The first Country people think to plan for a trip to Europe is probably not Belgium. Although the capitol of Brussels is quite well known, primarily for it being the headquarters of the European Union, it’s not a huge tourist destination. While planning our trip to England, we couldn’t decide which city we wanted to spend the last two days of our trip. London’s chunnel is a two hour underwater straight shot to two places on the European mainland- Brussels or Paris. Although we ended up choosing Paris, my thoughts never left Brussels. I started researching and found Belgium is an amazing country – so amazing that I decided to book our next to trip there, adding Amsterdam at the end of it.
On this trip I got that “first time” feeling that I hadn’t really experienced since my first time to Europe. I think it’s because this trip was…
We all know Mexico doesn’t have the best reputation. It’s not clean, not safe and people don’t usually want to visit, other than to a high-end resort. When I was little, my family dared cross the border on one of our trips to California. The reputation didn’t disappoint. It was dirty, children were begging my family to buy Chiclets and my very blond sister was somewhat of a spectacle.
As an adult Twenty years later, my visit to Naples brought back those feelings of Tijuana. The moment we stepped foot out of the train station it was rough. The streets were dirty. Clothes were strung out to dry across the old communist apartment buildings – and not in a charming way. As we walked, there were groups of men standing on street corners trying to sell used electronics that they had got from God knows where. Other groups of shady looking middle-aged men were just standing there talking in the middle of the day as if they had no job or work to attend to. But worst of all were the piles upon piles of garbage on every corner. It was shocking. I’d never seen anything like it. I don’t know if it was garbage pick-up day or what, but if it was, surely they could come up with a better system.
So, this was my first impression.
I had a personal draw to Naples, as my grandfather ported into this city when he was sent to Europe to fight in WWII. I imagined what the city was like during that time compared to what it was now.
My grandfather actually wrote about his arrival in his memoir :
“We arrived in Naples a couple of days before Christmas of 1944 I think and we stayed in one of Mussolini’s orphanages overnight and I remember there were kids and groups all around begging for food. I was just astounded really how little ones were running around and it was cold too. There was no snow but it was really cold and there were kids dressed poorly and I remember a fellow was eating C-rations in the school part there was a big auditorium but you couldn’t sit down you had to stand and eat off of the tables and one of them said“oh this doggone C-ration”and he threw it out the doorway and a bunch of kids dove on it. We never realized just how bad it was.”
I was excited and determined to visit his ported dock, to imagine what he saw and felt as he arrived at such a monumental time in history, but walking through the city, it seemed harder than we would have thought to find the actual port. Turns out we were only a block or so away, but our Naples cabbie who we finally broke down and hailed, conveniently forgot to mention that to us as he drove aimlessly around the city and charged us an arm and a leg for it.
We eventually made it to the port.
The intimidating Volcano Mt. Vesuvius lurked in the background of the coast disguising itself as a welcoming hill, but to those who know its history, it was almost eerie to see in real life. We spent a moment at the quiet port and continued on through the city hoping to hit the few notable land marks my travel book had lined out.
We managed a visit to the Opera House, the Castle and the Royal Palace area. The Opera House was beautiful and the Castle was easy enough to walk by and observe, as it sits right on the coast. The Royal Palace area was grand and could have been much more than it was had it not been an utter ghost town in the large square. It looked like an abandoned empire with litter sprinkled throughout. It looked to me like there had been an event held in the square and they left it that way for weeks after. Despite this, the complex was incredible and I’m sure it would have been much more exciting than it was, had there been a market or something eventful to fill the square.
Before heading back to the Godforsaken train station, we knew we had to try some pizza. Naples is know for being the inventors of pizza, but in my opinion, I would take an American pizza over a Naples one any day. To me, it is bland, too thin and not enough on top, but apparently that’s what a traditional pizza is!
In the end, Naples was not at all what I expected it would be. Traveling to Italy, I think most people expect the country as a whole to be this romantic, incredible place as portrayed in the movies. I realized not ALL parts of Italy have the romance of Tuscany or Florence, but that’s ok, because EVERY place has a story.
I have a dream. I have traveled quite a bit the past few years, and of all the places I’ve been, Prague is where my heart is. The magic of Prague is REAL. I always think about how Disneyland is said to be the most magical place on earth, but what makes it magical are the replicated storybook villages in the park and the movies, very often based on European countries and other far away lands. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, Prague and the country of Czech Republic are still quite an untapped gem for tourists – but I think that’s what makes it so great.
Christmas just ended and I always think of Prague during Christmas time. Not because I went there during Christmas time, but because it is a my dream to go back to Prague during Christmas time. I want to take my little girls there when they are older. Preferably OVER Christmas. I want to see the gorgeous Gothic spires covered in white, the colorful buildings, the Charles Bridge, the majestic castle upon the hill with the icy river below … but most of all, I want to go to the Christmas market in the Old Town Square. I want to buy a few of their famous hand-carved Marionette puppets and eat their delicious brats with the sweet ketchup . .. for some reason, everything is different when it’s cold – yes, sometimes it’s more miserable, but there often seems to be an even more nostalgic feeling to Europe.
SO NOW MY QUESTION TO YOU IS – Where do YOU want to go? If you could go anywhere in the entire world for free, where would it be? Don’t think too hard about it … what is the FIRST thing that comes to mind? I know, it’s a hard question, especially if it’s the ONLY place you will go in your lifetime. But I would absolutely LOVE to know where YOU would go and WHY.
Where do you dream about? What makes you excited? What SEASON do you want to experience this part of the world? Each season comes with a distinctly different feel. Who would you want to take with you? Would you want to go alone and then come home and tell everyone about your great adventures? Or would you want to take your entire family? Would you spend your money on high-end restaurant experiences or eat cheap food on the run? Will you be active? Will you spend the majority of your time hiking, kayaking and rock climbing or will you spend it relaxing and meditating? Or perhaps socializing and drinking?
Please feel free to post your responses in the comments below. I would love to read them!
The afternoon sun was beginning to fade as we found ourselves wondering yet another distinctly different area of London. As if school was being let out for the day, the hustle and bustle of the business district came to life. Slowly, well-dressed men and women began to pool outside and around the perimeter of the local pubs. It looked to me to be more of a cultural event than a simple 5’oclock pint. The intriguing part was the fact that they were all STANDING and drinking OUTSIDE the establishment, and not because it was nice weather and there were tables and chairs set up.Glass pints and wine were being enjoyed. Small ledges were built into the sides of some pubs. It seemed odd to me for patrons to have glassware allowed outside the establishment, but I suppose that is the norm in MY culture. As we walked, I noticed some of these social pools were rather large – even flooding into the street. I have since learned that the after-work-drink-culture IS a very real thing in London, as it’s not just a way to unwind after work, but an excellent way to network.
I was pleased we had stumbled upon this intriguing part of London at this particular time. These unplanned occurrences are often what end up being the most interesting experiences for a tourist!
Getting colder …
Although I had already seen the Tower Bridge, I was determined to actually walk across it before we left. Although it wasn’t Windy, it was like a bone chilling ice tornado on the actual bridge. I accomplished the walk, but I’m not certain that it was entirely worth it! On a positive note, standing on the actual bridge at night is a truly beautiful view of London. Looking to either side, the city lights reflect off the river. Although bitter, the harsh chill in the air seemed to make it even more surreal than it would have been on a warm evening.
A happy ending to a not-so-normal touristy night …
We were officially frozen as we made our way back to the Parliament area to get a few night photos. We decided to stop into a small pub directly across the street from Parliament. The pub was filled with locals and parliament staff that had just got off work. Instead of football (soccer to Americans) being shown on the televisions like in every other pub, the Parliament session that was currently in progress across the street was being shown (parliament sessions sometimes go till ten or eleven at night.) We attempted to eavesdrop on some of the conversations in an effort to expose ourselves as much as possible to the culture and setting!
I tried the London brewed beer, “London Pride” which I enjoyed very much. The bar maid explained to my husband that these “blokes” didn’t know what fun was and that if we wanted to have a good time at a pub in London, we should head up to Soho. I already knew Soho was the nightlife capital of London, and was planning on going there on the last day we would be in London- St. Patick’s day!
I was feeling quite adventurous as I peered out the window of my cab to inner city London that chilly Sunday morning. Out of all the times we had vacationed, this was the first time I had gone anywhere alone without my husband by my side. I was a bit nervous, but mostly excited. I felt a zing of adrenaline that you only get at certain times in your life – that feeling you get all the time when you are a kid – your first time doing something unknown. That’s one of the prime reasons I love travel. Those experiences get less and less as you grow older – you have to search for them as an adult, they don’t come daily as they do when you are young and the world is so new.
Anyway … It was the morning after St. Patrick’s day and we were both feeling less than ideal. But I was in London, England for the first and perhaps the ONLY time in my life, and no amount of two-in-the-morning whiskey was going to hold me down. We had a train to Paris to catch later that morning and I was determined to see something perhaps frivolous to others before I left.
Leaving the hubby in bed, I hailed a taxi like a regular pro. Of course all of the normal thoughts went through my head – will I get back in time, how far exactly is my destination from my hotel, will the cabbie kill me, how do you pay a cabbie, do I even fully understand this currency, am I going to get ripped off ???
Fortunately, all went well, and I have to say I was quite impressed with myself. After the cabbie left, I confidently spun around to face what I had been ever so eager to visit.
There it was –221 Baker Street.
The real location in London of the fictional character Sherlock Holmes and John Watson’s residence. I just love Sherlock Holmes 🙂
Tourists are welcomed inside the house which holds a gift shop on one side and a Victorian replica of what the house would have looked like as described in the books (had it been real) on the other. You walk up several flights of old rickety stairs going from room to room all the way up to the attic. If nothing else, it is interesting to see the inside of one of these old English homes.
Upon entering, I met an extremely friendly blond hair gal from Switzerland who was touring around Europe as well. She too, had fell victim of late night St. Patrick’s shenanigans and had just arrived to London by train. She reported to me that she hadn’t slept and inquired if I’d like to accompany her through the house as well as other parts of London. I would have been so inclined to another adventure with a new person, but I was on a time crunch as it were. So I went through the house with her as best I could before I had to run. We even posed for a picture together as I was Sherlock and she Watson! Oh, what an experience it would have been though getting to know a fellow European and establish a relationship with her. I wish I had more time.
The tall narrow home was adorable and didn’t disappoint. Before I left, I just had to buy a souvenir, but feared I wouldn’t have enough money for the taxi back. So on to my next adventure I went down the street to a cash machine as they call it in Europe, (ATM in the United States). Regrettably, I had let me husband handle the money the entire trip, and was really not at all familiar with the currency or how to summon it from a Cash Machine. Luckily it was very user friendly and easy. Again, I couldn’t believe how smooth everything was going. I frantically purchased my souvenir, hailed a new taxi, and made it back in plenty of time for my next adventure – Paris.
It was nearly 11:00 p.m. at night and there we sat, somehow finding ourselves at one of the most incredible restaurants in the world. I wasn’t sure how we got there, how we pulled it off, but there we were, sitting among what seemed to be the rich and famous, being poured endless glasses of wine. As we went through our 4 courses, I observed the other patrons around me. They probably had this night planned for weeks, their table reserved long in advance . The couple next to us was celebrating an anniversary. Everyone was dressed up. My tourist get-up of jeans, tennis shoes and a jacket were completely out of place. It had been a long day of sightseeing and my hair was on its last leg. Although we were not prepared in the slightest, it made the experience that much more satisfying.
How did we manage a spot at this table? Well, it was very simple really. All I did was ask! Although I was well aware that the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower was expensive, required nice dress and reservations far in advance, for some reason, I took a chance and simply asked. Now, I’m a firm believer that speaking up, questioning and asking does not make you look dumb, rude or ignorant – rather, it opens doors. You never know until you ask and the worst thing someone can say is NO. But if you keep asking, you will notice that you will get far more yes’s than no’s, and if you don’t get a yes, you often get something that leads you closer to what your looking for. So, I asked and the answer was YES!
It was nearly an hour before the restaurant closed for the night, and by some magic miracle, they let us in. They let us in without reservations, looking like slobs. I noticed after we were seated, they turned others away. We couldn’t believe our Luck! We were the last ones let in for the night!
It was the last night of our trip and our last night in Paris. It was perfect.
If your wanting to experience a taste of quintessential old England suburbs that hold some of the most enchanting villages you will ever lay eyes on, look no further than the Cotswolds. The Cotswolds are a set of villages in south central England that cover a 25-by-90 mile area of the English Countryside. There is no main “sight” to go see in this area, just the actual villages themselves. Most villages include a town cathedral and a main street with shops that you can visit. Not many tours come out to this area, so if you have the opportunity, it is best to visit by car. For a laid back day and a taste of the old world, this visit will be worth it.
The Vatican Museum and really any museum in Europe, you can either walk through and get the gist of it or you could spend a week analyzing every part of it. It really is up to you on how involved you want to be. All of them are worth the time, but it just depends on how much time and interest you really have. As I always say, read up on the highlights before you go and make sure you see what you really want to see when you are there instead of paying for an expensive tour that includes more than what you would ever want and skimps on the things you are really interested in.
It is important to note the Sistine Chapel is located at the end of the Vatican museum and will take you directly out to St. Peters Basilica’s entry when you are finished (this means no waiting in line and another security check to go into St. Peters.) You may want to keep this in mind if you are planning on visiting both in the same day, this way, you can tour the museum first to avoid the line to the basilica. The Vatican museum is amazing, but lets start with the line. The line, curving around the large Vatican wall seems overwhelming. You again will be heckled by tour guides to “Skip the line,” but risk being ripped off. Again, as I said with the basilica, the line for the Vatican Museum, goes pretty quickly. You can also reserve a time online and avoid the line altogether which I decided not to do because I wasn’t sure what time we would end up going. You can reserve these times up to three months in advance online @ Reserve Vatican Museum Times
The Vatican Museum to me is the best museum I have been to anywhere. I liked it much more than the overwhelming and enormous Louvre in Paris. What was disappointing about the Vatican museum was how they handled the quantity of visitors. We were herded in like livestock. I don’t know if it just was that it was the last hour of the day and everyone wanted to get in last minute, but there was so many people that at many points we were literally rubbing shoulders with one another. This really took away and made it hard to enjoy the experience of being in the same room of these amazing masterpieces.
The very worst part was when we finally got into the Sistine Chapel. Although they only admitted a certain amount of people in at a time, there was still far too many people for it to seem remotely holy- especially with the groups of young school children. The very worst part was once we were let into the giant Sistine Chapel (it was much large than I expected) the Italian ushers would clap their hands every few minutes and yell at the top of their lungs-“SILENCE!”. I was appalled. First of all, the loudest person in the room was this person trying to keep it so quiet, second, I didn’t find that very respectful to the chapel or to the people in it, and third, these ushers were the ones who controlled how many people they let in at a time! It was handled so horribly. We of course got our obligatory sneaky picture of the chapel ceiling with our heads in it the best we could!
The Vatican museum is an absolute must see on any trip to Rome, not just because the Sistine Chapel (that was so hyped up by the time we got to it it was almost a let down.) The Museum as a whole is amazing. We zipped through it pretty fast being the last hour of the day, but it was good enough for me. The first part of the museum features works from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome then leads through the beautiful hall of maps and tapestries to the renaissance Raphael rooms and finally, the Sistine chapel. My favorite part of the museum were the Raphael rooms and the hall of maps. The ceiling in the hall of maps is indescribable. It looked like it’s made of pure gold. Everything during that time was so elaborate and detailed. The Raphael rooms are incredible because they don’t just feature paintings done by Raphael, they are whole rooms that are painted from top to bottom by Raphael, ceilings and all. The famous School of Athens (the original one) covers the wall of one of these rooms.
The Vatican Museum is a gem that is not to missed on a trip to Rome!
The Greek sculpture pictured above is of Laocoön and his sons. This was buried and lost for more than a thousand years. It was finally unearthed in 1506 A. D. near the Colosseum. This is one of my favorite pieces!
If you want to indulge in arguably the most incredible and not-very-well-known sight in all of Rome/Vatican, you simply CANNOT miss the tour of the necropolis underneath St. Peter’s Basilica.
The necropolis excavations originally began by Pope Pius XII in 1939-50. The necropolis goes down to the ORIGINAL St. Peters foundations built by emperor Constantine in 313 A.D. and then goes even further under to the excavated cemeteries, mausoleums and streets from the 1st and 2nd century. Yes, truly incredible. The tour leads you through the mausoleums and tombs to the spot that is said to be where St. Peter’s tomb originally was placed in this graveyard after being crucified.
This ancient Roman necropolis contains tombs of Pagans and Christians alike and is where St. Peter is known to have been originally buried. You actually are able to view what is said to be St. Peters actual bones and tomb that they found while excavating the necropolis, which is the main highlight of the tour. When you are at the spot of the actual tomb, you will be 33 feet directly beneath the floor of the basilica, the main alter and directly beneath Michelangelo’s dome. It is said that the original St. Peters was built with the alter aligning with this spot, as the modern basilica is today.
Going into the Necropolis is literally going into an underground world that has long been dead and gone-it is amazing, eerie and totally intriguing! In this tour, you will be able to still see whats left of the old writings, frescos and mosaic artwork on the walls and floors of the ruins, which is absolutely incredible, surreal and almost freaky. It gave me chills to think I was standing in a room from so long ago and I could STILL see the artwork as if it was just yesterday.
You will see images of pagan Gods, and others of Christ. They have excavated full streets (tiny, narrow streets) that you walk through while touring each mausoleum. At the time of the first century, you would have been walking at ground level, so at that time, nothing would have been above you but the sky. Today, there is a giant modern day basilica built atop this ancient world. I think the reality of all the layers of Rome boggles peoples minds, but that’s for another post!
How does the Vatican know this is truly Peter’s tomb and bones?
There are many reasons why the Catholic Church has determined these are in fact the bones of St. Peter, although it is a very controversial subject.
Some of the reasons :
* Greek letters inscribed “Peter” and fragments of words that may have said “is here,” or “within” on/near the tomb.
*Early Christians snuck down to the tomb and covered the walls with graffiti that paid tribute to Peter.
*Dirt on the bones that they think are of St. Peters matched the soil in the pauper’ grave.
*A stone found with them had the words “Peter within” carved on it.
*The feet of the body were missing, having been broken off at the ankles. St. Peter was crucified upside down and missing feet are typical because the body is chopped free before burial.
Whether you believe the reasoning or not, this tour and the history of this underground world are truly a hidden Gem that I wouldn’t miss for anything on a tour to Rome.
The main questions that came to mind on my visit was :
What initiated the excavations? I haven’t been able to get a solid answer for this question. I read once that the pope that began the excavations was digging in this spot in order to put in a commemorative monument of the previous pope, but stopped once they hit the graveyard ruins.
Why did they wait clear till the 1940’s to see if they could confirm that St. Peter’s remains were in fact under the basilica?
Why did they stop the excavations after revealing what they believed to be St. Peter’s grave and a few other mausoleums? Think of all the amazing things they could find! But that is the thing about Rome, no matter where you dig, you will find something underneath. You can’t really dig up all of Rome. The Vatican also accidentally discovered more of the Roman necropolis located underneath the Vatican gardens while digging their underground parking garage in 1956. This Necropolis is called via Triumphalis and has been open for tours only as of 2014.
The necropolis is cold, dark, wet and humid like a typical underground ruin. The rules on this tour are very strict and you are not allowed to take any photos. All photos in the slideshow above I got off the internet. Tour groups are small and limited to a certain amount of visitors per day. The excavations are strictly by guided tour only and are an absolute must see if you are able to get a reservation. The only hard part about getting the reservation is remembering to request it months in advance. All it requires is a simple e-mail. I think I requested reservations almost 4 to 5 months in advance and I visited in the off season. There are no set deadlines for submitting requests, so you are able to put it in up to several months in advance, which you would want to do especially during the busy season. Go to the main Vatican website for instructions on what to send in your e-mail request and further instructions.
Many people don’t know about the necropolis or confuse it with the crypt or grotto of the basilica- then realize they can’t get a tour unless reserved long before they got there. The grotto under the church is a completely different thing. The necropolis is underneath the grotto. Others confuse the modern tomb of St. Peter that you can view by looking down to in the basilica as Peters actual tomb, but do not be confused, the original tomb is actually directly below the modern tomb that’s in the necropolis and can only be seen by a previously booked tour.
To find any information on the Vatican website, the search engine is very user friendly to find anything. Just type in “Scavi Excavations,” and the first link will take you to the page with all the instructions on what to include in your e-mail and details on the tour or just click my link above. The e-mail to request reservations is: email@example.com, They then send you a receipt of your email request right away and then within a few days you will get an answer.
To view a very well done virtual tour of the necropolis through the Vatican Website, click the link below.
Vatican City is its own walled off sovereign city-state of roughly 100 acres within the city of Rome. There are also 3 papal basilicas within the city of Rome that are part of Vatican Jurisdiction. The Vatican has its own postal service, train station, and even has its own versions of the Euro coin, like all European countries. The Vatican’s main sights are St. Peters Basilica and the Vatican Museum which contains the Sistine Chapel. Many of the things you see in Rome are hard to believe they’re real- this is one of them. Whether you are religious or not, it is an amazing feeling to be at the heart of such a historic place.
Rome – where in 313 A.D. Christianity was finally legalized by Emperor Constantine changing the course of history to this day. Had he not legalized Christianity, would it be such it is to this day? We will never know.
The Vatican – home and birth of the Catholic Church, where Constantine built what was the first Catholic church, St. Peters Basilica on this spot in 329 A.D.
Photo Outside Vatican Wall:
History of St. Peters:
Nearly 2,000 years ago, the spot where St. Peter’s Basilica sits today was the site of emperor Nero’s Circus- a huge Roman chariot racecourse. The tall obelisk in the middle of St. Peters Square stood here during this time in the center of the racecourse. Think of the history this 300 ton obelisk has seen, originally erected in Egypt more than 2,000 years ago. It witnesses the fall of the pharaohs to the Greeks and then to the Romans. It was then brought to Rome, where it has stood in this spot witnessing hundreds of years of history. During the time of the racecourse, this was a popular spot for the pagan empire to kill Christians for entertainment. St. Peter was one of the Christians crucified on this racecourse while he was in Rome preaching the message of Jesus in about 65 A. D. His remains were buried in a nearby cemetery located where the main altar in St. Peter’s is today. When Christianity was finally legalized in 313, the Christian emperor Constantine built a church on the site of Peter’s martyrdom- St. Peters Basilica. St. Peter was considered the first bishop of Rome. St. Peters was eventually replaced by the new existing St. Peters which began construction in 1506 A.D.
St. Peters Basilica:
St. Peters Basilica is the highlight of the Vatican. St. Peters Square with its 2 half rings of giant columns on either side, was designed and built by Bernini, along with most of the interior of the church. Bernini’s Baroque style dominates the facade. The saints line the top of either side of the columns with Jesus Christ in the middle. Giant statues of St. Peter and Paul sit on either side of the entrance welcoming visitors to the home of the Catholic Church. Peter is holding the key to the kingdom of heaven, given to him by Jesus.
St. Peters is ENORMOUS, and that is a VAST understatement. Nothing can prepare you for this lavish basilica and the enormity of it. The decadents is beyond words. No photos can do it justice.
After visiting St. Peters Basilica, every other cathedral and church I’ve seen in Europe is not even comparable- and European cathedrals are all jaw-dropping to say the least.
This basilica itself covers about six acres. Several football fields could fit in there. This church is very long, very tall and very wide. It looks big on the outside but you have no idea how big it really is until you actually go in. Everything in St. Peters is huge-the statues are enormous, the lettering on the walls, the pictures. There are actually no paintings in St. Peters, instead, they are mosaic copies made from thousand of colored chips. You wouldn’t know it unless you get very, very close. The reason for this is the humidity, smoke and soot from the candles would ruin real paintings.
Probably the most famous highlight of St. Peters is Michelangelo’s Pieta. It is to your right as soon as you walk into the basilica but it actually can be hard to miss if you don’t remember to go over to it. The Pieta was much smaller than I pictured it to be and it is pretty far away from the crowd behind bulletproof glass due to someone running into the basilica and hacking away at it with a hammer in the 70’s. I personally didn’t find the Pieta that incredible compared to the rest of the church. To me, the most incredible thing about the Pieta is that Michelangelo completed it when he was 24 years old! Some remaining pieces of the old church and even some of the art are still in the new St. Peters.
Touring St. Peters:
St. Peters Basilica usually always has a long line due to security check and dress code. When we were there it was no exception. I say don’t waste your time or money trying to get around the line- just wait. The line may be enormous but it goes really fast. Tourist may be initially shocked when they arrive and get suckered into an expensive tour to avoid the line. Waiting in the line actually gave us an opportunity to take in the beautiful St. Peter’s Square and read up on it in our guidebook. The line is right in front of the Basilica in St. Peters Square so it’s not like you have to stand in a covered back alley or something. As you are waiting in line, tour guides will be heckling you to go with them and skip the wait, but do not be fooled! Remember, dress modest when touring the basilica, if you are questioning your apparal, you probably shouldn’t wear it. I think this picture I took below is amusing because it looks to me that either way, women can show their midriff! Ha, ha, ha.
As we walked about St. Peters we stumbled upon a dead body – literally. It freaked me out a bit. We learned it was Pope John XXIII and his body was brought up from the Crypt for display 38 years after his death in 1963. Apparently, at the time of his death, he was filled with something that preserved him incredibly. Quite an interesting and unexpected thing to run into while touring the Basilica.
Crypt and Dome of St. Peters:
The entry to the basilica and Crypt are free of charge. If you want to climb up the dome that was designed by Michelangelo, you will need to pay 6 euros to climb all the way up or 7 euros to take an elevator partway up to the roof, then climb 323 steps to the top of the dome. We walked the entire thing and it is a workout! The higher you get, the more narrow and claustrophobic it gets. My 6’3 husband had issues! We thought we had made it to the top of the dome when it finally spit us out into the world, but we realized we were only on the rooftop of the basilica! But it was a good place to take a break and take in a few more sights.
On your way up to the dome, you get an opportunity to look down into the basilica from the inside of the gallery ringing the interior of the dome. If you are afraid of heights this is not for you, it is a very long way down and definitely puts in perspective again how huge this basilica is. The people below look like ants. The interior of the dome is designed with the most beautiful mosaics and you can stand right up next to them and see the great detail where you could never see that from down below. Climbing to the top of the dome is a true experience and if you are able, I would absolutely make time for this. It is awesome to see the inside of the dome and the view of Rome and St. Peters Square below are just incredible.
The crypt in the foundation of the church contain the tombs of many popes including the popular Pope John Paul II. This crypt is something you can quickly walk through. This crypt isn’t like most of the crypts you see in European churches- this one is modern, bright, pure white, finished, and seems more like a large underground room than a old rock crypt that is wet, dark and eerie like some of the other crypts I have seen. Peters tomb is in the crypt and you can look down to it from the basilica, but don’t be confused that it is St. Peters original grave and what is said to be the remain of his bones are NOT part of the crypt. To see this, you need to make reservations months in advance for the Scavi Excavations tour in the necropolis which is underneath the crypt.
I would schedule a good 4 hour window to visit the basilica, crypt and dome.
For more information on touring the Vatican, visit their Website link below.
Julius Cesar’s powerful successor and adoptive son (really his nephew), Augustus, was the first emperor and founder of the Roman Empire where he reigned from 27 bc to 14 ad.
His once grand mausoleum which he had built in 28 b.c. is now in a very sad state of ruin. Augustus’s family and some of the other emperor’s urns were housed in this mausoleum, but invading barbarians during the fall of the Roman Empire raided the tomb dumping out the ashes and steeling the urns. So technically the family is still in this mausoleum, just crushed up under layers of the dirt.
This tomb is in a horrible part of town that was crawling with bums and reeked of urine. I actually walked right past a man and then realized he was peeing on the side of a locked outhouse. That’ll teach em! There were no tourists in this area and hardly any people. It stunk so bad at the front of the mausoleum that we left as soon as I could get a picture.
The site is closed to visitors and as of 2016, they still haven’t done any renovations to this amazing historic landmark which is really a shame.
Again, as I say about all the amazing Roman ruins, it makes me sad to think how such a monumental emperor and figure of the Roman Empire’s remains have decayed and turned into ruin. This is the story of Rome and eventually everything in this world. So sad but true.
Our last day in England was St. Patrick’s Day. I had planned it that way, of course. I have always wanted to celebrate St. Patrick’s day in a different county as it is one of my favorite holidays. It probably would have made more sense to have planned it when we went to Ireland, but we went there for our honeymoon and we wanted to get married in the summer. England was the next best option!
The morning of St. Patrick’s day in London was cold and wet. I was happy that it finally rained at least one of the days we were in London- that’s what any tourist expects and almost wants on a visit to London. I wanted the real “feel” of dreary London and I got it.
First, we went back to Westminster Square for a final look at the abbey and Parliament. We then walked to the other side of the Thames River to the London Eye. Now, I’m not one for giant ferris wheels and I feel very strongly that something of this nature greatly takes away from the charming buildings of 18th century London, but I had to take a ride on the eye because I knew it held superb views of the city and you can’t get views like that anywhere else. On the eye, you get a real perspective of the enormity of London. When you are tubing around underground London your whole trip, you really don’t realized where you have been in perspective to everything else around you.
We captured some great pictures that day especially since it was an overcast. The eye takes you one time around at a very slow pace and gives you ample time to take in all the views of the city. You stand in a giant pod with a few other people, where you can move about freely to look at each side of the city. It is well worth the money.
We then hunted down the famous Abbey Road and Paul McCartney’s home. Abbey Road Studios, where the Beatles used to record, is directly across from Abbey Road. After taking some great pictures, we rummaged around trying to find Paul McCartney’s home. In the middle of all this, it started to rain and then it started to pour! It took a few minutes of running around in the rain to find some place we could take cover which was not easy to find in the residential area we were in. We finally found a restaurant to take refuge where we ordered a hot pot of tea and soup. My hair, pants, and shoes were soaked and my thick wool coat had gained 10 pounds of soaked up rain- so much for enjoying London’s dreary weather 😉 The restaurant was named Richoux and there were pictures hanging all over the walls of all types of celebrities hanging out there. I guess it could have been some kind of famous restaurant and we didn’t even know it.
We decided to head back to our hotel to get on some dry clothes and head out for our St. Patrick’s day bash. Although my husband was hesitant, I insisted we go to Soho for the night’s celebrations. As I’ve mentioned, Soho is the entertainment center of London, and although it can be a bit sleazy, and you definitely need to be aware of your surroundings, Soho is the place to go for any type of night life in London.
It turned out Soho was just the ticket! We had the time of our lives. We started our night next to the theater district at an old pub. It was packed on the ground level, but you could climb up to a loft where you could look down at the bustling street below you. This is probably my fondest memory of London because to me this was real London, the hustle and bustle of life at its fullest. I sat and stared out the window grasping my cold cider for almost an hour. Oh, and that’s the other great thing about London, they have all sorts of ciders on tap in the bars. So delicious and much better than regular beer!
Later, we met a few Irish kids and a girl from Wales and ended up hanging out with them for the remainder of the night. We had an amazing time! This is the kind of experiences that sticks with you after you have come home. To actually get involved at a personal level with the locals in their culture is what really heightens your experience when traveling. I will definitely never forget that night or them.
Day four of our trip we drove out to Beachy Head. Beachy Head is part of the miles of white chalk cliffs that line the English coast. For various reasons, the cliffs of Dover are the most famous and well known, but I wanted to see Beachy Head because it holds the highest of all the white chalk cliffs and the second highest cliff in England. Unfortunately, this makes it one of the top suicide spots in the world.
Beachy head is absolutely jaw dropping. I really don’t know what more I can say about it than this. The pictures say it all. The feelings I had at beachy head were mixed. It was actually a very emotional experience. These cliffs are truly intimidating. The mighty see below seems to remind you of how small you are and how powerful it is. You are also reminded of the many suicides that have taken place there by the small crosses that are randomly stuck in various spots in the earth. My emotions ranged from fear and sadness, to intimidation and captivation. It is quite a zen experience that centers you with reality. There is so much to think about here- life, death, history, time, nature and the world.
These cliffs are just remarkable. They are a true natural beauty of our world that will simply take your breath away. It is a shame more people don’t visit Beachy Head and go straight to the well known Cliffs of Dover. I still wanted to visit the cliffs of Dover as well, but we didn’t have the time. The cliffs of Dover are famous for facing continental Europe at the narrowest part of the English Channel and therefore signify the historic threat of invasion. On a clear day you can see France in the distance. Dover also holds a 12th century castle and World War II war tunnels within its chalk cliffs.
The famous Guinness Brewery is an obvious must see on anyone’s first trip to Dublin, but after I had gone, I wished I would have done my research on what I was really going to be seeing to avoid disappointment.
The Guinness Brewery in Dublin is not like taking a tour of the Coors Brewery in Colorado. For those who have not been to the Coors Brewery, you get to tour the actual brewery where you can see the workers and the actual process of the beer being made in the factory. Being an ignorant first time traveler that hadn’t done enough research, I was expecting the same thing from the Guinness Brewery. I couldn’t wait to see the happy Irishmen bustling about brewing their famous drink in the Country of its birth!
At my own fault and to my regret, I was mistaken and sadly disappointed.
Our first full day in England we began with visiting Buckingham Palace. Although we didn’t get to see the changing of the guards, we saw the horse parade and followed the parade down to the bottom of the street that leads from the palace to the horse parade area. The horse parade area was nothing but a big square pad of dirt which I found amazing how they transformed it into the women’s outdoor beach volleyball venue for the 2012 Olympics 4 months later. If you walk under a breezeway past the horse parade you will be on the street where all the government building sit, including number 10 downing street, the seat of the prime minister. If you walk farther past this in one direction, you will run into parliament square that holds the grand parliament building, Westminster Abbey and the Supreme Court building. The other direction will take you to Trafalgar Square.
Buckingham palace is great, but it’s definitely not the grandest palace I’ve ever seen. You can only tour this palace for 2 months out of the year when the queen is away on holiday.
As for Parliament, you can only do tours when the houses are not in session. This includes Saturdays throughout the year and six days a week during their designated months listed on the website. This really bummed me out until I found out that when parliament is in session, the public is allowed to come in and watch it live in person! In the process of this you are able to view several other rooms and hallways of the building including the grand Westminster Hall, which I think is a great trade for not getting a full blown tour, if not better due to the fact that it is completely free whereas a tour is not! Once we were admitted in, we surprisingly had free rain to move about to the different rooms as we pleased. We were able to see both houses in session, the feisty house of commons and the distinguished house of lords. What an experience! You can stay as long or short as you like, which is wonderful for a tourists who has many things planned in their day. Visitors sit in the balcony for easy access in and out. If you are early prior to going into the sessions, they will take you in a room and explain all the ins and outs of Parliament to you. It is very interesting although the room was very small and hot and I had to keep kicking my husband to stay awake which was kind of embarrassing! Ha!
Viewing the inside of parliament was the one thing I absolutely had to do on my visit to London. So many people go to London without actually visiting the house of Parliament and I think many people don’t realize that they can tour or go in and view the sessions. I am glad I did my research ahead of time and was able to partake in this great opportunity. It was such an experience to say I have done this when not many people have. If you go online you can view the schedule of times the houses meet and schedule your visit accordingly. You can attend debates, question time or watch committees. All is listed on the website. http://www.parliament.uk/visiting/ You do not need to buy tickets in advance, only make yourself known to the Visitor Services staff who are standing on the side of the building (or ask a cop). Entrance is based on a first come first serve basis, and you would need to leave time for security check.
According to the online site, the guided tour takes 75 minutes and includes the Commons and Lords Chambers, the Queen’s Robbing Room, the Royal Gallery and Westminster Hall.
The famous Westminster Abbey is located directly across the street from Parliament. Be aware it can be closed for unexpected reasons like the queen being there (which was the case when I was there) or closing early on Saturdays. Due to these road blocks, I never actually got to go into the Abbey although I was right by it for 2 days of my trip!
After touring Parliament we had to get back to our hotel to get ready for the play I’ve wanted to see all my life- Les Miserables. I grew up listening to the soundtrack and know every word to every song, but I have never seen the play or movie. London’s elaborate theater district rivals with Broadway with roughly 40 venues for performance. We saw the show at the Queens Theater, a charming little theater house. I remember how the floor of the stage was quite slanted, lower in the front and higher in the back and the center of the stage turned like a giant wheel making the illusion of the actors running or moving in the scenes. Due to this layout, and the actual theater being fairly small, I think no matter where you sit you feel like you are almost in the stage. As for the actual show, it was everything I thought it would be- phenomenal. The actors were superb and every voice was amazing. I was so glued to the stage that my husband thought I was mad at him!
I wanted to ensure a perfect seat so I researched online and purchased my ticket prior to coming. I read online reviews to decide what seat would be the best. I am glad I ensured a good seat, but I also know you can get greatly discounted tickets if you show up right before the show and ask for any available seats. I didn’t want to take this risk and not be able to sit with my husband or be stuck on the end of a bad row or something, but my sister and her husband actually did this while they were in London and it worked out great for them. I actually would advise to buy your ticket in London whether you get a discount or not, because we had such a hard time finding the venue amongst the oodles of them that we almost missed the first part of the show. You can never anticipate what your day may end up being like once you are actually on your trip, and over planners and organizers that just have to have their tickets prior to going sometimes get punished for it. Again, if there is anything I have learned from traveling it is that you just cannot plan for everything no matter how hard you try. It is great to research and prepare in advance so you know all your options, but when it comes down to it, in many situations, it is best to just go with the flow and decide when you are there based on the how you feel that day, how much time you have etc.
The theater area is close to the racy nightlife area of Soho and close to this area is the major shopping district and Piccadilly circus. This area is like the Las Vegas or New York of London. This is where all of the entertainment, night life and partying happens. After walking back from the theater, we actually ended up in Piccadilly circus. After I got home people asked me if I had been to Piccadilly circus and I told them I didn’t think so. I didn’t realize at the time that I had in fact been there not only one but twice on the trip. And each time I thought it was a totally awesome area. Piccadilly circus is like the Time Square of London, lined with amazing buildings and major high end shopping. We walked the perimeter of the artistically curved building upon entering and exiting the theater area in Soho. The huge curved buildings in Piccadilly are amazing and very appealing to say the least. We were amazed as we walked along them, they seemed to just keep going and going! This area has a completely different feel from other parts of London, which is why I say there is something for everyone in London depending on where you go.