Thursday, August 22, 2013

the second stop in our Italy roadtrip . . . beautiful Amalfi

Amalfi coast was absolutely stunning!!  It was a stop that we did almost as an afterthought after Pompeii.  We were done with Pompeii with several hours to spare for the day . . . I had read about the Amalfi coast and we decided to take the drive.  Boy was it worth it!!  I wish we had spent at least a whole day here!  Instead we had just a few charming, romantic and thrilling hours.  The coastline drive to Amalfi was gorgeous!  We stopped at one point just to take in the beauty . . and of course a few photos.  As we descended into the city we were met with a variety of tightly packed buildings which gave it a quaint feel.  Amalfi is located right across the street from the ocean so we were provided with a lightly scented ocean breeze and a fine mist on our faces.  As the sun started to set the lights of the city came out.  Stringed lanterns of different shapes and sizes gave this small village a feeling of "home".  The further we wandered back into the small alleyways the more of the city came into view.  Where you thought you may just be walking down a dark pathway you ended up in a wonderful market square full of sea food and lemoncello products!  Of course there were plenty of gelato shops as well!  We ate at a well known seafood restaurant complete with live music and a feeling of jovial hospitality.  I think we were all very hesitant to leave this little jewel of a city on Italy's southern coast.  It is a must to anyone traveling in this region of the country!



Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Road Tripping through Italy . . . Stop 1

 . . . Pompeii!!  As a child. . . I think it was 5th or 6th grade . . . we learned about Pompeii in history class and even saw a documentary of senarios that could have possibly played out when Mt. Vesuvius erupted.  I was enthralled!  Ever since that time I have dreamed of visiting this horrific place. . . of walking the same streets that were entombed almost two thousand years ago . . . and I finally did :-)

My parents, husband, and I touched down in Rome, Italy to spend three or four days of traveling through Italy before starting off on our Mediterranean cruise.  We had a rough itinerary in our heads but were open to changes and ideas . . . it was a good thing we were open to changes!  When we landed in Rome, it was raining . . . raining hard.  We decided it would not be a great day to visit the Colosseum or the Vatican . . . where else could we go?  I suggested Pompeii!!  We had a rental car and Pompeii was several hours to the south, we could make it in plenty of time!  About half way there we stopped for a bathroom/coffee break.  It was quite amusing.  Dad had ordered an espresso coffee to go . . of course there was the language barrier and all . . he was given his espresso in a used, glass juice bottle with a Dixie cup on the top.  It was a very interesting way to serve a beverage to go.  ha!

When we arrived in Pompeii we decided to reserve our hotel first, freshen up and have a late lunch.  We then proceeded to the excavated grounds of this ancient, haunted city.  A little history of Pompeii before we begin our journey . . the city is believed to have been founded around the seventh or sixth century BC and was taken over by the romans in 80 BC.  At the time of it's destruction it was a thriving metropolis with approximately 20,000 inhabitants, a port, gymnasium, complex water system and amphitheater.  The disadvantage to this community was the looming mount of Vesuvius which was located approximately 5 miles away.  In 79 AD Vesuvius erupted, raining down on the inhabitants of Pompeii for 6 hours straight.  The city was buried under13-20 feet of ash and pumice and had been preserved for thousands of years due to the lack of air and moisture.  Pompeii was a lost city for about 1500 years until it was rediscovered in 1599.  Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with approximately 2.5 million visitors annually.  What makes it such a unique find from the rest of the ancient sites is that, according to Wikipedia, "It is the only ancient town of which the whole topographic structure is known precisely as it was, with no later modifications or additions."  After reading the brief history of this ancient city, are you not intrigued as well??

Pompeii was bigger than I had imaged . . a LOT bigger!!  It was also preserved more than any other ancient city I had visited to this point.  The cobblestone streets showed evidence of carriage wheels but deep groves that were cut into the stone . . . there was a complex water system containing drains, aqueduct for over 25 street fountains, swimming pool and at least four public baths.  We were given a map when we entered the complex however the titles were all in Italian.  We also had Rick Steve's Italy 2006 traveling book to keep us company.  The original frescos on many of the structures were amazing! The detail and multiple colors were beautiful, if not at times somewhat disturbing.  We also found some pretty awesome mosaic tile floors which were surprisingly intricate.  There were a plethora of original pottery with a few casts of human beings which were entombed in the ash.  They were pretty creepy, yet fascinating.

(one of the few human "casts" made from the ash and pumice)
(many colorful frescos on the walls of the gymnasium)
Overall it was an amazing experience to share with some of the people I love most in this world!  And to top it off. . . we met Rick Steves!  How absolutely crazy is that??  We were there in Pompeii touring the archeological sites and using HIS book as our reference!  He was there finding more information for his next book, Italy 2014.  We were attempting to take a family picture with Mount Vesuvius in the background when dad says "Hey, I just saw what's-his-name!!  The guy that wrote the book!"  We were too busy trying to get the perfect picture that we didn't pay too much attention.  After the picture was obtained, he states again "I saw the guy that wrote your book. . .what's his name?? oh yeah, Rick Steves!"  I couldn't believe it!  Clayton and I took off at a run in an attempt to catch up with him, he was gone!  I was saddened at the missed opportunity . . . when, about five minutes later, dad states "There he is!!"  We cut him off and obtained an introduction, picture and a signature on my out of date and "old" book, as he put it.  What an adventure!


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Keukenhof Gardens ~ The Garden of Europe

Ooohh how I have longed to see the tulips of the Netherlands . . . one of my many traveling dreams . . . that dream was fulfilled last April!!  I finally went to see Keukenhof . . . known as the Garden of Europe.

According to the official website for the Keukenhof Park, approximately seven million flower bulbs are planted annually in the park over a span of 79 acres.  We were told that the best time to view the park and gardens was in mid-April which is exactly when we went.  Unfortunately we had a late spring :-( On the day we visited the gardens it was raining. . . and the flowers were hiding . . . the atmosphere was not so festive as one might imagine. The flowers actually had not bloomed yet even though the website informed us that many of the flowers were blooming beautifully.  Despite the weather and loss of "bloomage"

, I am still glad we went.  We were able to see a few of the famous Holland windmills and the greenhouse that was housing the flower contest held absolutely beautiful treasures!  Though we did not walk the entire park due to the circumstances, it is apparent that during peak season the park would definitely be a site to behold.  There was no shortage of greenery however.  The lawns were perfectly manicured, complete with small waterfalls and streams running through various areas.  There were small parks for children to play in, beautiful seating arrangements for which to enjoy the sights, even a large maze made out of 10 foot hedging. 

Despite the rather high entry cost into the park, about 20 euro along with the parking cost of 6 euro, it was a good visit and another visit next year (when more flowers are in bloom) is a must!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Bruges, Belgium

Ahhhh Bruges . . . how beautiful, quaint and relaxing you are!  I have been told by several people that you were the "favorite" . . . I had to experience you for myself :-)

Located on the upper coast of Belgium this tiny, medieval city captured my heart! From the cobblestone roadways to the quaint Bed and Breakfasts, chocolatier shops, to the beautiful "Church of Our Lady" (with an incredibly high bell tower), this little port city had proven to be a jewel in a foreign land.
(Church of our Lady as seen from the belfry)

 . . . and the waffles . . . did I mention the waffles?!?? . . . oh my!!  I am fortunate to live close enough for a overnight trip to Belgium but far enough away not to make eating the delectable waffles a habit.  My waffle was an original (powdered sugar as the only topping) and did not disappoint me in any way, shape or form.  Clayton. Beth and Range tried the chocolate and caramel and reported that they were equally as delectable.

The tallest structure of the city was the Church of our Lady with it's tower over 400 feet in height.  The inside of the church was beautifully decorated and incorporated many famous works of art, the most famous being the white marble sculpture of Madonna and Child by Michelangelo.

The Church of Our Lady was beautiful however the main attraction seemed to the be bell tower (belfry).  At just over 270 feet, this tower was a beast . . . yes beast . . . to climb!  The "beast-icity" of the tower not only came from the height but also the fact that the stairwells were so narrow as to only allow one way traffic and the stairs were very small, yet greatly inclined . . and there were 366 of them!  At the top of the bell tower we were met with a wonderful view of the city and market square.  We were also met with rain, winds, pigeons, and frightening loud bells.

As a final farewell. Bruges presented us with large pellets of hail. . . that hurt! As we scurried to find shelter we also found ourselves laughing at the ridiculousness of the ordeal . . 10 minutes later there was sunshine.