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Saturday, May 3, 2014

Day Fourteen: Homeward Bound

Our flight home was via Amsterdam departing at 6:20 AM.  That meant leaving our hotel at 2:30 AM.  And that meant a very short night!!!  Everyone finished repacking their luggage and jumped into bed for a couple hours of much needed sleep.  But even with the middle of the night wakeup call and only a bit of sleep, our group was up and ready to go at the designated time...what a great bunch of travellers!  A bag breakfast was given to us by the hotel and we loaded the bus for the last time and we were off!!

We had a relatively easy check-in and none of our luggage was overweight...even with all the shopping we had done in three countries.  We said our final farewells to Carol and then headed to the gate to wait for our flight.  I think most of group was asleep before takeoff!!

We arrived in Amsterdam and everyone was looking a bit more refreshed.  Many of us headed to the restaurant for breakfast, a few people bought some cheese and other souvenirs and finally we headed to the gate to wait for our final boarding call.  There was lots of chatter about favourite countries, things people liked or didn't like, and  the retelling of some of the more memorable experiences.  

Here are a few of our favourite  things:  donkey rides, food on the cruise ship, being at Pergamon without the crowds, Istanbul Spice Market,  shopping, ice cream in all three countries, olives (well, some of us really liked them), cats, apple tea and dancing on the street in Kusadasi 

Some of our not so favourite things: the disco music from 1:00 AM to 5:30 AM just outside our hotel in Istanbul, small cabins on the cruise ship, even smaller cabins on the overnight ferry, food that we didn't know or didn't like,  wine tasting at the carpet factory (not a favourite with most of our group) crowds and rude people always cutting in, and hole in the floor toilets

The funniest things that happened:  the vendors in the Spice Market looking for Shelley and the ice cream man in Kusadasi. 

And things we may never forget: Loghan and Doug as models, seeing all the Georges and the lambs they were roasting for their party, Carol giving us Greek names, lighting candles and the fireworks on Patmos for Easter and  people fainting at the Vatican.

We finally boarded the airplane and about 8 hours later we landed in Calgary and were greeted by friends and family.  We had a amazing trip with a fabulous group of people.  Everyone was always polite, punctual and enthusiastic, even when they were not feeling well or running short of sleep!    Thanks for  helping us make such wonderful memories in Turkey, Greece and Italy!! 

Day Thirteen: Rome

Rome was very busy when we were there because of the canonization of two popes, Pope John Paul and Pope John XXIII.  According to the news, they were expecting nearly one million visitors to Rome at the same time we were there.....YIKES!!!  Carol and our bus driver were very concerned that roads near the Vatican would be closed to bus traffic early in the day and so we were prepared for the worst...either a long walk or being forced to use pubic transportation such as the subway. Not an easy thing to do with our large group!! We had a very early wakeup call and were loaded on the bus by 7:30 AM.  

Pope John Paul II

Pope John XXIII

Fortunately our bus driver was able to drop us off 5 minutes away from the Vatican.  We walked to the place we would meet our tour guide and realized we had 90 minutes to spare.  Carol went to get our tickets etc and the rest of our group walked around the walls of the Vatican to St. Peter's Square.  We could not believe the lineups of people waiting to get into St. Peter's Basilica so early  in the day.  We had time to admire the massive area in front of St. Peter's.  There is a 4000 year old Egyptian obelisk and a beautiful fountain by Bernini.  We took a group photo and then everyone had some time to wander in the square and take photos before we headed back to meet Carol.

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter's Square

Egyptian Obelisk in St. Peter's Square
Fountain in St. Peter's Square

We met our guide Carlota and entered the Vatican Museums.   The museums are within the walls of the Vatican City and display works collected by the Roman Catholic Church throughout the centuries, including  some of the greatest sculptures and masterpieces of the world.   There are 54 galleries in total but we could not possible visit all of them in one day.  After going through security we followed Carlotta upstairs and went out to the balcony overlooking the Vatican Gardens.  She pointed out  where the previous pope,  Pope Benedict XVI  now lives.  From there we moved through various galleries, seeing beautiful paintings, tapestries and other works of art.
Our guide Carlotta
Learning about the Vatican
Building to the left of TV tower is where the retired Pope Benedict lives
Listening to our guide
Vatican Gardens
Beautiful ceilings
Painted Ceiling Relief
Huge tapestries

Tapestry hanging on walls

Closeup of tapestry
Our final visit was to the Sistine Chapel, the largest and most famous chapel of the Apostolic Palace which is where the Pope lives.  The Sistine Chapel is where the papal conclave takes place, the process used to select a new pope.  The ceiling of the  Sistine Chapel was painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512 and it is considered one of the world's most famous masterpieces.   It is hard to describe how beautiful it really is.   Michelangelo did not really consider himself a painter  but  later returned to paint the Last Judgement which decorates the wall above the altar.  It was very crowded in the Sistine Chapel and because the paintings are so detailed and so beautiful it was hard to see it all in the short time we were there and photos were not allowed.

We left the Sistine Chapel and went to St. Peter's Basilica.  It is one of the largest churches in the world.  The Basilica is the burial site of  St. Peter, one of the twelve apostles.  There has been a church on the same site since the time of  Roman Emperor Constantine  the Great.  The dome of St. Peter's is well-recognized in the skyline of Rome.  The interior is decorated with  beautiful marble, stained glass and  a huge bronze altar. It also includes many beautiful sculptures including la Pieta by Michelangelo.  There are tombs of popes and other notable people.  We were able to walk by and see the tombs of the two popes being canonized.
Michelangelo's sculpture called la Pieta
The dome
Holy door only opened  by Pope in Jubilee years
Tomb of Pope John XXIII
Altar of St. Peter's Basilica
When we exited the basilica we saw the Swiss Guards which are stationed outside St. Peter's. 
Swiss Guard
We walked to a commercial area and took some time to have lunch and shop for souvenirs, including rosaries blessed by Pope Francis.  The crowds of people just continued to grow as the day went on and we could see how  some were beginning to arrive and planned to spend the remainder of the time before the Canonization of the Popes near the barricades surrounding St. Peter's Basilica.

The crowds are getting larger in St. Peter's Square
We were so lucky that our bus driver was still able to get around the streets of Rome and he took us to the Colosseum next.  On our way we went by Circus Maximus where chariot races were held.  We also drove  by The Palace of Victor Emmanuel.  Parts of  the Colosseum are being restored so there was scaffolding and netting surrounding a large part of the exterior.   We met our next guide and she took us on a tour of the largest amphitheatre of the Roman Empire and one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering.  It is believed that  building of the colosseum began in 70 AD  and it was completed in ten years. The Colosseum could hold approximately 80,000 spectators and was used for gladiator contests and public spectacles such as sea battles (the floor was filled with water) reenactments of battles, animal hunts, and dramas.  Entry into the Colosseum was free for all the citizens when it was built.  We walked up to higher level where the common people would have sat  The closest seats to the arena were reserved for senators and the emperor .  From the top we could see some of the remains of the subterranean passageways used to move animals and gladiators into the arena.

Outside the Colosseum
Our guide
Overlooking the stadium floor with passageways
Partial exterior wall

The subterranean passageways

Rebuilt  partial stadium floor
Holes show where lead, iron and marble were removed

Checking out the Colosseum
Beyond the Colosseum we could see the Arch of Constantine which is under restoration.  We could also see the Roman Forum in the distance.  Because some of our group was feeling the effects of the heat we decided not to tour the Roman Forum. 
Arch of Constantine
Roman Forum
Roman Forum
We got back on the bus and were dropped of near the Piazza Navona.  There were street artists, musicians and huge crowds of people enjoying the end of a  beautiful afternoon.  We had some free time and some of our group did some shopping while others enjoyed the entertainment.

Street Entertainment
Fountain of the Four Rivers by Bernini in Piazza Navona
We walked to the restaurant where we were served pizza, a favourite with our group!!  After dinner a local guide took us on a short walking tour.  We saw the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Trajans Column and other beautiful churches and landmarks in the city.  the night before we were at the Spanish Steps and walked by some of the most famous shops in Italy.  Although we were only in Rome  for about 30 hours we saw so many famous and amazing sites.  Many of our group hope they will one day be able to return to Rome and Italy!!

Pizzas ready to go into the oven

Welcome meal after a long day

 Whole pizza just for me!!

After dinner a local guide took us on a short walking tour.  We saw the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Trajans Column and other beautiful churches and landmarks in the city.  the night before we were at the Spanish Steps and walked by some of the most famous shops in Italy.  Although we were only in Rome  for about 30 hours we saw so many famous and amazing sites.  Many of our group hope they will one day be able to return to Rome and Italy!!
Trevi Fountain
Shopping near Spanish Steps
Trevi Fountain
Overlooking the Trevi Fountain

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Day Twelve: From Brindisi to Pompeii and Rome

There was a one hour time change between Greece and Italy. Of course, add to that the fact that Italian trains, buses etc is notorious for being late, it was no surprise that what should have been an 8:00 AM disembarking from the ferry became more like  10:00 AM.    Not a good start to a long day of driving!!!  Our bus driver picked us up from the port and we headed to Pompeii.  Carol  had for-warned us that we would have a long day on the bus.  There was lots of time to get caught up on some much needed sleep, visit with friends or update travel journals.  We drove toward Naples and stopped for lunch at an Autogrill.   Carol kept us entertained with stories and information about Greece and Italy.  We drove through rich agricultural land and saw many different crops depending on what part of the area we were in.
We finally arrived at Pompeii, a site many of us had been looking forward to seeing on this trip.  Pompeii is an ancient Roman town that was  completely covered by ash and pumice when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.  The site was lost for over 1500 years when it was initially discovered in 1599  and then rediscovered by a Spanish engineer in 1748.  The bodies and objects had been well preserved for many centuries because of the lack of moisture and air under the 4 - 6 meters of ash.

Mount Vesuvius
Our tour guide in Pompeii was a 78 year old man who has been working in the area since the late 1950s.  He was very knowledgeable and also very humorous.  He made the time go by very quickly and many of our group would have loved to stay longer and listened to more of his stories.

Our entertaining guide
Going into the ruins
Porta Marina
In the forum with the Temple of Jupiter behind the group
Entrance to Macellum or market 
Many different shops lined the street
One of the many arches 
Inside Roman Bath
Roman Bath
Grooves from cart wheels
Used for grinding grain and oven in background
Walking through the Roman Forum
In the Roman Forum
Home of one of the wealthy residents of Pompeii
Ancient walls
Temple of Apollo
Near the Temple of Apollo
A plaster cast of one of the people buried

After our tour we had time to shop for souvenirs and ice cream before we boarded the bus for Rome.  We arrived about 8:30 PM and could tell that the city of Rome was already very busy because of the upcoming canonization of Pope John Paul and Pope John XXIII.  We were dropped off near the Spanish Steps and walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner.  Our first taste of Italian food!!  After dinner we went walked through some of the streets near the Spanish Steps and met up with a new bus and driver.  He took us to the Hotel  La Meridienne which was about 80 minutes from the centre of Rome.  It was very late when we arrived at the hotel, got  our luggage and finally checked in.