Saturday, December 28, 2013

Travel: Cuma Scavi

In 5th century B.C. the Greeks established their first trade post in Cuma, Italy.

Parts of their temples to Apollo and Jove still stand, but the main archaeological attraction, Antro della Sibilla (Cave of the Sibyl), remains fully intact. This 400-foot long tunnel was carved from solid rock, and, according to Virgil's Aeneid, is where Aeneas asked the sibyl (oracle) for directions to the underworld.

The site is rather large (and excavation continues), so wear comfortable shoes. You'll climb many sets of stone stairs and walk along uneven stone and dirt paths. You're rewarded with gorgeous views of the Gulf of Gaeta and Ischia and a fascinating look at the past.

Admission: 8 Euros for 2 adults, 1 child (also includes entrance to Baia Museo Archeologico Campi Flegrei and Pozzuoli Anfiteatro Flavio e Serapeo)

Travel time: 1 hour round-trip from Naples Support Site

Time on site: 2 hours

Travel: Santa Maria Capua Vetere

Capua was once one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire. The Via Appia was built to link Rome with Capua. Capua also has the empire's second largest amphitheater, after the Colosseum, and likely the first stone amphitheater built in Italy.

What's more, visitors can enter the subterranean passageways where animals, gladiators, weapons, props and scenery were kept, as well as view the elevator shafts that brought them (and Spartacus) to the arena. There's a Gladiator Museum and good restaurant on the premesis.

This site doesn't draw large crowds; we were the only ones on the grounds. It's clean, fairly well-maintained, and a must-see, half-day excursion for anyone in the area.

Cost: 5 Euros for admission (2.50 per adult), parking is free, and 20 Euros for lunch

Travel time: Capua is roughly 12 km from Naples Support Site

Time on site: 2 hours

Monday, December 23, 2013

Crafts: Il Presepe

Naples, Italy is famous for its presepi, or nativity scenes. They range from simple to elaborate, and many towns in and around Naples have special fairs selling presepi figures and other items.

In truth I never wanted a presepe, until I saw Annalisa Bonfante's unique treatment of this traditional craft.

Like a ship in a bottle, her presepi are carefully arranged within lightbulbs, decanters, and other glass containers. Each is made with painstaking attention to detail, without a single cut to the glass, and comes with a signed and numbered certificate of authenticity.

I was particularly drawn to those within lightbulbs - it's such a clever idea. And for once I prefer the less expensive variety. All are fair-priced, however, considering the artistry and patience they require.

Visit Il Presepe to purchase one for yourself or as a special gift, which I very highly recommend. Annalisa is such a lovely and talented Neapolitan artist, and her presepi make a perfect holiday souvenir.

Buon Natale!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Travel: United Arab Emerites

Everything the Emeratis do is on a grand scale. They have the tallest building in the world, the largest mall in the world, the world's most leaning building, the Grand Mosque, as well as fanciful-shaped, man-made landmasses. What they've built is awe-inspiring! Every architect-in-training should visit Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

The U.A.E. just proudly celebrated its 42nd birthday, and it continues to grow at breakneck speed. Construction is visible most everywhere. From our hotel room in Abu Dhabi we could see land being made!

Many, if not all, of the buildings utilize heat control technology. Of course this makes sense, but it's amazing to see up close. Some buildings look like pineapples when the shades are closed.

And you've never been to a mall until you've been to Dubai Mall. It's a shopping palace, complete with an aquarium and souk. After all, shopping is said to be the Emerati pastime.

You'll find dates, spices, gold, textiles, and lanterns aplenty. We stocked up on dates and saffron, and I would have loved a lantern chandelier. U.A.E. is not an inexpensive country, however. Even gasoline costs as much as it does in the states, which isn't the case in other Middle Eastern countries. Grandness has its price, but the subsidies benefit citizens of the U.A.E.

This was a fascinating trip. Although I had to see most of Dubai and Abu Dhabi from a rental car and shopping malls, I wouldn't take back a single minute. And I'm very glad we visited in December, when Fahrenheit temperatures are in the 70s.

Travel: Budapest

This is a great city! There’s so much to see and do, and visiting during Christmastime is a real treat.

We spent three full days here, giving us enough time to visit the major sights and enjoy the Christmas Fair.

One of our favorite forays into the city was Castle Hill. We walked across Chain Bridge, took the Buda Castle Funicular to the top, made our way to Fishermen's Bastion and Matyas Church, and enjoyed fantastic views of Parliament and the city. Don't miss it; Budapest has some gorgeous rooftops!

And take the yellow metro line! It's Europe's oldest, and its neat and tiny stations/platforms seem to transport you back in time.

Hungary has a tumultuous past, and the Hungarian National Museum is the place to visit for a proper history lesson. The basement also has the most complete and well-preserved, large-scale Roman mosaic we've seen anywhere. Just remember: Budapest's museums and the Hungarian Parliament are closed to the public on Mondays.

The Budapest Christmas Fair is our first European Christmas market, and it didn't disappoint. There are numerous market stalls selling handcrafted wares unique to the area, and the food stalls are bright and festive. We bought a lovely hand-painted porcelain ornament, drank hot chocolate in commemorative mugs, and sampled Hungarian chicken, goulash, sausage, mulled wine (and pretzel-shaped bread).

Our hotel was located on the pedestrian street Vaci Utca, a two-minute walk from Vorosmarty Square and the metro. It's also near St. Stephen’s Basilica, the Central Market Hall, and both Chain and Elizabeth Bridge. The hotel’s situation is ideal, and we highly recommend the Mercure Budapest City Center and its staff.

But the city is easy to navigate, even without a centrally located hotel. Most sights are within walking distance; we only took the metro to Szechenyi Furdo to visit the baths, Vajdahunyad Castle, and Heroes' Square. Taxi fares are reasonable as well, if you'd rather travel by car.

Hungary wasn't on our list of European countries to visit, but we're glad we made the trip!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Crafts: Drawstring Gift Bags

Cole's class is having another snack exchange. This time I made drawstring bags with leftover How the Grinch Stole Christmas fabric and filled them with homemade cookies.

I used Caila Made's Mini Drawstring Bag tutorial, but modified the dimensions and made the casing differently. I cut my fabric 7 X 9 inches (versus 7 X 12), and when sewing the sides together backstitched 1.25 inches from the top, left a half-inch gap, and backstitched again 1.75 inches from the top. These changes give the bag a rectangular shape and make a neat opening for the drawstring once the casing is sewn closed - no seam ripping required.

The best part is these bags are reusable, and the kids or their parents can use them to "wrap" small Christmas gifts, stuff them into stockings, etc.

My mother made the Santa basket, and it's been one of my favorite Christmas decorations since childhood. Cole also likes it, and is looking forward to Santa visiting his classroom tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Crafts: Snow Bunny Cowl

I've made another Sewaholic Renfrew Top, this time with 3/4-length sleeves and a novelty print.

Like mini skirts, I may be too old to wear bunnies. But I think I can get away with this. Either way, I feel younger and happy wearing this top.

Admittedly, purple is not my favorite color, but I do love green. The lichen green background and this top are why I bought the fabric. And I've had this puffer vest stowed in my closet for years - it needed an excuse to be worn.

My only complaint is the sleeve length. The sleeves are too short to be 3/4-length and too long for elbow-length. My elbows hit at the sleeve cuffs, so I'm a tad uncomfortable when bending my arms. Next time I'll shorten the sleeves two inches, because elbow-length sleeves really are my favorite.