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Amsterdam/Leiden/Utrecht, Netherlands


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Amsterdam is home to a rich history mixed with modern Dutch personal freedoms. On one hand, Amsterdam has numerous museums and cultural activities. And, on the other, it is famed for the Red Light District and liberal drug laws. Of interest, the Van Gogh Museum in Vondelpark has the largest collection of Van Gogh works in the world, including hundreds of drawings and some 200 paintings. Highlights include the Potato Eaters, the Sunflowers and the Wheatfield with Crows.

Both Leiden and Utrecht are university towns. Leiden is the Netherlands' oldest university. The university was a present to the town from William the Silent for withstanding a long Spanish siege in 1574. In addition to Utrecht University, Utrecht has the Netherlands' tallest church tower. The Dom Tower, at 112 meters high, overlooks 14th century sunken canals.

We flew in and out of Amsterdam and stayed in the city center at the Flying Pig Youth Hostel. The Flying Pig was an interesting hostel with a young vibrance about it that brought together travelers from all over the world. In addition to going to the Van Gogh and the famous Red Light district in Amsterdam, we also visited both Leiden and Utrecht (my favorite Dutch city from previous travels).

Also, I have a cousin that lives near Vondelpark and we were able to meet up with her and her husband for drinks and dinner.

10 files, last one added on Jan 31, 2005

Interlaken/Murten/Bern, Switzerland


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Bern is Switzerland's capital and was founded in 1191 by Berchtold V. The city retains a picturesque old town setting located on a steep-side peninsula in a crook of the River Aare.

Interlaken is located between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz in central Switzerland. From Interlaken, there are views of the Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger peaks.

Murten is a picturesque small town overlooking Lake Murten. The town is famous for the fortified city, the Schloss (castle) built by Duke Peter of Savoy and the defeat of Charles the Bold by the Swiss.

We arrived in Interlaken the day before Christmas and stayed at the Funny Farm - the hostel side of the Hotel Mattenhof. The Funny Farm exceeded all of expectations for a hostel. While it was slow for Christmas, this was exactly what we needed since we were coming from Amsterdam.

On Christmas we met up with my parents for a day trip to Murten. While Interlaken was definitely beautiful and Bern was just okay, Murten was one of the most pleasantly unique cities I have ever visited.

28 files, last one added on Jan 31, 2005

Rome, Italy


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Rome, a fascinating mix of legend, history and great monuments, is at the heart of the Western world's two great historical powers: the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church. Rome's origins lie in a group of Etruscan, Latin and Sabine settlements located on the surrounding country side. Legend has it that Romulus, the son of the Roman god of war, killed his brother in a struggle for power and established the city of Rome on Palatine Hill.

Some of the sites we visited include the Colosseum, the Arch of Constantine, the Forum and the Vatican City.

The Colosseum was originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre. Construction started in AD 72 by Emperor Vespasian and was completed by his son Titus. The Colosseum could seat 80,000 people and hosted gladiatorial combat and wild animal shows that ultimately resulted in the deaths of thousands of humans and animals.

Only a few hundred yards from the Colosseum sits the Arch of Constantine. This monument was built to honor Constantine following his victory over Maxentius at the battle of Milvian Bridge in AD 312.

The Roman Forum was the commercial, political and religious center of ancient Rome. The Forum contains a wealth of remarkable buildings including several buildings dating back to as early as AD 141.

The Vatican City is a sovereign state under the rule of the Catholic Church and home to the Pope. The largest and most famous church in the Christian world is San Pietro which stands on the site where St. Peter was buried. The church was built during Constantine's reign in the 4th century and features many works by Michelangelo including the Pieta.

41 files, last one added on Jan 31, 2005

Amalfi, Italy


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The Amalfi Coast is a place of rare beauty. Once home to 80,000 people, the town of Amalfi was one of the four most powerful maritime republics in medieval Italy. Centuries ago Amalfi fell into the sea and today the population is but a mere 5,600.

Ravello is located in the hills above Amalfi and offers a spectacular view of the Gulf of Salerno. Ravello boasts the 11th century Villa Rufolo which was once the home of popes and the German composer Wagner.

Amalfi was the major destination of our trip. While I had seen pictures of the town online, pictures can not accurately describe the true beauty of Amalfi. Amalfi honestly stands out as one of the top 3 places in the world that I have visited.

We were in Amalfi for 7 days including New Years and we stayed at the Hotel La Bussola, a renovated pasta factory located right on the beach. From falling asleep at night to the sounds of ocean waves to the breathtaking views of the coastline from our balcony, this hotel and its location stand out as one of the top in Amalfi.

Days were spent mainly relaxing, eating good food at Maria's and visiting the coastal towns of Ravello and Positano. Surprisingly, it was even warm enough that people were on the beach and we jumped in the ocean for a few minutes. Also, on New Years, the whole town gathered for a spectacular fireworks display that illuminated the sky and echoed throughout the mountains.

77 files, last one added on Jan 31, 2005

Pompeii, Italy


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Pompeii was famously buried under a layer of laipilli during the eruption of Mt. Venuvius in AD 79. Prior to this tragic event, Pompeii was a resort town for wealthy Romans. Among today's ruins are fascinating temples, a forum, an amphitheatre and luxururious homes that once lined the streets.

32 files, last one added on Jan 31, 2005

Venice, Italy


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Venice was first settled during the barbarian invasions of the 5th and 6th centuries AD by the Veneto people and grew into a power that dominated half of the Mediterranean and the Adriatic. It was from Venice that Marco Polo set out on his voyage to China.

Venice is most noted for its unique construction and St Mark's Square. Originally built upon wooden posts, Venice of today encompasses 117 small islands and has some 150 canals and 400 bridges. St Mark's Square is enclosed by the basilica and arcades. The basilica was built to house the body of St Mark, which was stolen from its burial place in Egypt by two Venetian merchants.

Like Amsterdam and Rome, Venice is place that I have visited on multiple occasions via previous trips but worth the time to explore in greater detail. The beauty of Venice is that the town is concentrated in a rather small area allowing you to walk the narrow streets and get lost for hours. Of interest, at high tide several of Venice's streets we're flooded with as much as 6 inches of water.

While in Venice we stayed at the Hotel Carlton and Grand Canal. We expected this hotel to be one of the nicest on our trip but needless to say the web site and pictures on the web site do not accurately depict the true experience.

32 files, last one added on Jan 31, 2005

Heidelberg, Germany


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Heidelberg is located along the Neckar River and boasts a natural beauty complimented by the Schloss (castle) peering over the old town. The castle, known as the Red Wall Castle, was first built by the Romans in AD 40. In addition to the castle, Heidelberg is also know for Heidelberg University which was founded in 1386 by Ruprecht I. And, just as interesting, some of the earliest evidence of human existance originates in the Heidelberg area. In 1907 gravel pit workers discovered the Heidelberg man whose estimated age is between 400,000 and 700,000 years old.

We arrived in Heidelberg early in the afternoon to the pleasant surprise of snow. Midafternoon we took a walk down the Hauptstrasse, through the old town and up to the castle. The castle offered incredible views of the city and proved to be one of the most interesting castles we visited on this trip. After spending a few hours at the castle, we ventured into town for drinks and conversation. That evening we decided to take a swim, relax in the hot tub and order room service for dinner at our hotel - the Crowne Plaza (nicest hotel of any on this trip).

37 files, last one added on Jan 31, 2005

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