Doing the “Must-Dos” of Rome

The past three days have been a whirlwind of sightseeing and tons and tons and tons of walking.  We visited the Colosseum on Tuesday – it really is enormous and a feat of engineering built by Jewish slaves – it was good to be a Roman citizen.  Part of it was destroyed centuries ago in earthquakes and parts of it were plundered for building materials to be used elsewhere – we found the practicality of ancient Romans quite humorous.  We also took the Forum Walk and saw some of the important but now ruined buildings of ancient Rome – the site where Marcus Aurelius made the famous speech, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…” after the assassination of Julius Caesar.  Neat!

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the stage in the background and seating on the left are recreations of what it would have looked like back in the day before the floor over the vaults disappeared and the seats turned into rubble and fodder for new buildings

the stage in the background and seating on the left are recreations of what it would have looked like back in the day before the floor over the vaults disappeared and the seats turned into rubble and fodder for new buildings

Yesterday, we went to the Borgehese Gallery – one of the best art museums in Europe.  We loved the works of Caravaggio (his art was the special exhibit this year – how lucky for us!) – thanks to Anne, our amazing PhD profesore for the additional context on the art.  We found it most especially interesting that Cardinal Scipione made certain to get whatever artwork he wanted, by hook, crook, or upon threat of death – even from other Cardinals.  What a guy – we debated whether or not he ever saw the holy gates.  We were especially enthralled with Bernini’s marble statues Apollo and Daphane and Pluto and Proserpina and David.

Today was spent on our own personal pilgrimage to the Holy See – the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica.  The museum was quite interesting and had some of the most amazing frescoes and paintings we’ve seen anywhere – we especially liked Raphael’s Transfiguration of Christ but actually liked it even better in mosaic form when we reached the Basilica.  Backing up though, when we finally arrived in the Sistine Chapel after hall upon hall of beautiful frescoes, we were kind of like….ummm… okay.  Not quite what we’d expected – there were a series of small panels telling Biblical allegories along with a huge painting done by Michelangelo The Last Judgment.  I guess we expected it to be more round and also that the paintings themselves would be on an even larger scale.  Still – it was pretty amazing and we had fun watching the guards try to keep people from taking pictures and to keep quiet in the chapel – it usually lasted for ten seconds before the cacophony of sound rose once more.

Again, the Basilica was just enormous – and beautiful on that kind of overdone scale.  I was happy to finally see Michelangelo’s Pieta in person and the Popes lying in state were a trip.  We felt very fortunate to be able to  experience each of these sites in person.

not supposed to take pics in the Sistine Chapel, but I just couldn't resist...

not supposed to take pics in the Sistine Chapel, but I just couldn't resist...

inside the mammoth Basilica, we managed this great shot before the camera battery died on us

inside the mammoth Basilica, we managed this great shot before the camera battery died on us

Definitely Different Rome

We arrived in Rome yesterday afternoon and spent four hours trying to get into our apartment.  It’s a very long story that I won’t spend more energy on but essentially we are in the fifth apartment we saw along the way and boy is it ever “interesting”.  Again – no more complaining.  We are moving to a (hopefully) nicer place tonight and will stay through Saturday.

We headed out for some yummy Rome pizza and a three mile walk through town.  We were lucky enough to be at this monument built for Marcus Aurelius when the sun and the clouds conspired to create a beautiful shot.  I felt like the universe was talking to us.

ribbed for his pleasure... heehee...couldn't resist

ribbed for his pleasure... heehee...couldn't resist

We saw so very many Egyptian obelisks in this crazy town and loved walking into the Pantheon, a pagan temple created in 150 ad and converted to a Christian church in 609.

throngs of tourists...

throngs of tourists...

One of the coolest stops along the walk was the Trevi fountain.  We definitely tossed our coin over our shoulders, made a wish, and hoped to return one day to Rome.

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The last part of our tour took us to the Spanish steps where we enjoyed a nice refreshing drink of water from the Boat Fountain at the base of the steps.  We’ve been really impressed with all the publicly, readily available potible water fountains in Rome. In the 90 degree heat yesterday, we definitely needed a lot of it.  Today is a down day for Maylene to get some work done and we’ll head out for another evening stroll. Can’t wait!

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Siena, Italy: Piazza Del Campo

Piazza del Campo by Patrick Landy (Creative Commons)

Piazza del Campo by Patrick Landy (Creative Commons)

As the shade extends, so does the blanket of loungers and loiterers. Families with bird chasers and friends chatting over gelato and frappes. Couples’ attempts at self portraits either timer-assisted or arm’s width away. Randoms with snacks and beer. All comfortably co-existing, nearly rubbing elbows and not minding a bit.

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Beautiful and Relaxing Firenze

We are staying in Florence (Firenze) for about a week – renting a lovely apartment for the same cost as a hotel room and absolutely loving it!  We’ve spent so much less on food by cooking most of the time and have really made use of the washing machine in the hot, sweaty heat of the summer.  As much as I don’t mind hand-washing clothes, machines are even better!

The place we are staying is on the top floor (four flights) and located right by the Piazza della Liberta.  It is a former convent which ended at the turn of the twentieth century and it was recently renovated to reveal some of the original fixtures and roofing – beautiful.  I’m posting pics because we have spent a relaxing week in Florence – giving ourselves the time to take it easy and get out of the heat when we need to (100 degrees in the shade anyone?). Yuck!

kitchen area - love the disguised dishwasher and ice box

kitchen area - love the disguised dishwasher and ice box

lovely bedroom, even in pink - and they left us fresh flowers!

lovely bedroom, even in pink - and they left us fresh flowers!

not an unsafe neighborhood - just a really old door!

not an unsafe neighborhood - just a really old door!

love the high ceilings and original open beams

love the high ceilings and original open beams

Today we took a bus up to the Piazzale Michelangelo – an amazing vista overlooking the city.  Here we saw yet another David, this time in bronze.  Kind of looked like he had mussed himself! 😉

heeheehee

heeheehee

Here are some of the shots we took from the Piazzale and also from the Ponte Vecchio – enjoy!

view from Ponte Vecchio

view from Ponte Vecchio

bird's eye view of Firenze

bird's eye view of Firenze

too pretty!!

too pretty!!

A Baby Jesus Here and a Baby Jesus There…Here a Baby, There a Baby, Everywhere a Baby Jesus….

Today we headed in the late afternoon to brave the heat and the crowds of Florence (Firenze) and intended only to do the Rick Steve’s walking tour of the city and to arrange for reservations later this week to two of the major art museums in town.  We figured there’d be a slim chance of getting into the Uffizi as reservations are required about a month in advance.

The first gallery/museum, the Accademia, happened to also be the first stop on the walking tour as well so we started there.  Approaching the museum, we saw that the line of folks waiting was only about 12 people deep so we decided to take the plunge and go ahead in to see Michelangelo’s David.  It was more amazing than we thought it would be – especially as an art history novice.  It was definitely larger than we expected and we could tell that it was one of the more remarkable marble statues that we had seen and by now, we’ve seen a lot.

David...but only a replica as the real one is in a museum

David...but only a replica as the real one is in a museum

The museum did a good job of setting up the statue and actually juxtaposed the work of Michelangelo against the work of Robert Maplethorpe.  We really liked the unfinished works where the statues were practically bursting out of the marble.  Good stuff!  Wish we could take pictures but they weren’t allowed.  Staff ran around saying “No Photo” and we didn’t want to try to sneak anything.  That’s why we were happy to see a replica of David outside the Palazzo Vecchio where we could freely take pics.  Anyway, back at the Accademia – then we ran around the museum and saw all of the pre-Renaissance art depicting scenes of the Baby Jesus and Mary…along with the dying Jesus and a few old instruments enjoyed by the Medici family.

We continued on our walking tour picking up some fantastic gelato along the way – Maylene had mint chocolate and I had caramel — yummm…  We have definitely discovered the pleasure of a piccolo (small) cone of ice cream in the heat of the summer and this was one of the best.

Anyway – so I had heard a rumor that the Uffizi would be open late on Tuesdays and figured that at least we could get our reservations there for a time later in this week.  As it turns out, the museum was open and there was no line, so we went for it.  The most famous painting there was Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and it was beautiful.  Again, no pics allowed in the museum but we managed to take some great shots of the sun setting across the Arno River.  We figured they didn’t charge admission for the sunset:

what a view!

what a view!

Due to closing times of the museum, we kind of had to buzz through – most admiring of the non-religious art we came across.  I mean, really – there’s only so much Baby Jesus here and Crucified Jesus there that one can appreciate.  Maylene kept joking, look – “there’s Baby Jesus on his first pony ride, there he is with his first ice cream cone…” riffing Ellen Degeneres’s stand-up bit called The Beginning.  Too funny!

It was pretty cool to see some of the works that we had only seen before in books and to also admire the beautiful frescoes and gilded ceilings of the former Medici family offices.  What a life!

Lake Como and Verona and Venice — Oh My!!!

…sorry if the pics aren’t ordered next to the corresponding text but sometimes it just doesn’t turn out that way in Word Press….you’ll just have to try to keep up!

Where to begin?  We have spent the past few days touring amazing cities – more beautiful than I had ever imagined they could be!

Lake Como, infamously the home of George Clooney (though we never saw him) – was gorgeous.  We spent about six hours there on a day trip from Milano.  The town was very relaxing and we really enjoyed our time lake and people-watching.  Here are some of the better pics from the day:

view of Lago Como

view of Lago Como

view of Lago Como from the funicular (our first!)

view of Lago Como from the funicular (our first!)

We really enjoyed our picnic lunch overlooking the lake – complete with music!

yummmm...

yummmm...

view from the Roman arena - some of the nice pastels we saw

view from the Roman arena - some of the nice pastels we saw

On the way to Venice, we spent a day-trip in the lovely town of Romeo and Juliet fame, Verona.  It was beautiful too, but in a different way.  The buildings were these amazing pastels and we enjoyed wandering the streets.

Okay, so of course we had to go to the real building that is supposed to be where the imaginary Juliet lived.  It was quite an experience – overrun with tourists trying to leave their graffitied love notes on the walls (yes, we did that too) and to rub the breast of the Juliet statue for good luck in their love lives (yes, we did that too).  The best part about our trip to this tourist mecca, however, was the random weirdness found within the house.  Here is what we found on the very top floor of the building – it was the only thing on the floor, in fact (look for gold):

a golden Kate Moss striking quite the pose

a golden Kate Moss striking quite the pose

Still, this statue was not the oddest thing we saw in the house.  This one made us and everyone else crack up too (skeletal):

skeleton porn

skeleton porn

But the absolute best was the one that made us gasp when we saw it:

ummm... seriously?  does it merit a statue?

ummm... seriously? does it merit a statue?

Yes – this is a statue of the woman turned man from Oregon who recently gave birth to a child.  Anyone who knows us understands that we *really* didn’t see what the big deal was or why that made such a fuss in the news.  Good times!

After leaving the city of literary romance, we headed to the one overflowing with the real thing: Venice.  Before going we had heard from several people that Venice just wasn’t worth it – that we would be bored, that there were too many tourists, and that it stank.  We found none of the above to be true.  We were in heaven – it was so peaceful with the absolute lack of automobiles and bicycles – a true walking town.  We definitely took advantage of that – walking almost non-stop at all times of the day and night.  Sure, there were lots of tourists there but the mornings and evenings were empty and oh so beautiful.  We took over 300 pictures in Venice.  Here are just a few highlights – it was so hard to choose just these:

loved the light play on the buildings and water

loved the light play on the buildings and water

Rialto bridge in the background

Rialto bridge in the background

so many lovely canals

so many lovely canals

the sunsets were gorgeous

the sunsets were gorgeous

our hotel was just down on the left-hand side

our hotel was just down on the left-hand side

the view from the cafe where we ate lunch - Basilica of Saint Mark

the view from the cafe where we ate lunch - Basilica of Saint Mark

Leonardo Da Vinci – he really was a genius…

I know that sounds like DUH — but SERIOUSLY, I’m not kidding – this man was brilliant!  So yesterday, we spent most of our time at the National Museum of Science and Technology with our buddy Leonardo.

good 'ol Leo!

good 'ol Leo!

What an amazing man!  He contributed so much to Italy and the world.  The museum was filled with all kinds of exhibits on energy, telecommunications, mineral extraction, recycling, and many more – along with re-creation models of the inventions Da Vinci made.  The volume, depth, and breadth of his work just boggled a little mind like mine.

a flying machine

a flying machine

The museum even had an homage to The Last Supper, painted in 1629 – which we were grateful for because when I asked at our hotel reception desk to arrange tickets to see the original, they told me, “Sure – for next month!”  Yes – we were just a little bit behind the eight-ball there.  Oh, we could have dropped in to see if they had a cancellation of the 15-minute tour (you see, only 15 people enter at a time after being dehydrated in a holding cell to preserve the painting).  But – Maylene and I decided that we could spend the ~20E a better way and instead enjoyed the reproduction and as well, the original on Google images! 😉  All utterances of apology and humble condolence to our PhD Italian Art History expert and very good friend….errrmmm…. Yes, we are most definitely lame.

Not as good as the original, but still cool...

Not as good as the original, but still cool...

Back to the museum though – it was quite large and the buildings were formerly a monastery in the 1500s – it was nice to enjoy the courtyard and the architecture along the way.  Here is a re-creation of a medieval monk’s apothecary – complete with alligators on leashes.  What a welcoming atmosphere!

Um, yeah - so I've been having these headaches....

Um, yeah - so I've been having these headaches....

The museum tried to have a very hands-on feel, especially in the technology sections.  It really tried – but fell a bit short in execution.  Like most museums, they had many non-working displays.  Here’s Maylene reliving her childhood (look familiar Ma? Heeheehee).

ahhh...memories...

ahhh...memories...

After the museum, we wandered around the Navigli neighborhood which is basically an area that Leonardo created when he engineered the canals that filled Milan and allowed for easier transport.  Now the canals are mostly dried-up and nasty but the neighborhood has a lot of interesting dining options – if you can manage not to inhale too many tiny gnats along the way — yummm….  We walked around and around checking out the various choices – of which only 50% of the shops were open but we still felt there were plenty to choose from.   We finally settled upon Japanese – our first of the trip and it was pretty decent – it’s pretty hard to mess up tempura but still possible.  The sliced cantaloupe for dessert was nice.  Almost as nice as the beaded dog and dolphin keychains we received instead of fortune cookies from a Chinese restaurant in Prague.  They now have permanent positions on our backpacks.

What a beautiful area though!  On the building/street corner, we saw that it was constructed in 1555.  My oh my – I love the humbling feeling Europe gives me on a daily basis – thanks for the lessons universe!

gorgeous!!

gorgeous!!

And speaking of lessons, after learning more about Da Vinci at the musuem – I did a little more research when we got back (free, working wifi – yeah!) and found out that he was most likely, a gay man – as was Michelangelo.  I know this likely won’t be news to many people, but it was to me and made me think about how few gay role models there are for the young ‘uns.  In the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter either way – he is still an amazing contributor to our society – and maybe that’s the point…

Milan, where capitalism actually isn’t everything…

We have spent the past few days in Milano.  It is a beautiful city in Northern Italy and we have enjoyed our time here – especially the free wifi in the hotel and the quiet room for the down time we needed.   We visited the Duomo which was built over the course of six centuries, beginning in the 1300s and ending with final touches in 1965 – so long that it’s struggle for completion coined an Italian phrase describing something so difficult that it is nearly impossible to achieve “like building a duomo” – “Fabbrica del Duomo”.  The marble front had recently been cleaned and was beautiful pastel shades.

Milano Duomo

Milano Duomo

The apse in the rear of the cathedral (the 4th largest in Europe), was amazing with huge stained glass windows – one of them basically recounting all of the allegories in the Bible.

One of the beautiful, allegorical stain glass windows from the 1500s

One of the beautiful, allegorical stain glass windows from the 1500s

There was also a haunting statue of Saint Bartolemew who was skinned alive and now holds his shell draped around him like a shawl.

St. Bartholomew

St. Bartholomew

We spent quite a bit of time at the indoor/outdoor mall right next to the Duomo.

Fancy indoor/outdoor mall...

Fancy indoor/outdoor mall...

It has an impressive collection of fancy stores that I would never want to spend money in, you know, like Prada and Louis Vuitton.  Although we saw examples  all over the city, it was there that we were most struck by the completely different attitudes toward commerce in Italy vs. the US.

One thing we knew heading into this trip was that we ran a strong risk of half of a city being shut-down for summer holiday.  We definitely hit that in Milan – where many stores are actually closed for the entire month of August.  The wheels of commerce grind to a halt in Italy so that families can enjoy some down time together.  I even took pictures of the two shops we saw closed and barred in the high-traffic, expensive rent locations in the mall right next to the main tourist attraction of Milan.

High rent store closed

High rent store closed

It’s really a strange phenomenon for a (former/current/future) HR Manager to witness.

proof of closure ... for a full month!!

proof of closure ... for a full month!!

In many ways, I find this a healthy way to manage human relations and the overall health and sanity of a nation.  However, it does take some effort to get beyond the idea of the overarching importance of commerce at all cost that we see in the US.  If anyone’s reading out there, I’d love to hear your opinion on this practice.  Does it create more loyal employees, refreshed and ready to return to work?  Is it helpful to have all the vacations taken at once rather than spread out over the year?  What do you think?

Englischer Garten

Last Wednesday was the first sunny day we had in Munich since our arrival on Friday, so we decided to take advantage of the weather and headed to the Englischer Garten (i.e. English Garden).  We took the trusty U-Bahn/subway to what we thought was the correct stop and managed to wander through a neighborhood before stumbling upon the park.  OK, wait, “park” is definitely a misnomer and “garden” especially doesn’t seem to cut it.  The Englischer Garten is huge.  I mean bigger-than-Central-Park huge. 

We immediately tried locating the infamous Pagoda/Chinesischer Turm (“Chinese Tower”) since it is the landmark symbol used on all tourist maps for the garden… and it also supposedly had a beer garden nearby. 😉  We walked for quite a ways and saw what looked like a Greek temple up on a hill…

Greek Temple on the Hill

Greek Temple on the Hill

…but still no Chinese tower.  There were loads of people in the park, locals and tourists alike– bicycling, sunbathing, kicking the soccer ball around.  You know, normal stuff.  We came around a bend and saw subtle hints of picnic table umbrellas through the trees in the distance.  We managed to find a park map at the bend.  Of course, the map was in German, but we figured it out and headed off towards the umbrellas.  Although it had seemed like we had walked a fair ways, we realized after looking at the map that we had actually covered only a teeny tiny portion of the park.

The path followed a little stream to our left, and plenty of parkgoers were wading in the cool waters.  We broke through the trees into a big space and finally found the Chinese tower…

The Chinese Tower/Chinesischer Turm

Chinesischer Turm... and Beer Garden!

Surrounding the Chinese tower is (what else??) a beer garden.  Row after row after row of picnic benches with beer, pretzel, and Bavarian food vendors nearby doing brisk business despite it being midweek.  We hadn’t done a beer hall yet, so we thought we’d try our very first German biergarten.  We grabbed a couple of “small” mugs and a pretzel and settled down on a shady table to enjoy the brew and people-watch…

Beer and Pretzel... How Bavarian

Beer and Pretzel... How Bavarian

So we’ve heard how Germans love their beer.  In fact, the average German drinks 30 gallons in a year.  Seriously.  We have learned to keep an open mind when it comes to beer in Europe, and Charity has tried the local brew in every city we’ve been in 1) to experience the local culture through their favorite drink and 2) because it’s usually the cheapest.  That said, of the two beers we tried that day, one was decent and the other was… kind of disgusting.  It tasted sweet, like some kind of messed up soda.  Eeek.  We tried to choke it down and got halfway before I put it aside.  Life is too short to drink crappy beer, no matter the cost.

We finished our people-watching and decided to go find what I really came to the park to see.  We’d heard the rumors but had to see it with our own eyes.  Now, if you look at a map of Germany, you’ll notice that München is nowhere near a significant body of water.  Yup, it’s landlocked.  That is why I had to see the surfers myself.  That’s right, ladies and gents– there is surfing in the Englischer Garten.

On our trek to find this infamous feature of the park, we followed behind an Ashton Kutcher wannabee and his friends.  Young, carefree, and silly as hell, they made lots of noise and showed off quite a bit.  Even so, I did notice when they all looked to the left, and he started harumphing and whistling, as if to get someone’s attention.  So of course, I looked, too.  Yeah.  Those sunbathers were markedly different from the ones we’d seen in the general population because those young ladies were nekkid.  Birthday suits.  Oh and one had a cute hat so as not to burn the top of her head (??).  And she was posing for pictures with her friend.  Oh myyyyyyy…

We finally came to the park’s “waterfall”, and off in the distance, we caught sight of our goal.  We walked along the fast-moving water, taking a moment to sit and enjoy the calming sound before moving upstream.  And yes, people, there indeed is surfing in that park… 

Paddling to Get Out of the Water

Paddling to Get Out of the Water

The stream system that runs through the park is manmade, and at the mouth of the stream is the water pump which creates a standing wave.  Watching some of the surfers work reminded me of the standing wave machine at Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park (i.e. Wet ‘n Wild) back on Oahu. 

Balancing on the Wave Machine

Balancing on the Wave Machine

You basically just wait your turn on either side of the wave and jump in when the last guy bails. 

Pumping

Pumping

Their boards weren’t new or at all fancy.  In fact, they all looked like they’d seen better days and were pretty well beaten.  Even so, you could tell they were well-loved possessions, and you should have heard the collective groan and guffaws from all the surfers when one unlucky guy’s board snapped in half.  These guys were out there because they love to surf and it shows.  It was one of the coolest things– ok, no, it was the coolest thing I’d seen in Munich. 

Surfing the Stream

Surfing the Stream

Washing Clothes on the Go

So…a few people have asked about how we manage to wash clothes while we are traveling.  I thought instead of telling you how, I’d show you:

1.  Start with a clean sink.

1. Start with a clean sink.

2.  Fill the sink with handy dandy Rick Steves Travel Wash and water.

2. Fill the sink with handy dandy Rick Steves Travel Wash and water.

3.  Soak your clothing for a bit.

3. Soak your clothing for a bit.

Agitate in the sink and rub together the important parts then wring out.

4. Agitate in the sink and rub together the important parts then wring out.

5.  Empty and rinse the sink then rinse the clothing.

5. Empty and rinse the sink then rinse the clothing.

6.  Wring the clothing out over the sink.

6. Wring the clothing out over the sink.

7.  Lay clothing on a towel and roll the towel over them.

7. Lay clothing on a towel and roll the towel over them.

8.  Wring the towel out to get as much water as you can out of the clothes - you may have to step on the towel to do so.

8. Wring the towel out to get as much water as you can out of the clothes - you may have to step on the towel to do so.

9.  Hang the clothes to dry (usually overnight is all it takes).

9. Hang the clothes to dry (usually overnight is all it takes).

Yes – about once a month it is nice to use a machine but even hand-washing keeps them remarkably clean and it’s pretty darn easy too!