April 19th, 2018 – Sicily – Villa Romana del Casale

Alessio, the owner of the B & B where we are staying and his sister Chiara (who speaks English) took us to the Villa Romana del Casale which is a large and elaborate Roman villa located a little over 2 hours from Palermo.  Excavations have revealed one of the richest, largest and varied collections of Roman mosaics in the world.   The villa and artwork contained within date to the early 4th century AD.   The over 32,000 sq. feet of mosaic and opus sectile pavement are also almost unique in their excellent state of preservation due to the landslide and floods which covered the remains.  The complex remained inhabited for at least 150 years.

The 5th – 13th picture shows close-ups of a massive mural that was in the hallway leading to the basilica (where the lord of the manor conducted business).  The left side of the mural had African animals and the right side Indian animals.  Both sides led to a boat that was going to Rome.  It is believed that the owner of the villa was an important person for providing animals to the Roman coliseum.  The 12th picture shows the famous bikini girls – a mosaic that shows young girls doing various gymnastics sports.  Every room had such elaborate mosaics.  The ones that were servants rooms and unimportant rooms had just designs (like the 2nd picture).  The important parts of the house had pictures.  All were beautiful and the detail in the mosaics is amazing.  The color that remains makes it hard to believe they are over 1700 years old.

The last picture shows a wild fennel plant.  They were all over the countryside that we drove through which was quite beautiful.












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April 18th, 2018 – Italy – Monreale & Cefalu

The Cathedral of Monreale  (pictures 1 -9) is one of the greatest examples of Norman architecture anywhere. It was begun in 1174 by William II.  Enlightened, tolerant and appreciative of many aspects of North African and Middle Eastern culture and art, William II employed the very best Arabic and Byzantine (as well as Norman) craftsmen to work on the cathedral.  The result is a fabulous and fascinating fusion of architectural styles, artistic traditions and religious symbolism.

The cathedral’s asymmetrical, twin-towered façade gives little clue as to the splendour to be found within.  A geometrically patterned marble floor, in-laid with mosaics, supports two lines of granite Corinthian columns that delineate the wide, lofty, wooden ceilings above the nave. Lancet arches leap from column to column drawing the eye to the window-punctured clerestory and its astonishing display of art: over 70,000 square feet of swirling golden mosaics animated by biblical scenes and depictions of saints, kings and angels, all interspersed with gilded motifs and  decorative patterns. Wave after wave of this dazzling beauty culminates at the east end, in the triple-apsed choir, surveyed from on high by a colossal representation of Christ Pantocrator.  The church is a national monument of Italy and one of the most important attractions of Sicily.  And yes for those of you wondering – that is real gold, not paint.  It was breathtaking.

Outside the Cathedral, adjoining its south side, is another artistic and architectonic masterpiece: the cloisters (pictures 10 – 11). Built in 1200 as part of the Cathedral abbey, the cloisters comprise 108 pairs of marble columns, a covered arcade of Arabic arches and a central quad. Every other pair of columns is decorated with unique mosaic patterns (no two are the same) and each is topped by a floral capital.

We next went to Cefalu (pictures 12 – 15),which is located about an hour from Monreale, on the northern coast of Sicily.  We enjoyed the beauty of the Mediterranean Sea.  Leslie had to go down and touch the water so she could officially say she had been in the Mediterranean Sea.  We walked through the little town which was very quaint.  One of the main reasons for our trip was to see the cathedral (pictures 16 – 18).  Begun in 1131, it too is in the style of Norman architecture (including the real gold).  There were many similarities to the one in Monreale, but this one was much smaller.  Amazingly beautiful.

We had lunch at I AM Pizza.  We stopped because it was quick and we had to meet the tour guide at a certain time.  We were pleasantly surprised.  The restaurant is run by an Italian who spent many years in the U.S. with his family in Queens where he learned to make NY pizza.  The anchovies here are fantastic so of course we got them on our pizza.














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April 17th, 2018 – Italy – Sicily – Palermo

We are finally traveling this year.  It has not been a great year so far.  We have had multiple illnesses between the two of us and parts of our family and Don had to have surgery.  We had to cancel several trips for the first part of the year.  Don’s travel restriction was lifted, so we are now in Sicily. We managed to reserve our tickets early enough and got a great deal using miles to fly business class here.  We are now officially spoiled.  We are going to have to see if we can do that again.  When we go home, we are flying coach so we will be back to reality pretty quickly.

Our first stop is Palermo.  The city is over 2,700 years old and has lots of history.  The city was founded in 734 BC by the Phoenicians as Ziz (‘flower’). Palermo then became a possession of Carthage, before becoming part of the Roman Republic, the Roman Empire and eventually part of the Byzantine Empire, for over a thousand years.  The Greeks named the city Panormus meaning ‘complete port’.  From 831 to 1072 the city was under Arab rule when the city first became a capital.  The Arabs shifted the Greek name into Bal’harm the root for Palermo’s present-day name. Following the Norman reconquest, Palermo became the capital of a new kingdom (from 1130 to 1816).  Today, Palermo is Sicily’s cultural, economic and tourism capital.

We did not do too much today as we were recovering from the long flights and the 9 hour time change.  It was a beautiful afternoon, so we walked around the city and admired the architecture.  We had some wonderful pasta – bucatini with eggplant for Leslie and bucatini with sardines for Don — both of which are traditional Sicilian dishes.





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December 14th, 2017 – Cumberland Island National Seashore – Georgia

Cumberland Island is one of the Sea Islands of the southeastern United States and at 17.5 miles long is the largest in terms of continuously exposed land.  It is located off the coast of Georgia and constitutes the westernmost point of shoreline on the Atlantic Ocean in the United States.   There is no bridge to the island so we took the Cumberland Ferry.

We took a 6 hour tour which is the only way to see everything on the island in one day. There is one main road which is hard packed sand with a lot of big bumps. The guide gave us a running narrative about the island, focusing mostly on the late 1800s and early 1900s when very rich people settled on the island.  We had no idea that so many rich people lived here and given how primitive the island is, it is hard to believe. What we found out is that unlimited money can make primitive nice (more on that later).

There are around 150 feral horses on the island (4th and 8th pictures) and we got to see a few of them. We also got extremely lucky and got to see one of the two white deer that live on the island. The guide says he sees one of them maybe 2 – 3 times a year.  We have no photographic evidence because he was in some bushes so the pictures are not good, but at least we got to see one.  We also got to see a very cute armadillo.

The tour took us to the church where John F Kennedy Jr. got married (11th and 12th picture). It was amazingly small and the guests had to travel 13 miles on a very rough road to get to the church and then travel the same road back to go to the reception. Hard to imagine.  The island is very beautiful and at the time most of it was not open to the public, so it was a good place for privacy.

Ok, for those people who do not want any more of a history lesson, you can stop reading now. For those who want to know how unlimited money can make a primitive place, not so primitive – read on.  We had probably 4 hours of history on the tour, one of the most interesting parts was about Lucy Carnegie.

After the Civil War, Union soldiers went back north and told everyone about how nice the winters are in the south. Lucy Carnegie, the wife of Thomas M. Carnegie (brother of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie) wanted to have a winter home in the South.  At the time, the Carnegies were the richest people in the world.  She wrote a letter to the Jekyll Island Club (the millionaire’s club) to request permission to build a house on the island.  She received a reply that her husband’s (who was a Scottish immigrant) blood was not blue enough for them. Not to be deterred, she heard about Cumberland Island which is a few miles south of Jekyll Island and after a trip there, she and her husband bought land on the southern part of the island.

In 1884, they began building a 59-room mansion designed as a Scottish castle.  After three winters there, Lucy decided to live on Cumberland Island permanently. She lured her nine children down to the island by building her married children $10,000 estates and creating a fun environment with hunting, polo, golf, tennis, squash, and pools.  Lucy ultimately created quite an estate with housing for the over 300 servants that it took to run the household and entertainment.  Lucy Carnegie had a yacht to take her to the mainland, a train that was at her beck and call to take her wherever she wanted to go and the power and money to bring just about anything to the island (she owned 90% of it).

Plum Orchard (pictures 5 – 8) was built in 1900 for her oldest son. His 19-year old wife felt the 10,000 square ft. house was too small, so her father gave her $50,000 to add on to the house.  It was expanded to 22,000 feet and was one of the first houses in the US to have indoor plumbing.  It had 11 bathrooms, an indoor pool, and a squash court.  Some of the stories about how these people lived were amazing.  At the turn of the century rich people ate cold food to prove they had the means to keep food cold.  Lucy Carnegie had a steam boat that she sent to Maine to get 2 ton ice blocks. They brought them down to Cumberland Island, put them in an ice house and then each estate had ice delivered to them every day to keep the food cold and allow for ice for drinks.  To quote our tour guide, if these people wanted iced tea, they did not care what had to be done to get it, it just better be there when they want it.

After Edison discovered DC electricity, Lucy Carnegie was one of the first people to get a generator.  She said she wanted the electricity to go to Plum Orchard, so they ran a 9 mile cable across the island for her.  It took coal to fuel the generators, so the steam boat spent a lot of time getting coal from Pennsylvania.  Because the boat was getting coal, they had to replace the ice, so they built the world’s first ice maker  at Plum Orchard.  It  took an entire room and several servants to run it.  We guess money and rich people’s desire can be the mother of invention.

Lucy Carnegie’s legacy is that she skipped her spoiled children in her will and left Cumberland Island to her grandchildren hoping they would keep it undeveloped.  (Do not feel bad for her children, they got everything else).  She was right to trust her grandchildren.  They gifted Cumberland Island to the National Park Service and the island has remained undeveloped.









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December 13th, 2017 – Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge – Georgia

The Okefenokee Swamp is a shallow, 438,000-acre, peat-filled wetland straddling the Georgia-Florida line.  It is the largest “blackwater” swamp in North America.  The Okefenokee was formed over the past 6,500 years by the accumulation of peat in a shallow basin on the edge of an ancient Atlantic coastal terrace.  The St. Mary’s River and the Suwannee River (the one from the song) both originate in the swamp.  The Suwannee River originates as stream channels in the heart of the Okefenokee Swamp and drains at least 90 percent of the swamp’s watershed southwest toward the Gulf of Mexico.

We took a boat ride out into the swamp.  It was just us and the tour guide, being as it is the middle of December and it was 50 degrees.  A private tool – pretty cool.  We had a cloudless sunny day, so the scenery was wonderful and there were lots of reflections.  We got to see alligators, an owl (look hard at the 6th picture), hawks, little blue herons, a great blue heron, an anhinga (looks like a cormorant) and a robin.






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November 10th, 2017 – Dove Mountain (Upper Javelina Trail) – Tucson – Arizona

We are trying to stick to our hiking resolution so we went on another hike today.  We went to the Tortolita Mountains with our friend and our puppies.   We started at the Wild Burro Trailhead, and then took the Upper Javelina Trail from 2,800 feet in the valley to 4,300 feet on the high slopes.  The landscape is absolutely beautiful with a wide variety of cactus and plants.  Another beautiful sunny warm day in Arizona.  Thank goodness that Merlin has become a good water drinker, since there is not much shade.  Crosby was camera shy, but he had a great time on the hike.






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November 5th, 2017 – All Souls Procession – Tucson – Arizona

The All Souls Procession is a celebration and mourning of the lives of our loved ones and ancestors.   The Procession had its beginnings in Tucson, Arizona in 1990 with a ceremonial performance piece created by local artist Susan Johnson.  Johnson was grieving the passing of her father, and as an artist, she found solace in a creative, celebratory approach to memorializing him.  After that first year, many artists were inspired to continue, growing the Procession into its modern incarnation. Today over 100,000 participants create a human-powered procession that ends in the ceremonial burning of a large urn filled with the hopes, offerings and wishes of the public for those who have passed.

Our daughter was visiting and this is something that Leslie and she have always wanted to do.  It was very moving and touching and we are so happy that we went.  There is a Dia de los Muertos flavor to the procession which is evident from the pictures.  There were incredible memorials that were carried, made into floats, put on strollers, etc. (many of these are worked on for months before the procession).  There is a Honor Wall where you can write the names of loved ones (last picture) and we  both wrote messages for the urn.  It was so nice to be a part of this event.
















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October 26th, 2017 – Santa Catalina State Park (Romero Pools) – Tucson – Arizona

It took us a bit, but we did follow up on our resolution to hike when we got home.  We made this resolution when we were having so much fun hiking in the Rockies.  Our good friend Gwenn went with us to hike to Romero Pools in Santa Catalina State Park which is very near our house.  Spring is a better time for this hike, as the pools were pretty stagnant, but the hike was beautiful and we had a lot of fun.  It is amazing how we could see Oro Valley for a while and then it felt like we were in the middle of nature all by ourselves.   We also felt that after 4 hours of hiking, we had earned an In and Out burger.







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October 4th, 2017 – Mesa Verde National Park – Colorado

The first four pictures are actually from yesterday.  We had a technical problem with uploading from the camera and these did not get uploaded.  The first picture is Pinkerton Hot Springs.  The minerals in the water have turned the rocks all different colors.  The 4th picture shows the sign before you start on the highway toward Ouray.  Nice that they warn people.

Mesa Verde National Park protects some of the best preserved Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites in the United States.  With more than 4,300 sites, including 600 cliff dwelling, it is the largest archaeological preserve in the U.S.  Mesa Verde (Spanish for “green table”) is best known for structures such as Cliff Palace (10th picture), thought to be the largest cliff dwelling in North America.

The Mesa Verdeans survived using a combination of hunting, gathering, and subsistence farming of crops such as corn, beans, and squash. They built the mesa’s first pueblos sometime after 650 AD, and by the end of the 12th century, they began to construct the massive cliff dwellings for which the park is best known. By 1285, following a period of social and environmental instability driven by a series of severe and prolonged droughts, they abandoned the area and moved south to locations in Arizona and New Mexico.

We have been here before (thus the older picture of Don and the sign) but not at this time of year.  The fall colors on the hills (last picture) were beautiful.  The color was all over the park, but once again there were no turnouts to get pictures.  Don really needs to work with people to put turnouts in the appropriate places.











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October 3rd, 2017 – San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway – Colorado

We had a glorious day to take the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway from Durango to Ouray which includes the Million Dollar Highway – a twelve mile stretch south of Ouray through the Uncompahgre Gorge to the summit of Red Mountain Pass.  We really do not know how it got its name.  It could be because the views are worth a million dollars or it could be because people would not take a million dollars to drive it.  The part through the gorge has steep cliffs, narrow lanes, and no guardrails and the ascent of Red Mountain Pass is marked with a number of hairpin curves used to gain elevation, and again, narrow lanes for traffic—many cut directly into the sides of mountains.  That being said, we have been on scarier roads and the beauty of the scenery was well worth it.

To reward ourselves for making it one way on the highway (or to relax us knowing that we had to drive back on the outside lane) we spent some time in the Ouray Hot Springs.  We also stopped and did a little shopping in Silverton and had a trip down memory lane.  The next to the last picture is where we had a romantic meal on our first trip here.  The last picture is from that trip.  This drive is so amazing – no matter where you look the scenery is beautiful and so diverse.










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