“Hi! My name is Spike Jr., Jr., Jr., Jr. Grandpa Jon just calls me #4. He says too many Jr.’s is too complicated. Mom and I came over this evening to munch on some of the delicious willows that Grandpa and Grandma raise for us and Aunt Debbie and all of the Super Aunts are here watching us eat. So I thought I would just show off for them a little bit. You can watch me battling the willow bush later in the Blog. It was pretty sticky and poky. Grandpa wanted me to narrate this summer’s blog, but I would rather eat willows. So I will just let him do it for me. Be sure and watch me battle the willow.”
2014 ALASKA SUMMER
Well, I thought we had a new narrator, but he would rather eat than talk!
This has to be one of the more unusual summers that we have had since we opened the park. First of all it was one of the warmest winters that they have had. It created a lot of unusual events such as a very strong storm in November that blew down five of our tall white spruce trees. Richard Pierce sure helped me clean up around the park. Plus he cut up all the trees that had been knocked down by the wind. Then he and Doris cut and stacked the logs under the electric lines. One of them fell on the front corner of the well house and put a good dent in the roof and corner of the building. Fortunately, it didn’t knock the building down! We also had three broken water pipes this year when we turned on the water. Probably the most unusual was the fishing season. Huge numbers of red salmon came up most of the Alaska Rivers this year, very early except for the large numbers in the Kenai River, but that was the fault of the Alaska Fish and Game. More about that later, but we had a good year anyway!
The start wasn’t great and actually pretty scary. The day we arrived in Anchorage, someone started a brush fire just off the Funny River Road, southeast of Soldotna. As I said, it had been a very warm winter and also a very dry one. The fire quickly spread in the huge Kenai Wildlife Refuge toward the Sterling highway on the west and the Kasilof river on the south. The refuge covers a large part of the area east of Soldotna all the way to the Tustumena Lake on the south and into the Kenai mountains on the east. It is almost 1.9 million acres in size and most of it undeveloped. In two days, above is the sight that we saw from our deck looking to the north. The fire had traveled 15 miles to the Lake and along the Kasilof river pushed by strong northern, dry winds. Fortunately it was still east of the homes along the highway, but was getting uncomfortably close. At this point the fire was only about 5 miles from the park and we were getting ash from the sky. We were ready to vacate, but there was no way to move all the equipment and vehicles. A day later the weather broke. The wind changed and started blowing northeasterly and brought moisture from the ocean and inlet. This stopped the southwest movement of the fire and pushed off toward the north and east. We were saved! The fire went on to burn for the rest of the summer in the refuge. The last we heard it had burned more that 200,000 acres almost all of it wilderness. There was only one barn and one cabin burned.
Summer Projects – This year was the first year that we haven’t been building or modifying some of our facilities; however, there is always plenty to be done. Of course we did have to repair the well house, but I waited until Ryan and Todd were here to do that. Todd hauled all the cut logs down to the well house for splitting. Mark came up later and reworked our WiFi system. He added a new system and better antennas in the tree by the kitchen to cover the whole park with WiFi. Christine had come up during the red salmon season to help us with all the people coming and going in the park, then Mark came up the second week.
Moose in the Park – This was kind-of a mixed season in the park for moose. I think the fire had a lot to do with that. The fire caused a lot of moose, bear and other animals to flee it and many new ones came into the area sometimes pushing the other animals out. In this case our normal momma moose that raise their young in and around the park were pushed further south. Of course the one’s that hadn’t been around people much didn’t show themselves much. We didn’t have any trouble with the bears and never saw any sign of them. We did hear stories of them being around the area though. One of our local momma’s did come around early and as you can tell by her big tummy, she was carrying twins.Then she disappeared for almost a month. She did bring her babies back in the middle of July and they were growing pretty fast.
It was late summer while Jan’s sisters, cousin Marg, nephew Scott and daughter, Debbie were here that we had our next visitation from the moose. This time, one of our previous year’s calves who has now become a momma moose (wow has she grown!) and her baby who we have named #4 (for the previous Spikes). You saw them at the beginning, but you really need to take the time to watch this video. It is really cute and shows how playful the moose calves are. Thanks for the videos, Debbie. And thanks Christine and Mark for modifying them so they can be used in the blog.
And while they were here, Scott and Debbie took the pontoon boat out on Johnson Lake just to look around and have a boat trip. As usual, when you are out on the lake in a boat, the loons come around to pester you. If you catch a fish, they might just swipe it from you. The next video is the pesky loon. The first part is of the loon call which we hear almost every early morning (when we manage to get up) and every evening at dusk. The second part is of the loon calling to his mate and if you listen closely you can hear her answer him.
There are some more animal photos that I will show you later when you read about Skip, Debbie and Scott’s bear watching trip on Talon Air and our trip to Denali National Park.
Company – We had a wonderful time with all of our family and friends this summer. Having our family and friends come stay with us for a while is what makes the Kasilof RV Park so wonderful.
Sally was the first of our family to arrive on the 1st of July although since she has a 5th Wheel in the park, she is a regular. However, since I am slow in writing this, there is some news to share. Summer of 2013 Sally was introduced to Bob Bakkedahl at the Elks and they started enjoying each other’s company. This summer they spent a lot of time together and on the 18th of October they were married in Lawrence. Bob has a house in Soldotna so I guess Sally will no longer be a regular member of the park, but we will get to see her and Bob a lot every summer.
Ryan came just in time to start catching Reds and Cheri came a couple of weeks later. With the kids and her new job, she couldn’t get so much time off. Ryan is such a big help around the park when he is here and Cheri is such a delight to us all. Todd got to spend a couple weeks with us and also did a lot of work around the park and caught lots of fish too.
Christine came up during the heart of the fishing season and helped Jan with all the hassle of a full park of campers during the last two weeks of July. Mark joined her with us for the last week, got to do some fishing and upgraded our WiFi system. They even got to goof around on the pontoon boat in the lake.
I have an old friend (I have known him for 45 years from working with him at NASA) that has been wanting to bring his sons up to go fishing for several years. He and his wife, Penny had visited us in the fall of ’07. You may have remember the photos and the blog that year. Well he finally was able to make the trip with the boys this year. They flew into Anchorage and rented a camper, then drove down to the park and stayed a week with us. They were avid fishermen and did each manage to catch Reds plus they got to go Halibut fishing too.
Todd helped Charley, Bill and Aaron cook dinner on the fire grill for all of us that night. We certainly enjoyed all of that good food on the deck that evening.
Then after dinner, we all got to sit around the campfire and relax. Of course, the desert had to be So-Mores!
Our final family visitors were Jan’s sisters, cousin, nephew and daughter. They arrived on the 6th of August and I took Debbie, Scott and Marj fishing the next day. Their photos are in the fishing section. Jan took all of them to Homer to visit the sights and Sally went with them. Jan is on the left next to Debbie, then Donna, Sally, Skip across the table, Marj and Scott on the end.
Sister Sally makes the best pie crusts from a recipe she got from her mother-in-law so she had to give a lesson to all the girls. Debbie found a whole bag of berries, cranberries, raspberries and crow berries (AK blueberries) that we had picked last year around the park, so Marj, Debbie and Jan had to make berry jam. It is tasty too!
Then of course at the end of fishing season, we have to can the salmon strips with bones from the year’s catch. A salmon has a strip of bones on each side of the backbone just above the gut area. We always cut out this strip and cut them into small chunks, then freeze them. At the end of the summer, we can all of those chunks for our winter supply of salmon. This year we canned 192 1 pound cans and 48 pint jars of salmon. The above photo is just part of the bounty! Thanks for the help girls.
Just before Debbie and Scott left to go back to their homes, the two of them and Scott’s mom, Skip went on a float plane trip with Talon Air to view the bears and fish for Silver salmon (Cohos). The floatplane took them on a tour of the mountains and glacier across the Cook Inlet, then landed on a large lake below the glacier. There they got into a fishing boat and toured the lake watching the brown and black bears catching and eating the salmon.
Then Debbie and Scott got to fish for Silver salmon and caught their limit of three each. It was a wonderful trip and one we will want to repeat in the future.Part of that catch was cut into strips and smoked to make the best salmon jerky you could ever taste.
Denali Trip – After Debbie and Scott left, we planned a trip up to the Denali National Park. We loaded all five of us into Grace, our big old van and headed north.
Just as you cross the Nenana River just past the entrance to the park, the Grande Denali Park sit’s on the top of a mountain. It is just off the side of the highway at the entrance to the small town of Denali. It is truly a beautiful resort and the views from it are spectacular! The next morning, we took the bus ride tour into Denali National Park.
It was rainy and the skies were cloudy so we were unable to see Denali Mountain (Mt. McKinley), but we saw a lot of bears, caribou and Dahl Sheep. Unfortunately the caribou were too far away to get good photos of them.
The bus tour was almost 8 hours long and we went back into the park 94 miles. We had a wonderful time even with the cloudy and wet weather. On our way back home, we stopped at Talkeetna to look at the town and found a wonderful bakery with great food for lunch. We arrived back at the park that evening, tired, but happy with the great time we had together.
Fishing season – I will have to say that fishing was mixed this year. If you are interested in fishing for Kings (Chinook) salmon, it was not a good year. The King fishing is in a slump and the reasons are questionable. Many feel that it is due to the commercial fishery taking too many of the Kings before they can reach the rivers to spawn. Others, inlcuding me think that it is just the normal cycle of many species of fish. This past year was definitely a minimum number returning to the rivers to spawn and I think it will continue for a few more years so don’t plan on catching a lot of big Kings in 2015.
It was a banner year for Red fishing in Alaska. The warm waters in the ocean pushed the Reds in a couple of weeks early and there were a lot of them. The Copper River had a huge run two weeks early and the fish were thick in the river. The Kasilof River started the first week in June with large numbers going up river. There were so many fish in the Cook Inlet that Alaska Fish and Game (F&G) released all of the commercial fishermen, set-netters, drift-netters and purse netters to catch as many fish as they could. Unfortunately, they did catch almost all of them. That left the personal use dip netters and sport fishermen with very few Reds in the river to catch for their winter supply. It also kept the Fish and Game from meeting their goal of 750,000 to replenish the salmon stock for the future. The final score was commercial fishermen 40.7 million Reds and F&G with 550,000 up the river to spawn plus a bunch of pinks. All in all, the resident and sport fishermen were really upset with F&G!
Halibut was another problem and will be in the future. F&G changed the regulations for Charter boats with rod & reel fishermen to one outing a day. That really hurt the Charter boat people causing them to raise their day trip prices to $300-350 plus each fisherman can only keep one fish any size and the other has to be under 29 inches long (under 10 pounds). That makes Halibut very expense!
It was the first year Jan and I have had any success fishing for Reds in the Kasilof River. Jan took this picture of me and Richard, Doris (the 2 on the left) and others on a foggy morning just as the sun came up over the tops of the trees across the river. We would get up early and take Richard and Doris Pierce with us and find the good spots on the river before everyone got there. Jan and I caught 50 Reds in the Kasilof between June 16th and July 4th. They are smaller fish weighing 4 to 8 pounds whereas the second run Kenai Reds weigh 8 to 12 pounds.
The second run of the Kenai started on the 7th of July (also a couple of weeks early) with about 25,000 fish entering the river. Ryan arrived on the 9th and the next morning we decided to see if the fish were in the river yet. We caught our limit that day. From then on it was slow, but there were still enough fish in the river to catch your limit of 3 per day if you worked at it and we did. The run also lasted a long time and we caught fish up until the 29th of July. Plus we had a great time when Jan’s sisters, cousin, nephew and daughter came in early August.
Altogether, all of us caught 268 Reds, 9 Silvers and 58 Pinks. A banner year! So here are all the pictures.
We were persistent and everyone had a lot of fun!
Then everybody left except Sally and an occasional camper guest. We closed down the park a couple of days early (no Labor Day reservations) and rented a log splitter to make firewood out of all those trees that were blown down last winter. It was hard work, but in 2 ½ days, Jan and I have enough firewood to last for several years. Sally and Bob closed down her winterized it and then she left on the 3rd of September. Jan and I winterized the park after that and finished off the season on the 9th.
It was another wonderful summer in Alaska with lots and lots of good memories. Hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as we enjoyed living it. We would love to have you all come and enjoy it with us.
Sorry that it has taken so long to tell you about the next part of our trip to Europe. However, Alaska called and our summer was full. We had another good summer, but that will have to wait for a while. After spending a wonderful and very busy ten days with Debbie, Jordan and Kristina in Germany, Switzerland and Venice, Jan and I were ready for a break and some relaxation.
The area of the Mediterranean Sea in the northwest portion of Italy is called the Ligurian Sea. Mountains form most of it’s shoreline. Located between these mountains are canyons cut by the rivers from the land to the sea. In these canyons are five (cinque) small fishing villages (terre, meaning land) called the Liqurian Riveria. These five villages are about as picturesque as any place on earth.
Monterosso al Mare – village #5, April 18th through April 23rd.
It turned out that Cinque Terre was the perfect spot for our break! It was late April and the summer sun worshipers had not yet arrived so we were able to rent a beautiful room above the beach in Monterosso al Mare for five days. We arrived by train on Friday afternoon of Easter weekend. The next day was cloudy with a little rain so we just relaxed for a day, occasionally walking around the village.
The village is separated into two parts, the northern beach area is called Fegina, the new town and has a long semi-circle beach. Our beautiful room was on the third floor of the third building past the aqua building with the red roof.
This picture is the view to our north with the boardwalk and beach below us.
Jan is standing on our deck on the third floor. The right is the view to the south down the beach to the Medieval Tower called Aurora.
It was originally built to protect the Old Town from the pirates and invaders during the dark ages. During the war, it was used to protect against invasion. Note the pillbox below the tower just above the water level.
Just beyond the Aurora Tower is the ‘Old Town’ of Monterosso al Mare. The coastal railroad runs all along the Italian western coastline from Rome to Genoa and to the border with France. You can see the trestle of the tracks separating the beach from the buildings of the town. In the background, the sides of the mountains are terraced for grape vines and olive trees. There is very little land for farming and most of the livelihood of the locals come from fishing and tourism.
Just inside the railroad trestleis the old church, San Giovanni Battista.
It was beautiful inside mostly in white and black marble; however, we were not allowed to take flash photos and it was too dark.
The village was built into the sides of the mountains, thus the homes and businesses were stair stepped up the sides of the canyon walls.
The businesses and restaurants occupied the bottom floors of the buildings along the main walkways up the canyon away from the ocean.
Most of the buildings were 3 or 4 stories high with the family dwellings on the upper levels. There were stairs between some of the building off the side of the main streets leading up to the upper levels of dwellings, churches and official buildings.
Autos were not allowed down from the upper end of the streets; however, they could travel down from the mountain roads running through the area to parking areas at the ends of the streets. Most of the supplies came by truck from the larger towns in the area or from the boats at the beach.
The exception to allowing auto and truck traffic to the beach was made in the new town of Fegina where the roads from above came down to the boardwalk and there was a parking area just above the beach to the north of our building.
The food was great with lots of seafood as would be expected.
We found a great restaurant called ‘Miky’ just down the boardwalk from our room and enjoyed a wonderful meal of calamari, both deep fried and grilled.
And of course we had to sample the local wine! Good!
Easter Sunday – April 20th
We awoke to the sun shinning brightly through our patio windows. We couldn’t help but to go out of the deck. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it was deep blue, the ocean below us that clear aqua-blue green that was sparkling clear. It seemed that you could see all the way to France. It was a great day to go exploring the other four villages of the Cinque Terra. We had our good morning coffee and some local pastries and headed for the train station for the short hop to the first village of the group.
Oops, so did a lot of other tourists decide to take the train sightseeing. Although the crowd looks big, there was a lot of room on the train so there was no problem finding a seat. The trains in Europe are great. In Cinque Terre, there were local trains that went between the five villages, Levanto the city to the north and La Spezia to the south. We bought two daily tickets for 3 euros ($4.20) and could ride the local trains as many times as we wanted. The local trains were the only trains in Europe that don’t run on schedule!
Riomaggorie – village #1, morning April 20th.
The village of Riomaggiore was very beautiful from the sea. Like Monterosso al Mare, it was nestled in two adjoining canyons; however, the coastline here was rocky cliffs down to the sea. Riomaggorie has no beaches. There were two ways to get from the north side to the south side by foot. One was a tunnel along the railroad tracks from the station (note the trestle on the left) to the mid-village on the right. Or the second, along a walkway located between the villages about half way up the side of the cliffs separating the two. Similar to all five villages, they were built in the canyons carved by the rivers flowing out of the local mountains. Therefore, all of the buildings are stair-stepped up the sides of the canyon walls. Also unique to the costal area, the building are painted with a variety of bright pastel colors giving the coastline a beautiful picturesque scene.
In Riomaggiore, we were greeted with a colorful scene of the village people accomplishing their everyday labors as we walked along the railroad tracks to the southern part of the village.
Due to the steep canyon walls of these villages, the buildings seemed very close or almost jammed together, but very pretty with their vibrant pastel colors. We walked down to the sea by the main street of the village where the break-water rocks provided access for the many small fishing boats to reach the sea.
There was no beach at all, just the sea coming directly up to the concrete ramp where the fishing boats are launched. All along the main street were the many businesses and restaurants of the village.
Following Rick Steves’ tour, we climbed up the stairs to the upper left at the level of the local church, Saint Giovanni Batista built in 1340 (named after the church in Monterosso al Mare).
From the church, we entered the walkway from the south village to the north village of Riomaggorie.
It was a very scenic walkway along the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea and the buildings of both villages. As we were walking along, we could see the train station below us with a train waiting for people to load. The cove below was very beautiful with small ocean wave crashing against the rocks and shore line.
The north part of Riomaggiore was not as large as the south part andwe took our time walking on down into the village. After touring through the shops and stores along the main street, we made our way down to the railroad station to catch the next train to Manarola, the next stop of the five villages.
The train took a long time to come and there was quite a crowd waiting for it arrival. Then we all heard a trumpet playing some Italian songs above us on the walkway where we had looked down at the station. While he was playing, the crowd got very quiet and then as the train pulled into the station, everyone gave a cheer and started clapping a thank you to the trumpeter.
Manarola – village #2, April 20th afternoon.
Manarola, like Riomaggiore has no beach and is part of the same rocky, cliff like most of the southern villages of the Cinque Terre. It does have a deep water swimming area and a boat launch for the local fishermen. Set high on the cliff side of the canyon, it is one of the most scenic of the five villages. We arrived by train just after lunch in the center of the village and again followed Rick Steve’s suggested tour.
In this case it turned out to be following the red brick road to the top of the village. After the first stairway up along a section of old rock wall from a very old structure, the red brick road led us up through the narrow walkways between the residents.
Note the crosswalks above us along the way. These were actually narrow walkways perpendicular to the path we were climbing that led to residents along the side of the canyon wall. As we walked along the last section of the red brick path, the edge dropped
In this case it turned out to be following the red brick road to the top of the village. After the first stairway up along a section of old rock wall from a very old structure, the red brick road led us up through the narrow walkways between the residents. Note the crosswalks above us along the way. These were actually narrow walkways perpendicular to the path we were climbing that led to residents along the side of the canyon wall.
As we walked along the last section of the red brick path, the edge dropped steeply down to other buildings and residents below us. At the top of the path, it opened to a wide piazza with an overlook of the village below and street leading down to the waterfront.
At the waterfront, there is steep drop into sea. The boats are brought up to the storage areas when not in use.
To the right was the swimming area where young people were diving off the rocks into the sea. The last photo of the series is of the right hand side of the waterfront. There is a pathway around the side of the hill next to the village that leads up to the village cemetery.
It was interesting so we walked up to the top of the hill where there was a typical European burial area consisting of crypts surrounding a central mausoleum.
The outside crypts were built into the surrounding walls and could be for either casket burial or cremated remains. The mausoleum had facilities for cremated remains only. As in Switzerland, it looked like the burials were only for a limited period of time (25 years?) for the family to honor the departed and then the remains were moved into a common crypt site. Most of the crypts had ceramic photos of the deceased, the birth and death dates, and an area for flowers. There were no ground burial sites in the area and the grounds were well kept with flowers and bushes.
Leaving the cemetery, we walked on around the point of the cemetery hill and down the path back to the village. Along the way was the beautiful view of the village and waterfront below us. Note also the tour boat that was docked at the base of the cliff along the breakwater rocks. On our last day in Cinque Terre, Jan and I would spend the day touring the Cinque Terre and the beautiful town of Pontovenere at the end of the peninsula (more about that later).
Corniglia – village #3, April 21st.
Corniglia is an ancient Roman village and is the only one of the five villages that doesn’t have direct access to the sea. It is over 330 feet (100 meters) above the sea. There are 377 steps up a stairs from the railroad station to the village. We chose to climb the switchback-paved road from the station to the top of the village.
The walk up was supposed to be good for us, but later we paid the bus driver to take us back down!!! Never-the-less, the walk up was interesting because the mountainside was terraced with all kinds of olives, grapes, flowers and vegetables and the small old village was fascinating.
At the very top of the village was the old church built in 1334. From the outside, it was not impressive at all, but inside was a wonder to behold.
The inside of the church was incredible. The ceilings and the side naves were beautiful with paintings and artifacts that would later rival those we would see in St. Peter’s Basicilia and the Sisteen Chapel in Rome although obviously they were not painted by Michelangelo.
There also was a baptismal basin that was from the 1100’s! Who would have thought that this little old and common-looking church on top of the mountain would be so beautiful inside.
The village itself was not spectacular. It did have direct access to the highways above in the mountains so there were cars on the streets and buses which took you up and down the road to the railroad station. At the end of the road in the village was a parking area and a nice restaurant although we didn’t eat there as it was too late for lunch and too early for dinner.
The area below and above the village was terraced for gardens, vineyards, olive orchards and flowers. They obviously grew lots of produce and eventually sold it to other villages in the area because the parking lot was large and at the outter edge was a loading dock for a tram that carried produce down from the town to the small dock area at the sea (and probably brought some essentials back up).
Although it was very small, the village was very picturesque and the village church was very impressive. We took this photo as we were traveling back on our boat trip back to Monterosso al Mare.
Vernazza – village #4, April 21st
Vernazza is considered the most beautiful village in Italy. I would agree, but there is a lot of competition in the Cinque Terre. The village was settled in 1000 AD for fishing due to its direct access to the Ligurian Sea from the end of the main street.
Harbor square was built higher to provide a place to store the many boats of the village during the rough seas of the winter months and to provide an ample seating for the local restaurants during the summer tourist season. The church of Saint Margherita di Antiochia was built in 1318 on a huge rock that was anchored at the edge of the harbor. There is a local legend that after a storm a wooden box floated onto the huge rock containing the bones of Saint Margaret. A church was built in the village in honor of her and her bones were placed inside. Later another storm destroyed the church and most of the village. Years later the box of bones again washed up on the rock at the edge of the harbor and the new church was built on the rock in which her bones still reside.
In most of the villages of the Cinque Terre, the original rivers cut out the canyons where the villages are now located. The early village buildings were built on each side of the river up the canyon walls. As the villages grew, they covered the river with rock sides and a roof to create a channel and a street to connect each side of the village.
Above Vernazza, a terrible downpour occurred in the mountains in the fall of 2011 causing a flash flood that overwhelmed the channel and destroyed most of the businesses on the main street. It also cut a tunnel through the mountainside to the bay. You can see the tunnel just beyond Jan in the photo on the left and the opening into the bay on the right photo.
Again we used Rick Steve’s guide to explore the village of Vernazza. We were surprised that the village also used the red brick path to show the way to some of the more interesting features.
In this case it led to an ancient stone wall and gate very near the top of the canyon.
On the other side of the gate were another piazza overlooking the village below and the base for the ancient stone church ruins. It was interesting that the tower of the church had not been destroyed or had been rebuilt and the clock mounted on the outside still worked with the correct time.
Below on the opposite canyon wall was a castle tower and the stonework ramps and stairs leading up to it. The castle was still in use as a hotel and restaurant. Further down the canyon is the Belforte castle built on the top of the cliff above the bay with the main village buildings and the harbor below. It was built above the harbor as a tower fort to repel the many pirates that frequented the Ligurian Sea during the 1500’s.
Portovenere – Italy’s hidden gem! – April 22nd
We took a day boat ride from Monterosso al Mare to Portovenere stopping at each of the villages of the Cinque Terre along the way. Many of the previous photos from the sea were taken from the boat. We had originally planned to continue around the islands below Portovenere as part of the trip, but when we saw the church on the toe of St. Peter’s (the name of the peninsula at the entrance to Portovenere) and the castle above it we got off the boat to explore.
We were totally unaware of the beauty of Portovenere until we approached from the sea. Rick Steve’s had hardly mentioned it other that to say it was interesting. As we came down the coastline, the first thing we could see was the outline of the castle-fort and the church on the point at the entrance to the Portovenere bay. It looked interesting and as we got closer it became very interesting.
As we entered the bay it was obvious that we had a lot of things to see while we were there and quickly decided to leave the boat while it toured around the other islands and then pick it up again for the return trip to Monterosso al Mare. Below the church on the point was the remains of another fort with holes for gun ports to cover the entrance to the bay.
Further along was the start of another village with the multi-colored pastel buildings characteristic to the Cinque Terre area and most of Italy’s sea-coast towns.
We were later to find that church on the point was called Saint Peter’s. (The point of land that it sat upon was called ‘Saint Peter’s Toe”!) The original village of Portovenere (then called Portus Veneris, was an ancient Roman village started in the 1st century BC. Above the homes and businesses in the old village of Portovenere was the castle on top of the hill and the gate to the castle at the end of the village with the enclosed stairs up to the castle. The castle was started by the Doria family in 1139 and named ‘Andrea Doria’. It was rebuilt in 1169 by the province of Genoa and then modernized into a fort in the 15th and 16th centuries. The church above the center of town is called the ‘Parrocchia dei SS. Pietro Lorenzo and was build 1204. It was a beautiful old church along the pathway below the castle.
Above and behind the village buildings was a stone walkway out to the end of Saint Peter’s Toe. There stood the church of Saint Peter that was built in 1198. Below it was the ruins of the fortifications with the gun ports and the platforms for the cannons that protected the entrance to the bay. In front and to the side of the church are the ruins of the barracks and buildings that held the soldiers who protected the bay, the castle and the village.
Above the church was the castle and the stairs climbing past the barracks to the base of the castle/fort.
From this point the stairs became narrow stone paths with stone walls on each side and began a winding pattern to climb up to the base of the castle. It was obvious that the paths were built to make it difficult for raiders to attack the fort from the sea. From this point of view, the castle was quite massive and a formable fortress.
Just below the castle face above the sea was the cemetery. It was almost cut out of the cliff side to provide terraces for the crypts and burials. It was actually a quite beautiful resting place.
This pathway ran all along the base of the castle with the church below it.It wound down through the village as you got beyond the church with interesting stone niches.
A typical example was this marble measuring container with the date of 1606 carved into the side. It was used to measure liquids or grains by placing a stopper in the hole, pouring the basin full and then removing the stopper to let the liquid pour into a bucket.
We would have liked to have more time to visit the castle and its ground and to look through the old church. Unfortunately, the tour boat was due to leave shortly and it was the last one of the day to return us to Monterossa al Mare.
This was our last look at St. Peter’s Toe, the Church and the fort as we left Portovenere.
HEADING BACK TO CINQUE TERRE
where we spent 5 wonderful days! It was a restful time, yet a very busy time with so many things to see and do. We truly enjoyed it!
Village #1 – RIOMAGGIORE
Goodbye to Cinque Terre until next time!
ROME IS NEXT!
ROME – April 23rd to 26th
We were asked: “Do you mean you are only staying two full days in Rome, the most beautiful ancient city of the world?”
Our answer after two days in Rome: “YES! It is too crowded, too busy, too many cars and too dirty!”
I guess that response is a little bit too much, but it was all of those things. Part of our problem was that we were there between Easter Sunday and the Canonization of two previous Popes and there were too many people to really enjoy all of the things that Rome had to offer. Besides, we had just come off five days on the Cinque Terre and everything and everyone in Rome overwhelmed us. And the other thing is that Rome is for the glorification of the Catholic religion and if you are a Catholic, that is great! But we are not.
SAINT PETER’S BASILICA
Our first morning there we decided to get up early and go to the Vatican and see Saint Peter’s Basilica. We took the underground rail transportation for the first time in Rome and it was an experience. It took awhile to figure out the Italian names and routes, but we finally got to the Vatican just after 8 am.
We entered St. Peter’s square through one of the colonnades. Surprisingly, the lines were still short and we were able to get into St. Peter’s In about 15 minutes.
Saint Peter’s Basilica was huge! It is 500 feet wide by 750 feet long and 452 feet high. The main dome’s diameter is 137.7 feet. It was finished in 1626.
The Pope’s window and deck is in the upper center of the building where he waves and addresses the people in the square. The three openings in the center of the building are the entrance doors to the interior of the Basilica. The three domes of the Basilica are not apparent in the photo, but the main one is in the center near the rear and the two smaller ones are on the left and right sides near the front. The large arched entry to the right is the back entrance to the Sistine Chapel (as we were to find out later much to our dismay).
Had we known that the large arched doorway on the right side of the basilica was the back entrance to the Sistine Chapel, we could have saved ourselves a very, very long wait and what wound up to be a frustrating peek at the Sistine Chapel the next morning. Oh well, sometimes even Rick Steves doesn’t know all the answers.
Entering the central door on the front brings you directly into the walk to St. Peter’s altar in the back of the Basilica. The walk is roped off and has red velvet side curtains to keep the public away. At the end of the walk is the huge 98 foot tall bronze pavilion called a Baldachin. It is the largest bronze art work in the world. Below it in the center is the altar of St. Peter. Legend states that his bones are buried beneath the altar. In the apse behind it the chair in bronze that St. Peter used when he was the first Pope.
Above the bronze Baldachin is the large dome of the Basilica in hues of blue, white and gold. The walls and ceilings were painted frescos and works of art. The entire interior without considering all of the magnificent sculptures, works of art and treasures was magnificent. It seemed that every square inch of the interior was dedicated to something religious and gold was everywhere.
The smaller left dome and smaller right dome on each side at the upper front was a typical example of how gold was used to highlight areas of the structure. All of the naves along each side were also richly done with gold and painted panels highlighting the particular altar, sculpture, painting or treasure.
I decided not to show any particular sculpture, painting or treasure in the blog. We took over 75 photos of the various art works including the enormous 4 saints sculpted in marble that were at least 30 feet high or Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’ (Mother Mary holding the crucified Jesus) or one of the remains of the Pope’s in their golden coffins with glass sides. How do you choose between them? You have to see them in person to truly appreciate them.
By 10 am, the basilica was full of people and it was becoming difficult to get close enough to the sites of interest to even see them. We had stayed inside St. Peter’s for over two hours. As we left the interior of the cathedral there were two of the Swiss Guard in their colorful uniforms standing guard.
When we walked out into St. Peter’s square, the line had grown. It was now 5 to 6 people wide where had started when we arrived earlier and it extended all around St. Peter’s square and down the street several blocks. I seriously doubt that all those people managed to make it into the basilica by the end of the afternoon.
Saint Peter’s Square
The square was very large and you can see the people standing in line. In the center is the Egyptian Obelisk, called ‘The Witness’. It stands 130 feet high and is made of red granite. The Obelisk stood in the city of Heliopolis, Egypt during the reign of the Fifth Dynasty of Egypt (2300 BC). There are also two large fountains on each side of the obelisk built in the 1600’s.
During the middle ages there was a gilt ball at the top of the Obelisk with the Christian Cross above it. It was believed to containe the ashes of Julius Caesar. Fontana later removed the ancient ball that stood at the top of the Obelisk and opened it and found nothing but dust! (??? What ever happened to ‘from ashes to ashes and dust to dust’?)
There is literally a church on every corner in the heart of Rome. I don’t know where they find enough people to support them all, but I suppose that the Catholic religion supports them all. The nice thing about having a church on every corner is that the art work and the sculptures are magnificent such as these on the other corner of the previous photo. However, I have no clue who the created the sculptures of who and what they are of and I was unable to find them on the internet. It was probably in the inscription along the top, but I can’t read Latin.
One thing that really turned us off was that the sidewalks and street gutters were coated with cigarette butts. They sure don’t add to the beauty of the city or improve the smell! Plus Rome is very expensive, the rooms, food and especially the Vatican tours.
So we decided to just walk around the city during the afternoon and finally caught the double-deck touring bus to cover the city’s famous areas.
Rome wasn’t all ancient ruins and Catholic churches. This was the Monumennto Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuelell II, who was the first King of Italy in 1861. The monument is 260 feet wide by 390 feet tall and was built on Capitone Hill replacing ancient Roman ruins and medieval churches.
Of course there were things that were of interest to us like this shop of figurines, sculptures, roman heads and other miscellaneous to decorate your tomb or crypt when you die. This small shop was in an open alleyway off one of the main streets.
There were beautiful ruins that had been kept and somewhat restored such as the Basilica Saint Mary of the Angels and the Martrys very near the railroad station. It was originally Roman baths converted to the Basilica in 1564 by Michelangelo.
The Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel) was originally built by Emperor Hadrian for his burial mausoleum.
His ashes were placed in the mausoleum in 139 AD and were later destroyed by the Goths. It became part of the Catholic Church due to it’s proximity to the Vatican. In the 14th century, Pope Nicholas III converted it to a prison and remained a prison until 1901, when it was renamed Castel Sant’Angelo.
Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel
Since we had such good luck with the crowds at St. Peter’s Basilica, we decided to get up early again and try the crowds at the Vatican Museum to see the Sistine Chapel. We were not so lucky this time. By our arrival at 8 am, the crowd was already three blocks long; however, it was moving forward. Thirty minutes later the street filled up with tours and they went to the head of the lines. The lines slowed to almost a standstill. The street hackers kept trying to sell us tickets to move to the front of the line for $30 each, but we found out that the tickets did not include the museum entrance price. And like St. Peter’s, the original attraction ticket we purchased when we arrived does not include anything at the Vatican!
We declined the front of the line tickets out of disgust and pig-headedness and stayed in the line! Three hours later we finally reach the front of the museum. Upon entering the lobby, we found we had to pay another $30 each to be herded through the museum.
Herded was a very apt description! Growing up on a farm, I remember pushing a herd of cattle through narrow walkways to get them cull, separate or load them in trucks. That was exactly like it was in the museum and the chapel. There were people as far as you could see in front of you and behind you. There were long halls with lighted ceilings, slightly larger rooms with exhibits that you couldn’t stop to see if you wanted to because you were being rushed along with the crowd. It seemed like the lighted ceiling hallways went on forever and up and down stairs through lots of doors.
Finally we entered a large room with a 6 foot metal fence with a gate in the middle of it. It was stuffed with people and they were slowly moving through the iron gate in the middle and on toward another door in the corner. By opening up the view screen and holding up the camera above my head, I was taking pictures with the camera of the paintings on the ceiling as we were being shuffled along. When we got to the doorway, I asked Jan when we were going to get to the Sistine Chapel and she said, “That was it!”
Actually I did get some good pictures of the ceiling of the chapel which is so famous for Michelangelo’s paintings.
Some statistics about the Sistine Chapel for you to get a feeling of it’s size. It is 134 feet long, 44 feet wide and 68 feet high. When we were in the room, their had to be at least 1500 people milling around in it, most trying to get through the iron gate and out the far door!
Between 1502 and 1512 Michelangelo painting the ceiling with the scenes out of Genesis. The center painting of the ceiling is God giving Adam the spark of life. I am sorry it isn’t more in focus, but it’s hard to get a clear picture above your head being pushed along.
Noah and the Ark in the flood. Boy, the painters during that time sure like to paint nudes (?), now it would be called Porn!
Once out the door, we walked down some stairs and through a short hall with a ticket booth, then out a door on the landing of a stairs. It was not quite 12:30. We had just been herded through 54 galleries of the Vatican Museum in an hour and a half seeing very little but the ceilings. On the bottom of the stairs was a stone paved area between the museum and St. Peter’s Basilica. At the end of the area was the arched door at the front of St. Peter’s Basilica that we had seen yesterday morning when we came out of the basilica. Had we known at the time, we could have walked through the arched door and up the stairs, paid the entrance fee and walked into the Sistine chapel from the back door!
The Ruins of Rome
Our last afternoon in Rome, we took the underground out to the Colosseum and the ruins of ancient Rome.
The Arch of Constantine is a triumphal arch situated between the Colosseum and Palatine Hill. It was built by the Roman Senate to commemorate the victory of Emperor Constantine over Maxentis in 312. It is 69 feet high, 85 feet wide and 24 feet thick and has three arches. During the 1960 Olympics held in Rome, it was the end of the marathon. It is currently being renovated and cleaned thus has metal platforms for cleaning over half of it.
The Colosseum was huge and parts were well preserved, restored and renovated. As you can see from this photo, the unrestored, original exterior back wall was three stories high. The original blocks of stone are well defined and holes in between the stones indicate how the exterior finish was attached although the attachments have decayed allowing the exterior façade to crumble off. Most of this area toward the back of the Colosseum is blocked off although people from the tours inside are allowed out to the exterior.
The original blocks of rock are exposed at the top of the wall in the photo on the left including the unusual pattern of interlocking various sizes of rocks to tie the structure together.
Where as the photo on the right shows the more finished wall with the brick facing covering on the rocks. In addition, it indicates where the original different levels of the bleachers or viewing platforms were located. It isn’t obvious whether the openings allowing ventilation inside the structure or were providing views of the surrounding area from the inside.
Looking though one of the arched openings we could see a large tour on the inside of the structure, several different levels of structures for seating or balconies, the break in the colosseum floor and the catacombs below the floor where the contestants and animals were kept.
Walking around the front side of the Colosseum, an earlier renovation had taken place on the left side and note that the structure is four stories high on this side. As we looked further around this side, they were continuing to renovate it with the metal framing to work on it and part of it had been completely restored. Note also the large crowd at the base of the building. This was the crowd waiting to use their passes to see the interior. The line continued around the base in the left photo under the trees. Although we would have liked to use our passes to see the interior, we decided we didn’t want to wait in that line especially after this morning.
A parting shot at the commercialization of Rome were the Roman Gladiators standing around at the base of the Colosseum waiting to get their picture taken with the tourists.
It was obvious that there are still many, many ruins of the old Roman city nestled between new buildings and houses in the current city. This photo is an example of the many ruins that Italy is still in the process of studying, restoring or rebuilding. Below the trees in the photo are buildings and equipment used to work in the old ruins and the restored tower in the lower part of the photo is part of the restoration.
We were to see many, many more Roman ruins as we travel on the rest of our trip to the southern coast of France and the beautiful cities of Arles and Avignon, and the Pont du Gard, but that is for another blog coming after our Alaskan Summer.