25 April 2008
By the way, please take note of the Expat Trick of packing your small suitcase inside your big suitcase thereby cleverly leaving room for purchases.
Oh yeah. The dollar is weak. We will be bringing things back.
See y'all later!
24 April 2008
We arrived at the factory shortly before 9 am and were shown to the visitor lounge, where we were served croissants with your choice of coffee or hot chocolate. Astoundingly, everyone else in our group went with coffee. I know! It's not like it's a Coffee Factory! What were they thinking?
There were several groups gathered that morning for the tour. They brought us all into a small theater where they gave a welcoming speech in Schweizer Deutsch. (Of the close to 75 people in the room, only 11 were native English speakers. Only one of those 11 understood even a little Schweizer Deutsch, but such is life.)
Then they showed a comically hookey movie about a little girl visiting her grandfather, a retired chocolatier, and her discovery of the antique chocolate making equipment in the basement. Fortunately, this was subtitled in English! And the large group was separated after the movie so our tour was in English.
After the movie each group was taken through the locker room where we left our belongings and donned hair nets, lab coats and little booty things for our feet.
Modelling our attractive ensemble are Jill with her guests from Minnesota:
Cameras are not allowed into the factory itself, so that is the end of the photos!
I actually found the visit to the factory to be quite interesting. But I discovered a very sad thing. At the beginning of the chocolate making process, chocolate does not smell very good. In fact, it smells kind of disgusting. With my too-good sense of smell, combined with the nasty smell followed by the overwhelming smell of the chocolate later on the tour, I ended up a bit overwhelmed by the aroma and actually felt queasy.
Which was very bad. Because on the chocolate factory tour you can eat as much chocolate as you want. There are tasting stations placed along the route. And I felt so ill I could only eat 2 very small pieces of chocolate. They gave us samples to take home with us and I couldn't even look at them until the next day.
However, I still recommend a trip to the factory, especially if your sense of smell is not as well developed!
23 April 2008
An Ancient Roman city which has remained virtually the same since the 24th of August in 79 AD when Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried both Pompeii and the nearby community of Herculean, and everyone in them, beneath several meters of ash and pumice.
There is evidence that in the first few years after the eruption people attempted to dig down and retrieve the treasures that were buried. But in time, the fact the city ever existed was virtually forgotten except for the occasional, obscure reference found in Roman documents.
The towns were accidentally rediscovered in 1599 by Domenico Fontana, an engineer in charge of a crew digging a new course for the Sarno River. However, serious excavations did not begin until 1748 when Charles of Bourbon, the King of Naples, started the process to excavate both cities.
What they found was the most complete view of every-day Ancient Roman life every discovered. What makes Pompeii different from all the other Roman sites is that it was preserved in its entirety -- from the grand public buildings to the homes of the people at all levels to the bakeries and the shops and even a brothel.
At the time of the eruption, Pompeii had a population of approximately 25,000 people. It was a thriving community. And it's excavation allows visitors to truly experience "walking in the footsteps of the Ancient Romans."
At the center of all Roman cities lies the Forum, the market place and gathering point for the citizens.
Looking past the Forum, we caught our first view of Mount Vesuvius from Pompeii. I have to admit, it gave me a bit of a shudder. Especially as shortly before our visit I watched a documentary on Pompeii which said the volcano was due for another massive eruption! Fortunately scientists are now able to predict when a volcanic eruption might be imminent.
The Forum Baths, one of a few different public baths in the city, stands nearby.
And we were charmed by the House of the Small Fountain.
So named, of course, due to the small fountain in its inner courtyard.
Near the arena is the Large Palaestra, where spectators could walk before, during and after arena events, enjoying the beauty of the gardens.
We were fortunate to visit Pompeii before the major tourist season arrived and on a rainy weekend in which the locals chose to stay home because the city was remarkably clear of masses of people.
The only exception was the long line of people eagerly waiting to pass through the brothel and view the "art" frescoed on the walls to "inspire" the clientele. We left it to our imagination, however, as we had no interest in joining the masses to shuffle slowly past pornography. Especially when we had already seen the originals in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.
We also enjoyed seeing the other small slices of life. The "Beware of Dog" signs of today?
A dog mosaic on your doorstep would be a much "classier" version.
And the Ancient Romans must have had well-developed thighs and buttocks from all of the "step aerobics" they performed just crossing the street.
The curbs are much higher than the street and stepping stones are strategically placed to allow chariots and wagons to pass. Their purpose was so pedestrians could walk above the muck of the street. (Note: the streets, curbs and stepping stones WERE NOT designed for modern prams and strollers. If you take your young children, do yourselves a favor and use one of those backpack contraptions. You'll have an easier time as a result.)
However, the most haunting sights are the body casts seen throughout Pompeii. They are the reminders of the people who once lived here and how they died.
As workers excavated the city, they would periodically discover empty spaces in the ash. It wasn't until the 1860's that someone realized these holes were the spaces left by bodies, long since decomposed. From then on when one of these spaces was discovered, it would be filled with plaster to create a cast of the person who had died in that place so many centuries before.
Today Pompeii is the most visited site in Italy with an estimated 2.5 million visitors every year. However, all of those visitors, the years, the weather, air pollution and the early, clumsy, methods of excavation have all taken a toll. Although the volcanic ash almost perfectly preserved the buildings, mosaics and vibrant colors, the site is deteriorating rapidly. Approximately 1/3 of the city remains buried, but excavations have stopped until better methods of conservation can be found. Many of the buildings that were once opened to the public have been closed and there have even been discussion of reburying parts of the city in order to protect it.
It has been estimated that it would take $335 million (US dollars) to adequately conserve the site, but in cash-strapped Italy that is unlikely to happen any time soon.
We were just happy to have had the opportunity to see it. We hope to go back one day because the site is so enormous that we only had time to see a part of it. In our opinion, it is one of the top "Must See's" in all of Europe.
Although we aren't surprised as thus far there isn't anyplace we have been in Italy we haven't loved. Even if every trip to Italy has involved being cheated by at least one taxi driver or, in the case of Naples, every taxi driver we encountered. Just the price of traveling in Italy, I guess. But I digress...
We checked into the hotel, opened the drapes, stepped out onto the balcony and were greeted with the sight of...
Castel d'Ovo. So called because apparently at some stage someone hid a magic egg which protects the fortress. Or something. Have to admit I wasn't really paying attention.
And Mount Vesuvius.
By the way, the beautiful sunny skies in the photos? Yep, that's the last we saw of that! Most of the weekend it rained and the winds were so strong at one stage I had to link my arm through GLH's just to avoid being blown over by the hurricane-force winds.
Didn't even matter, we loved Naples anyway!
Besides the fantabulous pizza, our favorite thing in Naples was the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, which has an amazing collection of artifacts from Pompeii and Herculean. Including these...
Mosaics from a villa in Pompeii.
We also explored...
Castel Nuovo. Also known as Il Maschio Angioino.
Duomo di Napoli
San Francesco di Paolo
But what we loved the most about Naples was wandering the streets to see how the people lived.
Both the wealthy...
And the not so wealthy.
Just experiencing the charm that is Naples!
16 April 2008
14 April 2008
Or rather, exploded at the end of a grueling, ritualistic trial by fire.
It took 26:02 minutes for the Böögg to loose its head, which predicts a cold and rainy summer for Zürich.
Frankly, I couldn't be happier!
A cooler summer means I do not need to hibernate to get away from the heat. It means I do not have to threaten to leave GLH and return to my parents' air-conditioned home during the heat waves. And perhaps, just perhaps, I do not have to deal with waves of nausea while taking public transportation with people who refuse to open windows in un-air-conditioned trams because obviously a cross breeze can KILL YOU.
'Cause I gotta tell y'all. The lack of deodorant can make Europe stink to high heaven during the summer time.