We spent a good amount of time in Italy. There were so many historic things to see. To me, Italy equals history. I also consider it a turning point in my life - after Italy, my transformation through the journey was really more complete.
Getting to Italy
Switzerland borders several countries, one of which is Italy. On the other side of the mountains, the boundaries are technically Switzerland, but the culture is more Italy.
We were going to spend the night in this one town. However, it was a tourist town, and everything was very expensive. One grocery store we went to had three clerks per section - one clerk to speak each language. We decided we couldn't afford to stay.
So, after a long day, we went back to the train station. A storm came in. It didn't just rain, it hailed. Lots of hail coming down on us. We looked at the train schedule. Basically, whatever train comes next, that's what we take. We took a train to Italy.
It was an interesting experience,
this train ride. We slept on the train. We went to bed in a
German speaking country, with German food and German currency. We
woke up in Italy - Italian language, Italian food, and Italian
Making that transition was difficult at first - we kept thinking in German - after all, we had just finally deciphered German foods, now we have to decipher Italian foods. We woke up to a whole different world.
First stop was the Coliseum. It is incredible how big that thing is. It is as big as any modern amphitheater.
Wandering through Roman Ruins, and the Parthenon
To get into the city we took the bus. We had grown tired of the bus and decided to get off and walk. I'm glad we did. We saw the best stuff walking around. (Actually, this was often the case - which I'll talk about at the end of all my European trip)
In Italy, history is everywhere. Ruins are here, there, around every corner. Most of the time there are no signs. There is no focus to it, it is just there. The Italians feel no need to advertise - the ruins have been there, always were there, who needs a sign?
We wandered the streets of Rome and found some Roman ruins. We weren't sure what we were looking at, but I found it interesting, and took a few pictures.
We stumbled upon the Parthenon. Really. We weren't searching for it, there were no signs, it was just there. We wandered the streets, turned the corner, and voila!
There it was.
Of course it is a beautiful building, inside and out.
The next trip we took was to the Vatican. Yes, the Vatican is quite impressive. You need a whole day dedicated to that area.
The Sistine Chapel was most impressive. I agree with others who've seen it who classify it as "busy". It is busy. I don't know what you have learned about it, but I got the impression of just a few pictures on the ceiling. No, this is a lot of pictures on the ceiling.
The ceiling, the walls, everywhere. It looked like a wall and ceiling covered with postage stamps. Busy, busy, busy. But each painting is good.
He painting the ceiling. And the ceiling is curved. Two major difficulties. But he did it.
I know Michelangelo worked hard, and yes, each painting itself is good. But the ceiling? It is way up there. And how to see? Since when do you lie on your back in a church?
Each painting is good. I think they are too good to be on the ceiling. I took lots of pictures - so now I don't have to strain my neck to look closely.
Greek Statues in Vatican
There is one other painting in the Vatican which I found very, very impressive. These were paintings of Greek Statues which looked very real.
Greek statues. Think for a moment. When I walked into this place, I saw statues. I really thought the room was full of Greek statues. No, they were paintings of statues. The texture, the shadows, were so real. I still can't believe a 2-dimensional painting can look so three-dimensional. I took a picture.
This made me think, and I still emphasize this - about the talent. There are so many artists in the last 100 years, a lot of them paint garbage, and think they are innovative. These were painted hundreds of years ago, and are the most realistic paintings I've ever seen. Even after all these years, I think these may be the most realistic paintings anywhere. Hence, again, I believe in teaching about things that people might not know - so others can see great things they didn't know exist. This is one of them.
Siesta and fountains
Italians take a siesta, a break, every afternoon. For an hour or two each afternoon, stores close, and everyone takes off work. This happens in the warmer countries, like Italy and Mexico, to take a break in the heat of the afternoon. It works out well.
I found it interesting that fountains are a big part of the Italian culture. Fountains are everywhere. This is not only decorative, but practical. During the afternoon breaks, Italians would gather round the fountain - getting cooled by the water, sitting to rest their bodies, and lots of conversation.
Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius
Pompeii is very impressive. It was only recently excavated. The ashes preserved things perfectly for 2000 years.
It looks like a modern city. There are city streets, apartments, and mosaics. There are pictures - paintings and mosaics - of the people. They look very modern, really. The streets have indentations from carriages. The buildings could be any town around the world.
The color of everything is still intact, as are most of the buildings, and many paintings. How intact everything is - that was impressive.
The size is also very impressive. It is a real city. I know you've heard of Pompeii, but you have no idea how big it is. The city is far larger than I imagined.
I have several pictures. One of
which is a picture of Pompeii's amphitheater. The amphitheater,
by the way, was very modern - with multiple entrances, just like
a modern arena. In the back, Mt. Vesuvius - the same volcano that
buried the city 2000 years ago.
Speaking of Mt. Vesuvius - I climbed that mountain. Yes, I went up Mt. Vesuvius and took a look around. I can't believe I did that. I've got lots of photos.
Train strike and Palermo
We heard talk of a train strike, and headed for Palermo. Indeed there was a train strike, so we couldn't go anywhere. It was a nice little town, on the coast.
There was one disadvantage - the
stores were closed and we didn't have any food. We had to wait a
day to get fed. But it was a nice place to rest until the train
strike was over.
Change of plans: Greece and Turkey - not today
Our original plans were to go to
Greece and Turkey. However, bombing of Americans on boats there
made us change our mind. Not today.
Actually, I'm glad we didn't go, I wanted to spend more time in the northern areas.
Naples and Bologna
Naples and Bologna are worth seeing. They may not stand out in your mind as places to visit, or of historic items, but they are. These cities were part of the Italian Renaissance, and it shows.
Bologna has a leaning tower. I'll bet you didn't know that. It does. Actually, there are two towers. I climbed up one and got a good view from there. This is the whole point of towers - man has always wanted to build them to view from. All the roofs are a pretty red.
We saw the statue of David by
Michelangelo. I've got a good picture of it.
Most people know Pisa for it's leaning tower, but there is more. The lawn area with the tower also has other magnificent buildings.
This was one of the few cities,
the few areas, which felt like a tourist spot. Lots of people and
lots of vendors - vendors selling little trinkets of everything.
I should mention that it took us a lot of walking - a lot of walking - to get from the train to the Leaning Tower. I suggest paying for a taxi.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is impressive. Yes, it is leaning. It looks like it will fall over.
You've probably read or heard
about it - how it started leaning right away in the soil, and how
people have tried to correct it over the years. It is clear that
it will fall over eventually.
You can also walk up the leaning tower - which is a thrill. Yes, I climbed it. I've got a picture of me up at the top.
You can go up to any of the levels - at your own risk - and lean out the windows. Unlike in the United States, no one thinks about "at your own risk" "safety of tourists" etc. It is common sense, no sign needed - go up and do what you like, but it's your responsibility. I like that, and wish we had more of that here in America.
Venice is not romantic as people claim. It is highly over-rated.
You see the pictures, and it looks beautiful, right? Well stick with the pictures. With pictures you can get the beauty without the smell.
The water carried sewage, oh yes. Living there is like living next to a sewage treatment plant. Did I destroy your romantic image? Well, being there destroyed it for me. Ug, the smell.
The buildings are right on the water, which is amazing. Now, I came from California, so I'd seen people build homes in the weirdest, most unsafe places, but on the water like this is unique even by those standards. Years later I saw in the news a raise in the tide, which flooded Venice. I could sympathize, having seen the buildings.
There is a maze. Most people know that the Labyrinth came from the ancient Greeks. Few people know that Venice has one of the largest mazes in the world.
You only know this if you wander the streets. Most people get to the main areas by boat. The streets are a maze - literally. They turn and twist and end suddenly. And all the buildings are close together, no bigger than most alleys, so they are like walls and you can't see out. If you wander the streets of Venice, you're lucky to make it out again. Better bring lots of food, and give yourself plenty of time.
There is one main attraction - St. Marcos Square. It is the only open area in all of Venice. There are lots of pigeons. No, really, I mean lots of pigeons. Years later, I saw the movie "Three Coins in a Fountain", and I laughed when they went to Venice - there are those pigeons! You can't get away from them.
The other main attraction are the gondola rides. You've seen lots of shows which show these - oh the romantic scenes. I don't think so - not with that smell. There was no way I was going to take a slow boat ride on sewage water.
That was Venice, highly over-rated but we had to see it anyway.