Monday, April 30, 2007

More around Rome

Case's desire to see the Scala Sancta (famous in their own right as well as for Martin Luther's visit to them) took us to the vicinity of Basilica of St. John Lateran. The happy mistake of believing the Scala were housed within the basilica (they are in the Sancta Sanctorum across the street) brought us into this historic structure. We learned that St. John Lateran (this structure and the ones preceding it) was the seat of the Bishop of Rome for the first thousand years of Christianity. The property on which it stands was actually donated to the church by Constantine at his conversion, and the first church at this site was dedicated about ten years later, in 324 A.D.
My FAVORITE car in the world -- the Smart car, made by Mercedes and Swatch and coming to America in 2008! The size of two scooters, two can park side-by-side in one normal parking spot. The American version will do 90 mph, with out-of-this-world gas mileage! (Actual gas mileage on the American version is not yet published.)

I don't think there's a bad place in all of Rome to spend the sunset hour. This evening, in a plaza whose name has already escaped our memory, we sat on the edge of an ancient fountain, ate foccacia sandwiches, listened to the buskers, and people-watched in the waning light. (Note the rainbow.)
Another Mini vehicle...
"Hey, get a picture, and let's go."
"Wait... I need to take one without the flash."
"Okay, but I can't do this much longer!"
"Hold more...I'm just going to change one camera setting..."
"Hurry!!! My legs are cramping!!!"

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Sights Around Rome

The Spanish Steps, where Italians "on the make" go to see and be seen -- or so our guidebook said. We simply noted that, judging from the crowds, the entire population of Rome is apparently on the make, and moved on to less crowded venues.
Oh, the cars in Rome! One of the luxuries of travel (over reading a travel book or watching a travelogue) is being able to forego the usual sights in favor of observing the behavior of the natives. We spent and amusing few minutes watching various pedestrians (mostly men) ogle this Lamborghini. We were hoping the owner would return, so we could see who would drive an orange (ORANGE! I ask you!!!) Lamborghini.
What this photo doesn't show is the delicious gelatto we were consuming as we watched the sun set on the Coliseum.
The Trevi Fountain: Rome's second-most-crowded spot.

St. Peter's & the Vatican by night. Due to a fortuitous choice of lodging, the nightly stroll back to our B&B usually took us by this viewpoint.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Rome, Italy

We spent our first day in Rome at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City. The size, grandeur, and intricacy of this epic structure cannot be captured in photos, but here is our best effort to convey what we experienced.

Fortunately for us, the lines to get into the basilica moved more efficiently than we might have expected from their length (half-way around St. Peter's square). We learned later that security was a bit too efficient, as friends told us stories of "accidentally" getting through security with all kinds of contraband! The 40 minute wait provided Jolene time to bone-up on her Italian. (The words we already knew -- ciao, spaghetti, amore -- were not quite as useful as we'd hoped. "Gelatto", however, turned out to be a fix-all word for Case!)

The interior of St. Peter's is so vast that one loses perspective. See the bronze-brown canopy over the altar? It is as tall as a 7-storey building.

Michelangelo's Pieta is the only work he ever signed. After overhearing someone credit another artist for his work, he carved "Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made it" into the Virgin's sash. He later regretted this outburst of pride and swore to never sign another work of his hands. He never did.

We heard similar stories of the artists' piety and conviction as we admired their work all around Italy. In an age when movies like Amadeus & The Da Vinci Code portray creative genius as an anomaly arising in otherwise profane and heretical minds, it is good to be reminded that some, at least, wrote, sculpted, or painted what they truly loved. (c.f. Michelangelo, Bach, & Botticelli)

As most will recall, the pieta now stands behind bullet-proof glass due to a 1972 incident when a deranged geologist attacked it with a hammer, smashing Mary's nose. We noted a lot of security measures attached to the paintings and sculptures, though much was made less obtrusive by using ultrasound sensors, etc.

For the light-of-foot and not-too-claustrophobic, climbing to the top of the basilica is a worthwhile expedition. Note the slant of the walls as we climb inside the double-walled cupola.

A view, from the cupola, over the roof of the basilica to St. Peter's "square".

Thursday, April 26, 2007

London, England

Our cruise ended today in Southampton, England. We had to be off at 8:30 a.m., and were due in Rome that evening. In between, we traveled by train, plane, subway, bus, and the good, old-fashioned foot (i.e. we hoofed it).
Our flight to Rome departed Stansted airport, north of London. Fortunately, we'd planned enough time to make the trip up from Southampton (in the, um, south), and we even found enough time to dash around London on the way.

Of course, this did make for a rather long day. (But a beautiful one. Note the spring flowers just behind Jolene's weary yawn.)

Passing by the parliament buildings, this monument caught our eyes. From the color scheme and architecture, it looked to us like the work of Hindus or Thai Buddhists.
On closer inspection, however, that was not the case. As seen on the plaque, the monument commemorates the emancipation of slaves in Britain, a triumph of peaceful political process that occurred here some 30 years before the United States, with much greater pain and bloodshed, achieved the same goal.
Having recently seen the movie, "Amazing Grace", we were particularly impressed and moved. The movie is worth seeing. Both it and the monument serve as reminders that people who are willing work tirelessly in the pursuit of a just cause can change the tide of history.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Brest, France (Zzzzzz....)

We slept in on the morning of arrival to Brest, France. It probably doesn't help that Case, though ordinarily happy to scan a phrase book and then slaughter any language you might care to name, adamantly refuses to attempt French. (The most he does is an imitation that he calls "the French guy", and don't EVEN get me started on that!!! The things you learn about someone after you marry them!!!!)

The boat arrived at 9:00 a.m. and had to leave again at 3:00. We managed to struggle forth from our cozy, dark, inside cabin at about 1:00, just in time to hop on the port bus and ride the loop through town. Though I'm sure there's more to see than we did, we were less than overwhelmed. It probably doesn't help that, during WWII, the Allies bombed the city to rubble (only three buildings remained standing) because of its large German submarine base. Aside from a rather striking old fort on the point of the harbor, we saw only concrete boxes. Stalin would have loved it, but after the port city architecture of the Azores and Cobh, Ireland, it was a bit of a let-down.

So, for photos, we're including these colorful snapshots (yes, these were taken in Brest):
Crowds leave the port buses toting crepes, wine, and haute couture.

A troupe of French bagpipers pipes us back to sea. (They play the bagpipes in Brittany. Who knew?)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Cohb and Cork, Ireland

Our ship docked right in downtown Cohb, a picturesque little port on the Irish coast!

Cobh isn't as well known as it should be. It tends to be eclipsed by it's larger neighbor, Cork. Adding to the obscurity, Cobh was know as "Queenstown" from 1849 (when Queen Victoria paid a visit) until 1922 (when the Irish Free State was founded and the town's original name was restored).
You might know Cobh (Queenstown then) as the last port of call for the Titanic before she began her ill-fated voyage in 1912. Just three years later, the Lusitania's was heading for Cobh when she was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat, helping to move USA and some of the other neutral nations toward joining Britain in the "Great War".

Cobh's port saw the passage of millions of Irish sons and daughters bound for USA, Canada, and other countries of the "Irish diaspora" during the years of the Irish Potato Famine (1845-1849). Those same years saw ships entering the port from all over the world, laden with foodstuffs donated to relieve the famine.

The town contains memorials to all these events. (It's a great town for memorials, and no less picturesque because of it.)
From Cohb we caught a train to Cork, which vies with Dublin to be "THE" Irish city.

Case was more than relieved to discover the Irish natives friendly when he found, to his chagrin, that he'd brought British pounds instead of Euros onto the train to pay for things -- like the train ticket. (Think about trying to use old South Vietnamese currency in today's Vietnam for some sense of his consternation.) Fortunately for us, the conductor was understanding of these silly cruise-ship sheep and simply advised us to change our money and buy our ticket when we got to the station (which we did).

Cork is much more the bustling metropolis. Here, we learned less about history and more about life in Ireland. Most of this we learned by ambling around, looking for steeples and other interesting landmarks.

In the process, we managed to find public market. (And what better place to learn about Irish life?)

Mmmm....fresh bread....where's the plastic wrap?!

Case takes a few minutes to find our location on the of the hazards of wandering around town! (Could he be searching for a place to sample Irish coffee?)

Steeplechase is a fine tourist sport, don't you think? We wandered around St. Fin Barre's Anglican Cathedral, built in 1862. This site has been home to a monastery since the 7th century.

the interior....

....and the rose window.
(... and then it was time to get back to Cobh and our ship ...)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Navigator of the Seas, Royal Carribean

We spent 12 days on Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas.

I think we had maybe 2 days of sunshine on the crossing. Fortunately, the ship has a lot of interior space. This is "The Promanade", a five storey atrium space lined by shops and restaurants.

Glass-walled elevators transported the slow-of-hoof between the 14 decks.

This is the view down the elevator well from our 10th floor landing to the 5th floor Promenade.

We saw a lot of this sort of weather.

Fortunately, there were several heated pools & hot tubs.

And the gym gave us a place to stretch our legs when it was too windy and cold out on the running track (5 laps to the mile).

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Punta Delgada, Azores Islands, Portugual

We left Miami on April 14, heading for Europe via Bermuda. We were pretty eager to spend some time in Bermuda, but it was not to be. Somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle, we sailed into 20 ft. seas and 50+ mph winds. The closer we came to Bermuda the worse the conditions became. Finally, our prudent Captain announced that, as Bermuda's harbors and airport were now closed due to weather, we wouldn't try to sail into port there. Instead, he had found us dock space in Portugual's Azore Islands, about 600 miles west of the Rock of Gibraltar and several days further sailing from our current position. We spent a full seven days at sea before our first port. It's a tribute to the ship and its crew that we didn't run out of food or things to do during that time. (The ship has a mini-golf course, and even an ice rink!)

Arriving at the Azores. The waterfront architecture reminded Case of Penang, Malaysia, where he grew up.

Happy to have my feet on land!

A look around town....

We thought these signs were worth a picture. It's not often you see a signpost pointing opposite directions to reach the same places.
This port city features a number of beautiful public & private gardens. The islands, as a whole, were a lush garden. Apparently, two volcanoes had merged together to form our island, creating a lot of fertile soil in the process.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

EPCOT, Orlando, FL

Disney's EPCOT is more of an experience than we were able to capture in photos. Seeing the Disney version of a dozen countries via their architecture, food, music, multimedia presentations, and people ("cultural ambassadors" from each country work at each exhibit) made for a fun day. Being Disney, they included some rides that could be related to the associated country only by stretching the imagination a bit. (But why not? It's Disney!)

Being springtime, Disney was in the midst of their Garden Show. The grounds were in full bloom, including the Disney character sculptures (Beauty and the Beast in their creepy -- vine -- incarnations).
The colors of the corals in aquarium at the "Nemo" aquarium were quite eye catching. We had a lot of fun shooting photo after photo, hoping to get something that would start to convey the beauty of the underwater environment. (Ain't digital film great?!!)
The firework show at the end of the day provided another opportunity to see what digital film can capture...