Month: January 2014
Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD in Italy. This dangerous volcano buried two Roman towns. The names of the towns were Herculaneum and Pompeii. Herculaneum and Pompeii have some differences and some similarities. Here are a few. Both of the towns are coastal towns, and they were both buried by the same volcano. Additionally, they were in the Roman Empire.
Here are a few differences of the two towns. Pompeii is a much bigger city while little Herculaneum stands aside like a little mouse because it is so small. Pompeii had a population of 20,000 people, while Herculaneum had only 4,000.
When Vesuvius erupted, it covered Pompeii in hot ash, while Herculaneum was buried the next day by a pyroclastic flow. Archeologists have excavated both towns. What you can see now is all that they have uncovered. Today, anyone can walk through the streets as if the markets were still alive.
[If you get the chance, go see them!]
After Naples, we were a bit worried about Rome and whether or not it would be so gritty… well, it wasn’t. Rome was the grandest city we had ever been to. All of the buildings were wonderfully decorated and regal. The city makes you actually feel like you’re somewhere special. We stayed in a nice apartment with a kitchen so small, it felt like you were in a closet with a sink, a stove, and an oven. After we arrived to Rome in our first speed train (it was super cool, it goes 186 mph), we walked around the city to try and get our bearings. We ended up walking to the front of the ancient forum, and going into the capitoline hill monument. The building was flanked by two soldiers who stand at attention twenty four-seven guarding the tomb of the unknown soldier.
On our second day it rained, but that didn’t stop us from getting outside. We visited the Vatican City. We self-toured the papal collection in the Vatican Museum, which was full of beautiful statues and ancient Egyptian mummies. One passage way has a ceiling so lavish with gold, King Midas himself would have been as breath taken as we were. We tunneled around the beautiful courtyards and vast hallways until we finally came to what we were hoping to find; the Sistine Chapel. We entered the room full of tour groups and security officers. Some of the surrounding people were crying from the beauty. We looked up and mom couldn’t answer my history questions. She was speechless. Above us was a ceiling painted with what is considered the most beautiful frescos in all of history. Amazing paintings decorated the chapel, and in the center of the ceiling was The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo.
After our visit to the chapel, we exited the building and headed into the magnificent St. Peters Square and into St. Peters Basilica. Michelangelo’s cathedral is definitely one of the grandest and extravagant churches in the world. In the center of the basilica is an enormous bronze canopy supported by unique twisting pillars. Underneath the church is a crypt full of the tombs of past popes which is entered by a stairway underneath a statue of St. Peter.
On our third and final day in the Roman metropolis, we headed to the Colosseum. The Gladiator stadium was erected in 75 ad and took only eight years to build… but the history of Rome is much different from the history of the Catholic Church, hence the third day in Rome deserves its own post.
The city of Girona is a wonderful and relaxing place to stay, with a beautiful park, Jewish quarter, and cathedral. The bustling center is filled with shops and bakeries, and has an open market with local produce and gourmet selections. The SLOLerners loved it. We stayed in the oldest part of the city, on the main street in the Jewish quarter (Mom really outdid herself this stay) and we walked throughout the city every day.
We visited many museums in Girona, such as the Jewish museum, the Girona History Museum, the Casa Masó, and the Museum of Cinema. The Jewish Museum, just a few buildings away from our apartment, explained the history of the Jews of Girona and their exile. The Girona History Museum is full of incredible displays of when Girona was still part of the Roman Empire and how the city adapted to the industrial revolution. The most impressive part of the History Museum was their collection of press machines from the late 19th century. The Casa Masó is a museum / tribute to the architect Rafael Masó. Our flat was in a building designed by this architect. His style of architecture was a beautiful mixture of the Arts and Crafts style, and the Art Deco style. The most fascinating museum in Girona (in my opinion) is the Museum of Cinema. The multistoried museum visit starts off with a short clip in the private movie theater, and then continues to three full levels of incredible exhibitions and hands on activities.
There is a park in Girona much like a small scale version of Central Park that caught our attention for two reasons. First, for the fantastic running grounds, and two, for the ice skating rink. The park is full of lined up Plátano trees (they’re not actually banana trees, that’s just the name) and is a peaceful break from the busy commercial / residential jungle. The ice skating rink is quite the opposite of the peaceful environment of the park because its jam packed with kids from all around the town. We ended up taking a trip to the rink and it was so much fun! Although, there were so many people skating in the rink that the ice was more of a slushy than a hard ice rink. Edie and I fell down a couple of times and we got completely soaked!
During the end of our stay, we met up with a bicycle friend of Dad’s, Eddie Salgado (not Edie). Eddie is a traveler of Europe and South America and has been abroad for seventeen years. We walked through most of town with him, showing him around, and at the end of the day, he hopped on a train and headed to Barcelona.
To conclude our stay in Girona, this city is one of the first towns on our trip that we felt we could actually live in for a long period of time. We loved the local environment, and the city was not too big. This town is one that we could easily come back to and stay there.
Here in Catalonia, the locals have an ongoing tradition a bit different from old Santa Claus. They have inherited Saint Nicholas, don’t get me wrong, but their original tradition is way weirder than a fat man climbing down your chimney in the middle of the night. Tío de Nadal, aka Caga Tío (sh**ing log) is a hilarious tradition that Catalonia celebrates. We were lucky enough to acquire one in our apartment. The story starts by buying a log and, as they do nowadays, decorating it. Throughout the week, you feed him citrus, such as mandarins and orange peels until he needs to relieve himself of all the fruits. On the 5th of January, we beat Tío with a stick while singing this traditional song: (translated from Catalán for your enjoyment)
hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
if you don’t poop well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
At the end of the song, we hit him once super hard and check under the blanket covering his butt, to find candy, dried fruit, and small presents, all supposedly all shat from his behind. We could not possibly make this stuff up! After our hilarious and delicious experience with Caga Tió’s poop, we realised that this is one tradition we would like to continue from now on in the US.
Arriving in Barcelona, we returned our Fiat 500l diesel after more than 1,000 miles of driving since Granada. We were back in a city with public transportation in abundance. Gone are the sparsely populated roads and relaxing pace. Barcelona is a big city with swarms of cars, buses, taxis, pedestrians, and lots of scooters.
Our apartment was on the 6th floor of a condotel located in the heart of the city center. We were one block away from the famous pedestrian street “rambla de Barcelona” and only a couple of blocks away from the historical district called Barri Gotic with the Cathedral and old Jewish Quarter. This historical area with its ultra narrow streets and alleyways was almost exclusively for pedestrians for dozens of blocks. We have continually found it so impressive in all of the towns, but especially the larger cities, that the most vibrant and busy shopping and restaurant zones are without access by car. They could have developed the best shopping in the newer areas with easy parking and delivery, but they always select the historical areas. These areas have so much more character and charm than a typical shopping mall. We typically wander these areas staring at the buildings and storefronts – most from the 14th century – fascinated at the tenure and history that they have lived. There is a formula to the streets. Every few blocks of narrow alleys, the “carrer” opens up and there is a plaza where the sun comes through and people can gather. There are usually café’s in the plazas and frequently temporary vendors selling their merchandise.
Our apartment also was conveniently located around the corner from the Apple Store of Barcelona. The store is only one of a handful of Apple stores in Spain and it is a giant. With three floors and hundreds of people inside, it was packed. Susie had been searching for such a store since the Alhambra in Granada. She decided to see what was harder, the screen on her iPhone or the 11th century stone walkway. See photo for the answer. After making an appointment ahead of time, we dropped off Susie’s phone and they had replaced the screen in two hours. Good as new (except for the cracked camera lens).
We did most of the requisite tourist duties such as Gaudí’s buildings and the Sagrada familia along with the historical buildings, Cathedral, and a couple of museums. But what seems to stand out most in my mind is the food. We have been traveling this “jamón” crazed country for 6 weeks now. We, as a family, have been eating meat less and less. Being in some more isolated towns such as the farmhouse in Angles for the past few weeks, we have started to eat at home almost exclusively. We will grab a pastry or a coffee while out, but our main meals have been home cooked. In Barcelona, we were finally treated to some excellent flavors. Thanks to Trip Advisor we found a wonderful selection of restaurants to choose from. We went to a really cool Indian street food restaurant called Surya for dinner one night. The food was amazing. They served traditional Indian spices but in a more Spanish type of preparation. For example, we had a tapa of Indian Tortilla. Tortilla is a Spanish style omelet with potatoes. Surya adds Indian spices to it and rolls it up and served traditional Indian chutneys alongside. My mouth just watered remembering it. We also found a small global chain called Maoz that simply serves falafel. You choose whether you want it in a pita or a bowl. That’s it. They hand it to you and there is a buffet of toppings that you can add to your falafel. It is pretty much a standing room only place, but you can make your way back to the toppings as many times as you wish – we wished a lot. This was the best falafel I have ever had and the toppings only amplified the flavor.
We only had a few days in Barcelona, but we enjoyed the vibrancy and the feel of the city. Susie and I ran along the beach one morning and were impressed with the well-developed facilities and the ancient port that had all been spruced up for the Olympics back in ’92. We are passing back through Barcelona for a night at the end of this week before flying out to Italy. We are already debating whether we go back to Surya or Maoz. If only there were a Taco Temple to solve our problem.