Are you ready for the longest post in the history of blogposts?! Many of you know that we are on a month-long trip to celebrate Mom and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary. (They are actually nearing 52 years, but this trip was rescheduled due to Mark’s knee surgery complications last year.) We wanted Mom and Dad to have a pictorial record of this celebratory trip, so we’ve included more pictures (and less text) than we normally do.

Here we go!

Our rescheduled cruise didn’t include much of Italy, so we combined 10 days in Italy – Rome, Pompeii/Amalfi Coast, Florence and Venice – with the cruise which goes from Venice to Barcelona. Our son, Jake, was able to join us for the first week. Here’s a recap of Italy.

Our first morning in Rome, we were all set to visit the Colosseum (AD 80).

A model of the Colosseum as it existed shortly after it was built. Built of concrete and sand, it is the largest amphitheater ever built.

An inside look at the model of the Colosseum. The last gladiator fight took place in Colosseum, in 404 AD.

On our visit to the Colosseum, Rome experienced a downpour.

Ed and Peggy looking at the ruins of the tunnels underneath the “stage” of the Colosseum.

A recent sculpture of a (huge!) pomegranate in honor of Andrea Bocelli.

A view of he Arch of Constantine (AD 315), a triumphal arch in Rome, situated between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill. It was erected by the Roman Senate to commemorate Constantine I’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312.

Everybody is wet but still smiling.

On the heels of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, we wondered how there could be this much water half-way around the world in Rome.

The normally placid Tiber river became ….

…a river of rapids because of the rain.

All dried out and ready to see some sights of Rome.

We toured the Vatican including St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. St. Peter’s Basilica is the world’s largest church building.

Michelangelo worked on St. Peter’s Basilica from 1546 until his death in 1564. Thanks to him, the great dome (dome 265 feet high x 190 feet in diameter) became reality.

No pics allowed inside the Sistine Chapel, but snagged this off the web. In 1508, Pope Julius II (reigned 1503-1513) hired Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the chapel, rather than leaving it appear as it had (painted blue and covered with golden stars).  Before this time, Michelangelo had gained fame through his work as a sculptor, working on such great works as the Pieta and David.  He was not, however, highly esteemed for his work with the brush.  According to experts, the reason why Julius gave such a lofty task to Michelangelo was because of the instigation of two artistic rivals of his, the painter Raphael and the architect Bramante. Apparently the two hoped that Michelangelo would fall flat, since he was less accustomed to painting than he was to sculpting, or alternatively he would grow so aggravated with Julius that he would want to depart from Rome altogether. No such luck…

One of the ceilings of the Vatican Museums.

If you want to see the Pope in Rome, and are here on a Sunday, head to St. Peter’s Square at noon for the Sunday Angelus. The Pope will appear in the 2nd window from the right. He gives a short speech followed by the Angelus, ending with an Apostolic blessing.

St. Peter’s Square has held more than 300,000 people at times.

The famous Trevi Fountain which is almost 100′ high and over 150′ wide.

Throwing a coin from the right hand over the left shoulder is said to ensure that you will return to Rome in the future.

The Fountain of Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi). Rome’s love affair with fountains goes back to antiquity, and today the city’s public fountains are unparalleled by any other city in the world. In the 1600’s, a competition was announced by Pope Innocent X for design submissions by the leading artists of the day, with the exception of the gifted Bernini, who at the time was out of favor because of his close association with the previous papal regime, the Barberini. The greatest artist of the day was not to be deterred however, arranging for the model of his fountain design to be seen by the Pope, upon which Innocent immediately ordered Bernini to begin the execution of his design, reputedly saying afterwards, “that the only way to avoid employing Bernini was not to see his designs.” The Fountain of the Four Rivers depicts Gods of the four great rivers in the four continents as then recognized by the Renaissance geographers: the Nile in Africa, the Ganges in Asia, the Danube in Europe and the Río de la Plata in America.

A view of the Forum which was the center of day-to-day life in Ancient Rome.

A bridge over the Tiber river; in the background, the Mausoleum of Hadrian, usually known as Castel Sant’Angelo (134 AD). It was initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family.

A view of the Trinità dei Monti church and the famous Spanish Steps, a monumental stairway of 135 steps linking the church to the Spanish Embassy. Bob Dylan talks about the Spanish Steps in his song “When I Paint My Masterpiece”.

After a run up the steps.

We took a side trip to Pompeii, an ancient Roman town-city near modern Naples. Founded in the 6th–7th century BC, Pompeii was mostly destroyed and buried under 13 to 20 ft of volcanic ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.

At the the time of its destruction, its population was estimated at 11,000 people, and the city had a complex water system, an amphitheater, a gymnasium, and a port. The volcanic eruption destroyed the city, killing its inhabitants and burying it under tons of ash. The site was lost for about 1,500 years until its initial rediscovery in 1599 and broader rediscovery almost 150 years later by a Spanish engineer in 1748. The objects that lay beneath the city had been preserved for more than a millennium because of the long lack of air and moisture. These artefacts provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city as it existed in AD 79. During the excavation, plaster was used to fill in the voids in the ash layers that once held human bodies. This allowed archaeologists to see the exact position the person was in when he or she died.

Our guide showing us one of the many public water fountains which were fed by aqueducts that extended miles into the local hills.

Beautifully preserved mosaic tile…..

…and frescos depicting famous battles.

A wall fresco depicting Priapus, the ancient god of sex and fertility, catches our attention.

Peggy checking out the wood burning pizza oven from over 2000 years ago.

Our side trip continued with a visit to the incredibly beautiful Amalfi coast.

And lunch with a view.

Shauna and Ed out for a stroll on our last evening in Rome.

We traveled through Umbria in central Italy on our transfer from Rome to Florence. Orvieto Cathedral, a 14th-century Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, in the town of Orvieto, was worth seeing…..

…outside and…

…..inside.

The Pozzo di San Patrizio (“St. Patrick’s Well”) is a historic well in Orvieto. It was built by architect-engineer Antonio da Sangallo the Younger of Florence, between 1527 and 1537; it was over 100′ deep and included a winding staircase complete with windows to let light in. Quite an engineering feat for the time.

A view from the bottom of the well.

We arrived to beautiful light on Florence’s main cathedral (the Duomo), which stands tall over the city with its magnificent Renaissance dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. The cathedral was named in honor of Santa Maria del Fiore.

The next morning’s view of the Duomo.

Near the Duomo is the Piazza della Signoria in front of the Palazzo Vecchio (the town hall); the loggia houses a number of sculptures. In the background, The Rape of Polyxena. (Pio Fedi, 1865).

Statues included Hercules Beating the Centaur Nessus – sculpted from one solid block of white marble in 1599; and Rape of the Sabine Women (Jean de Boulogne) – carved from a single block of marble in 1583 and under the Loggia since that year.

An outside replica of perhaps the world’s most famous statue, Michelangelo’s David. The original statue actually resided at this location for over 300 years until it was moved inside to its current location inside The Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze.

Michelangelo’s David on display in The Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze. This astonishing Renaissance sculpture was created between 1501 and 1504. It is a 17 ft marble statue depicting the Biblical hero David, represented as a standing male nude.

Michelangelo was only 26 years old in 1501, but he was already the most famous and best paid artist in his days. He accepted the challenge with enthusiasm to sculpt a large scale David and worked constantly for over two years to create one of his most breathtaking masterpieces of gleaming white marble.

The block of marble that became one of history’s most famous masterpieces proves the old cliché about one man’s trash being another’s treasure. Michelangelo created David from a piece of marble that had been twice discarded by other sculptors. Agostino di Duccio gave up on a project using the block, after which it sat untouched for 10 years. At that point, Antonio Rossellino took a crack at the block but decided it was too much of a pain to work with. When Michelangelo finally got his hands on it, the marble had been waiting for 40 years for someone who was up to its challenge.

From where the slingshot lies, it appears that David is left-handed. However, and perhaps strangely, his body position is more suggestive of a righty.

Because of the nature of the hero it represented, the statue soon came to symbolize the defense of civil liberties embodied in the Republic of Florence, an independent city-state threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states and by the hegemony of the Medici family. The eyes of David, with a warning glare, were turned towards Rome.

We were all in awe of the David.

The Ponte Vecchio is one of the most famous of all ancient bridges. Built very close to the Roman crossing, the Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge, was the only bridge across the Arno in Florence until 1218. The current bridge was rebuilt after a flood in 1345. During World War II it was the only bridge across the Arno that the fleeing Germans did not destroy. Instead they blocked access by demolishing the medieval buildings on each side. On November 4, 1966, the bridge miraculously withstood the tremendous weight of water and silt when the Arno once again burst its banks.

A view of the Arno river with the Palazzo Vecchio and the Duomo in the background.

A view of the Boboli Garden. More than a garden, more than just a “green lung” in Florence, the Boboli gardens are one of the greatest open-air museums in Florence that embraces another site of culture in Florence, the Pitti Palace.

A view of the Basilica di Santa Croce. It is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, the poet Foscolo, the philosopher Gentile and the composer Rossini.

We had a 4+ hour dinner in a private dining room at La Bottega Del Buon, a Michelin starred restaurant in Florence.

What a memorable evening!!

Some of our final views of Florence, before saying goodbye to Jake and traveling to Venice.

On the way to Venice, we made a side trip to visit Hombre Farm, in the heart of the area where Parmigiano Reggiano is produced – the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Mantova and Bologna.

Posing in front of 35-kilo drums of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Aged for at least 24 months, each drum sells at a current wholesale price of about $800 USD – about $10 per pound.

The Hombre Farm included a private collection of vintage Maseratis. Owner Umberto Panini saved the Collection from being shipped off for auction after Chrysler bought Maserati’s operations but not the vintage car collection.

The Collection also included a Cadillac that was used by the Pope during World War II.

Our first views of Venice; such an iconic place.

About to embark on a walking tour of the city.

The Grand Canal, the largest canal which basically carves a large backward “S” through Venice.

A smaller canal, much less busy than the Grand Canal.

The smallest version of a canal, almost like a canal “alley”.

Mom thought these gorgeous gondolas were made especially for Her Highness (aka Mom).

When in Venice…

Shauna, posing with our 22-year old guide Luca in front of the high school he attended. Luca looked forward to ‘flood days’ in Venice, when flooding in the first floor of the school would make it inaccessible, giving he and his fellow students the day off (like snow days in Nebraska!). Luca gave us a tour of “hidden” Venice.

A parking “garage” for boats.

The loading dock of a grocery store. The customer entrance was street-side.

The front entrance of a house that was once a palatial mansion.

A crane boat unloading a pallet of bricks.

A “freight boat”.

Hard to believe this historic picture showing a seaplane in the Grand Canal.

Drinking from a public water fountain, with clear clean water from the Dolomites.

The ferro is the distinctive metal design at the prow, or front, of every gondola. The unique shape of the ferro is famous worldwide – popular tradition maintains that the six teeth represent the six districts of Venice; the elegant curve signifies the Doge’s cap, or the Grand Canal. The semi-circular break between the curved top and the six teeth is said to represent the Rialto Bridge. The ferro has become a symbol of the gondola, which is, in turn, a symbol of Venice itself.

The platform where the ‘town crier’ used to proclaim the important news of the day.

A beautiful water taxi covered in teak.

About to embark on our first water taxi ride, which picked us up right at the front deck of our hotel.

We passed by the Calatrava bridge in Venice, which was not well liked by some the locals we talked with.

The Grand Canal was quite busy….

With gondolas and boats of every type.

The local mechanic’s shop.

The water taxi gave us a great view of Venice.

Including very ornate buildings.

and churches, churches and more churches.

Ed and Shauna taking in the sights of Venice.

The mosaic ceilings in St. Mark’s Basilica were breathtaking. It is the most famous of the city’s churches and one of the best known examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture. Originally it was the chapel of the Doge, and has only been the city’s cathedral since 1807. For its opulent design, gold ground mosaics, and its status as a symbol of Venetian wealth and power, from the 11th century on the building has been known by the nickname Chiesa d’Oro (Church of Gold).

We visited the Doge’s Palace. For more than 1,000 years, the chief magistrate and leader of the city of Venice and later of the Most Serene Republic of  Venice was styled the Doge, a rare but not unique Italian title derived from the Latin Dux. Doges of Venice were elected for life by the city-state’s aristocracy. Formerly the Doge’s residence and the seat of Venetian government, the Palace is the very symbol of Venice and a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.

Out for an early morning walk during which we basically circumnavigated Venice.

And welcomed back to our hotel with this.

We walked down (through) the narrowest street in Venice.

Our last walk among the canals of Venice.

The cruise ship, Seabourn Odyssey, on which we are about to embark.

Underway…..a spectacular ‘sail-away’ leaving Venice.

Some of the outer islands near Venice.

One last look…..

And an amazing sunset to see us off.