Category Archives: Europe

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Only an hour from Florence by train, Pisa should be high on your list of sights to see in Italy.  The most iconic structure to see is Torre Pendente or the Leaning Tower, which was conceived as the bell tower for the splendid Duomo di Pisa (or Pisa Cathedral).  Shortly after construction began in 1173, the tower started to lean due to the soft ground on which it was being built.  Tower construction occurred in 3 phases over a period of 199 years.

the tower and the duomo

Galileo Galilei is said to have dropped two cannonballs of different masses from the tower to demonstrate that their speed of descent was independent of their mass.  It’s not known if this is completely true or not – but it does make a good story and demonstrates an important property of physics

Looking down into the top of the tower

During World War II, the Allies suspected that the Germans were using the tower as an observation post. A U.S. Army sergeant sent to confirm the presence of German troops in the tower was impressed by the beauty of the cathedral and its campanile, and thus refrained from ordering an artillery strike, sparing it from destruction.  (you can read an account of this story here)

the stunning baptistry

Numerous efforts were made to stabilize the tower and it was closed for a long time for safety reasons.  In 2008 it was reported by engineers that it stopped moving for the first time in 800 years and that it should remain stable for at least another 200 years.

inside the church

There is so much to see and do in this area of Italy – We can help plan the perfect GetAway for you – just call!

The Mezquita

The biggest attraction in Córdoba was literally a 5 minute walk from our hotel.  The Mezquita is truly a must see building.  It’s a massive former mosque turned cathedral with an amazing forest of columns topped by red and white striped double arches that have seen over 1000 years of history.  It is not only the largest mosque in the world, but the largest temple in the world as well.   It occupies an area of over 250,000 square feet or almost 6 acres.

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The Mezquita with Red and White striped arches

The focal point in the prayer hall is the mihrab – which identifies the wall that faces Mecca

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the Mihrab

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the dome above the mihrab

 

Originally built in 786, the initial construction lasted for about 200 years.  After Córdoba was recaptured by King Ferdinand III in 1236, the mosque became used as a church.  Currently in the very middle of the Mezquita is a stunning Renaissance cathedral, which was built in the 1500’s.  Although some parts of the original column hall had been destroyed to make room for the cathedral – the building is still a remarkable and dazzling example of Moorish architecture.

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sun streaming in through stained glass

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the cathedral

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ceiling in the cathedral between the organ pipes

 

The Mezquita is certainly a signature attraction in Córdoba and visitors should plan on spending at least a half day to see everything.

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Our fun overcast day in Ronda, Spain

Well we didn’t have the greatest weather in Ronda, however the clouds stayed high enough and held in their rain fairly well so we could get some pretty decent photos.

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Ronda is an impressive town in the province of Málaga; an easy day trip from the Costa del Sol or for us a nice diversion on our car ride from Seville to Córdoba.  Ronda is built on and around a very deep gorge spanned by an extremely impressive bridge.

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Ronda was first settled by the early Celts, and later inhabited by Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans. The Moors left an indelible imprint in the city, which only fell to the Christian Reconquista in 1485. In more recent times, the town has hosted a number of well-known writers, including Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles, & James Joyce.

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This large and incredible bridge over the Tajo gorge, is called Puento Neuvo finished in 1793, is Ronda’s principal attraction. The bridge is 230 feet long and 320 feet high, roughly equivalent to a 30-floor building.  It was built following the collapse of an earlier bridge from 1735; this bridge had a single arch of 115 feet but collapsed six years after construction, killing 50 people. There are beautiful views from here of the Natural Park -Sierra de Grazalema to the west – although this was a bit tough to see on the day we visited.

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Views of the gorge and surrounding countryside are amazing, but that was not all we saw in Ronda.  We went on a self guided tour of the very quaint Santa Maria la Mayor church (built on the ruins of an older mosque) -which has outstanding views of the town from the roof and is well worth a visit.

And we of course stopped for a wine tasting.  While not world class at this point – (maybe another 10 years…or so) it was certainly a lot of fun.

Unfortunately the 13th century Arab Baths in Ronda were closed during our visit which just means that we’ll have to see them on a return trip as they are considered to be the best example in Spain.

Córdoba Spain – Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (Castle of the Christian Monarchs)

In January we took our oldest Grandson on a trip to southern Spain to celebrate his upcoming high school graduation.  Coming from the midwest US, most folks think of warm weather beach vacations during the winter.  We wanted to do something with more culture and history – southern Spain in January was a perfect choice.  Mild weather, no crowds, mostly sunshine, tons of extremely interesting history and culture – AND fantastic food.

There are so many things to blog about – but let’s start with some history in Córdoba.  Córdoba was originally a Roman settlement taken over by the Visigoths and then taken by Muslim armies in the eighth century.  The Caliphate of Córdoba encompassed most of the Iberian peninsula and was likely the largest city in Europe in the 10th century.  It was recaptured by Christian forces in 1236.

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No visit to Córdoba is complete without visiting the Mezquita (Mosque-Cathedral) and the Alcázar.  The amazing Mezquita will be the subject of an upcoming blog – for now let’s focus on the Alcázar.

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The Alcázar had been around for 200 years before the monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand used it for one of the first permanent tribunal of the Spanish Inquisition.  In addition it was the used as headquarters for the campaign against the last remaining (at that time) Moorish kingdom on the peninsula which was the Nasrids in Granada.  After about 10 years, their campaign succeeded in 1492 – the same year the monarchs met Christopher Columbus in the Alcázar as he prepared his first voyage to what we now know was the Americas.

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View of the extensive gardens

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One of many security cats that monitored our visit

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A visit to Southern Spain should be on everyone’s bucket list.  Please let us know if we can help make your travel dreams come true.

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Italy will never be a normal country and we love it that way.

 

“Italy will never be a normal country. Because Italy is Italy. If we were a normal country, we wouldn’t have Rome. We wouldn’t have Florence. We wouldn’t have the marvel that is Venice.”

-Matteo Renzi, Prime Minister of Italy…

 

On the Danube in Budapest

Cruising on the Danube river in Budapest past the stunning parliament building is a special treat both day and night. Did you know that the Danube flows over 1700 miles passing through 10 countries on its way to the Black Sea? You can travel almost all of it on an amazing river cruise. How much time do you have? 1 week? 2 weeks? More? Let us know and we can design the perfect trip for you.

Blogging my way down the Danube – Budapest day 2

It’s up and at ’em today with a goal of seeing as much as possible. First stop St. Stephen’s Basilica. Located in a very nice area, the church is surrounded by many shops and cafés so after the visit you might want to grab a bite to eat or a glass of wine and enjoy the square.

St Stephens Basilica Budapest

St. Stephen’s is dedicated to the Hungary’s king who was the founder of the Hungarian State. Construction started in 1851 but the church was not dedicated until 1905. During WWII, the church roof, towers and external walls were badly damaged however visitors today will find that even the beautiful mosaics have been successfully restored. Like many churches & Basilica’s in Europe, St. Stephan’s has it’s precious relic. Here (in the chapel) you will find the mummified hand of the church’s patron saint, the first king of Hungary. I’ve seen quite a few mummified parts in my travels but no matter how many, I can’t quite get over the concept – and yes, in every church I do seek them out….go figure!

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If you are ambitious (we were not) you can walk up the 364 steps to the cupula for a panoramic view of the city, or do it the easy way and take one of the 2 elevators – either way, its worth the effort on a clear day.

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St Matthias church on Buda Castle hill

Next stop on our whirlwind tour is Buda Castle. We took public transportation for an easy jog over to that part of town. Located on what is referred to as Castle Hill, the 18th century Buda castle is a 200 room palace built to protect from Mongol and Tartar attacks. The castle was quite damaged in World War II however today many parts of it have been restored and now house the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. The entire complex is designated a Unesco World Heritage Site and it is worth taking the time to explore.

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An amazing view from Castle hill of the Parliament building on the Danube

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View of Danube from Fisherman’s Bastion on Castle Hill

Funicula to Budda castle

Funicular Ride up to the Castle

Take the historic funicular up to the top and be sure to marvel at the views from the top. Stay for a changing of the guards ceremony and be sure to throw a penny in the fountain. While we were exploring a festival was being set up in the castle square and we are glad we hung around until the stalls began to open. This was by far the best Hungarian food ever! The cabbage roll was to die for, the grilled chicken was moist and tasty and sausage….well with a cold Hungarian brew, what could have been better??

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Sue & Ellen enjoy lunch at the Buda Castle

Onward we went – in search of one of the “most scenic tram rides in Europe”. AKA Tram #2, on the Pest side of the river is according to National Geographic, one of the most scenic trams in the world but I think we missed its beauty. Don’t get me wrong, out the river side of the tram there were some very pretty sights – when you could see them. However, the tram is crowded and used for local transportation so if you can get a seat on the scenic side you are lucky…heck that is if you can get a seat at all!

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Tram running in front of Gellert Baths in Budapest

Now a word about this and other trams/public transportation options in Budapest. You must buy a ticket and you MUST validate it upon entering the tram. We bought a 10 pack and got on. One of us validated and the other 2 did not, as our main goal was seeking out a seat. Well it seems that the one who validated did not actually validate the ticket itself but rather the ticket cover….and folks that doesn’t count when the tram police step on board and check your tickets. Let’s just say that the 1 Euro tram ride ticket became about a $35 per person fine – yep, even though we had attempted to validate according to the nice lady checking tickets, we had done so incorrectly and it simply didn’t count! You see, she doesn’t “make the rules, she just follows them” thank you very much and pay on the spot! It did not matter that we had some 8 unused tickets that she could have easily stamped …nope….tourist hand over the money! And so we did….but here is the good news (according to her), we could now ride the tram the rest of the day for free! Well we rode it all right, to where we found a wonderful little wine bar to toast our contribution to Budapest tourism!

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A Souvenir that won’t be soon forgotten!

All in a days fun…and something to talk about for a long time to come!

 

Blogging my way down the Danube – Day 1

Starting in Budapest, Hungary, we made our way down the Danube River on the Uniworld SS Maria Theresa and oh what a time we had.

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We arrived in Budapest a few days earlier and checked into the Boscolo Budapest Autograph Collection Hotel aka the New York Palace Hotel.  This city center hotel is truly an extraordinary experience where historic combines with contemporary comfort. Marble bathrooms, plush bedding, silk wallpaper and Murano chandeliers make you feel as though you are royalty.

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The service is fantastic and a visit to the world-famous New York Café located within the hotel is a must do.
Although tired, we grabbed a bite to eat while we waited for rooms to be ready and then our first stop of the trip was the famous natural hot spring baths. It was a short stroll from the hotel to the underground that took us right to the baths.

Széchenyi thermal bath Budapest

There are many hot mineral bath options in Budapest but we chose to visit Szechenyi Baths. Szechenyi is the largest in Budapest with 15 indoor baths and 3 grand outdoor options. Each pool has a different temperature, our favorite was outdoors pool because of the size and temperature. It was the warmest and together with the sunshine it revitalized our bodies, minds and spirits after that long overseas flight. Onsite, one can also take advantage of steam and sauna cabins, massage therapies and even a beer spa! We rented a cabin which afforded us a private change area and a place to store our things. This experience is highly recommended on your next trip to Budapest, there is just something about floating around in deliciously warm water while surrounded by a Neo-baroque palace!

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Feeling refreshed we headed back to the hotel knowing dinner and bedtime were just a few hours away. Tomorrow was to be a full day of sightseeing….stay tuned!

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Happy GetAway Travelers!

 

Honfleur, France – Little Surprises

Sometimes the most unknown cities and towns along an itinerary can hold wonderful surprises.  A few years ago, we took a river boat cruise from Paris to Normandy.  We chose it because of the wonderful history associated with the itinerary and of course because it was an easy fly in and out of Paris.  It was so wonderful in fact that we are scheduled to do it again in 2019.

Now prior to that first trip I had never heard of the town of Honfleur and I didn’t research much about it either.  So, when we arrived in port I was understandably   overwhelmed by the quaint beauty of this little port town.  The harbor was filled with boats, the buildings around the port were brightly colored and it just felt homey.  Maybe that sounds a bit corny but the town was something right out of a picture.  As a matter of fact, come to find out Honfleur was painted by many famous artists like Boudin and Monet.  Certainly, this is a photographer’s mecca!

We took a guided tour of the town and the standout thing to see was of course, the church.  I must laugh when I write that because if you knew my husband, you would know that we have been in thousands of churches around the globe.  All I can say is, well, It’s his thing.  I’m pretty sure we have at least 2 zillion (okay maybe not quite) photos of every church wall, gargoyle, crypt, bell tower……etc. in Europe.  So, as I said, of course the highlight for him was…the church.  Sainte Catherine’s church, is a bit different from many we’ve visited, ornate in a simple sort of way and certainly not plastered with oodles of ornate gold.  Nope, it is simply the largest church in France that has been made from wood and it has a separate bell tower just opposite the church entry, above the bell ringers house.  Guests to Honfleur can visit the church for free!  Let’s face it, can’t get better than that.

Now if you were an astute reader you know the church was Paul’s thing….so what flipped my lid in Honfleur?  I already told you the port setting itself was amazing to look at but there was one thing that really caught my eye.  As we were wandering the streets…there it was…in the window of a little shop…. the purse of my dreams.  Now I’m not a girly girl, and I typically buy a purse only when the last one is too embarrassing to carry. But this beauty was something I just had to have…and yes, I paid through the nose for it and I didn’t care.   And lest you think purses are my thing…guess again (hint, look at the purse).  So, there it was, in the window of the little shop in Honfleur, France and I had to have it!

You see, sometimes little stops along the itinerary deliver such wonderful surprises and make the whole trip something you’ll remember.  You just never know until you go…. happy travels!


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