Thursday, July 23, 2009

*Rome* July 17-22, 2009

There are a few points I need to make about this trip before I get into details. First, there was so much to see and do, that we could not get everything done. We stayed busy every day, and still couldn't get it done. Therefore to save you from boredom, and reading for hours, I am only going to hit the hightlights. Two, I took over 250 pictures, and therefore am not able to (obviously) put every picture on here. I am going to put some pictures here, and different ones on facebook. Throughout this entry I will give out if you ever make it here (which I highly recommend), then you will have a "heads-up."

We THOUROUGHLY enjoyed Rome. We are so happy that we were able to make it here and experience everything we did. We arrived around 10am after a 1 1/2 hour plane ride. We decided to jump right in and experience some authentic Italian food because we couldn't check into our hotel, and our tour did not start for a few more hours. Overall the food was outstanding every place we went. Unfortunately one day we went to a place that the food arrived 10 minutes after we sat down, was luke-warm, and we believe we heard a microwave ding...hhhmm!!! Needless to say that was not the best.

*Pointer 1: Go out of your way to eat at little "hole in the wall" restaurants....and stay away from the major "chains." The food is 50 times better, and the hospitality is fantastic!!! You may pay a little more, but it is worth not hearing the ding.*
Our tour was at the Vatican Museum. So we had to take a bus to St Peters' Basillica. After our stay here we realized that driving here would have been a huge mistake. Italian drivers are careful and there aren't very many accidents here, but the roads are very, very narrow; there are vendors along the streets; restaurants have their cute little tables along the roadside; and the mopeds are everywhere. OK, now back to our tour. Once we arrived at St Peter's Basillica we were looking for our meeting spot for the tour. We looked everywhere, and I finally went with my great Italian (yeh right) to a cop and asked him where this cafe was. He gave us directions, and it took us 45 minutes to get there....up a huge coblestone hill, pregnant, and with 2 strollers, and heat that felt like 120 degrees, and wearing pants/capris and shirts to cover our shoulders (you will NOT be able to enter the Sistine Chapel or Basillica wearing shorts and tank-tops) Once we got there we treated ourselves to some yummy Gilato (Italian ice cream). We have not figured out why this is so good...I mean it comes from the same milk American ice cream comes from, but it is so extra creamy...and I don't know how else to describe it.

*Pointer 2: eat Gilato every chance you can get...especially in the heat. We ended up eatting it every day except for once (we splurged on another dessert). *

OK back to the tour. We actually did not take a tour...we bought "skip the lines" tickets...and well worth the money. Pointer 3: spend the extra money to skip the lines on as much as you will save yourself about 2-3 hours of wasted time waiting in lines in the heat.

Once we got into the museum, we were free to roam around ourselves, and do it at our own pace (priceless option with kids). We saw a lot of statues of women, men and animals. We saw a lot of architecture, paintings, artwork, and tapestries that are 100's of years old. One section of the museum even had an Egyptian piece to it. The kids were fascinated and disgusted with the real mummy that was on back to around 900 BC. We were able to take a lot of pictures here. They have the museum set up, where you have to go through everything before you can get to the Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel was magnificent!!!! We were not allowed to take pictures, so we had to buy postcards. We all got emotional, because no matter how much I were to describe it, my words do no mercy for the spectactual view we had. We learned in school that Michaelangelo painted it all....well, here is a bit of history. He painted the middle part of the ceiling (the Genesis section and the prophets and ancestors) and the Last Judgement in the front, but everything else was painted by other artists. He even had a little bit of help over the 4 years it took to paint it. Also he did not want to originally paint the Sistine Chaplel because as he put it "I am a sculpter, not a painter." But the pope begged him to do it. It took us a little over 2 1/2 hours to go through the museum and the Sistine Chapel.

Our next stop was to visit inside St. Peters' Basillica. St Peter was the first Pope and it was here that Jesus told him to build the church. This is also where he was crucified (upside down) under the persecution of Emperor Nero. His body is buried here under the alter. This Basillica is huge and beautiful beyond words. The statue below is of Mary holding Jesus after he died. It was sculpted by Michaelangelo, and is the ONLY piece of art that he signed. It is now behind bullet proof glass because a few years ago, some crazy person started destroying it, but it was fixed. Let me show you some of the pictures..instead of my words.

This church is absolutely beautiful. There were so many people here all day long. We actually made it back here to go to mass on Sunday. Feliciti and Jakob were so happy to be able to go to communion here (as were Thom and I). The mass was offered in Italian, and we couldn't understand much of it, but still were happy to make it here. The choir sang absolutely wonderfully. There were probably about 400-500 people at mass. While mass was going on the rest of the public (who did not want to attend mass) had to wait outside of the area, and were not allowed to enter until 4pm.

The next day was our walking Rome tour. This time we actually took a guided tour. Our tour guide was very nice and "sympathetic" for the kids...therefore didn't make any of us rush around. I think the other people in our group appreciated that too, because again it was very hot. The only difference was today we had a bit of a breeze. She told us a lot of interesting facts about Rome (ie, 1. the city was orginally 20 feet below where it is today, and had to be built higher because it always flooded 2. there is always excavation going on, and therefore is very dusty). Our first stop was the Pantheon. It was the Roman temple of "all the gods" and later became a church. Raphael so loved the Pantheon that he was actually buried here in 1520. The dome became a symbol of Rome.

We were able to see the famous Trevi Fountain. Honestly I never heard of the Trevi Fountain before this tour. There are a lot of fountains here, and we all enjoyed a bit of cool relief from them. But this fountain is probably the biggest and most "glamorous" of them all. We were finally ready to see some some Roman ruins. We had a long walk and half of it was through loose gravel. Our guide told us more interesting facts and pointed out certain the balconey where Mussoulini gave speeches from when he visited Rome. Once we got to the Roman Forum, the center of political, commercial and judicial life, we saw a lot of the original Roman buildings, but a lot of them were either destroyed or are still being excavated. Julius Caesar was buried here, and people still place flowers at his gravesite (which is just a pile of rocks). After climbing the "Triumphant Road" which was a steep hill with huge boulders embedded in the ground, we could see the Collisseum.

At the Collisseum, we were able to skip the lines again (woo-hoo!!). After a brief history, the tour guide left, and we explored the Collissum on our own. Actually the term Collisseum is incorrect. It is officially called the Amphitheater, but was "renamed" the Collisseum (not because of the size) but because it was close to a huge statue of Emperor Nero called Collosus. The statue was destroyed after Nero's death to "erase" all the memories of him. The Collisseum was finished in 80AD and only took 10 years to build. There are 80 arch entries that allowed the 80,000 people to be seated in 10 minutes, this was a place considered to be "after-work" entertainment. The columns were built with white limestone ~ and it has been said that the original seating was removed and used to help build St Peter's Basillica. There is a cross here that symbolizes the defeat the Christians had over the pagans, and since 1749 each year the popes do the Stations of the Cross along the walkway of the Collisseum on Good Friday. The steps to get to the uppermost level were very steep (like everything else here) and poor Dominick was literally crawling up them..we found the elevator when we came back down.

Our day was ending now, and we had about a 1 1/2 mile walk back to the hotel. We did a lot of walking today, and we probably drank about 8 liters of water between us all. This was the average on what we drank everyday.

The next three days we did not have any tours, or anything pressing that needed to be done. We bought a 48 hour bus pass...hop on-hop off.

*Pointer #4: because of the heat, this is another good investment....use the transportation to get you from place to place. *

We took the bus around for one complete rotation (about 2 hours), and then decided what we wanted to do. Over the next 2 days we went to a lot of "little" stops. I am going to summarize what we saw now. Piazza del Popolo. Here we saw another fountain (the same place where they had a Moby concert). Here is also where they have the "twin" churches Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto....two churches that look identical...except the tops are a bit different, one is more oval than the other.

We also walked through one of the many shopping district to get to the Spansh steps. Everyone counted the steps and we got 132-137. This was the Spanish area, and if you were caught in this area you could be drafted into the Spanish Army. Once we got to the top, we had to take a break because it seemed to be extra hot and sunny up there. We were a bit disappointed b/c the things we wanted to see were closed.

*Pointer #5: make sure to look in your tour book to check on opening and closing hours. A lot of places close for lunch which is between 1-4pm. *

There are also a lot of obelisk's...many of which came from Egypt...they are tall pointed of which we saw down in Spanish steps area. Many of them have statues or crosses on the tops. To waste some more time, since we had about 3 hours before anything reopened (at least in the area we were at) we walked up to the Pincio Gardens. This is not the typical gardens we are use to. There were no flowers...just a bunch of trees. But there was a small fountain (nothing extravagant) that the kids played in for about an hour. A little middle-eastern 2 year old girl was up there and her and Dominick played together...she even cried when we sweet!!!!

There are over 900 churches in Rome (most of which are Catholic)..we were only able to see about 10 of them, but passed many more. One of the churches we stopped at was Santa Maria was here in 356AD where Pope Liberius had a vision of Mother Mary ~ she told him to build a church at the spot he found snow. It was August 5th when it snowed and so he built this church ~ the church was completed in 440AD. Every year the church has a tradition to throw down white flower petals from the ceiling. The ceiling tiles were believed to be the gold that Columbus brought back from the Americas. Once again the artwork, detail and thought in this (and every church we visited) amazed us ~ it is so beautiful!! Many churches also hold tombs of saints, popes, archbishops, bishops and cardinals.

Most of the Italians are very friendly. At one of the restaurants we ate it...Thom and I shared a Carbonara Calzone (which was very yummy) and the kids shared some pasta and pizza. As we were leaving, Emilee ran into a pole, and the owner ran over to her and picked her up and gave her a free ice cream. She told us that we are very blessed to have so many kids ~ and Thom and I both agreed. We have been told by many locals that our family is great because of the size, and they are not use to seeing so "many" kids in one family...the average is 1.5 kids per family.

We also visited Castel Sant' Angelo. The castle was built by Pope Gregory the Great because he had a vision of St. Michael (the archangel). The castel was a papal residence one time and also served as a prison at another time. It has an underground corridor that leads from the Vatican to the castle that would be used for the pope in case he was in danger ~ it was built in 1277 and has no public access. We went to the top of the castle and got some great overview pictures of Rome. There were some beautiful frescos (which we couldn't touch or take pictures of) along some of the walls.

We were needing to get some souvenirs before we left. The kids got to pick out a few things with the money they saved up. Between all of them they got snow-globes, t-shirts, hats, pens, rosaries, fans and postcards. Thom and I got some presents for family (for Christmas) and then a few things for ourselves (rosaries, scarves and postcards). But our biggest souvenir were the 2 oil paintings we bought from a local artist. One was a night-time picture of St Peter's, the Tiber River and Castel Angelo. The other one was a generic scene of Italian houses along the ocean side with beautiful flowers. I made a deal with the artist and actually saved about 50 Euros (about $80) for both of them ~ Not too shabby!!!

We saw a lot more of what I have actually written, but a promise is a promise...I didn't want to make it too unbearalbly long. I hit the hightlights...but just know, no matter what I could write and pictures we could share, seeing it first-hand is the best way to experience what we experienced. Visiting Rome is an experience we will all remember forever!!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Rhine Aflame July 4, 2009

4th of July

"German Style"

This was an event we were told that we could not miss out on. Every first Saturday of the month from April to about October, the Germans shoot off fireworks on the Rhine River, and a procession of about 50 boats all lit up drive down the river as the fireworks are going off. This year the 4th happened to fall on the first Saturday, so we thought...what an opportunity!!!

We only lived about an hour away, so we left the house about 6pm. We were not sure how bad the traffic or parking would be. We got there a little after 7 and were lucky enough to find parking right away!!! We were also lucky enough to find the only bench left that happened to be between the Rhine river and a park. I know hard to imagine, but it was an ideal spot!!! We let the kids play until they got hungry..which was about 1 1/2 hours. We ate our sandwiches and chips, and then they continued playing some more...they had a blast!!!

We decided since everyone was having such a good time and behaving, that we would all treat ourselves to some ice cream. The nearest ice cream stand on the "boardwalk" (like the NJ boardwalk) was about 1/4 mile down. So by the time Feliciti, Jakob and I returned with the ice cream cones they were half melted. But they still tasted yummy, and everyone enjoyed their flavors. I think Thom really enjoyed his since it was a combo of cherries, vanilla ice cream and alcohol.

The kids were beginning to wear down, so we told them to come take a break by us until the fireworks started. While we were waiting, Dominick was getting a bit bored, and started throwing shoes around...unfortunatly he threw Jakob's sandal right into the river. Emilee was worried about that thing for the rest of the night..."how are we going to get it back? what are the fish going to do with it? how is Jakob going to get home?"

It was finally time for the show to start. We were excited to see what all the hype was about. It seemed to take forever for the boats to come around the corner...but once they did, it was amazing. Imagine....50 big party boats all lit up going down the Rhine could hear the music and the people (drunk I am sure) having a fantastic time. If we didn't have the kids, and I were not pregnant, Thom and I decided that we would have been on one of those boats. In the background, along the mountain sides you could see the fireworks being shot off....this was nice. Dominick and Emilee are old enough to appreciate it, and that they did!! The fireworks in the states are more elaborate, but this was a unique experience. Here are a few of the pictures. One of them is of a castle along the mountain.

Stuttgart Zoo July 3, 2009


We have not been to a zoo in a matter of fact, Gabi, Emilee and Dominick have never been to one, and Feliciti and Jakob don't remember going to one. We thought it would be a perfect time to go on a "short" drive down the road to see one...the weather was nice and we had nothing else to do that day. So we hopped in the car, and thought that what would be about a 2 hour drive wouldn't be too bad. Well, well, well....we hit every construction area on the autobahn, and that 2 hour drive turned out to be almost 4 hours. Also on the way there Feliciti got car sick and threw up (in the brand new car). So by this point we thought...should we even continue??? But she said she felt better, so we continued.

The weather started looking questionable by the time we started walking to the entrance. But once again, we did not want to come all this way and not go to the zoo. So we paid and went in. We were able to see some penguins (one of them was actually holding an egg, and was very protective of it).

We also saw some birds, monkeys and the tigers before the "bottom fell on us". We ran to the elephant cages and ended up waiting there for an hour...and the rain never let up. We decided to go out and make it to the next area that we could take advantage of. On our way to the aquarium, we made a few short stops (with the protection of trees) to look at some other animals...giraffes, donkeys and more birds. We were soaking wet by this point, so did it really matter how long we stayed to visit some animals. The kids all thought it was a lot of fun to be completly wet. We literally had NO dry spots of clothes!! We ended up staying in the aquarium for an hour, and then decided we have had enough, and started heading for the car.
We ended up stopping for some Italian food on the way home. It was very good..and we sat and talked about the memories that we just made....what a trip to the zoo!!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Heidelberg, Germany June 15, 2009

Schloss Heidelberg

We decided to take the train this time just to say that we did ~ it cost us about 30 Euros one way (about $45) to get there. It turned out to be a 2 1/2 hour ride vs. 1 1/2 hours by car). It was fun for the kids to ride on the train, but we are not sure how often we will ride a may be convenient and less wear and tear on our car, but you are limited on what you can carry with you. Once we got to Heidelberg we had to take a bus to the Schloss (castle). We were told at the info desk that we could ride the bus for free with our train ticket...hhhmmm??? No one asked us for a ticket ~ so. We then had to take a cable car up to the schloss, or our other option was to walk up 320 stories ~ pregnant and with 2 strollers...NOT!! At this point we were thinking about the movie "Planes, Trains and Automobiles".

While in the cable car it started to POUR down rain and of course the castle is outside. So we waited in the terminal, had some Cheetos for a snack and waited until it slowed down some. It never really stopped, but we went anyway. We didn't want to come all this way to see the castle from a distance and eat Cheetos in the terminal.

In order for us to see anything in the castle we had to pay to get in...AND pay for a tour. We were able to see about 1/4 of the castle, because everything else was closed to the public or was under construction. This is how big the castle is:

The tour was an hour and we saw a few rooms..the wine cellar which had probably 20 feet tall barrels, some artifacts and were told a lot of history. Overall we thought the tour was ok, but mostly a huge tourist trap (unfortunately).

We also were allowed to see the medicine museum which was the most interesting because it was neat to see what was used for medicine and how it was made....some of the stuff they used is pretty scary.

Here are a few pictures of the outside of the Scloss .

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Trier, Germany June 13, 2009

So here we are, 4 days from going to Rome and I never even submitted our last couple of days just seem to go by so fast. So I apologize for not keeping this updated as much as I have been wanting to...can someone add a couple more hours to each day?

Trier is only about 1 hour away from home. Trier (pronounced Tree-air) is the oldest city in Germany, so there is a lot of history. But beyond the "boring" history, as the kids like to say, we were able to actually see a lot of cool stuff (something else they said about this trip). Our first stop was the Porta Nigra ~ The Black Arch. It was the entrance into the old city. In some places around Trier you can still see original walls from Roman times. We went to the top and had a great view of what is now the marketplace of Trier. The staircase was windy, narrow and steep, and Emilee and Dominick both insisted on being big girls and boys....needless to say that made mommy and daddy very nervous. There were a lot of stone carvings of Roman leaders in the walls.

Our next stop was a bus tour. We toured all around Trier and were able to get on and off the bus at the "tourist" areas. We accidentally got off too early and stopped at a viewing area. We debated whether to walk down to the amphitheater that we could see, but had to walk down about 1/2 mile down a busy, windy and steep hill...or wait 30 minutes for another bus. We could have walked, but were unsure where another bus stop would be and if we could get picked up again. So we waited for another bus and got off at the right stop this time.

The amphitheater had most of its original structure...exlcluding the seating that had eroded over time. We went into the areas where they kept the animals and the was very hot outside, so it was a cool relief to go underground. In the picture below, you can see the kids in one of the cells...pretending to be some ferrocious lions!! Dominick and Emilee had fun running around here, besides there were not too many places where they could get lost, and we were confined within a wall. While we were there looking around, they were practicing for a show that was going to be put on later on that was fun to watch the "prisoner" run around with his javelin.

We got back on the bus, and ended up going back to the start place. We knew where everything was, and it was all within walking distance now, so we were done with the bus. We walked downtown Trier to the Trier Dom. This is a huge, beautiful Catholic church where Jesus' robe is. It was not on display, however, because they only display it every 30 years (to minimize wear and tear). The next time it will be on display is April 13-May 13, 2012 (we might still be here!!) The gown is in a case made of glass behind a big golden gate. We were able to kneel in front of the gate and get a glimpse of the case. I don't think a lot of people realized what was behind the gate because they glanced in there and then just left. Also in this church there supposedly is a pillar that the devil himself tried to destroy, but we never found it. It was very emotional for all of us, but especially me (probably because of my pregnancy hormones).

After we left the church we went to Trier Basilika. There was a wedding going on, so we couldn't go inside. This use to be a throne room for Emperor Constantine ~ it is the only remaining brick Roman structure in Trier. Next to the Basilika was the "bubble-gum pink" Kurfurstliches Palas ~ a former residence for archbishops and electors of Trier, but now holds governement offices. I remember this pink building as a little girl and have a picture of it still. Beyond the gardens of the Basilika was our last stop of the day ~ The Kaiserthermen.

The Kaiserthermen were imperial baths where the Romans came for their baths and "spa" treatments. There were underground passages that use to be the sewer network for the city. It was a huge maze and the kids all enjoyed the freedom to roam around. It was very cool underground, and a welcome relief from the heat above ground. We let Jakob "lead" the way...and he kept going in circles. We actually "lost" Dominick one time because he went around a corner and we didn't see him right away.

We took a lot of pictures and enjoyed ourselves. The kids behaved themselves and had a good time, so we all treated ourselves to some yummy ice cream. We also bought some cherries and Johannes berries from the farmers market ~ yum yum. We ended up putting the Johannes berries into a smoothie. Thom says the Johannes berries are like smaller, tarter cranberries.