Capri

Best breakfast ever= breakfast on your private patio overlooking the Italian coastline.  Yep, our hotel was awesome.  They deliver breakfast each morning so you can stay in your PJ’s and enjoy the view!  We loved it!

We had signed up for an excursion the day before.  Our boat left about 9 AM and sailed from Positano out to the island of Capri and all around it.  We had a small group which was great because there was plenty of space on the boat and it was more intimate.  This was hands-down Hubby’s favorite day of the whole trip.  I loved it too, but had a little seasickness get in my way-again.  I get motion sick, what can I say!

Setting sail, ciao Positano!

With Capri in the background.
caves
beautiful water

trying to feel better
Taking a dip in the Mediterranean.

We got to sail all around the island, stop at different places to swim and then also got a few hours on the island to do whatever we wanted.  We met another young couple on the boat that we got along with really well.  So the four of us went straight to the beach.  The boys brought some snorkel gear and snorkeled most of the time.  Us ladies just hung out in the water close to shore.  After the boat trip, Hubby and I had dinner and watched the Eurocup.

We left the next morning to go back to Rome.  It took pretty much all day to get back there.  We got in and went out to dinner to one more area of Rome that we weren’t able to get to earlier in the trip.  We went to the area just south of the Tiber River and wished we would’ve gone there sooner!  It was awesome!  There were tons of restaurants along the river along with carnival games, booths selling different items, and much more locals.  If and when we go back to Rome that will be the first place we head.  It had a really fun atmosphere and a lot of personality.  We only took one picture that night, and of course it doesn’t show the area at all…

Rome has drinking water flowing out of these fountains all over the city-make sure you carry a water bottle so you can refill it!

Italy was AMAZING!!! We loved every place and everything we did.  We will definitely be going back someday, and if anyone wants to visit there, we would love to go to Italy with you!!  Our next adventures will be with my mom and sister, and we can’t wait to add some new cities to the list!

Atlas Mountain Monkeys

Visiting the Monkeys

We had a late flight out of Fes on our final day in Morocco, which left time for one more tour.  We decided to get out of the city and see some of the countryside.  We drove out to the Atlas mountains and saw a couple villages along the way.  But the real highlight was the forest where we were able to stop and feed monkeys!

Quick photo stop before the forest.

We bought some bread in the morning and just tore off little pieces to hand to them.  They were very gentle (for the most part) and would take it right out of your hands!

This guy was holding onto B’s leg until she gave him what he wanted!
K feeding a baby.

We took a bunch of videos too, but of course I can’t get them to load on here!  If someone knows how to help me, let me know!  Anyway it was one of the most fun things we’ve done over here.  I’ve never been able to get so close to a wild animal before.  However, I must say that the movie Outbreak went through my mind a few times.  Nonetheless, it was such a fun day and a truly extraordinary experience!

Positano

Our final destination on our grand Italian adventure was Positano on the Amalfi Coast.  We took a bus from Sorrento to Positano.  I hear the drive was gorgeous with beautiful coastline and rocky cliffs.  However, I had my head down for about 90% of the ride, trying not to be nauseous-the roads are super curvy and the A/C on the bus wasn’t exactly pumping.  Ah the joys of motion sickness…

I felt much better getting off the bus when I saw the view.  Paradise.

 We quickly found our hotel, dropped off our bags and changed so we could head down to the beach.  The streets are lined with boutiques, art galleries, and made-while-you-wait sandal shops.

We found a small market shop and grabbed some picnic supplies and sunscreen.

Giant lemons were all over Italy!

Then we spent the day relaxing in the sun!  The water was beautiful, but our wading got a little cut short in the afternoon because we kept seeing jellyfish!  We saw probably 3 of them, and that was enough for me.  It was kind of cool to see one, and luckily we saw them before we got stung.

After the beach we went back to the room to get cleaned up and then had a car pick us up and drive us to dinner.

View from our room’s terrace, not too shabby.

I wish we would’ve taken better pictures at dinner, but when you’re in the moment, it’s kind of embarrassing to be the tourist taking pictures in the close quarters of a restaurant.  Anyway this restaurant was hanging on the hill, overlooking the ocean.  The tables were literally across the street (small street, but still) from the restaurant.  So the waiters had to cross traffic to get to us.  We both ordered pasta with lobster (me) and crab (Hubby).  We thought we were just getting pasta with some chunks of meat in it.  My plate came out with half of the lobster and his with a huge crab with the biggest claw I’ve ever seen!

You can kind of see my lobster through the wine glasses, and yes-I’m wearing a bib
Giant crab for dinner.

Another wonderful meal in an idyllic setting!  We had one more day in Positano before our trip was coming to an end.  The plans for the next day were to hit the high seas…

Highlights of Fes

The morning was started with another lovely breakfast at the Riad.  Then we were again picked up by our guide for the day.  He took us around to show us more of the Medina.

Another beautiful gate.

We also stopped for a group picture here, and while we were all standing there I felt someone playing with my hair.  I turned to Hubby and asked if he was touching my hair and he said no, so I turned and asked the girls on my other side if they were playing with it and they said no too.  So now I’m freaked out, some random person was touching my hair.  I start looking around to see who is touching me and another lady walks by laughing and smiling.  Again, not sure if she was being friendly or what her intention was, but it definitely freaked me out.  At this point I was wishing I wore my hair up.

Another area of the Medina.
Giant basket full of live snails.
Camel meat for sale, not sure if I should laugh or cry.
Lots of olives.
Dying silk thread.
Shop full of tea pots.
Look out for that donkey!
Entrance to the mosque.
Part of the university that we were allowed to go into.
Tiles with writing from the Qur’an.
Hard to get a picture without all the other tourists.

Our next stop was a carpet shop that was really more like a carpet palace.  The building was huge and very beautiful.  We got to go upstairs and see three women hand-knotting a rug.  It was crazy to watch them be able to tie these knots so quickly to make very intricate patterns.  After that neat experience, things started to get interesting.  Now it was time for the hard sales pitches to come out.

Now we are sat down for some tea while the main salesman starts explaining all the different types of rugs and patterns.  They proceeded to roll out at least 30 different carpets on top of each other.

Then they decided to split us up.  Hubby and I were taken upstairs to “browse” and B was taken to another room, while R and K were left in the main room.  They start asking us which ones we like and giving us the prices (which were hugely inflated).  We aren’t really biting at anything so they start to ask us for our “best price”  which of course they scoff at.  This back and forth continues on and on.  And eventually starts to turn a little hostile.  The main guy was starting to act offended because he’s giving us a good price “for the baby” and we still aren’t happy.  We were being very polite and trying to figure out what we were going to do, but that guy made us both very uncomfortable.  Eventually we got them down to a price we thought was reasonable and bought a carpet that’s now sitting in the baby’s room.  I love the rug, but I don’t know that I’d ever want to go back to that shop again.  Not a fan of the high pressure, awkward, force-you-into-buying-something method.

Next up we went to a shop where they were weaving scarves and tapestries.  This shop had so many gorgeous things and was nothing like the last  one in terms of pressure, but I was still kind of flustered from the carpet shop that I couldn’t decide on anything and walked away empty handed.

The shop owner decided to teach Hubby how to properly wear a scarf.

Ready for a camel ride through the Sahara.

 Then my husband decided I needed the same lesson.

You think it’s a good look?

 Our final stop was the leather tanneries.

All the different leather goods available for purchase.

All in all, a very fun and educational day.  I knew there was going to be some bartering involved if we wanted to purchase things, but I was definitely not expecting it to be as aggressive as it was.  The carpet shop was the worst.  The people selling leather weren’t as bad, but whenever you ask the price, instead of answering they ask you what you want to pay.  I found it to be very frustrating, but now I know how it is, and I would be better prepared to go back to a place like that now.  I really enjoyed having a guide both days.  It made me feel much more comfortable and if we had been by ourselves I’m not sure if we would’ve found much of anything.  The Medina is very hard to get around if you don’t know where you’re going.  We had one more day left in Morocco and it was a completely new experience for all of us!

A Moroccan Thanksgiving

Our Thanksgiving in 2012 was not traditional but it was amazing.  We flew to Fes, Morocco on Thanksgiving Day for an exotic weekend in North Africa.  Unfortunately we were short one person because B’s husband M was unable to make it back in time for our trip due to some work complications.  But B was bound and determined to visit Morocco so she soldiered on and still made the trip with us. And we are so happy she did because she was the one who set everything up, and without her the trip wouldn’t have been the same!

Arriving in Fes.

We were picked up at the airport and driven into the Medina (old city).  The cars can only drive a little ways into the Medina, so we were met by a worker from our Riad, who guided us through the crowded,  winding, and small streets up to where we were staying.  Already by this point I was on overload.  Everything was so different than any place I’ve been, and my eyes were wide just trying to take in everything around me.

Our Riad (hotel) was gorgeous.  The owners Yasmine and Alex were so welcoming and friendly.  We were greeted with hot towels and were led up to our rooms for a few minutes before sitting down to our Thanksgiving dinner.  This meal was truly a feast, and it wasn’t a special meal for Thanksgiving, it is just a typical meal that is served at the Riad nightly.  In total I believe it was 4-5 courses of delicious Moroccan food.  I had never eaten Moroccan food before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I definitely didn’t miss the turkey and stuffing.

Our second course, a puff pastry filled with chicken, carrots and cabbage-amazing!
R and Hubby enjoying the main course.
Best dessert ever!  Filo dough with ice cream, cinnamon, nuts, etc.  it was kind of like sopapillas

As after any good Thanksgiving meal, we were stuffed.  So it was off to bed to get some sleep before our first big day in the Medina.

Little Fes left on our bed.

 Hubby and I were up early the next morning.  I woke up around 5 AM to the prayer calls going out over the city.  Even though it woke me up, it was kind of exciting to listen to because I had never heard them before.  It’s like one of those things you see on TV or movies, and then when you experience it in real life it’s pretty fascinating.

Our rooftop terrace overlooking Fes.
The tower and the green pyramid are mosques, I didn’t know this but green is the holy color of Islam, so if you see a green building or roof it’s probably a mosque.
Time for breakfast!

 We had a really fun tour lined up for our first day.  We were met by our guide Fatima at the Riad.  She took us into the Medina for some shopping in the market.  We were able to choose some Moroccan dishes to make, shop for the ingredients, cook it all, and then eat the feast we had made!

The Blue Gate, entrance to the market.

Shopping in the market.

This was an entrance to the University, really beautiful!
This shop was interesting, we were taking in all the things hanging from the ceiling.
Fatima explaining that these little dishes are used for holding spices and/or jellies for the table.
Beautiful pottery.

Picking out some things to take home.

By this point, our shopping was complete and we were ready to head back to Fatima’s riad for some cooking.  Shopping in the market was fun, but very different than what we’re used to.  We ended up picking out a chicken dish to make.  Well, instead of having the meat already butchered and ready to take home, they have just a bunch of live chickens.  You pick which chicken you want and he butchers it for you on the spot.  This was a little too much for the ladies to watch, so we all had to walk away and plug our ears.  But for the people who shop this market everyday, it’s normal and doesn’t bother them.  At another point when we were just walking through, a lady give me a little smack on my arm as she was passing me.  It wasn’t an accidental bump, it was an intentional little hit.  When I looked back at her she was kind of smiling so I wasn’t sure what to think of it.  I’m pretty sure it had something to do with my hair color, or overall coloring.  We all stuck out I think, but I did even more so than the others. She didn’t hurt me or anything but she definitely got my attention!

At the Riad where we did our cooking.
We’re ready to cook!
Moroccan teapots, the tea they serve here is delightful!
Intricate carvings.
Sitting down for Moroccan tea before we get to work.
All of our produce laid out and ready.

 We cooked all kinds of things, and learned some new techniques.  We learned not to boil cous cous, it should be steamed instead.  This meal took us a few hours to prepare, but it was well worth it!  And we all got a small recipe book to take home that has all these recipes and more in it.

The final products.
Ready to eat!

 After we stuffed ourselves (again) Fatima led us back to our Riad.  We stayed there the rest of the night, relaxing on the rooftop terrace drinking Moroccan tea.

Cheers!
It was a bit chilly.

We had another full day lined up, so it was early to bed to get ready for our guided tour of Fes.

You Wanna Go a Sorrento? A No Problem!

We got up pretty early the next day because we had a bit of traveling to do to get from Rome to Sorrento, and we wanted to maximize our pool time.  We caught the first train we could to Naples, easy and no problems.  Then from the Naples train station we had to go downstairs and find the Circumvesuviana train line which is a separate system from the Trenitalia system we had been using.  Luckily for us the timing worked out where we bought our tickets and the train was supposed to leave less than 10 min. later.  So we go down to our track, see the train there and hop on.  Once we had squeezed into the standing room only car, and the doors were shutting, Hubby said, “I don’t think this is the right train.”  Off we were, and we realized he was right, we got on the wrong one!  This train was not going to Sorrento.

So a local sees that we messed up and offers his help, “You wanna go Sorrento, a no problem!”  He shows us the chart that explains we want the blue line not the red line, but tells us in broken english to just get off at the next stop and catch the next train that stops there, it will be the right one to take us to Sorrento.  So we thank him, get off and wait for the next train.  Sure enough it’s the right one, but it is so crowded that there is no possible way for us to get on.  So then we start to panic a little.  Now what are we going to do?  What if the next Sorrento train is just as crowded?  Maybe we should try to go back to the main station?  When is the next train to Sorrento coming?  So we decide to go across to the track that’s heading in the direction of the Naples station where we started, hoping it would be easier to get on the train to Sorrento there, where most people are getting on, instead of waiting for another full train.  As we are discussing our options and trying to pull up train schedules, another local notices us and says, “You-a wanna go-a Sorrento, a no problem!”  He repeats this phrase several times while telling us we should go back to the main station and try again.  Stressful, and comical all at the same time.

Thank goodness for our helpful Italian friends, we went back to the station and were able to get on the next train “a no problem” and even scored some seats this time.  We made it to our hotel by about 12, which isn’t bad considering we got a little delayed.  The rest of the day, and the entire next day was spent lounging by the pool, reading, and taking in the view.  Much needed relaxation after the heavy sightseeing in Rome.

View from our room.
Mt. Vesuvius in the distance.
About to head out for dinner.
Tiny winding roads in Sorrento.
Beautiful orange trees everywhere.

Dinner on the water, love the ice bucket for the wine that hangs over the railing.
Dinner with a view.
Ending the meal with some limoncello.

Night time on the beach.

 Our hotel had a couple shelves of books you could borrow to read by the pool.  I borrowed one, and I’m not sure why but the thing just kept falling apart on me!  A section of pages would come out one after another until it was all completely separated from the cover.  Also at one point while I was reading I heard a snap, and felt like something hit my glasses.  I looked around and took them off, nothing hit them, but the frame just snapped.  That’s what you get for buying 5 Euro H&M glasses I guess…

Damage done in Sorrento.

Sorrento was a much needed chance to relax and recharge.  Though 2 days next to a pool lounging made my husband a little antsy.  Luckily we were on the go again and venturing to one more place before we left Italy to return to Germany.

Vatican City

We ventured into a whole other country-Vatican City!  I think it’s the smallest country in the world.  The best ideas we had for this day were to get there early and make reservations.  We took the metro over to St. Peter’s Square and were there by about 8 AM.  As you can see there were hardly any people there yet, making for better pictures, less stress, and less waiting in line.  We snapped a few shots, jumped in the security line and were able to walk right into the basilica.

Good morning Vatican!

Bernini’s statues lining the piazza.
Member of the Swiss guard.
Looking out onto the piazza, this area used to be used for chariot races.

Roof of St. Peter’s Basilica.

There were several small groups of nuns and priests touring the basilica.
Base of the dome, you can see Jesus in the center panel.
Altar designed by Bernini.

Looking up into the dome.
Statue of St. Peter.
Beautiful light filling the church.

One of the things I was most looking forward to on this trip was seeing Michelangelo’s Pieta. I was so disappointed when I realized I wouldn’t be able to get close enough to really see it.  I don’t know if it is always blocked off, or if it was just a fluke, but we had to stand quite a bit aways from it.  It was smaller than I thought it would be also.  It’s protected by bulletproof glass-apparently some crazy person snuck a hammer in years ago and started hacking away at it!

Michelangelo’s Pieta
Super zoom lens-this is the image of God depicted at the very top and center of the dome.
Bernini’s golden dove window at the far end of the church.

 I was in awe of the basilica.  The building is enormous, and so ornately decorated.  There are beautiful statues lining the walls and the way the light comes into it is so serene.  I loved learning about the history of the church as well.  We listened to an audio tour and wandered around in there for at least an hour.  There weren’t many people there when we first came in, but by the time we left, you could tell the crowds were coming in and the line was growing quickly.  One thing that really surprised me to see in the basilica, is that they have taken the body of Pope John XXIII, who passed away in the 1960’s, and put it on display.  It hasn’t decayed and you can walk right up and pray next to him.  I, myself, not being catholic and being a little bit of a scaredy cat-found it quite creepy.  We also went down into the crypt where all the other popes are interred, you can’t see any of their bodies though (thank goodness).  I suppose it’s actually quite nice for followers to be able to go there and pray at the feet of their church’s leaders-however, it was still a little creepy for me.

 After we had finished up at the church, we had some time to kill before our reservation at the Vatican museum.  That’s when we made one of our biggest mistakes of the trip-we ate at a cafe right across the street from the Vatican Museum.  Why is this a mistake you ask?  Well, because of the supreme location of the cafe, they have deemed it appropriate to charge you an arm and a leg for everything!  We started out with some granitas and ended up eating full on lunches here so that we didn’t get hungry while in the museum.  This lunch ended up costing us over 50 euro for mediocre pizzas, drinks, and granitas.  The only thing that made us feel better was looking at the unmoving line that stretched around the block (literally) and knowing we didn’t have to wait in it.  Moral of the story: if you can make a reservation, you should!
The Vatican Museum has the biggest collection of art and artifacts I think I’ve ever seen.  There is just no way to see it all and really appreciate everything they have in there.  They have everything from ancient Egyptian art to modern paintings by Dali.  Of course the highlight is Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.  It really is impressive to look at.  We again listened to an audio guide to explain the panels and talk about what we were viewing.
taken with the iPhone, believe it or not

One more look at the Dome from the Museum.

Onto the next adventure!  Ciao Roma!