Thursday, January 26, 2012

Day 22 The last installment

The End of the Blog!
Hello all, for the last time! We are in Kuala Lumpur after a very long and tiring night of travel. We took off a few minutes late but soon made up the lost time because we had an amazing 180kph tailwind. However despite this the flight was still an endurance test for all concerned. Long distance travel is so much easier these days, but it is still tiring.
Today the boys are starting to experience that nasty befuddled numbness… jet lag! It starts out as a bit of a yawn, but can soon turn into a semi-comatose state of almost permanent twilight. As I sit here at the desk in the hotel room I am finding my thoughts are wandering while I am trying to make sense of the things I am trying to say. So if it all becomes gobbledegook you will hopefully understand.
We have ended as we started, in the Pan Pacific hotel at the airport in KL. It is a bit of a shack (not).

one of the two rooms in our suite. In the bedroom where my wife is sleeping is a king sized bed!
After all the relatively cool weather we have experienced over the last few days, the heat, humidity and general warmth of KL is both a shock and a pleasure for some. Needless to say the boys busied themselves in getting down to the pool.

 The cool lads catching a few rays!

 Me at the pool
Thank you all for reading and communicating with various young men throughout our European sojourn. We have all appreciated the contact and support, as well as just having the knowledge that so many people were following our adventure day by day. We are all looking forward to our own beds, showers and personal conveniences!  Plus even if they do not admit it, they are looking forward to being with the family that they have missed.
Cheers  Jim S


The final act in our adventure was just as interesting as the rest of the trip had been. We enjoyed a very pleasant dinner at the hotel "all you can eat" buffet. (For some reason the boys really like the phrase "all you can eat". I think they see it as a challenge!

As the meal ended we were treated to a real afternoon tropical thunderstorm. This worried a couple of them, but hey were assured that the storm would be well and truly over before the aircraft needed to leave.

We returned to the international terminal to get that all important last minute duty free shopping done. The group was told to watch the departure information for any possible changes in the departure gate. As fate would have it such a change occurred. We saw that the aircraft was to leave from gate C15 rather than C17, not a big difference. However with only 3/4 of an hour to go before departure they changed the gate from C15 to H10. This was not only a different gat it was a completely different building that had to be travelled to via the internal airport railway. There was a very quick movement by our group to gather everyone, inform duty free shops as to the change and then physically get on a very crowded train and find the new gate. Despite these difficulties everyone "mucked in" and achieved it with plenty of time to spare.

P.S. Well we all made it back, a little tired but happy. Everyone I believe has had a very good time, and as time passes and the pictures are viewed (in several cases over 2500 pictures) the memories will flood back and stories will be recalled. My hope is that the travellers have had life experiences, gained both new knowledge and a new level of confidence that hey could not have gained if they had stayed in their comfortable little world at home. All have done things that they had never done before; they have had to deal with people and situations in a language that they do not speak. They have had to watch for things out of the ordinary and become flexible and adaptable to new and different situations as they were presented.

We would like to thank all of the helpers on the trip especially Marie Galleta whose abilities in both French and Italian was invaluable. I would like to also thank Sue, my wife, who's help in medical and organisational matters with her clear head, energy and skill  helped to keep both people healthy and things on track. I would have been lost without her help. Thanks are also due to Stirling and Jenny Greeneklee, Rod and Ros Norris and Ros Durrant, who all provided adult guidance and stability to the group. We would also like to thank the travellers themselves for their group unity and willingness to help others within the group, and their positive attitudes and acceptance of each other.

Finally we would like to thank all of you the parents and friends who have supported and helped both in the lead up to the trip and during the trip itself. Your attendance at the meetings and in making sure the boys were properly fitted out for the journey was superb.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Day 21

Monday the 23rd of January
Here we are, the last full day in Europe. The time has flown by; it seems that we only arrived in London the other day. However this is not the case, there are so many memories to sort through. The great times  we had in London, the red buses, the Tower of London, the Underground and the multiple museums. The trip back to a violent past with our pilgrimage to the Western Front, Fromelles , Tyne Cot, Villers-Bretonneux, and the last post at Ypres. Then our sojourn in France and her beautiful countryside that culminated in Paris, the city of light. We remember the Louvre, the Eifel Tower, The Arc De Triumph, Champs-Élysées and a frantic rush to the train. A few days spent in the Italian Alps, Tuscany and Umbra before coming into Rome, the eternal city. A bus ride into the past with a visit to Pompeii and on our agenda today, the Vatican City.
Tonight is our last night in Rome, however we made sure that we filled this final day to the absolute maximum. We started with the Vatican City. This country, and it is a separate country, lies within the heart of Rome. It has been the seat of power for the Roman Catholic Church for centuries. Within its walls resides the Vatican Museum, which was where we began our day. As usual we had to go through another one of the constant security checks. It seems like we have  been through so many of these it has now become second nature to pull everything out of our pockets, put it in a plastic tray, pass it through the x-ray machine while walking through the metal detector, then re packing our belongings into our pockets.
The museum has so many beautiful things in it would take many pages to begin to discuss and describe what we saw. So instead of that here are some picture highlights.

The group above the Vatican Gardens with the dome of St Peters in the background

 One of the huge sculptures in the garden

 Another complete ancient Roman sculpture

The group with a red marble Roman Emperor’s casket in the background

 Buying things in the museum

A huge granite bath from a Roman bath house

 A complete Roman Equestrian sculpture

A Tromp Ploy (This is a 2D painting on the ceiling that looks like it is 3D plastered ceiling

A magnificent ornate ceiling
The obvious highlight of the tour is of course, the Sistine Chapel. This is one of Michelangelo’s great masterpieces. It is not a big space; it is about ½ the size of the Gym at St Pauls, though a lot taller. The paintings glow above us; since it was cleaned the effect is dazzling. It leaps out at you, it pounds at your senses with it sheer beauty and power.

 The Sistine Chapel. The photo cannot do it justice
The next assault on our senses was St Peters Basilica. This huge, beautiful and utterly grand building is the biggest church in Christendom. In fact they have marks on the floor to show how big (or should I say how small) other Cathedrals are compared to St Peters.

the inside of the Basilica

The boys in St Peters

The mummified body of one of the Popes on display

Mingi touching the foot of St Peter. It has been done so many times in hundreds of years the foot is almost gone due to wear.

 The canopy above the Alter

St Peters square. With repair work going on!

One of the Swiss Guard. These men are the Popes personal body guards.
After we left St Peters we had some lunch and then the boys needed to re-supply themselves with money. They were preparing for some serious shopping later in the evening!

 The boys line up at the Banco-mat (That is what they are called in Italy)
A walk through Rome brought us to the Spanish Steps. This is a very hot tourist site, and there are a lot of street pedlars. They are trying to sell you every kind if rubbish item you can think of, from automated horse toys, to bouncy blobs of plastic.

The Spanish steps. Where is the group? They are the little faces at the very top!
Another walk brought us to the Trevi Fountain. A beautiful design by the architect Nicola Salvi. Tradition holds that if you throw a coin over your shoulder into the fountain you will return to Rome.

 The Trevi Fountain

Some of ours in front of the fountain
The Gelato sellers maintain that they have the best Gelato in the world. Well that had to be put to the test! (several times by most of us)

Juan trying some. The look on his face says it all!
I will sign off now so I can get some rest before the flight back tomorrow!
                                                                                                                                                Cheers  Jim

The boys enjoyed their last day in Rome, visiting the Vatican with a guide. The afternoon was spent visiting the Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps and Piazza Navona. The day culminated with some shopping…..these boys really are shop-a-holics.
Although our 3 weeks in Europe have flown, we are all very tired and longing for a long sleep and our own beds. We do of course have 12 hours in Kuala Lumpur, which will give us some opportunity to rest up.

Day 20

Sunday the 22nd of January
(Sorry it is late but the internet in the hotel died last night.)
Pompeii and Herculaneum

Today we took a 3 hour drive to the south of Italy to visit the very impressive sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Both these small Ancient Roman cities were destroyed in 79AD by Mt Vesuvius which lies on the bay of Naples (Napoli) and for a long time remained frozen in time, buried by volcanic ash.
 Pompeii and Herculaneum are important archaeological sites because they provide an excellent insight to how the Ancient Romans lived and what technology they had at their disposal. More importantly perhaps, is that excavations of these towns in the 1700s unearthed, for the first time in history, the shapes of the bodies which had been preserved for almost 2000 years. Given that the Ancient Romans largely cremated their dead, the discovery of human remains was ground breaking.
At Pompeii we were met by a tall, dark Italian of suave persuasion and with a great sense of humour. He instantly captured the attention of the boys, and proceeded to provide us with a great deal of information about this fascinating Ancient city.
Herculaneum, (Ercolano) situated on the other side of Mt Vesuvius, proved to be even more interesting and astounding.  This town, of around 5.000 was home to many wealthy Ancient Roman citizens, was a holiday resort and was comprised of Villas, shops and baths.
The two sites differ mainly in the size of the excavations and the number of high class roman villas that have been found. The boys had a real educational experience today, they did not just see pictures and watch a documentary, but they walked along the streets of a roman town. Stood in the centre of the arena and looked at the rows of seats where the people cheered their heroes and watched gladiators die.

In the Arena
 They stood at the front bar of the stores where ordinary people laughed and joked with each other over a drink or a meal. Walked through the bath houses where men would have sweated in the caldarium, and washed away the grime of the day in the pool. Gossip was exchanged and  business discussed.

In the bath house the grooved roof stopped cold water droplets falling off the roof onto the bathers
Paintings in the bath house

In glass cases we saw the plaster casts of those who had been caught by the ash cloud and died trying to breath as they were suffocated by breathing rock. Below is a few thoughts by some of our group.

One of the people killed by the eruption
Well today the group went to Pompeii and Herculaneum to visited the sites Mt Vesuvius’s destroyed. We saw many fantastic artefacts and ruins that have been preserved over time. To see all the art that was still there and the detail of the paintings was fantastic.
William Marschallek

Mosaic floors
Today we started the day with a 3 hour drive to Pompeii where we met our tour guide Roberto who took us through the remains of the amphitheatre and showed us the remains of houses and shops including showrooms, laundries and even fast food stores. We then went to a pizzeria and got lunch. After this we drove to Herculaneum, a half hour drive from Pompeii.  An error in the program meant that Mr Scritchley ended up being our guide for a walk around the remains Herculaneum. Herculaneum was in much better condition and you could see the amazing artwork in the tiles and on the roads. As we were leaving Herculaneum we met an archaeologist who showed us where they were currently excavating; he told us that they have just found the amphitheatre, a major discovery.
Kyle Prideaux

A fast food outlet

Dylan holding up the bar
Our expedition to Pompeii began this morning at 7:30am, an hour that many of group found particularly inhumane. Nevertheless, bleary eyed and slightly short of temper we all boarded the bus in pursuit of some of the best preserved Roman architecture on earth. Arriving at the site we were met by a fantastic guide named Roberto who proceeded to show us this truly remarkable city, pointing out a number of key sites and explaining the daily lives of the people. From temples to baths, homes to amphitheatres, Pompeii presented a remarkable example of Roman life literally frozen in time. From Pompeii we travelled to Herculaneum; this perhaps lesser known city also fell victim to the volatile nature of Mt Vesuvius but in contrast to Pompeii still retains many of the original frescos and mosaics that are now sadly missing from the former. The day proved both educational and enjoyable, with many wishing for an even greater amount of time amongst these stimulating ruins.
Sarah Scritchley

Another mosaic floor but this time in Herculaneum
We have so many experiences from these two places we don’t know how to explain every section without writing a book instead of a blog. So here is a list of pictures and brief explanations to show you what we have seen today.

Jarryd standing on a stepping stone in Pompeii (so the populace did not get nasty things on their feet from the road / drain)

Ruts in the street stones made by the iron shod wheels of carts

 The main street of Pompeii, lined by shops. (It seems they really liked to shop)

 Another street with the group on the move

The Gymnasium where young men In Pompeii worked on their fitness(it even included a swimming pool)

Another type of shop….the bordello (they had lots of these)

 A cold water fountain in the men’s hot baths

The group walking in Pompeii with Vesuvius in the distance

 The group together at Pompeii

 A very high class villa in  Herculaneum

The toilet in a villa in Herculaneum (there was no effluent in the streets they had a deep drainage system to wash all the nasty stuff away, remember we are talking 2000 yrs ago!)

 A beautiful wall mosaic (this would have been VERY expensive)

This photo shows the tunnels that have been excavated in the cliffs. In here they have found that there are at least 4 more complete streets, a family of 5 who did not make it and a 20,000 seat amphitheatre. It will never be cleared as part of Naples sits on top.

The depth of Herculaneum (the pic is taken from the current ground level)


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Day 19 - Assisi to Rome

Saturday the 21st of January

This was another big day for our group of European adventurers. We left Assisi for the “big smoke” of Rome. However before we left we again were treated to a magnificent sight from our bedroom windows with dawn over the Umbrian countryside.

 You can compare it with the pics of yesterday’s blog

The drive to Rome took two hours, and there was little noise in the bus. We are nearing the end of the trip and travel fatigue has set in. The boys are tired and so are the adults. However we had some exciting things to look at today so we had to fortify ourselves with a nap in the bus. (I know I did!)

We reached Rome and seceded to have lunch in the Piazza Risorgimento. The group found a variety of pizza and take away shops to eat at, and yes a lot of Gelato was consumed, again!

Our guide Salomé (yes that really is her name) took us on a tour of Rome. We saw some from the bus.

 Trajan’s Column – Built by Emperor Trajan to recall his victory over the Dacians

We were dropped near the Coliseum and walked up toward the Constantine Arch. A magnificent stone monument built by the Emperor Constantine to celebrate his victory over his Co- Emperor Maxentius.

 Constantine’s Arch

Obviously one of the must see items in Rome is of course the Coliseum, and it is in fact very hard to miss. The thing is huge.

 The group out in front of the Coliseum

As we toured the place we were told how the Romans both built and used this building. They had a reservation system that would put many large stadiums to shame. People had to reserve tickets to enter and they had set places and seats. Each arch was an entrance which was numbered, and each arch led to the 1st 2nd or 3rd levels, and each seat in each level was numbered. It is estimated that the whole place, holding well over 30,000 people could have been emptied in less than 30 min.

 One of the internal arches and corridors

We were then taken out on the steps to view the arena. This is the place where countless people fought and died, were exhibited and executed.

The Dieter and Harrison in front of the Arena

The floor of the Arena has long since gone as it was made of wood. However some has been reconstructed to show what it looked like. The spaces below show the cages and corridors, the places for lifts and trap doors.

 The arena.

 The boys on the Coliseum

The group back outside

A short walk took us to the Forum. This was the power base of the Empire, where business was done and government took place. It was an area of valley between two hills that became the centre of the Empire. The Coliseum was entertainment, this place was power and wealth. A Basilica in latin is a place for people to meet. The most important in the Forum was the Basilica Aemilia, where people met and business was transacted.

The Basilica Aemilia

The guide was very knowledgeable and told us about the area and the things we were looking at.

 The group and guide near the Temple of Vesta

The main meeting and discussion place was the open area of the forum itself. At the top was a Rosta (rostrum) where someone presided over the meeting

The Forum

We were very close to history here. This is where Julius Caesar was cremated (the way Romans disposed of their dead) and initially buried by his adopted son Octavian, soon to be Augustus Caesar. As his body was burned it was said his soul was seen to go up to heaven thus making him a god.

The stone on which Julius Caesar was cremated

Many buildings around Rome have survived by them becoming Churches or Forts. The Tabularium was made into a fort and then became the council offices of Rome.

 The Tabularium buildings are the lowest level of theis building. The new build on top is the council chambers.

Rome was the centre of the world. The Romans believed that this is where life and power came from, so they said that the “naval of the world” was here.

The Naval of the World

A general view of the Forum

After the Forum we walked along the streets of Rome until we came to the Pantheon. A magnificent ancient temple that was saved from destruction or vandalism because it became a church. This building has a massive dome that is made of concrete. The Romans discovered the secret of making concrete, and then it was lost until we re-discovered it nearly 2000 years later.

 The Pantheon

Inside the Pantheon is the Tomb of the great painter Raphael.

As I said we had a very busy day. We arrived at our accommodation this evening, and after a solid meal of Pasta, roast meat and mashed potato and fruit we are ready to settle down for the night, knowing that tomorrow we rise very early to ride south to Pompeii.
Picture Gallery

Playing in the snow

Lunch on the Grand Canal in Venice



Forum gathering

Waiting again

Shutters clicking at the Coliseum

Inside the Pantheon