Thursday, June 14, 2012


Rome was everything we had hoped that it would be! Oh, how I wish I could tell it all…but alas I cannot. If I were to share all we experienced it could take all day.

In lieu of taking all day, let’s just hit the high notes:

The Vatican: The very first thing we learned on our scenic route to the Vatican is that the Stato della Città del Vaticano, as it is called in Italy, is actually the world’s smallest country (or independent state, depending on how you look at it). Maybe you knew that, but I sure didn’t. It is 110 acres with a population of about 800 and though it sits in Rome, it is not at all governed by Rome. How cool is that?

God and Adam; the highlight of the Sistine Chapel

Yes, we saw all the sites that tourists would want to see in Rome, the Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s Basilica (it is a work of art all by itself), the Vatican Library, the Apostolic Palace and St. Peter’s Square just to name a few, but the crème de la crème, the proverbial icing on the cake, the cherry on top was of course the Sistine Chapel. It was indeed as awe inspiring as all the stories I have heard told and retold over the years of my short life.

Again, I cannot put words together that would ever express our experience there, except to say that it was yet another life changing moment.

Adam and Eve being driven from the Garden of Eden

The entire view of the Sistine Chapel, painted exactly to scale no matter where the on looker stands in the room, wow!!

The artistic genius behind the Sistine Chapel may have often been at odds with The Pope through the nine years of its creation, he may not have always been filled with the most positive of thoughts, but whatever he was thinking when he painted the breathtaking master piece, the finished product was that of sheer brilliance, sheer perfection…I was overwhelmed.

Michelangelo, the creator of the Sistine Chapel and of many other works of art, painted the ceiling lying on his back, in dim light for hours a day. At one point paint had dropped into his eyes blinding him till he could no longer see. What was his response to this unfortunate turn of events? He closed his eyes and envisioned the pictures in his head and let his hands guide him. Just in case you missed it. He painted with his eyes closed. Can we say it all together…Genius!

We saw other master pieces by Michelangelo, like the Pieta. This is the sculpture of Mary chiseled with the face of his own mother, holding the lifeless body of Christ Jesus. It brought tears to my eyes.

Michelangelo's Pieta (Mary has the face of his mother who died when he was five years old. In her open palm is the word "Mother". 

The Colosseum (this is not a typo): It was originally called the Flavian Amphitheatre. This structure is considered to be the single most heralded piece of Roman architecture.  We had the opportunity to briefly see this structure, we did not go inside, but just from the outside view I could again understand how it became a tourist attraction, if not for its longevity alone. Its construction began in 72 AD and it is still standing today. It was used for public speaking and gladiator events. It was also where plays were performed. It is where we get our blue print for coliseum construction today.

The Colosseum

There is more to be said of amazing Rome, but maybe that will be a post for a different day…but for now…

Here is the synopsis: Rome was a fitting end to a wonderful trip. This European destination, Rome, Italy was so surreal to experience. It was interesting to walk the land that was mentioned in the Bible. It was also quite intriguing to experience the nation that was once the super power of the entire world.

Apostolic Palace

St. Peter's Square

The entrance to the Vatican

Our ticket into the Vatican

Everywhere we turned there was a picture of Pope John Paul II.
He was clearly their favorite.

You’ve heard the saying, “all roads lead to Rome”, or how about, “when in Rome do as the Romans do", or even “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. Well, we now know the reason for these phrases. Our guide told us that the phrase “all roads lead to Rome” came from the fact that the roads of this major metropolis were historically built in a wheel spoke formation, sort of like a wagon wheel. For commerce and trade and other interactions with the surrounding areas these roads made easy access into Rome. Even today, with all the modern additions to the city, this concept remains true. Whether coming from Venice or Naples or Capri, all roads lead to Rome.

In addition to that, Rome is a city that was built in “layers”. There are some roads and streets that run under modern day Roman streets. There are many “eras” of building and construction in Rome. Some of the most famous structures took hundreds of years to complete leading one to agree with the notion that Rome was not built in a day.

AND when in Rome it is advantageous to comply with the rules of conduct in common courtesy (or lack thereof) and rules of the road and so on. It is essential for survival. Our guide explained to us that motorcyclist are like “mosquitoes”, no one pays them any attention they just get swatted. Pedestrians, old and young, better fear for their lives if they must cross the road on the “zebra lines”. He said it is Russian Roulette for them on a daily basis. Also, it is wise to adopt the eating habits and laid back culture. You could attempt to do as the Americans do, but I don’t know that you will get very far.    

That concludes our story…for now. Of course we are planning our next adventure and this time we need your help. Stay tuned to help us decide where in the world we go next. Until then travel smart and travel safely!
Note: Photos of the Sistine Chapel are unfortunately not our own. Due to the rules of the State of the Vatican photographers are either not allowed to photograph at all or photograph with no flash rendering the photos dark and not worth of sharing. Therefore, I supplemented very nice Sistine Chapel photos courtesy of Wikipedia.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Whew!! We finally got to Pisa. It’s funny because I had a few other frivolous things to say before I got to my most favorite part of the trip. I have been asked over and over, “How was the Leaning Tower?” The answer is, “It was great!!”, but it has taken me a while to put it into words. That is really the main reason for the delay. It was supposed to be my very first entry upon our return…but I just could not put it into words.

Similar to my trip to the Taj Mahal, the Leaning Tower of Pisa had been on my list of must see wonders as a little girl. My favorite T.V. channel growing up was PBS (the Public Broad Casting Station). That channel was so awesome because it exposed me to the world and gave me my first thirst for education, art, and travel. I would venture to say that that very station helped to shape me (from the age of three) into the deep thinker I am today.

Reading Rainbow, with Levar Burton, made me want to dream and explore. Levar took us to the tomb of Tut, through the journey of chemistry, to the days of slavery and to outer space and beyond, all through the pages of a book. All without leaving my living room. It was through these journeys that I first longed to travel. The first places I dreamed of going were the pyramids and then the Taj Mahal and the then the Greek ruins and one day to Rome.

 As children we dream so freely that we dare to have the audacity to think that those dreams could one day come true. For me they have.

So as we drove through the Tuscan fields we looked out way in the distance beyond some hills and caught the first glimpse of the awe inspiring Tower. In the mist and fog, it leaned just as it had in pictures and in books. My eyes got misty with tears. As we began our descent into the very court yard where it stood (we were on foot by now). I held my partner’s arm and fought back the tears.

If you look closely, you can see the Leaning Tower of Pisa

I had, as I explained to one of my friends, a “Come to Jesus moment”. I had had the same feeling as we passed through the gates of the garden and into the view of the Taj Mahal. What is the “Come to Jesus moment”? For me, it’s the moment when I am reminded of how frail and how small I am. It is the moment when I am reminded once again that in the vast scheme of things, I really don’t matter all that much. It is the reminder, looking up at a creation that only God could have inspired, that He still works miracles. That is the moment.

I felt it as we ascended into the clouds, one mile above the ground in a hot air balloon. I felt it as I stared into the crystal blue water of the Bahamas. I felt it as I experienced the wonder of the symmetrical Piton Mountains of St. Lucia. It cleansed my soul as I sat on the steps of the wondrous Taj Mahal. Now, I felt it again as I walked into the court yard of the Cathedral that the Tower was built for.

Every word or description I could offer about our experience that day in Pisa is a finite, frail attempt to put into utterance just how awe inspiring it was. But I am struggling mightily to give just a glimpse…

There were many tours scheduled that rainy day in Pisa. Some tours only offered a look on the outside of the structure. Some more detailed tours like ours offered a full historical narrative from a well informed tour guide as well as a trek up all 294 steps to the top of the tower.

Note: We felt lucky, but nervous at the same time. You see, over the last several hundred years the Tower has been a work in progress, with architects from Italy and England putting their brilliant heads together to solve the problem of the ever sinking structure. One engineer finally came to a suitable resolution of adding lead to the leaning side and taking earth from the more sturdy side to counter balance the structure. This also meant that cables were attached to the Tower for nearly ten years to finally halt any further leaning. The hope was the cable attached to a more sturdy adjacent structure as well as the fore mention engineering would stop The Leaning Tower of Pisa from leaning any further and stop it from falling over. Once the cables were removed, the most stability to date had been achieved. Yet, due to the eternally moist soil that settled above underground canals, the Tower continues to sink about a millimeter every year. Our guide says this constant sinking is not visible to the naked eye if you were to visit from one year to the next, but that when it becomes a problem in the next century or so another solution will have to be employed.

Back to the story: By the time we arrived at the Leaning Tower of Pisa there were no cables to steady the structure. The lean seemed even more exaggerated the closer you got. Our tour guide was awesome, she had our tickets ready. She handed them to the attendant and we were able to skip the three hour line.

One by one, we trudged up each worn, marble step. The steps were so worn in fact, we had to step on the side of the deep divot less we slip into the crater. The steps were steep and wet. Now tears welled up into my eyes for a different reason. I did not want to die. Death by plunging off of the great Leaning Tower didn’t seem like it would be a good excuse for my kids.

But we trudged on. The ascension was surprisingly quite quick as our anticipation and anxiety made us move quickly. We ignored our burning muscles. Our lungs burned with fire.

Then we reached the top. My husband had opted not to carry an umbrella to keep his hands free in case he had to catch me. The rain dripped from his nose onto smiling lips. We looked at each other and said, “We did it babe!”

We had done it alright. But in the midst of our triumph I began to hyperventilate. I made the mistake of looking down. I had under estimated just how high we were. I began to feel faint. I began to feel light headed. I had never been afraid of heights before, but there is something about being at the top of a building leaning at about 40 degrees on wet marble with nothing to hold onto that might induce a sudden case of acrophobia.

We wanted to commemorate this moment with a photograph. An old English gentleman offered to be our photographer. He snapped two pictures of me and my adventurous beau, as the wind blew his umbrella from his hand. It toppled down into the belly of the Tower. An attendant retrieved it for him once he reached the bottom again. Our two photos, however, despite the kind gesture, did not come out. Be it operator error or inclement weather, the shots were lost, leaving us with only the memory seared into our everlasting imaginations. Sure, there were other pictures from atop the Tower, but the ones that are lost are always the ones you miss.

The bell of  the "Bell Tower" or A.K.A, The Leaning Tower of Pisa
Now silent to decrease vibration to stave off further leaning.
Note: The original bells are now in a museum in the court yard. 
The final descent was much slower than our rise to the top of the tower. I was suddenly 80 years old, clingy desperately to my husband’s arm. At times, all I could do was claw at a smooth wall with no railings and hope for the best. The stairwell that took you up was the same one that took you down and we had to pass single filed in certain spots which meant I could not hold on to his arm. Sometimes it got so tight that one person would have to come to a complete stop and flatten up against the wall to let another adventurer pass.   

Watch your step!

Tight quarters

By and by, we reached the bottom. I was changed. I was older. I was grateful. I was inspired. My life would never be the same.


Of course there were other sites to see in that court yard on that exceptional day. There was the Cathedral, the Crematory and the Baptistery.

One note about the Baptistery: The roof of the structure was multicolored, checkered red and white on one half and checkered blue-gray and white on the other. Our knowledgeable guide told us that architects had designed it this way for the benefit of the sailors. Apparently, a well trained eye could spot the dome shaped roof of the Baptistery from the sea. Depending on what side he could see a sailor could navigate safely into the port just by deciphering the colors on the roof.

The Baptistry of the Cathedral of Pisa

This is the side with the red checkered pattern
We also visited shops and the small museum that had been built in more modern times. It was interesting to see how the ancient and Gothic had meld so seamlessly into the contemporary and current.

Finally, our tour had come to an end. As we walked back to our coach, hand and hand, we could not resist glancing back at the magnificent sight. We giggled like children, looking at one another and then looking back at the Tower. Even as the coach pulled off it was in our view. We continued to strain our eye sight to see until it ultimately disappeared from view, behind the hills into the fog.

For more history on the Leaning Tower Click Here

The closing act...Rome , The Colosseum and The Vatican. Don't miss it!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

When you gotta go, you gotta go!!

I'll say it again (in my President Obama voice) "God bless the United States of America!"

It is good to go abroad and it is always good to be back home. I find that Europeans are not big on politeness and the niceties we Americans are taught from the womb, like “please” and “thank you”. If someone bumps you or steps on your toe, they usually just keep it moving. No pardon me, no excuse me, no con permiso or perdon. Nothing. They just walk on without a word or glance.

I also noticed that time moves slower over there. Not many people seem to be in a hurry. Numerous businesses close for the mid afternoon “siesta” and the banks…well the term “keeping bankers hours” took on a whole new meaning. Every major bank we passed had a “horario” or hours or operation from 8:30am to 2pm. One better get up early if they want to deposit their check or get some cash for the weekend. Get a late start and you are up a creek.

BUT there is one very interesting point to mention about Europe that I wish America would adopt as customary courtesy. Allow me to explain...
I noticed this practice most especially in Italy and France. These European countries have adopted a pay for public restroom use policy that threw me off initially, but that I found to be most refreshing once I understood it all. I found that most of the restaurants don’t have public restrooms. Those that do may have one stall with a line around the building. But on every corner or around the next bend there were plenty of “public restrooms” all manned with an attendant with a makeshift cash register and a sign that read 50 cents or 0.50 Euro.

Though our tour guide warned us of this practice before debarking to explore the city, I was so thrown off by this occurrence that I held IT…for a long while. I refused to pay for the common civility that every human should be offered. A restroom. Pay to use the toilet! Well I must have missed the memo, because everyone else seemed to be ok with paying. Those who did not grumble were all European though (or some other nationality). We few Americans were put off.

Against all my efforts to squeeze and think of something other than the beautiful crashing waves that we walked along side, my bladder forced this proud American to reach into her purse and pull out 0.50 Euro so that I could relieve myself.


To my pleasant surprise, the public restrooms were spotless, smelled fresh and didn’t make me want to vomit like some that I have been forced to use in the states and in other countries we have visited.
Was this bathroom Mecca a fluke? I thought so too initially. Maybe THAT one had not been used very often. After all, it was sort of off the beaten path. Not too much time passed when I had to go again and realized that this was typical. Clean, fresh restrooms were not atypical, but very usual.

I quickly came to the conclusion that if I had to pay 50 cents to use a clean bathroom, then by George, I was going to have to fit it into the budget. I assume the fee went to the attendant and the attendant with care and pride kept the facility presentable for patrons.


Interestingly enough, though the restrooms were clean, many did not have a toilet seat. Just the bowl. A clean bowl, but just a bowl nonetheless. Hey, when you got to go, you overlook certain things.

I have had to pay to use the restroom here in the states before. It was in L.A. at a McDonalds on the Walk of Fame. But there was no attendant collecting coins. There was just a lock that required you to insert a quarter to use the facility. I was just as out raged then as I was in Europe. Unfortunately, there was no silver lining. Once I paid the fee to use the restroom a horrid, smelly cesspool awaited. I decided to hold it and forfeit my 25 cents.

Up next, The Leaning Tower of Pisa!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Experiencing history in the making in France

Every adventure we have ever embarked upon has involved mystery, mayhem and enough suspense to fill a novel. It’s the stuff that makes life interesting, but a little bit scary. It’s also the stuff that may make the unsuspecting traveler a little wary to go abroad. Near misses and close calls add excitement and amusement to our trips and we always return home with amazing stories, sometimes even tragic ones. In spite of the fear that enshrouds U.S. departure and traveling overseas, I am becoming quite the adrenaline junkie, like those special people that bungee jump from hot air balloons. I am often waiting for the next cataclysmic event…I may be a little twisted…

This go ‘round there was no bungee jumping involved but there was an earthquake in Northern Italy when we were there. The quakes have continued even as recently as today in the city of Novi Di Modena. When we were in India there was a bombing just a block from our 5 star hotel at a hospital in protest against a rival medical establishment. Also while in India, there was a deadly earthquake on the border of India and Nepal. This seems to be becoming a habit for us.

I will add, though these calamities may be fascinating to be experienced from a distance, as it makes for interesting conversation and aligns our lives with a little piece of history, we do not take lightly the fact that we are so blessed to return home each time unharmed. Unfortunately, these kinds of natural disasters and acts of violence would take place regardless of whether we were there or not. Yet, these strange and random events help to remind us of our mortality and the fact that there is an Entity that exists that is larger than ourselves. We are grateful that we have not become the story line, but that we are able to return home to tell the story.

With that said, every story we have to share is not on the fore mentioned level of intensity, but they are intriguing none the less. While in France we were fortunate enough to experience some of the fan fair of the world famous Cannes Film Festival. The historic and exciting Grand Prix was being held in Monaco at that same time. We ran out of time and did not get the chance to slip over there but we heard it was equally as impressive.

In Cannes, we saw the red carpet that the stars were going to grace later that evening and we walked the path they walked and explored the marina filled with their million dollar yachts. History met modern day when we experienced the timeless hotels and casinos where the likes of icons such as Marilyn Monroe stayed when attending the festival.

There were reporters interviewing tents set up with Microphones, bright lights and cameras. We couldn’t make out just which stars were being interviewed at the time, but it could have very well been Gulianna and Ryan dissecting fashion with Tom and Katie. As a matter of fact Tom Cruise’s poster was front and center of the festival upon entering the beginning of the hot spot.

All the important brands put their best stock on display in eye catching, pricey ads and exhibits. The new Mercedes SL 500 boasted a distinctively fresh design after maintaining virtually the same body style for nearly two decades. Then there were the restaurants and high end shops that lined the streets. Surely we could only look in these venues as purchasing anything would have set us back…way back…but we dreamed for awhile, wide eyed and awe struck as we peered in.

We walked the French Riviera (Nice) beside a beach that was washed by ocean water of four different shades of blue. This peaceful and serene backdrop was the birth site of one of the most famous set of Twins in Hollywood, (not to be confused with Dem Babies, another famous twin set). The Brangelina clan flew to Nice, France to quietly give birth to their boy/girl twins. We drove past the now famous hospital.

Courtesy of

Hospital of the Jolie-Pitt Family

At every turn there were historical sites to see, famous monuments and buildings, serene beaches and unsullied waters. We tried to take it all in. We tried to sear it all into our memories so that we would have magnificent memories to share and a story to tell…stay tuned there's more.