One Day in Switzerland

After traipsing all over Italy for Matt’s work, we were able to relax and explore during a week of vacation. One area we had not yet been to was the mountains of northwestern  Italy. After saying fond farewells to Sergio and Ceclia, we took off for lands unknown. Sergio said that we must stop at the coastal town of Lerici on our way. What a picturesque spot!Lerici, Italy by Janine Broscious

We only had an afternoon to spare, so we strolled along the coast and ate gelato. We had been told by Sergio that we needed to go to the top of the hill and see the castle for lovely views.Lerici, Italy by Janine Broscious

I’ll never get enough of seeing the wonderful colors of the homes in Italy.Lerici, Italy photo by Janine Broscious

It was time to head to our next agriturismo in the Aosta Valley. We had spent more time in Lerici than anticipated and now I was concerned about making it to La Vrille agriturismo in time for check in and dinner. But we got there in plenty of time to eat a meal fit for a king. They were ready for my dietary needs and even served me a special dessert. This was the first place we stayed that looked like a Swiss chalet to me.Agriturismo La Vrille photo by Janine Broscious

We were in the mountains of northwestern Italy and yet it was so gloomy that we couldn’t see them. Off to bed we went with hopes of clearer days ahead of us. I wanted to see those mountains! We had plans to go on a cable car up into those mountains. Would tomorrow be the day? But alas, we awoke to no mountains. I was beginning to think there really weren’t any mountains they were so well hidden by clouds. We decided not to do the cable car since we wouldn’t be able to see anything. We were, however, very near to the border of Switzerland. Always in pursuit of geocaches in new places, we decided to drive through the mountains and see if we could get to Switzerland. Windy road in Italy photo by Janine Broscious

The roads were quite windy and steep and we couldn’t see much.Road to Great Saint Bernard Pass photo by Janine Broscious Beautiful scenery in the alps of Italy photo by Janine Broscious

We also had to go through a 3 mile long tunnel. I used to feel panicky in tunnels, but Italy cured me of that. The Great Saint Bernard Pass, the third highest road pass in Switzerland was our destination. We finally arrived and climbed out of our car. We saw someone walking around and he came over to us. “It’s too bad you weren’t here yesterday,” Anthony Schrag said, “the mountains are spectacular!” But, we only saw clouds and fog. Still, we could cross the border into Switzerland and look for a geocache. We invited our new friend to come along with us. As we drove over the border, Anthony explained that he was walking from Scotland to Venice. Wow, was I ever impressed. He had not heard of geocaching, however, and we had fun enlightening him. Just into Switzerland, we climbed up a bit from the road, and there it was.Our first Swiss geocache photo by Janine Broscious

Our first Swiss geocache!! As we celebrated the find, Anthony continued to express disappointment for us in the weather. Suddenly, the clouds lifted and the beautiful Swiss Alps came into view. What a glorious sight!Great Saint Bernard's pass photo by Janine Broscious

Then Matt continued to climb up for a better view. I tried to follow him on the wet, slippery rocks with my sore knee. He looked down and told me to scramble up one particular rock. I said, “Honey, I’m not much of a scrambler.” Suddenly a man on the other side of the rock started laughing. He said, “That’s pretty funny…Honey, I’m not much of a scrambler. I think it’s the quote of the day.” Well, I’m glad he was amused. I finally made it up there. See how little that cross is in the next photo?

Great Saint Bernard's pass photo by Janine Broscious

The “scramble” was totally worth it. Oh, the majesty! It was not for long and the clouds came back to cover the beauty again. Here are the buildings at the pass.Great Saint Bernard's pass photo by Janine Broscious

Then the clouds came back. Just like that, they were gone!Great Saint Bernard's pass photo by Janine Broscious

I was determined to have a meal in Switzerland and we did, right over the border. Potatoes and cheese.Meal in Switzerland photo by Janine Broscious

We learned a little bit about how Saint Bernard opened a hospice there to help people in the harsh mountains. He must have pointed people in the right direction too.Statue of Saint Bernard photo by Janine Broscious

He trained large dogs to search for missing people. They still had St Bernard dogs at the pass.St Bernards at the Great Saint Bernard pass photo by Janine Broscious

And some in the souvenir shop.souvenirs at Great Saint Bernard Pass photo by Janine Broscious

There was also a museum of religious artifacts. This ancient Bible reminded me of doing Bible Art.ancient Bible photo by Janine Broscious

What a glorious day in Switzerland, even though cloudy. We were excited to have stepped foot in another country and I’m always happy in the mountains. And next exciting day?  Well, you’ll just have to wait for another blog post!Matt and Janine in Switzerland

You may enjoy previous posts about our trip to Italy.

Italy 2015 #6 Sergio Does It Again

I’m all about going to new places and meeting new people, but there are some people and places that you just have to visit again. My friend, Sergio, is one of them. Driving from Verona to Sergio’s agriturismo wasn’t going to take too long, so I talked Matt into a bit of a detour to Lucca, a city in Tuscany. Tucked inside the modern city is a treasure surrounded by walls dating back to the Renaissance. We found this gate and walked inside to explore.Gate in the wall of LuccaIt was a lovely town inside those formidable walls.LuccaWe didn’t have much time, but I was eager to see a church that was mentioned in our tour book. San Michele in Foro, Lucca www.joyfulwonder.comThe facade of San Michele in Foro is just incredible. Each column looked different!San Michele in Foro, Lucca ©Janine Broscious 2015 San Michele in Foro, Lucca ©Janine Broscious 2015As Matt and I wandered around Lucca, we looked for all the towers that were featured on a coin purse I had purchased. We found them all! And I admired the lovely Italian pottery. Oh, I love it!Lucca, Italy ©Janine Broscious 2015I wished we had time to ride bikes on the top of the wall. If we ever go back, I want to do that. But it was time to move on.Lucca, Italy. ©Janine Broscious 2015We arrived at Sergio’s agriturismo, Settesoldi, and were greeted as old friends.  As they prepared dinner, Sergio and Cecilia assured me that they still had “my” plate, silverware and pot that they saved special for me and others with food intolerances. Sergio asked about my jewelry business and I explained that I had also expanded to designing patterns for rug hooking. It took a bit for him to understand what I meant, but he got excited when I showed him my latest design that I said was inspired by the Italian pottery that I love. He ran inside and got a book for me to look at. “This is the ceramic that is typical of this area. You and Matt need to go see where they make it.” My latest design:Life Goes On rug hooking pattern by Janine Broscious

During a scrumptious dinner, Sergio poured what I thought was a LOT of olive oil on his pasta. I told him that lately I was hearing that what was sold in the USA as olive oil was poor quality. He proceeded to explain the difficulties of producing quality olive oil. Constant inspections must be done to the olives to make sure that a worm isn’t ruining the crop. In fact, he said that Cecilia has just that day used a scope to check the crop. Many places spray heavily to fight the worm, but then the pesticides end up in the oil. Sergio doesn’t do that, but he said the worm won this past year and his production was low. As I ate my dinner, I was much more appreciative of the delicious olive oil that we poured on our food. Our meal and wonderful conversation lasted well after 10:00 and it was time for bed. I slept well in the beautiful room with lavender sprigs under my pillow.

The next day, we planned to explore since Matt was supposed to work in the evening. We were about to take off when Matt called to make sure the schedule was okay with the customer. They hadn’t gotten the emails telling them he was coming that night, but preferred for him to go immediately to do the work. So off he went. Suddenly, I found myself alone at Sergio’s place. In fact, everyone had taken off, even Sergio. So, I opened our room door to let in the sunshine and set about writing a blog post. Soon after hearing a car arrive at the agriturismo, I heard Sergio call up to my open door. “Janine, are you here?” I explained that Matt had had to go to work and I was writing a blog. But, Sergio was not happy with that. “No, this is not good.” He asked if I would like to visit a pottery factory. Would I?!?! I sure would!

As we zipped around curves and flew down dirt roads, Sergio apologized for the state of his vehicle. I assured him that being a country girl myself, that I was not interested in a car being pristine. We passed by some of the many cypress trees that were planted in rows. I had always admired these trees and just thought of them as some extra beauty in Italy, but Sergio explained that cypress trees are planted to keep soil in its place…erosion control. We laughed a lot as we drove through Tuscany with the windows down. Conversation always gets interesting with my lack of speaking Italian. But Sergio knows a lot of English! Still, it took much longer to get thoughts to be understood and sometimes we would need to use Google translate. We stopped at an arch in the middle of a town and he showed me caper plants growing on the side.Arch in Tuscany.

I’ve always wondered what capers were! I had found them a bit confusing. Usually when I saw them used in a dish, they seemed like little seeds. But Cecilia had served them with dinner the night before and they almost seemed like large olives. They were both capers?Capers in Tuscany

Sergio pointed out the flowers on the plant and then some buds that hadn’t bloomed yet. The buds are what I had usually seen used in cooking. The capers that we had eaten the night before were the fruit of the plant. Mystery solved!Capers in Tuscany

Finally we arrived at the ceramic factory, Ellepi. I already loved the charming looking place!Ellepi Ceramiche Montopoli Italy

Sergio spoke with the man that was there and told him that I write a blog. He agreed to show us around the place.Ellepi Ceramiche Montopoli Italy Ellepi Ceramiche Montopoli Italy Ellepi Ceramiche Montopoli Italy Ellepi Ceramiche Montopoli Italy Ellepi Ceramiche Montopoli Italy Ellepi Ceramiche Montopoli Italy Ellepi Ceramiche Montopoli Italy

Of course, I understood nothing that they said to each other. We came to a room where there were items for sale. Even though the ceramics for the area were not as brightly colored as I was used to seeing in Italian pottery, I was drawn to it. Sergio explained that these colors had been used for centuries. He was going to buy a plate. I decided that I wanted one too, the one on the upper left.Ellepi Ceramiche Montopoli Italy

Sergio and the potter spoke at length in expressive language about the price. At first I tried to understand what was going on, but failing at that, I just wandered around taking photos of the beautiful pieces.Sergio haggles over the price.

Finally, a price was agreed upon for our plates. Sergio also bought a ceramic duck. I was given the task of keeping the duck safe as we flew back to the agriturismo and then he asked for my help in finding just the right spot for the new decoration. He grabbed a sickle and chopped weeds and lo and behold, there was another such duck sitting on the hillside. It was just waiting for a companion. Matt came home from work and we rested until dinner time. Was I ever surprised when walking into the dining room. The duck had made it’s way onto the dinner table!Ceramic duck at Sergio's dinner Italy

Cecilia served another scrumptious meal. So much so, that I asked if I could look at her cookbooks. All in Italian, but I took photos of some recipes with my cell phone. I asked which recipes were her favorites. She pointed to her head. That’s where the cooking magic came from. Oh, I wished for longer with them so I could learn Italian cooking from her. Sergio said, “The next time you and Matt want to come for two nights, I am going to say no. There is so much more I want to show you!” Matt and I laughed. “You won’t allow us to come for only two nights? How long do we have to stay?” I asked. Sergio smiled, “At least fifteen days.” Fifteen days sounds good to me, my friend. I have much more to learn from you. In the meantime, I’ll have to be content with looking at the ceramic plate hanging on my wall and reliving Tuscan memories.My friend, Sergio and me. Italy.

Check out previous posts about this trip to Italy! Italy 2015 #1Italy 2015 #2Italy 2015 #3Italy 2015 #4, Italy 2015 #5

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

Italy 2015 #1: Arrive in Sicily

Traveling is always an adventure and this Italian adventure began as soon as we arrived at Reagan National Airport in Washington DC. A man offered to check us in at the curb, and was able to check my bag and print out a boarding pass for me, but didn’t seem to be able to take care of Matt’s bags. Finally, after taking us inside to have someone else check us in, Matt had a boarding pass in hand. We had a short flight from DC to JFK airport in NYC. Both airports had an international feel to them. It seemed as if we were already in another country! People-watching is always fun in airports and we were hearing many languages.

At JFK, we had to stand in line to get boarding passes for the last two legs of our trip: NYC to Rome, and then Rome to Sicily. The woman at the Alatalia window quickly printed off my boarding passes, but again, when she attempted to print off Matt’s, she couldn’t do it. Three people were working on it at one point. Finally, one of them said they couldn’t get us seats together on the last flight from Rome to Sicily because we were on different flights. Oh no! This couldn’t be. That would mean that in a country where I didn’t speak the language, I would have to take a flight all by myself and wait an hour for his flight to come into Sicily. I was a bit upset by this point, but started praying and also reminding myself of my latest saying, “It always seems to work out somehow.”

Matt mentioned that it had been necessary for him to book our flights by two separate methods. His flight had to be booked through an IBM travel agent since it was a trip for work, but mine couldn’t be done that way. So, as he was booking his flight through the IBM agent, he was also speaking with an agent at Alatalia to arrange mine. He double and triple checked to make sure that all three of our flights were the same. But now the Alatalia agent in front of us in NYC was telling us that Matt must have made a mistake on the last flight and booked us on different planes.

I was surprised. Matt is a man of details! But he had also been arranging a lot of flights lately with work related travel and was quite exhausted. He was, however, able to pull out an email printout that showed us on the same flights. That’s my guy! Our helpful Alatalia agent looked at it and said, “You booked this through American Express? Well, it seems they made a mistake. I guess you are on separate flights unless you want to pay a penalty to change it.”

What?! Really?! I said, “It doesn’t seem like we should be held responsible for a fee when we have a confirmation showing the correct flights.”

She replied, “Well, take it up with American Express.”

I took a deep breath. Rather than getting more upset, I prayed more and told myself that separate flights wouldn’t be the end of the world. I could do this.  Suddenly, she said, “Wait a minute. I wonder if Delta changed it for some reason.” Our flight to NYC had been with Delta and the two airlines seemed to be working together. After typing for quite a while on her keyboard, she found a history of the reservation. Sure enough, Matt had reserved them correctly, but Delta had changed things without notifying us. I thought she would say that we still would need to pay a penalty or just deal with it, but instead she said there were seats available in my flight and changed his for no charge! Finally, we had our flights and seat reservations for the rest of the trip.

Except for a gate change that we didn’t know about at first and a night of very little sleep, our trip went just fine. Our plane from Rome landed in Catania, Sicily at 8 am but our bodies thought it was 2 am. After picking up our rental car, we drove to our agriturismo, Tenuta Giarretta, seeing cacti bearing  fruit along the way.Cacti bearing fruit. ©Janine Broscious 2015

I wondered if Clelia, the sweet woman that took care of me, would remember would us from when we stayed there last year. As we pulled our luggage up the cobblestone sidewalk, out the door she came, gasping and exclaiming. Soon we were greeted with hugs, kisses and a stream of Italian accompanied by a big smile. I’d say yes, she remembered!

This agriturismo is a beautiful relaxing place. They served us lunch which included figs and cacti fruit. We hadn’t had either before. They both tasted so sweet and wonderful, but the cacti fruit was chock full of seeds that you just had to swallow. I liked them both, but I’m a big fan of the figs!Cactus fruit and figs ©Janine Broscious

We met a family from London at dinner. They were delightful and seemed to have the same kinds of adventures that we do, ones that include single lane dirt roads and road blocks. We jokingly practiced greeting each other with kisses to both sides of the face as Italians do. ©Janine Broscious

That evening, the sunset was gorgeous. I loved how the steaming volcano, Mt Etna looked off in the distance.Tenuta Giaretta and Mt Etna ©Janine Broscious

And the moon was full and beautiful!The moon in Italy ©Janine Broscious

Our Italian adventure was off and running and what a wonderful start it had been. After a day of making ourselves stay awake so that we could get over jet lag, I was looking forward to a good night sleep and a day of exploring! Let the adventures continue!

Next post: Italy #2