S: EUROPE, 2011
FC: Europe, 2011 Mediterranean Highlights
1: Contiki Tour- Mediterranean Highlights Day 1: Travel to Madrid, Spain Days 2: Madrid, Toledo Day 3: Zaragoza, Barcelona Day 4: Barcelona Day 5: France: Aivgnon Day 6: Aix-en-Provence, Grasse, Nice, Monte Carlo, Monaco Day 7: Nice Day 8: Italy: Cinque Terra , Puerto Venera Day 9: Pisa, Florence Days 10: Florence Day 11: Sam Gimignano, Rome Day 12-14: Rome, Ostia
2: Day 1- Travel to and explore Madrid, Spain Traveling was a bit rough, with a 9-hour time switch, leaving at 8am and arriving in Spain at 9am, but we arrived ready to conquer! | our first bidet!!
4: Parque Del Retiro Exploring Mardid on our own, we checked out the famous del Prado art museum, and the sites of the city, but the park was definitely our biggest highlight! !!
6: Day 2- The official start of our tour group, consisting of Angie our Italain tour guide, Danuella our Italian bus driver, and 39 other tour-mates- (9 American, 14 Australians, 12 Canadians, 3 Asians, 2 South Africans, & 1 Chilean). This day, we had a local tour guide for exploring the city.
8: The Royal Palace, Madrid Residence of the royal family, the Royal Palace was built in the 17th and 18th centuries. The former royal residence burned down, so this replacement was built entirely out of limestone and granite to be fire-proof. The work took 100 years to complete and each room is lavishly decorated and painted with its own theme. The palace is 1,453,127 square feet, all of which is breathtaking!
10: Toledo, Spain- Conquered by the Romans in 190 BC, Toldeo is the former capital of Spain. It is an old medieval city of fortress and is named the "City of Three Cultures", as Christians, Arabs, and Jews lived side by side for many centuries during early centuries.
12: A night out in Madrid- Pub Crawl with our Tourmates!! | Alex & Nancy (Canada) | Michael & Gemma (Ausrailia) | Amanda & Brett (New York) | Angie, our tour guide
13: Day 3- Madrid to Barcelona, stopover in Zaragoza- The morning after, we had our first road trip. It proved to be our longest and toughest, given our celebrations last night!! Fortunately, we had a nice lunch stop at beautiful Zaragoza on our way to Barcelona!
14: Barcelona!! We checked into our room (with a view, if you stood on the desk and looked around/past the buildings!!) and had to have the handy-man come and fix our lock so our door could shut, but we were happy to make it!
15: Our first night, we had an authentic seafood buffet- maybe a little too in its natural state and out of our comfort zone, but a fun night nonetheless! After, Angie gave us a walking tour of downtown. We saw plazas where fighting took place during the Spanish War and could actually see the holes in the side of the buildings from bullet holes where people were executed for their religious beliefs. Picasso is also a big part of Barcelona, and the mural represents his concept of having taken him a lifetime to learn how to "draw like a child."
16: Day 4- Exploration of Barcelona, starting with a bus tour..
17: Sagrada Familia Basilica- Work began in 1882 and Gaudi took over construction/design in 1884 at age 31. After finishing Park Guell in 1911, Gaudi abandoned all secular art and devoted himself entirely to Sagrada Familia until his death in 1926. Work was stopped in the 1930s due the to Spanish War, re-started in the 1950s, and continues today It is expected to be completed in 2026.
18: The Olympic Village, Barcelona!
19: Sights of Barcelona..
20: Park de la Ciudadella
21: We had a great time exploring Barcelona on foot- we walked through a park, had a yummy lunch of local cuisine, checked out the bull fighting stadium, toured the Picasso Museum (Amazing!!) and of course headed to the beach! We also checked out Opium, their famous lounge and nightclub on the beach!
22: Park Guell, designed by Gaudi
24: Every Spanish town has a central gathering square, called Plaza Mayor. This is old-town Barcelona, and their Plaza Mayor, where we got to experience an amazing Spanish meal and traditional Spanish Flamenco dancing!
26: We spent our last night out in Barcelona enjoying the local nightlife (kicked off by shots for all from our tour guide Angie....) We tried to hang and even made it to Opium Lounge at midnight. Despite the "early" night for us, it was a great night and a great way to end Barcelona!
27: Day 5- On to France and its beautiful countryside! | a well-needed recovery break from a late night out.. | Actual ham shanks hanging in the gas stations to buy- no wrapping, just the raw pork leg. Wow! | Angie. our tour-guide, making our schedule for the next day on the bus
28: Aivgnon, France | The Papal Palace | In 1309, a French pope was elected. At the time, France was considered the up-and-coming center of Europe and he moved the papal home to Avignon, the then capital of France. Three popes lived there, until a conference was held to discuss the change- a new pope elected and the center of Catholicism was moved back to Rome.
29: Our first ordering experience in a very authentic town, so all French! But we were successful and enjoyed an Espresso and the BEST croissant ever!!
30: Avignon used to be surrounded by a wall for security, and then as the city grew, a larger wall was bill outside of that one, making a passageway between the two walls where a river passed and helped with power for the city.
31: One of the highlights of the trip- For dinner we went to a local French market, got yummy goodies- fresh breads, cheeses, olives, and of course wine, and had a picnic on the bank of the river.. So fun!
32: Day 6- Aix en Provence, France | Aix-en-Provence was built in 23BC and is known as 'The City of 1000 Fountains'. It was settled by the Romans in the 15th centruy and was known as a city for students to be sent to master their skills in art and music.
33: Amazing crepes!! We had a banana & Nutella as well as a ham & cheese- so light, gooey, and delicious!! | Angie giving a tutorial on the city
34: Grasse, France- Perfume Capital of the World. We got to tour the Fragonard Perfumerie, one of the last hand-made perfume factories in the world | Water boils below the petals, and the essential oils are collected from the steam | Map of each of the countries and what is imported from them for perfume. From US: orange blossoms and cedar | Straining the oils collected | Adding wax to the oils to make soap
35: The complex and slow process of making perfume | Essential oils- Used as a fragrance, most expensive, must be stored in a cool, dark place. Shelf life: 8 years and fragrance lasts 8 hours on you, 15-50% concentrate of oils; vs Eau de Toilette- cheapest version, (literal translation toilet water), 1-6% concentrate, shelf-life 1 year and fragrance lasts 1 hour and needs to be refrigerated. . | Collection of essential oils captured from plants around the world | The odor of perfumes are in a pyramid0 the top 1/3 is the initial scent. The 2nd tier lasts 2-4 hours, and the final scent is the base, lasting up to 8 hours. The scents are classified as one of four scents: citrus, floral, natural, or oriental. | I loved and took home Ile d''Amour- (citrus/flora, with osmanthus, rose, jasmine, lilac and lily of the valley) on a background of musk and amber and Justin un Baiser (citrus fusion of mandarin, pear, violet, blackberry and wild strawberry, with imprint of vanilla, amber and musk. )
36: Our hotel in Nice was by far the most challenging- very small and not really capable of two people standing up at the same time. The shower was strangely like something from the Jetson cartoons, and barely big enough to stand in..but it was close to the beach and clearly worth it as the city was stunning!! | Views of the room and from our window...a view! | Contiki bus!! | Enjoying a glass of the local French champagne... | Arrival in Nice!! | The French Riviera is called Cote Azure after the bright blue water (in French, Azure=blue and cote = coast)
37: Nice, France
38: A road trip to Monaco!!
40: Palace of Monaco- Prince Albert and his new wife Princess Charlene | Monaco Cathedral | Angie telling us the story of Princess Grace (Grace Kelly, American actress who married the Prince of Monaco) | Downtown Monaco | Fort Antoine, a watchtower used in the early 18th century | Views from near the palace
42: A taste of the lifestyle of the rich and famous at Monte Carlo Casino for the night...
43: Day 7- A free day! Halfway through the trip, it's time to do laundry. It was an interesting challenge to decipher the directions in French, and others struggled a bit (one load was washed 3x w/out soap!!), but we managed to get all the clothes clean! | One of the best lunches of the trip- a new favorite beer, Leffe, lasagna, and a ham/cheese panini. Yum!!
44: The beauty and colors of the French architecture in downtown Nice...
45: We checked out the coast and the city on our bikes..what an amazing city!! The weather is perfect and the water is such an amazing turquoise!!
46: Sunbathing in Nice- the beach does not have sand, rather black "pebbles". Todd thought lying on it it felt like a hot-stone massage....Andrea was not as thrilled and felt as if rocks were slowly breaking her her ribs. However, sunbathing with the locals (some topless, of course..), in the hot sun, with the salty and buoyant water, made for a fabulously refreshing day! | Raget's Ferarri he rented- only $2,000 for the day!
47: The sights of Nice... | Most common car... | The amazing coast | Nice harbor, no shortage of fancy boats! | One of the highlights of the trip- a trip to the local French Bakery to sample the goodies- simply delectable! Fruit tart, layered chocolate mousse, apple pastry, e'claire, rum cake w/berries, , and cream puff...yummy!! | Plenty of fun, beach cars
48: Lou Casteu Parc- 92 m on top of a hill, used as a defensive fortress against invading forces in the 13th century. Great views on the climb to the top! | Checking out the trail from the bottom..
49: At the top, several thousand people lived in the 13th-19th centuries to protect themselves fromBarbarian invasions and built churches, convents, markets and hospitals.
50: Last night in Nice=trouble! Angie planned a night out at a British pub called Wayne's, famous for everyone dancing on the tables. Our group was no exception!
52: Day 8- The road to Italy!!
54: Cinque Terra- A cluster of five towns along the coast, nestled between the French Alps and Italy's Apennine Mountains. In early centuries, much of the Mediterranean was plagued by pirates but around 1000AD the development of major Italian cities allowed farmers and sailors to settle along the coastal areas in a safer time. These five towns formed, are only connected along a foot path and are very difficult to reach by road. Initially each town was self-sufficient. By as time went on, they began to work together and each town became specialized in a different product- various vegetables, wine, pesto, etc. The towns were self sufficient, living only on what they caught from the sea or what each of the towns provided. Today the paths are still the only connection between the towns and the building of roads or major housing complexes are prohibited to help preserve the native culture.
55: Many in our group decided to hit the beach and relax, but six of us adventurous souls wanted to take advantage of this beautiful area and hike some of the trails | Hiking path along the coast, between the towns | Our hiking group- Michael & Gemma (Australia), Brett & Amanda (New York) | Train that now travels between some the towns | One of the bustling towns along the way
56: Legend has it that there were two lovers who planned to be married. On the day of their wedding, the path between their two cities of Manarola and Riomaggiore was not passable and they were unable to get married. When they were finally reunited again, they build a chair, now called the "Lovers Chair" between the two cities, where they could sit and celebrate their eternal love. Today, the tradition is to write your and your love's initials on a lock, fasten it along the trail, and throw the key into the ocean, symbolizing both that you'll come back to the Chair of Love and your love will be eternal. Angie bought a lock for each of the couples on the trip and we were able to take part in the long-standing tradition. | Chair of love | Our lock
57: Sights along the trail...
58: A sign that would've been helpful to read earlier in the trail! We bought tickets to hike, and halfway through the first segment, came to a gate across the trail, apparently the trail was closed...Wed had no choice but to turn around, which was frustrating given we had very little extra time, allowing us to catch the boat at the end of the day. But we turned around, had to hike back to the train station (where we saw the sign...) and waited 20 mins to get to the next segment. Forage on!! | Steps along the path | Terraces built into the hillside for farming
62: The hike was challenging- very hot and a challenging pace in order to reach the both in time, but we made it to Monterossa in time (cute beach town)and were greeted with a boat ride to Porta Venere!
63: Darcu & Sarah | George & Slvia | Brett & Amanda
64: Porto Venere | St Pietro church
65: One of the best meals on the trip! This region is known for its trophie pasta (curly, made with flour and water), white wines, and pesto. Todd had pesto trophie and Andrea had penne scampi (small shrimps...)- amazing! | We were so exhausted by the time we got to our hotel!! Hours on the bus and hiking in the heat really took it out of us and we crashed early.... Unfortunately, this was one of Andrea's TWO nights during the trip that during the middle of the night, Todd got a text message from a friend in the US (on US time)...and Andrea, thinking it was the alarm, bolted out of bed and into the shower, with Todd having to sadly retrieve her, sopping wet at 2-3am, for a return to bed..Such memories!!
66: The church in Pisa is like all classic European churches with three structures- a cathedral (for masses), a Baptistery (for baptizing new members) and a Bell Tower (the structure that is leaning). Work on the church began in 1173 and within 3 years of starting work, they could already see the bell tower beginning to lean and they actually re-set the angle of successive layers to allow it to be built straight up, rather than the angled rise. It is believed that the lean is due to the heavy marble and lime materials used in constructions, as well as the fact that it was built on the site of a previous river delta and the ground is very sandy. On each each of the six layers, 30 columns ring the tower. Of the original 180 columns, only 30 of the original columns exist due to them crumbling as the tower tips. Throughout the years, top scientists, engineers, and architects have been brought in to find a solution to prevent the tipping/eventual fall.. Efforts have included digging out sand from the side that it's leaning away from and also adding more layers to that side to counterbalance it. At one point, the bell tower was closed, as they believed the final collapse was near, but when it never fell, it was re-opened to the public for viewing and climbing. | Day 9- Pisa, France
68: Florence, Italy | Yummy gelato! Andrea: Macedonia (mixed fruit), tirimisu, amaretto. Todd: Macedonia, pistachio, coconut. | A great lunch- pizza with ham/peppers/olives, saffron risotto, and local Chianti. Delicious! | First afternoon0on- exploration of the city and tour the famous Uffizi Museum
69: Dinner- spinach/ricotta ravioli, yummy salads, lamb, local Chianti, ricotta cheese cake. Excellent! | octopus. yikes! | Angie, our tour guide and Daniella, our bus driver | Caprese salad
71: Leather demonstration | Perseus with the beheaded Medusa | our local tour guide | Neptune fountain | Polyxena and Achilles | Day 10- Florence!
72: Rape of the Sabine | Hercules and Cacus | Cosimo Medici | The David | Menelaus bearing the corpse of Patroclus
74: St Croce Cathedral | catacombs with the famous artists' tombs
75: Pitti Palace | Ponte Vecchio Bridge- During the Napolenic Wars, Napoleon ordered the destruction of all bridges in Florence, with the exception of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, because he thought it was so beautiful and couldn't stand to see its destruction. Today it links the two sides of the city and is lined with authentic French shops...
76: Santa Maria del Fiore- site of the Duomo, built in 13-15th centuries. | We climbed the 414 steps to the top, for amazing views of the inside of the church and of the town!
78: Our group
81: Dinner at a winery in Tuscany- Appetizers: crustini with liver pate, olive tapenade, and salami/melted cheese. 1st course: rigatoni and bread soup. 2nd course: roasted pork. Dessert: almond cookies dipped in Muscat. Beautiful scenery, excellent food, great company. | Roasted pig
82: Each day that we got on the bus, Angie would start off our bus ride with our tour song- "Fun, Fun, Fun,"- it was a catchy tune that, despite how little sleep we had gotten the night before, would immediately put us in a good mood and excited for the day. On our way back to our hotel in Florence, Justin our resident wedding singer, sang for us, including Andrea Bocelli in Italian and of course, "Fun, Fun, Fun"....
83: Day 11- San Gimignano | San Gimignano is a very old city from the medieval times. Years ago all Catholics were required to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem at one point in their life and all roads wen through San Gimignano., making it a bustling city in 13-15th centuries. The city was built up very high on the hill, with castles and 70 towers, both for lookout for enemies, because it was believed that sickness could not affect them that high up, and also to help direct travelers to the town. However in the 16th centuries, the Medici familiy of Florence wanted the business of the travelers, and were redirected through Florence.j This was the demise of San Gimignano and the city is largely unchanged since.
88: Trevi Fountain- The Trevi Fountain is a depiction of Neptune being led by Triton with the sea horses around them.. Myth has it that if you throw three coins into the fountain, throwing with your right hand over your left shoulder the following will come true: 1) Return to Rome; 2) Grant your wish; 3) Meet your Italian Stallion
89: The Panthenon- Built in AD 120, before ladders, scaffolding... THe cathedral is exactly symmetrical, 433 m in height and diameter, and when being built, progressively larger piles of sand were piled up for the builders to climb in order to haul up the materials and complete the building.
90: Palazza Spagne (The Spanish Steps)- stairs to a cathedral where people gather | Theory has it that if you drink from this fountain, you will have babies shortly after! | Cappricosa Pizza- cheese, prosciutto, black olives, eggs, mushrooms, artichokes- delicious! | Gelato! Yummy! This shop has flavors such as basil, whiskey, and black fig
91: Piazza Navona0- central square with a cathedral designed by Raphalel and Carvaggio as well as a fountain designed by Bernini, called the Fountain of Four Rivers, showing the four neighboring tributaries if the region
92: Learning to make Pizza- 1) Mix dry ingredients: flour, yeast, salt. Shape into ring on table. 2) Mix wet ingredients: water, olive oil. Pour into middle of flour ring. 3) Drag flour into wet mixture, mix and knead until dough no longer sticks to hands. | The finished product! | crazy man serenading us
94: Day 12- Rome! The Coliseum, built in AD 80.
96: Roman and Imperial Forums- Center of the city during the Roman Empire, some dating back to 8th century BC
98: Vatican Museum
100: The Sistine Chapel- The back wall of the chapel is 'The Last Judgment', by Michelangelo, depicting heaven at the top, purgatory in the middle with angels pulling people into heaven while demons pulling them down, and then hell on the bottom. The ceiling is lined by his paintings, and is divided into various segments, depicting scenes from the Bible, as depicted to the right. Seven represent the seven days of creation, and other parables and stories in the Bible, such as Noah's Ark. The most famous is God creating Man, in the form of Adam.
102: The Holy Door (Porto Sancta)- On the 1st day of a holy year, the Pope strikes the brick wall with s silver hammer and opens it to the pilgrims. A Holy Year happens every 25 years, the last one was 2000. The Holy Door represents Jesus, the Good Shepherd and the gate of the sheep pen: "I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be safe. He will go in and out, and find pasture." (Jn 10:9) | St Peter's Basilica
103: The Pieta, Michaelangelo
104: St Peter's tomb and alter
105: The Royal Guards, uniforms designed by Michaelangelo
107: Saints that were found to be incorrupt- bodies had not decomposed after being buried.
108: Our last night out together with our group! We wen to a restaurant for a "traditional folk dinner" which consisted of a dinner/show...much to our surprise not all of the men in the show were really men...a few even took a special liking to Todd, much to his embarrassment. But it was a fun night and a great way to cap off a great trip with our new friends..
110: Day 13- A trip to Ostia, and the beach!! The beach had very black and wet sand, the water was warm, and the day was beautiful- such a beautiful and relaxing afternoon! | A yummy lunch- gnocchi with speck (bacon?) and spaghetti with clams.. | Castello di Giulio
112: Day 14- Rome sights... | Olive tree!
113: Gnocchi with clams | Green salad, caprese salad, margherita pizza. Yummy !
114: Castel Sant' Angelo- built in the 1st century as a masoleum for the emperoror, and became the pope's home in 590AD. In the dark hallways are places for the tombs. Also, great views from the top! The bridge leading to the casle is lined with statues of angels to guard the castle.
115: Borghese Villa- Home and art massive art collection of Cardinal Borghese. The paintings and sculptures are incredible, including a sculpture called 'Venere Vincitrice' by Antolio Cavela, of Borghese's wife (Napoleon's sister) reclining on a couch; also a sculpture by Bernini of 'The Rape of Proserpina', the famous Greek scene in which Pluto was trying to attack Venus, and she appealed to her father for help and he turned her into a tree- the sculpture made of marble shows her a woman with arms turning into branches...Amazing!
117: Our last night on the trip... We went to the Jewish part of town and had an amazing dinner! At dinner, we noticed that there were ruins next to us...crazy that it's interspersed with the city! There was a sign showing live music, and we were lucky enough to catch a performance of a piano duo, playing Mozart, while we sat in the ancient ruins, under the moonlight.. What an experience! | Well, we can say we tried lemoncello and grappa. Not the food highlight of the trip!
118: Andrea's Travel Log of Europe! Day 1 We left Orange County at 7am, travel to Salt Lake City, then Atlanta, and then onto Madrid, Spain. The travels were long and a bit tough, given we left early Friday and after traveling all day, just wanted to go to bed, but it was 9am in Spain when we arrived and we had to rally to stay up so we could avoid jet lag and wouldn’t miss a day in Spain. Our taxi driver from the airport couldn’t find our hotelthen we had challenges in figuring out the Madrid train system- Metro? Train? Cash/change or card? Where do we get off? However, we were able to figure it out and the train was fast, empty, and nice, allowing us to check out downtown Madrid. That afternoon we went to the Del Prado, one of the most famous art museums in the world. The paintings and statues were huge, classic, mostly from the 13-17th centuries, and many with religious scenes. However, it began to all look the same and our fatigue and hunger really started to kick in, necessitating a move to the outside world! Next we went to Retiro Parque, which is an incredible park! It was huge with many trails, a lake that you can rent boats, beautiful statues and fountains what a great refresher! For lunch, we dined with the locals at a sidewalk café and had what seemed to be the popular item, as it was everywhere- baguette sandwich with calamari. It was actually pretty dry- no sauce and bread was too crusty but I was proud of us for trying it. That night we met with our tour group for the first time. Our tour leader is named Angie, a 34 y/o Italian who is very kind, had much experience with Contiki tours, and seems well organized. To our delight, our group is 41 (vs the max of 51more room on the bus!) and with 9 couples! What a treat, given I had expected everyone to be in their early 20s and single. Actually many people were in their 30s and like us, which was such a relief. Especially friendly were Darcy and Sarah from Calgary who were on their honeymoon. They were fun to meet as they were super nice and also have strong Canadian accents, which is always fun. Our group dinner was a traditional Spanish meal of paella ( Rice cooked with veggies, calamari, chicken, sauce) and Gazpacho soup (cold soup, made with tomatoes, onion, garlic vinegar). Unfortunately, the food was not very well liked by many in our group, but I was happy to try the local food. And the sangria was amazing!! That night, some of us went out on the town, and we were surprised at how many people were out! Entire families were out in the large central square (Plaza Mayor) and in the streets, eating, picnicking, playing music, etc. It was so late but there was still such life out! About 20 of us ended up in the Plaza Mayor enjoying our Spanish wine and getting to know each other. Great weather, great scenery, great company and great wine- A fun night! Day 2- A long busy day to explore Madrid. Breakfast was included at the hotel and was a pleasant surprise to have hot food and good variety, given our tour guide’s warnings for very simple breakfasts at most of the hotels. Highlight: yummy Spanish coffee and fresh chocolate croissants. Today we had a local tour guide, an older lady named Angela, which was very helpful and interesting- it helped to learn about the history and traditions of the city and as she rode the bus with us, she pointed out interesting sites, art, etc. First stop: The Royal Palace. It is no longer occupied, but used to be inhabited by the Spanish royal family. There are 100 rooms and each one more amazing then that last with its art and décor. There are very high, gilded ceilings with frescoes/murals, similar to the Sistine Chapel. Walls are covered with hand-stitched tapestries and all details in the furniture, dishes, etc is so incredible! Building began in the 1740s and it took nearly a century to complete the art and décor but all the famous artists. It was painted by La Grecco, a Grecian artist who did much of his work in Spain, and was commissioned by the cathedral’s priest to commemorate the life/death of a man who had dedicated much money to the town of Toledo and its church. The painting depicted the man on his death bed, being hold by local men- Grecco himself (one of his only self portraits), his friend and son, and other famous men of the town. Our afternoon excursion was a 1-hr bus ride to Toldeo. Toledo was originally the capital of Spain and the sites are straight out of movies/books of medieval times of knights, fighting, castles and cathedrals. A river goes through the town and stone bridges and buildings are so unlike any we’ve ever seen- there is literally a river and moat surrounding the castle for protection, just like you’d imagine! We toured a cathedral with one of ‘The Four Best Paintings in the World’. Typically Todd and I would have briefly checked out the painting and moved on, but having the guide to point out details helped us to really stop and appreciate the beauty.
119: It was painted by La Grecco, a Grecian artist who did much of his work in Spain, and was commissioned by the cathedral’s priest to commemorate the life/death of a man who had dedicated much money to the town of Toledo and its church. The painting depicted the man on his death bed, being hold by local men- Grecco himself (one of his only self portraits), his friend and son, and other famous men of the town. The upper then showed Jesus and the angels reaching out to him, flanked by St Peter and other saints/disciples, as they were waiting to welcome him to heaven. It is quite large (maybe 30 feet?) and impressive. Lunch was traditional tapas. You go to the counter, where they have a slices of French bread with various toppings- prosciutto, cheeses, crab, etc. One tapa plus a small beer (~4 oz) was only 1.5 euro! Not bad! That evening we had a group excursion. (On our first meeting, Angie told us of various ‘excursions’ that were planned, that we could pay extra to do with the group. It was a way to have an organized meal or tour, but at the next level, with better meals or experiences to see the area.) We returned to downtown Madrid, to Plaza Mayor, where hundreds of people are out enjoying company, and diner. We had traditional tapas- this time various appetizers: calamari, roasted red peppers, onion blossom, fresh breads, etc. This was followed by our entrée- steak for me, salmon for Todd. Included in our dinner was unlimited wine, which = trouble, as the wine was very good, the company was good, and we were enjoying getting to know people in our groups! It will be amazing if we fit into any of our clothes by the end of our trip at this rate! That evening the optional excursion was a pub crawl. We had decided not to do the pub crawl, given the time change and our jet lag, and not feeling the need to go clubbing with the other 20-something..At that time, we termed the phrase “BMC”- Boring Married Couples, for those of us who weren’t first to sign Day 3 Road-trip Madrid to Barcelona. It was a rough start to the day, as some of the group started out very late to the bus, partying from the night before. Typically in Spain, tapas begin ~5-6pm (light meal/snacks), dinner at 10pm, then bars/clubs 2am-6am One guy, “Crazy Dave” from Wash DC, literally got home 40 mins before the bus left and many were still drunk on the bus. One room of girls that had to be called were literally still sleeping at the leaving time, not packed and not ready, and actually having left their passport in their room safe. Not a good start for the first trip and heavy threats from our tour guide that this would be the only morning this would be tolerated, and next time people would be left, but 40 mins later we were on the road for our 8-hr trip to Barcelona! For lunch, we stopped in the town of Zaragoza. Also an ancient city, the main focal point is the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar. Legend has it that after Jesus’ death, Saint James was preaching the gospel to the townspeople of Spain, and he had an apparition of the Virgin Mary, giving him a small wooden statue of herself and a column of Jasper, telling her to build a chapel in her honor. He had a chapel built which has since been replaced a few times, and is now a very large cathedral0 130 x 67 meters. Lunch was again tapas and beer, these ones with roasted vegetables, cheese, and crab. Our first evening in Barcelona we had a group dinner- a large buffet with plenty of fresh seafood. The seafood was very authentic- cold and not at all prepared like we’re used to with sauces, removal of shells/bones, etc. However, there was a large salad bar and plenty of vegetables- horray! My favorite was a pasta sald with shrimp, buffalo mozzarella, roasted peppers and zucchini. After dinner, we walked around town for a late night walking tour of the city, given by Angie. The historical details were incredible and we saw old, historic squares and churches..one building was even built in 73 BC. Another courtyard in a church was very prominent in the Spanish Inquisition and you can actually see the hundreds of divets in the wall from where people were executed as part of the religious persecution! It was so incredible to see the sties and hear the stories under the streetlights. It’s certainly good we were a large group with a tour guide, however. The streets are narrow and alleys dark, narrow paths with sketchy- looking people. But we were safe and home safe and sound. One of the highlights upon coming home was realizing we had a vending machine in our hotel lobby with beer! 1.5 Euro, cheaper than the water!! Day 4- A full day in Barcelona. Initially our hotel caused a little apprehension- when we first checked in and tried to shut the door, we realized the door would not shut. The maintenance man had to be called and actually had to take the full plate off the door jam for the door lock and reposition it to entirely shut the door! But they were all very friendly and it came to be one of our favorite hotels! Breakfast was again great- hot, fried eggs, bacon, fresh croissants, fresh fruit and breads, sausages, etc. A good treat! We started with a bus tour of the city, narrated by Angie. The city began ~23BC, with approx 1000 people. It was then settled by the
120: Romans in the 15th century, where people were sent to learn music and impressionist art. Today, the city if still very focused on art and beauty. She told us of how rich/famous people hire architects to build their homes in a competition with others to have the best and most creative homes (there was a bone house, where much of the styling was bones and body parts, and also a fancy home, with glitter, jewels and bright colors on the roof, patios, and railings.) We saw the Familia Sagrida, the “Melting Church” designed by Gaudi. He initially wanted three sides and spines (nativity, ascension, and a thirdcan’t remember) to be much higher and reaching to the heavens to honor God. However, he realized during the building that his plans went higher than the highest local mountain, and he did not want a man-made monument to out-shine a God-made structure, so the plans were minimized. Apparently Gaudi was very religious and went to church daily. When he was finished the his park in the city, Parc Guell, he dedicated the rest of his life to building the church. The church is amazing, very high, detailed and beautiful. On one side it looks like the three spires are candles with was melting down them, hence the “melting church”. Gaudi died before the church was completed and much of his plans were lost with him. Construction was halted during the Spanish War, but was re-started and still being built today, with hopes of completion ~2024. You can see the various styles of building- Baroque, Gothic, and different points of view on the various sides, as different designers worked on the church during different time periods. During our tour, we drove by the famous bull-fighting stadium. It was originally in a different location, but the entire stadium was put on stilts and picked up and moved to a different spot. Crazy! It’s a very pretty rounded structure with tiling on the outside walls and a big red dome on the top. Finally we saw the site of the 1996 Summer Olympics! We saw the track and field stadium where the opening/closing ceremonies were held and also the aquatics center, where you can sit in the risers and watch the swimmers/divers, with the expanse of the city skyline (the Melting Church, the office building that Angie calls “The Cucumber”, a tall, steel, phallic-shaped building, and water to look out on. Apparently prior to the Olympics, the city was a much smaller city, but ~12 billion dollars were put into the city to make it clean and beautiful, cleaning up the roads, adding art, etc, in order to boost tourism. Within one year, the city had growth (added 30,000 jobs) and the money was made back in tourism within one year!!The streets of Barcelona are chaotic- narrow, motorcycles flying everywhere, tour buses jamming the streets, etc. It’s quite the experience with the narrow, sometimes polluted streets surrounded by these amazing buildings thousands of years old that hold so much history! After the bus tour, we had time to ourselves. First up- Picasso Museum (after many wrong turns..). The museum is all Picasso works and chronicles is life. It shows how when he was young, 10-15 years old, he became interested in art and painted mostly people and portraits. He was extremely talented and really some of the most beautiful depictions of people I’ve seen. We bought the audio tour, which was very helpful to learn about his life and the different phases. His paintings depict the different phases of his life and where he was living. Madrid phase, showing people in places such as squares, restaurants, or Retiro Parque. Next Barcelona phase, with people dancing and scenes of merriment. (He was apparently much happier in this phase of his life). Next was when he was ill and he spent time in the mountains for recovery (landscape paintings, mountains, lakes). Net was back to Barcelona for more parties, celebrations of people. It was at this spot that he began more traditional painting for him, when he began to experiment with geometry and lines/circles overlaid over reality, which is what he is famous for. He apparently said than when he was young, he was able to paint like the famous artists but it took him a lifetime to be able to paint
121: like a child. (Personally, I prefer the first) Following the museum, we traveled through a great park- pretty, expansive, and a nice dab of nature. We went for the super burger for lunch, missing beef/avocadoes (which unfortunately it was missing..) but for 2 beers and a burger for 10 euro we’ll take it! Next was the beach- not huge compared to our CA beaches but it was fun to walk in the warm water and we’ve never been in the Mediterranean before! Many of the sunbathers had their tops off, as we expected..I did point out to Todd one particular lady who was in her 60s-70s and quite overweight, wearing only a g-string- Todd did not appreciate it, but I at least could appreciate her confidence! Next we headed for Parc Guell, designed by Gaudi. It was very different and the structures- buildings, towers, benches, looked straight out of Hansel and Gretel with the colors and details. The walk back was very humid and hilly but we were happy with our navigation using only the bus maps to find our hotel that didn’t seem to be on any of the maps. A special treat on the walk: strawberry/cheesecake gelato. Yummy! That night we got dressed up for a night on the town! We went to Barcelona’s Plaza Mayor (old, but very empty compared to Madrid’s) for traditional Spanish food and a Flamenco dancing performance. Dinner- ciabatta bread, great salad, gazpacho soup, sea bass, boiled/buttered potatoes and sangria. Todd cut me off after 2 glasses of Sangria (wise.thank you!! but it was all so delicious! Dinner was topped off with crme bulle. The performance was authentic and many in our group’s favorite activities of the trip. It consisted of a small stage with 2-4 guitar players and singers, with a male or female dancer. Apparently Flamenco dancing is un-planned and not rehearsed or organized into specific moves. Rather it is a dance of passion and the dancer moves based on the music and their particular mood/emotions at that time. It looked similar to tap dancing but very fast and with many arm/body movements. It was pretty incredible the grace and speed in which they moved as well as the passion in which they did it. After dinner, we walked along the main street with shops and eateries (very crowded, great spot for pick-pocketers) and then drinks after. Angie took us to a small pub along the water the allowed us to pre-party before the club- beers and 3 eurogreat! At this point, we’re getting to better know our fellow tour-mates and having a lot of fun. There is a famous club in Barcelona called Opium nearby which was next on the agenda for the group. Apparently it gets busy starting at 2am and goes until 6. It costs 20 euro ($30) but free before midnight, so we headed over at 11:50 to check it out. The club had multiple levels and both indoor and outdoor, along the sand. It seemed like a neat place, but it was literally so early that the lights were still on and they were cleaning the place still, so we just checked it out and then headed back for the night. Many in our group stayed until 4-5am, but said while it was crowded and fun, not worth it given the 7:45 wakeup call! Highlights of Barcelona: Big city, lots to see, busy streets seem to outweigh the beauty of Madrid. Top Things: 1) Park Guell, 2) Picasso Museum, 3) Olympic Village. Day 5- Travel to Avignon, France. We stopped at a rest stop and were able to get somewhat traditional food, as the ‘gas station’ had a cafeteria of French food! We had a Nicoise salad (lettuce, tuna, tomatoes, egg, vinaigrette) and quiche. The pastries are the other French food that is famous and did look amazing but I tried to hold back given that I’d probably have my have in the next few days. At this point of the drive, the countryside began to change and we saw lots of green, rolling hills, mountains in the background, with trees, vineyard and cute little chateaus. It is very pretty in contrast to the drier, browner and more arid farmland of much of Spain. That evening the bus took us to Avignon, our first French town. Avignon is a small, very historic town famous for being the site of the “Pope’s Palace”. Apparently, Rome was the original center of Catholicism but at one point in time, a French pope was elected. At the time, France was growing tremendously and looked to be the up-and-coming center of Europe. The pope decided to move his residency to his native country. During that short time, four different popes were in office and finally a grand meeting was called to determine the location of the papal office, as Italy was not happy had elected their own papal candidate. At the conclusion of the meeting, a 3rd, entirely different candidate was elected and the residency moved back to Rome. Avignon is a small town, surrounded by a great fortress wall with a main street down the middle. We saw the central square, a pretty, open, fairly empty place; the old cathedral, and the pope’s palace (old, brick, looks like a fortress, with no pretty décor at all). We decided to deviate off the main busy street of shops to a side street. We ended up at a quaint coffee shop in which the guy spoke no English. I was able to order a water, espresso, and the special (espresso + croissant = 2 euro..sweet!), all in French! Typically neither Todd or I enjoy croissants but this particular one was so soft and amazing that it practically melted in our mouths! Tres bien! Our detour after that didn’t turn out to be as exciting, as we found out that
122: inside the main outside walls, there was a smaller wall that was the original fortress (a larger one was built once the city grew..). Along the wall was a river canal with paddle wheels for power.. Although it was very cool to see and think about the traditions, we found ourselves stuck between the two walls and challenged in finding our way out and back to the city. I think the humidity, fatigue and lack of water started to get to me, but it’s hard to get too crabby when one is on vacation in France! Our tour guide had planned an informal dinner activity that night.. She directed us to a local market with instructions to get picnic items. We got a baguette, salami, ham, brie cheese, smoked salmon wrapped around brie cheese in an olive oil sauce, mixed olives, olive tapenade, Tabouli salad, Nutella, and a bottle of French Bordeaux wine. We sat alongside a gorgeous river and ~30 of us picnicked along the edge. It was such a beautiful evening- god weather, greenery, amazing food (way too much, but delicious!!), and fun spirits by all, it was definitely one of my highlights of the trip! We got back to our hotel that evening around 8:30 and I went straight to bed, so exhausted! Todd went to the hotel swimming pool to socialize but I knew I’d never make it. By the time he got back at 9am, I was pretty much out and looking forward to a long night of refreshing sleep! Typically in the morning Todd and I get the wake-up call from the hotel, set by Angie, and we’d also set our phone for back-up. That morning, I heard his phone go off and drug myself to the bathroom to shower. Given our tight time-frames in the morning, I didn’t ever allow myself the leisure of snoozing the alarm, so we’d miss the bus. As I was in the shower, I was surprised at how tired I still was, given how early I’d gone to bed. Then I saw Todd peak his head into the bathroom, and gently say, ‘I’m really sorry to tell you this, but it’s only 2:00 in the morning.the phone was just a text message.” Of course his friends were on US time and I had mistaken it for the alarm. I was cold and sopping wet, but we really could do nothing but laugh about it! Day 7 Aix-en Provence. Aix-en-Provence is a relatively small French town, built in 23BC. The buildings are historic and beautiful and the city is call “The City of 1000 Fountains”. It was settled in the Romans in the 15th century and for many years after was known as a site for students to be sent to master their skills in music and art. Today it is a charming French town that has beautifully colored buildings with traditional French shutters and is very French. The townspeople are friendly but speak very little English and we were challenged in ordering and communicating. The city has a beautiful central square with of course a great fountain and side streets fanning off in each direction. We saw a traditional market in one of the squares, similar to our farmer’s markets with fresh cut flowers and fruit. We walked a bit in the town and had lunch a crepes that we shared- ham/cheese and also a banana/nutella. The very thin egg mixture was spread on a large round flat skillet, ~18” round, and allowed to thinly cook. It was flipped and then the insides were added, after which it was folded and delivered.. They were so light and delicious! It’s hard to understand how different they are fro the one’s we’ve had in the States but they are much bigger, thinner, and lighter. From Aix-en-Provence, we headed to a traditional perfume factory. This particular one is one of the few that can claim that they still have all hand-made perfumes, located in Grasse, France. We saw how the different flowers/plants are brought in from various countries (from the US- orange blossoms and cedar, Canada- pine). A process is used with boiling water and extracting the essence oils from the blossoms, which is then used to make the scents. The tour of the perfumerie was very intense in smell but it was really neat- it literally looked like a Chemistry lab with the beakers, test tubes, etc. The perfume is broken down into various categories- floral, citrus, natural and oriental. The scents are designed around a pyramid. The top of the three tiers is your initial scent, that you initially pick up. The middle is more lasting, 2-4 hours, and finally the base is the scent that will last up to 8 hours. There are different plants/flowers in each of the tiers and then it’s categorized as one of the four scent categories. I liked the citrus ones best and got two kinds. They come in metal jars and because of the container and the quality of the perfume (vs eau de toilette), will last up to 8 years. Eau de toilette needs to be refrigerated and will last only 1 year.
123: From the perfume factory, we headed to the French Riviera and Nice, France. Nice is stunning and the edge of the water near the shoreline is a brilliant, bright blue turquoise, which is what gives the coast its true name- Cote Azur (French, for blue). We had a bit of time before dinner so Todd and I explored the neighborhood. We stopped at a cute bar, The Gossip Bar, and Todd had French wine while I had the local French champagne. Our tour guide, Angie, is very good at telling us what each region is known for in food/drink and the French Rivera is known for Rose wine, champagne, and food- mussels, seafood, and socca-chickpea focaccia and pizza. That night we drove up the hill to Monaco, the 2nd smallest country in the world. With each turn our views got more and more impressive. Monaco was previously settled by others, who controlled the castle. However, centuries ago, the forefathers of the current Prince Phillip came to Nice as a safe haven from fighting and reportedly fell in love with both the beauty of the area and also its seclusion and safe spot on the hill. Apparently the men came and knocked on the castle’s doors, pretending to be monks in need of help. When let in, they killed all the people in the castle and took it over. They lost control of it during the Spanish Wars for a time but regained control, of which they’ve had to date. Monaco is a very small, elite town- 2 square Km and is literally for the rich and famous. All residents must be approved prior their moving there and the last line of approval is literally the prince himself. Many want to live there because not only is it elite and beautiful but there are no taxes, making it very appealing to the wealthy. However, the country is very careful to maintain a certain image an approval is rare. Without taxes, the town is funded with revenue from the casino and there is no need for taxes. The city is very proper, well guarded by the police. Rumor has it that even Elton John was denied approval. We had dinner in Monaco, a pre-fix menu, which was delicious. Appetizer: Andrea- pastry w/asparagus which turned out to be a croissant butterflied open and creamed asparagus poured over the top, Todd- Nicoise Salad. Entrée: Andrea- chicken in rosemary sauce, potato wedges baked to a crisp, vegetables, Todd- salmon in dill sauce. Dessert: Andrea- fudge brownie w/cream sauce, Todd- apple tart. It was a good selection of food of French preparation, all delicious. After, we went to the infamous Monte Carlo casino. The cars outside the casino were outrageous and showed definitely big money- Ferraris, Maseratis, etc. The casino is actually fairly small- ~6 tables for blackjack and a few roulette tables, as well as a room for slot machines. It is all very fancy with gold, gilded ceilings, fresco murals painted on the ceiling and walls, and all staff in tuxedos. Even the bathroom was amazing- There was a button on the back of the toilet that you’d push before you’d sit down. After you pushed it, the toilet seat would literally change shape from oblong in a vertical manner, than horizontal, and back to vertical, where at the front and back were spigots shooting water out to clean the toilet lid between uses. It was a bit moist when you sat on it but you definitely knew it was clean! The staff at the casino did not seemed impressed by our young group, clearly there to gawk and with very little gambling- I gambled 5 euro, (lost it of course) and Todd made 12 euro on video blackjack. We did, however, have a few people who one 150-200 euros, which was exciting for them! After the casino, a group of us went out on the town. Many went to ta club, but Todd and I ended up at an Irish Pub, shortly after joined by another couple from Canada. It was a cool scene- a very good, French bad singing American cover songs, cool décor, and a great beer on tap- Leffe. Apparently it’s Belgium, not French (why I ordered it..sounded French! But it’s yummy and will be a new favorite!) Day 8 Nice, ctd. We started the day doing our laundry. We actually managed pretty well with the instructions in all French, with some help from our tour mates who had managed to wash some loads up to 3x w/out getting the soap in! For lunch, we stopped at a sidewalk café and it was amazing! Chicken/tomato/cheese Panini and lasagna. The breads in France are so soft and scrumptious- unfortunately it’s probably due to all the butter that is used but it’s so worth it!! After lunch we walked through the market along the alleys and saw fresh fruits, flowers, various seafood, and clothing. Then we headed to the beach! The water is so bright and blue, especially along the water’s edge. We think it may be due to the fact that the beach has smooth pebbles rather than sand. However, the “pebbles” are fist-sized, smooth, and round- not as comfortable as sand for lying down or entering/exiting the water. However the water was clean and refreshingly cool. It was also very salty and if you lie on your back, you could nearly float. After much deliberation and apprehension that I’d see other Contiki friends, I finally decided to experience the local culture and lie on the beach like the locals, w/out my top. After the initial fear, it turned out to be not too bad, (especially when lying face down!).
124: After the beach, we rented bikes and rode along the bike paths on the coast for an hour. There is so much color and detail in the buildings and it was such a beautiful ride. That was definitely a highlight of the trip- both for exercise, and also for the views! Our next adventure was our walk back to the hotel. We could see people walking across the street far above the beach, very very high up and decided to check it out. It was Parc le Chateau, approx 300 steps to climb to the stop, with stunning views the whole way. The park features an old cathedral and towers built initially in the 15th century as a watch tower against invaders. Many of the buildings still have some of the original construction left, albeit crumbling There was also a cemetery with very beautiful monuments, some of which were beautiful statues of angels “guarding” the gravesites. How sweet! We also saw a pretty large waterfall at the top, a great surprise! After the park, we had a bit of time to spare before dinner and I got to do one thing that I was very excited for- we found a small patisserie (bakery) and luckily it had mini versions of most of their pastries and we bought a sampling of many of the items- chocolate e’claires, custard cream puffs, 3-layer chocolate mousse, rum cake with berries, apple tart, and also a croissant wrapped around a hot dog. Unbelievable! After dinner we all headed to Wayne’s Pub where we had much of the back room. Wayne’s is known for people dancing on the tables and our group was no exception! It was crowded and stinky but the band was very versatile and we all had a great time. Highlights of Nice: Amazing scenery, great weather, friendly people. We loved that we felt more amongst the locals rather than just a tourist. Favorites: 1) blue water and beautiful scenery; 2) Monaco/Monte Carlo: 3) yummy food! Day 9- We are sad to leave Nice but we now head to Italy!! We drove ~4 hours into Italy and much of it was along the coast with stunning views! The scenery is very green, with rolling hills that are terraced for farming. We stopped mid-morning at a gas station and learned some of the rules of etiquette for Italy- 1) At counters, you pick out your food and pay for it, then get it, vs grab it and then pay for it. 2) Many restaurants/shops have cover charges, where there is an extra charge per person, oftentimes free or very cheap to buy a coffee, (~.95 euro) if you stand, but it increases to 3, 6, or even 15 euro if it is in a prime location, such as next to a major church or tourist spot. By lunch time, we made it to Cinque Terra, which was very exciting as it was one of the places that many people had recommended to us. Cinque Terra is five coastal towns built into the hills and are only connected by a footpath between the towns. Throughout the years, each town has had a specialty, such as tomatoes, wine, potatoes, and each town would sustain on what they and the neighboring towns provided. A few of the couples on our trip decided to hike as much of the trail as we could (with the exception of the very last lag which is apparently very treacherous and not advised by Angie..) We took a train to the first city and began our hike. The first section is ~0.8 miles and is called the Lovers Hike. Apparently there were two young lovers from neighboring villages who were planning to be married. Something happened to the trail and they were unable to meet and marry on that day... When the road finally was repaired, they built a chair in the middle of the towns where they could reunite and be together. Today the tradition for lovers it to take a lock with their initials on it, attach the padlock near the chair and throw the key in the sea, symbolizing that the key would never be found and their love would last forever. Our tour guide had brought in 8 locks, one for each of the couples, to take part in the tradition. The hike was beautiful and views stunning along the water’s edge. The towns between the trails are very colorful (pinks, oranges, yellows, built into the cliffs, and very quaint. At the end of the first lag, we went through the first down, basically down main street. Along the street, small fishing boats were parked in spaces as cars would be. At that start of the next trail, our group dwindled to 10, and we moved on. About 15 mins down the path, however, there was a locked gate spanning all the way across the trail, apparently closed for poor conditions. An Australian guy on the beach below us noticed our confusion and confirmed that the path was closed, “had been for a few years” due to the trail being washed out. We had no choice but to turn around, which was very frustrating given we had a very tight timeline, having to catch a train in order to catch a boat that would take us to our bus at the end of the day. It sure would have been nice if they had told us that the trail was closed when we bought our tickets to be on the trail, but we didn’t have many options at that point. Once back at the train station, we did see a small, 8.5/11” paper in 12-font noting that this section was closed.. not very helpful at that point! Unfortunately we missed the next train by 2 minutes and we had to wait 40 mins for the next train. Todd was quite nervous about continuing on given the time we’d lost but our group pared down
125: even more, now 6, and we went for it. The hike was definitely challenging! It started out with MANY steps up and it was very humid, but the views were incredible. At one point, we were literally walking hundreds of feet above the water on the cliffs with nothing but an expanse of water on our left. At some point during the trek, we realized that our “good pace” may not be fast enough, given our pace and timeline. One of the girls was really struggling, low on water and energy. Only about of our group did regular exercise and while Todd and I didn’t want to be mean, we really wanted to make it. Todd and I decided to go ahead, taking the others’ phone numbers with plans that if we got to the train and they weren’t there, we’d inform Angie and pick them up at another spot. Fortunately, they showed up at the station just minutes before the train left and we were all hot, sweaty, and legs shaky, but very proud of ourselves and the fact that we made it. Once we got to Monterossa (where the rest of our group had spent the day sunbathing), we took a 1 hour boat ride to Porto Venere (great pictures of the coastal towns along the way!). We had a brief walking tour of the town and saw a great church on the hill. The region is known for trofie pasta (handmade, curly and made with flour/water), wine, and pesto. Dinner was at a quaint restaurant and while it took our waiter forever to get to our table, the food was amazing!! We had the trofie pesto, a local Bordeaux wine, and penne scampi (small shrimps, still in the shells with legs/eyes/heads on.. we weren’t successful in figuring out how to get the meat out of the shel but the flavor of the sauce was very good. The pesto was amazing and one of the best meals from the whole trip! Day 10- Pisa, Italy. As one would imagine, the main thing in Pisa is the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There are actually three structures as traditional with any church- a cathedral, a baptistery, and a bell tower (the leaning tower). Work on the church began in 1173 and within the first 3 years they could already see the tower begin to lean. Attempts were made to right the angle with progressive layers, but with minimal success. It is believed that the tower leans due to the heavy construction materials of marble and lime, as well as the fact that it was built on a riverbed with sand. Many scientists, engineers and architects have been called in- they have built up the ground below the tipping side and also put more tower into the side to wedge it back up, but corrections have only been made from 6 to 5.5 degrees. There are 6 layers of the tower, each with 30 columns, and only 30 of the original are left, as the rest have all crumbled Overall, Pisa is really neat to see, as it’s incredible it hasn’t fallen yet, but 1 hour is definitely adequate to see the whole thing. After Pisa, we headed to Florence. Florence was believed to have been founded in 200BC but present-day Florence as we know it was founded in the 13th century by the Medici family. The family was low-middle class, but they started the first bank of that day, which eventually grew and allowed them to raise in power and wealth. During that time where began to be a change in the viewpoint. Until that time, all beliefs and doctrines were put forth by the church, and any other ideas would be considered heresy, or basically wrong. Mr Medici strongly believed in art and science, however, and personally funded the lives of many of the artists- Michaelangelo, Galileo, da Vinci, giving them money and a place to live, allowing them to culture their skills and beliefs w/out the church’s persecution. This period of time is known as the Renaissance Period and their buildings/sculptures/paintings make up the art and beauty of the city. Everywhere you go are beautiful buildings, squares, and statues designed by these men. After dropping our bags at the hotel, we headed downtown and had lunch at a quaint sidewalk café- saffron risotto and pizza with ham/peppers/olives. Coupled with house wine, an local Chianti, everything was delicious and one of our favorites of the trip! After lunch we headed to the Uffizi Museum, which is probably one of the most famous things in Florence and renowned as one of the best art museums in the world. The building is huge, originally designed for the offices of the Medici family and to house some of his private art collection on the 2nd floor. When the last of the family passed, they bequeathed their entire art collection to the city of Florence, under the stipulation that it would always stay in the city. Today it is an art museum of primarily only art from the
126: Renaissance period, but spanning ancient Greek sculptures/pieces to art painted in 18th century. The museum has very long hallways with marble floors in alternating squares of black/white tiles. Along the hallways are Greek sculptures, and branching off are rooms filled with art. Fortunately we decided to get the audio guide tour, as it helped to guide us through the rooms and make us understand pre-Renaissance paintings (stiff people, no movement, without life-like features) to the Renaissance period (more vibrant colors, movement in the people) to post-Renaissance (chubbier women, more ethereal/angelic an nature). The collection is very impressive and despite the fact that we both have somewhat minimal interest in museums, we both enjoyed it and learned so much from the tour. Plus, it was neat to see the work of “The Greats”, such as the Italian artists of Michelangelo, Bernini, da Vinci, etc. The most famous pieces are da Vinci’s “Annunciation” and Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”. One of the lat rooms was a showcase for all the famous movies that had been filmed at the Uffizi. Even though I did not recognize any that they did show, it did look very familiar to see people in the movies walking up/down the long corridors of the statue-lined hallways, and made me feel fortunate to have the opportunity to see it. After the Uffizi, we headed to the oldest and most famous gelato spots in town, per Angie’s recommendation. Her stipulations on “good” gelato are that they absolutely much make the gelato fresh, on-site and day-of, with the best ingredients. I had the Macedonia (a mixture of fruits- strawberries, pineapple, orange), amaretto, and tiramisu. Todd had the Macedonia, coconut, and pistachio. Neither of us were fans of the Macedonia, but the others were pretty incredible. My amaretto had a great flavor but it did make my mouth pretty waxy, like a Little Debbie would..makes me wonder how much lard/fat is used in making it! But the tiramisu was amazing and I could actually taste the rum and chunks of tiramisu in the cream. Todd’s coconut had fresh chunks of the fruit in the gelato, which really added to the yummy flavor! A group of us went out that night for dinner, per Angie’s recommendation. We sat at a big table with many of the couples and had a blast! Todd ordered the lamb (to die for- so tender and flavorful) and I had the spinach/ricotta ravioli in a spinach sauce. Now that we were in Italy, we began ordering the house wine and a liter (2/3 of bottle) for 10 Euro, and it was excellent! NOW we are in Italy! Todd surprised me by wanting to order dessert and he got the ricotta cream cheese cake- it was a little doughy version of the cheesecake- more cake, less cheese and a flavor a little more tangyserved warm, it was amazing!! By far it’s one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. Following dinner was the karaoke bar. The concept of the karaoke was a little strange, as the main DJ was on stage with his guitar and singing backup with all the songs. You could request a song, but were never called up for it, rather it would just start playing at some point and then it was kind of a free-for-all: whoever wanted to go up and sing it could. It was a little chaotic and I kind of missed the “bad” singers and even the occasional really talented singers, but the service was good and we had the whole upper level to ourselves, which was really fun. Some in the group were ordering the gallon-sized beer dispensers, topped with a giant sparkler.. This group knows how to have fun! The group got in that night ranging 3-5:30 am, and we heard them signing and yelling, banging in the hallways. Rumor has it that some of the group actually took swims in the local fountains on the way home after clubs that nightalso some were unable to remember which room they had and were trying random doors until they round their own or at least one with an empty bed. Fortunately, as a BMC, we got home by 1, which turned out be good as my cold hit full force the next day Day 11- Florence, continued. We started out the day with a leather demonstration, as Florence is very famous for its leather goods. The demo actually brought about quite a few chuckles, as every time Angie had mentioned it earlier in the trip, we thought she was talking about touring a “lighter” demonstration and we couldn’t figure out why we would seen a lighter demonstration then we thought, “letter”? Are we touring the local post office? Finally we got it.. At the leather demo, we were shown how they make the leather jewelry boxes. There is a history in Florence of the jewelry box, apparently originally configured for one of queens or the Medici family (??...hard to understand the man’s accent..but the leather jewelry box if famous for Florence). He showed us the process of taking the leather rawhide/suede and soaking it overnight in water. He then wraps it around a mold in layers, letting it dry out while stretching out across and taking the shape of the mold. It was early and pretty hard to see what he was doing, let along understand his accent, but we did learn some. The main thing was that he distinguished how to find fake vs real leather. 1) Not the smell: strong leather smells in a store likely comes from a spray and
127: should be a red flag. 2) Imprinted/stamped with the name of the product, as legally only the original producers can do that. 3) Fake leather shrivels lightly when burned, real leather does not (not recommended in stores) and 4) On the neck area, rub the layers against each other. The under layer should be suede so if when you roll the material in your fingertips, it should be difficult to rub against each other due to the suede. If it rolls easily, it’s likely not suede and not real. We had time to shop in the store, but it was quite expensive- wallets 60-80 euro, purses 100-400, jewelry box >60. So we instead just window shopped. Next was a walking tour of Florence, with a local tour guide. This guide was born/raised in Florence and was very knowledgeable and excited to share her knowledge of a city she loved. She also spoke very good English, which helped a lot ! We started in one of the main squares that is filled with many statues, one of which is a replica of the David statue, by Michelangelo. Apparently, this was the original site of the statue, but during one of the wars, part of the statue broke off, so the statue was repaired, moved into a museum in the city and a replica was made. The day before we had been in the square and seen the statues but it was a totally different experience to learn about them and the story behind the statue. For example there were a number that recreated famous Gods or scenes in Greek mythology, one of which was Perseus holding the head of Medusa. The artist was not allowed to use his face as the statue’s face but he used his girlfriend’s face on the head of Medusa (held in Perseus’s hand after he beheads her) and in image of his face is on the back of the statue’s head, nestled between the plates of his helmet. Much of the city is built along the river and the arched bridges are very famous in depicting Florence. In the 1940s during the war, the Germans blew up all the bridges in Florence with the exception of one, the Ponte Vecchio, which is the main one connecting the two sides of the river. Reportedly, Napoleon thought the bridge was very beautiful and ordered that all bridges except that particular one be destroyed. The bridge is lined on both sides with fancy shops of art and jewelry as they rise up and hang out over the walkways, and you forget you’re even on a bridge. Next we visited the Duomo. The Duomo is Florence’s most recognizable landmark and a church consisting of the cathedral with a very large dome (hence the name), a Baptistery and a bell tower. The church/tower was built in 1926 and took ~150 years to complete. Later that day, Todd and I returned to the Duomo to climb to the top. It’s a trek of 414 stairs, up a winding cement staircase that runs between the inner and outer domes, allowing the architects the means to build the dome and bring their materials up. It gets quite tight and claustrophobic as it gets higher but is quite a feat to accomplish. About 2/3 of the way up, the staircase leads you to a walkway that runs around the upper rim of the inside of the church, hundreds of feet up. There is a railing and a small glass wall that is waist-height but my entire body was tingling and burning in fear- of falling, the narrow walkway collapsing, etc, but it took a lot in me to stay out there and check out the views of the church. It’s also unnerving knowing that there is absolutely no way to get out of there as an emergency exit rather than to backtrack your way down the narrow and winding staircase. However, views from the platform were pretty incredible as well as those of the city. We got some great photos, both of the fresco paintings on the ceiling of the church and also of the expanse of the city with Tuscany in the background. Lunch was a small sidewalk café. All Italian menu, little spoke by the waiter. I had noodles with beef in a white sauce (was ok, tasted too much like hamburger helper..), Todd had fettuccine peso, much better! Wine was amazing as always and the house Chianti was good, yummy bargain. After lunch, we walked by the Palazzo Pitti, the palace of the Pitti family (rivals of the Medici). It was closed but the views of the outside reveal a massive house, with a great stone courtyard and steps used by many as a central square of meeting and picnics. Another site of the afternoon was to visit Santa Croce Basilica, a cathedral built in the mid 12-1300s. The church is beautiful, solemn, with spectacular paintings and mosaics. There is a splinter from Christ’s cross on display, which is pretty incredible. Additionally, there are also catcacombs that house the tombs of many of the great artists of the city, including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, etc. Apparently, in the 1960s there was a major flood in Florence, during which water levels in the city streets were up to 3-5 feet. While it obviously cause mass destruction, two very important things came out of it. When the water levels receded, many of the tiles of the Duomo had been washed out and the floor partially washed away. When the water receded they were able to find and replace ~40% of the tiles, the rest replaced. However, with the flooring gone, it became evident that there was a foundation for another church directly below the
128: current one. They’ve since found out an entire city existed below the current one, likely dating back to the early 1st century. This is the reason for no public transportation system, as all attempts at building underground transport would harm the relics of the city. The second thing that came to light after the flood was that the tombs of the famous artists were found, buried below the Duomo. They are now housed in Santa Croce and can be viewed. Florence is a TON of walking- just small enough to get everywhere without the need for buses/subways, but very exhausting. Coupled with the fact that I had quite a bad cold that day my energy was very low. However it was a beautiful city and definitely one of the favorites of the trip. That evening, we headed into Tuscany towards Sienna for a traditional Tuscan dinner. What an amazing site! The scenery is so beautiful and exactly what you’d picture the Italian countryside to look with the green, rolling hills, clay-topped buildings and vineyards everywhere. The food was also a traditional Tuscan dinner. Reportedly the region was previously a very poor area and foods are based on what they had available- tomatoes, olives, and the “leftover” meats such as oxtail, livers, blood sausage, etc. We had antipasto- three crustini breads with different toppings: salami and melted cheese, liver pate, and olive tapenade. First course: rigatoni and the traditional bread soup that takes 3 days to prepare (1st day soak the beans, 2nd day add the bread and let it soak, 3rd day add the veggies and black cabbage). The soup was absolutely delicious! Second course: roasted pork, salad, potatoes. Dessert: almond cookies with Muscat for dipping. The restaurant was at a winery, open air, overlooking the vineyards and valley with great wine, great company- a perfect night! The way back to the city was especially fun as we had our own personal concert. Justin, from Australia, is a professional wedding singer. He got on the bus microphone and sang a few songs for us he is so humble and really quite good! He sang some Coldplay, REM and then Angie requested an Italian song, of which he sang “The Prayer” by Andrea Bocelli in English/Italian. It was such a great way to cap the night! Highlights of Florence- Beautiful city along the river, very focused on art and history. Top 3 Things: 1) Climbing the Duomo; 2) The food!!; 3) Beautiful city with art statues everywhere and paths along the river to enjoy the scenery. Day 12-Travel to Rome. We started out the trip making a side trip to San Gimignano. San Gigignano is a very old and well preserved medieval village and was once the heart of Tuscany. It was settled very high ih the hills, both for safety/protection to see advancing enemies and also because it was believed that sickness could not reach them at that height. Years ago, all Christian Catholics were expected to make a pilgrimage to Rome at lest once in their life and San Gimignano was the main city along the path to Rome. It grew up to be a city of great importance, as all stopped there, and castles and 70 towers were built for a look-out and to direct people to the town. The height of the city was in the 13-15th centuries. It’s famous for white wine, wild boar, meat and ceramics. However in the 16th century, the Medici family was steadily rising in importance in Florence and decided they wanted the business that SG had. Roads were redirected from San Gimignano to Florence, which was essentially the demise of the town. Very little has changed since and it still looks very much like the medieval town of that time. When visiting, we walked around the town and climbed up to a tower on a hill for a great view of the countryside. The town has a few main squares around which shops/streets are arranged and very quaint architecture. There were also numerous musicians singing for tips- guitar, violin, even a harp. Shops the locally made art, dried pastas, and beautiful ceramic pieces that I wish were easier to get home! Lunch: pesto penne and lasagna, unfortunately both sounded better than they tasted. Next stop: Rome! Rome is an incredibly large, bustling city and it’s amazing how the juxtaposition of a modern, bustling city is balanced with the ancient ruins literally from thousands of years ago! That afternoon, Angie took us on a walking tour of the city: Palazzo Spagne with the famous Spanish Steps, a large, wide set of stairs that leads to a church where many gather to meet. Nearby was a fountain that reportedly is famous for bringing babies in the future for those that drink from it. After much encouragement and a little apprehension, I went for it and drank from the fountain. Rome apparently has no shortage of water, as there are fountains everywhere, both as art displays and also for drinking that are continuously running. (All water is safe to drink as well, which is a nice change after spending the trip buying water bottle after water bottle.) We headed to the Trevi Fountain with the two different stories behind the fountain. Some historical, some after Greek mythology, but it
129: shows Neptune being led by Triton with sea horses surrounding him. Upon Angie’s recommendation, we followed the tradition: throw three coins with your right hand, over your left shoulder, one at a time. First: to come back to Rome. Second: Grant you one wish. Third: To meet your Italian Stallion. Next we went to one of the more famous gelato places with unusual flavors such as basil, whiskey, and ginger. I had the honey (yummy!) and black fig. Next stop was the Panthenon, which was one of the coolest things we’ve ever seen! It was built in AD 120 and on the inside looks like all the other cathedrals- amazing architecture, soaring dome, beautiful fresco paintings. However, the crazy thing was that all work was done in 120 AD- before computers, scaffolding, ladders, etc. It is exactly symmetrical, 433 m height and diameter and all the work was done by people literally piling up progressively taller piles of sand that they would climb up to haul up their materials and build the church. It is so amazing to think about and so breathtaking! Next was Piazza Novona, Rome’s most famous square. It actually had a group protesting some political issues at the time. It has a beautiful fountain by Bernini called the Fountain of Four Rivers, showing the four neighboring tributaries, as well as a gorgeous church with art by Raphael and Carvagggio. At some point, it’s hard to not get desensitized by all the incredible churches, fountains, art, etc as it’s so commonplace in this city! That night, we had a demonstration at a local pizzeria on how to make pizza. The dough is a mixture of dry goods- flour, yeast, salt, which you mix and pour onto the table, pushing it into a hollow ring. IN the middle of the ring, pour the wet mixture of water and olive oil, slowly dragging the flour into the watery middle. You then knead the dough until all the flour is moistened and your hands no longer stick to the dough, which is important is the consistency of the crust. He made the point to identify that the exact timing on rising the the dough is variable, based on how large your dough is and the temperature in the room. For dinner we got to sample the pizzas- white pizza (no tomatoes) with spinach, mushroom & cheese, and cheese. The crust was very thin, cheese minimal, and sauce minimal and it almost looks as if olive oil is poured on the pizza, so it’s very different from the pizza we’re used to- but it’s really yummy! We had a short little man singing for entertainment and he would get right in the girl’s faces and serenade them. At one point, he sang a love song for Todd and I and then physically took our heads and forced us to go in for a very long and uncomfortable kiss. Nnot my favorite entertainment but he was memorable. Todd called him Fr Julius because his crazy expressions and big eyes bugged out reminded of us Julius when he is being goofy Day 13- Rome. The next day, we toured the Coliseum. It was built in AD 80 and it’s absolutely amazing how well it has survived the years, very much intact. After the Coliseum was the Roman and Imperial Forums, old parts of the city built in BC years. It’s strange how some parts are completely gone and other parts- arches, pillars, are totally intact and standing. It’s hard to imagine something as old as BC dates- pretty amazing! Lunch was cappricosi pizza- thin pizza with cheese, black olives, artichokes, prosciutto, and hard boiled eggs- amazing!! The different toppings were each in their own sections rather than spread throughout the whole pizza but the combination was so delicious! That afternoon, we visited the Vatican, St Peters and the Sistine Chapel. Vatican City is the smallest country in the world (2nd smallest= Monaco) and is the only place in the world that has ATMs in Latin. On Wed mornings when the Pope is in town, he holds an audience in the plaza of St Peters Square and gives a message. I was SO BUMMED to find this out, as we were there on a Wednesday and could’ve planned to have gone, we just realized it too late! Since so many people were around for that, plus the churches were closed that morning for security, the Vatican buildings were ridiculously packed when we toured them. The Vatican Museum is very large, mostly Greek statues and paintings. It surprised me how many non-religious items there were, such as Greek gods, given it’s part of the Vatican. After the museum was the Sistine Chapel. Fortunately, our guide had explained the ceiling to us before, as talking in the chapel is not permitted. It is actually a fairly small place, much smaller than the cathedrals and all pews have been taken out to allow for visitors. The front wall is painted as ‘The Last Judgment’, depicting Jesus, St Peter and the angels in heaven at the top 1/3, the middle 1/3 purgatory with people being pulled up by angels while also being pulled down by devils, and the both 1/3 dark and scary. It didn’t even know this painting existed and is really quite a neat depiction. The ceiling has many different panels, of which the first 7 depict the 7 days of creation, the fourth of which is God creating man/Adam and the
130: famous painting that one thinks of with the Sistine Chapel. There are also scenes of various parables from the bible and also Noah’s Ark. Finally we went to St Peters Cathedral- huge, impressive and filled with beauty in the art and architecture. There are countless alters all with amazing artwork over them, beautifully tiled floors, domed and painted ceilings, and Michelangelo’s Pieta, under which Pope John Paul II’s tomb was recently moved as he was just approved for canonization. There was also a very large and impressive structure that houses St Peter’s tomb. We had a short period of time here, unfortunately, and it was very crowded, but so neat to be here. That night was an optional excursion, called “Folk Dinner”. Food: crustini bruschetta with tomatoes, sausages, buffalo mozzarella, basil; First course: lasagna and bow tie pasta with white sauce; Second course: beef flank, potatoes; Dessert: panna cotta, a gel-like cube, thick in consistency. Overall, the food was very good but so much food! The show at the “folk dinner” was vaudeville in nature- basically singing/dancing with some of them drag queens, some obvious and some disguised (we had fun trying to decide which of the female performers were actually men) One of the highlights (for me, not so much for Todd), was when two guy dressed as girls (obviously so with over the top clothes and makeup) and pulled Todd’s chair into the middle of the room, gave him a lap dance, kissed on his cheeks, patted him, etc while singing sexy songs. Todd was horrified but it was very funny! We went out that night for our final night with our group and it was sad to say goodbye to people that we had made great friends with over the past couple weeks, especially the other couples- George & Sylvie (Ottowa), Darcy & Sarah (Calgary); Brett & Amanda (New York), Michael & Jemma (Australia), Crazy Dave (Wash DC). It was a great two weeks, and largely because of these people. Day 13 Rome, ctd. This was our first day on our own and we decided to take a break from touring. Angie had recommended going to “the sea” and to take the train to the end of the line. Towards the end of the line, I noticed 4 different spots for Ostia, which was our destination, three of which showed a beach on the picture, the 4th, Ostia Antiqa didn’t- however that was the one that was recommended by both Angie and our hotel front deskman, so we got off on that one. Well, not such a good idea, as there really was just a small town with a ruins of some sort (closed, of course) Otherwise, it was just a town- pharmacy, market, etc. We did have lunch there. Todd: spaghetti with clams, me; gnocchi with radicchio and speck (not sure which either are but it was in a pink sauce with bacon-like chunks..) We had bruschetta for starters (I’m starting to like tomatoes!), and grilled veggies for digestives. That was all we ordered ( very full at this point) but the waitress then brought out a large order of filet mignon..I was in the bathroom and Todd tried to convince her we didn’t order it, but she did not speak English at all and apparently he was not successful because we ended up with the steak. It was pretty expensive but we paid for it and tried it because we wanted to be at the beach!! We finally made it back to the train and took it to the end. We walked quite a bit looking for the public beach, but apparently there are really only private beach clubs. Some looked amazing, with chairs/umbrellas, but also pools, VB and tennis courts, showers, etc.. We gave in and paid to get into one (not the nicest but only 8 euro/person) and we were excited to be in the sand! The beach had very fine black sand, refreshing water with decent waves and was just what we needed- a nice, relaxing afternoon, a good nap, and great scenery. That evening, we went to the Travestere area in Rome for dinner and had a great time walking around and checking out the area. One main street had probably 20-30 restaurants, all jockeying in price. Most had pre-fixe menus, some including wine, for 10-20 euro, a great deal compared to what we’ve been used to! The one we chose was one of the cheapest but did not disappoint in the least. Appetizer: salad and margherita pizza, Todd; spaghetti with red sauce and seafood, Andrea: Spaghetti matriciana (Angie’s recommendation, red sauce + bacon..very good! Dessert: tiramisu and we also had a bottle of wine, all for 32 euro. Sweet! Day 14 Last day in Rome, Europe! We had a big day planned so set our alarm and got an early start. In the morning we re-visited St Peters Cathedral (there ~8:30 am) and were very pleasantly surprised at how few people were there! It was so peaceful and many of the people we saw were priests and nuns. There were a few different masses going on and overall a much more reverent atmosphere than the crazy last experience we had there. We were able to see things with much better details..such as the tombs of three different saints that had been buried but later were found to have not decomposed...one of which was perfectly intact
131: as if he was a wax statue- the clothes, skin, everything intact as if he had just died, but actually did in the early 1900s- amazing! I was also able to go to confession, which was a little scary given the setting and that I hadn’t been in a very long time, but it was a very neat experience. Next we went to Castel d’Angelo, built in the 1st century as a mausoleum for the emporer, but then converted to the Pope’s home in 590AD It was neat to see the original set-up of the home and tombs and how they lived and also protected themselves. Lunch was yummy! Finally a salad, with vegetables! Lettuce, olives, mozz cheese, cucumbers, ham. We also had a pizza with sausage/mushroom/cheese. It was all so delicious, as most meals we’ve had. The afternoon we spent at the Villa Borghese, which was the home and art collection of Cardinal Borghese. We saw some incredible works of art, like a beautiful sculpture of Napoleon’s sister, Borghese’s wife, called Venere Vincitrice, by Antonio Cavela, of her reclining on a couch- amazing details on the folds of her dress, the couch, and her hair for a sculpture! There was also Bernini’s sculpture of the Rape of Proserpina, the famous Greek scene of Pluto trying to rape Proserpina, at which she appealed to her father for help and he turned her into a tree to help protect her. The sculpture has very intricate details of her hands turning into branches, with leaves coming out of them and it’s amazing to think it’s all done with marble! Our last adventure was to the Capuchin Crypt. Apparently the bones of 4000 monks were accidently unearthed and order to honor their lives, were fashioned into décor and a recreation of some of them. It’s quite eerie, as the bones were strung together to make chandeliers, pedestals, arches, décor on the walls, with different shaped bones put together in various ways. Todd thought it a bit eerie but I thought it was really creative, beautiful, and quite moving. For dinner we head to the Jewish part of the town and tried the local cuisines- fried artichoke (dry, just ok..), fried olive mash (so yummy!), fried mozz balls (not nearly as good as WI!) and fried zucchini. For dinner Todd had the Macatini alla matriciana, a thick spaghetti w/bacon and tomato sauce, while I had the Bucatini Ca Cio e pepe with chicory, which is a spaghetti in a white wine sauce with peppers, a green spinach-like vegetable- both recommendations of Angie’s and both excellent! We noted on our walk back that there happened to be old ruins pretty much next to our restaurant (so random, considering it’s centuries old and just commonplace amongst the modern-day restaurants..) We saw a sign depicting outdoor concerts and realized one was there that night, featuring piano duets of Mozart, starting in 40 mins! We got tickets and while the music was just ok (two young adults playing piano, talent fair..) it was very surreal sitting in the ruins, under the moonlight and listening to the classical music. On the walk home, I decided to take advantage of our lat night in Italy to try the last few pieces of local fare we had missed. Apparently traditional Italian eatery includes: Appetizer/antipasto, 1st course (pasta), 2nd course (meat), side dish (veggie or salad), dessert, fruit, and then a digestive (typically a liquor). We went to a café for tiramisu (my last attempt- it’s final, I like it much better in the US!) and for a glas of both types of Grappa- lemoncello and grappa. Well, the waiter afterwards told us we shouldn’t have gotten the dessert with the liquors as it wouldn’t mix well and boy was he right! I’m glad that we tried the digestives but they were really so disgusting and I could barely swallow my little sip. However, as always, I was happy to try them and experience as much of the culture as we could. Highlights of Rome: A big, bustling city in which ancient ruins of interspersed amongst the modern city. I’m very glad that we saw it all but probably don’t need to go back as once is enough and the city was quite busy and stressful at times great things to see but no relaxing here! Top Things in Rome: 1) The food- amazing! 2) St Peters, especially when we went back early in the AM when it was empty; 3) tie between the beach and the Coliseum!