Traveling: The Power, the Beauty, and the Glory, or Three Churches and How Their Architecture and Design Tells a Story

During our 2010 trip to Europe, we visited a few churches. Being raised Catholic is one reason why we made sure we visited them; being history majors was another reason. Churches of the Middle Ages are more than just places of worship. They were landmarks most of the cities were built around. They were the meeting places of the masses. Since most of those masses were uneducated during this time, the Churches served another purpose. They told the story of Christ through their windows and their art. They also told a story through their architecture.

We are not experts in architecture. Yet, when we visited Notre Dame in Paris, The Duomo in Florence, and St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City we came away with different feelings about the Church.

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Viewing: Dutch Interior II

During our travels to Europe, we have seen a few great works of art. We have seen works by Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo, and Raphael. We have seen works by Dutch Masters and Spanish Cubists. Sometimes, like when looking a the Sistine Chapel our breath is taking away. Other times, like when we saw some works of Jackson Pollack, we just scratched our heads. Yet, of all the works we have seen only one punched me in the gut. That was this painting Dutch Interiors Part II by Jean Miro

Photo of Dutch Interior II

Photo of Dutch Interior II

I have no idea what it is about.

Yet, I had the strong sense of a lost memory when I saw it. Yet, I have no idea what the memory is. Was it a cartoon that mesmerized me as a child? An exhaustive youtube.com search has come up negative. Lost in trying to remember a memory, I remember just looking at the picture for a long time. The photograph doesn’t quite catch-all the colors since flash was prohibited (You can see a better version here).  Then I could remember the shapes dancing and playing instruments. I am more sure than ever that this painting was used in some form of animation. There is no way I saw this as a kid and made this up in my own head.  I’m not that creative.  Nor did I experiment with mind altering drugs when I was kid.

I wish this were a nice tidy essay about this painting. I wish I could say I finally found that animation. Why this painting and not any of the other, greater, works hit me this way. It’s not my favorite painting by a long shot. Yet, I remember that day vividly. Not only seeing the painting, but all the other things we did in Venice that day. Sometimes one small event in a day when traveling becomes an anchor for all the other memories of that day. It’s never the moments you plan when you are traveling that stick with you, it’s that moment you don’t expect that makes the day special.

PS. If anyone else can find this animation that may be a figment of my imagination, please post the link in a comment.

Traveling: Independence Day in Venice

Happy 4th of July! Let me tell you a funny (to me) story. As we’re standing on the bow of the ship, pulling into Venice, our cruise director comes on the intercom and wishes us Americans a happy Independence Day. Now, at this moment, we are literally in a small channel, overlooking the entire city, seeing the canals and small boats of Venice, for the first time for either of us. I turn to Kurt and jokingly say, “Oh, who can think about 4th of July right now. We’re in Venice!” These high school girls next to me, who have been valley girl talking like crazy, turn to me and say, “Who cares about America?” like I’m a terrorist. I say, “Oh, I’m American, I’m just talking to my husband…you know, we’re in Venice, it’s so beautiful…” They then proceed to talk about how patriotic they are and started singing I’m Proud to be an American (which, according to them, was made after the 9/11 attacks). I know that Kurt hates when I get into altercations with people, so I just keep my mouth shut and enjoyed the sights of Venice, but I really want to slap them upside the head and tell them not to join in conversations where adults are talking.

View of Venice from Carnival Breeze

View of Venice from the Carnival Breeze

Anyway, patriotism aside, we enter Venice (Venezia) today. We are able to get off the ship around 1:30pm, and after taking some pictures of St. Mark’s Square, we decide to walk quite a ways to across the canal where the Peggy Guggenheim museum is. St. Mark’s Square is easily the most crowded place we’ve come across on our trip; actually, Venice in general is crowded. The Guggenheim museum, since it is out of the way, is blessedly less crowded. Inside we see several Picasso’s, Miro’s, Dali’s, a Chagall, Magritte’s, Pollack’s and some other nice work of arts. There is an outside area right on the Grand Canal (granted, almost every place in Venice is along water), but it is such a beautiful spot to sit and relax. The sad thing about the canals in Venice is that they are dirty, with trash building up against the buildings in the water. Still, it’s really cool to see the boats like cars on the water, with everything from water buses, to water taxis, to private boats. In the city, there is absolutely no cars whatsoever…I didn’t even see Vespas.

St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco)

St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco)

St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco)

Symbol of St. Mark, the winged lion, which is everywhere in Piazza San Marco.

Clocktower in St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco)

Clocktower in Piazza San Marco

Canals filled with gondolas are a common sight in Venice

Canals filled with gondolas are a common sight in Venice

Grand Canal in Venice

Sitting along the Grand Canal, outside the Peggy Guggenheim museum

Joan Miró - Dutch Interior II (Intérieur hollandais)

Kurt’s favorite painting: Joan Miró – Dutch Interior II (Intérieur hollandais)

After the Guggenheim, we walk to the Rialto Bridge. Kurt didn’t realize how big it is, and it actually has shops and such along it. We then make the long trek back to St. Mark’s Square, and decide to grab a bite to eat. We first sit along the Square, before realizing that they charge an extra 5.80 euro per person because of the “bands” the restaurants have playing. Nope! We quickly get up and go out of the Square and find another restaurant, Kiro. I get cheese gnocchi while Kurt gets Penne All’Arrabitia. Boy, is his spicy! Since all the water comes in bottles, we wind up spending 42 euro at this restaurant. We way exceed our budget in Venice.

Rialto Bridge

Rialto Bridge

cheese gnocchi and Penne All'Arrabitia

Cheese gnocchi and Penne All’Arrabitia…equally delicious!

We then try to go to the Church of St. Zachariah, which is the final resting place of St. Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, but they are closed for mass. Most things at this point are closed, as it is 6pm, so we just head back to the cruise ship. By the way, to take a water bus from the cruise ship to St. Mark’s Square is 15 euros a piece. And since we plan to going back again tomorrow, that is 60 euro we are going to spend purely on the water bus. I definitely feel a bit ripped off with that, but we just arrived too late in Venice to see everything in one day. We missed eating at Blush tonight since we are in Venice so late, so we grab a few late night snacks on the Lido deck. Let me tell you, the roast beef they have is so tender and it just falls apart. Very surprised at how good it is! Hopefully our second day in Venice is a fulfilling as the first.

Traveling: Rome, Trivia, and Soccer

We wake up and make our way back to the train station from our hotel in Rome (which is only a few blocks away). We accidentally bought the wrong tickets yesterday, and we aren’t supposed to use them for today (they were a one day only pass). We think about just getting on the train anyway, but I am too chicken, and we wind up buying two train passes back to Civitavecchia (10 euros). Lo and behold, just like on the way from Civitavecchia, they do not even remotely check our tickets. Honestly, we could have saved money both ways and just hopped on the trains, because no one cared either way. Oh well, at least we’re honest!

Hotel Everest in Rome

Kurt leaving Hotel Everest in Rome

We meet a couple on the train going back to the Carnival Breeze, and they live in New Orleans! What a small world. We talk to them a bit about different Nola things and different cruises and such. Finally back on the boat, Kurt and I eat some lunch on the Lido deck, before relaxing a bit. Before we take off, the cruise director makes an announcement for anybody that has not checked back in yet. Unfortunately, a few people took a wrong train and end up going to Milan and missing the boat. They have to take a plane to catch the boat in Dubrovnik. I personally think it’ll be cheaper to take a train there, or even the ferry across the Adriatic, but what do I know?

We go to the Ocean Plaza on deck 5 to just sit and relax. We wind up playing 5 games of trivia (totaling 2.5 hours). We come in second place twice, but that 1st place piece of ship alluded us. We go to dinner at Blush again, and having skipped it two nights in a row, our waiter is very happy to see us again. We assure him that we didn’t abandon him, just spent a night in Rome. For starters, Kurt has steamed duck pot stickers and I have Vietnamese pumpkin and chicken broth, which is quite delicious. Dinner is sirloin steak for me and seafood stew for Kurt. The sirloin, which I order medium, comes out well done and pretty tough. Definitely not the best steak I’ve ever eaten.

After dinner, we stake out our spots on the Lido deck to watch Spain vs. Italy in the final game of EURO 2012. I had bought an Italian flag in Rome from a very awesome shop with a great older gentleman who was quite funny. He asked me which flag I wanted, and I gave him “the look.” He said, in a thick Italian accent, “What? I am Italian, and I am for Spain!” I assured him with a name like Cristina Cavicchia, I was decidedly for Italy. So donning my flag, as the game finally commences, it becomes glaringly obvious that Spain is just the better team. Poor Italy is 0-2 by halftime, and once Torres comes in for Spain around 70′, we go down 0-4. Not to mention, we use all of our subs and have to pull out another player because of injury, so we are only playing with 10 people. Needless to say, I have a sad this night. At least Spain breaks some records and makes some history with their win.

Traveling: Happy 63rd birthday, Papa! From Roma with love.

On June 30, my dad’s 63rd birthday, Kurt and I fittingly spend it in Rome. We sleep to about 10:30am, then get on the hour train to Rome from Civitvecchia around noon. After a brief period of not being able to find the hotel (I stupidly forget to print out our reservation and have no idea where it is located), I use my limited Italian to ask a shop owner if she knows where it is. Luckily, I happen to remember the name of the hotel, Hotel Everest, and they are able to give us directions to it. We knew it is right by the train station Roma Termini, but there are about 100 hotels around it. Our hotel is extremely hard to find in the fact that it has no big outdoor sign, and is actually only on the 3rd floor of a multi-floor building, where every floor is a different hotel. Confusing!

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Traveling: A tower that leans

First things first…Italy beat Germany! It was glorious. Balotelli scored the only two goals, but in the last 4 minutes of the game, Germany was able to kick in a penalty kick. Luckily, they weren’t able to score again, and Italy won 2-1. July 1st is the final EURO 2012 match between Spain and Italy. Everyone is betting on Spain, but Italy defied everyone’s expectations thus far, I know they can do it again!

Balotelli after scoring the 2nd goal against Germany in the EURO 2012

Balotelli after scoring the 2nd goal against Germany in the EURO 2012

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Traveling: Europe Cruise 2012

Being teachers, Kurt and I get the pleasure of having almost two months off during the summer. Because I run a tight budget and we live frugally during the year, we’re able to take a trip each summer. Kurt and I were discussing the possibilities for this coming summer, from a week in Disney World to a cruise out of New Orleans. As I’m checking out cruises, I curiously start looking at cruises in Europe. While scrolling through the many wonderful ports and attractions, one catches my eye – a 12 day cruise out of Barcelona. The more I explore it, the more intrigued I am. Half jokingly, I start looking up airfare. $1300? Ha ha…no. I push the thought out of my mind…or, try to at least. That night, all I could think about was this cruise. I had mentioned it to Kurt, and though he was interested, he was very doubtful about the cost.

The next day, I made a decision. I was going to call the annoying cruise guy that calls me EVERY time I log onto their website and see what kind of deal he could get me. Right off the bat, he gave me an airfare/cruise deal…of $6200, more than what I could do separately. No thanks! I bemoan to him that it’s way too expensive and he asks if their are any other cities I could fly from, since certain cities have deals. I mention Orlando…cha-Ching!!! They do have a deal…one I couldn’t pass up.

So, I booked the cruise! It sails out of Barcelona, with it’s first stop in Marseilles, France, a place neither of us has been. We’re thinking of doing an excursion to Avignon and seeing the Papal Palace. We then head to Livorno, Italy, where we’ll take an excursion to Pisa (having done Florence in 2010). The next day, we have an overnight stay in Civitavecchia, Italy, where it’s only a 90 minute ride to Rome. Though I’ve been there three times and Kurt’s been there once on our 2010 trip, he only got to do Vatican City and the Coliseum, since we were only there for half a day. This time, we’ll get to do all the things he missed. We’re thinking about even getting a hotel room to get the full experience and not have to travel back to the ship.

Our next stop is Dubrovnik, Croatia, another new place. I’m probably most excited to visit this place, not only because it’s in Eastern Europe, a gorgeous seaside city, and extremely old, but it’s also the filming location of my favorite television show, Game of Thrones.

We then head to Venice for another overnight stay, a place which I visited ten years ago, but Kurt has yet to see. We finish the trip in Messina, Sicily. We plan on doing an excursion to Mt. Etna, an active volcano. Kurt is terrified of heights, but how many opportunities do you get to go up into a volcano? I’ve never been to one, so this is truly exciting. I’m already looking forward to the photos I can add to my power points for World Geography.

We opted to spend an extra day in Barcelona since neither of us has been there either. Kurt has a cousin that lives there, so we will hopefully get to spend some time with her.

The best part is that through careful planning, this trip will not set us back monetarily at all. We are very fortunate to have such great jobs that allow us to save and have the time to travel. Though if all goes according to plan, this might be our last big trip for a few years…we’d want to wait until our kids are old enough to appreciate the places we’d take them. And maybe by next summer, we’ll have one. And I think he or she will be worth the wait.