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Another day to check off the “must see/do” list – The Coliseum! But not just going to The Coliseum, we did something a little different. We took a tour of the Coliseum underground. This is actually below the level of what was the arena floor. In the photo below the smooth  area in front of the wood railing is where the arena floor existed. This should give on a little more perspective on the photo below it.

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This photo shows the labyrinth of hallways and holding areas that were below the arena. You can see the reconstructed floor at the top of the inner area.

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Going into the area below was fascinating. There were channels where they brought water in to flood the arena so they could have small boats as part of the exhibitions. There were many areas with holding cells for the animals (lions, bears, etc). In the floor were circular areas where posts of winches had stood. They used those to raise the cages with the animals such as lions to the arena floor. Check out that stone work on the left – huge blocks angled to fit and support. To the right some of the arches in the mazes below where the arena floor was.

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The Roman Ruins are in the middle of Rome – duh! It makes it extremely difficult to get photos without the accompanying current day accoutrements. Of course there is a crush of people, not as bad as the Vatican though. But that’s me too, so I can’t complain.
Looking at all of the ancient buildings it is apparent that they’ve gone through many “lives”. The earliest uses not associated with the Catholic church and then those after. It seems that the popes of the early years were conquerors themselves. Even The Coliseum has a cross on it.

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When in Rome – see the Vatican. We took a tour under the Vatican, a necropolis both pagan and Christian. Quite a bit of history of course, secret symbols and signs. Very interesting tour with only 12 people. It was in an area of no photography allowed, as were some other areas we went to. I did take photos when I could.

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There are probably thousands of statues and carvings in the Vatican museum – room after room, row upon row. While looking at the statues was an experience of the arts, the crowds were not. It was shoulder to shoulder, pushing and shoving. I’m not big into crowds and after awhile I really wanted to start stomping on everyone else’s feet. Not my cup of tea. Sculptures were beautiful – people not so.

Every sculpture and carving has a story to tell if you get a chance to look at it long enough before the shoving mass moves you on.

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I of course had to get some photos of the animals. Some looked as if they could break through the stone and walk away. There were many of lions and lion hunts as well as lions hunting. That seems to be a common thread I’ve seen before. There must have been a lot of lions imported! Check out the lion on the right – the colors in the marble are amazing.

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As usual,  the dogs captured my camera as they always do. The one of the left looks very much like one I photographed in the British Museum, I’ll have to go back and check that one out again.

 

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The colors in the chapels are amazingly vivid and everything is covered with the paintings – the ceilings are unbelievable, but the leave me to wonder if they can be truly appreciated as the detail of the paintings and carvings way way up there are lost to the naked eye. 

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By the time we got through the museum and the Sistine Chapel (a no photography allowed area) we felt like this sculpture!

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September 14 (a little late posting) Was the day of ruins. After spending the night at the hotel across the street from the Pompeii ruins we headed over to see Pompeii as soon as they opened. The gate we went in was on the end where the coliseum is, and few people use that gate, basically making our explorations seem like we practically had the place to ourselves. It was pretty amazing seeing things that are in the books and being right there basically on top of everything. Again – like the museum in London there were no ropes in most of Pompeii allowing us to roam where we pleased.
In August of 79AD Mt Vesuvius erupted for three days covering Pompeii in volcanic ash about 6 meters deep.

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Looking down one of the many streets in Pompeii. Looking through several structures. In the background of both is a quiet Mt. Vesuvius.

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Most of the homes have a peristilium, or an inner courtyard surrounded by columns on to which other rooms of the house opened.

 

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We found several frescoes in Pompeii – although not as many as I thought we would. When we found them it was a bit of an unexpected treat. There were many “kitchens” that we found with the urns and counters with built in urns for cooking and food storage.

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Above is the fresco in the thermopolium and next to it the serving counter. A sort of Pompeii restaurant.

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Some of the Pompeii sights. The closer we got to the center of Pompeii more and more people were filling the streets. I got the typical shots everyone gets with all the people in them. Well – can’t always have the place to ourselves!

After Pompeii we headed to Herculaneum. This is another town that was destroyed by Vesuvius’s eruption.  While Pompeii was covered with ash, Herculaneum was destroyed by boiling mud  at temperatures around 400 degrees from the volcano.  We found Herculaneum to have more to see. Frescos were more than just pleasant surprises, they were everywhere as well as mosaics on the walls and also the floors. Again – we had practically unlimited access and there were very few people there.
While Pompeii is a got to see it thing, Herculaneum is a definite not to be missed place to go.

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Part of Hurculaneum from above.

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Two of the many kitchens there. Those urns are pretty darned deep – bet they had really long ladles!

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One of the many frescos on the left. On the right intricate mosaics. Yup – I had to put one up with a dog in it!

After here it was on to Rome.

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lies a wonderful abode we called our temporary home in Modica Sicily. Anime a Sud looks like any other place on the street, but once you walk in it is a place that the word WOW seems to be an understatement.  Because today is a travel day everyone can have a glimpse into where we stayed while we were in Modica. Anime a Sud belongs to Luca, who will have an additional place for people to stay in Modica that is scheduled to open sometime in 2012. That said, I’m sure that his new place will have a lot to live up to given the wonderful accommodations at Anime a Sud. You’ve all seen the narrow street and alley way shots that I’ve taken. I’ve learned that all is not as it seems on the outside. What lies behind those unassuming doors are wonderful abodes that are as nice as any place you can dream to stay in.

Anime a Sud is a wonderful blend of old and new. The old  of the building including what I believe may be the original door before the remodel and Luca’s amazing artwork adorn the walls. The views are amazing and can allow one to believe they have experienced Modica without even leaving the outdoor terrace.

And while the home was wonderful – 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, a full kitchen a terrace and a balcony, the wonderful hospitality of Amalia who met us when we got there, gave us great ideas of where to eat, what to see and also set up the winery tour, the cooking class, and the Don Puglisi Chocolate Laboratory tour and tasting. She was wonderful in answering any questions any time we had them. She is amazing.

A photo is worth a thousand words, so here for everyone to see is the novel of Anime a Sud – where we stayed. Enjoy!

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Today was all about food. Oh my goodness, wonderful food and full bellies!

After cappuccino this morning we went to a wonderful home and B&B Modicarte for our cooking class. It was a warm and homey location, compete with gardens for fresh herbs and vegetables that were gathered for us to cook with. We made everything with guidance from the family. I have way too many photos of all the food and fun that we had there. I’ll try using the album feature for these (hope it works!).
We both thoroughly enjoyed cooking – and made our first real pasta – it was excellent cooked and the layered with cheese and red sauce and cheese in a timbale lined with fried eggplant that was marinated in olive oil. Sooo good. And – the chocoholic that I am I now know how to make chocolate – watch out world!

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Everyone who knows me, knows how much I love dogs. The trip has been great, but I do miss the furry members of our family. Today I got my “dog-fix”. Also at Modicarte is a sweet dog named Rocko who greeted us with tail wags and that doggie smile that we know so well. Rocko eventually checked out my shoes giving them a little sniff, then another, and then wow – big sniffs and fast tail wags – yup – he figured out that we have dogs too. I’m sure that our dogs will get wiff of our meeting!

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After eating way too much food, we managed to get back to the apartment skirting around the road closure that allowed us to have a bit more of a scenic drive.  A quick check of my online class and it was nap time for me. This being the food day we were not done yet! Amalia took us to the Don Puglisi chocolate laboratory. What another wonderful treat – and we had Amalia’s children and some of their friends with as well which made this extra special – because well there is nothing like a kid in a candy store – and switch that to a chocolate laboratory and it’s one hundred times better. The chocolate at Don Puglisi Modica Chocolate is all hand made. Just like we had learned to do earlier in the day. We got to see and learn about the cocoa pod and beans and how they make the chocolate. This type of chocolate has a grainy texture because it is not taken to a high temperature, but rather done in a bain-marie (double boiler for those who aren’t into cooking).  I have always loved this type of texture and reminds me of chocolate fudge we made when I was a kid. We got to taste a few things there including candied orange peel dipped in chocolate – MMmmmm. After the laboratory we went into town to their chocolate shop and tasted even more chocolate, milk of the almond, and some liqueurs as well. Added chocolate bars and more bottles to growing inventory to bring home!

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It’s too bad that we don’t know much of the family history because this is where we may have found some of Charlie’s family. If we had known what his grandfather had done for a living there would have been a chance to track family down.

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Today’s excursion was a road trip to the Greek Temples at Agrigento. It’s harvest time in the vineyards around here and we passed quite a few trucks hauling grapes. None of the trucks were big, they were all small and quite quaint like this one – fun to look at, colorful, and ….. slow!

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The temples are at the top of one of the hills. Classic Greek style dating around 450 BC. The best preserved is the Temple of Concordia built around 430 BC. This particular temple was actually converted to a Christian basilica around 597. When it was converted two of the idols in the temple were pulled down.

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The Temple of Hera Lacinia dates to ~460 BC. While it is not the best preserved, I found it fascinating to photograph. It is located further away from the entrance than the Concordia temple making it a bit of a hike for some people. There were less people and better vantage points to shoot from.

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The third temple we checked out was Temple of Herakles built around 500 BC. It’s another that did not have many people around it and also had wonderful vantage points as well.

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All around the area are pieces of the ancient columns that you have to walk around or over and on top of. It’s amazing that you can actually touch these and they are not cordoned off!

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Looking at everything here and the massiveness of every single thing it really makes one wonder how they actually built all of this – the stones had to be brought up the hill, they had to be carved, put together, etc. It’s impossible to imagine how it was done with just basic man power alone.

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We had breakfast at a nearby coffee shop again today. This time I had cannoli – mmm with an orange ricotta filling and a wonderfully crunchy shell.  Sitting outside of course we could watch the streets come alive with the Saturday trucks carrying produce to the street markets.

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As we headed back to get the car it seemed like the morning was meant for the local kitties. They’d dash across the street and disappear. We could see them here and there including on the outside edges of the balconies. Many would dash through small holes in the walls. One of course must have gotten the word that Cathy’s camera was there and stopped to pose for me.

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We hit the road again to check out two of the nearby towns. Ragusa was our first stop today – woah – after we parked the car it was quite a hike up to get to the town area. Lots of churches and the now familiar narrow streets.
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it’s actually a very good thing that Ragusa require us to hike up that very steep hill as we had lunch at Ristorante Duomo, a 2 star Michelin restaurant. It was the lunch that kept going and going and going. Oh my, sooo good, and filling.

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Charlie’s lunch (above)                                                 My lunch (above)                                                        My lunch again

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                                                                                             My desert (above)                                                   Charlie’s desert (above)

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We each ordered one lunch item and one desert – the rest were unexpected surprises! Yes – we were very full when we finished. Superb food and service.

From Ragusa we drove to Chiaramonte Gulfi. Thank goodness the hills here could not even be called hills when compared to Ragusa! There was a charming little church here. One of the statues outside and next to the front door actually included two dogs. Yeah – I know I needed a dog fix of some sort (especially after the morning of the cats). These guys were cute – but I do believe the sculptor was not a dog person as the mouth is not that of any canine I have ever seen.

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First – before I get on with today a couple of images from our terrace last night for everyone to enjoy.

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Today was our day to go to the Planeta winery and vineyards. Before we started the drive we stopped and had breakfast of cannoli and marzipan – a great way to start the the day.

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The drive through the countryside was very reminiscent of San Diego with rolling hills dotted with green trees and of course vineyards. There were many old picturesque buildings in the middle of the fields.

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The tasting at Planeta was very nice. This is a large, family run winery. They have six vineyards on the island of Sicily that span 364 hectares.

We had wonderful wines and of course this stop became the beginning of our Italian wine acquisition and of course I added a bottle of excellent olive oil as well. After the tasting they treated us to a marvelous lunch on their terrace.So nice and very relaxing.

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On the way back we stopped in the town of Nota, had gelato and granita and of course took more photos (yes – I took the camera away from my face to eat!). True to form as I go to take a photo of the fountain my camera called out to the local wild life to come and strike a pose. Happens every time! Kind of appropriate considering the fountain and the pose of the statue.

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We sat out on our terrace and had wine and watched the light play against the buildings and local church.

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Of course I have to compete this blog post with what else, but a window – well kind of!

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Yesterday we arrived in Sicily and spent the night at the Royal Hotel build in the early 1700’s in Catania. Breakfast in the morning was out on the roof terrace was light and delicious. Cappuccino was great, view was great in all directions. Old Europe.

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Views from the rooftop terrace of the Royal Hotel. Yes, – I’ve still got that window thing going on.

 

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And- typical of my photos, animals just seem to happen by at the right time – three birds in flight……

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There are amazing markets in Catania – fresh fish galore, gorgeous vegetables and meats. A seemingly unending line of booths up and down the streets. Crowded with sellers hawking their foods and buyers filling their bags. No wonder there are so many chefs from Italy.

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There are definitely going to be good meals around the town.

Of course what would a walk around the town be without stopping for some café Americano and marzipan! MMMmmmm. Off in the distance it was not clouds but smoke/steam from Mt. Aetna – yup a volcano. In checking the reports Mt Aetna actually had an eruption today that diverted some flights and cancelled others. Looks like we got into town just in the nick of time. Having walked the lava fields in Hawaii with active lava a mere step away, Mt Aetna was pretty to see off in the distance.

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Off to Modica – it wasn’t too bad of a drive. Charlie had scoped things out long before and actually ignored “Mr GPS” in getting out of Catania. Our was was definitely the better way. It seems that “Mr GPS” wanted us to have a ‘more scenic’ tour!

The countryside was very different from England. Much more like San Diego actually. Photos in another post another day. Our apartment has phenomenal views of the town, picture postcard pretty.

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My blog posts seem to be getting wordier and full of more photos than I originally intended! Oh well.

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Woke up this morning and packed everything up – it’s all carry on – so pack tight! Our original flight had been moved back several hours so that gave us an extra half day in London. We hopped the tube again, went to a store it place and dropped the bags there.

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Back to the tube and headed over to see The House of Parliament and the surrounding area. The word ornate does not even begin to describe these buildings and churches. I look at them and while I see the beauty in them I get the feeling that there is a one upmanship among the builders and architects of the time. Blue skies and white puffy clouds would have made for nicer photos but one has to take what is there.

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Of course I did take photos of some windows today, but for the blog the doors seem appropriate for parting shots from London.

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We tubed back to the luggage and lugged it back to the tube and then the light rail to Gatwick to catch our flight to our next destination. The British Air lounge at Gatwick was extremely nice and comfy loaded with great food, coffee, wine, and cheese. Next destination – tomorrow’s blog post (hopefully tomorrow not sure if the internet connection will hold long enough to post tonight).

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