A Travellerspoint blog

Beautiful visit to Montserrat, and relaxing on the last day

sunny 87 °F

Sadly, we leave tomorrow to head back to reality, so this may be our last interesting post. We could never have imagined such a wonderful, relaxing, exciting honeymoon, full of learning, decompressing, and enjoying. We truly feel so lucky to have been on this journey, and especially to have done it together. And thank you for reading along with us! The comments have been really special and we’re so glad to hear you’ve enjoyed it. Now, to fill you in on the last two days…

Yesterday (Sunday), we had planned a journey to Montserrat, which is just outside of Barcelona. Montserrat was founded as a monastery in the 11th century, which was destroyed in large part during the French War (~1808) but was restored beginning in 1844. Montserrat is located on a huge mountain with absolutely incredible views of Catalunya, and it came highly recommended to us, so we knew we had to go. Honestly, I woke up on Sunday thinking that I’d rather just stay in bed, but I am SOO glad we ended up making the journey. After Kev worked out (and I actually did stay in bed), we jumped on the Barcelona Metro to Placa de Espanya, where we caught a 90-minute train to Montserrat. Once we arrived in Montserrat, we had to take an “aeri” (a cable car) to get to the monastery, on top of the mountain. Here are a few views of the aeri itself, and what we saw from the aeri. We also have a fantastic video of our journey, but I still can’t figure out how to post videos :) IMG_3673.jpgIMG_3675.jpgIMG_3680.jpgIMG_3689.jpgIMG_3693.jpgIMG_3695.jpg

The aeri took us to the base of Montserrat, where we were surprised to find that it was more like a village than just a one-building monastery. Right away, we were amazed by the gorgeous views from the top! We had a quick lunch – salad and cherries for me and chicken and pasta for Kev. Then, we headed out to explore the area and see the views! Here is the monastery itself. Today, the monastery is home to 80 monks, who follow the Rule of St. Benedict and devote their lives to prayer instead of work. The monks must meet as a group to pray 5 times per day, plus spend considerable time in private prayer, reading the Bible, and other spiritual works. Wow! IMG_3704.jpgIMG_3708.jpgIMG_3710.jpg

We took a very steep funicular up to the real peak of the mountain, which was 1,000 meters above the monastery. From there, we did a 20 minute hike to the Chapel of St. Joan. We THINK it may have been originally built in 16 AD, but we couldn’t read the sign because it was faded. It was definitely restored in the 1500s. IMG_3716.jpgIMG_3725.jpgIMG_3728.jpgIMG_3729.jpgIMG_3733.jpgIMG_3740.jpgIMG_3752.jpgIMG_3755.jpg

We hiked back to the funicular stop, and then took a 50-minute route back down to the monastery. On the way down, we passed St. Miguel’s Chapel (seen here), as well as a statue of St. Francis of Assisi. It made me think of Pops, my great-grandfather, so I included it here! IMG_3734.jpgIMG_3738.jpgIMG_3743.jpgIMG_3769.jpgIMG_3773.jpgIMG_3777.jpg

These hikes were absolutely gorgeous. We loved the scenery, the peace and quiet of raw nature, and the chance to spend (more!) time together. We didn’t really know what we would be doing (hence wearing a skirt for the hikes), but were pleasantly surprised. We would absolutely recommend this to anyone who travels to Spain! IMG_3746.jpgIMG_3750.jpgIMG_3751.jpgIMG_3758.jpgIMG_3763.jpgIMG_3766.jpg

Once we left Montserrat, we did the reverse journey (aeri, train, Metro), and were tired when we got back. We relaxed a little bit and then walked around the streets of Barcelona looking for a place to eat. We ended up at this amazing buffet place with a salad bar and a hot line. Not the most authentic place ever, but definitely a Spanish flavor and exactly what we were craving. We ended up coming back and heading to bed (after blogging, of course!) IMG_3780.jpgIMG_3781.jpg

Today, we had resolved to use the last day of our honeymoon in the absolute laziest way possible, and we succeeded! We slept 11 hours (I’m not even joking! In a very strange way, walking around all day in such extreme heat, experiencing new cultures, and having new adventures is really tiring and we were worn out!), drank some coffee and read a little, then worked out. We went to the grocery store to grab some to-go lunch, and came back and ate it in bed while watching “The Proposal” (Kev wanted to watch some war-ish, manly movie, but I told him that wasn’t very honeymoon-ish!) and relaxed some more. We really spent most of the day lounging around in our hotel (which is pictured here). Tonight, we walked around La Rambla a little more, looking at some of the street performers that are ALL over the place (a few samples here), and the random pet stores in the middle of the street (Kev wanted to buy a turtle!) We ended up going back to the place we went the first night for dinner. Kev had cheese pizza (again), I had asparagus/ mushroom/ parmesan salad (again), and we shared chicken skewers (again). It was great! We are sad to be returning to the States tomorrow, but are looking forward to catching up with each of you a bit more, packing up, and starting our new lives in Chicago! The only downside of our awesome mileage tickets is that we have to conquer 5 flight legs over 48 hours in order to get back to Miami! We’ll keep you posted! IMG_3782.jpgIMG_3785.jpgIMG_3787.jpgIMG_3789.jpgIMG_3791.jpgIMG_3793.jpgIMG_3797.jpgIMG_3798.jpg

Posted by megandkev 12:27 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

Crazy architecture, lots of sites, and very little ham

sunny 101 °F

Because we had such great success with the Hop-On/ Hop-Off Bus in other cities, we decided to kick off our visit to Barcelona with its own version on our first official day, Saturday. We worked out and had breakfast before hopping on the bus around 11:30am. We didn’t get off until around 6:30pm, so we saw a ton of sites and got a great feel for the vibrant city of Barcelona! Because pictures out of a moving bus window just don’t turn out that well, I’ll focus on the places where we actually hopped off the bus to look around, rather than the places we saw through the window only! It was another HOT day … up to 101 degrees Fahrenheit … and we were definitely feeling it by the end of the day, but really enjoyed our tour!

We are staying on La Rambla, the main street of Barcelona, which runs right into Placa de Catalunya, one of the two major plazas in Barcelona. It’s a huge roundabout with tons of stores lining the circle, and statues and vendors inside the circle. We forgot to take pictures, but we’ll get some tomorrow. This is where we caught the bus.

Our first stop was Casa Batlló, which was built by Antoni Gaudí, easily the most famous and well-known architect in Barcelona. Gaudí worked in the Art Noveau style, and to the average Joe (or Megan or Kevin), his work just looks trippy and crazy! He almost never uses straight lines, and employs bright colors and strange proportions that make you feel as if you were in a fun house. Gaudí worked on several of Barcelona’s most famous architectural wonder, and Casa Batlló is just one of them. It was built between 1904 and 1906, and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2005. Here you see the outside of the building, which is located in the middle of a normal city block and definitely stands out! IMG_3540.jpg

We took an audiotour (where you have your own headset and go at your own pace), so most of my information is from there. This is the main staircase, which is said to resemble the backbone of a huge prehistoric sea mammal, and forms the middle support of the “body” (house). You can also see that the walls and ceilings are all hand-painted with scaly designs, and the stained glass throughout is very ocean-like, both of which carry on the symbolism of the sea animal and ocean itself. Notice how Gaudí uses NO straight lines! IMG_3547.jpgIMG_3552.jpgIMG_3557.jpg

Gaudí supposedly did not work on the actual building of the house himself, and didn’t even draw out accurate plans, but just hand-crafted this plaster model and asked his builders to recreate it. He would then make on-the-spot changes and additions until it met his standards … I have a feeling he’d be a tough boss! Here are a few shots of the inside of the house, including a huge skylight spanning all 5 stories of the house that is lined with handcrafted, blue tile (darker at the top, since the sunlight is stronger there). There’s also a “spine” room that makes you feel like you’re inside the ribcage of the sea animal (supposedly!). IMG_3562.jpgIMG_3580.jpgIMG_3559.jpgIMG_3587.jpg

Gaudí did some crazy things with his outside terraces, as well. Here you see the balcony (notice the random pillars blocking the exit from the house) and the roof garden, with some funky chimneys. We really enjoyed this visit and enjoyed hearing the “artistic” perspective, since we are pretty uneducated in that arena! IMG_3566.jpgIMG_3570.jpgIMG_3571.jpgIMG_3584.jpgIMG_3586.jpg

Our next stop was Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s most famous church, and Gaudí’s dream, which he worked on for over 40 years and was almost manically obsessed with. Construction started in the late 19th century, and when Gaudí died in 1926, he said “my client is in no hurry for Sagrada Familia to be finished … God has all the time in the world.” Apparently, he knew it would drag on for a while, and it’s still not completed! It’s now completely funded by private, anonymous donations, so progress is quite slow. Unfortunately, the line to enter was crazy long, so we didn’t try to wait, but we spent time walking around the outside and admiring all the intricate details that went into constructing this enormous church! IMG_3593.jpgIMG_3597.jpgIMG_3598.jpgIMG_3600.jpgIMG_3603.jpgIMG_3615.jpg

Our next stop was Park Guell, a large park designed by (you guessed it) Gaudí. The Park has several interesting features, all of which integrate Gaudí’s work with nature. You see here the famous statue of a lizard, the view up to the Park, and the pillars of the “cave” originally designed as a marketplace. The Park was really interesting to walk around, but at this point we were hot and hungry, and Kev decided that he was not Gaudí’s #1 fan (despite being really glad he saw everything and learned about the style), so we decided to leave and grab lunch. IMG_3620.jpgIMG_3622.jpgIMG_3626.jpgIMG_3633.jpg

As many of you know, I love Spain and have such great memories of almost every part of it … besides the food. Now, for some people, it is delicious, and the Spanish certainly take pride in their cuisine. As many of you also know, neither Kev nor I are the biggest fans of ham or unidentifiable meats (besides Wild Boar. We LOVE Wild Boar, as you all now know – ha!). Ham just so happens to be the most important staple of the Spanish diet, followed closely by other unidentifiable meats, SO … we’re not the biggest fans. I know I’m offending any Spanish people reading this, so I’m sorry … it’s our problem, not yours! :) Anyway, we looked for an “un-Spanish” place but couldn’t find one, so Kev went with the standby cheese pizza, and I went with the “Mixed Salad with Tuna,” of which I had WAY too many while I was studying in Madrid. It was pretty good, but we didn’t gain points for authenticity. IMG_3634.jpg

Anyway, after we got back on the bus, we passed by a famous Monastery (Monestir de Pedralbes), the Palau Reial (former royal palace), and Futbol Club Barcelona (the stadium of Barcelona’s main soccer team, shown here). We also saw the Placa de Espanya (Barcelona’s other major plaza), and several neighborhoods with unique architectural styles. We got off briefly at MNAC (the National art Museum of Catalunya), but didn’t go inside – we just wanted to see the views! They were great. IMG_3654.jpgIMG_3655.jpgIMG_3656.jpgIMG_3662.jpg

We drove past all the Olympic stadiums and facilities from the 1992 Olympic Games (you see the Torre de Calatrava, used for Olympic communications, here), as well as the World Trade Center and the Port of Barcelona. Here’s a picture of Kev on the bus (I think it was heat stroke that got to our heads!). IMG_3666.jpgIMG_3648.jpg

Finally, we returned to La Rambla (seen here … more pictures later), took a quick nap, and headed out to dinner. We did a terribly American, terribly touristic thing … we went to Hard Rock (gasp!). I have to say, though, it was pretty good! Kev had a chicken sandwhich with bacon and cheese, and I had the most gigantic salad in the history of mankind (basically a huge head of romaine lettuce split in half, thrown on the grill – very interesting! – and topped with chicken, pineapple, blue cheese, pecans, and balsamic vinegar). After dinner, we called it a day and relaxed in our hotel, resting up for the next day in Montserrat! Only 2 days left … then back to reality! (PS ... like the blue dress in these pictures? I bought it from a vendor in Florence!) IMG_3667.jpgIMG_3669.jpgIMG_3671.jpg

Posted by megandkev 14:09 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

Touring Monaco and arriving in Barcelona

sunny 91 °F

On Thursday, our ship, the Ruby Princess, arrived in its last port of call, Monte Carlo in Monaco. Monaco is the 2nd smallest country in the world (besides the Vatican). Its area is under 1 square mile, but it has a population of almost 33,000 … and those 33,000 are incredibly wealthy! The whole country is pristinely kept, beautiful, and opulent! It has been ruled by the same family for over 700 years, and is under the control of Prince Albert II. You have probably heard of Prince Rainier III, the previous ruler (and Prince Albert II’s father), who married Grace Kelly, the actress.

We watched the docking from our balcony, and were amazed by the views. Monaco is such a well built-up country tucked in a little nook, with France surrounding it on all sides but with Italy just a few miles away. Look how beautiful it is! (In case you couldn't have guessed, Kev made me do this pose. It was easier to humor him than argue! :) IMG_3311.jpgIMG_3321.jpgIMG_3323.jpgIMG_3343.jpgIMG_3344.jpg

After breakfast, we disembarked the ship and headed out to a guided tram tour of Monaco. This was a great way to see the entire country, which is long and narrow (almost 3 miles long). We saw stops such as Le Musee Oceanographique (Oceanographic Museum, seen here), Le Café de Paris (a famous café where the wealthy hang out), L’Hotel Hermitage (an ocean view room here is 5,200 Euros for 2 people, 2 nights!), Le Ministere d’Etat and Le Palais de Justice (government buildings), and the famous Casino de Monte-Carlo (seen here and also known as James Bond’s “Casino Royale” … we didn’t go in because it was a 10 Euro cover charge, and 50 Euro minimum tables! Way outside our range!) IMG_3422.jpgIMG_3380.jpgIMG_3405.jpg

The Monaco Grand Prix (part of the Formula One) runs along a similar course to what we took on the tram and apparently takes 6 weeks to set up and 3 weeks to take down, which puts a big part of the city out of commission for a good chunk of the year. IMG_3356.jpgIMG_3361.jpg

The tour gave us a great sense of the country, and after it ended we were able to visit several more sites on our own, as well as tour some of the less busy areas with great views of the French Riviera. We first walked through a beautiful park, the “Jardin Exotique de Monaco.” It was so well kept and provided great views of the ocean (with TONS of nice yachts) and the country. IMG_3430.jpgIMG_3438.jpgIMG_3441.jpgIMG_3449.jpgIMG_3454.jpgIMG_3466.jpgIMG_3467.jpg

We next went to the Palais Princier (the Palace of the country, where the Prince actually lives). The Palace was built in 1191 and has been in control of the ruling family (the Grimaldis) since 1297. We were able to walk through a majority of the Palace (besides the Prince’s current living quarters) on a guided tour, and it was full of elaborate decorations, historic works of art, and artifacts of current and former rulers of Monaco. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the Palace, but take our word that it was gorgeous! IMG_3397.jpgIMG_3416.jpgIMG_3473.jpg

After the Palace, we went to La Cathedrale, the main Cathedral of Monaco. All of the former Princes of Monaco, as well as Grace Kelly, are buried within the Cathedral. They also had several beautiful works of art throughout. You can see the tomb of Grace Kelly here in the picture. IMG_3478.jpgIMG_3490.jpgIMG_3497.jpg

We spent a few hours walking around enjoying the views and walking through the streets, which are lined with nice cafes and high-end retailers. What a beautiful country! Kevin especially enjoyed this one, and thinks it definitely rates in the top 5 places we’ve been on the trip. IMG_3503.jpgIMG_3407.jpgIMG_3339.jpgIMG_3519.jpgIMG_3514.jpgIMG_3505.jpg

Once we got back on the ship, we read a little bit more and then worked out. I had my final spin class, which was fun! We packed up our suitcases (bummer! We never wanted this cruise to end!) and headed out to enjoy the last night on the ship. Enjoy we did! We spent several hours in the bars and casino, and couldn’t even take time out of our enjoyment to eat at the seated dining room, so we ended up going to the buffet instead. Here is a picture of Kevin’s plate … I forgot to capture mine! We came out ahead after several days of playing $5 blackjack, which is always good news, and we shut down the bars early in the morning, which gives you a good idea for how we were feeling the next day. The upside is that we enjoyed every moment of this cruise and feel like we have seen SO much of Europe and the Mediterranean. We are SO happy that we decided to include this as part of our honeymoon, and would recommend it to anyone! IMG_3520.jpgIMG_3524.jpgIMG_3526.jpgIMG_3535.jpg

Friday, we woke up after about 4 hours of sleep, finished packing our last things, headed to breakfast, waited for our boarding time, and disembarked. We were very impressed with Princess’ disembarkation procedures – incredibly organized and easy. We had to wait in line for a long time in the sun for a taxi, but other than that we have no complaints! We got a cab to our hotel, Le Meridien Barcelona, which is right on La Rambla, the main street of Barcelona. La Rambla is such a hub of cultural life, and has a unique mix of international vibes. Barcelona itself attracts a ton of young, adventurous travelers, and you can feel the energy walking down the streets. We walked around La Rambla for a few hours and had lunch before heading back to our hotel. We took a LONG nap – which was very necessary after the night before’s short sleep – and proceeded to be lazy the entire rest of the day. We know, we know … first day in Barcelona and we spent at least half of it cramped up in our hotel room … but we are lucky enough to have 4 days here so we felt OK about “wasting” the day and resting up. We did head out for dinner, at a restaurant on La Rambla in prime people-watching position. Kev had cheese pizza and I had an asparagus, mushroom, and parmesan salad. More on the food in Spain tomorrow, when I’ll tell you about the long day of touring Barcelona that we had today. We are sure soaking up these last couple of days before heading back to Miami and moving to Chicago! Hope all is well!

Posted by megandkev 14:02 Archived in Monaco Comments (3)

Florence, wine, and wild boars

sunny 95 °F

On Wednesday, our ship docked in Livorno, which is about 1.5 hours outside of Florence. Kevin and I had a quick breakfast and hopped directly on the tour bus – our planned excursion would take us to Florence for a few hours of free time and sightseeing, then to the Greve region, home of some of Tuscany’s top vineyards. On the bus, we planned some of the sights that we wanted to see in Florence, since we wouldn’t have a guided tour, and had to really cram our visit into a mere 2.5 hours. Luckily I remembered a few of my favorite sites from when I visited Florence in October of 2005.

We got off of the bus right in St. Croce Square (“Santa Croce Piazza”), home of Florence’s 2nd most famous church, the Santa Croce Basilica. The inside of the church building itself is not that impressive, but the outside is gorgeous and the inside holds several gorgeous works of Florentine art, as well as several tombs of famous Italians. The church was designed by a Jewish man who knew it would be a Christian church, but wanted to put his own religious influence on the design, so he put a big Star of David at the top! IMG_3120.jpgIMG_3118.jpgIMG_3102.jpg

Inside the church, we saw (in order of the pictures you see here): The tomb of Galileo Galilei, Pio Fedi’s Statue of Liberty, the tomb of Michelangelo Buonarroti, the tomb of Nicolo Machiavelli, and two works by Donatello – the “Annunciation” and the “Crucifix.” IMG_3132.jpgIMG_3134.jpgIMG_3139.jpgIMG_3143.jpgIMG_3147.jpgIMG_3154.jpg

There were several pretty apses in the church and we really enjoyed the visit! IMG_3150.jpg

After St. Croce, we walked to another Piazza (Piazza della Signoria) that holds the Palazzo Vecchio and some outdoor sculptures. The Palazzo is the town hall of Florence today, and is also a museum – it was built in 1299 and has had a role in Florence’s governing bodies since then. It is famous for its huge clock tower, which you see here. We didn’t get into the museum due to time constraints, but just peeked in to see some of the original painted ceilings – gorgeous! IMG_3179.jpgIMG_3175.jpgIMG_3160.jpg

Inside the Piazza, we also saw “The Fountain of Neptune,” by Ammannati in 1575, “Perseus with the Head of Medusa,” by Cellinni in 1554, a copy of Donatello’s “The Lion,” and a copy of Michelangelo’s “David,” which we pretended was the original since we wouldn’t get through the huge lines for the Accademia, where the original is housed. IMG_3158.jpgIMG_3171.jpgIMG_3172.jpgIMG_3170.jpg

Next, we walked to the Duomo, which is Florence’s most famous church. We learned that “Duomo” just means “basilica,” so ALL of the churches in Italy are “Duomos,” but only this one is the famous “Il Duomo.” This one took 5 centuries to be built, starting in 1386, and passed through several designers, architects, builders, project managers, and government rulers, giving each part a unique style. The outside is made of pure marble – white, green, and pink, all of which are naturally occurring. The mosaics of marble, along with a few gold-specked mosaics, make a really unique and beautiful façade. The Duomo is actually the 4th largest church in the world today! Unfortunately, the line to go inside the church and/or to climb the dome was incredibly long, stretching around the whole outside, so we didn’t even try to go in. I guess that means we’ll have to go back! IMG_3184.jpgIMG_3194.jpgIMG_3200.jpgIMG_3205.jpgIMG_3215.jpg

Across from the Duomo is the Baptistry, which we didn’t go inside, but which does have some incredible bronze doors made by Andrea Pisano and Lorenzo Ghiberti. The east doors are plated in gold, and Michelangelo himself called them the “Gates of Paradise.” IMG_3193.jpgIMG_3198.jpg

Our last stop in our walk around the city was the Ponte Vecchio, which is a shop-lined bridge similar to the Rialto in Venice. The Ponte Vecchio was built before 996 (they’re not exactly sure when), and was the only bridge spared when the Germans sacked Florence during World War II. Supposedly, Hitler himself had a soft spot for the bridge and thought it was beautiful, so he just bombed several buildings on either side (to make it impossible to cross the river and escape Florence), but didn’t want it destroyed. Today there are beautiful views of the Arno River and Florence itself from the bridge and on either side. IMG_3221.jpgIMG_3223.jpgIMG_3224.jpgIMG_3233.jpg

If you have any shred of respect for me, don’t read this next paragraph. Several of you have commented on how you like the historical information and interesting details about the places we’re visiting, and several of you have also made fun of me for including this. My very sweet little sister recently (jokingly) asked if I carried around a notepad on our tours to write down the information. I’ll have you know that yes, I do carry around a notepad, and I’m proud of it – ha! Kevin, on the other hand, is not, and pretends he doesn’t know me while I do this  I have also been known to whip out a book or a crossword puzzle while waiting in line for some of the sites, and this really embarrasses him – oh well, he’ll survive! When else will we get to learn so much about so many interesting places? I don’t want to forget it!

OK, back to our day. After a quick visit of Florence, we hopped back on our tour bus and headed to the Castello Vicchiomaggio, a winery in Greve in Chianti, the wine region of Tuscany. The Castle is on a large hill and looks over the gorgeous wine country – the views were breathtaking! Yet another place to which we definitely want to return. Just look at these pictures! IMG_3235.jpgIMG_3238.jpgIMG_3239.jpgIMG_3244.jpgIMG_3251.jpgIMG_3257.jpg

You can see the rows of grapes, and also several bushels of olives, used for olive oil. The region also grows tons of sunflowers and corn – both also used for oil only, and not the actual crop. IMG_3246.jpgIMG_3280.jpgIMG_3254.jpgIMG_3283.jpg

We had lunch in the Castle, which was incredibly hot (Kev’s addition). In many places in Europe, they just don’t have prevalent air conditioning like we’re used to in the US, so many museums, restaurants, hotels, etc. get really hot – especially in the record-breaking heat Europe is having now. We sat in the original dining room of the Castle, and were greeted with several bottles of the Castle’s own red wine. The wine was surprisingly smooth and light (and this from a non-red-wine drinker!). We were first served really speckly salami (which we didn’t have) and some amazing tomato and olive oil bruschetta. The first main course was a rigatoni-shaped pasta in a vegetable sauce with parmesan, and was delicious. The second main course was lasagna-type pasta with meat sauce, and we both really enjoyed the flavor. We finished with biscotti, which we dipped into a Tuscan specialty, “vin santo” (meaning Holy wine). It is a dessert wine, but tastes more like a brandy – super strong and super sweet. We didn’t actually like it that much, but we ate it anyway since it is the Tuscan thing to do. When in Rome…

Unfortunately, we didn’t take pictures of the food, which is absolutely killing me now. If you know me well, you will appropriately guess my reaction to what you are about to hear. When we got back on the bus after more wine and view-absorbing, our bus driver told us what the “meat sauce” on the lasagna was … WILD BOAR! Are you kidding me? I just ate wild boar? And I LIKED it? And I actually picked out the meat parts because I couldn’t finish the whole thing but liked the flavor? Oh. My. Goodness. Ha! That’s one way to get us to try strange meats! Next birthday party, you know what’ll be on the menu! Another food note – did you notice that the appetizer, both main courses, and the dessert were all heavily bread/ pasta based? The Italians really do love their pasta! While they told us that a normal lunch wouldn’t be quite so heavy and bread-laden, they also told us that for celebrations, fancier meals, parties, or at nicer restaurants, it is not uncommon to have up to 5 courses of pasta! Wow! IMG_3274.jpgIMG_3276.jpgIMG_3259.jpg

After the Castle, we headed to “Unione Produttori Vini del Chianti,” one of the largest wine stories and wine-tasting facilities in the region. We got “debit cards” loaded with money and could use the cards to buy tastes of any of the 150+ wines on display. The main hall was filled with red wines, but there was also a white wine room, olive oil section, and Reserve wines section. This was such a fun experience! We got to taste a ton of wines and learned a little bit more about what we do and don’t like. We spent a few hours there and had a blast! IMG_3294.jpgIMG_3292.jpgIMG_3290.jpg

All that wine led to a sleepy 2-hour bus trip back, and when we eventually returned to the ship we relaxed for a while, walked around the ship, watched the sailaway from Livorno, and headed to dinner (yes, we were still hungry, even after the wild boar!). We started with French onion soup for each, which was very cheesy but delicious. I then had a salad, and Kev had chilled pumpkin soup (plus a weird look from the waiter for ordering 2 soups). Next we had filet medallions (Kev’s favorite dinner of the trip), and chicken breast, both served with nice grilled vegetables. Kev finished with chocolate hazelnut warm-centered cake and vanilla ice cream, and I had mango sorbet. Delicious meal to cap of a very busy, fun, and exciting day in Florence and Greve! Thanks for reading! IMG_3297.jpgIMG_3298.jpgIMG_3299.jpgIMG_3300.jpgIMG_3302.jpgIMG_3303.jpg

Posted by megandkev 14:34 Archived in Italy Comments (4)

Roaming through Rome

sunny 99 °F

Kev and I really enjoyed seeing the historical city of Rome, and had yet another great day. We are starting to realize that this incredible journey is finally going to end after a few more cities, so we’re eating up every moment that we have left! We started our day in Rome by pulling into the port of Civitavecchia, which means “Old City.” We drove 1.5 hours from there to the Coliseum with our tour group. Honeymoon_Day_31_001.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_004.jpg

The Coliseum was finished in 80 AD, after 10 years of construction. I had always assumed that “Coliseum” came from “colossus,” describing the size, but actually, it was named after the Colossus, a statue directly across from the stadium. The Colossus was a statue of Nero rising over 100 feet, commissioned by Nero himself. Narcissistic much? Later in Roman history, the Roman government interred a lot of monuments and destroyed a lot of statues that were built to honor Nero, in order to give the Romans back what was rightfully theirs.

When the Coliseum was built, it held 80,000 people, and was used for fights between gladiators and animals until the 6th century AD. The animals were stored underneath the main stage (in the maze-like area that you see) and lifted up to stage by “elevators” rigged with pulleys. It was also flooded occasionally and used for mock naval battles. It also had a fabric sliding, retractable roof made of a ship sail! After the 6th century, it was used as a cemetery, then a castle, and between 1500 and 1700 was used as a shelter for thieves and prostitutes, who contributed to its destruction. Today, the limestone pillars and arches, and brick walls are mostly original material, despite lots of restorations that have occurred. The Pope still does the Stations of the Cross here every Good Friday! Honeymoon_Day_31_023.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_028.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_032.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_033.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_047.jpg

After wandering around the Coliseum for a while, we negotiated our way through the streets of Rome (which are quite congested with the 3 million Romans who live there and the 16 million tourists who visit there every year!) to the restaurant where we ate lunch. The lunch was average (of course, we’ve been having incredible food, so I think our “average” rating right now will be off the charts in the positive direction once we are students next year!) and consisted of a pasta with marinara, veal scallopini, peas, and potatoes, followed by tiramisu. I actually psyched myself up to try veal for the first time, but Kev said it was really bad so I didn’t even try it – oops! The building also lacked air conditioning – which so many places in Europe seem to have in common – and Kev was especially hot. It hit about 99 degrees Fahrenheit when we were in Rome.

After lunch, we headed to the Vatican Museum, which was absolutely incredible. The line was about 2 hours long, but because we were with a reserved tour group, we got to slip right to the front. We started in the main courtyard (the “Pinecone Courtyard,” named after this bronze-enclosed actual pinecone that was found hundreds of years ago decorating the Thermal Baths of Rome), then walked through the Museum to the Sistine Chapel. The Museum is absolutely packed with gorgeous art works – you could spend 2 weeks there and not get to appreciate everything in the collection! Many of the galleries have walls and ceilings that are fully lined with beautiful paintings that would be considered masterpieces in any other setting, but kind of get overlooked here! This is the statue of Leochin (whose name I am 100% positive I am misspelling), who was a priest of Troy and was the only one that predicted that the Trojan horse was a trick rather than a gift. As he was trying to convince people of this, the goddess Athena sent snakes down to kill him, which this sculpture represents. Honeymoon_Day_31_071.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_068.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_083.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_091.jpg

This is “The Torso,” a very famous sculpture, the last Greek sculpture found in Rome, and a famous bronze sculpture of Hercules. Also a few more pictures of the ceilings, which we just couldn’t get over. Several of the ceilings are painted as if they were 3-D but are actually flat, and they’re amazing! There are also several tapestries from mid-1500s Brussels, showing the life of Jesus and the life of the Popes. They were initially made for the Sistene Chapel but now reside within the museum. The “Map Room,” which is the last picture here,” was especially amazing because of the incredible ceilings! Honeymoon_Day_31_095.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_104.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_110.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_114.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_125.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_134.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_142.jpg

At the end of the walk through the Vatican Museum, we came to the Sistene Chapel. This was inaugurated in 1483 after being commissioned by Pope Sixtus, and is a structural replica of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. At that time, they had just the side paintings, showing the life of Jesus on the left and the life of Moses on the right. You can see an example of those here.

In 1508, Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel. At this time, Michelangelo was only a sculptor and had NEVER painted before – this was his FIRST painting job! He spent years covering the 800 square meters with beautiful frescoes. The most famous pieces are probably the Creation of Adam (with the fingers pointing at each other) and the Last Judgment, finished in 1534. Several people criticized the Last Judgment for being too severe, because Jesus is shown with one hand up (sending people to Heaven) and one hand down (sending people to Hell). It was also criticized for the extensive nudity, especially by some government leader, who Michelangelo repaid by painting the government leader in the bottom corner of the picture, naked except for a snake which was biting his genitals. Payback! The Sistene Chapel was beautiful, amazing, and interesting, and we’re so glad we got the chance to visit it! By the way, pictures are not officially allowed in the Sistene Chapel, but the guards there were "looking the other way" if you took pictures with no flash. Honeymoon_Day_31_156.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_157.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_162.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_169.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_172.jpg

After the Sistene Chapel, we got to go to St. Peter’s Basilica. I didn’t know that St. Peter was the first official Pope, and that the Popes originally lived in St. John’s (the oldest church in Rome, built in 315). In the 1300s, Christianity was legalized by Constantine, and St. Peter’s was started as a new home for the Popes. Because each Pope had his own priorities, budgets, etc., it was kind of a “rolling” project, and lasted 120 years before it was completed.In the 1500s, Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to make several improvements to it, which is why it looks so beautiful today. The dome is the tallest in Rome, but is not the biggest in Rome (the Pantheon is). Honeymoon_Day_31_064.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_179.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_193.jpg

This door is a famous one that is only opened every 25 years, when several people on a Pilgrimage-type trip try to enter the 4 most holy cathedrals in the world, including St. Peter’s. Besides those rare occasions, the door is actually backed by cement, so its impossible to open! Honeymoon_Day_31_180.jpg

The inside of the Basilica is absolutely outstanding – it’s done in the Baroque (“in your face, flashy beautiful” style), and every inch is adorned with a beautiful carving, mosaic, etc. Notice I didn’t say painting – there are no frescoes or paintings in the entire cathedral, so anything you see is actually a mosaic or a marble carving. Amazing! Honeymoon_Day_31_195.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_197.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_211.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_222.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_227.jpg

Several Popes are buried here, and are marked with elaborate marble tombs such as these. Honeymoon_Day_31_202.jpg

The most famous work of art in the Basilica is Michelangelo’s Pieta, which we couldn’t get super close to, but was still amazing to see. Honeymoon_Day_31_203.jpg

You can see the altar here, as well as the Papal Throne. Can anyone tell me how the Pope gets up into it? I am baffled! It is said that Jesus will sit in this Throne on Judgment Day. Honeymoon_Day_31_199.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_220.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_228.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_231.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_233.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_236.jpg

The Church was incredible, and just as amazing was standing on the church steps looking out into St. Peter’s Square, which you tend to see on TV during religious celebrations. It is huge! You can see the window that the Pope uses to greet anyone in the Square every Sunday – it’s the second one on the top right in the last picture. Honeymoon_Day_31_182.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_188.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_246.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_247.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_253.jpgHoneymoon_Day_31_243.jpg

After the Basilica, we had another 1.5 hour drive back to the ship. It was a long, tiring, HOT day, and we were wiped out, so we just acted lazy and had dinner at the buffet instead of sitting down at the restaurant. We later went to the musical production “Once Upon a Dream,” which was pretty impressive and entertaining, and then called it an early night, making sure to get enough rest for the next day’s trip to Florence and the Chianti Wine Country!!!

Posted by megandkev 16:20 Archived in Italy Comments (4)

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