Saturday, July 30, 2011

Natzweiler-Struhof Concentration Camp

Near the border of Germany in the Alsace region of France, a little ways from Strasbourg, up on a beautiful hill is the natzweiler-struhof concentration camp.  This particular camp was where they sent the "criminals". Because these people were considered criminals (though many of there offenses were very small) they were medically experimented on. Some of the signs described the various experiments, it was very difficult to read. Throughout the camp they had large photos of very old men and women standing where the photos were placed, these photos were of survivors of this camp who came back to see it. Very moving.

The front gate and guard tower.

A memorial

Where they burned the bodies.

A "surgical table"
There were also two little museums you could go through, one was in an original bunkhouse and the other was below the ticket office down in this huge cave that they had built at the time of the camp, to this day no one knows what the cave/bunker was for, very strange. Only a mile or two from the camp there was a resort, it's a beautiful area. Can you believe that people were vacationing right there next to it? Do you think they knew? The whole thing is just so unreal, and it really wasn't that long ago.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fairy tale towns...

Looking for a cute fairy tale town by the river complete with halftimbered houses and a castle on the hill? Check out Bernkastel-kues. Walking around this quaint little town really does feel like a fairy tale. It sits on the beautiful Mosel river in an area well known for wine growing. Drive along the Mosel and stop at all the cute towns, and be sure to keep looking up and see how many castles you can count!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lake Como

Just before you get to the border of Switzerland there is a beautiful lake, Lake Como. We happened to stop there on our way to Germany and I'm thinking we will have to go back sometime...

P.S. If you feel like paying 40 Euro for a yearly road pass into Switzerland, there is also another lake after you cross the border called Lake Lugano. Since I have already paid for my Swiss road pass for 2011, you can probably expect to see a few posts about destinations in Switzerland sometime soon. From what I saw just passing through, it's gorgeous!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Do you know the "Chicken Man"?

Some of you may have heard about the "Chicken Man", he makes and restores furniture. And he is very good at it. Why is he called the chicken man? What I heard is that when his Dad owned the business he had chickens that he let roam around the warehouse, so sometimes when you opened a drawer there would be an egg or two in it. (There are no longer chickens roaming).

Basically you walk into this big warehouse and you can look around. A lot of it is unfinished so if you find something you like you can choose your finish. He has a "special room" where you can choose from all kinds of beautiful inlays, including the 173rd crest.
If you are looking for a nice piece of wood furniture or have something that needs restored, he's your man. His website is:
He is open weekdays (regular Italian business hours) and weekends only by appointment.
The address is:
Via Salute, 137
Rossano Veneto 36028

 To make an appointment or for questions call 0424.540061 or email

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Home Security in Italy

So far I have found that Italians are serious about their home security. They have these really thick security doors (I have yet to see someone not have one of these...) With a big key (picture an antique key) that when turned about three times puts out multiple bolts. The door knob on the outside is not even functional, you have to have a key to open the door even when it's not locked. So don't forget your keys when you take the trash out!
Then there are the windows. They always have shutters or security blinds. The security blinds are pretty easy to use, you pull that little rope to the side of the window up or down. I do worry a little about little people getting their fingers caught, but so far it hasn't happened. The blinds are awesome because they block out pretty much all the light, making it easy to sleep in or take a nap, not sure how I'm ever going to be able to go back to wimpy American blinds.
Most places also have a fence that you have to have a key to to get in and then a locked door into the apartment building. So when someone comes over I have to "buzz them in". When they rind the buzzer I simply pick up my little phone and look at my little TV to see who it is and decide if I want to let them in or not. Nifty eh? It's like living in a big city.
Even with all this there are still sometimes break ins. "Gypsies" are well known for stealing, but I'll save that for another post. Just be sure you get renters insurance and lock your door.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Kiev, Ukraine

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Ukraine should be on your top ten list of places you want to go, it's not the easiest place to navigate and not many people speak more than a few words of English. But if you just happen to end up there like I did (perhaps for the upcoming World Soccer Cup??), it's really quite interesting. (Lucky for me my brother has been living there and speaks the language, so I had my own tour guide and interpreter!)
Kievo-Pecherska Lavra, which means monastery of the caves was founded in 1051 after orthodoxy became the official religion of Ukraine. The Lavra includes almost 70 acres and many beautiful buildings which over the years have been burned and destroyed many times but they always rebuilt them. Many of the buildings are now museums, including a "miniatures museum" where you have to view tiny models of things by microscope.
Beneath the beautiful golden domed buildings of the church are a series of caves which were built by the original monks, they studied, worshiped and lived there. When they died their bodies were naturally preserved by the cool temperature and dry air of the caves. These mummies are still there today in the caves in glass cases, mostly covered but a few of their hands come through the covering. We went down into the caves and by candlelight viewed these mummy holy men and watched as those who still worship them kissed the glass of their cases repeatedly while saying what I assume were prayers of some sort. Women must be modest and cover their heads, legs and shoulders to enter the caves. (Because it is considered holy you can't take pictures of the creepy mummy hands poking through otherwise I would have! But check out the awesome church...)
From the Lavra you can see Rodina Mat, translation: 'Nation's mother', she is a short 5 minute walk away. She was built in 1981 to honor Kiev's defenders during the 'great patriotic war' or WWII. She measures 203 ft from sword to foot. (The Statue of Liberty stands at 151 ft from torch to toes.)
The building that Rodina Mat sits on is a WWII museum. There was some interesting stuff in there, everything was in Russian which made it a bit tough. The most disturbing thing I found in the museum was a pair of gloves made from...brace yourself, human skin. Gotta love those Nazis.
Russia and Ukraine have so much interesting history, I wish I knew more about all of it. But it was very interesting to be there and to feel some of the leftover effects from the Soviet Union.
Graffiti from the Orange Revolution found at Independence square.
Independence Square
Walking down Andriyivsky uzviz in the shadow of the awesome St. Andrew's church, there are TONS of little stands with every souvenir you could ever desire. It is on a cobblestone hill which winds its way down to the Dnipro river. As you get to the bottom of the hill, if you watch, there is a set up stairs you can go up for an awesome view of the city.

St. Sophia's Catherdral is Kiev's oldest standing church. It has a very pretty blue watch tower. I just love the architecture, it's like what you would picture in Moscow.

Speaking of architecture, here's a funny piece of work. You might have to click on this picture to see it bigger. This is the House of Chimaeras/Gorodetsky House. Legend has it the architect,
Vladislav Gorodetsky’s daughter committed suicide by jumping into a river. As a result, Gorodetsky went mad and built this gloomy house to commemorate his daughter. It's got all kinds of interesting statues on it.

Friendship arch, commemorating the relationship between Ukraine and Russia. It even lights up in rainbow colors at night!

If you have time you must see the Pyrohovo Museum of Folk Architecture. It is an outdoor living museum of 17th-20th century wooden cottages and churches divided up into seven "villages" representing the areas of Ukraine (think Williamsburg, VA). There are cute old ladies wandering around reenacting what the village people might have done.

A few more notes on Ukraine, we rode the bus everywhere and they pack into those buses like nobody's business. When there is no standing room left, they grab the door and swing into the bus when it closes. Regardless of how full the buses were though, as soon as people saw me with a little one in my arms someone gave up their seat. Ukranians do not smile at each other so they can tend to look very intimidating, but despite their hard looks and blunt ways they are sooo helpful!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Passports: know before you go.

Alright so this is kind of a boring post, but it's important information for those of you who have a no-fee passport (the official use only one that the government issues you). Lot's of people will tell you that you can use your no-fee passport for personal travel. And while you might be able to get away with it (I'll admit it, I have), you're not supposed to.

Read this

To get yours you will need:
**$110 for 16 year olds and up, $105 for under 16. Payable by money order (you can get one at the post office, be sure to do separate ones for each passport you apply for) made out to U.S. consulate.
**2 photos 2x2 (you can go to the photo lab and get them free)
**Your ID and no-fee passport (for kids you need birth certificate and marriage certificate if it applies)
**Fill out some paperwork at the passport office.

There is no expediting them unless it's an emergency. So get in there and apply!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My new pet.

This is my new pet, his name is Snappy.
I picked him up at the commissary yesterday for a few bucks. The lady at the checkout told me he was so beautiful (not sure I agree) and that he will catch flies AND mosquitoes! I grabbed him just for the fly catching, but if he can catch the sucker that's been eating my baby at night then he will be my new best friend!

Anyone else have millions of mosquitoes in their house? We are lucky to have screens on our windows, most Italians don't seem to have them and yet they still fling their windows wide are they not being eaten alive???

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Paris in the fall!

I just bought tickets to Paris for 20 Euro each!!! I love the cheap flights around Europe. My favorites are:

What is your favorite place to buy cheap flights?

"The hole"

Ah yes, the hole. Not every place that you go has these, but many do. An Italian explained it to me this way "If the place looks nice, the bathroom is probably nice, if it doesn't, then the bathroom probably has 'the hole'". These aren't just in Italy though, this is a picture of one I found in Switzerland at a rest stop:
I had to take a picture of it because it's a little different then other ones I've seen, it has little islands for your feet. Usually you have to straddle it, this one allows you to stand right in it. Not sure if I like that better or not...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Verona, city of Romeo and Juliet

Verona has captured my heart. Everyone says that Venice is so romantic, well I think Verona is even more so. It is simply beautiful.

On Saturday's there is a market in the Piazza delle Erbe. I saw some beautiful plants (lemon tree, yes please), ate an amaaazing canoli and smelled the beautiful cheeses. 

The beautiful Arena di Verona (Verona's version of the Colosseum, it is the third largest Roman arena) sits on the Piazza delle Erbe. In the summer you can catch an Opera here for less then 20 Euro to sit in the nosebleeds.
Verona is the city of Romeo and Juliet. While the story is fictional, supposedly there were in fact a family of Montagues and a family of Capulets here in Verona a long time ago. There is a little court yard you can walk into and see "Juliet's balcony", for a fee you can go inside and stand on the balcony yourself. The statue of Juliet brings good luck through the rubbing of her breasts, yes I'm serious.
Lover's from all over the world sign their names on the walls going into Juliet's courtyard. The walls are so covered in names that some people have started to stick their gum to the wall just to have a blank spot to write. When you walk into the courtyard watch for a stairway on your left, walk up these stairs until you see a mailbox, this is where you place your letters to Juliet (If you haven't seen the movie "Letters to Juliet" you should watch it before you go, it's a cute chick flick.)
You can buy a "Verona card" that will get you into several different churches and museums. It is a two day pass for only 15 Euro. (Children under 12 are free to pretty much everything in Italy). We didn't go inside anything this go around, we just wanted to wander around and take in the beauty that is Verona.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Scuba Croatia

For those of you in Vicenza, did you know that our Outdoor Rec here on post has won the award for being the BEST Outdoor Rec anywhere? If you have been in there before, it probably doesn't surprise you. They are awesome, tons of info, lot's of fun trips and even equipment you can rent.

We decided to take advantage of their scuba program. It is through NAUI (the certification that the military scuba divers use). They have a beginners and advanced course.
For a week, every evening, we went over a text book (to learn all the scarey things that can happen in scuba and how to prevent them) and practiced diving in the pool.

Then for a four day weekend we headed to Pula Croatia where we stayed at the Stoja campgrounds in mobile homes with a view of the Adriatic. We dove 8 times, mostly right off the beach where we were staying and once from a boat. The boat dive was neat because there were underwater arches to swim through.
I was little scared that the course would be really hard, but it wasn't so bad. You just have to stay calm and take it slow. It was tons of fun to be able to breath underwater and swim with the fish.
So whether it's scuba or some other program, I recommend you take advantage of our awesome Outdoor Rec program!

Cost: $400-$450 for the beginners course, about $200 for scuba equipment that you have to buy (snorkel and mask, weights, rescue buoy, fins, you rent the rest of it from outdoor rec and the fee for that is included in the course fee) plus whatever you spend on food while in Croatia for four days. The place we stayed had a fridge and stove top, so I brought food.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Antique market in Piazzola

Europe has some amazing antiques. Everything here is just so much older then in the U.S. so there is some pretty neat stuff to be found. When I heard about the antique market in Piazzola (just past Camisano, about a 25 minute drive from base) I had to go check it out. It is on the last Sunday of every month.
Piazzola Sul Brento is a small town but hosts the antique market (one of the biggest, if not THE biggest in Italy) because they have a very large Piazza (big open square). On the Piazza is the Villa Contarini, a classic Palladio villa.
We parked near this church and walked into the main Piazza. There are tons of vendors, they overflow out of the piazza and into the little streets leading to the piazza. There were amazing glass chandeliers of every size and color, old Louis Vuitton trunks, figurines, jewelery, old military stuff from WWI and much more. So much neat stuff to see. I recommend you go at least once, even if you're not into antiques.