A Travellerspoint blog

Umbrian Umbrellas

Our Second Week Based in "Cast F.no"

rain 10 °C

Anica, with an umbrella in Umbria, outside St. Francis' basilica in Assisi

March 7


Despite the rain, stronger than yesterday, we decided to take a car trip down to Orvieto, just to "do" something. Even in the fog and rain, we could see it was a beautiful drive. From our town, we just take the SS71 "straight" down into Umbria to get to Orvieto. On the way, we passed by Cortona yet again, with the fields of olive trees flashing their silver backs leaves like endless groves of tinsel. Poetic, eh? But much of the drive was interesting today for the road itself, with the climbs up and down valleys, and the countless twists. Keep me awake! Anica enjoyed herself more than ever, because she wasn't carsick (even without Gravol) and we didn't get lost.

Orvieto is a towering hilltop town. About 30 years ago, it suffered a severe landslide, and the Italian government set about to save the town. It's basically just ash stone. Now there's no heavy or non-local traffic up, and part of the fun for the visitor is taking the funicaular railroad up. That was fine in the rain, and so was the fact that the bus (same ticket) was waiting to take us to the Piazza Duomo.

Heavy rain then made it harder to enjoy the square. It's a beautiful little area, with a uniquely'facaded cathedral (Duomo), with striped sides. It looked like a zebra wearing a Carnivale head-dress. Well, not really. But the front was quite colourful.

Orvieto's colourful cathedral

The real attraction of the town, for us, was the Etruscan Underground tour. Orvieto has about 1,200 man-made caves, built starting in the 6th century BCE, and continuing to just before 1900 CE, when they banned any more. Many are now wine cellars. We got a tour of two large caves, built orginally by the Etruscans. It was amazing to look down a perfectly-dug rectangular well, 90 metres down, made 2,600 years ago. More than a dozen such wells existed, and enabled the Etruscans to withstand siege. The tour also took us through part of the medieval pigeonholes. There's a kilometre of them! The pigeons were raised to be food. Another siege survival tactic. Anica said, hey, I've had pigeon in Egypt! There was also a medieval olive press and mill, a WWII bomb shelter, and an underground quarry. We also liked the fact that it was dry, and 15 degrees inside the caves, whereas outside it was 5 degrees and raining heavily.

After lunch in Orvieto, we drove back and did a little grocery shopping before going home to dry off.

March 7


Miserable again. 3 days that could of been bright and shiny, 3 days that we could of gone to Florence/Firenze. We headed on the SSR71 to Orveito, in 3, 2, 4, 6 degree wheather! Even some snow! When we got to Orveato we found the parking lot for the Finncular up to the town. There's 1 difference! Plus, there tram was even faster! Especially on going down. I don't know why, but it seemed like a quarter less faster then a 6-9 age rollercoaster. We hopped on a bus going to the Duomo, which was across from the Etruscan Underground which after going in the (inside, construction - outside, pretty) Duomo. We went to the Etruscan Underground which wasen't as good as the Cattacombs. Went home, had dinner and tomorrow was...

March 8


Finally, we took the train and went to "Florence." Your know, Firenze. The weather was better today, so it was worth the wait. The most amazing thing about the day was that I once again (see Malacca blog entry) ran into a teacher I know. Elizabeth was there with her school tour group. It's March Break in Ontario. Still, an amazing coincidence: we were both coming out of the Duomo at the same time! I heard a voice say, "Oh my God, Rob!"

The Duomo here is magnificent, with its different coloured marble on the outside, like it's been painted. We did the 436 steps up to see the dome from the catwalk, then step outside for the 360 degree view of Florence.

The campinile in Firenze

Next we happened upon the Accademia and saw there was no lineup. This is not a huge gallery, but it does have Michelangelo's "David." That's enough! We sat on a bench right in front of it, with an unobstructed view, and marvelled. It was a real treat to see like this. Anica noticed how he seems to be swallowing nervously, and perhaps he's not as relaxed as the slingshot-over-the-shoulder pose indicates at first. She also said it's funny that David slew the giant Goliath and now it's David who's 17 feet tall!

We had a great lunch today, maybe the best meal out we've had in Italy. Just great anitipasti and pasta dishes. We also stocked up on books since Florence has several English-language bookshops. Jenn and I picked the biggest, thickest novels we could find so they'd last.

Late afternoon, we walked through Piazza Della Signoria, with its great sculptures and loggia, then past the street performers (and the Uffizi, that will have to wait for another trip to Florence) to the road that looked out over the Ponte Vecchia. Across the famous bridge, and, eventually, back to the train.

Buildings on the Ponte Vecchia

March 8


...Firenze. We got up at 6:30 am to get to the 7:51 train to Firenze. We got second class which looked to me like it was better than first class! We talked to a family of 3 who, like us, were going to Florence. Except, not sightseeing, taking there kid to the hospital (even though she was bouncing around). When we got to Firenze train station the 1st thing we did ws called: find a washroom. We headed towards the Duomo, watching it peaking in and out of tall and small buildings. When we got to the Duomo I gasped excitedtetly at the mixture of coluers and the dome. We walked inside and I noticed the mazelike marble floor and I played get to the end! We climbed the 463 steps to the dome where we got magnifacent views (again!) and we were coming out when Daddy met a teacher! Saw the real, no neat, amazing famous (again barenaked) David. Had lunch, crossed the bridge with shops, had a bottle of water at a hot internet place, got on a train, went home, had dinner, G.N.

March 10


Sometimes, life's little stresses catch up with you. At other times, I might give the impression that it's all sightseeing and skittles on this trip. Well, today was, if not the day from hell, at least the day from heck. Jenn's sick, although functioning. She's still on her feet, but she's clearly picked up some sort of bug. Our computer is sick, too. We're having trouble loading pictures, and with the back-up. So even plan B isn't working right now. That could be devastating in the long run, although if Jenn can get on-line, she'd probably find a way to fix it. The weather continues to be cold, dreary, and rainy. And everywhere we went today, our Mastercard was declined. So we spent about 20 minutes on the phone (costly!) verifying that our card was not running around Florence on Saturday without us. Life gets a lot worse, but for those that want a realistic account of long-term travel, there are days like this.

Remember the Mrs. Lincoln joke? As in, other than that, how did we like Siena today? We didn't see too much of it. Anica did enjoy several runs around the Campo, with its distinctive slope. And we didn't get lost. We had a decent meal, where I finally got to try a Tuscan sausage and white bean dish. Really, it's better than it might sound! But, basically, today was a write-off, and we scurried home out of the rain well before sunset.

Room to run in the distinctive sloped campo of Siena

March 11


For some reason, we all had a really good time today. Jenn was feeling a little better, for part of the day, so that was good. Everything went wrong today, but it was a fun mess. It was "Umbria" day today, which meant we headed south by car. The first stop was Perugia. We had a hard time finding parking, but soon we'd hit on the escalators. One of the definite attractions, I'd heard about this from my parents. Anica loved riding the escalators, which go from the lower town, at the base of the hill/cliff, to the upper town. On the way, you pass by Etruscan ruins discovered when they dug the escalators, then Medieval and Renaissance vaulted tunnels, closer to the surface. Anica took all sorts of pictures, and we went up and down every tunnel. When we got to the top, we admired the view, and after a brief debate, decided to move on. That was it for Perguia!

In Umbria, as in most of Italy, the food is part of the attraction, You must linger over lunch, and sample all the local cuisine you can. Driving into Assisi, we chose to eat at...McDonald's. Oh, the shame. Can I explain? It's not the first time in Italy, we've resorted to Mickey D's. It's like this: we're starving, but it's not yet lunch time, according to Italy. We're in the car, we need to pee. We see the golden arches. They have: free parking, a bathroom, seats, and we can afford it. Jenn calls it the path of least resistance.

Assisi. Wow! This must be the most beautiful, dramatic and memorable of all the Italian hilltop towns we've visited. The cathedral, of Saint Francis, naturally, juts way out the cliffside, with an impressive gleaming white colonnade. The monastery looms highest of all over everything else. The stone is luminous throughout the town. Rich but light colours, like gold and white, and sometimes even pink. It's a little touristy, with all the souvenir shops, but it's always been for tourists...they just used to be called pilgrims.

Approaching Assisi by car

We drove up and up, round and round, and parked as close as we could to the Basilica. It was so wet, and just then it started raining again. Jenn, especially with still not feeling well, was content to sit in the car. Anica and I set out to see what we could find. We ran into a group of tourists who also had no idea where they were in relation to the church. Then Anica directed all of us by finding the sign and the right path. One of the women said, "I don't know about you, but I'm just going to follow the little girl!" And it worked. There was the Basilica. Then came the heavy rain. Even hail. Did God not want us to visit? As if in answer, a lightning bolt hit the top of the church just as we were about to enter. Anica and I dashed through it, fearing our path back to the car, and maybe the road itself would soon be flooded. We took quick looks at the fresco of Saint Francis' life, and at his tomb.

By the time we made it back to the car, the skies were already clearing. We'd ventured out in the very stormiest 30 minutes of the day. In order to show Jenn the Basilica, we drove into the town, interpreting all the "no entro excepto" Italian street signs to mean "except wet tourists from Canada." Eventually, we got out of Assisi without being ticketed. Laughing all the way, ha ha ha...

Umbria, specifically Perugia, is famous for chocolate, and there's a chocolate factory you can tour "just outside" Perugia. We had the name of which exit to take, and that's it. Pushing our luck, we decided to find it. There's only four ways out of Perugia, and we'd just come from one of them, so how hard could it be? We found it, on the third try, of course. We'd go down the highway for a while, say "nope," turn around and try another direction.

When we finally got to the Perugina factory, they said we could join the final tour of the day, but it would be in Italian. Fine, we said. We had a great time, because the group was a grade 7 school field trip. We were the only other people there. I got talking with one of the teachers, who told me they were from Rimini, on the east coast of Italy. We saw the educational video, in Italian. We heard about the process, in Italian. We heard all about the making of the largest chocolate in the world, a 5000 kg Baci. We were laughing the whole time at becoming part of their field trip. The tour guide, who wore a white lab-coat, sometimes translated into English. It was one of those times, however, when we felt we understood Italian somehow.

March 11


Today we went to Perugia, and the rest. We went on a pretty big highway (1 down from the Autostrada) which took us to Perugia, Assis, and (sort of) S.Sisto. When we got to Perugia we parked in a place with 5 escalators! We loved them, and lucikly we enjoyed the veiw - and the escalators so we could go on lots. We finally got up and decided "Hmmm should we go to the choclate factory in S. Sisto?" "No." Ha-ha! That's why we went to Assisi and had a yummy lunch at Md-D. We went up to a Basilica and Mummy stayed in the car. Pouring rain! AND a lightning bolt hit the church! Um, is it safe? We went to S. Sisto where we jumped into a Italian teenage tour group! They had a gueniss world record size peice of choclate! 1000 hours to make and 5 hours to eat! We bought a box of 1 choclate bar, 1 pear choclate bar, a mix and choclate with nuts, cherry peices of choco. with liqer and a choc. bar. Went home, had dinner, G.N.!

March 12


Back to Fienze! We'd booked in advance for the Uffizi, with a 1:30 entrance time. In the morning we toured the Palazzo Vecchio, the "old palace" of the city's rulers. We liked Elenora's apartments, and the map room best. Anica amused herself by counting nude figures in each room. The record was 130, I think.

After lunch, the Uffizi, one of the world's great art galleries. We got Anica an "Art Smart" workbook, which she completed as we toured the gallery. We were there close to four hours! Exhausting for all of us, but lots of highlights. It's best-known for its Botticellis. "The Birth of Venus" and "Primavera" are there. I like Rembrandt's young and old self-portraits, Caravaggio's Medusa shield, Artemsia Gentilelishi's gruesome "Judith" painting, and the Duke and Duchess of Urbino diptych (his profile is famous!). Most of all, Jenn and I both loved Lippi's "Madonna with Child and two Angels." Serenely, supremely beautiful. The building wasn't as badly run or organized as I'd heard, although some of the lighting combined with plexiglass displays the art poorly. The octagonal Tribune room, though, representing the four elements, is itself memorable. Then there's the view of Ponte Vecchio from above. Great place! Tonight at dinner in Florence, I had "wild boar," indulging my love of oxymoronic food.

Looking down on the "old bridge" from the "old palace," Florence

March 13


A quiet day in Castiglion Fiorentino for us. Wouldn't you know it, it's 20 degrees and sunny out at noon. We are getting out and enjoying this town for one last day. Anica and I played on the mini soccer field (a game of kick it off the medieval wall), and I've had a rambling, scrambling walk all over town. Jenn prefers to just fling the shutters open and "enjoy" a day of repacking and organizing and not HAVING to go out unless she feels like it. So long "Cast. f'no." (actual road sign).

Medieval soccer, anyone? The "court" where we played in Castiglion Fiorentino

Posted by jennrob 09:11 Archived in Italy Comments (5)

Thankful for the Tuscan Sun

The first week in Castiglion Fiorentino

sunny 21 °C

Follow the arrow to our place in Castiglion Fiorentino!

Feb 29


On "leap day," we drove to the Tuscan town where we have rented a flat with a fair bit of anxiety. This was for two weeks. What would it be like? We had made the booking so long ago, and now all we had was a cell phone conversation where the owner directed us to "go to Castiglion Fiorentino, meet my father, in Piazza Garibaldi, right by the obilesk." Obilesk? But I had heard right, and soon after we found the spot and the "father" pulled up. He did not speak a word of English, not even hello. But we all managed to communicate through single words of Italian and gestures. Parking's no problem here, there's a large, free public lot, overlooking a valley. In between sections of the lot, there's a shaded playground. Great little area. He then took us to the flat, and wow, what a relief. It's a beautiful apartment, in a house dating to the 1700s inside the medieval city walls of CF. Halfway between Arezzo and Cortona, it's a classic, hilltop Tuscan town. Gorgeous.

The hill-top keep

Our second (i.e. third) floor flat is on the corner, and both sides look out on a church's belltower. One bedroom has a balcony. All the tile and paint and woodwork are interesting, especially the centuries-old looking exposed beams in the ceilings of the bedrooms. After signalling our satisfaction with the place, the father even took us out for coffee, where our awkward but warm "conversation" continued.

March 1


We drove to Arezzo today, about 20 km, despite a bleak-looking sky. Today, a Saturday, there was an antiques market on there, which meant with the streets were lined with tables of antiques dealers. Not our thing, especially when travelling with backpacks, but it added some interest. When we saw a Blockbuster video, we actually bought some bargain-bin used DVDs to have something to watch on those quiet evenings. We even got Anica Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoneix, which we watched (already) tonight.

Arezzo also has the 13th century church of San Francesco, where the inside walls and apse are decorated by frescos done by Piero della Francesca. Normally, you have to reserve in advance to see the "Legend of the True Cross" section in the apse, but this is the off-season! We just bought our ticket and walked in right away. Jenn said to Anica, "do you want to look at the brochure," but Anica surprised us by already knowing the story. She pointed out each panel, explaining "that's Constantine dreaming of the cross," etc. Apparently she'd read that section of our guidebook in the morning, not even knowing she'd see it today! And remembered it! Anyway, it's a beautiful, haunting cycle. The most famous panel is of the Queen of Sheba kneeling in recognition of the true cross.

March 2


Sunday: day of rest. When in Tuscany, do as the Tuscans do. Everything's closed anyway. Anica and I did go to the little soccer-field just down the street. Sorry, "football." I've never seen anything like this. It's an artificial turf, fully-lined, one-third sized field, with one whole side of the field bounded by the medieval city wall, and the rest netted. Open for anyone to use! We have that crazy inflatable ball that's served so many purposes, so we had fun using the field.

March 3


The big Tuscan drive today! We had a couple places in mind, but generally were heading west to the Siena area. Anica gets pretty anxious about whether we know the way or not. I guess we traumatized her that first night with the car in Madrid. We're trying to reassure her that you can't get too lost in Tuscany, and they'll always be signs to find our way back "home." We both remember our parents arguing over maps and directions. I guess it's our turn!

After a nice scenic stretch of driving, we saw what looked like a perfectly maintained fort of a hilltop. Let's go there! It turned out to be a little town inside those walls, called Monteriggioni. Maybe 700 people live there. We had a picnic in a garden/park. Perfect spot, right at noon, with the temperature up over 20 degrees now. The weather has been unseasonably warm ever since we were in Rome.

Monteriggioni's perfectly outlined town walls

The next stop was San Gimignano, known for its medieval towers. My parents always said it was the "Manhattan of Tuscany." We saw the towers from a distance, more than 10 km away, and just knew: that's San Gimignano. Anica said "from here, it looks like another world. Like the city in The Golden Compass.

Unfortunately, we ended up "torturing" Anica there, by taking her to the Museum of Torture, which one of the "kid's" guides had recommended. Anica may like some "gross" stuff, but not where people are getting hurt. Suddenly, Jenn recalled the "Unicorn Palace" music from Vietnam. Anica felt all woozy and sick and we took her out. The staff there quickly produced sugar cubes and water, saying even adults need that sometime. Whoops! So I won't get into the details of this expertly-done, very serious museum. We looked around the town of San Gimignano some more, recovering by sitting in the square of the town's well, and with a dose of gelato.

One of the medieval towers in San Gimignano

The final stop of the day was Vinci. As in "da." As in "Leonardo." They have a museum there (MUCH more kid-appropriate) where they've built some of his machines based on his sketchbook. The best part was the flying machine, displayed in an old castle, and the water-related inventions, such as his diving suit, planks for walking on water, and paddleboat.

Well-proportioned people in Vinci

The drive back, in the dark, involved a few more wrong turns, worries, and arguing about who was right or not listening. I think I was wrong, and I was not listening, if memory serves. But we made it! We were about 200 km from CF, so that's not bad for night driving. Most of the time it's too dark to check the map, and there's hardly any room to pull over.

March 4


Just down the road from CF is the much-better known town of Cortona, thanks to "Under the Tuscan Sun." We found it a very fun drive, twisting up the hillside on a nice sunny day. Then we found the internet point where I'm writing this now. We looked around some of the main squares of the town, and (this was Jenn's idea not mine this time) walked up the really long, steep hill to the top of the hill (or am I allowed to say mountain?) that overlooks even the town itself. On the way up, the path is lined with a series of mosiacs displaying the Passion of Christ, done in modernist/Futurist style. The path back down is part of the original Roman road, and at the top is a church and monastery. We ran into a retired Canadian couple from Ottawa and talked about each others' travels. "Did you walk up too?" they asked. "It must only be the crazy Canucks who will do this!"

Cortona is all about stairs and hills!

March 5


We got up early to take the train to Florence (sorry, Firenze) today, but then looked outside. The Tuscan sun was gone! So were the warm temperatures. Today it poured rain and dropped to about 4 degrees. When we did venture outside we saw snow (which we vaguely recalled the look of from our distant past) on the hilltops all around our town. A couple of hundred metres higher and the rain was hitting the ground as snow! So now, we're even more appreciative of the weather we WERE having.

Loggia and church in Castiglion Fiorentino, on a sunnier day

Feb 29


"Tuscany: Castiglion F'no. What?"

Back on the road again. The old, think-it's-the-best Austostrada. Like it was a boring drive! We stopped for lunch, and when we got to Tuscany and the road to C.F. (Casteglion Fiorentino) was in a continuing valley with montins in the distance! Our town was only 15 km away! We found the place where we were supposed to meet the guy and because early got to play. The guy who met us spoke no English but we had engouh Italian to say Cappicino, Hot Choclate and a bottle of water. He treated us out to that but I think the guys (Frans and Nutty) in Nerja were nicer and our place was by a playground and a short drive to a pretty big supermarket. Went home, had dinner (our place is 8 stars nice), G.N.!

March 3


"The Other World Town and a TORTURING Museum"

Today, luckily was a good day even though we basicaly just drove. Though we did stop at lots of places! We passed by Arezzo (a city smaller then Siena) and went through Siena before getting out of the car to have a lovely, quiet and betuifull lunch at the (prettily) walled town of Monteriggioni. And THEN we finally went to San Gimiango, which, from far away looks like the world in the Golden Compass, the different world, not ours. We first went to the torturing Torture Museum which (accroding) to a guidebook equals enough things to make kids squeal with delight. WHAT?! I couldent even make it on to the second floor! I -was-so-sick! I was going to throw up if Mum and Dad haden't sat me outside and looked sepratly.

March 4


"Cortona: The Hillside Town"

Yay! Hip-hip! Out again but not a very long drive. We parked quickly in Cortona and me and Dad did a quick run up this big rock and don. Who knows? It could of been a ruin. Probaly not though! We entered the city wall and in less then a second I knew we were in the land of hills. It, or the streets were so UPHILL! There, there was only 1 straight road! We hiked up a road with images of Jesus, Mary, etc etc...They were mosiacs, with gold. Talked to a Canadian couple, checked if the church was open, went down, went back, rested, had dinner, G.N.!

Posted by jennrob 03:32 Archived in Italy Comments (3)

A Week in the Eternal City

"Ancient Footsteps Are Everywhere"

sunny 15 °C

Feb 22


Somewhere in the heart of Rome, we began our sightseeing. The bus and subway route worked out easily, and we got out at the "Spagna" station, near the "Spanish Steps." They were underwhelming. Because of winter (no azaleas) and renovations (the obelisk was covered), it seemed like a pretty drab marble staircase.

So, onward. The Trevi Fountain made more of an impression of the three of us. We heard it before we saw it, coming around the corner at one side of this block-wide fountain. Its carving spills out of the wall and foundation of the building behind it, all one structure. The temperature was about 18 degrees by now, and we enjoyed some time in the sun sitting beside the edge of the fountain. We threw the first coin over our shoulders to ensure "a safe return trip to Rome" (perhaps after our day trip to Pompei") and then a second coin for a wish. Then, because we had all these Tunisian coins, we kept throwing them in, making silly and serious wishes. Twelve coins in the fountain: which wish will the fountain bless?

A few blocks away, we came to the Pantheon. This was the ancient building I was most looking forward to seeing in Rome. I was pleased that Anica gasped "Wow! Look at that!" as soon as we came into the square. It needed no context to be impressive. However, once I said that it's an ancient Roman building 2000 years old, Anica was just flabbergasted. She's seen Roman ruins in Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia and Spain, but this is completely intact. Saved by becoming a Christian church in 600, the Pantheon was the largest dome in the world for over a millennium. Inside we saw Raphael's tomb, and those of the first two Savoy kings (Anica signed the "guestbook", apparently throwing our support to their claims. Whoops!)

Light entering the Pantheon through its "oculus"

After that we spent some time in the Piazza Navona, a famous square that's actually an oval because it was once a race-track. We enjoyed the artists, street performers, musicians, and, of course, more fabulous fountains. Down a side street, we got gelato. Huge portions of gelato! Good value, actually, and a place to sit and watch everyone else negotiate their way down the cobblestone laneway. Also today we'd confirmed our addiction to bookstores, by browsing in an Italian bookstore, then a Spanish bookstore, then a French bookstore. As long as they have books!

Once again, we had dinner back at the apartment. Partly by choice, partly because, when we start early on the sightseeing, we can't make it to 8:00 before wanting dinner!

Feb 23


It was dazzlingly sunny, and much warmer than I'd dared to hope for in Rome again today. We didn't need coats of any kind. The perfect day to see the ruins of ancient Rome. We started with the Colosseum, beating the lineups by getting there at 9 AM. Before you even get out of the Metro station, you see it looming. It is big. Even now. With 50,000 seats, it once held just as many people as where the Toronto Blue Jays play their major league baseball. We were glad, however, that we'd been to El Jem, and walked under the floor, and to other amphitheatres and walked up the aisles and sat in the seats. You can't do that in Rome. You can just do a circuit around the ground level and a circuit around an upper level. It's the views from the outside and the views looking out that are the real attraction. And also the fact that this is the ultimate place for gladiator games.

Here's one of their unofficial wedding photos. Outside the Colosseum

We examined the Arch of Constantine outside the Colosseum, and then began our walk down the Via Sacra through the area known as the "Roman Forum." Yesterday, we'd bought "Rick Steve's Rome," a guidebook with a lot of self-guided tours, full of light information and anecdotes. Today, Anica read aloud and followed the maps for the "self-guided tours" to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Capitoline Museums. Sometimes one of us would take a turn, but it was mostly her. On a good day, like today, she's probably got more endurance and interest than Jenn or me.

The Forum is an amazing stretch of real estate. Highlights include the arch of Titus, woefully depicting the defeated Israelites; the Basica of Constantine (with three enormous arches still intact); the place where Julius Caesar's body was burned (with many fresh flower bouquets laid on it); the palace and houses of the Vestal Virgins (almost completely gone, but it was an interesting story to tell Anica, who is the same age as the girls were when chosen for 30 years of chaste service); and the Rostrum, Curia, ....lots.

The remaining arches of the Basilica of Constantine

At the far end of the Forum, we walked up the stairs to Capitol Hill, and the square designed by Michaelangelo, to enter the Capitoline Museum. Here is a museum that opened its doors before Columbus made his first voyage to the new world. There were a few highlights that we really wanted to see, namely the pieces of the colossal statue of Constantine, the sculpture of Romulus and Remus with the she-wolf, and the statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback. There were other items that caught our eye, too, like statues of centaurs, of Pan, and of Medusa. And it had a good cafeteria for lunch! We did that first.

Constantine is #1!

To finish a very full day of sightseeing, we went up to Palatine Hill, mainly because it's included in the ticket price for the Colosseum. This is where we ran out of steam, which was fine, because it's more of an adjunct to the main sights of the Forum. We did see the great view over the Forum and Colosseum, and, on the opposite side of the hill, a view over what was once the Circus Maximus. The oval shape of the long chariot track is still obvious, and a lone cypress tree marks the "turn." The cars, smaller than matchbox cars from our vantage point, parked all around the top of the hill, helped show how 250,000 people could gather to watch the chariot races. Yes, a quarter of a million people, on a regular basis.

Home for dinner again. Meatballs, risotto and a salad, all fresh from the supermercato down the street! We're all enjoying Jenn's cooking. We're tired, but happy. Tomorrow, Sunday, will be our "day of rest."

Feb 25


Well-rested, from a day where the most taxing activity was walking to the gelateria, we took on the sights of Vatican City. Talk about a full day! The lineup was huge for the Vatican Museum, stretching around the walls of Vatican City for more than two blocks. This was 9:30 in the morning, half an hour before it opened, and the same time we'd got to the Colosseum to find no lineup. But it moved quickly and we were inside in 40 minutes.

Right from the start, I confirmed my wildest imaginings about what treasures the Vatican has amassed. Just walking down any corridor and looking at the ceiling would be a world-class architectural and artistic experience.

We enjoyed seeing their Egyptian collection, especially Anica. They have an unwrapped mummy (not royal), some well-decorated sarcophaguses and many other well-chosen (plundered) items. Not to mention many of the lioness/goddess stations from the temple of Mut at Karnak. In a related area, there's wonderful examples of Sumerian cuneiform writing. The first writing! Here I am typing this on a computer keyboard and sending it around the world electronically, yet what the Sumerians invented would have seemed even more incredible in its time. They even had envelopes, we saw today.

The Greek area was a revelation. Incredible sculptures. One, entitled Laocoon, was used as the image on our ticket stub, and had been buried and lost for a thousand years until the Renaissance. It showed a Trojan trying to warn of the Greeks being attacked by snakes.

We laughed at the various sizes of fig leaves covering the male bits and pieces. Anica delighted in pointing out the statues that weren't covered by a fig leaf.

In the tapestries hall, where the tapestries themselves were epic, we were even more delighted by the ceilings, which seemed to be relief sculpting, but were "just" painted.

Then, the Raphael rooms: I was most looking forward to seeing "The School of Athens," because of how often I've used it to explain how the Renaissance was connected to antiquity. And, yes, this fresco is far better in person that it is in any reproduction. Really, you have to be in that particular room to understand its contours by seeing where the doors are.

Finally, we arrived at the Sistine Chapel. This was harder to enjoy. First of all, I didn't realize how plain (relatively) the room itself is. A long rectangle. Secondly, there were huge crowds, and guards shouted "silencio" every couple of minutes. We didn't take pictures because you weren't allowed, but many did (or tried) and then the guards dealt with that. Thirdly, it's near the end of the galleries, so you're already overwhelmed by hours of gallery-going. Finally, you had to crane your neck just to look at...okay, I guess that last criticism just goes to show how painful (you might say it was "agony") it was for Michelangelo to paint the ceiling. If it weren't for the "hype," there's no doubt I would be awestruck. It's beautiful, and the little square they left uncleaned in the corner shows how dark and drab it was before the restoration. I liked "The Last Judgement" on the end wall, in particular, with the one angel holding an entire human skin that's a Michelangelo self-portrait. I liked the "Creation" panel, of course, and also the one of Adam and Eve being banished from Eden.

After a visit to the "Pinoateca" gallery, and some pizza in the cafeteria, we walked over to St. Peter's Square. Anica said she'd like to come back at Christmas when she's 24 because that's the next time the "holy door" to the right of the main entrance will open. She also noticed the gold background of the letter running all the way around the church. She couldn't tell, from ground level, that each letter is seven feet tall! Nor could she tell, not being able to read Latin (as if I can!) that these are all the words Jesus spoke to Peter. Thank-you, tourist guidebook.

I didn't realize that the "Vatican II/good Pope," or Pope John XXIII, is on display under glass here in St. Peter's. Some people just stroll by, snap a picture (with flash, even) and then move on as if they haven't given a thought, or felt the need to show any respect to his body.

After seeing the rest of the highlights (Bernini's altar, the dome, Michelangelo's "Pieta" sculpture...), we plopped ourselves down in the sun, starting to set over St. Peter's Square. Again today, except when it rained briefly and conveniently when we were inside the gallery, it was warm enough to not even need a jacket.

Feb 26


Here's how today went: first we saw graves without bones and then we saw bones without graves. Let me explain about our "day of the dead." We headed off on foot from our apartment in the morning, because we're within walking distance of Via Appia Antica (or the ancient Appian way). This was the first of the great Roman roads, built in 312 B.C. and we walked along a stretch that still has the original pavement of cobblestones. Along the way we had a tour of St. Sebastian's Catabombs, part of the miles of eary Christian underground graveyards in what were then (and still are now) the suburbs of Rome. It was suitable creepy, although all the actual bones are gone so it's tunnel after tunnel of empty slots and coffins.

Then we hopped on the bus, after a harrowing walk down the busy, narrow, modern part of the Appian Way, and later in the day visited the Capuchin crypt. Here were bones without graves. The Capuchin monks, in the process of moving, began a morbid "art" project of arranging the bones of their brothers. There are a half dozen vaults, and each has a type of bone that dominates, such as the room of pelvic bones. Skulls are everywhere. The message at the end reads: "we once were what you are; you will be what we are." True, but I don't think my skeleton will be wired to the ceiling holding a sycthe made out of somebody else's bones!

Feb 27


Our only rainy day in Rome, and wouldn't you know it, we were hoping to go to Borghese Gardens, the central park of Rome. to But we didn't dare complain about the weather because we've been absolutely blessed this week. Even today, we got to the park, and had a good long time at a playground area before it started raining. It had unique climbing structures and a children's library/store, too.

So we went back to the Spanish Steps area and had a big, long lunch at a traditional (though touristy) Italian restaurant.

Rome has been magnificent and our apartment has been quite good. It was never as cold again as the first night, when the heat had been off for who knows how long. And we've been able to pick up (inconsistently) a weak wireless signal. Those are two mild culture shocks that we've overcome, then: laws about heating and wireless internet in Italy. By law, heating can only be on certain hours of the day. And unsecured wireless internet signals are supposed to be illegal (under anti-terrorist laws, always a convenient excuse). One we haven't found a way around is the system for mailing packages. It's rivalled only by India for bother. Jenn has also had her purse unzipped her more than anywhere else, although nothing's been stolen from it. The "crazy" traffic in Rome we've heard about is actually pretty tame. Using our experience from Asia, we're able to cross streets easily and safely. People actually follow us! We've also become quite used to the bus/subway routes, and get around those like locals. So long, Route 716 to Garbatella station!

Anica in our South Rome flat

Feb 28


An overnight sojurn to Pompei, on Anica's "must-see" list since she read the Magic Treehouse book about it over two years ago. It was nice to see her enthusiasm for the place undimmed. Jenn had found a charming hotel in Pompei over the internet, and haggled a discount, and we were delighted that Hotel Diana let us check in really, really early - 10:30 in the morning. We were able to enjoy a good long visit to the Pompei ruins. And then they recommended a local restaurant for us (that didn't break the bank), so we had a nice dinner afterwards. As for what we saw there, I'll leave that mainly to Anica's diary entry to describe. I've already read it, and she doe a great job. In fact, I suspect most of you reading our blog probably skip to Anica's entries! We did take a peek at the Pompei brothel with its famous frescoes. Since Anica's already seen the Sousse red light district and Pisa streetwalkers (or chair-sitters), we figured this was tamer. Pompei is massive, and once again, I'm glad we'd seen the ruins of Tunisia and Jordan first, where you have to use your imagination, and then Rome and Pompei, where the full effect is all the more appreciated.
Feb 22


"The First Sighseeing Day"

Today we went on our first Italian metro (not a very intresting annoucement). When we exited we saw the not-in-Spain "Spanish Steps." Dirty, wet (and I thought it was from the sewer!) Not as good as the in-Spain Spanish Steps. Ha ha. There was also a pretty fountain.

Trevi fountain: ok, this was the 5-star fountain. Huge and pretty, Trevi Fountain has images of Neptune and some slaves. Maybe someone else. Doing the "get money - wish you'd go back to Rome - throw it over your back" thing made me feel embareses. I don't know why?! We went to have lunch at McDonald's.

Pantheon: OH-My GOSH! 2000 years old and not in ruins - yikes! Relly not in ruins...2000 years...How? How? I noticed that the eye in the building was the building's only light (unless you count the doors open). I had lots of quistions about it.

Did you know? Jennifer had had 100 or more hawkers and she is still not used to them. See, she just said I want to KICK THEM! HAO-YAH.

Piazza Navona. We had Italian gelato!! Went home, had dinner, G.N.

[The Sweet Life. Italian gelato near the Trevi Fountain

Feb 23


"The Real 'Roman' Amphitheatre"

We got to the metro stop, climbed up the stairs: what did we find? The Colosseum. In ruins, but amazing, the colosseum was a in-Rome Roman amphitheatre. Everybody enjoyed the place in terms of not being disturbed. You would think you'd walk inside the Colosseum and find a big lineup, right? No. Sometimes you will, sometimes you won't. We got a short lineup. You couldn't climb it which made me upset, but it is in ruins! You can't build it back together with no pieces! We moved on the Arch of Constantine, after the Colosseum. The Arch of Constantine had many relifs of the long-lost Empror.

The Forum, Palentine Hill, and Capitol Hill...and the arch of Severus Snape (also known as Septimus Severus; kids, do you see why?) Now, most of the Forum hills and arches were in ruins, some only having 2 colums left, but still with a Rick Steves self guided tour it was enjoyable. 75 feet high arches ina basilaca, even though we didn't get to see the 130 feet hight roof, we still saw big (only thing left) arches! One temple there was only 3 or 5 coulems standing! We went up to the pace where Caesar was burned on the spot! There were still floweres there! When we got the arch of Septimus Severus, I all of a sudden shouted, "Dad! Look: the arch of Severus Snape!" I knew it wasen't but it only was a joke!

We went up Capital hill to have lunch and look at the museum. The one thing me and Dad enjoyed apart from the big peices of body from Constantine was the arm that you could stick half of your arm under and make it look like you had a tiny arm and a huge other half! We went up Palentine Hill, went home, had dinner (at home), G.N! P.S. Mummy makes good dinners!
Feb 25


"The Vatican: a new country with no borders"

OK, I diden't really think this was a country, but it did have its own currency and post office. The museum had a really good Egyptian section with 2 mummies, poettery, sargophhagesis. Also one section by it had the world's first writing! We saw fig leaves over the (sorry) penis's :) ha ha! they were plaster though :( One statue had a man and two kids being atackked by snakes. Another, hunting. The hall of animels was neat, exept for having dog hunting scenes. The tapastries, paintings, stautes were pretty and my favrite 3 rooms were Egyptian, Animal and tapastries. I diden't like the Sistine Chapel as much as I thought I would - but the ceiling: pretty. Had lunch, and went to St. Peter's Basilaca, which was pretty and had a persons body. We sat on St.Peters square with its fountins and obilisk. Went home, had dinner (at home), G.N.!

Here's a descriptive story or essay by Anica that she wrote today. She thought it would fit in well with our travel blog. As usual, I'll type it exactly as she wrote it in terms of spelling and punctuation. This time, I added paragraphs. -Rob

"The World"

Sometimes, I think that the world is the brain of a guenis-world-record sized head. The smallest planet is his belly, and the biggest; his leg. The people who live in the brain have never found a way out. But once only, the World bumpted his head and cracked open a hole at the top. That was the day we invented rocketships.

Also, one day, there was a big storm in the worlds hometown. It knocked out t.v. He now dreams of it: that's why we have t.v. He sings, so we have music too.

The world has lived for over a thousand years. He is the oldest person in his hometown. The police are angels. Evreybody who cares (like poilce, nurses, docters) is a angel. Crimanals, there demons. The crimanals are only there because the world knows everybody will have hard times. Like the day we invented rockets.

The world dreams of a langue, some langue. It could be English, German, Italian, Spanish, French, any one. We have letters because he wants them.

The water is his hair. Little, circle shaped islands could be his eyes and nose, a crescent shaped island could be his mouth. Everything else: freckels.

Animals they come from the world's sister. One time she saw a animel. She is the god of animals. Grownups (and seniors) are the world's sisters and brothers, and us, kids, daughters or sons.

One day the world will die and everything will be deystored. The End.

Feb 26


"Death Day with artistic bones"

O.K., I know we've had days like this but this was the real death day. We went to the cattacombs (underground tombs hat Christins made outside Rome.) We had a guide that was o.k. but not perfect in English. Such as: "twenty tuh." "Excuse me" said a women. Twenty two?" "Yes. twenty tuh" (?) No bones though and only 2 (one practicly ruined) sarcohaguses. We walked down the Appian Way with its original chariot marks and stones. We took a look at the Trevi fountin (having gone on Metro from Palentine Hill to that) and went to lunch at a wood oven pizza place. After, we went to a crypt, which had full monks with crosses and bones for the walls, ceiling and lights. They also had a skelaton desinged to be the Grim Reeper. Went home, had dinner. G.N.

Feb 28


"Pompei: The Lava City"

We drove. Sounds like (so far), today might not be intresting. But, we did, though, see Pompei! I think that dying the way some people dyed was painfull. I do now that death (if you get killed) can always be painfull. But just looking at how they're trying to cover them selfs up, dog twisting and barking in pain...I feel...bad. We sw the amphathire which would of been covered with a roof in 79 AD. We also aw tombs of people who died before the volcano erupted. We got more into the main town which had houses you could peek into to guess wheter the family was rich or poor or mid-range and fast food outlets (kids and parents: not your usal McDonalds or Burger King), that you could go behind the counter and pretend you where baking something fresh from the oven.

Anica demonstrates use of the Pompei fast food corner counter

The crosswalks where fun too! They were oval rocks you jumped on to get to the other side. Pretending you where in a chariot on the chariot-wheel-marked roads and walking on the sidewalks was fun too.

Pompei crosswalk

We also went to a bakery which had flour things donkeys could push around, a oven, and it was not very ruined.

The largely-intact Pompei bakery

Went home,had dinner, G.N.!

Posted by jennrob 11:53 Archived in Italy Comments (3)

All Roads Lead You-Know-Where

3 Day, 3 Countries on the Way to Rome

sunny 14 °C

Feb 19


A nice night in Nice? Nice enough to leave us wanting more. We're really just stopping here, en route to Italy, and we're certainly not doing it justice. Our usual lack of an accurate map or directions, however, ensured that we saw more of Nice than we really wanted to. We arrived at our hostel for the night, Villa St. Exupery. This is not an ordinary hostel. Sure, we have bunk beds, we helped washes our dishes, etc., but this place is brightly painted (with painted "Little Prince" murals), has a huge funky dining room, and serves good homemade food. It's in a former monastery, so I suspect it's named after the saint, not the French author. It was nice to hang out in the common room and talk with some of the other hostelers. Also, this place had the holy trinity of breakfast, parking and internet included.

Holy buffet. In Villa St. Exupery, a converted monastery

The drive here could have gone smoothly, but we were very thankful we got here safelly, having seen the afftermath of a huge, guardrail-crashing accident that backed up the highway for two hours. So, I guess we were in the car for about 10 hours today when we expecting 6 and a half.

Feb 20


With even less fanfare than when we entered France, we entered Italy today. Thus, our third country in three days. All in the name of getting Rome at an allegedly leisurely pace. We almost missed the little EU flag with the word "Italia" in the middle. First impressions? Snow-capped mountains in the distance, countless greenhouses on the terraced hillsides, and improbable villages perched on hilltops or plunked in valleys.

We did well with a place to stop tonight in choosing Lucca. First, we were able to grab a nice, cheap lunch at a local place. "Deli," we'd call it at home. This was my first attempt at communicating in Italy. I did well, except when I tried to mime "is it ok to park there?" and got handed the washroom key.

Anica shows the massive scale of Lucca's old-city walls

Then, we found a hotel, that, while over our budget, included breakfast, parking and internet. Once again, our holy trinity. And, it was just outside the old city walls of Lucca. What is it about walled cities? They're so neat to walk around in. The look of this one had more in common with Angkor Thom in Cambodia than it did Sousse in Tunisia, because of the grassy area that was once a moat, and the somewhat sloped wall of reddish bricks. We soon set out to explore within the red-brick ramparts. Anica took over, and guided us flawlessly through the Eye-Witness Guide's "street-by-street" walking tour. She insisted we go into both the cathedral (dedicated to St. Martin, who cut his garment to share with a pauper) and another church (famous for the "King of Lucca" cruxification figure of Jesus. Great story: this black wood carving is said to have been made by a disciple of Jesus, and arrived in Lucca during the 13th century, sailing by unmanned ship and then being carried by untamed bulls). We also saw a medieval tower with a rooftop garden, so you look up about ten stories and see huge oak trees sprouting out of the roof. Anyway, Anica was very enthused about the walk using the map.

A tree grows in Lucca...

Our energy never recovered, however, from the long walk after the long drive. We just ate tuna, olives, chips and snacks in our hotel room, because we couldn't be bothered to wander around the old town again, looking for a good place to have dinner.

Feb 21


On our way again early this morning. We made it to Pisa, and saw a sign for the "Field of Miracles" where The Leaning Tower is. In fact, we saw several signs for it, but not enough. There were always a few missing, and so we'd veer off-course. Finally we spotted the tower itself and got parked. If you're ever going to the Leaning Tower, and don't intend to stay too long, park in the "Pam's supermarket" parking lot one block away. We bought some groceries for lunch, and our 90 minute parking was then free!

Free, too, was our visit, because we had no interest in paying $25 each to go up the Leaning Tower. So we got to look at it, try out the silly "holding up the Leaning Tower" pose, and walk around the yard known as the "Field of Miracles." This is comprised of the tower, the Duomo (cathedral), the Santo Campo, and the bapistry pulpit. The latter is a gorgeous building, like a giant round jewel box.

Pisa's "Field of Miracles

On the way out of Pisa, we took a smaller highway. we soon noticed prostitutes, sitting in armchairs along a tree-lined service road running parallel to this highway. Sometimes, there'd be a chair, but no prostitute. Not on duty, or otherwise engaged, I suppose. Interesting system. Gives new meaning to the term "service" road, doesn't it?

Then, it was on to Rome. All roads lead there, but not anywhere specific in Rome. We still had to find our rental apartment. That meant the usual: missing our exit, going the wrong way, etc. Does this happen to everyone? Shouldn't signs be clearer? Will we get better with the driving/navigating act? Anica sure is patient with us.

But, we per served and found the place, met the woman who's renting it to us, and were pleased with how it looks. Cold, though! The heat is not on 24/7. Even though it was 18 degrees today and we ate lunch outside, now it's about 10 degrees, and it's a good thing heat is available from 6-9. We found out later

So far in Rome, then, we've just settled in and done errands. We bought transit passes and groceries, and had a nice dinner at "home."

Feb 19


"Our Roman Drive"

Today we got up early becuse we had to leave early. It took us a bit of time to get out of Barcelona and to get to are highway. When we finally got on the highway we stopped at a service station so we could use a washroom and maybe (can't remember) get gas. (Longest tunnel so far: 1990 m) Back o highway we went through a couple more tunnels (and by exicts) before going to another servaice staiton to get lunch. When we finaly got to one (enclding oneways and no entry streets) hostel we looked around the hostel, jumped up and down for bunk beds(!) and went to dinner with, orangina, pizza with salami and chesse, ham, and twix for me. G.N.

Feb 20


Today we went to Lucca, which had a pretty, old town behind monsterus red, high brick walls. That wasen't all of the town - the main town was sort of city-like. When we arrived we saw a bakery/shop looking restaurant, where we got a pasta/lasagna looking dish for Mum, a salami sandwich for me, and a Italian sandwich for Dad. We (luckily) found a 3-star hotel by the gates to the old town (pretty and with lions, big plus for me, my favourite animals are jungle cats), pretty rooms, and warm and cozy beds. When we went inside the old town we went on a street by street map in our book. We saw a church (2), a piazza, a statue of Mary and Jesus, Via Fillungo, a shopping street, and a tower with trees on top of it (?). The church had a pretty bell tower. Went home, had dinner, G.N!

Feb 21


"The Bragging Leaning Tower of Pisa and the snap-shot city. Lucca-Pisa-Rome"

Today we went to the worst tower on our trip so far: the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Not better than the Sagrada Famia towers. The Sagrada Famia towers were my favourite. The drive there was ong and we took a bit of time finding the tower. My reasons for not liking the LTOP: not as leaning as I thought it would be, and the Sagrada Familia towers were taller (I like tall towers). The building was neat - but you know...the Sagrada Famia was way better! We went on a higway to Rome, stopping for a lunch break. We got lost by going 20 km the wrong way. But found are (nice) apartment, went out, had dinner (at home). G.N.

Posted by jennrob 12:43 Archived in Italy Comments (7)

Frozen Music

Our "Rambla" Through Barcelona

semi-overcast 14 °C

Feb 14-15


Once you start driving, you never know. We ended up breaking the ten hour drive from Nerja to Barcelona into two very uneven days of 9 hours the first day and just 1 hour on the second day. Anica was very patient. We even let her sing long, annoying and repetitive songs and we didn't scream. It's better than having a kid whose whining about how much farther.It helped that we eventually decided Tarragona looked like a nice city in which to spend the night. Tarragona has turned out great for us. We found a hotel pretty easily, the Hotel Lauria (great location), which has its own postage-stamp size underground parking lot, and we were able to enjoy the wide pedestrian thoroughfare called the Rambla Nova.

Being Valentine's Day, we did try for a special dinner. We had a Catalan food buffet at a place called El Tiberi. At 8:15 we were the first diners to arrive. It didn't start to fill up until 9:00. They really do eat late in Spain. It wasn't great, though, and they charged full price for Anica.

Tarragona has been a city since the Roman era, and was once the capital of Catalonia. I noticed a lot of signs in Spanish and Catalan, and think I heard it spoken to me a few times tonight. English is way down the list of languages spoken here.

This is a statue, but people actually do this here!

We admired the statues along the Rambla Nova. One is in bronze of the "castellers," of people making human towers. I thought it was just a statue, but people actually do this here! They compete at festival times, and each town has a team.

In the morning, we took time to look out over the sea (our hotel was just a block from the end of the Rambla Nova where it overlooks the train tracks and the waterfront), and to walk past the Roman Amphitheatre. For those of you keeping count, is that eight Roman amphitheatres? We didn't go in, so Anica didn't get to climb this one, but we had good views of it from above. It's right by the sea as well.

As we were already only 100 km from Barcelona, was decided to take a detour to the monastery at Montserrat. I remember my parents saying what an incredible setting this is. Well, they were right! Especially on a beautiful sunny day like today. Montserrat is way up the side of a rocky mountain. And these are some pretty distinctive rocks, I must say. We drove all the way around and up the mountain, with gorgeous views opening up with every hairpin turn. At the "top," is a Basilica and a monastery, but it doesn't end there. The whole mountainside is well-marked with hiking trails, and there are shrines and crosses here and there. We took a funicular railway (Jenn gripping the handrail tightly) up to "Saint Joan's" mountaintop chapel. We dashed up a couple of peaks to see the views across valleys in differing directions, then got the funicular back down. When we went in the Basilica, we got to go up behind the altar and pass through an ornately-decorated cupola containing "the black virgin," the most important religious object at Montserrat.

Montserrat, with the distinctive rocks about it

Arriving in Barcelona, we've been pleased so far with our hotel. The location is east of the downtown, but in a very cool, modern, spacious area by the port. Barcelona must be the greatest city in the world for post-modern architecture, from what I've seen so far. And we drive all the way across "Diagonal" avenue to get here, one of Barcelona's grandest, longest streets.

We've made a lot of inquiries the past few days about upcoming rentals. There was one, however, in London, that we thought sounded "too good to be true." We wrote emails to them, asking for more information, and noticed that their spelling and punctuation was curiously poor for someone renting in posh Westminster. We phoned them, but couldn't get through. We decided to trust our instincts and not pursue this rental property, especially since they were asking for a bigger deposit than anyone else. Boy, has that ever proved to be the right move! In checking our email this morning, we were amused to find a message from a holiday rentals website warning us not to book there. The property's been removed from the site! Now, as some point we may get ripped off, but we dodged one there by trusting our instincts.

Feb 16


One of the entrances to the Sagrada Familia

When the gates opened today at the Sagrada Familia,at 9 AM, a Saturday, we were there. Gaudi's work still in progress cathedral, begun in 1898 and scheduled for completion a mere 50 years from now, was something all three of us had been looking forward to seeing. Despite the fact that the interior resembles a workshop or art studio more than a church, it didn't disappoint. It's huge, it's eccentric, it's naturalistic and modernistic and there's so much to look at. There's two elevators; we all went on the first (higher) one, and got great views over the towers (and over Barcelona) for that matter. Instead of taking the elevator back down, we walked down the nautilus shell-inspired staircase. Very tight spiral! I went up the second one too, over the Nativity entrance, and walked across a bridge right past the sculpted white doves sitting on the sculpted evergreen tree. Anica and Jenn soaked up more Gaudi information in the museum and film area while I was there. Anica's binocular came in handy as we interpreted the carvings above each entrance.

Once again, Anica's endurance outstripped our own. As we sat on a park bench across from the Sagrada Familia, Anica played on the playground equipment. We made good use of our three-day transit pass from there, taking the metro just two stations to go directly to the Gaudi apartment building, "La Predrera" (a.k.a. Casa Mila). Another costly admission, but worth it (though we drew the line at Casa Batlo down the street, which charged the most of all. Enough of our Euros had gone to Gaudi sites by then). Anyway, La Predrera was neat because we got to go on the roof (a "garden" of chimneys that look anything but chimneys), and tour an apartment restored to a typical 1905 style, complete with a child's room with toys. Anica liked their dollhouse! In the "attic" of the building there's an exhibition about Gaudi''s methods and materials. The attic itself is intriguing: over 100 brick archways help lighten the load on the building but give it the look of a medieval church basement.

Boba Fett's family reunion: the rooftop of Gaudi's "La Predrera"

Despite all this, we were still fairly fresh after lunch for our walk down "La Rambla." It might be the greatest pedestrian street thoroughfare in the world Anica really enjoyed the street performers, especially the people in costumes who pose like statues. We all enjoyed our detour into the market. La Rambla ends at a 60 metre high statue of Columbus. Across the street is the marina. We sat down, at last, and realized we didn't have much energy or creativity left, so we just took the metro back one stop and ate at the Hard Rock cafe. Ever since Hong Kong, Anica's kept her eye out for more Hard Rock cafes. We've skipped a couple, but the timing was right tonight. Even at an unfashionably early hour (especially for Spain), we had to wait a few minutes for a table.

Fairytale of the street. La Rambla, Barcelona

The coolest thing about today, though, happened in a metro station, where we noticed a young woman was singing with a trio of musicians who were busking in the corridor. She was really belting out the song, with a good voice, and knew most of the words. All of us in the crowd were cheering her on. The musicians were beaming at her, too. When she finished, she blushed, picked up all her shopping bags, and went off in search of the right subway line. This was not the frozen music of architecture. Just music. And Barcelona at its best.

Feb 17

Sunday in the park, and what a park! We spent most of the day in Park Guell today, Gaudi's failed housing development that eventually became the world-famous park that it is now. It was warm enough again that we were able to have a picnic. We threw the leftovers to the birds, cheering for the brightly-coloured parakeets over the usual pigeons.

Park Guell is set up on a hill, and has two areas: the "monumental" area, which Gaudi designed, and the more wooded, walking trail area. It was also nice, because it goes steadily farther uphill, providing more and more panoramic views of Barcelona right down to the sea. One such viewpoint overlooked a house inhabited by would-be anarchists, who had hung a banner reading "Why call it tourist season if we can't shoot them?" Ironically, dozens of tourists gathered to take a picture of this banner.

The monumental area is like stepping through the looking glass. Mushroom houses, the famous bench shaped like a serpent, and a covered walkway with rough stone arches modelled after waves. Under the big public area (which the serpentine bench encloses like a horseshoe) is an area held up 89 ribbed columns. Some of the outer columns are angled like buttresses would be, creating the effect that they've fallen over slightly.

Anica at the entrance to Park Guell

It was no trouble spending hours in Park Guell, although with all the walking (it's ten minuted uphill from the nearest metro station even), we didn't feel like doing much more today. That fit in well with our theme of "cheap day," where we able to recoup some of the amount we went over budget the last two days. Europe, always expensive, has become even more expensive since we last estimated costs (about a year ago). Hotels Jenn had earmarked have gone up 10-20 Euros since then. Gas has gone up. Toll routes and admission costs have gone up. We will do the trip as it needs to be done, but try to be smart. Our self-catering accommodation choices will be a big help. I mention the costs in case someone out there is planning a trip to Europe. Add 5% to even the most up-to-date guidebook's prices.



Somewhat more rain in Spain today, mainly, in Barcelona, and perhaps on the plain. We made our way through light drizzle, doing errand like banking and finding an Internet cafe with a printer, to an amazing travel book store. It was huge and comfortable, and the travel books were so colourful that it didn't matter only a fraction were in English. Anica happily looked through a National Geographic book on India, identifying places we've been. Our walk gave us a chance to see the "block of discord" again, and La Rambla. We also detoured through the medieval hospital grounds, which now form an elegant courtyard. The lobby still has the 600 year old tile murals dedicated to St. John. Then we crossed La Rambla again, for a dash, somewhat dispiritedly, through the Barri Gothic. It's obviously a great area to explore, too, but we didn't have the zest today. We did browse in an amazing collectibles store, though, where Anica was dazzled by the high-quality reproductions of Harry Potter characers' wands. And I haven't seen so many Star Wars figures since I was ten!

Eventually we got out of the rain and took in a matinee, in English, of "Sweeney Todd," at a theatre near the Olympic village. A little bloody for an eight-year-old, but she's seen Tim Burton before, and seemed to "get" this movie. We just like seeing a movie every couple of months.

So that's it from Barcelona. We're getting ready to hit the road tomorrow!

Feb 14


O.K! all admit it, this wasen't my favrite Valentines Day, except for beeing with Mummy and Daddy, because we did 9 hours driving, so we would only have to go 1 hour to Barcelona the nest day (only 97 km), which would be easy. Going to Tarragona was a "you diden't need to go on a scenic road" type drive, which was good, becuse the scenic roads are so slow! The mountins here are so pretty! Blue skys, trees - whatever!

Having a good lunch at a gas, bed and food place was o.k. exept for the fact I had a loose tooth so the bread (crusty) and ham (chewy) sandwiches did not help! But I ended up having a yougert and a bit of the bread. The Repsols are big with stores - oh, Repsol a gas type to, with lots of stuff, candy, needs, eveything, well, sort of :) After getting back on the highway, not having streched out very much, wasen't exciting, but it was okay, I guess. But Tarragona was still a couple kilometers away and getting to Tarragona was a relif! We parked "close" to the hotel we were looking at and guess what? We saw a statue with people climbing over each other to get to the top! Also, a fountin with people with animals! The hotel worked out and we went to a really expenisive restraunt for dinner. The driving tomorrow was...

P.S. Happy Valentines Day Everybody!

Feb 15-16


...great. Going to Barcelona meant city, but who cares? Why: we are going to see Gaudi stuff! Such as the Sagrada Famila (Holy Family in English), houses and the park. Beacuse the Sagrda Famila is supposed to be tall with complacatied looking towers (true), the houses with neat styles and the park with dragons (fake). Did you know: Gaudi made a man sit down on a still-wet plaster bench barenaked? (!) Arriving just at the outskirts of Barcelona made it look like a city! Also we went on such a long-looking road called "Diagonal Avenue" which looked really diagonal, compared to the other streets. Finsing our hotel was a relif, even though it was hours less driving, but still you know, it felt good. Are hotel was like a 3ish-4ish star hotel, but it's supposed to be a 4 tar. Sort of I guees it was one. After we went to a mall which had everything! had dinner, went home, G.N!

"P.S. Monserrat and the Finaclur"

The mountins here are one of the omigosh-ha-ha ones, because they look like people!! Kids or adults who like rollercoasters: ok, the finacular was slow but you know when the roller-coaster comes straight for a bit and then go's down so steep. We did that but really slower. :) We got great viewpoints from the top and (not that I'm bragging) we got to stand on the moutins with great views! Going down to the Basica was exicting again because it was the same great views! we saw a huge cathedral with a black and gold staue of Mary and Jesus.

Feb 16

"Sagrada Familia! One of those snap sights!"


Wow. We've been to some ok churces but this one....wow! We got up pretty early beacuse we knew there'd be a huge lineup later in the day. Walking a next-door road to Salva Del Mar to the metro staion to go to are transfer place and it was so not busy! It was also cold! When we got to Sagrada Famia station we walked up the stairs and we could aready see the church! Did you know in English, Sagrada Famia means Holy Family! As we entered all of a sudden i was sculptere world even on the outside! Images of Mary, Jesus and Joseph! The cruifiction of Jesus was visable to. As we walked inside we saw stained---oh! yey, the towers! They are so huge---glass!

They were still working on the building so we coulen't see almost all of the big building but we could see most of it! And 1 out of 4 towers were available to go up, but you coulden't go up by stairs. You had to go by lift. When we got to the top we saw magnifacent views over Barcealona! The stair case going down (you could go up by lift and go down by stairs or lift) was countining. When you looked down the circle-shaped hole you could see down and down and down below to the bootem but it looks sprile. When we got to the bottom we walked over to a museum and saw models and lots more! Did you know: that these things are supposed to look like waves? Dad went up in a tower, well we watched a movie about Gaudi! Had lunch and went to a street down a long avenue with...street performers! Such as: fairys, Death, clowns, flowers, hide-behind-a-box-jump outers, and that's all, I guees! Went to dinner, went home, G.N.

Feb 17


"Guell Park, and the scary (giggles*not) dragons!"

I was so looking forward to this park! Dragons, neat mouments, what else? Well...we started of the good day by going on the 3rd favourtie metro! Not usuly busy. I'm not saying that it was when we got on. This was a good metro. And (a story from India) there was no sign saying "no riding on the roof of the train." When we got to Lesseps station, we folloed the signs to the Park. When you turn the corner to the Guell Park, you see a ginger-bread house looking building with a cross on top of it! Arriving at the park ment seeing a street performer! When you got inside and up the steps you saw a dragon! Up a couple steps again and to another dragon...but a BENCH! Then we went on a long sort of walk which included magnicent views over Barcelona (some including the Sagrada Famila), a sign saying "why call it tourist seson if you can't shoot them," playgrounds, a tower, the thing that looked like waves, feeing pigones with last of bread and cheese crusts, a museum, and small enough balls that you could jump over.

Went home (if you think its the end) found this 3X bigger then normal tobbagon slides (made of metal), had dinner, G.N!

Feb 18


"Back to La Rambla and the usual street performers"

This day was are last day in Barcelona. I was sad. Maybe it was because it was raining and I couldn't show Mum one of the tobbagen slides that I really liked, or the neat Gaudi stuff. We took the metro (very sad beacuse I liked pressing the buttons) down to a street with a internet place, Pans (a fast food Spanish place), a bank (a specific one) and a travel (only) book store. First we went to a bank but couldn't do what we wanted to do unless we had a account in Barclays, so moved on. Travel store: huge bookstore with books to Europe, Asia, India, Africa, America, anywhere (p.s. we had gone to internet earlier). We got a travel with kids by footprint guides which was beter then a take your kids to Europe book! Lunch at Pans and company was good before going down La Ramblas and seeing (some) street performers. After going down a twisty street neborhood we saw a playground, went in there, and a old hospetil. Went down another one and got 1 euro choclet for free! Went to a movie called Sweeney Todd - played by: Jhonny Depp, Alan Rickman (Snape in Harry Potter), Timothy Spall (Wormtail/Peter Pettigrew) and Helena Bonham Carter and thats all. Went home had dinner. G.N!

Posted by jennrob 00:33 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

(Entries 21 - 25 of 84) « Page 1 2 3 4 [5] 6 7 8 9 10 .. »