Three weeks of a break from having a munchkin around the house can be exciting, especially since Rob and I haven’t had that kind of time alone since before we had Ben, but we were excited to have him home! Just to add to the excitement was that he wasn’t traveling alone…Aunt Jenny accompanied him back to Italy!
While we didn’t do the amount of traveling that we did the first time she came out to Napoli, I still think we showed her a good time. Since we just picked her up from the airport and whisked her off to France last time, she kind of missed out on Rome. We certainly weren’t going to let that happen again. We explored the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, and every other landmark that was represented in the DaVinci Code…ah, if only I was joking about that being our guide. Sad but true.
When they arrived to Italy, a great deal of time was spent getting Ben ready for school. He would be a fifth grader and this time he knew a lot more friends. You may remember, his best friend Aaron Cornette who he experienced Hanukkah and Passover with last year and of course, Jodie. As we arrived to the Back to School Block Party, both of them eagerly greeted us to let Ben know that they were all in the same class again.
And so the cycle begins once again, Ben is in Mrs. Krause’s fifth grade class. This year is her first year of teaching, but she is no stranger to the world of education or the military. She herself was in the Navy and later home schooled her own three children. She did her student teaching here in Naples and has now begun her second career. She is very smart, organized, and thinks outside of the box…to me, these are all necessary qualities in a teacher. We all have been very happy with her and Ben has excelled in such a great learning environment.
Despite the craziness of starting a new school year, we were able to get some traveling in for Jen. While Rob was at work and Ben was at school, Jen and I went exploring new areas near where we live and others along the Amalfi coast. We went to a market in Nola, and it was fun to see how t-shirt designers are trying to target the English speaking or American market, but just not quite “hitting their mark”. I was able to pick up a dress for the upcoming Air Force Ball for next to nothing, she was able to pick up some cool Italian material, but no one could have anticipated the adventure we were about to have in Nola. You see, Rob and I had brought Ben to this town a couple months back for a summer festival and had spotted a Spanish restaurant, but it was closed. We were bummed, but we figured if we came back out here we’d try to figure out if they were “closed closed” or had actually gone out of business. So now that I had returned, I got this brilliant idea to go to the restaurant if I could remember where it was. I remembered where it was, the only problem was that that roads that lead to the restaurant were pedestrian, so I could only go so far. I wasn’t sure where I was allowed to park, so I pulled alongside the road and asked Jen if she would walk around the corner and take a picture of the restaurant ‘s shingle so we would know what to look up on the internet and find out more information. She went on foot and I sat, waiting in my car for a couple minutes. It is then that I saw Jen speed walking towards the car with determination in her step and fear in her face. Three men were in pursuit, following closely behind her. I thought, what the heck! I got out of the car.
She didn’t even stop, she just got into the car saying, “I don’t know what he’s saying, I don’t know what he’s saying, he was just yelling at me and then he started to chase me and so I left and he followed me.”
So with my little bit of Italian, I gathered that this man saw Jenny taking pictures (like I asked), but he lives above the building where the shingle is hanging and so he believed that she was taking pictures of his house. He told the other two men to call the police because this woman was taking pictures of his house. These men looked intimidating so I was a little worried. Once I understood the problem, I explained in my broken Italian that she was only taking pictures of the sign. That we just wanted to remember the name of the restaurant. Once I explained, the other two men seemed to understand the miscommunication and told the man that he was crazy. They tried to explain in Italian, but he was having none of it. What we didn’t realize was that the building I had stopped in front of was the police station. So into the building he ran when he saw the other two were not going to help him and I dutifully got into the car and drove away! Jen has decided she doesn’t ever need to go to Nola again and we may never get her to take another picture.
Our day trip to Ravello was remarkably less eventful but no less exciting. An adorable little city Ravello is just above the coastline. There is an ancient legend, still recounted by tour guides in Salerno and Amalfi, that it was to Ravello, with its breathtaking view of the Mediterranean and the dramatic Amalfi coastline, that Satan transported Jesus during his second temptation to show the beauty of the world’s kingdoms. (Luke 4: 5-8) It was our trip back that was the most significant since that is when Jen spotted her very own damigiana left on the side of the road! So back we went to collect her treasure.
If you don’t know what a damigiana is you need only go to Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel to see how they gouge people’s wallets for something we, here in Naples, pick up for free. Check out the story a friend wrote about our damigiana treasures! http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/trash-to-treasure-demijohn-bottles-172423
Next up was our weekend trip to Procida, one of the Flegrean Islands off the coast of Naples. The island towns out here are just amazing so we decided to share one of them with Jen. Away we went! We rented a boat and leisurely spent the day exploring the waters. We anchored the boat for some swimming, cave exploring, and finally lunch in the little town of Procida. Everybody got a little sun but no one as much as Jen did!
Later that week, served as what could possibly be labeled as a life changing experience for Jen. It was the day she…had gelato! She tried many flavors during her time here, but it was pistachio that stole her heart. Here is a good opportunity to talk about gelato, everybody’s heard of it and most love it, but how is it different from ice cream? Apparently, it has more whole milk rather than cream. Since there isn’t as much fat, the flavors are more intense It has less air, because it is churned slower than ice cream. So whatever the reason, and no matter which you prefer, know that a yummy frozen treat awaits you anywhere in Italy.
And then there was Assisi, one of my all time favorites in Italy. This is the town where St. Francis was born, lived, preached, and died. It is amazing! The Basilica is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there are two castles, but every aspect of this little town is just breathtaking. You walk the cobble stoned roads and are instantly taken back through time. Words cannot begin to describe how moved I was as we explored the place where he was born, where he witnessed the vision of Christ, where he was imprisoned by his father, and encouraged St. Clare to follow her calling and began the Franciscan Order. I can’t begin to explain how beautiful this town is both in aesthetic beauty and its rich history.
Finally, comes our Czech experience. A million years ago, when I was an undergrad and studying in Spain, I backpacked through Europe. After a crazy train incident where the train going from Amsterdam to Germany split, my side of the train went to the Czech Republic, and I was left in a station overnight before I could buy a ticket to back to Germany. Up until now, that had been my only experience in Prague. It was a whole new experience this time around. We all fell in love with this beautiful city! Truth be told, if I ever had the opportunity to be posted there for work or even just to visit again, I would jump at it in a heartbeat! The hotel we stayed in was at the foot of the famous Charles Bridge. It is this bridge that made Prague important as a trade route between Eastern and Western Europe. While a beautiful and peaceful place at night and an excellent photo opportunity of the night landscape, it is quite different in the morning. There are musicians, artists, and vendors bustling about the area.
We chose to visit Prague because Rob’s paternal heritage comes from what was once Bohemia, later Czechoslovakia, and what is now the Czech Republic. The city is rich with culture, history and most importantly…a TGI Friday’s Restaurant! Ben was one happy camper. Among the sites of Prague there is the clock tower, from the plaza you can observe the procession of the Twelve Apostles: on the hour, every hour, a small trap door opens from the clock and Christ marches out ahead of his disciples.
The castle was magnificent! It is the largest coherent castle complex in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It consists of a large-scale composition of palaces and buildings of various architectural styles, from Roman-style buildings from the 10th century through Gothic modifications in the 14th century. Ben even found a toy museum!
The solemn part of the trip began with the tour through the Jewish Quarter. Its history dates back to the 13th century, when the Jewish community in Prague were ordered to vacate their homes and settle in one area. Over the centuries more and more people were crowded into the area, as Jews were banned from living anywhere else. Restrictions on their movements and the trades they were allowed to conduct underwent constant change.
The Jewish Quarter, or the Prague Jewish Ghetto as it was later to become known, also endured a lot of structural changes, the latest of which was a vast redevelopment of the area between 1893-1913. There are six synagogues that remain, including the Old-New Synagogue, the Spanish Synagogue, plus the Jewish Town Hall and the Old Jewish Cemetery, which is the most remarkable of its kind and Europe’s oldest surviving Jewish cemetery. According to halakhah (religious laws for Jews), Jews must not destroy Jewish graves and in particular it is not allowed to remove the tombstone. This meant that when the cemetery ran out of space and purchasing extra land was impossible, more layers of soil were placed on the existing graves, the old tombstones taken out and placed upon the new layer of soil. This explains why the tombstones in the cemetery are placed so closely to each other. This resulted in the cemetery having 12 layers of graves.
The next stop was no less solemn but so very interesting. We visited a city called Kutna Hora a suburb of Prague. Inside the city was Sedlec Ossuary, a small Roman Catholic Chapel. Sedlec Ossuary has a long history, beginning in the 13th century when the Abbot of the Sedlec Monastery (Abbot Henry) brought a handful of earth back from a journey to the Grave of the Lord in Jerusalem. He scattered this “holy soil” across the Sedlec cemetery, securing its place as one of the most desired burial sites for people all over Bohemia and the surrounding countries. Everyone wanted to be buried in that handful of the Holy Land and more than 30,000 were. But it wasn’t long before there simply wasn’t enough room for everyone to rest in peace, and the bodies were moved to a crypt to make room for the newly dead.
In 1870, a local woodcarver, František Rint was employed for the dark task of artistically arranging the thousands of bones. Rint came up with the Bone Church’s stunning chandelier, as well as the amazing Schwarzenberg coat of arms, which includes a raven pecking at the severed head of a Turk–all made of human bone. Rint was responsible for bleaching all of the bones in the ossuary in order to give the room a uniform look. His artist’s signature is still on the wall today–naturally, in his medium of choice, bone. It was like nothing else we have ever seen.
Our tour had become way too macabre for our taste and so off we went to continue our Czech adventure at AquaPalace, a fantastic water park! We went down slides, played in the wave pool, soaked in the heated pools, and then there was the Fast River. Let me tell you, while much of the time we desire that Italy and other European countries share some of the same need for regulation as the States, there are times where the lack of such regulation make 10 times more fun for everyone. This was one of those moments. There is something called the Fast River, or as we liked to call it, the Kamikaze River. You don’t ride a tube or raft, you simply hold onto a bar for dear life and when you are ready to be sucked in by the incredibly strong current you let go of the bar. It is as if you are white water rafting, but without the raft. If you aren’t prepared by having your legs and arms ready to block so you don’t crash into other people or the walls of the slides, you will do just that. After the first time, I was covered in bruises, but I couldn’t stop laughing long enough to even care and the second time I learned my lesson. You completely lose all control of where your body is going at a very high rate of speed. It’s what we in the U.S. call, “a law suit ready to happen,” and honestly I haven’t laughed so hard or had so much fun in a very long time!
And with our trip to Prague was the end of another fantastic European adventure with our sister Jen and we can’t wait for the next!