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Storm Cloud Looms Over Volcan Masaya and Day 2

Am I getting jaded as I visit more and more countries?

sunny 91 °F

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Volcan Masaya, or "The Gates of Hell" to the Spanish conquistadors

I've always wondered if I would get jaded as I visited more and more countries. Would I be a cynic, saying that his mountain range isn't as scenic as one I'd seen elsewhere. This historical sight wasn't as fascinating and inspiring as another I'd seen. Would I end up going to new countries and evaluating them, "not good enough," or "I've seen better." I certainly hope I will never turn into that type of person. I can't imagine how insufferable it would be to travel around with such a dark cloud.

I felt the first inklings of that type of feeling here in Nicaragua. Hopefully, I've kept it to myself and not vocalized those thoughts. Hopefully, I am still being an interested, eager traveller. But I HAVE found myself silently doing that this trip. I have seen cooler cathedrals and churches. I have taken more interesting and scenic boat rides. And today, after hiking around Volcan Masaya, I couldn't shake the feeling that I've seen cooler volcanoes (El Salvador). And hiked more scenic and dramatically situated extinct caldera rims (Easter Island). Is this the end of my endless yearning to see new places and be thrilled by new marvels of man and nature?

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The parking lot and the smoking crater

I don't think so. But I confess that my feelings of the last two days have me worried. I hope tomorrow, or some sight here in Nicaragua dispels this storm cloud hanging over me. Perhaps that is all it is -- a bad mood that will blow away soon. The day certainly began on a bad note. I somehow lost one of my contact lenses. Back in Columbus, I'd considered packing a spare pair, or at least my glasses, but told myself that it was only six days. Can someone with even my propensity to lose things on trips manage that? Yep!

Our hotel's driver/not guide showing up completely unable to speak English didn't get it off to any better start. Everyone else from Las Isletas Boutique Hotel has been great, and every other bit of advice or thing they've arranged for us went great. And later, the desk manager all bit apologized for that. However, it meant a rocky start to our visit to Volcan Masaya. We did a lot of head scratching, but after a quick visit to the museum in the Visitor center, we were deposited in the parking lot of the steaming crater that the Spaniards called the "Gates of Hell." From what if read beforehand, I was hoping to glimpse lava at this, more active, volcano...but no such luck. The crater was shrouded in a thick gray cloud of gas and steam.

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The hill that we hiked up away from the crater, leading the the view of the lake

We decided to make the best of our uninformed situation and followed the other hikers who struck off uphill to the left. Our visitor center map seemed to indicated there was a trail that circled the crater. There was a trail, but it headed off away from the gaseous pit and instead circled a dormant caldera. We followed it for awhile until it rewarded us with a nice view of a lake. We finally figured out it was heading away for where we wanted to go, and we doubled back to the parking lot after an hour's worth of hiking through sandy, volcanic gravel. After one last look at the crater, we rejoined our driver/not guide.

Our next stop was the market in the town of Masaya. We cruised the stalls for about a half hour. I was tempted to buy a leather change purse to replace the one that has came up missing a couple weeks ago. I didn't like any, so walked away empty-handed. We then drove to the mirador of the village of Catarina. This town is the first of Los Pueblos Blancos, where most of Nicaragua's handicrafts are made. The view of the clear blue Laguna de Apoyo -- a volcanic crater filled with a gorgeous blue lake -- was striking. However, that nagging feeling of having seen a volcanic lake more spectacularly sited spoiled my enjoyment of it. We walked around and took pictures for awhile, but there was little else to do but shop. I thumbed through my guidebook and read the other Los Pueblos descriptions. I was hoping to find one that was more village and less row upon row of booths selling the same handicrafts. I picked out Diria, but it proved to be merely a smaller version of Catarina.

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Laguna de Apoyo, a lake filling a volcanic crater, viewed from the Mirador Catarina

We decided to pull the plug on Los Pueblos and told the driver to take us to the Laguna de Apoyo. There are apparently lakeside resorts where you can buy a day pass and swim, kayak, relax, and enjoy the amenities. This lived up to its billing and it we spent a pleasant two hours enjoying the sun and water, along with a few cervecas. The drive back to our hotel took way less time than we'd anticipated. So, after a shower, we headed off to dinner and an evening in Granada. The highlight was the church procession, featuring two huge floats borne aloft on the shoulders of parishioners. This being Easter Week, we were hoping we'd see such a procession. Luckily, I had my video camera handy and we dashed around and filmed it for a few angles. We hope to see more of these when we shift our base to Leon on Wednesday.

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Pleasant lakeside views and water activities awaited us along the shore of Laguna de Apoyo

It was a nice end to a day that began not so well. I confess I am still worried about this jaded feeling, and hoping it is a temporary "blah" rather than an onset of anything so terminal . Tomorrow's zip lining should decide that. I have never been on a zip line canopy tour. And the ones down here are supposed to be awesome. So, hopefully I'll be back tomorrow refreshed and enthused. The jaded storm cloud hanging over Nicaragua will have blown away and my outlook on this trip will be more sunny.

Posted by world_wide_mike 21:08 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

Up in the Air & In the Clouds

Hiking and Zip-Lining a Nicaraguan Volcano

all seasons in one day 86 °F

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Volcan Mombacho, home to a cloud forest, monkeys, and more!

I'm not sure which were more numerous on the pedestrian street in Granada tonight: stray dogs, roaming souvenir sellers, or mariachi bands. We were unwinding after dinner at one of the streetside cafés, and it was amusing to watch each ply their trade with varying degrees of success. I'm not sure what it says about me as a person that I had the most sympathy for the dogs, but that's the way I am. It was our last night in Granada. Tomorrow, we head off to Nicaragua's other second city, Leon.

Our last day began with yet another tasty breakfast from Las Isletas Boutique Hotel. A driver then picked us up and dropped us off at the Mombacho Volcano National Park. We planned to hike the cloud forest that drapes the still-active volcano. Having been to a cloud forest in Costa Rica, I knew to pack my rain jacket. Though we saw no rain, the mountaintop alternated between sunshine and clouds, which swooped in with high winds and chill breezes. It was very pleasantly cool atop Mombacho -- especially after the 90+ degree temperatures we'd experienced since arriving in Nicaragua.

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One of the dormant craters of Mombacho, covered in the greenery if the cloud forest

After a short wait, about a dozen plus tourists piled aboard an old open air army truck for the ride to the Visitors Center. The cobblestone road is one lane, and twists and winds its way up past coffee plantations until reaching the national park. Then it is all woods and jungle pressing in on both sides of the impressively powerful truck. There were about 20 guides aboard (we were the first bus load up), but the truck never faltered or seemed to struggle. You could feel the temperature grow steadily cooler as we ascended. Jackets were pulled from backpacks as we adjusted to the new climate zone.

The pathway, Jose explained, is constantly being repaired and replaced. It consists of sawn log rings as steps through most of its steps. He said much of the wood comes from recycled telephone and electrical poles. Once we left the overlook, the wind died off and the damp stillness of the cloud forest closed in. Jose pointed out the plants and explained their uses by the indigenous people. He asked us a lot of questions about Ohio, and was diligent about augmenting his English by asking what equivalent words were. He was a pleasant and low key guide, who genuinely seemed interested in us. Jose pointed out the fumaroles, or steam vents from the volcano's interior. We could feel their damp, hot air and smell their sulfur easier than spot the whisps of steam.

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A fumarole belches barely-visible sulfurous steam on Volcan Mombacho

Unfortunately, we spotted no monkeys or other exotic wildlife on our hike. The climb was strenuous at times, but the footing was always easy with the well-maintained wooden steps. We ascended to the second highest peak of Mombacho, and were rewarded with a number of blustery scenic overlooks. After nearly losing my hat on the first one, I was careful to take it off and clip it to my camera bag at each mirador. Before long, and way earlier than I'd wished our hike was over. we waited about 20 minutes before our redoubtable army truck returned to ferry us down. Our driver was waiting for us, and he whisked us off to the next stop for the day.

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One of the majestic views from Mombacho's miradors

I had never done zip lining before, and Mombacho had two choices. The one our hotel had picked out had about a dozen segments. It is built over one of the volcano's coffee plantations. The one not chosen was actually in the jungle canopy, which I would have preferred. I should have spoken up when arranging the excursion, though, instead of expecting them to pick out the best one. The bonus was that when we arrived, Jenny and I were the only customers. That meant our three guides took their time with us and encouraged us to do tricks, like the "superman" glide, and the upside down "monkey" glide. It was a blast, and I felt comfortable after about the third segment. The guides took our cameras to film us, so I will have video of me zip lining uploaded before too long.

Once back in Granada, we made arrangements for Wednesday's travel to Leon. We also walked around the town some more, and of course -- hung out on the pedestrian street where we watch the antics of the stray dogs, souvenir sellers, and mariachi bands. It was a low key end to a high energy start to our last day in Granada. Tomorrow, we are off to a new (and even hotter) city. So, we will see what it brings!

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The well-maintained trails on Volcan Mombacho

Posted by world_wide_mike 21:54 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

Local Advice Makes Leon (and Old Leon) Roar

Colonial ruins and colonial churches

sunny 96 °F

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The cathedral in Leon, Nicaragua

Our entire plan for the day couldn't have happened without the excellent staff at Las Isletas Boutique Hotel in Granada. They have done a good job helping us out with our sightseeing, but they hit one out of the park with today's suggestion. We had booked our first 4 nights in Granada, and the last two in Leon, Nicaragua. The problem is that they are roughly 3 hours away from each other. Public transport, aka the "chicken bus," would be the cheapest route, but lose us an entire day of sightseeing. Shuttles run by travel agencies are faster, but not too expensive, but don't get in till about 3 pm -- too late to take in one of the two main things we wanted to see in Nicaragua (the volcano Cerro Negro and the ruins of Old Leon).

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Ruins of Old Leon

So, the staff offered to hire a driver to take us to Leon, but stop in Old Leon on the way. Bingo! More expensive, but allows us to do both of the "must do" things we had on our list. Of course, Old Leon is not the most visited sight in Nicaragua, so we had to help our driver find it - ha, ha! Turns out they're rebuilding the road to Old Leon, but the engineers thought it would be a good idea to take down the sign for the turnoff! We drive about 5 minutes past it, but thankfully our driver sensed we'd missed it and asked another driver. We found out later the staff at Old Leon get complaints daily about the lack of signage. So, we didn't do too bad going only a little out of our way.

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Monument to the Indian resistance to the Spanish conquistadors

Our English speaking guide at the site was a nice man, and between the three if us, we did a good job of translating the information. He did want to rush us through the tour, though -- even though we were only the 4th group to show up that day. That is one of my pet peeves and why I'm usually willing to take the chance of missing information by skipping on a guide entirely. Too often they want to give you the abbreviated tour, as all the incentives are set up that way. The sooner they finish, the sooner their turn comes up again, and usually that is how they get paid.

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Volcan Momotombo, whose eruption was the deciding factor in the Spanish abandoning the site of Old Leon

Rant off, and now I'll tell you a bit about the site. It was built in the early 1500s, one of the earliest settlements in the area. However, it was abandoned about 86 years later due to the combination of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions -- which combined with the predatory, economic practices of the colonial Spanish, meant its income was dropping year by year. You can only enslave and oppress a people for so long before the profit curve begins to work against you. The city was moved northwest to its present location, and the jungle and volcanic ash hid Old Leon from the world for centuries. What is there today has been excavated in the last 50 years or so, and consists of brick foundations and walls of the town. It was a hot, but atmospheric, meander through the past. This is no Pompeii, but Old Leon makes a pleasant excursion for those who enjoy history.

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Leon's oversized and ornate, white, stone cathedral

Once we checked I to our hotel in Leon, we began our self-guided tour of Leon's amazing churches. The top of the list, and less than 100 yards from where we are staying, is the cathedral. It is the largest in Central America, leading some to speculate there were some shady dealings to get the plans approved from Spain. The cathedral's massive white stone walls, towers, and dome are blackened with age. The decoration of the stonework is incredible, with carvings, statues, and shining bronze bells all contributing to the soaring effect of the exterior. The interior is more plain, but a number of important figures from Nicaragua's history are buried there. There is supposed to be an awesome rooftop tour we hope to squeeze in, but like all rooftops we've encountered in Nicaragua, it was closed.

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Iglesia de la Recollection, probably the prettiest church in Leon, Nicaragua

We stopped by two more scenic churches in our afternoon visit, then headed back to get cleaned up. We wanted to be waitin to catch the Holy Week procession at 6 pm. Perhaps the best timing of one entire trip is that it is occurring during Easter week. The churches in Nicaragua take out their holy statues and parade them through the streets. We'd caught one in Granada, but hoped to catch more in more devout Leon. In fact, our stay in Leon (and Nicaragua) concludes on Good Friday. So, hopefully, we will get a chance to witness the pageantry of a Nicaraguan Easter week. As always, we will be counting on the information and advice of the locals -- just like we did this morning on our visit to Old Leon.

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Evening Holy Week procession from Leon's cathedral, complete with lighted statue, band marching behind it, and a crowd of worshippers...hopefully, the first of many we will see in Leon!

Posted by world_wide_mike 21:47 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (1)

Hurtling Down a Volcano Sounds Like a Good Time...right?

Volcano boarding on Cerro Negro

sunny 97 °F

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Atop Cerro Negro, getting ready for my ride

As I lined up my wooden sled, aka volcano surf board, with the furrow in the volcanic sand and pebbles that the previous thrill seekers had worn, I tried to picture what his would be like. I was essentially riding a wooden sled down a 45 degree angle on the slope of Cerro Negro -- one of Nicaragua's youngest and most active volcanoes. Would it be a steady controlled ride? Or would it be like a roller coaster hurtling down the slopes of a volcano? Would I panic and spin out or go tumbling down the slopes? Then there was the way you slowed down...you are supposed to lean forward and press your soles harder into the sand and gravel. To go faster, you lean back and press your feet down with less pressure. What if I pressed too hard and flipped?

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Cerro Negro, one of Nicaragua's youngest and most active volcanos

The morning had begun calmly enough. After breakfast, we walked several blocks to the office of Tierra Tours. We sat on rocking chairs and waited for the rest of the group to arrive. There would be 20 of us -- Americans, French, English, and Spaniards. The directionally challenged Franco-Spanish contingent was wandering the streets of Leon, trying to find the office. Eventually, the Tierra Tours rep told them to get to an intersection and telephone where they were and we'd pick them up. We loaded up in the van, and headed out. After picking up the lost Europeans, we stopped at a market for water, then headed off. A trucker's mishap blocked our path a few minutes later, but we detoured through a very rural looking neighborhood and were soon underway again.

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Gorgeous views of more of Nicaragua's volcanoes, stretching into the distance

It was a dusty, hour-long ride to the volcano through the countryside. We slowed to let wooden carts drawn by yoked pairs of oxen to clear our path. Jenny remarked that rural Nicaragua looks like a hard life. Farmsteads seemed to scratch a living out of the dusty soil with their animals and crops that grew under the blistering sun. Passengers in the window seats had the dilemma of opening their window to catch a breeze, or sweltering by closing to avoid the clouds of dust the billowed in from time. Had we known how filthy we'd be at the end of our ride down Cerro Negro, we'd have tossed the windows wide open. The two French contingents were the most vocal and chatted back and forth loudly. The Americans and English were more subdued, and spoke quietly to one another or just watched the scenery go by.

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More scenic views as we climb up the volcano's slopes

We arrived at the volcano's national park station, and piled off the van to sign in and make our choice whether to hire a porter or carry our own board up the slopes. I ended up paying the $5 extra to have my board waiting for me at the top -- mainly because I knew I'd want to take lots of photos. I didn't want to worry about it being torn from my grasp by the swirling winds while I was snapping photos. It was worth it, as the wind howled and tore at us. I watched the others struggle to hold on to their boards.

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A line of hikers climbs past the smoking bowl of the volcano's main crater

The hike up was less strenuous than I thought it might be. The views were fantastic, though. This part of Nicaragua is pimpled with dozens of volcanoes. From our vantage point, we could see them stretching off into the hazy heat on all sides of us. Cerro Negro was indeed black. Its slopes are composed of varying sizes of black rocks, stones, pebbles, and sand. In some parts, your feet sank into the soil making it hard to get a firm foothold. In other places, you could step from one larger, jagged rock to another, and work your way uphill easier. Some sections of the pathway were sheltered from the wind, but others were exposed and you were buffeted as if you were running a gauntlet of pillow fights.

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The group struggles into its gear while being buffeted by howling winds

Before long, we had climbed high enough to see into the mouth of the crater. We smelled the sulfur, and could see the white and yellow discoloration of the noxious gases and chemicals. We circled the crater on the cup of the edge, working our way up and up. Eventually, we would climb to more than 1,700 meters above sea level. We paused to look at the 360 degree panorama. The area immediately beneath Cerro Negro's slopes were stained black by volcanic rock and ash for its most recent eruption, less than 20 years ago. The dusty soiled regained its reddish-orange color the further away it stretched. Patches of thorny vegetations lent splashes of dull green. The blue sky smiled down upon us, a cheery counterpoint to the angry, intense glare of the sun. We struggled into our one-size-fits-all jumpsuits. Mine was obvious made for a smaller person. We stowed our cameras and water bottles in the thick cloth bags. The guides passed out goggles. I noticed mine were well scuffed and I would soon find out why.

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Hurtling down the volcano's slopes, kicking up plumes of dust and gravel

Next, the guides explained how we would ride the sleds down the volcano. There instructions were simple and easy to remember. Keep your soles in contact with the slopes at all times. Lean back to go faster, lean forward to slow. Counter-intuitive, I noticed, and hoped I would mix this up if I started to go out of control! Our guides said the first section of our downhill run is a 40 degree slope, which then sharpens to 45 degrees at the halfway point. He advised going slow in the beginning until we felt comfortable,and then letting loose if we want to at the end. The 20 of us split ourselves among among two chutes or runs that previous sledders had worn into the side of Cerro Negro. I noticed we lost sight of the sledders almost immediately after they began their run.

Finally, it was my turn. I pushed off and slid back and forth through the groove. Apparently, I leaned too far to the right and slewed sideways to a stop. I righted myself and kicked off again. The sled seemed to take off like a rocket -- its smooth metal and Formica underside offsetting the friction caused by my weight on the board. I focused on the position of my legs to ensure they had the correct bend. I watched the storm of pebbles and sand the heels of my hikingif boots created as they fought the increasing momentum. With the mechanics of riding under control, I raised my eyes to look at the slope. And swallowed. Yikes! Picture yourself in the front car of the steepest roller coaster you've even on. Now, cut that car free so you are on your own. Oh, and while you're at it, get rid of the rails. You are roaring downhill completely on your own. The only control you have is how hard you press your soles into the explosion of gravel your feet are kicking up. Press too hard on one side and you begin to lean dangerously, threatening to overbalance and go tumbling off your narrow board.

I never noticed the lesser degree of slope. To me, it seemed my sled was screaming almost out of control at top speed from the moment I kicked off the second time. "Too fast! Too fast!" I kept telling myself. But no matter how hard I pressed my soles into the surface, I kept picking up more and more speed. I felt a wave of dust and gravel bounce off my body, face, and plink away at my goggles. A couple times I was sure I was about to crash at any moment. I was leaning forward to slow down (was that advice actually a cruel joke?), which made me feel I was about to pitch forward off my board. Eventually, I saw the end of the run approaching, and a previous boarder squarely in my path. I leaned to veer out of the chute, which bounced me across uneven slope. I stayed upright, though, and eventually slowed to a stop. "Whoo!" I think I shouted. As I dragged my board over to the group, I couldn't help but comment, "That was a LOT faster than I thought it would be!" I'm not sure if the French understood, but they cheered my ride.

We watched the rest of the group do their runs. Another tour company's group, in bright orange jumpsuits, must have been stocked with thrill seekers. We counted four or five of them who accelerated so fast that they lost control and pitched off their boards, tumbling and rolling downslope. A couple lost their goggles in the process, and one even left his board on the slope and loped downhill in a panic. Once our group was finished, we carried our gear back to the van and boarded. We all felt (and looked) filthy. Everyone's face was blackened by the volcanic dust, and I could feel it on my skin and in my hair. I dozed on the drive back, dreaming of pure cleaner water to drink and shower in. What I liked best about the tour was it was both thrilling and scenic. The views were fantastic from atop Cerro Negro. We got to circle most of the crater, and actually feel we were on top of a volcano. This was part of what I'd missed earlier this trip at Volcan Masaya. I was happy we'd decided to do this excursion. It was definitely one of the high points of Nicaragua.

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Leon's museum of legends and myths, housed in an infamous jail where the Nicaraguan dictator Somoza tortured prisoners

Back in Leon that evening, we watched another of the religious processions as it left the cathedral. Earlier, we visited a folklore museum on the site of one of Leon's most notorious jails, where the dictator Somoza tortured prisoners and dissenters. It was somehow fitting that all of the spooky stories from Nicaraguan myth were modeled in life size figurines in a place where political horrors had been committed. Our guide at the museum was fantastic, and took the time to explain each of the dozens of mannequins in the collection, as well as the history of the jail. All in all, it was probably my favorite day of the trip. We would leave for home late the next day, and our trip was hurtling towards an end -- just like the ride down Cerro Negro.

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We never saw any of these immense figures (see me for scale) parading through the streets, but it was nice to see them in the museum

Posted by world_wide_mike 14:14 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

A Cacophony of Colorful Carpets

Local Leon neighborhood's Good Friday tradition

sunny 97 °F

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One of the locals works on his sawdust carpet amid the blaze of color of his neighbor's efforts

Although I grew up Catholic, I would hesitate to say that I am devout follower of my denomination's traditions. Fish is not my Friday meal and I don't confess my sins to a priest. What's more, compared to the enthusiasm shown by the residents of Sutiaba neighborhood, I may as well be a heathen sacrificing a bull to Zeus! They show their devoutness with a colorful, annual tradition whose beauty lasts for only part of one day. The residents of the neighborhood compete with one another to design the most colorful and beautiful, religious-themed carpet made of colored sawdust. They create them on the streets of their little section of Leon, and both tourists and citizens flock to watch them work. The beautiful carpets are blazoned with themes such as the baptism of Jesus, Jesus as the Good Shepherd, or religious symbols such as chalices, doves, and crosses. These colorful works of art are meant to be obliterated, though, by the people who march during an evening religious procession through the streets.

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Step One: Create the frame for your carpet and water the sawdust and tamp it down into a smooth surface

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Step Two: Residents mix bags of colored sawdust as they stand next to their "canvas" on which they will create their image

Thankfully, our last day in Nicaragua turned out to be Good Friday, which gave me a chance to witness this tradition first-hand. We took two trips down to the Sutiaba by cab (less than $2 each way). On our first trip in the late morning, the residents were setting up the bases for their carpets. Most had framed the rectangular area with wood and poured sawdust into the area about 3"-4" deep. They watered the sawdust and then pounded it down to create a smooth surface. After they are satisfied with their "canvas," they sketch out their design with a pointed object. Most look off of paper sketches, photocopied paintings, or even pictures on their cell phones for inspiration. They then begin to mix up the bags of colored sawdust. Light-colored sawdust is poured into a watertight plastic bag, and is combined with paint and water. These are shaken to ensure the color works its way through the sawdust thoroughly. The whole family or neighborhood gets involved in this. During this time, vendors begin to stake out their places to sell food, drink, or trinkets to the crowds.

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A family works on the details of its carpet in the Sutiaba neighborhood

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An artist incorporates flowers into his carpet's colorful design

We timed our second visit perfectly, arriving around 4 pm. Some of the carpets were completed, but many were still being worked on. Time seemed to stop as we walked and others in the gathering crowd walked from carpet to carpet, photographing the artists at work. Some of the larger carpets had as many as a half dozen people working on them at once. On Most, it was easy to spot the main artist, who directed assistants to fill in background portions while they concentrated on the highly-detailed parts of the artwork. A number sprinkled packets of appropriately-colored glitter into parts of their scenes to make it sparkle and stand out. We saw one artist working in flowers and vegetables into his work. Some were done flat, while others were formed in relief, with parts of the drawing higher than others.

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Residents use pictures and sketches -- even cell phone images -- as inspiration for their canvas

Their care and attention to detail was inspiring. It was heart warming to see a family working together on their devotional offering. Children sat by their parents watching and learning. Teens pitched in and were coached by more experienced members of the family. Some of the carpet designs were very amateur, and you could tell that it was a work of the heart -- not necessarily of art. However, others were stunningly rendered, with shading and subtle variations in color. You would see them smoothing two colors together to blend them on the surface. We even noticed carpets that incorporated prepainted styrofoam sections. One showed a bishop whose clothes were done in colored sawdust, but whose face and hands had been painted on styrofoam and were then placed into that part of the carpet. We disagreed on whether the minority who did this were "cheating" or not. Certainly, it would be much easier to paint a design on styrofoam than it would be to create it from a mosaic of bags and bags of different colored sawdust.

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Scenes had religious themes, such as Jesus as the Good Shepherd

I was shocked to look at my watch and see two hours had gone by. We'd been told that the crowds would grow into a wall-to-wall mass of people by the time of the procession. It was getting packed when we decided to call it quits and go to dinner. Although we could have eaten at one of the numerous street vendors, I have never been a fan of "fair food." So, we decided to escape the throng entirely and checked out a restaurant our guidebook had recommended.

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We joined the throngs checking out the creations of the residents

Our shuttle to the Managua airport would not pick us up until 9 pm. We had been essentially "homeless" on our last day in Nicaragua, ever since our noon checkout. In between our two visits to the Sutiaba, we'd paid $6 apiece to the nearby Hotel Azul to use their pool and facilities. We lounged for a few hours in the cool water, letting the sun beat down on us while the midday heat raged. It was a relaxing, low-key way to end our week in Nicaragua. The colorful carpets of Sutiaba were certainly worth the inconvenience of not having a hotel room for that day. Being able to watch the devotion shown by its residents was a special moment in my travels. I know that, at times, on this trip I groused whether Nicaragua was living up to my expectations. In the recount of my travels, would I recall my time in Nicaragua fondly? The final two days in Leon ended the trip on a high note. Walking amidst the scenes of religious splendor created by ordinary men and women in a poor Nicaraguan neighborhood will forever be a colorful spot in my memory.

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Simple tools and even simpler ingredients blended to create works of art destined to live only for part of one day

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Although these images have all been trampled and obliterated, the memory of them will linger in my recollections of Nicaragua

Posted by world_wide_mike 20:03 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

Old Destination, New Frontier

My first trip as a group leader for student travel

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This will be a whole new type of travel for me. About a year and a half ago, EF Tours contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in leading student educational tours abroad. I had been kicking the idea around in my head since I became a school teacher five years ago. The logistical planning always deterred me, though. How would I know which hotels, buses, guides, etc., to trust? And what about liability? Yikes! So, when EF Tours gave me a chance to do what I wanted -- the chance to open my students' eyes to the world -- without having to worry about the logistics, I jumped at the chance.

So, here I am, more than a year later, getting ready to take a group of 10 students, along with 10 parents or grandparents, to Italy for just over a week. Another experienced traveller teacher is going along, too, in our group. Since we have only 22 total, EF Tours is combining us with two smaller groups. Both are of high schoolers, one from the Chicago area, the other from Houston. My kids will all be going into the 7th, 8th, or 9th grades. We will be the "younguns" of the combined group. Hopefully, I've prepared them well on what to expect and what we will see. Am I nervous? Strangely, no. Maybe it is the more than 1:1 ratio in our group of adults to students. Maybe it is that the adults going along, and to some degree the students, are experienced travellers themselves. And of course, this will be my fourth trip to Italy.

So, follow along with me on my blog over the course of the next week. See what happens when Worldwidemike takes middle schoolers abroad. Hopefully, it will be an amazing, positive, and even life-changing trip for my kids. For now, it is time to say "Arrivederci!" As I finish up those last-minute errands before a trip...

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Posted by world_wide_mike 07:30 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Bell'Italia: Leading Students on an Educational Tour

Our First Three Days

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Rome's most famous site, the Colosseum

Despite this being my fourth visit to Italy, it was a first in a number of ways. I was taking a group of middle school students and their parents as part of an educational tour. One additional teacher, 10 students, and 10 parents and grandparents made up our group. We had booked the trip through EF Tours, the leader in educational travel. They handled all the money, logistics, and guides. We had a local, Italian tour director who accompanied us from start to finish. EF Tours also arranged local, onsite guides for just about every day of sightseeing. My job would be to help coordinate things for our group, make sure all of my travelers were where they were supposed to be, and fill in the holes on our free time.

Sound simple? Well, everything went smoothly, but it was a lot of work. Since our group filled up only half a bus, we combined with two smaller groups to make roughly 45 travelers. Both groups were high schoolers, one of mostly boys from Houston and another of mostly girls from Des Plains, Illinois. Instances of drama between the groups were rare. My group got along with the Houston boys really well, and did okay with the Illinois girls, for the most part.

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The travel group ready to board our flight: 2 teachers, 10 students, 10 parents/grandparents

Day 1: Flight to Rome


Our group gathered at Port Columbus about two hours before our initial flight to Detroit. Two of my adults had designed tour T-shirts, so we all showed up matching. An experienced group leader had recommended this as a way to make it easier to keep together in the airport, through security, and so on. Everyone seemed in high spirits for a week of sightseeing in Italy. Of course, can you blame them? I had picked this tour because it visited some of the highlights of Roman, Medieval,,and Renaissance history that I taught them in 7th grade. All five of my 8th graders were my former students, as was one of my 7th graders. Throughout the trip, I would quiz them and review what I'd taught them. It was gratifying to see how much they remembered of my class.

Our layover in Detroit flew by fairly fast, and before we knew it, we were lining up to board our flight to Rome. Delta treated us great, allowing us to board as a group right after their first class and priority flyers. Our Boeing 767 had a great selection of movies with screens in the setbacks, so most of the kids and adults occupied themselves watching movies. Most of us tried to sleep. Most of us were about as unsuccessful as I was. Despite having my earplugs and eye mask, I couldn't sleep one minute. I watched a movie, tried to sleep, gave up, watched another movie, read some, and generally passed the time as uncomfortably as I usually do on planes. Despite the lack of sleep, most of my travelers were excited and seemed fully awake as we deplaned in Rome.

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Ostia Antica, Rome's ancient port on the Mediterranean Sea

Day 2: Arrival in Rome


We went through passport control and reclaimed our luggage without a hitch. We were met by an EF Tours Rep immediately, We had known for a couple weeks that we would be the first of the three groups arriving. The second group was scheduled in two hours later, and the third three hours after us. We also had known for months that our first day in Rome was a "free day," with no scheduled sightseeing. In our monthly meetings leading up to our departure, we had cobbled together a list of sights we wanted to see that were not part of our tour. I had finally heard back from our local tour guide, Elvira, a week prior to departure. I let her know in no uncertain terms we did not want to start our week in Italy sitting around in an airport for three hours after having just spent the previous day sitting around on planes and in airports! The EF Rep said that we would have to wait for the other groups, though. I insisted she contact Elvira and that this plan was not acceptable to us. She called Elvira and we went back and forth on the phone for a bit. She finally agreed to pick us up and take us somewhere at 11:00, which meant everyone had about 45 minutes to change clothes, grab some food, or change money.

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The Roman bath complex at Ostia -- check out the great mosaic floor of the tepidarius (warm room)

Elvira and I picked out Ostia Antica -- the Mediterranean port for Ancient Rome -- as our sight to see while we were waiting for the others to arrive. The Rome airport is only about 10 minutes from the site, and it would be a nice introduction to Roman antiquities. As it turned out, the second group was running late, so we would have an hour of wandering around the sprawling site before we had to be back on the bus. Elvira said she was not permitted to guide us through Ostia, so we made do with reading the signs, and wandering amidst the ruins. I felt I could personally have done so much more to allow my students to get more out of it if I'd been given a chance to prepare for the visit. As it was, most were impressed with their first, up-close look at 2,000 year old ruins. The theater and Roman baths impressed them the most, I think. It was hot and sunny. You could see the vitality draining out of them by the end of our hour. Although I could have wandered there for hours, more than a few were happy to get back into the bus' air conditioning. Everyone said they enjoyed the visit, though, and were impressed with Ostia.

After swinging by the airport to pick up the Houston group (the girls from Illinois had missed their connection and were still in Madrid), we headed into Rome. As we drove through the city, Elvira pointed out the sights. We saw the city's ancient walls, the dome of the Vatican, and a number of churches. We stopped outside of the sprawling, brick shell of Diocletian's Baths. The frigidarium, or cold bath, was converted into a Christian church in the 1500's by order of Pope Pius IV. Some of the combined group went inside the church to check out its frescoes, while those whose stomachs were growling sought out one of the restaurants or cafes for dinner. From there, we headed to the hotel to check in. After dinner, I organized a search for a local gelato place based on the recommendation of the hotel desk. The placed ended up being closed, and a couple dozen students trekked back to the hotel disappointed. I assured them it had not been an elaborate trick to tire them out so they would sleep!

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The Vatican and St. Peter's -- simultaneously the smallest country in the world, yet the largest church in the world

Day 3: Rome


The next morning, after breakfast, we began our exploration of Rome. First, it was off to the Vatican. We met our local guide and were introduced to the Whisper technology EF Tours would employ. Each student was given a cellphone-sized receiver to be worn on a lanyard around their neck. Ear buds would allow them to hear the guide, who would speak into a microphone he or she wore. In theory. Unfortunately, the device was not perfect. Sometimes, we could hear the guide well enough. Other times, it was distorted. I'm not sure if some guides were better at knowing where to wear the microphone than others, or what. Our Vatican guide often sounded like Charlie Brown's teacher, "Whant, wah wah wah..." We urged the students who had the most difficulty to stick close to the guide so they could hear her voice without the earbuds.

As an aside, I want to take a moment to praise the 10 students I brought on this trip. They were excited, engaged, and eager to learn from our guides. Sure, from time to time, some would get tired, worn out or cranky. Heck, most adults would struggle to stay focused on the long days under the hot, Italian sun. Our kids persevered like champs, though. All of the adults who went along on the trip praised my 12-14 year olds over and over. I was so proud of them. They did a great job representing their school and parents.

An interesting insight for me was comparing the kids' experiences with my own. Often, their novice traveler eyes were open with wonder, while my own veteran ones looked at a situation differently. Our Vatican tour was the prime example. Many kids considered it a highlight of the week, while I mentally picked out ways it could have been better. After assembling outside the gates and bypassing the several hour line (score one for EF Tours), our guide led us onto a rooftop terrace where she explained what we would see. She then led us into the Vatican Museum, which was a crush of people. We would spend the next 20-30 minutes elbow to elbow, weaving our way through the museum's corridors towards the Sistine Chapel. Our group of 40+ was slowly stretched and intermingled with the mass of humanity all seeking to glean something from the works of art we were walking past. I stayed near the back to make sure no one got left behind, which stretched the range of the Whisper Device. The audio cut out as she rounded corners. Eventually, we were ushered into the Sistine Chapel. All the guides stopped talking and visitors were shushed as everyone gazed upward in awe at Michaelangelo's masterpiece. It was inspiring to see, even though it was my second time.

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The fountains in St. Peter's Square, designed by Bernini and Moderno in the 1600s

Next, our guide led us into St. Peter's Basilica, the largest church in the world. Here, the crowd was much less oppressive, and we gathered around her as she pointed out the sights. I was surprised and pleased to see Michaelangelo's La Pieta, which I teach the kids about in my Renaissance Art lesson. I posted it out to students, reminding them of the lesson, and letting them drink in the glory of his work. His ability to render emotion in Mary's face and feeling in his depiction of Jesus' drained, lifeless body as he is cradled in her arms, is stunning. After the church, we entered the vast and impressive square of St. Peter's. Unfortunately, the guide hurried us through this architectural masterpiece, giving little time for pictures. Everyone scrambled after her, but you could see in their eyes and body language that they wanted to linger and take photos. I was furious when we reached the destination of her frantic march: a gift shop. I laced into Elvira who was awaiting us there. I told her it was unacceptable for us to be rushed past one of the world's wondrous sights to get to shopping. We were then given an hour and a half to shop, eat lunch, or (like I urged students to do) return to the square for photographs.

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Designed to hold 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum is one of Rome's most amazing sights

We reboarded the bus and headed next to the Colosseum. There, we would have a different local guide for our visit to Rome's most famous sight and the Forum. Our guide led us inside the amphitheater and found a secluded corridor to give the kids a 25 minute review of Ancient Rome. I wasn't convinced of the need for this and would have rathered she jumped right in to talk about the Colosseum. This guide was better, though. She varied her pacing, spiced it up with questions to the kids, and made it more engaging than the last. She then led us up stairs and pointed out how the Colosseum was used as a quarry for building material through the centuries after the fall of Rome, during the Middle Ages. Finally, we ascended a final set of steps and Rome's greatest amphitheater -- and the inspiration for modern stadiums today -- was laid out before us. The kids were suitably impressed, and snapped and posed for pictures at a rapid pace. I unrolled the vinyl banner with the words "Orange Middle School" I'd had made and the students lined up holding it for a shot with the Colosseum in the background. You could tell the kids enjoyed the Colosseum through their smiles and wide eyes.

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The travelers pose in front of the panorama that is the Colosseum

Next, we were led into the Roman Forum for an abbreviated, introductory tour, with 45 minutes of free time afterwards. I offered to take the OOMS group on a continuation of the tour, and they all accepted. I pulled out my DK Eyewitness guidebook for reference, and then launched into a half hour exploration of Rome's downtown district. I ended with a visit to the House of the Vestal Virgins, one of my favorite places in the Forum. The peristyle garden lined with statues of various priestesses of Vesta is a quiet, atmospheric place that allows visitors to picture what life may have been like.

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The travelers listen to our guide talk about the Roman forum

After a delicious pizza dinner (a description I consider to border on redundant), we drove towards the Piazza Navona. We disembarked and walked towards the Piazza di Spagna, and the nearby Trevi Fountain. Unfortunately, it is under reconstruction. There is a small fount for visitors to toss their coins over their shoulder in hopes of a return to Rome. It was getting late, which meant by the time we arrived at my favorite Roman building, The Pantheon, it was closed. I talk to my students extensively about what I consider Rome's greatest engineering marvel, so this was a true disappointment. We took pictures outside, but nothing can compare with a visit to the inside and staring up at the largest concrete dome the world had seen for 2,000 years. I felt bad for those who had been my students as they clustered looking up at, wanting to be inside. If there had been a guard instead of merely locked doors, I would have offered him hundreds of dollars to open it up to them. Finally, we walked to the Piazza Navona where Elvira pointed out the best gelato shop. Our group took advantage of it, assuaging any disappointment with excellent, Italian ice cream.

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The Pantheon -- believed by many to be Rome's greatest architectural achievement

Our sightseeing was capped off with our first "add on." All three groups had agreed to a night tour of Rome at the cost of 10 Euros each. We boarded our bus and whipped around various parts of Rome, taking in the sight of the ancient and medieval sites illuminated by floodlights. I pointed out Trajan's Column to the kids as we passed it -- another monument I talk about extensively in class. We disembarked only once, to get a picture of the St. Peter's lit up at night. Finally, our long day of drinking in Rome's ancient glory was over. We headed back to the hotel to rest up for our next day.

we embarked on our first "add on" to our tour

Posted by world_wide_mike 14:46 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Pompeii and the Pearl that is Assisi

Day 4 & 5: Tour Highlights on Back-to-back Days

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The kids enjoy the view from atop a tower in Assisi's castle, Rocca Maggiore

Day 4: Pompeii


We were on the bus early the next morning for our day trip to Pompeii. When I set up this itinerary with EF Tours, I made the Pompeii excursion mandatory for my travelers. More than a decade ago, I went to both Pompeii and nearby Herculanaeum, two Roman cities preserved by the ash or lava of Mt. Vesuvius' eruption. I remember wandering its Roman streets and wanted my students to have the same experience. On the ride down, I pointed out hilltop towns to my students, explaining how the chaos, warfare, and piracy of the Middle Ages had caused towns and villages to move up the slopes for protection. Elvira pointed out the mountaintop abbey of Monte Cassino. As she told the students about its tragic story during WW II, and the tremendous loss of life that happened there, I knew then she was a fellow history buff. Upon arrival, we had lunch before exploring Pompeii. More pizza! At least in Italy, pizza is local cuisine, so I can't be accused of dining American when I eat it!

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Walking the streets of Pompeii, a Roman city buried by Mt. Vesuvius' eruption

Our local guide for Pompeii was my favorite of the trip. He was a funny gentleman who looked to be in his 60s. He was a veteran guide whose son was now a guide in Pompeii, too. He spoke with the right pacing to keep the kids interested and engaged with what we were seeing. He had humorous stories, interjected jokes and plays on words, and asked them questions. We began our our near one of the barracks for troops, and proceeded to the small Roman theater. From there, we wound our way along Pompeii's streets, as he pointed out the stepping stones for crossing the street, the ruts left by wagon wheels, and the row upon row of thermopalia -- Roman fast food joints. We explored the Roman baths, and our guide explained the various hot, warm and cold pools. He took us by the villas of weather citizens, pointing out the tiled mosaics still surviving at their entrances. We stopped by a drinking fountain, which archeologists hooked up again to provide water from aqueducts running from the hillsides. It was cool to watch the kids fill up their water bottles and think they were drinking from the same source the ancient Romans did.

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Refilling a water bottle with water from the same source that Romans drank

The highlight was when we entered the Roman forum, with its temple to Jupiter. The row of columns stretching away on either side, along with the steps leading up to the temple, gave the students an idea of the panorama of a Roman town center. We unfurled the Orange Middle School banner and took pictures with the forum and Mt. Vesuvius in the backdrop. Unlike other guides, he sensed the group wanted to indulge in photography here and let us take about 10 minutes to get our fill of group and family shots, selfies, or pictures of the ruins themselves. Despite the heat of the day, the students' faces were bright with excitement. You cold tell they knew they were experiencing an important slice of history that day. Our guide walked us over to some gated off buildings that housed some of the famous plaster casts of the people who died and were buried by Vesuvius' ash that fell three feet deep. He explained that, over the centuries, the ash hardened to rock forming cavities in the shape of the person who lay there. He pointed out a cast of a person who had drawn his tunic up over his mouth in attempt to not be suffocated by the ash and poison gases. We saw the guard dog strangled by his own collar as the ash level rose past the length of his chain, his four legs frozen for centuries in mid-flailing. We saw the stack upon stack of plastic boxes that contained the bones collected from the more than 2,000 people who died at Pompeii. We finished our tour with the temple of Apollo, and then the stop at the obligatory gift shops. Many of the kids wanted souvenirs from this amazing site, so I kept my curmudgeonly instinct in check and indulged them.

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Gathering for a group picture in Pompeii's Forum

Back in Rome, I was able to meet up with my friend Andrea, who lives about an hour outside the city. We had dinner and talked for a couple hours. It had been about five years since I'd seen him, so it was good to catch up.

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Rocca Maggiore, Assisi's 12th century castle, looks above the scenic hillside town

Day 5: Assisi


As amazing as Pompeii was, many of the travelers would feel this one outdid it as the highlight of the trip. I had never been to Assisi before. I knew we were to visit the Basilica of St. Francis, but I had no idea what was here besides the church. Assisi is a picturesque medieval town town perched on a hillside, with a gorgeous view of the Tuscan countryside. It's winding streets are cobble stoned and snake up,and down hill past churches, towers, and buildings from ancient times, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. From the moment we passed through its arched gates, my group was taking pictures of the beautiful views and quaint town. Elvira brought us to the town square, gave us our bearings, and then cut us free for almost two hours to wander the town. She pointed out the highlights we might want to see, along with the location of good lunch stops.

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The picturesque streets of medieval Assisi

I took a group of kids uphill to explore the medieval castle that overlooked the town. The view from up top was spectacular, and would only get better as we clambered around inside the fort's stone walls and ascended its towers. The kids had a blast exploring the castle, as I knew they would. What child doesn't dream about poking around castle dungeons, running up circular stairs to mighty guard towers, and finding secret passages to other sections of the castle? They were so excited they would break out and run from one place to another, and I had to hurry along to keep up with them. Their faces were flushed with joy and the pictures I have of them show that they were living out their dreams at that moment.

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A steep climb led to every kid's fantasy: a medieval castle to explore!

Once we'd explored every foot of the 12th century castle, we headed back downhill through the medieval streets. We peeked inside the Roman Temple of Minerva, which was converted in the Middle Ages to a church. We decided to skip a full lunch and tided ourselves over with heaping servings of gelato. Some students bought souvenirs as we slowly wound our way along the beautiful streets to the Basilica of St. Francis. There we met the rest of the group and our local guide for a tour of the 13th century church built in honor of the saint who started the Franciscan order of monks. It is built on three levels, with the lowest containing the crop holding the friar's tomb and relics of his life. Frescoes on the walls illustrated the life of the saint, some from the Middle Ages, some from the Renaissance or later. We ended in the upper church where the soaring Gothic ceilings were bright with frescoes and the windows gleamed colorfully with stained glass. Our local guide did a good job of recounting St. Francis' life and pointing out the church's decoration and their meaning and significance. It was a happy group of travelers who filed back onto the bus. Assisi was a pearl of a surprise in the middle of our itinerary. As the week continued, more and more of the kids would say it was one of their favorite places we would visit.

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The 13th century Basilica of St. Francis

Posted by world_wide_mike 14:26 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Sunny, Seaside Cinque Terre

A Small Group Heads for the Coast While the Others Visit Pisa

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The pretty harbor of La Spezia, from where we set out on our day trip to Cinque Terre

Day 6: Cinque Terre (or Pisa)


When I set up the tour itinerary, I had made Pompeii a mandatory excursion. Pisa I kept as optional, though. About 2/3's of the travelers signed up for it. The other teacher would lead that group, while I took responsibility of the rest. The Pisa group said they had a great time and enjoyed it a lot. For the rest of us, we had discussed what we would do on this free day. One proposal I made early on was to take a day trip to Cinque Terre -- a scenic collection of coastal villages. Hiking paths run along the hills above the villages, and boats cruise the coast. A couple of the adults were leery of the hiking, so we settled on a boat ride which stopped in all the villages. It was a hop on, hop off, ferry schedule. So, we could get off for awhile, check out the village, and then board the next one going up the coast. When we reached Monterosso, we could take the local train back to, where we began in La Spezia. I bought the train tickets the night before, and looked up the ferry schedule online to get an idea of what we were in for.

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Cruising along the Italian seacoast
Everything worked like a charm. We caught our first train, and after an hour changed trains in Viareggio. The next one was shorter, and we were soon in La Spezia, the pretty port town where the ferry route began. The tourist information office gave us an updated schedule and map to find the docks. We bought our tickets, and after a short wait, boarded the ferry, the kids selecting the upper deck for the open views on all sides. The day was a beautiful, sunny one. The sea breeze cooled the warm day -- perfect weather for a boat ride!

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Churchs and Castles -- or buildings that were a little of both, commanded the coastal hillsides
The cruise along the Italian coast was gorgeous, with steep, green cliffs diving abruptly down to translucent blue waters. Castles and towers staked out commanding views, as did churches. The villages were often hidden in the folds of the hills. As we rounded a corner, they would unfold colorfully in slow motion. Bright yellows, pastel reds and tans, and gleaming white buildings gave each village or town a unique, but related face. It was as if each were a cousin to the other, showing a clear family bloodline in its features, but recognizably different.

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Portovenere, named after the Roman goddess of beauty and love, Venus
Our first stop was at Portovenere, a lovely village named after Venus, the Roman goddess of love. We disembarked and walked along the waterfront, looking for a quaint cafe with a breezy view to have lunch. We watched the locals and tourists amble along the walkway, the kids being scandalized by the skimpiness of fashionable Italian swimwear. The yachts of the wealthy caught our eyes, and we settled into our seats enjoying the relaxed pace of Cinque Terre.

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Beautiful, Cinque Terre scenery on a sunny day
At the next stop, Riomaggiore, we decided to let the kids wade in the Mediterranean Sea. We followed the rocky path to the rocky beach, and the kids gingerly took off their shoes or sandals to wade in up to their calves. We took some pictures, wondered at how the sunbathers could lay out on rocks and boulders, and then packed up to catch the next ferry. The next village in line, Corniglia, has too steep and rocky of an inlet for the ferry, so we just took pictures as we sailed by. We also did not get off at Manarola, but decided to make a gelato stop at Vernazza.

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Wading in the historic Mediterranean Sea
Vernazza was one of my favorites, but honestly, all Cinque Terre are quaint gems of towns. There is a tiny arc of muddy beach, protected by a rocky spit of land. Kids dive from cliffs into the deeper pools, while buildings cling precariously to every level space available. Towers sprout up here and there in town, and the buildings are bedecked in beautiful colors that vibrantly throw back the sunlight. All of the kids loved Italian ice cream, or gelato, and some set out to try every flavor, which necessitated multiple indulgences over the course of one day.

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A stop for gelato in beautiful Vernazza
Our time in Vernazza ended too soon, and we sailed off to our final stop, the largest of the Cinque Terre, Monterosso. Since we'd been pushed along by the ferry schedule (always wanting to catch the next ferry after disembarking) we promised ourselves to take our time and linger in our final stop. We walked through the town, poking into black and white striped Genovese churches, checking out souvenirs, and buying refreshments. We saw frequent trains whizzed by on the hillside overhead, so we were in no hurry. It was a fitting end to a relaxing, beautiful day on Italy's sea coast. The sun shined brightly throughout, the breezes kept it from getting too hot, and the kids were wonderfully behaved. Their excitement at the sights amplified the pleasure the adults were feeling, too. After a steady diet of history on the tour, Cinque Terre was a tasty dessert for the eyes -- a whole new flavor of Italy for my travelers to sample.
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Beautiful Monterosso is a lovely place to stroll around

Posted by world_wide_mike 16:25 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Me in Cinque Terre

I really was there!

sunny 88 °F

large_Me_Cinque.jpg
I am adding this intermediate photo to my blog because I accidentally un-clicked the Notify Subscribers button on my Cinque Terre post

Click here to read the Cinque Terre entry

Posted by world_wide_mike 16:45 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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