We Relived the Past in Segovia

“People forget years and remember moments.” ~ Ann Beattie

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Segovia Aqueduct

Our tour through Spain began in Madrid where we parted towards Segovia, which was our first stop. Segovia is a small town located in the northwest of Spain. It is home to the monumental Segovia Aqueduct, Alcazar of Segovia Castle, Segovia Cathedral (Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de San Frutos), San Miguel Parish, the Saint Martin Church (Iglesia San Martin), as well as many other Gothic style churches.

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Just solid blocks with no mortar – it makes me wonder…

The aqueduct was one of the most impressive sights I’ve seen. It is about 2,950 feet long, 94 feet high and has about 160 arches. It was built by Romans using solid blocks with no mortar to hold them together with other than balancing force. The curiosity of how this huge monument is still standing kept us studying the aqueduct from corner to corner. It still carries water from the Frio River to the town of Segovia and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Segovia Aqueduct is a must in Spain. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

The Segovia Cathedral (Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de San Frutos), is a Gothic style Catholic Cathedral in the Plaza Mayor. Its construction began in the 16th century (1525) and it was one of the last gothic style church constructions in Europe. It’s a beautiful architecture inside and out. We also visited the “Iglesia Parroquial San Miguel” and “Iglesia San Martin”

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Segovia Cathedral (Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de San Frutos)

The San Miguel Parish is in Calle Infanta Isabel in the Plaza Mayor of Segovia. It was first located in the center of the plaza. But it was demolished in 1532 to enlarge the Plaza Mayor and the church was built on its current location in Calle Infanta.

The San Martin Church is a national monument and one of the most emblematic medieval temples. It stands in the heart of the tourist area in Calle Real, between the aqueduct and the cathedral.

Every now and then during our walk through Segovia and various areas in Spain, we came across an emblem of a conch shell. According to what we read, it is a sign of the routes for Camino de Santiago. The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage that dates back to the 9th century with its final destination to be the “Catedral de Santiago de Compostela.” This pilgrimage is something we’d like to do.

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Camino de Santiago’s emblem

The Alcazar Castle is at the very top of a cliff in Segovia. It was built before the early 12th century. The Alcazar Castle has served as a fortress, a royal palace, a prison, a royal school of artillery and a historical military archive. It is now a museum and designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Segovia is a beautiful city with narrow streets which are lined up with local shops, restaurants, and cafés. Just walking the streets visiting the small shops and sitting outside admiring the immense aqueduct while sipping a cup of coffee or looking at the spectacular views was such a delight. We visited Segovia during the month of October, which was great because there were not too many tourists. I look forward to visiting the beautiful city of Segovia again.

Have you visited Segovia or have you done the pilgrimage El Camino de Santiago? If so, what are your thoughts? If not, is it in your bucket list? It should be.

Camino de Santiago
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Traveling Is Like a Breath of Fresh Air Which Expands Our Mind

“Travel opens your heart, broadens your mind, and fills your life with stories to tell.” ~ Paula Bendfeldt

Welcome to 2019! If you’re reading this it’s because you are one of the many lucky people who was granted another day on this wonderful Earth. So, where are you traveling to this year? What country or city piques your curiosity? What is your dream destination?

It is important for everyone to take a week or two, or just a few days, to unwind and release the tension of the everyday stressful routine. Everyone deserves a vacation. However, I’ve come across a lot of people who feel they cannot take the time off or simply can’t afford a vacation. I wonder, how can anyone perform to their maximum potential without de-stressing? Is it even possible to be productive without relaxing? If you respond that it is, then imagine all a person can accomplish after taking a well-deserved and needed vacation to decompress.

A simple weekend at the beach can be a marvelous antidote for our stressed body and mind. But if you have the time, plan a week’s worth getaway to a different city or country. Experience the different cultures, traditions, foods and meet new people. We have a tendency to think that we, where ever we are in this world, have the best of all – best foods, best roads, best music, best laws, best customs – and that’s perfectly normal. But when you experience how the other half of the world lives, you quickly find out that there is no one perfect place. That other countries have a better way of doing things or better meals, and so on. You’d be surprised at how the other side of the world lives.


Big Bus Rome

Traveling opens up our mind and allows us to think outside the box. And once we’ve traveled beyond our country, we will never want to stay local again. So set your mind free. Research the internet for your desired destination and book that dream vacation once and for all. Like Michael Palin says, “Once the travel bug bites, there is no known antidote; and I know that I shall be happily infected till the end of my life.”

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Puerto Rico: Like Summer All Year Round in the Middle of the Sea

Puerto Rico, Isla del Encanto!

Puerto Rico is a small island in the Caribbean sea. It is the perfect place to visit all year round because of its tropical weather ranging anywhere from the low 70’s to the high 80’s, even during the winter! It’s like summer all year round in the middle of the sea!

As a U.S. territory, its currency is the same as in the United States – the dollar. Therefore, you don’t need to exchange money for any specific currency and they accept all major credit cards.

If you’re traveling from the United States, you don’t need a tourist visa or even a passport. Just book your plane ticket with us, Traveler Wows Agency, to Puerto Rico and that’s it! You are now ready to explore the island!

Puerto Rico is so small – 100×35 miles – that it allows you the opportunity to tour the entire island coast in one day and that’s including stops to eat and photography. Of course, if you want to enjoy its beautiful beaches and luscious greenery, you should consider stopping for a day in different “pueblos.”

Typically, your flight would land in San Juan, which is the capital of Puerto Rico. But, you can always choose to land in the Rafael Hernandez Airport, Aguadilla, in the northwest area of the island. Either way, you’re in for a great vacation.

Places You Must Visit

Old San Juan

Puerto Rico is so full of history and one of the must-visits is Old San JuanOld San Juan dates back to 1521 making it the oldest city under the United States jurisdiction. Its cobblestone streets are lined with 16th and 17th-century colonial-style picturesque buildings. This is also where you will find the narrowest house in the world, on Calle Tetuan.

El Morro

Within the walls of Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Fuerte San Cristobal are more than 500 years of history. Immerse yourself in the history of this World Heritage Site while enjoying the warm breeze from the Caribbean sea.

Beaches Galore

Puerto Rico is surrounded by 270 miles of coastline beaches. Officially, the government has recognized 248 beaches. Puerto Rico’s beaches offer white sands and turquoise waters. Some beaches have miles of coral reefs and marine life, a delight for snorkeling, others are great for surfing and all are breathtakingly beautiful to just sit down, relax and sunbathe or swim in the Caribbean’s warm waters.

El Yunque Tropical Rainforest

Puerto Rico is home of the only national rainforest in the U.S. and that’s El Yunque National Rainforest. El Yunque is host to hundreds of animals and diverse plant species with some only found in Puerto Rico, such as el Coquí. The mountain’s elevation rises to about 3,533 ft above sea level allowing for a beautiful view of the sea and the rest of the island. It has many trails to hike for you to explore the natural eco-system within the rainforest. While some trails may still be closed for repair or cleaning after Hurricane Maria, most are open and ready for visitors.

World’s Tallest and Longest Zipline

The world’s tallest and longest zip line, certified by Guinness World Records, is located in Puerto Rico as well. If you want to enjoy spectacular views of the mountains and experience an adrenaline rush, then Toro Verde Nature Adventure Park in Orocovis is for you. It is 1.57 miles (2.5 km) long at a height of more than 1200 ft (380m) and speed of up to 95mph.

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Tallest and longest zip line in the world. ~ Photo courtesy of Miguel Lopez

Bioluminescent Bays

There are three bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico. They are La Parguera in Lajas, Laguna Grande in Fajardo, and Mosquito Bay in Vieques. Mosquito Bay in Vieques was officially declared as the brightest recorded in the world by Guinness Book of World Records in 2008. These bioluminescent bay waters glow at night when agitated. Its blueish-green glow is caused by dinoflagellates found in the bay.

Bacardi House

The world’s most awarded rum awaits for your visit. Explore its history and rum making process through one of its tours. Casa Bacardi offers a historical tour, rum tasting tour, mixology class, and even a “Bottle Your Own Bacardi” experience. Who doesn’t want to partake in this unique rum adventure?

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Arecibo Observatory

The world’s second-largest radio telescope in Puerto Rico, the Arecibo Observatory, sits in a mountain cavity in the town of Arecibo. This giant single-dish radio telescope is 167 feet deep and 1,000 feet (305 meters) in diameter covering about 20 acres. It was the largest radio telescope until July 2016 when China completed its 500-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope. The Arecibo telescope is often used to find asteroids close to Earth which could pose a danger to the planet. You can enjoy a self-guided tour on 3500 feet of exhibits or schedule a VIP tour.

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Photo from the Arecibo Observatory, a National Science Foundation

Fiestas Patronales (Patron Saints Festival)

There are 78 municipalities in Puerto Rico and each offer its visitors a unique experience of the Puerto Rican culture. Every year each town celebrates their patron saints with a festival that lasts 10 days in the towns square. These festivities include local arts & crafts, parades, regional foods, and live entertainment. If you happen to be in town during their festivities I encourage you to experience their culture. Below is a list of towns, patron saints, and dates of their festivals:

Town

Patron Saint

Date

Corozal La Sagrada Familia January 9
Añasco San Antonio Abad January 17
San Sebastian San Sebastian (of course) January 20
Lajas La Virgen de la Candelaria February 2
Manatí La Virgen de la Candelaria February 2
Mayaguez La Virgen de la Candelaria February 2
Coamo La Virgen de la Candelaria February 2
Coamo San Blas February 3
Loiza Aldea San Patricio March 17
Ciales San José March 19
Gurabo San José March 19
Luquillo San José March 19
Peñuelas San José March 19
Lares San José March 19
Patillas San Benito March 31
Guaynabo San Pedro Martir April 29
Arecibo Apóstol San Felipe May 1
Bayamón La Santa Cruz May 3
Trujillo Alto La Santa Cruz May 3
Maunabo San Isidro May 15
Sabana Grande San Isidro Labrador May 15
Carolina San Fernando May 30
Toa Alta San Fernando May 30
Barranquitas San Antonio de Padua June 13
Ceiba San Antonio de Padua June 13
Dorado San Antonio de Padua June 13
Guayama San Antonio de Padua June 13
Isabela San Antonio de Padua June 13
Maricao San Juan Bautista June 24
Orocovis San Juan Bautista June 24
San Juan San Juan Bautista June 24
Toa Baja San Pedro Apóstol June 30
Arroyo Virgen del Carmen July 16
Barceloneta Virgen del Carmen July 16
Cataño Virgen del Carmen July 16
Cidra Virgen del Carmen July 16
Culebra Virgen del Carmen July 16
Hatillo Virgen del Carmen July 16
Morovis Virgen del Carmen July 16
Rio Grande Virgen del Carmen July 16
Villalba Virgen del Carmen July 16
Aibonito Santiago Apóstol July 25
Fajardo Santiago Apóstol July 25
Guanica Santiago Apóstol July 25
Loiza Aldea Santiago Apóstol July 25
Santa Isabel Santiago Apóstol July 25
San Germán San Germán (of course) July 31
Comerio El Santo Cristo de la Salud August 6
San Lorenzo San Lorenzo (of course) August 10
Cayey Ntra. Sra. de la Asunción August 15
Adjuntas San Joaquín & Santa Ana August 21
Rincón Santa Rosa de Lima August 30
Juana Díaz San Ramón Nonato August 31
Aguas Buenas Nuestra Señora de la Monserrate September, 8
Hormigueros Ntra. Sra. de la Monserrate September 8
Jayuya Ntra. Sra. de la Monserrate September 8
Moca Ntra. Sra. de la Monserrate September 8
Salinas Ntra. Sra. de la Monserrate September 8
Cabo Rojo San Miguel Arcangel September 29
Naranjito San Miguel Arcangel September 29
Utuado San Miguel Arcangel September 29
Yabucoa Los Angeles Custodios October 2
Aguada San Francisco de Asis October 4
Naguabo Ntra. Sra. del Rosario October 7
Vega Baja Ntra. Sra. del Rosario October 7
Yauco Ntra. Sra. del Rosario October 7
Canovanas La Virgen del Pilar October 12
Rio Piedras La Virgen del Pilar October 12
Quebradillas San Rafael Arcangel October 24
Aguadilla San Carlos Borromeo November 4
Guayanilla La Inmaculada Concepción de María December 8
Humacao La Inmaculada Concepción de María December 8
Juncos La Inmaculada Concepción de María December 8
Las Marías La Inmaculada Concepción de María December 8
Las Piedras La Inmaculada Concepción de María December 8
Vega Alta La Inmaculada Concepción de María December 8
Vieques La Inmaculada Concepción de María December 8
Ponce Ntra. Sra. de la Guadalupe December 12

Source: ftp://rtfm.mit.edu/pub/usenet/news.answers/puerto-rico-FAQ

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Patron Saints Calle San Sebastian Festival in Old San Juan

So Much More

This is just a handful of places you can visit and things you can do. The island may be small in size but every nook and corner is full of beauty, grandor, and fun activities. Of course, you cannot miss the traditional foods of the island that will leave you craving for more. I hope you enjoy your stay in Puerto Rico, Isla del encanto.


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We never thought about traveling internationally. In our minds, international travel was a luxury that we couldn’t afford. Other than visiting our precious island of Puerto Rico, visiting other surrounding islands and different states in the U.S.; we never contemplated traveling internationally especially with three children.

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Venice, Italy

Our oldest son had a fascination with Venice, Italy. As a little boy, he used to grab his aunt’s book about Venice and ask questions. His analytical mind wondered about Venice’s canals, the “streets of water,” as he called them. I recall that even as a teen Italy was constant on his mind. I still have a school project he did where he had to choose a country to research. He chose Italy. Around April 2007, I recall watching a documentary with my son about Venice, Italy. His fascination was still there, and he told me, “If there is one place I want to visit in this world, it is Venice and one of these days I will be able to go.” That was a few months before tragedy struck our family. He was killed in a pedestrian accident on July 9, 2007. He never got to visit Venice.

Life had changed drastically for us. But we refused to let the grief define our lives. We vowed to live for our son and do things he wanted to do but could not. Besides the many other things we’ve done in his memory, we decided to travel to his favorite place in the world – Venice, Italy; and that is how it all started.

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“The Streets of Water”

Like I mentioned before, we are not affluent people that could just choose a destination, pack our bags, and go. Therefore, I researched high and low to find the right place that would help us fulfill our son’s dream. I came across a website that offers vacation packages which could be customized to our desires. It included flights, hotel, transport to and from the hotel, escorted tours, and even some meals! And, the best part is that we were able to put down a deposit and had 10 months to pay it off. By the time we were ready for our trip, it was fully paid, so we only needed to take enough money for whatever meals were not included, tips and anything else we wanted. We did not have to charge the trip on a credit card; so, there was no accruing interest; and we did not have to worry about returning home to pay off an amounting debt on a credit card. Thus, our traveling saga began.

We heard many stories from family and friends who were happy for us and how they wanted to travel but couldn’t. Seeing how easy and accessible it had been to us, we shared our story encouraging them to use the same agency we did. It made us happy to hear the stories of their trips upon their return and how much they enjoyed it. That’s when the idea was born.

Traveler Wows Agency began with Traveler Wows, a travel blog. I want to showcase all the beautiful and exciting places we’ve traveled to thus encouraging you to travel regardless of your budget. You don’t need to bury yourself in credit card debt to visit your dream destination because in Traveler Wows Agency you will find the right trip at the right prices. In Traveler Wows Agency we will focus on all sorts of travels and cruises for people of all economic backgrounds. The main part of our agency will revolve around booking your vacation package with a small deposit and payment plans. We all work hard, sometimes long hours, and we all deserve to travel at least once a year. Our goal is for everyone, wealthy or not, to be able to travel to the destination of their dreams. We only have one life to live. And, remember, “travel is never about money, but about courage. ~ Pablo Coehlo

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Exploring the Sights and Culture of Valencia

“All journeys have secret destinations that the traveler is unaware.”
~ Martin Bulber

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Scenic Route to Valencia from Barcelona

Wow, our time in Barcelona was wonderful. Such a beautiful vibrant city with so much to offer. But our tour needed to continue to Valencia. We needed to continue exploring the sights and culture of Valencia. It was about a 4 hour and 30-minute drive since we opted to take the scenic route, but, it took us a little over 5 hours to reach Valencia. One must stop to enjoy the surroundings.

Hotel

We stayed at the Hotel Europa in Calle Ribera 4. It was a small hotel with an old and squeaky elevator. The room decor was outdated (like the 70’s probably). However, I liked that it was very clean. The service was good, and the price was unbeatable – about 28€. Its location was in a pedestrian-only street, great location. As of now, the hotel is permanently closed.

 

Sights

Driving through San Subirats, we caught a glimpse of what looked like a grape vineyard which seemed abandoned. The view was so relaxing, and it was such a beautiful day that we couldn’t help but stop to take a self-image using the grape vines as our background before continuing to Tarragona.

Grapevine stop

We took a small detour when we spotted a castle tower from afar. We wanted to make our way towards it but didn’t know how to get there. So, like the three Kings followed a star to Bethlehem, we followed the castle’s tower and lo and behold, we got there. The castle turned out to be an old Romanesque style church. The Parroquia Sant Juliá de l’Arboc, on Carrer Mayor 9, L’Arboc in Tarragona. Its construction began in 1630 and was finalized in 1650.

Sant Julia Parroquia

Another structure that caught our attention was La Giralda de l’Arboc, which looks more like a church than the Sant Julia Parroquia. La Giralda was a summer home for a newlywed couple that used as inspiration the Arab architecture present in Andalusia to build it. Located on Avenida Jacint Verdaguer 35 de l’Arboc, it is now a tourist attraction privately owned exclusive to concerted visits for groups of 20 or more. It is a guided tour at a cost of 10€ for about an hour. We are not concerted visitors, therefore, couldn’t go on the tour, bummer.

La Giralda de l’Arboc

Continuing our drive towards Valencia, we caught a glimpse of a Roman statue. It is the Romana Roda de Bará statue. It is in a roundabout in Tarragona.

As quoted by Santiago de Ignacio,

“This is Roda de Bará in Tarragona. Formerly Tarraco and port of access of the Roman ships to Hispania. These are modern works by the sculptor Bei Pérez, who died in 2017. With these sculptures, he tried to unite the present town with the Roman culture that settled there. In Spanish, the town is called Roda de Barà. It has important sites from Roman times such as the famous Arco de Barà. But these Roman heads are from later and are placed in roundabouts in the National 340 Road.”

Roda de Bará Statue

We continued our trip close to the coast of Torredembarra where we saw a sculpture of the Alpha & Omega in the Torredembarra Beach, about 262 feet offshore. The structure was made by the sculptor Rafael Bartolozzi and inaugurated in 1999 to commemorate the 20 years of democratic city councils. It was also part of UNESCO’s Art Route which entails a journey of sculptures in the Andes and various Latin American countries. These mark the beginning and the end with different reproductions. I just learned that the sculpture was taken down on, Thursday, June 14, 2018, due to the corrosion and deterioration of the sea. Will it be replaced? I don’t know.

Alpha & Omega in Torredembarra Beach

We arrived in Valencia precisely on the Day of the Valencian Community parade which is held every year on October 9th and is a local public holiday. It marks the anniversary of King James I of Aragon’s capture of the city of Valencia from Moorish forces in 1238. It was hard to get around as most of the town streets were closed and our hotel was located right in the center of the town. After circling the area for the third time, we spoke with an officer to see if he would allow us to park in one of the blocked streets. He was very polite and moved the barricade allowing us to park and gave us some pointers on what to do and not do in Valencia.

Once parked, we had to haul our luggage to the hotel. By this time, the parade was about to begin and the main route where they would go through was completely blocked, even for pedestrians. So, we had to wait until the parade went through for us to continue toward the hotel. But it was nice to experience Valencia’s culture and traditions. There were bands playing and people dressed as camels and in Medieval costumes. After the parade, the festivities began.


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It was getting late and we didn’t want to leave Valencia without visiting its top landmark, City of Arts and Sciences, on Av. del Professor López Piñero, 7, in Valencia. It is composed of five modern architectural buildings – an Opera house and performing arts center; Imax Cinema; Planetarium and Laserium; science museum and an open-air aquarium. The surroundings are beautifully landscaped and had restaurants and a bar. The architecture is very impressive and spectacular.

Restaurants

One of our meals was at the Restaurant Cal Min on Avenida Barcelona. It is family owned and operated, and the staff was very polite. We stopped here for breakfast and were not disappointed. It was a large breakfast for about 10€. If you’re ever in the area I suggest you stop here.

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We could not leave Valencia without eating a paella Valenciana of course! We had dinner at a restaurant across from the hotel – well we had dinner on the pedestrian walkway which was lined up with tables, chairs, and umbrellas from different restaurants. The paella came from Baldo on Calle Ribera 10. Since our lunch was basically snacks which we had picked out at the gas stations, we had a full dinner with appetizer, wine, and desserts at a cost of about 50€. Apparently, we chose the wrong restaurant because the paella was not that great, but the atmosphere was wonderful!

Valencia Special

Our time in Valencia was short. We took in as much as we could in such a short time. Valencia is a beautiful city so full of life. I enjoyed every step we took there – even hauling our luggage through a parade and crowds of people. Valencia is a place I could see myself living in.

Do you have any Valencia stories to share?


 

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What To See, Do and Eat in Rome in a Few Days

“One of the great joys of traveling through Italy is discovering first hand that it is, indeed, a dream destination.” ~ Debra Levinson

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Arriving in Italy

The flight from Chicago to Germany was good with little turbulence. I was not able to sleep much, maybe 20 minutes now and then. The food was not good at all, but at least we ate. Our next flight boarded and left on time. It was a short flight – about a couple of hours. We decided not to upgrade our seats for this flight. We arrived early in Italy. Our shuttle was waiting for us at the airport. The driver, Chaffi, was very polite and took us sight-seeing before reaching the hotel, which was good since check-in was at 2:00 p.m.

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Hotel

We arrived at the hotel around 11:00 a.m. The Donatello Hotel is a small old, family owned and operated hotel. The room was small but cozy and clean. The staff was friendly, helpful and accommodated our every need. They were polite to check us in early. It is conveniently located near the Porta Maggiore, Termini Station, and the San Lorenzo area nightlife, bars, and restaurants. The area was not the prettiest but never did we feel unsafe or threatened in any way. If you’re looking for budget-friendly without luxury, then I would recommend this hotel.

Porta Maggiore
Porta Maggiore

Cruising around Rome

Our itinerary included walking to the Colosseum and its surroundings. However, we did not plan on my left foot relapsing into excruciating pain. I felt as if I was holding back my family. We decided to rent a vehicle since walking was difficult for me. After several miles walking, my daughter and I headed towards the hotel while my husband, son, and son-in-law headed towards the closest car rental in the area. Good thing we carried around with a mobile hotspot. They arrived at the hotel in a 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Leave it to men to pick out a car, and they choose an uncomfortable, too advanced to figure out with such little time, sports car, for five people and they claimed it was the only one available. Yeah, sure!

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Seriously? A 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulietta for five tall people?

It was difficult getting around Rome in a vehicle. The streets are very narrow, unidentified lanes, tons of motorcycles, Vespas, and bikers on the road and pedestrians just cross through with little or no regard of automobiles driving around. It was a scary moment. I thought driving was crazy in Puerto Rico. Well, I was wrong – Italian’s beat Puerto Rican’s in insane driving.

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Sightseeing

We arrived at the Colosseum and headed towards the online ticket purchases to pick up our pre-purchased tickets. The best part of pre-purchasing your tickets is that we got to skip the lines and believe me, there was a very long line. We entered the Colosseum and were mesmerized by the remarkable sight. It is so impressive – enormous and so much history! I have an active imagination and still could not imagine how the Romans were able to build this gigantic structure with so many details. I had been to Italy before but did not have time to visit the inside of the Colosseum. So this time, it was imperative that we visited it. We spent about 2-3 hours in the Colosseum, and I’m sure we didn’t tour it thoroughly.

Standing tall at the Piazza Della Rotonda and a favorite gathering place for locals and tourists is the Pantheon, known to be the best preserved ancient monument in Europe. It still holds the title of being the most massive unsupported dome in the world. It is indeed a fantastic work of art where we spent some time outside at the piazza just admiring its beauty.

The vibe was great and it being off-season the crowd was not too much. We strolled around the beautiful cobblestone streets of Rome and discovered our plaza – Piazza San Ignazio! Well, we didn’t ACTUALLY discover it, but baring our last name, we felt the connection. The plaza is a small quaint area lined with the church Sant Ignazio di Loyola which is a baroque style church; Ristorante Da Sabatino and a few residential buildings.

Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel is such a lovely sight, all painted by Michelangelo himself. It is jaw-dropping and just so beautiful. There’s no photography allowed and shushing people is all you hear. Well, we didn’t discover the photography disclosure until my daughter was told by an employee she could not take photos. Too late!

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Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps are quite steep and are the connection between Piazza di Spagna and Piazza Trinitá dei Monte. It’s like a gathering place for artists, painters, tourists, and locals. Couples use it as a backdrop for wedding photos. One can see why. They are not just any steps. They are 135 -138 elegant steps with landings and a beautiful view of the Trinitá de Monti church at the very top and the baroque fountain, “Fontana della Barcaccia” at the very bottom. Also, very difficult to walk up if you’re suffering from two torn tendons like I was.

Oh, how packed was the Trevi Fountain. Visitors from all over gathered around the fountain taking snapshots, tossing their coins or just sitting around and admiring this beautiful massive structure. It is enormous standing 85 ft tall and 65 ft wide. This fountain collects about $3,500 per day from coins tossed by visitors. All coins are collected every night, and the money is used to help the needy with their groceries. The Trevi Fountain legend says if you throw a coin into the fountain you will return to Rome, so make sure to stop by the fountain and toss your coin in if you want to return.

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We also pre-purchased entry tickets for The Vatican Museum so on our way we were to explore. I’ll be honest with you, the Vatican is beautiful, but it bothers me a bit to see so much gold and opulence on a structure, and so much poverty in this world. I don’t think God cares about lavish things but how we take care of each other. I’m getting off track here. Anyway, the frescos are amazing – so much talent went into those paintings. It’s hall after hall of art and gold. I love the Bramante staircase just spiraling down – kind of looks like a snail’s shell.

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Bramante Stairs in The Vatican

In the surroundings of the Colosseum, one will see the Arch of Constantine, Piazza di Santa Francesca Romana, Portico Medievale, Domus Aurea, basilicas, restaurants, and cafés. One can spend an entire day in this area and not see it all. A lot of historical places to trace – so much to learn.

Restaurants

Hunger kicked in, so we stopped at La Biga Restaurant right across from the Colosseum for lunch. It was delicious food – pizza with prosciutto, fettuccine à la Bolognese, lasagna, bruschetta – delicious! The service was exceptional. The server was polite and patient with us. I highly recommend this restaurant and would return to eat here.

Another place we had lunch at was Tradizione & Fantasia Restaurant at Piazza del Risorgimento 53, just outside the Vatican.  The food was edible, and it was pricey. The service was okay as well.

One of our dinners was at Ristorante Italia Protagonista which is nestled in a small cobblestone street, Via Delle Paste, between old Roman architectural buildings. We dined “al fresco” even though it was chilly. They had heaters, so it was okay. The food was excellent, as well as the wine and beer. The server was polite and treated as very well. Therefore, I’d have to say that the service was excellent. I would definitely return to this restaurant and highly recommend it.

We stopped at Café Roma Gelateria, near the Trevi Fountain, for some gelato, coffee, and pastries.  The cappuccino was good, the dessert – which was some house rum cake – was not that great, and the gelatos were okay. It was a bit pricey for what it was.

Foreign Travel Guide

Shopping

In search of an original wood Pinocchio for my nephew, I visited Bartolucci store. Bartolucci is a family-owned and operated store which opened in 1936. Everything is hand-made in Italy, including the wooden Pinocchio, which was first carved by the owner, Francesco Bartolucci in 1981. Bartolucci store is a charming little shop with many wood creations to choose from. I found my Pinocchio, a wooden nameplate, and some other fun trinkets. If you have a chance, I encourage you to visit this little niche in Via dei Pastini, close to the Trevi Fountain.

Guess what we found? We found an Italian chocolate store! Venchi is a fine Italian Chocolate store, in Via Della Pietra, packed with an assortment of chocolates for every palate. It was impossible not to stop and buy chocolates. We were in Chocolate heaven!

Quirky Italian Ways

A few differences which I found in Rome unlike the U.S. was a gasoline station right spat in the middle of a neighborhood on the sidewalk. I had not seen that in years. Heck, I don’t remember ever seeing a gasoline station like that.

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Gasoline station

If you’re purchasing food to go, in Rome they say “Take Away.” In the U.S., we say “Take Out.”

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I love the way the Italian’s park their vehicles. “If it fits, park it!”

Rome is such a lovely city. There’s so much history, museums, statues and monuments to explore. Beautiful cobblestone streets and such a laid-back way of life. I love Rome and expect to return. I wouldn’t even mind living in Rome. I like it that much!


 

A Spiritual Experience in The Lost City of Pompeii

“Ruins are reminders that while time will pass, memories will remain.” ~ Sophia Khan

Pompeii Archaeological Ruins

Pompeii Archaeological Ruins

Pompeii… It took me a while to write about Pompeii. The Pompeii Archaeological Ruins is located on the west coast of Italy overlooking the bay and the city of Naples. There was a time when Pompeii attracted affluent people and vacationers to the area becoming one of the most desirable places for the distinguished and blue collared. It was lined with beautiful houses, villas, and shops until that fateful night when Mount Vesuvius, the most dangerous volcano in the world, erupted. It was 79 A.D. History says that the blast was so intense that it was seen hundreds of miles away. Ash and lava swallowed everything surrounding it – including the city of Pompeii. About 11,000 residents were buried under 13 to 20 ft. of volcanic ash.

It was left intact for about 2000 years when explorers began to excavate and discovered that the volcanic ash had served as a preservative. Little by little they have excavated and discovered intact artifacts, buildings, and even skeletons in the same position they died. The excavation has continued for the past three centuries and there is still a lot to be uncovered.

Foreign Travel Guide

Spectacular Architecture

As we toured the Pompeii Archaeological Ruins, I’m amazed at the beautiful architecture of its buildings, fountains, sculptures, and many other surroundings. What amazed me the most was the tile mosaics. These mosaics were done with tiny 1 x 1 tiles. The intricate designs were beautiful and perfectly aligned. How, without any of our current technology, were they able to do that?

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Pompeii is huge, there are about 45 hectares excavated thus far. However, many areas are blocked off. We spent about 5 hours exploring Pompeii and were not able to see it all. We walked through the many cobblestone streets stopping here and there for photos and to observe the beautiful landscape of Mt. Vesuvius which sits so peacefully on the background.

I Felt A Spiritual Connection

But among all the beauty and amazement, there is also the sorrow factor. I felt sad for those that lost their lives and didn’t know what was going on. Plaster cast of the bodies were made to showcase the impact on Pompeii’s citizens. Adults, children, and pets were among those displayed. Some were asleep, some couples hugged, mothers held their babies in their arms, and others tried to escape and were trapped by rubble from buildings that collapsed. I somehow felt their desperation to escape. I didn’t like the feeling even though I found Pompeii fascinating.

Acoustic Sound Fit for a Band

One of the buildings that looks intact is the amphitheater. It was made of stone and is 445 x 341 feet and seated about 20,000 spectators. Pink Floyd has been the only group to perform at Pompeii’s amphitheater. They performed in 1972 without any spectators. It amazed them how the Romans put thought into the acoustic qualities besides the structure. They returned to play in a concert in 2016.

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Worth Visiting

The fee to enter Pompeii is €11. But make sure you have plenty of time to explore Pompeii because one hour will not even get you halfway. It is a place worth visiting. If your imagination is like mine you can actually relive the spectacular glamour that existed in the beautiful city of Pompeii – as well as its sad story. Its story is not one to entice me to revisit Pompeii but its architectural marvels, detailed paintings, and mosaics would.

Below are clips of Pompeii’s Archaeological museums and amphitheater:

Pink Floyd in Pompeii Clip of Museum’s Memorabilia

Pompeii Amphitheater

Pompeii Archaeological Ruins Museum Clip


 

A Trip Back in Time in the Medieval City of Bruges

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ~Marcel Proust

What beautiful countries and cities lie beyond the oceans that separate us. In Belgium, we visited another astounding city. Bruges, in northwest Belgium, is the capital of West Flanders and home of one of the most important centers for fishing and European trade, Zeebrugge Port. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage city. Dating back to the 2nd century AD, Bruges is a spectacular city ornate with cobblestone streets, medieval and gothic style buildings, secret gardens and winding canals that will take you back in time. Roaming through the streets of Bruges one can’t help but wonder who roamed these streets? What mysteries occurred here? If walls could talk, what stories would these tell us? There is so much to discover in Bruges.

Hotel

We stayed at the Novotel Bruges Central, a modern hotel nestled among the old gothic style buildings on Katelijnestraat 65. The rooms were clean and comfortable. The service was very good. I have to say it had the best and largest breakfast bar of all the hotels I’ve been to so far. And everything I had for breakfast was tasty and seemed fresh. The hotel was well situated, just about a 10-minute walk to the Belfry and marketplace.

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Restaurant

Dinner was at the Maximiliaan Van Oostenrijk Restaurant on Wijngaardplein 16-17. The restaurant is in a nice park area and seemed warm and inviting. It had a charming medieval-style décor and the atmosphere was pleasing. The service was good, I can’t complain about that. However, I cannot say the same for the meal. Everyone sitting at our table was unsatisfied with the quality or taste of our food. We all agreed it was bland, but let me give it the benefit of the doubt, maybe it was the choice of meal. However, after our tour guide kept raving about the food all day, I expected more.

Sightseeing

Bruges Grand Place houses the XPO Salvador Dali Museum, the Belfort Van Bruges, Provincial Court, Bruges St. Jacobstraat, shops, restaurants, hotels and so much more. There are many ways to explore Bruges. One can take a boat tour through the canals, or ride a horse-drawn carriage, bicycle, bus tour or even an electric Segway. We decided to walk since we would be on a tour bus towards Paris for various hours.

We spend some time at Bruges Grand Place venturing through the shops and quaint streets while taking photos of the splendid views and architecture. It was a cold gloomy day with a bit of drizzle here and there, but that did not make it any less appealing. I liked how there were many satellite shops and vendors all around Bruges Grand Place selling anything from produce, meals, handcrafts, oh and fruits! We bought the biggest, sweetest and juiciest strawberries I had ever seen!

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Church of our Lady, Bruges its tower, at 377 feet tall, remains the tallest structure in the city and the second tallest brickwork tower in the world.

Yes indeed, Bruges is such a beautiful, enchanted city – like from a movie scene. I will definitely put Bruges on my list of places to revisit.


 

Visiting The Not So Known City of Brussels

“To travel is to discover that everybody is wrong about other countries.”
~ Aldous Huxley

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Brussels Grand Place

Before visiting Brussels we never even considered it. Not because we didn’t want to but because it wasn’t among the most famous places to visit. The reason we visited Brussels is that it was in route to Bruges which was in our tour itinerary. For this trip, which included Amsterdam, Bruges, and Paris, we did a guided tour because we took my beautiful mother with us. We thought it would be easier for her to keep up the pace if it were on a guided tour and not independently since we tend to walk a lot, make many stops, and sleep little.

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St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral

On our way to Bruges, we made a couple of stops in Brussels. Our first stop was at the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral. Why is it that Catholic churches are always one of the most beautiful structures? It was buzzing with tourists too. This cathedral took about 300 years to complete. It is a beautiful church so full of history.

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The Atomium

We also visited the iconic monument of the Atomium. The Atomium was supposed to be a temporary structure. It was built in 1958 for the World Fair of Brussels. It became popular and now is a landmark in the Laeken area of Brussels. I didn’t even know it existed until we arrived.

Here’s a short video courtesy of Thomas and Cengiz aka The Travellers, enjoy!

According to the Atomium’s official website, “It symbolized the democratic will to maintain peace among all the nations, faith in progress, both technical and scientific and, finally, an optimistic vision of the future of a modern, new, super-technological world for a better life for mankind.” I really do like it’s meaning and can see why it captured people’s heart. It is an interesting structure and I’m glad I got to see it. Unfortunately, it was a shortstop – just enough to capture a photo or two – so we missed the opportunity to enjoy an interior tour of the Atomium. But I’m not worried. It just means we have to visit Brussels again.

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Mannekin Pis Fountain

Another one of Brussel’s iconic landmark’s is the Mannekin Pis Fountain. It is a small bronze sculpture (about 2 ft tall) of a naked boy pissing. Unlike the Atomium, I knew about the famous Mannekin Pis Fountain. However, I expected a big life-size boy fountain, not a 24 inch one. What amazed me more than the fountain was the amount of tourist anxiously waiting to get a photograph of the famous fountain. Well, that includes us too.

The Grand Place is the central square of Brussels where the city town hall, the king’s house, and Museum Van de Stat Brussels are located. It is a popular gathering place in the city, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one can see why. The square is cobblestone and surrounded by magnificent guildhalls, shops, and restaurants. The restaurants have outdoor seating which allows one to enjoy a meal while taking in all the beauty of the majestic buildings. Every now and then one will spot a horse and carriage available for rides. Such a pretty place.

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Horse and carriage ride

We came across an odd structure on Rue de Sables, right across from the Gaston La Gaffe statue. It was a container standing upright tilted onto one corner. I believe the tour guide mentioned it was commemorating the 60 years of art celebration. We were curious enough to get a snapshot of it and forgot to get a snapshot of the Gaston La Gaffe statue. Here goes another reason to return to Brussels.

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Ca Ru Containers representing 60 years of art celebration

Our visit to Brussels was short. But Brussels is, indeed, a beautiful city. And the short tour was just enough to convince us that Brussels is a place worth visiting.