August 20, 2011

Night Opening at the Castel Sant'Angelo

A few weeks ago, we went to a special evening opening of the Castel Sant'Angelo in which extra rooms and areas of the castle were open to visitors. I have to tell you that I was like a little kid on a giant playground. It was so much fun! I knew I was going to be too busy taking it all in so the first thing I did was pass my camera off to my boyfriend. Therefore, I give all credit for the great night shots in this post to him. We started the visit by catching up to the English guided tour when it was about halfway through. As far a guided tours go it wasn't the best but considering it did not cost extra and we learned a few things, I was glad we caught up to it.  And after the tour we got the chance to go explore on our own.
 From the top of the Castel and the fortress walls are some awesome views of  Saint Peter's Basilica and the Pont Sant'Angelo as well as the rest of Rome. While I was trying to keep up with the tour, English Boy was falling behind with the camera. He had fun taking pictures and I've been having a lot of fun editing them. This is one of my more artistic edits of the view of Saint Peter's.
 So here is brief history of Castel Sant'Angelo... It was originally build by Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. Then a few hundred years later it was turned into a military fortress to defend Rome against invaders. Eventually the popes took it over and turned it into a castle and a prison. The castle got its name from the legend that one of the popes saw the Archangel Michael appear at the top of the castle. Now the castle is a museum showing the history of the building as well as art and military weapons.
 The differences in the building seem to me to be layered almost like a cake. It is really interesting to walk through each layer. The architecture, the functions and overall feel of the place change as you make your way through. I think my favorite part is the ancient roman mausoleum because, one, I am a sucker for ancient roman history. And two, I just love the old and mysterious vibe of it while walking along a giant spiral ramp that goes up the Castel. The ancient Romans had some amazing structures and if I could go back in time it would be to see the roman empire at its peak.
When the popes turned the fortress into a castle, a wall was built that connected the castle and the Vatican. It was used by the popes to escape to the castle in times of trouble. This wall was one of the areas open to visitors during this night opening. Having stopped to have dinner at the Castel resaurant we were in a hurry when we finally got to walk along the wall before the museum closed, but there was no way we were going to miss it. It started as a barely lit narrow path with high walls. Then going through a doorway, we were inside the wall that had only narrow slits to see out of. Once we got to a set of stairs we climbed to the top of the wall and headed for the Vatican.
Eventually we had to make our way back as it was blocked off at the end. But it was really cool walk where not many people get to visit. It was also strange to one moment be in an ancient mausoleum/old castle to suddenly looking down at the more modern streets of Rome. At one point along the wall we were walking by someone's open apartment window and we could watch their TV and see into their kitchen. It felt  so much like the rest of Rome does in which you find yourself constantly in a mix of ancient and modern times.
This evening opening was one of the most interesting things I've done in Rome. It makes me definitely want to take advantage of more summer events and festivals here.  I hope you all liked this post. I'm sorry I haven't posted in a long time. I give no excuses and will only say…I'm working on it.
Ci vediamo,

March 26, 2011

Old Stuff and Bright Colors: Sightseeing in Marrakech

In my last post I told you a bit about my trip to Marrakech and my overall impression. This time I want to share some of the things we saw. After about a day in Marrakech, we realized that visiting tourist attractions was the best way to escape the constant hustle from the city locals.  One of the first places we went was the Badi Palace. It was mostly destroyed so all that was really left was the skeleton of the building.  Just the size of the palace was really impressive though.
All over the tops of the walls were precariously perched stork nest.  It was surprising that some were even hanging on. Also, in Marrakech there are stray cats everywhere so I just had to get this picture of a cat halfway up an ancient wall meowing at the giant storks nest. I found it so funny.
 It started to rain while we were there so our sightseeing ended pretty quickly. We also visited the Saadian Tombs that day but they weren't as exciting as I thought they would be. And the rain was killing my enthusiasm. These tombs were kept in place and not destroyed with the palace due to superstition or some such. There was not much information on sight to I didn't learn very much.
The last day of our trip we visited a botanical garden designed by the artist Jacques Majorelle. This was one of my favorite places in all of Marrakech.  The colors are so vivid and exciting; I couldn't help smiling while I was here. 
Can you tell I really loved the blue? I hardly took any pictures of the plants. But just to be fair, there were a lot of cactus in this garden; which is not anything new to this Arizona girl. There were so many tourists visiting the Majorelle Gardens that it was hard to get pictures without people in them.
I also want to mention the restaurant we went to for dinner one night, Cafe Arabe. It was completely touristy as far as restaurants go but so nice. The food was great and the restaurant was nicely decorated. And the biggest plus about it... it had the nicest and cleanest bathroom in all of Marrakech.
I had such a great time on this trip. I can't wait to see more of Morocco. Check out my last post if you want to hear more about my trip and see more pictures. I hope I was able to give you a little taste of what Marrakech is like.

Leave me a comment if you have ever been or want to go. I want to hear about your experiences!


March 24, 2011

First Trip to Morocco

Arriving in Marrakech, Morocco for the first time was exciting. I had never really considered Morocco as a vacation destination and really didn’t know much about it. So I didn't know what to expect.  Taking the bus from the airport to the center of town we drove down palm tree lined roads and passed people riding bicycles, motor bikes, and donkey pulled carts.  On street corners were saddled camels and horse drawn carriages waiting for tourists to take advantage. 
It was exciting to be somewhere so new to me.  During this trip I was prepared to take as many pictures as I could but I soon found out that would be harder than I thought. As soon as you pull out your camera the locals want money from you.  Walking into the main square of Marrakech's old town we saw snake charmers, men with monkeys, women offering henna tattoos, and carts selling fresh orange juice.  All of them shouting hello and trying to get get you to buy things or give them money. The henna tattoo ladies were the most aggressive by shoving a book of pictures in my face and trying to pull my hand, which was clasped around my camera, out of my pocket. Marrakech never felt unsafe to me but was definitely a place that, if not careful, someone could be cheated out of their money.
The old town of Marrakech, called the Medina, is filled with winding maze like streets and alleyway.  Most of them so small that only a few people can walk down them. However this doesn’t stop motorbikes  and donkey pulled carts. In the center of the Medina are the Souks. A group of market stalls and stores where they sell all types of goods. You can find thinks like lanterns, spices, rugs, leather goods, traditional clothing, shoes, fruits and vegetables, and freshly butchered animals. Some of my favorite things were the lanterns. Out of all the things sold in the souks, the souvenir I would have been most likely to buy would have been one of these bright colored candle holders.
 Taking pictures in this area was difficult because I kept getting told "no pictures" by the shop keepers.   Here are some of the pictures I got anyway.  
One of the most overwhelming thing that I couldn’t photograph were the smells in Marrakech. Most are not very pleasant and all of them are overpowering.  In the souks it was the smell of spices, incense, mint tea, leather, rotting food, and live and dead animals. In the hotel is was the soap and lotion. Everywhere else it was the smell of pollution and car exhaust.  The air quality was so bad that it really made the whole place seem more dirty when actually there were some really nice places in the city. 
 The city was so full of life, color, and sound. The only exception to this was when the Islamic call to prayer would echo over the city several times a day. Then without any obvious scramble, the streets would thin out and a hush would fall over the city. This seemed to happen so naturally that you almost didn’t notice it was happening.
The best part about the visit was that the weather was almost warm. At one point I didn’t even have to wear a jacket! And even though it rained the weather was still better than Rome.
 After my visit I was asked if Marrakech is a place worth visiting. The answer is yes but it's not for everyone.  Marrakech was a fun and exciting but not very relaxing. Atleast not this trip. We just focused on visiting the city. Three days was prefect to see just about all there was to see.  I was also asked if I would go again. Definitely, but I wouldn’t do that same stuff. I've heard there are some really great day trips into the Atlas mountain that I would love to do.

In my next post I'll tell you about the sightseeing we did and post some more pictures. There is a lot more color to come!

March 3, 2011

Like cattle in the Vatican

This last weekend I joined all the tourists in Rome by going to the Vatican Museum. The last Sunday of every month means free entry and every tourist in Rome seems to know this.  The line to get in was already several blocks long by the time my friends and I got there at 8:45 in the morning.

The day started off with my early alarm and very cold weather.  I was extremely close to cancelling on my friends and going back to sleep in my warm soft bed but I got up and put on my warmest clothes. After walking through an empty and quiet Frascati to meet my friends, we drove to the nearest metro stop and took the metro all the way to the Vatican.  We thought we had done really well by getting up early but as we got closer and closer to our stop the train kept filling up with more and more tourists. No one seemed to be getting off so we knew it was going to be a mad dash for the Vatican.  Sure enough, the entire train seems to clear out as we got off and hoards of people all started walking (some running)  in the  same direction we did.

Eventually, after 2 hours of waiting in the cold and inching our way down several blocks, we made it into the museum.  I was excited to soak up some culture and prepared to take many pictures but then the whole thing because very exhausting. There were so many people! There wasn’t a moment in the museum where we weren't  getting bumped and shunned along like cattle. It made picture taking very difficult. It was a little disappointing. The museum does actually have some interesting things but it was too crowded to actually appreciate them. 

Here are a couple of pictures showing the amount of people. Sorry they are blurry.

We soon gave up on the museum and joined the hoards of people that were headed for the Sistine Chapel. The first time I visited the Chapel, almost four years ago, I found it very underwhelming. It is very easy to not be inspired by the sight. The chapel is kept very dark and no one is allowed to talk or take pictures.  This past visit however was much more exciting because I had learned about and was test on all the fresco in the chapel in one of my art history classes at university. Knowing the stories behind the paintings, what they are supposed to be about, and how they were painted made seeing it so much more significant. 

I tried sneaking some pictures but they all turned out blurry. This is the best one I got.

I still thing going to the Vatican on a day that it is free is a good idea if you just want to see the main attractions of Rome and for as cheaply as possible. But if you actually want to take some time in the museum, seeing and learning some things then I suggest visiting during the week and paying the entrance fee. It would be lot less crowded and you can have a guide point out the most interesting things.

A couple weeks ago, my boyfriend and I also visited St. Peter's Basilica and climbed the 500 something steps to the to dome. So I'll post about that soon!

Leave me a comment if you have any funny/interesting/strange stories about visiting the Vatican Museum.


February 24, 2011

New Welcome and Update

I'm sorry I've been a horrible blogger lately! I won't make excuses but I'm going to fix it starting now. I've been thinking a lot lately about my blog and working on making it more focused. So I thought I would update you all on what will be coming up. I'm going to keep posting about adventures and sightseeing because, after all, this is a travel blog. But I also want to focus on other things like pictures, food and the Italian language. I'm also still trying to get the look of my blog figured out. So there might be some changes as I play around and learn how to do the design.

I've never been much of a photographer but would really like to get better. So hopefully I'll be posting more and better pictures. I've asked English boy to teach me how to use his DSLR and I also want to get better with my point and shoot camera. Hopefully I can pick up some tips. 

I also want to start posting about some of the food and recipes I've experienced here. Italy is such a great place for food and it's so much a part of the culture here. There is no way I could leave it out of my blog. So look out for some posts about restaurants, bars, cafes, and recipes from my own kitchen!

And finally I thought I would keep you all updated on my struggle with the Italian language. I've been here for months and still haven't learn much more than how to order a coffee and some basic vocabulary. I figure posting about it might motivate me to focus more on learning.

Leave me a comment if you have any tips for my blog or things you would like to hear about!  I love hearing about what you all have to say about my posts.


January 17, 2011

Snowboarding in Ovindoli

The other day we went snowboarding. I had only been once before so I was very nervous to strap my feet to a board and slip down a mountain. Plus cold and I are not usually friends. The first time I ever went snowboarding was in Arizona. It wasn't the greatest place for a total beginner to learn, plus I didn’t have the proper snow clothes. Wearing jeans and sitting (falling) in snow just don’t mix. It wasn't the most fun I had every had… I was crying and pitching fits because of the cold… so remembering that experience made me apprehensive to try it again.  But since it is one of English Boys favorite things to do, I really  want to suck it up and learn.

This time the experience was much better. We went to the Ovindoli Ski Resort. It is half way between Rome and Pescara near a town called Ovindoli. It was only about an hour and 45 minute drive. As we went we were getting a little nervous driving though the mountain because we couldn't see any snow. Then we came out of a tunnel and saw these mountain peaks.

The drive seemed so quick and it was so easy to rent a snowboard and boots (only €10!) that before I knew it, I was standing on top of a hill with my feet strapped to a board. This time I had proper snowboarding clothes so falling in the snow wasn’t so bad but I was still scared of hurting myself. After my first couple of falls I learned quickly not to use my hands to catch. This resort was great because it had a very good area for beginners to learn. I spent most of the day on the baby slope just trying to get the basics down. It had this conveyer belt type thing that made it much easier to get up the slope.  I definitely recommend learning to snowboard at a place with one of these.

Once I started getting better, English Boy made me try this bigger and steeper but still beginner slope.  Very few people were on it and it turned out the be very icy.  It hadn't snowed in Ovindoli for several days so we were pretty lucky with the conditions we did get. But an icy slope is no fun to fall on and very difficult to get control.

I had to use a ski lift on this slope.  My least favorite part.

I went down the intermediate slope twice and it about finished me. But I gave the baby slope another try after that and it became so much easier. I did two really great runs then for my final snowboarding run of the day I had my hardest most painful fall of the day. Of course English Boy had to be watching after missing the times I did really good! I was leaning backwards but somehow fell forward. I landed first on my knees then slammed my chest and head into the snow. It knocked all the air out of me and it took me a second to see straight again. I still have the bruises on my knees.  I was so disappointed to finish like that.

By then the resort was getting ready to close and we still hadn't made it to the top of the mountain. I was too beat up and exhausted for more snowboarding so we dropped my board at the car and headed for the gondola to the top. Even in pain I could admire the view...

At the top there were even more ski lifts along with several snack bars and restaurants. We had 15 minutes until closing time so I snapped some pictures then caught the gondola back down. English Boy snowboarded his way down and beat me by a long shot. 

The Ovindoli Ski Resort seemed like a really good place for snowboarding and skiing. It had slopes for all levels and I was able to get just a little better.  Maybe next time I'll get to enjoy the intermediate slope. Over all it was a good day but the next day I could hardly move. Talk about a full body workout!


January 13, 2011

Frascati Pictures

 I though I'd post some pictures from around Frascati. I've been pretty bad about taking pictures the last few days; which is a total crime since I did get a new camera for Christmas. But I'm trying to get better. I hope you enjoy!

Here is a picture of a sunset I took a couple of weeks ago. The view is from my bedroom window. I just love the colors in the sky.

There always seems to be weekend events happening in Frascati. A couple of Sundays ago there were all these stall selling antiques and craft type things. Most of the stuff looked a bit... how do I put this politely... old lady collector type stuff, but I did find some side tables that English Boy and I really loved. We were both short on cash though so we didn't bother asking the price.

 Another view of the market.

Here is another sunset, this one from this evening. It is the same sunset and the picture I put in my header. This picture came out a little blurry (I'm still figuring out my new camera) but I love the shapes in the sky.

 This is the main road into Frascati from Rome and a view of the sunset behind some really giant trees.

The prime passeggiata spot in Frascati. This were the Italians go for an evening stroll to see and be seen.

I hope you like!