Sunday, July 20, 2014

Naples - Pompeii - Amalfi Coast

We visited Naples (or Napoli) during a long weekend in June.  It's probably not a city that you would visit for the city itself, but when you put it right by Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast it's a great holiday destination.  Guidance that we received from tour books and friends -- don't drive in Naples, keep close tabs on your wallet, be prepared for dirt and grime -- was helpful (especially the not driving part), but actually in the right doses it was a very interesting city.
Naples was full of old, unique buildings.........

........and narrow streets. 

Naples traffic was very chaotic.  Here Grant tries to gather his courage to cross the street.  He's got the right of way in the cross-walk; the question is whether  the cars and buses will obey the rules.  

Naples is famous for its pizza.  The dough is fried, then toppings added and the pizza is heated just enough to melt the cheese.  Two things surprised us: everyone eats an entire pizza by themselves.  And the pizza is amazingly cheap.  Grant was in heaven. 

The National Museum of Archaeology houses some of the best finds from Pompeii and Herculaneum.  The guide books says that "it's famous for its unrivaled collections but also for its off-limits rooms, missing identification labels, poor lighting, billows of dust, suffocating heat in summer and indifferent personnel."  I can vouch for some of those comments; we went twice and the same rooms were not open each day.  Probably due to people not showing up for work.

The National Museum of Archaeology

Pompeii was a town of 10 - 20,000 people before it was buried by 4-6 meters of ash from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in August 79 AD.  People died from heat and toxic gas, not suffocation. Once covered the city was forgotten for over 1500 years until it was rediscovered in 1748.  Everything was extremely well preserved since it was not exposed to air or moisture.  The colors on the fresco wall paintings are still bright and the pottery is in great condition.

A scale model of Pompeii at the Museum.  It was open one day, but closed the next.  

Well preserved frescos removed from Pompeii to display at the Museum.   The Museum is filled with high quality pieces like this one.  

The theater held 5000 people.  Center stage was build on a hollow stone to improve the acoustics.   It really worked.  

The remains of homes that lined the street. 

A room of a wealthy merchant at Pompeii. 

She's got a rather surprised look on her face. 
In case you're wondering, Mount Vesuvius is still classified as an active volcano.  Our tour guide told us that there is an evacuation plan for the area around Naples.  She also said that she's lived there all her life and has no idea what the evacuation plans says she should do.  

Mount Vesuvius looming over Pompeii

The pot collecting spot.  The "body" in the back is really a plaster cast made when voids were discovered in the ash where bodies had been.  

More pots

Gladiator dormitory

Can you believe this lady's hair color?  Right out of Dr. Seuss.  

Stepping stones were used to cross the street since streets also served as open sewers.  

The Amalfi Coast lies south of Pompeii and is a series of rocky cliffs, small towns (that explode during tourist season) and beautiful views of the blue Gulf of Salerno.  It is best seen onboard a huge luxury yacht that motors from town to town.  Since that option wasn't available to us, we hired a driver who took us down the winding roads and through the maze of alleys in the villages.

The Gulf of Naples with Mount Vesuvius in the background

This portable fruit stand had a hard time making it up the hills.  

Beautiful flower arrangement outside the church

The lemons were big like the ones from Ft. Myers.

My camera has a panoramic function that is fun, but I probably need a bit more practice.  

Grant was having problems with shutting his eyes for photos.  This picture is a result of telling him to keep his eyes shut until I counted to three and took the picture.  His eyes are certainly open. 

The view of the coast from our table at lunch

Another view from our lunch table

Old fort tower along the coast. 

The Amalfi Duomo

In the crypt are St. Andrew's bones, brought here from Constantinople in the 1200's.  

The bones are kept locked up in here.  

We had beautiful weather for our drive....until the very end of the day.  It didn't bother us, we just found a cafe and had a glass of wine.  This bride wasn't so fortunate. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Carol, Roger & Amy Visit The Netherlands

My sister, Carol, her husband, Roger, and their daughter, Amy, visited us in May.  It had been a long time since I played tour guide so I had to refresh myself on the requirements.  It's not like Holland is that big, so it all came back pretty quick.  Plus, they timed their visit with (mostly) great weather so we had a fun week.

For those of you who have visited, you will recognize the itinerary.  The first day, we walked along the North Sea to get some sunshine and stay awake.   Then we stopped at the Pannekoeken House for some local food.  After a small rest, it was off to the Salamander Windmill.

Amy insisted on going barefoot which worked well until she had to cross some scummy parts of the water.  Then she had to clean her feet before putting her shoes back on.  

The pride of Holland -- pannekoeken.   

View of the canal from the Salamander Windmill

The next day we rode our bikes to Leiden where we did the walking tour to see Rembrandt's birthplace, the Pieterskerk (church of the Pilgrims) and other historical sites.  I was a little nervous when we had the wind at our backs for the journey there.  But the wind died down so our ride back was fine.

On the way to Leiden, we stopped at the private owl sanctuary.  Several owls were right next to the fence.  One had a small chicken in it's claws.  I guess it wasn't hungry yet but it didn't want to lose the meal. 

Roger enjoyed the European custom of eating lunch outside on the terrace.  Amy was a recent graduate of the Budweiser Beer School, so she guided us on our beverage selections.  

In front of the Lutheran Church, the religion of Roger's Scandinavian ancestors.  

There was a cloth market underway in Leiden with 20-30 stalls all selling ugly cloth like this.  I didn't realize that many people in Holland sewed.  

Roger felt unprepared without having some euro's in his pocket.   After several failed attempts, he found an ATM that accepted his card.  

At the Leiden Windmill museum, standing next to the grinding wheel.  

Documented proof of Carol's riding prowess.  

The next day it was off to Amsterdam via the train.  It was a day of museums -- the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum and finally, the Rijksmuseum.  As a result of my tour guide rustiness, I did not procure advanced tickets to the Anne Frank House.  Big mistake.  We waited in line for 2 hours.  But I did remember that the Van Gogh has a great cafeteria.   The Rijksmuseum was new to me -- it reopened last year after being closed for 10 years for renovations.   All three museums are well worth the visit.

The Amsterdam Canals.

The line for the Anne Frank house.  If you've read the book you know that her hiding place was not big.  So imagine trying to put over one million visitors a year through it.  The line doesn't move fast.  

Next to the Anne Frank House this guy was repairing the roof on a church.  He's a long way up there.  

Only tourists would take paddle boats in the Amsterdam canals.  

The visitors in front of the Rijksmuseum

Van Gogh's Famous Sunflowers

The project during the break was to get a photo of Amy on the Museumplein. 

Rembrandt's Nightwatch (without President Obama in front of it).  

The museum architecture was beautiful. 

On Tuesday we got up early to be at the Flower Auction by 7:30.  Since it was flower season, the warehouse was packed.  The amount of flowers being shipped was incredible.

These "trains" of flowers move throughout the warehous

The auction room where the buyers sit.  It's all done electronically and peacefully...nothing like the trading pit at the Chicago Board of Trade.  

These screens are the "auction".  All the information regarding the flowers is displayed here. The "dial" on the right side of the screen starts at an asking price, then spins down showing the price reduction.  The flowers are sold when someone pushes the button at the price they are willing to pay.  It all takes about 2-3 seconds per lot.   

Later that day it was on to Delft, another beautiful, historical Dutch city.

On top of the New Church Bell Tower.

The town square is in the background.  

The Old Church Bell Tower leans significantly.  

Amy is one of a long line of tourists to have this picture taken.  How can you resist?  

I used the panorama feature on my camera to take this picture of the town square.  

The kissing Dutch couple.  

After we dropped Amy off at the airport, we stopped at the Keukenhof to see the flowers.  Our timing was good.  It was late in the season so the crowds were down.  And the next day wind and rain moved in which probably damaged the last of the tulips.   There are no more photo's for the remaining days.   The weather turned nasty, so Carol & Roger biked around town and took Graber for walks.  Maybe not exciting for them, but Graber sure loved it.

Another Dutch Treat -- stroopwafels