Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Pompeii, located in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, was a prosperous town. It had been dormant longer than any humans remembered - no history of its destructive nature had survived. Prior to its devastating eruption, there had been a violent day filled with earthquakes, but that was 17 years earlier and while buildings and homes were still being repaired, life had returned to normal for the community of Pompeii.
It began with earthquakes, small, seemingly insignificant and people ignored them. Then the calm sea turned into giant waves but still, it didn't bring a warning. Finally, the volcano burst, spewing smoke, mud, flames and burning stones with a rain of ash and rock spread throughout the area, swallowing farms, orchards and villas.
People fled their homes while others locked themselves inside rooms, hoping to keep the ash out. Between the excessive heat and fumes of poisonous gases, the people of the city were killed. By the end of the day, the town of Pompeii was covered in a layer of debri 30 feet thick.
While small things had been found over time, it wasn't until the late 1700's that excavation of the area began. It is startling to realize how organized, how "civilized", cities at that period of history could be. The streets were paved, with stepping stones so that one could walk across the street without stepping into puddles or dirt that could have been tracked by a horse. The roads had proper sidewalks that you could walk along. Along the streets there were stores, sometimes homes that sold something from their front porch. The bakers had ovens, grinders, carts for hauling the bread. And the counters - they're fabulous, made out of marble. They even have holes with warming areas underneath to keep the food they were selling hot!
There were some common elements to the homes in Pompeii. From the entranceway, the visitor would enter into an atrium where there would be a small pool to catch rainwater. Sometimes these were outside in a garden area, such as the picture here with the faun or they might be inside the house with a hole in the roof above it. Many of the houses would have a small garden in back, though some of the larger homes could have quite extensive gardens. The other rooms of the house would open up onto the atrium or areas surrounding the garden type area.
Some of the homes have beautiful paintings on the walls, many of them quite well preserved. The paintings were apparently used the way we hang pictures. Many homes had mosaics in the entrance way, other outside areas or covering the floors of their homes and some are quite well preserved.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Mc What?

I couldn't resist this sign. Here we are, wandering the streets of Rome...the coliseum, the forum, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain...the list goes on. As we wind our way through the streets, some large, some small, we notice these red signs...with yellow on them...and realize that each on is pointing to a particular historical well as the ubiquitous McDonald's. We truly spread junk food around the world.

So what's with the gold ball in the courtyard?, we're roaming around the many museums in Vatican City when I look out a window and discover a gold ball in the courtyard. I immediately have to wonder what in the world it is...why is it there. Well, after a little searching (and finding out I'm not the only one with the same question), I have discovered it is actually bronze (could have fooled me) and it's called "Sphere Within Sphere" - and if you're on the other side, you can actually see the 2nd sphere. It is just that, a sculpture placed in the middle of the courtyard. 
The museums at the Vatican are some of the most interesting museums I've been to. Throughout the ages, various popes created the museums to house wonderfully interesting items from around the world. Not only that, the rooms that the collections were housed in were masterpieces in themselves with fabulous paintings on every wall and ceiling. It was fabulous to wander the halls. 
The Gallery of the Tapestries was one of my favorites. The intricate work, the details of the animals, houses, trees, and especially the expressive faces was incredible. Not only that, they were huge! The walls were about 2 stories high and the tapestries filled the walls. Absolutely stunning. This is just a small corner of one - but it had an Even though the room was designed to hold these tapestries, the ceilings were intricately frescoed with various paintings. 
Another personal favorite was the Gallery of the Maps. This particular room had maps of Italy painted directly on the wall, each depicting a region or island of Italy. The maps were very detailed and in the process of being restored. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

Pictures of Rome

Here is a link to Jeff's wonderful pictures of our trip to Rome.

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica is one of the largest churches in the world, however, it is billed as the "the largest interior" of any Christian church...has to be a qualifier in it somewhere. It also sports the world's largest dome (no qualifier on that least not yet). It is impossible to describe the incredible sculptures, marble, paintings, and history incorporated into this one building.  
The interior is filled with 45 altars (no, I didn't count them). The sculptures are incredible, including the famous Pieta by Michaelangelo and the throne and altar by Bernini. Just absolutely stunning. It was breathtaking to walk around the church, looking at the incredible detail and richness of the basilica. 
For the uninitiated, including me, a basilica is an "important church building" that has been given basilica status by a pope. The cathedral is a church that holds a bishop's throne, important but not as high on the hierarchy as a basilica. Now you know. 
Once we viewed everything from the halls below, we began our climb to the dome. We chose to ride the elevator for the first part - a wise move since the walk to the cupola was at least 1.5 of the elevator ride. We entered first into the upper reaches of the basilica with a stunning view of Bernini's throne. After circling the lower dome, we moved outside and into the circular stairs that took us ever higher to the top. The view of Vatican City was spectacular as well as an impressive view of the square in front with its matching fountains and obelisk. 

We did get an interesting perspective of some of the many huge statues located on buildings and in niches across Rome. I've honestly never given them a thought before, anticipating that like the magnificent work of the masters, they would be spectacular, rich with detail, and complete...wrong. We discovered that what you see is not always what you THINK you're seeing. It looks ornate and detailed from the piazza below but when you're up on's not.
The Swiss Guards (yes, they must be Swiss and yes, they must be men) that you find around the Vatican are there to protect the pope. While around the Vatican and at various checkpoints, you will find them in their distinctive uniforms, when they travel with the pope they are often in "plain clothes". Here, even a nun can't get past them to enter another section of the great basilica. 

Spanish Staircase

The Scalinata, or Spanish Steps, have the distinction of being the "longest and widest staircase in Europe". Really??? We headed off in search of them, a prime spot for watching the sunset in Rome. It is indeed a popular site with hundreds of people hanging out by the fountain (yes, all piazzas must have a fountain), up the steps, and along the distinctive church perched on the top, the Trinita de Monti.
Hmmm...seems the word "longest" got lost in translation...must be the qualifier "widest" that gives it the distinction. At only 138 steps, it hardly qualifies for long. It is, however, quite striking in the sinking rays of the sun and everyone was out en mass to enjoy it; dances going on around the fountain, a film of some sort being shot, street vendors nestled into every flat space, every hand had a camera, and the voices were from every language.


Rome has a hundred, at least, piazzas dotting the landscape and most of them have a fountain of some sort. The roots to the fountains come from early Roman history, when aqueducts were first built to bring water to the city. It became a custom to create a fountain, or mostra,at the entry point of an aqueduct in the city. Back then there were 39 fountains and 500 plus basins where people could get clean drinking water. Just building the aqueducts was a feat in itself. Plus, they had two aqueducts as a source for each major fountain so that if one was being worked on, there would still be water available. What planning!
The most famous fountain is Trevi Fountain. The fountain is a spectacular combination of heroes and gods, horses and flowing water. The effect is breathtaking, and extremely popular with the tourists. The place was absolutely mobbed both times we went. It's because of the time it was sunset and the next in the middle of the day. Jeff, however, is the custodian of the spectacular pictures.
Piazza de Navona has a number of striking fountains, apparently one isn't enough when you have to compete with the popularity of some other fountains. This one includes Neptune fighting an octopus! Just for added interest, there are also some added horses and other figures along the outside of the basin. picture seems to have disappeared into cyberspace. Check out the link for pictures of it.

Roman Forum

The center of economic and civic life was the Roman Forum. This was where anybody who was anyone conducted their business. The Senate met up here and it was also the location of Palantine Hill, where the rich and famous primarily lived. At one time this must have been an absolutely unbelievably busy and gorgeous place to be.
Since the various gods played such a large role in Roman life, and since it seemed that any number of new gods were adopted at various times, numerous temples and altars could be found up here. You didn't even have to be a god to get a temple...Julius Casear and Romulus each had one as well as Jupiter, Venus and Roma. There was also the House of the Vestal Virgins, with the all important job of keeping the fire provide security for Rome but hmmm.... seems it didn't always work so well....
With all these temples, basilicas and arches commemorating victories and people, it seems that it might have been difficult to have ruled from up seemed pretty cramped and we were looking at only partial buildings. Course then again, all the buildings listed may not have existed at the same moment in time...after all, they were great recyclers... They did mention that the Temple to Casear was used for meetings and that there were some unground areas. Still, must have been a tight squeeze with up to 300 elected senators. Capitoline Hill, opposite Palantine Hill, held many other buildings where meetings were held at various times.
Palantine Hill was the home to emperors and Kings, all of them bent on outdoing the previous ruler. While it's hard to imagine the extent of some of the homes from the rough walls now left, you can see the extent of them and with the reconstructions they have made it is almost unbelievable! These homes were spectacular, extensive, and, of course, expensive. Sadly, Romans had a great need for slaves to build these lavish homes as well as to keep them running smoothly, hence their constant push to capture more land, more cities and thus have more money and more slaves to continue building and expanding. Have to say, though, that I'm sure the lower classes didn't look on things in quite the same way. This shot was from the top of the hill in an open area just past an arena, on its way to some of the plush homes on Palantine Hill. Nearby there's a view of the famous Circus Maximus - a huge track primarily used for horse racing and maybe mock battles.


Once again, we have intelligently chosen to take the wonderful red eye flight out of Doha, slaves to the ever ellusive cheap(er) flight. On the plus side, I finally watched all three of the Twilight when will number four come out?
I'm happy to say we are in the world of public transportation. Train from the airport was cheap, but slow. Took us within blocks of our apartment but we had no idea. The 10 minute walk took almost 20 by cab...and cost twice what it should have. We now have week long metro passes and have roamed everywhere for less than the first taxi.
When we finally settled in...and took a greatly needed nap, we headed off for the Roman Collesium. It is an enormous ampitheater that was an early symbol of the city of Rome. Apparently, according to the stories, the citizens of Rome could come to watch the games for free. They also had free food and wine for them inside!
The building itself would hold 80,000 people. It's hard to imagine that many people living in the area at that time. They had gladiator fights, wild animal fights, as well as naval battles! They would flood the arena and then stage great battles between two or more ships! Hard to imagine the required technology to allow them to do all of that in the same space. They also had a cover that could be pulled across the top to protect the people, particularly the dignitaries, from the rain and sun!Over time they added the understructure here where they housed the wild animals they would bring up to the arena. Apparently this was not in place when they were doing the naval battles (good thing too, if you wanted to keep your ship!)
A couple of earthquakes brought down a large section of the outer wall but that didn't stop it from being used, although,overtime, it has been abandoned, used to stage wild boar hunts ( hmmm...wild boar, I think of being in the foothills, not an arena), a fortress and a quarry. Sadly, the marble that once covered it almost entirely has been almost completely removed for other projects long ago.
These people really believed in recycling. Whenever a ruler was ousted or found in disfavor, any temple, arches, or other edifices that were built for him would be torn down. Not to let the building supplies go to waste, they would be incorporated into a new something for the new favored person. Situated next to the colosseum is the Arch of Constantine, built to commemorate his victory over somebody(history is not my strong suit here) and was created out of pieces from other, older, arches.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


We came, at last, to the end of our idyllic trip on the Turquoise Coast. I can still feel the gentle rocking of the ship – and can hardly wait until our next adventure…but wait…this one isn’t over yet!!!
We spent some time in the tiny town of Fethiye, the end, or the beginning, of the journey for many tours in the region. The small town prospers during the tourist season as hundreds of boats berth here, taking on new people, letting go of others. Wandering through the streets as we waited for our van to take us to the airport, we discovered many things…a Turkish Bath…where 5 of us spent a relaxing 2 hours being cleaned and massaged. Then, as we wandered through the streets, we discovered that this is, indeed, a town the supports truth in advertising.
Ah the airport…we got to know the airport really well. After a 1.5 hour drive, we arrived at the airport in good time, stood in line and got our boarding pass…for 3 hours later than our flight was supposed to leave. We checked…no, it was right, our flight was delayed. In fact,. ALL the flights on Turkish Air were delayed…and delayed…and delayed. After a few hours – and believe me, this airport has nothing in it…we were waiting and waiting, along with hundreds of other people. We discovered, however, that our plane was actually on the ground, at our airport…but we had no pilot. OK, pretty important person to have on a plane…but wait...there was a pilot sitting in the same waiting room, the pilot for the flight ahead of ours…but his plane wasn’t here. Now, a rational person would say “hmmm…pilot + plane = flight” and I would have been happy for the earlier flight to have taken off but…no can do…one can’t just go swapping planes and pilots. He had to wait for HIS plane (identical to ours) while we had to wait for OUR pilot. Go figure. 

Final Island

The next night found us once again near some ruins to explore. It was also a prime location for checking out the sunset and we were just in time. We all were ferried across to the island where we were greeted by the “temple cat” sitting at the wharf, rather disdainful of our presence.
We began the trek to the top, exploring the many remaining walls and partial buildings along the way – a lot of them were old churches… have to wonder why there were so many in such a relatively small space. The island was inhabited by goats and cats now, except for the tourists, the people were long gone. The sunset was indeed glorious and colorful and well worth the hike up.

Entrepreneurs and more

As I have said…the people here are quite enterprising…if you don’t go to where their shop is, they come to you. There were a number of small boats cruising among all of the sailing vessels in the various ports…all of them selling something. Sometimes it was souvenirs of some sort but usually it was food. The ice cream sellers had a couple of large ice chests on their boat along with a large, glossy board with the ice creams pictured on it. Big hit in the hot sun. Then, not to be outdone, an even more unique boat came along – selling fresh made crepes. The woman would roll out the crepe and fill it with whatever you wanted – nutella with bananas, coconut crème, cheese and onions and more. They were a big hit with our group!
Here’s a view of our sleeping mats – the rooms down below were so stuffy that we all slept out on top. The view of the sky was magnificent! You could truly see the milky way and millions of stars! What a treat…rocked on softly lapping waves, a clear view of the stars, fresh breezes keeping the night fresh, a beautiful sunrise to watch without even getting up out of bed. ‘Course the middle of the night mother nature calls were murder but otherwise, it was great.
We did have one morning that was a bit touch and go. For some reason we had to leave at 4 am…don’t ask me why, all we did was go somewhere else and moor the boat for swimming, however, we did. We went out into the ocean, rather than the protected strip of the Turquoise Coast (all of those gorgeous islands). That morning was quite choppy – and a number of people succumbed to the churning waves and tossing boat. Fortunately it didn’t seem long – and I was able to just go back to sleep. By the time I got up, we were back in the sheltered islands again.
The crew was great – they didn’t speak very much English at all but they were great cooks and they were always ready to do something silly…like taking off the helm!!! Despite the limited language, they were always courteous and friendly. One night a number of the younger group went off on a water taxi to the local bar. That was not a problem but they didn’t come back on the first or 2nd run…our young captain, who couldn’t go to sleep until they came back (and this was that 4 am day) finally got on his boat, ran over to the bar, walked inside and said “now” and everyone left. Didn’t need much language for that!

Island Views

Our first day took us along the coast, skirting on the inside passage between numerous islands. The sailing was smooth and the scenery gorgeous. We had time to bask in the sun, read, rest in the shade, read, talk with others, read, play games, read and did I mention read? With 19 people on board, it was amazing that everyone was a reader – everyone had a book, if not more than one book, with them. Definitely my kind of people. It was fascinating to have such a diverse group of people – two women who worked with international companies, bringing people to various places, two couples just traveling around for as long as the money held out, and a TaeKwonDo Master – even higher ranking than Master Darrell. The conversations were interesting.
Our trip was taking us down the Turquoise Coast…and if you could have seen the water, you would have instantly known why it was so named. Everywhere you looked the color was stunning. We stopped at the ruins on a tiny island, the name of which has been impossible to discover. Nevertheless, a large group of us decided to head for shore and climb up to the top for a view.
Now…the people here are very savvy about tourists…they know you’re going to come climbing up the hill to check out the ruins at the top so…they set up all of their shops along the way, enticing you to buy jewelry, clothes, papers, food, drinks…you name it, they have it. I have become fairly quick at learning how to say “no thank you” in many languages. Fortunately for the locals, my friends were not so good. We had a few people who loved to pick up great deals…and everyone was happy.
Once we got up on the hill we were treated some stunning vistas and goregeous, vivid colors. While the ruins were small and not as extensive as those in Olimpos, they were set in an impressive location. 
We had a great view of the islands around us, our ship, pristine waters and clear skies. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Now…you might be asking what we were doing on this trip…after all, staying in treehouses doesn’t seem to be worth spending all the time and money and honestly, it wasn’t. However…it was the first step to our sailing adventure. After yet another 1.5 hour journey by van, we arrived at the harbor where our home on the ocean stood waiting for us. Twenty-three of us, including the crew, were going to spend the next 4 days traveling among the islands of Turkey along the Mediterranean Ocean, basking in the sun – more shade than sun, thanks to the covers, sipping tea and other genial beverages, jumping in the water, snorkeling…ah what a tough life we live.
All summer long we had walked along the wharfs of Croatia, looking at the sailboats ready to go on excursions. I spent a lot of time wishing we were the ones getting on the boat rather than just walking by, wishing. Well…this time we were the ones getting on…and a rather long process it was. You can’t just tell 23 people to go to their rooms at once…the doorway isn’t large enough. There’s a ton of luggage all over the deck, the captain doesn’t speak much English, (he’s the man in the back without a shirt on- I think the twins are older than he is) the rest of us are quite noisy…it just plain takes a while to sort it all out.
 Fortunately, they have it all figured out, having done it on many occasions and once they got all of us to quiet down, they let us know where our rooms were. I’m sorry to report that once again the vision didn’t match reality. The rooms were quite roomy if you were about 8 years old – plenty of room to turn around, jump on the bed and easily take a shower. However, for the adult sized passenger…the rooms were…cramped. Two of us could not move around in it (hence I’m on the bed while Jeff is standing in the only available space in the room outside of the bathroom). It’s also quite hot below decks as it was…and the air conditioning comes from the tiny window above the upper bunk…and it only works when the boat is moving and then not all that well. I'm happy to report, we would be sleeping up on the deck…more about that later.


Now…we weren’t the only ones on this crazy adventure…or trying to steal toothpicks to stay awake. There were 9 of us all total…including the geek squad. Here we are, sitting out in the middle of nowhere, rustic accommodations…
but they have wifi (for a fee) and everyone is online. The boys had homework to do and games to play and Jeff…well…he screens all hotels by whether or not they have internet available and if they don’t, we don’t stay there. While they played with their computers, the rest of us sat around, had beers or tea (I really like Turkish tea) and talked until time for dinner and, finally, sleep.

In the morning, since we woke up earlier than we had really hoped to, we set out to explore the ancient city of Olympos. Back in its day, (sometime BC) it was probably fairly important, setting right on a protected bay, right on the Mediterranean Ocean. Not sure what it exported or raised however, it’s a good climate so I’m

sure there was something going on. It was a Greek city and the remains of a large church (several of them, or so it seems), numerous buildings, and a convenient location on a creek probably made it a pretty nice place to live. Of course, since it was a nice place, others came and took it over. I’m not sure which buildings were inspired by which country but most of the ruins seems to be either Greek or Roman.


We really do live a privileged life here. If we were back in the states and had a break, we’d most likely stay home, work in the yard, or at the zoo, but we probably wouldn’t go anywhere – especially since we just returned to school a month ago. However, when you are teaching internationally, that is NOT the norm. While there were families who stayed in Doha and enjoyed some of its amenities, many more of us struck out for adventure.
Ah yes…the call of adventure. The last day…we worked all day long, stayed late to make sure lesson plans were done and the rooms were clean, came home to pack and then headed off to the airport around midnight..yes, that’s right..midnight. Our flight was at 2 am (toothpicks anyone???). Fortunately everything ran smoothly and we were able to board the flight and even fall asleep on our way to Istanbul. It seemed like it was only minutes before we were greeted by sun streaming through the plane windows as we landed – met by the tour company for our 1.5 hour trip to our treehouse pensyon – the “hotel” for the night.
OK…”Treehouse Pensyon” sounds pretty adventurous…I honestly pictured Swiss Family Robinson type place, you know, something along the lines of Disneyland construction. (The picture on the map helped foster the concept also.) I expected to be climbing into the trees, maybe not too high but up there a bit, open air, rustling leaves, rustic furniture, creative plumbing (maybe not a toilet but at least water to brush your teeth). Hmmm…something got lost in the translation. We did get off the ground, there were plenty of gaps in the construction for open air and there were trees in the vicinity. Rustic furniture…only if you count a mattress thrown on the floor as rustic and as for the plumbing…climb out of the treehouse and head for the nearest facility. Primitive accommodations I think describes the place more accurately.