S: London, Paris, Italy, Cancun. Sabbatical 2012
FC: London, Paris, Italy, Cancun | Sabbatical 2012
1: In 2012, Mark was eligible for his fourth sabbatical from Intel. 2012 was also Mark & Melody's 26th wedding anniversary. This sabbatical was going to be very special. Talking to family and friends, we decided to go to Europe. London and Paris were easy choices. And since we were invited to visit Italy with friends of ours from Civil War reenacting, our itinerary was set! We didn't want to leave our boys out of all the fun, so we also decided to take them to Cancun Club Med. This was a great way to kick back and relax on a warm tropical beach after all of our sightseeing in Europe. Looking back on everything we did, we would not want to change a thing. In fact, we had such a good time, we definitely want to go back to Europe and see the things we missed the first time. The major decision that made our trip so fun was to develop a prioritized list of things we wanted to see in each city. We started at the top of our list, and as long as we were having fun, we we stayed with that activity. Of course we only made it a third of the way through our list, but we had a great time. And now we have a great reason to go back!
2: It was so much fun labeling out the trip on the map of all the things we wanted to see and do. | Mark was dead-set on only bringing a carry-on. So I only brought underwear from REI (well maybe a couple of regular underwear too). | Here's Melody at SMF, at the very beginning of our trip!
3: We flew from San Francisco (through Dallas/Fort Worth) to London. It took an hour to get through the immigration line in London! We spent the time talking to two veterinarian students who were traveling to Africa for three months.
4: London, England
5: Our hotel in the Pimlico district, a five minute walk from Victoria Station, was cozy. The shower was so tiny! | The London Eye from our hotel window
6: The Original London Tour on a Double-Decker Sightseeing Bus | Happy sightseers! | Piccadilly Circus | Trafalgar Square | Along Whitehall Street | St. Paul's Cathedral | Waterloo Station
7: London Bridge Hospital | Tower Bridge | London Eye | Big Ben | Westminster Cathedral | Westminster Cathedral Towers
8: Breakfast at one of the local coffee shops just a block away from our hotel There was also a drugstore nearby where we bought a few things for our aching feet :-) Cafe Nero is better than Starbucks!
10: The Tower of London was fantastic! We spent most of the day here, learning about Tower history. | The White Tower
11: A display in the tower regarding armor. | Detail of a king's armor suit - the detailed work is stunning! | A way to show off the amount of armor was to display it artistically. | Wood carvings of all the kings who lived in the Tower of London.
12: The Waterloo Barracks house the Crown Jewels | The Crown Jewels | Mark using the "facilities" | Prisoner etchings in a cell at the Tower of London
13: The section of the castle devoted to torture... | Lion and Unicorn on King George's Coat of Arms | All through the castle were these animal statues made of chicken wire! | Olympic Rings on the Tower Bridge
14: We started off the day at Cafe Mignon with a typical English breakfast: sausage & eggs, beans, tomato, and toast. | With Juicy bits :)
15: Both of us had a weird feeling as we toured Westminster Abbey. All of the statues, memorials, and sarcophagi in the church seemed so morbid to us.
16: Entrance at the North Transept | Choir | South Transept & Poets Corner | One of hundreds of burial monuments
17: Nave | East Cloister | Stained Glass in Chapter House | Happy Tourists
18: So we took the metro to the London Bridge station and then asked for directions at a nearby shop. The guys there were great. So was the cheese! | We saw Neal's Yard Dairy on a Rick Steve's travel show. Of course we had to check it out!
19: We saw "The Taming of the Shrew" at the Globe Theater. The play was so funny! Lucky for us we understood about 90% of the spoken words :-) Before we saw the play, we hung out on the South Bank of the Thames River and people-watched.
20: The British Museum We arrived here after accidentally taking the metro to the London Museum! (it was an honest mistake) There was so much to see.
22: Ancient Egypt in the British Museum
23: The "Elgin Marbles": a collection of marble sculptures acquired by Lord Elgin in Athens between 1801 and 1805, then purchased by British Parliament in 1814 and presented to the British Museum.
24: The Rosetta Stone | Gladiator & mask | We had no idea there were folding knives during the Roman Empire! | I was so excited to see wind chimes from ancient times, and then I did a double-take...
25: The Great Court of the British Museum. Unfortunately the reading room was closed for remodeling, and we weren't able to go inside.
26: Windsor Castle | It was an hour's train ride from London to Windsor.
27: We loved visiting Windsor Castle. It's too bad we weren't allowed to take pictures inside St. George's Chapel or the State Apartments.
28: Within the Lower Ward we saw St. George's Chapel and watched the Changing of the Guard.
30: This is the beautiful garden below The Round Tower (the Keep).
31: Just outside the Henry VIII Gate we relaxed at some outside tables drinking ale from The Carpenter's Arms pub on Church Street.
33: Practically anywhere we went in London we would see the Royal Coat of Arms - the lion and the unicorn. The lion represents England and the unicorn represents Scotland.
34: The Victoria and Albert Museum | We spent a great day here on the recommendation of our nephew, Austin. It was low on our list of priorities, but based on his recommendation we visited it. We were so impressed with the exhibits! At lunch, we shared a table with a local gentleman who was spending an hour there before his doctor's appointment. We talked about British health care and politics. It was so interesting to talk with a local :-)
35: The Cast Courts
36: Above: one of Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks, and an illustrated bible for the poor. Right: Ball gowns
38: Harrods of London | What visit to London would be complete without a stop at Harrod's?
39: Hyde Park | The swans were so cute!
40: Victoria Memorial | Wellington Arch | Buckingham Palace
41: We enjoyed eating in the local pubs. Fish & Chips were always delicious! The names of the Pubs were fun: Bag O' Nails, The Anchor, Cheshire Cheese, etc. | The fish and chips were amazing. You could choose between fresh peas or mushy peas
42: The London Eye
44: Riding the underground was an adventure! | A recording in an English woman's voice would say, "Mind the gap between the train and the platform." | Everyone was on the move, so the escalators said, "stand to the left, pass on the right."
45: Our vacation in London is over. It's time to take the train to Paris.
46: Paris, France
47: Fontaine Saint-Michel The statue is the Archangel Michael wrestling with the Devil. Constructed 1858-1860. | This was our first stop on our first full day in Paris. We were so excited to be here!
48: Notre Dame | Point Zero des routes de France. For centuries, the point from which all distances in Paris were measured. | It rained on and off for most of the day
51: The view from the top was spectacular!!!!
52: Walking around the Ile de la Cite. | The "Love Locks" are a custom by which padlocks are affixed to a bridge by sweethearts to symbolize their everlasting love. | Mark is such a romantic!
53: This oven was right on the sidewalk and the whole pig was a surprise! We appreciated the heat because it was cold outside.
54: The Creme Brulee was delicious! Mark had the Steak Tartar and I even tried it. It wasn't too bad. He even ordered duck Foi Gras (French for duck fat liver) and we both liked it. | I absolutely love Escargot! :) | We bought these fruit tarts at Artisan Boulanger right after checking into our hotel.
55: We climbed the Eiffel Tower! | We saw long lines for the lifts, plus one lift was broken, so we decided to walk. Thank goodness for the landings so Melody could catch her breath. There were 674 steps from the ground to the second level. We took the lift from the second level to the top.
56: We took the stairs from the ground to the 2nd level, then the elevator to the top. There was a group of school kids from England running around
57: We spent a few hours on the tower. We sat at the bar on the 2nd level and watched the sun go down. It was so relaxing and we had such a great time. It was magical being on the tower. We were so far away from home.
58: Mark we really excited to see the Louvre. Unfortunately, the museum did not meet his high expectations. The exhibits we saw reminded us of our garage - crammed with piles of stuff. And there were so many people there! We would stand in front of a statue, then, like the waves in the ocean, a group of tourists led by a guide would surround us, snap pictures, and then recede. It happened over and over.
59: The "Big Three" of the Louvre | Winged Victory of Samothrace by unknown c. 190 BC | Venus de Milo by Alexandros of Antioch c. 100 BC | Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci c. 1503-1519
60: In the Sully wing, we saw Greek antiquities.
61: In the Denon wing, we saw Italian paintings, including, of course, the Mona Lisa in the Salle des Etats. | In the Salle des Etats, it was so crowded, it was impossible to get close to this painting. There was a recurring forest of digital cameras sprouting up on outstretched arms, wobbling for a few moments, then coming down, over and over! | Melody is here
62: Musee d'Orsay | After our disappointing experience at the Louvre, we headed over to the Musee d'Orsay, just a 15 minute walk away. What a difference it was! It was organized so well. This was our favorite art museum! Musee d'Orsay is not to be missed, even if you know nothing about art. The museum boasts the best collection of Impressionist paintings in the world. In room after room, some of the most famous paintings in the world are side by side. AMAZING!
63: Unfortunately, the museum did not allow pictures to be taken inside...
64: Sculptures we saw in the Musee d'Orsay
65: Paintings we saw in the Musee d'Orsay (we loved the Impressionists!)
66: Arc de Triomphe
68: We took the metro to the Charles de Gaulle - Etoile station and walked to the Arc de Triomphe We spent about an hour at the Arc, watching the 12 Avenues converge into the roundabout at the base of the Arc de Triomphe. We saw more scooters and motorcycles in Paris than anywhere else. It was really neat seeing all the different kinds of bikes.
70: Yes, Mark DID eat at McDonald's on the Champs Elysees! | Walking down the Champs Elysees
71: The obelisk of Luxor, and the Fountain of River Commerce and Navigation, at the Place de la Concorde | Laduree, a pastry shop famous for its macarons!
72: Statues on the Pont Alexander III, the most ornate and extravagant bridge in Paris.
73: Above: the elevated metro line near our hotel. Far Left: pharmaceutical vending machines for men and women. Left: Melody tries anchovies!
75: We took the high speed TGV train from Gare de Lyon in Paris, to Torino Porta Susa in Italy. On the Paris metro between our hotel and the Gare de Lyon, a pickpocket stole Mark's wallet. Thanks to advice from Rick Steves, the thief only got 70 euros and a TravelEx "PIN and Chip" card that was worthless without the pin. | In Italy, we got to stay at the Pogolotti's, Simona's parent's house, in Giaveno. It was so neat for us to stay with this family and experience the life of locals! Dinners at their kitchen table were delicious. Lorenzo always served wine.
76: On our first full day in Turin, we took the city bus into Turin. | A Gelato stop in town.
77: We visited the Museo Nazionale del Cinema, located inside the Mole Antonelliana Tower
80: Today we drove from Giaveno to Loano. It's a 160 km, 1.5 hour drive. Loano is on the coast of the Mar Ligure (Ligurian Sea). | We saw lots of scooters, but this was the first time we saw a doggie passenger! | Loano, Italy
81: The Pringle's dispenser was funny. It was neat to see the vegetables, cheese and pasta displayed for sale. We had lunch at a little pizza restaurant. It was delicious. The man at the restaurant was very nice. And the Gelato was delicious as usual. | It was a warm & sunny day. We walked along the boardwalk Each of the umbrellas and lounge chairs on the beach was for rent, for ~6 euros each. We didn't plan on staying long, so we just looked.
82: Just 30 minutes east of (via some of the narrowest roads we've ever been on) Loano lies the quaint medieval town of Cervo. In fact, cars aren't even allowed on the cobblestone streets of Cervo. Walking the network of narrow cobbled streets, terraces, arches, stairways, rooftops, alleyways to the top of the town was amazing for us! | On the right: different scenes in Cervo. Every corner we turned opened up to another view, more charming than the next.
83: We had to pay an extra euro to enjoy our drinks on this patio. The view was worth it!
84: Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista (Church of St. John the Baptist), built in the 17th century
85: Last stop for the day was the Toirano Caves. Lucky for us the tour was in both Italian and English!
87: The next day saw us on the road again, this time to Valle d'Aosta The region is bordered by France and Switzerland, surrounded by the highest peaks in the Alps. It was about a 90 minute drive on the A5 toll road. | Above: driving through one of the many tunnels in the region
89: These are the remains of a Roman theater, dating from the 1st century. Melody will do anything to get just the right shot!
90: Fenis Castle was built in the mid-1400's. The tour was only given in Italian - lucky for us Cailin acted as informal translator. No pictures were allowed inside the interior of the castle.
92: Giaveno, Italy Hometown of our friend Simona!
93: Is this Citroen bigger than our rental car? | Wednesday Market
95: Sacra di Saint Michele | Saint Michael's Abbey is on Mount Pirchiriano. We saw it every day we were in Giaveno. We really enjoyed walking around this magnificent place.
96: This is some of the artwork we saw in the Abbey. Michael the Archangel is mentioned five times in Holy Scripture. In the book of Daniel, he is portrayed as the supreme ruler of the heavenly army in defending persecuted Jews. In the book of Revelation, Michael is prince of the angels faithful to God; he fights and defeats the dragon (Satan) and the rebel angels. Thus, St. Michael is revered in the Christian tradition as a defender of the Christian people, very much a warrior; he challenges the enemies of the Church.
98: Venice, Italy | Our first view of the Grand Canal. This is the Ponti di Calatrava. | We stayed at the Hotel Principe. Our room overlooked the Grand Canal!
99: Venice was the most exotic city we visited our entire trip! There were no cars. We walked everywhere or took a private water taxi (taxi acqueo) or public water bus (Vaporetto). On our first afternoon/evening we walked to St. Mark's Square. The next day we visited the islands of Murano (where we toured a glass factory) and Burano (famous for its hand-made lace and colorful buildings), then back again to St. Marks Square via the Rialto Bridge. On our last day, we toured the Jewish ghetto.
100: There were so many shops to see in Venice. Masks were a popular item, as was glassworks.
101: The pizza in Venice was delicious. The beer was pretty good too :-)
102: St. Mark's Basilica and Campanile (cathedral and bell tower)
103: Torre dell'Orologio (Clock Tower)
104: Leaning Campanile of San Martino church on the island of Burano. | Public transportation vs private yachts...
106: Bridge & canals on Burano Island
108: This site was the first Jewish ghetto in the world, in 1516. At night the gates of the Ghetto would be closed and nobody could go in or out of it.
110: Borromeo Islands on Lago Maggiore Isola Madre Isola Pescatori Isola Bella (Mother Island) (Fisherman Island) (Beautiful Island)
111: Statue of Saint Victor on Isola Pescatori. A local marble quarry is in the background. | Above right, laundry drying from a balcony. Left, Melody cooling off her toes in Lago Maggiore. Right, Chris & Mark relaxing while the girls shop for souvenirs.
112: Palazzo Borromeo gardens on Isola Bella, inaugurated in 1671.
114: The shell grotto under the Palazzo Borromeo. These six rooms were first conceived in 1685, by Vitaliano the Sixth, with the aid of the architect Filippo Cagnulo. It took 100 years to complete them!
115: Left: the Hall of Tapestries, Pallazo Borromeo Below: Detail from one of the tapestries.
117: Last Day in Giaveno
118: Cancun, Mexico
119: The tropical paradise of Club Med at Cancun!
121: Most afternoons Melody and Andrew would paint ceramics. Mark just lounged on the beach and drank piña coladas.
122: Mark took sailing classes and learned how to sail both the 13-foot Hobie Cat Wave and 16-foot Hobie 16 sailboats. Then he took Andrew and Melody out sailing! It was both peaceful AND exciting to be out on the water on our own sailboat.
125: Of course the meals were fantastic! The food at Club Med was delicious and beautifully served! We had our choice of three restaurants to eat at!
126: We took a one-hour bus tour to the ancient Mayan city of Coba. When we arrived, we rode bicycles 1.25 miles from the entrance to the ruins. We got to climb the 120 steps to the top of the temple pyramid called Nohoch Mul (big mound). It is 138 ft high. From the top, we could see for miles above the Yucatan jungle canopy! It was hot and humid, but we had a great time here :-)
128: After touring Coba, the bus tour took us to Ecopark Kantun-Chi (yellow stone mouth). We changed into swim clothes, and then we swam in a cenote, a freshwater underground limestone cave. The Maya considered subterranean caves, formed by rainwater eroding porous limestone, to be sacred portals to the underworld.
129: This is the ladder that led to the entrance of the cenote. The water was about 8-10 feet deep here. Below is the end of the cenote. In between we walked and swam for about an hour.
130: One afternoon we rented a speedboat. Andrew drove from the lagoon behind Club Med, through the mangroves, to downtown Cancun. It was a beautiful day, and we were out for about three hours. We were especially glad that the boat had a bikini top to keep us in the shade!
131: At night we saw sea turtles come up on shore to lay eggs! The "tortugas" were huge! We were able to get real close, but we couldn't use our camera flash
132: These critters were ALL OVER the place! | Cute sculpture in fountain
133: Overhead view of Club Med Cancun. Brown arrow = our favorite umbrella to lounge at the beach. Yellow arrow = our room in the Opalo building Red arrow = sailing area