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Monday, April 30, 2018

Must See In Ravenna, Italy - Preparing For Our Mediterranean Cruise

Ravenna, Italy is the seventh port on our Mediterranean cruise.  We arrive in Porto Corsini at 7:00 am and will be docked until 4:00 pm.   Porto Corsini is a small town with a beautiful beach.  It is right next to Marinara, the largest yacht marina of the Adriatic.  Ravenna is actually 20 minutes away by shuttle bus (I have been seeing a cost of $20 per person for a round trip ticket.)   One option we have is to check out Ravenna and the incredible mosaics that I hear are everywhere, and get back in time to spend an hour or two at the port town's beach before our ship leaves.   Another option from here would be to travel 90 minutes to and from Bologna, the larger city in this area, which would definitely be doable, but wouldn't give us time to do anything else.  

Port 7 - Ravenna (Option 1)

We will start by finding our way down Viale Farini to Piazzo del Popolo.   Only two blocks from this square are the two places we want to see most as they are both highly recommended, Basilica of San Vitale and Mausoleum of Galla Placida.  

Basilica of San Vitale.  Besides for the few frescoes, this 1,400 year old building is decorated entirely in mosaics.  The mosaics are so tiny that they blend into one another and give the illusion that they are paintings, which is what the artists intended.  Only the generous use of gold and the brilliant, shining colors give away the secret.

Mausoleum of Galla Placida.   According to UNESCO this mausoleum is "the earliest and best preserved of all mausoleums".   The marble sarcophagi are thought to be those of Galla Placidia, her husband and son.  Here we will look for Christ as the Good Shepard surrounded by sheep, the Apostles and the symbols of the four evangelists - the lion, eagle, ox and angel.

If we only see these two buildings, we will have seen the best of Byzantine mosaic art, which is what will go to Ravenna to see.  But there are three other sights that are included when you buy an admission ticket to the basilica and mausoleum.   We will definitely check them out also.

Neonian Baptistery is in the heart of the city.  This octagonal building is one of the oldest.  I will be looking for the mosaic of the Baptism of Christ by John the Baptist here.

Basilica of Sant 'Apollinare Nuovo.   There are 3 rows of mosaics that decorate this Basilica.  On the upper right the mosaics depict Jesus' miracles and parables and on the right, the Passion and Resurrection.  The middle row is dedicated to saints, prophets and evangelists, 16 on each side.  The bottom row has the largest mosaics and show, on the left, the procession of the 22 virgins, led by the Three Magi, moving towards Madonnna and Child surrounded by four angels.  On the right we see the procession of 26 Martyrs, led by St. Martin, heading towards Christ and four angels.

Archiepiscopal Museum and Chapel.  The museum is located on the first and second floors of the Archiepiscopal Palace.  It holds the artwork of buildings that are now demolished.  We will see the most famous piece here which is the ivory throne of Maximian.  We will enjoy beautiful mosaic creations in the chapel.

After we have made the loop around Ravenna, which will probably take approximately 3 hours, we would love to get a picnic meal at the colorful covered market, Mercato Coperto, near the square before going back to Porto Corsini to enjoy the beach!

Bologna - (Option 2)

If we decide that Bologna has more to offer or if the weather is putting a damper on our beach plans, we will do the 3 hours of traveling to get there and back.  The first place we will head would be Piazza Maggiore where we will find many of Bologna's important buildings.

The Basilica di San Petronio is the 10th largest church in the world.  It is dedicated to the patron saint of Bologna, Saint Petronio  What is unusual about this building is that it was never finished so you will notice an odd front facade where the lower half features colored marble stone work and the upper half is bare brick.

Pallazo d'Accursio.  This palace is the city's town hall and is home to the Civic Art Collection.  We will look for the "Madonna of the Piazza with Child" that is on one part of the facade.

Palazzo del Podesta was built around 1200.  A second building was constructed along side when the Palazzo became too small to hold the many participants of the city's government.  The bottom floor of the Palazzo is a double open arcade called Voltone del Podesta.  We can find the statues of the town's patron saints here.

Palazzo Comunale - This has been the home of the Bologna city council.  On the second floor of this building, we can find a collection of 13th - 19th century paintings, sculpture and furniture.

We would then venture northwest of the square to get to Piazza del Nettuno which contains the famous Fountain of Neptune.

Other things we would like to do in Bologna would be to shop at La Piazzola Market.  This historic market has been held in Bologna for hundreds of years.  You can find anything and everything here for sale.  The vendors shouting at you to buy their wares adds to the lively atmosphere.   And we would like to find a place to eat Tortellini.  Tortellini is one of the most popular Italian foods in Bologna and Bologna is considered one the the best places to experience an authentic Tortellini dish.

I will definitely be posting about our vacation after it happens in September.  It could be a post about the sights and sounds of Ravenna or it could be all about the fun we had in Bologna.  I'm excited to find out what we finally decided!  Either way, we will have plenty of pictures to share and stories to tell of our visit. 

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Monday, April 23, 2018

North Carolina Azalea Festival

Welcome To Wilmington - Home Of The NC Azalea Festival.  I had seen this sign more than a few times when my daughter moved here six years ago.  Why is this something that we need to know?  Why would it be called an Azalea Festival?  I don't see any azaleas!  Well, after we moved in 2 1/2 years ago, we were finally in Wilmington in early spring and then I knew why there would be an azalea festival here.  It is a gorgeous sight that lasts only a couple of short weeks, but when the azaleas are in bloom, and the dogwoods at the same time, Wilmington is the most colorful place on earth.  You can't help but feel absolute joy when you are out and about at this time of the year.  It is as amazing a treat of nature as New York's fall always was for us when we lived there.

The 2018 North Carolina Azalea Festival is history now as it happened last weekend but it will be back for sure in 2019 as it has returned year after year since 1948.  It always happens in Wilmington and it is their premier event.  It is a 5 day festival that starts with the traditional arrival of Queen Azalea.  Besides for the Queen there is an Azalea Festival Princess and her court.  You can see them all in the parade that kicks off the weekend festivities along with high school bands from across the state and much more.

If you missed the parade (like we did) and missed the music of the bands, don't worry because you can find plenty of musical entertainment to enjoy all during and around the festival.  Big name talents, including Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and Tony Bennett have all performed here.  More recent talent includes, Carrie Underwood and last year Jason Derulo and Duran, Duran headlined.  This year it was Ludacris at the main stage.  Besides for the big music event, there are smaller, but equally entertaining talents in different venues all over the streets of downtown Wilmington.

On Water Street, across from the courthouse, you will find the Multicultural Stage.  This free event showcases different cultures including groups representing China, Mexico, Japan Ireland and more.  You can  marvel at the entertainers in their authentic costumes, dancing and/or musically entertaining their audience.

Are you feeling hungry?  There is so much food here, mostly what you hope to find when you are at a fest, like turkey legs, funnel cake and fried everything!  Fried Oreos, yum!  Come hungry for sure!

Is it arts and crafts you are looking for?  You've come to the perfect place to find them.  You and about 199,999 other people.  (The average number of visitors to the festival each year is about 200,000),  The craftsmanship is really amazing though.  I saw the most creative things for sale.  I am so impressed by someone who can pick up a Coke can and think, "This looks like an airplane to me." and then turn it into one.  I pick a can up and think, "This needs to go into the recycle bin, but first I need to take the tab off and save it for Joan."

Besides for the many craft booths you will find along Front Street, you might find a golden fairy statue who will come alive, when you drop a donation in her basket, and sprinkle you with glitter!

My favorite sight, though, are the Azalea Belles.  The belles are volunteers who must go through a selection process and if selected get to wear an elaborate gown made up of 15 yards of fabric and 40 yards of lace.  You can see the girls strolling around the festival streets with their escorts, in the many private gardens on the garden tour and gracing the front of the mansions on the home tour.  The girls and their dresses are so beautiful and add so much to the festival.   They are as much a symbol of the Azalea Festival as the azaleas themselves.

If you are ever planning a vacation to Wilmington, NC, consider visiting in April so you can take part in all the Azalea Festival festivities.   Does your town host a festival that they are proud of?  When and where is it?  We would love to be a part of it if we are ever in your area!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Seeking The Oddball And Wacky On Road Trips

One of our favorite things to do when we are on a road trip is to find the most unusual, unique sights in the city that we are in.  Well, maybe the better adjectives are oddball and wacky!  Our love for seeking out these wild and crazy attractions started when I bought the book, The Great American Road Trip, for Soko years ago.  There is page after page of photographs showing the most fun things to find on a road trip.  Now, before we travel to a new city, we consult this book to see if there are any weird things to visit.  We have also found some of the quirkiest things by surfing the net so we don't forget to check there also before our trip.  We put all this info into our GPS and off we go.

We knew we had to find this guy when we went to Seattle.  His name is Fremont Troll and the book told us he would be a gigantic piece of concrete, but we never expected him to be this huge!

A friend told us about the Gum Wall, located near Pike Place Market.  The pieces that we put on the wall, were cleared off along with 2,350 pounds of gum when the walls were totally washed off in 2015.  It has since been accumulating gum again so make sure you bring a piece if you get a chance to visit Seattle.  Be aware, though, that the wall is rated one of the five most germiest tourist attractions, second to the Blarney Stone.

If you are hungry for rotisserie chicken flavored candy canes or pickle candy this is where you will find these yummy treats.  Or maybe you've been wondering what it would be like to have lobster claws instead of hands.  Or perhaps you know someone who has always wanted a man bun but he could never grow his hair long enough, or doesn't have enough.  Guess what?  You can get a clip on man bun from Archie McPhee's!

In 1620, twenty men and women were executed for practicing witchcraft in Salem.  The museum is full of history of the area and "witchy" information.  There are people who still practice witchcraft and we noticed that they all live in this town!


Our road trip book suggested a visit to the Mummers Museum in Philly, but we didn't get there.  But we did get to Philadelphia's Magic Gardens.  It was one of two unique, and a little kooky, sights we found on the web that we were curious to see when we took a road trip here.  We were disappointed that we got to the Gardens a little too late to venture inside, but the wall outside told the story of what we would have been able to see inside.  The art is made of nontraditional materials including folk art statues, found objects, bicycle wheels, colorful glass bottles, hand-made tiles and thousands of pieces of mirrors.

The Freedom Sculpture was the other.  Zenos Frudakis, the creator of this very cool, although somewhat wacky, sculpture explains it this way.  "The sculpture is about the struggle for achievement of freedom through the creative process."  We really liked this very creative and thought provoking piece.  It is not every day that you can see a sculpture escaping from their sculpture!

If you are driving on Interstate 95 going towards South Carolina in either direction, you will see over 200 billboards featuring Pedro enticing you to stop at his hangout, South of the Border.  The billboards get more frequent the closer you get to his place.  Daughter Lisa's favorite is the one that says "You never sausage a place!  You're always a wiener at Pedro's!"  Of course a huge sausage is attached to the sign.  Our kids loved stopping here on our way to Florida every year to visit Grandma and Grandpa.


Our planned trip to see the Mets minor league team (and Tim Tebow, former quarterback turned baseball player), brought us to Columbus, South Carolina and to the world's largest fire hydrant.  Joe found this gigantic piece of art when he was looking for other things for us to do while we were in Columbus.  The hydrant is called "Busted Plug Plaza".  It is 40 feet tall and weighs 675,000 pounds and can withstand a direct hit from a tornado! 

Apparently, Seattle is not the only place in the world that you can find a space needle!  And just like Seattle's, you can take a ride to the observation deck 342 feet up to view the town below.

Lisa found this gem when she googled places to visit in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  She knew I was putting this post together and thought it would be a perfect addition.  She was right.  I don't know how The Great American Road Trip guide missed this one!   This place had some of the wackiest salt and pepper shakers we have ever seen.  We had so much fun pointing out the weirdest ones to each other.  The salt shaker that looked like a bottle of ketchup could be a little confusing but shaking pepper out of a banana is really bananas!

When Joe and Nicole told me they were going to stop in Winston-Salem on their way to our house, I asked them to keep an eye out for the shell-shaped gas station.  They went out of their way a bit to find it and surprised me with a picture of Nicole standing in front.  There were eight of these Shell stations built but this is the only one left thanks to Preservation North Carolina who turned the building into their regional office.  


And finally, Tregembo Animal Park near our home in Wilmington, NC.  We had been passing this place for a couple of years but I knew one day we would have to stop in so I could take a picture of us getting eaten by a lion!  Careful, those teeth look really sharp!!

We would love to visit the oddball places in your town.  Or if you have any suggestions of any wacky sights you think we would like to see, we would love to hear from you!

Monday, April 9, 2018

City of Murals - Lake Wales, FL

I used to have a routine of going to the gym for about an hour after work, three times a week and then on Saturday morning.  Since we retired, I haven't join a gym but do try to get some exercise by walking a few hours a week.  We are so lucky to be living near two awesome cities.  In NC we live about 15 minutes from downtown Wilmington.  We enjoy walking around this old city and admiring the historic homes that line the streets.  The Riverwalk is also downtown and walking along the Cape Fear River is one of our favorite ways to get the exercise we need.  During the fall and winter months we live in Florida.  We are about 10 minutes from downtown Lake Wales.  Like downtown Wilmington, downtown Lake Wales is also an historic area.  What we love about walking around here is that we get to enjoy a visual treat in the form of murals that cover many of the sides of the buildings.  Not only are they beautiful and amazing, but many of them tell the history of Lake Wales and stories about the people who made an impact on the town or who were special to the town in some way.

One of our favorites is a mural of someone who was a fixture on the streets of the city.  Jesse Williams was a greatly respected shoe shiner for an amazing 6 decades.  Friends and family of Jesse funded this project.

Tom Freeman, a Lake Wales artist, painted many of the murals downtown.  He also was a very influential adult art teacher.   So very respected that his students wanted to honor him by painting a mural of Freeman painting a mural.

The Barrel was the place to be if you wanted to get the scoop on what was happening around town, and also if you wanted to have breakfast or lunch and socialize with friends at the same time.  This mural was funded by people who had very fond memories of this special restaurant.

F.S. McLaughlin was the principal of Lake Wales Schools for almost 4 decades and founded the Lake Wales Charter Schools.  Also seen in this mural is his wife who was an integral part of the success of the school system.  The mural was funded by Frank McLaughlin Jr. and when it was dedicated in 2006, many former teachers attended.

The community has always been proud of the Lake Wales High School Band and Scottish Unit.  After a tragic accident involving two of the young dancers, they got together to fund this special mural.  Thousands of .supporters showed up for the dedication of this mural to the two girls.

This mural was funded by True Value Hardware and was the Tom Freeman's last outdoor mural.  It is called Florida Flowers and showcases the flowers and animals of Florida.

The United States Post Office fully funded this patriotic mural that graces their annex.  We love how the flags wraps around the two corners of the building.

Soko is in front of one of a few indoor murals.  This one is called Harvest Time - Lake Wales and is in the post office.  The citrus industry is a vital part of this area's economy.   We live in the middle of the orange groves which makes our neighborhood smell heavenly!

Wells Fargo funded this printed mural.  It decorates the city's town square and is a composite of various historic photographs of Lake Wales.  Featured in this mural is Bok Tower and  Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscrape architect for Bok Tower Gardens.  The grand Dixie Walesbilt Hotel is featured and I am happy to say that it looks like it may be opening again, or at least we saw that there was some kind of restoration going on inside this gorgeous building.   Our favorite street, Spook Hill, has a spot on this tremendous mural.  If you are ever in in Lake Wales, go to the bottom of this street, put your car in neutral and wait for your car to magically drive up the hill on it's own!

"Old Timers" of Lake Wales fondly remember this building, that was on the western shore of Lake Wailes, and funded the painting of this mural.  Inside the City Pavilion you could find dressing rooms, concession stands and a gathering place for community events.

 The Downtown City Mural depicts downtown Lake Wales as it looked in the late 1920's and early 1930's.  Last year we watched, for many weeks, this amazing two story mural getting a touch up.   

We voted this mural as being "Most Amusing"!  One side of the locksmith's building shows a 1958 Thunderbird crashing into the building and on the opposite side, you see it coming out.

These four businessmen, BK Bullard, EC Stuart, GV Tillman and CL Johnson, are credited with founding Lake Wales.  Look at the names of the streets while you are walking around town.  It will probably be named after one of these gentlemen. 

A group of amateur artists created a beautiful mural of azaleas that is one of my favorites.  I love how it is so simple but so appealing at the same time.  I also like how the artists continued the design on the railing.

Locals funded this mural of the Passion Play that was performed every year at a theater in Lake Wales that is now closed.  Residents volunteered to participate in the play and still have fond memories of this annual tradition.

Friends and family of the current owner of the Fletcher Electric store, John Fletcher, commissioned artist Lisa Moore to paint this mural of his dad, Virgil Fletcher, passing the torch to his son.  This was done while John was on a two week hunting trip.  When he got back, family and friends surprised him with the reveal.

End Of A Perfect Day In Paradise is the name of this mural.  The mantra in our snowbird community is Another Day In Paradise and you can see that on our shirts, along with our community logo.  The feeling that we are living in paradise is felt among many Floridians I'm sure, especially those of us formerly from the coldest areas of the north.

The turpentine industry was one of the original industries when Lake Wales was founded.  The Turpentine Mural helps us remember this fact about the area.

And, of course, if you are the city of murals, your garbage pails should be as colorful as the rest of the town!

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Monday, April 2, 2018

Must See In Venice, Italy - Preparing For Our Mediterranean Cruise

Venice and Rome are the reasons we chose this particular European cruise.  We are thrilled that we are getting a day and a half in Venice, the sixth port of our Mediterranean cruise.  We will dock in Venice at 3:00 pm on our first day here and leave the following day at 6:30 pm.  This means we have enough time to see all that we want to see here.  We have booked two excursions, one for each day.

Murano Glass and Burano Lace Excursion - On our first day at port, we will board a private motorboat that will take us through the Venice Lagoon and bring us to the floating islands of Murano and Burano. 

Murano - is 7 islands linked together by bridges.  My sister visited Italy and brought me back a Murano glass necklace which I love and would love to buy another one for myself and her.  I read that I will need to look for signs in the glass shop windows that say "Vetro Murano Artistico" so that I will be sure that I am buying authentic Murano glass and not imitations.   I know that I don't have to go to the island to find the beautiful glass necklaces but we will be so close to Murano when we are in Venice that I would probably regret not going, at least for a little visit.  On top of our list of things to do here is to watch some glass blowing, of course.   Besides for that, I will be on the lookout for some quirkiness in the lamp posts here and for the Comet Glass Star located at Campo Santo Stefano.  After that, I would be happy to just stroll around this island admiring the glass, watching the people going about their business and sampling some food.

Burano - is best known for producing beautiful lace.  We are looking forward to watching the lace making.  We also can't wait to see the colorful homes, especially the most colorful House of Bepi, and the leaning bell tower.  I never knew that the Leaning Tower of Pisa was not the only leaning tower.  Apparently there is a Leaning Tower of Burano!  We will definitely want to have some of the fresh fish dishes Burano is famous for.  One local favorite is a dish called "risotto de go".   It sounds amazingly delicious.  I have to have it!  Not sure that Soko will want it though.  Bussalo and Esse, Burano's cookies, will be our desert choice.  It sounds like we will not have any trouble finding this typical cookie of Burano at any of the bakeries.  Piazza Galuppi may be the place to find the restaurant that has the risotto on their menu.  We can also find many shops here.   Did someone say shopping?  Yes, we will definitely want to explore this square.  Finally, we would like to see the Three Bridges (Tre Ponti).  It is a wooden bridge that connects three canals and three of the most colorful streets of Burano.

Venice Panorama Excursion - We will take a leisurely 2 1/2 hour ride in a private boat, on our second day here, that will take us through the Giudecca Canal and past many of Venice's significant landmarks.  We will pass city landmarks that include Venetian islands, the Armenian Monastery, the Arsenal dockyard, and the 16th century San Pietro di Castello church.  We will also sail past Murano so if I haven't taken enough pictures of this beautiful island, I will get another chance!

Having lots of time here gives us time to explore Venice on our own after our excursions.  After reading posts other bloggers have written about their time in Venice and after talking to friends who have been there, there are a couple of things I don't want to miss.

Rialto Bridge - is on every must see list as it is one of the world's most famous bridges.  Our trip to Venice would not be complete if we don't have at least one picture of us beside it.  We can't wait to cross the Grand Canal by way of this bridge but first we will have to check out the market that surrounds it.

Doge's Palace - was recommended by a friend who had it on her must see list. The palace is located in St. Mark's Square which is where we will find other sites on our list.  The palace is built in Venetian Gothic style and is one of the main landmarks of Venice. Inside we will find the Museo dell'Opera which is where the original 2 facades and capitals, that were replaced with replicas, are stored and the Doge's Apartments, Institutional Chamber, Old Prison, and New Prison which is linked to an interrogation room by a corridor that crosses the Bridge of Sighs.  The Bridge of Sighs was so named by Lord Byron who said that prisoners would sigh at their last view of Venice before their imprisonment. We can buy tickets in advance to enter the palace which we plan to do.  There is no option to buy entrance into Doge's Palace only.  A ticket will cost each of us 20.50 Euro and will get us entrance into the palace, Museo Correr, National Archaeological Museum and Marciana Library.

St. Mark's Basilica - a recommendation, a blogger's post and a top rating from Rick Steves makes it a must see for us.  The nickname for the basilica is Chiesa d'Oro (Church of Gold) because of its opulent design, gold ground mosaics and status as a symbol of wealth and power.  On the outside of the church we will be looking at the beautiful mosaics depicting the Life of Christ and culminating in the Last Judgement.  There is only one mosaic which dates back to the 1300's.  It is called the Deposition of Relic.  It shows the crowd leaving San Marco after the ceremonial appointing of a new doge.  All the others have had to be replaced over the years but the subjects are rarely changed.  Inside we will admire the marble floors and look for the design showing two cocks carrying a fox.  There are many ideas about what the symbolism here is.  One thing I don't want to miss seeing here is the Pala d'Oro, an altarpiece made up of 1,927 gems including pearls, emeralds, sapphires, garnet and rubies to name a few, on gold and silver enamel plaques.

Campanile - is the bell tower for St. Mark's Basilica and is the most recognizable landmark in the city.  The original tower was built between 887 and 912.  It was destroyed and rebuilt many times.  The last time being 1912 when it was reconstructed exactly the way it was before but also adding reinforcements inside to prevent future collapse and an elevator was installed.  The new tower was inaugurated on April 25, 1912 on St. Mark's feast day and exactly 1,000 years from the day the foundation was first allegedly laid.  There is a replica of the tower at the Venetian in Las Vegas and in the Italy Pavilion at Epcot Center in Florida as well as other places around the globe.  

Bridge of Sighs - We will be crossing over this bridge when we are in Doge's Palace but we have it on our list so that we won't forget to look at it from the outside of the building.

Liberia Acqua Alta - is a quirky bookshop.  The blogger's pictures show books everywhere and anywhere you would not expect them to be, like in toilet bowls!  We love finding quirkiness when we travel.  One of our favorites was the giant troll under a bridge that we found in Seattle.  

Caffe Florian - has the best hot chocolate says a blogger and the way it was described by her makes it seem very much worth it to find this shop.

Hopefully we will be able to get to all these amazing sites.  But any site we see will just be icing on the cake.  I know that we will just be happy to be in Venice. It will be a dream come true.