Tuesday, October 22, 2013

March 2013- Europe Part 1

Williamson Vacation 2013 started in Italy...

We spent 3 weeks in Europe and it was a fun, busy, hard, enjoyable, stressful and an amazing experience.
Let me start by saying that we brought our 20 month old with us, and I was 6 months pregnant. I'm lucky that I have such a great husband who did all the hard work to make it possible for us to enjoy our trip. Porter was an outstanding traveler, which made it easy on us as well. 

 Porter did great on an 11 hour flight, he slept almost the entire time.

 The Rome that we arrived to was not the one that  I expected. We thought we would see a romantic city full of beautiful buildings, cobble stone roads, and ancient ruins. Instead everything seemed dark, out dated, and dirty. Driving was especially exciting with thousands of motor cycles, narrow streets, and traffic laws that seem optional at best. Even with the GPS, we got lost at least 3 times on the way to the hotel. Of course we were only on about 4 hours of sleep in the past 2 days, which may have helped with our lack of direction. There were many times during our 45 minute trip from the airport to the hotel that we commented on how ugly Rome was. There is graffiti everywhere trash in the streets and a bunch of ugly buildings.

But then, you turn a corner and see a cool street like this...

Hotel Villa Del Parco was very nice. It's a smaller hotel with 4 stories and probably about 40 rooms. There were 3 main staff members that greeted us every time we walked in the door. There's an older man that LOVES Porter. He says "Ciao" and will come around the counter to get down low and talk to him. I can't understand what he says, but a few words I made out were "pretty baby" or "Bella Bambino". He really perks up every time we come into the lobby. 

Our first trip to the "Real sites in Rome" was on  the out skirts of the Vatican.  This Rome was completely different from the Rome we had seen. Since it was about 7 am on Sunday morning there was not a lot open, but it was full of beautiful buildings and restaurants. We found ourselves in a small bakery/cafe where we ordered a few croissants and some hot chocolate, that was almost as thick as yogurt. The food was delicious and we enjoyed the quiet time of the city setting, in a little cafe while looking out the windows to a beautiful scenery. 

           Once we saw the outskirts of the Vatican we wanted to go inside! Saint Peters square is beautiful and lined with dozens of 30 ft columns that were topped with several Saints. 

The center was a large stone spire that use to be the center of a large race track. That was the squares initial purpose. This square was bustling with people from all over the world. From the square you can enter into the Sistine Chapel, St Peters Basilica, the Popes Home, and several other exciting things.   

Since we were there during conclave the Sistine Chapel was closed so we decided to enter into St Peters Basilica. We used Risk Steve's audio Tour and Rick lead the way.

This is the walkway right before you enter inside St. Peter's Basilica

Catholics believe your sins are forgiven if you walk through these doors. They only open them every 25 years.

 St Peter Basilica  is one of the largest Churches in Christendom. It's designed by Michelangelo and was completed by Bernini. The dome itself was over 200 yards high! Everything was beautifully and elaborately decorated.This site is where Peter is buried and also the site where he was crucified upside down.  It's hard to describe how beautiful it was. The tour lasted an hour and we ended up being able to go under the Basilica into the catacombs, where most of the Popes are buried. We even saw some Popes on display (they just looked like wax). Porter did very well, but after about an hour he was ready to leave.

After Saint Peters Basilica we decided  to stop at the most famous restaurant in the world. We enjoyed our Big Macs on the way to church. The members were very kind, and one couple even invited us to their home for lunch. We decided to go back to the hotel and take a nap instead, which is what we all really needed.

After the nap we decided to head back out to see Castle Sant Angelo. When we got out of the car and walked about one block, the heavens opened. The rain was a total down poor, we bundled Porter up in his back pack and pushed on.

            By the time we were inside we were drenched with soaked shoes and pants, but since our rain coats kept us dry we still felt pretty good. We learned that the castle started as a mausoleum, then was a prison, and ended up a castle. The castle also served as the headquarters of the Catholic Church and we were able to step inside the bedroom of some former Popes.

We were also able to see some great views of the city from the top of the Castle but it was so windy and cold we didn't stay on the roof too long.

This castle also had a small gallery that had one of my favorite paintings. It was painted by Eugene Burnand and is titled "Peter and John Running to the Sepulcher at Dawn".

 Day 2

The first thing we did this morning was go see the temple site. Unfortunately, we couldn't go inside the gate, so we took a picture of it right outside. It looks like it's going to be huge. Hopefully, one day we'll return when it's completed so we can attend a session.

Next we went to a Province of Rome called Trastevere. It's an old Italian neighborhood and exactly how I pictured Rome to be. They had colorful apartments with rooftop terraces, that had plants hanging from them. The alley ways were small and lined with Vespas.

My favorite cathedral was Santa Cecilia. It's not big and ornate, but it had beautiful art work inside and is made on the burial site of Cecilia, who was beheaded there for her Christian beliefs. It's said that on the night of her wedding she told her husband she wished to stay chaste. Her husband was upset, but an angel came down to explain her wishes to him so he agreed, and in turn devoted his life to God.

 We ate lunch at an authentic Itlaian restaurant in Piazza de Santa Maria. The food was great, and I loved how the vines were hanging in the alley way.

After lunch we crossed the bridge to the other side of the river, and went to the Jewish Ghetto. This neighborhood was full of history! It was settled by Jews who had to live outside of the city walls because they were immigrants. In later years, the Pope (who was also King) started making laws that discriminated against their beliefs and they began to get persecuted. During Carnival they would have to parade the streets while Christians yelled insults at them. We also saw a Square, where the Jews were rounded up in WWII to be taken to concentration camps.

In the same Ghetto, we saw ancient ruins that dated back from before the Colosseum was built.

After the Ghetto we went to the Vatican museum. It was amazing to see all of the paintings, statues, and gardens. The museum itself was a piece of work. We happen to be here during Conclave, when they vote for a new Pope. It's neat because we get to see the smoke from the chimney, but I'm really bummed that we can't see the Sistine chapel. It's in there that the Cardinals lock themselves to vote for their new Holy leader.

We decided to drive to a Piazza del Popolo. It was a pretty site with twin churches and a huge Egyptian Obelisk (brought to Rome by the emporer Augustus). We ended up only driving through because there was no parking and we had a tired baby. We fell asleep around 5 pm local time because we were still Jet lagged.

 Day 3

This morning we went to Galleria Borghese. It's a museum of beautiful artwork in a gorgeous setting. It's housed in a 17th Century Villa and known for it's many Bernini statues.

This was Scott's favorite. He kept commenting on how you could see the indent in the skin. How amazing to make this art from a slab of marble...

 There is also a picture gallery downstairs. My favorite is the Raphael painting of Mary mourning the death of Christ.

The gardens were breath taking and were full of many fountains that Porter enjoyed.

After the gallery we met up with Mike and Summer and we headed to the Forum and Colosseum. 

We were amazed at all that happened in the Forum in ancient times.We learned of Emperors and War heroes riding down the Main Street behind their conquered slaves.

We were able to stand inside the great city hall of Ancient Rome. It was a massive building with huge arches that made it even more spacious.

We were also able to see where Julius Cesar was burned, and people still place fresh flowers at his grave site.

When we were sitting at Cesar's death site it began to rain and hail!  Mike had to borrow our extra poncho. He put it on so fast that he didn't realize his head was through the arm hole...haha 

We ended up finding a broken umbrella floating down the street, it totally brought his whole outfit together...

 Next stop was the Colosseum. It was amazing! It's crazy how large it is and how they had the rooms under ground for animals and gladiators. They even had an elevator! The technology they used over 2,000 years ago is astonishing.


For dinner we went to our "regular" place, Pepe Verde.  We had good food, good conversation, and then headed back out into the street for some gelato. 

Day 4

Our drive to Naples and Pompeii was not so fun.

The GPS put us right through the center of Rome during Rush hour, instead of taking the freeway around the city. We were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic for over an hour. It was brutal. The trip was supposed to take us two hours and forty five minutes. After 3 hours went by we realized that something was wrong. We were constantly going on an off small country roads and through small streets. 

We ended up seeing the Amalfi Coast and some small sea side towns...This pic is off the internet. The day we were driving, it was overcast.

 The two and a half hour trip turned into a five and a half hour trip.

When we finally got to Pompeii we realized the GPS was set up to take us with out any toll roads...sigh. 

Pompeii sits on a large hill and was a lot larger than I expected. It used to be a Porter city and you can still see where they used to tie up the boats. The entrance to the city was a long cobble stone road and you can still see the marks from the chariot wheels.

 The detail that you can still see is incredible.You can enter houses and see the mosaics that were painted over 2,000 years ago. There were also original tiles, and the locker room of the bath house still had an original massage table sitting in it.

  We also saw the bakery that had grain grinders that were pushed by slaves, and a brick oven that looked like the one that we had at our restaurant last night.

These were some of the less fortunate people that didn't escape the volcanic ash.

Porter wanted to run around on his own. Just about every tourist stopped to say "hi" to him and comment on how cute he was with his own umbrella.

Day 5

This was a fun morning! We drove to Florence! This was a really pretty drive. It was covered in green grass, and it seemed like every time we came around a corner there was another Chateau or old castle on a hill.

We drove through Tuscany, which was as pretty as you would imagine. There were small vineyards and homes with grass growing on the roofs. After about 2 hours and 45 minutes we reached Florence.

Florence has been the prettiest city that we've seen so far. It's where Michelangelo and other famous artist are from. The majority of the city is pedestrian only, so you can only get there by taxis and buses that have access.

The Duomo is a large cathedral that was built in the 1500s. It's still an active church like many other cathedrals in Rome, so you're supposed to be quiet and you can't enter if you're wearing shorts.  Unfortunately, Porter decided not to be very quiet, so we rushed in looked at the Dome, and headed out to the next stop.

The bell tower

We made our way about 5 blocks down the pretty streets, and got in line to see the "David". This, of course, is the most famous sight in Florence, and people will wait hours to see it. Good thing for us, we came in the off season and the line only took about 20 minutes.  The museum is also lined with other statues sculpted by Michelangelo, some of them in different stages of completion. Michelangelo was amazing!

We weren't allowed to take pictures inside so here's one from the internet...

We made our way to Ponte Vecchio, which is this amazing bridge over the river that is covered in jewelry shops.

 There was a statue on the bridge, and the gate around it was covered in padlocks. Apparently it's good luck for couples to place a lock on the bridge and throw the key in the river, meaning their love is eternal.

Before long we headed back to Rome and experienced more sites.

 The Trevi Fountain was bustling with people. The fountain is flooded with lights from all directions so it was really pretty at night.

We stopped for dinner at this restaurant that looked like it's been around for 100 years. The waiters at the restaurant loved Porter. They kept talking to him as they passed by, and two were pretending to be clowns, hitting each other in the head to make him laugh. Our waiter brought him a banana for free because he kept asking for it. It's so funny to see how much attention Porter gets from Italians. He loves it, and I think it's adorable!

After dinner, we continued down the street a few more blocks to Spanish Steps. This was a pretty lame sight. They are literally concrete steps in front of a building.

Day 6

The Pantheon is one of the few ancient structures that still stand, and it's the longest consistently used buildings in Rome.  It was built with no modern tools, computers or architects, and is still amazing to look at! It's been standing for almost 2000 years. A little over 1400 years ago it was converted from a Pagan temple to a Catholic Church, and that is one of the reasons it was able to be saved. People still have mass there, get married there, etc. 

It took people 2000 years to replicate the dome. Nobody could figure out how they did it!

There are a few people buried at the Pantheon, Raphael is one, and another is the first King of Italy ( the last one was booted during Mussolini's Rule).

This is Raphael's grave...

From the Pantheon, we walked to Piazza Navona, this piazza was full of artist trying to sell their paintings directly to the public.

It's flanked completely by beautiful buildings, and in the center is a large fountain that has massive figures fighting against each other.

We couldn't keep Porter away from the water.

We also were able to see the Arch of Constantine, that celebrated the Romans taking on Christianity as their religion. We then walked to the Circus Maximus, which was the out door arena that the chariot races were held. 

It was near the Colosseum, so we wanted to take one more picture since it wasn't raining. 

Here are a few more sites ...

 We got lost on our walk from the bus stop to the hotel and we happened to walk across the palace of the Bernardini family. They were one of the most famous families in Rome. 

The Pope was picked while we were there,so these posters were placed all over town. Scott had to get a pick with him because he's from Argentina, which is where Scott served his mission for 2 years.

I believe the is Fountina Republica...

Day 7

We leave on our cruise today but before we board, we had to see the Capital museum. This museum touts being the oldest museum in the world, it is built on top of the ancient Temple of Jupiter and parts of the temple are sill standing inside the museum. 

Romulus and Remus...

A real chariot!

 Porter needed to burn some energy so we took him to a nearby park for a few pizza sandwiches and let him run wild.

Next stop...relaxing on our cruise ship.

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