Thursday, June 30, 2011

I Remember ... Our First Glimpse of Venice

We were nearing Venice and those who did not sign up for the optional excursion were dropped off at the hotel. The rest of us filled two water taxis, vaporettos and cruised the Grand Canal, Venice's "main street" for an evening of ... "Venetian Magic."

It truly was magic entering this floating city through the canal. The canal is two miles long, nearly 150 feet wide and about 15 feet deep. Our cameras and iPhones were documenting everything ... the palaces, the Rialto Bridge, the boats, the dazzling colors, the people ... it is an amazing place.
We were dropped off near St. Mark's Square to enjoy a Gondola ride through the smaller canals.

We were treated to Italian champagne while musicians and singers entertained us. Seven gondolas awaited our group and we shared the fifth gondola with Bill and his daughter, Marcia. We drifted out to the Grand Canal where they serenaded our group.

Before departing Venice we spent some time in St. Mark's Square. Our first impression was that is was a little dirty and there were so many pigeons ... a little creepy if you aren't fond of them.

We took pictures in the square before leaving and reminded ourselves that we still have an entire day in Venice tomorrow.

We returned to our hotel room (the furnishings reminded us so much of Ikea) and enjoyed a nice dinner. Telly told us we would have an opportunity to sleep in the following morning ... we will not leave until 8:00 a.m. : )
Another exciting and wonderful day!

I Remember ... Ravenna

On the mornings we traveled Telly posted the day's itinerary. On this day we enjoyed a morning ride through the Apennines to the Adriatic Coast and the Roman town of Ravenna with its ancient mosaics and Byzantine architecture and treasures from that time period. We visited the Church of St. Apollinaris in Classe and dined at a cafe nearby. Our usual lunch fare is stopping at the Auto Grill for a sandwich. We enjoyed a nice pasta meal in Ravenna. A nice change!

One of the highlights of this visit was stopping while Telly told us about the history of a statue nearby. While she was talking church bells were ringing and I wanted to record the sound with my iPhone ... I thought it would be a nice memory when we were back home. While recording, Telly explained that men did not have hair on their bodies during that time period. Jan was standing behind me not realizing I was recording and said in her cute Aussie accent, "Karen, Look up under his skirt and check" When I stated I was recording, not just taking a picture, we all started laughing! A great tour memory!

Before boarding the bus for our trip to Venice, Walt ran over and captured some great shots of nearby sunflower fields ... love all the pictures he took! Fortunately he took these, as it was the only photo opportunity of this kind for the remainder of our tour.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I Remember ... Celebration in Assisi

Happy 36th Anniversary! This trip is our dream-come-true ... the best gift ever!
We were up early, packed and had our luggage out before breakfast. We will be on the road all day traveling to Assisi. Before getting on the road we stopped for a demonstration on the art of inlaid woodworking, one of the crafts of the Sorrento peninsula. It was just a short stop before getting on the road toward the province of Umbria, "the green heart of Italy" and the city of Assisi.
The weather is very warm but the bus is cool. I'm so glad Nancy suggested I pack a pashmina ... the most versatile item in my suitcase. It kept me warm and comfortable.
When we arrived our bus dropped us off at the bottom of the hill and we had quite a walk to our hotel, the Hotel Giotto ... in addition, it was a very warm day.
We met in the hotel lobby for check-in and an explanation of our stay there. The view was breathtaking from the balcony. We had a tour scheduled for the Basilica of St. Francis. From our guide we learned much about this town's famous hometown boy and his message of love and simplicity where he taught by example ... living without worldly goods. Last Sunday in church we sang, "All Creatures of Our God and King" written by St. Francis. Memories from our trip rushed back and the song touched my heart as never before.
I was not aware of the 1997 5.5-magnitude earthquake that not only damaged buildings but also the tourism industry there. We had time to walk around this medieval town before dinner exploring shops and taking many pictures.
When we got to our room our luggage was not there ... a little panic since we were close to the scheduled dinner at our hotel. Walt found it several floors above sitting outside the wrong room. Whew! I wanted to clean up and be presentable for our anniversary dinner.
Dinner was served in the lower level and we enjoyed a great evening dining with Alan & Sue from Australia and Donna and two of her daughters ... Dad and another daughter were still sick. After dinner we took our first group photo out on a patio. We enjoyed visiting with everyone until late into the night. It has been fun getting to know people on a more personal level.Can't remember a better anniversary!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I Remember ... Dining at the Lemon Farm

We were bussed back to Hotel Johanna Park and after freshening up we re-boarded our bus for our dining experience at a local lemon farm. We had to stop at the bottom of the hill and be shuttled up to the farm because our bus was too big for the road. If I remember correctly, the shuttle could only take about seven passengers at a time so it took a while to transport everyone. I remember it as quite a WILD ride!
Dining with the local people has been one of the highlights of our trip. Some speak very little English but somehow we communicate. One of the younger family members spoke English and we had a long talk about life in Italy and her family.
The food was different ... mostly local produce. It was very tasty until I noticed a purplish object on Walt's plate that had suckers on it ... YIKES, octopus! Can you spot it in the picture on the right??? After that I stuck with a very delicious marinated carrot salad.

This evening we celebrated The Guido's anniversary. It seemed like each family has something to celebrate on this trip. It's fun to be a part of special occasions within the group!

The farm was beautiful, filled with lemon trees. One thing we have noticed while in Italy is how they plant produce, such as tomatoes right in with the landscape. We brought this idea back with us and have tried to do this more and more in our flowerbeds.
It was fun to enjoy another beautiful sunset in such a peaceful environment.
I was beat when we returned to our hotel but Walt was loving the free wireless connection and sat out on the warm patio until after midnight. He got to Skype with Tim. He said it was so good to hear his voice. It made me homesick for our kids! Sorry I missed that opportunity but I really needed my beauty sleep : )

I Remember ... the Isle of Capri

After quite a night we were up bright and early for breakfast and preparation for a day in Capri. It was a sunny day with a warm breeze and the view from the dining patio was amazing. We once again boarded our tour bus and a short time later we were dropped off at the dock and loaded on a large ferry that took thirty minutes to get to the Isle of Capri. A few members of our group did not join us this day as they were not feeling well.
The Isle of Capri was made famous as a vacation hideaway of Roman emperors Augustus and Tiberius. It is only four miles by 2 miles and has only two towns, Capri and Anacapri. Today it is mostly a tourist destination ... a great place to explore. Our first experience was riding the funicolare to Capri Town ... now the song makes sense! We were dropped off near the Piazza Umberto, the town's main square. The first thing you notice about the island ... it seems like most, if not all homes and buildings are white. There are narrow alleyways, lush flowers and gardens all sitting on top of limestone cliffs above the sea. We toured a garden and visited a few shops. Loved the perfume store, especially the lemon-scented solid perfume. Passing up a purchase was my one big disappointment. It was probably 26 euros ... but I had to remind myself that I would be on unemployment when I returned home.
We joined the optional excursion, "Capri Highlights." Minibuses took us on a drive to Anacapri with spectacular views of the Mediterranean. The streets are so narrow that when two minibuses pass each other their sideview mirrors almost touch. If heights bother you, this may be a problem : ) We had tickets to ride the chairlift to up to 1,900-foot summit of Monte Solaro. It takes about 15 minutes to get to the top. I was pretty hesitant about the ride since each person rode individually in a "hanging basket."

It just didn't look secure but I braved it because I wanted to see what was at the top. (Notice the "death grip" on the chairlift pole in the picture on the right. This is where you'll find the best panoramic view possible. Amazing!
In the afternoon we enjoyed a harbor tour of the island by water to visit some of the white and green grottos. The water is a color that I cannot even find a descriptive word for ... you must see it with your own eyes. The boats pulled in the island grottos (caves) and in the darkened area the colors changed to the most beautiful shimmery green ... both the water and ceiling.
We saw the high cliff from which the Emperor Tiberius is said to have thrown women and slaves to the death. Yikes! We also motored through the natural Arch and the Faraglioni rocks. It was not only beautiful but a refreshing ride on such a warm day.
We boarded the ferry for our ride back to Sorrento.

Monday, June 27, 2011

I Remember ... Dinner on a Sorrento Farm

When we returned from Positano we had a short time to get ready for our second optional excursion of the day, a traditional Neapolitan evening, dining at a countryside 18th century Olive Oil mill. Since the roads were so narrow our bus had to drop us off and we walked the remaining way. Our host family took us on a tour of the gardens, the mill and an ancient wine cellar.

We enjoyed a demonstration on Mozzarella cheese making and then had the opportunity to make pizza and sample the wine and Limoncello.
This was a beautiful place to watch the sunset and even got to celebrate Barb's birthday. It was a great group bonding experience. However, we were pretty giddy when we left. I don't think it's a good idea to mix wine and limoncello in one dining experience! We had to walk to the bus and we were pretty loud!
This was a full day and we arrived back late. Walt sat out on the patio in the warm breezes and found an internet connection. He emailed everyone and then called Tim on his iPhone and enjoyed a nice conversation until late in to the night. So many experiences in one day!!!

I Remember ... Sorrento and Positano

We were back on the road and heading toward Sorrento ... our "home" for the next two days. Sorrento is the gateway for the Amalfi Coast. I couldn't wait to get there since a co-worker, who traveled to this area last year, said it was her favorite. She said if she could return, this area would be where she wanted to spend her entire vacation. I was not disappointed.
Our tour bus climbed steep winding hills to the top and there stood a beautiful hotel, Johanna Park. It was quaint and welcoming ... exactly what I had in mind. The only problem ... out of our entire group we were not booked for a room. No worries -- it all worked out. However, we had a back view of the olive grove and the front rooms had a gorgeous view. We unpacked and got ready for our optional excursion to Positano.

Our trip along the Amalfi Coast was long with many winding roads ... the views were breathtaking! The water was so blue, the city below so colorful and there were many boats bobbing on the water. Now I see why this area was Heidi's favorite. We reached Positano at 4:00 PM and only had a short time to explore.

There were so many narrow alleyways, abundant flowers hanging everywhere, lemons the size of grapefruit, cafes, clothing stores and a nice beach/harbor with pebbly rocks. We did a little shopping for souvenirs and even had a chance to dip our feet in the Mediterranean.

This place just shouts, "Paradise!" when you arrive. This is definitely one place I would love to return to!

I Remember ... Pompeii

We woke up to clear blue skies and warm sunshine. I had been looking forward to this part of our tour for so long. In 1985 I read about the Mt. Vesuvius eruption in 79 AD in National Geographic. I was fascinated by it and read many books, articles and novels about this event ... never dreaming I would one day walk the streets of Pompeii ... a town frozen in time!
We packed up, ate breakfast and loaded the bus early in the morning leaving Rome behind. We now feel we have really started this tour. During the morning travel I felt a little motion sick (one of my worries!) but on our first stop we bought Coke and crackers and my stomach settled. The view from our bus window was lush and green with rolling hills and mountains. Beautiful!

Our Pompeii tour was with a guide and we had an hour and a half to walk the streets and see the ruins.
Pompeii was founded in 600 BC and became a booming Roman trading city, mostly middle class. It was once a bustling city with shops, bars, hotels and approximately 20,000 residents. As we view the ruins, it is hard to imagine that most of the buildings were covered in white, ground-marble stucco. It must have been very impressive!

It was interesting to see frescoes still painted on the walls of residences; glass cases holding casts of residents captured in their last moments during the eruption. There is even evidence of "fast-food" restaurants from long ago. Quite modern for those times!

At the end of the tour we sampled some Limoncello and bought three small bottles for the boys. We enjoyed a gelato lunch : ) before boarding the bus for Sorrento.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

I Remember ... A Change In Weather

After a refreshing nap we were ready for dinner. Our group was scheduled for an optional excursion, "Introduction to Rome by Night" and since we had spent three days on our own in Rome we decided to give dining close to the hotel a try. We took the elevator down and started for the door only to see that it was pouring down rain! Fortunately, we had packed a small umbrella and lightweight jackets. Without this we would have been soaked just crossing the street! It was amusing to see street vendors, who only hours ago were hawking plastic umbrellas for protection from the sun, had now switched to umbrellas for the rain. They are always so prepared for a sale!
We chose the closest restaurant to our hotel and were thrilled with the service and our meal. Our waiter helped us with our selection and said he knew just what we would like ... and we were not disappointed. Delicious salad, bread, wine, pizza and gelato. At the end of our meal the rain had eased giving us an opportunity to tour the area before dark.
Looking forward to our trip to the Pompeii-Sorrento area tomorrow ...

I Remember ... We are Officially Tourists!

So begins our life as an official "tourist" ... up early, hotel breakfast, and out to our Trafalgar bus for the day's scheduled sights. We are known as tourists #18 and assigned seating on the tour bus. Each day we rotate seating so that no one sits in the same spot twice. It's a great way to meet people as you have new aisle mates each day.
Today our schedule includes the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Bascilica. We arrived early to see a long line already forming. Because we are a tour group we quickly moved forward ... one of the strengths of being with a group! We had a local guide who provided commentary on all we were about to see.
The Sistine Chapel is the Pope's personal chapel and is famous for Michelangelo's pictorial story of creation, which is 12,000-square-feet, took four years to paint and contains 343 frescoed figures. When we entered the chapel we were told we could not take photos and there should be no talking. However, above the murmur of amazement we heard, "ssshhhhhh" over and over. You could also hear cameras snapping pictures here and there. Our group had twenty minutes to observe Michelangelo's work. As you looked up, you soon realized you had a neck ache. It sure would have been more comfortable with our travel pillows for this part of the tour!
We left this room and visited St. Peter's Basilica. This part of the tour had a dress code: no shorts, bare shoulders or mini-skirts. This is strictly enforced. The dome was beautiful ... it rises 435 feet and measures 138 feet across its base. No camera could capture how magnificent it is ... you simply must see this in person to understand its grandeur.
At the end of this tour we enjoyed a brief break to snack or rest before boarding the bus for our tour of ancient Rome and the Colosseum. It was only mid-morning and it was already quite warm.
Since our visit to the Colosseum several days ago was only from the outside, we were excited to walk around inside. Amazing to walk around something of this size built 2,000 years ago. Built in A.D. 80, this structure represents Rome at its grandest. It accommodated 50,000 fans and could be topped with an enormous canvas awning to shade the spectators. As we toured, it was hard to imagine being a long-ago spectator of so much violence and killing. Before we left this area we all posed for a group photo.

Since only twelve of us signed up for the catacomb tour it was canceled with a chance to reschedule at the end of our tour. We had been looking forward to this optional excursion. We returned to our room and I took a 3-hour nap while Walt worked on his journal and backed photos up to the computer.