When in Rome, we saw many beautiful places. Here are a few snapshots from our lens:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After grabbing lunch, we returned back to the square for experiencing this special place once more.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Coliseum was quite advanced in design. They had sails that could protect the spectators from the harsh sunlight.
After being impressed by the Coliseum, we continued to Palantine Hill, the seat of many ancient Roman palaces and onto 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.
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.
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.
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.
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??
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
If you have a man bag, what do you carry in it? If you don’t have one, what would you carry?
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.
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
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.
They put reminders up about the legal drinking age:
However, some don’t pay attention.
Sorry little guy. You have to wait a few years.
And, those ‘on duty’ don’t mind enjoying a cold one.
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.
Here’s hoping that this New Years Day, you didn’t have too much to drink!
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Each day the group came back exhausted but happy. They were very content with the ski area and had a wonderful time.