Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Rome - Day Tripping

Back when we started planning our Europe adventure, I put a lot of emphasis on taking at least a day to get out of big cities and experience a slower paced life. Versailles was our "country" experience in Paris, but Italy took the cake for daytrips. I researched many towns, wanting something close to Rome, but removed from the hustle and bustle. I decided on Orvieto, a hilltown about an hour train ride from Rome.

Although we'd ridden subways all over Paris and Rome, traveling by train was a bit more intense and caught us off guard. We managed to buy our train ticket without too much difficulty, but the ticket didn't have a track number and the train station we were at was HUGE. We had no idea where to go, and stood staring blankly at the monitors in Italian for a few moments. We hadn't been there too long, when a man approached us and asked if we needed help. We showed him our tickets and he said, "Track 2." We stood rooted in our spot, still not sure where to go. "Where is that?" I asked. He motioned for us to follow him, and then took off at a pace I could barely keep up with. He led us through the crowds clear across to the other side of the station. It took a good 5 minutes of walking just to get close. The longer we walked, the more I realized that this man, good Samaritan though he was, did not work for free. But at the moment, I was grateful for his help, and would gladly compensate him for it! Sure enough, he walked us to a corner of the station, took our tickets and validated them at a machine, pointed at a train, then asked for money.

As we continued our short walk to the train, another couple came racing past us. We watched them run ahead, try to board a train, then get turned away and sent to the validation station. We chuckled, knowing we'd be just like them if it weren't for our "help." We boarded the train, found a seat, and settled in for our ride. A few minutes on our way, a woman about my age came and asked where we were getting off. I told her, and she said, "Oh good! That's where we're getting off, too! I was afraid we'd miss it, but I'll just watch for you." I told her they should come sit by us, and when her husband came up I realized they were the couple we'd seen run past us at the station. We had a good laugh about it, then spent the rest of the train ride getting to know Jessie and Dusty better. We enjoyed their company so much that we ended up spending the rest of the day with them. None of us had any agenda once we got to Orvieto, so we were the perfect traveling companions. Aside from the good company, the train ride was absolutely beautiful. I couldn't soak it in enough.

We had to ride through several tunnels to get to Orvieto. Each time we would go through one, our ears would fill with painful pressure and we would all start yawning and pulling our ears to clear them. It happened so many times we were laughing at ourselves, and couldn't figure out why we were the only ones struggling! Eventually, it grew tiresome to work so hard and was easier just to bear the pain until out of the tunnel. I guess the other passengers had already figured that out a long time ago.

Our first views of Orvieto were from the bottom looking up. Orvieto is one of many hill towns common in that region of Italy. You can hardly see any of it in this picture, but just beyond that line of trees at the top is the cutest, windiest, steepest town you've ever seen. It was a misty morning when we got off the train, but that just made it seem that much more magical.

We rode a funicular (really steep, inclined tram) from the station to the top of the hill. Stepping out of the funicular, I felt like I'd walked into a painting. It was truly one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen. And if this is what it looks like in February, can you imagine what it's like at it's peak?!

We spent a few minutes wandering through a garden park, then set off to explore the town. I don't think I put my camera away the entire time we were in Orvieto. If pictures are my souvenirs, then I came home loaded from Orvieto.

We did make sure to see the one main attraction of the town-- it's uniquely decorated cathedral. My first thought was that Beetlejuice must have been inspired by this church, or perhaps vintage prison garb. It was definitely different from any other church--or building--that I have ever seen!

The front facade was something else entirely. Bright colors, ornate paintings, strange twisted columns... nothing like the grayscale sides!

I was surprised to see the stripe motif continue on the inside. Those zebra stripes went all around the entire interior!

We did a bit of window shopping after the visiting the cathedral. Orvieto is known for it's pottery and olive wood. I wanted to buy everything I saw, but in typical Carly fashion, decided to check it all out and come back later for my favorites. Unfortunately, that plan backfired (as it often does) when all the stores closed from 1-3 for their Italian version of a siesta. Our train left before the stores reopened, and I went home empty handed. Oh well, I'll just have to dream about that enormous rolling pin.

Orvieto was a dream come true for me. It was everything I'd hoped for in a quiet Italian town. I told Jeff that if he wanted to drop everything and move there, I'd do it. In a heartbeat.

By the time we got back to Rome, we had just enough time to grab some dinner and go on an evening stroll. We walked through Piazza Navona by night, and made our way to a top rated gelato shop nearby. Although it was a bit chilly and wet, we enjoyed our chocolate dipped gelato then finished our walk past the scaffolded Trevi fountain (under renovation) and the Pantheon. I couldn't have asked for a more perfect day.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Rome - A Mini Country

Dear family,

I miss you so much! Every time I see a little boy or girl I just wish I could hug you RIGHT NOW! I am sad our trip will be over soon, but I can't wait to see you again!

We made it to Italy yesterday and the weather is beautiful! I wish it would stay, but it looks like rain tomorrow. :( We walked around a little bit last night and found the colosseum all lit up at night. It was really beautiful.

Today we went to the Vatican, which is where the Pope lives. The Pope is the leader of the Catholic Church. There is a really REALLY big church there named after the apostle Peter. There's also a chapel whose ceiling was painted by Michelangelo!

[I convinced Jeff to download the Rick Steve's audio tour of St. Peter's Basilica. He hates looking like a tourist, so walking around with headphones was pushing it. We listened to several of Rick's audio tours in Rome, but this was by far the best. St. Peter's is absolutely fascinating. First of all, it's enormous. This photo is taken just inside the front doors, and the bronze alter is 2 football fields away. The alter itself is 7 stories high! Despite it's size, everything is designed to make the basilica feel smaller and more intimate than it really is. When Rick told me the letters around the base of the dome (...GNI CAELORVM TV ES PETRVS...) were 7 feet high, I was really skeptical. Even when I was standing right below them I couldn't believe they were that big.

But then I took this picture and zoomed in on my screen, only to realize that there were people up there! Once I saw the letters in comparison to the people, sure enough, they are huge!

My zoom lens came in handy at St. Peter's. I couldn't make out the image at the top of the dome. It mostly looked like a blur. I had to use my longest focal length (200mm) and then zoom in digitally on the back of my camera just to make it out.]

These pictures are the views from the top of the big church. We had to take an elevator AND climb 360 steps to get up that high!

[Back on the ground, we finished our audio tour with a description of the St. Peter's square (which is actually an ellipse). I remember loving this square from my first trip to Italy 15 years ago. It has so many neat geometrical and mathematical features. Also, we had just watched Angels and Demons to get ready for our trip, so we were able to point out things we remembered from the movie.]

[After the Vatican, we picked up some pasta and gelato, then caught a bus to Trastevere. Here we did another walking tour, which although less interesting (I thought) than the Vatican, took us to some beautiful parts of Rome. The streets were incredible--tiny, meandering alleyways with ancient cobblestones and green EVERYWHERE! The Italians do not have a word for "privacy," and it shows as you walk down the street and see how they share everything, even their intimate laundry.]

[We finished up the day in the Jewish Ghetto, a place with a unique history and a fetish for artichokes. Artichokes have been my favorite vegetable since I was a kid, so I was dying when I saw whole bouquets of them in front of restaurants. Later I got a chance to try a "Jewish" artichoke, which is essentially a deep fried artichoke. It was pretty good, but I like my own style better.]

Love you!!
Mom and Dad

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Paris - Old and New

Hi guys! Are you excited that grandma is there?! I hope your blue and gold banquet went well, Logan. I can't wait to hear all about it.

Today we spent some time shopping in Paris. We went to a flea market where people were selling really old things, kind of like a garage sale but with antiques. We saw lots of cool old toys, sewing machines, paintings, dishes and furniture. One person was even selling tons of beads! [There were so many incredible things that I wanted to take home, but my suitcase and wallet limited my expenditures. Even though everything was second hand, the prices were pretty still pretty high. Instead, I took lots of pictures and made them my souvenirs.]

As we left the flea market, we saw someone that looked just like Santa Claus! He was wearing shorts and sandals, even though it was freezing. Maybe Santa doesn't think it's very cold because here compared to the North Pole. :) Do you think it was really him?

We explored a lot today and found some fun shops and lots of yummy food. Remember how Tiana makes beignets in princess and the frog? We've been eating lots and they are SO delicious. [I really wanted to find a glass covered passageway that Paris is known for. I looked one up, found the approximate location, and then led a group of us to that spot. This was our last afternoon in Paris and I was desperate to find this last spot on my bucket list. It had been raining off and on, and the others were tired, but I was determined. We got to the place on my map, but couldn't find it. We walked down the street and turned to the right. Someone pointed up and I saw a broken, dirty glass roof above the street. Really? THAT was it? We walked down the short, deserted alleyway, then decided to find a place to eat nearby. After lunch, our group split and headed different directions, but Jeff (being the super supportive husband of his crazy travel wife) and I decided to go look one more time. We came back to the first street and looked down it again. Just a few feet beyond where we had stopped and on the opposite side of the street as the abandoned alley was the Passage du Grand Cerf. THIS was what I had been looking for! We missed it by a few feet and turning our heads the wrong direction! I absolutely loved this street. The glass ceiling sheltered us from the rain and created the most beautiful light. Each of the stores in the passage were unique and had an artisan feel. I could have spent all day window shopping there.]

[At the other end of the Passage du Grand Cerf was a charming street full of flowers, bakeries, delis and people. The rain let up and we took our time wandering, stopping to grab a big bag of beignets to take with us when we left the next morning. This was easily my favorite day in Paris.]

Tomorrow we go to Italy. Hopefully it's a little warmer there. I love you and miss you!

Mom and Dad

Paris - Cathedrals and Crossbones

We went to Notre Dame this morning to see the beautiful cathedral where the hunchback lived (not in real life, but in the story). It had beautiful stained glass on the inside. 

We also went to a huge shopping mall (Galeries Lafayette) with a big glass roof and lots of cute things. It was too expensive to buy anything [we're talking $800 for a little girl's dress], but here are some of the clothes we saw that made me think of you. 

We then went underground to a place where they had buried tons and TONS of bones! It was crazy to see so many bones all stacked up. 

And lastly, we went to the biggest art museum in the world, the Louvre. We got to see lots of amazing art, including the Mona Lisa. 

[The Louvre felt like a museum version of Ikea. It wound you through lots of rooms and hallways until you were hopelessly lost and couldn't get out. Your best bet was to keep moving in the same direction until you found an exit, and try to absorb the priceless art collection surrounding you as you went. It was impossible to see everything, but we hit up most of the highlights. My favorite was the gigantic Coronation of Napoleon (33 ft x 22 ft). It's original hanging place was at Versailles (which we visited yesterday). The painting has references to Notre Dame and to St. Peter's Basilica. This one painting seemed to connect all points of our European adventure.] 

It rained a lot today and was super cold, so we're hoping tomorrow is warmer! I wish I could hug and kiss you right now! Be good for Aunt Paige, especially because she isn't feeling well. Have a fun Saturday tomorrow!