Monthly Archives: December 2019

European Scenes

Rounding out a photo story series on a wonderful 1987 trip highlighting a bus tour of Italy are some scenes encountered before and after that event.
Actually the last stage of the tour was an overnight stay at the delightful town of Arco on scenic Lake Garda, located in the northern Italian lake district. We only arrived at dusk so had little time to explore but enjoyed the views.
Our bus route to and from Italy took us through Switzerland, allowing us to marvel at its spectacular scenery but giving us few chances to take pictures.
Following the return to Lahr, we drove to Hoxter in Westphalia to visit our great friend Margaret Werthman, then mourning the death of her husband Bill. The town boasts its share of centuries old buildings, one of which displays the year it was built – 1540.
The German town of Baden featured a most unusual chess game, played in a town square using life size pieces.

A high point of our brief driving tour was discovering the site of the First World War Battle of Verdun along the Meuse River. The 10-month battle was the longest and bloodiest of the war, with 300 thousand French and German soldiers killed.
The most striking memorial of that war must be the Verdun Memorial Museum, which commemorates the deadly losses on both sides of the conflict.

In one part of the museum, a battlefield replica — complete with mud, shells, trenches, and WWI military equipment — is visible through the glass floor.

“On ne passe pas” (They shall not pass) is a slogan most famously used during the Battle of Verdun expressing the grim determination of the French in withstanding that powerful German offensive.

Winding up a most remarkable trip extending from southern Italy to northeastern France was a brief stopover in Luxembourg.

A small duchy surrounded by Belgium, France and Germany, it is mostly rural, with dense Ardennes forest and nature parks in the north, rocky gorges in the east and the Moselle river valley in the southeast.

The Lost City of Pompeii

Fascinating but very sad. Such was our inevitable reaction on our 1987 visit to what history may well call the lost city of Pompeii. Once a prosperous and culturally advanced city close to Naples in southern Italy, a devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried it and its citizens in 79 AD. Some 16,000 people are believed to have perished under layers of lava and pumice. Pompeii is famous for the casts the hot ash formed around victims of the eruptions. Victims suffocated on ash in the air, which then covered them and preserved amazing details of their clothing and faces.

Archeological excavations found the buried city remarkably intact, with bodies of victims almost magically preserved, along with public and residential buildings and their contents, including vivid examples of Roman art.
Led by an excellent tour guide, we traversed streets notable for their traces of ancient chariots to view classical temples, ornate private homes and evidence that Pompeiians’ homes were equipped with running water.
There were even posted street signs to ensure visitors’ convenience.  A menacing sight throughout our amblings was the looming spectre of Mount Vesuvius, described as the only active volcano in mainland Europe. Its last eruption was in 1944 but is still considered a great danger to Naples and other cities in that region.

Roaming Through Rome

Rome, renowned as the Eternal City and capital of Italy, was fascinating in its bustling energy as a modern metropolis surrounding timeless vestiges of its tumultuous political, cultural and religious heritage. Our 1987 bus tour group revelled in the joys of seeing world famous landmarks – the Coliseum, Roman Forum, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican – and various other attractions.
The Coliseum ruins were almost disappointing – no gladiators or roaring lions to be seen – but just being there brought ancient history graphically to mind. It was thrilling to wander by the ancient Forum, located at the center of the ancient city of Rome and the location of important religious, political and social activities. Historians believe people first began publicly meeting in the open-air Forum around 500 B.C., when the Roman Republic was founded.
Ruins of many public buildings still stand in the Forum, while scores of cats may be seen throughout the area.

The beautiful Trevi Fountain was not to be missed, nor the practice of tossing coins into its waters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A tour of the Vatican allowed us to marvel at the splendour of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica.

 

Modern architecture was also to be admired in viewing the enormous white marble Victor Emmanuel II monument, honouring the first King of a united Italy.
Sports fans were in for a treat when we visited what is known as the Stadium of the Marbles, lined by 59 Carrara marble statues in classical style portraying athletes performing various sports activities. The hockey statues were our favourites.

Walking the streets of Rome left ladies in our group more than a little annoyed by the arrogant tendencies of local menfolk to strut determinedly along the sidewalk, forcing women to step aside as lesser beings.

 

Three of us ventured to a place we might well have missed – it was a bit scary! The Catacombs proved every bit as spooky as imagined, especially when we learned that its labyrinthine underground passageways – all burrowed through dust-like loose earth – went on for miles. Make a wrong turn and you could be wandering for hours, or even forever!

Traffic on Rome streets was so busy that parking spaces were hard to find – but some took inventive ways to fit in.

Climbing the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Pisa was another delightful destination on our 1987 introduction to Italy bus tour. Our visit was short, only a few hours, but we had a beautiful sunny day and were able to climb up into the famous Leaning Tower to catch the view, and just to say that we had been there.
Everyone posed for the usual pictures, some trying to suggest that the tower was leaning on them, but at a very safe distance.
We all climbed the tower and felt very brave, looking out through those huge pillars and, for some, hugging a tower as if for dear life.
Not long after, because of fears about the tower’s stability, a ban was placed on letting people into the tower, so we were lucky.
The tower was closed to the public three years later in 1990 when engineers began a major project to stabilize the structure. It took ten years and millions of Euros, but the project was completed successfully, allowing the tower to reopen in 2001.
Construction of the tower began in the year 1174 but was halted when only three storeys had been built because it was sinking into the ground. The building was completed 90 years later. A spiral staircase of 294 steps rises to the top at the eighth storey.