Sunday, September 22, 2013

Tuscany and Our First Day in Berlin

Our Tuscany Bike Ride

Our time bike riding in Tuscany was really great; we spent every day riding through beautiful countryside dotted with towns that have been around for hundreds of years.  The weather was cooler than years in the past when we visited Tuscany in September, which kept us from swimming in the Mediterranean, but it was actually very nice for bike riding.  We had a day of overcast with a forecast of rain, but we rode anyway and managed to stay dry.  Other than that we had sunny days that were great for riding.  Linda and I did a couple of side trips into Cecina and San Vincenzo which were small cities and kind of an interesting change from the villages and towns.  The trip also had a tour of a local winery and a lunch at an olive grove.  We had a lot of fun, saw some old friends from past rides and met some new ones as well.

One of the towns we visited

Tuscany to Berlin

Our trip from Tuscany to Berlin was an all-day project, using about every form of public transportation available, taxi cabs, buses, trains, planes, and subways (U-Bahn).  Several of the legs of our journey in Italy were a little late, and while this stressed us out, we made all of our connections.  Our apartment in Berlin is right in the middle of the city and has a spectacular view at night and during the day.  The former Berlin wall ran through where our apartment is located.  When we look out at Leipziger Platz below, we can see the markers for where the wall stood a few years ago running from our apartment across the Platz.

Our view

A few pieces of the wall

The entrance to our apartment and the reminder of the wall in the sidewalk

Our first Day in Berlin

We spent our first day in Berlin walking around and enjoying the sights.  Even though there was a forecast of showers, most of the locals used the day to enjoy the outdoors and we saw no reason to do anything different.  There was a real festival mood to the city.  We walked over to Potsdamer Platz just about two blocks away and they were holding an outdoor festival emphasizing organic farming and produce, but also with lots of attractions for children.  It was and interesting combination of things, kind of like a harvest festival.  Since we have a refrigerator, we bought some produce and whole grain bread.

Linda buying bread

We walked up one of our favorite streets, Unter den Linden to Alexander Platz, enjoying the sights, looking at all of the new construction, and doing a little shopping.  We purchased a pair of one week transportation passes that allow us to ride the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, or buses as much as we want.  We used the U-Bahn several times today after we did some shopping across town and took our groceries back to the apartment.  We had a great time looking around our favorite city, we stocked up with some food for the next couple of days and we are looking forward to our stay.

Berliner Dom along Unter den Linden

Berlin is a fun city with all sorts of places to stop and enjoy yourself for a few minutes.  There are more coffee shops, bakeries, and stores with fun things than you can imagine.  Even doggies can get a seat at a coffee shop, and do some really focused begging for a treat.

Patrons in the coffee shop

We should have a great time, this month has several events going on while we are here, the federal elections today (we should find out who the new chancellor is soon), the Berlin Marathon next weekend, and Unification Day is the day before we leave for home.  We think it should be a great time to be in Berlin.

Well, that is all for now, it is off to bed, and tomorrow, we will plan a new day.

We hope you are doing well,

Linda & Stephen

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Our Third and Final day in Rome

Our Third and Final day in Rome

Today was our final day of touring Rome.  Tomorrow we walk to the train station with our bags and board the train to Tuscany where we will begin the bike riding portion of our trip.  The train trip will last a few hours, but we will have some time getting our bikes and getting settled.  We will have to see if we have any extra time and whether the weather is warm, there is a possibility of a dip in the Mediterranean Sea in the afternoon.

We started our final day with a walk to Trevi Fountain and then headed past the Coliseum to San Giovanni.  The morning light was beautiful and we stopped often to get some pictures along the way.

We then headed out by bus to the Catacombs of St. Callixtus for a guided tour of the ancient Christian burial site.  It is a fascinating tour, and we almost always learn something new each time we go.  It is also a big favorite attraction for Linda.  According to our guide several of the early Popes had been buried in this catacomb originally, although they have long since been moved elsewhere.

From the Catacombs we caught a bus into the outskirts of town, a subway through the middle of town, and a tram to the North East of town where we went to the MAXXI museum.  Unlike most of the museums in Rome the MAXXI is a modern art museum.  The building itself has a very interesting architecture as well as several interesting exhibits.  As in almost all modern art museums, some of the exhibits really grab you, others leave you wondering what other people see in them.

After touring the MAXXI, we took the tram back but walked through the center of town for a last look at the Spanish Steps and several of the Piazzas.  Shortly after we got back to the hotel, the rain the weather report had been talking about arrived with a vengeance.  We were pretty glad our timing worked out the way it did.  Tonight we are getting everything ready for our trip tomorrow.  We had a great time in Rome, but we are excited about starting the bike ride in Tuscany as well.

If you would like to see where we were and some of the pictures here is the link: "Garmin Adventure"

We hope you are doing well,

Stephen & Linda

Monday, September 9, 2013

Day 2 in Rome - September 9th

September 9 – Our Second Day in Rome

Today we started out early again, this time we decided to go over to the Vatican first thing in the morning and try to get in before the crowd.  We figured that since there was a slight drizzle, the crowds might be a bit less as well.  Rather than walk all of the way across Rome, we took the Metro underground from the train station to the stop that is about 3 blocks from Saint Peter’s square.  It worked; we got there just after everything opened but before any crowd had started to build.  We cleared through security in just a couple of minutes and proceeded to the entrance to climb to the cupola at the top of Saint Peter’s Basilica.  We were able to pay our money and start our climbing.

Even with the cooler morning air and the on and off drizzling it was pretty hot work climbing to the top.  We really enjoyed the breeze that you get standing on the balcony of the tallest building around.  After walking the perimeter a couple of times, we headed back down.  Another cool thing about climbing to the top is that the climb down drops you off inside the cathedral, so you don’t have to wait in line to get in.  We toured St Peter’s for about an hour, it is one of the most spectacular cathedrals anywhere.

After we emerged from St. Peter’s we walked down the east side of the Tiber into an area called Trastevere.  We wandered through the neighborhood with its narrow streets to a Cathedral called Santa Maria in Trastevere.  Rome is a city with cathedrals all over the place, it seems like there is one on almost every block.  It also seems like half of them are named Santa Maria “something”, where the “something” is pretty important in order to decide which Santa Maria you are talking about.  The one in Trastevere is a beautiful and very old cathedral.  In contrast to Saint Peter’s which is clearly focused on spectacular, this cathedral really gives the feeling of what the older Roman Cathedrals must have been like.

Since we were in Trastevere and it was lunch time, we stopped at a restaurant that we discovered a couple of years ago on another visit.  While we usually don’t eat in restaurants when we travel, this one is an exception.  We were able to have a nice dinner at noon time so it doesn’t sit heavy on the stomach all night long.  It did in fact reduce our evening meal from down to a snack, but the food at this place was an exceptional treat.  We also love the little old green Fiat parked out in front.  The owner of the restaurant is definitely into nostalgia.

After lunch we crossed the river, visited another Santa Maria cathedral that seemed even older and had out in front the Mouth of Truth.  From there we walked up to the Trevi Fountain and then headed back to our room to rest and do a little bit of shopping.

We had a great day, but were pretty tired when it was over.

We hope you are all doing well.

There are pictures and a map of where we were in this link to a "Garmin Adventure"

Stephen & Linda

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Walking Through Rome on our First Day

Our First Day in Rome

Our Flight over to Europe was pretty uneventful; I do have to say that our initial impression of flying with Air Berlin was very favorable.  We were drawn to using them by the price thinking the planes might be a bit old or the service might be a bit frugal.  The planes were brand new and spotless and the service was the best we have seen in years, perhaps decades.  They were about as on time with everything as you would expect an airline with a name of ‘Air Berlin’ to be, almost kind of funny, the wheels leaving the runway within 10 seconds of the planned takeoff time, etc.  The luggage offloading from the plan in Rome took quite a while, about 45 minutes, which was more than we hoped for, but about what we expected.  Since the Leonardo Express runs every half hour, we just caught the next one and did not have to scurry to get to the train in time (nobody in Rome seems to scurry).

We slept pretty well through the night, got up at about 5:00am and had a little breakfast, tried out the espresso machine in the kitchen, it works GREAT.  After allowing at least 45 minutes for the caffeine to kick in we programmed the room safe and secured our passports and extra credit cards, and off we went for a walk around town.

It was a very pretty day and it started out at reasonably comfortable temperatures.  It did get a little warm about 3:00 in the afternoon, but in Rome you kind of have to count on it being hot for at least a small part of the day.

We visited a few major cathedrals, viewed tons upon tons of ruins, walked down some beautiful shaded streets, had lunch in a park with a nearby and clear view of the Coliseum.  After lunch we walked toward the center of town and visited several of the more famous Piazzas, walked through a wonderful park and wrapped up with the Spanish Steps.
A handy drinking fountain

St. Giavonni Laterno

Piazza Navona

On the way back we stopped at an attraction run by the Capuchin Friars that had a few rooms that detailed the history of their order and the main attraction was a couple of rooms decorated with artistically stacked skeletons of former Friars.  Linda and I are divided on whether the rooms decorated with the Friars bones are a great attraction or a silly tourist trap.  I think rooms that are decorated with old hubcaps and empty beer and wine bottles might be a step up in taste.  We finished the day kind of hot and tired, but very happy with all of the things we saw.

If you would like to see where we went on a map, with some additional pictures, here is a link to a "Garmin Adventure" for today's trek. We carried a GPS with us and were able to record where we were.  Kind of cool if it works (I hope it does).

This is a link to a "Garmin Adventure" of yesterday's trip.

Thinking of you,

Stephen & Linda

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Europe 2013 - Heading out Tomorrow

Across the Ocean We Go

Hello Friends and Family!

Linda and I are heading out for our trip to Italy and Germany.  On this trip we will be revisiting some places that we have been in the past, but they were great and worth another visit.  In the case of Rome and Berlin, you can visit them many times and see something new each time.  The bike riding in Tuscany is very nice as well, it doesn’t get old to pull into a village and take a break after riding down a country road and enjoying magnificent scenery.  Because the hotel in Tuscany is right on the beach, we can take a dip in the Mediterranean each day after the ride.

Rather than write a summary of how the trip over to Rome went after we arrive, I will just go over how it is supposed to go.  When we get there, we will be pretty groggy and incoherent from the flights and the time zone change, so we will probably be more focused on just going to bed.  We will catch up with you again after our first day of touring Rome.

We will be flying on an airline we have never used before, "Air Berlin", but since one of our destinations was Berlin, and the rates were very good, it seemed like a natural choice.   It will be interesting to see how they stack up against the airlines that we are more used to, I am hopeful and optimistic that it will be a pleasant flight.  We both have plenty of reading material, so we are not relying on any type of inflight entertainment, between reading and napping we should do OK.

Our flight over is from LA (LAX) going non-stop from LA to Berlin, we take off at 2:55pm on Friday the 6th, and land at 11:00am on Saturday the 7th (European time).  We are actually landing at the smaller airport in Berlin, but that is kind of nice, since smaller airports usually mean shorter times waiting for just about everything.  At 2:40pm we take off from Berlin and land in Rome at 4:45pm, this flight being just about 2 hours.

The Rome international airport is outside of Rome in a small town called Fiumicino.  The ‘Aeroporti di Roma’, actually has a rather brief name, considering that it is Italian, “Aeroporto Internazionale Leonardo da Vinci di Fiumicino”.  It is, buried within the name of the airport, that the name for the next phase of our journey is the “Leonardo Express”.  I am sure that many English speaking people landing at the Rome airport and wanting to go to downtown Rome bypassed the Leonardo Express as an option, because Rome is mentioned nowhere in the name, only to take a taxi ride they will regret for years to come (expensive and completely nuts).

We already have our tickets for the Leonardo Express in our backpacks, so all we have to do is pick up our luggage (oh please, please let it be there), scurry through the airport to the train terminal (you can walk from your plane to the train without getting wet if it is raining), and hop on the Leonardo Express.  No worries about which stop to get off of the train either, there is only one, Roma Termini, the other end of the line for the Leonardo Express.

From the Termini train station it is a couple of blocks walk to get to the Bed and Breakfast where we will be staying.  It is in an old building, actually in this part of town they are all kind of old, but the floor with the B&B (BBQueen) has been completely renovated and it is actually a pretty modern style.  We stayed here a couple of years ago and it had all of the things that really mattered, a comfortable bed, clean floors, a bathroom of your own, breakfast in the morning, & a coffee machine that you can operate on your own in case your body is insisting that 3:00am is the time that you should be waking up.  You get over the 3:00am wakeup in a couple of days as long as you are careful not to take a 2 to 3 hour nap in the afternoon.

So once we get to the BBQueen, we may or may not get a bite to eat if the local grocery store is open, and go to bed for the night.  Sunday is our first day of getting out and seeing Rome, we are pretty excited about it.

We should have some access to internet and email throughout the trip, but not through our phones.  Text messages and voice calls cost a lot, so we are pretty much internet only until we get back the first week in October.  Will try to keep you all posted on what is going on with the blog.  We will be checking and answering our email.

We hope you have a great week ahead, with any luck the next post will be from Italy!

Stephen & Linda

(No pictures on this post)