2008 Trip to Italy

Our trip to Italy in 2008 was adventurous and awesome.  The first city was Rome.  When we were here, I had fond nostalgia from the time we had visited previously.  The buildings looked the same (colorful and regal).  We visited the Trevi Fountain again, and took plenty nice photos there.  People were making wishes and tossing coins into the fountain.  There were also lots of lovers in the area taking photos and holding hands.  We made sure to visit the Vatican.  I was impressed with the large, open spaces filled with tourists.  The Pope was giving a speech about prayer and harmony.  I noticed that there was a giant obelisk in the middle of the square.  We also went inside St. Peter’s Basilica, which is large, nicely painted, and filled with a sacred aura.  Another place we visited in Rome was the Colosseum.  This structure has a long, interesting, and sometimes tragic history.  We noticed some ancient aqueducts close to the area as well.

Our next stop was Sorrento.  This is a quaint city, with many shops, hills, and lovely views of the shoreline.  We visited a few shops that were selling purses and satchels.  A highlight was when we went to nearby Capri.  There, we went on a boat and sailed over to the Grotto.  I was quite impressed with the intense blueness of the water, as well as the sturdy rock formations throughout the area.  While there we also walked up a hill filled with nice shops and restaurants.  The weather was sunny and somewhat hot.  I got a good workout, to say the least.  Another place we visited was Mount Vesuvius.  Here, there was a major eruption almost 2,000 years ago which practically leveled the town of Pompeii.  Some mosaics from the time period are still around, in addition to stonework and the foundations for ancient meeting places.

The next stop was Florence.  One of the first things I noticed was how beautiful the landscapes are around here.  There are many flowering fields, majestic hills, and peaceful trees in the area of Tuscany.  Our hotel blended in nicely with the scenery and looked like it was from the Nineteenth Century.  We made sure to visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which is nearby.  I was surprised at how much the tower actually leans; it’s a pretty large angle.  Nice gardens and columns are close to the tower.  We took some impressive photos as well.  Back in Florence, we visited a museum that housed Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, as well as a gallery that contained Michelangelo’s statue of David.  We visited many jewelry shops close to the area, and I was amazed at the picturesque quality of the rivers that flowed nearby.  We also went on two tours that took us to the countryside of Tuscany.  The first was to San Gimignano, a wonderful village with shop-filled alleyways and nice views of the countryside.  The second was to Siena, an ancient city known for the Palio, a horse race held often and with festive, colorful decorations.

Our next stop was Venice.  This amazing city is mainly known for its abundant waterways and gondolas, such as those that characterize the Grand Canal.  Of course we made sure to visit the Grand Canal, and we had a great time there.  We were on a gondola that took us through some waterways lined with restaurants that had beautiful flowers hanging from windows.  Once on the actual Grand Canal, there were many wonderful views of the city, its bridges, and waterfront buildings.  The whole experience was reminiscent of romantic escapes and lovers enjoying themselves.  We also walked through some of the town centers, filled with shops and birds walking proudly around the grounds.  One of our visits was to St. Mark’s Basilica.  This lovely church has golden mosaics spread throughout, and glittering walls.  We visited some Venetian mask shops as well, since Venice is also known for its intriguing masks.

Our next stop was Como.  Here, there is a large and exquisite lake highlighting much of the area and providing wonderful views.  Nearby, we visited a beautiful garden that had wondrous flowering plants, bushes, and trees.  There were also a few hills in that garden, and small decorative bridges.  We went on a small cruise on the lake.  The weather was sunny and nice, so I tied my jacket around my waist.  We noticed the grand views of the city around us, and there was also a green mountain towering above in the background.  One other place we visited here was a nice restaurant with umbrella shades.

The final stop on this vacation was Milan.  Here, we visited Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper.  I honestly believe this work of art is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.  It was much larger than I had expected it to be.  The tour guide was telling us about some of the interesting facts surrounding this painting, as well as some of the conspiracy theories that have followed it throughout history.  One thing that was noted was how there seems to be an impossible hand-placement carrying a knife toward the side of the painting.  I’m not sure I believe any of the conspiracy theories, but the work of art itself I find amazingly lovely.  We also visited the Duomo di Milano, a large cathedral that has strikingly beautiful spires throughout.  After we saw the inside of the cathedral, which had wondrous glowing stained glass windows, we actually went on a small tour that took us to the top of the building.  There were of course fantastic views of the city from here.  From there, we walked around a big shopping center that was close by, and did some people-watching.  One of the last things we did in Milan was eat at a nice, comfortable restaurant that had some delicious dessert.  That concluded our great vacation this time around.

2007 Trip to Asia

Our trip this time was to China and Japan in Asia.  It was a very educational experience, with lots of thrills and adventures as well.  The first stop was in Hong Kong, China.  This city is quite mountainous and green.  The weather was very humid, I believe even a tropical in nature.  I was surprised to see so many Americans and English-speaking people here.  That was a pleasant surprise, to say the least.  We visited a giant shopping mall with plenty American stores and products.  It was very clean and filled with tourists seemingly from all around the world.  We also took a tour which involved us going up a steep mountain (in a bus) and seeing the incredible views of the city from up above.  One of the highlights of this city was visiting Jumbo Kingdom floating restaurant.  This restaurant had many beautiful lights and an elegant atmosphere.  The next stop in China was Guilin.  This gorgeous city has amazing water-ways, rivers, and green cliffs in a misty and humid setting.  It definitely was not as modernized as previous places we had seen.  We learned a few Mandarin words and customs here.  We also went on a beautiful tour that involved us being on a boat and witnessing all the splendor of Guilin’s nature.  There were remarkable cliffs surrounding the river as well as buffalo and endearing sea birds.  The next city we visited was Xian, China.  This wonderful city made me have the impression I was visiting a whole new planet filled with exotic destinations and adventurous getaways.  We saw the magnificent Terracotta soldiers, which date back over 2,000 years.  The attention to detail is splendid in these soldiers.  We also visited an enigmatic excavation site with holes in the ground and with some archaeology equipment scattered around.  I knew I was on an adventure.  We went on to tour some jade shops that also had pretty jewelry and vases.  The next city in China we went to was Beijing.  There were plenty of tall buildings here.  We went on a tour that took us to the amazing Great Wall of China.  Lots of tourists were there in addition to us.  We also made sure to visit Tiananmen Square, eat at some nice restaurants, and see some amazing ancient temples dedicated to the Chinese gods of yore.

Our next stop was Tokyo, Japan.  This is definitely one of my favorite places I have been to.  I was in awe at the bustling city-life all around us.  The streets were crowded with both tourists and natives of the amazing city.  The buildings are tall and modernized.  There are many neon lights and signs flashing throughout the city.  I noticed that some people walking through the streets were dressed in gothic fashion.  Tokyo definitely seems to be setting some major trends in technology, fashion, and culture in general.  One of the main highlights of our visit was going to Mount Fuji.  I have always been so interested in this beautiful mountain, and wondered what it was like to actually be there.  It is absolutely incredible.  It’s even more beautiful in person.  There are wonderful cherry blossoms all around, and the very top of the mountain is still covered in snow.  The weather was pleasant when we were there, and there was even a slight mist surrounding some of the mountain.  We visited a shop that was there, where I got a Mount Fuji hoodie.  Another great place we visited in Japan was Nara Park.  Here, there were so many beautiful deer.  They were graceful and so very peaceful.  I even pet one and it was so wonderful.  The entire park has an aura of peace and sacredness.  We visited Kasuga Shrine, which is a Shinto shrine.  It was really pretty and surrounded by flowering, green plants.  There were plenty tall trees all throughout the park as well.  We visited Todai-ji, which houses a giant Buddha statue.  I would say it’s over four stories tall.  We also went on a boat close to the park, which was fun.  Another attraction we visited in Japan was the bullet train.  We boarded several in order to get from some destinations to others, and they are extremely fast.  I actually believe this is the fastest train I’ve ever been on.  Also in Tokyo, we went on a tour aboard a boat on the Sumida River.  The tour guide was very funny, and called himself “Sugar”.  While on the river, he discussed the importance of many facets of Japanese culture, including anime.  This practice of animation stems from mythological and ancient roots, and has evolved into a worldwide phenomenon.  One of our final visits in Japan was the Hiroshima Memorial, which commemorates the important, albeit tragic, history of Hiroshima.

2005 Trip to Europe

Our trip in 2005 was to eight different nations in Europe.  We started off in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.  This is a gorgeous destination.  Scenic waterways abound throughout the city.  Many of the buildings have an old-town charm to them rarely seen in modern cities.  We visited many museums, including a Rembrandt museum.  We also saw a great concert by pianist Alba Ventura.  The music was wonderful.  Another of our visits was to a cheese farm down in the countryside.  I was impressed with the giant windmills, beautiful farm animals, and lovely green scenery.  The weather consisted of a nice refreshing breeze as well.

Our next destination was Copenhagen, Denmark.  Here, we visited the grand Tivoli Gardens, and saw beautiful gardens in addition to some very tall rides.  Denmark is the birthplace of amazing writer Hans Christian Andersen.  In the nighttime, we walked around the main square of the city, which is filled with bright lights and signs, nice restaurants, and nifty shops.  A major thing we did during the day was board a large cruise ship in order to set sail across the Baltic Sea.  It was on this cruise that we visited six more nations.

One destination was Stockholm, Sweden.  There were a lot of tall buildings here in addition to some older-looking facades.  We visited a museum called the Royal Armoury that housed many interesting artifacts dating from the Renaissance.  There were horse-drawn carriages as well as many armored pieces of clothing that the knights used to wear.  We also visited the Vasa Museum, which houses a ship from the Seventeenth Century.  In addition to these museums, we toured some churches that had ornamental windows and paintings.

Our next stop was Helsinki, Finland.  This charming city has plenty of friendly, welcoming people.  I thoroughly enjoyed the sweeping views of the sea from the local harbor.  There were lots of ships at bay, and many marine birds flying around.  We ate at a nice restaurant with patio umbrellas.  From there we toured a church built into solid rock, and that was quite interesting.  We also saw the Sibelius Monument, which was tall and surrounded by green hills.

The next stop was St. Petersburg, Russia.  I instantly became very impressed with this lovely location.  A musical band greeted us as we stepped off of the ship.  Our first tour took us to the beautiful Neva River.  Here we boarded a boat and sailed among the peaceful waves, seeing the green trees and stately building in the background.  There were many attractive bridges over the river as well.  From there we toured the Hermitage Museum.  The building itself is impressive, looking like a palace.  The inside is remarkable and highly decorated with regal-looking staircases and candelabras.  We saw beautiful horse-drawn carriages and Madonna paintings.  Many paintings make great use of chiaroscuro and highlight the natural pleasantness of everyday life.  From there we ate a wonderful restaurant where a talented harpist played great music for us.  Then we visited the Church of the Spilled Blood, which is one of the main landmarks of St. Petersburg as well as Russia in general.  Here, we noted the incredible architecture of the ceilings and prayer booths.  The ceilings are richly painted, with much influence from Byzantine and Eastern Orthodox culture.  There are also many chandeliers and lovely mosaics.  The next day, which was also spent in St. Petersburg, we toured the regal Peterhof Palace and gardens.  This is just extraordinary.  I fell in love with the beauty of the gardens, which were mesmerizing and filled with fountains, colorful flowers, and prominent statuettes.  The weather was sunny and with crisp breeze.  It seriously seemed like I was in paradise.  From there we visited the Peter and Paul Cathedral.  This building dates to the Baroque Era, and demonstrates the ornate qualities of that time period.  The ceilings are high and painted in rich golden and emerald colors.  From there, we went temporarily back to the ship in order to change into our dress clothing for the night’s ballet.  It was the Russian Ballet performing Swan Lake, and it was marvelous.  The music is fabulous and very romantic.  The dancers were graceful, talented, and full of expressive emotional qualities.  The story of Princess Odette and Prince Siegfried itself is beautiful, tragic, and reminiscent of Nineteenth Century ideals of romanticism.

The next stop was Tallinn, Estonia.  This city is full of remarkable views of the harbor from an idyllic countryside and town setting.  We visited several quaint and pretty churches, making sure to kneel for prayer.  We walked along the cobblestone streets and visited a few shops as well.  Many of the buildings here look like they have existed from the time of the Renaissance.  It’s a pleasant and peaceful city.

Our next stop on the cruise was Gdansk, Poland.  We had a lot of fun here.  This city has many exciting shops and restaurants among the various street-ways and town corners.  Some of the buildings actually date from the Renaissance.  It really is beautiful looking at them.  The people and tourists here are also very interesting.  There were even some pets walking along the streets with us.  There was definitely a friendly atmosphere.  We ate at a nice restaurant before hopping back on the cruise.

The next stop was Berlin, Germany.  I noticed that Berlin definitely seemed to be more modernized than a lot of the towns we had seen in the area.  The highlight of this visit was going to the Berlin Wall (what’s left of it, at least).  It was fun seeing the different-colored sections of the wall, much of them with symbols from the previous era of a separated Germany.  We then visited the Allied Museum, which was nice and had lots of artifacts.  From there we went back on the cruise and actually finished back at Copenhagen, Denmark.  It was interesting seeing the colorful buildings of this city again.  We checked in to our hotel and rested for a bit.  Then, we visited a beautiful statue of the Little Mermaid, inspired by one of Hans Christian Andersen’s written works.  That concluded our vacation for the year.

2003 Trip to Europe

This trip began with us traveling to London, UK for a quick overnight stay.  I remember liking the hotel and watching a bit of TV.  We then flew to Munich, Germany.  This city I found to be remarkably similar to American cities.  Our hotel was quite nice, and was surrounded by nice shops and benches.  The weather was good and sunny.  Our first tour took us through the scenery of wild Germany.  I was impressed with the glorious mountains, which were filled with green, tall trees.  The tour guide was an upbeat and funny woman.  We eventually made our way to Neuschwanstein Castle.  This incredible castle is the inspiration behind many of Disney’s fairy tale castles, and understandably so, I quickly realized.  It is so beautiful, standing up on a hill, with glistening towers and bright blue rooftops.  We made sure to take plenty of serene, wonderful photos.  The tour led us to the front of the castle and onward inside.  We learned about the incredible Prince Ludwig, who I consider one of my icons.  I was impressed with the large, ancient-looking rooms and somewhat mysterious atmosphere.  When we walked out of the castle I remember it being very hot; I believe I wanted some sort of beverage.  Our tour concluded with us traveling again through the idyllic mountains.

Our next stop was Vienna, Austria.  We had to take a train from Munich to Vienna.  It is so beautiful looking at the countryside as one travels by train here.  When we arrived, I was instantly taken by surprise just how friendly so many of the nationals are.  It was really something to behold.  One of our first visits was to St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  This picturesque cathedral has really high ceilings, lovely windows, and an amazingly tall staircase.  We decided to take the audio-tour here.  The tour involved us going up the stairs, witnessing the illustrious views of the city, and learning about the history of the cathedral.  Another of our visits was to a great Strauss concert.  Here, they played the beautiful and romantic Blue Danube Waltz.  I have always loved this famous piece, as it makes me imagine lovers dancing the ballroom night away.  The next day, we walked through an interesting Dali art exhibit.  The theme was, of course, Dali’s amazing surrealism.  I am still impressed with Dali’s unashamed embrace of the dreamy, surreal nature of the world.  We then walked among various shops, and actually recognized some of the musicians from the previous night’s concert walking around.  One of our visits was to a grand hall in which several ballet dancers impressed us with their fluid, graceful motions.  I also remember Vienna has a lovely river running through town.

Our next destination was Zurich, Switzerland.  This really is a beautiful, extraordinary city.  I noticed how hilly much of the landscape is here.  The weather was fantastic.  We went on a small cruise on a local river, where we had some great dessert.  I enjoyed the views of the hills surrounding the river, as well as the crisp, fresh look of the long river.  I actually believe this was one of my first times on a cruise.  We also visited several of the local Swatch shops.  Switzerland is known for their colorful, elegant watches.

Our last destination was London, UK.  Here, we visited Westminster Abbey, which is large, majestic, and filled with decorative spires.  We also visited the Tower of London, which has plenty of dark, mysterious hallways and a relatively morbid history.  We made sure to visit Piccadilly Circus.  This place is quite colorful and often jam-packed with tourists.  We also went to Madame Tussauds and the Chamber of Horrors again, and I was once more impressed with the darkness.  Our trip ended with another visit to London Bridge, as well as Wimbledon.

2002 Trip to Europe

Our 2002 trip to Europe was incredible.  This trip was mainly in London, UK and Dublin, Ireland.  While in London, one of our visits was to Madame Tussauds.  This is a wax museum with many statues of famous people that are completely made in wax.  We took plenty of funny photos.  I was amazed at how lifelike some of the figures were.  We also went through the Chamber of Horrors, which was dark, scary, and awesome.  I thoroughly enjoyed the mysterious and haunted vibe of the place.  Another of our visits was of course Big Ben.  This is an impressive clock tower that has been featured in quite a few movies and books.  We also visited Buckingham Palace, which is the home of UK royalty.  It is quite large, with tall columns and many gates.  While we were there, we saw the changing of the guards.  There were a bunch of tourists there seeing it as well.  It was a wonderful spectacle, with the guards marching in a regal and orderly procession.  We made sure to visit London Bridge.  This long bridge is built above the River Thames, and though it’s not quite the original from the Medieval era, it is still very impressive.  There are also many alleyways filled with shops throughout the city, so we visited some of those.  London has great food as well, with a diversity of options spanning cuisines inspired from locales around the world.  We also went aboard the London Eye, which is a really large Ferris wheel with cabins that have windows surrounding them.  The views are great from the top.

Our next visit was Dublin, Ireland.  I immediately became entranced with the beauty of Ireland.  Everything about the landscape is so green, lush, and welcoming.  On the way from the airport I noticed that there were many hills as well.  Clontarf Castle is the place where we kept our luggages and slept.  This wonderful castle has an amazing history, spanning times ever since the Medieval era.  It felt incredible staying here, knowing its past and admiring its current beauty.  There are many beautiful tapestries about the walls of the interior.  I remember hearing some great piano music there as well.  One of the tours we went on focused on three fantastic locales.  The first was an ancient graveyard with roots from the Medieval era, called the Reefert ruins.  I was impressed with the gothic beauty of this place.  Large stones could be seen at every corner, the scenery was quite green, and the hills were large and majestic.  There was even a mist covering some of the stones.  The next locale was at the foot of a beautiful lake in Wicklow.  This place was like an absolute magical dream.  Surrounding the lake were mountains of tall trees.  A lovely breeze was blowing and the water rippled passionately.  We walked around the landscape and admired the serene quality.  The view of the trees and water was unlike anything I had seen before.  The next locale was at the top of a cliff overlooking Lough Tay.  This is another wonderful place, with views of a grand lake surrounded by green scenery and tall cliffs.  It was quite cold up here, so I put on my jacket.  I then started frolicking around, because everything seemed so nice and welcoming.  On the tour bus, the tour guide played a CD of the Dubliners.  We were all enjoying ourselves on the bus to this music, and there was a general sense of camaraderie.  We learned about the term “slainte”, meaning “good health”.  One of the tour members asked if there were goats in the countryside, and the tour guide replied “yes, there be plenty goats down there”.  On another day, we walked around some shops in Dublin, and noticed how very friendly everyone was.  I got a piece of the Blarney Stone as well.  Another tour we went on led us to Trinity College, and there we saw some interesting Medieval manuscripts, and an Ogham stone.  The next stop on the tour was St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which is absolutely stunning.  The stained glass is beautiful.  Our last stop on the tour was Guinness brewery, which was fascinating.

2000 Trip to Europe

This was my first trip overseas.  Our first stop was in Rome, Italy.  Glancing out the airplane I noticed that there were a lot of fields.  When we arrived at our hotel, the Sofitel, I was impressed with its luxury.  The luxuriousness of hotels is something that continued to impress me in future vacations to destinations overseas.  We took a taxi to the Sistine Chapel.  I noticed how majestic and ancient-looking all the buildings were.  We toured the large, amazing complex filled with religious, revered works of art.  The paintings are unquestionably beautiful.  Once we finished, we walked around the area, noticing the diversity of all the tourists/people who were there as well.  We continued to walk among various shops and scenic bridges, until we noticed that we were quite lost.  It must have been about a full hour we were lost, and then a taxi finally saved us.  The next day was the Colosseum.  This ancient building has an amazing and sometimes tragic history.  We walked around it, and there were also a lot of tourists there.  We then ambled our way through bustling shops.  I noticed much of the music I heard was a cool new techno sound.  The next day we visited the glorious Trevi Fountain.  It is absolutely romantic.  People were making wishes and tossing coins into the giant fountain.  There were plenty of professional photographers taking pictures of couples in love standing in front of it.  The statues among the fountain are also quite extraordinary and heroic-looking.

The next day, we flew to Barcelona, Spain.  The hotel was Avenida Suites.  I noticed how friendly most of the people around the area were.  We toured a Gaudi museum filled with the eccentric artist’s masterpieces.  Then we took a taxi to a wonderful park inspired by the works of Gaudi.  The park was hilly and colorful.  The next day, we visited a Medieval monastery.  The ride to the monastery was filled with beautiful landscapes and lush fields.  The monastery had impressive architecture, plenty of dark, large rooms, and gorgeous gardens.  From there we went on to visit the Sagrada Familia, which I have heard is still in the process of being constructed.  This incredible church has been in the process of construction since the early Twentieth Century.  It is designed with strong attention to detail.  The next day we toured an ancient fort and visited a nice beach close to the fort.

The day after that, we flew to Paris, France.  This is an amazing and romantic city.  Our hotel was the Louvre Hotel.  We took a pleasant stroll around the area and did some people-watching.  I remember seeing such incredibly beautiful cafes filled with fragrant flowers hanging among windows and fabulous desserts.  There were really nice gardens.  It seemed so much like a dream.  That same day we took a taxi to the Eiffel Tower.  On the tower there was a sign celebrating the new millennium.  I remember noticing that the tower was taller than I had expected it to be.  The next day, we toured the giant, impressive Louvre museum.  Of course, the main attraction there is the Mona Lisa.  Security was heavy (as it should be), and there were throngs of tourists trying to catch a peek at the famous painting.  When I saw it, I remember believing it was somewhat smaller than I had expected it to be.  It was still very spectacular.  There were also other amazing works of art at the museum.  The next day, we visited the Notre Dame Cathedral.  When we walked in, there were a choir singing, candles lit, and extremely high ceilings.  It really is a lovely cathedral.  We proceeded to walk around the area, seeing shops as well as the Seine River.  This was our trip to Europe that year.