Sunday, April 21, 2013

Trip to Europe

(Warning: this post is the length of a short novel)

I like to think of myself as a traveler, not a tourist. When we travel to new places, we try to avoid the cliche tourist traps and get off the beaten path to discover the true culture and history of the places we visit. However, doing this in Europe is difficult. You cannot go to Europe and just NOT visit the Vatican, Colosseum, Versailles Palace, Eiffel Tower, etc. It's practically a crime to humanity! So when we traveled to Europe this spring, we did our best to be travelers and not tourists, while still visiting all of the infamous sites we couldn't pass up. It was hard. Especially considering I probably blended in with the herds of Asian bus tour groups with their expensive cameras, fanny packs, and 100 year-old grandmothers being strung along. While many of these Asians ignored or were ignorant to social norms (e.g. don't cut in front of hundreds of people in an hour long line), I clung to my 6' 3'' Caucasian husband and tried to appear as "non-touristy" as possible. I even spoke a little french here and there...although it was mainly to ask people if they spoke English.

Aside from that, in the two week time period we had, we figured we could comfortably visit three countries. This would give us enough time to enjoy many of the sites, while not being too rushed. We decided to visit Italy, Vatican City (surprisingly its own country), Spain, and France. It was an unforgettable experience and I already want to go back! We took hundreds of pictures...nearly a thousand to be exact. What can I say??? It's Europe...and I tend to get carried away.


(Rome, Florence, Siena, San Gimignano, Pisa)

Italy was just as you picture it in the movies. The City of Rome is massive, yet it somehow feels cozy. It's easy to just get lost walking through the cobblestone streets and looking at shops and bistros. Many people walk to and from their destinations, and those that don't, generally use the metro or smart cars. I've never seen so many tiny cars in my life.  

When we first arrived in Rome, we checked into our first hotel called the Hotel Eden. It was so beautiful and antiquated. The entry way was all white marble and the fine furnishings and decor made me feel like I had stepped into a different time period. 


After checking into our hotel, the first site we visited was the Spanish steps. The Spanish Steps are a 135-step stairway designed by Francesco de Sanctis and Alessandro Specchi.

Above the Spanish Steps

Trinita dei Monti (church at the top of the Spanish Steps)

The Spanish Steps connect the Piazza di
Spagna (at the bottom) to the Piazza
Trinita dei Monti (at the top) where there
is a church.

Fontana della Barcaccia (known as the fountain of the
ugly boat) at the bottom of the stairs in the Piazza di Spagna
After seeing the Spanish Steps, we stopped to see the Trevi Fountain. I was not expecting it to be so massive and breathtaking. When we arrived to see it, it was dark and the fountain and all the sculptures were lit up and glowing. It was absolutely gorgeous and definitely one of my favorite sites throughout the trip. Jacob and I even tossed coins into the fountain and made wishes.
Fontana Di Trevi
The fountain at the junction of three roads (tre vie) marks the
terminal point of the "modern" Acqua Vergine" the revived Aqua
Virgo, one of the aqueducts that supplied water to ancient Rome.
In 19 BC, supposedly with the help of a virgin, Roman technicians
located a source of pure water some 8.1 mi from the city.
This scene is presented on the present fountain's façade. It
served Rome for more than 400 years.

When we walked around the corner and saw the fountain,
I was in total awe at its beauty. I'm so glad we got to see
it at night.

Making a wish!
We had our first Italian meal (pasta of course) and gelato that night. I kept telling Jacob how surprised I was at the simplicity of authentic Italian food. Whenever we ordered, we generally received plain artisan-style bread and homemade pasta with a small amount of sauce, and sometimes a little bit of meat. There were no side dishes or all you can eat salad and bread sticks (thanks a lot Olive Garden), and fruits and vegetables seemed nearly non-existent.  When I did order zucchini in my pasta once, I only got a few tiny pieces. The pasta was amazing, but after several days of that kind of eating, we were both craving fruits and vegetables. And of course the wine flowed in Italy...just not to our table. I think we shocked a few locals and other tourists when they found out we didn't drink alcohol. Most would have an expression of pity on their faces and with their heavy Italian accents, say something to the effect of, "I'm sorry" or "that's too bad," like we were telling them our dog had just died. I suppose to not partake of wine in wine country is a sacrilege. Nevertheless, we offered friendly smiles, explained that we were fine without it, and continued to drink our 5 euro bottles of water we were forced to order at every meal. The one thing I didn't ever quite figure out in Italy. Although they boasted that their water was clean and drinkable at every public fountain around the city, they never allowed you to drink water from the tap when dining. Still a mystery. Anyways, aside from the dinner dining, I have to say that I absolutely fell in love with all the pastry and gelato shops around every corner. Sometimes, it was fun just to look through the windows and see all the beautiful cookies, pastries, and other desserts sitting in the window. Their pastries are a work of art.

Our first Italian meal at a restaurant by the hotel

I ordered bucatini all'amatriciana. Yum!

Just one of many beautiful bakery and pastry shops in Italy.
I was dying to try an amaretti cookie, cannoli, and biscotti.

Vatican City

Shortly after arriving in Rome, we left Italy and traveled nearby to the smallest country in the world, Vatican City. Vatican city is a sovereign city-state. It is approximately 110 acres in size and has about 800 residents. This makes it the smallest internationally recognized state in both size and population. The current Pope, Pope Benedict XVI, is both head of state and the government in Vatican City.

Getting ready for our tour. It was so nice to have a headset
and radio to hear the guide speak over the other crowds.

Wooden model of Vatican City

Dome of St. Peter's Basilica

The small golden globe sitting atop St. Peter's dome is
symbolic of the belief that when the world ends, The Vatican
will be the only place left standing.

World within a world. If you spin it, one world rotates one way,
 while the other world rotates the opposite direction.


There were so many statues and sculptures at the Vatican.
We were told that if we were to stop and look at each
statue for 60 seconds, it would take 12 years to view
them all!

Emperor Nero's Tub (AD 37-AD 68)
30 foot red-purple marble tub made of imperial porphyry,
some of the most expensive marble in the world. It has been
said that the value of the tub is around $100 million USD.
As if the tub itself wasn't enough, Nero sought out luxury so
much that fresh water wouldn't do. So he also had his
architects add salt and sulfur waters to make a hot spring.

Cannot image the time and work it took to tile this
design by hand with such limited tools and equipment.
All the tiles are approximately 1/2 in x 1/2 in. Stunning.
Art involving nudity was once though of as pure. However, as time passed, Christian leaders began to see it as dirty and impure. We were told by our tour guide that one Pope (Pope Pius IX?) went around chopping off the private parts of the statues and ordering them to be scratched out of paintings. Pope Paul IV instituted the use of fig leaves for covering up immodesty. Fig leaves were chosen because of their use by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. I took a picture of this little statue to illustrate the addition of the fig leaf.

In one of the halls hung giant hand-woven tapestries. 
Each tapestry took approximately 9 years to make.  
Long hall with early paintings and maps of the world
The intricacy and complexity in every architectural detail
was unbelievable. Much of the gold that is seen is also
gold leafing.
Most of the rooms had every square foot
painted and adorned (including the ceilings)

Humanity instructor's dream!

Battle of Constantine against Maxentius
It depicts Constantine defeating his rival and
symbolizes the victory of Christianity over paganism

 Another painting depicting the fall of paganism
to Christianity. This one was on the ceiling.

Infamous School of Athens by Raphael

Heading up the 323 stairs to the dome of St.
Peter's Basilica.
Outside view of the dome

Cute little arched staircase that I just had to sit on

Inside the dome looking up

Inside the dome looking down

Outside of the dome looking down on St. Peter's Square

View of Vatican City

Coming down from the dome. As we ascended
and went up into the dome, the staircase
got gradually narrower and angled to fit the
shape of the dome. Not ideal for the claustrophobic.

St. Peter's Basilica ceiling

 We got to tour the Sistine Chapel, but were not allowed to take any photos out of reverence and respect. Here is a picture I found online. There were 9 scenes from Genesis painted on the ceiling, and the altar wall depicted  "The Last Judgement." We were told by our tour guide that Michelangelo often painted for 12+ hours/day by natural or candle light. Contrary to popular belief, he did not paint lying down. He built scaffolding that he moved around as needed to paint various parts. He did however work in very uncomfortable conditions and had to look upward and tilt his head and neck back in order to paint. You can only imagine the neck and back problems he had. He even wrote about them in a sonnet. 

"The man who always signed his name “Michelangelo, sculttore”, was also, in spite of himself, a painter. Although Pope Julius II tempted him to Rome with the prospect of a huge marble mausoleum, in fact, the Pope really needed someone to paint the entire ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo was appalled. He knew nothing about frescoes, and the ceiling spanned more than 3,200 square feet. He was convinced his enemies had recommended him for a job he could never complete. But Michelangelo could not refuse the demands of a Pope. In 1508 he began. The art of fresco was infamous for separating the great from the merely good. Michelangelo employed assistants for the most demanding work but sometimes would have to destroy a whole week's work and start again due to plaster drying or other imperfections. Drawing on his bitterness and frustration, Michelangelo crafted brilliance in four short years. He covered the ceiling with 300 figures and stories from the Bible, including the creation of Earth and the stars, the Great Flood, and the creation of Adam. His monumental figures were based on fragments of classical sculptures, and inspired by the perfection and beauty of the ancient world. The frescoes in the Sistine Chapel were arguably the greatest works of Renaissance art. As his career escalated, Michelangelo became a hard-nosed businessman and by the time of his death had become one of the wealthiest men in Italy.

In 1534 Michelangelo's childhood friend, Pope Clement VII, was dying. Desperate to make one last grand gesture, he summoned Michelangelo to complete his work in the Sistine Chapel. This was the perfect opportunity to express years of fear and resentment. Across the altar of the Sistine Chapel, he composed a vicious tableau of terror and pain: “The Last Judgement”. Michelangelo was no longer a friend to this Medici Pope. In 1530 the artist had cowered beneath the tombs he had built for the Medici cousins, as Pope Clement VII laid siege to Florence.  Michelangelo reflected on the horror and war the Medici had inflicted on Italy. When it was unveiled the altarpiece contained especially “shocking material”: it was full of nudes. To maintain requisite modesty a new artist was paid to cover the offending parts."

La Pieta. One of Jacob's favorites.

"This is probably the world's most famous sculpture of a religious subject. Michelangelo carved it when he was 24 years old, and it is the only one he ever signed. The beauty of its lines and expression leaves a lasting impression on everyone. With this magnificent statue Michelangelo has given us a highly spiritual and Christian view of human suffering. Artists before and after Michelangelo always depicted the Virgin with the dead Christ in her arms as grief stricken, almost on the verge of desperation. Michelangelo, on the other hand, created a highly supernatural feeling.
As she holds Jesus' lifeless body on her lap, the Virgin's face emanates sweetness, serenity and a majestic acceptance of this immense sorrow, combined with her faith in the Redeemer. It seems almost as if Jesus is about to reawaken from a tranquil sleep and that after so much suffering and thorns, the rose of resurrection is about to bloom. As we contemplate the Pieta which conveys peace and tranquility, we can feel that the great sufferings of life and its pain can be mitigated.
Here, many Christians recall the price of their redemption and pray in silence. The words may be those of the "Salve Regina" or "Sub tuum presidium" or another prayer. After Peter's Tomb, the Pieta Chapel is the most frequently visited and silent place in the entire basilica.
It is said that Michelangelo had been criticized for having portrayed the Virgin Mary as too young since she actually must have been around 45-50 years old when Jesus died. He answered that he did so deliberately because the effects of time could not mar the virginal features of this, the most blessed of women. He also said that he was thinking of his own mother's face, he was only five when she died: the mother's face is a symbol of eternal youth."

In order to select the marble that he wanted, Michelangelo "traveled to the marble  quarries at Carrara in central Italy to select the block from which to make this large work. The choice of the stone was important because he envisioned the statue as already existing within the marble, needing only to be "set free" from it. It was sculpted from 1498-1500 and established Michelangelo instantly as the greatest sculptor of his time."-Vescovo Buonarroti Art, LLC

Palpal Altar where only the Pope celebrates mass.
It was consecrated in 1594.
St. Peter's ancient tomb lies directly below it.

Cambio's bronze statue of Saint Peter.
People often touch Peter's right foot, as it
is believed to bring good luck.
Jacob even tried it out.

Wouldn't be Catholic without confession booths and nuns

Statue of Christ

List of Catholic Popes

Swiss guards still protect Vatican City.
Here they are at shift change. Love to uniforms.

Outside the Vatican

Beautiful columns lining St. Peter' Square

It just wouldn't feel like Rome without cathedrals,
bell towers, and pigeons.

Tired feet after a long day of site-seeing

The obelisk marks the center of St. Peter's Square.
It was originally from Egypt and brought to Rome
by Emperor Caligula in 37 A.D. It is also a sun dial.
It was a pagan solar symbol that was believed to aid
in communication between the pagans and the divine.
"As a pagan monument in the greatest Christian square,
it is a symbol of humanity reaching out to Christ. It
is topped by a bronze cross containing a fragment
of the true Cross."

While we were visiting, they were setting up chairs and
equipment to prepare for the Pope to speak the next day.

Cute little snack truck outside the Vatican

Confession: Here was our one true tourist transgression.
This restaurant/cafeteria was just outside the Vatican. So
you can imagine the hoards of tourists that eat here.
The restaurant was good, but extremely overpriced.
Two personal size pizzas and a can soda
set us back $58.00 USD.

After seeing Vatican City, we traveled back to Rome and visited the Colosseum, which was first named The Theatre of Pompey. This theatre was one of the first non-wooden permanent theatres built in Rome. During the republican era, it was a site used for senate meetings. It is also the infamous place of Julius Caesar's death. Fearing that his power was growing too much and he would soon be made King, Roman Liberators and senate members repeatedly stabbed him to death. Caesar was a brutal and bloody leader. In a book I am reading entitled, "Killing Jesus" Bill O'Reilly gives a historical account of the Romans during this time period. According to him, many of Julius Caesars's enemies would rather commit suicide, than suffer the punishments of being captured by the Romans. Caesar was responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of people and was accused of war crimes. The Romans methods of killing included hanging, burning alive, being put in a bag of scorpions and then drowned, being forced to jump from a high place in front of the public, and flogging and crucifixion. For this reason, the Theatre of Pompey was used to entertain and help distract the people from what was going on politically.

The Colosseum stood as a symbol of the majesty and strength
of the Roman Empire. It was a battle ground for gladiators
(some had volunteered, but most were slaves, criminals, 
or prisoners of war). In the arena, gladiators would battle
other gladiators or animals in a fight to the death.

View of the Roman Forum from the Colosseum

The Colosseum is currently under construction and repair.
It is nearly 2000 years old. It's amazing that it is still
standing after all this time.

They are also in the process of cleaning it.
You can see a noticeable difference before and after cleaning.
The right side of the pillar has been cleaned.

 Here you can see that the flooring has been torn up and the 
underground networks and tunnels are visible.  

Underground area beneath the Colosseum

Fellow travelers

I never knew that the Colosseum consisted of three
rings or layers that made up the surrounding structure.
Here you can see all three layers.

Colosseum by night
Jacob wanted to see the Colosseum at night. I, on the other hand,
didn't think it would be that different from seeing it during the day.
He was right though. It was cool to see it lit up at night.
Roman Forum
The Roman Forum contains remnants and remains from the some of the oldest and most important buildings in ancient Rome. It has been called the most celebrated meeting place of the world and in all of history. Also known simply as the "Forum," it was a rectangular plaza surrounded by important buildings. It was considered the nucleus or center of Roman public life. It was here, that elections, processions, criminal trials, and other public meetings were held. It was also surrounded by senate and government offices, temples, statues, and memorials. Right across from it, is the Colosseum


Burial site of Julius Caesar.
After his death, Julius Caesar was deified (given glorification
to be divine or god-like) by his adopted son (also his nephew),
Augustus, who was a man of many names:
1. Gaius Octavius
2. Octavius
3. Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus
4. Gaius Julius Caesar Divi Filius
5. Imperator Caesar Divi Filius
6. Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus
7. Augustus
(...and I thought I was indecisive)
Along with his deification, a temple, called the Temple of Caesar
was also erected as a place to worship Him. This site marks the
remains of the temple. It has also been said that during games
 in his honour, a comet was seen, which confirmed his divinity.

Temple of Romulus
After Romulus's death, he was deified by his father Maxentius
who had a temple built in his honor. Maxentius wanted
the best for his son. Each of the columns on the either side
of the door are made from the same porphyry used to build
  Emperor Nero's tub. Each column is estimated to be worth
more than $27 million USD! This temple was later used
as a Christian church.

Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
After the death and deification of Emperor Antoninus's wife
Faustina, he dedicated this temple to her. And after his own
death and deification, Marcus Aureliuus had the temple
re-dedicated and renamed after both of them.

Arch of Titus

The Arch of Titus was built by Emperor Domitian to
commemorate and honor his brother Titus and his victories
in battle. This arch has influenced the design of many
arches built after its time. Perhaps the most famous arch
modeled after it, is the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Done with the Colloseum and Roman Forum and ready to eat!
After we were done exploring, we asked our tour guide
for her opinion on where to eat. She told us that she loved
eating at the Jewish Ghetto. So, we found it on a map and 
navigated our way there with a few friends to eat lunch.

We found a fun little restaurant with tables outside.
All the tables were being occupied, so they set up another
table for us by the curb.

The pasta was so good!  I had zucchini carbonara.

Have to say....dessert was a bit odd. Tasted burnt and dry.

We met two amazing women on our tour of the Colosseum
and Roman Forum. Coincidentally, Diane and Linda are both
from Minnesota, and are nursing directors/supervisors.
Diane even works for Fairview (same company as me),
 just at another location. I couldn't believe it!
What are the odds?

After we finished lunch and were headed
towards finding the Pantheon, we saw this.
Still can't figure it out.

Had to give them money!

The Pantheon was a temple built during the reign of
Augustus and commissioned by Marcus Agrippa.
It was a temple dedicated to all gods. I was blown
away by how massive it was. There are 8 columns in
the front row and four behind on either side. Even after
2,000 years, it still remains in its original form and is
the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome.

Jacob looking up

The Oculus or the "eye" is a hole in the center of the dome
that allows rain to fall through and be carried way by drains.
The oculus is also used as the main source of natural light for
the Pantheon. Although is seems small, the oculus is 27ft
in diameter.

The circle in the center of the marble floor is where most of
the rain falls.

Raphael's Tomb
Other painters, composers, and architects are also buried here.

Random, I know. But we found it easier to just eat at a
Burger King late one night. All of the fast food restaurants
in Europe are super fancy with multiple levels, nice dining
furniture, and DIY ordering kiosks. We were impressed.

In my opinion, possibly the world's longest escalator.
You can't even see the bottom, because it goes on for so long.
I felt like we were going to burn up soon as we headed to
the earth's core.
After our adventures in Rome and Vatican city, it was time to say goodbye and head for Florence.
Although I loved Rome, I was looking forward to the open, countryside feel of Italy. Although the city of Florence itself contains over 370,000 people, the surrounding areas, showcase Italian countrysides, farmland, and vineyards.
My first train ride ever, heading from Rome to Florence

Our Hotel in Florence was beautiful

Green marble bathroom


Lounge area

After breakfast, the hotel would serve leftover croissants
and other pastries for free. Although we splurged on all our
hotels for this trip so that we could stay at nice places, we just
 couldn't bring ourselves to order room service or eat at the hotel
restaurant. One lowly single egg cost around $9 USD! Not sure if
they had a golden goose or what.  

Other side of the lounge area
I loved the decor and ambiance of this hotel.

Hotel entry way

Streets of Florence

Not sure what this signified, but there was
money attached all over this wall.

I fell in love with the music of this accordion
player. I felt like I was truly in Italy when
he would play. We had the privilege of
listening to him, while we stood in line
for the  Galleria dell'Accademia di Firenze,
which houses Michelangelo's "David."

David by Michelangelo
We were not allowed to take pictures of David inside the
museum, so I found one online. When we saw it, we were
in awe, both at its size (17 ft tall) and likeness to a human
body. There are many replicas of this statue, but the original
is unparalleled. Seeing it, was one of our favorite moments
on the trip. In person, the details are extraordinary. Every
curve of muscle, every bone, every vein, is so life-like.
The statue was built after David in the Bible.  

Florence Cathedral of Florence Duomo
The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore is the
main church in Florence. It is one of Italy's
largest churches and the brick dome is the
largest dome ever constructed.

The church's facade is 19th century Gothic and is made up of
panels of green, white, and pink marble.

Bell tower

We loved seeing all the unique doors when
we walked through the streets and alley's
of Florence. This one matched Jacob's shirt,
which is why I probably insisted I take a
picture of him by it.

Jacob found a fun little restaurant online that he wanted to try.
When I say little, I mean little. It had only 3 tables and was
the size of someone's walk-in closet. You can generally only
eat there by reservation. When one couple walked in late,
and their table was no longer available, they ended up eating
on a barrel. A charming couple owned the restaurant and did
all the cooking. Everything was handmade and homemade,
and they boasted about the quality of their ingredients.


We ordered lasagna and ravioli

Blueberry cheesecake

Arno River in Florence
After exploring a little bit of Florence, we took a day bus tour of the countryside and neighboring cities. We became such good friends with Diane and Linda (friends from the Colosseum) that we told them to sign up for our day tour group in Florence, seeing that they were headed to Florence anyways.We were able to meet up with them and join their group. We had such a fun day
exploring Siena, San Gimigano, and Pisa.
Our bus ride

First stop: Siena

Old hospital

Loved the clothes-line with laundry

Many of the wealthy people in Siena, intentionally choose to
have small living quarter and make the outside of their homes
unattractive, to avoid being robbed or broken into.

Siena Cathedral
Medieval Roman Catholic Church designed and created
between 1215 and 1263. The interior and exterior are
made up of white and greenish-black marble stripes,
with red added to the facade. Black and White are the
official colors of Siena, linked back to the city's
founders, Senius and Aschius.
The cathedral has the shape of a cross with a bell tower
and dome

View of the facade from the side
Amazingly ornate and intricate

Interior of the Siena Cathedral
I loved the black and white stripes everywhere. It was
very different from the design of many of the older
buildings and cathedrals we had seen.

Marble intarsia flooring with red, white, and green marble.
Normally the cathedral floor is covered with carpet to
 protect it from the many visitors. A few months out of the
year however, (from Aug-Oct) the whole floor is uncovered
and visible for people to view the marble works of art that
tell of biblical stories and allegories. The floors took
centuries to complete. When we visited, only certain
parts of the floor were visible.

I found this picture online revealing what the
floors look like when uncovered. Gorgeous.

Room inside the cathedral


Just in front of the Cathedral

One of many gelato shops in Italy

Fun food shop with cookies, pasta, oils, etc.

I loved seeing the countryside and vineyards. The views
were gorgeous.

2nd stop: San Gimignano 
After seeing Siena, we stopped at an organic farm and winery to tour and eat lunch. I'm not exactly sure which town it was in, but we could see the city of San Gimignano in the distance from where we ate, therefore we may very well have been on the outskirts of the city. The farm had acres of breathtaking vineyards and farmland. In addition to making wine, they also produce their own cheese and olive oil. Three staples in Italian cuisine.
Vineyard at the farm 

Cow that had just given birth

Her newborn calf

View from lunch

Excited to eat!

Our lunch was very simple. It consisted of artisan bread,
lettuce and olive oil, meat, cheese, and pasta. It
was a neat experience.

More views from lunch

Happy grazing cattle

Lemon tree
I've been growing a dwarf lemon tree for almost 3 years now,
and it's nowhere near producing fruit. This little tree gave me
hope that my lemon tree could become a smaller version of
this soon! 
We stopped at a Gelato shop in San Gimignano that is
considered by many to have the best gelato in Italy.

Lastly, we took a ride to Pisa to go see the leaning tower. The tower is simply the bell tower of the Cathedral of Pisa. Its lean is unintentional. When it first underwent construction, the foundation below it on one side was too soft and the tower began to lean. It continued leaning and tilting for the decades the cathedral was being built and was finally stabilized and partially corrected in the late 20th/early 21st centuries. 
Third stop: Pisa
We got to hop onto a fun little train to make our way to Pisa.

View during our train ride

Wall outside the Cathedral of Pisa

Cathedral of Pisa

Bell tower looking up

I knew the tower would be leaning, but when
 I actually saw it in person, I was surprised
at how tilted it really was!

Inside the cathedral

Jacob couldn't resist the cliche pose that one
has to do when visiting the tower.
I don't think the guy behind him could

After Pisa, we headed back to Florence to see a few more sites before heading to Spain.

We found great online reviews for a sandwich shop in
Florence. It was completely packed and the line to get in
was out the door and into the street. When we went in, it was
such bustle of noise, chaos, sandwich making and
Italian speaking that I just had the guy make a sandwich
of his recommendation for me.  

It had prosciutto, cheese, olive tapenade, and arugula among
other things. So good.

Jacob ordered his own sandwich (needed more meat) and
we sat on the curb to eat them. It was a fun lunch.

After eating, we headed up to one of the
highest points in Florence to see a few
more sites and get a glimpse of Florence
from up above.

When we got to the top, we could see the Florence Cathedral
and duomo.

Arno River and city of Florence

Replica of the David statue

Jacob looking down at Florence

San Miniato al Monte
The basilica was named after St. Miniato, an Armenian
prince that served in the Roman army. He was later
denounced as a Christian and became hermit. He was
persecuted and tortured for not sacrificing to Roman gods,
and at one point he even was thrown into an arena with a
panther, but emerged unharmed. He was eventually
beheaded by Emperor Deicus. Legend says, he picked up
his own head, crossed the Arno river, and returned to his
hermitage in the hill.  


Inside the basilica of San Miniato al Monte

One of my all time favorite pictures. When
we were standing outside, we saw a group
of nuns coming up the stairs. I thought this
women looked so beautiful in her white
attire. She even stopped and looked up as
I took her picture. Hope she didn't mind! 

Tombs and graves of the deceased

One of many mausoleums



After leaving Italy, we flew to Barcelona. Now, technically speaking, Barcelona is the capital of the autonomous community of Catalonia, which is an officially recognized nationality. For the sake of this blog however, let's just say we were in Spain. When we arrived, the first thing I noticed was how new everything looked. It was interesting going from such old cities and hotels to newer ones. The hotel in Barcelona was completely unlike the hotels in Rome and Florence. It was very contemporary and chic. I loved the design of the lounge and bar area!

Our room

Our bathroom

Obsessed with toiletries. Not sure why, considering I
usually use my own anyways.

Hotel Bar

Hotel Lounge

Hotel computer area
Our first major stop in Barcelona was at the Sagrada Familia. I was so excited to see this! I remember learning about the architect Antoni Gaudi, when I was an interior design major, and I developed a love for his designs early on. Needless to say, it ended up being one of my favorite sites that we visited. The Sagrada Familia is a Roman Catholic church designed by the Gaudi who was " of the outstanding figures of Catalan culture and international architecture. He was born in Baix Camp, but it was in Barcelona that he studied, worked and lived with his family. It is also in the city that we find most of his work. He was first and foremost an architect, but he also designed furniture and objects and worked in town planning and landscaping, amongst other disciplines. In all those fields he developed a highly expressive language of his own and created a body of work that speaks directly to the senses."

The Sagrada Famlia is still under construction. Although it was commissioned in late 1883 and occupied Gaudi's entire professional life, he knew that it wouldn't be complete in his lifetime. " he organised it and the construction so that it could be carried out following his ideas. He programmed the construction, not building all the walls to the same level at the same time but in complete parts(façades, naves of the interior and towers), so that each generation would be the protagonist of one part. He defined the project as a whole on ground plans, sections and elevations and specified important parts in scale plaster models that defined the project in detail and had to serve as models for other parts; for example, the 1:10 scale model of the main nave was used for its construction, but also for the definitive project of the vaults of the crossing and of the apse, defined generally in the sections. Moreover, he explained the project to his associates and various young architects. To help with the interpretation and the construction, on the project he only used geometrical forms and established all the laws of the relation between them. Geometry has made it possible to discover the original project and orient the process of the rest of it and of the construction."   

Gaudi drew architectural inspiration from nature:
 trees, fruit, plants, seashells, etc. and his designs
were very organic and natural

When the Sagrada Familia is complete, it will have 18 towers:
12 dedicated to the apostles, 4  dedicated to the evangalists,
one dedicated to Jesus, and one dedicated to Mary.
The Sagrada Familia has four facades: the nativity facade, passion facade, glory facade, and apse facade. Each facade symbolizes Catholic beliefs. The nativity facade is symbolic of the birth and life of Christ. The passion facade depicts the crucifixion and death of Christ. The glory facade symbolizes the creation and order of man, and the apse facade is consecrated in devotion to Mary.
Part of the passion facade. It was intentionally
designed to lack the intricacy and beauty found
in other facades such as the nativity facade
shown later.

When you walk inside of the Sagrada Familia, you're in awe
over its beauty and uniqueness. You will never see
anything quite like it. It is breathtaking.  

Resembles a seashell or mollusk

Gaudi believed from both a physical and spiritual
perspective, that just as darkness can be blinding,
so can too much light. Therefore, the Sagrada
Familia was designed to allow in the perfect
amount of light. The room just seems to glow
when you're in it.

You can clearly see how Gaudi's inspiration from nature
is apparent in his designs. The columns look like trees
that branch upward toward the ceiling.

When you look up, you feel as though you're under a forest

The stained glass windows were stunning.
"The main window of the transept of the Passion façade represents the resurrection, the stained glass of the sides and the main nave will symbolise the saints and shrines linked to the local church represented on each column. The upper stained glass windows of the side naves will illustrate Jesus" words "I am the way, the truth and the life", "The resurrection", etc. The stained glass windows in the central nave will have no colour and will be made with plain, translucent or opaque glass to symbolise purity, and to allow the maximum amount of light to enter the interior."

"The ceilings of the central nave, seen from the interior, will be crowned by aedicules that will provide support for lights with the initials of the Holy Family. Five thick parabolic shields, placed on either side, will have "Amen" and the words of praise "Al", "le", "lu", "ia", broken up into syllables, written on them."

The Ascension of Christ

Another view of the ceiling

The organ in the Sagrada Familia has 26 stops and 1492 pipes 

The nativity facade celebrating the birth and life of Christ

Inside we were able to learn a little about how nature
influenced Gaudi's designs

Listening to tour info on his headphones

Hanging model of the Sagrada familia

Larger model of how the completed model will look
After visiting the Sagrada Familia, we visited another famous building designed by Antoni Gaudi called the Caso Batllo (pronounced: cah-so bye-yo). The Caso Batllo was a house built by Gaudi between 1904-1906 commissioned by Josep Batllo, hence the name Batllo's house. The Caso Batllo is in the heart of Barcelona and is an iconic landmark. Although it was once a house, it is now a museum open to visitors and travelers. Josep Batllo married miss Amalia Godó Belaunzarán. Amalia came from an esteemed family, and Josep was a well-known textile industrialist and prominent business man in Barcelona. Once they married, Josep and Amalia wanted an innovative and unique house unlike any of the other Batllo clan. Therefore they hired the designer of Park Guell (and the Sagrada Familia) Antoni Guaid. They did not limit Gaudi's artisitic creativity in any way and wanted him to come up with a daring plan.
Facade of Caso Batllo from the street

Both the interior and exterior showcase Gaudi's signature
design and inspiration he drew from nature. The staircase
railing resembles the vertebrae of a spine.

There were no square walls or windows. Everything
had an organic shape.

Stove or fireplace

Unique door

Whirlpool-like ceiling

Loved all the bright colors

Jacob listening to the tour headset as we
went from room to room

And you thought changing your ceiling light was hazardous.
Try changing this one without getting impaled.

After going up a level or two you can come out on a landing
or patio and look up at the back side of the Caso Batllo

Tiled landing or patio

Gaudi fence, not a penitentiary

Once inside, you can also view parts of the outside of the house
on your way up or down the staircase. It looks like we're outside
looking up, but we were on the staircase heading to the next floor.

Naturally, most people have sculptures like this on their roof

Needed a picture inside this doughnut hole thing

Eaves dropping on the neighbors

Small sculptural building and room on the roof

Back in the main house there was this cool room that
reminded me of walking through a rib cage

Loved the metallic scale-like wall

Unique furniture
After we toured the Caso Batllo, we went to a restaurant for our first real Spanish meal. Tapas!

Just to clarify, tapas are small plates or meals ,
and people often purchase several to share
and/or get a variety of different foods. (We've
known people who were upset after going to
a tapas bar because the plates were so small).
Jacob and I first ate tapas at a restaurant in
Costa Rica; but these tapas were a bit different.
It was fun to order several things on the menu
and get to try different dishes. Good idea to
pack some tums though, because heartburn
is inevitable.

In the metro station, I saw this gigantic beverage vending
machine that I just had to take a picture of.

You can't travel to Spain and not have chocolate
of some sort. It's practically the birthplace of chocolate.
It was cold and rainy the first day or two we were
there, so I ordered some hot chocolate.


Walking the streets of Barcelona

We made it to the Picasso Museum in the nick of time. I literally
think we were the last two they let in. The remainder of people
in line had to leave. We had to go that day, because the next
day was a holiday and it would be closed, not to mention, we
were leaving. I don't think we took any pictures because we
were in such a hurry. But it was neat to see some of Picasso's
earlier works and watch him get more progressively abstract
as we began adopting new painting techniques.
I found some pictures online to illustrate my point.



 This painting is a replica of one of my favorites
of Picasso that I saw in the museum

Another tapas restaurant

Typical women's dish...

....and a typical man's.
Unfortunately, Jacob feel slightly ill after this meal.
I think it may have ruined tapas for him forever.

After visiting the Sagrada Familia, Caso Batllo, and Picasso Museum, it was time to get outdoors  ad  explore. We went to Montjuic, which is a hill in Barcelona that overlooks the harbor and some of the city. The name Montjuic is Catalan for "Jew Mountain." We took a short ride to the base of the hill and walked up to the top.

Short ride to the base of the hill

Our hike up the hill

Castle grounds

The grounds were so green and beautiful

The Montjuic castle is a military fortress that was built around
1640. It was used in 1641 when Barcelona challenged Spain
in the Catalan revolt. Although Spain crushed the revolt,
the Catalans rebels won the Battle of Montjuic. 

I thought it was neat how this metal cross,
when reflected in the mirror, appears as
the Star of David.

Open court

It was so rainy and windy at the top of the castle that Jacob
and I went from corner to corner seeking refuge in the small
lookout towers. 

Military weapons

View of the harbor from atop the hill

We could even see the enormous cruise ships at port.

There's something about military fortresses, lookout towers,
and cannons, that makes you want to play Battleship.
B8. Sunk!

Yachts at port

Zoomed in view of the Sagrada Familia from the Castle

My poor Hilton Hotel umbrella took a beating from the wind.
It actually bent, broke, and did the Mary Poppins thing
where it flipped inside out and tried to carry me away.

Cable car ride down

I really wanted to attend a ballet, opera, or play while we were in Italy or France, but we were unable to find one that coincided with the days that we were traveling. So, the next best thing was to find a smaller local performance. We looked up performances in Barcelona and came across some highly rated flamenco dancers at a small club in the city. We went there that night for a performance.
Walking around, trying to find the club

The club was called Tarantos and it had a live band
to accompany the flamenco dancers.

The flamenco performance consisted of only
one male and one female dancer. I was
expecting a large group of them, but was not
disappointed. Their dancing and footwork
were amazing! I couldn't believe it.  

Watch I bought at a mall in Barcelona. We also went to
Iron Man 3 at a movie theater there. The movie was in
English with Spanish subtitles.
On the last day of our visit to Barcelona, we went to the beach. It was fun to walk around and see the restaurants, stores, and boats lining the harbor. Fortunately, the weather that day was sunny and beautiful.

Beautiful sandy beach

We had to at least dip our feet in the water.
It was cold! I don't think there were many
swimmers that day. There were some surfers,
but they were wearing full wetsuits.

Before we left I just had to try some gazpacho. I had had
it before in the states, but wanted to try it here, since it
originated in Spain. It was very refreshing.


(Paris, Versailles)

Our last stop was in France. I have wanted to travel to France since I was a little girl. If you ask my parents, they'll tell you that from the time I was a young I wanted to be a frenchie. I took classical ballet lessons from a french teacher for many years. My parents also bought me berets, french cassette tapes, french movies, and I even took french classes in high school and college. So, when I finally got the chance to travel here, it was a dream come true!
The Laduree is world-known for their macaroons. They have several shops in Paris, and I wanted to visit one during our trip, but the stores were too far away from everything else we were doing. We would have to travel by foot and going to the nearest shop would take 40 min one way. Luckily, I found a little stand in the airport in Paris. I ordered a couple of different
flavors to try. 

Raspberry Macaroon

Our hotel was the Renaissance Vendome Hotel in Paris. The inside is beautiful, and is designed so well that it inspires you to want to re-design and decorate your own home. It's modern but warm.

Another view of the hotel lobby

Our room

The hotel is a Marriott hotel, so as usual, there were Books of Mormon in the nightstands.
I have this exact copy in french at home.

The first night we stayed, there were people partying outside our room and at a pub across the street. It was so loud, that we hardly slept. We requested to move rooms, and were moved to a room with an outdoor patio.

We, of course, never had time to use it, but it was nice to look at!

Only in France will you find Bvlgari toiletries. I looked these up online and regular size Bvlgari shower gel is $42.00 and the body lotion is $50.00. Definitely took these with me.

Outside of the hotel
After quickly dropping our luggage off at the hotel, we hurried to Eiffel tower to meet our bike night tour group. Come rain or shine, the Flat Tire bike tour groups run. Luckily, we had ponchos.

Getting ready for our tour. The leader of our tour group was hilarious. We loved him. Beforehand, he taught us all the biker lingo and terminology we needed to know to safely navigate our way through Paris traffic. Jacob was the designated caboose at the end to make sure everyone else made it safely along. We only got honked and yelled at a few times.

Palais de Justice or Palace of Justice
Although it was a former royal palace, from the 16th century to the French Revolution, the Palais de Justice was the seat of the French Parliament. Next to it is the Conciergerie, which was a prison during the French Revolution. Marie Antoinette was held there before being beheaded.
We had some really fun people in our tour group. Some were from the U.S., while others were from as far away as New Zealand. It was fun to meet new people and hear their stories. I was surprised that throughout our trip, we met several young people who were just traveling alone and going from country to country, some with no real plans in mind. Although I admire their courage, I'm not sure it's the safest way for a young woman to travel. Not after seeing the movie "Taken" anyways. Kidnapping and human trafficking? No thanks!

Next we stopped at the Pont des Arts. Paris is not only the city of light but also the city of love. Here at the bridge, lovers from all over the world bring love locks to initial and hang on the fence. Then they throw their key into the Seine river below to memorialize their love. We didn't bring a lock though, because Jacob told me that the Parisians hate the locks and the look of the fence.

No idea who Dan and Lisa are,...but may their love live on!

The Pont des Arts is linked to the Institut de France or the French Academic Association and the central square of the Palais du Louvre or Louvre Palace

Over by the Pont des Arts and the Notre Dame is the infamous Berthillon ice cream. I have friends that have suggested this ice cream and have even seen it featured on an episode of Giada at Home on the Food Network. It's gotten rave reviews, so it was no wonder our bike tour group stopped here, even though it was cold and rainy.

Next, we stopped to see the outside of the Palais du Louvre and the glass pyramid during our bike tour

Another view of the Palais du Louvre

In 1984 the President of France commissioned the architect I.M. Pei to design the glass and metal pyramid which is approximately 70 ft tall and 115ft long at the base on each side. There has aesthetic been controversy over the addition of the pyramid as some believe it looks too modern and out of place. However, others feel that it combines and merges the perfect balance of old and new. There is also an urban legend that the pyramid contains 666 glass panes, which signies "the number of the beast" or satan. History recalls however, that the President never specified the number of glass panes to be put into the pyramid, and although early brochures and newspapers stated that the structure would have 666 panes, the Musee du Louvre states that the pyramid actually has 673, which can also be verified by math. The legend again resurfaced in 2003 when Dan Brown mentioned it in his book "The DaVinci Code."

During our bike tour, we got to park our bikes and board a boat to float down the Seine. This was my absolute favorite part, because while we got to know the people in our group and make new friends, we also got to see the Eiffel Tower close up as it sparkled!

From the boat, we could also see the Notre Dame de Paris

"It was at the 1889 Exposition Universelle, the date that marked the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, that a great competition was launched in the Journal Officiel. The wager was to "study the possibility of erecting an iron tower on the Champ-de-Mars with a square base, 125 metres across and 300 metres tall". Selected from among 107 projects, it was that of Gustave Eiffel, an entrepreneur, Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier, both engineers, and Stephen Sauvestre, an architect, that was accepted. The first digging work started on the 28th January 1887. On the 31st March 1889, the Tower had been finished in record time – 2 years, 2 months and 5 days – and was established as a veritable technical feat."

Picture from

Seeing the Eiffel Tower was one of, if not my absolute favorite memory from the trip. I was worried it may be overrated and not what I had expected, but it wasn't. When we floated by, it was stunning. It only lights up and sparkles at night for 5 minutes at the top of each hour, and when it does,'s absolutely magical!

One of my favorite pictures from the trip 

This is a super blurry picture, but I wanted to add it because we met this amazing girl on our tour who was traveling alone.
The next day we walked across the street from our hotel to the see the Tuileries Garden. Afterward, we walked down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees and visited the Arc de Triomphe, Luxembourg Gardens, and the Notre Dame Cathedral.

We were lucky, because our hotel was right down the street from the Jardin des Tuileries or Tuileries Garden. It was originally the garden of the Tuileries Palace, but became a public garden after the French Revolution. In the 1500s, Queen Catherine de Medicis moved to the Palais du Louvre, but later decided she wanted to build herself a palace separate from the Louvre with its own garden. At the time, there was a space of land by the Seine that was occupied by tuileries, or workshops, that made roofing tiles. It was here the Queen Catherine decided to build her palace and her garden. Hence the Jardin des Tuileries.

Since tulips are my favorite flower, it's no wonder I love the French so much!

Jardin des Tuileries grounds

I thought these flower boxes were so quaint

Place de la Concorde in Paris

Luxor Obelisk
This 3,300 year old 75 ft pink granite twin obelisk was originally located in front of the Luxor Temple in Egypt. It was offered by the Egyptians as a gift to the French. In 1836 King Louis-Philippe had it placed in the Place de la Concorde (Paris' largest square), where it currently stands as a symbol of peace after the French Revolution. The Luxor's twin still remains in Egypt in from of the Luxor Temple.

Fontaine de la Concorde
In the city square Place de la Concorde, there are two fountains. One is on the south side and one is on the north side. The south fountain commemorates maritime industry and commerce and the north fountain commemorates navigation and commerce on the French rivers.

In the city square people could pay to drive some very expensive cars for a few minutes. If Jacob and I hadn't already driven a Ferrari at a friends house a while back, we may have considered it. Jacob loves fast cars!
We walked down the Champs-Elysees, one of the most famous and most expensive real estate streets in the world. Aside from the Arc de Triomphe and Place de la Concorde that are on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, there are also specialty shops and stores.

The Champs-Elysees is beautiful in the Spring.
There are flowers and fountains along the street
before you reach the busier strip of stores and shops.

Cake shop
I loved looking at all the gorgeous cakes in the window

After walking down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees we ate lunch at a French cafeteria-style restaurant. They had a huge assortment of salads, breads, meats, pasta, and desserts. The food was good, but my dessert was the best!

This little treasure was the best dessert I ate in Europe, believe
it or not. It was a strawberry tart with pastry cream and fresh
glazed strawberries. When it took a bite of it, I almost died
and went to heaven.
 After we finished lunch and I got over the how good my strawberry tart was, we walked over to the Arc de Triomphe.
The Arc is modeled after the Arch of Titus in Rome and stands in honor of those that died in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.

The names of French generals and French victories are inscribed on the surfaces of the Arc.

Doesn't this boutique window display epitomize what you think
of as French? I think so. It's so lovely and dainty.
Next, we headed towards the Luxembourg Gardens to stroll through the grounds and enjoy the beautiful landscaping.

In 1611, another of the Medicis family members (Marie) purchased what was once the Hotel du Luxembourg and began construction on a palace. Today, the Luxembourg Palace now houses the French Senate.

The garden or park is the 2nd largest in Paris.

Beautiful tulips

It was relaxing to just sit in the garden and enjoy the beautiful weather and people. There are statues of queens and saints, fountains, flowers, orchards, a vintage carousel, and at times, free music. The garden is known for its serene and relaxing atmosphere.

Children also push model sailboats around in the fountain

Boy running to his boat

In front of the Luxembourg Palace

Little food stand in the park where we purchased a crepe

Lastly, we visited the Notre Dame Cathedral, where they were celebrating their 850th anniversary.

Man feeding pigeons

The Notre-Dame de Paris (French for "Our Lady of Paris") is a Catholic cathedral that is known world-wide for its fine example of French Gothic architecture and is one of the largest and well-known religious buildings in the world. It is famous for being one of the first buildings to use flying buttresses in its design. In the 1790s much of the religious imagery was damaged during the French Revolution. An extensive restoration begin in 1845. The story of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo (also the author of Les Miserables) also takes place here.

While we were waiting in line we decided we needed a snack. I had Jacob bring me back a croque-monsieur. I remember learning about them in French class and thought I needed to try one. It's basically a ham and cheese sandwich with bechamel sauce. If you add a poached or fried egg to it, it goes from a Mr. (monsieur) to Mrs. (madame) and
becomes a croque-madame.

It was really good! Although you can't really go wrong with
bread, ham, bechamel, and lots of cheese!

Inside the cathedral

Beautiful stained glass windows

After taking pictures at the back, we saw a sign that said that no pictures were allowed past a certain point towards the front the chapel. So we went and sat down in a pew in the front row to look around and observe. We soon realized that we were surrounded by a group of people attending what I think was mass. We joined in, listened, and attempted to sing hymns we didn't know in French. I somehow think we actually blended in, because an older lady next to me kept speaking to me in French like I was any other church goer. Jacob and I thought she was funny, because prior to mass beginning, a pigeon kept flying in and landing near where the priest would be. We saw her tell the cathedral workers several times about the pigeon, obviously and visibly upset and concerned. 
The last day we were in France, we visited the Musee du Louvre and the Versailles Palace. We could have spent an entire day in the Louvre museum, but we only had a couple of hours. Therefore, we thought it would be best to find the art we really wanted to see on a map and see those things first.

The Louvre contains over 380,000 displays and objects and over 35,000 works of art. It has 8 departments that occupy 652,000 square ft. It is so massive, that it has 2,000 employees. It contains sculptures, drawings, paintings, archaeological finds, and other works of art.

The 8 departments include: Egyptian antiquities, Near Easter antiquities, Greek/Etruscan/Roman antiquities, Islamic art, Sculptures, Decorative Arts, Paintings, and Prints and Drawings. We spent a lot of our time in the Egyptian rooms (there are 20 of them). The ancient artifacts and archaeological pieces were so fascinating. We had already seen so many European paintings and sculptures, that it was nice to have a change. The Egyptian collection is made up over 50,000 pieces, some of which date back to 4,000 BC!
Large Sphinx
This sphinx that guards the entrance dates back to 2000 BC.

Ancient papyrus writings


Ancient pottery and dishes



I think these are utensils. I love how the handles are carved into birds.

Couldn't resist

Family of sphinxes

Can't even imagine how heavy these are

I Love that the Egyptians loved cats. I think Jacob may be part
Egyptian at heart. He's even suggested having our cat Bella
stuffed by a taxidermist after she dies.

Mummified cats

Venus de Milo
Sculpted around 100 BC by the Greeks, it is believed to depict Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty.
Her arms the original plinth (base of the statue) were lost after it was discovered in 1820 buried in the ancient ruins in Milos.

I thought it was interesting that the museum ceilings and walls were so adorned
and lavish until I remembered that the museum was formerly a royal palace.

Not sure what this one is called, but it looks like my
laundry room when I let it pile up too much

Napoleon painting

The Raft of Medusa painting

The Coronation of Napoleon
This is a famous painting depicting the Consecration of Emperor Napoleon and coronation of Empress Josephine in the Notre-Dame Cathedral. It is supposedly the 2nd largest painting in the Louvre.

Winged Victory of Samothrace
This statue represents the goddess of victory ("Nike" in Greek) as she stands strongly on the prow of a ship
with her garments blowing in the wind. It illustrates action and triumph as well as beauty. The statue dates back to 2nd century BC and is one of the most famous and celebrated sculptures in the world.

Mona Lisa by Leonardo DiVinci
Thought to be a painting of Lisa Gherardini in the early 1500s, the Mona Lisa is perhaps the most famous and well-known work of art in the world. One reason it is so famous is because it revolutionized modern portrait painting.

Glass panes in the pyramid

Outside the Louvre

After going to the Louvre we traveled by train to our last stop, the Versailles Palace and gardens.
Not sure what this building was, but I thought it was cool.
It looks large, but compared to the Versailles Palace down
the street, it could be guest house.

Before our tour we found a sandwich place to eat lunch at

At the entrance to the palace is a statue of King Louis the XIV.
He was known as "Louis the Great" or the "Sun King." He
reigned for over 72 years, which makes him the longest ruling
monarch in a major European country. During his reign,
France was the major European power and fought in three wars.

The palace began as Louis XIII's hunting lodge, until Louis XIV took over, expanded it, and moved the French court and government there. Three kings resided there: Louis XIII, Louis XIV, and Louis XV, and each additional king made improvements to the palace up until the French Revolution.

The golden gate at the Versailles Palace was torn down and destroyed during the French Revolution. It was designed, rebuilt, and inaugurated in 2008. It took over 2 years for experts to replicate and construct the wrought iron, gold-leafed gate.


Since Louis XIV was considered the "Sun King," it's only natural that his
palace would be referred to as "Le Palais du Soleil" or "The Palace of the Sun."

Model of the grounds and gardens

The French believed that man must have control of nature.
Hence the perfectly manicured and shaped shrubs, bushes,
trees, and flower beds

After seeing The Vatican and palaces,
I find it funny that nowadays, it's hard to even find a
 house with simple crown molding.

King Louis' Bedroom
One of many

Hall of Mirrors

"Overlooking Versailles Park, the Hall of Mirrors is the biggest room in the Palace of Versailles. It owes its name to the seventeen mirror arches facing seventeen windows overlooking the Park. Each arch contains twenty-one mirrors with a total of 357 in the spectacular Hall of Mirrors. The Hall of Mirrors was the grandiose setting for 17th and 18th century royal ceremonies."

Looking out the window at the park

The gardens at Versailles were the most beautiful that I've seen.

Head statue of Marie Antoinette

Dining Room


Court yard

After touring the palace, we went outside the walk through
the garden and park

The king of gardeners, Andre Le Notre, designed the gardens at Versailles. Born into a family of king's gardeners, Le Notre designed some of the finest gardens in the 17th century. He was summoned to Verailles by King Louis XIV in 1662.

 "At Versailles, Le Nôtre refined his gardening concepts: the principal walks cut by secondary walks surrounding the groves; trellises and tree-covered archways formed vast walls of greenery that emphasized the perspectives; side or winding paths led to the groves in order to ensure the surprise of the spectator; original decors and water effects contrasted with the rigorous symmetry of the wooded masses. Using all the resources of water, Le Nôtre created a play on shadow and sunlight by alternating shady places (groves) with clearer areas (parterres). The parterres and principal walks were flanked by statues and clipped yew hedges in the most surprising shapes which make Versailles a key centre of the topiarist’s art."

Enjoying one last sit

We had our favorite meal of the entire trip in Paris at a restaurant recommended by our hotel concierge. Jacob and I still talk about the dishes we ordered. It wasn't the fanciest restaurant we've ever been to, but the food was outstanding. We learned that the executive chef had worked in a Michelin star restaurant before coming to work there. It was no wonder the food was amazing!

Crab croquettes with an avocado puree

Jacob ordered a pan seared chicken and roasted new potatoes
in a cream sauce. He still jokes about how he wanted to lick the plate.

I ordered hake fish with ratatouille. Being a lover of vegetables
this dish was right up my alley.

Chocolate mousse

Creme brulee

Jacob found these Lu cookies in a vending machine in France. He had had them when a friend brought some to work and he had me try them. They are so good. They taste sort of like a graham cracker or short bread cookie with chocolate. At the end of our trip, in the Paris airport, we bought several boxes to take home with us.
We then headed back to the U.S.
 It was sad to leave but good to be home again.
Until our next visit, ciao, adeu, and au revoir Europe!

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