Lindy’s Oasis (AKA her new walk in closet!)

The first part of the bathroom project that was completed was my closet. Finally!! No more clothes rack in front of the window blocking the light. No more cringe of fear when I walked up the stairs that the rack had fallen over, despite the two 20 pound weights intended to keep it upright, and my clothes were all over the floor. (To be fair, that only happened twice, but still!) No more sheets of construction dust covering everything. I could finally wash every piece of clothing I owned, as it would all now have a clean place to live! Clearly, I was quite excited.

The carpet installation in my closet was the only part of this remodel project that we paid someone else to do, and boy was it worth it! The installers came about 6:45pm and were out of here by 7:15 with our $100. Money well spent! Tony and I had the baseboards installed that night, and I caulked, painted, and installed the closet system the next day!

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I did run into a little snag. Apparently the closet system we purchased was just a little too big for our space. Oops! The space to the left side of the shelving in the picture above was supposed to have a hanging rod too, but the rod was 3 inches too long! A trip to the hardware store, and a little help from Tony, fixed the problem though, and now I have a longer rod and a shelf!

IMG_1931.JPG By installing two wooden brackets, I was able to create a piece of “wall” next to the open closet doorway. That gave me something to attach the hanging rod to and had the added bonus of supporting a shelf. I used thick L-brackets to stabilize everthing, and made sure the screws were all supported with anchors.

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It’s a good thing I left the classroom this year! Look how great those baskets fit into that shelving unit!

On the other side of the room I planned to put an old desk as a dressing table. I found the desk months ago in a little antique mall down the street. It was just what I wanted: drawers on both sides for storing extra hair and cosmetic products, and a center drawer for makeup. It wasn’t until I got it home that I realized the color was actually a pale blue, not the gray it looked like in the store! I thought about leaving it but eventually decided to go ahead and change the color.

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Since the desk was just going in my closet, I wanted to go with a bold color. Home Depot and Lowes both had signs all over about purple being the color of the season, so that’s what I went with! The paint lady accidentally mixed the wrong color though, so she gave me that wrong color for free and mixed up the right one for me. Score! I decided to use them both.

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The hooks and mirror were both items we’d had for years in our townhouse, but didn’t have a place for here. A quick coat of spray paint changed the mirror from black to white. The shelf was scrap wood from the one over the hanging rack, with shelf brackets from Hobby Lobby. Everything was ready to go and ready for move in! I really did wash nearly every piece of clothing I own, then started hanging it all up!

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The hooks and shelf over the desk hold scarves and jewelry.

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Initially the wall where I put the desk was longer, but I knew I wanted a place to store those big plastic tubs that hold Christmas decorations and our costume box, etc. Since we don’t have a basement, those items are either stored in the attic (which has a very rickety ladder) or in a bedroom. So I had Dad and Tony wall that little corner in.

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I’ll install shelves in there so I can actually access those tubs when I need to, but most of the time they’ll be hidden away by that beautiful gray and white polka dot curtain!

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The sheer curtain on the full length window was lined with blackout liner, so it lets in just a bit of light while maintaining total privacy. This is certainly my little oasis!

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Now we’ll just have to see how long I can keep it clean!

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Tony the Tiler

While I was building my window table, Tony was tiling the floor in the master bath. You may remember what a great job he did on the walls!>

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Tiling is a tremendous amount of work, and Tony did the whole room over a three day weekend… All by himself! I swear, I did offer to help! Lucky for me, he didn’t take me up on the offer. Also lucky for us, Tony’s coworker let us borrow his tile saw. Thanks LeBar! Tony would lay a few tiles, then he’d go out back and cut a few, then he’d go back upstairs and lay those. And repeat all day for three days!

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When he finished, the tile looked fabulous! I was so impressed!

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I knew that once the floor was finished, the rest of the bathroom project would just fly – we could start installing fixtures and this thing would be usable. And believe me, I was ready for usable! So I let my little imagination run wild with how speedy we were going to be at completing this project… which didn’t quite happen. Our floor progress suffered several delays – some positive and some negative.

Our positive delay was a trip to Tony’s hometown of Winner for the Family Reunion/Memorial for Grandma/Paint Grandma’s Old House Weekend. We don’t make the eight hour drive very often, so we packed a lot into the three days we were there! When we drove into town Grandma’s house looked like this:

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This paint job was probably 10 years overdue! So the next few days we got up early, before the family reunion activities began, to scrape, prime, and paint. Then we’d join the fam, most of whom I’d never met before, for games and meals later in the day. Yay for Mafia!

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The weekend was a great success on all fronts, and Grandma’s house was much improved! Won’t it be cute with a big front porch? That project’s several years down the road though.

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After our hiatus from the bathroom, it was back to work! Tony did take me up on my offer to help grout. It’s too bad I forgot to take a picture of myself with those hot knee pads on! Grouting went great – use the float to squish sandy stuff into the cracks, then wipe it off. We were done in no time, or so we thought. Grouting always creates this gray haze on tile which has to be sponged off a few times. I think it took 5 or 6 wipes on the wall tile. After 5 or 6 swipes on the floor though, they didn’t look any different. My beautiful gray tiles, which Tony had painstakingly laid, were completely obscured by this foggy gray blah-ness no matter how hard we rubbed. We tried vinegar and water, a method oft-praised online. Nothing. We tried specially formulated haze remover, scrubbing it into the tile on our hands and knees with oversized toothbrushes. Still no improvement. Finally we went for straight cleaning vinegar and large scouring pads – victory! About three scrubbings with the vinegar lifted the haze so we could finally seal the floor and add the baseboards. This process set us back at least a week, mostly because our knees could only take so much time on the hard floor. Here’s the result though, with the baseboards installed, caulked, and a final painting complete.

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Here you can see our really tall baseboards. We have a chimney buried inside one of these walls, so we had to match the height of the existing trim that goes around the chimney. When you go to Home Depot looking for 7 inch baseboards they practically laugh at you, but as politely as possible. The solution was to choose two separate pieces of trim and layer them one on top of the other. I like it!

Once all that (tile, grout, and trim) was finally done, the rest of the bathroom did fly together. It’s almost ready to show you!

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Window Table

Remember when I etched that old window and hung it over the front porch swing?

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At the time I’d been planning to create a table to go in that area as well, and I finally got to it the week after we returned from our Europe trip. The process was a little more involved than I’d initially planned, but the result is beautiful and extremely sturdy!

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This is what I started with – my 2 for $10 window from the Gardner City Rummage Sale. (I did a little negotiating! : )

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The window’s casing (I think that’s what it’s called) was a little narrow, and I was afraid that drilling the holes for the legs would break the glass, so I built a very simple frame out of 2x2s.

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I wanted a bottom shelf as well, which I knew would increase the sturdiness of this table, but did lead to some design challenges. Lucky for me, Tony is great with those kinds of things. He gave me some ideas, but I made this whole table all by myself over the course of a few days! The bottom shelf was constructed from simple 1 by 4 boards from Home Depot. My initial plan was to use reclaimed pallet wood… but the time and effort required to break those pallets apart was preventing me from completing this project, and the new wood cost all of about $10. That’s money well spent in my eyes! So the base was super simple to do – just cut the boards to the same size, lay them all out next to oneanother, lay two cross pieces on the back side (I used left over 1x3s from the downstairs bathroom remodel) and screw them all together. I didn’t even have to pause my audio book while using the electric screwdriver! (That’s my phone in the glass. The hard surface amplifies the sound coming from the speaker on the bottom of the device so I can listen without needing a dock or earphones.)

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By now I had two main pieces – the upper shelf of the table made from the window and the lower wooden shelf. The paint actually went on the top shelf before I attached the frame, since there was a little overlap and it would be very difficult to get into some of those narrow spots later. My initial plan was to make this table yellow with a little blue peeking through the aged spots, which is why you don’t see everything painted, but it just didn’t look right. I was trying a new technique of distressing that uses vaseline – not impressed. So the table became blue instead with a little bit of yellow peeking through.

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Once the paint was dry I went over the whole thing with the electric sander which would give the stain a place to stick to. It’s just so darn easy to distress with stain, that I can’t really bring myself to experiment with wax yet. Once the sanding was done, both pieces were painted with a quick coat of dark walnut stain with a foam brush, and almost immediately the stain was rubbed off with paper towel.

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The table legs (8 in all – 4 short ones and 4 medium sized) had previously been stained and coated with polyacrylic, so all that was left was to start putting this thing together! The medium sized legs screwed right into the holes I drilled into the now-enlarged window frame.

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I also drilled holes into the bottom of those legs and inserted a 2 1/2 inch two way bolt. You can see them sticking up through the upside down shelf. The idea was that a larger hole would be drilled into the bottom shelf so that it would slide over the bolts and that shelf would be held in place by shorter legs. It sounds confusing, I know, but it worked perfectly.

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The short bottom legs already had two way bolts in them, so I removed those with a pliers, applied a little wood glue around the bolts already in place and twisted until my arms were sore and the legs were securely attached. The result was even better than I’d hoped!

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The little sign in there was picked up at the Junque Drawer Studio’s Independence Day Sale and says, ” If you think you’re too small to make a difference, then you’ve clearly never spent the night with a mosquito!”

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The rug was a freak steal from Target last month. I don’t know why it was marked down 60%, but I didn’t ask any questions. I just took my deal and got out of there! The chairs were both freebies – one was set out for the trash and the other came from Mom’s basement. Thanks Mom!!

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Eventually I’ll get around to painting Mom’s old chair black to match the junk picked one, but I’ve been focused on finishing the bathroom. More on that to come soon!! For now let’s take one more look at this great lemonade-sipping-reading-a-book-on-the-porch spot!

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Ireland

Top ‘o the morning to ya!

Ok, no one in Ireland really said that…maybe ever. I don’t know. But I also don’t know how to say hello in Irish, so I went with what I knew! As previously mentioned, Ireland was our final European destination, and it ranks right up there as a favorite too. This was the only place we went through a tour company for, but first we spent a night in Dublin.

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Dublin is a nice little town. There’s not a ton to see or do, but it’s got a nice vibe. The city is small and easy to get around (due to its size, not because the street organization makes any sense whatsoever), the food is fabulous, and the people are so darn nice! In fact, that was our first impression of Ireland before we even left the airport. I think the contrast was made even more dramatic having just left Rome where people are kind of pushy and seem annoyed that you’re invading their space. The lady at the Dublin Airport Information Desk was bend-over-backward helpful and polite, and she just seemed glad to share her country with us. Anyway, just after checking into our hotel for the night, we were off for the Jameson Whiskey tour.

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PS – I tried to get rid of Tony’s red eyes in this photo, but the all-black eyes that replaced them made him look really creepy.

On the tour they really emphasized the difference between Scottish whiskey (Scotch), American whiskey (Bourbon), and Jameson’s Irish whiskey. The process for whiskey making is the same, but the Scots use mostly malted barley, Bourbon uses mostly corn, and Jameson uses a little bit of both. Also, bourbon is typically distilled one time, while Jameson is triple distilled, which is supposed to make it smoother. As expected, the tour guide was telling us what makes Jameson superior to other types of whiskey. Tony found it particularly interesting though that Jameson is actually aged in old Bourbon barrels!

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The next day we met with our tour group at Paddy’s Palace (a hostel). I was a little nervous because I’d actually taken this tour in college and had such a great time that I wanted Tony to go too, but then I started worrying that the whole group would be young college kids. It turned out that we had a very eclectic and interesting group though. Phew! Anyway, we loaded onto our Paddywagon and were off to see Ireland.

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We stopped every couple hours, often in quaint little towns with a castle or something. This one is being converted into a hotel. How cool would it be to stay there?

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Sometimes we just stopped on the side of the road for a few minutes to look at the beautiful scenery.

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In between stops our tour guide shared stories about Irish history and folklore, jokes, and music. One of the most interesting stories was about the curse of the Kennedys. You see, the Kennedys were a well established family with a profitable farm in the south of Ireland. To celebrate their success and provide for their growing family, they decided to build a beautiful, and large, new home. The proposed location of their new home was a problem though, as they would be forced to demolish the fairy ring (home of little flying beasts who apparently have quite a temper!) on their property to build the house. The townspeople begged the Kennedys to choose a different location, but they refused, calling the townspeople silly and superstitious. They built their home and all seemed well. But then the patriarch of the family was visited by a fairy who scolded him for disturbing their sacred wooded circle and cursed the Kennedys and their next 5 generations. Not long after that the potato famine hit Ireland and the Kennedys lost everything. They decided to emigrate to The United States. Several family member died on the voyage, which started a long chain of both triumph and tragedy for the Kennedy family. Apparently, the current generation of Kennedys is the fifth one, so it will be interesting to watch them over the next 20 years. : )

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We spent that evening in Galway, a lovely town on the western coast of the country, and experienced our favorite meal at Pie Maker! All the food in Ireland was fabulously flavorful, from the lamb stew to the seafood chowder (It was cold, so those dishes felt just right!) to the sausages, but these little pot pies were phenomenal. I had the Chorizo Mozzerella Pesto with Sausage, but Tony’s was the real winner with the Chicken Curry. In fact, it has inspired us to try making Chicken Curry Pot Pie here at home, so if you have a great recipe, please let me know!

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The next day on our tour was the big day – The Cliffs of Moher. If you’ve seen The Princess Bride, then you know this place as “The Cliffs of Insanity.”

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If you look closely, you Harry Potter fans might find this site familiar, though certainly less shrouded in foggy foreboding in this view, as it was the site where Dumbledore and Harry went searching for the horcrux in the Halfblood Prince movie.

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The Cliffs are a part of Ireland’s National Park system, but before that they were just a place where farmers raised sheep for generations. Today there are still sheep grazing atop these breathtaking cliffs. We actually walked to the right from the park entrance, past the little barrier marking the official end of the park, and along this trail through someone’s field to take our photos.

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The view was stunning.

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We probably could have stayed and played all day!

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Our last day on the tour included a visit to Blarney Castle, home of the famous Blarney Stone. Tony didn’t need to receive the “Gift of Eloquent Speech,” a polite way of saying “the ability to talk your way in or out of trouble,” (Some might say he already has it!; ) and the line was super long, so we explored the grounds instead.

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Tony investigated some caves underneath the castle.

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They have a Poison Garden around back with Harry Potter-esque plants, like mandrakes and nightshade, which I didn’t realize were real!

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We discovered a beautiful manor house, some waterfalls, and lots of evidence of witchcraft and sorcery, including a witch’s kitchen and a rock that looks like a witch! Supposedly, if you walk up those stairs backwards and blindfolded three times you’ll be granted good luck or something. We didn’t give it go. Maybe that’s why we had a hard time with our flights on the way home?!

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Despite missing out on the main attraction, we had a great time at Blarney Castle!

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That afternoon, though, it was back to Dublin. We had an early flight out of the country the next morning. Farewell Ireland, we will see you again someday!

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True Confessions and Roma

Confession time… it’s been three weeks since we got home from Europe, and I still haven’t finished posts about our last two cities! Truth is, once we got home and jumped into house projects, namely the final push to complete the bathroom before going back to work in two weeks(!), I got sidetracked. But by now I have so many other house things to share, and I have this issue with posting things out of order… it’s a problem. Anyway, here goes with our last stop in Italy – Roma!
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Highlights of Rome? Definitely being blessed by Pope Francis! He’s a pretty cool dude.

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We planned our trip to Rome so that we’d be able to attend the Wednesday Papal Audience. Admission to anything led by the Pope is free, but Tony had to go down to the US Bishops’ Visitors Office to pick up our tickets. Each Wednesday that the Pope is in town there are 30,000 seats for ticket holders to the event. Estimates put an additional 70,000 visitors standing around the perimeter of St. Peter’s Square (which is round, by the way). It was a rainy morning while we waited and chatted with our neighbors from Oregon, a family of adult siblings visiting significant family locations. We could tell when a spurt of rain was coming because the umbrellas on the opposite side of the square would start to open up, and it was like this wave of movement and noise as 30,000 umbrellas opened up in quick succession.

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Another highlight of Vatican City was our tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, mostly due to our awesome tour guide. Picture a retired, British Librarian. Do you see the glasses perched on her nose? The high gray bun? If so, you are picturing Penny, who’s been giving free tours of this massive church for over 30 years! For two and a half hours she led us through this incredible building, pointing out famous works of art, paintings (which are actually all tile mosaics so they do not fade), and especially the incredible feats of architecture the building houses: the first of which is simply the incredible size of the building. Michelangelo and his architect friends wanted this church to be gigantic, but they didn’t want visitors to feel swallowed up when they came in, so they made everything inside really, really big so individual people wouldn’t seem so small. Seems wierd, right? It is. When we first walked in Penny had us look at a stained glass dove window on the opposite end of the nave. It was pretty far away, but she had us guess how big it was. We each guessed around 2 feet or so. Penny said it was actually 6 feet across! There were cherub statues larger than me, and up near the ceiling level Apostle Paul held a quill pen that was 9 feet long! The effect was to make the building seem smaller than it really is, and it was pretty amazing. Apparently I was so transfixed that I neglected to take any photos though! This one is from the web.

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Another “church” that was fun to visit was The Collosseum!

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Apparently the only thing that saved this structure from being further ravaged for its limestone bricks (3/5 of the outer structure is missing) was being named a church in the 1500s! The Colosseum has not fallen down through time. It’s been taken down… some of it to build St. Peter’s!

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Artsy photo time!

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What always amazes me about Rome is that the ruins are so a part of the modern city. You’re just walking down a modern street and see a view like this:

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I think the Pantheon is pretty cool. Six foot thick concrete at the base of the dome. How does it possibly stay up??

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Rome was just too big to get around to all the major sights at night, but we did stumble upon this view on our way to a late night dinner!

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We had a nice time in Roma, but it was probably our least favorite city, outside modern Pompeii of course. One almost feels guilty about that assessment, because Rome is really cool! And I definitely enjoyed gelato twice a day! It was time to leave Italy though, so we flew from there to Ireland for our final adventure.

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Pompeii

Eh Eh Oh, Eh Oh
Eh Eh Oh, Eh Oh
The walls kept tumbling down
in the city that we lo-o-o-o-ve.
Great clouds roll over the hills
bringing darkness from above….

Have you heard that song, “Pompeii,” by Bastille? Besides the fact that it’s been playing in nearly every store I’ve been in, we’ve been singing it incessantly since our visit to Pompeii. The ruins of the ancient city, utterly obliterated by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD, are located about an hour and a half south of Rome. We took a train from Lucca to Naples, then changed to the dirty and disgusting Trans-Vesuvian train line to reach this incredible destination.

We arrived mid-Afternoon, which didn’t allow sufficient time to see the remains of the city, but was just enough time to reach the summit of the active volcano Vesuvius.

Imagine bumping along in an army-green bus up twisting and winding roads that make the BVI’s road system look like a dream. The vehicle seats about 20 people, but close to 40 are aboard. Each time the bus approaches a curve the driver revs the engine to power through the turn, and you widen your stance as you stand on the sweat-smelling, noisy bus. This was the first half of the ride up Mount Vesuvius. I didn’t believe Tony when he said we’d stop part way, but as usual, he was right. (Don’t tell him I said that!)

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We came to the end of the paved road (Yikes!) and loaded into smaller buses – thankfully with seats for everyone. In these tank-style contraptions we rumbled up the 3800 or so feet of the volcano, holding on at each curve to avoid landing in our neighbors’ laps. On one bump Tony actually hit his head on the roof! All the while our driver yelled into his phone to be heard over the roaring engine.

20140626-195437-71677349.jpg From the bus park we had an excellent view of modern Pompei below, which looked much nicer from a distance, and of the sea beyond.

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A steep hike up the next 800 feet or so had some more worrisome views as well. That “bridge” looked less than solid!

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At the summit we looked down into the smoking crater of an active volcano. Tony was giddy! Can you see the smoke? It’s right in the center of the frame.

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Vesuvius is the only active volcano on the European mainland and is responsible for the complete destruction of Roman towns Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79AD. The last time Vesuvius erupted was a small one in 1944, at the height of WWII, but it’s been smoking ominously ever since. It is actually deemed the most dangerous volcano on the planet due to its proximity to densely populated Naples and modern Pompei, a sprawling metropolis of 3.5 million just an hour south, by high speed train, of Rome. According to Wikipedia, it’s the most densely populated volcanic area in the world. This view is from neighboring Sorrento, across the Bay of Naples.

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The only bad thing about going to the top of Mt. Vesuvius, in my opinion, was having to go back down. Tony and I had very different assessments of the ordeal. He found it exhilerating, while I’d describe our descent as terrifying!

Our plans to visit to the ruins of Pompeii the next day were shifted when an employee brought a typed piece of paper out 15 minutes after they were supposed to open saying they were closed until 12:30 that day for staff meetings. Staff meetings? Really? Anyway, it gave us an opportunity to visit Sorrento, a lovely little town 1/2 an hour down the train line.

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Our guide book described Sorrento as a charming cliff town of 20,000 that doubles in size during the tourist season. It said that “the Sorrentines have gone out of their way to create a completely safe and relaxed place for tourists to spend money.” Their efforts were evident, and we enjoyed the opportunity to stroll down the streets, examine old churches and book stores, and pick up some fresh fruit and food for dinner that night. One church we wandered into had a dining room table-sized display of the birth of Jesus, but set in Italy, complete with a spaghetti dinner!

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Luckily, when we returned to the Pompeii archeological site that afternoon, they were in fact open. (We weren’t so sure they would be!) Even the first view upon entering the area was stunning!

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The Pompeii ruins are spectacular because they are so well preserved. Unlike Rome, and many other places that have Roman ruins, Pompeii was never plundered for its building materials. Rather, it was buried under 20 feet of ash and volcanic debris for nearly 1500 years, until someone went to dig a new aqueduct in the area. This old bakery is in especially good condition. The big stone grinders would have had wooden handles attached that could be turned by animals or slaves.

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Vesuvius’ 79 AD eruption was quite unusual. Plinius the Younger, who watched the event from a nearby island, wrote an account that experts at the time deemed so unusual they declared him a liar! Rather than your typical lava flow, the mountain exploded with super-heated ash that fell to the earth first as pumice stones. Then layers of poisonous gasses and ash rained down on the city. About 2,000 of the 16,000 inhabitants stayed in the city and were trapped in their homes as the roofs caved in from the weight. The next morning a wave of debris and hot gas, called a pyroclastic flow, hit the city with such force it killed all the remaining inhabitants instantly. When archeologists began uncovering the site in the 1700s, they came across many seemingly empty spaces in the Earth with bones at the bottom. They began filling the spaces with plaster and ended up with incredible molds of people in their final moments. Most of the plaster casts have been moved to the museum in Naples, which we didn’t go to, but there were a few on display.

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Another area of particular interest were the Bath Houses, since we’d recently experienced The Baths in Budapest. The little pools looked a lot like what we sat in, and it was amazing that the even the ceiling decoration was so well preserved!

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My favorite spot was the theatre which they’ve been restoring by replacing some of the stones that were missing. The stones that are brighter white have all been recently replaced.

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In fact, some workmen were actually building a wooden stage in top of the original stone forms while we were there!

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Tony preferred the amphitheater. Just like him to pick the rough and tumble sports arena over the arts!

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Pompeii was an interesting trip… we loved the ruins and the volcano, which were the things we went to see. The area, however, was less than impressive. At night I think it would be down-right frigthening. (We chose not to venture out after dark.) It’s a bummer too, because we thought we were safe staying away from Naples and Pompeii City, but staying right by the ruins was just as bad. If we had it to do again, I think we’d probably go to Sorrento and just day trip it to the ruins and volcano. However, it did made for an interesting experience, like when the only thing we could find for dinner was a whole rotisserie chicken and a bag of chips that we took back to our hotel room!

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I’ll leave you with a few more photos. Above is a typical Roman street. That’s a major thoroughfare, which you can tell by the number of stones placed in the middle, meant to protect the feet of walking civilians. When the streets were cleaned each day citizens could step on those stones without getting their sandled feet wet, and chariot wheels were a standard width to fit perfectly through the space between the stones. Below you see the remains of the Temple of Isis.

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Here’s Tony standing in front of the forum, a large open area for commerce, which was the center of Roman life.

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Look at how amazing some of this detail work was!

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And how well the murals have been preserved over time!

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Inside the Walls of Lucca

Excerpts from a journal discovered just outside the city walls…

As I sit under the stars and write this, I can only hope that my family and friends back home are doing well. We are nearly a month into our tour, and we have just completed a journey fraught with considerable danger. We have finished laying siege to the once impenetrable walls of Lucca, Italy in the Tuscany region.

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Two thousand years ago, the city of Lucca was built as a Roman settlement. Because of the tumultuous nature of the area at the time, the city was built within typical Roman walls. It was strategically placed in the middle of a large valley, which meant that an approaching enemy could be spotted from a distance. The wall lasted until Medieval Times, when the city was expanded and a new wall was erected. The wall was again rebuilt in the 16th century when the advent of the cannon made the second wall obsolete. The people of Lucca pooled their resources and created a wall composed of a 100 foot wide mound of dirt fronted by a brick wall. This 500 year old wall remains today, a fitting tribute to a city that has never successfully been attacked.

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Our local contact, code name “Alfredo,” told us to approach from the north. He directed us to a gate through which we could gain entry to the city, and from there, he took us to a room near the square, where we spent the next two nights.

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Yes, in bunk beds.

Once inside the city, we had to plan our attack. We reconnoitered atop the city wall, and we discovered that this wall, which had become the pride and joy of the city, was where our energies would be best put to use.

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We spent the rest of our evening getting to know our way around the city. Luckily, the city’s most formidable defense, the wall, was also going to be its downfall. No matter where we found ourselves in Lucca, we were always a stone’s throw from the ramparts, which were left unguarded from the inside.

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Now that we knew just how easy it would be to gain the top of the wall and thus, conquer the city of Lucca, we decided to find a good meal and get some sleep. We were fortunate to discover a restaurant known for its varied selection of whiskeys, so we stopped for a bite. My partner, code name “Lindy,” ordered shrimp skewers and a glass of local wine, while I had a delectable steak and a glass of Scotland’s finest Scotch Whiskey.

Our energies restored by a good meal, a healthy (or perhaps more than is healthy) portion of local gelatto, and a full night’s sleep, it was time to carry out our attack! We acquired some very docile mounts, and we stormed the pedestrian walkway that the city walls have become!

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Our victory over the wall was swift and sweet. The city’s inhabitants were taken completely by surprise, and within an hour the battle was over. All that now remained to be conquered was the historic Torre Gianigi.

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The final surviving tower mansion, originally one of 70, and former residence literally “towers” above the city. In the 1300s this building housed a wealthy merchant family with a different room on each floor. Staircases and porches wound around the outside to connect the different rooms, and the rooftop garden, planted with holm oaks, symbolized the rebirth of the city at the time. We summited the two hundred thirty-nine steps (not the originals!), and so swift and powerful was our attack that nary a hand was raised in opposition.

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The city was ours!

To celebrate our decisive victory, we chose to venture outside the walls and visit the Greo Vineyard and Winery, where it was our intention to celebrate by touring the facilities and tasting the local wine. We headed into the hills, crossed a small bridge, and arrived just in time to find Greo himself awaiting us. Greo, though, was a stubborn man. He refused to speak English (he said he didn’t know any), and though he was well aware that we didn’t understand his native tounge, he took us on the tour in Italian. After about ten minutes, he gave up and began pouring our samples.

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Normally, wine tasting consists of partaking in very small portions of a variety of wines. Greo, we soon discovered, had more sinister intentions. He began pouring full glasses, obviously with the intention of getting us drunk and taking us captive. We saw right through his subterfuge, though, and we took him by surprise when we asked to purchase a bottle of his best white as well as a bottle of olive oil. We left with our spoils, and we headed back to the city to rest in anticipation of our next assignment: seeking out the lost city of Pompei.

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