Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The big, the bold... and the REALLY old

Well we have finally come to the end of our trip. It is a bit sad that this wonderful adventure is comming to a close, but also at the same time we are excited to be back among friends and relatives to share our memories with.

Today we started the day off by visiting probobly Rome's most grand/historic structure of all, the Colosseum. It is approximately the size of the old Kingdome (during gladiator duels the stadium held anywhere from 50,000 to 70,000 people!) yet was built 2000 years ago without the help of any gasoline powered heavy machinery. The whole thing was constructed completely using "slave" power, which it turns out is quite effective!

I didn't realize but the actual floor of the colosseum was a raised floor 2 stories off the ground. Beneath the sand (the roman word for this was "arena") was a wood floor and beneath that was 2 stories of substructure that housed elevators for raising and lowering animals and people, the animals and people themselves, and elaborate "sets" that could be changed quickly up above to represent the area that the fight was supposed to be occuring in.

After wandering around the Colosseum for about 2 hours and snapping a ton of pictures we headed across the way to the Roman forum. This was the heart and soul of ancient Rome, where all of their ancient temples to their many gods laid, their senate buildings, and even their halls of justice and a prison. It is pretty amazing to think that what we were walking around in, the broken columns, the half built walls, and even some almost entirely whole structures, had not 150 years ago been buried in over 20 feet of dirt. During the 1800's the entire area was excavated by hand and is still a working archeological dig as the slowly unearth more and more of ancient Rome. The current city of Rome is actually built upon layers and layers of the old city as they continually built their city up. In the forum we saw sights such as the Senate Hall, the columns from the temple of Saturn (the oldest structure I believe we saw, dating from 500 B.C.) and even the remains of the temple of the Vestal Virgins (inside joke, but no joke we actually saw them.)

After walking around on the same stones that the likes of Julias Ceaser, Marc Antony and others wandered on we climbed up the hill to Palantine Hill. This was the hill that the Palaces of all the old Emporer's built their palaces upon. As we wandered around the 150,000 square foot "house" that the remains of still lie here, we realized that our house wasn't really all that big ;) Also from up on Palantine hill we had a view down to where the old Circus Maximus used to be (it is just a lump of earth now). Think the Daytona Race track, circa 1 B.C. This is where they held chariot races ala Ben Hur, 12 times a day, 240 days a year. This race track could hold 250,000 people at a time (much like our Nascar tracks of today) and in fact during one race on of the wooden bleachers failed and in the collapse more than 13,000 people died!

After that we took a short walk up to St. Peter in Chains (where we had to wait around for about 20 minutes because they were on their lunch break when we arrived) but then entered and saw both the chains that supposedly held the apostle Peter and the apostle Paul when they were imprisoned in the Roman prison's as well as the most impressive sculpture I think I have seen this trip. This was a sculpture by Michelangelo that was done for a Pope, but was never completed. It is a sculpture of Moses that was supposed to be part of a sarcophigus for the Pope when he died. It was to have 16 full sized sculptures on it, but I think Michelangelo only was able to complete about 6 before the Pope died, and with his death this "project" was abandon, but still in it's current form it is massively impressive.

After there we took a pretty long walk through the heart of Rome, passing some military cerimony which we believe to be the Italian version of the changing of the color guard (we just randomly ended up practically in the middle of it). After waiting a few minutes for the ceremony to complete we arrived at the Trevi Fountain. This was made even MORE impressive by the knowledge that the entire fountain is powered by a gravity water system via the rebuilt ancient aquaducts. We then took a short walk through the very touristy section of Rome (it is hard to tell the difference between it and the rest of Rome, the city as a whole is pretty touristy) and arrived at the Spanish Steps. They were a bit of a dissapointment, I didn't know exactly what to expect, but after the sights we had seen early in the day viewing a large section of 300 year old marble steps, although nice and pretty, kind of paled in comparison for the day.

After that we hopped on the Metro, rode back to our stop, grabbed a bite to eat and took one last wander through the tourist stores before heading back to our room. We are probobly going to try and wander around a bit tonight to find one last bit of gelato (we have honestly had gelato at LEAST once per day, every day this trip, and in the Cinque Terra and other places we were averaging upwards of 2-3 times per day).

Can't wait to see everyone and share some more photo's (if you aren't sick and tired of them already) of our trip. The photo's I have posted throughout have just been whatever I could find quickly, and after reviewing some of them I have noticed I could have picked MUCH better photo's to display, so hopefully this will at least proved SOME incentive to view our vacation photo's (plus for the grandparents we have like 1000 more pictures of Maddie, which they always love to see).

So for the last time from Rome, and I guess from Europe for this trip,


Monday, May 22, 2006

Hello from Rome

Well today we started our first actual touring of Rome... and let me just start off by saying, WOW is it hot here... and the locals all think this is "comfortable" weather and that it really gets hot in July and August... wouldn't want to be here during that time!

Our original plan was to start off the day viewing the Vatican Museum and the Sistine chapel, then working our way over to Saint Peter's and then finishing the day at the Pantheon and maybe spending our evening at Trevi Fountain or the Spanish steps... we quickly realized that our plans weren't going to go exactly as we had hoped, but we still had a great day. We first rode the metro to "near" that Vatican (Rome's metro system is nice, but very limited as every time they dig a hole here in Rome they literally start unearthing much of civilizations history, so digging subway tunnels is a slow process). Anyway, we walked the 2 blocks south from our stop to the Vatican Museum entrance (it was only about 15 minutes after opening time) and saw the line... or at least we THOUGHT we saw the line. It stretch all the way down the block (which was about the size of a football field) and was about 6-8 people wide... In the guide book it said average about 10 minutes per 100 yards of people, so I was thinking this was a long line but it did seem to be moving quickly so I figured it wouldn't be too bad... Shalisa was a bit more skeptical (as is her nature at times.) Well we walked to the corner, rounded it... and stretching before us, as far a we could see the line continued, probobly for another 300 yards or so... we kept walking and walking to get to the back of the line, and after about 15 minutes, and literally nearly a mile of walking we reached the end of the line. At this point we both decided that waiting in THAT long of a line might be a bit crazy, and we shoudl reconsider where to start our day. Lucky for us the end of the line was very near the entrance to St. Peters (about a 3 minute walk or so) and St. Peters had been open for about 2 hours already, so I figured the line there would be a bit smaller. It wasn't just a bit smaller, it was virtually non-existant (at least compared to the previous line) so we quickly jumped in to this line, and within 5 minutes we were ready to start touring St. Peters.

Unfortunatly the NEXT of our days surprised crept up on us. Up until this point Maddie has been an ideal traveler, in fact she has probobly been less fussy than either Shalisa or I for the trip. But I think the heat of Italy (and especially Rome) finally got to Maddie (it had gotten to Shalisa and I about 3 days ago). For the rest of the day she was fairly fussy, we can't complain too much since we had kind of expected her to have a bad day here or there and she hadn't so this wasn't too bad, we just had to make frequent stops to get her out of the carrier, let her lie down somewhere AWAY from our hot bodies and put some water on her forhead to help cool her down. After about 15 minutes or so we were finally able to enter St. Peters and we both stood in amazement.

I am sad to say that we weren't COMPLETELY blown away, as we have been spoiled to be able to travel to a lot of different places and see large cathedrals and what not (like St. Pauls in London) but it was still quite a sight to behold. We walked around the lower part of the church snapping photo's of the massive worship area, the imposibly high dome, and the walls that just seemed to go up forever.

After finishing with the ground floor we decided to climb the dome. This had been one of the highlights to our London trip (climbing the dome of St. Pauls) and I was really looking forward to climbing St. Peters. It was a mighty trek, 320 stairs in all (plus a lift to get us up about 3 stories before the stairs even started) and when we reached the top we were not dissapointed. No building in Rome is allowed to be higher than St. Peters so the views of the city are completely unobstructed from the likes if skyscrapers. After snapping a bunch of photo's from the top of the dome we begin the slow and steady climb back down.

Once we finished there we grabbed some food on the side of the street and, I need to interject here and say that much like pretty much every vacation Ryan had lost his sunglasses yesterday when he had left them in the hotel yesterday when they got kicked under the bed. Shalisa had noticed that they were under the bed and had thought she had told Ryan, but he hadn't heard her so they were left for the cleaning crew or the next lucky traveler who looked under the bed. Anyway, along with grabbing food Ryan had been wanting to "barter" with the street vendors. You can buy geniune Rolexx or Rollex watches, Guicchi bags or Nikke sunglasses. Ryan bartered with the sunglass guy and finally got a pair of geniune "Nike Made in USA" sunglasses for cheaper than any other sunglasses he found in any of the tourist stores.

We then headed over to the Vatican Museum which had a much smaller line by now, only about a 10 minute wait and got right in. We cruised through the museum, stopping to notice some of the significant works but not really inspecting too much of it. At the end of the museum we got to what we had gone through it for, the Sistine Chapel. I don't know what we were expecting, the chapel certainly wasn't what either of us were expecting, but was completely awesome none the less.

After that we hopped on a bus, which I HAVE to share the story about driving in Rome, but I am running out of time as the internet cafe is closing down so I will save that for another post. We rode the bus to the Pantheon where we saw the largest, still in use, complete building from before Christ. The Pantheon was pretty impressive, but we had seen bigger and better a lot of other places, but when you realized that this building was actually built before Christ where as the other churches were relatively newer (only about 500 years old) it was truly impressive.

We rode the bus once again back to the train station, did some quick grocery shopping for tomorrow, and then headed off to the hotel.

I am sorry I don't have time to post pictures, you can rest assured that I will... but the guy is literally hovering behind me to try and motivate me to leave, so I will appease him (techincally the store closed 10 minutes ago).

Ciao for now, but be seeing you real soon.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The long promised Rothenburg pictures

Main Entrance to the walled city of Rothenburg

Shalisa in the Kathe Wolfart store (I spelled that wrong)

Kelly, Shalisa's old roomate who lives in Germany now, with Maddie.

Shalisa with the Nightwatchman and one of our friends we met in Bacharach from Georgia

Us hiking the wall.

The Rothenburg wall, quite impressive as it circles the whole city.

Maddie at the Castle Garden entrance.

Desert with Michele

Us at the world famous engineering disaster, the leaning tower of Pisa (before the train broke down)

Hope everyone has a great day, and we will have TONS of great pictures from the Vatican for you tomorrow.


Saturday, May 20, 2006

Bienvenudo from the Cinque Terra

Well we managed to find an internet connection even here. The internet truly is available everywhere. We rode the train from Venice to Riomagiore yesterday, it took about 5 hours or so and wasn't NEARLY as beautiful as the train from Germany to Venice through the Alps.

Once we arrived we found our apartment and dropped our bags off. Once we had the room settled Ryan grabbed his swimsuit and we headed out for a walk around town. We found the beach trail and hiked along that for a while. It finally ended at a "breach" and I use that term lightly, it was more like a less rocky area. There were a few people lying around on the rocks sunbathing, and Ryan decided to take a swim! He changed discretely on the beach and then took off swiming in the water. The water temperature wasn't too bad, not quite as nice as Hawaii but certainantly much warmer than back home. Ryan swam for about 10 minutes or so and then got off and took a quick shower.

We headed out for dinner, had some great pizza, and or course picked up some home made gelato for desert (we asked the girl behind the counter to recommend a flavor, and she recommended cherry, WOW, was it good).

Today we took out for a hike, thinking we would hike from Riomagiore to Monerola. That was a quick hike and so we decided to continue on to Cornegla and that was a bit tougher, but after eating a bit of foccacia and grabbing some water we decided to hike on. From there we took the hike into Vernazza and wow, it was a tough hike (took about 2 hours just for that part) but was completly worth it for the views we saw. From Vernazza we gave up on the hiking (the last part to Monterosa is supposed to be the hardest, not the longest, but definitely the hardest) and so we cheated out at the end and took the train. All in all we figured we hiked about 5 miles on some steep and rugged terrain, so we should sleep well tonight!

After we finish up here we are going to take the train back to Riomagiore, there is a place that sells cheeseburgers across from our apartment and we both decided that a cheeseburger actually sounds like a nice change from pizza and pasta. Once we take off tomorrow morning we have a quick 2 hour stop in Pisa to see the leaning tower, and then it is on to our final destination Roma! I think we are both a bit sad that we are closing in on the home stretch of what has been a wonderful trip, but getting home and sleeping in our own bed and not living out of a suitcase (especially with Maddie) will be nice as well.

I hope everyone is doing well at home, and we can't wait to see you all, Ciao!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Yay, no more "Mr. Sniffles"

So we found a NEW internet Cafe, and it has 2 great features, 1 no more Mr. Sniffles the sicky and 2, it actually has a decent (read non Windows 95) computers that I can plug my camera into. So make sure you read the post below for what we have been up to, this will just be pictures and a short description.

The Grand Canal

St. Mark's Square

Us on St. Mark's

The Bridge of Sighs

Maddie and Emma

Greetings from Venice

Well we made it safely to Venice yesterday. The train ride from Germany to Italy was beautiful. I took a TON of pictures on the train, and I will definitely post them (along with the much promised, never delivered, Rothenburg pictures).

After arriving in Venice and quickly finding our hotel we dropped of our bags and hopped on a vaparetto down to St. Mark's square. We arrived late enough that a lot of the crowds had left and we had a wonderful time watching people feed the pigeons, lovers strolling hand in hand, and the gondoliers singing from the canals.

Instead of taking the Vapereto back to our hotel (which is about on the opposite side of the city) we took Rick Steve's advice and "got lost" in the city. Since you are on an island you can't really get too lost, but Venice has no discernable street system, and road (well, more pathways, there are no roads) randomly dead end at various spots. We both agreed that this casual meandering through the city's ally ways and back streets was one of the highlights to our trip so far. We saw laundry hanging from building windows, crossed probobly about a hundred bridges, and after about 45 minutes actually made it back to our hotel.

Today we woke up and immediatly went BACK to St. Mark's Square (walked it instead of Vapereto) but this time we toured St. Mark's Bacillica, the Dodge's Palace and walked across the Bridge of Sighs. We then headed back towards our hotel again on foot, stopping along the way to buy Venician glass, Venician silk and other fun items (by the way, mom and dad, ignore the previous sentance, otherwise you will spoil your christmas gifts). We found a little cafe on the way back where we stopped to eat dinner and then we found this internet place. I have to say, this internet place is pretty skimpy (2 computers and limited internet connection, plus the guy behind me is sniffiling like crazy, pray I don't get sick) so I can't upload any pictures tonight of Venice.

Oh, one other side note, during dinner Maddie made a new friend, Emma, who was born on February 21st (just 5 days before her) in Venice, Italy! We of course took a picture of Maddie and Emma, which I would love to share with you, but you will just have to wait until we can upload pictures. We probobly won't post again until we get to Rome, since our next stop is the Cinque Terra, and they don't even have roads, much less internet connections. So this will be it until we near the end of our trip. Everything is going well and we can't wait until we get back to share our photos.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Hello from Fantasyland

Well we are having a GREAT day here at the base of the alps in fairy tale land. The castle we visited today was Schloss Neuschwanstein. It actually isn't really that old, it was built in the mid 1800's by King Ludwig II of Bavaria.

It is so fun comparing this castle, which looks like it was taken straight out of Disneyland and plopped down here at the base of the Alps. But instead of a 100 foot "Matterhorn" behind a forced perspective castle we got to see the full sized castle at the base of the real Alps!

We toured Ludwig's childhood castle which is below Neuschwanstein first this morning. It was interesting as it was a "real" (as in actually lived in) castle that was built back in the mid 12th century. After that castle we took the shuttle bus up the hill and it dropped us off at a point where we walked a bit out to Mary's bridge. This bridge was built about 150 years ago and it spans a waterfall that overlooks Neuschwanstein. The first photo was taken from this bridge (along with about 30 others) and then from there we trecked on over to the castle. We toured the castle from the inside (it was actually never lived in, Ludwig died 172 days after construction of the castle had been completed and it was immediatly turned into a tourist destination after his death). After the castle we made the long hike back down the hill (okay, mountain, I suppose you can't call the Alps "hills") and rested for a bit at the bus stop.

We hopped on a bus over to Tegelbergbahn (which is only about 3 kilometers from Neuschwanstein) and there we bought some luge tickets and gondola tickets. The first thing we did was jump on the gondola and ascend the 1,700 meters up to the top where we were witness to some of the most spectacular views I think either of us had seen. We were able to look down into the Schwangau valley here in Bavaria from way up at the peak.

After running around up at the top of the peak for about an hour we headed for the gondola car to head back down and hop on the luge ride. Unfortunately, right as we boarded the gondola the cable snapped and the car went plummeting down the hill. Okay, I made that last part up. What REALLY happened was that it started raining and as we moved down the hill the rain got harder and harder. By the time we got down to the luge track they had closed it down for the rest of the day. Luckily we were able to return our tickets for the luge and get our €5 back, but I would have much rather done the luge.

We hopped back on the bus, rode it back to Füssen and as soon as we got back into town the rain had stopped. It was too bad about the lugeing but it is nice to be able to walk around town and stay dry.

Well tomorrow we our off on our longest train ride, we leave at 7:00 in the morning from Füssen and head off the Venice, Italy! The train ride is about 10 hours long, so we won't get in to Venice until about 5:00 tomorrow, but that will still leave us some time to wander around the canals before turning in to bed, and then the day after we will really get to see the sights. I don't know what kind of internet they have in a town whose streets are made out of water, but I am guessing we should be able to find an internet cafe and post some more pictures.

Oh, and about the Rothenburg pictures... it was raining and my feet hurt, so sue me for not wanting to walk back to the hotel to get them. I am sure I will eventually get them posted, I suppose that is what I get for "promising" to get them posted yesterday.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Hello from Füssen

Well we made it to Füssen safely (pronounced Foo-sen)... it was a bit of a long train ride (well actually the train ride wasn't really that long, just for a portion of it we were on the "school bus" train that had all of the school kids on it that had just gotten out of class). Sorry about the lack of Rothenburg pictures once again, we copied all of the pictures off of our memory cards on to the portable hard drive so we would have room for pictures today, and of course left the hard drive back at the room. But I promise, tomorrow I will post some Rothenburg pictures since we now have the ability to post them.

Füssen is a bavarian town about 20 kilometers from the Austrian border. It is amazing as we walk around town, as the Alps loom all around us. Tomorrow we plan on going to Neushwanstein Castle (the "disney" castle) and then ride a gondola up to Tegelberg peak (and Ryan is hoping to take the stell luge ride down :-) ). So tomorrow we should have TONS of pictures, today we don't have many pictures to post since it was mostly a travel day and the pictures I took from inside the train turned out kind of fuzzy, but I can at least post this one. The country side here is beautiful and really reminds me of the northwest, except we don't have these huge Alps looming in the background.

I hope everyone back home is doing well, everyone here is doing great. It was probobly a good thing today was a travel day as we spent a lot of yesterday walking the wall in Rothenburg (it was QUITE impressive) and we had to leave a bit early in the morning, so everyone (except for maybe Maddie, who hasn't been fazed once yet on this trip) is happy for a slower day to catch our breath.

We are staying in a hostel the next 2 nights, it will be the only nights of the whole trip that we aren't staying in a hotel. It is really nice since it includes breakfast, a nice room, and most importantly, laundry service... there is only one small problem. They were out of double beds. Shalisa and I are in the same room and we each have a bed... I just don't remember the last time I slept in a bunk bed :). It will be fun though and they had a crib they provided as well, so Maddie doesn't have to spend the night in "the tent" (we have a portable crib called a peapod that looks kinda like a minature tent) and will get a nice crib to sleep in.

Oh, and last thing, while eating breakfast this morning we met a couple from Denver that had flown in about a week ago. They have been to Europe 3 times now and have always flown standby. They were able to fly first class from Denver to Düsseldörf and out of Zurich in another week for only $300 per person!!! They also have flown standby (first class again) to Maui for only $150 per person! Shalisa and I know what we are looking in to when we get back. Oh and John (my boss) if you are reading this, how much time off do I have left? :P

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Happy Mothers Day!

I don't know what happened to this post... there was supposed to be lots here but it somehow disappeared when I posted it... oh well...

Basicaly we saw Kelly, had a fun time with her, ordered the mother of all "big salads" and had a good laugh.

Oh, and happy mothers day to all, except it is now past mothers day, so time for a new post...

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Friday, May 12, 2006

St. Goar and Rheinfelds Castle

Hello again from Germany. Yesterday we spent almost the whole day up in St. Goar. It is a town only about 15 kilometers north of where we are staying in Bacharach and is a lovely 1 hour boat ride up the Rhine.

The boat ride was wonderful, we really enjoyed cruising along the Rhine in the boat. While on the boat Maddie quickly made new friends with just about everyone who was around. That is one of the most fun things about traveling with a baby, no matter the culture they all seem to love them! We met some German people who spoke no English so we struggled along with our phrase book explaining how old she was, what her name was, and of course that she is a girl! When we were boarding the boat to return home we got stopped by some Indian people who wanted to take pictures of Maddie even!

We REALLY enjoyed Rheinfelds castle, we took tons of pictures and we were just amazed at what was accomplished way back in the 12th and 14th century. It is too bad that Napoleon had to go and blow up most of the castle. It is pretty amazing what still remains, and to think that it was once 5 times larger!

Well we are off to... well we are not sure what we are going to do today. We had planned an extra day at the start of the trip just so we could rest up and we thought Maddie might have trouble sleeping, but since she has been so great we are now a day ahead of ourselves, so we are going to explore Bacharach some more (we are going to hike up the hill to see the castle) and then go north to a town called Boppard and see what we see. I am not sure if I will write tomorrow, since we are going to leave early for Rothenburg, but I will try and update again in the next couple of days.

Ryan, Shalisa, and Maddie


Martha we even took some pictures for you:

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Guten Tag from Bacharach

Guten Tag from Bacharach, Germany!

Just to let you know, we arrived safe and sound with no troubles and got on our first train to Bacharach and arrived by noon.

Maddie has been the perfect little traveller, keeping our seat mates entertained on the plane. She only let out a little cry when she was hungry. We did not get the bassinet like we had hoped, but it worked out ok anyway. We were concerned she wouldn't sleep at night when we were supposed to be sleeping but she has done better than we could have ever hoped for! We all finally crashed around 6 O'clock last night and laid down to sleep. She went to sleep right along with us and she didn't wake up until 5:30 (Mom was the last to get up at around 7:30 when Maddie needed to eat.)

We are staying in Pension Lettie where our host Lettie has prepared a wonderful room for us and a wonderful breakfast to boot.

Germany is absolutely gorgeous, we wore shorts yesterday and we are wearing them today as well. Luckily we were told that tomorrow will be a bit cooler(because we only packed 2 pairs of shorts). If you had picked up one of these little German towns and transplanted it in to the US I would tell you it was TOO German. Everything is how you would probobly picture Germany to be.

We plan on touring Reihnfields castle as well as cruising the Rhine on a boat today. The area of the Rhine that we are staying at has over 17 castles in an 60 kilometer stretch. The castles were built by "Robber Barrons" that would force boats carrying merchandise up the Rhine to stop and pay a toll. Yesterday as we were trying to stay awake we rode the train about 40 kilometers north and it seemed like out one of the windows there was always a new castle popping in to view.

I will probobly make a blog post tomorrow morning as well as I am making this post from Lettie's laptop at breakfast.