Tag Archives: castle

Wrapping up our 6 week European Vacation in Central Italy and Portugal

During our 6 week European summer vacation, we sailed on a boat or ferry 4 times, flew on 5 planes, rode 7 trains, hopped on 12 buses, took over 40 metro rides, and took countless tours. We walked well over 100 miles during the 6 weeks. We had not weighed ourselves until we returned to the USA and were surprised to see that we all lost weight.

We wrapped up the vacation in Central Italy and Portugal — this blog covers that time. If you want to see our other adventures, you will find them here:

Florence Italy

This was our second visit to Florence. Florence has a picturesque river that flows through and is nice for an afternoon walk. One of the biggest attractions here is to see the statue of David. The statue is huge, it must be 20 feet tall.

Florence Italy

Florence Italy

The statue of David

The statue of David

The Duomo

The Duomo

How do you like this bicycle?

How do you like this bicycle?

Tuscany Italy

When planning our European trip, Ryan staked out what he really wanted to do. He wanted to experience a Chianti wine tour in Tuscany. This turned out to be our favorite wine tour that we took during our trip. The Tuscan hills are mesmerizing, full of vineyards and castles. The tour provided plenty of wine (4 bottles for our table), Tuscan food, and great conversation with other people on the tour.

Tuscany

Tuscany

Tuscany

Tuscany

Tuscany

Tuscany

Tuscany

Tuscany

Tuscany

Tuscany

After the tour, we went into the town of Chianti to a wine bar that offered over 100 wines. It was really cool, you put money on a sort of debit card (as much as you like) and use that card to activate a machine that pours either a small taste or a full glass of a wine. What a cool machine — I wonder why wine stores in the states don’t have this, it would be great.

Wine tasting by machine

Wine tasting by machine

Rome

After leaving Tuscany, we headed down to Rome (Ryan said we took the time to “roam” around). We had also visited Rome a few years ago but never had the time to visit the Colosseum, so we took this opportunity to tour it. The outside is pretty well-preserved but we were a bit disappointed in the interior. It suffered a major earthquake many years ago that left much of it in ruins. Similarly the ruins of Rome are also similar to this — worn and many landmarks are hardly recognizable as to how they once were. But it is incredibly rich in history and fun to visit.

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

As we were walking around Rome, we came across this guy.How does it do it?

Wanna ride?

Wanna ride?

Pompeii Italy

A few months ago we saw the movie Pompeii — a cool story about the Italian town that was overtaken from a volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Because lava never reached Pompeii (only burning ash), people in the town that died in the eruption were preserved in the state in which they died — the carbon in the ash had that effect. The ruins are in pretty good shape, you could see bath  houses, homes, and areas of the town. It was a big area of ruins and was (in our minds) more impressive than the ruins in Rome.

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii dog frozen in death

Pompeii dog frozen in death

Pompeii person frozen in death

Pompeii person frozen in death

After visiting Pompeii, we hiked Mount Vesuvius. It  is a steep 45 degree hike to the top rewarded by great views of Naples and the craters left by the eruption.

Mount Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius

Capri Italy

Just outside of Naples is a trendy island called Capri. We took a day trip and experienced the island. It has a very Mediterranean feel, initially inhabited by Greece. It is also home to The Blue Grotto — an ocean cave that lights up the vibrant blue water as you enter via row-boat. Ryan and I swam there as well, it was very rocky but the water was definitely refreshing.

Capri

Capri

Capri

Capri

Capri

Capri

Capri

Capri

Capri

Capri

The Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto

Ryan preparing to enter the Blue Grotto

Ryan preparing to enter the Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto

Blue Grotto

Blue Grotto

The opening of the Blue Grotto

The opening of the Blue Grotto

Lisbon Portugal

Our final stop in Europe was Lisbon Portugal. We could have spent more time here, there are lots of places in Portugal to see. Lisbon is a coastal city that is rich in history, clean, and better maintained than many other European cities we visited. We noticed that many buildings have a tile facade which is very distinct to this European nation.

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Well  that concludes our summer vacation, we hope you enjoyed following along with our travels. The trip was a blast and it was great traveling with Ryan — we have not traveled together in a few years. We just wish our oldest son, Cameron, could have joined us as well.

 

Summer in Northern Italy and the Italian Riviera

When we last visited Italy in 2007, we visited central Italy but never made it up north. This time we spent time up north and in the Italian Riviera. We started this trip in Milan. For us, Milan was not as grandiose as Paris, but it is a city with plenty of museums, castles, churches and a world-renowned fashion district.

Milan

Duomo

One of the most famous landmarks is the Duomo (means Italian Cathedral Church). It is dedicated to Santa Maria Nascente and is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan. The Duomo took 6 centuries to complete and is currently the 5th largest in the world.

Duomo

Duomo

Fashion District

Like New York and Paris, Milan has an impressive fashion district. You will see stores for almost every well-known designer including Prada, Gucci, and Giorgio Armani.

Gate leading to the fashion district

Gate leading to the fashion district

Fashion District

Fashion District

Fashion District

Fashion District

Fashion District

Fashion District

Sforza Castle

Another famous Milan landmark is the Sforza Castle. It was built-in he 15th century by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan. After visiting many of the castles in France, it was not as impressive as those but it is certainly worth a visit.

Sforza Castle

Sforza Castle

Sforza Castle

Sforza Castle

Sforza Castle

Sforza Castle

Sforza Castle

Sforza Castle

La Scala Opera House

Inaugurated in 1778, the La Scala Opera House is home to Italy’s greatest operatic artists. The building exterior is understated but the interior is pretty impressive.

Milan Opera House

Milan Opera House

Milan Opera House

Milan Opera House

Lake Como

After a few days in Milan, we caught a train to Lake Como. I’ve read about Lake Como for many years and always wanted to visit. It did not disappoint. The lake is surrounded by gorgeous mountains populated with small villages. We spent our time in Bellagio — a 2 hour scenic ferry ride from Como.

Lake Como

Lake Como

Lake Como

Lake Como

Lake Como

Lake Como

Lake Como

Lake Como

Lake Como

Lake Como

Notice the Yellow Lab swimming in Lake Como

Notice the Yellow Lab swimming in Lake Como

Lake Como

Lake Como

Very close to Bellagio is Villa del Balbianello, a castle where a scene from Star Wars II and Casino Royale were shot.

Villa del Balbianello

Villa del Balbianello

Italian Riviera

I enjoyed the Italian Riviera more than any other place visited on our trip thus far. It is scenic, full of life, and has lots of water activities. All great ingredients for a fun vacation.

Monterosso

We stayed in Monterosso and visited the other villages via train during the day (just minutes away by train). Monterosso was our favorite, it was large enough to have great restaurants and shopping areas but small enough to feel intimate.

Italian Riviera - Monterosso

Italian Riviera – Monterosso

Italian Riviera - Monterosso

Italian Riviera – Monterosso

Italian Riviera - Monterosso

Italian Riviera – Monterosso

Italian Riviera - Monterosso

Italian Riviera – Monterosso

I woke up early one morning and hiked to the top of Monterosso for some incredible views.

Italian Riviera - Monterosso

Italian Riviera – Monterosso

Italian Riviera - Monterosso

Italian Riviera – Monterosso

Monterosso

Monterosso

A small chapel resides at the top that overlooks the city. It was small, only about 7 or so pews on each side of the church.

Italian Riviera - Monterosso

Italian Riviera – Monterosso

I stumbled on an Italian artist painting the landscape, very cool!

Italian Riviera - Monterosso

Italian Riviera – Monterosso

Vernazza

About 3 years ago, Lynn and I were in Breckenridge Colorado and purchased an enlarged photograph of a Greek Island from a travel photographer. He had traveled all over the world and had some incredible pictures of Italy. We struggled between purchasing the picture of Greece vs. a picture of Vernazza. Since then, I have wanted to capture that picture.

On this trip, I got the shot! I hiked for about an hour to get to the spot I needed to shoot this picture. In reality, I could have hiked about 15 minutes if I had known where to go, but I missed the turnoff and took the long way around.

I took the picture from a lot of different angles — which one do you like best?

Vernazza

Vernazza – Angle 1

Vernazza

Vernazza – Angle 2

Vernazza

Vernazza – Angle 3

Vernazza

Vernazza – Angle 4

Vernazza

Vernazza – Angle 5

On my way back down the mountain, I came across this cat sleeping in front of a residence. I awoke him from his slumber, he did not look happy.

Cat in Vernazza

Cat in Vernazza

Cat in Vernazza

Cat in Vernazza

Next we are heading to Florence, Tuscany (for a Chianti wine tour), Rome, Pompeii, and Capri Italy. We will end our trip in Lisbon Portugal.

 

Running of the Bulls in Pamplona Spain

The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona Spain was the first thing we put on the calendar when our vacation planning started. All other planning centered around that weekend. After visiting Paris, Barcelona, Valencia, Madrid, Logrono, and Bilbao, this weekend finally arrived for the Running of the Bulls.

This festival dates back to the 13th century and was made famous by Ernest Hemingway’s book “The Sun Also Rises“.  As Hemingway chronicled, the festival is awash in wine and sangria, and runners partake copiously during long nights of partying.

IMG_1657

When you arrive here, the first thing you notice is everyone is dressed in the traditional red and white attire, which can be purchased at almost every street corner.

Ryan all dressed up

Ryan all dressed up

Hey -- when in Rome...

Hey — when in Rome…

It is definitely a festive atmosphere, with people drinking and having fun, and street performers everywhere. Music blasts and people of all ages join in.

Spanish Michael Jackson!

Spanish Michael Jackson!

Street Performers

Street Performers

A festival for all ages

A festival for all ages

On our second day in Pamplona, we awoke at 5 a.m. to head down to the Running of the Bulls. As we made our way towards the apartment at around 6 a.m., there were lots of drunk people staggering around and were just about to call it a night. We rented an apartment balcony on the street where the running begins, along with about 12 other Americans. We had a great view of the action.

Our balcony

Our balcony

At 8 a.m. sharp, the cannons fired and the bulls came blazing around the corner. People spread like wildfire, some people ducking into side gates, others climbing up the first wall they could find. Some of the more brave ran in front or behind the bulls. From our vantage point, it was over in about 10 seconds but the entire run lasts about 3 minutes. There were medics and ambulances parked outside every turn and they carted 3 people off to the hospital today.

IMG_1693

Running of the Bulls

Running of the Bulls

Running of the Bulls

Running of the Bulls

Running of the Bulls

We capped off our day with a traditional bull fight. Bull fights are no longer legal in Barcelona, Valencia and a lot of other Spanish cities, but you can still see them in Madrid and Pamplona. I enjoyed the pageantry of the Matadors but I was not big fan of seeing the bull get killed at the end — I can understand why they outlawed it in many cities.

Sea of People at the Bull Fight

Sea of People at the Bull Fight

Traditional Bull Fight

Traditional Bull Fight

Valencia Spain

Prior to arriving in Pamplona, we made several stops along the way once we left Barcelona. Our first stop was Valencia. This is a beach town that is about a 2.5 hour train ride south from Barcelona. I really liked Valencia, it has a more hip feel and a cool beach vibe. We headed down to the beach, drank sangria and I took a swim in the Mediterranean. It was hot — about 88 degrees but the Mediterranean Sea was cool. I could have spent more time here, it was a great place to visit.

Valencia Beach

Valencia Beach

Tons of Beach Side Restaurants

Tons of Beach Side Restaurants

Valencia Beach

Valencia Beach

One of the fun excursions we took was a 3 hour bicycle tour through Valencia. It allowed us to get a little exercise while seeing the sights.

Bike tour in Valencia Spain

Bike tour in Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Madrid

We only had a couple of days in Madrid, but we took a tour to see the major sights like the Royal Palace. At this point, we did not want to see another Tapas Bar, so got our American food fix when we stumbled on a TGIF!

Royal Palace

Royal Palace

Madrid Spain

Madrid Spain

Madrid Spain

Madrid Spain

Madrid Spain

Madrid Spain

The highlight of Madrid for us was a Flamenco dancing show, we scheduled this for Ryan’s birthday and we all really enjoyed it. The dance is very passionate and awe inspiring. By the time we got back to the hotel, Ryan was performing Flamenco for us.

Flamenco Dancing

Flamenco Dancing

The guy in the picture above had a very distinct Spanish look, I could see most of the women swooning over him. His hair was really long and after a few minutes of dancing, it came out of the ponytail. Everytime he would spin, his sweat would spray the people in the front seats of the audience.

Flamenco Dancing

Flamenco Dancing

Flamenco Dancing

Flamenco Dancing

Flamenco Dancing

Flamenco Dancing

Logrono and the La Rioja Wine Area

As we slowly made our way towards Pamplona, we planned a stop in Logrono and the La Rioja wine area. Although Logrono was a nice stop along the way, there were not many sights to see.

IMG_1551

Logrono Spain

Logrono Spain - our apartment view

Logrono Spain – our apartment view

Laguardia is a medieval town just minutes from Logrono where several wineries now occupy rooms of an old castle built in the 10th  century. The castle is now occupied by about 1,500 residents, mostly merchants of the many food and wine stores located inside of the castle. The castle is surrounded by a beautifully landscaped walking path lined with trees and flowers.

Laguardia Spain

Laguardia Spain

Laguardia Spain

Laguardia Spain

Laguardia Spain

Laguardia Spain

Laguardia Spain

Laguardia Spain

Laguardia Spain

Laguardia Spain

Medieval Village

Medieval Village

Laguardia Spain

Laguardia Spain

The view from the castle is incredible — you can see all of the vineyards that are used to produce the incredible Spanish wine.

Incredible castle view

Incredible castle view

Incredible castle view

Incredible castle view

We scheduled 2 wine tours there and were not disappointed. When the castle was built in the 10th century, they built escape tunnels underneath to allow people to escape in the event of a siege. Later, these tunnels were turned into wineries because the caves offer the perfect condition for storing and aging wine (about 13 – 15 degrees celsius).  The first winery we visited was a small winery that produces only about 40,000 bottles a year. Our guide allowed us to the sample the wine directly from the cement tanks, not something you get to do every day.

Small winery

Small winery

Small winery

Small winery

The second winery was bigger (considered a mid-sized winery in Spain). It was in a section of the castle that housed some of the royal family members in the early days. They spent 4 years remodeling the winery after it had fell into disrepair. During this time, their excavation work uncovered huge cells that were used in the past for storing of wine.

Mid sized winery

Mid sized winery

Mid sized winery

Mid sized winery

Tasty Spanish wines

Tasty Spanish wines

Future Matadore

Future Matador

Bilbao

Our final stop before Pamplona was in Bilbao Spain.

IMG_1614

Bilbao Spain

Bilbao Spain

Bilbao Spain

Bilbao Spain

Bilbao Spain

We had heard a lot about the Guggenheim Museum located there and it was not disappointing. The first floor was the most impressive, it had a really large room with about 9 really large TV screens (floor to ceiling) and an incredible sound system. They had recorded a 60 minute song where each screen showed a different singer (singing and playing instruments) for the same melody — but each person was in a different room of the mansion. It was incredibly arranged and mesmerizing to watch and as you stood in front of a specific screen, you would hear more of the singing and instrumentation that was provided by the specific person in that room. It was a really cool thing to experience.

Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum

Other areas of  the first floor had other video inspired art as well as some large steel art that served as mazes. The look of that art was different from the ground floor than when looking down upon it from the 2nd floor. It was very nicely done.

Steel mazes

Steel mazes

The second floor showcased more traditional art (drawings and paintings). The third floor was totally devoted to Yoko Ono. It included video of her performances and lots of art inspired by her. The coolest thing on this floor was a transparent cube that you could walk through to the center of the cube. It was like being in a carnival attraction — kind of like a house of mirrors but it was all plexiglass. You walked through it like a maze and it was hard to distinguish an opening from a real wall so people would run into the wall thinking it was an opening (myself included).

Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum

This wrapped up our time in Spain. Next we are heading to Italy to experience Milan, Lake Como, Cinque Terre, Florence, Rome, Capri and Pompeii.