Monday, July 23, 2012

Post Trip Update

I am settling back into the routine of being home and resumed posting at my other blog, Toronto is My Town.

I will be slowly catching up on the missing blog posts from the tail end of my trip on this blog over the next couple of weeks. I am posting them using a post date to match the actual itinary travel date, but I will also post another little note on the actual day posted with a link to that blog.Yesterday I posted a blog which describes my climb of Mount Vesuvius on July 3rd. What an amazing climb we had up to and into the rim of the Crater. This was not the normal tourist excursion which is offered if you go to the site, it was a special trek organized by the wonderful touring company I joined (Intrepid Tours) for the last 15 days of my trip.

I still have quite a few days to catch up with - a day on a boat travelling around the island of Capri and swimming in the Blue Grotto, and sightseeing in Naples, Rome, Sorrento, Amalfi and Positano. We also had other activities I would like to tell you about such as learning how to make Gelato and a lemoncello tasting session. All in good time. I am really busy getting back into the swing of things and need to post on the other blog as well. I have a bit of time though as I am not back to work until Aug 20th - but to find out more about what is up with me in Toronto you will need to go to my Toronto blog and a post will arrive there today!

Stay tuned my friends, the next blog here will be the Capris Boating day on July 5th and I will try to have it posted by tomorrow.


Update on May 10, 2013 - Sorry for not finishing the last 2 trip days - and now I am off on another trip and have blogs to post for it.

I acquired a Gelato habit while traveling Italy. Here I am enjoying the tasty treat with the harbour of Capri in the background.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Home From Europe

An explanation is in order for sure. My last posted blog was on July 3rd was without any pictures and was a hastily posted, half written effort (sorry. There were 2 reasons for the big stall in what was otherwise a pretty good (IMO) consistently written travel blog. I had been plagued with intermittent wifi access and had been having challenges with that, but the straw that broke the camels back, so to speak, was my troubles with the Google storage space needed to upload more pictures. Add to that a very limited time to work on a resolution and offline blogs due to a packed travel schedule, and well, here I am home on Mon the 16th, without having updated since that hastily written start of a blog covering Pompei.


I am still experiencing storage problems and unable to upload any more pictures. The blogger site uses Picasa to store pictures on Google storage and you are given 1 Gig for photos free to start with. I had used that up by the beginning of June and upgraded to 25 Gig at 2.49 a month at that time. The trouble started when my purchase was charged to my BOM MasterCard, which was blocked due to "suspicious activity" (they have since given me a new number). I was able to fix that and update my wallet with my RBC Visa and I received the upgraded storage for June and resumed blogging. When the July payment was processed for the subscription they used the old credit card rather than the new one in my wallet and I had to go in and manually update the order again to use my other credit card. That is when the whole order got "stuck".


The Google wallet site has the order as "received on Jul 4th", but they have neither billed the Visa, nor given me my storage. My enquiries have only generated a "we are looking into it" reply. So I am stuck, unable to upload any more trip photos, which really is the essence of my travel blog.


I could go into a lot of detail in a written blog about that last week and a half of my trip, but you really need to see the pictures to appreciate the sights, which is why I gave up on the Pompei post of Jul 3rd, (accidently posted rather than left as draft) and why I will leave until I can upload pictures for the following planned blogs:

. Rome - Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel

. Rome - Colosseum and Palestine Hill and Wandering Rome

. Naples and Pompei Ruins

. Climbing Mount Vesuvius

. Sorrento and a Capris Day trip by boat

. Amalfi and Positano

. Rome and Homeward Bound


The last bit of my trip was spectacular, for many reasons. I made great new friends, saw some pretty excellent historic sites, feasted on great food and wine and enjoyed some very beautiful scenery. Stay tuned, hopefully the storage problem will get sorted out soon and I can tell you all about it.


In the meantime, I am going to try to delete a few unneeded Picasa pictures and hope to free up enough space to resume posts on my "Toronto Is My Town" blog, which isn't so picture intensive. I will finish my Europe travel blog once I can upload pictures.


Watch for my next post by end of day at


Adios, Au revoir and Arrivederci my Friends!


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Climbing Mount Vesuvius

I am catching up on my travel blogs over the next few weeks having finally resolved my Google Storage problem. I won't be doing them in chronological order according to itinary, as I want to get out a few covering some of the real gems first. I would say the highlight of my trip, from an achievement point of view, (next to completing the Camino), was my climb of Mount Vesuvius. So I will post that first before tackling the others.

As always, the posting date is set to the itinary travel date. This is datelined July 3rd, p.m., in the same day as we toured the ruins of Pompei.

We had lunch of pizza outside the Pompei ruins while we waited for the public bus to take us up Mount Vesuvius for our next adventure. It was about a 40 minute journey away from Pompei winding up the mountain in the space between the two peaks.

If you look at this picture from the earlier blog covering my morning's visit to the ruins of Pompei, you will see the picture of Vesuvius as seen from the public square. You can also see and the double peaks formed with the eruption that buried Pompei. We traveled by bus from the opposite direction on a road which went up between the two peaks. As I look at this picture again, I stand in awe that the mountain rained down 70 feet of lava and ash and buried the City of 16,000 people so many thousands of years ago. The Pompei eruption was in 79 AD.

As the bus took the road up the larger of the two summits we saw the path that the lava took during the last eruption in 1944. Vesuvius erupts, on average, every 50 years. You can see it as the light brown line which runs across the frame on the far side of the valley which spans the two peaks.

The bus travelled a zigzag path as the road went up the mountain. It was a narrow road with many blind turns. The road was not really wide enough for the bus to take the corners with oncoming traffic, so each curve was greeted with honking horns, so that any oncoming traffic would stop and wait until we had passed before entering the corner.

After we got off the bus there was a steep climb to the entrance to the entrance to the Vesuvius Summit.


Here we met our guide and discussed the route we would be taking. We were to climb to the rim and walk the radius. We were also going to be given the opportunity to climb down a distance into the crater! As I looked up from the starting point it was hard to believe that we would be able to do this without ropes and climbing equipment.

The photo above shows the terrain at our starting point. It took us an hour and a half to walk the distance around the rim of the crater.

We walked the entire perimeter, about a quarter of it is shown in this picture.

It was fairly steep on both sides of the trail. Some folks were a bit uneasy about the heights. Fortunately, I don't have any sort of problem like that.

The view from the summit was absolutely spectacular. This view looked down to Pompei and the path of the lava flow which buried the city.

You can see the path below which we had climbed to the starting point and beyond the Bay of Naples and the Mediterranean.

Lilly discovered that she was very unsettled by the height. Manuela took her hand.

Manuela provided us with lots of details about Mount Vesuvius and the crater below. Apparently, there is a large rock formation blocking the exit of lava for the next eruption and so it will likely be a side eruption. With the population density, this will be a catastrophy.

When we decended about 50 feet down into the crater, Manuela demonstrated how he could make it smoke by blowing smoke into an opening. He blew one tiny puff of cigarette smoke into a rock crevice and a great big puff came out the other side. I still don't quite understand that.

After checking out the crater we climbed back to up to the rim and continued on the trail.

The colours of the rock lining the crater were very beautiful - red, orange, grey and black rock.

Team Intrepid Tour for our victory photo (minus me taking the picture)! We completed the rim walk and everyone was feeling the high!

The view from the top back toward Naples, taken with a zoom. The shots following are all of various parts of the rim, which show the route we traversed all across the upper edge.

Afterwards we had to walk back down to the bus parking lot and to our next adventure. There was a small souvenir/coffee shop at the parking lot and we stopped there to try and get rid of the dirt and ash which had collected on our shoes and wait for the last bus to arrive at 5:30.

At 5:30 we noticed the bus (a local public bus run by the municipality) had came up to the parking lot and then turned around and went back without stopping, leaving us and others stranded on top of the mountain without transit back down! I couldn't imagine how the driver could do such a thing, but apparently stuff like this happens all the time in Italy. Probably the driver was in a hurry to finish his shift. This is where our tour guide really earned her money. She went to the consession stand and enlisted the owners assistance to get in touch with the bus driver and ask him to come back. After much talking, arguing and threatening (Serena, our tour guide had said she would call the police if he didn't come back), the driver agreed to drive back up the mountain. About an hour later we boarded the bus and headed back to Pompei.

You can see the side view of Mount Vesuvius in this photo, taken from the bus on the way home. This view shows only the higher peak. We had walked the entire radius of the rim.

That night we had a victory dinner. The next day we would be heading to Sorrento.


The Ruins of Ancient Pompei

Tue July 3rd was to be a busy day. We had a guided tour of Pompei lined up for the morning and a "special" guided climb around the rim of Vesuvius, Italy's most famous active volcano on tap for the afternoon.

The ruins of Pompei were a 30 minute walk from the hotel and we arrived to meet our guide in time for the 8:30 opening of the site. Our Guide, Michaele, a professor according to his name tag, grew up in Pompei and had been guiding ruins tours for 35 years. He really knew his stuff. I was in awe of the ancient Romans and how they lived with much of what we would consider modern day comforts, running water, central heating and fabulous leisure time activities, such as theatre, sports and of course Roman Baths.

They have excavated 2/3rds of the City of Pompei, so the place is huge. It would take several days to see the entire site. We hit the high points in our 2 1/2 hour tour.

I have many pictures of Ancient Pompei which will go here.

At the end of the tour we had some free time to wander the site before our excursion to Mount Vesuvio. Given 35 degree temperatures and no shade, I opted to wander my way out to the gelato stand. My favourite, limone, is an Italian standard, given the abundant lemons, and is an extremely refreshing treat.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Assisi and Spello

I wrote this on our way to Rome, over a week ago, and for several days I didn't have enough air conditioned WIFI to sit and upload the pictures and post the blog, so it just sat on my iPad. The connection at Assisi only worked in the stiflingly hot lobby and they seemed to turn it on only sporadically. It was the same in Rome and Pompei and then in Sorrento we had WIFI in the rooms but the rooms have neither A/C nor fans and it is 34 degrees! I also have been delayed as I filled up my blogging storage space when I tried to upload this blog while I was in Sorrento and had to buy more from Google. It has been days since I paid for the the additional storage and thus far ( 4 days later and the day before I am to fly home) i still don't have the additional storage needed to upload more blog photos. I have decided to upload this blog with the pictures I have already uploaded and beg your indulgence to imagine the rest. I will upload a revised blog with pictures once Google decides to give me my storage.

Now, on to tell you about Assisi and Spello:

Our next destination, Assisi, is a short bus ride from Gubbio. We headed there on Thursday morning. After checking in at our hotel, which was the Hotel Trattoria da Elide, in the Village of Maria degli Angeli, just outside of Assisi, we took the bus up the hill to see the magnificent Basilica DI San Francesco. We had an tour given by one of the volunteers from the Francescan Order. The guide, a University Professor, was engaging and informative. We learned about the life of Saint Francesco and how he came to be a Saint to establish this order with so many followers all vowing to live their life as in the example given by Saint Francis and according to the rules established for the order. See this WIKI for more info.

It was excellent that we had someone to explain the fantastic frescoes which decorate the upper church. We were not permitted photos inside the Basilica but the history and architecure of the whole building was very interesting and beautiful. So beautiful that upon exiting the Basilica, someone asked the guide (a lay member of the Order), if he thought that Saint Francis would be embarrassed at the splendour and grandeur of the place.

The Basilica of Sant Franscesco actually is comprised of 3 churches built one on top of one another. Saint Francesco was born, died and was buried in Assisi and construction started on the first of the 3 churches, called the lower church, in the year he died. They buried the remains of the Saint at the front, in the limestone rock, 15 feet under the Alter. The lower church has a dark, cave like atmosphere without windows.

This church is built in the Romanesque style with round arches and the ceilings which are about as tall as the church is wide, also making it feel like a small space. Some time later they excavated under the lower church and built another church (neo Romanesque style) with the exposed the crypt of the Saint as the focal point. We were able to tour the crypt and see the final resting place of Saint Francis.

The Upper Church (shown above) is high and airy, built in the Gothic style, with many stained glass windows and frescoe covered walls. It is extremely beautiful and is meant to symbolize rising to heaven when ascended to from the lower, tomblike lower church. The story of creation is told on a series of frescoes on walls high above and around the perimeter of the church. Underneath these frescoes are another series of frescoes which depict the life of Sante Francesco. Having since seen the Sistine Chapple, it seems almost as grand.

Outside the Basilica, there is a garden with statue of the Saint when he turned back after setting off to war, supposedly having heard the word of God telling him to go back home and rebuild the Church. Our guide had a pragmatic interpretation of this. Apparently Frances was sick with tuberculosis and not able to carry on so was most likely told to go home by his commander. The statue does make it seem that he was unhappy and dejected, not like he had heard the word of God.

I have many beautiful pictures of Assisi which I will add when I can.

After we finished touring the town of Assisi we took the path down the hill to the Village. There is a brick path which leads from the Village up to the Basilica to facilitate the many Pilgrim's which come to see the remains of Saint Francesca. Funds were raised by "selling bricks" and inscribing the names of donorson the bricks.We took a picture of the brick that Serena's Grandparents donated.

I have photos of the path to add here.

The next day we took the train to Spello, another Umbrian hillside town. There was arranged a wine and olive oil tasting along with a 4 course lunch. The town was very pretty. I have never seen so many stone walls decorated with flowers in all of Europe!

This was one of the highlights of this section of the tour. I will add photos of Spello and the lovely lunch/wine tasting as soon as Google gives me my storage space.

I had my first visit to MacDonalds at Assisi. Interesting to see how they have upscaled in this town.

I have an interesting MacDonald's photo to add.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Gubbio and the Bird Cage Ride

I am on my 2nd day in Rome as I post this, although I wrote it offline 2 days ago. Internet has not been easy to obtain here, free WIFI depends on having an Italian SIM card for identification purposes, so I have been dependant upon hotel WIFI, which seems to be flakey at best in the small owner-operated hotels we are staying in. Also, now that I am in Rome, there is scant time for blogging since I only have 2 days here. I will catch up when I can, but hard to believe that I have only 8 days before I leave Europe!

As I write this I am battling a terrible cold (in 38 degree temps!) and I have lost hearing in one ear - a complication of the cold, no doubt. We visited a pharmacy and they prescribed some sort of naturopathic medicine - 30 drops mixed in water from the left bottle 3 x per day and 25 drops from the right. Not sure if it is works g, I am on day 3 of this regime, but if it doesn't improve in a day or two I guess I shall seek a doctor. Going on a plane with an ear infection is likely to be very painful.

And so onto the Day 2 Gubbio Blog:

My 2nd day in Gubbio was full on sightseeing and a great Umbrian dinner.

There was a cable car ride up Monte Ingino to the Basilica of Sant'Ubaldo. There are tremendous views of the Apennines and countryside of Umbria at the top of the mountain.

My tour guide Serena had her 27th birthday while we were in Gubbio. Her parents came from Rome to join us in our trip up the mountain.

The alter in the Basilica which contains the remains of Sant Ubaldi, Patron Saint of Gubbio

According to Wiki:

Gubbio is home to the Corsa dei Ceri, a run held every year always on the 15th day of May, in which three teams, devoted to St. Ubaldo (the patron saint of Gubbio), S. Giorgio, and S. Antonio, run through throngs of cheering supporters (clad in the distinctive colours of yellow, blue and black, with white trousers and red belts and neckbands), up much of the mountain from the main square in front of the Palazzo dei Consoli to the basilica of St. Ubaldo, each team carrying a statue of their saint mounted on a wooden octagonal prism, similar to an hour-glass shape 4 metres tall and weighing about 280 kilograms.

The photo above shows the three 280 kilo ceris.

We had a beer on the patio before walking down the hill.

The Roman Ampitheatre seen from above. I visited it in the afternoon.

If you look closely the clock is actually a sun dial.

We had a great dinner at the hotel restaurant. But first we had drinks in the garden.

I am getting behind on these blogs. The next day we headed to Assisi, and as I write this 2 days later I am getting packed for our trip to Rome in the morning. I have some catching up to do!


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Gubbio and Wonderful Umbria

Umbria is in the center of Italy just to the lower right of Tuscany. We caught an early morning train from Venice and after 8 hours, 3 trains and 1 bus later we were in Gubbio. Gubbio is a wonderful Umbrian hill town but it is really hard to get to and so there are fewer tourists. That was a nice change from Venice, which was packed with people, made worse because it was so hot. It is great to be in a small village with views of the Umbrian countryside.

Map from Google Images

Our hotel, which was also a fabulous restaurant. Although they had tables set for about 100 places the night we had dinner there, we were the only patrons. I guess the state of the Italian economy had affected them a lot. The owner was a wonderful lady who came and shared some wine with us.

Looking down over the Umbrian Valley from the Piazza.

Gubbio is a walled City. This is one of the city gates.

In this area Saint Frances (as in "of Assisi") is big. Apparently, in Gubbio he talk,Ed the local wolves out of eating the farmers cows, or so the story goes.

We had the most scrumptious dinner at this little restaurant, hidden away on a little side street.

The food was spectacular and the wine excellent. A good time was had by all. We are one more day in Gubbio before heading to Assis. Tomorrow we take the "bird cage" up the mountain to see the Basilica of Sant'Ubaldo.

I am quite liking the sweet dessert wines dipped with biscotti