Italy

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Italy: Venice (Carnival)

When you think about Venice, Italy, a city founded more than 1,500 years ago, what comes to mind with regard to the main attractions which draw visitors year round? Is it the fact that that the city is situated on 117 different islands with over 150 canals crisscrossing it? Is it the city’s 400 bridges, its moderate weather, its small traffic-free streets, its magnificent churches and palaces, its lively squares or its interesting shops? Perhaps it is all of these things. But one thing that captures my imagination in Venice is the elaborate pre-Lent Carnival celebrations which take place during the ten days leading up to Shrove Tuesday!

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Rain or shine the celebrations go on where revelers don traditional masks and costumes and parade around the city, enjoying live music in the main squares.

The word “Carnival” is derived from the Latin word “carne vale” meaning “farewell meat.” The tradition started in 1162 after the defeat of Ulrico Patriarch of Aquileia during which time a bull and 12 pigs were slaughtered in the Paizza San Marco on Tuesday the day before Ash Wednesday to commemorate the victory. The celebration later evolved into the wearing of masks to hide any form of identity between the social classes.

The original masks were quite simple in design and decoration and often had a symbolic and practical function. Today, the Carnival masks are made using gesso and gold leaf and they are all hand-painted using natural feathers and gems for decoration.

Mask Shop

Mask Shop

The event was outlawed entirely in 1797 and the use of masks strictly forbidden. However, in 1979 it was revived with the aid of the Italian government and today it has become a symbol of Venice recognized worldwide. As a result, Carnival draws over 3 million spectators to the city each year. One of the most coveted events of Carnival is the la maschera più bella contest (“the most beautiful mask contest”) which takes place on the last weekend of the Carnival and is judged by a panel of international costume and fashion designers. The colors and the variety of modern and traditional costumes and masks are truly amazing.

So, if you are not weary of crowds the Venetian Carnival is an event not to be missed. Further, it is free!

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Germany: Hamburg (Miniatur Wunderland )

If you are a model railroad enthusiast, Miniatur Wunderland (German for “miniature wonderland”) will be your Eden! Located in Hamburg, Germany, Miniatur Wunderland is the brainchild of twins, Gerrit and Frederik Braun and the world’s largest model railroad, with over 39,000 feet of tracks occupying over 12,000 square feet! The brothers set about in building the massive model railway system in 2000 and in August of 2001, they opened three completed sections to the public. The original sections consisted of Harz/ Central Germany, Knuffingen (a fake city) and Austria. Today, this miniature wonderland which is open 365 days a year has become one of the biggest tourist highlights in northern Germany.

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In November of 2002, the brothers added Hamburg followed by the U.S. in December of 2003. From 2005-2011 the exhibit grew to include Scandinavia, Switzerland and the Knuffingen Airport (modeled after Hamburg International Airport). There are currently plans to add Italy in 2015, followed by France in 2017 and England in 2019. In addition to offering different landscapes which correspond to various countries, the exhibit includes 890 trains consisting of up of over 11,000 carriages, 300,000 lights, 3,500 buildings & bridges, 215,000 trees, and 200,000 human figurines. Further the brothers have incorporated lighting which simulates dawn, daylight, sunset, and allows the visitors to view the entire display in a nighttime setting. All parts are built to a scale of 1:87 and much of the technology is custom-created as many of the stock components were not designed for continuous operation.

Each of the cities have their own attractions constructed in meticulous detail. Knuffingen, for instance, has firemen and policemen with working engines and sirens. The U.S. consists of a tiny Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Yosemite Park and Cape Canaveral. Scandinavia features the northern Baltic Sea which uses 33,000 liters of running water with low and high tide simulated every 30 minutes. Switzerland has a chocolate plant and an open-air concert with 20,000 concert-goers.

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Display of Miniatur Wunderland Modelleisenbahn  itself

Display of Miniatur Wunderland Modelleisenbahn itself

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The attraction has long waiting queues on Saturdays, Sundays, and during school holidays so plan to arrive early in the morning during those times. Only a limited number of visitors are granted access simultaneously to the exhibit in order to allow each guest an opportunity to enjoy exploring the different landscapes, so keep that in mind also.

Address:                    Miniatur Wunderland Modelleisenbahn Hamburg, Kehrwieder 4, 20457 Hamburg

Web page:                  http://www.miniatur-wunderland.com/

Hours:                        Daily from 9:30 am – 6 pm / Tuesdays from 9:30 am – 9 pm /

Saturdays from 8 am – 9 pm /Sundays and on public holidays from 8:30 am – 8 pm

Italy: Pompeii

italy-napels-1Back in July of last year, I wrote a post about Naples, Italy which sits in the shadow of the great Mount Vesuvius. https://traveldreamscapes.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/italy-naples/ Within Naples, in the Naples National Archaeological Museum (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli) you will find the artifacts from a city that was once situated near modern Naples approximately 2,000 years ago. That city was Pompeii and on August 24, 79 A.D. Mount Vesuvius exploded, spewing tons of molten ash, pumice and sulfuric gas miles into the atmosphere. The firestorm engulfed the surrounding area suffocating all 20,000 citizens residing within the city. Pompeii was buried under 13 to 20 ft. of ash and pumice.

The city remained buried and undiscovered for almost 1700 years until excavation began in 1748. These excavations continue today and provide insight into life during the Roman Empire.

We did not learn about the disaster until the 16th century through the letters of Pliny the Younger which describe his experience during the eruption while he was staying in the home of his uncle, Pliny the Elder. The elder Pliny was an official in the Roman Court, in charge of the fleet in the Bay of Naples. The elder Pliny died while trying to rescue citizens from the catastrophe.

During the excavation, perfectly preserved objects that lay beneath the city for centuries were revealed. This was attributable to the lack of air and moisture. These artifacts provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of vibrant the city. The unearthing also revealed ash layers that once held human bodies. Plaster was used to fill in the voids between the ash layers allowing one to see the exact position the person was in when he or she died. The largest number of bodies (13) were found in what once was a garden.

The site of Pompeii has been a tourist destination for over 250 years. Today it has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site drawing 2.5 million visitors every year.

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Not having had an opportunity to view the actual Pompeii site in Italy, I was elated when the artifacts arrived at the California Science Center recently. http://www.californiasciencecenter.org/Exhibits/SpecialExhibits/pompeii/pompeii.php?gclid=CO31vITKx74CFZJhfgodrJYAsQ

Marble bust

Marble bust 1st Century A.D. (Subject unknown)

Pompeii: The Exhibition features over 150 precious artifacts on loan from the Naples National Archaeological Museum. From garden frescoes and marble statues to gladiator armor, coins and currency to religious altars and shrines, once can experience daily life in this one vital Roman city.

It is amazing to see these artifacts and learn how advanced the Roman society was or to come to the realization of how little we have advanced as a modern society!

This is a great opportunity to experience something only tourists to Naples have experienced and I would highly recommend it.

One of many frescoes that once decorated a wealthy person's home

One of many frescoes that once decorated a wealthy person’s home

Large fresco featuring Hercules. Much of the Roman art featured Greek characters

Large fresco featuring Hercules. Much of the Roman art featured Greek characters

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Bronze religious figures that were worshipped at home

Bronze religious figures that were worshipped at home

Statue featuring one of the 7 sages of Greece

Statue featuring one of the 7 sages of Greece

Marble statue of a deer

Marble statue of a deer

Marble statue of four dogs

Marble statue of four dogs

Bronze statue of Satyr

Bronze statue of Satyr

Marble fountain

Marble fountain

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Marble table

Marble table

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Bronze commemorating Baccus

Bronze commemorating Baccus

Black and white mosaic

Black and white mosaic

Marble table

Marble table

Silver shell shaped dishes and spoon

Silver shell shaped dishes and spoon

Bronze container used to hold hot liquids served at mealtime

Bronze container used to hold hot liquids served at mealtime

Draftsman's tools

Draftsman’s tools

Anchor dating back to 1 A.D.

Anchor dating back to 1 A.D.

Marble weights

Marble weights

Ceramic container

Ceramic container

Gardening implements

Gardening implements

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Frying and baking pans

Frying and baking pans

Grill and kettle

Grill and kettle

Container used for storing wine

Container used for storing wine

Containers used for various oils, including olive oil

Containers used for various oils, including olive oil

Various oil burning lanterns

Various oil burning lanterns

Lantern holder

Lantern holder

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Bronze bathtub

Bronze bathtub

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Gold necklace and earrings

Gold necklace and earrings

Gold bracelet

Gold bracelet

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Statue of Venus

Statue of Venus

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Various glass items

Various glass items

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Bust of Julius Caesar's 10 year old grandson

Bust of Julius Caesar’s 10 year old grandson

Roman Gladiator's shin guards

Roman Gladiator’s shin guards

Gladiator's helmet

Gladiator’s helmet

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Woman's toiletries

Woman’s toiletries

Hydraulic valves

Hydraulic valves

Medical implements

Medical implements

Erotic mosaic from a Roman brothel

Erotic mosaic from a Roman brothel

One of the cast figures of the dead which was encased in ash

One of the cast figures of the dead which was encased in ash

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A young child's body

A young child’s body

A man who died on the stairs

A man who died on the stairs

A pregnant woman

A pregnant woman

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Italy: Rome

Rome, the Eternal City, is traditionally thought to have been founded by the mythical twins Romulus and Remus, in 753 BC. It is one of the oldest cities in Europe with a history spanning more than two and a half thousand years, through which Rome was transformed from a small village into the center of a vast empire. Since the 1st century A.D., it has been considered the seat of the Papacy. Famous artists and architects such as Bernini and Raphael called Rome their home and contributed significantly to its Renaissance and Baroque architecture.

The city’s historic city center is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The palaces, millennium old churches, opulent monuments and museums are among the most visited tourist attractions receiving millions of visitors a year.

There are more than 900 churches in Rome. St. Peter’s Basilica is a Late Renaissance church located within Vatican City. Designed by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, it is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and one of the largest churches in the world. One thing to keep in mind is that churches in Rome deny admission to people who are dressed inappropriately. St. Peter’s in particular is known for rejecting tourists for uncovered knees, shoulders, etc. Generally, tourists won’t be told until right before they enter the church, therefore make certain that you are dressed conservatively so that the time you spend standing in a long security line will not be a total loss.

St. Peter's Square

St. Peter’s Square

St. Peter's Square Obelisk

St. Peter’s Square Obelisk

 

The colonnade of Saints including St. Petronilla

The colonnade of Saints including St. Petronilla

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The Swiss Guard of the Vatican

The Swiss Guard of the Vatican

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Where the Basilica now stands was once a chariot racing stadium, built during the time of Emperors Caligula, Claudius and Nero. Nero was the first Emperor who began persecuting Christians in Rome. Under his rule, many Christians were imprisoned and put to death in the newly completed stadium.

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St. Peter’s

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The central portal of the narthex has a bronze door created by Antonio Averulino in 1455

The central portal of the narthex has a bronze door created by Antonio Averulino in 1455

Listing of all of the past Popes

Listing of all of the past Popes

In general, Rome’s main attractions are free but the Italian government has also designated one week a year known as “Settimana dei Beni Culturali” where admission to all publicly owned landmarks and historical sites are free. Settimana dei Beni Culturali occurs in mid-May.

Ruins near the Forum of Caesar

Ruins near the Forum of Caesar

Much of the attraction of Rome is in just wandering around the old city. The Coliseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre is an elliptical amphitheater located in the center of Rome. Built of concrete and stone, it is the largest amphitheater in the world and a testament to the brilliance of Roman engineering and architecture. The construction of the Coliseum was financed by war booty from the Jewish War waged by Emperor Vespasian and his sons Titus and Domitian. It is estimated that the structure was once able to hold between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators who came to view gladiatorial contests, mock battles, animal hunts, executions, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era and was later reused as housing, workshops, a fortress and a Christian shrine. Large sections of the Roman Coliseum as it now stands are not ancient at all, but the result of a restoration in the 19th century. Only one third of the original amphitheater remains intact. Its original marble facing, the statues decorating the arches and the lavish decoration of the interior did not survive.

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Rome Parliament Building

Rome Parliament Building

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Of course, one cannot immerse oneself in the culture of a particular region without partaking in the local gastronomy. Roman cuisine has evolved through centuries and periods of social, cultural, and political changes. Today, it is based on seasonal ingredients prepared simply and includes vegetables such as peas, artichokes and fava beans, meat, and cheeses. Further, days of the week are often assigned to certain foods, such as gnocchi on Thursday, baccalà on Fridays, and trippa for Saturdays.

Gnocchi

Gnocchi

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Visiting Rome one finds a contemporary metropolis which reflects the many periods of its long history. The best times of the year to visit are April, May, and late September through October. Traveling too late or too early in the year can also be risky because the opening hours for many attractions are shorter, and some are closed completely. If you can plan to stay as long as a week, you certainly will not run out of things to do. But if your time is limited, allow at least four days to see all of Rome’s major attractions.

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Photo Credits: Shoichi Ogiwara, Templeton, California

Italy: Naples

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The southern Italian city of Naples (Napoli in Italian) is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in the world and the third-largest metropolis in Italy, after Rome and Milan. Its city center is the largest in Europe covering 4,200 acres and is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Naples is home to numerous culturally and historically significant sites, including the Palace of Caserta and the Roman ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The port of Naples receives the world’s second highest level of passenger flow following Hong Kong, with 1.5 million passengers annually. Cruise ships dock at Stazione Marittima, a large terminal located right in the city center, near Piazza Municipio. The cruise terminal has 7 docks and 7 moving walkways. You will be surprised by how easily you can get around Naples on foot. Points of interest are almost on every corner and distances are short allowing one to reach a particular spot in a matter of minutes. The city is also notable for originating pizza, the culinary delight known and loved throughout the world. “Vera Pizza Napoletana” (True Neapolitan Pizza) is the original pizza margherita, with tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella.

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Spend even a brief period in Naples, and you’ll inevitably hear the words, “mozzarella di bufala.” Mozzarella was first made near Naples from the rich milk of water buffalos. To this day it is widely known that the best and most highly prized artisanal produced buffalo mozzarella is still found south of Naples near Battipaglia and Caserta where small factories continue centuries-old traditions making buffalo mozzarella fresh daily for their local customers, who line up at the factories to buy this delicacy.

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During World War II, Naples was the most bombed city in Italy. There were about 200 air strikes between 1940 to 1944 by Allied forces, with 180 raids on the city in 1943. Many of its 20th-century buildings were constructed under Mussolini’s government and during reconstruction efforts after WWII. The city is a hotchpotch of architectural styles, with elegant 18th-century palazzos rubbing shoulders with 1970’s-Soviet-style concrete blocks.

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Gulf of Naples with Mt. Vesuvius in the background

Gulf of Naples with Mt. Vesuvius in the background

The Gulf of Naples (Golfo di Napoli in Italian) stretches 9 miles and opens to the west into the Mediterranean Sea. East of the Gulf, you will find Mount Vesuvius, whose eruption in AD 79 led to the complete obliteration of Pompeii and Herculaneum. These towns were excavated and made accessible to the public in the mid-18th century. The impressive remains provide a complete and vivid picture of society and daily life at a specific moment in the past that is without parallel anywhere in the world. Vesuvius has erupted many times since and is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years.

On January 10, 1970, twenty nuclear torpedo sea mines were alleged to have been laid by a Soviet attack submarine in the Gulf of Naples in an effort to destroy or deny access to the US Seventh Fleet. It is believed that the sea mines are still on the seabed.

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Located on the former island of Megaride on the Gulf of Naples is the Castel dell’Ovo ( Egg Castle in Italian). The castle’s name derives from a legend involving the Roman poet, Virgil. In the legend, Virgil put a magical egg into the foundation to support the fortifications. If by chance the egg had been broken, the castle would be destroyed and a series of disastrous events would have befallen the city of Naples. Castel dell’Ovo first served as the seat of the conquering Norman ruler in 1140 but its significance began to decline over the years. Today, the castle is connected by a causeway that is a popular place for newlyweds to have their wedding photos taken.

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Thirteen minutes away from the Castel you will find Santa Chiara, a religious complex that includes the Church of Santa Chiara, a monastery, tombs and an archeological museum. The complex was built in 1313-1340 by Queen Sancha of Majorca and her husband King Robert of Naples. The grand “Majolica Cloister” of the Clarissans is famous for its majolica tiles. There are two large internal walkways that meet in the center and substantial garden areas. With the themes and bright colors of the decorations one wonders if this cloister in its time was more of a garden of delights than simply place of prayer.

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By all aspects, Naples is a lively and vibrant city, full of wonderful historical and artistic treasures making it worth at least a few days visit.

Photo Credits: Mika Panzaroni

Italy: Rieti/ Labro

Rieti, the capital of the province of Rieti, and sister city to Ito, Japan, is a small town with approximately 50,000 inhabitants. Due to its geographical location, it is considered to be the “navel” of Italy.

Rieti, Italy

Rieti, Italy

The town center is situated on top of a hill along the Velino River and offers beautiful vistas of the surrounding areas including the Ripasottile and Cantalice lakes. The city is surrounded by 13th-century walls and its most notable structures include the 12th-century Romanesque cathedral built over an existing basilica, the Palazzo Vescovile (Bishops Palace),  the Bishop’s Arch (a bridge built by Pope Boniface VIII), the 13th-century church of St. Peter Martyr, the Gothic church of Sant’Agostino, the late Renaissance Palazzo Vecchiarelli  and the Palazzo Comunale (Town Hall) which houses the town museum.

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Before the Roman conquest in the late third century BC, Rieti was a major site of the Sabine nation.  The Sabines were an Italic tribe that lived in the central Appennines of ancient Italy. Afterwards, the village became a strategic point in the early Italian road network that linked Rome to the Adriatic Sea.  Today, Rieti is easily accessible by buses and trains departing from Rome. The town can also be reached by car using the Rome-Firenze highway. Getting around Rieti is relatively easy and stress free as the streets are free from traffic congestion. Most of the attractions are concentrated in just a few areas around town.

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If you are an avid skier or mountaineer, you may already know that Rieti is close to Mount Terminillo, an active ski resort. It is also the town where American basketball player Joe Bryant played from 1984 to 1992. His son Kobe Bryant, also a NBA player, attended school in Rieti and as a result speaks fluent Italian to this day.

The Los Angeles Laker's Kobe Bryant

The Los Angeles Laker’s Kobe Bryant

Rieti’s cultural life is very rich and there are a lot of artistic attractions. Together with the surrounding landscapes, Rieti and its province are among the main attractions of Central Italy.

Just nine miles northwest of Rieti near Umbria is the village of Labro with approximately 370 inhabitants. The village is characterized by stone houses and winding streets. Its focal point is an ex-Franciscan monastery that is run by the Colle di Costa hotel. Since  April 2010, the hotel has shared the space with the Art Monastery Project, an international arts production organization which provides regular performances and exhibitions.

Ex-Franciscan monastery that is run by the Colle di Costa hotel

Ex-Franciscan monastery that is run by the Colle di Costa hotel

Looking at Labro from the car

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Scenery overlooking Lago di Piediluco

Scenery overlooking Lago di Piediluco

On the way to Labro, at the gas station by the freeway

Italy is synonymous for "good food," offering an unmistakable explosion of flavors, scents, and aromas.  Offerings at Villa Battisini, Rieti

Italy is synonymous for “good food,” offering an unmistakable explosion of flavors, scents, and aromas. Offerings at Villa Battisini, Rieti

Food-3, Rukkora salad with fresh ham and balsamic dressing

Food-7, rosemarry, egg plant, zucchini, baby cabbage, potato

Food-2, Mozzarella cheese, egg plant, zucchini with tamato sauce

Food-5, grilled beef with Mozzarella cheese

Food-6, with strawberry and blueberry

Food-11, artichoke pie with white sauce (Mozzarella cheese)

Food-9, expresso and dessert wine

Must be a famous temple, they went there on a bus

Entrance of the church

Side wall of the church

Labro and its surroundings offer an unique view of the untouched Italian countryside. The village is an ideal mix of nature, peace, genuine cooking, culture and antique traditions; a great escape from the hustle and bustle of Rome.

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