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Walking through the unearthed remains of a once thriving city, I couldn’t help feeling ominous. People lived and worked in Pompeii until that fateful day, August 24, 79 AD, when Mount Vesuvius erupted, dumping twenty feet of ash on the city, completely burying it. The city lay undisturbed and hidden until  1748 when it was accidentally discovered and later excavated. Today it is a must see on most bucket lists and I am pleased to be able to check it off mine. I remember learning about this disaster in elementary school and imagining the terror of the inhabitants. The feeling was still with me as I peered into the well preserved homes with original mosaics, shops, temples and gardens of the ancient Romans. Here is some of what we saw.

Mount Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius from the ship

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Original mosaic in a courtyard

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Public water fountain

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Public water fountains

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The forum

The forum

another mosaic

Another original mosaic

A bakery

A bakery

 

Mosaic and gardens of a wealthy homeowner

Mosaic and gardens of a wealthy home owner

Pompei, Italy

The Temple of Jupiter

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The dancing Faun

During the excavation, plaster was used to fill in the voids in the ash layers that once held human bodies. This allowed people to see the exact position the person was in when he or she died. Some of these macabre plaster casts were on display and drove home the horror of the catastrophe.

Pompei, Italy

Holding up a pillar in Pompeii, Italy

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Watching our steps as we traverse the uneven cobblestones

Walking along the old lumpy streets and dodging the many other onlookers was treacherous. One had to be careful, but I was pleased to be there, honouring the poor souls who lost their lives in one of the ancient world’s worst natural disasters.

I have since read the book, Pompeii, by Robert Harris. An excellent account of that fateful day from the point of view of an aquarius, someone who maintained the aqueducts. Having walked the streets, the book had special meaning to me.

Have you ever visited a place you had read about before? Did you feel the same when you actually saw it, as when you first learned about it?

 

Our trip to the province of Asturias in the Northern part of Spain was most enjoyable. We discovered this part of Spain is quite different from the Mediterranean coast where we live. As the plane descended we were amazed at the green rolling hills, scattered with red-tiled roofed, farm houses and dotted with cows in the fields. I thought perhaps we had arrived in Switzerland. Asturias is also well known for its dairy produce including excellent cheeses and yoghurt. It is a province of  varied landscapes, from the imposing Cantabrian mountains to the beaches and seascapes of the Bay of Biscay, with verdant meadows, quaint villages and historic cities in between. It was a visual smorgasbord for me.

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Christmas tree in our hotel, made of milk bottles, representing the prominent dairy industry

We stayed in Oviedo, the capital city. Our hotel was an easy 20 minute walk to the down-town and historic centre. We fell in love with the city immediately. It was just before Christmas and the city was well decorated for the season. The friendly people made us feel very welcome and proved to be extremely helpful  when we got lost. I was intrigued by the many bronze sculptures scattered throughout the pedestrian shopping areas.

The Traveler

The Traveller

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Statue of La Regenta by the Cathedral San Salvadore

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The sign on the building says AÑO 1679

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Madonna icon inside a church

We drove to Gijon, a seaside town with a Roman history where we found a great outdoor market and hubby did some Christmas shopping.

Another day we drove through the Picos Europa, a majestic mountain range with limestone structures, jagged peaks and deep gorges. The scenery was breathtaking. We passed medieval bridges, old churches,  raised granaries called “horreos”, and stone houses covered with reed used as shepherds huts called “teitos”. Horses and cows grazed in the meadows and goats scrambled on rocks as we sped past.

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Teito

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Horreo

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We stopped to get a closer look at an old church with a stork´s nest on top of the bell tower, a sign of good luck for the local parishioners.

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I was not surprised when I found a  book store in Oviedo called Cervantes.

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I also discovered that Oviedo is the starting point of the Original Way or Camino Primitivo  which was the first Camino route to Santiago de Compostela, in the 9th century as most of Spain was under Moorish control. You can imagine my delight when I found the clam shells embedded in the streets showing the way, as well as this sign.

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It was fun to see another part of this unique and diverse country and we plan to do more exploring.

 

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Ever since I saw the Colin Firth movie, A Summer in Genoa, I have wanted to visit Genoa, (Genova in Italian.) This was also my very first visit to Italy and was mesmerized by the tall pastel-coloured terracotta-roofed houses, amazing churches, and stately homes tucked away inside the narrow streets and alleys. The birth place of Christopher Columbus was the perfect introduction to Italy. Once again, we joined a walking tour of the historical centre.

The impressive Palace of St. George, built in 1260, greeted us as we stepped off the boat. The fresco depicting St. George, the patron saint of Genoa, is amazing.

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The Palace of Saint George

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Genoa is famous for two of my favourite foods, focaccia and pesto. We were treated to samples. I couldn´t resist purchasing a jar of pesto to take home. It was the best I have ever tasted!

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The early 13th-century San Lorenzo Cathedral has a black and white striped marble façade. The details above the door are incredible.

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Two sad looking lions guard the front door of the church

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Many small restaurants and cafes are hidden in the narrow  caruggi alleyways

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Piazza de Ferrari

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A typical street scene in Genoa

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Another impressive doorway

A stately home

A stately home

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Sipping a coffee at one of the many piazzas is a dream come true.

Genoa was everything I thought it would be and more. I am so glad I made it to this enchanting city.

More of Italy to come…..

The first stop on our cruise was Marseilles, France. This was my very first visit to France! Another dream come true. We took a bus to Aix-en Provence as we had heard so many wonderful things about this charming place, the home of Cezanne. We were not disappointed. The only problem was that we wanted more time to explore. What we did see we loved, and promised to return.

 

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Mont Sainte-Victoire, Cezanne´s favourite subject to paint, overlooks the city.

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The bakeries and pastry shops are mouth watering.

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A pleasant walk took us through the historic town centre with interesting architecture and stately houses

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At the town hall we witnessed a wedding about to take place.

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Carvings grace the outside of the impressive twelfth century St. Saviour´s Cathedral  built on the site of a former Roman forum

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Inside the dome of the cathedral

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Original frescos from the 12th century discovered in the cathedral

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Not surprising that we stumbled upon an artists´market

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Aix-en-Provence is famous for its many gorgeous fountains

Aix has a long and interesting history and has been an artistic centre and seat of learning since the twelfth century. We enjoyed a café au lait at one of the many outdoor cafés that Paul Cezanne, Emile Zola or Ernest Hemingway may well have frequented. My first visit to France was a favourable one and I can´t help but wonder why it took me so long to get there.

In light of recent events, I dedicate this post to the good citizens of France who are in my heart and in my prayers.

We started our wonderful Mediterranean cruise in Barcelona. Lucky for us, good friends from Canada were there at the same time, so we arrived a day early to spend time with them. We met our friends at a Starbucks right across the street from Casa Mila, one of Gaudi´s masterpieces. There I was treated to a pumpkin spice latte which made me very happy as I had been lamenting being left out this year. (there are no Starbucks coffee shops where I live.)

Who would have thought in 2015, I would be sitting across the street from an iconic building in Barcelona, sipping a pumpkin spice latte? Should this be a dream, please don´t wake me up!

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Casa Mila

Casa Mila designed by Antoni Gaudi

A short taxi ride took us to Park Güell. We had been to Barcelona once before and loved it. But we had not visited Park Güell, so we took the opportunity to explore this fascinating park created in 1900 by Antoni Gaudi. In order to preserve this heritage site, a limited amount of people are allowed into Monument Precinct, the main park area. Our ticket was for 1:30 so we had plenty of time to wander the lush gardens around the park and take in panoramic views from the top of the hill.

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Entrance to the gardens

Gaudi´s Sagrada Família from Park Gruell

Gaudi´s Sagrada Família from Park Gruell

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Art and nature

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Once inside the Monument Precinct, we were instantly mesmerized. There was so much to take in. The colours and fantastical designs were mind boggling. A combination of greenery and art amazed us at every turn. We sat on the famous ceramic bench, which was surprisingly comfortable. I read later that Gaudi had one of the workers take down his pants and sit on it to make sure it fit the human derrière perfectly.

Brightly coloured mosaic salamanders, whimsical houses fit for elves and fairies, gargoyles, and a mosaic clad ceramic undulating bench held up by 86 columns are just a few of the delights of Park Gruell. Everyone who visits can´t help but turn into an excited child in a fantasy land! (or maybe that was just me)

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The ceramic bench

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This mosaic salamander is the most photographed item in Barcelona!

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Hypostyle Room with 86 columns

Inside the Hypostyle Room

Inside the Hypostyle Room

small peices of broken tiles and ceramics, often taken from demolition sites were used to create the mosaics in the park

Small pieces of broken tiles and ceramics, often taken from demolition sites, were used to create the colourful mosaics.

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The Monumental Flight of Stairs, the ceramic bench is on top of the Hypostyle building.

Trying out the ceramic bench (with our pants on)

Trying out the ceramic bench (with our pants on)

The last stop of the day before boarding the ship was Gaudi´s Casa Batllo. Another fabulous house designed by the master architect for the Batllo family. The roof top with its fascinating chimneys is something else.

Casa Batllo

Casa Batllo

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Roof top of Casa Batllo

A bonus to see all this with good friends who brought us a year´s supply of Maple syrup. What a great start to our trip.

More to come…..

All photographs by Darlene and Paul Foster

I´ve been away! Yes, I took a vacation from retirement. Hubby and I went on a Mediterranean cruise and saw some amazing sights. We started with a day in Barcelona seeing the sites with good friends from Canada who happened to be there on a holiday. From there we boarded the fabulous ship, Fantasia. Our ports of call were, Marseilles in France (with a side trip to Aix-en-Provence), Genoa, Naples (with a side trip to Pompei) and Messina in Italy, and Valletta in Malta. A quick night time stop in Palma de Mallorca and back to Barcelona. Except for Barcelona, I had never been to any of these places before. It was incredible! I will write more about the individual stops, but for now here is a taste of what we saw.

Park Guell in Barcelona

Park Guell, Barcelona

Barcelona

Park Guell, Barcelona

Aix-en-provence, France

Aix-en-provence, France

Aix-en-provence, France

Aix-en-provence, France

 

Genoa, Italy

Genoa, Italy

Genoa, Italy

Genoa, Italy

 

Pompei, Italy

Pompei, Italy

Pompei, Italy

Pompei, Italy

 

Messina, Italy

Messina, Italy

Messina, Italy

Messina, Italy

 

Malta

Malta

Malta

Malta

 

Palma de Mallorca

Palma de Mallorca

 

Dinner on Fantasia

Dinner on Fantasia

We moved to Spain to be able to see more of Europe and so we did. It was another dream come true!!

 

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Our day trip to Villajoyosa ended with a stop at Santa Barbara Castle, overlooking the city of Alicante and the Mediterranean Sea. The very capable bus driver took us to the top of Mount Benecantil, 166 meters above the city, on a narrow, windy road. This was a large bus and we all held our breath as he barely made it through the castle entrance, built for horse and buggies.

The narrow entrance to the castle

The narrow entrance to the castle

Once there we had an hour to wander the castle and discover the history of Alicante on display in the museums throughout the castle. Archaeological remains from the Bronze Age, Iberian Age and Roman Times have been found on this site.

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I enjoyed climbing around the many levels, checking out the dungeons, chapel, guardroom, bastions and turrets. I loved the wrought iron warriors and archers strategically placed around the castle.

The dungeons

The dungeons

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The chapel ruins

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Watch out for the archers!

Watch out for the archers!

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Fascinating views of Alicante and the Mediterranean Sea

Fascinating views of Alicante and the Mediterranean Sea

This was fun for me as I visited this site a number of years ago and set a scene in Amanda in Spain in this very castle

kids posing with a warrior while dad takes a picture

Kids posing with a warrior while dad takes a picture

Another person posing for the camera.

Another person posing for the camera.

I can´t get enough of the rich history and fascinating castles around here.


Amanda in Alberta

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Amanda in Spain

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Amanda in England

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Amanda in Alberta

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Pig on Trial

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