Thursday, January 29, 2015

Fantastic museum off the beaten path

We are in the midst of a three day road trip around southern Italy, which is almost completely devoid of other tourists. Our first stop this morning was to some limestone caves that turned out to be closed for January and February (sometimes that stuff happens when you use a guidebook that was published six years ago).

After that bust we headed for the coast, figuring we might at least be able to walk on a beach and then drive along the coast to our pre-arranged agriturismo (a sort of hotel/restaurant on a farm). I picked a town on the coast (Monopoli), punched it into Google maps and we headed for it. As we exited the freeway we caught a glimpse of a museum and archaeological excavation sign. As we followed the signs it seemed more and more unlikely that we would find anything open and/or that we would find a little ramshackle museum. The area right along the coast seemed completely deserted - probably only really visited in the summer for the beaches.

But...when we pulled up to the museum - The National Archaeological Museum of Egnazia, we could see it was most definitely not ramshackle and it was definitely open. We had found a complete hidden gem along the coast of Puglia.

The museum is located near an ancient town called Egnazia that was occupied from about 500 BC through the Roman era. Much of it has been excavated by archaeologists over the last 100 years and is open for visitors. The museum was really nice and had lots of photos of the excavations over the years. The only downside was there were no signs in English. In some ways it made the visit more enjoyable because we were able to enjoy the photos and artifacts without feeling like we had to over-saturate our brains with all the accompanying text. And usually we could pick up enough of the title to figure out what each display was about.

The area of the town ruins has a trail around it and a fantastic raised viewing platform. Lucky for us, this part had signs in English. There is also a viewing area around the Necropolis, or burial ground. The tombs were chiseled into the limestone bedrock. Because people were usually buried with valuable possessions, almost all of the graves had been looted before professional archaeologists ever worked here. It makes it a little eerie to walk around and see a bunch of empty coffin-shaped holes in the ground. There were also two large tombs with chambers dug into this area that, to our surprise, were open to visitors.

We are so glad we stumbled upon this place! We have also been pleasantly surprised that many museums in Italy are very inexpensive (6 euros for both of us to visit the museum and ruins). Maybe that will change going north, but we're enjoying it for now!

Empty tombs


Chamber tomb



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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Opera in Naples

One of the things on my list for Italy was to see an opera. After hours of research on my iPhone (sometimes I do wish I had a tablet), I found that the only place where an opera was playing that was easily going to fit into our schedule was Naples.

Last night we saw Andrea Chenier. We had almost no clue what was going on because it was all in Italian (including the subtitles), but just being there was an experience. We had a box to ourselves on the sixth (top floor) of the San Carlo Theatre (one of Italy's premier opera houses, according to our guidebook). We really had to lean up to/over the railing to see the stage well, but the perspective from the very top was fun.

I had read a synopsis of the story several days before we went, but honestly had forgotten most of it other than that it was loosely based on the life of the French poet Andre Chenier who was executed during the French Revolution. After we saw the show I read it again and everything made sense. It's not like anybody can understand opera singing anyway, but you don't go to the opera to hear the words. We thoroughly enjoyed the singing, stage play, and the atmosphere even though the only word we picked up on was "revoluzione."

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Friday, January 23, 2015


We are just wrapping up our five days in London. It was a whirlwind of course and we are ready to move on to someplace different. Highlights of our time here included seeing both Wicked and Phantom of the Opera in the West End (I'll be having Phantom music stuck in my head for the rest of the trip) - both amazing, and incredible to imagine that those actors/singers perform every night!

Ryan got to check off standing in two hemispheres at once. We also visited some of the usual museums and made it out of central London once to Hampton Court.

Ryan standing on the Prime Meridian

Ryan checking out the inner-workings of a clock at the Royal Observatory

Tower of London

Tower Bridge

Ryan at the British Museum

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Hiking Bear Mountain

Starting our hike just as the sun was rising at 10am
It feels like spring again in Anchorage and we still have no new snow. We took advantage of a nice day to hike up Bear Mountain with some friends who were going to paraglide off the top. The trail is very icy near the bottom but completely hike-able with grippers or crampons. Just like the Mount Baldy trail, the steep portion is probably in better condition right now than it is in the summer.

As we approcahed the top many of the paragliders who had hiked up before us were taking off and we got great views of them flying by.

Our friends had hiked up with their dog, Teddy and the plan was for us to take Teddy back to the trail head with us. He's a very obedient dog and even though he was whiny when they took off and I made him sit with me, he forgot as soon as Ryan distracted him with a stick. But then after we started hiking down, he looked back and saw some other hikers at the location of the take-off. Thinking his people had returned, he dashed off and wouldn't come back. Ryan had to hike back and distract him with a stick again. Then we kept him on the leash until we were out of sight of the top.

Our friend Jerry taking off
Teddy watching his people fly away

By the time we hiked back down the mountain it was WARM and the snow was a little slushy. It did not feel like January at all. When we were getting back to the base of the trail in the valley around 3:00 the sun was dipping behind the mountains. We got the most out of this sunny day!
Ryan and Teddy

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Cold Hiking in Eagle River

Ryan hiking in the South Fork
It finally got cold in Anchorage! We haven't gotten any new snow, but we've had some crystal clear days that looked wintery enough with the 6-8" that are on the ground. On Saturday we went hiking in the South Fork of Eagle River. The trail conditions were great - packed down but not icy. As usual, the scenery in the South Fork was stunning, but the sun never hit the valley floor. There is a price to be paid for living in the mountains in Alaska, and that is that they also block the sun.

On Sunday we got into the sun on Mount Baldy. The steep part of the trail is probably easier to hike right now than it is in the summer because all the sharp rocks and mud are covered up. We had a great view of the Alaska Range even though it didn't show up well in the iPhone photos. When we left our house it was 1 degree F, but it felt warm in the sun, there was probably quite an inversion (and our house was in the shade).

Now it has warmed up and is raining (just a tiny bit) so who knows what it might be like up there now. I'm guessing icier which is too bad for hiking.

View south from Mount Baldy

View from the top of Baldy
View toward the Alaska Range from the top of Baldy

Friday, January 2, 2015

Winter Hiking

The lack of skiable snow doesn't stop us from enjoying outdoor activities in winter.  I have been on two great hikes in the last week.  It would have been nice to be on skis, but at least I didn't have to worry about avalanche danger.  Before the weather turned rainy in Kodiak, Molly, Katelyn and I climbed Heitman Peak via the east ridge.  There wasn't really a trail head, rather we just picked a spot that looked easiest to start from the road.  We only had to bushwhack a short distance before gaining the ridge line which had lightly worn trail.  In Kodiak the hiking down low doesn't get any easier that it is now with the vegetation down and no snow.  We were in snow for the last few hundred feet of elevation but not so much that we needed anything special.  Now every time I see that ridge driving between Chiniak and town I will be reminded of that awesome hike.

Halfway up Heitman
Molly and Katelyn enjoying the view of Middle Bay from Heitman

Molly and Katelyn nearing the top of Heitman
Today I headed up Baldy here in Eagle River and continued up to Black Tail Rocks.  Even with the short days there was time enough for me to make this climb which took 4.5 hours round trip.  Honestly the going was quite slow as I found myself breaking trail through the snow after gaining the top of Baldy.  The snow was mostly 8 to 10 inches deep with occasional knee deep spots and occasionally bare spots.  Only one place near the summit was it waist deep as I struggled to gain the last 50 feet of elevation.  As always, the view from the summit was striking.  Denali was out and the sun shone brightly on the Talkeetna Mountains to the north.  I wanted to take some photos of the large frost crystals that had formed on a few clumps of grass.  Sticking through the the snow in the low angle sunlight they looked really cool but my iPhone was apparently too cold and would not stay on long enough to take the photo.  I did get a few photos from the summit.

Looking North from Black Rail Rocks
Looking west from Black Tail Rocks