Rome [Part 4]

ROME_ DAY 3

For our third day in Rome, we spent a rainy Saturday exploring the Roman Forum and Colosseum. We set off at 8:30, taking Metro Line B Termini to the Colosseo stop.

I read many tips that suggested going to the Forum first, purchasing the joint ticket for the Forum and Colosseum, and avoiding the long lines at the Colosseum. Everything I read was completely true. There was no line at the Forum when we arrived. We purchased our tickets no problem and walked through the Forum. There were few other people when we started, though the longer the day went on the busier it got. It rained the entire day unfortunately, which made walking around the Forum a bit difficult and muddy, but I loved the fact that we weren’t feeling rushed or pressed by crowds.

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It’s amazing seeing these ruins and imagining them as they were at the height of the Roman empire. Roads, shops… an entire metropolitan city unfolds before your eyes.

The Forum and the Colosseum are right next to each other, which makes it easy to work your way from one to the other, no matter which you start with.

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When we arrived at the Colosseum there were several long lines. Again, since we had already purchased our joint ticket we didn’t have to wait in the line to purchase our ticket. Most people have caught onto these tricks over the years, so I imagine the lines for those who already have tickets will eventually be just as long, if not longer, than those who still have to purchase a ticket.

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Booking tour guides or joining group tours has never been of much interest to me. Of course local tour guides have a wealth of knowledge and I’m always up for learning new things, but I tend to enjoy exploring and discovering on my own. Yet I went back and forth on this point when planning my trip to Rome for one reason: the only way to walk the floor or lowest level of the Colosseum is to do so as part of a booked tour. In the end I decided to forego the tour, but I would 100% recommend it as I wanted nothing more than to be with the people walking around the lowest level as I was in the Colosseum.

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Even though it felt like we had already experienced an entire day, it was only lunch time. Andrea, our London host, had another wonderful recommendation for us; Taverna dei Quaranta, located near the Colosseum at 24 via Claudia.  I highly recommend eating here before or after visiting the Colosseum. It is just a short walk, and it was absolutely delicious. I ate the best carbonara of my life here! It was also nice to get out of the rain for a while.

I want to note that while I’ve been much more dedicated to learning Italian in recent months, I didn’t speak much Italian at all, outside of hello, goodbye, and excuse me, while I was in Italy. We didn’t have any issues the entire time. Of course this is to be expected at such huge tourist destinations as the Vatican Museums and the Colosseum, but the staff at the restaurants were wonderful as well, despite our occasional difficulties in understanding each other.

After returning to our AirBnB to warm up and dry off, we headed out again, back to via del Corso and the Piazza di Spagna area for some shopping. We spent some time casually wandering around, making our way from Campo de Fiori back to Piazza di Spagna. Karol had yet to experience true Italian gelato so we stepped into a gelateria and changed that unfortunate fact immediately. We wandered around, eating our gelato, and stumbled upon a street band performing to a rapidly growing crowd. We stopped to listen and heard them play some great songs. I’m not sure what it is about the younger generation in Europe, but they are obsessed with 70s and 80s American rock bands. I could always count on hearing a group of my students in France playing Pink Floyd during their free periods in the courtyard.

It’s the unexpected experiences like this that make traveling what it is.

Travel tip: Keep an open mind and stay patient when traveling in countries where a different language is spoken. Make an effort to learn the basics and your attempts will be appreciated!

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Rome [Part 3]

Vatican City, the Vatican Museums, and St. Peter’s Basilica were all so gorgeous that I took hundreds of pictures. Here are just a few that didn’t make it into my last post.

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I hope you enjoyed these photos! Stay tuned for day three in Rome!

Rome [Part 2]

ROME_ DAY 2 (1)

A visit to Vatican City is a must when in Rome. We purchased our tickets ahead of time online at https://biglietteriamusei.vatican.va/musei/tickets/do. This allows you to skip the line to purchase tickets, though depending on the time you arrive you will probably have to wait in line to get in the museums.

We decided to head out early, around 7:30, so we could be there when the Vatican opened and (hopefully) beat the line. Our plan did not go off without a hitch. Peppe explained, in great detail, how to lock and unlock the door when we arrived the night before. Yet I managed to get the key stuck in the door at 7:30 am, which resulted in Peppe having to tear the lock apart with a screw driver. Not my best moment.

We hopped on the Metro at the stop just around the corner from our AirBnB, taking Line A from Termini to Ottaviano. IMAG4914When we got to the Vatican Museums the lines were surprisingly short.

We started by heading straight to the Sistine Chapel, zooming through the museum itself, in an attempt to get to the Chapel before it was completely swamped with people. We spent a good deal of time in the Chapel and were fortunate enough to get a seat inside. Photos are not allowed in the Sistine Chapel. Many people break this rule but I didn’t feel right sneaking a photo. Not just because the guards are there either. I don’t think a photo could ever capture the true feeling of experiencing the works of art for yourself.

 

 

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See my next post for more photos of the Vatican Museums! 

After spending some time in the Sistine Chapel we made our way back through the museum, taking our time. The Raphael Rooms were by far my favorite part.

Once we ended up back at the Sistine Chapel we headed out the back and made our way around to the front of St. Peter’s Basilica and Square. By this time the crowds were getting much heavier. The good thing about the Museums and Chapel is that, lines aside, you can spend as much, or as little, time as you want inside.

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At Jocelyn and Andrea’s (our AirBnB hosts in London) recommendation we went to Pizzarium for lunch. It’s a small pizzeria, packed with tourists and locals alike, where you select slices of dozens of different pizzas and pay by weight. You’ll be lucky to get a stool inside or a spot on a bench outside. Don’t be shy either. The line was out the door and if you don’t jump at the chance to order, someone will take your place!

After lunch we took the metro to explore Northern Rome a bit. We exited at Flaminio metro stop, walked through Piazza del Popolo, and strolled through the Monte Pincio – a park overlooking the city. The gardens and fountains were beautiful and we only walked through a small section. I’d definitely recommend a picnic here on a nice day.

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Our walk through the park brought us to Piazza Trinità dei Monti at the top of the Spanish Steps, which we descended into Piazza di Spagna. The Spagna metro stop is just to the side of the Steps as well. Unfortunately the Steps were under construction while we were there.

Nearby is via del Corso, a great street for shopping. We spent some time shopping then set off for the Fontana di Trevi, or Trevi Fountain. The area around the fountain was swarming with people, all trying to get photos and toss coins into the water. When I return to Rome I’ll make it a point to visit the fountain incredibly early in the morning, in hopes of seeing it with just a few people around.

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We had dinner at Origano near the Trevi Fountain. I usually abide by the rule about avoiding restaurants right next to huge tourist attractions, but we were hungry, as always, and didn’t feel like searching out another place. I had a swordfish pasta dish that was decent, though not the best food I ate in Italy.

Travel Tip: We all have travel fails (like getting the keys stuck in the door at 7 am). They’re bound to happen, so don’t let a travel fail bring you down!

Rome [Part 1]

ROME- DAY 1

Ciao ragazzi ! From London my friend Karol and I got on a plane to Rome to explore the Eternal City. We flew into FCO (Fiumicino), arriving around 9:30 pm. Getting from FCO to the city center is very easy. Like most large European cities, the various transit systems are pretty well connected. After landing and shuttling to the main hall of the airport (in a very large, very empty bus, with nothing but poles to hold onto), we bought train tickets at a machine and hopped on the next train into Termini Station.

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As you can see on Google Maps, FCO, in the lower left corner, is just outside the city. 

We booked another AirBnb and this time around we were staying with Peppe and Flo in their third floor flat. Again, the couple had great reviews and the price was very affordable. After arriving at Termini Station, you can easily hop on the metro from within the station, get on the tram at a nearby stop, or walk to your destination if you aren’t too far. We were greeted by Peppe upon arrival, who gave us a tour of the flat. We weren’t the only renters staying there at the time, yet we never saw anyone other than Peppe and Flo throughout our stay. They also provided us with toiletries, towels, a hairdryer, and a few snacks in our room. Personal touches like this are always fun surprises!

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After another long day we were ready for bed, prepared to get up early the next morning for a visit to Vatican City.

Travel Tip: Read the descriptions of your AirBnb rentals closely! Hosts will often list extra items they supply (i.e. hairdryers and towels). Less to pack means more room for things you buy along the way. You can always message your host as well just to double check.

Londres // London [Part 3]

LONDON- DAY 3

Day 3: All about the food

Day three started out with an early morning breakfast at Breakfast Club in Borough Market. We set out at 8:30 and walked to Borough Market from our AirBnb. Breakfast food is my absolute favorite and the menu at Breakfast Club was calling my name. I was told by several Londoners that Borough Market is a must visit for breakfast, and with countless options I can easily see why. If you’re looking for something a bit different than your everyday sit down restaurant, you can grab a bite from a market stall while walking around.

After breakfast we made our way to Abbey Road by taking the underground from Waterloo Station to St. John’s Wood. I have to note that I only did this for my mom. I’m not a big Beatles fan, but when in Rome (or when your mother makes a special request from half way around the world). It was pouring rain from the second we stepped out of the tube until well after our photo shoot, but we weren’t the only ones braving the elements for our chance at a Beatles inspired photo op.

 

The crossing has a webcam set up that allows you to watch the crosswalk live. We gave my mom a call while en route and she was able to tune in and watch all the way from the States. Unfortunately there was some road work underway. It made for a bit of a struggle trying not to get construction cones in our photos, but overall it was a good experience. Don’t forget to stop by the Beatles Store on Baker Street for every type of memorabilia imaginable!

Anyone who knows me knows I LOVE shopping. So of course, even though we spent a bit of the previous day shopping, we managed to squeeze more window shopping in.

The highlight of day three was Afternoon tea at the Wolsely. (*link to Wolsely site*) What comes to mind when you think of London, or England in general? Tea right? Stereotypical but afternoon tea was at the top of my list. Of course you have an endless number of options, ranging from casual and affordable to very formal, and by default much more expensive. We opted for something in the middle at the recommendation of Jocelyn, our host.

Reservations are key, though we were able to make ours just the day before.

If it was up to me, afternoon tea would be a work-day requirement. Good conversation over tea and cakes is a great way to recharge.

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From the Wolsely we made our way to the Tower of London and Tower Bridge for another photo op. If you want to go inside the Tower of London you do have to pay. We opted to enjoy it briefly from the outside, before walking across the Tower Bridge to make our way back to our AirBnb for dinner.

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Our hosts have something they call Webber Wednesdays. Every week they have friends over for Wednesday night dinner, much like myself, Liz, and Emilie did in France. They were incredibly kind and invited us to join in. We had dinner with an amazing group of friends from all over the world; Rwanda, Digne (France), Thailand, and even Minnesota. We capped the evening off with hazelnut gelato from Andrea’s shop. Webber Wednesday was the perfect end to our short time in London.

Travel Tip: Step out of your comfort zone and try something new! If we hadn’t booked a room in a flat with people living in, we would have missed out on the incredible experience of Webber Wednesday. These are the experiences that make travelling such a wonderful, enlightening adventure.

Up next: Roma and Venezia!

 

Londres // London [Part 2]

London- Day 2 (1)

Day 2: Touristing Hard

From Platform 9 ¾ to Big Ben and the London Eye, our first full day in London was jam packed. When I visit a place for the first time I tend to be a road warrior; ready to pound the pavement at a relentless pace taking in absolutely everything. Our plan for day two was to head to the farthest point on our agenda – King’s Cross Station, home of Platform 9 ¾, then work our way back toward home.

The long, rainy walk to King’s Cross Station was not my smartest idea. While viewing slivers of London streets under the overhang of an umbrella is probably the most authentic way to experience the city, our lives would have been much easier if we had opted to take the tube instead.

Platform 9 ¾ was touristy and cheesy and I have to admit that I loved it. I was easily persuaded to buy the photo I waited in line to pose for.

 

The photos we took ourselves were a bit blurry – one of the major reasons we decided to spring for the photos taken by the photographer working there. For someone who grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, visting King’s Cross, and London in general, was a dream come true.

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The gorgeous St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel – who wouldn’t love to stay here?!

From King’s Cross we made our way to The British Museum. I love to visit at least one museum when I’m traveling. With such a rich history and so many to choose from, everyone is bound to find a museum with something that piques their interest.

IMAG4647 Of course it would be easy to spend an entire day in The British Museum, but we limited ourselves to just a few hours.

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Lunch consisted of sandwiches at a café just off Oxford Street. With all of the incredible restaurants in London we could have sought out something much more impressive, but we opted for quick and casual. I would definitely recommend stopping in a café for a quick snack or lunch on a busy day. You’ll find a Pret a Manger on nearly every corner.

Our plan for the afternoon was to hit as many landmarks as possible. And of course when I say our plan, I really mean my plan. I tend to forget that most people don’t regularly walk upwards of 10 miles a day. Sorry family and friends!

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We bounced from Oxford Street to Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, St. James Park, Buckingham Palace, The Wellington Museum and Arch, Westminster / Westminster Abbey and Cathedral, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament. I had every intention of dragging us to Covent Garden, Somerset House, Jubilee Gardens, and Hungerford as well but sometimes (all the time ?) there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

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The highlights of the day for me were the multi-story Primark (I could easily get lost and spend days in the wonderland that is Primark), along with the sight of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament from the Westminster Bridge. I’m going to share my unpopular opinion and say I wasn’t too impressed with Buckingham Palace, though I don’t regret taking the time to see it.

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Construction/Rehab was literally the theme of our vacation. It’s an unfortunate but necessary thing you’ll have to deal with when you travel. 

Travel Tip: Take public transportation when travelling! Live like a local as much as possible. Your feet will thank you for it.

Londres // London [Part 1]

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Day 1: Travel · Check-in · Explore

I flew from Nice to London Gatwick on British Airways and had a great experience. The staff was friendly and the complimentary lunch on board was good as well.

At Gatwick I reunited with my friend Karol after nearly a year apart and we made our way to the train we had pre-purchased tickets for. The Thameslink is a fast and easy way to get from the airport to a more central point in London. We took the Bedford line from Gatwick to Blackfriars Station. I would recommend using trains, trams, and metros as opposed to taxis; they provide a cheaper and more authentic experience.

 

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We stayed in the Southwark neighborhood. I had asked a London native which areas were the best to stay in, but ultimately based my decision on Airbnb reviews and availability. [Source:Google Maps]
From the  train station we made our way to our Airbnb – just about a twenty minute walk with luggage. We booked a room in an apartment with a couple – an American woman and Italian man, very close in age to ourselves. They had great reviews and the location and price couldn’t be beat. We scheduled it with the hosts to drop off bags, even though the room was not supposed to be ready until later in the evening. People are usually willing to work with you if you give them enough advance notice. Booking an Airbnb where the owners live in may seem daunting at first but can really be a great experience. As long as you do your research and read the reviews you can end up with an amazing place to stay. First-hand advice from locals and a cozy space to come home to at night are just a few of the benefits. For ourselves in particular, it was nice to have a fellow American and ex-pat, as well as a native Italian. We were able to bond over the differences between the States and Europe, and at the same time got countless tips and suggestions for our upcoming travels in Italy.

After dropping off our bags at the Airbnb we began site-seeing, with the intention of visiting the London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Tower of London (£), Monument to the Great Fire, St. Paul’s Cathedral, One New Change rooftop, Shakespeare’s Globe, and the Tate Modern.

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Don’t forget to check out the view from the roof top of the One New Change building! You can see the Londone Eye peeking out between two buildings in the distance. 
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I can’t say I was surprised London welcomed us with rain. 

The day ended back at the Airbnb getting acquainted with Jocelyn and Andrea over a dinner of homemade lasagna and pistachio gelato from the shop Andrea works at.

The first day was overwhelming – exciting, stressful, hectic, busy, wonderful. Visiting a new city is a whirlwind and day one in London did not disappoint.

Travel tip: Remember to pack light when possible. More often than not you’ll be carrying your bags up and down several flights of stairs.

I am, in fact, not dead…

After nearly a year long hiatus I am making my return to blogging. My blog’s identity is a bit up in the air right now as I’m no longer abroad, but I’m confident that it’ll grow and evolve naturally as I get back into the swing of things. I spent last May travelling after my TAPIF contract ended, and I’m finally ready to share my insights and experiences with you!

How do you prepare for a city you’ve never visited before? For myself it always starts with lists: a packing list and a to-do list. I was a notorious over-packer before living in Europe (though some friends would say I still am). I feel like I’ve made great strides in limiting myself.

The tricky part about this packing list was that I had to pack for three different cities in two different countries: London, Rome, and Venice. Obsessively checking the weather and reading other blog posts definitely helped.

IMAG5805 (2)Luckily my French phone plan allowed me data and calling in most countries around Europe so I wasn’t too concerned about having every little thing written down, but I do always like to have a paper copy of my itinerary and travel information. I always plan out my routes from airport/train station/bus to hotel/Airbnb ahead of time, and have it written down as well as in my phone just in case.

Despite my fascination with maps, I’m not usually one to carry a map around a city. This time around though I purchased waterproof maps – one for each city. Neither myself nor my travelling companion, Karol, speak Italian so having maps on hand seemed like a good idea.

I had never created such a meticulous travel itinerary before, but wanted to fit as much in as possible, taking into consideration what both Karol and I were interested in seeing. I started with a list of the places/monuments/sites I wanted to see in each location. I took the advice of friends who had been to London, Rome, and Venice into consideration as well. It always helps to have multiple opinions on a city; everyone sees places differently.

Next, get out your map and find out which places on your list are closest to each other. Leave wiggle room – the weather might change, you might end up stumbling across something that was never on your list. Exploring aimlessly can be an incredible experience. Do what’s right for you – cross things off your list you don’t think you’ll have time for, don’t cross anything off your list just in case. I tried to plan a logical daily schedule for us. Stay tuned to find out how successful I was!

Weekend Coffee Share: 7/23/2016

If we were sitting down over a cup of coffee you’d see me drinking my Tim Hortons coffee out of my Starbucks mug, while eating peanut butter chocolate chip pancakes. A very American breakfast.

Of course I would offer you some; whatever you would like. I’d tell you that I’m getting ready to go on vacation in a few days. I’m headed to Madeira Beach, Florida; a small beach town on the Gulf of Mexico. I leave Tuesday, but I’m nowhere near being packed yet. Nearly all of the things I want to take with me have made their way to a single chair in the living room though, so that’s a start right?

In my defense I have other things on my mind right now. I’ll tell you that I went to a birthday party for my friend’s son last night. He turned 3! She is one of very few people from my middle school/high school days that I am still friends with, and I am grateful for it. I had a great time at their house as usual. It’s always nice to spend time in good company. The days and months since I’ve gotten back from France have flown by, and even though I’ve been making an effort to catch up with everyone I missed while I was gone, I still feel like I haven’t spent nearly enough time with friends. I guess we’ll always feel that way though.

The other thing on my mind is what book I’m going buy for my vacation! Anyone who knows me will tell you that I absolutely love to read. As a kid, during the summer, I would go to the library and check out the maximum 7 books. After devouring them in no time, I’d be back at the library picking out more. While I don’t have nearly as much time to read now, I still try to do so as often as I can. For those of you who have Amazon Prime, and a Kindle, did you know you’re eligible for a Kindle first free book every month? Each month I get an email with a small selection of next month’s releases, and get to choose one to send to my Kindle for free. I try to be a good reader, not just judging the books by the images of their covers in the email, yet every time I read the descriptions of each book I end up torn between two. It’s hard to choose just one! The decision has been made though, and this time around I chose Midair by Kody Scheer. A novel about four girls’ suspenseful trip to Paris. Fitting right?

Finally I’d ask you about some of the great books you’ve read lately. What are they? I’m always on the lookout for new material! Until next time ..

Sieu Nissa

After 8 months living in Nice the city became my second home. Every day I think about the day I’ll return. Today I think about how I walked the Promenade nearly every day – going for a run, heading to the beach, people watching or reading while sitting on one of the famous blue chairs, waiting for the bus on my way to work.

My thoughts are with all of my friends, colleagues, students, and the people of Nice – courage !

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