Monday, December 30, 2013

Rome again, Rome again

Once we disembarked we took the train back to Rome to see the rest of the city we missed during our stop at the Vatican city.  Mom's first reaction to the Colosseum was priceless. . . "I just can't believe it!  This is incredible!  I can't believe I am here!" . . . hehe.  (I got it on film but unfortunately the process for uploading video on is not working at the moment.  Maybe someday it will work and I can upload some videos).
The Colosseum is the largest amphitheater in the world!  Construction was started in 70 AD and was completed by Titus in 80 AD.  It is estimated that the Colosseum could hold between 50,000 to 80,000 spectators and was used for gladiatorial contests as well as many different public spectacles.  When in the interior of the Colosseum we could see where the floor used to be and beneath it the various cages to hold animals and men for the contests.  It is still quite unbelievable that these types of games actually took place in history.

Above is the Arch of Constantine ~ A triumphal arch built in 315 dedicated to a victory of Constantine won in 312

The Roman Forum is an ancient plaza surrounded by several important ruins of government buildings at the very center of Rome . . within walking distance to the Colosseum.  It was the center of ancient Roman public life.  This site is in constant excavation and it was crazy to see the same site from a Youth on Missions Trip years ago that was now completely dug up and unearthing more ruins from below.

The Pantheon (above) is a Roman temple constructed "to all gods" and was built in 126 AD.  Unfortunately it was closed so we were only able to see it from the outside this time.

Gelato continued to be a favorite "snack" throughout our Italian journey . . . such smoothness. . . sweetness. . . coolness . . . and the colors!! Such bright, vibrant colors! 

Our last stop for the day was the Trevi fountain . . . the most famous fountain in the world! And for good reason!  It is absolutely beautiful!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Chania, Crete

Our last destination on this fabulous journey over sea was in Crete.  No excursions were scheduled for this day (except for dad . . . he took his excursion under sea) and we meandered through the streets of the city.  

 We also found our way down to the coast and it was just a relaxing as it was a little creepy.  This part of the city was deserted . . . shops were boarded up, graffiti surrounded us, no human interaction . . . it was sad.

We headed back to the "market place" and things picked up quite a bit.  There was shopping a' plenty with booths set up consisting of leather bags, sandals, ceramics, olives, spices and interesting food items.

It was a nice stop . . . sunny and bright . . . even it was a big uneventful.  Sometimes one needs a day of soaking in a culture and "experiencing" rather than just "seeing".

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ancient Ephesus, Turkey

Our stop in Kusadasi, Turkey was an eventful one and definitely one of the highlights of our cruise!  We decided to take one of the cruise ships excursions for this stop and were assigned to Bus #20 . . . our guide never did let us forget our bus number, exclaiming "Bus numba 20" in the most annoying voice constantly throughout the day.

Bus #20!!
The Basilica of St. John was our first stop of the day.  The building was built in the 6th century and is now mostly in ruins.  The highlight of this stop was to see the believed burial spot of the apostle John located within the ruined basilica.  After it's completion, the basilica was regarded as one of the holiest churches of it's time.  It was here that dad was lured aside under some ruins by a local and offered to have him purchase some "ancient coins" he had dug up at the site.  Dad was excited, but nervous as he did not know if he would get in trouble.  After all . . .they were coins that were thousands of years old and he could get them for $300!!  He became slightly suspicious when the local then dropped the price to $150 as he was walking away.  Mom was also hassled by these same locals as we were leaving the basilica and had to get somewhat violent with them.  LOL!  Our guide informed us that this is a great way for the locals to obtain easy money . . fake coins are made to look old and then sold to unsuspecting tourists who are wanting a keepsake of ancient times.  Luckily dad kept his money safe in his pocket.  They emerged unscathed!
Tomb of St. John in the background


It was extremely windy this day making it hard to breath or talk through the sand that swirled about our faces.  The landscape was grey and gave a solemn feeling to our surroundings.  In the distance we were able to see what little was left of the ancient temple to Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  It was destroyed in 401 and only the foundation and sculptural fragments remain at the original location.

From here we continued on to see the ancient city of Ephesus. . . as did the rest of the cruise ship.  It was packed! We could barely turn around without bumping into someone!  Ephesus was amazing! Although the city was in ruins, with a little imagination one could almost see the city as it would have been in it's prime.  We walked along the main street admiring the ruins of baths, temples and the great houses of the day.  The Library of Celsus was the highlight.  This three storied Library was completed in 135 AD and was built to hold over 12,000 scrolls as well as serve as a monumental tomb to Celsus.  The interior of the library, along with it's scrolls, was destroyed by earthquake in 262 and only the façade survived.  The façade survived only to be destroyed at a later date by another earthquake that shook the city.  Restoration began in the 1960's and 1970's to restore the façade of this great library.

Original Mosaic floors above and original restrooms below

Library of Celsus

We then stopped for a "biblical lunch" in which we were served food in the manner of biblical times.  We were offered bread and oil, fish, dates, nuts, some sort of rice mixture, honey and yogurt.  It was interesting, if not very filling.

Our excursion then took us to what is believed to be the House of the Virgin Mary.  It is a Catholic and Muslim shrine located a short distance from the ancient city and is believed by some to be the last dwelling place of the Virgin Mary before her assumption.  Although the Catholic church has never pronounced in favor or against the authenticity of the house it remains a popular pilgrimage destination.  It is a small stone house consisting of two rooms, one is believed to be the sleeping place of the Virgin Mary.  We then visited a well outside of the house which is believed to have special miraculous powers of healing and fertility.  We were given a small ceramic jar with which to collect some of this "holy water" . . . unfortunately our "holy water" was gone in a matter of two days . . leaking all over clothes and other belongings.  We were able to be present in a special mass that took place on the site before our departure.
Our "holy (and leaky) water"

Our next place of business. . . a Turkish rug gallery!  Here we were given a demonstration of the collection of threads from the silk worms, how they were dyed and eventually woven into these magnificent pieces of art.  They were indeed beautiful!  We were "buttered" up with some delicious Turkish tea and then set free to explore on our own (so we thought!).  I made the mistake of entering one of the many side rooms and was promptly cornered by a sales associate.  I made it clear that I was not interested in purchasing a rug at this time.  He insisted on showing me some.  I picked out a couple that were not your ordinary Turkish rugs but were a patchwork rug of older rugs pieced together.  I really did love them!!  (but not for $800-$3000!)  My mother and husband watched with smirks on their faces as I tried time and again to inform my persistent friend that I had no interest in purchasing the rug . . oh the deals he made me!  He could ship it for me. . . . he could wad it up in a small ball so I could take it with me. . . . he could give me 5% off. . . he even brought the manager in.  Agghhh!!  And then they had the nerve to be upset when I finally did leave for good without purchasing the precious piece.  Sigh. . . I guess it was a fun experience :-)