Rome, A Stroll Through Time

Rome Italy is number 37 on the world’s most popular destination list. The top two sightseeing spots are the Vatican Museums which receives 4.2 million visitors a year, and approximately 4 million people walk the Colosseum’s concrete and limestone floors each year.

Built in the 1st century, the Colosseum’s construction was completed under the direction of emperors’ Vespasian (69-79 AD), Titus (74-81 AD), and Domitian (81-96 AD)

The amphitheater hosted public events like gladiator fights, wild animal hunts and public executions from 80 AD to 404 AD.

 

 

In the center of the city, you’ll find the Roman Forum. Once a magnificent district of temples, basilicas, and vibrant public areas. Here was statues and monuments paying tribute to the city’s great men. For centuries the forum was the center of day to day life in Rome.

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
Photo courtesy of Norbert Staudt

 

The Vatican City’s history begins with the design of a basilica to be positioned over the grave of St. Peter in the 4th century AD.

st-peters-rome-1215913-638x475
Photo courtesy of Jim Jackson

The Vatican City was established into its current form as a Sovereign nation with the signing of the Lateran Pacts in 1929; a treaty between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See, settling the “Roman Question”.

Vatican City is the smallest country in the world. Surrounded a two mile border with Italy.

 

By the early 4th century, the Romans had built a road network of 53,000 miles throughout the empire. Each mile was about 1,000 paces and was marked by a milestone. Hence the proverb “All roads lead to Rome.”

 

Rome is known as the “Eternal City” and also “Caput Mundi” coming from Latin and meaning capital of the world.

saint-peters-1231996-639x451
Photo courtesy of Robert Linder

 

Construction on the 138 Spanish Steps, the widest in Europe, began in 1723 with completion in 1725. The architect, Francesco de Sanctis, was not well known.

It was built in order to link the Trinita dei Monti church that was under the patronage of the King of France with the Spanish Square below.

 

The Trevi Fountain 1732-1762, a sight not to be missed, standing 85ft high and 65ft wide, the fountain is one of the oldest water sources in Rome. Using 2,824,800 cubic feet of recycled water a day. Located in the Trevi district, Piazza Di Trevi, it features Neptune, god of the sea on a shell-shaped chariot being pulled by two horses, each being guided by a triton. It is the oldest Baroque fountain in the city.

It is believed that by throwing coin into the water it will ensure a return to Rome. Every night roughly 3,000 Euro is scooped from the fountain. The collected money is given to an Italian charity called, Caritas.

 

Victor Emmanuel II was the King of Sardinia from 1849 until 1861. He then became King of Italy, the first of a united Italy. Although a bit controversial this building constructed of white marble was built in his honor; Altar of the Fatherland National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II. It is also known as the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

250430_214227328611036_7826969_n

 

The population of Rome is around 2.7 million, but it is estimated that the entire metropolitan area of Rome is near 3.7 million.

Modern Rome has 280 fountains and 900 churches.

Italian Tid Bits

Bellissima Italia!

Italy is a top choice for many when deciding where to go for vacation.

If you are planning a visit to Italy this summer, and it is your first time, I’ve put together a few tips that will hopefully help to get you through it all a little easier.

Based on my own experience:

1- Pack light. The smaller your bag, the better. (Very challenging for me btw.)

  • A large suitcase can be difficult to cram into a shared transfer or taxi.
  • In Venice for example, it’s likely you will need to walk at least a few blocks to and from your hotel. The sidewalks are narrow and broken, not to mention the many steps you’ll encounter lugging your bag over canal bridges.

2-When ordering your cappuccino or coffee, pay at the register first, and then take your receipt to the counter where drinks are being made.

  • Note- “caffe” is espresso
  • “Caffe Americano” is like American drip coffee.
  • Be prepared to possibly squeeze in between the patrons lining the bar enjoying their beverage.

 

3-When choosing a restaurant, avoid menus that are printed in several languages. And steer clear of the gentleman trying to lure you into his ristorante. It’ll cost you a lot more than it’s worth.

4- Before you go, learn some useful phrases like;

  • “Dov’è La toilette?”

“Where is the bathroom?”

  • “Dov’è stazione centrale?”

“Where is the central station?”

  • “Una pasta piatto, per favore.”

“A dish of pasta please.”

  • “Scusi! Non capisco.”

“Excuse me, I don’t understand.”

  • “Il Conto, per favore.”

“The bill please.”

 

5-If traveling by train, depending on the train company in which you are traveling, you may need to validate your ticket before you board. A ticket stamp machine is available just before you enter the platform.

If the conductor sees that you do not have a validated ticket, you will receive a fine. The fine is about 50 Euro if you can pay with cash on the spot. But pay the fine, always carry ample cash. A fine can be costly if police get involved.

Trenitalia I know is one of them. The Leonardo Express running from Rome airport to the Roma Termini station can be tricky too. Make sure your ticket is taking you exactly where you need to go. You can be charged a fine there too.

 

6-Enjoy the amazing wine, but not too much. Respect the culture and the Italian people.

THE TRICKY AND BEAUTY OF THE AMALFI COAST

Italy’s coastlines are some of the most picturesque destinations in the world. The stunning combination of the Tyrrhenian Sea and Italy’s Amalfi Coast has created many unforgettable vistas.

IMG_1572

The seaside cliffs are stacked with pastel villas overlooking the coastal towns of Positano, Amalfi, and Minori, to name a few. Ravello, perched high above Minori, has proven to be an incredible back drop for wedding ceremonies.

villa-rufulo-ravello-1364443-639x884
photo courtesy of Sam Segar

Positano is known for its narrow streets filled with boutiques and cafes’. Its pebble beach is laden with rows of umbrellas all summer long.

Amalfi is nestled far below the rugged cliffs and was once the seat of the Maritime Republic. The Saint’Andrea cathedral resides in the heart of town showing off its medieval Italian striped Byzantine façade.

Minori sits within an un-crowded cove, retaining its identity as a fishing village. Scattered among the sunshades’ and beachgoers, are small wooden sea ready boats.

20170825_182634IMG_170120170824_153106 - CopyIMG_165220170825_171307

positano-at-daybreak-1519222-638x480
photo courtesy of Jim Goodrich
costa-amalfitana-3-1538027-639x852
photo courtesy of Charis Tsevis
amalfi-coast-1619982-640x480
photo courtesy of Ravanous
amalfi-coast-1619987-640x480 (1)
photo courtesy of Ravanous

Besides being known as a wedding venue, Ravello is recognized for its gardens, town square, and Duomo.

 

 

Getting around can be tricky

I don’t recommend that you take on the Amalfi Drive yourself.  The road which was built by the Romans is narrow and winds up the coast with some hairy scary turns. If you are prone to motion sickness, medicate accordingly!

Traffic can be thick, especially in the summer months. It is not uncommon to meet other vehicles at the curves and forcing drivers to stomp the brakes in order to slowly pass with mere inches between the cars.  A bus can’t make some turns without oncoming autos reversing to a place with room enough for the bus to pass by.

The bus is the least expensive mode of transportation and advised.

If going from Minori to Ravello for example, you can take the ferry to Amalfi (10 min) and then the bus to Ravello (15 min).

A taxi will cost 30-40 Euros. (20-25 min drive)

If you are going in the opposite direction, Ravello to Minori, there’s a nice walk, all downhill, takes about an hour.

I suggest a private driver from the Salerno train station to your Amalfi Coast accommodation. The cost to Ravello for instance, is 100 Euro, but well worth it.  Sit back and enjoy the scenery.

IMG_1740IMG_1696

 

In summer months ferries are available from Naples, Sorrento, and Capri.

There is also a bus that runs from Naples airport to Sorrento.

And a bus is available from Rome to Positano and Praiano.

Do You Know the Way to Swabia?

Bavaria covers 70,550 kilometers of Germany’s land, and so, we know of it, right? The picturesque villages, medieval towns, beer, and lederhosen. We know of their great cuisine; Schweinsbraten (roast pork), Brawtwurst sausages, the Nurnberger Brawtwurst, potato, and beetroot dishes.

Now, the small region of Swabia, do you know of it? Swabia, in the southwest of Germany is quite different.

Swabia is in the third largest federal-state of Baden-Württemberg. Baden-Württemberg borders the east Upper Rhine that forms a border with France.

There are 8 million Swabians living in Deutschland, most call Baden-Württemberg home, with a few scattering into Bavaria. The capital of Baden-Württemberg is Stuttgart.

Swabians are an ethnic group who has native or ancestral roots in the cultural and linguistic region of Swabia. They speak Swabian, a dialect that other Germans don’t even understand! And they definitely enjoy their individuality.

The Swabian cuisine is made up of meats, Spatzle (a type of egg noodle, and Maultaschen, (pasta filled with diced meats). Gaisburger Marsch is a Swabian stew made with diced ox meat, cooked potatoes and spatzle.

Stuttgart hosts the second largest (next to Munich) beer festival, Cannstatter Volksfest, each autumn.

68559_171524576214645_3102683_n

 

 

Neal and I had the privilege of living in Stuttgart for a while; what a great place to live! Rain/snow or shine, we were out and about as much as possible!

 

Stuttgart Christmas Market

The Stuttgater Wheihnachts Markt, was our first exposure to the European Christmas markets. What a lovely atmosphere and so much fun! Gluhwein first, I never guessed I’d enjoy hot spiced wine!

Holiday music plays while you browse kiosks stuffed with beautifully handmade gifts. Food stands loaded with brawtwurst sausages, pretzels, pastries, and beer, YUM!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

 

Hohenzollen Castle

 

Located about 68km from Stuttgart is Hohenzollen Castle in Hohenzollen Germany. This fortress has a long Royal Prussian history, and majestically sits atop Mount Hohenzollen.

Since its construction early in the 11th century, the house of Hohenzollen has split several times. But the castle has remained in the Swabian branch.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Heidelberg

 

We really enjoyed our weekend in Heidelberg, it is located on the shores of the Neckar River, approximately 120km from Stuttgart.

Heidelberg is known for its university, founded in the 14th century.

But Heidelberg’s landmark is the castle ruin, perched above Old Town. It has a huge history of damages by wars and fire, even a lighting strike.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

No castle would be complete without a wine cellar, and this one was fit for a king! The main storage consisted of three enormous wine barrels.

166418_179404308760005_1231838_n

 

This barrel is the biggest, you can barely see me standing next to it! The barrel is a replacement, the previous cask, before it sprung a leak, had the capacity to hold 195,000 liters of wine. In 1750 this one was put to use, containing 228,000 liters of wein!

164866_179404495426653_6387_n

 

 

 

Ludwigsburg Palace

 

About 12km down the road from Stuttgart, is Ludwigsburg Palace. The 452 room palace is nicknamed the Versailles of Swabia. Ludwigsburg is actually part of two other structures, Schloss Favorite, and Monrepos. Ludwigsburg is one of the largest complexes in Europe. Also notable, it’s the only one from the  baroque period that went undamaged from the 21st century wars.

Construction on the main palace began in 1704, by order of Duke Eberhard Louis and lasted until 1733. Louis also constructed Schloss Favorite from 1717 to 1723 to serve Residenzschloss’s original function as a hunting retreat. His later successor, Charles Eugene, built Schloss Monrepos.

Currently, Ludwigsburg Palace is closed for restoration, re-opening is planned for 2019.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Venezia- A Seductress

There’s a reason Venezia Italy is run over with tourists. She is a seductress, and we are the marionettes’. A fourteenth century city constructed with Venetian Gothic architecture entices us.

st marco square

Made up of 118 submerged islands, it gives the illusion of a floating city, a stunning city; The “Queen of the Adriatic” as she is appropriately called.

Some other fitting titles for this intriguing city are, “City of Water”,  “City of Bridges”, or “City of Canals”.

The “City of Masks” is another suitable nickname for this ancient lady.

Artistic and bright colored Venetian masks are worn during carnival. This traditional event takes place at the beginning of each year. Mass party-goers converge upon Venezia, plugging the maze like paths with the glitter and shine of eccentric costumes; each participant hoping to keep with custom, their identity a bit of a mystery.

Photo courtesy of Nico1
Photo courtesy of Nico1

Venezia is a labyrinth of narrow walled footpaths. Getting lost is a guarantee. You followed the map closely; certain each turn was the right one. But, here you are, retracing your steps searching for the exact spot where you were misled. Considering there are 400 footbridges and 177 canals, it’s easy to get confused.

Traffic on the Grand Canal is busy and fascinating. Small mail delivery boats are laden with packages, and they swiftly cruise by water buses and taxis. Hotel and restaurant supplies are transported the same way, urgently!

189457_196267823740320_7228209_n

It’s a different experience for a gondolier. The glide of his gondola is smooth and silent upon the water. He may sing to his riders. But he’ll most likely be more boisterous when he and another’s gondola come together in a slender canal!

13417699_1183050665062026_4820500797981730944_n

Cathedrals and palaces can be seen all over Europe.

I think its Venezia’s unique character that summons us.

 

Living Like a Local in Bologna

In the spring of 2017, I enrolled in an Italian language course in Bologna. I grabbed my best gal pal, and we boarded a plane headed for the home of tortellini.

Since our stay marked off all thirty days in April, we rented an apartment on Via Guglielmo Marconi.

IMG_0044

We quickly settled in and ventured out.

A few blocks up took us to Via Ugo Bassi, where we found shops, outdoor cafes’, and Piazza Maggiore. The piazza is the main square in town, and also one of the oldest in Italy. Within Piazza Maggiore stands the Basilica San Petronio, one of the world’s oldest churches. Renaissance government buildings encase the square, and to the left is Piazza del Nettuno; the Fountain of Neptune. The fountain was once deemed scandalous for its naked subjects. We however, only saw scaffolding,  because in 2017, the fountain was under restoration.

 

While I made my way up Strada Maggiore or Strada Santo Sefano, each day for language class, my roomy shopped for groceries at Pam, or the impressive outdoor market on Ugo Bassi. She would pick up these amazing extra-large strawberries,  which were among other stunning produce.

All the while, chatting with the locals, via the Google Translate app!

Meanwhile, I’m gurgling on unknown words in the immersion style of foreign language school.

IMG_0329

 

During our free time we wandered the city, enjoying cappuccino, pastas and Paninis. We ate tortellini that we ranked absolutely better than anything we’d ever experienced before. The scrumptious bread seemed to melt in our mouths. The food was always exquisite.

 

 

Bologna is home to the world’s oldest university, founded in 1088. Students from all over the world come here to study each year.

 

Of course we did our share of vino tasting/drinking. It was part of every dinner and sometimes lunch. I honestly don’t believe you can get a bad glass of wine in Italy. Impossible. We signed on for a few wine tours in the Emilia-Romagna region and Tuscany too. We’ve got the swirl, swish, swallow routine down!

 

 

Bologna Centrale was a quick ten minute walk from our apartment, and from there, it was a short train ride to just about anywhere.

We spent a weekend in Verona, another in Genoa and Portofino. We even took a few days and went to Florence.

Bologna

 

We accomplished quite a lot in our thirty marked off days.

But for the record, learning to parli italiano (speak Italian), it’s still on my bucket list.

 

 

Let’s Talk Firenze!

Truth, Venice is my favorite Italian city. However, Florence is a close second.

What do I love about Florence? Hmm…Where to start? I’ve been to the city of Renaissance several times, and each visit is a new pleasure!

 

1-Cappuccino and a croissant, at an outdoor café!

the one
Morning cappicciono and Croissant

2- The art of course,

Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of David is there. You can view it in the Galleria dell’Accademia. Or, a replica stands in the Piazza della Signoria. I’ve seen both, but you can only take a pic in the piazza.

Me and david
Me and the replica of David

I have to admit, I have a fondness for Michelangelo. He danced to his own tune.

From Piazza della Signoria, it is a short six minute walk to the Basilica of Santa Croce, where Michelangelo is buried.

 

3-Pitti Gola e Cantina

I can’t talk about Florence without mentioning Pitti Gola e Cantina! Located in Palazzo Pitti, this wine tasting room/café was designed for the love of wine. If you enjoy wine and food, I highly recommend the Wine Tasting Lunch, three course meal with four wines included. Everything is impeccable, including service. The cost is 35,00 euro per person, and totally worth it.

Pitti Gola is a small place however, a few tables are set for outdoor use, (in warm weather) and maybe five inside. I would seek reservations, they are not required, but I strongly suggest it.

While you’re in the palazzo, take a tour through Pitti Palace. You’ll see renaissance paintings and art, and hear stories about the influential Medici family.

4-The cathedral,

or Duomo can’t be missed! Literally!! This is a beautiful architectural marvel, and one of my favorites. Piazza del Duomo will be crowded, although this shouldn’t hinder you from getting some great shots.

Tickets are available to view the church’s interior, and also to climb its tower; the climb is challenging, but the view is well worth it, I’ve heard.

The duomo is also included with some “skip the line” tours.

And finally…

5-Ponte Vecchio

Florence’s oldest bridge, stretching across the Arno River, is the most popular place for shopping.

IMG_0472

Great restaurants, wine bars and even grocery stores are in this area. Expect a “packed house”, as they say.

 

 

Some Firenze Tips:

Arrive by plane or train

The streets in Florence are narrow and jammed with cars. The local drivers go wherever they feel they need to, to get through the mass.

I would recommend a hotel shuttle (if offered by your hotel) or shared transport, to your accommodation. A taxi is a good option, the line can get long, but it moves quickly. (At least at the train station.) A note here, do not accept help from a local offering to get you ahead in the line, unless you don’t mind paying several Euros for it.

Other than arrival, Firenze is very walk-able. Pick-up a map and enjoy exploring the city!

 

Protect your cash

We usually split money between us, and we also leave some behind locked in the safe in our room. Carry your wallet in your front pocket, or use a money belt. I use a small purse, one that I keep close to my body or even under a jacket. If I see the need for a backpack, I wear it in front instead of on my back. Pick pockets target the tourist crowds; be careful and aware of who’s around you.

 

Tip your tour guide 

Tips is their livelihood. If you choose not to tip, and there’s a chance to get even, they will! I’m speaking from personal experience.