Day 10 – Rome Day 1

**Pictures will be added soon

Sleep was limited on the train to Rome. What I find comical was how excited I was about an overnight train, just to be very disappointed. I had planned on taking something to facilitate a nice long sleep, but it was crowded and I ended up swapping bunks, so it was difficult to get to my bag, and I figured I was really tired I should just sleep. However, between being hot, then freezing, only having a sheet for the bed and to cover me, sleeping on a hard surface with tired, sore muscles… it made for a long sleepless night. I would say about half the people slept, while the other half of people slept like me. Although, this really was the only night since starting the trip that I had a hard time sleeping, so I can’t complain too much!

 

Today was our first full day in Rome. It was also our last day with 7 of our travelers. I opted to skip the orientation walk and explore the city with a couple other members of the group. We had a great breakfast of eggs, toast, bacon and cappuccino, which helped start the day on the right foot!

 

Our first stop was the Colosseum, which was massive. We opted to go in, and to our luck, without pre-purchasing tickets, we were actually able to get in the short line! I feel like this rarely happens. It only took us about 15 minutes to get in, meanwhile people with tickets were waiting much longer. One fact I learned, was that they used to be able to flood the arena, to simulate aquatic battles. It is a shame that materials from the Colosseum were used for other buildings, as it would have been great to see it more intact. It was really neat though to see the view of the underground quarters from above. I really enjoyed the walk around and taking it all in.

 

Next up was the Palatino con Monstra, which are the gardens across the way with a lot of ancient ruins. I really enjoyed walking along the paths, and imagining what it would have been like when these buildings an gardens were filled with people. The one disappointment to this section, was the addition of modern art, which added no value to the area. If anything it took away from sights and the beauty of the area.

 

At this point we are starving, which seems to be a common theme with this trip, so we walk to the canal, past the MOUTH OF TRUTH, which we did not stop because of the long line, and unbeknownst to us, into the Roman Jewish quarter for lunch. The cafe we settled on, was endorsed by Anthony Bourdain and it was quite good. I was so tired, that when I sat down for lunch, all I wanted to do was put my head down for a quick nap. Instead I asked for espresso. This is not a common practice in Italy to order coffee before a meal, but if I wanted to stay awake for the meal I needed something. You would have thought I asked the waiter for an elephant by the way he looked at me. He asked more than once if I was sure that I wanted it now, and not after the meal. This was the best espresso I have had so far, and I am not quite sure what was in it, but it kept me up the rest of the night, and with added energy!

 

Lunch was very good, and it was really nice to have that break from all the walking. Thankfully we had it just in time, as rain was coming in just as we were leaving. We made it to the Pantheon, built between 27 BC and 14 AD, then rebuilt in 126 AD, right as it started to really rain. There was something magical about being there in the rain. The Pantheon has the world’s largest un-reinforced concrete dome, with a circular opening (the oculus), in which the rain came pouring in and hitting the floor. It was quite a sight, and not one you could really plan for. This is one of the best-preserved ancient roman buildings and it is awe inspiring. To think that they could build this beautiful structure without the tools of today.

 

Last stop on the way to the metro was the Trevi Fountain. Even in the rain, it is a stunning fountain, with the white stone and the blue water. It is said you should throw two coins in, one to make a wish and the other so that you return to Rome. I did both, although I will not be sharing my wish! By the time we had finished, the rain had subsided and we made it back to the hotel with time to shower and recharge before the last dinner with the first group. I must say what an amazing shower it was!

 

Dinner was at a really fun Italian restaurant, where food was good and so were the prices. I shared some delicious wine with other travelers and the restaurant gave us a complimentary shot of limoncello to complete our meal. From here we went to an outdoor bar and then to a club to go dancing, although I am not sure where  exactly in Rome this club was. 

 

Tomorrow is our last full day in Rome and when we say goodbye in the morning to 7 of our travelers and hello to 5 new ones.

 

Fun Fact: The phrase “When in Rome” was used a lot today, and it is much more fun to say it, when you are actually in Rome.

 

The Rome metro is pretty well useless. We bought a 48 hour pass thinking we would use the metro as much as other places, but because it is in an X, and it is not very close to a lot of the places, we used it very rarely.

Day 5 – A walk through Paris

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The Eiffel Tower

For those who were wondering… I did try to solve the mystery of the hump in my mattress… turns out it was a bend in the bed frame and not the mattress itself!

Today we woke up in Paris, a city that reminds me a bit of NYC in both look and smell. In Paris, public toilets are not free, which likely contributes to the heavy smell of pee in some areas. Our group has opted to go on a “free” walking tour around Paris.

As most of you would expect, my breakfast consisted of bread, with butter and jam and some terrible coffee, it was what I found that I would eat. Paris is not known for having good coffee and the hostel was no exception. The hostel itself is very nice, with a really nice room, but the food, for me and my limited palate, left a lot to be desired.

The walking tour itself, although full of fun little stories and and an entertaining guide, left us feeling a bit unsatisfied as what was accomplished for the amount of time spent.  However, the stories were worth the 5 euro it cost. I will do my best to retell them.

Full view of the Fountaine of Saint Michel
Full view of the Fountaine of Saint Michel
Saint Michael and the Devil
Saint Michael and the Devil

Fountaine of Saint Michel was the meeting point of the tour. This is in the Latin quarter of Paris. The square in which we stood held a lot of history. The fun story of the square takes place in 1998, when France is to host the world cup. France makes it to the finals against Brazil and wins its first and only World Cup title. As the story goes, the people come to the square to celebrate and while celebrating, one member of the crowd scales the fountain and puts a France jersey on Saint Michel. Soon to follow, the Brasil jersey was put on the Devil. To the displeasure to some of the residents, the jerseys only came down when the weather finally wore them away months later.

The statue of Charlemagne next to Notre Dame
The statue of Charlemagne next to Notre Dame
Me in front of Notre Dame
Me in front of Notre Dame

Next up was Notre Dame, which is absolutely incredible! It took over 100 years to build and it is truly a site to see. Unfortunately we did not go inside, which was a bit of a bummer.

The story here was about the doors. A man, whom I now can not remember his name, was commissioned to create the doors for Notre Dame. It is said he made a deal with Devil as he was having a hard time thinking of a design. This man died two weeks after finishing the doors. When Notre Dame was first opened, the doors would not work. With the help of holy water, the doors were able to open, and so they were deemed cursed by the devil. The center doors remained closed to this day. The doors are truly exquisite and thanks to my zoom lens, I was able to capture them!

The front middle doors of Notre Dame
The front middle doors of Notre Dame

Another feature of Notre Dame is the gargoyles that surround the church. We learned that most of these are actually drain pipes and the water leaves the mouth of the gargoyle.

Gargoyles on the sides of Notre Dame
Gargoyles on the sides of Notre Dame
Gargoyles from the top of Notre Dame
Gargoyles from the top of Notre Dame

While we were in the square in front of Notre Dame, I noticed near the statue there was a gathering of people and pigeons. Being nosy as I am, I had to investigate. Turns out, there was a guy there with food for the pigeons, who would land right on him. It seemed as if people would pay for food to have pigeons land on them to take pictures.

A man in front of Notre Dame who was feeding the pigeons
A man in front of Notre Dame who was feeding the pigeons

This whole thing seemed absolutely mad to me. First of all, you shouldn’t be feeding the pigeons, second of all you shouldn’t be paying for food for the pigeons, and most important… You should not encourage pigeons to land on you! Oh the things you can get tourist to do!

Initially known as Palais de la Cité, now known as Conciergerie
Initially known as Palais de la Cité where the King of France resided, now houses the Palais de Justice

Next we walked over to the Conciergerie. This building has been named 3 times. Initially it was known as Palais de la Cité, when it housed the King of France. Next it turned in to a courthouse and prison, where it tried and housed Marie Antoinette as well as other prisoners. Now it is the site of the Palais de Justice. The building itself was really nice, however, there is also a beautiful church off to the left!

The first stone bridge in Paris not to support houses
The first stone bridge in Paris not to support houses

We made our way to the Pont Neuf, the first stone bridge in Paris not to support houses. The construction of this bridge took a long time, starting with the King Henry III and finishing with King Henry IV. During the construction, they ran into some funding issue, and so, the King imposed a tax on wine. The people of Paris were very upset about this. When you get close to the bridge, you can see that it is lined with stone carved faces, although none seem to be alike.

The faces of the Pont Neuf
The faces of the Pont Neuf
One of the faces on the Pont Neuf
One of the faces on the Pont Neuf

As you can see, the faces are a bit demonic in nature. The story goes, upon completion of the bridge, King Henry IV through a 3 day party for the people, where there was to be all the wine you could drink. Because the people were still upset about the tax to there wine, they came and stayed for 3 days straight, drinking their fill of wine. By the 3rd day, the people were all a bit haggard. King Henry IV had a sketch artist draw the faces of the guest and they were carved into the bridge to embarrass his guest who overstayed their welcome.

This bridge, being void of houses, was highly traveled, as well as drew in street artist who would perform, much as they do today. Before heading onto the bridge, we were once again warned about pick pocketing as well as scams. One scam is a ball game, which we actually saw, where there are 3 boxes and you must guess which box the ball is in. You see this in some magic performances. In addition to the person “running” the game, you also have other members posing as players, who help draw in people with the illusion of being able to win. We actually witnessed this on the bridge, and it is quite an elaborate operation.

The new location of Love Lock
The new location of Love Lock

The original love lock bridge is no longer filled with locks, due to one the the pieces of the gate falling into the canal. After weighing the gate, and determining it could have cut right through a boat had it actually landed on one, it was deemed a safety issue an all the locks were removed. In view of the original Love lock bridge, which has been crafted so no more locks can be placed, there is gates in which new love locks have been placed. There are vendors on site, willing to sell you a lock and use of a sharpie. To me, this concept has now become commercialized and gimmicky. The authenticity around it has been lost, so much so, that you will even find combination locks on the gate!

The Louvre
The inside walls of the Louvre

We walked into the center of the Louvre and learned a little about it’s history.  This picture does not do it justice. The Louvre is massive and intricate and amazing. This is the location of the Mona Lisa, which only became famous after it was stolen and post cards were sent world wide in search of it. I will be visiting the Louvre tomorrow, to explore the gallery. In total, it is more than 13 kilometers, and is estimated it would take over 9 months to see every piece of art inside.

Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel

Our last stop was the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel to commemorate Napoleon’s military victories. It leads you into the Tuileries Garden where you can see the Axe historique, which is a line of monuments, buildings and thoroughfares that extends from the center of Paris. If you look, the Louvre does not sit center as the rest, and at times there have been talks of shifting the Louvre so it is center.

Again, although informative and full of fun stories, it was very much touristy, and I felt as though I didn’t get to see much of Paris.

Our group came back together to set out for a picnic at the Eiffel Tower. What I found a bit funny, was we saw the Eiffel Tower at different parts of the walk, but it seemed quite small, like the one in Vegas. It was not until you arrived on site that you saw the enormity of it. It did not disappoint, and we had bread, cheese, meat and wine while basking in the view. The worst part about this location is the abundance of souvenir shops and street vendors. Every couple feet there was a guy holding cheap trinkets trying to get you to buy.

The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower
Paris was hot! We were a bit thankful for the overcast sky, as it was hot enough without the sun beaming on us. Our group split up, and I went back to the hostel to shower, change and go find drinks and dinner with a couple girls. It was a bit impressive that we were able to navigate the Paris Metro and using a map find our way through the streets back to the hostel, with little redirect.
Three of us went down to the canal, about a 5 to 10 minute walk from where we were staying, found a cute cafe to grab a drink, I had a Bellini that was delicious, and then set off to find a place for dinner. Tempted to go into a pub that was almost guaranteed to have an English menu, we decided to try our luck at a authentic French restaurant.
We were very thankful to have a server that helped us to translate the menu, although there was still a bit of a language barrier with some items. One of the specials was veal, and he was able to translate baby but did not have the word for cow. With a little help we figured it out!
The food was amazing and the company was great, and after a bit of a disappointing start, we had a fabulous end to the day in Paris!
Tomorrow I have tickets to the Louvre and we then leave in the afternoon for a train to Switzerland.
**Much apologies, I am posting without proofreading which I will do at a later date

Day 4 – On my own two feet

Today is the day that I say goodbye to friends and head to London to meet my group. I found myself with little sleep as the excitement and anxiety started to build. I was having fears of summer camp part 2, having such a amazing time the first time, the second round could not hold up to expectation. In Australia, I left with some lifelong friends, would I have those after this trip? Will there be other travelers who speak English? These people will essentially be my family and friends over the next 30 days… will I like them? will they like me?

I was dropped to the train station, with instructions on how to get the St. Pancras International, which I managed to do, with some help along the way. I had a bit of trouble with the London Tube system, as it wasn’t as intuitive as I had expected it to be. With all the different lines and similar colors, I found myself staring at it perplexed, wondering which shade of purple was the line that I wanted. I decided to just find someone to ask for help. Alas I made it to my destination.

With nearly four hours to kill, I dropped my luggage, and decided to try to go outside the station to find lunch.  This turned out to be a mistake! I would have been better off in the station as I found myself in a world of chains. The one pub I did find, seemed to already have been occupied by the town locals, that I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to mingle with at 2pm on a Monday. I ended up settling for a sandwich shop, and had to pay more for my food for dining in! After, I set my self up at a coffee shop in the station and worked on this blog!

I must say, waiting in anticipation, made the time crawl. I found myself watching people around me, and wondering if they were part of my group.  Finally, it was time and all my anxiety melted.  We seem to have a really good group, and all but 4 of us are from Australia. Apparently, if you want to find an Australian, you don’t go looking in Australia! Everyone is very nice and I am more excited for this trip.

We hopped on an 8pm train to Paris, where we arrived at our hostel close to midnight with the time change. The hostel we are at is very nice, aside from my bed which seems to have a hill in the middle of it. It is like the Princess and the Pea, although I am not brave enough to lift the mattress to see if there is something underneath it.

A funny tidbit from yesterday that I forgot, I have yet to adjust to being in a different time zone, although my phone is on Boston time so I have no excuse. Yesterday morning, 10am my time, 5am Boston time, I saw some exciting news on Facebook. I was so excited that I sent a text messages out to two different people, only to realize in horror that I sent 5am text messages on a Sunday morning.

Fun fact of the day, that I learned from my roommates, Thomas Crapper was the inventor of the flush toilet. The lore is that this is where the phrase, “going to the Crapper” or “taking a crap” came from. Upon doing some googling, there is another explanation for the origin of the phrase, however, I like the first explanation best!

Off to explore Paris tomorrow.

Day 3 – Lazy Sunday

After a late night Friday and a long day Saturday, we were due for a lazy day. Plus, I was going to help Silke with packing her backpack… since it went sooo well for me!

The one thing we did do, was walk over to the local grocery store to pick up items for lunch. Being around food, whether in a shop or a cafe is when I realize I am not in America anymore! Thankfully Silke is fluent in American as well, as she is able to translate certain items into their American name. Something noticeable in the grocery store, is that a good deal of things come in smaller portions. I took advantage of this time to just have a look around, as there was many items I did not recognize or the flavor blends were different then the ones I am used to.

The very best part of this shopping excursion was running into the American Section. I now wonder if other cultures are as offended as I found myself when they go into American shops and find their section. What I found in this American section was Pop-Tarts, Twinkies and a whole lot of candy!

The American Aisle
The American Aisle

Now I understand that a lot of the same things I eat, they also carry as traditional items in the market, but is this really what America brings to the table?! Is our culinary addition, processed foods full of fat and sugar! They even carried flavors I have never heard of before, like lime filled Twinkies and the equivalent to Lucky Charms but also with chocolate bits. And to boot, they had some of the worst for you Pop-Tart flavors! They really should have just labeled this section – diabetes. Needless to say, I did not purchase anything from this section.

After shopping, we spent a lot of the day packing up Silke. I must admit, it is much better being the helper rather than the packer! I found myself laughing a lot, because the emotions she was experienced were mine only a couple days ago. The frustration and the struggle of wanting and trying to pack everything you own. Trying to justify why you “need” to bring something even though it is similar to other things you “need” as well. I still remember sitting on the floor with an overstuffed bag, nearly in tears over my boots not fitting and needing to pack them.

As my last full day in England, it was nice to just lazy around and be ready for a busy day ahead, heading to London to join my group and leaving for Paris. This European adventure has just only started and tomorrow I will go back to standing on my own two feet!

Day 2 – Off to meet the Queen

 

Emillee, Silke and I along the Thames
Emillee, Silke and I along the Thames

Today we planned a day trip to London, where Silke and I met up with Emillee, one of my travel companions from my trip to Australia. It was so great to see her again and catch up after nearly 2 years. You never know how it will go when you bring two friends together, but I must say, once again it went exceptionally well!

The actual plan for the day was to walk around London and see some sights but also to just be together and chat. I must admit, aside from London being an unfamiliar city, I don’t necessarily feel like I am in a different country, and I think that helps to be surrounded by familiar faces.

Buckingham Palace from the side
Buckingham Palace from the side
Queen Victoria Statue
Queen Victoria Statue
Coldstream Guard with bearskin in front of Buckingham Palace
Coldstream Guard with bearskin in front of Buckingham Palace
Emillee and I in front of Buckingham Palace
Emillee and I in front of Buckingham Palace

Once we arrived and met up, we walked over to Buckingham Palace. The Queen was not in and being off-peak they were not doing the Changing of the Guard that day. I was able to get a shot of the Guardsmen in front of the Palace. It was great practice switching lenses and using my zoom lens to get in close.

As we were leaving, we witnesses the Household Cavalry headed down the Mall. It was quite an unexpected surprise but what a sight it was!

Household cavalry headed down the Mall
Household Cavalry headed down the Mall

We continued our journey through St. James’s Park where we saw a lot of water fowl. There were these three pelicans that looked to be patrolling the lake, with what we guessed to be the senior at the head. We also observed coot with their chicks, a couple of heron as well as the great crested grebe. They were so fun to watch as they dove under water for fish, with their butts up in the air!

Three pelicans patrolling the lake in St. James's Park
Three pelicans patrolling the lake in St. James’s Park
A Coot with it's baby fishing in the lake in St. James's Park
A Coot with it’s baby fishing in the lake in St. James’s Park
The Great Crested Grebe catching a fish in the lake in St. James's Park
The Great Crested Grebe catching a fish in the lake in St. James’s Park
A heron in St. James's Park
A heron in St. James’s Park

We rounded out being a tourist with the red phone box, pictures with the Bobbies (which unfortunately did not come out), the London Eye, the Elizabeth Tower at noon to hear Big Ben, the Tower of London, and the Tower Bridge, which to me looked straight out of a fairy tail.

The London Eye
The London Eye
Silke and I at the Tower Bridge
Silke and I at the Tower Bridge
Elizabeth Tower at noon to hear Big Ben
Elizabeth Tower at noon to hear Big Ben
London's Red Phone Box
London’s Red Phone Box

With all this sight seeing, we needed to eat so we walked over to a outdoor market to grab lunch. As it turned out, the theme was Africa, so almost all the food vendors were African inspired dishes… which made me more nervous of how much I may not be eating in Africa.

The Walking Talkie building that houses London's Sky Garden
The Walking Talkie building that houses London’s Sky Garden
Sky Garden
Sky Garden

The last activity was going up to the Sky Garden, located on the 35th floor of the Walkie Talkie Building.  Unfortunately with the rain, we were not allowed out of the viewing deck, but we did have quite a 360 degree view of London.  This is where we had the best view of the Gherkin, the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge!

The view of the Gherkin from the Sky Garden
The view of the Gherkin from the Sky Garden
The view of the Tower Bridge from the Sky Garden, raised for a yacht to pass
The view of the Tower Bridge from the Sky Garden, raised for a yacht to pass
Sky Garden view of the Tower of London
Sky Garden view of the Tower of London

For doing London in a day, I think we did pretty well! It really was so great to see friends that I never get to see and explore a city while doing it.

The one thing that surprised me, was the rifles that most of the guards were holding. I was under the impression that London police did not carry gun, and some did not, but the guards in and around some of the buildings were all carrying some powerful rifles. It makes sense, but I was not expecting it.

The fun fact of the day, Big Ben is the bell inside the clock in the Elizabeth Tower, so unless you go inside you do not see Big Ben, you just can hear him. Big Ben is responsible for the “bong” of each hour only, and not the chimes that happen prior or on every 15 minutes.

The Bull with his Mariachi
The Bull with his Mariachi

Funniest sight of the day, was what we could only assume was a Bachelor party, where all the men where Mariachi and the bachelor was the bull.

 

The first day is always a struggle

Disclaimer: This post was written on little sleep, so I may need to edit it later!

After an uneventful but nearly sleepless flight I have made it to London! I made it through customs, although between not sleeping and needing a restroom, I struggled to form sentences to the questions the agent was asking me. To say the very least, it did not go smoothly, but I made it through, then was off to pick up my bag, with a quick pit stop along the way!

Our flight made record time and we made it into London nearly an hour ahead of schedule. Thankfully, my friend was following my flight and was waiting for me, waving her arms at an end of a line of waiting people. It was an exciting sight to have someone waiting for me. After speaking only through text for the last year, it was great to actually see her and be able catch up in person.

As the title says it all, the first day is a struggle. We thankfully had a low key day, one that I as able to schedule an hour nap in. We walked around my friend’s home town of Walton-on-Thames and did a lot of chatting. I even successfully order myself a breakfast sandwich, bacon and egg on a baguette, and a coffee. I must say the bacon here was loads better then what they have in Australia! So far, I feel it has been an easy transition, with simple adjustments, like where to sit in the car as the passenger! I look forward to spending this time with friends, and exploring London before I am off to explore more of Europe. Tonight, we are headed out to go Salsa dancing and then a much needed good night sleep before a day in London.