Holidays - London, Cologne, Rome, Brussels

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!




Grand Place, Brussels


Our holidays were very busy, starting off with a trip to Horsham and London for Thanksgiving.  Dave & Allison invited us to celebrate Thanksgiving with them.  We were making our plans when D got the word he had to be in London England on Dec 2nd for a meeting.  Perfect timing!

Allison made a wonderful feast for the four of us.  A very traditional Thanksgiving meal, with turkey (had to be special ordered), stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry and lots more.



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D2's upcoming holiday party was a costume party, so we all went to the "fancy dress" store to help him pick out a costume.  Little did we know how much fun this outing would be!




What we call costume parties, in the UK they call them fancy dress parties.  D jumped right in to help D2 find his fancy dress.



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How about these shoes?  This may be a new look for D.




Quite the dapper Sir Walter Raleigh......






A gladiator....





and we are not quite sure what this is.....rocker dude?





a few friends......




Sir Walter and Austin Powers....."yeah baby"


and last but not least.....rocker dude finds a date -  cat women!



D had to help me take off my boots as I could not bend over in this outfit    :   )

We decided that D2 & A should add the Fancy Dress store to the "must see" list for guests who visit them in the UK!

Now for some traditional British food, fish and chips.  Greasy and good!


and Father Christmas cookies


The best news we heard this weekend is that D2 and A have extended for two more years!  Yeah!!



On to London and their Winter Wonderland to see Father Christmas.



and the toy soldier




I do believe in Santa Claus!


Harrod's, the famous department store in London, had a Wizard of Oz holiday theme with giant ruby red slippers coming out the side of their building.



London had beautiful holiday lights in the main shopping district.  Umbrellas - how appropriate for London!



Cologne Germany

I took a one day bus trip with a group of women I do things with in Brussels to Cologne Germany to visit the Christmas market.  We had a crisp sunny day for our outing.  As with most European cities, Cologne has a beautiful old cathedral.  Construction of the cathedral started in 1248, and with interruptions, was completed in 1880 - over 600 years later!  It is one of the world's largest churches and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.



Cologne has seven Christmas markets spread throughout the city.  One of them was the Gnome market.




The German markets have beautiful ornaments.


All hand blown.


 and a few very interesting characters!




Early the next morning, we hopped on a plane and headed to Rome for a five day business trip.  There were several of D's co-workers from the states on this trip.  Ahmad and I are standing in front of the beautiful and famous Trevi fountain.

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I think this is a funny photo, the Trevi fountain looking like one of the junk trinkets for sale.

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Roman Ruins with a colorful blue backdrop. 

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There are Steelers fans around the world.  D is standing in front of the one and only Steelers bar in Rome.  The owner plays all the games live, and if it is a late night game, that means it would be on at 3 am!

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One night we were in a restaurant (not the steelers bar) and we noticed the waiters watch.


Turns out he was a huge Steelers fan!  Here I am with Donald's co worker Mike, also a huge Steelers fan, the waiter in white, and Mike's wife Pam.  We had a fun night talking about football with the Italian waiter!



They do not decorate in Rome like they do in other European cities for Christmas.  I did see a few glass balls hung in the street.
but these looked as if they might stay up all year long.


They did have a Christmas market with interesting street performers.

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We dropped some money in his can and we became fast friends!

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She was very graceful.  We think we saw her last time we were in Rome where she was a ballerina.


They stay completely still until you drop money in their cup and then they preform.


Rome is predominately Catholic so there were many religious decorations at the market.

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It was a rainy night which made for an interesting sky.

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I love this photo of D - shopping bags in hand, cool old car passing by.


One thing you can not skip in Rome is the Gelato!!!!




And a visit to our very own Brussels market which has the most fascinating carousel round I have ever seen.


I cannot find any information on the artist who created this creation.



Children can sit in the back of this crazy lizard.



I was very disappointed when I found out the merry-go-round was for children only!



Goodbye 2009!












Island of Capri - a sparkling gem


Our most recent adventure took us to the stunning island of Capri where we joined our travel buddies Allison and Dave.  This was NOT a business trip!  Capri is part of the Amalfi Coast and has been a resort area for centuries.   


We flew into Naples and took a hydrofoil to the island.  Let's just say I am not a fan of the hydrofoil!  We stayed in Anacapri which is a community on the island.  It is a little less touristy than Capri Town.  We took a very small bus from Capri and drove on a very small road with a series of hairpin turns.  If two small buses needed to pass, there was barely an inch to spare.  As the road twisted and turned up the mountain, you get a splendid view of Capri. 

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This is our hotel's breakfast area.  It was a very sweet hotel and we were able to get a two bedroom apartment.  Well sort of, D2 And A slept in the living-room/dining room on a pull out couch.  We "won" the room in a Steelers/Ravens bet  :  ).  But I still feel guilty for actually taking the room so we need to make this one up to them!

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Capri is known for its handmade tiles,

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 which could be seen all over the island,

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and lemons!

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Specifically, the Limoncello (lemon liqueur served icy cold).  The entire backyard of our hotel was filled with lemon trees.  The story goes, the Grandmother of the current owner was the one who invented Limoncello.  They were the biggest lemons we had ever seen.


Lemons arrived in Capri in the 11th century and they have characterized the colors and the personality of the island ever since.  You can see the image on most everything.

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Anacapri is a very beautiful town with white washed villas and very narrow alleyways.   

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How many engineers does it take to read a map and figure out how to get around this little island?

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Obviously three!  As you can see from our outfits, the weather was crisp.


Not sure if these are the bells we heard or not, but starting at 3 am every morning VERY LOUD bells went off every hour and half hour.  On Sunday at 6 am, they went off for several minutes.  No sleeping late in Anacapri!

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Colorful shells in a shop.

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Our second day we decided to take the VERY long hiking route along the western coastline to see the famous Blue Grotto.   The landscape was extraordinary along this rugged path.  There was wild lush landscape carved by the wind and sea.


  and then you would pop out with a spectacular view of the sea.

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The water was so clear and an intense cobalt blue.


This had to be one of the most beautiful walks on the island and we were very lucky to have the perfect day for our hike.  D2 and A were prepared for this event with their proper walking shoes.  D and I, on the other hand were trying to make our fashion statement, me in my boots


and D in his loafers.

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Take a close look at these shoes as I will now show you where my nutty husband hiked in them.....


Look hard....he is out there.  And if you think it does not look that far down, here is D's shot back up at us:

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He claims it was all for Flat Stanley. 



Who is Flat Stanley?  D2&A's friends' 5 yr old child was doing a school project where they were to mail Flat Stanley to a friend who was in turn to take photos of Flat Stanley visiting different places and meeting new friends.  We are pretty sure this kid will have the best Flat Stanley story!
How is this for a picnic place!

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Our hike was dotted by sensational jagged cliffs.  Unfortunately, the waters were too rough so the boats were not running to the Blue Grotto.  Oh well, maybe next time! 
That afternoon, we took a chair lift from Piazza Vittoria to the peak of Mount Solare (1,955 feet).


It was a very peaceful ride and provided impressive views all the way up and back.


At the top, was a break-taking panoramic view of the Bay of Naples to the gulf of Salerno. 


It also provided a brilliant view of the Faraglioni, the famous rock formation.  It is said that a rare blue tinted lizard lives on the rocks and adapts it's scales to the blue tones of the sky and sea.


The term Faraglioni describes a geological formation in which high sheer cliffs have been eroded by the sea and wind and form a point where sections remain isolated from the mainland.  They are made of limestone.




It also provided a nice place for a drink after a long day of hiking!  Ah, this is the life!


After our glass of wine, more photo shoots with Flat Stanley.  This series of photos is priceless!  D2 posing with Flat Stanley. 


D and A going for the money shot....


and the money shot!   Yep, this Flat Staley has the best trip ever!


Our last day we visited the church of St. Michele Archangelo.  Built in 1716 in the form of a Greek cross.  It is famous for its hand painted majolica tiles which depict the story of Adam and Eve.

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You are not allowed to walk on the tiles, but can walk around the edges on wooden planks.  Best viewed from the choir section upstairs.  It was very unique and beautiful. 

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And we saw Villa Jouis which was built for Tiberius in the beginning of the 1st century.


More great shots of Faraglioni from a slightly different view.


and of course.....and afternoon Gelato break!!!


We ended the night with a delicious meal cooked by D of Vongole Clams, fresh from the sea.  He bought them that morning at the seafood shop down the street from our hotel.


and yummy appetizers by A made from all fresh ingredients from the island.  We dined and watched a beautiful sunset from our window.

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Another wonderful trip with our new friend, Flat Stanley!


Ahhhhhhhhhhhh - Venice


I fell in love with Venice when I was there for the first time 15 years ago. 


I am still in love with it today. 


It is a place where you can truly get lost for hours in the narrow little streets. 


Every corner you turn presents a breathtaking view.  Again, we were so lucky with the weather.  One day it was even warm enough to eat lunch outside by the canal.


Venice is all about eating...








Drinking Bellinis.......


and getting lost.......



There are no cars anywhere in Venice. 


All deliveries, emergency vehicles, even trash is done via the water.


Gondolas are very touristy, but I still love them.


We took the 50 cent ride - vs the 80 euro ride!  IMG_0828 

Gondolas are also used by locals for their main mode of transportation.


some are very elaborate....


with ornate gold decorations.


and the Gondoliers!


with hats and striped shirts....waiting for customers.




Carnival Masks are everywhere in Venice. 


Carnival began in 1268 and the wearing of masks and costumes was established in 1436.  In 1797, the Austrians took control of the city and the celebrations stopped. 




The popularity of the masks wasn't brought back until the 1980s, when a modern mask shop opened.  It is now a huge tourist attraction.


Venice seems to run slower than most cities, people relax and stop for a chat.


This man is receiving his delivery via a basket through his window.


If you look closely - each window has a birdcage.  The birds were singing very loud, they were enjoying the beautiful day too!

The colors of the city.



It is as if someone bushed it with watercolors. 





Donald was working hard to get the perfect photo in Venice. 

Look closely in the boxes, there is a dog and he is on a gondola.


This was definitely a new maneuver.


and his night shots were a success!




Hey - that's OUR move......eating ice cream and taking "we" photos.


We had a wonderful time.....too many photos that I want to share.


For a few more...please visit the Venice album on the right hand side of the first page of the blog.  Arrivederci!

Rome: Through a Roman's Eyes


Stefano, a colleague of Donald's invited us to spend the weekend in Rome at his mother's apartment.  We had an absolutely WONDERFUL time and definately got to see Rome from a non-touristic point of view.

We arrived Friday evening and Stefano picked us up at the Airport.  We headed straight for "mama's" to drop off our things.  Mama Ivonne {pronounced A-von-ya} has lived in the apartment since the 1950's.  Very sweet apartment.  Very sweet Mama!


Stefano took us to a chic restaurant Friday night where we met his two children, Francesca and Luca.  His son is in a band, The Out of Tunes , and was just written up in an Italian teen magazine.  I bought the magazine and had him sign it for me at the restaurant.  I told him I was going to sell it on E-bay!  The band is quite good.


Stefano went for a jog Saturday morning so D and I had breakfast with Ivonne.  Have I mentioned that she does not speak a word of English?  That did not stop her, she chatted with us non-stop.  D was able to pick up a few words here and there, but we really do not know Italian.

After breakfast we took a stroll through the local market. 


  The fruits and veggies were packed with color. 


Early afternoon we headed an hour north of Rome to the Terme Dei Papi.  A thermal spring resort.  This was a fascinating experience.  The water comes straight from the earth and at the point it enters the pool the temperature is approximately 130 degrees.  The further away you go, the colder the water gets.

Check out D with his "speedos" for the Termes.  We took his American bathing suit, but Stefano said he really needed the smaller one (for drying purposes) - too funny!


The water is said to have healing properties and contains sulfurous salts (you could smell this), bicarbonate and carbonic gases.  It was founded in the 3rd century and in 1450 one of the Popes had a palace built here hence the name dei papi (of the Popes). History says that Michelangelo also came here.

Wait, let's see one more shot of D in his speedos:

   IMG_0463 about just a little closer. 


Stefano's friend Claudia joined us for the day.  Here is a cute shot of Claudia, Stefano, and D.

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After soaking in the Termes for four + hours with wrinkled fingers and toes, we toured a few nearby towns.  And yes, they were right next to the Termes, but it was really chilly outside and we needed coats.  You would never have known looking at the photos of us in the water.



For dinner we went to a restaurant where Stefano knew the owner.  What a special meal, my favorite of the trip.  The owner loves Americans and kept coming to our table to tell us stories, including a touching comment about Americans sending food to Italy after WWII.  I really enjoyed meeting Claudia and spending the day with her.  She and Stefano both speak very good English.  But we still had fun teaching them a few "slang" American words!  Few of which can be repeated here.

Sunday morning we went to the BIG Rome flea market - it was nice that D had Stefano to play with.  I think I got an extra 45 minutes from this  :  ).  I bought my normal junk, beads, paper, and jewelry.  A delightful collection indeed!


  The boys had a post breakfast snack of roasted pork sandwiches.


We then took a long walk in the park near the apartment.  Am I looking Italian or what?


As you can see we were very lucky and had absolutely picture perfect weather. 


 There was an exquisite Villa in the park.


By this time we had worked up quite an appetite and that was a good thing as Mama was cooking a special lunch for us.  One course was a pasta dish - with home-made noodles - devine.  I think she was flattered that I was taking photos of everything.  We had fresh buffalo mozarella from the market (the best we have ever eaten), beef with arugula, several salads, and fruit for dessert.  It was a delicious meal.


We felt very special as the table was set beautifully with all of her wedding china.  We even got to use the special espresso cups and there are only 3 remaining. 


After lunch the "girls" had lemoncello  (a lemon liqueur produced in southern Italy).


and the boys had the more manly Grappa (brandy - 75 to 100 proof) or as I like to call it turpentine!  It certainly heats up your body.


And Donald made himself right at home - a post lunch nap! 


Ivonne took me in her room.  We sat on her bed and she pulled out several boxes.  The first one had her jewelry tools and beads and then she puled out all of the jewelry she had made and was currently making.  We sat on her bed talking away about jewelry for 30 minutes.....and remember....she does not speak ANY English and I do not speak any Italian.  It was priceless!!


The Sunday we were there, March 8, was Festa Della Donna (Women's Day).  The custom started in 1946.  Men would give thier wives, mothers, daughters, and other women friends sprigs of bright yellow Mimosa flowers as a sign of respect. 


Stefano was sweet and bought Mimosa flowers for me and his mom.  We saw women all over the city carrying them.  Sunday evening we checked into the Hotel San Anselmo for one night.  Stefano invited us to stay another night, but he had to work in the morning so we thoughtit best to stay in a hotel.  And we have stayed here befre and I LOVE this hotel.


That is me on the balcony - we were in the Romeo and Juliet room.  Very romantic.


  and in ALL Italian bathrooms (even Mama's apartment), the bidet.


Stefano joined back up with us for dinner.  We went to another restaurant where he knew the owner.  Stefano knows everyone!  Another superb meal.

We did get to see a little of the city on Monday morning before our flight home.


We even saw the Pope!  We were crossing a courtyard to get to the ancient ruins and there were many people gathering and LOTS of police.  We asked what was going on and we were told the Pope was coming for a meeting.  We waited about and hour and saw him get out of the car.

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and a close up, but unfortunately he did not turn our way.

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He popped his head out one side of the building, seen here on a large video screen set up in the courtyard.


He was going to come out on the balcony in front of us to say a few words, but that was after his meeting.  We had no idea how long the meeting would be and we had a plane to catch in a few hours, so we could not wait.  Next time!

Italy is one of the only cities we know where you can drink the water in the streets.  If you look closely, D is blocking the bottom of the faucet with his hand,  when you do this, it creates a drinking spout.  Pretty cool.


And a few shots around the city - how cute is this little red car!






Until we meet again in the next blog in Venice - Cheers!