Postcards from Rome

When in Rome, we saw many beautiful places.   Here are a few snapshots from our lens:

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The Square opposite Capitol Hill that was designed by Michelangelo

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Victor Emmanuel Monument

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Lunch just outside The Pantheon

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Inside of The Pantheon

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Trevi Fountain

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The Spanish Steps

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Natural Christmas tree in one of Rome’s squares

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Beautiful street scene

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Taking in the cool architecture

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Blue skies

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Grand squares

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Neat fountains

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The island in the middle of the Tyber

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Street music

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Ruins were intertwined with modern buildings everywhere!

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This city park was a park of ruins

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Castel St Angelo

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St. Peter’s in the distance over The Tyber

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Castel St Angelo

Vatican City & St. Peter’s Cathedral

We visited Vatican City our third day in Rome.  Vatican City is a sovereign city-state within the city of Rome, taking up only 110 acres.  It is home to 800 people, all affiliated with the church and museum.

We were lucky to have Claudia again as our guide, to see the highlights.  With limited time in Rome, and also limited time to plan and research the trip, booking a guided tour was helpful to make sure we got the most out of it.

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View from The Vatican Museum of St. Peter’s in the distance

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The light was just beautiful in Vatican City. The buildings seen here are the galleries leading to the Sistine Chapel.

We started our tour in the Vatican Museum, holding many treasures that they have accumulated from history. The statues were impressive but I much preferred the remarkable ceilings.

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These corridors lead to the Sistine Chapel.  Many people told me they were brought to tears upon seeing Michelangelo’s greatest work.  I read the fictional novel The Agony & The Ecstasy, about Michelangelo’s life many years ago, which detailed that he was not enthused about this assignment – he hated fresco painting and preferred sculpture.  The Pope had required him to live in Rome and complete the works on St. Peter’s.  Not sure if it was that information or the hoards of people shoving us, but I thought it was just okay.  Really cool to see but I did not need any tissues.   Sorry – no photos allowed.

A guard came up to us and told Claudia that they were shutting St. Peter’s in 10 minutes due to New Years’ Eve.   He told her to hurry or we’d miss it.  Whispering a “grazie mille”, we quickly descended into the remarkable church.

If you aren’t familiar with St. Peter’s, it is a church dedicated to St. Peter, built above his grave site.   There was an original church on the same spot, but during Julius II’s reign, he wanted to make it more glorious due to it’s significant dedication and symbolism.   St. Peter was one of Jesus’s disciples, and a very important and influential one.  After Jesus’s death & resurrection, he became the natural leader and made great strides in proclaiming the message of Christianity.  He was persecuted for his teachings under Emperor Nero and when he was given death by crucifixion he requested only to be crucified upside down as he didn’t feel he deserved to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus.

One of the first things we saw within the church was Michelangelo’s pieta, a sculpture of Mother Mary holding the adult crucified Jesus on her lap.  Michelangelo sculpted this emotional masterpiece at 24 years of age.  Can you imagine?  This work of art brought me more emotion than the Sistine Chapel, it was his passion, the sculpture.

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We continued to walk around the basilica.  Notice the light coming in at every vantage point.   Full credit to the hubby for capturing this beautiful essence of the visit with our camera.

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The domes and ceiling were really impressive.  Mid-way through, Gabe said that it was the most impressive religious structured he’d ever seen.  Although I was impressed by others (see list at end of this post) , I’d have to agree.

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Upon leaving, we saw the famous Swiss guard on duty!  The volunteers come from the four Catholic cantons of Switzerland and their mission is to protect the Pope.

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After grabbing lunch, we returned back to the square for experiencing this special place once more.

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About ten minutes after we returned, the guards came, ushering every single person out of St. Peter’s Square for what we think were New Year’s Eve preparations.  So, we can officially say we were kicked out of Vatican City!!

Nonetheless, we we grateful for the visit.  What a remarkable place.

The Coliseum & Roman Forum

On our trip to Rome, visiting The Coliseum was a must.  We booked a three hour tour with Claudia to explore the Coliseum, Palantine Hill, and The Roman Forum.  All of these sites are very close together.

The metro stop Coliseo literally drops you off at this vantage point!  I loved the Christmas tree out front.

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Claudia led us efficiently through, explaining that the Coliseum is in ruins for many reasons.   When the gladiator games stopped due to rulers objecting to their bloody nature, the Coliseum wasn’t as needed so was left deserted.   Earthquakes came in 847 and 1231 which caused significant structural damage.  Finally, when St. Peter’s Basilica was being re-built by Julius II, they used all the marble from the Coliseum to build the church.

The entire thing used to be covered in white marble.   You can see below the places where the marble was attached, leaving holes once it was taken.

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She taught us about the levels of seating.  Even back then, people received a “ticket” with their section and row.  Important people such as Senators and the Imperial Family were on the bottom tier, with protective walls. Then, the upper class in the 2nd tier, the lower class in the 3rd tier, and at the top: the women.  She explained it was common for women to be impressed with the gladiators.  Thus, they were kept at the top, at quite a length.

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The lower class tier. You’ll see people cooking in the stands because these were all day events.

 

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Some of the remaining marble Senatorial seats

If you aren’t familiar with Gladiatorial Games, it is when men fight to the death to entertain the crowd.  The Gladiators are actually slaves / criminals forced to fight.  You might remember from the movie The Gladiator that Maximus was actually a Roman general who became a slave due to the vengeful rule of the Emperor.

The gladiators are unfairly weighted against soldiers with chariots and better weapons.  To keep an element of surprise, wild animals were also released during the fights.  You can see a cross section of the lower part under the main floor, which contained staging areas.

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Cross section demonstrating the area under the floor

They have built a modern floor in the Coliseum today so that you can imagine it as it were, with the underlying area revealing in the ruin of the Coliseum.

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The Coliseum was quite advanced in design.  They had sails that could protect the spectators from the harsh sunlight.

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After being impressed by the Coliseum, we continued to Palantine Hill, the seat of many ancient Roman palaces and onto the Forum.

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The arch of Constantine, in sight of The Coliseum

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A look back at the Coliseum. The Arch of Constantine is the structure in the right hand side.

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The entry arch to The Forum

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A view towards Capitol Hill

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A view of the ruins of The Roman Forum

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The mound where Julius Caesar’s body was burned/cremated

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Everywhere you looked, there was something magnificent

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You know the saying, “All Roads Lead to Rome”? This is mile marker zero in Rome.

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The arch where you exit The Forum

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Leaving The Forum

Just outside The Forum was the jail.  This is the place that Jesus’s disciples, Peter and Paul, where kept before they died.

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If you took Mr. Ward’s Latin class like me in high school, we learned a lot about Romulus & Remus, the twins who were raised by the she-wolf.  A statue stands outside Capitol Hill demonstrating this legend.

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We were really in awe of this area.   Outside of Athens & Greece, no place that we have seen compares to the vast and significant history here in Rome.

Riding In On A Broomstick: Italy’s Christmas Heroine

I thought I had completed my Christmas market circuit across Europe.  That is until we hit Rome for New Years.   On an evening stroll, we came across market stalls in Piazza Navona.

“Christmas markets!”  I exclaimed with glee.

Piazza Navona & the lights from the Christmas market

Piazza Navona & the lights from the Christmas market

Carousel & game stalls

Carousel & game stalls for children

Upon closer look, we were a little creeped out.   Witches were covering the tents, stacked in baskets, and the proprietors were waving their hands in the air, prompting them to all howl and cackle.  What the heck?  Delayed Halloween Italian-style??

Witches, everywhere!!

Witches in the air

Baskets of witches

Baskets of witches, everywhere!

A rack o witches

A rack o’ witches

We spotted a cute cappuccino ornament and got it for our travel tree to remember Italy.    When the shopkeeper responded to my bad Italian by saying, “eight”, I got the courage to ask her  in English what the meaning of the witch was.  She looked perplexed.  I indicated to the hundreds of old ladies riding brooms hanging from her booth, with puzzled eyes.

Strings of Befanas

Strings of witches

“Ah, Befana,” she said, “Good luck for New Year.”

I Googled it later.

In Italy, “Befana” is not a witch, but merely an old lady who rides a broomstick and delivers presents to good Italian children. There are many interpretations of the legend, one being that the wise men wanted to stay at her inn, but she was too busy doing the housework/sweeping.  She later realized the importance of their journey and then seeks to find Baby Jesus to deliver presents but never found him.  The story nowadays is that she searches in every house looking for Baby Jesus, leaving small presents if she doesn’t find him, as the presence of Christ is found in all children.

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The friendliest Befana we found

We bought a little broom to remember Befana.    For more interesting Christmas figures, be sure to check out Schwingen In Switzerland’s Schmultzi, St Nicolas Vigilante Style.

 

Gratitude Friday: UNESCO World Heritage List

This Gratitude Friday goes out to UNESCO.   I actually had no clue what UNESCO was before we moved to Geneva.  However, because of the sheer volume of places in Europe, it became something of note during our travels.  UNESCO helps identify and protect the places in the world that are most important to humans, both culturally and naturally.  There are currently 962 places in the world on the list.  Roughly 80% are cultural while 20% are natural.

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How wonderful that there is an organization which makes it their mission to preserve and recognize these sites?   While sites like the Notre Dame in Paris might not have trouble gaining support, think about those in underdeveloped countries like Angkor Wat in Cambodia that can now have the financial and administrative resources to preserve and protect these special sites for the world to appreciate?

And also, I wanted to express our thankfulness for being able to visit over 30 new UNESCO sites during our time as ex-pats.   This is something that neither one of us thought we would do in a 1.5 year span.   While our travels will be slowing down with our move back to the US, I wanted to find a way to archive the sites that we had been to, both before this experience, and then after.

So, I have created a page in the main menu of the blog listing Our UNESCO Tracker.  I’ll keep this up in the future as well.

Bon weekend, everyone!

 

European Fashion: The Man Bag

While I admit that I don’t quite “fit in” here when it comes to fashion, I do enjoy checking out the trends.    What’s different than the US?    Overall, men dress in more tailored gear here in Europe.     They often wear dark skinny jeans, tees, and man scarfs.     They rarely ever wear baggy clothing, polo shirts, any logo gear, or athletic shoes / clothing in public.

Today, we are going to explore the fashion phenomenon of the “man bag”.

Man bags come in many shapes and sizes.  They are prevalent across Europe.   Sometimes they are large, for carrying gym clothes and other odds and ends, and sometimes they are small, more like a purse, or as I like to call it, a “murse”.

Here are a few shots from day-to-day life in Europe so you can get an idea of the variety:

Man Bag #1.   I’d say it is more of a “murse” than a man bag.

Man Bag #2.  More of a work messenger bag.

Man Bag #3. Dublin, Ireland.  This athletic style is very popular.

Man Bag #4. Dublin, Ireland.  Another fairly common black athletic style.

Man Bag #5. Montreux, Switzerland.  Making the USA proud.

Man Bag #6.  Man travel bag, Frankfort airport

Man Bag #7  Guy making out with his girlfriend wearing a mix-tape designed man bag

Scotland visit man bag.  We think this guy was from Italy though.

Man bag #8 Bag seen on Scotland trip. We think this guy was from Italy though.

A duo of black man bags in Vienna

#9 – A duo of black man bags in different material in Vienna

#10 - Handled man bag in Vienna's train station

#10 – Handled man bag in Vienna’s train station

If you have a man bag, what do you carry in it?   If you don’t have one, what would you carry?

A Page from the Swiss Rule Book: Duties of Swiss Citizens

Many say Switzerland is said to have the most trained army in the world.  For a neutral country, you might find it surprising.   However, with their central location and a century of world wars, they had a need to be prepared.

Even today, as a Swiss man, you must serve in the military. If you aren’t qualified to be in the military or don’t fit the requirements, you can be exempted.  However, you must pay an additional 3% income tax until the age of 30.

As a Swiss woman, you can volunteer to serve, but it isn’t required.  It also isn’t required for foreigners.

My 86-year old French teacher, E, has told us on multiple occasions about the potato patches that apartment dwellers were allowed to cultivate in city parks.   She went on to say that if you own land in Switzerland, you are still required keep a potato patch.  Thus, if the country goes to war, there is a food supply to rely on.  I haven’t been able to find much evidence of it online, but I find it interesting that it could be still residual from WW2.  Although, a simple trip to the grocery store shows that they are in full agreement of supporting their own food infrastructure as a result of the wars.

You may recall from our post on our basement, that all buildings must have bomb shelters.  In fact, Switzerland can house 114% of its citizens in these fortifications if something happens.

Today, you can tour many of the secret fortresses built in the World Wars.  Many of the links below detail more about the cool places you can visit.

Related Links:

Rick Steves – Swiss Military Secrets

Wikipedia – Gun Politics in Switzerland

The Adventures of Miss Widget and Her People – In Plain Sight: Villa Verte and Villa Rose

Schwingen in Switzerland – The Swiss Army – Ready to Blow Their Country to Smithereens

Schwingen in Switzerland – The Tobelerone Line, One Sweet Barrier

Schwingen in Switzerland – Why didn’t Hitler invade Switzerland?

Schwingen in Switzerland –   Fun in the Alpine Fortress of Furigen

The Swiss Rule Book: Drinking in Public

Drinking in public isn’t a big deal in Europe.    We are constantly reminded of this with our guests.  We bring along a bottle of wine to a picnic or on a train and they ask us, “you can’t actually drink that here, can you?”.     The answer is yes.      Europeans are far more lax about things like this.  As a result, there are actually far less drunk people because it isn’t so taboo.  In fact, the Swiss can start drinking wine and beer at 16.  It’s 18 for hard liquor.  And, we have never seen drunk teens.

Here are a few photographic reasons to further demonstrate the point:

Recently, in Italy, we had a glass of champagne at a risotto fair.   They gave us cloth glass holders to string around our neck so that we could take it “to go”.   This has become my favorite new accessory.

Me with my champagne glass necklace, walking around town

They  put reminders up about the legal drinking age:

Babies can't drink in public.

Babies can’t drink in public.

However, some don’t pay attention.

Before….

After….

Sorry little guy.  You have to wait a few years.

And, those ‘on duty’ don’t mind enjoying a cold one.

This guy might have just had his 16th birthday

People drink in random places.   It is most common on the bus to see a guy in a suit enjoying a beer on his way home from work.   I prefer this photo of a lady in her 70’s opening up her bottle she purchased grocery shopping and drinking it out of the bottle at the bus stop.  There is no time like the present.

It’s 5 o’ clock somewhere.

Here’s hoping that this New Years Day, you didn’t have too much to drink!

The Apéro or Après-Ski….Two Alternatives to What We Know As Happy Hour

When we lived in The States, we frequently had “Happy Hour”.   Whether it was with colleagues or friends, it was common to get together after work, enjoy a drink and catch up.  In the US, it is also common for bars and establishments to have Happy Hour Specials such as dollar beers or half priced glasses of wine, etc.

In France, they have a similar tradition, however usually without the discount.  We’ve had the pleasure of experiencing them before but while in Morzine for Christmas, we feel like we’ve really gotten a lot of practice!

The first is “L’Apero”, or The Apero.    L’Apero is the French bridge between your normal busy day and the start of the evening.   Enjoying an ‘aperitif’ before dinner is classified as a gesture of health or well-being, to start your appetite.   The typical aperitif consists of :  champagnes, martinis, vermouths, sherries, or a light or sweet white wines, as well as small snacks like olives, chips or nuts.  A fruit juice is also an alternative to the alcoholic beverages.

Having Champagne for an aperitif

Having Champagne for an aperitif

In ski towns, the apero has a fun spin in terms of the “Après Ski”.   Literally translated, it means ‘after the ski’.  Crowds gather at the most popular bars to start the night.    Here the drink selections are more broad, including beers and mixed drinks.

The Après Ski buzz

The Après Ski buzz

Enjoying the Après Ski with friends

Enjoying the Après Ski with friends, including a special birthday celebration

Finally, after dinner, it is common in France and other European countries to be served a digestif.   Many times this is included with the meal, and is intended to help your food settle.   In Greece, it is raki or ouza.  In Italy, many times it is limoncello.  Here in France, we had homemade apple and pear liquor as well as a hot rum digestif.

While I have heard of “the night cap”, an alcoholic beverage consumed before going to bed, in the US, I typically know it as a sleep aid vs. a digestive aid.

It sure is hard to do this research, but we are happy to do it for the benefit of the blog!  Happy New Years Eve, everyone!!

Skiing Portes du Soleil

While I didn’t ski, didn’t want to deprive our readers of the skiing experience in Portes du Soleil, so I have harassed  asked our fellow holiday-goers to help add some flavor with their photos & stories.

Our Hotel Tremplin provided two lifts with direct access to Morzine / Les Gets.   These two villages are a part of an overall area is called Portes du Soleil which includes 12 resorts with 8 in France and 4 in Switzerland.  There are over 209 lifts in Portes du Soleil, allowing complete exploration of this region of 650km of slopes.

Image courtesy of avorinet.com

Image courtesy of avorinet.com

Having a central hotel was nice so everyone could break and re-group.   Plus, it was nice for them not to have to walk far to hop on a lift or rent/return skis.

Ready to go after a lunch break at Le Tremplin

First day….ready to go again after a lunch break at Le Tremplin

There was a hotel above ours, at the top of the Pleney lift.   I sat there on the terrace one day soaking in the sun, as the lift didn’t require you to be a skier to take it because of the hotel guests also needing access.

The positive to this hotel is that you could really ski directly into it.  However, the cable car stopped at a certain time which would limit your Morzine nightlife access.

The views at the top of Pleney, the furthest I could go on foot

The views at the top of Pleney, the furthest I could go on cable car + foot without being a skier

The area at Pleney was also where the ski school was headquartered.  Out of the five skiers in our group, four ended up taking lessons of differing levels to improve their skills.    This is a really good practice for skiers of all levels, to brush up and learn more.  By taking them early in the vacation, they could apply the learning.

Morzine offers lessons in English, either private or shared.  Everyone found them helpful, indicating about 2-3 things that they learned that really helped their technique the rest of the week.

Gabe at Pleney

Meeting Gabe for lunch at Pleney before his lesson

The group preferred exploring the top of the mountain, where they said it was less crowded and the views were magnificent.  Later in the week when there was rain in the village, it became more and more important to ski the top where the altitude resulted in snow vs. rain.

Slopes at Morzine, captured by Gabe

Slopes at Morzine, captured by Gabe

Riding the lift

Riding the lift, captured by J

Gorgeous snow image by B

Gorgeous snow image by B

 

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J, conquering the mountain

Image of M courtesy of B

M gazing out onto the slopes.  Image courtesy of B

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Gabe, M & B, ready to descend from the top.  Image courtesy of J. 

Time for a beer!  Image courtesy of B.

Time for a beer! Image taken by M.

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B enjoying his beer, taken by M

Each day the group came back exhausted but happy.  They were very content with the ski area and had a wonderful time.