Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My European Vacation

Well, we’re back!  What an amazing experience to visit countries with such a rich history, abundance of art and sculpture, phenomenal WP_000279architecture, and cool culture.  I wrote in advance about our trip in Travel in the Future if you’re interested in what the plan was.  I disconnected myself from blogging and participating in social media, other than Facebook, for a month.  Previously I had blogged every week for 2 1/2 years without skipping a beat and was an avid user of Twitter so it was a bit weird to disconnect but worth it.  So, I thought I’d kick off my return to blogging by sharing a few interesting stories from the trip (picture to the right is in Rothenburg ob der Tauber). Come along with me for the ride…

My wife Shelley and I flew from Vancouver to Heathrow then onto Rome arriving mid-afternoon.  We took a cab to B & B Baghirova in Rome which was located (Via di Campo Marzio 69) about a 5-10 minute walk from the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, 15 minutes from the Trevi Fountain, 20 minutes from the Roman Forum / Coliseum, and 30 minutes from the Vatican – very central to everything.  Even though we were exhausted, after getting checked in, we went out to have our first pasta dinner and then did a bit of a walk about.  We reached the Tiber River and took some pictures.  Europe 2012 143-001We kept wandering, map in hand… but when we wanted to return to our B & B, we realized “we’re lost”.  Rome is a tricky city to navigate.  It is difficult to read street names, they aren’t designed to be in a grid, they change names, narrow, disappear, etc.  As it got darker, reading the map wasn’t possible.  Long story short, we were lost in Rome and after a couple of hours, managed to find our way back.

We were blown away by the sites we saw.  I highly recommend WP_000123booking tours for the popular sites.  The tour guides are extremely knowledgeable and entertaining.  They make the history come to life for you.  We saw this object (right) at the Vatican…  can’t recall what it is exactly but it was interesting.  Our Vatican tour guide was Italian and something she kept saying in English when encountering steps stuck with us, “mind-a step-a” :-)

I really liked these trees we saw around Rome.  This picture was taken on Palatine Hill near the Roman Forum ruins and the Coliseum.

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Italians seem to drive a lot of small cars.  That and scooters, WP_000103hundreds of them.  Crossing a street, even at a cross walk, is an adventure in itself.  I remember one time, it was green to cross, we with a dozen others did, and scooters and cars were weaving amongst us!  They don’t stop, they just find a way to keep going – it’s crazy.  As you can see above, small cars create options for parking…
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I learned that the Coliseum was built by professionals.  Not sure why but I thought slaves were used for this.  Can you imagine 70,000 screaming blood-thirsty “fans” watching animals and men fight to the death?  When you’re there, it just seems so unreal.  Gladiators were the sports stars of their day.  Today I suppose the closest comparison would be MMA fighters.

The architecture of the buildings in Italy is awesome.  How they were able to construct such elaborate pillars, sculptures, bridges, buildings Europe 2012 284-001with the little technology they had, is mind boggling.  A visit to the Vatican blows your mind.  I tend to think our society is pretty advanced but think about what individuals like Michaelangelo or Leonardo Di Vinci were able to design and create.  Leonardo designed (picture left) hundreds of “machines” hundreds of years before they were invented.  Brilliant.

We partook of a Catacomb and Crypt tour.  It was a bit weird but I think worth it.  Apparently only 1% of tourists do this tour.  The last part was a visit to the Capuchin Crypt beneath the Capuchin Church of the Immaculate Conception on Via Veneto near Piazza Barbarini.  Okay, this was the craziest site ever.  The bones (all of them) from over 4000 monks were used to create art and structures such as patterns (crosses, floral, arches, shapes) for adornment, and objects like clocks, chandeliers, chairs, fireplace mantels, etc.  We were not allowed to take pictures but this website shares many including a detailed description of the history and what you’d see if you visited – you have to check this out.

On day 5 we took a train to Florence.  As we were looking confused and lost trying to figure out which train to wait for, a guy comes over and asks “are you going to Florence?”.  He didn’t have any id indicating he worked there, I have no idea how he knew where we Europe 2012 359were going.  But, he took us directly to the place where our train would come in, and left.  Odd…  but we needed the guidance.  In Florence, besides the Uffizi, Duomo, we saw a mock Indy race.  Cool Ferraris, Porches, Mercedes, etc. were zooming through a course laid out in the core of Florence, crossing the bridges between the two parts.

We also spent time in Lucca, Pisa, Via Reggio, and random driving to villages in the mountains, but moving on to Germany, we flew from Florence to Munich, well we were supposed to.  We had a connecting flight in Vienna.  While waiting at the gate, we suddenly realized the time and no boarding call.  We checked the gate screen and in small digital letters was a gate change!  We ran to the new gate only to be too late and we missed our flight.  Not good.  We had options like a 1-way flight for two, $1,500.  Train, with multiple changes, arriving sometime in the morning, around $400.  We elected to rent a car and drive the four hours.  Finding an available car was difficult, after four companies finally a car.  But, a 1-way trip from Austria to Germany would cost $550 plus gas!  Ouch.  We set out with the car, no maps, and a German speaking/displaying GPS, in the dark at night.  Somehow we programmed it correctly to get us to our hotel in Munich.  Oh, and our luggage, well it went onto Munich without us – it made the plane in time.  Lesson learned, check the flight boards, don’t trust the boarding pass issued at the first airport.

In Munich we visited the Deutsches Museum, the world’s larges museum of WP_000215technology.  Unfortunately, we were exhausted from our ordeal getting to Munich so only spent about 3 hours here.  I could have spent the day, it was pretty fascinated to see the history and development of many inventions in one place.  Definitely this should be on your list if you visit Munich.

We visited many small villages in Germany.  After experiencing the limitless speeds of the Autobahn (I got up to 190km/h and was still passed by a Porsche and BMW), I programmed the GPS in our Mercedes to avoid the “A” routes.  I highly recommend this.  We traveled the “B” and other smaller routes through the pastoral WP_000244setting of the country side, rolling hills, and quaint little villages.  What a beautiful country Germany is, very green and lush.  At Neuschwanstein / Hohenschwangau in the Bavarian Alps where the Ludwig castles are that inspired Disney’s Sleepy Beauty castle, we enjoyed a couple hour walk around the lake in this picture.  Bavaria is a beautiful area for sure.

Along the way heading north, we visited Dinkelsbühl and Rothenburg WP_000294ob der Tauber where we enjoyed medieval festivals.  The pig in this picture was part of the medieval experience.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to try some…  :-) 

WP_000308In a small village called Hann. Munden, there are over 700 partial timber buildings lining cobble stoned streets.  Notice how crooked the builds are.  They lean into the street, sideways, etc.  It’s pretty interesting to see.  Carrying on, we stopped in at the real Sleepy Beauty’s castle and Rapunzel’s actual tower (her hair is still hanging from the window).  We had a great visit with my niece and her young family in Hannover – they’re ex pats.

Fast forward to Berlin…  We arrived on a Sunday evening after driving 3 hours from Hannover Europe 2012 750-001in the pouring rain.  We had one day and decided to take a 5 hour bike tour.  It was worth it.  Our guide showed our group of 20 many of the key highlights…

Europe 2012 776-001…such as Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin wall (what’s left), the Jewish memorial, key buildings and monuments, and we learned about Berlin’s 800 year history and it’s 20th century dark days.

Well, that’s a sampling of what we experienced.  Not being well traveled individuals, my wife and I have a lot of the world left to visit.  This trip to Italy and Germany has definitely wet our appetite to see more.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief travelogue and starting next week, I’ll get back to writing about technology, education, and the future.