, it never saw a battle.  The closest it came to was in 1861 when Florida seceded from the union.  One fishing boat sailed up and demanded the fort (which was a Union post) surrender.  The commander allowed the ship to sail away unharmed to spread the word that the fort was under Union control.  It was all a bluff because most of the guns hadn’t been delivered yet and the fort was nearly harmless.

The fort is most famous as the prison of Dr. Samuel Mudd, a convicted co-conspirator in Lincoln’s assassination.  He’s the guy they’re referring to whenever someone says “his name is Mudd.”  Anyway, he was imprisoned at the fort for 4 years when a yellow fever epidemic hit and killed every single member of the medical staff.  Dr. Mudd volunteered to help and he did such careful research and kept such detailed notes that later analysis helped the docs in Washington figure out better treatments, and ultimately the cause, of yellow fever.  Dr. Mudd’s services were so valuable, the soldiers at the fort petitioned President Johnson to pardon him and it was eventually granted.

Take a look at the photos here.  There’s so much to tell you about the fort, especially its construction, that I put most of the details in the captions on the photos.  It’s really a cool place.

Bellingrath Estate

2,250 total miles, so far.

When we left New Orleans this morning it was gray and overcast.  The weatherman said there would be rain.  We hoped to do some exploring despite the forecast.

We found our adventure in Mobile, Alabama.  It was all by accident, really.  As we were leaving the B&B this morning, I consulted the notes I made when my friend Barbara—who was raised in the South—told me all the places we should see.  She recommended the azalea trails in Mobile.  A quick internet search later and we discovered we were right in the middle of the predicted height of the azalea blooming season.  So, off we went.

We found Bellingrath Gardens in Mobile and it was incredible. The pictures are here.  I loved the story behind the place as much as the gardens themselves.  It all started in 1917 when Mr. Bellingrath, the local Coca Cola bottler/distributor, was feeling under the weather and went to see his doctor. The doc diagnosed a classic case of over-working and advised his patient to buy a run-down fishing camp and “learn to play.”  Mr. Bellingrath took his doctor’s advice and over the next 30 years he and his wife built the Bellingrath Estate.

It grew from an initial 3 acres to more than 900, but only about 65 acres are cultivated into formal gardens.  The Bellingraths were inspired during a trip to Europe where they saw the grand estates and formal gardens there.  They came home, hired a landscape architect, and the rest is history.

Mrs. B was also quite an antique collector.  Her collections filled and overflowed her house in town so she built a 10,000 square foot house at their retreat.  It is an incredibly beautiful house, full of elegant rooms and priceless antiques.  It was the height of Mobile society to be invited for dinner at the Bellingrath’s home.  When they built the house, electricity didn’t extend that far out of town but they wired the house for it anyway.  In the years before the electric lines reached them, they ran the lights with generators.
We also learned something about the history of Coca Cola.  It was originally invented by a doctor as a tonic to help those addicted to morphine break the habit.  That lead me and Bob to wonder how much cocaine Coke used to have in it.  The answer: no one knows exactly, but it was only trace amounts.  In any case, after 1929, the recipe was changed and it had none.

I also thought it was interesting that the Coca Cola distributor could make millions of dollars selling soda between 1906 and his death in 1945.

Finally, I like puzzles of beautiful landscapes. I sometimes wonder where such gorgeous pictures were taken. I swear I’ve seen puzzles of these gardens.