Life in Europe – 1 Year In

Where to even begin with this post?! I mean, seriously…where do I even start? It’s been a year. We’ve been here a year. Well technically it’ll be a year on Friday, but still…a whole year. It’s hard to wrap my mind around.

A year ago, we stepped on a flight leaving out of Baltimore (after a flight from KY to MD) and into, at the time, the unknown. 8 hours later (or something like that) we stepped off the plane on a whole new continent that we hadn’t been to before, in a new country, ready for a new adventure. And an adventure it has been.

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Our first 5 months here consisted of living in a hotel, traveling (A LOT), and trying to learn our way around the customs and traditions of Germany. Things like stores being closed on Sundays, paying for restrooms, paying for water at restaurants, the dinners out that last hours, and driving as fast as we “like” on the autobahn (which isn’t as true or fun as you would think) were all new to us. After 5 ½ months in a hotel apartment, we got a house. A spacious 3 bedroom + to make all our own (well except for no painting, no major construction, etc.). We spent the rest of the year “settling in”. A year later and I feel like we finally feel settled, feel a part of our little community, have good friends that we can count on, and have things figured out.

And traveling. We’ve traveled more in the past year than I think we have in the span of our lives. We’ve learned more history, more culture, more information in the past year than ever before. We’ve seen the not so good parts of history up close, seen the gorgeous scenery of several countries, and have had one incredible trip after another. This first year taught us, more than anything, how to adapt, how to go with the flow, how to work with what we have. And, as much as it may seem like an “on the go” lifestyle, we’ve really slowed down in a way. We’ve stopped and smelled the roses for lack of a better phrase. We’ve taken so much more time as a family, exposing not only ourselves, but our children to different ways of living. One of the most incredible things was my older son telling us, at 4 years old, about The Colosseum and what used to happen. At 4 years old.

We’ve traveled to 11 countries, visited 14 castles, we’ve seen more churches than I can even count, seen the Tulips in The Netherlands, the Tower of London, the Dachau Concentration Camps, the filming locations for The Sound of Music, The Pantheon and Ancient Rome, and so, so much more. We’ve been to Oktoberfest, a whopping 7 cities (some of which had multiple within the city) Christmas Markets, and numerous cultural festivals and events. We’ve really tried to be involved and be a part of the culture in Germany. To celebrate with them, mourn with them, understand their history, culture, and what is important to them in life.

Even with all of that, we are still just living our life. We live our everyday lives. My husband goes to work in the morning, our oldest is starting school (just preschool, but still), both boys go to playgroup, I read and write every day, and we chat with friends over coffee or dinner. We just happen to be in Germany. I think this might be when I just get mind boggled the most. When I’m making that afternoon cup of tea or curling up in the evenings with my family. When I look at my backyard and it hits me…we are in Germany. This is when I count my blessings.

It’s hard to believe that we have our “home” days. That we aren’t always out adventuring, discovering new places, seeing more and more. I think that’s kind of the strange assumption that is made when you see someone who is able to move to a foreign country for a few years- that they are always going to be traveling. But that is just not the case for us. For us we have to have that down time. Not only do work and our boys make that a necessity, but it’s also just a quirk to us. We are homebodies by nature and so we usually need to have a little bit of home time in between all the travel, and it can’t just be a couple nights. Plus, there is adventure right in our backyard. There is so much to do and see right nearby us that it makes our home time weekends still full of fun.

This first year in Germany has been an adjustment, a whirlwind, an adventure. I can’t wait to see what the next two bring us.

Recommendations and Tips for – A Trip to Rome

We spent a magical week in Rome over the Winter Holidays and today I am going to share some of the spots I think you HAVE to go to, some of the spots that may not be as incredible as you think, and some tips for navigating your time in Rome. All of these kind of wrap together, so this Recommendations and Tips post might weave in and out between tips and recommendations. If you are interested in finding out exactly what we did you can find the following posts on that subject: The First Few Days, Vatican City, Ancient Rome, The Final Days.

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Recommendations:

My first recommendation is to take at least 5 days to visit Rome. It IS doable in a 4-day weekend, but you will get no rest and feel like you are just shuffling from place to place and not getting a chance to soak everything in. I feel like 5 days is the perfect amount of time to hit each spot without being rushed. I would say you don’t need any more than 7 days (if you really want to go longer) as at that point you’ve started to exhaust some of the area. Ultimately, it’ll be more focused on what you want to do and see than anything else.

In terms of the sights you have to see, you can “knock out” most of the tourist spots in one day. Starting at the Spanish Steps, then to Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, and The Pantheon (or you can do that backwards if you would like to see sunset on the Spanish Steps- which I would recommend). I would save Vatican City and Castel Sant’Angelo for a day together (as they are right next to each other). You’ll spend over half a day at The Vatican, so make sure you plan accordingly. I would also devote the Roman Forum, Colosseum, and Alter of the Fatherland to its own day (I would end the day at the monument as watching the sunset on the Forum is just incredible).

Honestly, I can’t recommend walking around Rome enough (fun fact- I said the same thing about London). There is just so much to see and the history of the city is so rich, that you can just turn a corner and there are the columns of an Ancient Rome building or see the culture up close and personal with people chatting about life in Rome. It’s just incredible. Everyone is incredibly hospitable as well and are happy to help in stores, restaurants, hotels.

In terms of eating- there is very little that you can do wrong in Rome. Thing is, a lot of the blogs that I read before going there said that the best restaurants are the ones off the beaten path, that don’t have the waiters waiting outside to lure you in, and I don’t know if I agree with that necessarily. Rome is a tourist spot and so, yes the restaurants are going to do whatever they can to get folks seated in their restaurant. I can tell you this, hole in the wall or on the tourist pathway, we did not have one bad meal. For specific recommendations: we loved The Loft for breakfast/brunch and Il Miraggio for lunch (and dinner), as well as Don Chisciotte. Those are the three that really stood out, but you can look back through my posts to see where else we ate.

Tips:

As always, I highly recommend using public transportation. Driving in Rome is not dissimilar to driving in New York City. The underground metro system is great and easy to navigate and, while the bus system isn’t the greatest, it will get you from place A to place B easier than if you tried to drive it yourself. You can buy a 7-day pass for the transport system and it is reasonably priced and well worth it.

Something you already probably know is that Rome is a tourist destination. There is no doubt that it is packed with people and the tourist spots (like Trevi Fountain) are going to be incredibly crowded. Be aware of yourself, your belongings, and your children (as you would any other time of traveling). But also, if you are wanting to get “the picture”, don’t be afraid to go to a different spot. You don’t need to queue in line with a bunch of other people, walk to another corner or spot and you’ll not only get a unique shot, but it’ll also be much easier to see things a little differently. You don’t always have to fight the crowds to see the scene.

I think that that is all I’ve got for tips and recommendations. Honestly, there is very little that you can really go wrong with in Rome! I LOVED everything we did and saw while there. Everything is just such a dream and so surreal and the people were so welcoming. However, I know that this post was vague at times, so if you have more specific questions, please feel free to send me a message or email and I can go into more specifics!

Round the Kettle Ep. 22- Entering February (finally!)

Oh hi. It’s been a while since I’ve done a Round the Kettle chatty post. They are still happening (as if you were really worried ha-ha), but I really felt the “workload” of the Christmas Season at the end of November and through December. I didn’t want to inundate your feed and email boxes with a ridiculous amount of posts, so I let them go until after the New Year past. This is probably going to be a “thing” that I do every year while we are in Europe. There is just so much to do and see around Christmas Season that I want to share, that they just aren’t possible.

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Let’s start with a little catch up…how are you doing?

So, a brief catch up…as you will now know we spent our New Years in Rome on a weeklong holiday that still seems just so surreal in my mind. I can’t believe that I can say that I’ve been to Rome…just like I can say I’ve been to Scotland, London, Dover, The Netherlands…I mean the list goes on. It’s even more surreal and reflective as we are starting to come up on our one-year mark of living in Germany (that post is coming up this coming week). It’s funny because we are just living our normal lives, day to day, and then going on these incredible adventures that we only dreamed about.

I digress…

January passed by as January always seems to, dragging by, giving all of us that New Year’s funk at the end and making us wonder…will February ever come?! Don’t worry, February is here, and we’ve all survived. In a way January wasn’t too bad for me this year, a couple rough spots here and there, but overall pretty good. But February? I anticipate February being a rough one. We’ve got quite a few changes coming our way starting on Monday and I just feel like settling into a new groove is going to be…interesting. Our oldest is starting his preschool program, my husband has been much busier with work in January and into February, and I’m trying to figure out what our “normal” is going to be moving forward once again. It’s all good things, but it just means we’ve got a bit of a transition to make.

With that being said, I am going to be taking a little step back from the blog for a couple weeks in February. This week there will be posts as normal, and then there will be two weeks where I am not going to have any blog posts going up. I will be active as normal on IG/FB, but in terms of blog content, it’ll be quiet. I really try to take a week or two weeks “off” a couple times of year as I find that it helps me quiet my mind and refresh my brain. I’ve been writing pretty consistently for a few months now without a break (I posted a 14 posts in December where I normally average 9-11 posts a month) and I really just need to take a minute, not stare at a blank word document, and just breathe. February tends to actually be a pretty good time to do this as it is slow and quiet as it is (we aren’t traveling at all this month) and with these couple things changing at home, I need to just be able to focus on life.

How was your January? Did you have a good month or are you just ready for February?

 

A Cuppa Cosy Reads – January 2020

Welcome to my library. My domain. My happy place. In my library I’m in my element. Let’s talk books…

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Photo taken by Angie at A Cup of Grace Photography

I said that something I wanted to introduce a little more regularly on my little slice of the internet was books. I’m an avid reader and while I have an entire blog dedicated to books, I felt like that having such a big part of my life be so separate from my personal blog, was…strange to me. I’ve been sharing my reads as I am reading them on my social media, but I think I am also going to wrap up each month with a little post talking about what I’ve read that month. I’ll have the title, links to goodreads/purchasing options, my rating of the book, and then my thoughts of the book. (If you are curious about my library/office, you can see that post HERE).

In January I read a total of 7 books and listened to 1 audio book. Overall it was what I would consider a really good reading month, the lowest rating I gave out was a low 3 star and on the whole I actually enjoyed most of the books that I read. This month was the month of Dark, Thrilling, In One Sitting reads. I have added a new favorite genre (I’ve always loved it, but I have a name for it now and a narrowed down taste) and I’ve added an author to my “try some more” list. And now, I’m going to stop aimlessly waffling and start talking about the books…

*** I apologize for the Purchase links going to Amazon Audible options, you can select the physical or e-book version using the same link. I will have a different link moving forward***

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Desire by Haruki Murakami (Goodreads/Purchase): 4/5 Stars. This is a collection of short stories that revolve around desire (as the title would suggest). Murakami is a new to me author that I’ve been wanting to try for a while now, but haven’t pulled the plug on reading his book. In his own words, he takes quite a bit of inspiration from Kafka, Carver, Vonnegut, and Jazz Music. All of his works are also translated from the original Japanese text. I’ll be completely honest, it was the “inspiration from Kafka” that worried me. I’m not the biggest Kafka fan (which is putting that very lightly) and I have become wary of authors that pull inspiration from him. All that being said, I really enjoyed this little collection! It was a pleasure to read and I only had one Kafka-esque instance. I’ll definitely give another one of his full-length novels a try later this year to see if I still feel the same about his writing in a longer setting.

The Deal of a Lifetime by Frederik Backman (Goodreads/Purchase): 4/5 Stars. I have yet to read a Backman book that I haven’t enjoyed. This book is especially touching as we follow a man who is facing…a crisis of conscience (trying to figure out wording on this without giving away plot). It is written as a father to son letter and allows the reader to question some life decisions within the safety of “knowing the outcome”. Really enjoyed this read, as I always do, and I’m looking forward to picking up the last couple Backman books I have left on his published list.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (Goodreads/Purchase): 4/5 Stars. This is THE BOOK of dark academia. The book that kind of “revived” the genre, gave it a name, brought it to the forefront. We are following a group of snobby Classic Majors at a prestigious university as they try to find a life beyond the humdrum. They become very much wrapped in the subject that they are studying (Latin/Classics) and very quickly things start to unravel. This book just has it all, a friend group, dynamic well-crafted characters, a storyline that follows through, a mystery (I wouldn’t go so far as to say Thriller), and some incredibly beautiful writing. This was my second Donna Tartt book and I enjoyed this one vastly more than The Goldfinch (my first of hers). I found sometimes the narrative would be a little meandering, or the writing would get a little too much, but overall I really enjoyed it.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (Goodreads/Purchase): 3/5 Stars. Oh boy. It’s been a couple of weeks; I’ve had my book club discussion and I still don’t know what to really say about this book. Gear up, this is going to be a fun one. So much fun in fact that I am struggling to come up with a good description of what the book even is. We are following a young man who stumbles on a moment from his life that has wound up in a strange book. This book leads him and us down a rabbit hole (not entirely figurative) and into a world of stories. We follow his story, the fairytale stories, and a slew of side characters as they are trying to figure out the story. Confused yet? That’s how I was for a good amount of this book. I enjoyed the world (scratch that I loved the world, probably the one thing I really loved about this book), I enjoyed the characters (for the most part), but it was just too much story for one book. I would have preferred if she had stuck with one storyline and followed that through, instead of going on so many side stories that we, as readers, are left feeling like we’ve been chewed up, spit out, and no real conclusion. Just too much for one book and I think that that is why I struggled with it so much.

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager (Goodreads/Purchase): 5/5 Stars. This was the first book that I read in January that I would classify as a “thriller” and I loved every minute of it. Lock Every Door follows a young woman who has found herself in a bit of a tough life spot. That is until she stumbles upon an apartment sitting ad for an exclusive building. After a quick interview she lands the job, but not all is as it seems. Covering the span of just two weeks, the tension amps up quickly and doesn’t let go until the very last chapter. I read this book in basically one sitting because I just couldn’t put it down. I needed to know what was going to happen next, and even though I predicted who the “bad” person was, I couldn’t predict how everything would unravel and just how tense things would get. Highly, highly recommend this one if you are looking for a quick, captivating, read.

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio (Goodreads/Purchase): 5/5 Stars. Dark Academia that is Shakespeare centered? Give me all of it!!!! Pulling a lot of inspiration from The Secret History, If We Were Villains follows a group of Shakespearean Actors at a prestigious college of the arts as they navigate their final year of school. As you would expect, things don’t quite go to plan, and one student ends up in jail. I have to say, this book did it all for me. I loved the Shakespeare references (of which there are too many to even begin), I loved the theatrical element, the school in the woods dark setting, and the twist towards the end. The level of drama was also incredible. I would say that if The Secret History daunts you, or if it you felt like it was too wordy, too long, but otherwise you like it (or the idea of it), then this will be a really good fit. It’s a much more palatable version of Dark Academia.

The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter (Goodreads/Purchase): 4.5/5 Stars. After reading Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter towards the end of last year, I’ve been anxious to pick up another of her books. I found this one by chance in our local library (where I also picked up Pretty Girls) and it sounded along the same vein as Pretty Girls in terms of pacing and storyline (although they are quite different). In the Kept Woman we follow a detective, Will, as he sets to solve a crime that he is way too connected to. As things start to get clearer in regard to the crime, they only seem to get “muddier” in his personal life. This book is excellently paced, and the characters have a depth to them that makes you feel like they are really standing in front of you. I enjoyed seeing the growth the characters showed, even if it seemed a little…forced at times (or easy at other times) and found that the author conveyed their personalities all too well. This wasn’t quite a 5-star read for me, but it is really up there and after reading, I actually found out that this book is part of a larger detective series (although it is not necessary to read previous or subsequent novels). I don’t think I’ll read any of the previous books, but I may end up picking up the next one in the series just to see.

The Husband Hunters by Anne de Courcy (Goodreads/Purchase): NR (No rating- I do not rate Nonfiction books). This was a random “I really want an audiobook to listen to” pick and I’m not mad about that. A nonfiction selection, this book details the lives of several young ladies (and their moms/families) in the late 19th/early 20th century who would travel to Europe to find husbands in the aristocracy. I don’t have too much to say about this, as it’s pretty straight forward, but I did really actually enjoy it. The author did a great job at giving the insight into WHY each of these girls found husbands in another country, background on the both the woman and man and their respective families, AND a little look at what happened after they got married. Some of the stories are wild and full of drama, others are fairly tame, but all were interesting.

And finally, I figured I would end this post (and future ones) with what I am currently reading. I am currently reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safron Foer. I’ve only just started this, so I don’t have any thoughts quite yet, but I hope to enjoy this one. I think no matter what your ideals are, it’s good to see other aspects and points of view. It’s all about continuing to educate yourself and grow.

 

And now, that’s a wrap on all the books I’ve read in January! A couple questions…Did you enjoy this post? Did any of these books pique your interest, and if so, which ones? What did you most enjoy reading in January? Let me know!

A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday 2019 – Rome The Final Days

And so, we come to our final “what we did” post of our Winter Holiday. Our trip was jam packed from start to finish, although there was a definite difference to the second half of our trip. Vatican City was a nice way to “break up” the week we were there as that trip was about halfway through. We’d covered most of the Tourist Spots in our first few days in Rome (read that HERE), we covered Vatican City at that halfway mark (you can read that HERE), then Ancient Rome (one of my absolute FAVORITES read HERE)and now all we had left was New Year’s Day and then some.

So, a quick brief breakdown, Day 1 was spent at Castel Sant’Angelo, checking into our Bed & Breakfast, The Spanish Steps and The Trevi Fountain. Day 2 was spent at Piazza Navona, The Pantheon, and Piazza del Popolo. Day 3 was spent at Santa Maria in Aracoeli, The Alter of the Fatherland, and Quirinale Palace. Each day also consisted of a lot of just walking the streets of Rome- you see so much more by just walking around and you get such a great feel of the place. Day 4 was spent at Vatican City walking the halls of Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. Day 5 was spent going back in time to Ancient Rome and discovering what life was like in a vastly different era. So, that brings us to New Year’s Day and Day 6 of our trip…

A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday - The Final Days

Day 6: New Year’s Day

Oh, New Years in Europe. New Years in Europe is like nothing I’ve experienced before. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t that big of a New Years party goer, but saw the Times Square parties on TV and have heard enough to stories to have what I think is a good idea and I can tell you… the United States doesn’t have much on Europe. And most of the celebrations continue through to the next day. The streets on New Year’s Day are full of celebration, most places are closed, and the atmosphere just feels fun!

We started off the New Year with a breakfast at The Loft, where we had previously eaten. Ate some delicious food, drank some delicious coffee, and then headed out to a very exciting event. We were able to attend the Pope’s New Years Day Prayer. IMG_5054Now, the prayer is actually the Angelus and he will also give a reflection on the Gospel of the day, and on the day that we were there, some additional commentary. Here’s a secret, you can go to this most Sunday’s at noon and participate in this very special moment. I have included a link to the commentary that he gave on New Year’s Day (HERE), and you can view his “schedule” HERE to check if he will be doing the prayer while you are there (if this is something you are interested in). The entire prayer and comments lasts about 15-20 minutes and he speaks into a microphone from the window to the right of St. Peter’s Basilica. It was an incredible moment, so moving and you could feel everyone around you just being swept away by his words and his speaking. It’s something to be experienced, whether you are religious or not.

After the address we decided to further our religious experiences and head over to the Great Synagogue of Rome.

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This Jewish Quarter is one of the oldest, most intact in the world and the Roman Synagogue and Museum reflect both the community and the history. There has been a Jewish presence in Rome since at least the 2nd Century B.C and the museum, located in the basement of the synagogue, displays the history of the community, several artifacts through the history, and is a wealth of information about the traditions and rights of passage of the religion. For me personally, having grown up in a Jewish family, I found it really welcoming and heartwarming to see so much of what I know in such a positive, beautiful light. It was neat to learn some facts about the history of the Jews in Rome and how they were saved during World War 2. Before we get into that, first you need to know that Rome is the ONLY city in Europe to never expel it’s Jews. Did it try to convert them? Yes, there was even a Jewish Ghetto in the 16th century, but it never expelled them (and the Ghetto was abolished in the 19th century- the last in Europe to do so). When the Germans occupied Rome in 1943 the Jewish Community was told it could be saved by giving 50kg of gold. The was given to the Germans and included contributions by non-Jews as well, but the agreement never ended up being upheld. About 2000 Jews were still sent to concentration camps.

Admission to the Museum includes admission and a short tour of the Synagogue.

The Synagogue itself is incredible, dating back to the 19th century and  featuring several different styles which you can see simply by looking from the ground up to the ceiling. You can see the various cultural and design elements (including Spanish, Egyptian, & Roman) and it feels like a good representation of what the community is now. After all, it is an eclectic meld of a wide variety of people from all around Europe. It also features a square aluminum dome which causes it to stand out amongst the other dome’s and, as such, is easily identifiable.  The Synagogue has been visited by 3 different Pope’s, the first of which being a surprise visit in the 1980’s (and marked the first visit since the early history of the Catholic Church).

Finally, we spent our first night of 2020 watching the Sunset over the Roman Forum.

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it for a really long time, Roman Sunsets are incredible. I’ve always just really been a Sunrise fan, but this trip in particular reminded me just how beautiful a sunset can be.

Day 7:

Our final day in Rome was one that we weren’t really sure what to do with. We had almost the entire day to explore and weren’t quite sure what else to really do. Most of our “big ticket” items that we wanted to see we had seen, so we decided to just jump on the subway, pick a random spot and explore from there. Lucky for us the “stars aligned” and we wound up at Villa Borghese Gardens.

Listed as the third largest public park in the city, it’s a little haven of beauty in the city. Dating back to the early 17th century, when Cardinal Borghese decided to turn his vineyard into an extensive set of gardens. Within the gardens there is The Temple of Aesculapius, which has a beautiful lake around it and a Piazza that has been turned into a dog park, but was previously used as an equestrian track. There is also the famous Galleria Borghese (that you need to purchase tickets in advance to see) and its garden, the Villa Medici, which now houses a French Academy, a replica of the Globe Theatre, and a Zoo.

We wandered through the Gardens, which was a really nice little nature break, saw the Water Clock and Temple, stopped by the Borghese Gallery, and then headed to the Zoo. This is the Exposition Zoo, which features minimal caging and contains a little museum. I was really surprised by this zoo, the number of animals it contained, and how well cared for they were. Some of the things that I am normally concerned with in terms of zoo’s, were handled well at this particular one. The boys really enjoyed their time there, noting the Elephant, Snakes, and Crocodile as their best and worst animals (the crocodile because it was “scary”).

These couple spots seemed to be the perfect way to end our trip, which worked out well because shortly after our Zoo visit we headed to the train station and made our way back home.

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The entire trip still feels so incredibly surreal and one that I really loved. In my first post, I talked about how we handled this holiday a little bit differently than our Summer one and I can definitely see the benefits to both ways of traveling (the go, go, go vs. take it easy and truly vacationing). We just had such a lovely time and, yet again, a dream trip come true.

I hope that you enjoyed coming along with us! I hope I’ve done it just a little bit of justice for you.

A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday 2019- Ancient Rome

I’ve decided to do another split in the Holiday posts and give Ancient Rome the post that it truly deserves. To be fair, when I planned out the original posts, I didn’t really know how it would shake out at the end. I mean, I should have known because I just tend to overshare the information anyways, but I wanted to try and condense it down as best as I could. Just the portion that covered Ancient Rome was almost 2000 words. Instead of giving you an almost 4000-word blog post, I just decided to do two separate posts.

So, today it’s all about Ancient Rome. Next it’ll be our last couple days in Rome (which was a fairly decent size too). Finally, I’ll have some tips and recommendations coming your way later on (probably in February).

So, on to the good stuff…

A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday - Ancient Rome

We started our 5th day out bright and early in Ancient Rome. So early in fact, we got to see the Sun breaking through the remains of the Colosseum.

What a way to start the day, huh?!

We booked another tour with Through Eternity Tours to see the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and The Colosseum. Once again, as with The Vatican, this was most definitely the right way to go about seeing these spots. Our tour guide was John and he was incredible. He shared information not only about the time, the people, and the places (aka the history of Ancient Rome), but he also clued us in on excavation projects including the first one we walked past, which was the most recent excavation to be done. The tour was the best way to get a somewhat in depth look at the history of Ancient Rome, the history of the location and different landmarks within the Forum and a history of the Colosseum. It was also great because we were able to bypass a lot of the lines that very quickly build up to get into these spots. I would highly recommend doing a tour (especially through this company) as it gives you a good overview of these spots and then once you are finished with the tour, you can then double back to the spots that you want to see more of (we went and walked through some other parts of The Coliseum). You know it’s a good choice if we are recommending it as we are not tour people at all.

IMG_4659.jpgSo, our tour started at the entrance of the Roman Forum. The Roman Forum was the heart of Ancient Rome, the heart of the empire, and the starting point of so much of our Western Culture/Civilization. Before I get too much into the history, let me start by saying how absolutely incredible, breathtaking, overwhelming it was to be walking these Ancient Streets. It is an experience that I am never going to forget. My history loving heart was just exploding with happiness, but it was also a bit overwhelming at times to think of just how old, how ancient these places are. It’s hard to wrap your mind around while you are standing there in the moment. To give an idea to this, many historians believe that people first starting meeting in the forum around 500 B.C., even though the “city” wasn’t founded until 753 B.B. (by Romulus and Remus). The Forum has served many uses under many rulers, from a marketplace, to a religious spot full of temples, to a circus/gladiator ring (pre-Colosseum) to a public affairs location where soldiers would march the streets after their victories. In fact, there are a few arches within the forum that were made in honor of the rulers’ military victories. When the Roman Empire started to decline, the Roman Forum went along with it and during the Middle Ages it was completely destroyed to make room for farms and animals to graze. In the very early 1800’s excavations began to uncover the Forum and are even continuing on today (the most recent excavations were “completed” about 5 years ago, I think?). Fun fact/super neat fact: Every time something would get ruined (due to the fact that the Forum was actually located in a swamp/flood area), the Romans would just build over it. So, there are actually several different “eras” to the forum.

A couple of the really cool bits that we got to see (I mean the whole area is incredible) was the old Senate House building. A lot of Roman history focuses on the Senate- it was one of their proudest bits of government, and you are still able to see the exterior of the Senate building. They were in the process of cleaning and restoring when we were there, so we were not able to see the specifics, but still a really awesome site to see. With the restoration in process, we were only able to see bits of the Temple of Saturn, the front columns to be exact. The Temple of Saturn was, what is thought, one of the first temples in the Forum. These specific ruins date back to around 42 B.C. We were also able to glimpse the Arch of Septimus Severus, one of a few arches still surviving, the few columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux dated in the 480’s B.C., AND the Ara di Cesare which is the spot where Caesar was burned after his death (this is one of those things that just still boggles my mind, that we were standing there). We walked past the Temple of Antonius and Faustina, which was probably the most intact and preserved I’ve seen in the Forum, around the Arch of Titus which was dated the 1st century A.D. and built to honor Domitian after successfully winning the Siege of Jerusalem. The level of detail on this arch is incredible (that is THE menorah).

From there we started to walk up towards Palatine Hill and the Palazzo.

Palatine Hill is the center hill of the Seven Hills of Rome and was the actual heart of Rome. It has long been used (dating back to around 10thcentury B.C.) and became a spot for ruler’s palaces and the place to live for the affluent Romans. It overlooks both the Forum and Circus Maximus. Wandering through the rooms you can see just how the wealthy and ruling class of Ancient Rome truly lived. We looked at the “back windows” of the hill towards Circus Maxima and peaked into Palatine Hill’s own Stadium, where the wealthy would work out, have “baths” and various other spa treatments.

From Palatine Hill we walked down the hill, passed some of the last aqueducts
(outside of Aqueduct Park), past the Arch of Constantine and over to The Colosseum.

Commissioned in the 70’s A.D. and later opened 80 A.D.;  the colosseum was originally given the name: Flavian Amphitheater. Since this massive amphitheater (since that was it actually is) was completed under different rulers and there are no documents recording anything that have survived, we don’t know who the architect or builders were. The Colosseum was unique for its time in several ways; first, it was the largest of its time and second it was freestanding, rather than dug in. Each story had a different variety of columns, with seating for 50,000 (seated by class of course). There were also awnings built into the top in case the sun became too bright during the fights. Within the Colosseum there would be gladiator fights against other gladiators or animals. Despite what you see on TV or in movies, these fights would be massive theatrical productions. This was a source of entertainment (in as much as tv and movies are for us today) and so, to keep people interested elaborate storylines would be developed. This lasted 400 years and then the struggling Empire and a decline in attendance caused the fights to come to an end. Not only did the Colosseum struggle against Mother Nature with lightning, earthquakes, and such, but it also struggled from its own people. A large amount of the marble that was used in The Colosseum was “relocated” to St. Peter’s, Palazzo Venezia and other places around Rome. Finally, in the 18th century it has been conserved and listed as a sacred Christian site.

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I was truly amazed at the Colosseum. It’s a place that still very much sticks in my head as I think back to our trip (all of Ancient Rome does). To think about just how big these places and monuments truly are. The amount of work and engineering that went into each of these buildings is just incredible to think of. Then on top of that, the sheer age of the places just completely boggles my mind. In specifics to The Colosseum, aside from the size, the actual logistics of these tournaments, the truly theatrical experience was incredible to hear about it. You can see into the depths, where they would have platforms, levers, pully, whole systems that were so forward thinking for the time. It’s just absolutely incredible to think about and then to be there, standing right in the arena, seeing it all right in front of your face…no words.

Our Ancient Rome tour lasted about 4 ½ hours or so. It finished at The Colosseum and our tour guide finished up the tour with some recommendations on other places to check out. We spent the rest of our afternoon going to two of those spots: The Baths of Caracalla and the Santa Maria Maggiore Church.

Our first stop, The Baths of Caracalla, was not too far from where we were and was a spot that I truly just felt quite…small compared to what was around us. This was kind of a running theme for most of the day, but this just really compounded that in my head.

These baths are the second largest of the public baths (a 62-acre complex with columns reaching close to 40 feet tall) and date back to somewhere in the early 200’s. They were open for about 300 years before falling into ruin. While functioning, these particular baths were listed as one of the wonders of Rome and hosted a number of around 7,000 bathers a day. Something unique to these bath’s was the on-site public library. The library had two rooms, one for Greek texts and one for Latin, and each wall had niches built in to hold books. There was also a “frigidarium” (cold room), caldarium (hot room), a double pool, Olympic size pool, and two gym rooms to wrestle or box. One of the key parts to look at were the mosaics completed in marbled tile. You are able to see quite a bit of the mosaics as you walk along the complex. There were quite a few statues at one point in time, but those were either ruined or have been moved to other museums within Italy.

Our final stop of the day was a church. The Santa Maria Maggiore church is the most important church for the adoration of Mary.

This particular church was granted a Papal Major Basilica status, which is a really big deal (it’s one of four to have this title). Dating back to the early 5th century this church is incredible. Not only are the mosaics amazing, all in tribute to Mary, but it also contains some important things. Under the high alter is the Crypt of the Nativity, or a crypt that is said to contain the wood from Christ’s crib (as in- THE crib). It is also the home to Bernini’s steps AND at the time that we went, had the first nativity set on display. These figures are said to be from the 13th century made for Pope Nicholas IV. The church itself is beautiful, as is the nativity scene. We weren’t able to head up to the alter as a service was beginning.

That was the end of our day heading back farther into time than we could have ever imagined. Ancient Rome is probably one of my top places of our trips and this day was easily one of my favorites of our entire trip. I hope you enjoyed it too and that I did the history, information, and photo’s justice for you.

A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday 2019 – Vatican City

It’s the smallest country in the world. It’s among one of the holiest spots (save for Mecca/Jerusalem/and the like) in the world. It has quite the history in both good terms and bad terms. And we spent the better part of the day walking its paths, looking at its artwork, learning its history. Vatican City.

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Where to even start? Our route was simple, we started in the Vatican Museum, then the Sistine Chapel, and finally to St. Peter’s Basilica. Before we even go much further I want to talk about how we saw Vatican City. We booked our tour through Through Eternity Tours (website HERE). They have a couple different options when it comes to Vatican Tours, but we decided to go with the Early Morning Vatican Tour with Sistine Chapel. It’s slighter more expensive (though still incredibly reasonable) and the timeline is specifically set up to get you the best time in the Sistine Chapel. I cannot recommend them enough. We had Federica as our tour guide, and she was great. She had not only great art knowledge and Vatican knowledge, but she also has a personal connection in that her husband works there, her son was baptized there (by the Pope himself!) and she shared not only the important stuff, but also little anecdotes. It may have been a very early morning, but it was very early. Honestly- if you are planning a trip and looking at different tour groups, this is the one that I would go with. They have their meeting place, their headset and ticket gathering down so that when you line up with the rest of the tour groups, you are already ready to go and one of the first groups in. (You’ll hear about them again in the next Rome post as well as we did a separate tour with them elsewhere)

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Our tour started off with meeting Federica and picking up our headsets at 7AM. From there we headed to the entrance spot (one entrance!) and waited in line. We were up towards the front with only a couple groups in front of us. While we were waiting, Federica made use of the time giving us a quick rundown on the history of Vatican City and specifically the artwork and artists displayed within the walls.

The history of the Vatican dates back to the 4th century when the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica began over the grave of St. Peter (issued by Emperor Constantine I). As the chapel and location grew in popularity, so did the development of the city. The walls were originally commissioned in the 9th century (after an attack) and were expanded through to the 17th century. The Pope’s have not always lived in the Vatican; however, a residence was built in the 6th century with a tunnel connecting the Vatican to Castel Sant’Angelo ( from our first days in Rome HERE) added in the 13th century. The Catholic Church briefly left Vatican City to relocate to France, but returned relatively quickly and worked to restore and rebuild most of the country.

Much of the Vatican City that you see today was due to Pope Julius II (with a bit of Sixtus IV and his commissioning bits of the Sistine Chapel). Julius II not only commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel, he also commissioned a new church (St. Peter’s Basilica), and a new courtyard.

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Now, a quick foray into the Politics of Vatican City being its own country, separate from Italy and some information about the country itself. The Pope originally held power over its regional territories, but in 1870 a unified Italian government decided to take back the land located outside the walls of the Vatican which caused some…issues. In the 1930’s Mussolini signed an agreement that allowed Vatican City to become a separate, sovereign entity and had them receive compensation for the loss of territories. The Pope now only had power over his country, which is 109 acres and has a 2-mile border. The smallest country in existence. As many of you have probably heard, the Vatican does have its own post office, banking system, and you can potentially (depending on who is working) get a Vatican City passport stamp.

Our tour started in The Vatican Museum. The Vatican Museum actually takes you through the residence rooms of various Pope’s that contain artwork or statues that were either commissioned or used during their time as Pope. However, before you can get through to the artwork and rooms you go through the courtyard, statue, tapestry, and maps rooms. Each of these rooms featuring exactly what they are named for and each being almost more incredible than the last. Each room (or museum) has its own unique story and informational background. I’m going to link the official site of the museum and its history HERE as this blog post would get even longer than the last (and potentially more boring) if I went into elaborate detail about each spot. Instead of doing that, I’ll take a little bit to talk about each of my favorite one’s.

The map room in particular was incredible as the walls are lined with maps of Italy (and the islands) as it was seen at that time. It’s a much much different look at the world as this Gallery was opened in 1581. So much was still relatively “undiscovered” by Romans and their view of the world was much different. The walls of this room are lined with these maps and you can really see how they saw their “world” in a sense.

I also absolutely loved Raphael’s Rooms which, similar to the Sistine Chapel, were commissioned by Julius II and feature some absolutely incredible artwork. Raphael was given free reign over the design and depictions in the fresco’s and they are just an incredible sight to see.

A final cool spot (mostly because of the Pope) was Pope Alexander VI (Borgia)’s rooms. This particular pope is a very well known (some might say infamous) Pope and his rooms are exactly as you would expect. They are located in one of the most exclusive wings of the Apostolic Palace and were not inhabited by any other Pope’s. The ceiling of one of the rooms was decorated with pinecones, a symbol of fertility (yep you read that one right) and remained vacant after his death.

Something to note about the entire indoor areas of Vatican City is the floors. The floors are these absolutely incredible mosaic tiles, each individually laid and placed with care. These are the same floors that have been in existence since it’s origin. So, while you are walking through these various rooms, walking through the paths of artwork and statues, you are walking the same floors that many, many, great’s have walked before you. You are walking the same path that Michelangelo would have walked while he was working, the same path Raphael walked to get to this commissioned rooms. Just incredible to think about.

Once we finished with the museum portion (the Borgia apartment is the last to see), we headed straight into the Sistine Chapel. IMG_4474.jpgI have no pictures of the Sistine Chapel. First off, you are not allowed to take pictures in the chapel. Second, I don’t know that I would have wanted to take pictures even if you could. The Sistine Chapel is something that simply needs to be experienced, something that should just be taken in, without prior knowledge or warning. It is a spot to sit in silence and just revel at the beauty that is around you. It is truly incredible the amount of work, the paintings, the level of detail. Our tour guide, Federica, did a great job at pointing out a couple of spots for us to pay attention to when we did walk through. A couple of spots of note were the spots where Michelangelo inserted his…”opinion” on the commission. It is well known that Michelangelo had no interest in painting the fresco’s, he worked with marble, created statues- he hadn’t painted fresco’s in many many years. This “petty attitude” towards the Pope that he developed came through in some areas of the large painting (specifically where a little child is “flipping the pope off”). He also managed to apply this attitude to those who had…less than desirable opinions on the artwork (there is a Cardinal that is in a…precarious position in The Last Judgement).

We were able to spend 20 minutes in the Sistine Chapel before moving on to St. Peter’s Basilica.

I’ve already briefly touched on St. Peter’s, but I’ll continue it here (very briefly to spare you). It took a little over 100 years to complete (after being commissioned in 1506) and the alter sits directly atop the shrine of St. Peter. It is truly a masterpiece just in terms of a church not even considering the incredible art inside the church. One of the major pieces that you can see within the church is the Pieta by Michelangelo. You are also able to see two pope’s that are “on display” within the church.

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When they were ready to be entombed in the Grottoes, they actually were found to be in perfectly preserved condition. Instead of being placed down in the Grottoes, they were placed at two different spots within the church for all to see. That’s not to say you can’t see the other Pope’s, simply head down the stairs to the Grottoes and you can learn about the histories of each of the Pope’s. It’s a pretty incredible site to see.

Our final stop within Vatican City was not as part of the tour, but something we decided to do ourselves, and that was to climb to the top of the dome on St. Peter’s Basilica. We’ve always been “those travelers” who like to get above a city and get a sort of “eagle eye view” of the city. This was the perfect chance to get as high as we could and take a look.

I will say this, despite my incredible fear of heights/falling from said heights, this view did not disappoint. It wasn’t my favorite of our entire trip (Alter of the Fatherland was as a side note), but this one was so special both for views and location. It is quite the climb up (500 something steps to the top), but you are able to take an elevator for about 200 of those steps. The elevator stops you at a higher point within the church, so you are able to see the interior of the dome a bit better and see down into the church from a higher viewpoint. Also, the steps aren’t really that bad as you are going up, you are able to tell each part of the dome that you are in.

IMG_4323 2.JPGThe Vatican was one of the most incredible parts of our visit and something that I am going to remember for the rest of my life. To stand in this most sacred spot for so many is something that words cannot describe and then you bring it’s long (and rich) history…it’s a lot. A lot of feelings. It is definitely a spot that you HAVE to go to if you are in Rome and a spot that I think is best done as part of a tour group (the line to get in without a pre-planned tour ticket was INSANE…heck the line to simply get into St. Peter’s Basilica without the tour was INSANE too). Through Eternity exceeded all of our expectations and we will definitely use them in the future if we are ever in need.

And that wraps up Day 4/Vatican City. I hope that you enjoyed!