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May 9, 2008

Photos from our month-long Western Europe trip…

…can be found here:


April 20, 2008

Rome en route to Nice

We are in Rome now, doing laundry near the hotel. We got a suite with a large balcony and the weather is great so we’re going to chill on it for the rest of today. Tomorrow morning we catch a flight to Nice after which we’re going to stay on the French Riviera between Cannes, Monte Carlo and Nice for 3 days. After that, we’ll be flying to Barcelona and then Grenada where we may rent a car to see more of Andalusia.

Today, we took a bus from Venice (which we really loved) to Asisi where we had lunch and roamed the city for 2 hours and then we rode down to Rome. We saw a lot of beautiful Italian countryside along the way. Since it was Sunday, people were out flyfishing or riding around on their bicycles or motorbikes. Our hotel is great and is near an area with a lot of Arabs. We had the best meal we’ve had in Italy at an Arabic restaurant nearby.

April 19, 2008


We were fortunate to have great weather in Venice both days. We had a very peaceful and romantic gondola ride, saw a demonstration of glass working by a Murano master workman and walked pretty much all over the city.

April 19, 2008


Pisa is what you’d expect. We took our “holding the leaning tower up” pictures. Very corny! Colleen climbed to the top of the tower while I chose to tour the Duomo.

April 16, 2008

Colloseum / Palatine Hill

What you’d expect.

April 16, 2008


Florence is a town with a great vibe! Much of this has to do with the huge student population, much of which is international. We checked out the city’s Duomo, the museum that houses the statue of David (which was quite unremarkable except for David) and took in a little nightlife with a group of American students we met one night. I learned that the piano was invented in Florence and that Florence has been called home by more famous Italians than any other city. This group includes the likes of Dante Alighieri (who was the first to write a book in the new language of Italian, his “Divine Comedy”), Galileo Galilei, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael, the Medici family, Florence Nighting (pioneer of modern nursing), and the fashion designers Ferragamo, Cavalli and Gucci. The restaurants in Florence were above average. We also spent some time window shopping the jewelery and leather markets in town.

April 16, 2008


One of the larger cities in beautiful Tuscany, Sienna was first settled by the Etruscans around 900 BC. We saw many young people in Sienna as it is home to an important university, especially well known for medicine. It is also known for it’s knife and armour craftsmanship, although these items are overpriced beyond belief. They sold mass produced American brands in these knife shops as well and they were overpriced by 200%. My Benchmade lockblade that I paid $45 for in Arlington was being sold for close to 100 Euros!

We were misfortunate to see some very heavy rain in Sienna which prevented us from sightseeing extensively. However, we did get to enjoy the rain somewhat while sipping cappucino under a covered outside dining area with some of our travel companions in Piazza del Campo, regarded by many to be the most beautiful public square in Europe. The Piazza is also the site of the famous Palio horse race in which all the different neighborhoods in the city compete each year.

April 14, 2008

Palatine Hill, Forum, Colloseum

Saw these guys today. Tomorrow morning we are off to Sienna. I will add to these blogs and upload more photos to flickr when we stay at a hotel with internet again. Right now, we are at an internet cafe.

April 14, 2008


We took a bus to Naples in the morning. On the road between Rome and Naples, we passed a 1st century Roman road, Castle Gandolfo (Pope’s retreat), the second largest palace in Europe (after Versailles and in which scenes from Start Wars had been filmed) and a number of rock quarries.
When we got to Naples, it was lightly raining. We could barely see the outline of the island of Capri. We drove around the city and took a few pictures. After that we drove to the city of Pompeii, stopping at a coral and conch art factory which was ridiculously overpriced. One unspectacular looking broach we saw cost 32,000 Euros and even the tiniest and most basic piece cost about 120 Euros. They did demonstrate for us how the art was fashioned from the conch which was interesting to see.
Arriving at Pompeii, we had lunch and then walked around town. By now the clouds had passed and it was a nice sunny day. We walked to the square which has a church around it and saw a bride and groom taking pictures together. Children were playing by the fountain and locals were walking their dogs. I passed 20 parked cars in a row without seeing an automatic transmission. Italians, men and women, all drive stick. Very nice! I like!
We left the modern city of Pompeii and took a short bus ride to the ruins of Pompeii.

Pompeii has been the highlight of the trip so far. It is simply amazing how advanced the inhabitants of this ancient city were both socially, in the development of their civil institutions and technologically. Surprisingly, there is much to see in this ruined city and it is not too difficult to see what life would have been like for these Romans prior to the eruption of Vesuvius. Gymnasiums, Theatres, Bakeries (very impressive!), Bars/Pubs, Public baths and toilets as well as the Courthouse that also served as stock exchange.

The brothels were the most interesting. Pompeii had 25 brothels. The one we visited had 5 rooms with pictures of sex positions posted over the doorways. You paid for the position and “fun time”with a lady of the night ran about what today would be the price of a beer. On the streets, phallic shapes pointed in the direction of the red light district to help drunk Romans get to where they wanted to be.

April 14, 2008


Saw Vatican including St Peter’s Basilica, The Vatican museum and ending with the Sistine Chapel. It took 5.5 hours to do all this. Our guide was exceptionally knowledgable and we learned a lot about the progression of Christian Italian sculpture and painting through the ages as well as the broader events that brought about these changes.

Learning the history of the Catholic church was more interesting. The church and its policies evolved through the ages in response to the challenges and changing external power dynamics of the times. We both learned so much.