The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is a nice enough book series and good enough movies, but it's all made amazing because it's filmed partly in the parts of Greece that look like this.

After days of only looking, I finally got to swim in the clear Mediterranean water. 

Then we wandered the small and confusing streets of the city. We were told there is method in the madness - the streets were also confusing to pirates. We were right up there with people who were just trying to go about their day - I can't imagine how annoying it would be to have tourists strolling so close to my house. And then there were a lot of expensive, tourist-trap shops. I avoided overspending by thinking how I would like to redecorate my life to look like this.

Lots of expensive restaurants with lots of seafood but we wanted a simple Greek gyro and we got it. 

It was all Greek to me. 

Vesuvius and Naples

There used to be a funicular up the mountain - it's the exact funicular referred to in that catchy opera tune Funiculi Funicula - but it was destroy in the last eruption around the end of WWII. Now one takes a long and windy ride 3000 feet up the mountain to get to the top. The vegetation is thick and this region is known for exceptional soil - thank you, Vesuvius - but there are also dead spots where the lava flowed (which you can kind of see in the top right photo). The mountain was once three times that size but it's explosive (more so than other volcanoes) nature means it literally blew its top. 

In these photos you see the crater of Vesuvius and the expected epicenter for the next eruption - the things blows about every fifty years and the last was in the 1940s so you do the math. I'm very concerned about the 3 million inhabitants of nearby and in-the-way Naples, Capri, and Sorrento; our guide did say that volcanologists can predict an eruption two weeks in advance so there's that.

Many cities were buried and destroyed in 79 AD by Vesuvius but only Herculaneum and Pompeii have been excavated.  Herculaneum was in the path of the lava and so it it solid; Pompeii was covered in ash which is much easier to move out of the way and excavate; the paintings on the walls still have color.  The ash burned any wood (hence no roofs) and suffocated the people. Later archaeologists poured plaster in the molds left by the bodies in the ash and so you can see what the people looked like when they died. I found that rather morbid so I didn't take any photos but it's totally google-able.

We toured the streets and a home (no brothel which was fine by us). And then we took as many photos as possible with Vesuvius in the background.

And the walls kept tumbling down in the city that we love
Great clouds roll over the hills bringing darkness from above

We were caught up and lost in all of our vices
In your pose as the dust settles around us

-Pompeii by Bastille

Naples is the birth place of the pizza so obviously we had to get pizza. There's a reason it's famous. I thought the sauce was more like tomato paste (in a good way) and gave the pizza a nice flavor (versus the usual pizza sauce).  In other but related news, our waiter (who spoke very little English...similar to our grasp of Italian) was flirty and hilarious.

So, umm, Naples is a hole - which is what we learned walking around with our new cruise friend Kimberly. It's got one of the highest (if not the highest) crimes rate in Europe. And I think it's rather famous (or it should be) for the laundry drying on lines...everywhere. We felt totally safe walking around and rather surprised at the juxtaposition of the beautiful (fashion, for example) and the disgusting. 

When the moon hits you eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore
Scuzza me, but you see, back in old Napoli, that's amore

-That's Amore, Dean Martin 


Roman Holiday

Roma, Roma, Roma. The City of the Seven Hills. Caesar's Palace (wait, was that here?). The Eternal City. We saw all our must-haves in a part-day and we were able to be pretty leisurely about it, which was a surprise to us. We absolutely only got a taste but I'd recommend our line-up. 

The port was in Civitavecchia which is the single coolest word to say repeatedly. It was about an hour train ride into the city. I love European trains, heck, I just love trains. I'd love to live sans automobile. 

"While stands the Colosseum, Rome shall stand; When falls the Colosseum, Rome shall fall; and when Rome - the world." - Lord Byron

The Roman Forum ruins

The Pantheon

The Trevi Fountain... which just weeks earlier began a 2-3 year construction project and was barricaded and dry.

But that did not stop our coin tossing (which I'm told goes to help the poor of the city). Be back soon, but not too soon as I'd really love to see this fountain up and running. 

The Spanish Steps. Honestly expected a little more. Basically stairs in a so-so piazza surrounded by so-so buildings and construction and millions of people who were probably similarly disappointed but thought they've get a photo since they were already there. And in that rose photo we are terrified because the rose seller insisted on taking the photo and I was pretty sure my SLR camera was going to be the payment. In related new, when I didn't pay for the rose he recommissioned the rose, leaving me only my camera, which was exactly as I wanted it before he shoved the stupid rose at me and took my camera.

This gelateria came highly recommended and it seemed that everyone was there. It's just outside of Vatican City - as in next to the walls of Vatican City. Here is where I got the three-scooper. Big mistake. Mostly it melted quickly all over my hands. I didn't enjoy it as much as I could have being in such a panic and becoming quickly sticky. Two scoops max, y'all.

We had tickets for the Vatican Museum - get tickets or you'll spend your day in Rome in a long line. We walked through hallways and hallways - just a mass of people -- and then I realized this is the museum. Perhaps because of the herding crowd I found the museum forgettable except for two pieces from Matisse (top in the middle). However, at the end of the museum you are rewarded with the Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel (of which photography is not allowed) is smaller than expected and (like Michelangelo do) more amazing than expected. So amazing. If you go, study the art beforehand. 

Continuing the Michelangelo genius-ocity, the Pieta, inside St. Peter's Basilica. No words.

St. Peter's in huge and ornate and huge. There is so much to look at that I think I saw almost nothing. 

Did you know you can walk eight million steps up to the tippy top of St. Peter's dome? You can and whilst still inside the churchy part there are amazing mosaics. I can't even imagine the time, patience, and brilliance it would have required to compose such intricate, detailed work. 

The steps become increasingly small, the corridors increasingly small, and the temperature increasingly hot until you reach the top and then it's this. And you think to yourself I make good choices

St. Peter's Square - it's surreal to have been someplace that you've seen and heard about so often and then it's natural to be there. (Obviously I feel at home - look at those photos!)

Rome: veni, vidi, vici.

Florence and Pisa

Florence - the cradle of the art world. Medici, Renaissance, Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, da Vinci - just a few importants coming from this little place. 

First things first. My first steps on Italian soil and my first of taste of from-Italy gelato. Mmm, dark chocolate and pistachio (I admit to getting pistachio nearly every chance I had). Little tip, just two scoops at a time.

The Ponte Vecchio - I had seen pictures but somehow did not realize it was a real place. This photo doesn't even look real but it's real, y'all. Built in the middle ages, it spans the Arno river and was once the hub of the gold trade. Notice the tiny windows above it. That is the secret Medici walkway  leading from the Medici home to the town hall. In WWII this bridge was not bombed (while most others were) because the Nazis thought they might just want a secret passage way. Thank goodness!

You can't have access to Carrara marble (and bronze too) and not make something from it. The middle left photo shows the original placement of the David (now with a faux that they'll allow to be exposed to weather); the bottom middle photo shows yet another David, this time in bronze, at the top of the city. 

Despite already taking in the two reproductions of the David I was not really prepared to see the thing itself. Photos cannot capture its intricacies, strength, and impressiveness. Michelangelo said that he simply freed statues from the marble and, in reference to the David, said he just cut away everything that wasn't David. If you only see one thing in Florence, the David is the thing.

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore is usually known as Brunelleschi's Dome for the architect who figured out how to not let the dome of the cathedral crash in and kill everyone. The cathedral itself is gorgeous in colors of white, green, and blue symbolizing faith, hope, and charity

The hole for a dome of the cathedral was a little larger than anyone knew what to do with but the semi-crazy Brunelleschi had some ideas (which he refused to share with anyone and made everyone just trust him). Patronized/tolerated by the Medici it all worked out. In related news, the bottom photo is actually the Pantheon, in Rome, where Brunelleschi was given permission to cut a lovely little block out and discern it's composition - information that was needed for his dome.

Next we traveled to the little city of Pisa, home of less-good architects.

 The Leaning Tower of Chee-sa.

 The tower is actually a bell tower and part of a larger church proper. The tower, as you know, leans but has since been fortified in it's current position so it's no sinking anymore and it's not dangerous.

At the site is this piece of art that was one part disturbing and one part amazing. It's a fallen angel and I'll leave it there. 

We took all the necessary photos and, having been in Florence earlier that day, felt creative. Welcome to how I do art. 

And when one has exhausted one's creativity and desire to take entertaining photos, one takes entertaining photos of others. 

And when you are done with that, climb the tower. Yes, sir, we climbed the tower. 

And we were rewarded with these views of Pisa. Day one in Italy was a success!


Barcelona, Aix de Provence, and (hey) Marseille

From the billowy and rolling hills of Ireland we took a much-too-early flight to old Barcelona. I thought my grasp of Mexican Spanish and my extensive knowledge of Central and South American cuisine would help me get around; alas, to no avail for it was all in Catalan and what Spanish there was was distinctly un-cholo, my dialect of choice. 

An hour's train ride north of Barcelona is the impressive Benedictine monastery Montserrat (not to be confused with the island by the same name), or "serrated mountain" or "the spork" (I lie not), begun in 880. We reached it via that yellow funicular (and took a second one even higher for a more astounding view). It really is an entire city (my photos don't do it justice) and a place where you could spend some quality time just hanging out. 

In the basilica (the building with all those saints) people come to visit "The Black Virgin" which is a statue of Mary that's turned black over time. In her outstretched hand is a little ball that everybody touches and says a little prayer to. We paid our respects but surely did not touched the ball (cue Jimmy Fallon saying "Ew!") and being LDS and not Catholic didn't say a little prayer - just looked. 


Back in Barcelona it was basically an architecture tour. Barcelona was, like most European cities, of a specified size so that the city could be protected. At the turn of the last century that was no longer working for the bulging Barcelona and so new settlements were made, called the Eixample (pronounced "Eye-shahmp-la"). Pictured above, the Church of the Holy Conception was originally built in the 13th century but during the expansion was moved brick by brick to the Eixample. Explain that logic. 

The architect of the Eixample and my heart was the Moderisma (aka Art Nouveau) patron saint Antoni Gaudi. The above is an amazing family home, called Casa Battlo, he designed for the Battlo (pronounced "Bye-yoh") family built from 1904-1906 which was innovative in the technologies of the actual house and in the amazing beauty of the place. It's whimsical and lovely, full of mosaic and fancy, and much cooler than my photos can show.  

Gaudi was not just a Catholic, but a pretty amazing one. He planned out the indescribable Sagrada Familia (Church of the Holy Family) which is unlike any cathedral I've seen. It has the basic shape and idea of a cathedral but is white and bright and ornate in a totally new way. Google it. By far the best cathedral I've ever been to and I've been to a couple few (this post contains at least four!). So, work began on this building over a hundred years ago and it's still not completed - that's how massive and intense this is. Gaudi never intended to finish it during his lifetime (actually not planning out certain parts in order to make room for new artists), saying, "My Client is not in a hurry." If you can only see one thing in Barcelona, this is your one thing. 

Gaudi's vision expanded to housing developments. His failed project in the hills of Barcelona created a fantastic view of the city, but no one wanted to live so far out. Still it gave us Park Guell which was awesome and again my photos don't do it credit. The neatest part of the park cost more than we were willing to spend so I have no photos of that. The park continued in the Modernisma style of innovation and curves.

We were rather obsessed with our hotel. It had a tiny little elevator and, with our large backpacking backpacks we got in but we could not get out so much well. Also, it had a neat little window. I love European windows that really open. 

And before we knew it we were ready to set sail on our 12-day Mediterranean Cruise.

First excursions - Aix de Provence and Marseille, France.

Our port was (hey) Marseille but we took a bus ride past Cezanne's mountains to Aix de Provence, as in Herbs de Provence. It's basically a cute French town overrun by tourists (read: expensive shops and not much else) so we just ate a lot of pastries, wandered the streets, and got some herbs (not those kind!) at the market. You might notices that the city flag of Aix (that's its nickname and I'll use it to show I'm cool)  and the city flag of Barcelona (never pictured) are the same because the same people founded the cities. Also, notice the bust above the city buildings. It was once Louis the XIV but after that relationship didn't work out a bust of Marie, the symbol of the revolution, replaced the ousted king. She is, I'm told, on all the city buildings. Oui, Oui,

In Aix is a church that's basically an add-on-to-an-add-on-to-an-add-on - but, like, the neatest crappy additions ever. You can see the three distinct building materials in the photos (top right). The Cathedrale de San Sauveur was originally built in the 5th century and featured a baptistery - which caused Jessica and I to do a lot of ho-humming about the LDS belief of baptism by immersion. A few hundred years later some more was added and then finally the last bit in the 18th century. 

We headed back to (hey) Marseille to tour another, but grander, edifice - the Basilque Notre-Dame de la Garde - Our Lady of the Guard. It's situated high on a big hill (on top of the former fortress) giving a good work out to get there and a fantastic view as a reward. 

The cathedral features (and is kind of famous for) an intense amount of ex-votos, tokens of gratitude for blessings received from prayer and as testimonies to others. These tokens include pictures and little ships (this is a coastal city after all), jerseys from matches won - any little symbol of the miracle. The ex-votos are all around the church, on walls and hanging from the ceiling. 

Oh, look, there is the Chateau D'If. 

France was quite lovely but mostly tasty. Barcelona was quite hot but mostly artsy.