Despite my many trips to the Naples area, I had never made the trek up Mount Vesuvius, mainland Europe’s only active volcano. I finally had an excuse to do so this summer while leading a… More
I have wanted to lead a study abroad program for years and I’m finally getting the chance this summer. A colleague and I are taking 18 art students to Italy for three weeks. It will be exciting, exhausting, and, I hope, incredibly rewarding. So far the trip has had a less than fortuitous start–my flight was delayed 3 1/2 hours. Fortunately I have a very long layover in New York, so as long as the flight isn’t canceled, it should be okay. I am currently sitting in the Denver airport at 1:30 am, tired and wondering what I forgot to bring, but I am so excited for this adventure and I can’t wait to return to my beloved Italy. Stay tuned for updates and reflections on this adventure. Wish me luck–19 people are depending on me to guide them through Rome and Naples.
I am not really a fan of amusement parks. The idea of spending a ton of money to wait in line for hours to get on rides that last for seconds doesn’t really appeal to me. Also, I’m a big baby with a tendency toward motion sickness, so a lot of rides are off the table. However, I was intrigued by Lakeside, a century-old amusement park in northwest Denver. J and I decided to spring for the cheap tickets and spent a beautiful Sunday afternoon at the park.
Lakeside opened in 1908 as White City, modeled after the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Some of the original details, such as the spectacular Tower of Jewels, still stand. This place was a pretty big deal back in the day, with rides, a casino, a dance hall, and live music. It was revamped in the 1930s and ’40s and, from what I can tell, continued to be pretty popular for another few decades before being overshadowed by more modern attractions. Just as I’d hoped, visiting Lakeside felt like stepping back in time. The aging rides, Art Deco details, and beautiful typography were everything I’d hoped.
After navigating the retro Crystal Palace maze, we headed for the Cyclone, a wooden roller coaster built in 1940. It is important to note that prior to this, I had been on exactly two roller coasters in my entire life, over twenty years ago. Also, the Cyclone looks like it is about to collapse at any minute. But I figured I’d give it a shot. The line was very short and before I knew it I took a seat in the rickety old coaster, held in place by only a worn seat belt, and overwhelmed by the smell of old wood and oil. The ride easily ranked among the top three most terrifying experiences of my life. I guess I’m not really a roller coaster person, but I’m glad I gave it a shot.
Looking for some tamer entertainment, we tried the go-karts and the Satellite airplanes. The Satellite was extremely fun, the alarming sounds made by the ride’s hydraulics adding to the thrill of soaring over Lake Rhoda. We also rode the miniature railway, one of the park’s original features, around the lake.
We stopped for a snack break, waiting in the slowest line ever to get nachos in a food court featuring a very out-of-place marble bar (which, according to Wikipedia, was salvaged from Union Station). Then we waited in another very slow line to ride the Skoota Boats. My first bumper boats experience was worth the wait. Before we left, we also rode the Dragon coaster, which was much tamer than the Cyclone.
While the rides were fun, the real pleasure of Lakeside is the retro feel of the place. While some early 20th-century architecture remains, there is even more glorious mid-century design. Some of the signs practically gave me chills–so beautiful.
There are also sufficient decrepit remains of long-abandoned rides, dusty old arcade games, and vacant buildings to be mildly unsettling. I caught tantalizing glimpses of rusting metal parts behind fences and buildings–I would love for a chance to explore.
Oh, and there was also this…
So, in short, Lakeside is old, Lakeside is run down, and Lakeside is awesome. If you are an amusement park fan looking for modern rides, skip it. But if you want to spend a few hours in a place loaded with history and great architectural details, all for less than the cost of going to the movies, definitely check it out.
We began the day with a walk to Hallgrímskirkja, the iconic structure that dominates the city’s skyline. We had breakfast at Cafe Loki, conveniently located opposite the church. I ordered a pönnukökur, a crêpe-like pancake filled with skyr and topped with caramel. It was delicious–the perfect way to start the morning.
The design of the Hallgrímskirkja is like nothing else in the city. Apparently it was made to echo the shape of the landscape, but it looks like an alien ship or an oversized and out-of-place pipe organ with a Gothic church plopped on top. Its massive size makes it difficult to photograph from up close.
We were unable to go inside due to a choir concert, but three of us–me, Mom, and my niece–decided to go to the top. Unlike most church towers, this one has an elevator, which was nice. After waiting in line for a while, we boarded the elevator, which took us to the area behind the clock faces. From there we climbed a few short flights of steps to reach the top. The views over the city were magnificent, especially since the day was sunny and gorgeous.
When we got our fill of the view, we returned to ground level and joined the others. On our way toward Laugavegur, we spotted a Belgian waffle truck and decided to have second breakfast. It was a great decision. The waffles were fantastic–very much like the ones I had in Belgium years ago.
When we reached Laugavegur, we split up again as my sister and I wanted to go to the Phallological Museum, which bills itself as the only museum in the world with penises from every mammal in a specific country. This definitely seemed like something we couldn’t miss. The museum is pretty small, but interesting. There were a LOT of whale penises. I do wish the labeling had been better, but it was a fun diversion and my sister got was able to find some gifts in the gift shop.
After our museum trip, we rejoined the group downtown. We did a bit of shopping and I bought some candy and black salt for J. We checked out the simple Reykjavik Cathedral and the nineteenth-century parliament house, the Alþingishúsið. Then we took a short walk to the Tjörnin, the peaceful lake near the center of town, and looked at the huge relief map of the country in the modernist Ráðhús. The walk back to the hotel along the Tjörnin was quite and scenic. The picturesque lake is surrounded by flowers, paths, and public art and is filled with ducks.
We returned to our hotel and changed for our last stop of the trip–the beach! We decided to forgo the Blue Lagoon on our trip so we could see the city a bit more and spend the money on whales and puffins instead. But I really didn’t want to visit Iceland without getting into some water. Nauthólsvík geothermal beach seemed like a good compromise. The beach is really a lagoon that is heated to tolerable temperatures. There are also two small thermal pools. The beach was fairly crowded, but we didn’t have trouble finding a place to sit. Only my niece and I felt like swimming, and we immediately headed for the lagoon. The water really was a tolerable temperature, and we had fun looking for shells. We tried out both hot tubs, too. One, the less hot of the two, was filled mostly with children, while adults seemed to prefer the hotter one (I did, too). It was fantastic to relax in the hot water. We also tried a dip in the frigid, unheated North Atlantic–the water was about 60 degrees. It was painful and we didn’t last long, but now I can say I’ve been (sort of) swimming in the Atlantic.
We spent the evening eating, drinking, and talking at the hotel restaurant. It was a great end to a fun trip.
We began our second day in Reykjavik at the National Museum. Since the museum doesn’t open until 10:00, we were able to sleep in a bit, which was nice. We had a light breakfast at the museum cafe, which was quite reasonably priced. The museum is fascinating–it tells the story of the history of Iceland chronologically, from settlement in the ninth century to the present. We spent quite a long time there, looking at artifacts ranging from wooden church doors to thousand-year-old mittens.
We spent a while browsing the gift shop and ate an early lunch at the cafe before moving on to the Settlement Museum. This small museum is built around a ninth-century Viking longhouse. It was cool to be so close to the foundations of the building, and I loved the high-tech displays, especially the interactive digital reconstruction of the building. I do wish there had been a few more artifacts, but overall it was a worthwhile visit.
My sister and I had a few hours before our whale-watching tour, so we wandered around the city. We stopped for beers at a cute bistro and walked along Laugavegur, the main shopping street, people-watching and window shopping.
When we returned to the harbor, we met the rest of our group, who had just finished their puffin tour. We chatted for a while before boarding the whale-watching boat. It was a beautiful, sunny day, perfect for being on the water. It didn’t take long for our guide to spot the first whale in the distance, which seemed like a good sign. Although I think there were a total of five humpback whales sighted, only two of them stuck around and entertained us. We didn’t get really close to them, but it was amazing nonetheless to watch them breach.
Our enthusiastic guide, Johanna, made the trip even more entertaining; it was clear that she really, really loved whales. It was a fantastic tour and one of the highlights of the trip. Even when there were no whales to be seen, there were plenty of seabirds, including a few more puffins, and the sea and sky were gorgeous.
After about three hours, we disembarked. At this point, we were starving, so we stopped at a fish and chips stand on the way back to the hotel. There, I stayed up and had a glass of wine with Mom and Dad in the hotel restaurant before returning to bed, exhausted.
Next up: The beach!
This summer, my parents generously treated me, my sister, and our 10-year-old niece to a trip to Iceland. It was a whirlwind, 3-day trip, but we were able to do, see, and eat a lot. We arrived in Reykjavik on a Monday morning and, after about an hour-long bus ride through an alien landscape of lava fields, we arrived at the hotel. We checked in, got settled, and walked toward the harbor. On the way, we passed the Hólavallagarður cemetery, which was beautiful and haunting on the rainy day.
We stopped at a cafe for a quick coffee and bite to eat, then continued to the harbor to buy tickets for a puffin tour. In the water, I saw something I hadn’t anticipated–jellyfish! There were hundreds of them. I was unreasonably delighted, as I had never seen jellies in the wild before.
We had about an hour and a half before the tour, so we walked around the old harbor, visiting shops and stopping at Cafe Haiti for coffee and pastries. By this time, the rain had picked up and most of our group decided to wait until tomorrow to see puffins. But my sister and I were undaunted and boarded our little boat. The tour took us to two islands inhabited by puffins. At first, it was difficult to see them in the distance and I was a bit disappointed. However, as soon as I spotted them through the binoculars provided on the boat, everything was worth it. They were just as cute as expected.
I didn’t take many photos because I didn’t want my camera to get too wet and because it was more fun to watch them in real life rather than through a camera lens. We learned that 60% of the Atlantic puffins in the world nest here in Iceland and that they spend most of the year at sea, returning to land only to breed and nest. We watched them fly around us, some with little fish in their mouths, and bob along on the waves. They look really funny and awkward when they fly. It was so cute I could hardly stand it.
The tour took about an hour and a half, start to finish, and we were pretty drenched by the end of it. We began the walk back to the hotel in pouring rain, our boots filling with water. I had brought a coat and an umbrella, but they weren’t sufficient in the downpour. Eventually we gave up our walk and hailed a taxi back to the hotel. The driver did not seem to be amused by our giggling. We spread our clothes out to dry and went to bed early.
Next up: Whales!
This is the last travel journal entry from our Mediterranean anniversary trip in 2006. It’s pretty light on details–I think we were exhausted at this point.
Today is our last day in Rome. We went to Palazzo Altemps this morning after breakfast. It is a nice collection; I especially like how the signs explained which parts of the statues were restored.
We went next to a grocery store for lunch. We got sandwiches, soda, cheese, bread, and strawberries for less than €15. Later we bought some gifts at Il Papiro. Tomorrow we go home. It is hard to leave Rome–I love it here.
My Rome trip top five:
- Forum Romanum
- buffalo mozzarella
J’s Rome trip top five:
- Forum Romanum
- Villa Farnesina
from my travel journal
4 July 2006 Rome, Herculaneum
We got up early and walked to the train station to go to Naples. The train ride was long but scenic. Leaving Rome we saw an aqueduct and some parts of the old city walls. At Naples, we had to decide whether to visit Pompeii or Herculaneum. We chose Herculaneum to avoid the crowds and see more complete houses. The Circumvesuviana took about 20 minutes to get to the modern city of Ercolano, from which we had a view of the sea. The buildings were festooned with Italian flags and streamers in red, white, and green in support of Italy’s team in the World Cup. We stopped at a cafe for pizzas and lemon granita, then continued on to the archaeological site.
We looked at every building in Herculaneum that we could get into, I think. It was wonderful to go inside the houses with some of their ceilings preserved. Some even had a bit of painted or stuccoed decorating clinging to the ceilings. I also liked all the little food shops with jars sunk into the counters. Some of the homes and shops had preserved beams, stairs, beds, doors, and more of carbonized wood.
It was nice to see everything, since last time we visited I think we only had an hour to explore. Some of the buildings, such as the Suburban Baths and the House of the Mosaic Atrium, were closed, but we were still able to see a lot.
On the train ride back I slept less than I did this morning. We had a nice view of the sea and the hills of Campania. We saw vineyards, cheery little fields of sunflowers, and orchards in the distance that made the hills look like opus reticulatum.
Back in Rome we walked back to the hotel and went out for dinner at Ristorante Grotte del Teatro di Pompeo, where I had my best meal yet in Rome. We began with a ball of buffalo mozzarella, quite possibly the most delicious thing I have ever tasted. Then I had fettuccine with Gorgonzola and J had fettuccine with cream and peas. For the main course J chose squid and I had eggplant baked with tomatoes and cheese. Finally, dessert was gelato for J and peaches for me. We had a bottle of very good house wine and espresso. I am in love with espresso.
After dinner we watched the World Cup semifinals between Italy and Germany.