Monday, 28 December 2009
I really like Germany.
We had an early flight, 6:35, out of Naples and landed at about 8:20. Took a train in from the airport. The airport is actually about a 40 minute train ride from Munich (I think I mentioned that in one of our first posts). We were standing at the automated machines and a guy came over to help explain because we looked confused. After he showed us the ticket to get, which matched what I had in my head from reading, he offered us his ticket, the same kind, for a slightly lower price. It worked out well. I figure he bought it earlier that morning in Munich, rode the train to the airport and then sold us his ticket (its an all day ticket) for most of what he paid. He got a cheap ride, we got a discounted ticket...
We got into the hotel in Munich at about 10:30. Carey did really good with this one. It was actually an apartment. 2 bedrooms, a bar area and a living room. The only problem was the TVs didn't work. Not a huge deal since we didn't spend a whole lot of time there.
That afternoon, Thursday, we went downtown to the Christmas Markets. In addition to the markets there were sites to see. The "New" Town Hall is still over 100 years old. It served as US headquarters in WWII since it survived the bombings. It has a huge glockenspiel. Munich's largest cathedral is also here. At 2:00 all the booths were closing so we went back to the hotel to rest a little. After that we went to dinner at Hofbrauhaus. It is a touristy place but fun. Really good food. Excellent beer. Reasonably priced. The beers come in 1 liter mugs. The Dunkel (dark beer) was amazing. Even Carey had a sip and said she may be able to "acquire a taste" for it. This was the first place Hitler had a mass meeting/ speech.
Christmas day we slept in a little, then the kids opened their stockings (we opened everything else on the 23rd). Not a lot is open on Christmas. We did take a hop-on, hop-off bus around the city to see, or at least drive by, all the major sights within the city. The 1972 Olympic park, Nymphenburg Palace, BMW museum, and the Residenz (another royal house/ now museum) to name a few. After that we let the kids go ice-skating at an outdoor rink while we drank hot cider with Amaretto. It still made for a nice day.
Saturday we took a tour of Dachua. It was one of the first Nazi concentration camps. If you ever get a chance to go to a concentration camp, you should. This one was one of the only ones to be open the entire time the Nazis were in power from 1933 to 1945. It is where the SS were trained. It was essentially the prototype for every other concentration camp. As explained, if the "technique" was used in any other camp it was because it was done at Dachua. Our tour guide was very good. We actually got a really good deal out of it. He was meeting some friends of his from out of town at the site right after our tour was done. This meant he just gave us the transportation tickets and gave us the option of going back with another tour group or sticking around and getting back ourselves. This gave us all the time we wanted and translated into about an extra, well deserving, hour in the museum part. It wasn't just about exterminating Jews (that was a big part) but more about absolute power and destroying the human spirit. There is just way to much to talk about with it but it will be something we, and the kids, remember for life.
That night we went to a smaller restaurant down town and had another great dinner. The German and English written menus were slightly different (Carey's dad, John, noticed it first). I had something that was like a meatball but it was veil and ox that was on the German nightly special list (i.e. not in the English menu). Really good.
Sunday we flew out in the morning and got home in time to relax a little and then caught the Dolphin game (maybe more beer in Germany would have been better).
Some other highlights and side thoughts:
German mass transportation is amazing. You can get anywhere, cheap. A 3 day group ticket (covered all 5 of us) was 22 Euro and got you unlimited train and buses. If you wanted to go further outside the city you needed a different pass but it is still cheap and easy. It is run largely on a trust system. You buy your ticket at a machine. There is no gate to go through. Supposedly there are people that do random checks on the trains, but we never saw one. People must pay... the system is still running.
Munich is very clean.
There was a large pedestrian only district downtown. They started it in 1972 for the Olympics. Originally the store owners fought it but then realized it was a great idea because there is so much foot traffic.
The Germans are quiet people. The Italians stood out like a sore thumb (you could hear them).
German food and beer. What else is there to say. Delicious.
We are definitely getting to experience a lot. Just because its not "American" doesn't mean its wrong, or that it doesn't work as well. Why do we have stop signs? London doesn't, I didn't notice any in Munich, and Italians ignore them. Yet people don't run into each other... Why do we go to work so early and why don't we take extra time off (almost nothing was open Saturday)? Why do we think it is horrible service in a restaurant if we have to spend more than 45 minutes in the restaurant and have to ask for a check? I'm not saying we do things all wrong. I do miss having a covered tunnel to get on airplanes (most flights we've taken you go from terminal to bus to plane to bus to terminal). Our way is not the only "good" way though.
Sunday, 6 December 2009
Sunday, 22 November 2009
We went for our first real motorcycle ride today (Sunday). There is a group that rides every weekend. Lately they have been riding on Saturdays, which doesn’t work out since Austin has flag football games those mornings, but this week they did Sunday too.
In true Italy fashion what could have been done in a few hours lasted the entire day. That’s not bad, it just is…
We got on the road at about 9:30. From the Support Site, where we live, we went to a Harley shop in Avellino. Harleys are even popular in Italy. People don’t make nearly as much though so there are not a lot of them. We met up with a few more Italians there. All in all there were about a dozen of us, about half American, half Italians. From there we went to… somewhere east of Naples (up towards the mountains)…Bagnoli area I think. After looking at Google maps, maybe Lago di Laceno. We didn’t bring our GPS; we just followed. Nice gentle curves on the way up. We went through a few small towns on the way. It was foggy until we got up in elevation and through a tunnel, then it was instantly 10 degrees warmer and clear. Just in time for some nice views. We stopped at a “lake” to take in the view and ultimately eat lunch. The lake was more like a big pond. In the spring though it gets a lot bigger as the snow melts. From there we headed back down to the coast to Salerno. Very curvy roads through here. It started to get foggy again as we went down but there still were some nice views. We also saw lots of random animals. Horses, cows, pigs… Just along the side, or in, the road. From Salerno we caught the highway back up home. We finally got home at 5:10. Long day but fun. A learning and skill building experience (more on that below). The group was very friendly and happy to have someone else riding with them. Definitely worth doing again, and again.
I’m pretty sure in one of the early posts I made note that the roads out here have marble in them. So much so that some, a lot actually, have a polished look to them. Until today though I had never really gone through a lot of curves on the roads. They are slick. Nothing bad happened. At one point I hit a patch of sand or something and the back end broke loose. We recovered without incident and we slowed down a bit. Still, for the next 45 minutes or so I was starting to get worried I was loosing air in my back tire. As we were going through corners I kept having to slow down even more because the back end felt squishy/ shifty. Or even like Carey was shifting her weight on me. Once we stopped I was talking to a couple of the other guys and they said, “No, the roads are just that slippery…” That being said I will look into a sissy bar for the Yamaha for Carey. She still wants to ride on her own but after today we both agree riding alone on a real ride will take a while. It really does take some experience out here. Like I said the roads are slick. Lane sharing is not only legal but expected if you are on a bike. So you often find yourself side by side with a car in the same lane. Passing on a two lane road even if there is on-coming traffic… The cars just move to their right a little and the bikes take the center line. Highway or city street, its all the same. Just closer on the city streets… They’re not the best situations to throw a true beginner into.
Thursday, 19 November 2009
An hour and 47 minutes train ride into Rome. Easy. Takes you along the coast vice in-land like A-1 (the autostrauda). We arrived and walked about five blocks up the street to our Hotel. A nice place centered pretty well in Rome. That night we all went to dinner at a restaurant just up the street. Not bad and not to bad priced.
Monday: And we’re off!
We walked up to the train station and bought our Roma pass. For €23 you get your first two sites free, discounts on a number of others and transit is covered for three days. We took the train to the closest stop to the Vatican (about another five blocks to walk). We got lucky and there was just about no line to get into the Vatican Museum. They do have quite the collection in the museum. One of the more interesting things was that they had mummies. Real mummies. Lots of sculptures. Like other places we’ve been you spend a lot of time looking up at the ceiling because some of the best art work is there. Once through the museum you go into the Sistine Chapel. Hard to believe one person painted that on his back on scaffolding… Unfortunately you need a lot of time to just sit and look up. Unlike some other museums we’ve been to, the Vatican has a lot of information you can read right next to the paintings and sculptures. Between that and tourist books (Rick or any of the Rome books…) you really can just take your time going through and soak up as much as possible.
On to Saint Peter’s. I should probably go to counseling, or church…, but personally I walked in and it felt like another giant capital building built as a demonstration of size, power, and wealth (which in part is true…) more than the foundation of the world’s largest religion. Having said that, it is amazing. The marble, columns, paintings, sculptures, 7 ft tall inscriptions that don’t look that big because they are so high up…
In between the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s we got our first lesson on where not to stop for lunch (or any type of refreshment). We stopped outside the museum and had lunch. €182.00 for eight of us. The food wasn’t that good. The wine was little bottles of Chianti… This is the type of place my parents and Aunt and Uncle ate… One other morning we stopped for hot chocolate and café for €52 across from the Coliseum. On the other hand, we later walked about 4 blocks away from any attraction and had some of the best pasta I have ever had for €82 for the eight of us. Four blocks, less than half the cost, and amazing quality. I digress…
That night we left the kids for a while and went up the street from the hotel and had a glass or two of wine, just the adults. Then we just picked up some pizza from a small shop for dinner.
November is one of the rainiest months of the year in Rome/ Naples on average. The averages held accurate; it rained every other day. We saw the Coliseum in the morning, in the rain. Still impressive though. You have to use your imagination a little bit for the full seating affect (50,000 screaming fans). The floor is mostly gone, which is good. There is a portion rebuilt so you can see the arena floor level. Below that, since the floor is gone, you can see the holding pens and other areas, such as where the people used for raising and lowering the elevators were crammed in.
Like I said, it was raining so that is when we stopped for hot chocolate and café. By the time we came out the rain had stopped and the skies were clearing.
Next was Palatine Hill. This is the area where the Emperors lived. It wasn’t nearly as preserved as say Pompeii, but you got the point. The best part of it by far was the view from the gardens that overlooked the Forum. By now the sun was shining and it was clear. You could see from arch to arch and imagine the parade of animals, new slaves, and soldiers returning from battle (kinda like the streets of Boston after the Red Socks win a World Series…). As you walk through the forum you start at the Arch of Titus which was built around 70 AD to celebrate defeating the Jews in Israel and pretty much making them homeless for the next 1,875 years (until after WWII). 50,000 had a home in Rome. They were the slaves that built the coliseum… The 1/3 of Constantine’s Basilica that remains is next. There are still three arches that stand about 80 ft high. The mid-section had arches at 130 ft. Near the end of the forum you can go into the old senate building where Rome’s 300 elected senators did whatever it is senators do (some things don’t change). Finally, you can see what is left, 8 huge columns, of the Temple of Saturn built 2500 years ago. There is plenty in-between, as this was the center of business, law, and politics in ancient Rome but to describe it I’d be just plagiarizing a Rome book…
After the forum is when we went to the restaurant a few blocks away. Sooo good.
That night Tony, Stephanie, Carey and I left the kids again and did a night walk through Rome. Most notables:
Piazza Navona with The Four Rivers Fountain. Wow. Now would be a good time to point out that Bernini was amazing. Sculpture/ painter, he re-did Rome. If you come to a large sculpture in a Piazza you can probably just guess Bernini did it (especially if it is amazing) and you would probably be correct. Go to Google images and type in Bernini sculptures. If you grabbed a hold of someone’s side or leg you would notice your hand pushes their skin in. So do his sculptures…
Piazza Navona is pretty big and also has a bunch of people selling paintings. Some prints, some oil paintings. Carey and I bought an oil painted canvas roughly 3 x 2 ½ feet big. The guy was asking €280; we got it for 100. It still needs to be framed but there is a local frame shop that does nice work and is pretty cheap (it’s where we got our painting of Vietri Sul Mare framed). I anticipate leaving Europe with a lot of art work…
We started at the Borghese Gallery. Borghese was the nephew of a Pope, therefore due to politics, a Cardinal (he supposedly wasn’t very religious). He was however a good politician. The villa was stocked with paintings, old (done by the “hot” painters at the time ~1600’s) and older, and sculptures. He would then have the VIPs over. The kids really seemed to enjoy the paintings. They asked questions and came up with some interpretations of their own. I am more of sculpture guy… Here is where you can see Bernini’s The Rape of Proserpine. No actual raping going on. This was the one I was talking about though were you can see the imprints of Pluto’s hands as he is carrying the girl away. You can see the tears rolling down her face. In another room Napolean’s sister had a Kate Windslett Titanic moment where she posed on a bed for a sculpture (done by Canova). The mattress is so polished and smooth the crinkles look soft, you can see the indentation of her weight on the mattress and you can almost make out threads of the pattern sown into the sheets. It’s marble!!
After the gallery we walked through the park back towards the city center. We stopped for lunch at… The Hard Rock. After 4 months away from the states we really wanted an American burger. Sorry Tony and Stephanie… That was the best 20 dollar burger and fries! We did get the 15% off military discount though so it was definitely not the most expensive meal we had.
We then re-walked most our previous nights walk but with the kids this time. The inside of the Pantheon was pretty neat. It was originally a “one stop shopping” place for you to worship any of the Roman gods. Later it was turned into another church. The dome though is awesome. A hole in the center still lets in light and rain. The Romans were incredible engineer’s 2000 years ago. The Dome starts out with a heavy 20 ft thick concrete and tapers off to 5 ft thick lighter concrete. So 1) perfectly round, 2) 142 ft high 3) different types and thicknesses of a material they invented (concrete). The tombs of Raphael, and two of some of the last Italian royalties are in the Pantheon.
That night we left the kids, again, and had dinner around the corner. It was again very good. Four courses, wine, café,... Again, not real close to any attractions so it was great quality and a good price. The waiter we had was an older gentleman who knew a little broken English, had a great sense of humor and went out of his way for us (Carey wanted hot chocolate, the restaurant didn’t have any so he told the manager Carey was pregnant (SHE IS NOT and she doesn’t look it) so he could go next door to get some…).
Thursday: Rome overload…
We started off with some Catacombs. There was 4000 friars worth of bones here. They took the bones and decorated (made alter type areas, designs, symbols etc.). A little creepy but interesting.
We also went to Piazza del Popolo. This was the northern entrance to Rome. It was redesigned in the 1500- 1600’s. This was the time that Rome was being brought back to life. After the fall of the empire in about 500 AD all of Europe went into the dark ages for about 1000 years (how’s that for a recession…). So about that time the Popes put time and energy and money into rebuilding. The plaza is wide open and the three major roads that run through the city start here.
That night we took the kids to the previous night’s restaurant. Again a good meal with great service. This waiter took it upon himself to get us some roasted chestnuts after we were done and the bill had been paid.
All in all, a good trip. Exhausting. Lots of walking, lots of eating, lots of wine… The thing is, there is still more to see… Pictures to follow. We still need to transfer them to a computer and sort through them.
Tuesday, 13 October 2009
Pompeii. It is only about a half an hour from us. The brief history lesson is Mt Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD burying the city in ash (not a lava flow). The city didn't even realize they were living next to a volcano. There are a number other regular mountains around Vesuvius.
We got there at about 10 AM. Very touristy so you can speak whatever language you want. We chose to do a self guided tour using the free map and hand out the site gives and the trusty Rick Steves book. I don't think we'd do it any other way. The tours were 1) expensive and 2) seemed really fast paced.
You start off coming across a bridge to the entrance, a set of double arches. A larger arch originally open during the day so more people could come and go, and a smaller one for at night for easier security. Right away you are amazed. Everything is well preserved. This was a big city! You can easily spend a full day, morning to night, here. Probably a couple if you really wanted to just explore and take in all the homes. Very organized streets (N/S, E/W). Homes built together, side by side. Some huge homes. Ceramic work, marble carvings, bronze statues, frescos (paintings)... You go in knowing the city was buried but then you come across the first of a few bodies. Very humbling. I can't really see it as a good way to go. The bodies now are molds cast by filling in the hollow spot the decayed bodies left. Scary detail (I'll attach a shot).
To give you an idea of how developed it was 2500 years ago... There were about 90 "fast food" bars through the city. A large square where voting took place, legal offices, the basilica (interesting enough the word was for the courthouse prior to it becoming associated with the church), and markets were located. Two amphitheatres and a coliseum. Ruts in the road where carts wore down the stone. The sidewalks had little pieces of marble in them so at night you could use the reflection of the moon to see where you were going. Lead piping system for plumbing and an elaborate aqueduct system. Art... Carvings, paintings, tile work that was incredible. Its easy to get wrapped up in life and think we're so "civilized". And then you see a thriving town from so long ago...
Definitely worth going back to.
Thursday, 17 September 2009
We started off by driving to La Spezia Friday afternoon. We got to where we were staying around 9 pm. It was a small place up on the hill side. A man and his wife ran it. He, his parents, and his brother all lived on the same property. Above one of thier places, pretty sure it was above the parents, were a couple apartment like places. Not easy to find. I called the guy a couple times and he finally asked where we were and then came down the hill to get us. There is no way we would have found it otherwise. You literally pull into the guy's gated driveway.
La Spezia itself is pretty. Fairly modern. As we drove in there were restaurants, bars, big hotels... Not that there aren't restaurants and bars around, but these looked like bars in the states. Hard to explain at this point. After being here for three months, it was different.
Beautiful view from the room (bottom picture). It overlooked the city below and the harbor. La Spezia happens to also be an Italian Navy base.
We drove down to the train station and took the 10 minute train ride (vice hour drive) to the first town. The train just cut through the mountains were the road would have winded around them.
Monterosso: The train station drops you off on a beach. The water is beautiful. Clear. Blue. A sandy beach.
From Monterosso to Vernazza is a pretty good hike up and down. You walk on the edge of vineyards and start to get some nice views.
In Vernazza we stopped for lunch. Really good pizza.
Next town was Corniglia. The hike to get there was somewhat painful. Probably because we, based on our book, figured the worst was past. Still nice views.
From Corniglia you go down 400 steps to regain the trail. On this side it is a very rocky, narrow beach. The trail itself is up about 40 feet and set back a little. Probably a good thing. At one point I looked over the side and laughed as I told Carey, "That old dude has no pants..." We kept walking for a short bit and noticed, either does that guy. I'm not in this to see a bunch of dudes butt cracks... Then it dawns on us (me, Carey, and Brianna), there are no women on that beach... Walk faster, nothing to see here... Just naked gay guys (a couple entertaining each other). Later we reread the book a little more and it does point out a nude beach that as soon as the land becomes available the country is going to suck up as part of the trail and "clean up".
That brings us to Manarola. Tons of boats. No cars. A really big boat ramp. Time for gelato...
From Manarola to Riomaggiore is really were the trail started around the 1940's. The trail was made so guys and girls could walk from one town to the other, a lover's trail.
Once in Riomaggiore we caught the train back to La Spezia.
That night we had dinner in a nice little restaurant around the corner from where we were staying. Very good. I like the Northern Italy food and sauce better I think. The sauce is thicker. Around here I've had sauce that wasn't much more than olive oil with a little tomato to make it red.
All in all it was a nice hike. Great views. Worth the trip.
Wednesday, 2 September 2009
We took a tour bus that you could hop on, hop off. It takes you by all the major sites (Coliseum, Pantheon, St Peters, the capital building...) It served its purpose. For instance, we can spend one entire day walking around the coliseum and the surrounding sites (probably just a few blocks worth of area). The area around the capital building could be another day. The capital is beautiful and there is what I think were ancient market areas behind it.
Long and short, Rome is amazing. It could be my (Randy) favorite place yet. OVER 2000 years of existance and history... Ruins, archeological sites, churches, the Vatican, museums, and it is laid out very nice (not crammed in like Florence). Clean too. We were excited to have the Retrosi's coming out in November to begin with, but now getting just a small taste of what we will be able to see...
Carey and I started our Italian class today also. Not your typical foreign language class. The instructor speaks Italian most of the time with a few key english words placed so you can follow some. Conversational from the start. I haven't done the homework yet but I did sit down with the Rosetta Stone and I will say just the one class made the Rosetta Stone make more sense. For instance verb conjugation (sono,e', siete, siamo...). All the same verb; I am, you are, we are, they are (don't quote me on the translation yet...). A long way to go!
Sunday, 23 August 2009
That night Carey and I went out to dinner just outside Naples. Very good. It is still vacation time for the Europeans so the resteraunt was pretty empty. Four courses later we were full. Wine is just as cheap as water (or water is as expensive as wine...). You can get a good bottle of wine for a few euro. We got a carafe the other night for 1 euro (3 glasses worth). There is some expensive stuff out there but I think at that point you are paying for a name, or for being a tourist. 55 euro was it. Good luck getting four courses, wine, and really good service in the states for that!
The Safari was neat. It started off with different variants of deer (like most zoos), then had lions and tigers and bears (oh my...), giraffes, lamas, zebra, bison, flamingos, monkeys. After the drive through portion we walked around the amusement park part. There is a monkey train you can take. One of the coolest things I've ever been on. You bring your own big bag of peanuts. They stick you in a tram car which is double fenced (you are in the cage), and there are little tubes to pass the peanuts through. The tram starts going and gets around the corner and suddenly there are monkeys ALL OVER the outside of your cage! We were jamming peanuts through as fast as we could, laughing the whole time. Near the end we figured out there were a couple of the smaller monkeys that could fit their hands into the door. So you hand the peanut directly to them. It’s like a baby's hand, small and smooth. After that we let the kids ride a few rides and then headed back. We got to experience another part of European culture. We didn't bring any gas coupons with us so we got to pay 40 euro for 30 liters of gas ($57 for 8 gallons). With the gas coupons we pay about 1/2 what the Italians pay...
All in all a good day.
Sunday, 9 August 2009
So we got up at about 7:30 and were getting on the road around 9:00. We needed gas though so we stopped. Randy needed a pen and nicely asked the gas station guy for a "pene". Some of you are laughing already... The correct word would have been "penna." Look it up you'll enjoy...
So a little over an hour if there is not much traffic. Today was not one of those days. There is a lot of beach traffic. 5 traffic lights can really mess with the Italians' day. It added an hour. It’s not for lack of trying either. More driving differences here. Ever seen a two lane road become 4? Better yet ever seen someone pull out into the on coming lane to pass and THEN someone behind him also wants to pass but faster so now they are three abreast into oncoming traffic. In the states this would be a guaranteed head on. Not here. Hardly a slow down. Three cars move a little right, so one is on the shoulder, the on coming car moves to his right so he is on the shoulder and they all blow past each other doing about 40 mph (closing at 80...). Left hand turning lanes are only left hand turning lanes if you want to turn left. Otherwise it is another straight lane. So we got to the beach. The parking lot was full so we did what any good Italian would do; we parked in a fairly random spot on the side of the road. Once on the beach there are tons of umbrellas and chairs to rent BUT there is also a good size spot for us to just claim a spot and put out towels, which is what we did. It is a nice beach, called Sperlonga. Very clear water. We're pretty sure the rumors of Europeans lying around topless have been exaggerated. We did see one woman walking around topless and a couple that weren't modest changing/ fixing tops but that's about it. The ride home was a little better. More of the same for some but not as backed up. Only a half hour of delay.
The pics: First two are downtown Naples. The second today's beach. The road on the side of the hill is what we came in on. This is north of Naples (vice South like Amalfi).