Italy and Austria 2017: Day 13 — Berchtesgaden

Thing 2 and I were up and at ’em again nice and early today. However, we did get to sleep in a bit because the meeting point for our tour was only just around the corner from our hotel and maybe a five minute walk total.

The air as set out was nice and cool, which we just loved every time we walked out the door. Our destination was Berchtesgaden, which is a small German town in Bavaria. But it is also famous as being the town nearest to Adolf Hitler’s alpine compounded name the Eagle’s Nest. It was at the Eagle’s Nest that he entertained high-level dignitaries on occasion. I saw “on occasion” because Hitler didn’t really visit at much as others in his set, like his girlfriend, Eva Braun. In German, the name of the house is Der Kehlsteinhaus, and builders were in a rush to finish it before Hitler’s 50th birthday.

To enter the house, it is first necessary to walk through a long, damp tunnel into the mountain on which it is built.

From there, one enters in a large elevator, with the inside walls and ceiling plated in brass, shiny enough to use it as a mirror. The operators of the tour made sure to cram about 40 to 45 of us into the elevator, although in Hitler’s time, he would never allow more than six to travel with him in the elevator at any time. Why the brass mirrors and over-large elevator? Supposedly Hitler was both claustrophobic and afraid of heights, so this particular set up help him cope with that. The elevator let guests out in a hallway and immediately the smell of good German food wafted into our nostrils. The area of the house that is now in use as seating for the restaurant guests was once Hitler’s large entertaining room. There’s a fireplace in the room that is original to the room, with red marble for it donated by Mussolini.

A little room off to this mail room is a room that Eva Braun used for entertaining the female guests while Hitler was busy with their husbands. A sun terrace was built off that room, which has now been enclosed in class to make a short of viewing terrace. It was from here that we went outside and began walking around on the mountain peak itself that this Kehlsteinhaus was built onto in 1938.

To say that the view literally took my breath away is somewhat true, in that it was so cold at the summit that I found it hard to talk without shivering or take my photos. And, it is beautiful.

It was only 10º C at the peak (which I walked up to) at about 10:30 in the morning. That means it was a mere 50º F at the peak, which is a temperature I haven’t experienced for a long time. It never is that cold during the day where we live. I think the last time I was out for any length of time in 50º weather was when we had a cold snap over Christmas two and a half years ago. It. Was. Cold.


After exploring and taking breathtaking photos of the Alps, we bought some gifts and souvenirs. We headed back down Hitler’s elevator, and we entered our tour bus again to make our way down to the town of Berchtesgaden itself. There, we had a bit of time eat and pop into look at shops.


I bought a trachtenblusen, which is like a cute female equivalent of a shirt/blouse that could be worn with lederhosen, if ladies wore lederhosen, which they traditionally don’t. (Those are for the guys. The lederhosen are the leather shorts that they wear with a shirt.) However, I did see some cute jeans that ladies could wear with embellishments on them that would look like male lederhosen. Anyway, I got one of those cute blouses. I can wear them to work.

Berchtesgaden is not that far from Salzburg, along the Alpenstraße, so it only took us about 30 minutes to get back to Salzburg. I had to quickly run across the bridge from our hotel into the Old Town to see about getting validation for my tax-free receipt for the dirndls, and I bought two more presents for home. After that, we took a taxi to the Hauptbahnhof, and caught our train for Munich. The train was PACKED. Thing 2 and I had to sit separately, and I think I was sitting next to a Hungarian woman and her granddaughter. They certainly weren’t speaking German, and Grandma was working on a crossword with accent marks on letters that looked like it might be Hungarian. (I am not sure where that train originated.) Unfortunately, even though our ticket said “München Hauptbahnhof” the train only went to “München Ost,” which was the eastern Munich train station. From there, we had to haul our luggage off the train and switch to their tram line to get the “München Hauptbahnhof” which was a drag. Luckily, our hotel was RIGHT near the Hauptbahnhof, so we didn’t need to catch a taxi this time to take us to our hotel. It was literally across the street.

We made it to our room, dropped our stuff off, Thing 2 got comfortable, and I decided to go out and explore Munich a bit. I was also on the hunt for a large bag that I could put our dirndls into, since I couldn’t pack them. (I had to show them to a customs official upon leaving the EU. Also, I really couldn’t fit any more in the way of souvenirs and stuff into my suitcase; it was getting overloaded!) So, I found a German department store, made my way there, and then kept walking some more up the main drag toward a city center called Marienplatz. I just wanted to see all the stops and look for Munich manhole covers for my dad. (Have I mentioned this yet in any of the posts? My dad is a photographer, and he has started a collection of manhole photographs from cities he’s visited. I snapped some distinctive ones in Rome and Florence. Vienna and Salzburg didn’t have distinctive ones, but Munich’s manhole cover has a monk on it, holding the “rules” of the city.) As I walked closer to Marienplatz, it got more and more crowded. There was a beer fest going on, and a stage with live music.

The Rathaus in Marienplatz; a Rathaus is like a town center building.

Different vendors were selling all sorts of traditional German food. I didn’t know what they were celebrating, but it was crowded and looked fun. But I was getting tired, so I made my way back to the hotel, showered up, and got comfortable reading one of the books I bought, Brunelleschi’s Dome, about the construction of the dome on the cathedral in Florence. I drifted off to sleep, happy in the knowledge that Thing 2 and I didn’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn the next day. For the first time on our trip, we could actually sleep in a bit.

All in all, another great day.

Italy and Austria 2017: Day 11 — Vienna, Moving on to Salzburg

I’m not going to lie: It was difficult to wake up this morning. Thing 2 and I are both pretty exhausted. We slip into bed at night with sore feet. Additionally, the swelling of my right ankle really hasn’t gone down since I sprained it on Memorial Day. It hasn’t had a chance because it is getting such a workout everyday – especially the two days in a row we went climbing up buildings in Florence. (See the posts for Day 8 and Day 9.) Last night it was really bad.

So since we took late showers yesterday and basically only went down one floor to eat dinner and then went back up to our hotel rooms, Thing 2 and I did not need to bathe again before we set out for the day. This saved us some time. We both repacked our suitcases before heading downstairs to leave them with the concierge for the day. Check out time was earlier than when we expected to be back for the day.

Today our first destination was Schloß Schönbrunn, the home of the Hapsburg emperors and empresses. The U-bahn was about a block behind our hotel, so we walked there, bought tickets, and made the 15-minute journey on the U4 (green line) to get to our stop to see the palace. It was very easy! Our tickets (bought online) specified that we should enter between 8:30 and 9 a.m., and even after stopping to admire the view from afar once we got through the gates, we entered the palace at 8:30 on the dot. There were hardly any people there, so it was great! We got the “classic” tour, which allowed us to view 40 rooms inside the palace itself. We also got access to the labyrinth in the gardens, and the Gloriette on the far side of the gardens. The tour through the rooms in the house came with a free audio guide. Sadly, we were not allowed to photograph anything inside the palace, so I have nothing to post here. Rest assured, however, that everything was appropriately ornate and gilded. One of the most interesting things found in each room was a tall, porcelain steam heating device. It was white with gold accents and about nine to ten feet tall. It was made to look like a piece of furniture, so that it “fit in” with the decor in the rest of the room. These devices, astonishingly, were in use until the 1980s! I loved the creak of the floors as we walked on them, and the slightly old and musty smell to the house. There’s a very distinct, old house-y smell that I like in places like these. Since we didn’t eat breakfast before we left the hotel, I also got some ham and cheese on toast in the café restaurant on site. I also got a piece of the dark chocolate mousse cake they had. YUM. In the gift shop, I bought a book about the palace so at least I have some photographs of the place.

We could take all the pictures we wanted outside, though, and so we did. We walked all over the grounds, starting with the “small” gardens located close to the house. From there, we walked up the main path to the large fountain on the estate. Above that was the Gloriette, which was a bit of a hike up a hill in the sun. Thing 2 and I were complaining as we walked up, but we tried not to complain that much because, even though it was sunny, it was still nothing compared to the sun and heat we felt in Italy. It seemed warmer today than yesterday, but still a full ten degrees cooler (or more!) than it was in Florence. When I reached the top of the Gloriette . . . what a view! Behind the schloß I could see an awesome panoramic view of Vienna. It was incredible. Thing 2 was getting really tired by this point, so I climbed to the top of the Gloriette myself and took the pics of the city while she sat in a shaded grassy spot below, resting. After that, we made a visit to the labyrinth (where she got lost) before we calculated how to get to our next destination: Zentralfriedhof (the Central Cemetery).

Why did we want to go there? All the great composers are buried there: Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart . . . and Falco (from “Rock Me Amadeus” fame). I found it really ironic that the real Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the man famous for singing “Rock Me Amadeus” were buried in the same cemetery. We easily found the major classical composers, but finding Falco took a bit more work as he was off the beaten path. But, thanks to Google(!) I was able to find his coordinates and have Google Maps guide us there. Thing 2 and I felt like nerds going there and actually taking a picture of his grave. (He was killed in an accident in 1998.) Despite this, I said to her, “I’m sure we’re not the only ones who have come here to take a picture.” It wasn’t two minutes after that, as we were sitting on a shaded bench a few feet away, that three different groups of people also came to visit his grave. One man even had his wife take a picture of himself with the grave. (We just took a picture of the grave.) After that, we didn’t feel so geeky. (In fact, I don’t even like his signature song. I abhor it, actually. But it seemed too funny to be there and not get a picture of it, considered the real Mozart is buried there, too.)

By this point, it was nearly 15:00 or 15:30, so it was time to head back to our hotel to pick up our luggage, call a taxi, and make our way from Wien Hauptbahnhof to Salzburg. We took the 71 line trolley from Tor 2 (gate 2) of the Zentralfriedhof to a stop right across the street from our hotel. The Hauptbahnhof, and all other public transit stops and trams have been pristinely clean and orderly. In fact, at the entrance to all U-bahn stations, and at the Hauptbahnhof, there is a sign that says “House Rules,” which was cool to see. I found the public transit in Vienna much easier to use, compared to Rome’s, which was horrid. (We didn’t use any public transit in Florence because everything was so easily within walking distance to our hotel.) I made Thing 2 really happy when I told her there was a Starbucks at the Hauptbahnhof and that I would treat her to a Carmel Frappuccino before we bought our tickets and got on the train. This was the first Starbucks we had seen since we left Los Angeles on 5 June. (There were no Starbucks in Italy. I’m sure they disdain the fact that any “commercial” location could make coffee better than their own cafés could.) I’ll admit that it was nice to have something familiar — and cold. Man, I forgot that it is hard to find drinks here in Europe as cold as we get them in the States. Also, water costs here in restaurants; it isn’t put on the table at the beginning of the meal as a matter of fact like it is where we live. The best thing about Rome is that the water was freely running in fountains in the city everywhere. (We still had to pay for water in restaurants, but I didn’t have to pay for water as much because I wasn’t as thirsty, thanks to the fountains.) Vienna had two public fountains for water that we came across; one was in the park and one was outside the schloß. But, because it wasn’t as plentiful, I couldn’t fill up as much. Hence, I was more thirsty and had to pay for more water in restaurants. (Grumble.)

But I digress. Fortified with frappuccinos, we headed to the automatic ticket kiosks, bought our tickets, and ten minutes later, we were on a train to Salzburg. That is where I am now, writing this post. The scenery is, once again, picturesque. Everything is so green; crops are growing. We haven’t hit high elevations and large evergreen trees, just rolling hills and fertile countryside.


Edited to say that we still haven’t arrived yet — 27 minutes until we reach Salzburg Hauptbahnhof — but as I look out my train window, there are two hot air balloons floating along over the Austrian countryside. 😊

Our hotel in Salzburg is the Hotel Sacher. It is famous for its Sachertorte, a rich chocolate cake “invented” in the 1830s. When I booked the room, we could order one to be waiting for us when we arrived at the hotel, so we did. Thing 2 and I are both looking forward to it. It comes in a decorative wooden keepsake box. Yay us! Like last night, I look forward to checking in, taking a shower, finding a place to eat, and hitting the sack. We’ve got to get an early train again tomorrow. This time, we’re heading out to Saalfelden, the town my great-grandparents came from. After a day spent there, we’re going to attend a marionette performance of the Sound of Music at a theatre very close to our hotel. It should be an eventful day. Hopefully, it doesn’t rain so that we can keep our plans to go summer tobogganing in Saalfelden! (This is an 80% change for rain, but only a small amount — .22″ — and a deliciously cool 70˚ forecasted.) More on our day in the next blog post!

Italy and Austria 2017: Day 6 — Pompeii

This was a day long trip. We had to arrive at our departure point at 7:30 in the morning. Luckily, it was a quick two-stop trip on the Metro and a short walk. The day was cool as we started out, and our bus was so air conditioned that I was actually cold.

Pompeii is just outside Naples, and it was nice to get out of the city to get a glimpse of the Italian countryside between Rome and Naples. Alone the way, nestled in one of the hills we got a glimpse of Monte Cassino, site of a monastery and some fighting during World War II. We also saw a famous palace (which I forgot the name of because I didn’t write it down). Both Thing 2 and I got a bit of sleep on the ride. After about an hour and a half, we stopped at an Italian rest stop. The unfortunate thing was that a bunch of other tour busses stopped at the same rest stop, so a mass of humanity was at the café inside trying to purchase small pastries, coffee, and use the restroom. Thing 2 and I bypassed the restroom in favor of sweets (since we hadn’t had breakfast before we got on the bus). We scarfed down our food, got back on the bus, and within an hour, we were in Naples.

Naples is . . . not so pretty. I found it rather trashy looking, actually. It is made up of lots and lots of apartment buildings of about six to seven stories each. In nearly every window, washing was hanging out to dry in the sun. It is also very hilly. Our driver, Mario, navigated us through the scenic, hilly part of town to show us the coast. We stopped to take in a very picturesque view of the Mediterranean with Mt. Vesuvius in the distant background.

The Bay of Naples coastline

Of course, I took Thing 2’s picture there. We also stopped for lunch in Naples before moving on to explore Pompeii in the afternoon heat. Our lunch consisted of a penne pasta in a red sauce (first course) and then some thin steak with mozzarella cheese (second course). [Italian menus follow the same pattern in that “antipasto” is listed, then first courses (which is pastas), then second courses (meats, chicken, and fish dishes), then sides like broccoli or potatoes, then desserts.] In Naples, we were also joined by the man who would be narrating our tour through Pompeii. He is currently a working archaeologist and has helped to excavate a lot of Pompeii with his students. He has been working around Pompeii for nearly twenty years, so he totally knew his stuff. [That has been the best thing about our tours: they’ve all been narrated by working art historians and archaeologists.]

We lucked out in that Pompeii wasn’t as hot as I expected it to be, largely because we were near the coast and there was a nice breeze. It was dirty and dusty, though, and I felt pretty grimy by the end of the day. It was pretty thrilling to walk through streets and see the original paving stones — some even with the ruts of Roman cartwheels still in them.

We also saw some original Roman lead piping leading in and out of some of the houses and businesses. Our guide (Fabiano) told us how to distinguish between the ruins of a business versus a home in Pompeii. Houses had marble entrance stones; businesses had regular grey sandstone entrances, with grooves in the stone where a shop door would have once fit. We got see a house of prostitution, and a bakery. (Archaeologists have excavated 25 houses of prostitution and 44 bakeries. The house of prostitution even still had a few of the racy frescoes still on the wall. It also had a toilet.) We were able to also see the “House of the Fawn,” named because of the fawn statue in the entryway of the home. It was the house of a wealthy citizen because it had six rooms, two atria, a garden, plus a garden after that garden, its own kitchen, and a huge entryway. It even had a Latin mosaic greeting in place of a modern-day doormat, which translated to “Welcome.” In another doorway we saw the very famous mosaic floor depicting a dog and the words “cave canum” which means, “Beware of dog!” Pompeii also had a very preserved Roman bath, complete with steam room, original mosaic floors, and frescoes. We saw the ruins of temples and other buildings in their forum, or public area. There were just so many amazing things to see. Our last stop before Fabiano left us and we could explore more on our own was the “storeroom” where remains of artifacts that have been salvaged are kept. We saw the “bodies” of a dog, a slave, a teenager, and a toddler. Additionally, we saw amphora and other tools that archaeologists found and made casts of as they have worked.

We had about an hour to walk around on our own, visit the bookstore, and do a bit of shopping before it was time to hop back on the bus and head back to Rome. Thing 2 and I poked around a bit at a few more things, but the heat of the day had caught up to us . . . like I said, it was cooler than I thought it would be, considering we were near the ocean, but still warm after one has been walking out in the sun for hours. Visiting the bookstore (air conditioned!) provided a bit of a relief. I got some books, and then we visited a shop across the street from the entrance to get a few more souvenirs. It was a welcome relief to get back on the bus (with air conditioning!) and have a relaxing ride back to Rome. It was also nice that I wasn’t on my feet quite as much as I had been in the days previous. My ankle wasn’t as swollen at the end of the day today as it has been in past days.


Thing 2 and I needed to have a good meal before bed, so we headed off to a restaurant that wasn’t too far away from our hotel and one that was rated well on Yelp. I got exactly what I wanted: delicious pasta in cream sauce with Italian bacon and mushrooms.

I drank an entire liter of frizzante water. I slept so well with a full belly and all tired out. 🙂 The good news: We could sleep in the next morning . . . a little.

For an album of photos from our day today, please click here.

Italy and Austria 2017: Day 5 — Aborted Attempt to See Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Parthenon, More Gelato, Trevi Fountain, the Forum and the Colosseum

We started our day off at one of Rome’s main train stations, Roma Termini. We decided to head there because Thing 2’s FitBit had finally run out of battery and she forgot to bring her charger. There was a tech shop there, so we stopped in to see if they had an extra charger. They didn’t, so we headed down the Metro line a few stops to another tech store —they didn’t sell one, either — and then to a bookstore that also sold techy things. We had no luck at any of the three places we visited. But, since we were near the most important basilica in Rome, actually the WORLD, we decided to head that way.

The church is called Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano. It is the Pope’s designated church. As such, that makes it the most important church in the world, more important than even the Basilica di San Pietro (St. Peter’s Basilica). The Pope sometimes celebrates mass there, but I don’t think there is a set schedule like there is at St. Peter’s. There are four major papal basilicas in Rome; St. John Lateran is the most important of them all. The others are St. Peter’s, Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, and Basilica di San Paolo fuori le Mura (St. Paul Outside the Walls). Unfortunately, as we arrived to go inside, we were told by the security man that we were not dressed appropriately enough. Thing 2 didn’t have covered shoulders, and I was wearing shorts (showing my knees). There were a bunch of hawkers selling cheap scarves to put over one’s shoulders for 1,00 €, but I didn’t want to encourage them by buying something from them. They were already annoying and intrusive as it was.

So, we gave that up for another day when we were properly dressed, and hopped on a bus instead to take us across town to the Pantheon. The bus we hopped onto was packed, as all busses passing by major tourist spots seemed to be. We found a place to stand in the back; a priest hopped on with us. Everyone on the bus parted so that he could make his way to the ticket validation machine on the bus. So, we gave him ours and he validated ours, too. He was Irish and wearing a Jameson’s Whiskey baseball cap. He heard that we were speaking English, so he joined us in conversation, asking us, “Is this your first time to Rome?” We answered that it was, and then he asked us if we had met his boss yet. 😁 We answered that we had. I told him my grandpa’s favorite whiskey was Bushmill’s. He was getting off at the same stop as we were, so he offered to take show us the direction from the bus stop to the Pantheon, and then recommened both a great gelato place and an English-speaking mass we could attend on Sunday.

So we arrived at the Pantheon, but it is a church, too. This I did not know. So we faced the same problem of Thing 2 not having her shoulders covered and me wearing shorts. We watched the line and it turned out this security person was allowing people with shorts in, but still requiring covered shoulders. And, wouldn’t you know it, there was no one in the square walking around hawking scarves. So, we quickly walked over to a store shop selling souveniers to buy a scarf for Thing 2 so that we could enter. (It was free.) I came to realize that whether or not one was allowed inside the church in current clothing was completely dependent on who was standing at the entrance watching people go in. Some were definitely more lenient than others.

But inside . . . wow! Huge and beautiful! In its time, it was an engineering marvel. Actually, it still is. When Brunelleschi was coming up with his plan about how to put the dome on the Santa Maria del Fiori in Florence, he went to Rome to study the Pantheon. (We are going to visit the “Duomo” in Florence, too, so more about that later!) There are a few important graves inside the Pantheon, including Vittorio Emanuele II (for whom a major street in Rome is named). Vittorio Emanuele II also has a huge monument built to him in conjunction with the Altar of the Fatherland (see Rome, Day 3 post mention of the “wedding cake”). But, the crypt I was really interested in seeing was Raphael’s, the artist responsible for so much at the Vatican (among others). He has a very large display in the Pantheon. Cognizant that this was still a place people came to pray, and that we didn’t want to disturb them, we took out pictures and left for our next locale.

Raphael’s funerary monument and crypt

Our next stop was the Trevi Fountain, pretty close by. On the way, we stopped and got some gelato for the walk. The gelato was good, but we passed an even better looking place along the way (Venchi) with a chocolate fountain wall behind the counter, and we vowed to return to have some of their gelato soon.

These Nutella jars were as big as a human head.

I could tell that we were getting closer to the Trevi Fountain because more and more tourists were on the street. Indeed, at the fountain, there was a mass of humanity, all jostling to get close enough to the fountain to take a great photograph or to find a seat to just sit and take it all in. Because . . . it. is.

HUGE. And gleamingly white. Thing 2 and I made sure to take out pictures, and then we moved down closer to the water itself so that we could each throw a coin into the fountain. The story goes that one must throw a coin into the fountain to ensure a trip back to Rome sometime in the future. (As I want to come back because I am sure there will be things I will run out of time to see, I made sure to throw a coin in!)

After taking our pics we were read to get away from the crowds, so we began walking just away – we didn’t care which direction. We wouldn’t get lost. (We had Google Maps! 😏) We just started walking towards where we would need to go to get to the Forum and Colosseum, which were our afternoon tours. It turns out we ended up in the same piazza that we started off at – right in front of the Pantheon again. This time the line was HUUUGGGGEEEE, so we were glad we got in when we did.

Eventually we made our way over the the Colosseum. We were early, so we sat in the shade just out in front for a while and rested. We knew we still had a lot of walking left to do for the day. Unfortunately, we sat downwind from some people who decided to smoke. (I forgot that there are smokers everywhere in Europe – or at least in Rome so far. And we always managed to find ourselves seated next to them.) We had about 45 minutes until our tour started, so we got a nice rest. When it was time to check in, we walked across the street to a newspaper stand/kiosk (our check-in point) and were matched up with our guide. She is a working archaeologist with a PhD in her field. She was going to lead us around the Forum, and then we were going to meet up with another PhD who was going to show us around the Colosseum. Both ladies really knew their stuff!

We started off in the Forum. There are several entrances, but we entered through the Via Dei Fori Imperiali, which is sort of the main drag past the Forum and the Colosseum. We walked down a ramp, just past the Antoninus and Faustina Temple. The forum is full of ruins – ruins, ruins everywhere. One really had to use imagination to try to visualize what all of this would have looked like during the time of Caesar and Augustus. Our guide had these great diagrams to show to help us with that. She had a binder full of modern photographs of the ruins, but then had an overlay she could put down over the photograph to show us what historians believe the temple actually looked like back in the day. She knew what every single thing in the Forum was. We had only to point at a bunch of stones on the ground or a column and she would say, “Oh that’s the Temple of ____,” or whatever. (But I guess that makes sense considering she has a PhD in archaeology and she has spent literally tons of her life there.)

The dirt in the forum is very hard packed, which also makes sense considering how it is there under the beating sun, and has been for centuries. Not to mention, there’s thousands of tourists that walked the paths daily. It was also a fine, dusty sort of dirt – the kind that (if it gets stirred up), lands on one’s legs and sticks there. Thing 2 and I both agreed that we’d need a good shower when we got back to the hotel to wash away the particles clinging to our shins. Surprisingly, there were also things like cigarette butts on the ground. (All those smokers!) To me, this seemed like a sacrilege. I mean, this was the Roman Forum, a hugely historical spot. How could one think of just dropping their butt on the ground? How could authorities even allow people to smoke there? European countries are much less restrictive when it comes to smoking and alcohol than locations here in the United States. In any case, as we walked on, I tried to make a note of all the things I was looking at so I could match photographs up with ruins names. Also, I probably should have been taking many more photographs, but I just caught up in what I was looking at. I guess I’ll have to go back! From the Forum center, we walked up to the Palatine Hill, and we looked at some ruins on the hill. (Not as much is up there – just remains of the villas of emperors.) As we walked down the hill, on the Colosseum side, was saw the remnants of an old aqueduct. I got a few books at the bookstore on site.

Our guide (on the way to the Colosseum) led us past some gypsies who were pick-pockets. I confess I would have never guessed that’s what they looked like. They were two girls, probably about thirteen years old; one was smoking. They had nothing – not even purses to even try to “pass” as tourists. Our tour guide (and her other guides/friends) had seen them many times before. They knew she saw them. They knew she told all of us she saw them. They knew that she was already telling her fellow guides as we walked past other groups about them. They hung back and stopped following our group. I wasn’t worried. I was vigilant and careful; we hadn’t been bothered at all by pick-pockets thus far.

So the Colosseum was amazing. I don’t need to tell you that. Thing 2 and I had signed up to take a special tour that included the “basement” of the Colosseum, as well as the third ring. In the subterranean part of the Colosseum, we got to see the ruins of different chambers that would have been used by gladiators and exotic animals. We saw holes left in the ground where beams once stood, part of complex pulley and trap-door system to raise and lower props, people, and animals up onto the Colosseum floor. A group of German engineering students even made a model of what the system may have looked like, complete with cage for a wild beast. We even saw the door that led out to a subterranean passage to the gladiatorial school and barracks (across a modern street from the Colosseum today). Down in the “basement” they also had an open-piped water system, sometimes thought to be used as latrines for the slaves down below. On the stage of the Colosseum which, again, only special tours get to visit, we got a feel for what it was like to be a gladiator at the center of the stadium. It was hot; the sun was beating down on us. The stage at the time would have been covered in sand (the Italian for sand is where we derive our word arena) to soak up the blood and other bodily fluids spilled by animals and gladiators alike. We spent time exploring the different levels of the Colosseum, eventually moving up to the “third ring” of the amphitheater, which was exclusive for the tour we booked. They actually did have an elevator there so, because I was still nursing my sprained ankle, I took advantage of that in order to see the third ring without having to climb so many steps.

After our tour was done, we visited the bookstore to get some souvenirs for family back at home. We dialed up the route to get home on Google Maps, waited for our bus, and made it back to our hotel.

We. were. officially. tired.

A shower was the first order of business, of course. Thing 2 and I had already decided that we could not walk any more. Finding a restaurant close by to eat was too difficult. We didn’t even want to walk to the gelato shop we liked. We decided to eat dinner in the hotel restaurant. After sitting and resting while Thing 2 was showering, it was difficult to stand up again to even walk downstairs to the restaurant. I took my ice bag down to the restaurant that the concierge had loaned me earlier in the week. The waitress was kind enough to fill it up with ice, and I iced my ankle while we ate. I had a yummy ravioli. It was not hard to fall asleep when we got back to our room.

For some photos of our day, which may include some of the above, click on this link.




20K steps

Italy and Austria 2017: Day 4 — The Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s Basilica, and Castel Sant’Angelo

UGH. After such a tiring day yesterday, we had to wake up early. The good news is that we slept well, and woke up feeling pretty refreshed.

Today marked our first foray into the Rome Metro as well. Previous to this, we had just been riding the bus and tram. Surprisingly (or maybe not, now that I think on it), Rome only has two underground lines. It is such a large city that I was surprised that they did not have more, yet it is so old and has so many layers that I’m not surprised they haven’t built more. It seems that one cannot go ten feet without finding something of archaeological value. I can just imagine how they would start to dig, but then have to stop to excavate something, thus pushing the project timeline back. Interestingly, the city is in the midst of digging a new line, Linea C. The dig for it is going RIGHT NEXT TO the Colosseum and Forum, which boggles my mind, as this is truly in the oldest part of the city. Wouldn’t the vibrations from all the digging cause more potential collapse? I’m sure they have engineers and archaeologists who can certify the dig is okay to move forward, but it was just surprising to see.

So first impressions: the Metro in Rome is SO not as nice as the Tube in London. I mean, it doesn’t even compare. The Paris Metro is even better, and I didn’t like that one because of how confusing it was. This one is more simple – just two lines as I mentioned – but it is not as well maintained. The English love their Tube; they even have a whole museum and gift shop devoted to it, so it shows. The Roman Metro? No.

Anyway, we rode the line and navigated our way with two Australian ladies who were also making their first trip into the Roman Metro and also going to the Vatican. They were here for their first trip, too, so we compared places we’d seen. Thanks, again, to Google Maps, we were able to find our way to our meeting point for our tours. We arrived early enough that Thing 2 and I were able to stop in to the little cafe right in front of the entrance to the Vatican museums, the Caffé Vatican, and get a pastry and something to drink. Thing 2 got a chocolate muffin and a donut; I got some sort of a pastry with chocolatey goodness inside.

Our guide was a gentleman named Emanuele, and he was an art historian who really knew his stuff. He took us through the Vatican Museums and explained everything we saw. We started off in the picture gallery; all of the art here was arranged by date from the earliest Christian art through to the Baroque period. We also saw an amazing room full of enormous tapestries. Not only were they large, but also they had gold threads woven into them to provide richness and a luminous quality. He also showed us lots of different sculptures and early Etruscan funerary urns. We also got to see the Bramante Staircase, which was actually a ramp.

It was called a staircase, but it was a ramp because it enabled the Pope to travel up and down it on a horse. Not everyone gets to see this, so we felt really special. From there it started getting more crowded as we traveled through the rest of the rooms in the old Papal Palace. My favorite room was one of the Raphael Rooms, the Stanza della Segnatura, because this room contains Raphael’s painting, The School of Athens.

This painting is in many history books, including the one that I use with my own students. So, seeing it in person was WAY cool.

Another amazing hall that we passed through was the Gallery of Maps. This was even more amazing (in some respects) than the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. The Gallery of Maps is 120 m (393 ft.) long, while the Hall of Mirrors is only 73 m (239.5 ft.) long.

Along both long walls are a series of maps which showed all the regions of Italy; there are twenty maps on each wall. So, all regions of Italy were represented, plus islands such as Corsica and Sicily. (Corsica belonged to Italy at that time; it is now French.) Each map is nearly square (15 by 16 ft.) and includes details such as cities and rivers. Above each map is a painting that depicts some miracle that took place in the map below it. Every inch of the gallery is decorated; the ceiling is magnificent. I have to admit that, at first, I thought we were moving into the Sistine Chapel. (It was that magnificent.)

The Sistine Chapel was nearly our last stop. It was amazing. It was supposed to be silent inside, but there were so many people inside that the murmuring got loud. Occasionally, the museum guards would call out, “Silencio!” We also needed to ensure that we had our shoulders covered and our knees. Like the Gallery of Maps, every inch of the Sistine Chapel is decorated. The ceiling, of course, was magnificent. The door that we entered was actually the door behind the altar. So, we entered, turned around, and then saw Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. All told, we spent about 15 minutes in there, taking it all in, noting some of the details that Mr. Emanuele told us about before we entered. It was forbidden to take pictures, otherwise I would have posted some here.

Lastly, we visited St. Peter’s Basilica. It is almost overwhelming how large it is. According to our guide, sixty thousand people can fit inside. The main nave of the church is huge; along the side are two levels of statues. The statues at the first level are twelve feet tall; the statues at the second level are 15 feet tall. The Latin writing near the ceiling of the basilica is nine feet tall. The chapels off to either side of the nave are immense. One was dedicated to Pope Saint John Paul II. Several people were inside his chapel sitting in prayer or silent reflection. In another part of the church, one could go to Confession. Priests were available to hear confessions in several different languages. Thing 2 and I opted to visit the grottoes where many of the popes are interred. Saint Pope John Paul II was in the grottoes until he was elevated to the sainthood; now he is interred in the chapel devoted to him off the main nave. We also had a chance to see Michelangelo’s Pietá.

This was a very crowded part of the basilica, because so many people wanted to see it. It is behind glass, as someone in the 1970’s took a hammer to it. It is restored, but must be protected now.

Before we left St. Peter’s Basilica and Square, and the Vatican in general, we took an opportunity to mail some postcards home from the Vatican. They have their own stamps and postal system – plus their own radio tower.

Hot and more than a little weary, Thing 2 and I walked to a little “pizza on the go” place a few blocks from the Vatican. It was soooooo good. The restaurant had all sorts of personal-sized pizzas made up on focaccia bread; you chose the one you wanted and then put it in the oven for a few minutes and brought it to you.

It hit the spot after a long morning of walking around. At this point, it was our plan to visit the Parthenon and then visit Castel Sant’Angelo. But we were over-ambitious and underestimated how tired we were. Plus, Castel Sant’Angelo was very close to the Vatican, so we headed over there lazily and got our tickets for our guided tour at 4 p.m. I also took some great shots of the Tiber River from the bridge that is right out in front of the fortress.

The Castel Sant’Angelo is similar to the Tower of London. It is an old medieval fortress, and actually it was originally built during the time of Emperor Hadrian to house his cremated remains.

Once Rome became Christian, they got rid of the remains and used the complex as a fortress and prison. It had a nice defensive position right on the river and on the hill. They even built a “secret” two-story passageway from it to the Vatican itself (which we walked in). Not a whole lot of people get to walk in there, either, so we felt even more special.

When Rome was under siege during the 1500s, the current pope actually escaped through the secret passage way and stayed in the Castel Sant’Angelo for six months until the siege was lifted. So, one of the things we also got to see on our guided tour was the pope’s bathtub!

Yep, the picture above is where he cleaned off. We also visited the dungeons and saw the storerooms where they stocked their provisions (like olive oil and wine).

By the time this tour was over Thing 2 and I had serious foot problems. I had developed blisters on my feet from so much walking and Thing 2 was just plain tired. We used Google Maps to find our way back to the hotel. One of the things that we passed on the way home was a water fountain. They’re actually all over the city of Rome and not what one would normally think of when thinking of a drinking fountain. But they’re not a fountain at Disneyland either. Sometimes they’re decorative, and other times not. But there is a constant, running stream of water coming out of these fountains. People walk up to them and put some in their hands to wash their face or wash their hands.

Others fill up their water bottles, like we did. (If you are a tourist, we quickly found out you only need to buy a water once, and then the rest of the time, fill up your bottle with water from the fountain.) The water is totally fresh and COLD, so it is a welcome treat on a hot Roman day. They had one at the Forum, too. And our guide at the Forum (more about that in the next post) told us that they’re constantly running, reliable and fresh, come from underground aquifers (some of the same that the Romans tapped into themselves so long ago), and is so plentiful that no one in Rome has a water bill. There was one such fountain right across the street from our hotel.

I cannot remember what we had for dinner. I think it was gelato again? 😀

For even more photos from our day, including some seen in the above post, visit this link.

Italy and Austria 2017: Day 3 – Capitoline Museums, Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, Baths of Caracalla, and … an Aborted Attempt to See the Appian Way and Basilica di San Sebastiano Outside the Walls

Though I had hoped we wouldn’t experience it, jet lag struck Thing 2 and I early this morning — about 2:30 or 3 in the morning to be exact. We gave it the good ‘ol college try and rested as best we could, but when it started getting light around 5 am, we got up and got busy. We turned on Italian TV, I wrote the previous blog post, we showered up, and got ready to eat breakfast.

Our first stop of the day was the Capitoline Museums, located on the Capitoline Hill, one of the seven hills on which Rome was founded, and near the Forum.

The piazza in front of the Capitoline Museums –there’s actually three buildings in total.

We got transportation tickets good for two days from the local tobacco shop (marked with a big black and white T outside; they sell stamps and stuff, too) and used Google Maps to route us to the museum via public transportation. Our tickets worked for bus, tram, and subway. The bus heading in the direction of “Fori Imperiali” was packed, and that’s where we got off. It was still relatively early in the morning (around 8:45 a.m.), too. We headed up the hill, bought our tickets, and started walking around. As we walked up, we could see parts of the Forum on two sides of us. The highlight of the Capitoline Museum (for me) was being able to see the bronze statue of the she-wolf that saved Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.

The very famous bronze statue of the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus; Romulus would go on to found Rome.

There was also a huge head of Constantine (and other parts of his body) that I had seen in photographs, and now I finally got to see it for myself.

The head of the Colossal Constantine
The head of the Colossal Constantine, with Thing 2 for scale
The toes of one of the feet of the Colossal Constantine

The museums also had some great sculptures by the master, Bernini.

A sculpture of Medusa, also by Bernini.
A sculpture by Bernini, of Pope Urban VIII

After the museums, we decided to try to find some lunch. I looked on Yelp and found a nicely rated restaurant in Trastevere, which was across the river from the rest of the city. It was conveniently located near a church I wanted to visit, the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, so that was good.

Our lunch in Trastavere, a neighborhood of Rome.

Thing 2 ordered herself a lasagna and I ordered a pasta carbonara. Both were delicious. Our restaurant was located near the piazza in front of the church. Tiny streets led out of the piazza; I thought they were pedestrian walkways through that part of the city.

From our restaurant in Trastavere, looking down the street on which cars and scooters still drive.

But, NO, cars and scooters still drive down these streets – and often. As a pedestrian, one must watch out! Also, all the streets are cobbled with these small black squares. They are hard to walk on after one has been walking all day. What I wouldn’t give for a smooth Orange County sidewalk! It was fun to people watch people walking up and down the streets as they went about their business, and trying to avoid the cars and scooters. Anyway, as a treat, the waiter gave us two shots of limoncello to top off our meal.

My after-lunch treat. 🙂

Thing 2 had a sip and decided she didn’t like it, so I downed both shots. 😁

The church, of course, was amazing. Behind the altar of the church, the ceiling was domed, and it was decorated entirely in mosaics. They were AMAZING.

The inside of the dome behind the altar in the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere

We spent about 30 minutes in the church, looking into each of the chapels off to the side, and we said our prayers.

The ceiling of the nave of the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere

From there, it was our plan to visit the Baths of Caracalla (Terme di Caracalla). He was an emperor at one time. The baths, in their time, were large enough to hold 6,000 people. The complex even included a library and was multi-storied. The ruins were immense.

The Baths at Caracalla . . . Just one view of them.

We found a shady bench to sit at for a bit to rest our feet. In the shade, and with the breeze, it was pleasant. But walking around in full sun, whew – it was HOT.

Lastly, going further south from the baths, we hoped to visit the Appian Way and the Basilica of San Sebastian fuori le mira (Outside the Walls). Our feet were killing us by this point, mostly mine. We got on the (overcrowded) bus again to get us down to the Appian Way. This street was cobbled and rutted and there was no sidewalk to speak of. I mention this because after the bus dropped us off, we had to walk a bit further to get to the Appian Way.

The street said Appian Way, but we didn’t see it!

So, with cars and scooters whizzing past us, we set off . . . except we couldn’t find the entrance to the park . . . so we thought, “Ah, let’s skip it and just head, instead, straight for the Basilica di San Sebastian fuori le mura. It is one of the seven pilgrim churches of Rome. So we walked to the next stop on our bus route and figured we’d ride the rest of the way to San Sebastiano. But when I consulted Google Maps, I realized the bus only went one more stop, and we’d have to walk even more. In fact, we’d have to walk further from the bus stop to the basilica than the bus was going to travel to the next stop. So, sweaty and tired, and keeping in mind we’d been up since 3 am or so, we took our lives in our hands to cross the street to get to the bus stop on the other side. (There are walk / don’t walk indicator signs, but not everywhere.) There are crosswalks indicated in the street, but one just has to step out and start walking and (hopefully) cars and scooters will stop.

[Funny story: Earlier in the day, on our way to lunch, we needed to cross a huge intersection outside the Capitoline Museums and in front of the “wedding cake” (more on that later) . . . We were standing by the crosswalk, waiting until what seemed like a good time to cross, except there weren’t any. Then, on the other side of the street, I saw a young priest just start walking out into traffic. I said to Thing 2, “That man has God on his side!” And once everyone saw him walking out and traffic stopping for him – I mean, whose going to accidentally hit a priest!?! – they started crossing, too. As we crossed by him in the street, he let out a huge grin, knowing that he helped us all out.]

Anyway, we waited for our bus and headed on back to the hotel.

Hot and tired, a selfie before getting on our bus to head back to the hotel.

Since we had had a big lunch, we opted for gelatto for dinner – an even bigger serving than our first night.

We were back to our hotel at around 17:30, and I immediately took a shower and crashed. I think I slept until about 8 while Thing 2 listened to music. I woke up and read a bit before going back to sleep for good. And, we actually got a great night’s sleep – both of us. This was good because we had to wake up early for our next day’s agenda: The Vatican.

(For a few more pictures, including some you see here, of our day, view this link.)

I Ordered My Snoopy Plate!

Oh, yes I did!

I do not currently have a “vanity” license plate for my car. I have thought about getting one from time to time, but never splurged. (They cost anywhere from about $50 to $100 extra each year for the privilege of having the plate.) Plus, I am always trying to think of something extra witty and clever for my plate, because I appreciate others’ witty or clever ideas, and I never think I come up to scratch in intelligent, brainy humor.

For a couple of years now, there has been a movement to get a new vanity option plate added to the several that California has. (Visit the DMV website to see what California offers.) This new one was going to have Snoopy on it, and the proceeds from the plate would go to support California’s museums. Worthy cause! And who doesn’t love Snoopy? I LOVE SNOOPY. So, of course, I signed up to indicate that, yes, I was interested and would support the plate. (Any drivers you know that also would love a Snoopy plate could visit this site for information about how to go about ordering one of their own.) The proponents of the plate needed to have a certain number of people interested. Then it needed to be approved by whomever approves these things, before it finally could be placed out their for consumers like me. And, at least 7, 500 drivers need to purchase their plates before they are actually made. So far, about 2,800 people have ordered their plate. I am one of those people! I ordered it tonight.

Here is what the plate will look like:



Mine will have something other than “123ABC” . . . I listed my top three choices for personalized plates. I won’t say what they are until one of them arrives in the mail. I don’t want anyone poaching on my cool ideas!

Look for it on my car sometime soon (hopefully)!