Happy (Belated) Birthday!

In CategoryFamily

Happy Birthday to my daughter!


I’m embarrassed to say that this birthday wish is now over a month old.  Better late than never, I say!

When my first child (daughter) was born, I had no idea how she would change my life in the most positive way.

I fell instantly in love with her the moment our eyes met.  She had the most ruby-red lips, downy soft hair, and lovely pink skin.

To this day, she still is the most beautiful little baby girl I have ever seen!

She let the world know she had arrived, by the wails drifting down the halls of the hospital, while the nurses bathed her and checked her vitals.   My little baby girl and I were inseparable.  She was so adorable and fascinating.

Now I get to watch my adult daughter venture out into the world and share her beauty, brilliance, devotion, humor and energy, with all who are lucky enough to get to know her.  People love her.  She makes me so proud, because there is nothing that can hold her adventurous spirit back.

This birthday I decided to use my new found time to make her something special.  After our trip to Italy, I was inspired by the stunning stained glass in the cathedrals.  Knowing that my daughter exudes charm, multi-facets and  radiance, much as the stained glass, I knew a stained glass quilt would be perfect for her.

She was completely surprised by this very personal gift from me.

Surprise!

So here’s to a sparkling year ahead, that is filled with a multitude of  splendid moments.

I love you so very much honey!

Mom

Day 15: Arrivederci Italy … Buon Giorno America!

In CategoryTravels, Uncategorized

Travel Day Home

Today started very, very, early … before 5:00 a.m.  The hotel was kind enough to pack us a breakfast to go.  We sleepily got on the coach one last time and were driven by our adept, and faithful driver Benito to the airport, Fiumicino Leonardo da Vinci.

Along the way, I reflected on this trip of a lifetime and knew I would always cherish the experiences and memories created here.   I did rub the nose of the Porcellino – little pig, which folklore says I shall return to Florence some day.  Woo hoo!

Santo cielo, (good heavens) Italy was far more than I ever imagined.   I hope you enjoyed my blog of this spectacular trip.

Molti bacios!  (Many kisses)

little kisses

Ciao bella! (Goodbye beautiful)

buon giorno Stati Uniti

P.S.  Remember in one of my first blog posts of this trip, referring to the plane ride,  I said that “my soft Target pants ended up looking like stretched out toddler clothing, while so many of the other lovely ladies on board were in their high heels and skin tight clothing, and full-on make-up … maybe on the way back home.”

Well … although I wasn’t in my stretched out toddler pants this time, I certainly didn’t get all “dolled up” either.  Oh well … maybe next trip.

Italy Day 14: Vatican City and Rome

In CategoryTravels

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Vatican City

Today we had an early start, as we were going to spend time in Vatican City in Rome.  It’s the weirdest thing that Vatican City is really a country, is completely protected by a very tall stone wall, and is situated smack dab in the middle of Rome.  To get to it, we climbed a long staircase, and then luckily, bypassed the hundreds of tourists who were waiting to get in.

stairway to (heaven) Vatican City

Vatican Museum

Before we entered the Vatican Museum, there were some beautiful views of courtyard gardens where Popes have enjoyed a stroll, and views of St. Peter’s Basilica, where the Pope delivers his sermons.


The Vatican Museum beholds some of the most magnificent pieces of art … fit for a Pope. These ceilings were particularly striking!

There were statues of angel children holding ducks (some significance associated with death?), and a statue of fertility too. I’ll let you guess what part of the anatomy makes the fertility statue so fertile. Ha!  That’ll do it!

The tapestry room really caught my interest. Each of these were hand made using silk / wool. They were massive in size and the pictures on them were very detailed.

In the tapestry on the right, Jesus’s arm, and eyes move as well as the stone he’s standing on, as you walk by. It’s a particular style of art that plays visual tricks on you. I swear I walked past that tapestry over and over, and every single time, those aforementioned parts on the tapestry followed me. Spooky … yet fascinating!

hall of maps ~ Vatican Museum

The map room had such a magnificent ceiling with old maps of different parts of the world. Oh the talent that was depicted through these maps. They were so glorious.

This long, long, hallway was so regal, and a part of it is roped off for the Pope to use.

Vatican, but looks like the hallway to see the wizard in the Emerald City

There was a long line to get into the Sistine Chapel, luckily we were special and were able to bypass this long line and get right on in … but not through these special heavy doors that are only opened for special celebrations.

Here are a few photos looking out towards the square. This is the area where people sit to hear the Pope speak.

where the Pope speaks to the masses

Pope's residence overlooking square

If you look to the right side of this photo, the second window from the right on the second floor, is where the Pope resides. He certainly has a nice view of everything below.

Sistine Chapel

We entered the Sistine Chapel at our appointment time.  I was amazed that it really wasn’t all that big … or as big as my own mind had imagined.  The frescoes were so magnificent.  Having the opportunity to “feel” the beauty of this exquisite art is difficult to put into words.  Because photos are not allowed, the following are credited to wiki.

Sistine Chapel Ceiling

It took Michelangelo only four years to complete these frescoes which were completed in 1512.  Each one tells a story.  Because one of the Popes thought some of the paintings were indecent, he had another artist cover up some of the private parts.  That artist guy is known as the “underwear artist.”  Hilarious!

My favorite panel is one of the “Creation of Man.”  Oooh, can you feel its beauty?  Magnificent!  Michelangelo is my favorite artist of all time!  Love all of this!

Michelangelo's Creation of Man ~ Sistine Chapel

St. Peter’s Basilica

Our next stop was just a few steps away … St. Peter’s Basilica. This was named after one of Jesus’s twelve apostles. Ralph Waldo Emerson described St. Peter’s as an “ornament of the earth … the sublime of the beautiful.” I couldn’t agree more!

This monstrous beauty is situated on 5.7 acres and has the capacity to hold 60,000 people. The shape is that of a crucifix with four great piers. The outside is guarded by 13 travertine statues on the rooftop.

St. Peter's Basilica ~ Vatican

Michelangelo contributed to the design of this Basilica, and especially the dome.  It is so massive that when we looked up and saw a guard walking around the top, he looked the size of an ant.  The letters at the very top are six feet tall, if that gives you some perspective.  People are simply swallowed up and dwarfed by the enormity of this place!

dome in St. Peter's that seems to shrink people


Here are some of the intricately carved statues inside St. Peter’s.

Two very important structures inside the Basilica are the baldachin, or large canopy made of bronze, and St. Peter’s chair, both designed by Bernini.   The baldachin structure covers the main alter.  St. Peter’s tomb is below this.  The twisted columns signify the post that Jesus was crucified on.  The second structure, or St. Peter’s chair is surrounded by so much art that it’s hard to actually see the chair.

baldachin

St. Peter's chair

The most elegant piece of art is housed in the Chapel of “Pieta,” which in Italian means “pity”. This beautiful sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding the body of Christ was done by Michelangelo. It was carved out of a single slab of marble, and is the only piece of his art that was signed by him. I love this piece and was mesmerized by the feeling it gave me. I could of pulled up a chair (if there was one) and stared at this magnificent art forever!

Michelangelo's Pieta (Pity)

Michelangelo portrayed a much younger Virgin Mary than the 40-50 year old one portrayed by all the other artists.  Her face is serene and almost at peace with the fate of her only son. He said he thought of his own mother, who died when he was five, while sculpting this.  Michelangelo was only 24 years old at the time of this work.  The Pieta left a lasting impression with me as a gorgeous sculpture portraying human suffrage.

When we exited St. Peter’s we saw two of the Swiss Guards who were guarding the area.  These young men have flare, and sport uniforms designed by Michelangelo himself.  Molto attraente.

Swiss Guards

After a quick lunch of lasagna, we boarded the coach and went over to the Colosseum.

Colosseum

Once again, we were lucky enough to spot another bride and groom in Rome.  They were taking photos right outside the Colosseum.

bride and groom at the Colosseum

We walked directly beyond the imperial Arch of Constantine, which commemorates one of his victories, in order to get to the Colosseum.

Arch of Constantine

The Colosseum is a magnificent landmark of Roman history.  This ancient amphitheater was completed in AD 80 and was part of Nero’s great park in central Rome.  There were numerous “fake” gladiators strolling around the exterior. They charged about 30 Euros ($40 American) to get a photo with them, so being the thrifty gal that I am, I simply took a photo of them when they weren’t looking.  Ha Ha!
Once inside, I was taken aback by its enormity. There were four stories in the Colosseum, with the top one for the poor (think “rock pile” at the Rockie’s baseball games) and the lower story for the wealthy. It gave me an eerie feeling … one of sadness, since there were executions, and so many lives that were lost there for the sake of public entertainment.

underground structures of Colosseum

There was a big, simple cross just inside one of the entrances.

Gladiators were often slaves, criminals, or prisoners of war. They engaged in contests, battled one another, and slayed animals (or got slain by them). Animals, held captive in the lower structure in cages before the show, killed one another for public enjoyment.  Eww! Macabre entertainment!

outside Colosseum, this gypsy beggar made me sad

On the way back to the hotel, we passed the Circus Maximus, where public games like chariot races were held for the masses.

Circus Maximus

After a little shopping, we had our final dinner with the group at Cassanova, a “Casa Bonita” type of Italian restaurant in the heart of Roma. There was an ear-shattering Italian opera singer which was just over the top.

farewell dinner with friends at Cassanova (Casa Bonita)

Took lots of group pictures and rushed off to bed, although some of our party friends stayed up much later celebrating Italy. Our wake up call was 5:00 a.m. so we needed our beauty sleep!

Yippee … home tomorrow!

Bravissiomo!

Italy Day 13: Tarquinia and Roma

In CategoryTravels

Friday, June 11, 2010

Tarquinia

This morning we left Chianciano Terme and headed for Tarquinia, in the northern Lazio region of Italy.  There we visited Etruscan tombs and Tarquinia’s Archeological Museum on the way to Rome.


There were many rounded “hut”-looking hills, at the Etruscan Necropolis (large burial site). Under each of these mounds was a tomb. There were a handful that we were allowed to view by walking down steep stairs, and observing through a glass window.

frescoes in Etruscan tomb

There were frescoes painted on the walls depicting life from the time of this ancient civilization dating back to 2nd – 6th century BC.  About 60 of the 6,000 discovered tombs contain paintings inside them.

Tarquinia ~ tower

After this, we went up the hill to the Archaeological Museum. There were many artifacts like bowls and vases, as well as many sarcophagi made of limestone and marble.  Sadly, our local tour guide was so boring that we were almost falling asleep, for lack of excitement.


After the museum, we ate lunch on the patio outside a pizzeria/ deli. I chose a tomato, artichoke, mushroom and “rocket” pizza. I had no idea what “rocket” was, it just looked like healthy greens. Since I declared myself to be a risk-taking-try-something-new type of gal on this trip, I ordered this pizza. The taste was peppery and slightly bitter, but along with the other veggies, my pizza tasted great! The best part was the price … 2.50 Euros for two slices of pizza and 70 cents for a Coke purchased at the little grocery store next door.  Ole!   Oh yes … I later learned that “rocket” is just another name for arugula. Hmmm.

I took a few photos of a group of Italian teenagers who just got out of school for siesta. This is a time when most Italians take a 3-4 hour break in the middle of the day to have lunch and rest. I’m convinced that kids are just kids no matter what country you’re in.

Italian kids just out from school

Rome

Our final stop for the day was Rome!  The city of so much ancient history.  On the ride in we saw a McDonalds restaurant … really?…  a McDonalds in Rome?  (I hate to admit that we did stop in at another McDonalds just to enjoy some salty french fries and a Coke).

McDonalds Rome style

Our hotel was the Hotel Cicerone, in the center part of Rome.  Not much to look at even if we did have a small balcony looking onto a depressing courtyard.  Fortunately, we spent minimal time there … sleep and a shower!  We immediately departed the hotel to go exploring the entire afternoon and evening.

Hotel Cicerone

The first place on our list of attractions was the Spanish Steps.  The roadway (think Rodeo Drive) directly leading to this was lined with high-end Italian shopping like Gucci, Prada, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, and Versace among others.  I felt like “Pretty Woman” before she got the high end make-over (out of place).  The Spanish steps are the largest and widest steps in all of Europe.  There is a fountain at the bottom in the Piaza di Spagna, that was made by Bernini.

Spanish Steps

We took some random Rome photos along the way to the tourist attractions.


The lower right photograph is of chestnuts roasting. Somehow this wasn’t so appealing on a 90 + degree day, but it was quite interesting anyway.

Our next stop was Trevi Fountain, which is so famous for its large Baroque style and “Taming the Water” theme. Oh yeah… also for the coin tossing. This fountain was absolutely gorgeous! What a magnificent piece of art. It was so crowded around that area, it was hard to get a decent picture without other pushy tourists stepping into your photo. This fountain was a built by Salvi, but was based on the designs of Bernini almost a century prior to its completion year of 1762.  Molto Bella!

Trevi Fountain

Here are the throngs of people surrounding Trevi Fountain. Whoa!

crowded Trevi Fountain

We continued our self-guided exploration of Rome over to the Pantheon, which is a temple to all ancient Roman Gods, and is used as a church today.  Its architecture is very unique and has a rotunda which is believed to be an arched vault to the heavens.  Up at the top of this is an oculus (center open to the sky).  This dome is the largest unsupported concrete dome in the world, making it an architectural marvel.  Inside are niches of art and paintings.  Since the Renaissance,  the Pantheon is used to hold sarcophagi, which includes Raphael, the famous Italian painter, alongside his fiance’.  There are also two kings, a queen, a composer and an architect entombed here as well.

Pantheon oculus (open center to the sky)

As in many other Italian buildings, the art, sculptures, paintings and marble flooring are amazing.


I’m still a little grossed out at the number of deceased bodies entombed and on public display all over Italy. Just a different way of honoring their loved ones I suppose.

Raphael's tomb

Just a little trivia … Did you know that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were all named after famous Italian artists?  Micheangelo – sculpter, Raphael – painter, Donatello – sculpter and Leonardo (da Vinci) – inventor/ painter.  My middle son played with these characters during his childhood and I didn’t even know their name significance until this trip.

Our final destination today was at the Piazza Navona, where Bernini’s famous and brilliant Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) is located in the center of the square.  This fountain has figures as personifications  of the four rivers:  Nile, Ganges, Danube, and lastly the Rio della Plata.  These figures surround the obelisk center.

Fountain of the Four Rivers ~ Piazza Navona

Fontana di Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune) one of two side fountains in Piazza Navona

Long, long ago, this square was an arena for athletic contests and chariot races, for entertainment.  Today, it hosts street performers and artists as well as many sidewalk cafes for relaxation and dining.


Clockwise from top left: street performer dressed as a tree passing a crystal ball, vegetables being intricately carved into flowers etc…, man dressed up as a soldier statue, and a close-up look at the Fountain of the Four Rivers.

dome inside Sant'Angese Basilica in Piazza Navona

In the piazza is Sant’Angese Basilica Church, which was designed by Borromini, a rival of Bernini.  The inside dome was painted so intricately and detailed, it was very breathtaking.

We were lucky enough to capture a picture of a bride and groom in Rome in the Piazza Navona. This is one of two brides we were able to get a photo of.

another happy bride and groom

Tonight we joined in with another two Australian couples and had dinner at a little cafe just off the main square.  We asked if there was a cover charge, which is very common in Italy, and the waiter assured us there was not.  After dinner, we noticed that he had tacked on a surcharge and then aggressively demanded that we tip him on top of that.  We refused to do so since he lied to us.  The meal wasn’t fabulous, and his attitude was super bad, but he still made a handsome (hidden) tip despite it all.  Oh well, we had a lovely dinner with the other couples, the ambiance was nice, so it still was fun.

dinner with the Aussies off Piazza Navona


Walking back to our hotel, we had many lovely views of the Tiber River, a carousel and gelateria along its banks, as well as the Castel Sant’ Angelo (Castle of the Angels) along the right bank of the river.
This castle was super old, and was finished in 139 AD. How’s that for some ancient history?  Our hotel was just down the street from the elaborate government building.
Well it’s off to bed so that we can rest up for our last day in Rome. We’ll be visiting another country … Vatican City!

Ciao a tutti!