Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Finally home

Wow what a journey we have been on! So sorry that there has been no news for the past few days. You know that cord that I described in my earlier blog about Pompeii? Well alas, the cord did not work and we did not have internet for our last 2 days in Italy. I went ahead and posted for you to see as if I were writing that day.

We are now safely home. After a full 22 hours of travel, we made it. We woke up at 6 am Tuesday morning (aka 11 pm Monday night - Texas time). We had quite an experience at the Rome airport. We went to check our bags first. Mine was right at 50 lbs (coming I was only at 46). Matt's was at 56. Gooo! What were we to do? We had to step aside to unload Matt's bag. We put a few things in our carry on and then had to throw away a few of our toiletries. But we got his in at a whopping 49 lbs.

Next we went through the security check. Both of our bags were searched. We had to take out dirty clothes and souveniers to show them what we had in our bag. Apparently they saw something that looked dangerous. haha.

We then boarded a bus and shipped over to our terminal. We got to spend this time hanging out with Dolores and Ann and well as John and Jen. The next long hours of our life were spent just sitting and waiting. It was another 2 hours before our flight left for Atlanta. Then it was a grueling 10 hour flight back. We actually landed early! This time around we watched Marley and Me, Last Chance Harvey, and Defiance.

It was so sad when we finally got served dinner. For the past 8 days, we had been dining in style. A 5 course meal at least once a day. Most of those were always for dinner. Proscutto, pasta, veal, dessert, wine, bread, salad, so on and so forth. Tonight it was a turkey and cheese sandwich. Sad day. It was official. Our vacation was over.

By the time we got to Atlanta, we went through customs and got our luggage rechecked. We said goodbye for the last time to Dolores and Ann. We miss those ladies as well as everyone else in our group. Back to the waiting game. Because of all the rain throughout the country, our flight was delayed for an hour. We were both so incredibly exhausted. I was so bad off I could still feel the motion sickness while we were sitting in the airport. I could have sworn that the entire building was moving. Matt just rolled his eyes and laughed at me because of course, it was not.

We made it back to Austin at about 9:15 pm. (Remember that we left at 11 pm the night before??) We stood with his parents waiting for our luggage. No luggage. Apparently even though we could not get on an earlier flight, our luggage could. It had made it there already and was sitting outside some office just waiting for us... I think almost laughing at us because we had to wait to come home.

But... we're here. Home at last. Hopefully sometime soon I will get the chance to post many more pictures. I will try to go back through and insert into different points in the first few blogs as I have in the more recent ones so you can see exactly what we are talking about. Aside from that I will be posting them on facebook. I believe non facebook users still may be able to view the picture albums so I will try to post the link on a new blog.

We are not sure if we will continue to blog. This was mainly set up just to keep track of our journey through Italy. But during the next few weeks will be the time that I edit our older posts with more pictures. Maybe then we will continue to chronicle our everyday lives here in the mainland!

Thank you so much for keeping up with us on this great adventure. (And now I want to bust into Steven Curtis Chapman's song "Great Adventure" for those of you who remember (my) 7th grade Vacation Bible School! lol)

Imperial Rome (Monday)

Today was finally a late day for us. We were able to sleep in until 8 am, but of course Matt got up to do his workout at 7. We grabbed our breakfast and were so excited because we finally had salt and pepper! Our eggs finally tasted great.

We hopped a bus with our first tour guide Mauro and headed for the coliseum. They drove around all the ruins of the emperors of Roman time. We saw the remains of Nero, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, and Augusto.

The coliseum is just massive. It once held 50,000 Romans. The coliseum today does not stand as it was during the Roman reign. It is not due to earthquakes or war, but due to the fact that the first Pope wanted to get rid of all the Paganism in Rome so they started to tear down the coliseum and recycled the materials for the Vatican city. This is why Rome is known as the “Eternal City”; they have reused and recycled everything so the city will never die. The parts of the coliseum that are still standing today are there because of the ingenious engineering they had back in those days. The whole place is basically like lego land. They place bronze pins in every brick and stone to add a sturdy core. The bronze is such a great material because it moves with the environment. It absorbs the vibrations of earthquakes.

(Matt putting his finger in the holes where the bronze pins were.
Stolen during economic hard times)

(Hillary as the newly elected Roman Emperor)

The coliseum walls are made from stone, brick, and marble. You can see from the pictures that there are a lot of holes in the walls. This is where the marble was built into the walls, but after Rome collapsed, people took the marble and sold it for money. That is what distinguishes the original walls from the new walls. Marble was such a big commodity then that even the steps and seating were made from marble.

(Marble steps)

(Marble seating)

When we entered, we were able to go through the emperor’s entrance. There were 80 entrances total around the coliseum with 1 dedicated to the emperor. Yeah we got to be royalty today. Whenever we first got there we had quite another experience as well. Mauro was taking us in and got into a fight with one of the ticket people. This is the second day in a row that we have experienced our guides yelling at other people. It got pretty heated and then Mauro walked away to get somebody else to take care of business. After we finally got through the line, Mauro was quick to make sure that nobody spoke Italian. Haha.

(Emperor’s entrance marked by the cross)

The games of the coliseum were such a big deal to the emperor that he actually paid for everything! The food was free, the admission was free, the gladiators were paid, and the animals were bought all by the emperor. Mauro said that in today's time, one event would be 1 billion dollars! CRAZY!

We had a bit of free time so we all went upstairs to the second level of the coliseum. These stairs were quite difficult to climb. They were steep and slanted down toward you. When we got to the top we were able to see down into the arena where they had all the passageways for the animals and the gladiators. It was really neat to see where they released all the animals and then where the gladiators really fought. Mauro said that for a gladiator to be set free he had to be victorious in 20 to the death fights. It may not seem like it would take that long, but they only had fights 2-5 times per year. As a gladiator the first thing you would do is walk into the arena and address the emperor. If you turned your back, it was immediate death. When addressing the emperor each gladiator would hold out their arm (hail Hitler style) and either keep their fingers together or apart. Together means that they will fight to the death, while apart means that they would only fight to the first injury. Experts estimate that during the 500 years of active competitions in the arena, over 600,000 people were killed.

After we left the coliseum a group of 12 (the fun group) stayed by ourselves to taking a walking tour of the palentino and ruins of the ancient emperors. We were able to see casa di augusto. You could still see the marble on the ground that had been broken up and covered by dirt. We even walked through a small museum that had tons of busts and sculptures from this palace. We also saw a wall mural that was put together like a puzzle with only the pieces that they have found through the rubble. We next walked down to see the largest arch in the world. It was really neat.

For our afternoon, we booked the fountain tour around Rome. This was great. Although we were both extremely tired and worn out from all the walking and heat from this morning, the tour gave us something special to do for our last day in Italy. Our guide was John Luigi and he was fabulous and very informative. We visited the famous Trevi Fountain which was only built in the 1700s so is still relatively new.

We also went to St. Peter’s Basilica. This one however, is different from the other basilica we visited while we were at the Vatican. This basilica is where the chains of St. Peter are kept. These are the same chains that he was bound with in captivity both while in Rome and in Jerusalem.

(angel of death)

This is also where the famous “Moses” by Michelangelo is kept.
When designing this statue, Michelangelo put a pretty significant landmark on him. When the Bible was first translated they made a mistake in talking about Moses coming down from the mountain after speaking with God. The text says that he had rays of light beaming from his head (sorry I’m paraphrasing from what the guide told us so this is probably not exact either). But whenever it was translated it said that Moses had horns coming from his head. Well since rays of light are kind of hard to sculpt, Michelangelo decided to keep the horns to signify the history and to make it easier on himself.

We also went by the Pantheon which is named for a place that all the gods were worshipped. This was really neat because they actually have an open hole in the top of the building. And down below they have holes in the floor to drain all the water that comes in during rainy times. To the very left was the door of sunset because the sun actually lands there every night at sunset.

One of the last fountains we saw was in Piazza Navona. This is a very popular square. The fountain was built to represent the four continents (Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas) and each fountain coming from the sculptures represented the largest rivers. America’s river was something that we didn’t really know of and that they said was because when the statues were being built America hadn’t really been explored so they did not know of the biggest rivers yet. Another neat fact or well rumor is that the American statue was built with his hand over his face. It is said its because Barbirini (I think that is the way to say his name) built the statues but did not build the building. He placed the hand over the eyes of America to hide his face for the disgrace of a building that he was looking at. Apparently Barbirini was rude. Haha.


This marks the point of the great flood in Rome. December 28, 18970 the water rose so high as you can see from this picture!

Even though we were both just pooped and exhausted we have to say that this was a great end to our tour. We had our last dinner tonight at the hotel. Our last 5 course meal and of course, it was quite good. We all downed about 2 bottles of water each (and these are the liter size, not 20 oz size). We actually had an early night for the first time. Well, that was until the fun group went back upstairs to have our one last night together. We recruited another 6 people for tonight: Jason and Laurie, Pat and Lenny, Ronnie and Dave. We stayed out until midnight or so, almost not wanting to leave because that meant the end to “us”. I’ve actually set up a trading system with Pat, Lenny, Ronnie and Dave. I will be sending them each some true Cajun file and they will be sending some true northern maple syrup. Yum yum!!

We board the bus for the airport at 6:45 am. I know what I’ll be doing on the plane! SLEEPING!!

We will see you all very soon!

Run Away... LAVA!! (Sunday)

This morning was our drive to Pompeii. We started by getting our typical American nutrients in our system and then boarded the bus. It took us about an hour to get from Naples to Pompeii. We were greeted there by our local tour guide Salvio – who by the way happens to be famous! We’ll explain later.

Salvio took us on an hour and a half tour of Pompeii. He was actually an excavator in the city for seven years; so needless to say, he knew what he was talking about. Then toward the end of the tour we found out he was an undercover police officer. The city was amazing. Pompeii is the sight of Mount Vesuvius which blew in early Roman times and destroyed the city. You can still see remains of people and animals that did not make it out of the city alive. Salvio was sure to reenact every person’s story of their life and then how they died and what they were doing when the volcano erupted. About 2/5 of Pompeii has still not be excavated.

Through the city we were able to see bars and brothels, shops and homes. We even saw a full scale bakery with an oven and basins to mix the dough. We then perused through the red light district aka North Gate or 6th Street or even Crocket Street.

One of the fun moments of the day was going through the brothel. Um, yeah… it was pretty hard core. As we were getting ready to go in we lost Salvio but then could still here him through our headsets. The next thing we know he’s yelling at someone asking to see their identification. Apparently the man was a tour guide that was pushing people out of the way so that his group could make it through at one time. Crazy, but back to the brothel.

(The next few sentences may be inappropriate for small children. We will refrain from using pictures. haha)

It was essentially a Kama Sutra. But the funny part came after we made our way through. They used a symbol on the wall to show direction. It was men's "member". WOW! It was carved into the stone wall. In another place, there was a bigger one carved into the stone on the road pointing back toward the brothel. They were real big on showing you were to go. Then in the souvenir shops they were EVERYWHERE. We were told they stood for good luck.

(Ok. Kids are allowed once again!)

You should have seen the marble work that were in some of the homes. One of them had little squares of marble along the floor that caught the reflection of the moon and lighted the house at night. How clever were they.

One of the running jokes with some of the people in our group is how Salvio “knew” exactly what each tiny rock used to be. He set aside about 5 pieces and said this one is marble and was used for mosaics. This one is curved a specific way so that one had to be the neck of a vase. The next was curved but smooth so that one was a bowl used for eating. So Matt and Michael started picking up pieces and making up what they were. I think Michael found Emperor Nero’s lost sole of his shoe and Matt found the tip of a shanking knife. We had a grand o’ time just laughing and making jokes through Pompeii.

Another neat piece of knowledge that Salvio passed down to us is the fact that most people of Pompeii were right handed. Archeologists know this because of the water fountains in the city.

The locals would place their left hand on the top of the fountain and then lean across using the right hand to brace themselves to then drink. There was a place on the right side that was completely worn down whereas the left side wear was very minimal.

(They used the "2 finger" system to measure their bricks)

(hahaha - warning sign for "Don't Fall Over"!)

Words really cannot describe the things we saw today. Here are a few pictures that we hope can do the job. We also took a video of our tour guide that we will have to show you at a later date. The man was crazy, but loads of fun.

(street signs: Pompeii style)

(Used to create steam in the bath house)

(great ancestors of Pompeii - haha)

(baking wells for flour at the town's bakery)

Ok, so Salvio is known world wide. He even has a statue errected in his honor in New York. He is known as Mr. Cornicello. Currently he is working on his Peace in the World tour. You can check him out on facebook at Mister Cornicello.

Dad (Keith)- here is a picture of a fruit slushy bar. These were the typical sizes of the lemons around the south of Italy. I snuck this picture in Pompeii but just imagine bigger and better looking for all those ones in Capri I was telling you about!

Josh- once again, I couldn't help but think of you. This is the souvenir we would have bought you if we had money. hahaha!

After Pompeii we headed back to Rome. Tonight we are staying at the Hotel Victoria. For the first time we actually have free internet, but it is not wireless. So we’re having to borrow a cord from another couple which is why we are blogging late. Sorry! The website for this hotel is

Tonight we had the Gala Dinner and Dance. It was fabulous. We got all dressed up and were, by the way, the most dressed up in our group. But we got a huge applause as we got onto the bus (almost last… running late as usual). They drove us out to a beautiful villa fairly close to the futbol arena in Rome.

We can’t remember the name. They passed out little pamphlets at dinner and we forgot ours. But they host weddings and parties here. Good thing we have already gotten married because this would have been our destination wedding location for sure. It was amazing. Jena – I took some pics in case you’re interested. Haha!

(Matt and Allan)

We started with cocktails and socializing.

(John and Jen, Allan and Jen, Matt and Hillary)

We tried caviar, fried zucchini, and even fried mozzarella balls. It was here that I took one bite of the mozzarella and hot liquid squirted across my face. I must have seemed like the biggest country bumkin because I just threw the mozzarella ball down as I yelped in agony. I can still feel the spot where it burned me. We actually ate with another Perillo group. We all agreed that we had a better group than them. They were much older and a bit more snoody than the people in our group. After drinks and lots of pictures we had dinner. White lasagna, pasta, and yummy fish. Desert was some type of soft ice cream with Grand Marnier and orange peel.

(L to R: Laura and Elenor, Raffela, Ronnie and Dave, Pat and Len)

(L to R: Phil and Shirley, Sandy and Lloyd, Michael and Isabella, Cheryl and Gena)

(L to R: Allan and Jen, Alan and Ruby, John and Jen, Delores and Ann, Hillary.
Not pictured: Matt)

After dinner we walked around the inside of the villa. We actually stole a picture of a Murano glass chandelier! Take a peek.

(An original look at the villa before renovations)

Then there was dancing. Matt and I snuck out back so we could have a moment by ourselves and dance while nobody was really looking. We didn’t want to embarrass ourselves, but I have to say… we did pretty good. It was really a very romantic moment. And then we found out people were watching us anyway and thought we were super cute. We also snuck off and took lots of great pictures. The musicians were the best I’ve ever heard. The singer was from Ohio originally and then came to Rome for 2 weeks 9 years ago and never went back. They were very interactive with the crowd and very entertaining. They sang lots of great American hits, “She’s a Lady”, Sinatra, and “New York, New York”. They also threw in a few Italian songs for good measure, “That’s Amore” and something like So long Rome maybe.. not real sure what that was called. It was just overall a great evening.

When we got back to the hotel several of us were not quite ready for bed yet, so we decided to go up to the hotel bar. It was Matt and I, Allan and Jennifer, John and Jen, Michael and Isabella, and Cheryl and Gena. We all had a drink and just sat and talked for another hour. We laughed and joked and told stories. We had such a great time with all of these people. We figured it was finally time to leave whenever the bar tender shut off the lights. We realized Sunday night is probably not the late night.

One more day to go. We’ve decided that the people on this tour are gonna be our vacation buddies forever. We can’t imagine anyone better to spend our time with (except for our families of course). We’re not ready to come home yet.