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Showing posts from August, 2017

At the Heart of the Ancient City

Rome is old.  Old in a way most places are not.  It;s not as old as Greece or Egypt.  But it's plenty old.

Today I walked through the remains of the Imperial Palace on Palatine Hill.  A palace so ancient it is the literal origin of the word 'palace'.  It was hard, among the ruins, to imagine the day-to-day lives of the emperors and citizens and slaves.  But I imagine they too complained about the heat, enjoyed the view, and thanked their good fortune to be where they were.  Well, probably not the slaves so much, but the other ones definitely.

After the Palatine and the Forum (the heart of Roman society) it was onto the Colosseum.  Tickets and entry for the Palatine were quick but even with the ticket that was good for the Colosseum it would've been a hell of a long wait, especially with the added crowds thanks to the Vatican Museums being closed.  So I opted to skip the line with a guided tour.  Fifteen Euros.  Easily the cheapest of the line-skippy tours, thanks to m…

You Could Say I ROME'D Around!! (But you probably shouldn't)

Took the train into Rome from Florence this morning.  No issues with the high speed train.  Took a quick cab (less than 10 Euros) to my hotel hidden in the back streets of Rome's central area.  I mean it's basically right in the middle of the city centre.  Only problem is that the 'single' bed, which in Florence was slightly smaller than a double, is real small, like dorm room small.  Four nights.  Hopefully I don't roll onto the floor.

Since I had the afternoon I took to seeing the outdoor sights nearby.  The first was Piazza Navona, a big plaza with three fountains and an assload of tourists (including me).  Then a two millennia-old temple to the ancient gods called the Pantheon -- it's technically a church now -- but it's still in the Roman style.  Took a ten euro quick tour with a guy they said was an 'archaeologist'.  I have no idea whether or not that's true but the tour was entertaining and worth the ten euro.  Plus I learned that Raphae…

Oh! Venice!

I was not hyped for Venice.  I booked the tour a few days ago--three hours in a bus, followed by half hour on a train before we even got there--and how good could it really be?  You've heard all the superlatives -- most beautiful, incredible, unique and stunning etc.  I'd heard it all too, but after three and half hours of travel even the perfect can seem disappointing.  Still, all the movies and the pop culture and the travel cynicism in the world didn't mean anything when I turned the first bend on the Grand Canal.

Believe the hype.  Venice is amazing.

It's a testament to human adaptability and ingenuity -- founded to escape barbarians after the fall of Rome and built on top of trees forced so deep they became petrified in the ground.  A city that became so rich that art and beauty is literally everywhere you look.  St Mark's Basilica (or San Marco's) (no pictures allowed) -- the largest church in a city with over sixty of them -- has a mosaic ceiling but in…

A Few Days in Florence

Today is my last full day to experience Florence and I spent the morning at Uffizi Gallery, built on the collection of the De Medici's, and expanded for centuries.  Many of the statues are copies of Greek statues but even those copies date to the Renaissance and those copies still needed to be carved by masters.  Makes you wonder--at what point does it being a copy mean anything at all?

It did have several original paintings including, of course, the Birth of Venus by Botticelli, who was so good for his time it was scary.  Plenty of other greats too, Raphael, Caravaggio (whose style was well loved by the De Medicis), and Leonardo's great unfinished masterpiece, the Adoration of the Magi--which is returning after being under restoration.

So a big day for art.  Yesterday was more of a city walk type of thing where I lined up to get into the Florence Cathedral (Santa Maria del Fiore).  That's its full name but mostly it's called Il Duomo for it's massive dome contain…

Au Revoir Paris, Buon Giorno Florence!

France provides a very strange sort of triage for taking pictures.  Sure, that building is beautiful, anywhere else it'd be worth taking a picture, but in Paris?  Is it even top 20%?  If no, I'm saving my phone's hard drive for something else. 

On my last day in Paris I saw the Cathedral Notre Dame on the island where Paris was founded by the Parisii celts years before the Roman Empire came in and took over.  The Romans changed the name to something suitably Roman (Lutetia) and then to Paris in because people never really stopped calling it that.  I guess it was just supposed to be Paris.

Notre Dame was big and impressive but not beautiful, not spectacular.  For that I went to the Church of the Madeleine right near the Place De La Concorde.  Absolutely gorgeous Napoleonic-era Church in the Neo-Classical style (so much so it looks like a Roman Temple from the outside).  I had some Steak-frite at a local brasserie and then went to bed for an early flight to Florence.

I took…

Juste le... le... how do you say bill in French?

If I have any regrets on this trip it will probably be not allocating enough time to Paris.  After an afternoon arrival thanks to my absurdly fast Eurostar train -- seriously the outside world looked like it went by in fast forward -- I took in the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, and then the Grand and Petit Palaces.  Everywhere I turned there was something new and yet more attractions of history and art on my map pulled me just beyond where I was.

My big plan was to go to the Louvre tomorrow (my last day in Paris) but I just found it the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.  Only Tuesdays.  Why?  Ask the Louvre.  Still I plan to be in the area anyway to take a good look at the Notre Dame Cathedral and a whole host of things I probably don't even know about yet.

I'm getting by okay on my crappy high school french, augmented with a little help from a translation app.  I'm nowhere near conversational though.  I do the verbal equivalent of pointing at the menu.  Still when pu…

Tubes and Towers and Treasures

One thing I've learned from this trip is not to push myself too hard in the service of seeing something instead of taking a necessary rest.  I have to be on a train tomorrow and exhausting myself makes me irritable and unpleasant, and no one wants that, least of all me.  As a result I missed the National Gallery today, which is a loss, but one I'm willing to take in service of not feeling like a zombie tomorrow.

I did see the British National Museum today.  One the one hand it was incredible to see such a huge collection of antiquities from around the world.  On the other it was sort of like Britain bragging about all the cool shit they stole when they were overseas.  I did enjoy the Roman treasure hoards hidden under English farmhouses and being able to see the Rosetta Stone up close.  Also I have no idea how anybody read cuneiform -- it takes a sharper eye than mine that's for sure.


Also, I did make it out to the Tower of London.  Had to take the tube which is not exact…

A Dreamy Day in London

London is a not-very-attractive city surrounding an incredibly beautiful city.  I suppose that's true for most cities but it's especially true of London.  Coming in from the east end (I arrived at London City Airport on CityJet -- basically their version of Porter but with jets -- the level of shift in aesthetics was jarring.

I took an Uber in to save a few pounds and he turned out to be a reasonable tour guide on the way, pointing out the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London as well as some other landmarks.

I arrived at around 8:30 at my hotel which understandably did not have my room ready yet.  I knew this was likely, so operating on a questionable amount of sleep (I can never sleep well before and early flight -- my brain always thinks I'm going to miss it) I headed out into London.  I stared at the Underground map for several minutes and then decided to walk.  I picked this hotel because it was relatively close to everywhere and it paid off today.

It's right besi…

Saying Goodbye to the Emerald Isle

Wow, record viewership numbers on that last post.  Apparently I need to publicly consider giving up more often.  Builds the readership!

Alas, I'm not leaving Europe just yet.  I'm also not planning on spending endless amounts of time (and money) drifting from place to place like a rootless playboy -- though it'd be a fun couple of months.  No, I went back and hammered at an itinerary until I ended up getting something into shape that I could live with as my first European trip (of hopefully many) .

This means whirlwind tours through London and Paris -- and I'm taking the eurostar from one to the other so I'm looking forward to that.  Spending a little more time with breathing room in Italy.  A little over week there thanks to surprisingly low hotel prices -- probably because it's super-hot.  Athens was potentially on the docket but I couldn't make a plane flight out of there cost anything in the way of reasonable, so it's Rome to home.

Asia is still a …

Ireland, the Devil, and Me

The Irish have a saying, "May you already be in heaven before the devil finds out your dead."  Our bus driver told us that as he dropped us off back in Dublin after a long day out in Northern Island with a quick ride through Belfast, and up along the northern coast to the Giants Causeway--a span of basalt pillars reaching out into the sea.



Maybe I was expecting too much.  Maybe I've been spoiled by the Grand Canyon.  But I found the Giants Causeway somewhat unimpressive.  It was weird shaped rocks by the sea basically.  I will admit the overall tour was pretty good.  We saw the peace walls still separating the Catholic and Protestant sections of Belfast.  And we got to see a bunch of trees that were apparently used in Game of Thrones.  The weather started bad but ended up prettying itself up quite nicely.  The tour itself was only 50 Euros--probably one of the best tour deals I've ever been on.

Incidentally absolutely no passport checks entering Northe…

(Barely) Made it to Dublin

Well, I made it to Dublin.  Took some doing.  Got a great airfare out of Toronto with the caveat that I needed to take a ten hour layover in St Johns.  So I figured: Bonus, free day in Newfoundland.

St John's is a pretty city filled with nice people.  Smelled like the sea.  And a fair bit of weed. They like to blaze out there.



Went up to Signal Hill, the big central attraction which has a beautiful view of the harbor and the city and has historical significance not just for being a former fortification but the place where Marconi first heard the telltale beeps of the wireless coming across the ocean.  It was a good day even though I was exhausted at the start of it thanks to my overnight at Pearson, but I slept most of the flight out.

They almost didn't let me in to Ireland.  My fantastical dreams of meandering around Europe indefinitely got dashed pretty hard by the customs officer.  Apparently they don't love people who show up with no established exit time or ticket.  …