Tag Archives: good food

Heceta Head Lighthouse B&B

I’m not much of a lighthouse person. Despite that, we decided to stay a night in the historic keeper’s house for the Heceta Head Lighthouse. Both the lighthouse and the keeper’s house were built in about 1894 and they’re beautifully preserved. What drew us was the history … but also the seven course breakfast they serve. ūüôā

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I took this picture from the Sea Lion Cave. In the distance, you can see the lighthouse. The keeper’s house is down a little and to the right of the lighthouse, on an acre of flat ground that’s covered with grass.

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Here’s what it looks like upclose. That porch has the most amazing views on the coast.

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See what I mean? In the distance, on the shoulder of the farthest rock, you can barely see the building that’s the entrance to the Sea Lion Cave. On the rocks at ocean level, just in front of the crashing waves, there are a bunch of sea lions laying around.

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Another shot of the same view.

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More from the porch.

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Can you imagine waking to this view every morning? It’s breathtaking.

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The house is full of these stained glass windows.

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I view of the lighthouse from the keeper’s house.

Okay, the place is seriously beautiful and we enjoyed our wine on the porch with a beautiful sunset. However, we enjoyed waking up even more.

Haceta Head (pronounced like Ha-SEE-ta) is known for its seven course breakfasts. They’re also proud of the fact they never serve the same dish twice in any given week. They have so many breakfast recipes, they’ve published a cook book–and I can promise you that based on what we sampled, it would be a good investment. ūüôā

Breakfast started with fruit and a white chocolate dipping sauce. It was excellent. They also served a sweet bread made with raspberries that was to-die-for.  I was so overwhelmed with the yumminess that I forgot to take pictures.  Rest assured, I got snaps of the rest!

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The third course was a salad made with avocado, crab, and fennel, with a citrus-mango dressing. Yes, it was as good as it looks.

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This was my favorite course, by far. It’s a mango/mint frappe. ¬†I’m going to be dreaming about this one for a very long time. In fact, it was so good that I ordered my own copy of the cookbook I mentioned earlier. This recipe isn’t in it, but the chef assured me all I had to do was substitute mango for the other fruits in those recipes and it would work.¬†IMG_4686

This is Eggs Benedict with arugula pesto and hollandaise sauce. The flower is from the arugula plant (or so they tell me). I thought the flowers were incredibly beautiful. I almost hated to move them aside so I could eat. Too pretty to disturb.

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And that brings us to this berry cobble made with port. They also passed heavy cream to pour on top. It was incredible. I can easily envision some Christmas morning in the future when I’ll make the frappe and this cobbler, along with some sticky buns, and it will be the best breakfast I’ve ever made.

You may be thinking, “but that’s only six courses!” You’d be right. They also passed cheese with slices of nectarine at the end. The cheese was weird. It looked and felt just like brie, but it tasted like blue cheese. Took me by surprise.

After we’d stuffed ourselves, it was time to hit the road. Today was mostly a driving day, but we did stop here and there for short visits.

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We’ve seen many of these bridges all over Oregon. They’re very 1920s art deco. This one is in Lincoln City, Oregon.

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I took this picture at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. The birds on these rocks were practically on top of each other. They’re Common Murres and they look like little penguins. However, unlike penguins, these birds fly. They don’t build nests, but lay their eggs directly on the rocks.

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Here’s a bit more of the picture above.

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This was on the other side of the lighthouse

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A slightly different perspective of the same rocks.

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We ended up in Portland, Oregon, for the night and we plan to drive along the Columbia River tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Napolean Torte

IMG_3259I went to college in Omaha, Nebraska, where I discovered one on my life-long obsessions–Napolean Torte. It’s not much to look at. As desserts go, it’s pretty humble. Don’t let the visual throw you. It’s 20+ layers of pastry, butter, and apricot goodness. Those who’ve tried it know–this is the best dessert you’ll ever have. I promise.

If you’re curious to try one, you can order one from the Lithuanian Bakery. If you live anywhere near Omaha, make it a point to stop in and pick one up. If you don’t, it’s worth the money to buy one (or two, or three . . . ) and have it shipped. The tortes can be frozen and I’ve never had one spoil in the freezer, even after months and months.¬†IMG_3249

However, if you want the experience of making your own, it’s a great holiday tradition that is best done with help.

First, you have to prepare the dough, then roll it into about 20 tortilla-sized rounds that are baked individually. Once done, they look look like large crackers. IMG_3253

Next, you’ll need to make the filling. I can’t decide if it’s more pastry cream or pudding, but its fabulously rich and decadent.

To assemble, layer the crackers with the pastry cream and on two of the layers, include several tablespoons of apricot jam. Once the “cake” is done, frost it with the left over pastry cream and cover it with the crumbs of a couple of extra crackers.

IMG_3260As I said, it’s not pretty, but it is the most decadent thing you’ll ever try. It’s the basis for my firmly held belief that the uglier the dessert, the better it tastes. The pretty, fancy ones are so often disappointing.

Anyway, if you’re interested in making your own torte, the recipe is here. I believe this recipe is close to the one used by the Lithuanian Bakery because it was first published in The Melting Pot, an ethnic cookbook that solicited recipes from different ethnic communities in Omaha.

I made 4 batches of the dough and 2 batches of the cream and ended up with 5 tortes. I did it all in one day, but it about killed me. The good news is we’ll have tort for months and plenty to give as gifts, as well. Enjoy!

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Madrid

I have to be honest, I’ve never been all that interested in Madrid, or Spain for that matter. ¬†There are so many other places I would have chosen to go first. ¬†Boy, was that a mistake. ¬†Madrid is a unique and beautiful city, full of wonderful people, and I’m so glad I didn’t miss it. In most big cities, there’s a feeling of crowding, some dirt and grime, and a sense that things are just a little worn. ¬†The opposite is true of Madrid. ¬†It has wide, open streets with trees everywhere. ¬†The buildings are well maintained so nothing feels tired or in need of a face lift. ¬†It’s like a city would be if it was run by the people at Disney. ¬†It’s clean, fresh, vibrant and varied. ¬†And it’s like that block, after block, after block. ¬†We walked all over the city and never found a place where we felt uncomfortable, where things were run-down, or you got the sense you were in a “bad” neighborhood. ¬†It is a truly wonderful city. Another interesting thing is the people of Madrid don’t seem to stay home. ¬†The streets are FULL of them. ¬†And they aren’t rushing around like the people in New York. ¬†They are out enjoying the day, interacting with each other, and spreading good will. ¬†It’s hard not to be happy in Madrid, even if it did rain on us several times. My favorite thing about Madrid is Abby was there! ¬†We finally caught up with her and she looks fantastic. ¬†I have to say, her host family is taking excellent care of her and I can’t thank them enough, especially Cristina. ¬†If you ever see this, Cristina, ¬†muchas, muchas gracias! ¬†And, I want all your recipes, especially for gazpacho! Okay, here’s some of the millions of pictures I took : )

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I know, strange picture, but it reminds me of something. ¬†The ground floor of buildings in both Italy and Spain is always 0. So, if you’re looking for street level, punch the 0. ¬†If you want the second floor, that would be 1; the third floor, punch 2, etc. ¬†If there were floors below ground, they were simply -1, -2, etc.

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Here begins general pictures of beautiful Madrid. ¬†Unlike other cities, there weren’t any iconic sights that everyone photographs. ¬†Instead, everything was beautiful.

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I thought this was interesting. ¬†Most of the highway-like roads in the city are underground, kind of like the Big Dig in Boston, only more so. ¬†This isn’t a picture of a bridge. ¬†This is a glimpse into the underground roadway where it emerges. The part of the picture loaded with plants is ground level and there are buildings, sidewalks, roads, etc. up there.

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This may seem like a simple square, but the building on the right dates back to the 15th century and is one of the oldest buildings in the city.  The one in the middle is 16th century, and the one on the right is 17th century. It still amazes me that such old buildings can look so fresh.

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A beautiful church near the Prado.

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Puerto Del Sol, one of the hearts of the city. ¬†Abby described it as Times Square, and I think she’s right. ¬†It was full of people at all hours of the day and night. ¬†When I took this picture, it was near midnight.

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We found her!!! ¬†Our dinner reservation wasn’t until 10, but we ate at the oldest continually running restaurant in the world. ¬†It’s been open for business since about 1720. ¬†The food was good, but nothing too fancy.

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A view of a street at midnight.

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This made me laugh. ¬†The Ham Museum was actually an everything-ham store. ¬†There were even hams hanging from the ceiling. ¬†I think ham must be the national food of Spain because it was everywhere. ¬†One of the things Spaniards like most is jamon Iberia, or Iberian ham. ¬†It’s a lot like proscuitto, only better.

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More random street views.  Beautiful, everywhere.

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This is Plaza Mayor, the site of the Spanish Inquisition. ¬†Today, it’s a favorite gathering place for Spaniards.

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Umm, Spidey might need a diet.

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More random views we found just walking around.  Actually, the bottom picture here is the same as the night one, above, just from a different angle.

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One of the joys of Madrid is the churro. ¬†It’s often a breakfast food in Madrid, but more likely it’s where the kids go when the clubs close. ¬†(By the way, clubs in Madrid don’t open until 1 am, and they close around 6 am.) ¬†The churros are often served with chocolate for dipping, or somethings they have a little sugar sprinkled on them. ¬†I didn’t see any with cinnamon sugar, like at Costco. ¬†: )

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Mickey better watch it, Bob might want to steal his girl.

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More of the beautiful streets.

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This is the Institute where Abby has her Spanish classes.

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While many people speak English, translations can sometimes be amusing. ¬†Abby said she’s seen several t-shirts around town where schlocky translation made the slogan awkward. ¬†Here, the Gaspacho is described as “could soap.”

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I think this is more what paella is supposed to be, but the menu referred to it as a rice dish.  Bob and Abby loved it, even the little tentacles and black-eyed shrimp.

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After lunch, we just wandered the city and ended up walking through the equivalent of Central Park. ¬†It’s called Parque De El Retiro.

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More of the Parque De El Retiro and the Crystal Palace that’s there.

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Everywhere we went, people were out enjoying the day. ¬†Of course, this weekend was also Columbus Day. ¬†I never thought about how that day might be celebrated in Madrid, I assumed it was just an American holiday. ¬†But I’d be wrong. ¬†It’s actually a really big deal in Madrid. ¬†There was a huge parade with the King, and everything. ¬†More on that later.

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The park was very pretty.

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This is the Prado.  We really enjoyed wandering through, but no pictures were allowed.

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More of beautiful Madrid.

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Now this was interesting. ¬†It’s a vertical garden. ¬†It appears they were replanting the right side, but he left side was well developed.

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So many of the streets looked like this.  Wide, open, lots of trees, clean.

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This is the parade I mentioned above.  It was in honor of Columbus Day.  We waited for it to start, but decided to move on to the art museum instead.

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Apparently, the donuts don’t go over so well in Spain so they focus on the coffee instead.

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More of the parade. ¬†These guys were all lined up and ready to start. ¬†I have no idea who they are, but I’m assuming they were police, branches of the military, things like that. ¬†There was lots of chanting, singing, and cheering going on.

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Okay, time to talk about the hours people keep in Spain because they’re weird. ¬†First, you have to know the sun didn’t rise until about 8 a.m. ¬†When we left the hotel to catch a tour bus at 7:30, it was still dark outside. ¬†I think that’s why typical things for Spaniards are skewed. ¬†For example, breakfast isn’t until about 9:30, if they eat it at all. ¬†Lunch is from about 2-4 p.m. and its the main meal of the day. ¬†This is also the time they take siesta, if they want to. ¬†Dinner doesn’t start until 9 p.m.

While most stores stay open all day, many other businesses still close from 2-4 p.m. ¬†During that time, everyone actually goes home for lunch. ¬†That means there are several “rush hours” in Spain because people come and go to work two times a day. ¬†The same is true of school. ¬†The kids go from about 10-2, then they return at 4 and get out around 7.

Abby was always amazed at how late the Spaniards stay out. ¬†She said the main squares, like Puerto Del Sol, are swamped at 3 a.m. and there are many families still out enjoying ice cream and strolling around at that hour. ¬†That includes babies in strollers and toddlers on their parents’ shoulders.

In the picture above, we were starving at 1:30 in the afternoon.  We stopped in this place, that had just opened, but it was as deserted as a lunch place that opens at 10:30 a.m. in the US.  It was beginning to pick up business at 2:30 when we left.

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McDonalds, anyone?

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This is Puerto Del Sol on Columbus Day at about 3 in the afternoon.  Very crowded.

Barcelona

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Barcelona is a very beautiful city, thanks in large part to its famous architects. ¬†My favorite is Gaudi, who conceived the Sagrada Fam√≠lia, 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 Fam√≠lia, there are other things to talk about. ¬†Let’s do that with pictures.

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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.

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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.

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This morning we took a tour of some of Gaudi’s buildings, including the Casa Battl√≥. ¬†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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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/

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Our next stop was the Sagrada Fam√≠lia. ¬†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.

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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.

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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.

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To the right of them are the shepherds.

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To the left are the three magi.

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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.

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

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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.

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Here we are!

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

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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.

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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.

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The ceiling is also beautiful.

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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.

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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.

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Close-up of some of the stained glass.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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. ¬†: )

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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.

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

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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.

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Cheese!

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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.

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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!

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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Another picture that begins to accurately show the color of the sea.DSC01183

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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.

 

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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.

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

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.

Enjoy!

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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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCv1XSFZn-w&feature=youtu.be

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PVWxHPekBI&feature=youtu.be

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

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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.

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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.

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Dessert!!

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And gelato!