Sunday, 12 June 2011

A hike on the Amalfi Coast and farewell to Italy

The view from the little restaurant we ate at. Great ravioli!

Just one of the amazing views along the trail.

Sentiero Degli Dei.

It was about 5 km each way wrapping around the cliffs, overlooking small towns, vineyards, and various rock formations. The path of the gods did not disappoint (the Amalfi coast rarely does). We left the house at about 8 AM and met up with a few friends. About an hour or so later we were at our starting place, Bomerano. No problem parking and we were pretty much at the trail head. I am glad we did this now and not mid July or August. It was probably about 80 F but the hike is strenuous enough that we were all soaked through from sweat. You pretty much have to stop to look around. If you try to look and walk you will likely trip or slip on the loose rock and tons of steps. Beautiful all around though. We stopped in Nocelle for lunch at a trattoria that was right on the cliff overlooking Positano. Simple menu. Very good. Then the hike back the way we came. Definitely more up hill. Total altitude went from about 1600 ft to about 2100 ft. Up and down; up and up; down and up... Big hills like my parents "mountains." The return hike was late enough that the sun hit some of the cliffs different and we could see the stuff that our back was to in the morning. We finally got back to Bomerano at about 3:30 and rewarded ourselves with gelato.

Two years living over seas. What an amazing opportunity. Anyone that gets the opportunity should jump all over it. International travel is expensive but hopefully we have given enough tips in this blog to save some money and make it more affordable.
Two years ago when I stepped of my boat I told someone "Now I need to and get to reconnect with my family." There is always more you can do but, I think I did, and I hope they think so too.
I should start by saying we really had the best of both worlds. I have a steady job. We lived in the perfect spot for our needs. We had some American conveniences that living out in town wouldn't have provided. And most importantly we LIVED here. Flights or trains from Naples were cheap, convenient, and plentiful.
We were concerned when we first got here about living on base and getting stuck in Little America. 15 different countries. All over Italy. Four trips to Germany. A couple trips to Greece. We averaged getting out of Italy once a month. I think we did a good job not getting stuck behind the gate.
You learn a lot being displaced from your own country. Obviously there are great history lessons that take on more meaning and occupy a larger part of your memory when you are in it vice reading about it.
You start to think in terms of 500 to 1000 years. Settling the NE in the 1600's isn't that impressive anymore...
You learn that just because it’s not American doesn't mean it’s bad. Just because it's done in Europe doesn't make it right in itself either.
You can't compare individual European countries' ways of life to the US. At the risk of sounding republican, I can see why there could be a push to transfer more power back to individual states. European countries are all different sizes, have different populations, have different resources available. They are more like states could be. Each country needs to be able to make their own decision based on their population and resources (some of the European countries aren't making wise decisions but this really isn't political). To compare any single European country to the US is like comparing Alaska to Florida.
I still laugh a little when I go to an airport and there is no ramp to the plane. You take a bus from the terminal to the plane. That really makes sense. A small airport like Naples probably does 5 times the business because they didn't need to build huge buildings just so you don't have to go outside.
I am convinced more than ever that Americans in the states are the worst drivers in the world. For 2 years we have driven as fast as we think is safe, stopped at stop signs only if we were going to hit someone else, shared lanes while on the motorcycle, passed even if there was on-coming traffic, and have even driven on the shoulder to make an additional lane when traffic backs up. No accidents. Why? Because God gave us all two wonderful tools to keep us safe. EYES.
We need smart engineers to design and build useable public transportation. All those trips and we only rented a car three times.
I am looking forward to being able to go to an Autozone. It won't take long for us to go out to dinner to have an American burger. American beef is great. The Germans still do pork better though. I never thought I'd say I'm looking forward to a company (cable, phone, etc.) saying we'll be there between 8 and 12, but at least they mean it and chances are they are going to look to fix the real problem not just try to "make it work."
We've made some incredible friendships here. People I'm sure we will keep in touch with for years to come. I will miss Saturday nights at the neighbors. I know Carey will miss going to the markets and trips to Vietri with the ladies.
Finally, everyone will ask, "What was your favorite trip?" All of them. That sounds like a cop out but each was unique. Our definition of interesting and fun changed the more we traveled. Churches and museums were great when we first got here. Sitting on the beach in Santorini was just as great an experience two years later. We leave with fond memories and a desire to come back. You can't ask for more.
The Stacks

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

A long weekend in Santorini Greece

The northern 2/3 of Santorini

The red sand beach. I have another picture of the sand (smooth red and black rocks) that Carey will probably put on facebook.

The beach 50 feet from our hotel...

Here we are at the end of our two years. Wow the time has flown by...
Santorini was as good a place as any to pretty much end it.

We got up real early on Thursday to catch a 7 AM flight out of Naples to Athens via Rome. We got into Athens at about 11:30 and caught the train into the city. After a big, late lunch/ early dinner we got back on the metro to figure out were the port was and to get our ferry tickets for the next day. Time well spent since the ferry was leaving at 7 AM Friday. It worked out to be good timing too because by the time we got back it started to rain and a thunder storm was brewing. So much for the Akropolis that day... It was fine though we played Phase 10 and then got to bed early.
Friday. Another very early morning. When is the vacation going to start? We haven't slept past 4:30 yet!
The ferry got into Santorini about 11:45 and the hotel shuttle picked us up with no problem. I say hotel. I think it was a high end hostel. That's not meant to be bad... The room could have slept six, the kids had the loft, our own bathroom and a balcony. I say hostel because it was dirt cheap and they had awards up for "Best hostel of the year." Other wise I wouldn't have guessed. Did I mention we were about 50 feet from the beach...
We spent the rest of the afternoon laying by the beach (a lot more of that to come). Beautiful water. So blue. So clear. It was like being in the bahamas (the water was a lot cooler though). Black sand.
It really is a small word. The woman waiting on us that night for dinner didn't have any accent so we asked her where she was from. Albany Oregon (where we lived while at Oregon State)... She was born and raised there, moved to Chicago were she met her Greek husband. Three years ago they moved back to Santorini and opened the place. There were several people we came across that we were pretty sure were Americans living and working in Santorini.
Saturday we rented scooters. Fun. We went out to a light house on the south western tip of the island. Amazing views. After that we went to a red beach. Very different. A bit rocky. We laid around there for about an hour and a half and then got some lunch. Next off to another black sand beach on the eastern side of the island. Again, really good timing. When we left the red sand beach clouds rolled in. By the time we got to the black sand beach it wasn't long before the clouds were gone. After a couple hours there we headed back to our hotel for some dinner and then watched the Manchester United/ Barcelona game.
I think Austin ate some under-cooked chicken Saturday night. We woke up to him coming down the stairs to get into the bathroom... By 8 AM he was done throwing up but still felt bad. We got breakfast and let him sleep for a while. Once he took a shower he said he felt better so we got back on the scooters to explore a little more. The first place we stopped was on one of the highest peaks on the island where there was a monastary and amazing views of the entire island. Next, we went to the small town of Fira where we were going to walk around and go through a bunch of tourist shops. You could tell Austin still felt bad though so Carey and Brianna did some real quick shopping and then we went back to the hotel. Guess we'll just have to spend another day on the beach. Yes waiter, you can get me another beer... He eventually felt good enough to come down and sit in the shade. That night Carey and I got back on the scooters to go to the north tip of the island to see the sunset.
Monday we had to catch the ferry back to Athens but not until the late afternoon so... You guessed it... Yes waiter I will have a fruit smoothy... Austin still had an upset stomach but was up and about without much issue.
We got back into Athens at about 10:15 PM and made it back to our original hotel.
Tuesday we had plenty of time before our flight so we went to the Akropolis. You can't really say you went to Athens and didn't see the Akropolis. It is pretty impressive coming through the first set of columns. The Partheon is big and has had a lot of restoration done (still on-going). The whole site was pretty neat and dated back about 2500 years. Several temples, work areas, amphitheaters, and of course the Partheon.
We had lunch at a small restaurant and then got our luggage and headed for the airport. Again, good timing. We had beautiful weather from Friday to Tuesday and then as we were getting on the metro to go to the airport the clouds rolled in and it began to rain.

It dawned on me the other day that my sense of time has changed considerably since being here. A couple hundred years time difference between something like the Akropolis and Pompeii doesn't seem like that big a deal once you have seen Stone Henge (5000 years old), the pyramids in Egypt (3000+ years old) and then all the local stuff ranging from 2000 to 1000 to 500 years old. A couple hundred years is just a drop in the pot...

One of the last things I want to do before we leave is go back down to the Amalfi coast. Just to have lunch and/ or dinner and take in the views. That really is the prettiest place in Italy.
Right before we leave I'll make a close out entry.
It really has been an amazing two years.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Amsterdam for Spring Break

Part of our bike trip through the Netherlands countryside.

Carey's camera can take some cool pictures. The flowers at Keukenhof made great subjects.

This shot was right outside our bedroom window on the house boat.

We flew out on Alitalia. Good flights and we made sure we had nothing but carry on luggage. Alitalia flights aren't bad. Their luggage handlers are.
So we landed in Amsterdam Tuesday afternoon. We quickly figured out how to catch the train from the airport into central station. Once there we bought a 120 hour metro (metro, buses, and trams) pass. Its nice because it really is 120 hours, not 5 "days." So we got to use it from Tuesday afternoon all the way through Sunday morning when we flew out.
We stayed on a house boat on the Amstel river. Small but very functional. Nice quiet neighborhood with lots of good restaurants within walking distance. There was a super market near the metro stop so breakfast and lunch (we packed sandwiches and stuff each day) was nice and cheap.
Wednesday we got up and found our way to the bike shop where we started our country-side bike tour. I thought this was really interesting. We knew all of Amsterdam and most of the Netherlands is reclaimed land that lies below sea level but going into the country side let you see the different levels and the canal, pump, and dike system. Some of the land is 6 meters (~20 feet) below sea level. We stopped at small shop where they make cheese and clogs. Making clogs is ridiculously easy now. They basically put a chunk of wood on a lathe and then with a metal clog serving as a key the lathe spins and cuts in the same manner that a guy at Walmart would make a copy of your house key.
About 13 miles and four hours later we got back into Amsterdam. From there we had lunch and then did a short city walk. Finally we ended up at the Anne Frank house. We watched the diary of Anne Frank not long before we went so the kids understood what they were seeing and it was nice to hear them describing the rooms as they went in.
Thursday we went on a long city walk in the morning. After that we went to the Van Gogh Museum. For some reason I really like Van Gogh. His work is different and you can see an evolution as he got a little older and had different experiences. And it still looks like legitimate art. Not like the dumb stuff in modern art museums where someone can put a streak of paint on a 6 x 6 foot canvas and call it "art."
After Van Gogh we went to the Red Light District. There is definetly a little something for everyone... The funniest part was we were getting ready to go down one of the small, skinny, alleys were the girls stand in the windows. The kids new they would be in the window (we had already seen one girl in a window across a street). Living in Naples we have couple different stretches of commonly traveled roads that are referred to as hooker highway so they have some exposure. As soon as we stepped into the alley the window was there and the girl was right in front of it. Austin jumped and let out some noise in surprise (probably some embarrassment). One of the funniest things I've seen in a while... Shinny girls, big girls, white, black, asian... They're all there.
Friday went outside Amsterdam again. We took a regular train up to the town of Hoorn. From there we got an impromptu tour of a shop that rebuilds steam trains from ~1900 - 1950's time frame. We got on one the these trains and took an hour and a half ride up to Medemblik. Everyone loves a steam train. I think it is the whistle. You can't help but smile when ever you hear it. All the locals stopped, smiled, and waved as we went by. From Medemblick we took a boat ride up the a lake to Enkhuizen. There we walked around an outdoor museum.
Saturday we went to Keukenhof. It is about 80 acres of flowers. Its only open 2 months a year. Very pretty flowers.
Communications and getting around was never a problem. Everyone we ran into spoke english. The metro and tram system was real easy to get around on.
Pretty good trip.
Next stop, Greece. Time is running out but we should be able to squeeze in Greece one long weekend and Croatia some other weekend.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Napoli Calcio (Soccer)

Not sure why I'm squinted.

Yes those are flares! All around the stadium. Near the bottom left of the picture you can see the "retaining wall."

So we all went to a Naples Soccer game last night. Like most sports its even better in person.
Picture college football enthusiasm with a lack of common law we enforce at games. Top it off with the fact that Naples has a good team, and it was a great experience.
The two end zones are the cheap seats that the rowdy fans get and crowd into. On each side of the sections there is a big plexi-glass wall keeping them in. There are no cheerleaders as we know them to be. Instead there are a couple people at the front of the groups leading/ coordinating various chants, cheers, etc.
The visitor section is completely enclosed in a protective screened area.
If the fans see something they don't like or want to have the crowd noise be a factor they ALL whistle. It turns into this thousands strong, high pitched, ear piercing noise...
I didn't look for it, but I don't think they serve beer in the stadium...
Naples won. 1-0.

Saturday, 1 January 2011


Blue Mosque at night. It was drizzling so there is a spot or two...

Down in the Underground Cistern.

Continuing with our trips that we don't think we would have otherwise taken from the states... Istanbul, Turkey.
The tickets we found were cheap but they were out of Rome so we had the added adventure of the train and Rome International vice easy Naples. The train was fine and on time. I'm glad we gave ourselves plenty of time though because getting through security at the airport took about 50 minutes itself. I've mentioned before that the Italians don't know the definition of a line. This is true even for airport security. Flights were fine though. That night we stayed at the airport hotel since we got in late.
Tuesday. Carey got us a nice little apartment right in the middle of the old town Istanbul. First stop, Hagia Sophia. It started as a huge church when the city was Constantinople. I didn't read it anywhere but thinking about it and looking at dates, this would have been the largest Christian church in the world for ~1000 years. It was built in 537 AD. The new St Peters wasn't built until the 1500's. In 1453 the Ottoman's captured Constantinople and converted it into a mosque. It is now a museum. A lot of the mosaics were plastered over in the conversion from a church to a mosque, but some have been uncovered and restored. Either way, it is huge inside and the dome is amazing.
Next was the Blue Mosque. Very big, beautiful mosque. The outside is not blue. The tiles inside are... I don't know why I am surprised, but the level of disrespect from some people amazed me. Most women, including Carey and Brianna, covered their heads with a scarf, the same as they would have covered their shoulders when entering a church during the summer. A number of women did not though and the noise level was louder than I would have expected... Turkey seems to be a pretty liberal Islamic country but I was surprised they didn't enforce it. The churches here would have.
Next the underground cistern. The romans built this underground reservoir in the 500's to support the demands of the capital city. Long story short, the Roman Empire/ Byzantine Empire expanded and contracted over the ~1400 years. Constantine renamed Byzantium, Constantinople (now Istanbul with the Ottoman take over), and made it the new capital. You can put a couple football fields down here and it has a 27 million gallon capacity. Like the catacombs in Rome, it was completely forgotten about for hundreds of years and then rediscovered.
Tuesday night we went and saw some Turkish dance. Very entertaining. Folk dances and belly dancing.
Wednesday. In the morning we went to the Grand Bazaar. It is a huge, mostly indoor, mall/ flea-market. You can get pretty much whatever you want here. Shoes, scarves, rugs, suitcases, hookahs, clothes... That afternoon we made our way through the spice market and into the newer town. We went to the top of Galata Tower where we got some really good views and shots of Istanbul. We took a tram up to Taksim square and then strolled back down the hill past all the new stores, coffee shops and even a few churches.
Thursday. Topkapi Palace. The home of Sultans and center of the Ottoman empire for some 300 years. There are a couple main attractions here. One, is the treasury. Golden, jewel covered thrones, giant golden candlestick holders, and a few really big diamonds (one is 86 carrots). The second is the Hall of Holy Relics. The Ottomans brought these holy Muslim (and what should be Jewish and Christian) relics here from Egypt, Medina, and Mecca. I'm not sure how you could prove, or disprove some of these but... The footprint and hair from Muhammad, King Davids's sword, Moses' staff, John (the baptist's?) skull and forearm, Joseph's turban... If this is all true that seems to be an even more impressive collection of historic biblical character relics than Jerusalem had to offer. Hard to say...
That night we stayed at the hotel airport again since we had an early flight out.
Turkey claims to be a 98% Muslim population. I'm pretty sure that is the same as Italy claiming 98% of the Italians are Catholic. I'm not so sure many actually practice. The call to prayer still happens five times a day, which is pretty neat, but I didn't see a lot of people stopping what they were doing to unroll their rugs or go to the mosque. The people were VERY nice and friendly. Yes, they are all trying to sell you something BUT they do take no for an answer and will still chat a little with you even after they know you're not going to buy. I think everyone knew a least some english so getting around was easy. We never felt unsafe, even walking though some more out of the way streets at night.
I think I just assumed, because the history around here drops off around the 500-600 AD mark, that the Roman empire fell apart around that time. Really it was a shift of the capital location and the fluctuating of the size that started around that time. Travel really does teach you something after all...
Really glad we went.

This year for New Years we decided to go down to the base in Naples and watch the fireworks from the top of the five story parking garage. WOW!
We got there at about 10:30 and there was already a steady flow of fire works. At midnight, the entire city and all the little surrounding towns lit up. 360 degrees of BIG fireworks being launched from peoples backyards and apartment balconies. You could see as far out as the hillsides of Mt Vesuvius... After 40 minutes they hadn't really slowed down yet but there was so much smoke in the air visibility had been reduced to a couple miles. I have never seen anything like it. Again, these are fireworks our cities buy and shoot off for the 4th or for New Years. I don't know where they get them, or how the Neapolitans can afford them but it was amazing.

Happy New Year.