Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

And at last, Rome.

After finishing up at the quaint, quiet town of Orvieto, we heading to bustling Rome.  The stressful car ride there was enough to get our bodies adjusted to a much different ambience.  I’ve talked before about the lack of lanes in Italy, the impatient drivers, and the plentiful amount of daring scooterists (is that a word??), but driving into Rome was INSANE.  Don’t do it.  After getting there, Russ used his high school Italian to get us into a parking garage for a couple of days, and we literally collapsed on the hotel bed.  Recovery.  We felt much better after a night of rest and headed out in the morning.

We started our morning with the trio of history: The Coloseum, Palatine Hill, and The Roman Forum.

The Colosseum

Inside the Colosseum

Despite the fact that the Colosseum is massive,  it’s still difficult to imagine the culture that exists within the walls.  At one time, 50,000 spectators filled the Colosseum to watch gladiators, public executions, or animal hunts.  It’s hard to fathom that this place was built in 72 AD.  Ridiculous.

Russ visits the Colosseum

Inside the Colosseum

One of the reasons that it’s difficult to imagine life in the Colosseum is because of all the excavation that has been done underneath the original stage.  The excavation reveals the catacombs–a maze-like underground storage area where animals were stored and where slaves worked to hoist the animals up onto the stage.  Also underground was an elaborate sewer and water system.  The Romans used water for drinking and human waste, but also to dispose of the blood and waste of animals and gladiators who saw their last day above stage.

A view into the catacombs

Another look at the underground

From the Colosseum we walked over to Palatine Hill, which holds evidence  of Roman life since 1000 BC, and was the place of birth for many emperors.

Palatine Hill

Palatine Hill

Russ digs Rome's trees

Great view of the Colosseum from Palatine Hill

Next we headed into the area of the Roman Forum, which basically is a courtyard that holds the ruins of many government buildings from long ago.

The Roman Forum

Looking down from Palatine Hill to the Forum

The Forum

Our next spot for the day was Vatican City–complete with a tour of the museums and the famous Sistine Chapel.  No pictures, of course, inside the chapel, but I can assure you that it was amazing. 🙂

The Vatican

The Vatican Museum

The rest of they day we walked, and walked, and walked, and walked!  The subway in Rome is not very helpful; there are only 2 lines, very few stops and, the stops don’t usually get you that near the sights anyway. So we walked.

To the Pantheon...

Inside the Pantheon

To The Spanish Steps...

To Piazza Navano...

…and many other places whose names I just don’t remember. 🙂

Ahh, has this ever looked so welcoming??

The next morning we had to get up and go to the airport, unfortunately.  Rome was certainly bustling, busy, and full of life…and a lot of fun!  We had a fantastic trip to Italy!  If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our travels starting in Florence.  To see all of the pictures from our adventures in Italy:


Day Trips to Siena and Orvieto

On the days we enjoyed at Gargonza, we took small day trips to surrounding cities in the Tuscan region. It was a fantastic way to see lots of Italian countryside and also provided a glimpse of the beauty of the old, smaller cities.  We spent most of our time in both cities simply wandering.  We enjoyed the streets and architecture, and of course, we also went to see the Duomos in each city.  In Siena, we started off on a hill overlooking the city and then continued on to the main piazza.


The View from Atop Siena



Piazza del Campo

Circling around the Piazza

More of the Piazza

 It’s hard to imagine how expansive this piazza is unless you see it in person.  Twice a year, they actually hold a medieval horserace in the piazza with surrounding city neighborhoods competing for the coveted banner of Mary.   The city revels in this race, which is only 3 minutes long, and emblems of the neighborhood “teams” appear everywhere–even on the ceramics they sell!

Next we wound our way through the streets of Siena and continued to the Duomo.

Streets of Siena

Siena's Duomo


Amazing Detail!

The next day, before heading to Rome, we stopped in a small little city called Orvieto.  Orvieto rests on the very top of a big hill which lends for great views of the Tuscan countryside.  We parked our car in a lot that was pretty far up the hill, and we still had to take 6 escalators to get to the city level. I’m just grateful they provided escalators at all!

In Orvieto we again wandered through the streets and visited the Duomo.  We ate lunch in a tiny little cellar butcher-shop where we had fresh proscuitto on hard rolls.  We also shopped for some hand-painted ceramics to bring home with us.  Perhaps my favorite part.  🙂 

Orvieto's Duomo

Orvieto's Duomo

The View from Orvieto

It was windy...

Castle View

City Walls


Pretty Countryside!

 We left the peace and quiet of Gargonza and the small cities and headed for Rome!  Stay tuned for pictures and commentary of the last leg of our journey in Italy.  🙂

Castello di Gargonza

Allow me to introduce Castello di Gargonza, our relaxing dwelling for 2 nights.

The Tower from a Distance

Entering the Grounds


Gargonza's Tower

Looking up through the garden/terrace

The Chapel Bells

The Chapel

Part of the Village

and the VIEW!

So after winding up curvy roads for about 15 minutes, you come upon Castello di Gargonza, a fortified village that literally dates back to the early 13th Century.  The castle has an interesting history, once functioning as a large 900 acre share-cropping farm for farm families.  The little village was completely sustainable and even had an olive oil mill, a parish, and a school!  The villagers eventually left Gargonza and in the 1900’s the Count who was bequeathed Castello di Gargonza converted it completely into apartments for short and long stays. Today, each of the apartments are named after a farming family who originally took residence in the village!


Like I said before, this beautiful village holds a very special place in the hearts of the LaBarca clan.  For several years during the summer, Russ’s grandparents traveled to Italy and stayed here at Gargonza.  They were there so often that I believe the owners actually called them “residents.”  In 1995 and 1997, Russ’s immediate family was lucky enough to join them for a couple weeks. Check it out.  And be sure to giggle at Russ.

In the Garden '95

In front of the tower '95


'97; Russ actually wanted to do this when we were there. I'm not sure he would have fit. 😉

Inside the Nerina Apartment '97

On top of the Tower

So as I’m sure you can tell, Russ had really fond memories of Gargonza.  We spent a lot of time there reminiscing and searching for old stomping grounds.

We found Fonte-Blanda, one of the apartments in which they stayed


and the window in Nerina which Russ and Irene would opposed to the door

We enjoyed fantastic, Tuscan cuisine at the restaurant on the premises–fresh pasta (they were all out of boar!), delicious antipastos, and really, really good wine.

Ristorante Torre di Gargonza

Ristorante di Torre Gargonza, Present Day

We ate at 7:30, too early for Italians


Lovely Tuscany

Handsome and Beautiful

We had such a fantastic time at Gargonza–for Russ, reliving the past.  For me, envisioning the future?  Perhaps we’ll be back someday. 🙂

Thanks to Kate for taking the time to send the pictures from ’95 and ’97.  To see more pictures from our stay at Gargonza:


Or to check out Gargonza’s website (where I got the information about its history):


Italian Adventures–Part I

Since we’ve been living in Germay, Russ and I have really been looking forward to making our way towards Italy.  Russ’s family has visited Italy on several occasions, and his family origins lead back to the island of Sicily.  For me, Italy has always seemed…I don’t know, fantastical.  Beautiful countryside, legendary cuisine, boisterous people who celebrate living.  Not to mention all the history and culture.  This time (yes, this time, meaning there will be another trip in the future!) we hopped a plane to Florence; toured through the Tuscan countryside visiting Pisa, Sienna, and Orvieto; and ended our 6 days in Rome.

First, though, how about a little flight over the Swiss Alps.  Breathtaking!

Flying over the Alps

I was stunned to see people on the plane NOT looking out of their windows!

Russ enjoyed envisioning driving on those roads; I did not partake in that fantasy

We arrived in  Florence in the afternoon, picked up our rental car, and nervously made our way through the city to our hotel.  One thing is for certain; driving in Italy is nothing like driving in Germany!!  Lanes seem to be optional as everyone just inches forward to get the closest position; traffic circles are chaos; and drivers on scooters are EVERYWHERE, dodging in between cars and lanes.

Nevertheless, we made it and soon headed out into the city.  We traveled first to the city’s largest landmark–the Duomo.  Just to be clear, Duomos in Italy are large cathedrals.  They are deemed, “Duomo” because of the large dome on the top.  The Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore) in Florence, the city of the Italian Renaissance, was originally built with a big gaping hole where the dome would eventually be.  They didn’t even have the technology to complete a dome, but they held faith that they eventually would!  Hence, the Duomo in Florence was the first dome of the Renaissance.

Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral

Santa Maria del Fiore

The Dome

Intricacies of Tuscan Marble Design

Most of the Duomos in the region follow this same color scheme; pink, white and green marble that comes directly from the Tuscany region.  (Mom–anytime Uncle D makes fun of your color scheme in the living room, you just need to tell him that you modeled it after Tuscan marble ;)).

Tuscan Marble Color Scheme

The inside of the Duomo was underwhelming.  Its vastness was apparent, and it felt downright empty.  (Rightly so, as there were no seats or pews at all and the majority of the artwork had been removed and placed in museums).  The beauty of the outside completely made up for it.

The rest of the afternoon we wandered around Florence, venturing down narrow streets and wandering into Piazzas.

The Streets of Florence

Russ enjoys the streets of Florence

Oh yeah, and we ate gelato.  I’m pretty sure twice in one day.


When we weren’t eating ice cream, we were visiting the Galleria dell’Accademia, the home of Michelangelo’s famous sculpture, David.  The David was amazing.  You just cannot fathom how large it is until you are standing under it, gazing upwards at all the human features, sinewy muscles, and veins that were carved in stone.  No pictures allowed, and so we have none.  Sorry!

Our last stop of the evening was once again back at the Duomo.  Florence really seems to be the most beautiful when hit with the rays of early evening light.  The orange light cast an ethereal glow on the sides of the Duomo and it was relaxing watching the rays hit the buildings in the narrow side streets of Florence.  I felt like exhaling, “Ahhh, now this is Florence!”  Ok, I may have actually said that.


The Duomo




Ahh, Florence!

Please check back in for more from Florence and the rest of our Italian excursion! 🙂