Thursday, February 8, 2007

Our trip to Europe

To explain why there have been no blog posts for the past week, my wife and I have been vacationing in Europe. We flew out on January 29 with my mother-in-law and Shannon's aunt and uncle. We spent a day in Milan, and then flew to Valencia. When we got there, we met my sister-in-law, who is studying abroad in Spain this semester. From there, we flew to Rome, where we spent four days.

Being a coffee drinker, one thing I had to get used to was the fact that coffee is much different in Europe than it is here in America. I am used to brewed coffee, but there a cup of coffee is a shot of espresso with a little bit of milk. I generally ordered a latte, with a little bit more milk. It is quite a bit stronger than what I get out of my trusty "Mr. Coffee" machine, but is quite good once you get used to it.

After a 12 hour flight from Atlanta, we spent a day in Milan. We visited the Cathedral of Milan, which is just spectacular. You really have to see it to believe it. My wife and I walked up all the way to the roof, where the view of the city is awesome. The engineering that went into building that place is amazing, given the technology of the time. It is an ornate, beautiful building.

Our day in Milan was basically a 12 hour layover, and we flew to Valencia that night. I had caught a few hours of sleep on the plane, but the hotel in Valencia was the first bed I was able to sleep in for over 30 hours. Needless to say, I slept like a log. The next day, my sister-in-law showed us around the major tourist sites in the city, and the campus where she is studying and working this semester.

On Thursday, we had Paella, which is very good. Ours was chicken and rabbit mixed with rice, cooked to perfection. Included in the huge pan were a few Escargot... snails. I smiled as I remembered an old "Little House on the Prairie" episode when Charles Ingalls ordered some Escargot without realizing what it was and being disgusted when it arrived. I did try a couple, but was unimpressed. It was rather bland - not as bland as lobster, but not something that I would personally consider a delicacy.

From there, we went to Rome, where we had a very nice dinner. Meals are very different from the much faster American style. You can expect to spend two or three hours at mealtime, if you are having a large meal. There is not a premium on speed, but the quality more than makes up for it. Olive oil is used quite a bit, and I developed an appreciation for it during my week on the other side of the Atlantic.

On Saturday, Sunday and Monday we toured historic Rome, including Vatican City, the Colosseum and St. Peter's Basilica. We had the opportunity to also tour the Necropolis, where we saw the pagan tombs, and got a very informative history lesson on the history of the area and the place where the Apostle Peter's bones might actually be buried. The famous "niche" where Peter's remains are traditionally thought to be is visible from inside the main building.

During our tour of the Sistine Chapel, we got an informative history lesson on Michelangelo, his relationship with the Pope and the Catholic Church, and his efforts with the awe-inspiring Sistine Chapel. The amount of work that went into that painting is amazing. Michelangelo's dig at a cardinal in the painting on the chapel wall, placing the cardinal in Hell, was particularly interesting.

We also saw the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon, built to honor the pagan Roman "gods". Again, the engineering that went into the Pantheon is still amazing after all of these centuries. Poseidon/Neptune is the main attraction of the Trevi Fountain; that structure is breathtaking when you see it at night. Legend has it that you throw in one coin if you wish to return to Rome, a second coin for a second marriage, and a third coin for a third divorce.

Getting back into Indianapolis, we encountered a nasty snowstorm that slowed traffic and made the drive to Anderson much slower. (That is where Nano and Tera were boarded for the duration of our trip to Europe.) The dogs were thrilled to see us when we picked them up from the kennel, and it was great to see them too. The trip back to Bloomington, like the drive north the previous night, was also quite slow. Tera does not travel well at all, but she eventually settled down and stopped screaming.

The trip was a great deal of fun and I am thankful that Shannon and I had the opportunity to go. Nonetheless, it is good to be back home here in America.