I just landed in Rome!

The day finally was here. I was packed and heading to Rome to start my 45 day trip around Europe. The night before I felt a pretty awesome high, a euphoric blend of happiness, excitement, and success. It’s a feeling that I’ve felt only a few times in my life and is hard to explain. It’s been a dream of mine to travel and see Europe and I was on my way.

I was supposed to fly from JFK to Dusseldorf and then to Rome. But the flight to Dusseldorf was delayed for two hours, causing me to miss my connection. The fastest way in to Rome was then to go to Munich and then into Rome. I had to grab my bags and go through the check-in process again so while I had access to my bag I grabbed my USA jersey and threw it on. I definitely made myself a target wearing a USA jersey in Germany on the day the two were playing in a World Cup match and I rightly got my share of dirty looks from the Germans sprinkled in with “Go USA” from a couple American soccer fans.

The flight to Munich was fine and so was the flight to Rome. I was in and out of sleep on what was starting to feel like an endless journey but I eventually grabbed my bags in Rome and grabbed a taxi to the Pantheon, where my hotel was next to. I was planning on catching the USA game out in Italy since it was on at 6 PM Rome time and I was supposed to get in at 10:30 AM, but I had to settle for following the game on my phone, getting to my hotel just as it ended in a 1-0 loss which was fine as the US was able to advance out of a very difficult group.

My hotel was the Pantheon View Bed and Breakfast and it was way above my expectations. Don’t let the fancy name fool you; it was pretty much the cheapest place I could find in the area. But I was greeted by a very nice lady with a glass of champagne.

Welcome to Rome
Welcome to Rome

And the room came with a balcony, which had a nice view.

View from my Balcony at Pantheon B&B
View from my Balcony at Pantheon B&B

I met up with my girlfriend’s family, and grabbed some dinner that night. The food in Rome can be tremendous; generally simple dishes that are executed with freshness and flavor. The prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, king prawns, and some red wine made for a delicious first meal.

Prosciutto and Buffalo Mozzarella
Prosciutto and Buffalo Mozzarella

Finished dinner with an espresso, which was very rich. There was a gelato store next door and so I had to go with the pistachio and hazelnut.

Gelato in Rome
Gelato in Rome

The rest of the night was spend strolling around and catching the World Cup matches to find out who the US would be playing. The game was accompanied with some red wine. It was an early night as we had a lot of exploring to do the next day.

The Pantheon was a minute walk from the hotel. The area around the Pantheon has some good restaurants and places to hang out at. It’s a good place to people watch.

Pantheon is a minute walk from the room
Pantheon is a minute walk from the room

We hopped a taxi to the Coliseum for our tour, which was given by a very knowledgeable lady who was a history teacher. She was brilliant and a joy to have for our tours of Rome. Like many things in a city with history that spans thousands of years, the Coliseum was under construction. If the people who built Giants Stadium built the Coliseum, this is what it would look like.

Coliseum a la Giants Stadium
Coliseum a la Giants Stadium

The Coliseum is an engineering marvel. Built in only 8 years the size, importance, and beauty of the building is all around you on the tour. I learned a lot on the tour and won’t bore you with the details but it’s an amazing place.

The interior of the Coliseum
The interior of the Coliseum

After the Coliseum we walked around some more ancient Roman ruins. Our tour guide had before/after pictures of the area so it was remarkable to see what the place used to look like. The scope and scale of the history in the area is incomprehensible. Just walking a couple feet and there is some new remarkable fact. The history of Rome is layered upon the same space. The Coliseum sits on top of the location of where Nero’s palace used to be. A couple feet further is the hill of where the legend of the founding of Rome took place.

Statues of the Vestal Virgins
Statues of the Vestal Virgins

After touring the area we stopped for some lunch. We also grabbed coffee and a pastry at this little cafe. Freshness, quality, and simplicity are strongly represented in all good Italian food, including desert and drinks.

Lots of great treats throughout the streets
Lots of great treats throughout the streets

After lunch we went to the Vatican to see some more amazing sites. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel, which I respected. There is no need for me to take pictures of it as you can find them all on Google. It was nice to see Michelangelo’s work on display and to see the world-renowned painting of the creation of man in person. It’s the picture where God is reaching out to touch man and the fingers are just almost touching. What I liked more than the Sistine Chapel was the hallway that we saw before going in to the Sistine Chapel. The ceiling is painted with beautiful gold paintings and the walls are covered which some brilliantly designed maps, which for the time were a marvel.

The gold hall of maps before the Sistine Chapel
The gold hall of maps before the Sistine Chapel

We ventured out in Saint Peter’s Square. It was pretty cool to see where the Pope speaks from every week and the chimney with the smoke that announces whether the new pope has been selected or not.

Saint Peter's Square
Saint Peter’s Square

Saint Peter’s is stunning in size and detail. It’s the biggest church in the world. It has some tremendous artwork inside.

The size and scale is tremendous
The size and scale is tremendous

Here is a world-renowned Michelangelo sculpture. His work is impressive to see. It’s in another league when you compare it to the other work that you see on display pretty much anywhere.

Michelangelo's Pieta
Michelangelo’s Pieta

We walked past the tomb of Pope John Paul II. I had to take this picture for my grandmas because they were unsure of where he was buried. He’s off to the right when you walk through the main entrance.

Pope John Paul II's tomb
Pope John Paul II’s tomb

There’s a mummy of Pope Innocent XI in the church, which is amazing. The history and holiness of Rome and the Vatican can be spooky at times.

Body of Pope Innocent XI
Body of Pope Innocent XI

In the church is a statue of Saint Longinus. He’s the soldier who pierced Jesus when he was on the cross. Apparently a tip of the spear is in the column above the statue, behind the angel sculpture on the little balcony above the statue. My grandma told me many times that if I ever made it to Rome that I would have to see the statue. Longin is my grandfather’s name so it was critical that I saw this statue. The tour was over but I asked the tour guide where I could find this statue and she helped me to see it. It was an amazing moment for me to see that statue that I heard my grandma talk about so much. My grandma’s husband was very important to her and my grandfather is very important to me too. I never knew the man but I wish I had. Seeing the statue was very profound for me and I teared up a little when the tour guide asked me why the statue was important to me and I explained the story to her.

Saint Longinus
Saint Longinus

After the tour was over we left Saint Peter’s. We stopped in gift stores because I wanted to look for a gift for my grandmas. Nothing really stuck out. Both of my grandmas have been to Rome and to Saint Peter’s. My one grandma has met Pope John Paul II two times and she gave me a rosary that was blessed by him. They’ve seen it and done it all. There’s nothing there that I can buy them that would have any significant meaning really so I opted to not get anything. I’ll keep an eye out to see if I can score something maybe from the Notre Dame in France or something from somewhere else. But I really just want to sit with them and show them pictures and we can compare our trips to Rome, maybe over an espresso.

Leaving Saint Peter's
Leaving Saint Peter’s

We walked back to the hotel, stopping for a Peroni. We grabbed dinner at this awesome Italian restaurant called Santo Padre. They kept bringing out all of these appetizers and pasta dishes and deserts until we couldn’t eat any more. There were many dishes that tasted so good; among them were the roasted peppers, an eggless carbonera, and oxtail pasta.

After dinner we went back to the area around the Pantheon and grabbed some drinks. This is a view from the table of the place that we grabbed drinks at.

Grabbing drinks near the Pantheon
Grabbing drinks near the Pantheon

After another night’s sleep, it was off to the airport to get rental cars and head to the villa. My girlfriend and I stopped at a gas station for food and had delicious pizza. They had all sorts of fresh food there like pastas and salads and chicken, and as they were leaving they brought out some fresh tortellini pasta which looked so good. It’s a major contrast from the food in the United States, where if you go out to a restaurant you may find yourself eating a frozen meal.

We drove out to the villa that we would be staying at for a week. It was a little tough to find but eventually we got here. This is a view from the backyard of the villa.

Our backyard
Our backyard

The villa is gorgeous inside. Definitely a nice place to be able to call home for a short while, and probably by far the nicest accommodations I’ll have on this trip.

Home for the next week
Home for the next week

There are flowers all over the place. There’s a groundskeeper who is working on the land throughout the day and a lady who has been helping us with things inside the house. She has baked some delicious cakes already.

Beautiful flowers all over
Beautiful flowers all over

We spent some time looking for a grocery store but they were all closed. For night we grabbed some brick oven pizza and spent time hanging out and having some pizza and wine.

Brick oven pizza in Italy
Brick oven pizza in Italy

Today we are off to Sienna and I’ll be hanging around the Italian countryside for the next few days. It will definitely be a nice and relaxing few days.

Until then, ciao!

Finished jbutewicz.com. Home of my travel and programming adventures

I’ve been messing around with some web development lately and figured it would be good to build a personal page for myself to get some experience and post about my programming adventures. I also wanted to do this to build a travel blog to keep people at home up to date with my travels (hi mom!).

As for content of the site, I wanted to keep it pretty simple. I wanted a nice homepage to invite the user. I wanted a blog to house my travel and programming adventures that I could easily update. Having a mobile interface to update content might be useful. I wanted to include an about me page to introduce myself to the user. I wanted to include my resume that could be downloaded in word or pdf incase anyone is interested to look at what I’ve done previously. I wanted a contact page with a list of my social links, Twitter, GitHub for my code, my apps in Google Play store, etc. I wanted everything to be clean and modern and be responsive and work on different devices. And having no ads was important for me because I generally hate the ad model as a source of revenue (because we put ads everywhere in life, even if they don’t achieve a reasonable return on investment for the ad agency or the company advertising), especially on a site like this.

When looking at what technologies to use, it was a pretty easy choice to go with WordPress. WordPress is used by so many websites. It powers somewhere between 20-25% of websites. Since a big portion of my site would be blog posts, it made a lot of sense to go with it.

Installing WordPress on a server is simple. I was pretty surprised with just how simple it is. Usually setting up a new platform can take hours of downloading, installing, and configuring, but WordPress really lives up to the 5-minute install time that they advertise.

Customizing a WordPress site is pretty easy too. Between the different themes, plugins, and the enormous community, you can quickly find and implement a solution to whatever you want to do that does not come bundled with the initial install. I was actually hoping there would be a lot more messing around with html, css, javascript, and php but there wasn’t too much. The general simplicity and ease of use of WordPress is great because I was able to build my site quickly but a bummer because I didn’t get the learning experience I was looking forward to.

As for choosing a theme I opted for taking the twenty fourteen theme that WordPress provides and customized it. WordPress releases a new theme every year. I wanted to use their theme as a starting point because it will eventually provide the user a sense of familiarity. Users will see the twenty fourteen design throughout the internet and it will feel natural for them to view my site. I generally liked the fonts, which were fairly modern looking. Things that I disliked about the theme was the overuse of black (I disliked most of the color scheme) and the narrow width of the paged at 474 pixels. I also disliked some of the confusing structure of the theme that didn’t make much sense to me. I changed most of the black to white and opened the page up for desktop users to 741 pixels and cleared out some of the complex structure.

Initially the theme looks like this.

Confusing and bad colors, but has potential
Confusing and bad colors, but has potential

I wanted to brighten things up with a green and white theme. I spent way too much time go back and forth with design, color palettes, and researching which colors were popular and fit the site that I was trying to build. If anyone out there is working off of the twenty fourteen theme I my dark green (#2d9185) replaced #24890d, mid green (#31be99) replaced #41a62a, and light green (#0cddbe) replaced #55d737. If you’re interested in any of the css/php changes, etc. then I can send you all the files and let you know specifically what was changed to achieve the styling of my site.

Final colors
Final colors

I wanted to take the site and remove everything to give the content the ability to shine through. I want my users to clearly see the content in a modern and comfortable way. After struggling with designs, I think I smartly removed everything that I could. Things were removed and removed until I couldn’t remove any more. Things that I added were removed. Eventually I got this design, a nod to the tremendously popular white space/flat design craze that is popular. You will see the green of the theme when you use it for helping to highlight and navigate around the site.

Modern and clean
Modern and clean

Although a large amount of my time was spent setting up the style of website, another large amount of my time was spent going and backfilling in some content. I took some pictures from some previous trips/programming work and added them to the site so that there would be content to greet the user. I plan on writing a little more in depth as I am updating posts going forward, but for going back on an entire year of my life I think I provided enough commentary to keep the user interested.

And that’s about it. I have to say WordPress has been a gem to use so far. I would recommend it to anyone building a personal site or one driven by continuously updated content.

With that, welcome to jbutewicz.com!

Eurotrip Itinerary, 14 countries in 45 days

I’ve been planning my biggest trip to date and I’m pretty damn excited for it. I’ll be heading to Italy with my girlfriend’s family to hang out in a villa for ten days. After that I’m road tripping around Spain, France, Monaco, and Switzerland with my lady. And then I’m dropping her off and road tripping around Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Liechtenstein by myself. I’ve never been to Europe so I am ultra excited to be able to check out a good chunk of it. The itinerary looks like this.

With the fam, June 25th to July 5th:
Rome, Italy
Vatican City
Villa in San Fatucchio, Italy
Florence, Italy
Pisa, Italy

With my lady, July 5th to July 21st:
Genoa, Italy
Monte Carlo, Monaco
Nice, France
Marseille, France
Montpellier, France
Barcelona, Spain
Valencia, Spain
Ibiza, Spain
Madrid, Spain
San Sebastian, Spain
Bordeaux, France
Nantes, France
Paris, France
Lyon, France
Geneva, Switzerland
Basel, Switzerland
Zurich, Switzerland
Lake Lucern, Switzerland
Interlaken, Switzerland
Wengen, Switzerland
Andermatt, Switzerland
Zermatt, Switzerland
Milan, Italy

All by my myself, July 21st to August 7th:
Venice, Italy
Innsbruck, Austria
Salzburg, Austria
Berlin, Germany
Nuremberg, Germany
Frankfurt, Germany
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
Cologne, Germany
Dusseldorf, Germany
Brussels, Belgium
Antwerp, Belgium
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Hamburg, Germany
Copenhagen, Denmark
Gothenburg, Sweden
Oslo, Norway
Stockholm, Sweden
Malmo, Sweden
Bremen, Germany
Berlin, Germany
Leipzig, Germany
Stuttgart, Germany
Vaduz, Liechtenstein

The itinerary with my girlfriend and her family is pretty nailed down. The itinerary when I am by myself probably will see a little reworking but I am mostly going to stick with that route.

All together it’s 14 countries in 45 days in Europe. I cannot wait.