S: Trafalgar's Italian Concerto Tour: June 19-30, 2011
FC: Italy 2011
1: From June 19-30, 2011, Mom and I embarked on the trip of a lifetime to view the unforgettable country of Italy. We chose to participate in a Trafalgar Tour entitled, "Italian Concerto" which would leisurely take us through Italy's most incredible sights, history, and food.
2: We departed LAX for Charlotte, NC at 6 a.m. on June 19th. Our first flight departed without a hitch. It was Charlotte that tested our patience and stamina. Our flight from Charlotte to Rome was delayed over six hours due to mechanical problems. After some repairs and a test flight they finally permitted us to board. Now being nearly 9pm, we were exhausted and slept the majority of the flight. We landed in Rome around 2pm, hopped onto our shuttle into Rome and our hotel, noted that so far Italy didn't look very different from Southern California (lots of oleander plants), checked in at the Milton Hotel Rome, and promptly took a nap. | Arrival in Rome
3: After an introductory meeting with our Tour Guide, Telly, where we were informed there would be no "problems" on our trip, only "situations," I laughed with Telly that I was her "situation" with all of my food allergies. Mom and I adventured out for our first meal in Italy. Armed with my index card listing all of my food allergies written in Italian, we found a little restaurant within walking distance of our hotel, and successfully managed to order some food. Thankfully, Italians cook mainly with olive oil instead of butter! I ended up with an antipasto platter comprised of various veggies, both known and unknown. Mom tried out some official "Italian" lasagna.
4: Day 1- Rome Capitol Hill | We woke up bright and early for our first day in Italy to join our Local Guide, Armando, for a walking tour through some of Rome's most famous sites. The early wake up call, coupled with a full night of sleep, eliminated any and all jet lag we suffered from. The bus ride to Capitol Hill was incredibly surreal. Watching the Colosseum and the Roman Forum go by, it truly began to sink in that we were in Rome. We began our day on Capitol Hill, where the mayor of Rome lives and works. The steps and statues leading to the capitol building were designed by Michelangelo. The two statues are of Remulus and Romus. The bronze statue is of Marcus Aurelius.
5: These statues adorn the front of the capitol building and are symbols of Rome and it's powerful connections. In the center is the goddess Minerva. To the left is a representation of the Nile River, and the right, the Tevere River.
6: We had an incredible elevated view of the Roman Forum from a balcony on Capitol Hill.
7: Through the forum, we could just see the Colosseum and an ancient market in the distance. Standing there on the balcony, overlooking ancient Rome, was a truly humbling experience.
8: Our walking tour next led us to the Pantheon. The columns were constructed out of solid marble and tower over 40ft tall. Built around 110A.D., the Pantheon was spared from destruction during the fall of the Roman Empire by declaring it a church. The obelisks, both in front and behind the building, were brought from Egypt.
9: The interior was covered and sculpted with mainly various colored marbles. The dome remains an architectural wonder at 142ft wide and high. Made with concrete, the base is thicker and more dense, while the top was made with pumice to keep it lighter. The dome's hole is 9m in diameter. Drains were carved into the marble floor to remove any rain that fell. The construction of the dome makes it that a heavy rain outside will result in only sprinkling rain inside. The artist Raphael was also buried in the Pantheon.
10: We then walked through small cobblestoned alleys and streets, admiring buildings constructed in the 1400s and 1500s. The historical University displayed two different architectural designs (Baroque and Renaissance) and featured the fountain of knowledge. Students would line up to drink from this fountain before exams. We, naturally, took a drink. The two columns are all that remain from one of Nero's bath houses. | Basalt Streets
11: Piazza Novana retains the shape of the racetrack that used to be here. In the center is the Four Rivers Fountain, made in the Baroque style by Bernini. Four statues representing the four continents that were known in 1650 | The Plata | The Danube | symbolize the largest river in each: the Nile, Ganges, Danube, and Rio de la Plata. The obelisk once stood on the ancient Appian Way, but was moved here. This was once the sight of Christian slaughters, hosting more per year than the Colosseum..
12: Several hours later, we met up with the remainder of our tour group to travel to Vatican City. Once there, we visited the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's Basilica. | We wandered through only a few of the several miles of hallways and exhibits in the Vatican museum, often shoulder to shoulder with the crowds, admiring numerous sculptures, mosaics, paintings, and decorated ceilings. No pictures were permitted inside the Sistine Chapel, but we were able to simply stand in awe for 15 minutes, attempting to soak in the wonder of Michelangelo's visionary paintings.
13: s | St. Peter's Basilica is one of the richest and most impressive churches on earth. Featuring Michelangelo's most famous Pieta and Bernini's seven-story bronze canopy over Peter's grave. The bronze was taken from the entryway roof to the Pantheon to construct this canopy.
14: After exiting St. Peter's Basilica, we were greeted by the extraordinary St. Peter's Square. We could view the corner of the Pope's apartment where he often speaks to the crowd, the facade of the Basilica, and just to the right, the Sistine Chapel. | The Swiss Guard
15: The Colosseum was built over 2,000 years ago using concrete and rounded arches. Built near 80A.D., it was an amphitheater for gladiator contest and public speculations. It could seat approximately 50,000 people for an event. An enormous covering made out of vellum could be tied over the top of the building to create shade for the spectators. The floor of the Colosseum has been removed, which exposes the passageways and cages for animals and prisoners. We began our visit on the ground floor, then climbed the incredibly steep ancient steps to the first level for a better view.
18: The Arch of Constantine is located directly next to the Colosseum and marks the point in history when Christianity became mainstream in Rome.
19: Day 2- Tivoli Villa D'Este | Our second morning began with an optional excursion to the hill town of Tivoli, located about 30 miles east of Rome. We visited the Villa D'Este, built by a cardinal whom was also the grandson of Pope Alexander VI. Built in the 1500s-1600s, the villa's garden feature more than 500 fountains, jets, and pools. Constructed on a hillside, the fountains are naturally powered by gradually narrowing canals and waterways.
20: The gardens consisted mainly of bushes and trees. The only flowers to be seen were on the bushes themselves. The gardens were constructed on a hillside, allowing the water to naturally fall. It also created quite the hike in the extreme heatwave back up to the villa. | Several levels down the hill revealed the Hundred Fountains. This long chain of fountains were stunning. Layers of fountains, lined up amongst the foliage created an image that I could have stared at for hours. After the water travels down the hillside, it is gathered in large basins before being routed back into the streams.
23: Upon return to Rome, we grabbed a quick lunch, and rode the "Hop On, Hop Off" bus to the Spanish Steps. We began at the top and walked to the base, grabbing a cool drink from the fountain in the center of the Piazza di Spagna. | Day 2 Continued- Rome Spanish Steps
24: After admiring the view from the top, watching street vendors scurry when a policewoman arrived, and posing for pictures on the stairs, we refilled our water bottles in the fountain at the base of the steps. Every fountain in Rome uses water directly from the streams in the Appian Mountains, meaning they were all safe to drink from. We took full advantage of this during our three days in Rome. | Navigating the city by map.
25: Designed by Nicola Salvi in 1762, the Trevi Fountain was built to show off the abundance of water brought into the city through its great aqueducts. It was incredibly crowded, and we opted not to fight the masses to throw a coin over our shoulders. | Day 2 Continued- Rome Trevi Fountain
26: We navigated our way through the ancient streets and alleyways of Rome using our map. All in all, we logged a little over seven miles of walking during Day 2 in Rome. We were continually in awe of the historical buildings, ancient ruins, and the constant history we were surrounded by. We happened to be in Italy during a record-breaking June heatwave (95-103F every day) and found ourselves extremely grateful for the abundance of cool fountains to drink from and refilled our water bottles using the fountains throughout the city. | Walking in the Footsteps of History | The prison building on the right was where the Apostle Paul was help prisoner prior to execution.
27: The Roman Forum was the political, religious, and commercial center of Ancient Rome, and eventually the center of the civilized world. We made it to the Forum during the heat of the day, but were determined to experience this piece of history and were so glad we did! Standing in the footsteps of Ancient Romans, Nero, and Paul was unforgettable. | Basilica Aemilia | Arch of Septimus Severus | The Roman Forum
28: The Temple of Vesta was perhaps the most sacred spot in the Forum. A fire was to always be burning inside the temple, and therefore the Vestal Virgins were the only people to live on site in the Forum in order to maintain the fire. As long as the sacred fire burned, Rome would stand. They lived in a two-story building surrounding a long, central courtyard. Chosen from a noble family before they reached the age of 10, the vestal virgins served a 30 year term and were honored and revered by the Romans. Afterwards, she was given a huge dowry and allowed to marry. If she was ever found to not be a virgin, she was bound, paraded through the city, and then buried alive. | The Roman Forum
29: Day 3- Pompei | Once a thriving city of over 20,000 people, the city of Pompei was buried under 30ft of hot volcanic ash on August 24, A.D. 79. Buried for approximately 1700 years, it was rediscovered in 1749 and remains in important archaeological site. It now serves as an incredible example of typical middle class Roman life. It contained over 40 bakeries, 30 brothels, and 120 bars, restaurants, and hotels. Mount Vesuvius, now sitting quietly, but still deemed as active, is about 5 miles from Pompei. It last erupted in 1944.
30: The forum was the commercial, political, and religious center of Pompei. It is now mostly destroyed, but shadows of the past remain. Vesuvius looms in the distance and it's pyroclasitic flow destroyed most of the forum. But there is also evidence from a large earthquake in A.D. 62, where old columns toppled and the city had begun restoration efforts by erecting new columns made of white rocks. The Temple of Jupiter's two-story white columns are now the tallest reminder of the past glory of this piazza. | The piazza was only open to pedestrians as traffic barriers were at the ends of the roads that led here to keep chariots out. Standing in the streets of Pompei was a personal dream. What I found myself to be the most surprised by was the sheer magnitude and size of the city that still remains. We were in Pompeii for several hours and only saw a fraction of the city that has been unearthed. I could have spent hours more in this amazing place, exploring the endless streets, shops, and homes.
31: The city streets were well-organized with raised crosswalk stones to allow pedestrians to cross streets that may be flooded with water either from washing or rain. Chariot and oxcart ruts could still be seen sunken into the worn stone streets. The crosswalk stones also indicated how important the street was. One stone meant a simple one-way street. Two stones meant a two-way street. Three was a major city thoroughfare.
32: Life in Pompei | various vendors; from brothels, to fast food restaurants, to over 40 bakeries. Fast food restaurants (above) had holes in the counters that held pots of food. Evidence of sliding doors, windows, and even awnings show that people ate on the run, or grabbed food to take home. | We entered the city through a smaller courtyard surrounded by apartments for gladiators. Glimpses of the large amphitheatre can still be seen. The original seats were all a white marble. The amphitheatre has since been restored to hold modern classical concerts. Another smaller amphitheatre is on another side street. Pompei's streets were lined with
33: We were able to spend several hours at Pompeii with a personal tour guide helping to point out features we may have otherwise missed. One example was the graffiti scratched into the entryway to the theatre (top left), or the brothel beds and menus (middle top & left), or even advertising the locations of brothels (top right). We walked through homes, courtyards, brothels, and marketplaces.
34: Approximately 2,000 Pompei citizens suffocated to death during Mount Vesuvius's two-day eruption. Archaeologists made these plaster casts of some of the bodies while excavating. Archaeologists would tap until they found a hollow space, pour plaster inside, then remove the cast which encassed the decomposed body. Bones could be seen peeking through the aged, chipping plaster of several of the casts. The people of Pompei were caught unaware as Vesuvius had not erupted for 1200-2000 years before A.D. 79, The citizens had now idea they were living near an active volcano.
35: This example (left) of a typical middle-class home was likely that of a physician. A beautiful mosaic floor covers the entryway and center courtyard. Tools such as forceps were located inside this home by archaeologist.
36: Day 3 Continued- Amalfi Coast & Maiori | After departing Pompei we completed our journey southward to Italy's Amalfi Coastline. Stunning, cliff-lined seascapes, cities scaling the mountainside, a death-defying one-lane road with hairpin turns, and stunning scenery were awaiting us there.
37: Our fourth day in Italy was by far our most relaxing. We had no morning wake-up call and could sleep as late as we wanted. After breakfast, Mom and I wandered through a little market street in Maiori and then decided to hit the beach. The beaches are privately owned, so we rented an umbrella and two chairs to lounge upon after swimming in the Mediterranean. That evening, we took an optional excursion to the neighboring town of Positano, where Lemoncello is produced. After a harrowing minibus ride along the Amalfi Coast, where we often passed cars and other buses going the opposite direction with only inches to spare, we arrived in Positano, a picturesque city built into the cliffside, where portions of the movie 'Under the Tuscan Sun' were filmed. We walked the beautiful streets, had dinner, and window shopped the evening away. | Day 4- Swimming in the Mediterranean & Positano
38: Lemon groves and grape vines covered the cliffsides of each town along the Amalfi Coast. But none more than in Positano. Lemons decorated every window frame and restaurant. There were even entire souvenir stores dedicated to the fruit. This was such a beautiful way to end such a relaxing day.
39: Day 5- Isle of Capri | Day 5 found us on an hour long boat ride to the Isle of Capri, located just off of the Amalfi Coastline. We made a quick stop in Amalfi Town, walked through the streets, visited the cathedral, and then hopped back onto our boat. There truly is no better way to start the day than with a long boat ride across the ocean. We had breathtaking views of the Amalfi Coastline and eventually Capri in the distance.
40: The Isle of Capri | Mainly a tourist destination, we wandered the two towns, Capri and Anacapri, took a chairlift to the highest point on Monte Solara for a 360 degree view of the island (Mom opted out of this and visited a villa instead), and a boat ride through the Faraglioni rocks. Remains of Tiberius's residence, Villa Jovis, can be seen in the picture above.
41: Day 6 & 7- Florence | Day 6 meant an 8-hour bus ride, travelling from Maiori to Florence. We arrived in Florence on Sunday in the late afternoon with the fearful knowledge that most of the museums were closed on Monday, including the Academia, where Michelangelo's sculpture of David is located. Mom and I flew off of the bus and literally ran to get in line at the Academia, knowing that the odds of being admitted so late in the day, and so close to closing time, were slim. But we made it! We spent the good part of an hour simply standing in awe of the magnificence and detail of this sculpture. Day 7 began with a walking tour of Florence, observing some of the medieval towers, Medicci palaces (Palace Vecchio), and Ponte Vecchio. | Ponte Vecchio | Palace Vecchio
42: On our first night in Florence, Mom and I joined one of the families with whom we had become friends on our tour for one of the most more unforgettable meals we have ever had. The family friend whom had lived in Florence for a time had recommended Il Latini for the "must have" meal. She was right! It was a prix fixe meal, with food served family style. We had two 2-liter bottles of chianti wine, and more food than we knew what to do with. The meal went like this: 1. Appetizers- zucchini flowers, pate, prosciutto, bruschetta, bread 2. Four plates of various pastas 3. Main Course- chicken, beef, pork 4. Side Dishes- peas, beans, spinach 5. Cognac with biscotti 6. Dessert- cake, tiramisu, gelato 7. Lemoncello We were so full of amazing food, wine, and liqueur, they almost had to roll us out the door (with 2 more free bottles of wine). This evening will forever be a highlight of the trip. | Prosciutto
43: Florence's Gothic catherdral, Duomo, was built betwen 1300-1435. The building is covered with pink, green, and white Tuscan marble. The Duomo was built with a hole in the ceiling for the dome. At the time, the technology did not exist to build the dome, but the architects had confidence that someday, they would. Filippo Brunelleschi eventually had that knowledge and built the first Renaissance dome and the model for many to come. The octagonal baptistry, located next to the Duomo, displays the bronze Gates of Paradise, where Ghiberti used mathematical laws to create the illusion of receding distance on a basically flat panel.
44: On the morning of our second day, we began with a guided walking tour of Florence, navigating the tiny alley-like streets on foot. Afterward, we were freed to explore on our own. Mom and I stumbled across the home of Michelangelo! We grabbed some fresh fruit from one of the many local fruit stands littering the alleys for lunch. | Michelangelo's Home
45: Day 7 Continued- San Gimignano | In the afternoon, we opted for an excursion to the hilltop town of San Gimignano, located about an hour southwest of Florence. This amazingly preserved medieval town still retains 14 of its 60 or more towers, which served as protection from invaders, warring families, and as status symbols. They were constructed between A.D. 900-1200. While there, we sampled the local white wine (Vernaccia di San Gimignano), tasted the world champion gelatto, had a few slices of wild boar salami, and nibbled on some amazing pinolini cookies. | Piazza della Cisterna | 2 Oldest Towers Built in the 10th Century
46: Tuscany | Porta San Giovanni
47: Our hotel in Florence, Astoria Hotel, was concerted out of an old palace. With winding hallways, secret doors hidden behind tapestries, and breakfast served in the ballroom, we felt like royalty! This was also the most well air-conditioned hotel on the trip. Due to the record-breaking June heatwave, the temperatures ranged between 95-103F every day. The cool air brought welcome relief from the sweaty days.
48: On our final night in Florence, we were treated to a "Be Our Guest" dinner. We traveled just outside of Florence to the city of Firenze. There, we dined at an historic villa overlooking an olive tree grove. We tasted several local wines and olive oils so freshly pressed the oils were still green, and had a | delicious meal. The meal included a pineapple as my dessert! After dinner, we took a tour of the olive presses and storage tanks. | Mom and I both purchased some olive oil to bring home. The evening was a wonderful opportunity to dress up, enjoy the gorgeous evening and sunset, and be surrounded by wonderful company.
49: Day 8- Ferrara & Venice | Following breakfast on Day 8, we depart for the northeasterly trip to Venice. Around lunch, we stopped in the city center of Ferrara for some sightseeing and food. Another Borgia home, this one surrounded by a moat, greeted us. Mom and I found a small café and had our first true salad of the trip. It was refreshing to eat something other than pasta and meat.
50: A few hours after arrival in Venice, Mom and I decided to participate an optional excursion through Venice. Our excursion included a private taxi ride down the 2-mile length of the Grand Canal as well as a gondola ride through the winding water alleys. Our gondola ride included | some deliciously cool wine, a glowing sunset, and some enchanting accordion and vocal music. We were often the subject of cameras as we glided through the tiny canals and the music caught other tourists' ears. The slow sinking of the city was also evident by the submerged steps and entrances to buildings along the canals. | Venice
51: Venice is woven together with 400 bridges and 2,000 alleys. Established over 1,500 years ago as a refuge from barbarians, Venice lives on in its ever-sinking lagoons in a state of elegant decay. The grand canal is lined with palaces, many of which reveal the influence of Byzantine and Gothic architecture. There was a strong trading industry with the Middle East during Venice's hayday. The Rialto Bridge is the single original bridge in Venice, and was built in 1588. The city is closed to vehicles and must be navigated by boat or on foot. | Rialto Bridge | Ca'd'Oro
52: Day 9- Venice | Our final full day in Italy began with an orientation of St. Mark's Square and a Murano glassblowing demonstration. Murano glass is famously from Venice and the outlying lagoons. Afterward, we were free to see and visit Venice at our leisure, Mom and I chose to visit the Doge's Palace, also called Palazzo Ducale, which can be see in the the top left picture. We took time to admire the clock tower in St. Mark's Square, built in 1496. The bronze men at the top move to bang the bell at the top of each hour.
53: The Doge's Palace was the seat of Venetian government and the home of its ruling duke (or doge). The palace was built to show off the wealth and power of the Republic. It's architecture was constructed in the Gothic style along with Middle Eastern influences. The doge was elected for life and had apartments along the right side of the building. All government meetings and offices were located here. Mom and I toured the exterior and courtyard first before traveling through the vast interior.
54: The Hall of the Grand Council (top) was where the entire nobility would meet to elect the senate and doge. Over the doge's throne (top right) is the largest oil paining in the world, Paradise. I posed with one of the doge's sculptures (left). Mom stands between an original exterior arch from the palace (right). This tattle box was placed to allow people to anonymously complain or tattle. People would write their tattle on a piece of paper and press it through the mouth (bottom left).
55: The Bridge of Sighs connects Doge's Palace to the prison across the canal. The bridge was named after the sighs prisoners would make upon their final view of Venice through the windows. In the prison, carvings could be seen etched into some of the walls and windowsills of the cells.
56: I had made a promise to Amy that I would feed the pigeons in St. Mark's Square. Vendors even sell birdseed (laced with birth control) to tourists. Unfortunately, we decided to do this during siesta hours. so we sacrificed a few granola bars. These pigeons had no fear, landing all over us (and others), digging through our bags, and even hopping on top of each other. | Feeding the Birds
57: After yet another long, hot day, Mom and I began the trek back to our hotel on the opposite end of the city. Without taking a water bus or taxi, the walk took around an hour, but was worth it! We wound through narrow alleys, crossed the Rialto Bridge, and found a great local bakery with inexpensive cannolis for Mom. It felt like we were seeing the untouristy side of Venice. | View from the Rialto Bridge
58: Our Tour Guide, Telly, was absolutely fabulous. She was a wealth of information, humor, stories, and smiles. We became "Telly's little family" for the duration of the trip. She was notorious for talking non-stop. We would board the bus to travel and she would talk on the sound system for the next two hours (after telling us she would give us a little nap break). She had story after story to tell. One memorable one was regarding the medicinal qualities of olive oil. A teaspoon every morning, and a coating a week in your hair could solve life's ailments. Nicknames were freely given out (the honeymooners, etc), and she seemed to know everyone everywhere we went! | Hotel Principe Venice
59: Italian Concerto June 19-30, 2011 | Our final morning in Italy meant packing, joining our "family" for breakfast one last time, and then hopping on a private water taxi (at our hotel's canal dock) to the Venice Airport. There really is no better way to leave Italy than by boat ride to the airport. An infinite number of unforgettable memories were made on this trip, and it was made even more memorable by having Mom there alongside me on the journey.