Archive | September 2013

Day 18 – Paris

I set an alarm for 8:00 on my watch so we wouldn’t sleep in too late but I forgot to cancel the 5:00 alarm on my phone so we got woken up twice today. We ate the empanada type things we picked up last night for breakfast & split them up so we each got 1/2 of a chicken one & 1/2 of a beef one. These things are pretty tasty. They are just like an empanada but it seems that they are baked instead of fried. Once breakfast was finished we set off for Notre Dame. We got to the cathedral easily & got in the line to enter which moved pretty quickly. Entrance was free and there was no security check. I couldn’t remember much about the inside of the cathedral except for the stained glass so I was excited to get in. It was pretty impressive once you get in. Definitely dark & gothic but not nearly as gloomy and forboding as the Notre Dame in Chartres. We wandered about the cathedral for quite a while and, even though the crowds were large outside, it wasn’t bad at all inside. I didn’t see any group tours at all so that was a plus as well. We paid 4 Euros each to get into the small “treasury” section where they have some nice pieces on display. It was worth seeing.

Random door near the Latin Quarter


Notre Dame #1


Notre Dame #2


Notre Dame #3

Once done with the inside we got in line to climb to the top where the gargoyles lurk. If you are looking at the front of the cathedral this line is on the left side of the building. Although the line was shorter than the line for the inside it took about an hour to get inside. They let in groups of 20 every ten minutes or so & it took forever the way the process works. We picked up some sandwiches from a vendor across the street and ate lunch while we waited. Once let in you get up into a small waiting room that has a store & is where you purchase your tickets for 8.50 Euros per person. You wait in there ten minutes & then they let you climb up to the first level where you get the best views of the gargoyles. I love gargoyles so this made it worth the wait. You also get amazing views of the city which is a bonus. Once you are done with this part you wait again for ten minutes or so & then they open the barrier and you get to climb one of the towers where you get views over the roof of the cathedral as well as more great city views. Once you are done with this section you climb all the way down back to the front of the cathedral.

Notre Dame #4


Notre Dame #5

It was about 3:00 by this time & we still had to see the Musee d’Orsay which closed at 6:00 so we set off to find a Metro station. We were looking at a map & a local lady asked if we needed help & asked where we were trying to go. We said we were looking to find a Metro station to get to the Musee d’Orsay & she said the Metro would be complicated & recommended the bus & told us where a stop was & what bus # to take. We did that & a bus came shortly & we were on our way. It took longer than expected and we went past the best stop for the museum because we couldn’t tell from the bus route map which stop is for the museum. We walked along the Seine to the museum & got there around 3:30. The was a huge line outside & we thought about bailing on the museum since it closed at 6:00 but decided to wait. It took about 4 minutes to get in and during the wait Joyce picked up some waffles with sugar and coffee to snack on. The waffles were great but not quite up to the Brussels standard.

We got into the museum at about 4:30 & they start closing down at 5:00 so we needed to bust a move in order to see much. We went to the 5th floor first where the Impressionist collection is and it was impressive. They had a ridiculous amount of Monet, Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, Degas, etc. Some pretty famous paintings including Renoir’s “Dance at Le Moulin de la Gazette”. We spent a good deal of time in there so we didn’t have much time left. We hauled down to the Van Gogh collection a couple of floors below and it was amazing! The had a great collection of his work and, looking at Wikipedia, one of the paintings we saw sold for $82.5 million back in 1990. Almost $100 million in one painting just sitting on a wall close enough to touch. Crazy. By the time we were done with Van Gogh announcements were already starting telling us to leave so we hurried to see some Toulouse Latrec and then took in as much as we could as we were swept out the doors.

Euro fashion outside Musee d’Orsay


Some Van Gogh’s in the Musee d’Orsay

The Musee d”Orsay works we saw were much more interesting to me than most of what we saw in the Louvre. It is one museum that I look forward to going to again which I can’t say for most museums. Even the Uffizi gallery in Florence. NOt only is the collection amazing but the museum itself is also amazing. It is housed in the old Gare d’Orsay train station and they kept enough of the old building to really make the interior look amazing. They kept the glass roof so there is nice natural light and the old clock is still there as well.

After leaving the museum we grabbed the Metro back to where we caught the bus earlier because we saw a Tibetan restaurant that had an interesting looking menu. We got the about 6:40 and it looked closed but then we noticed that they close in the afternoon and re-open at 7:00. We hovered around the door and the lady inside let us in early. I ended up getting pork and potatoes in a traditional sauce that came with rice which was great. Not spicy but good flavor. The pork had a bunch of fat that I couldn’t bring myself to eat but Joyc loves it so she took care of it. I also ordered some beef dumplings that were fried that came with a coriander (cilantro) sauce. These were good as well. Joyce got a meal that included everything so she got an appaetizer of beef with cilantro & picled radishes, steamed beef dumplings with cilantroo sauce and a dessert that was some kind of cream with a fruit puree over it. All of this was good. We shared each of ours so we could sample all of what we got. The portions were small but the food was good. It was a good choice for the last dinner in Paris.

Joyce at Tibetan restaurant

After dinner we walked back to the Metro and took it back to our stop & we walked back to the hotel. Joyce picked up some churros at the booth just outside the Metro by our hotel and they were great! When you order the guy presses dough through a device that gives it that churro shape & cuts out sections with scissors. You get 6 for 3 Euros and can choose white or brown sugar. On the walk back we hit the grocery store again for more fruit for Joyce and another Chimay for me. I went with Red this time to change things up and since it’s been years since I had one last. It was good but Blue is efinitely better. One last stop at our favorite Chinese stye pancake/empanada place for breakfat food for tomorrow & we finished the walk back to the hotel.

Once back in the room we packed up for the flight home tomorrow. Our flight is at 12:10 so we won’t need to be in a big hurry in the morning. It will be sad leaving Europe but it will also be nice to get home to American sized things again.

Day 17 – Versailles

We got up without alarm so it was a later morning than usual. We ate some leftover stuff we had in the refrigerator in the room for breakfast & then set off for Versailles about 10:30. Getting there involved three Metro lines & one RER train but it wasn’t bad & we were there by noon. There was a decent line to get into the place but we noticed we needed to stand in line for tickets first before we got in the line to enter the compound. The line for tickets was a bit long & it wrapped around the inside of one of the buildings there. Once we were halfway through I saw a sign that stated that self-serve tickets were in the next room. Joyce held our place in line while I checked it out and, sure enough, there were lots of ticket machines there. Not many were being used likely due to the fact that they didn’t tell anyone they were there until you already stood in line for a while.

With tickets in hand we took our place in the next line and it moved pretty fast because they barely looked at anything in your bags. Everybody set off the security scam machine alarm but nobody seemed to care. We were in & started touring the first area & then noticed that we forgot to pick up the audio guide things that came with our tickets. We found out where they were & then went after the big-daddy section of Versailles…the one with the Hall of Mirrors in it. This part of the palace is ridiculously nice & ridiculously over-the-top. Very lavish but very well done. There were, once again, a shit-ton of tour groups present and they pretty much dominated ever room so it was very crowded in this part of the palace. The fact that many of the rooms are small didn’t help. You’d be relatively comfortable for a minute at most & then a tour group comes along & everybody swarms all over the place with cameras in front of their faces. Many times the groups would block passageway through so you had to push people out of the way. There were quite a few French school groups there too but they weren’t as bad.

The line and a rogue pigeon


Joyce in the Hall of Mirrors


Shit-ton of people at Versailles

Once we were done with the Palace it was 3:30 & we were starving so we headed out to the Gardens where there were quite a few eating options including multiple resaturants. The Gardens are so big that I think there are at least 5 full service, sit down restaurants out there. We picked a simple one & JOyce got an omelette that came with a salad & fries & I got a bowl of French Onion soup. All was pretty tasty & reasonable at less than 20 Euros for everything. We even got cold water for free as well as a really good baguette. Typically we have had to pay for water on our trip.

With bellies full we set off and wandered the gardens. They rent boats on the big pond and also bicycles. Next time we will rent bicycles since that looked like the best way to get around. They rented golf carts as well but I’m not old enough to be that lazy yet. Our tickets included admission to Marie Antoinette’s section of the Palace & we saw maybe half of it before it got past closing time & we couldn’t see the rest. We walked back to the train station where we were able to hop right on a train that was waiting & we did the complicated route we did in the morning but in reverse. At our stop we walked the familiar route back to the hotel and stopped at a grocery store to pick up some fruit for Joyce. I noticed that they had small bottles of Chimay Blue for 1.95 Euros which is a good deal so I picked up one of those to drink at the hotel. We needed dinner so we hit one of the kebob places on the way home & they served us up ours in what they called a pita but it was more like a tortilla. It was great!. The cut off all the meat fresh & prepared it to order & then it seems that they grilled the whole thing after they wrapped it up so that the wrapper was nice & crisp. I ordered mine with that white sauce you always get on a giro & joye ordered the spicy sauce which ended up too spice for her so we switched. It was good stuff! Both came with fries and cold water for only 10 Euros total.

Joyce at the Versailles Gardens


Versailles Gardens


The Grand Trianon


The Ass Kebab was better than it sounds

Back at the hotel I drank my Chimay & Joyce ate some fruit and we called it a day. Tomorrow is the last full day of the trip and the plan is to hit Notre Dame & the Musee d’Orsay. Joyce is starting to fell like her real vacation will start on Monday when we go back to work. We’ve done a lot on this trip so far but have seen a bunch.

Day 16 – Brussels

 

 
Woke up at 5:00 which wasn’t fun and ate the Chinese pancake type things that we got yesterday. The fromage (cheese) version wasn’t so good. The cheese was weird but the chicken was good. It was a bit greasy for 5:00 in the morning though. We got out the door a bit late. Probably about 6:05 & our train left at 6:43. We needed to get to the Metro, board our subway & walk through the connecting terminal to Gare du Nord in less than 40 minutes. Luckily things went our way. The subway was only a 2 minute wait when we got there and we found our way through the connecting terminal far better than the 1st day we arrived. We didn’t make one mistake & actually arrived with 12 minutes to spare. Joyce left her iPhone in the bathroom at the hotel so hopefully it will be there when we get back. She was in iPhone withdrawals all day. Poor Joyce!

Our journey each way is tough & requires three separate trains (two transfers each way). The first stop on the way out had 15 minutes to make our connection which I thought would be more han enough but the connecting train at Lille Europe was actually in a different train station, Lille Flanders, which was a bit of a walk away. We found it without too much difficulty after talking to the information booth guy. We then rode 25 minutes on it to Mouscron where we had 6 minutes to hop trains. This one was easier than the first & only required moving one platform away. It was a small station. On the way we stopped at Roubaix which I belive is the same Roubaix of the famous spring classic bicycle race Paris-Roubaix, the “Hell of the North” famous for its sectons of pave (cobblestone paths). Other than that we passed through mostly farmlands full of livestock. It was green but there ws fog laying over the fields virtually the entire way. We arrived in Brussels with overcast, mildly drizzly weather.

Blurry cow train pic

We purchased a city map at the tourist information booth and then tried to figure out where to. We picked what looked like the famous town center & tried to find it on the map & picked the one that looked right in my vague memory. Once we had the destinatio we tried to convert it to the Metro map and had some difficulty due to the crummy map on the Metro wall. We did eventually match our detination to a Metro stop & then went to buy tickets which was a bit of a fiasco. They had self-serve vending machines and all lines were at least five people deep. We got in line but noticed after a bit that they only were good to refill existing cards. So we got in another line to purchase tickets the old-fashioned way. That line was huge & soon someone led a group of us into another office where we given numbers. After maybe 10 minutes our number was called & we picked up two one-day passes for 6.5 Euros each.

And so with a destination, the proper Metro line, a Metro stop name to go along with it and a valid ticket we set off to tear Brussels a new one. We got off at our stop and walked about a block in what looked like the right direction and found what we were looking for. We could see the ornate buildings of one side of the square up ahead. We stopped in a church before hitting the square just to see how it was inside. It was basic but nice. Once out of the church we walked further towards the town center and once past the last of the buildings lining the narrow street we were walking up we came to it. The famous town center. It was just as nice as I remebered! Brussels has such a great square with all four sides being impressive. The only thing that harshed our mellow was that there was a stage being constructed in the middles of the square that blocked a lot of the views and kind of diminished the “grandness” of it all. I thought about finding the city headquarters & doing some complaining but decided to go & get us some waffles instead.

Joyce in the Brussels square with chocolate in hand


Brussels square

I remember getting my waffles from street vendors but there were none to be found so we grabbed a couple of  the 2 Euro plain ones. They also had 1 Euro plain ones but the didn’t sound like the ones I remembered so we splurged. They were really good! Less maple flavor than I remember but memories are never too accurate most of the time. We gobbled them down and the set about roaming to old town area which was really nice. We stopped in a few chocolate shops to shop around and then saw a sign for Mannekin Pis as went to go have a gander at him. When we found him there was a Chinese tour group around him all jockeying for photo positions. They then went into a chocolate shop right next door so we had Pis boy to ourselves pretty much. He was much smaller than I remembered & also was sans-costume this time. We then went into the chocolate shop that the Chinese tour group were busy pillaging to see what they had to offer. They actually looked like they had some good stuff & I was thinking I’d buy from them before we left. We left there & Joyce needed to use the restroom so I showed her where I saw one in the chocolate shop since I saw half of the Chinese tour group coming upstairs from using it. Once Joyce went down the clerk confronted me & stated that the bathroom was only for customers & that we needed to buy chocolate or pay 1 Euro. I explained that we were thinking of buying quite a bit of their chocolate before we left but then gave her 1 Euro & told her we’d buy somewhere else. She was a bit rude.

Me and Pis boy

Once done with my righteous indignation dance we decided it was Belgian beer time & settled down in a cool old bar next to Mannekin Pis. I asked for their recommendation for a trappist dark ale for someone who loves Chimay Blue & they recommended Trappist Rochemont 10 which was 11% alcohol. I got that & Joyce got a Lindemann’s Framboise. Both were great! I drank mine fater than Joyce so unfortunately I had to order another. This time I asked for a blonde ale & they recommended the Goudon Carolus Tripel. It was lighter than the other in taste but was still 9%. It had a real clean finish and was a great beer. Before things got out of hand like the last time I was in Brussels we left & did some more chocolate shopping. We ended up purchasing our haul from Neuhaus which seemed to have some decent stuff. From there it was back to the streets and some more window shopping. We spotted a coffee shop that roasted its own beans so we went in for some cappuccinos which were great. I also ordered up an espresso shot of some Nepalese beans that was also good.

Belgian beer is pretty yummy

By the time we were done caffeinating it was about 3:45 & too late to really add in anything else so we took the Metro back to the Gare du Midi and waited for our train in the station. We boarded the train wen it came in and did the same dance as on the journey in the morning. The only difference was that we got an extra minute at one stop to make it seven minutes to get to the next train and the other stop with separate stations had a 50 minute layover so we had planty of time to get from one station to the other. The 7 minute layover actually ended up being only 2 but we made it without issue. Once we were back in Paris we got dinner at some Basque place outside of Gare du Nord & then took the Metro back to the hotel. We will likely hit Versailles tomorrow & see what else we have time for once we’re done poking that pig.

Day 15 – Paris

We didn’t set any alarms last night since we were tired from the long day we had & just wanted to wake up when we were ready. We got up around 8:30 & just got ready and set off for the Metro planning on picking up breakfast along the way. We stopped in at a bakery type place that we spotted when we first walked up the route to our hotel the other day. They had some things that looked just like Chinese onion pancakes so we tried one of them labeled as Poulet which we figured out when we ate it was chicken. We got one of the pancake looking things as well as something that looked a bit like an empanada. That ended up filled with beef (?) & some vegetables. Both were excellent.

We ate as we walked & got some cappuccinos to go from a bar near the Metro which they gave us in small plastic water cups. I don’t think they are used to “to go” orders. We then boarded the Metro and set off to hit the Louvre. Once at the Metro stop for the Louvre we found ourselves in a shopping mall which then led us to the security/bag check for the museum. We found some self-pay ticket machines and we bought tickets which were 12 Euros a pop and then started our journey into the museums huge collection of goodies. Last time I was here I remembered entering through the Pyramid which we found out later was still a valid way to enter. Apparently there are a few different entrances.

We started off by making a beeline for the Mona Lisa to get that out of the way and she was pretty easy to find. There are signs everywhere letting you know how to find here. Once in the room it was obvious where she hung since there was a mob in front of the painting. People would fight to get to the front & have their picture taken with it & then leave. Very few people actually looked at the painting. I pushed to the front & snapped a few pics & then looked at it for a bit and still don’t know what all of the fuss is about. I thing it’s decent but not great. With that out of the way we wandered about and checked out more of what the museum had to see. We spent the most time in the Greek & Mesopotamia sections since those seemed the most interesting. It was good seeing the Venus de Milo again. The crowds were huge but thanks to the self-serve ticket machines and the museums enormous size the crowds weren’t too overwhelming.

Crowds at the Mona Lisa


Joyce has arms, Venus does not


Joyce & a pyramid

We snacked about 12:30 in the museum and then left likely around 3:00. We went from the museum out to the park that goes from the Louvre to the Place de Concorde where Joyce picked up a crepe with powdered sugar that was pretty tasty. From there we wandered down the Champs Elysses where, right at the beginning of the commercial part of the Avenue i started smelling something “fierce”. Something familiar. And then Joyce spotted it. The Abercrombie & Fitch sign. Figures that they’d have a store here. It was one of their larger stores & was similar to the Hollywood & New York stores. The front of the building was plain and you walked along a gravel tree-lined path to get to the entrance on the side of the building. They pumped more “fierce” smells along the path so you knew you were coming up to something big. Once inside you were assaulted with a more Euro version of their pumped up shopping soundtrack. I was about to take a picture when I was stopped by one of the employees & told that picture were forbidden. When I asked if we were in a museum she looked confused and told me that no, it was a store. We did a quick lap so that Joyce could check it out & then left. On the way out Joyce spotted one of the male models at the door shirtless and got her picture taken with him. Looks like I may need to hit the gym harder now so I can compete.

<img class=”” style=”” title=”Jardin des Tuileries” src=”../Documents/6C240D5B-F970-43D6-8B05-4470023688F1.JPG” alt=”” width=”1024″ height=”682″ data-json=”” data-mce-src=”../Documents/6C240D5B-F970-43D6-8B05-4470023688F1.JPG” data-mce-style=””> Jardin des Tuileries

Once back out on the less “fierce” streets of the rest of the Champs Elysses we took in the sights & watched the Arc d’Triumph get closer & closer. We spotted the McDonalds & had to go in & get something because I still think it’s funny that there is one on such a plush street. One we ate there we walked through the tunnel that takes you to the Arc d’Triumph. We got of the tunnel and into the middle of the traffic circle where the monument sits and noticed that part of the area was blocked off  there were people arriving that were let in by the guards. It turns out that there was a ceremony on site that day and some of the areas that were typically open were closed. Also closed was the ticket booth to get tickets to climb up the monument. We watched a bit of the ceremony and the decided to take off.

Joyce and I post McD’s


Eternal Flame

We sat in the tunnel and plotted or next move and decided on taking in the Latin Quarter which is near Notre Dame. We took the Metro to Notre Dame & when we got there we found out that we missed visiting hours by 20 minutes. Bummer! We’ll go back again to see it before we leave. We walked all along the outside and studied the architecture of the cathedral. I love it & never get tired of looking at it. From there we walked through the park near it over to the bridge with the thousands of locks attached to the railing & walked through some of the Latin Quarter. Joyce picked up some fruit at a small grocery & I picked up a cherry tart at a baker. Then we decided to have dinner there & picked a place that smelled good & was reasonably priced. Most places in this section had dinners for 40 Euros or so per person which is a bit much for us. Dinner was great. Joyce got an omelette & I went with quiche which isn’t very manly but neither am I so I was ok with it. We also split 50 cl of red wine which was decent. After dinner we walked off to find a Metro & took a small detour down from one bridge to the path that runs along the Seine. We walked that to the next bridge. On the way were passed by a man who was walking quickly and, seemingly, with a purpose. As we approached the next bridge where we planned to climb the stairs I saw him go under the bridge and just as he did he pulled some type of instrument from his pocket and played the shit out of it complete with wildly over exaggerated body movements. He must like the acoustics under that bridge.

Notre Dame


Joyce on the lock bridge

Once up the stairs from the river path we found a Metro station nearby and caught the subway back to the hotel. Tomorrow we need to get up at 5:00 to catch the train to Brussels so it looks like under 5 hours of sleep for us. It will be worth it once I get the first waffle in me.

Day 14 – Travel Day

Today we needed to get up early to catch our flight to Paris. I set two alarms but woke up to see that it was 6:45 and we needed to be up at 5:00 in order to get to the airport with time to spare. I woke up Joyce & told her we needed to get moving now since our flight was at 9:45 or so. Then I realized that it was really something like 4:00 in the morning and was looking at San Diego time where it was 6:45 pm. Oops! We went back to sleep for an hour more and then got up and got ready to leave. We got breakfast at the place that serves us for free right as they opened at 6:00 and then caught the Metro to the main train station.

Once at the station we boarded the line that takes us to the Rome airport which is supposedly covered under the Eurail 1st Class passes that we have. We were never checked for tickets on the ride so I’m not sure if it was covered or not. We arrived at the airport and went to check in at the terminal we thought we needed and were told that we should be checking in at a different terminal. Rome doesn’t have a huge airport so we walked over to the other termnal without much hassle. We got checked in and we settled down to wait for boarding. Once our flight was opened for boarding we boarded it and we took off after a 10 minute or so delay.

The flight was uneventful but there was some spectacular scenery outside the window since the plane flew pretty much the whole time over the Italian coast. There were lots of coastal views as well as some views of snow-capped moutains and moutain lakes. The views made the 2 hour flight fly by. It’s surprising just how much wide-open land there still is in Europe. Everyone seems to be centered in the cities & the countryside is still sparsely populated. Once we landed we saw our bags getting unloaded form the plane so we knew they weren’t lost. We went to baggage claim to retrieve them and exited the terminal expectng to pass through customs but never had to. Apparently intra-EU flights are all open now. That means less stamps in my passport which I’m not sure I’m happy about. We only got one so far on this trip.

Plane View

We went to the information desk & picked up public transport passes for Paris. We needed 5 days & also needed the 5-zone passes since we need passage to & from tha airports which the Eural doesn’t cover for Paris. These passes cost 58 Euros each. That’s about $150 just to use the Metro for 5 days. Crazy! We then set off to find the Travelex office where we needed to turn in a tax claim form in order to get money back on things we bought in Venice since wearen’t EU residents. We were supposed to do while still in Italy but we forgot. When we went to Travelex they told us we needed to go to the Customs office since we made our purchases in taly & were now in France. We found the Customs office & they told us we needed to turn it in on the day we leave the country so we struck out on that. After that we grabbed some sandwiches at the airport which came on baguettes which were pretty good. The bread is tough though so the roofs of our mouths got beat up a bit.

Once done with lunch we boarded the airport train which took us into Paris. At the last stop we got off & got on the Metro to Gare du Nord in order to reserve a day trip to Brussels. Once off the Metro at Gare du Nord we got a bit lost & couldn’t find the train station. we found a set of stairs that looked like it may take us up to the train platform & when we got into the stairwell we saw that it was a long-ass staircase. We climbed up anyways with a backpack & two suitcases & found ourselves in the bus station. We could see the train station through some glass doors but no ay to get there. We ended up walking around the block to the fron entrance & then into the terminal. Once at the ticket desk it took about 20 minutes for the ticket agent to get us there & back but it got done. According to him all direct trains to Brussels were booked so we need to ride three trains each way to get there. It will be worth it once we get some Belgian beer, waffles & chocolate in our bellies! The agent worked pretty hard to get it done for us. With reservations in hand we got back on the Metro & found our stop. I had written down directions so we found the hotel without issue. It is pretty nice & has a small kitchen as well as trouble-free wi-fi. It is near the Pere Lachaise cemetery where I stayed on my first trip to Paris. The neighborhood isn’t picturesque at all & it’s loud & a bit dirty but I like it. All kinds of different people walking around & lots of small ethnic food places everywhere. We saw a bunch of good-looking eateries on our walk to the hotel. Even a Doner Burger shop!

We rested for a bit & then set out to eat & we decided to hit a Vietnamese Pho shop. It was decent but no match for Lucky Seafood back home. We then hopped on the Metro to check out the Eiffel Tower which always looks great at night. We got to our stop & walked for a few blocks & after a bit there it was. No matter how many times I see it it always impresses me. It’s just prefectly done. We walked around for a bit and then decided to get in line for the ride to the top. The line was long and the wait was probably 45 minutes long which wasn’t too bad. At the top the views were incredible. I’d been up during the day and the views at night were equally impressive. We were up for maybe an hour and then caught the elevator back down.

Eiffel Tower at night


Joyce on top of the Eiffel Tower


View from the top of the Eiffel Tower

Once back on the ground we walked around the tower a bit more and called it a day. It had been a long one! We caught the Metro back to our hotel & both went to bed without showers at around 12:30. Tomorrow. We’ll hit the Louvre & see what we have time for afterwards.

Day 13 – Rome

We got up a bit later than normal & got ready. I did some laundry in the sink since I ran out of clean underpants. Once done with that we headed down to the cafe & got our free breakfast. Joyce got us a second breakfast with the coupon we didn’t use yesterday. From there we walked down the street to visit the Colosseum.The lines there weren’t too bad and they moved fast so we were in relatively quickly. It was pretty impressive to tour the Colosseum especially after watching Gladiator. They now have a partial floor built at one end that I don’t really recall being there before but I could be wrong about that.

Joyce & I at the Colosseum

From the Colosseum we moved over to the Forum which has a lot of ruins with some areas still being worked on. We spent quite a bit of time walking through that area and once we exited we grabbed a quick sandwich from a cart on the street. From there we hit all of the must-see sites in Rome including the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Venezia, Piazza Novana, Campo Di Fiori and the Spanish Steps. We finished up at the Spanish Steps and were able to take in the sunset over the Vatican. Along the route we stopped at a bar right on the Vatican (west) side of the river so that Joyce could use the bathroom & I grabbed a beer since we were there. Also along the route we grabbed gelatos #5 of the trip and these will be the last Italian gelatos that we get. We both really liked walking the small streets near the Pantheon which had tons of cafes and some cool shops & had that cool European narrow street with cobblestones look. While in Piazza Novana we saw a ton of security people and couldn’t figure out why. We found out later when we saw a parade of some sort walking down the street adjacent to the Piazza. Not sure what it was but there were priests in the parade and there were people carrying a bust/statue on one of those things that they use to carry caskets at a funeral. Pall bearers carry it so is it a pall? We also saw a heated argument that involved three rose vendors. These are the guys that see couple walking and offer to sell them roses. We got asked multiple times daily. It looks like the painting vendor was being asked to mediate and he wanted no part of it. Smart man.

Roman Forum


 

Joyce at the Trevi


 

Procession


 

Rose vendor argument on the Spanish Steps


 

Sunset over the Vatican

It was 7:00 or so & we were hungry so we found a restaurant near the Spanish Steps that was decent. Joyce got spaghetti & I got some gnocchi & we shared some bruschetta. Each of us got a glass of wine to bid Rome goodbye. Once done with dinner we walked to the Metro & rode it back to Manzoni. We picked up some fruit at the local market before hitting the hotel. We walked everywhere today & only took the Metro to get back. It’s tough to see Rome in a day but we did  pretty good job.

That’s about it for us in Italy since we leave tomorrow for Paris. We both had a great time here. We saw a ton and ate some pretty good food. Both of us would like to come back to Rome so maybe we’ll do a Rome/Amalfi Coast trip at some point. Ciao Italy!

Day 12 – Florence

Woke up with the alarm at 6:00 or so & got ready quickly and walked from the hotel to catch our 7:50 train to Florence. The place that provides the complimentary breakfast through our hotel didn’t open until 8:00 so we were on our own as far as breakfast  goes. We tried to get McDonalds at the place across the street from the station but the two jackasses in front of us were having issues ordering or paying or something. We waited for five minutes or so & then decided to bail. We went back to the station and just got croissants & cappuccinos to go. The train arrived on time & we boarded sans McMuffins.

The ride to Florence was uneventful & when we arrived we picked up a map for 3 Euros and headed for the Duomo. I remembered that the Duomo in Florence was impressive bit I forgot how completely massive it was. It’s a stocky structure for sure. If it wore jeans that Duomo would wear the “husky boy” size. The hours for Sundays were 1:30 to 4:30 so we were early and headed off to hit the Galleria Dell’Accademia where Michelangelo’s statue of David and his wiener sits. We found the site easily enough as it was a short walk from the Duomo and there were plentiful signs leading the way.  On arriving though we found that the line to get in was already long. We took our place at the back of the line and waited. And waited. And waited. Apparently the way things work now is that group tours get the first shot at entering & if you are independent & do things on your own you get to wait until there is room for you. After an hour or so wait we were in. Thankfully the waiting section was in shade at the time of day that we were waiting.

Duomo


Once in the gallery we ogled the artwork and enjoyed ourselves. After a bit we rounded a corner and there he was. David in all of his glory. I’d been in the gallery before and seen him and the first time I was shocked by how big the statue was. This time, going in informed, I was still shocked. It’s a big sculpture!. Both Joyce & I were very impressed with just how incredible well done it was. It is virtually a perfect sculpture. Not bad for a sculpture that was salvaged from someone else’s failed attempt at creating a piece of art. There is a strict “no photos” rule but both Joyce & I popped off a couple of shots & we both got reprimanded for it. We were just trying to stick it to “the man”.

David before being popped by “the man”


Once done with the Galleria Dell’Accademia we grabbed a quick lunch at a place near the gallery. It was overpriced and average but we got our stomachs full. We then walked towards the Uffizi Gallery to take in the next collection of art. On the way we wandered into what I think was the Piazza Della Signoria where there was a ton of sculptures on display including the Rape of the Sabines. This was a very cool plaza that I had completely forgot about. We hung out there a bit and enjoyed the artwork and also downed gelatos #4 that we picked up along the walk to the plaza. When the gelatos were gone & the pictures were taken we set off to find the Uffizi Gallery. We found the Arno River and soon were in the Uffizi compound. We saw a gallery that said Uffizi and got in the very short line & when I asked if it was for the Uffizi Gallery they told us to wait across the street. We went across the street and then knew we found the place because the line was much, much longer. Much like the line at the Galleria Dell’Accademia it seems like they let in the dozens of tour groups first & then stagger in the solo customers in groups of indeterminate size. We were waiting for at least a half hour before we moved ahead for the first time. In all I think we waited for well over an hour to get in.

Rape of the Sabines


Joyce at Piazza Della Signoria


Once inside the gallery we viewed virtually all of the displays including Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. We also ogled pieces from Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, Goya,… Really a great gallery but we were burnt out by the end of it. One again the group our completely dominated the gallery. Everywhere was packed & once you found something to look at that wasn’t packed with group tourists you’d have about a minute before the next group came along to swarm. They basically surrounded you & made it difficult to get out of the throng.

Birth of Venus


Once done we walked back to the Duomo to hopefully tour it but it was far past the 4:30 Sunday closing time. Bummer! We sat on the steps of the Duomo & rested our legs for a bit and watched the people go by. It was Sunday so there was a lot of people walking around. Many of the streets seemed to be closed to cars so it was nice to walk without cars whizzing by all of the time. I assume that this is a weekend thing & not that way all of the time. Once rested we walked off to find some other attractions on the map but got sidetracked by a street lined with vendor booths. We walked the streets looking at the vendor stalls but nothing was too exciting. Most of the stalls were selling similar stuff. Lots of leather belts, purses, etc. I’d have been more excited if there were food booths since I was starving by this time. By chance we came across a Chinese restaurant just after the vendor booths ended and the menu seemed good so we went for it. 

We had we got inside and sat down when a Chinese tour group came in and completely surrounded us at our up-til-then quiet table. This was fitting after getting the same treatment in the two galleries that we visited during the day. It seems that the restaurant was ready for them and they were served pretty quickly and didn’t really delay our orders. We ended up with some pan-fried noodles with chicken, pork & shrimp, Kung Pau chicken, hot & sour soup and some pot-stickers. I also ordered a 375 ml bottle of wine but was served a 750 ml bottle instead. I drank it anyways but instead of 8 Euros I had to pay 15 Euros. The food was excellent. The Kung Pau chicken was all white meat instead of the beaks & claws you usually get, the pot-stickers were homemade and the hot & sour soup and noodles were excellent. Not exactly a local specialty but the food was good nonetheless. From the restaurant we hoofed it back to the train station to catch our 21:04 train back to Rome. Tomorrow we do the sites in Rome itself before we fly out the next day to Paris.

Euro man fashion in the Rome Metro