Monday, June 25, 2012

Italia Part III: Siena and Cinque Terre

Our sextet changed to an octet for this leg of the journey. The new members? Jason and Dan. We all piled into an 7-seater mini van, making an extra seat in the roomy back row. The three beautiful ladies on the trip usually sat in back.

Jason drove from Rome to Siena. Up and down windy vineyard roads and trying to locate our location on google maps, we finally made it to Castello di Selvole, or Heaven. Set atop a hill, our spectacular views and peaceful location provided a perfect break from busy Rome.

Take a look at the architecture and the pool!

We slept, read books, played lots of Scum, and walked through the miles of grape vineyards. We visited Siena on the first night for a meal out.

The next morning was our designated pool day. Then it was off to dinner at some friends of the owners of the Castello di Selvolve. Free champagne anyone? Garrick and I devoured Bruschetta with Fresh Cod Paste, Wild Boar Ragu,  Sorrento Salad, and finally Tiramisu.

I would like to retire in the Tuscan region of Italy. The warmth, gorgeous scenery, fresh food and relaxed nature are unmatched.

Next stop? Cinque Terre!

Italian for "The Five Lands," we stayed in the southern village, Riomaggiore. The towns are built into the rocky cliffs alongside the Mediterranean Sea. Brightly colored, the buildings are worn from salt water and laundry blows freely from most windows. Flowers and stray cats dot the streets. Pizzerias, Gelato, and touristy shops are not difficult to find.

We had one full day in Cinque Terre, so we made the most of it! We hiked between all five villages: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and finally, Monterosso al Mare. This was about an 8 mile hike, with vertical climbs and drops between each town.

Truly, these views were the most beautiful I've seen, and stopping to look around was a frequent occurrence. More photos are necessary, as words can't describe the beauty.

In Vernazza, we stopped for Gelato and a rest. We had one of our few group photos taken by a kind tourist.

From left to right, Lindsay, Dan, Christy, Jason, Andrea, Garrick, Adam and Bob. As I look back on the trip, I'm so thankful to have shared our experiences with this bunch, and for a group of eight people, we got along pretty well! We shared lots of laughs and meaningful discussions.

The next morning, we made our way back to Rome, to fly back to Scotland. Stepping off the plane in Prestwick, the cold air refreshed our lungs and it felt like home.

One thing is for sure, Italy is a special place.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Italia Part II: Pompeii

A wee history lesson:

Mt Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, covering Pompeii in about 20 feet of ash. 1700 years later, it was rediscovered, prompting it's excavation. Roman life in the 1st century was frozen in time. Below are photos of Mt Vesuvius from the Forum.

The Forum is dominated by the Temple of Jupiter. According to Rick Steves, "Jupiter was the supreme god of the Roman pantheon."

The most striking images were those of the preserved people of Pompeii, obviously shielding themselves from the eruption. (Note the pregnant woman on the right.)

Crosswalks, heated floors in the bath house, and even a fast-food restaurant demonstrate the advanced way of life for 1st century Romans. Even their pottery is amazing.

In this society, the rich, middle class, and poor lived on the same street. More extravagant homes neighbored simple residences. When entering the richest home, the Latin word "HAVE", meaning "Hail" or "Welcome" is written in stone. Inside, a beautiful Mosaic can be seen on the ground.

Over 33 brothels were available for a town of 20,000 people.  Pictured is one of the rooms in a well preserved brothel. The women were called "Shewolves" and would call to the men on the street.

Upon exiting Pompeii, the Theatre is the last stop. Seating 5,000 people, ticket prices varied based on location. Our voices echoed as we ran up and down the stairs, talking and laughing.

And finally, our day ended with some good food:

Stay tuned for Italia Part III: Siena and Cinque Terre!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Italia Part I: Roma

*Disclaimer: Glasgow, Prestwick Airport is not in Glasgow.

We arrived in Rome late on Saturday, 12th June, and had our first taste of Italian cuisine: a slice of sausage and cheese pizza. Costing less than 5 Euro for two slices, Garrick and I instantly knew that we were in the land of heavenly food.

Our group began as a sextet: Garrick, myself, Adam, Lindsay, Christy, and Bob. We checked into our vintage/modern apartment and appreciated it's close vicinity to the Pantheon and a beautiful piazza.

The next morning, we rose early to explore the city! First stop, the Colosseum. When we turned onto the road and saw the ruined structure for the first time, I was in awe. My cheap camera does not even come close to capturing what I saw. But, here's the attempt and it's still pretty good.

Outside, huge lines formed. Thanks to our Roma Passes, we ran to the front of a much smaller line and entered the Colosseum. We stood and stared for quite some time, and then walked around the upper and lower loop. The floor is gone, so we could see the underneath portion.

On the way out. we stopped for lunch at one of the many walk up sandwich/drink stands. This was our view while eating our salami and cheese sandwiches.

Our tired feet walked to the Forum next. I have pictures of the beginning, however Garrick had a massive (40+ sneeze) allergy attack which cut our time a little short. The gorgeous ruins and well-manicured gardens gave a real sense of what it was like to live in ancient Rome.

Back at our apartment for the night, a foot massage had never felt so good. Before leaving, every travel website stated that a good pair of walking shoes was a necessity. I conquer! My New Balance tennis shoes rocked!

On 14th June, it was off to another country: The Vatican! The dress code forbids tank tops, shorts, and open toed shoes. Here's our first look:

I'll be honest, I hadn't done much research and so I need to give a shout out to Rick Steve's Audio Tours. St Peter's Basilica is the largest cathedral in the world, but doesn't feel that way. There are many optical illusions: The statues get larger the higher they get, and there is an arch at the front, making the ceiling not seem as tall.

The Vatican Museum holds the world's largest collection of antiquities. Masterpieces line the walls and each room is filled with incredible sculptures.

The Sistine Chapel was by far the best sight to see. Michelangelo's representation of the Biblical narrative did not disappoint. Picturing him painting on large scaffolding and kinking his neck to reach the corners of the room demands respect. Although he denied the Pope's request to paint the the chapel several times, he was definitely the right man for the job.

And finally, the food.

Furthest away is Garrick's classic lasagna, and to the front, is my new favorite pasta dish: Pear and cheese stuffed ravioli in a carrot sauce. I don't know if I should even attempt to recreate the goodness.

Stay tuned for Italia Part II: Pompeii!