Colosseum and Vatican city

Today we had a couple of walking tours scheduled for the morning, the first was at the Colosseum. Our tour guide gave us a detailed explanation of everything from how it was built to how the gladiators were chosen. Then we were given a little bit of time to go check out the enormous arena on our own. Here are a few of the pictures we took.

only one of these arches is original, the rest have been reconstructed

After the Colosseum our guide took us to check out some old Roman ruins across the street. These included a vestile villa, the place where Caesar was cremated, and emperor Tiberius’ house. It was amazing to see how well-preserved everything was. Even today it all still looks massive.

After a short lunch we headed over to the Vatican City to take a tour of the Vatican museums. Our guide started out by explaining to us the details of everything we were going to see inside, before we even got there. This was because once we got inside there were so many people that it was hard to stay together. We were able to see numerous galleries with famous paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and even some old roman artifacts like bathtubs. Eventually we were able to make our way through the crowd to the Sistine Chapel where we were blown away by the beautiful ceiling and walls. It wasn’t quite as big as we expected, but it was still amazing. Then we went into St. Peter’s Basilica which was just as beautiful as the chapel. We weren’t allowed to take photos in the Sistine Chapel, but here are some photos from the camera-friendly basilica.

the basilica dome

After a long day of walking and waiting in lines, we headed back to the hotel. Tomorrow we fly to Sicily.

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Rome

We had some quality bus time today… 7 hours to be exact. Our drive took us from Venice to Rome. We stopped twice for bathroom and food and watched ‘The Italian Job’ which was filmed partly in Venice. Once we got to our Rome hotel we headed out on a walking tour of the city with our guide. We stopped at the Spanish Steps (they call it a square not steps here), the Pantheon, the Senate building, the Trevi Fountain and many more places. Our guide tried to convince us that locals use the steps as their meeting place of origin if they want to go out with friends, but we found this very hard to believe since the steps are covered with tourists sitting on them and taking pictures. The Spanish embassy is around the corner and apparently the designer,Valentino lives there as well.

The Trevi fountain was beautiful. The legend is that if you throw a coin into the fountain it means you will return to Rome. If you throw a second coin then you will find your true love. We threw in several dollars worth just to be safe. haha

The Parthenon was amazing as well. It’s massive. The roof has a giant hole in the middle, which was put there to collect rain water.

Tomorrow is our last day with our tour. It seems like we have done 3 months worth of sightseeing in only 2 weeks. The time has flown by and we haven’t completely absorbed it all quite yet!

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Venice

Up bright and early again this morning we took a train from our hotel to venice and then a private boat to San Marco (the main plaza of Venice). We went and saw a glass blowing demonstartion at one of the famed Murano glass makers. It was amazing how quickly he could deisign a piece while the glass was cooling.

Next we went on a guided walking tour of the city. We learned all about the history and many offerings that the city has. Venice is famous for it’s Murano glass; Murano is one of the islands in Venice; and hand painted Carnival Masks. Venice is made up of hundreds of small islands connected through a series of canals and bridges. It’s really amazing to see the houses which essentially rise from the water.

bridge of sighs

We had the afternoon to explore on our own. Unfortunately the weather didn’t agree and it was pouring rain for most of the day. We checked out the many small shops and had a long lunch, then miraculously the skies cleared for our gondola ride before dinner.

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Lake Garda, Sirmione and Verona

We traveled to Lake Garda today. It’s Italy’s largest lake and extends up to the Switzerland border. We took a cruise from one side of the lake to the other. In the middle of the lake is a small private island owned by the Count of Cavazza family. There is a large castle on the island.

Our cruise took us to the town of Sirmione where we spent several hours exploring. There are ruins of a Roman villa at the end of the town.

And a castle in the middle of the town, with a functional moat. There were even duck and swam families living in it.

After lunch we headed to Verona, the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. It is home to a Roman arena (similar to the Colosseum but slightly smaller).

We walked to the infamous house and balcony of Juliet. The walls of the courtyard entrance are covered in colorful graffiti love letters and initials that people have written over the years. Apparently years ago, people would leave their love letters in the cracks of the bricks, however recently it has been sealed over with plaster, so now people just write on the walls.

 

We were told that by touching the right breast of the Juliet statue in the courtyard under the balcony, will bring you good luck.

 

We walked around Verona, checked out their church and large elevated tombs of their former rulers and then headed to Venice.

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Milano

We’re in the fashion capital of the world!! Today was really overcast and rainy, so we started off the morning by going to the Sforzesco Castle. Currently it is home to a museum with an art collection which includes Michelangelo’s last (unfinished) sculpture, the Rondanini Pieta, Andrea Mantegna’s Trivulzio Madonna and Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Trivulzianus manuscript. This museum was one of our favorites so far. It was not overly large, however the castle itself was part of the museum, since the walls and ceilings were all painted. In each room we were given a paper describing what was in the room and a brief history of it… in ENGLISH! None of the museums or galleries in Florence had this and if I could write them a suggestion, it would be to include that in the future!

Da Vinci

Michealangelo

Next we went to the Milan Duomo, the main cathedral in Milan. It is magnificent. The Gothic cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete. It is the fourth largest cathedral in the world and by far the largest in Italy.

We had sushi for lunch, at Armani. It was delicious and a good change from the constant flow of pastas and breads here. After lunch we walked through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II which has a ton of shops and is home to the famous bull mosaic. The tradition goes that placing your right heel on the bull’s balls and then spinning around inside the Turin emblem, brings good luck.

 

After the bull and some shopping, we walked through Milan to the old Medieval part and saw one of the churches. It was a drastic difference than the cathedral. Much simpler for sure. We had a group dinner tonight and had some risotto which is a specialty in Milan, as well as some veal (or eggplant) Parmesan. Yummy!

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Pisa & La spezia

Today we went to see the leaning tower of Pisa. Welp, it’s leaning alright. There are 3 buildings in the town square, one of which is the leaning tower which Galileo used to conduct his experiments from. Apparently years ago the tower was sinking further into the ground and they had to inject the soil to make it harder to essentially lift the tower back to its original leaning degree.

here you go dad!

After Pisa we headed to the Province of La Spezia which is located between Genoa and Pisa on the Ligurian Sea and is one of the main Italian military and commercial harbors. Once in La Spezia we traveled down to Porto Venere, which has a Castle and small village. The area is famous for it’s pesto, so of course we had to sample it on foccacia bread for lunch. It was really good, but a little too salty for us.

After lunch we took a ferry ride along the coast to one of the Cinque Terre villages (there are 5 small villages along the coast), another small town in the area. We walked through the narrow streets and looked at the shops and the beach. Unfortunately it started raining, so these little fishes stayed out of the water.

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Florence

We finally got to sleep in this morning… 8:30 am wake up call! Our group went to a leather shop as our first stop. There, we learned about the Florence jewelry boxes that are hand made in the area. The process itself takes several weeks and even more depending on the size of the box. They begin by covering a wooden mold with raw cowhide that has been soaked in water to soften it. Then the cowhide is dried in a low heat oven. This causes the cowhide to shrink and harden into the shape of the box. They repeat this process adding more layers to the box to get its desired thickness. It is made as a single piece, using small peg nails that stay in the leather. Once all of the layers are in place, they can paint it and shine it with wax. The last step is to cut the 3 sides into the box to create the opening and leave a natural hinge. Then the original wooden mold is taken out and the box is finished. Quite the process. Also we learned that leather doesn’t actually have a smell… it’s cow skin, so since skin has no odor, the typical leather smell is that of the cleaning chemicals  and paints used on the leather.

After the leather shop we headed into one of the town squares to take a walking tour of the city. We started in the city center, where the Medici family castle is. In the square outside of the castle (which is now a municipal building and museum) are hundreds of statues. These statues range in size from the David replica which is 17 feet tall, to the small bust statues of the Medicis themselves. One could spend an entire day in that square alone looking at the different sculptures and the detailing of the castle itself.

Our tour guide took us around the area, giving a brief history lesson and pointing out attractions we may want to check out during our free time. It was neat to hear about how Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinici, Micchiavelli,  and Galileo all lived under the same roof in the Medici family castle at the time. Apparently Da Vinci and Michelangelo hated each other.  After the tour we went to the Galleria degli Uffizi. This Museum is home to thousands of works of art mostly from the Renaissance period. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in the museum, but here are some of the statues that were outside.

After the Uffizi, we walked around for a bit and checked out some of a churches. Then we went to see The David which is housed in a separate museum. We were shocked at the size of the actual piece in real life. It’s massive. Again, no pictures because we didn’t want to get arrested! After hours of walking, our feet were killing us, so we went back to the hotel and rested than grabbed some pizza at a little cafe restaurant.

Ponte Vecchio (old bridge)

brail map of florence

No jersey shore sightings today, although we did find the pizza place that they are working at

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