Friday, December 26, 2008

Italextravaganza Day 6-9

Our last Adventure began on Day 6 with a marathon drive back up the center of Italy ending in Garmisch, Germany. As many of you know, Garmisch is one of our very favorite spots, right in the German Alps on the border with Austria. After our very rainy days in Rome (the Tiber flooded on the day we left) we were desperate for some snow, and we were not disappointed. We stayed at a great little guesthouse in our favorite lodgings of the whole trip (it was amazing how "at home" we felt in Germany after our adventures in Italy where we were definitely tourists)... the Alpenhof Garnihotel for those who might be interested... and spent the next day cross-country skiing. We tried out the ski runners for our Chariot baby stroller for the first time, and everyone in the family agrees it's a pretty cool invention.
After getting our snow fix, we spent the night and drove home the next day. Aaaah, it's good to be home.

Italextraveganza Day 3-6; Rome

After our wonderful hiking adventures in Campiglia, we once again loaded into the car and began the beautiful drive down the coast to Rome. Most of Italy is hilly or mountainous, with a mixture of deciduous and coniferous forests, vineyards, croplands, and towns. Almost every town has a ruin at its heart, and they are almost all perched on the hillsides, leaving the bottomlands for farming.
Despite the scenery, we were ready to leave the car by the time we got to Rome. Through an amazing combination of gutsy driving by AdventureDad, navigation by AdventureMom, and sheer luck, we found our hotel and got unloaded without getting lost or in a wreck. We soon joined up with the Smiths for the remainder of our Rome adventure.
The next morning we started our experience with a Papal Audience. Because it was raining we ended up in a theater-type auditorium rather than out in the Plaza. Over an hour was spent by the Pope greeting visiting groups of note (which he did in 5 different languages) before he did a blessing and prayer. It was rather interesting because each group had prepared a song or short performance in answer to the Pope's recognition. The whole experience was a little less holy and a little more "produced" than we had been hoping, but still one of those things that I wouldn't miss the chance to do.
The next day we piled onto a bus for a short trip to some of the Roman antiquities. We saw the coliseum, triumphal arches, the old and new forums, St. Peter's Church (which contained a statue of Moses done by Michelangelo), Venus' Chapel, the government buildings designed by Da Vinci, and countless other ruins. It was truly mind-boggling both in terms of beauty and history. We could have spent twice as much time just soaking in all of the world-changing history that has occurred there.
The third day we started the morning with a tour of the Vatican Museum. The Museum itself is immense with almost 4 miles of halls, so we only did a portion of them in our tour. The tour focused on the "receiving halls" where the ancient Popes recieved visitors of State and also lived. The halls were constructed of marble and guilt, and were packed to the gills with antiquities gathered throughout the ancient world. We saw statues, vases, ossuaries, mosaics, tapestries and paintings from Greece, Ephesis, the Orient, Europe, and of course Rome. There were of course works by da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Bernini, and countless others. It was truly awe-inspiring and beautiful, and once again we would have had to take much more time to truly appreciate the details of what we were seeing. One of our favorites was a mosaic taken from the floor of a 300 B.C. Roman communal dining hall, originally an advertisement for what was available there, it is now a piece of art on a wall (it's the picture with the hanging fish and vegetables). Also appearing throughout the museum was the Coat of Arms of the Vatican... crossed keys representing the keys to heaven presented to Saint Peter (the first Pope) by Jesus.
Of course the crowning event of our Vatican tour was a walk through the Sistine Chapel. We had too little time there as well, although it would be easy to spend and entire day trying to take in all of the detail. The Chapel was suprisingly large, and Michelangelo's Frescos are more exquisite than any photo could capture.
That afternoon, AdventureMom and M settled down for a much-needed nap (followed by a cappucino and cake with "Aunt" Joss) while AdventureDad and the Smith boys went on an adventure of their own. They braved the metros and buses to see one of several ancient Christian catacombs dating back to 200 A.D. This was AdventureDad's favorite part of Rome, not only because it was once again awe-inspiring (and a bit macabre), but it was a place where history truly came to life (as it were). The catacombs have only been excavated since the 1950's (only a tiny fraction are accessible), so there are chapels and alcoves that contain mosaics, carvings, and frescos that are completely original and unrestored. One of the oldest images was that of Jesus the Shepherd, depicting Jesus with a lamb draped over his shoulder.
We loved Rome (although we were glad to be there during the "off" season... it was still crowded), and intend to return someday when we can see things at our own pace, with older kids, and also see some of the things we missed (the Parthenon for example).

Friday, December 19, 2008

Italextravaganza Day1-2... Campiglia

I'm typing up our Italian adventure in several installments... here's the first!

Our first day we drove to the tiny town of Campiglia at the southern end of the Cinque Terra National Park. This is an area of the "Italian Riviera" that has 5 old towns that have changed very little over the centuries, and have now been made part of a natural/historical perserve. We arrived at our very quaint Italian villa (at which not a single person spoke English, which led to a very amusing "show and tell" while we were checking in) and crashed that first night. From our villa we looked out over the bay of La Spezia edged with snow-capped peaks on one side, and out over the Meditteranean on the other. It was quite spectacular.
The following morning we took a trail that literally started at our hotel and proceded to drop several thousand feet down the cliffs to the ocean below. The entire trail was a series of rock steps leading down through tumbled rocks, brush, and small vineyards clinging to the hillside. At one point nosy me couldn't help but open and close a pretty wrought-iron gate set in a rock wall that was literall overhanging the ocean. To our suprise the owner of the gate was home, and must have heard the squeak, because he came out to say "Hi". He spoke a few words of English, a few words of Deutsch, and quite a bit of French. We spoke a little French, a little Deutsch, and of course English, and between our Germo-FrenTalianIsh we were invited into his home for a drink of his wine, grown right there! It was a tiny building built on the ledge, with a roof that was about 6 feet tall (Jimmy had to duck a little), and two small rooms, one a kitchen with a table and one with a tiny bed in it. Of course out back he had a patio roofed with grape vines, although it was all bare for the winter. It was a pretty cool experience!
That evening we made a fairly quickly vetoed hike to dinner... it was yet another set of stairs that was several miles longer than we thought it would be, and we quickly discovered that our stair-climbing muscles were done for the day. Before we turned around we had the odd experience of running into a group of boar hunters in the woods. It was a bit disconcerting to see a bunch of guys there with guns, although luckily we had seen some warning signs (as well as a LOT of boar-digging damage in the woods) so we knew what was going on. We ended up driving to dinner, which was fortuitous because we stumbled on a wonderful B&B whose restaurant actually opened early for us just so we could have dinner with M (most Italians don't eat dinner until 8 or 8:30 at night). We were so impressed we went there the next night too.
The next day in Campiglia we took a hike through the seaside hills to Riomaggiore, the closest of the 5 towns of the Cinque Terra. It was a spectacular hike on a beautiful day, and it of course involved many more stairs! The trail was actually pretty rugged, involving lots of rocks, steep slopes, and at times clinging to ledges above the ocean or along the top of a vineyard wall. Jimmy carried M on his back the whole way, getting his work-out in! We ended up at an old church built on a steep hillside above Riomaggiore. We took a little breather on the green grass, enjoyed the astounding views, then turned around for home. Marion actually walked about 1/4 mile on the way home (see picture!) which was pretty amazing considering the rough terrain. She promptly fell asleep as soon as she hit the back-pack, which was what we were counting on. Needless to say none of has had much trouble falling asleep that night!