Friday, August 24, 2012

Rome {Trevi Fountain & The Spanish Steps}

Legends say that if you throw a coin into Trevi fountain (using your right hand and tossing over your left shoulder) you're destined to return to Rome. Who knows where that idea originally came from... probably from the Roman government looking to make a few euros... :) Actually, about  3,000 are thrown in each day! And supposedly it's used for the needy in Rome, which we saw plenty of, sadly... So we threw coins. We posed for pictures. The fountain was gorgeous - and enormous! This was a fun stop. :) BUT it was crowded... It's hard to tell by the photos, but there were people everywhere... shoulder-to-shoulder. We were paranoid about pick-pockets, lucky for us nobody fell victim! We walked back by during the evening time and the crowd was still there!

 It's hard to tell, but here's Eva in front of the fountain with Grandma. :) I love this picture - don't they both look so happy?!

The fountain at night...
 After visiting the fountain we kept wandering - eventually finding our way to the Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps... another popular tourist stop, and another crowded place! The staircase was quite impressive and beautiful! Here are more pictures! Enjoy!

Hannah in front of the steps.. getting ready to CLIMB! 
 As if we hadn't done enough walking... we decided to head up the widest staircase in Europe, all 138 steps, and check out the view. Eva stayed at the bottom and relaxed with Grandma while we made the trek.

There we are... I think this was halfway up. Stopping for photos! :) Keep climbing! 
Did I mention our snack break that afternoon? :) Hehe..

Rome {The Colosseum}

... did I mention that we also went to Rome while the family was here? I've been wanting to post about Rome for weeks... part of the reason I've been putting of blogging about Rome is... well, where do I even begin? It's huge. There is so much to see. Truly, we could have spent weeks there, wandering through ancient ruins and admiring old, old artifacts. We really saw all that we possibly could in 2 days. My main regret is not entering the Roman ruins (next to the Colosseum) which closed right as we tried to get in... and not making it to the mathematically-perfect Pantheon. {Cringe.} Don't get me wrong... we saw A LOT. But I guess there'll always be something that you miss on trips like this. Cole and I will be back to Rome, so my regret isn't really for us - as much as it's for Mom, Dad and Hannah. Although I don't think they were upset. They would have been happy with a glass of wine at a sidewalk cafe - just taking in the sites! :)

Rome was HOT! If you can avoid it, I'd recommend avoiding a visit during August... but the heat didn't slow us down too much. Eva did really well while we were in Rome. We kept her out of the sun as much as possible.. Poor baby was pretty exhausted after all the traveling. It took her a few days to adjust when we got home. She was cranky!

During my youngest sister, Hannah's senior year of high school, Mom and Dad hosted a foreign exchange student from Norway. Fortunately, Tonja was able to visit during their stay! We were really excited to reunite with her! Tonja joined us in Como and traveled to Rome with us, as well. It had been two years since we had seen each other! :) Isn't it fun to reconnect with old friends?!

Hannah, Mom & Tonja in front of the Colosseum! :) Darn my camera and those light flecks... must get a lens hood! 
Once again, we took the train to Milan and on to Rome, arriving around 2 p.m. We checked into our hotel and headed straight to the Colosseum! We were armed with our Rick Steve's audio tours and so thankful we took the time to download those files! Seriously. Best travel tip, ever. They are completely free and save you from dealing with a tour guide whom you can barely understand! You'll see in the pictures - we're tethered together with headphones since we shared iPods during each tour. Rick can be a little cheesy at times, but overall they're informative without getting into every little detail.

That's the Roman forum in the background... and the Colosseum to the right. 
Side note... I just read that renovations will begin on the Colosseum in December. They're going to clean the surface (yucky from all the smog) and will have scaffolding covering large areas of the arena in several phases. SO THANKFUL there was no scaffolding up yet! :) That's one way to ruin a good photo...
Seeing the Colosseum in person was kind of surreal. One of those, "hard to believe I'm actually here" moments! It definitely made you stop and think... and think! We walked around the outside just taking it all in before entering for our tour (the fee to enter was 12 per person).

Right where you enter, there is a cross looking over the arena - a symbol of the suffering by Christian martyrs who have gone before us. Another one of those, "stop and reflect" moments... 

The Colosseum interior. The maze below was actual passageways beneath a surface where the games took place.
It would have been covered with boards and a layer of sand.

I almost forgot... we walked back by the Colosseum at night. What a site! :) It was worth the extra ache in our feet to see this:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Beans, beans. The magical fruit!

Our baby girl is trying "big kid" foods! Here she is - pretty serious about her green beans. We've also tried pears and those were a hit! I'm using this website {} for make-at-home recipes. So far, so good!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Venice Part II: So much to see!

After our Rick Steve's guided tour of St. Mark's Basilica, we spent lots of time wandering through Venice - stopping along the way for a quiet dinner. Eventually we wound our way to the famous Rialto Bridge. This is definitely a city where you shouldn't have a strict agenda. Hours can be spent just walking around at a leisurely pace. There is so much to see! We wrapped up our evening hanging around Piazza San Marco and enjoying the crowds and the music, as well as the rest for our tired feet! Here are some photos from the bridge:

One of my favorite pics of Dad & Mom! 

His most genuine smiles are not for the camera! Atop Rialto Bridge.

The following day we toured the Doge's palace, which is situated right next to St. Mark's Basilica, we also toured the connected prison, saw the Bridge of Sighs (which is what prisoners would cross with a {sigh} as they were led to their cells.) and finally caught our train home! Venice was unbelievable - I hope we are able to return before our year here is over - I could have spent a few more days there, soaking in the sites! :)

Love, love, love the patterns and symmetry in the architecture here! Isn't it beautiful?!

Dad getting creative with his new digital camera. :) Love this one...

Friday, August 17, 2012

We interrupt these messages...

... to bring you Eva's first word! :) On August 15th, she started saying, "mamamama!" She doesn't necessarily realize who she is talking about, but it still makes me tear up - almost every time. Being a parent truly is indescribable. I never knew it was possible to have a heart so full. Of course, I'm convinced that she is the smartest (and the most beautiful) baby in existence. ;) Shouldn't all parents love their kiddos that much?  More importantly... don't all babies deserve that kind of love?! Here's a video of our child prodigy...

Just in case you didn't get enough - or you need a smile today, here's another fun video. Some laughter from Eva to make your day better. Daddy can make her giggle even harder than Mommy can!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Venice Part I: The Floating City

Our first trip with the fam was to Venice! We started our journey with a stop at Milano Centrale, the main station in Milan. Cole and I had been there before, but we didn't take much time to really look around. Wow! This really is a gorgeous train station! It's enormous and architecturally beautiful... check it out:

This picture really doesn't do it justice - but it gives you an idea of the size.
Obviously, there was more scenery to come on this trip! Undoubtedly the most beautiful and unique place we have visited so far has been Venice. Out of curiosity, I searched Wikipedia, and they said that Venice is a city made up of 118 islands linked by bridges over the various canals that separate the small islands. While we were there, I had no idea that Venice was made up of completely separate tiny islands, but it makes sense! It is really mind boggling how they could possibly build the city up out of the water!

I could add TONS of pictures just like this... it was an incredible city! 
Gondolas are actually built lopsided so the gondolier can steer from one side... who knew?!

We stayed at the hotel Ca' dei Doge, and our experience there was great! Their staff was friendly and attentive, and the hotel was in a perfect location, tucked just behind the Doge's palace, a very short walk from Piazza San Marco. We highly recommend it! If we have future guests wanting to visit Venice, we'll definitely try rebook rooms there! :) I was really nervous when we first approached the hotel - several turns down extremely narrow passageways, eek! We all agreed that it was a nice place to stay - with a fantastic made-to-order omelet breakfast to start our second day!

Cole is happy here... but he was NOT happy on the crowded ferry with a giant stroller!!!
Shortly after arriving, we realized that a stroller in Venice is a bad, bad idea. First, we were on the ferry from the train station to our hotel and the {not-so-nice} lady ferry worker was extremely... unpleasant. Each stop on the ferry switched sides of the canal, so wherever we went the stroller was in the way of people entering or exiting. Talk about a high-stress situation!!! Our friend the ferry worker kept barking orders in Italian and we kept telling her, "Io no capisco Italiano!!" Finally she switched to broken English. Basically - get out of the way. We were trying so hard to stay out of the way! Ugh. Also, each little bridge in Venice has stairs, and very few of those little bridges have ramps. So, we ditched the stroller at the hotel and took turns carrying Eva kangaroo-style for the entire stay. We probably should have figured that out sooner and left the stroller at home altogether... chalk that one up to a learning experience.

A nighttime picture of St. Mark's - unfortunately part was under construction, hence the screen.
Our first stop in Venice was around the corner from our hotel - St. Mark's Basilica. This church was packed with tourists, but it was free to enter. We waited for maybe 10-15 minutes and shared iPods with handy Rick Steve's audio guides during our walking tour. The guide was a little cheesy, but helpful as well. It pointed out the location where Mark's body is buried, drew our attention to many architectural details we might have otherwise overlooked and described the famous bronze horses from the fourth century B.C. We did pay a fee to climb to the top of St. Mark's and it was worth every cent - the view was incredible! Here are some more pictures taken in and around St. Mark's:

All of the gold and paintings are actually mosaics, made up of tiny chips glued to sheets and then placed on the walls!
I don't think I was supposed to take pictures inside, must have forgotten that rule... Oops!
Cole's favorite part of St. Mark's, the four bronze horses. They were originally made in the 4th century B.C. and changed hands between world leaders over several years - traveling throughout many countries. They were impressive! 
More to come about our trip to Venice...