Italy 2015 #5: Romantic Verona On My Own

Leaving Florence was not easy, but Matt had more work to be done in other parts of Italy. We were heading to the northeastern part of the country. In my quest of staying in new places, I booked a room in a hotel in Pordenone. I didn’t have very high expectations for this town for some reason, but I am constantly surprised by the variety, uniqueness and beauty of each new place. Pordenone www.joyfulwonder.comEven though it was raining, people busily filled the streets to shop at the open air market.Pordenone www.joyfulwonder.comI was grateful for my new friend, Linda, to spend the evening with since Matt and Scott had to go to work.01-DSC_4547 2The next stop was Verona. What a beautiful town!Verona, Italy www.joyfuwonder.comOur hotel was down this alleyway.Verona, Italy www.joyfuwonder.comOur room was painted with sweet birds.Verona, Italy

Verona is known for having the third largest Roman amphitheater.Verona, Italy

We went inside and walked around, but I was experiencing really bad vertigo for some reason. Not sure why, but I kept feeling like I would fall down the steps. They were setting up for an opera that would be performed there that evening.I’m always amazed at how the Italians keep using ancient buildings that we in the USA would not let people get near.Verona, Italy www.joyfuwonder.comI was so glad when I got back to terra firma! We went to an art exhibit and the exit signs took us out on a roof. As we followed the signs, we could not get any doors open. Leave it to us to get stuck out on a roof, all by ourselves in a different country! We had to pound on the door we had exited through for quite awhile before anyone came to let us in. I said to Matt that I was started to get worried, and he said, “It’s not time to panic yet.” I said, “Well, be sure to let me know when I should start!” At least the view was great.Verona, Italy www.joyfuwonder.comOnce safely off the roof, we decided to rest a bit before dinner. What a beautiful surprise of how Verona looked at night!Verona, Italy www.joyfuwonder.comThere were old cars set up in the Piazza.05-DSC_4654 3The people milling about were dressed in their finest as they were waiting to go to the opera in the arena. This was our view as we ate dinner outside in the Piazza next to the arena. I was hoping we would hear the opera, but all we could hear was applause periodically. There had to be some amazing acoustics in there.06-DSC_4661 3We walked to the bridge next to the castle in Verona to see what it looked like at nighttime. So lovely!Verona, Italy www.joyfuwonder.comThe next day, Matt would be working and I would be on my own in Verona. There was much more yet to see and I decided to be adventurous on my own. So many lovely boutiques! I was tempted by this brightly colored fur.Verona, Italy www.joyfuwonder.comAnd these lovely accessories.Verona, Italy www.joyfuwonder.comVerona is known as the city where Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet takes place. Even though it is fiction, a house in the city is known as Casa di Giuletta, or Juliet’s house. To get to it, you must walk through an archway that is covered in graffiti of hearts and names.Verona, Italy www.joyfuwonder.comIn the courtyard, you can gaze at a balcony that looks as if Juliet could appear at any moment. There is also a statue of Juliet down below that people took turns taking photos by.Verona, Italy www.joyfuwonder.comThere was much more to see in Verona, so I kept walking. Soon I crossed the Ponte Di Pietra bridge and looked back for this pic.Verona, Italy www.joyfuwonder.comOn this side of the river, there is a Roman theater. It was closed, but I saw folks heading up a staircase. Maybe there was something up there? I followed but soon wondered of the sanity of the idea. So many steps! There was another castle at the top and a great view of the city.Verona, Italy www.joyfuwonder.comI counted the steps on the way back down: 231. I was certainly getting exercise. As I crossed the bridge to return to the hotel, I passed these young students. Their teacher was lecturing about the bridge as they drew in their books. I wished I was doing the same!Verona, Italy www.joyfuwonder.comWalking towards the hotel, I noticed a bookstore. I have fallen in love with Italian cooking. Would they have a cookbook of authentic recipes? ….in English? I was tempted to buy one that was written in Italian and just keep translating as I cooked.Verona, Italy www.joyfuwonder.comI resisted. I’ll have to check it out on Amazon for a cookbook. We had amazing rice in red sauce in Verona. I’d love to make some and pretend I was back in that magical city.Verona, Italy Verona, Italy Verona, Italy www.joyfuwonder.comVerona, Italy www.joyfuwonder.comCheck out the other Italy 2015 posts! #1, #2, #3, #4

Italy 2015 #4: Florence

I’m sitting here in Tuscany on a hillside in a farmhouse relaxing while my hardworking husband does his job. What a blessing to be on this trip with him! It’s been a whirlwind going all over Italy so that he can do his work at the military bases and I’m glad for a breather. Even though I’ve been taking notes, our adventures thus far are already getting a little blurry. But, I think I can remember Florence. Awww, Florence. On our first Italy trip in 2011, we had one day scheduled to visit Florence. But that day was rainy and I was not feeling well. We drove our car to the city and couldn’t find parking. We did find a parking lot across the river up on a hill and took photos of the city from there. It was totally socked in with rain and fog.Florence, Italy

I was still impressed by the sheer size of the Duomo (church) in the middle of the city. And as I stood there enjoying it, I noticed a little break in the clouds off in the distance. It looked like if I was patient, a beam of sunshine might just light up the Duomo. So, we watched and waited for an hour and I was rewarded with a beautiful shot of Florence.Florence, Italy

Still, I was disappointed that it didn’t work out to visit all the places I had heard about in Florence. This time, we would have one afternoon and one morning to explore a bit. After going around the block a few times, we finally found our accommodations, Hotel David. Hotel David, Florence, Italy

What a beautiful hotel with extremely helpful staff. I was unsure as to how to go about doing the things I wanted us to do in Florence, but Chiara and Michael planned it out for us. They arranged for tickets and explained the bus system. We were on our way to see the Duomo!Florence Duomo

This gorgeous building looked big from afar, but it loomed humongously amongst the other buildings. After seeing how large it looked in comparison to the other buildings I thought that those other ones must have been just two stories high. But they were 5 stories high! We rarely go to cities and I’m always surprised at the closeness. Even with a map, it gets confusing finding where you are trying to go. But that Duomo, that is hard to miss! After seeing two different lines to enter the Duomo, we got into the one that wasn’t priority. The line was long, but not as bad as I had heard it could be. We waited about 45 minutes and I struck up a conversation with the people in front of us. Even though they were from France, they spoke wonder English. Our chat passed the time quickly and I was excited when it was out turn to enter. Suddenly we noticed that other people already had tickets. Weren’t they selling tickets at the door?! Well, no. And the man wasn’t very helpful in telling us where to purchase them. After wandering around a bit we finally got the needed tickets. Would he let us in since he knew we had already waited? No! So back to the end of the line we went again.Duomo ticket, Florence Italy

This time the line was shorter, but now even though the dome was still open, the rest of the church was closed. I was a bit disappointed, but climbing the dome was the main attraction for me. As I climbed the 463 steps I began questioning my sanity. There was no room to step aside to take a break and there were many people behind me eager to get to the top. So with heaving breaths I continued up the steps in the stifling heat. There are times that being tall is a disadvantage and this was one of them. As we got closer to the top, the ceiling sloped with the dome making us lean strangely to the side as we climbed. Part way up there was a door into the inside of the dome. There you could see up close the painting of the Last Judgement by Giorgio Vasari on the dome interior.Last Judgement in Duomo Florence Italy

Here is what it looked like to walk right by it!Duomo Florence Italy

Back to more steps. By this time, I was really looking forward to getting into fresh air again. At the last most close part towards the top, the steps were probably only a foot wide and we had to be bent way over, but people were trying to come down the same steps at the same time. Somehow we did it and were rewarded with a gorgeous view of a lovely city.View from dome Florence italy

Here is looking straight down. You can see the roof of the dome.view from dome Florence Italy

As we enjoyed the sights and revived from the climb, we spoke with a young man from England. He introduced the woman with him as his traveling companion. We are still trying to figure that one out. lol. Suddenly, bells were ringing all over the city, including the one in the bell tower next  to the Duomo. Awww, what a beautiful sound. One I will always treasure.on the dome in Florence Italy

After climbing back down, we were surprised to see the couple from France. We spoke some more, took pics and then she invited us to come visit them in France some day. I truly would love to visit Evelyne and Bernard at their B&B in the Duomo in Florence Italy

By this time, most everything I wanted to see was closed. But that’s okay when you are in a place like Florence. Dinner outside with a street musician playing is a wonderful way to end a perfect day. And we still had another partial day in Florence. It was up early the next day to see David. Our hosts at the hotel at already gotten tickets for us, so we didn’t have to wait in line twice. That made us pretty happy! Michelangelo’s masterpiece of the giant slayer is housed in the Galleria dell’Accademia. First they have you walk through rooms full of art from various churches. These were beautiful, but I wanted to see David. Then, we rounded a corner and there he was!David

What a beautiful piece of art. What a handsome face.David Florence italy

David was truly the main piece of art in this museum, but they had a few other pieces. Matt found this boy checking facebook on his phone.1-DSC_4440

There was also a display showing how statues were made. These points were embedded in different parts to help measure while making the final piece in marble.28-DSC_4439 2

Outside we went. It was almost time to leave Florence, but I wanted to see the bronze doors on the baptistry. Oh, they were gorgeous. Here is just one panel.baptistry door florence italy

After another beautiful meal outside, we needed to head back to our car and drive to our next destination. First, I wanted to buy an art journal in this city of art. I looked it up and there is an art supply store in the middle of the city that artists have gone to for years. I had to find it! And we did find Zecchi and I have a lovely momento of the art filled city. Such a beautiful place! One I would love to visit again.Duomo florence italy www.joyfulwonder.comFlorence italy www.joyfulwonder.comDon’t miss the other posts from this trip! Italy 2015 #1, Italy 2015 #2, Italy 2015 #3


Italy 2015 #3: Mosaics to Palatial Grandeur

You’d think by our third trip to Italy that we would have the phone situation figured out, but it confuses us every time. This time we went to the Vodaphone store on base and got Italian SIM cards for our phones. That way, when Matt was away from me working, he could text me to let me know if he would be later than he thought. We got our SIMs and bought what we thought were enough minutes to allow Matt to use his phone for work and for my phone to have a few texts sent. But in one day, all the money on the cards was almost gone! Oh yes, this sounded familiar. We still aren’t sure where all that money goes, but it seems that something happens and it disappears. So back on base we went to put more money on the phones. Of course, since it was Sunday, the store was closed, so the next adventure was finding a shopping mall with a Vodaphone store.  That being accomplished, we had a couple hours to be tourists and off we went to see ancient mosaics.

Does anyone else have a love/hate relationship with their GPS? I don’t know how we would accomplish what we do in Italy without it, but sometimes it takes us on some whopper roads. We were headed to the middle of Sicily to Piazza Armerina, a small village in the middle of farm land. There didn’t seem to be any straight forward way to get to this little gem, but there were highways. Our GPS preferred smaller roads and at one time had us turn on what looked like a path through farmer’s field. This dirt road got smaller and smaller and started going up and down hills. I smelled something hot and was beginning to be concerned about the brakes on our rental car. Then we saw that the fields were burning on either side of us. The road got even worse with huge ruts. At one point our car bottomed out and started slipping going up the hill. I pictured me having to push the car up the hill! But we got through it somehow and onto a rather nice road on the other side of the hill. How crazy! Thankfully, this paved road took us the rest of the way to Piazza Armerina.

Just outside this village, there was an ancient Roman villa called Villa Romana Del Casale.Villa Romana Del Casale, Sicily

It is thought that this villa was the hunting lodge of an emperor.Villa Romana Del Casale, Sicily

More than 50 rooms were preserved by a landslide in the 12th century.Villa Romana Del Casale, Sicily

The beautiful floors are one of the largest collections of unspoiled Roman mosaics.Villa Romana Del Casale, Sicily

I kept looking at the designs thinking of incorporating some of them into rug designs.Villa Romana Del Casale, Sicily

These women athletes are one of the most famous of the mosaics.Villa Romana Del Casale, Sicily

Even the servant’s work rooms had gorgeous mosaics on the floor. I just can’t imagine having that much wealth.Villa Romana Del Casale, Sicily

I kept thinking of all the talent of the mosaic artists. And all the time spent on these floors.Villa Romana Del Casale, Sicily

After the mosaics we drove back to our agriturismo. This time, the GPS took us on only major roads. I was thankful, but wondered why she was mad at us earlier in the day. After a tiring day in the heat, we were glad for a good bed.

Matt worked the next day while I did laundry in the sink and wrote a blog. Our time in Sicily was over and we had a flight to catch to the mainland of Italy. The next morning, we went to the airport with lots of extra time. But everything always seems to take longer in a different country. Lines were long but we got to our gate in time. Matt and I discussed what sort of plane it would be to take us to Naples from Sicily. I thought a prop plane, but Matt pictured a larger plane. We saw a plane come to the gate and it was a jet, so I thought I lost. However, when it came time to board, we were put on a shuttle to take us to the plane. The bus drove right past what we thought was our jet and headed towards a smaller prop plane. I was grinning as a victor, but then the crew on the ground shooed our shuttle away. We drove a bit away and wondered what was going on now. As we watched, a police van drove to our plane and proceeded to board people. Would we be flying with prisoners? Sure enough, as we boarded at the back of the plane, all of us passengers had to pass by handcuffed men that each had an armed escort. I sure would be glad when that flight was over!

The next day, Matt didn’t need to go into work until evening. And since this was a large amount of work, another person had come over to do the work with him. We met Scott and his wife, Linda at the hotel and had dinner together. It was fun for each couple to share our Italian experiences thus far. And I was excited that I would have a new friend to spend time with as the men worked.  First, we had a morning and afternoon to fill, so we visited the Palace in Caserta, Palazzo Reale.Palazzo Reale, Caserta, Italy

Palazzo Reale, Caserta, Italy www.joyfulwonder.comAgain, I was amazed by the opulence.Palazzo Reale, Caserta, Italy

This palace boasts of being Italy’s largest palace with over 1000 rooms and 94 staircases.Palazzo Reale, Caserta, Italy www.joyfulwonder.comPalazzo Reale, Caserta, Italy

The palace gardens are huge as well so we splurged on a buggy ride. Our driver was proud that he had the best carriage and the prettiest horse. And indeed he did! It was great fun to share the ride with Scott and Linda.Palazzo Reale, Caserta, Italy www.joyfulwonder.comPalazzo Reale, Caserta, Italy www.joyfulwonder.comPalazzo Reale, Caserta, Italy

But it was time for the men to go to work. Linda and I explored Caserta, but soon found that the town was closed for siesta time in the afternoon and didn’t come back to life until around 6 pm. Dinner is never before 8 pm, so we relaxed and chatted until it was time to eat. What a joy to share the time with a friend. God supplied as He always does. Our hardworking men came safely back ot us and we were glad to see their tired but happy faces. It was off to bed as we would be driving part way to the next work stop. But first, an over night in Florence!

Don’t miss the other posts from this Italy trip! Italy 2015 #1   Italy 2015 #2   Italy 2015 #4


Italy 2015 #2: Mt Etna

Yesterday, Matt said that I am his “sense of adventure”. I wouldn’t have guessed that since he’s the one that goes on mission trips to foreign countries while I stay home. But he explained that those are all planned out and he is just along for the ride. He said that if I wasn’t with him one this trip, he probably wouldn’t do many fun things. Well, I had to take care of that. The past two times we had been on Sicily, I had wanted to go up on Mt Etna, so I determined that this time we would make that happen!

Volcanoes have been of interest to me ever since we studied them with our sons for homeschool. How scary to think that the middle of our planet is filled with hot, molten lava. But Mt Etna leaves no doubt of that fact. It is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and in fact has erupted each time just a few days after we have left Sicily. These smaller eruptions are beautiful to witness from a distance at night and I wished I had seen it. I glanced at the beastly mountain that first evening after we arrived in Sicily, but there were no trails of orange, seething lava streaming down. That meant we could explore Mt Etna. Here is a photo of it that I took last year in the Spring when it had snow on it.Mt Etna

I love looking at the 10,900 ft giant towering over the rest of the island. But I wanted to look at it up front and personal, so we started winding our way up the mountain. I was surprised by the little towns on the mountain as we drove up. Weren’t they afraid of it blowing and taking them out? There was an eruption in 2002 that took out a resort on the mountain. It was sobering.Mt Etna

We took a tour ride up after cars were no longer allowed to proceed. Here is how it looked behind us as we ascended.Mt Etna

Mt Etna doesn’t erupt from just one crater, but instead there are several craters on the mountain. Our 4 wheel bus stopped at one that had steam billowing out of holes in the bottom. We stood amazed at the top of the crater and our guide said something in Italian. I didn’t know what he said, but suddenly, Matt took off and started climbing down into that crater. Was he crazy?! I really wanted to, but I was afraid it would be terribly difficult to climb back up out of the crater since there were little loose lava rocks that gave way as you walked. I saw Matt reach into the steam vent.Matt on Mt Etna

I asked if it was hot and he said, “No, just warm.” That did it. I was not going to come all the way to Sicily, finally get up on Mt Etna, and not go put my hand in a steam vent! All the while I was pretty much sliding down the little lava rocks into the crater I was thinking, “I hope they can get me out of here!” And that steam was pretty hot! Just not scalding.Matt and Janine on Mt Etna.

What a wonderful experience! And I actually made it out all on my own and proud of it too! I was really glad that we had brought our hiking boots.Hiking boots on Mt Etna

We got back into the bus and went up to one more stop. Here there was an observatory where they measured seismic activity. Mt Etna observatory

I asked how much of a warning they were given before an eruption. The guide reassured me that it was very safe. They would be given a two hour notice before Mt Etna would blow. I was reassured, but still surprised that it wasn’t a larger window of warning! He explained that in 2002, they were given enough warning to get everyone off the mountain so that even though buildings were destroyed, no one was killed. Matt and I hiked around at this stop and I shot some pics of the summit up above us.Mt Etna

Mt Etna looked hot and active to me! I wished I was further up the mountain to the summit, but they explained that the gases were noxious.Mt Etna

Matt and I built a cairn out of lava rocks to say, “We were here!”Mt Etna

When we returned to the bus, a woman suddenly looked at Matt and said, “Bruce Willis!” We had a good laugh and got into the bus. On the way down we passed an elderly man carrying a basket. Our guide said he had been picking mushrooms for the restaurant. Soon, we passed a sheep herder guiding his flock down the mountain. Life does indeed go on, even on a volcano.Mt Etna sheep

After all that exertion of hiking on Mt Etna, we were ready for dinner. Into downtown Catania we ventured. I wanted to eat in the old town square. It was a busy place and would you believe that we sat next to a couple that had flown all the way from Washington DC with us on all three flights? The man said he recognized us because I was so good looking. Hahaha! Here was our view as we ate dinner.Catania, Italy

What a day! Adventures, hot steam, lava rocks, hiking, good food and even compliments. Yes, a good day. Here is the beginning of this Italy Adventure: Italy #1, and the next post: Italy #3On Mt Etna