Rome, Italy (Part I) — Travel Blog #7

ROME…

One of the most famous cities on the planet. A world epicenter for art, culture, food, history…and a list that could go on and on. Today we have one day here. Like Pompeii, a day just doesn’t do this city any justice. You would need a week at least. Yet getting any opportunity, even a small one, to visit this rich and vibrant city is worth it.

Off the ship, we again are whisked off in our private van to experience Rome as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Our first stop is the towering Roman Coliseum which was completed in 80 AD. The size of it is massive. Taking in the view, I’m instantly hit with a total Gladiator movie moment as I look across this massive structure which was built to hold 50,000 people. The floor is exposed, revealing hundreds of stone build rooms and corridors where proud or terrified gladiators waited for their time in the arena. Also pens for tigers, lions, and other wild, exotic beasts which were brought from the far reaches of the Empire to “entertain” the massive Roman audience. Well to do Romans sat on the first level, close to the action. Normal Roman citizens occupied the second level and paid nothing for the privilege. Subjects of the Empire were given nosebleed on the third level.

I marvel at how such a massive thing could be built all those thousands of years ago. The feat in itself is amazing. The fact that many parts are still standing is a testament to how well this structure was designed and built.

Right next door from the Coliseum is the famous Aventine Hills area of ancient Rome.

Roman history is literally everywhere you look.

Next we visit the real Circus Maximus. Only some of the outer wall still remains of the once proud ancient racing facility. The giant racing oval was once featured in the movie Ben Hur. Now, it’s basically a flat city park with dirt trails and not a lot of grass. Yet the space itself gives us an idea of how large the Circus Maximus was. When Italy won the world cup in 2006, thousands of Italians filled this park to celebrate, proving that this ground still holds a place in many Roman hearts.

Next our van sweeps us away from the Circus Maximus to a spot overlooking the Massive Forum, the heart of ancient Rome. The old archways which guarded both entrances to the forum are still standing. Much of these ruins were excavated during the reign of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Much of  modern-day Rome is built upon the ruins of the ancient city.

Unfortunately we only had time to see a view of the Forum. Exploring it would take at least most of a day since the size is triple that of Pompeii’s.  So many wonderful statues. So many ruins. Wish we had more time to see them all.

We hop into our black Mercedes van and weave through some of the narrow streets as we head for the famous Trevi fountain, which is so choked with people, our driver must drop us off a few blocks away. So we walk.

As we amble through the narrow street leading to the fountain, I notice a manhole cover labeled with the famous letters SPQR. The ancient symbol of Rome. It means…Senatus Populus Romanus. The Senate and the People of Rome. It amuses me that such a famous symbol is on a Roman city manhole cover. Shows you how proud these people are of their history. Kinda cool.

Soon we turn a corner and arrive in a closed square that is elbow to elbow with people. The Trevi fountain has been in many movies. My favorite, Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Compared to the fountain you see on the screen, the actual Trevi fountain is gigantic. Wow! I didn’t realize it was this big…

Many people around me are tossing coins over their right shoulders. The custom says that if you do this, your wish to come back to Rome will come true. I thought about tossing a coin in too, but the crush of people is so bad, I decide against it. In fact, it’s hard to enjoy the fountain with this many people around. Oh well, at least we got to see it.

This glorious day will be continued…in another blog entry.  🙂

________________________________________________________

In travel blog #8, we have lunch in Rome, see Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, and discover the joys of Spagoli. By the way, a link to all our pictures from Rome will be posted after the next blog entry. Trust me, there’s a lot of them!

Advertisements

Pompeii, Italy — Travel Blog #6

After our wonderful lunch overlooking Sorrento, we pile in to the mini-bus and head back towards Naples. Again we pass Mount Vesuvius. That ominous mountain draws attention to our next stop…

The Roman ruins of Pompeii.

We climb down from the bus which is parked a few hundred meters away from the entrance to the ancient city. Giovanni informs us that we only have about an hour here if we want to get back to the ship on time. It’s like asking us to visit all the hotels in Las Vegas in one hour. Impossible.

Okay. Well, my Dad and I rise to the task. We both purchase our tickets and plunge back 1,932 years to 79 A.D.

The ruins of this city are amazing. Composed of giant stones, the Roman road we walk across has elevated sidewalks on each side. These roads criss-cross the ancient city in rigid lines. The ruins of buildings surround us at every turn, putting our minds inside that period of time. One can easily imagine themselves as a Roman walking home from a day of work. The place bustling with activity around you. Carts clattering by. Horses dropping loads of crap between the spaces separating the stones. Pedestrians like you heading home, just like the sidewalks of modern-day Manhattan. It’s surprisingly easy to imagine here. I could so lose myself on these streets. Each section of ruins has its own unique story. Someone’s house. Someone’s business. Someone’s life. For me, it’s cool to imagine.

We then walk into the forum, a large area of ground where the people of the city would gather. Standing in the middle of the plain, one can see evil mount Vesuvius peering over the ruins of the city’s temple.

Imagine the Romans back then, so use to seeing that mountain just standing there, being quiet, looking beautiful. I’m sure they took the volcano’s beauty for granted. Not having a clue until the blast shot off ash and fire from the peak. The people terrified, thinking the world had finally come to an end. It’s fun to think of this place as just a cool Roman city, but it’s easy to forget how many men, woman, and children parished here.  But the one good thing to come from the disaster was the preservation of this Roman city under layers of lava and ash. A place where future generations can come and understand Roman culture.  Hopefully by studying their world, it will help us understand our own.

Next we go to a giant house named the House of The Faun. Historians aren’t sure which rich and powerful Roman owned the place but it contained many precious works of art, many of which are in museums all across Italy. Here’s the main entryway.

Here is a replica of the small statue that was found here.

Here’s a gorgeous floor mosaic.

Here’s another beautiful floor mosaic.

This floor depicts the great Alexander the Great in battle. Alexander was a hero to many Romans and no doubt the owner of this house was among his many fans. The real floor was moved to a museum. Still. Amazing stuff.

Here’s the main gate into the city. Looking back at it, I again can imagine myself a traveler preparing to enter the city beyond the walls.

Our hour is already up. There was so much we bypassed. The Roman baths. The large outdoor amphitheatre. More houses. More temples. It would take a couple of days to really explore it all.

I guess it’s a good reason to come back to Italy. 🙂

With frowns, Dad and I meet up with our group and climb up the steps of the mini bus and off we go to meet up with our ship. Overall it was a fantastic day. We just wish every day in life could be this fantastic.

_______________________________________________________

Next up Rome!

For this blog entry I only used a few pictures of Pompeii. Click here to see them all!

Sorrento, Italy — Travel Blog #5

Our large ship drifts into Naples and drops anchor. Italy. The land of Fiats, Pasta, and Romans. I can’t wait to get off our ship and lose myself in a country I’ve heard so many things about.

Our tour guide for today is Giovanni, an older white-haired man in his sixties who wears checkerboard rimmed glasses that are clear instead of white. This Southern Italian man literally bubbles with life, his voice overflowing with enthusiasm. After being with him for only a few minutes, Giovanni makes me feel like an Italian being welcomed back home.

As we travel south from Naples toward the town of Sorrento, Giovanni tells us a story about the time his taxi was stolen. He reported the crime to the local branch of the Carabinieri (the civilian police force). The officer told him to wait a few hours because the robbers will probably call him that night. If he didn’t hear anything, then call them back. Okay. So Giovanni waited and just like the officer told him, the robbers called Giovanni that very night. They offered to meet Giovanni and give him the taxi back for 5,000 lira. Giovanni was nervous but met the robbers face to face at the place of their choosing. Sure enough they had his taxi. So Giovanni gave them the money and drove the taxi home. Later that night, the Carabinieri called to ask if he got his taxi back. Giovanni told them he just found the taxi on the street and didn’t ask any questions.

We pass by imposing Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that wiped out the Roman city of Pompeii.  Giovanni mentions that it’s still active and how much the Italians would be screwed if the volcano went off like that again. What a pleasant thought as the mountain looms above us like the Death Star.

Our van weaves along the curvy and beautiful Amalfi coast road. The green and silver cliffs are sharp and dive vertically towards the sea, causing some people in our mini bus some anxiety about sailing off the road like Thelma and Louise, but our driver is a local and probably knows the route better than any of us do. Our mini bus is better suited than the large tour busses which attempt to navigate around the tight curves so I put my faith in our local driver and stare at the gorgeous scenery stretching out below me. If I die on this road right now, so what? What a beautiful place to die in.

Down below us, tiny islands hug close to the shore as Giovanni tells us which ultra rich people own them, which of course reminds him of another story…

Giovanni is full of stories. Point at a neighborhood, a house, or even a stone and this guy has a great story about it. Maybe some people would say he has too many stories. I would say I got my money’s worth of the best entertainment I’ve had all year.

After weaving through countless trees full of ripe lemons and olives, we finally arrive in the town of Sorrento. A beautiful and clean city. We all get out and spend an hour or so just wandering the streets and browsing stores full of colorful and quite reasonably priced merchandise.

Next on the agenda…Lunch.  We step inside a McDonald’s…

Just kidding…

Giovanni takes us to his friend’s restaurant. Our outdoor table rests on a balcony overlooking all of Sorrento and the sea beyond. Fresh dishes of home-made Bruschetta wait to be eaten on a fully set table with bottles of red and white wine, made from the restaurant’s own vineyard. The first course is homemade mozzarella cheese on top of fresh sliced tomatoes served with homemade bread. The main course is a dish of three generous samples of pasta. Cheese ravioli, ziti, and an eggplant wrapped pasta that I’m not quite sure the name of. It all tasted…so good. The ravioli was the best I’ve ever had in my life. After we are done, tiny shot glass of strong but delicious lemon liquor was served to us, no doubt made from the local lemon crops.

So far, the morning was awesome. Next up we travel to the ancient Roman city of Pompeii.

Here is Giovanni’s tour company…Tour of Italy

Here are all the photos from this leg of our trip!

First Day At Sea — Travel Blog #4

Tonight I sit on a private balcony, overlooking the port side of a massive cruise ship that at this moment, I could care less about. My eyes focus on the Mediterranean Sea in front of me. The horizon is only a dark, mysterious outline but I can still make it out. The heavens are speckled with stars, the Big Dipper constellation front and center. I would love to get a telescope out here. I bet the stellar decorations I see above hold more wonders than my eyes can take in. But I’m not on a ship going to Mars, although Italy is a nice substitute.

The waves of water gently thrash against the keel below me with a steady, rolling like sound which soothes my ears and sends a tingle up my spine. As I write these words, the corners of the paper are teased by the wind which is playful tonight. Almost like its asking me…what are you doing? What are you doing? Like a curious puppy fixated on you and only you in a roomful of people.

I still can’t believe this is the Mediterranean Sea. I still can’t believe I’m really here. A body of water steeped in so much history and culture. It truly amazes me.

The cruise ship is okay with its fourteen decks full of swimming pools, restaurants, ice rink, theater, arcade, casino, shopping, library, spa, exercise room, and rock climbing wall. There’s a lot to do if you’re bored looking at water.

Tonight I’m bored with artificial stimulation. The sea offers relaxation. A sight that frees your mind from clutter. A sight that offers a pure diversion from life. A sight that doesn’t fill you up with more stuff, but empties out the stuff you’ve had stored up for way, way too long.

Dad did alright on our cabin selection. The cabin isn’t as cramped as I though it would be. Two nice beds, a sofa with a coffee table, desk with chair, and a enough space to store all our clothes, plus a private balcony of course. The bathroom isn’t that small, but the shower is, and the toilet is…different. Not European vs. American different, but the thing sticks out of the wall like a shelf. Our own toilet shelf. And you have to be careful using it too, since it’s hooked up to the ship’s water system. Basically you don’t have a lot of water to play with. (Not that I play in toilets) So you have to flush a lot more or you will clog up the system. I know you are marveling at that one fact, but that’s enough about the ship’s sanitation system.

To reach Italy, we take one full day to cross the Mediterranean. Halfway there we cross the straits between the islands of Corsica and Sardinia.

That’s a French warship in a task force that passed us. I assume they were on their way to the French naval base at Toulon in Southern France. Surely they wouldn’t be stationed around Corsica. The French wouldn’t be afraid of the Italians on Sardinia staging an invasion would they? Although I’ve heard rumors that the Corsicans aren’t exactly thrilled to be under French rule. But that’s a subject for a different blog.

The weather is gorgeous as we pass the two-mile wide strait. The view of both islands is quite beautiful and makes you wish we could park the boat here…sorry Dad…SHIP here for the afternoon. But we have to reach Naples by seven tomorrow morning.

Oh well. At least I still get to watch the sea until dinner time.

Here are some more pictures of the strait between Corsica and Sardinia.
________________________________________________________________________
Next on deck…Naples, Sorrento, and how the Italian police deal with stolen cars.

Last Day In Barcelona – Travel Blog #3

Today we arrange a half day tour of Barcelona with Jordi, a friendly local who speaks at least ten languages. Having him use only English seems like a waste of his many talents but we’re still lucky to get him. Although going around Barcelona with a guide speaking Japanese to an American tour group would be strangely interesting to me. Onward with the tour… 

First we walk the historic streets of old Barcelona where history literally surrounds you.

The old streets form rigid square blocks, no doubt a Roman design dating back from the days of when Barcelona was the Roman city of Barcino. In fact, the city is excavating under these old streets to preserve the Roman settlement that lays under it. One museum gives you access to these Roman ruins deep beneath the city. Sorry, they don”t allow you to take pictures. One building they found was a place that dyed fabric. One flat stone was turned bright blue from all the thousands of fabrics that were dyed at the facility. One piece of Roman history that was above ground was this…

The apartments here were built around the ruins of this Roman temple. For years the owners of the building took care of the ruins before the city of Barcelona stepped in to protect them.  People still live in the apartments surrounding this amazing piece of history. 

Next we visit the square where Christopher Columbus returned from the New World, very anxious to tell his backers, the King and Queen of Spain, that he hit the mother lode for Spain. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella went down these steps to greet Columbus. This was the first step in Spain becoming a world power for hundreds of years. Jordi tells us some experts now think Columbus was actually Spanish not Italian. If Jordi ever conducts a tour with some Italian Americans from Jersey…I would skip this little piece of trivia.

By the way, the Roman ruins that we saw being excavated, are located a few feet below this historic square.  History literally on top of history. Cool.

The breathtaking Barcelona Cathedral, the major Catholic church of the city, is our next stop.  And what a stop it is. The ceilings have a golden brown color with intricate markings all over them.  The glass windows at the top do not dominate but compliment the large dome. Inside the church, each Catholic Saint has their own gated area decorated in striking gold that pops your eyes.  In the center of the cathedral are two rows of wooden chairs with tall backs facing opposite another pair of rows. Jordi says this area was used in a recent conference of world leaders. 

We take a bus to the top of a hill overlooking the city of Barcelona. There we see the stadium used in the 1992 Summer Olympics which put the city of Barcelona on the world map. If you remember, it was the Olympics that had the guy who shot a flaming arrow upward to light the olympic torch.  Which we found out, was actually the top of an upside down whale.

Jordi then takes us to the most interesting looking church ever, La Sagrada Familia.  The designer was named Antoni Gaudi and his name gave birth to the term gaudy looking.  The building was unfinished but Gaudi’s descendants are completing the rest of the church with private funds.  They hope to be done by the next decade.

After the tour, we decide to sit outdoors and have a nice last meal. We find a an outdoor restaurant where I order chicken paetta. I’m starting to love Spanish paetta and can not get enough of this stuff.  Delicious sautéed rice with chicken, vegetables with delicious saffron, a wonderful combination inside a giant skillet that’s delivered right to your table. Tonight, we enjoy dinner with an order of sweet and tangy Sangria as the street comes alive again with people.

We board the ship tomorrow, leaving this wonderful and friendly city behind us.  A part of me doesn’t want to leave. Yet I suspect that Barcelona is a mistress that always leaves her visitors wanting more just so they will never forget her.

If you would like to see all the pictures from Barcelona..GO HERE.

_____________________________________________________

Next time: A quick blog about the sea then we arrive in Italia!

The Hotel De Jardi – Travel Blog #2

This was the entrance to the hotel?

The nice glass door with the name Hotel De Jardi had automatically slid open to reveal…stairs twisting to the left. I didn’t see a big lobby with cushy chairs and sofas, or a free-standing display of brochures for all the tourists, or even a big desk with a smiling, helpful desk clerk.  Just stairs.

So my Dad and I lugged our bags up the narrow staircase to the first floor where there was a display of brochures, chairs, and a big desk with a smiling desk clerk who spoke Spanish. 

Okay good.  This was what I was expecting from a hotel.  Glad that some things were universal in hotel land.  The young lady behind the desk was from Portugal and she was very friendly as she gave us the key to our room.  A real key with the room number on it! She then told us to leave the key with the clerk on duty when we decide to leave our room to explore.  This was an old school hotel and I loved that.  The set up reminded me of that John Cleese show “Fawlty Towers” where the guests would come to the desk in order to get their room keys after a day in town. I hoped the owner of our hotel was much nicer than Mister Basil Fawlty.  Trust me, you don’t want to stay at a real Fawlty Towers.

Our room was on the third floor and the elevator was located on top of a flight of stairs.  Yes, on top of stairs.  So we dragged our luggage up the stairs and…where was the elevator?

Next to me was a glass door that looked like it was part of a tiny shower, certainly not an elevator.  Guess what…it was the elevator.  Like everything inside this hotel, it was narrow and small.  The tiny thing could only hold one person with one piece of luggage.  That was it.  Two children could fit, but they still couldn’t bring any luggage.  Okay, I decided to be our test pilot.

I put my bag in first, then me.  Tight fit.  Then I couldn’t figure out why the door wasn’t automatically closing after I hit the button.  Soon I figured out that I had to shut the door myself before the sucker would work. Should have figured this was an old school European elevator.

The third floor was really a narrow corridor with three rooms. I opened the room and it was…small. Two small beds, nightstand, television, one chair, and a bathroom.  That was it. Nothing lavish here.  But a part of me LOVED IT.  Why do you want the standard American hotel room?  This had charm to the max.  And when I opened up the window and looked at this view…

So what if it was a small room. Who wanted to live life in a hotel room anyway?  

The next morning we went downstairs to the eating area for a breakfast served by the hotel. We found a table and a nice older Spanish lady gave us each a place setting with a napkin and silverware.  Coffee? She asked us.  Everyone said yes.  The woman brought us each a cappuccino with milk.

Let me just say that this coffee changed my life. It was the best coffee I had ever tasted in my life.  It was strong, but when you asked for it with milk, the blend was the perfect balance of sweet and strong.  It tasted amazing, like my mouth couldn’t stop salivating between sips.  Next came the food, a nice toasted baguette with a large croissant coated in a sugary like glaze.  Jams, butter, and fresh cheese were available for the baguette.  I went with the cheese and glad I did.  The croissant was so sticky and delicious. Oh, and how could we not order a second cup of cappuccino.  Seriously folks…it was THAT GOOD.

After a day of fantastic sightseeing, (which I’ll cover in another entry) it was time to relax at the hotel.  We went again to our breakfast sitting area and sat on one of the two small balconies which overlooked the main plaza.  The balconies were a perfect place to people watch.

 

Next cool thing was finding out about the automatic beverage machine located inside the hotel.  It looked like an ordinary soda machine.  But this machine had Coke, Coke light, (the European version of Diet Coke) and cans of cold Cervaza!  (Beer in Spanish)  No kidding.  Beer in the soda machine.

I so love Spain.

So that night we sat out on the balcony and watched the world below us swim with activity.  While I was still marveling at the fact that we haven’t even started our cruise yet.

__________________________________________________________

Next up: A world wind tour of Barcelona.

Mediterranean Travel Blog

Last week my father and I took a mediterranean cruise.  We stayed in Barcelona, Spain.  Departed aboard the massive ship Voyager-of-the-Seas and landed in a few Italian ports to explore the cities of Sorrento, Rome, and Florence.  We then landed on the French Riviera and traveled to Monte Carlo, Nice, and Toulon.

The trip was incredible and I wanted to share some of it with you all so I will be writing a series of travel blogs from my trip notes that will start hopefully by next week.  So stay tuned!

Young Adult Author