Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii

We had a great time visiting Pompeii and its volcano this summer. Vesuvius literally blew its top in AD79 and submerged the town of Pompeii in ash, mud, and molten lava. The ruins deserve their reputation: they're incredibly well preserved, down to murals, pottery, and yes, casts of the victims.

Travel tips: If you're an EU citizen bring your passport or driver's license along to the ruins, your children will get in free and adults pay less too. We paid a taxi driver 120 Euros to pick us up at Pompei train station, drive us up the volcano (stopping when we wanted to take pictures), wait 1.5 hrs while we explored the crater, then drop us off at the ruins. It was worth it and, given that there are five of us, much cheaper than paying for five seats on a bus tour. We saw Vesuvius and Pompeii in a single day.

Awesome Castle at Martigny, Switzerland

The Chateau de la Batiaz is a small but very well restored 13th century castle and well worth the visit. Our boys loved it... So did we.

The castle is at the nexus of the northern and eastern parts of the Rhone (a major European river) valley. Its strategic importance dates back to ancient times when Martigny was a Roman town, when it was the gateway to one of the only passes into Italy. In fact the amphitheater is still used as an open air cinema. 

The Chateau de la Batiaz withstood a siege by the Count of Savoie in the fourteenth century but a few years later the Duke got his way by moving enough of his men into town and having them vote him Martigny's new protector. The castle soon returned to local control though where it pretty much stayed until it was burned in 1518.

In addition to awesome views and cool battlements the castle has the requisite collection of torture instruments and, best of all, a set of medieval weapons that you can play with (unsupervised!)   

Italy is truly Scooter Nation

Scooters are everywhere and, given challenging Italian driving conditions, come in very handy when weaving around everything else on the road. As our taxi driver said: "Widda car isa traffic, widda scooter: no traffic!"

This picture was taken in Amalfi, a beautiful costal town a few hours south of Naples.

No escaping commercialism... Alpine vending machine!

You're 6,000ft up a mountain in the Swiss Alps. Enjoying spectacular views, wooden glades, the sounds of nature, and suddenly you spot... a Coke vending machine!

Adventure Parks are all the rage here in Switzerland. The one we visited above the village of Vercorin is accessible by cable car. And yes, amidst 400ft long ziplines and arboreal escapades, we really did find this lone Coke machine. I guess you just can't beat the feeling... No matter where you are.

The price of a drink? 4SF or roughly US$3.70.

Tourbillon Castle, Sion, Switzerland

This ruined medieval castle sits high on a hill overlooking Sion, capital of the Swiss canton of the Valais. Originally built in the thirteenth century, it was finally abandoned in 1788 after a fire burned it down. The stones were used for surrounding buildings until the 19th century, when it was declared a historical monument. As far as I know the castle was never captured, which isn't surprising when you see the place: its hillsides are sheer.

The ruins are great fun to explore and one of the rewards for making the steep climb to the summit. Another is the chapel containing medieval area paintings.  But maybe the best rewards are the spectacular views of the Valais, Sion, and the river Rhone.

Note the absence of railings in the last picture... You'd never see that in the US! I love living there but I think Europe in general has a much saner attitude to risk.